Years ago, I temped for about six months in an office where an artificial evergreen tree in one lobby was always on display, decorated for Valentine’s Day, Easter, Memorial Day, or any other event that the tree’s owner felt like observing. I’m not sure whether that creative person or even the holiday mashup artists over at Hobby Lobby would have ever thought of this decoration that reader Jason recently shared with Consumerist, though.
Reader Jason tweeted this picture at us, knowing how much we love and hate holiday mashups. Sure, back-to-school isn’t really a holiday, but some parents see it that way. It’s also certainly an important season in retail, for stores that sell clothes and stores that sell notebooks.
The beauty and splendor of this Back to School Tree is in his local Flower Factory, which is a mini-chain of art and crafts supply superstores in Ohio. That would be a store into both pushing school supplies and showing off non-traditional tree-decorating ideas to plant in customers’ heads for Christmas.
Here are some of our other favorite holiday mashups:
Last week, the Indiana Gaming Commission contacted a senior center in Muncie to let them know that a popular activity, thrice-weekly games of euchre, a four-player card game. The seniors shut down their game, not wanting to run afoul of gambling regulations. When the story hit local news, the state government clarified that this type of card game was not really what they had in mind for a crackdown on informal gambling venues.
After initial reports that the strong arm of the state was coming in and ruining seniors’ fun, the governor got involved. Yes, the 50-person euchre club in Muncie is simply that important. The governor clarified that recreational games at the senior center, where players put in $2.50 and might win a can of peaches or a pack of toilet paper, are not illegal and the players can continue paying money toward their fabulous prizes.
“They’re getting toilet paper and peaches and the state somehow sees this as a huge issue,” the director of one senior center told the Star-Press. “It’s not a good law.” Private clubs and fraternal organizations are allowed to gamble for money among their members, but senior centers aren’t organized that way.
Be careful, Indiana Gaming Commission…you could just be forcing these games further underground, where the play will become tougher and the stakes even higher, until players are charged $5 to play, and the prizes could escalate to unprecedented levels, such as cans of fruit cocktail or paper towels. It doesn’t sound like they have any raids on senior centers planned, though. Play euchre without fear, seniors!
Pence: No ‘shutdown’ of senior euchre games [Star-Press]
A family in Massachusetts recently had what was arguably one of their most exciting Friday nights out as a family, when they managed to get themselves locked inside the Chevy dealership where they were car-shopping. The employees had locked up for the night, apparently not noticing the family there. They called for help and none arrived, so they borrowed a saw and cut through the lock.
The family themselves were able to leave the dealership: technically, only their car was stuck inside. They had arrived just as the place was closing, and apparently everyone was in a hurry to close. The employees had locked the gates, and the security guard who was supposed to work that night didn’t report for duty.
They called the police, who in turn called the manager of the dealership at home, who promised to be there in twenty minutes every twenty minutes or so. The family was ultimately stuck inside for more than three hours.
At least they found things to keep themselves entertained for a while: the parents and three kids, ages 8, 12, and 13, played soccer with a cardboard box, checked out the interiors of any cars that were open, sang, and of course took pictures of their adventure and posted to Facebook.
“It was great for the first hour. After that, it was annoying,” the mother told local TV news.
After three hours, they borrowed that saw from a construction worker staying at a hotel next door to the dealership, using it to cut the lock and free their car. Naturally, that was when the late-shift security guard finally showed up.
The family jokingly recommends bolt cutters and maybe a picnic dinner to anyone else who wants to try visiting a car dealership shortly before it closes.
Local family saws their way out of locked car dealership [Fox Boston] (via Jalopnik)
Bear Settles In For A Nap On Home’s Lawn After Gorging On 20 Pounds Of Dog Food He Stole From A Garage
One of the woman’s neighbors tells WFTV.com he’s used to having folks call him for help catching annoying animals, but Saturday’s plea for assistance went beyond the usual pesky critters: she said there was a big bear in her backyard.
As soon as he caught sight of a huge black bear asleep on the lawn, he knew he wouldn’t be disturbing the big guy from his slumber.
“That’s a big bear. That’s a huge bear,” he said.
Upon closer inspection, he saw a 20-pound bag of dog food that the bear had stolen from a garage nearby and dragged to the shade of a tree. He watched as the bear tossed and turned for a bit, not unlike humans trying to snooze on a full belly. Watched, and snapped photos of course.
“[It] repositioned three or four times and stretched out. It just laid there,” he said.
Though it’s unclear if the bear was able to get a good nap in after eating so much, or how long he stayed, another neighbor snagged the leftover dog food and locked it up to keep the animal coming back for more.
Everyone likes to get free stuff, especially if that stuff happens to include food and drinks. Earlier this year companies began using “drinkable” billboards to dispense beverages to thirsty consumers. Now, McDonald’s has taken that idea and made it their own by giving away free McFlurries to pedestrians when the temperatures reach scorching levels.
Creativity Online reports that McDonald’s in the Netherlands created the dessert-distributing ad as a way to help consumers beat the summer heat earlier this month.
Danish ad agencies JCDecaux and TBWA/Neboko teamed up to create the gigantic heat-activated billboard to house 100 (empty) McFlurry cups at the Damrak in Amsterdam, Creativity Online reports.
When the temperature reached 38.6 degrees Celsius (about 101 degrees Fahrenheit), the billboard opened to allow pedestrians to grab a McFlurry cup. They could then take the dish to the nearest McDonald’s for a free dessert.
McDonald’s Billboard Dishes Out Free McFlurries When the Sun is Scorching [Creativity Online]
Allotments allow military servicemembers to automatically direct some of their paycheck to parties of their choosing, ideally for savings, insurance premiums, housing payments, and support of dependents. Until recently, allotments could also be used to make retail purchases, but such transactions weren’t covered by many of the legal protections that come with traditional payment methods like electronic checks and debit cards. Recently enacted rules now prohibit the use of allotments for buying personal property, and federal regulators are reminding retailers they have to follow the law.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sent letters to several companies that sell retail goods to military servicembmers to ensure that their website, ads, and marketing materials don’t violate the new rules.
The new protections from the Department of Defense are intended to eliminate the aspect of the allotment system most prone to abuse by unscrupulous lenders that prey on servicemembers.
Consumerist reported on one such company last year, when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau took action to stop USA Discounters from taking advantage of underpaid soldiers by charging exorbitant fees, suing them when they fell behind on payments and skirting the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), which gives active duty servicemembers the right to defend themselves but does not specify where lawsuits must be filed.
The retailer, which has locations near 11 military bases, advertised its always-approved credit offers to members of the military with bad credit or no credit history as a way to entice them to purchase items such as computers and televisions.
While the Bureau didn’t specify which retailers received the recent reminders, a sample letter [PDF] provided by the CFPB shows that some companies allegedly continue to make marketing claims that suggest they engages in unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices.
“According to your website,[redacted] seems to be offering active-duty servicemembers the option to repay loans by military allotment even after January 1, 2015, when the Department of Defense prohibited servicemembers from allotting their pay to buy, lease, or rent personal property. We have not determined whether your conduct violates the CFPA, but we urge you to review your practices to ensure that you comply with all relevant laws,” the sample letter states.
The Bureau says in a statement that the letters are not a finding or a ruling that the recipients have violated the law.
However, it did reiterate that providing any misleading information given to servicemembers about payment options and allowing servicemembers to pay by allotment when prohibited by the Department of Defense also constitutes unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices in consumer financial products or services under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, for which the Bureau can take action.
“Companies that are still advertising repayment via military allotment may be violating the law,” CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in a statement. “Companies should give consumers accurate and reliable information so they can make the best decisions for their own financial situations. We will continue our work protecting servicemembers and promoting a fair and transparent marketplace for all consumers.”
In the past, the CFPB has gone after operations that receive payments from servicemembers, largely through the military allotment system.
Last December, the Bureau ordered three companies – Freedom Stores, Inc., Freedom Acceptance Corporation, and Military Credit Services LLC – to provide over $2.5 million in consumer redress and to pay a $100,000 civil penalty for allegedly using illegal tactics to collect debts, including filing illegal lawsuits, debiting consumers’ accounts without authorization, and contacting servicemembers’ commanding officers.
Virginia-based furniture and electronics store, Freedom Stores (also known as Freedom Furniture and Electronics) operated a number of retail locations near military bases across the nation.The company offers credit to buyers but then transfers those contracts to an affiliated company, Freedom Acceptance Corporation.
Those ill-gotten gains were never actually gotten, reports the Associated Press, as prosecutors said the man tried and failed to have others collect his winnings to avoid detection in the scheme.
The former lottery security official with the Des Moines-based Multi-State Lottery Association was found guilty of rigging a computerized Hot Lotto game, after prosecutors said he installed a program into the computer in 2010 that randomly chooses winning numbers and then deleted it to cover his tracks.
Prosecutors alleged that he then bought the same numbers that he’d programmed into the lottery computer a month before, and gave the ticket to a friend in Texas. That friend got in touch with attorneys in Canada and Texas in an attempt to cash the ticket without revealing the identity of the original ticket buyer, but because Iowa law requires jackpot winners to be identified, he never got the money.
He was charged with two counts of fraud, and was found guilty today after a jury deliberated for five hours. He’s now facing a maximum of five years in prison on each count, but his lawyer says he will appeal, based on a lack of sufficient evidence.
Ex-lottery worker convicted of rigging system to win $14M [Associated Press]
While the Internet mocked Amazon’s new shopping holiday, Prime Day, and waited for a cheap large TV that they had no chance to buy, competing mega-retailer Walmart declared their own day of deals. Now that Prime Day has passed, Walmart is still making fun of the weaknesses of Amazon’s event.
At first, Walmart mocked one basic difference between their own business model and Amazon: customers don’t have to pay $100 for a Prime subscription (or sign up for a “free trial” that they might forget to cancel) to gain access to Wally World’s deals.
Now that the event is over, Amazon says that in spite of public derision and complaints, they sold a lot of stuff. That’s great. Walmart is still making fun of the perceived weaknesses of Prime Day, though. Reader Chris sent over this screen grab from the front page of Walmart’s mobile site this morning.
Very funny, Walmart, but if anyone knows how to haul junk out of the warehouse and call it a “deal,” it’s you.
All it takes is a single email with the words “free food” in it and an entire office can be brought to its feet, sending workers scurrying toward the communal area and a chance at a handout. From cupcakes to pizza, the thought of getting something for nothing is a tempting one — even if you don’t know whose birthday it is or why there are free subs in the conference room. This, because we’re all just trying to survive, just like we did when we lived in caves.
Though cave people didn’t have offices or email, they sure knew how to appreciate food when it was available for the taking, in order to survive. That instinct could be one reason we all go running when there’s grub up for grabs, reports the Huffington Post.
“It’s reminiscent of survival kicking in,” Dr. Steve Terracciano, a board-certified cognitive and behavioral psychologist told HuffPo. “Food can bring out something primal in people.”
Obviously, if an email went out notifying workers that leftovers or samples would cost something, it’s likely that not many people would run quite so fast as when free food is literally on the table.
Some of this behavior is also learned — think piñatas at birthday parties, or Halloween traditions that have kids scrambling for candy to make sure they can get as much as they can.
“Part of all of this is how you’ve learned to participate with groups of people,” Terracciano said.
It’s not all greed, however, as HuffPo cites a clinical psychologist who notes that eating together is a communal experience, one that extends to the office environment.
“Breaking bread together is a sign of trust,” Dr. Chloe Carmichael explains. “Sharing a meal together does help people to bond. It facilitates communication, trust and a shared sensory experience.”
Until there’s only one piece of free pizza left. Then everyone finds out how strong that workplace bond truly is.
Why You And Your Co-Workers Go Absolutely Nuts For Free Office Food [Huffington Post]
The thing is? He shares a name with a famous Spanish soccer star named Andres Iniesta, the captain of FC Barcelona and a player on the national team. Non-soccer star Andres Iniesta soon found that after he lost access his @ainiesta account, it began to populate with photos of the soccer player.
Did that mean Instagram hadn’t bothered to verify whether he was a real person or a squatter, and just assumed it should belong to a famous person? It seemed so, non-soccer Iniesta thought.
After he tried contacting the company to reinstate his ownership of the account and got no response, he wrote about his experience on Medium and subsequently got a happy ending to his tale of appropriated identity.
“We made a mistake here and restored the account as soon as we learned about it,” Instagram said in a statement to Gizmodo. “Our apologies go out to Mr. Iniesta for the trouble we caused him.”
Soccer star Iniesta’s team also reached out during the ordeal and assured him the player wasn’t behind the seemingly shady move. His account has been relocated to @andresiniesta8, and has already racked up more than five million followers.
In some cities, it’s much less expensive to find a room on Airbnb than it would be to rent out a hotel room. Yet most business travelers still choose to stay in traditional hotels, partly because their employer won’t allow them to or because they think they will have difficulty expensing the rental. After a year of seeing growth in this area, Airbnb is launching an improved experience for business travelers in the hopes of getting some of that sweet expense account money.
Just this year alone, more than $300 billion is expected to be spent on business travel in the U.S., so even a sliver of that pie is a substantial amount of money.
Since launching its Airbnb for Business program a year ago, a number of companies — especially Silicon Valley tech companies that need to house visiting employees or consultants for weeks or months at a time — has seen increased demand. The current system, which involves travelers entering unique coupon codes for participating businesses, and then manual invoices being sent out by Airbnb each month, is not sufficient, especially if Airbnb wants to attract more people.
Thus Bloomberg reports that the new business travel system will include a centralized billing system and a dashboard for managers at travelers’ employers to track employee spending.
The hope is that the more streamlined experience and interface will convince more employers to give Airbnb a shot.
“Corporate travel is a big part of the travel pie; it’s worth a lot of money,” co-founder and chief technology officer Nathan Blecharczyk tells Bloomberg. “We’re further along there on our leisure side than our business side.”
Many frequent business travelers will still want the known comforts and amenities of hotel rooms, but Airbnb believes there’s a demand for non-traditional lodging, especially for longer-term rentals.
While Amazon used to be the site where you bought affordable books, CDs, DVDs, and electronics, the online retailer is quickly gaining ground as a seller of designer apparel and accessories.
In fact, analysts estimate that Amazon’s now booming apparel business could lead it to surpass Macy’s as the top retailer of such goods in just two years, Business Insider reports.
Analysts from Cowen Group say that the e-retailer’s thriving foray into apparel – especially when it comes to handbags and jewelry – could soon make it the top apparel retailer, despite the fact it has no physical stores.
Amazon’s rise to the top of the retail ranks has been made possible, in part, because the company doesn’t have to pay costs associated with bricks-and-mortar locations, something other retailers spend a significant amount of money on. As a result of skirting those costs, Business Insider reports, the company can often lower prices for apparel items, creating a more appealing environment for shoppers.
Making matters worse for traditional department stores is the fact that consumers are spending about 1.5% less on clothing and accessories than they have in previous years, according to analysts from Seeking Alpha.
Business Insider reports that the decrease in spending has been linked to consumers’ changing habits, including increased expenses in other areas such as rent, cellphones and other personal services – a trend that could continue to hurt department stores in the future.
Amazon is becoming Macy’s biggest threat [Business Insider]
Having returned stuff to Home Depot before, Stephen knew that he could expect to have his driver’s license scanned and the transaction logged by The Retail Equation, a company that logs information about people who return merchandise at a variety of retailers. What he didn’t expect was to be told that his return of some cabinet parts would be denied after he had only ever returned one $10 item to Home Depot before.
Surely he had a long and mildly sordid pile of returns at other retailers that use TRE, then? Nope. He sent away for his own report, which is a thing that you can do, and the only item on it was that $10 return at Home Depot.
Once his return was flagged in the system as potentially-fraudulent, there was nothing that Home Depot could do for him. “The store manager informed me that store managers do not have the authority to authorize a return if The Retail Equation has rejected them,” he explained to Consumerist. Really? Could that be true?
Home Depot’s own in-store purchase return policy says:
We require a valid ID for non-receipted returns and returns generated from purchases made with store credits. The Home Depot uses a refund verification system. All returns are subject to system approval.
That “system” would be TRE. The company says that less than 1% of the transactions that go through its systems are flagged as potentially fraudulent, which is great unless you’re the person trying to bring back a bunch of cabinet parts.
All queries to that company result in a representative pointing back at the company’s frequently asked questions page. Specifically, they pointed out the section on disputes, which says that they can “facilitate” between retailers and customers when certain facts are in question.
TRE offers consumers the ability to dispute their Return Activity Report and facilitate a dialogue between the consumer and retailer to reach a proper resolution. With this process, TRE acts as an advocate, on behalf of the consumer, to ensure the consumer’s request to the retailer is met and resolved within a timely manner, typically within 30 days.
TRE doesn’t mediate between bloggers and retailers, though, so we took our question back to Home Depot. They checked into the transaction and came back with an answer that makes a lot of sense:
For security reasons, we don’t discuss the details of the TRE system. I can tell you that we only issue store credits for non-receipted returns, and [therefore] returns of merchandise originally purchased with a store credit are closely scrutinized. The merchandise this customer returned was purchased with a store credit.
Aha! Maybe it was even the same store credit from that $10 return. The conclusion that we can draw here is that shoppers should always keep their receipts, possibly gluing them to our foreheads, or hoarding them in an envelope indefinitely.
Like Google, Twitter and its own Instagram platform, Facebook is toying with the idea of allowing users to buy stuff directly from retailers’ pages, instead of seeing those items in an ad and going outside the social network to purchase them.
The company is building out shops within Facebook Pages that would function as mini e-commerce sites, reports Buzzfeed News, acting like a second home for retailers and brands who want to not only engage with customers, but get them to buy products while they’re being social.
“With the shop section on the page, we’re now providing businesses with the ability to showcase their products directly on the page,” Facebook product marketing manager Emma Rodgers told BuzzFeed News.
Online commerce and digital advertising are both growing, notes Buzzfeed, so it makes sense to partner the two with social media. Go where the people are already posting cat videos and baby photos, advertise to them and then help them buy what you’ve just convinced them they need.
This move also aligns with Facebook’s recent push into commerce, including a feature for its Messenger app that’s in the works and could help consumers research products they might be interested in buying.
Facebook says there are shops numbering in the double digits currently, with plans to expand, although it wouldn’t share any of the names of businesses in the pilot program right now. The mock-up shown above is for a fake brand, and shows what future business’ pages could look like.
The social network says eventually the shop idea could move beyond commerce businesses and spread to public figures, sports teams or groups, though so far it’s too early to tell if that will happen.
“We’ll continue to add incremental features and capabilities to Pages because they are such an important part of the consumer experience on Facebook,” Facebook’s Rodgers told Buzzfeed.
The owner of a diner in Portland, Maine, does not appear to be terribly concerned about the social media backlash resulting from her admitted hollering at a crying child and then later dubbing that youngster a “beast” and “monster” on Facebook.
A diner customer recently posted on the restaurant’s Facebook page that the owner is a “lunatic” who is “not suitable to run a business” after she screamed at her 2-year-old daughter.
In response, the owner unleashed her own version of events, saying the parents had ordered the small child a plate of three full-size pancakes, and while waiting for the order the kid became “cranky.”
After what she claims was 40 minutes of the little girl crying in the diner, the owner says she began dropping obvious hints for the family to leave, even bringing over to-go boxes for the pancakes that were never eaten.
According to the owner, she told them “either all of you need to go or just her,” referring to the child, or “beast,” as she writes in the Facebook post.
Even that didn’t spur the family to leave, says the owner. Instead, the child — who had apparently gone quiet after being told to leave — started crying again and continued to do so for another ten minutes, claims the owner.
The owner admits yelling at the family “THAT NEEDS TO STOP!”
“Why is it OK for that kid to disrupt the experience for 75 people when mommy or daddy could have taken it outside,” she writes.
As you can guess, the Internet did not respond to this news with a calm and reasonable debate. Instead, folks seem divided into two camps — those carrying pitchforks and calling for the owner to apologize, and those holding the owner up as a champion willing to say the things we wish we could.
So far, the owner is remaining unapologetic.
“Life’s full of choices and you’ve got to live with all of them,” she tells WCSH. “I chose to yell at a kid, it made her shut-up, which made me happy, it made my staff happy, it made the 75 other people dining here happy, and they left, they may never come back, other people may not come in. Their loss really.”
When asked if she felt sorry about her actions she replied, “Sorry isn’t the right word. I might have used poor judgement. I wouldn’t say I was sorry, because it stopped. When things stop, it’s usually a good thing.”
The mom who posted the complaint is defending her parenting skills to WCSH.
“I turned to my daughter and I was like ‘Listen, this is how I’m raising you not to be as an adult. Like, you will never be like this when you get older,'” she says. “I felt helpless as a mom that, you know, I couldn’t do anything to help her, because I can’t explain why there’s crazy people in this world that behave like that.”
Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis is a go-to spot for many cyclists, with its 25 miles of paved roads, winding trails, smooth pavement and hill that boasts the highest title of highest point in the county, notes the Indianapolis Star. But after a serious bicycling accident and disruptions during two graveside burials, the cemetery has decided it needs to lay down some rules for cyclists for the first time.
Those limits include a ban on riding down one side of the cemetery’s big hill, a speed limit and no access to the cemetery on Veterans and Memorial Days.
The cemetery’s president said the purpose of the rules are to respect the privacy of mourners and keep everyone safe.
“We’ve always been welcoming of competitive cyclers and families, as well, and we’d like to keep it that way,” he said. “But after those few incidents, we decided we needed to make people accountable and protect everyone’s liability.”
A serious biking accident in February left a cyclist with a broken collar bone and a concussion after she crashed at the bottom of the hill. Two other incidents found pairs of cyclists riding between parked cars lining the narrow roads during graveside ceremonies.
“I was there both times, and it was unbelievable to me,” the president said. “I was absolutely astounded and humiliated.”
The cemetery worked with a local biking group to come up with a compromise, with the cycling organization’s president stressing that it would be a shame for all cyclists if a few reckless people ruined it for everyone.
“We thought it was lack of education and was something we could correct,” he said. “Some of these bicyclists don’t know they’re being jerks and we thought we could address that.”
In addition to closing the park on Veterans and Memorial day, rules for people who don’t know they’re being jerks also include limits on groups of cyclists (only four people at a time); avoiding memorial services or grieving families; turning aside when coming into contact with funerals; a speed limit of 24 mph and a ban on racing other cyclists.
Crown Hill Cemetery puts brakes on cyclists [Indianapolis Star]
While 11 automakers have already recalled millions of vehicles equipped with potentially deadly Takata-produced airbags, a twelfth car manufacturer announced it would also recall thousands of cars with safety devices supplied by the Japanese auto parts maker, although for a different, but still dangerous, reason.
Italian sports car maker Ferrari confirmed on Monday that its recall of 2,600 vehicles worldwide was initiated because of a potential safety hazard in airbags supplied by Takata, AFP reports.
The affected high-end sports cars may be equipped with a driver-side airbag that was improperly assembled and could deploy in a rotated orientation, increasing the risk of injury, Ferrari said.
“The issue is a possible production defect in a component inside the airbags, which were fitted to around 2,600 cars,” a Ferrari spokesman told AFP.
According to a notice [PDF] from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 800 of the recalled vehicles are located in North America.
In all, the campaign covers model year 2015 Ferrari 458 Italia, 458 Spider, 458 Speciale, 458 Speciale A, California T, FF, F12 Berlinetta, and LaFerrari vehicles produced between December 2014 and April 2015. As a result of the issue, Ferrari has asked dealers to stop selling the affected models until repairs can be made.
Ferrari made it clear in its announcement Monday that the issue differed from problems found in millions of vehicles equipped with the shrapnel-shooting Takata-produced airbags that have been linked to eight deaths and hundreds of injuries.
“This issue is not related to the other recall made by other manufactures for Takata airbags,” the spokesman for the company tells AFP.
The first film in the live-action Disney franchise High School Musical was released in 2006. Like all Disney properties, it came with a significant amount of licensed merchandise, since that’s how Disney keeps Mickey Mouse in cheddar. So this movie-branded MP3/WMA player found on a shelf at Walmart wouldn’t really have attracted our attention…if it were still 2007.
The first Disney Mix Stick came out in 2005, it turns out, and they came in varieties featuring popular Disney and Pixar properties from about 2005 to 2010. One appealing feature is that you can both connect the device to a computer and fill it with music, or plug in officially-licensed albums of Disney songs and eliminate the need for substantive hard drive space or a computer to connect it to.
The problem isn’t that this device exists –– there are probably plenty of kids who enjoy this movie, and the player remains usable. The problem is that like most treasures that the Raiders of the Lost Walmart find, it’s priced too high and has been on the shelf too long. How long? Well, here’s a close-up of the price tag. Yes, it’s been languishing in the clearance section since February 2014.
Also, like another 9-year-old Walmart media player we’ve seen recently, it has an anti-theft device on it, meant to keep people from walking off with this clearly hot item.
The point of clearance sales is to clear merchandise from the store. There’s probably a kid out there who would love this mp3 player, but not when they can get the same one on Amazon for at least $25 less.
Since automakers began recalling vehicles in force last year – punctuated by the millions of models covered by General Motors’ massive ignition switch defect and Takata’s explosive airbags – lawmakers have been trying to push through reforms that would make it more difficult to keep potentially deadly automobiles on the roadways. But proposed laws such as those that would impose fines on owners of vehicles who don’t follow-through with recall repairs or barring used car dealers from selling vehicles with unrepaired recalls likely won’t see the light of day after being voted down by a Senate committee last week.
The New York Times reports that a number of auto safety reforms – including one that would impose criminal penalties on auto executives who fail to disclose deadly defects – failed to make it to the latest version of the transportation bill, expected to be seen by the entire Senate floor later this month.
“Hiding these deadly defects with near impunity is what the industry has succeeded in doing,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, of Connecticut, who introduced several provisions that were voted down.
While a majority of the reforms introduced as attachments to the larger bill went nowhere, some managed to make it through, including those that increase the maximum civil penalty imposed on automakers from $35 million to $70 million and one that would increase funding for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – so long as the agency implements recommendations recently set forth by the Transportation Department’s Inspector General.
Additionally, lawmakers were successful in adding a measure that would ban rental companies from handing out cars with unrepaired safety recalls to customers. That amendment is a stark contrast to a proposal introduced just two weeks ago that would have allowed companies to rent the potentially dangerous vehicles as long as they simply notified the renter that the repairs hadn’t been made.
Senator and committee chairman John Thune, of South Dakota, said a similar bill that would have banned used car dealers from selling recall vehicles failed because it would have had “unintended consequences” for the industry, the NYT reports.
Several national used car dealers – including CarMax – have come under scrutiny by safety advocates for allegedly continuing to sell vehicles with unrepaired recalls, while claiming the “Quality Certified” cars have undergone a “125+ point inspection.”
The defeat of many of the auto safety reform measures was credited to automakers’ lobbying teams, that helped circulate documents likening some of the bills to “criminalizing the business of manufacturing.”
Many of the legislators who introduced the reform bills showed their irritation at having their proposals struck down with little negotiation. In fact, some simply removed their bills from consideration before they could be heard in the committee.
Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, who proposed two bills, said he would likely propose those that he removed during the committee discussion as amendments on the Senate floor, the NYT reports.
Although the committee’s dismissal of the measures isn’t a great sign for lawmakers and safety advocates, congressional staff tell the NYT that it is possible at least a handful of the defeated proposals could be resurrected before the bill makes it to the full Senate floor.
Senate Committee’s No Vote Incenses Lawmakers Seeking Auto Safety Reforms [The New York Times]
This is according to the latest “How America Pays For College” survey [PDF] from the folks at Sallie Mae.
The survey claims that average college spending jumped 16% for the 2014-15 academic year to $24,164. That’s the first significant increase since 2009-10. As you can see from the chart below, the leap in spending was even greater on 4-year private colleges, where the average went from just below $35,000 to nearly $42,000 in a single year:
And while around 23% of this increased spending was covered by a bump in grants and scholarships, parents paid for more than 40% of the difference, while students borrowed more money to pick up 20% of the higher cost:
While 95% of families in the survey did at least something to make college more affordable, the report found that there noticeable declines in a number of affordability measures.
For example, the number of families with a college student still living at home dropped from 57% in 2013 to the current level of 48%. And of those students who lived away from home, only 35% considered bringing in a roommate to reduce costs, down from 41% a year ago.
Meanwhile, the percentage of parents who are working more to make college more affordable went from 19% to 22%.