vendredi 30 juin 2017

Mississippi Official Tells Trump ‘Election Integrity’ Commission: “Go Jump In The Gulf Of Mexico”

You may have heard that President Trump’s new Advisory Commission on Election Integrity is asking state election officials to turn over a raft of very personal data about voters’ records. Not surprisingly, some states are reluctant to provide this information, and the Secretary of State for Mississippi has a very direct response for the administration.

Mississippi’s Delbert Hosemann said on Friday that his office had not yet actually received the Commission’s request for voter data, but that he’d seen the text of the request sent to election officials in other states. According to Hosemann, it seeks — if the law allows it:
• Full first and last names of all registered voters
• Middle names or initials if available,
• Their addresses
• Dates of birth
• Political party (if known)
• Last four digits of Social Security number (if available)
• Voter history for every election since 2006
• Plus “information regarding any felony convictions, information regarding voter registration in another state, information regarding military status, and overseas citizen information.”

This just isn’t going to happen in Mississippi, said Hosemann.

“They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi is a great State to launch from,” he writes. “Mississippi residents should celebrate Independence Day and our State’s right to protect the privacy of our citizens by conducting our own electoral processes.”

Across state lines in Alabama, Secretary of State John Merrill said the state will oblige the Commission’s request, but only with regard to data that is already publicly available, “if we are convinced that the overall effort will produce the necessary results to accomplish the Commission’s stated goal without compromising the integrity of the voter rolls and the elections process in Alabama.”

Some other Republican secretaries of state have similarly said they intend on complying with Kobach’s request, including states not traditionally considered “red” states. Colorado’s Wayne Williams contends that there is no problem providing this information, as it’s all publicly available. In Washington state, Secy. Kim Wyman said that “As with any request for public records, we are required to comply pursuant to state law regardless of who is making the request.”

Hosemann is certainly not alone in denouncing the Commission’s request. In Virginia, Gov. McAuliffe said he has “no intention” of complying.

“This entire commission is based on the specious and false notion that there was widespread voter fraud last November,” said McAuliffe. “At best this commission was set up as a pretext to validate Donald Trumps alternative election facts, and at worst it is a tool to commit large-scale voter oppression.”

Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania, where Trump narrowly claimed victory in 2016, responded in a letter [PDF] to Kris Kobach, the former Kansas Secretary of State and Vice Chairman of this new Commission. In the letter, Wolf raises concerns about privacy, data security, legal authority, and the White House’s intentions, pointing out the fact that then-candidate Trump made repeated, widely disproven claims of rampant voter fraud in parts of Pennsylvania.

“I have grave concerns your request is a mere pretense for pursuing restrictions on the fundamental rights of citizens to vote,” writes Wolf. “I have no interest in contributing to any effort to suppress the right to vote or create unnecessary or unfair burdens on voters.”

The Washington Post notes that, as of Friday evening, at least 25 states had already said they do not intend to comply with the Kobach request.



Dunkin’ Donuts Customer Says “Angus Steak” Sandwiches Aren’t Actually Steak

Yes, the meat in Dunkin’ Donuts’ Angus Steak breakfast sandwiches may look more like a sausage patty than a porterhouse or a ribeye, but does that mean it’s not actually “steak”? One customer says the sandwich doesn’t meet a federal definition for that term. But there’s a big bird-shaped problem with that definition.

A lawsuit [PDF], filed this week in a New York federal court, alleges that Dunkin’ deceived customers about the main ingredient in its Angus Steak and Egg sandwich and Angus Steak and Egg Snack N’ Go Wrap.

The complaint contends that while Dunkin’s advertising campaign centered on claims that these menu items contained “steak,” they are actually just ground beef.

The campaign, the suit claims, was a “scheme” by Dunkin’ that involved “disseminating false and misleading information via television commercials, Internet, point of purchase advertisements, and national print advertisements, all of which are intended to trick unsuspecting consumers” into believing they are “buying Angus Steak and Egg Sandwich & Angus Steak and Egg Wrap when in fact they were purchasing an inferior product, Angus Beef Patty and Egg Sandwich and Angus Beef Patty and Egg wrap.”

At the heart of the original complaint is a definition in the Code of Federal Regulations for “steak” — a definition that the plaintiff argues Dunkin’ fails to live up to.

There’s a bit of a problem that should become apparent when you actually look at the definition in question. It notes that “steak or fillet” consists of a “boneless slice or strip of poultry meat of the kind indicated.”

That’s right: This definition does not apply to beef steaks, but only to poultry steaks, meaning slabs of boneless chicken or turkey. In fact, the entire Subpart that includes this definition is about poultry. Definitions for beef and pork products are found elsewhere in the CFR.

We asked the attorney representing the plaintiffs in this case about the complaint’s repeated reference to this definition. In an email response, the lawyer acknowledged the “omission,” and said that the lawsuit will soon be amended. He maintained that there are federal limits on the amount of filler that a steak can contain before it’s considered ground beef or some other miscellaneous beef product, and that these sandwiches cross that line.

“Further, our Complaint revolves around deception of consumers, and in particular the consumer’s perception of what steak is,” noted the attorney.

The Department of Agriculture confirmed to Consumerist that there is no set regulatory definition of beef “steak,” so effectively any solid piece of meat can be called a “steak.” However, if that solid piece of meat is comprised of chopped, shaped, formed, or wafer sliced pieces of meat, then it’s actually what the USDA calls “fabricated steak,” and would carry a label like, “Beef Steak, Chopped, Shaped, Frozen,” or “Minute Steak, Formed, Wafer Sliced, Frozen.” You’ve probably seen this description on packages of frozen meat you might buy for making a cheesesteak at home.

But here’s where we run into another hiccup: The USDA’s “fabricated steak” designation does not apply to food sold at a restaurant, as the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service does not regulate foods prepared at restaurants.

Ultimately, it may be a question of whether or not people felt deceived by Dunkin’s marketing, like ads in which actors and actresses proclaim “Steak and Eggs!” when presented with the sandwiches.

The plaintiff argues that customers paid a premium for these sandwiches, believing them to be made of higher quality ingredient than others. As a result, the suit seeks to monetary damages for customers and a court order barring Dunkin’ from promoting the meat as “steak.”

Consumerist has reached out to Dunkin’ for comment on the lawsuit. We’ll update this post when we hear back.



6 Things We Learned About Why Port Of Los Angeles Truckers Can’t Afford To Work

By now, most retailers have become sensitive to media reports of labor abuses in their supply chains — but a new report from USA Today suggests that abuses occurring during the last leg of a product’s journey — from the port to the store — may have escaped attention.

In the report, companies like Target, Costco, Hewlett-Packard, LG, and Samsung were among the those accused of benefitting from exploitative actions taken by their trucking contractors and subcontractors. These are the companies hired to deliver products from U.S. ports to distributions centers and stores.

From misclassifying employees as independent contractors to huge lease-to-own bills that offload the costs of the trucks onto the drivers themselves , the report details the plight of some truck drivers who find it almost impossible to make a living doing what used to be a fairly reliable blue collar job

According to a new report from USA Today, companies use layers of contractors and subcontractors, but trucking firms employed by companies like Target, Costco, Hewlett-Packard, LG, and Samsung were among the contractors accused of wage theft and other wrongdoing.

You should check out the whole report, which includes an example supply chain where you can follow a teddy bear from the factory in China to a store shelf and the transportation costs in between, but here are six things we learned about why things are so bad for drivers who pick up goods from Los Angeles.

1. Why are things worse in Los Angeles? Owner-operators of big rigs having trouble making ends meet is an old problem that became even worse about a decade ago. About half of the goods that we use come in through the port of Los Angeles, but it’s a center of problematic worker treatment for what were originally environmentally responsible reasons.

Beginning in 2008, older trucks that emit more pollution were banned from the port. Instead of replacing thousands of vehicles that they owned, trucking companies decided to pass that expense on to their drivers, borrowing money to buy trucks and then signing lease-to-own contracts with them.

2. Drivers don’t know what they’re getting into. One driver arrived from Guatemala in 1989 and began working right away. He spoke only Kanjobal, a Mayan language, and couldn’t read the contract that he signed. He was signing lease-to-own agreements, and not considered an employee.

3. Lease-to-own doesn’t work if drivers can’t afford their trucks. “Anybody could have told them if you mandate a driver pay for [the clean trucks], and they don’t earn enough, then the system isn’t going to work,” a labor lawyer in Sacramento told USA Today.

4. Trucking companies claim that allegations of poor treatment are part of union organizing campaigns. However, in 2015, the NLRB found that one firm that contracts for shoe company Skechers, Green Fleet Systems, condoned harassment and even violence against truckers who showed interest in joining a union [PDF].

A spokeswoman for Skechers told USA Today that the company is “unaware of labor or environmental violations by any trucking company at the port,” though activists have protested at Skechers offices.

5. Drivers are pushed into working really long hours. The driver from Guatemala says that he found the lot where he was supposed to leave his truck for the night locked. He had already been working for 15 hours, but kept driving since he had no place to leave the vehicle.

6. Companies settle wage theft accusations without admitting wrongdoing. USA Today found 60 cases where the transportation companies that move merchandise for major retailers and manufacturers lost their cases accusing them of wage theft in civil court or with the state labor commissioner.



Disney Removing Bride Auction Scene From ‘Pirates Of The Caribbean’ Ride

Next time you take your family on Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride, you might notice a change: No more “wenches” up for sale as brides to the highest bidder.

Yup, Disney has announced this classic ride — found at Disneyland, Disney World, and Disney Paris — will no longer feature the animatronic tableau of four women in chains being auctioned off by a guy that looks like your uncle’s one friend who never says much but just stares a log.

The bride auction will be replaced by a scene that features the one unchained female — the redhead on the right in the above photo — “helping the townspeople ‘unload” their valuables.”

“We believe the time is right to turn the page to a new story in this scene, consistent with the humorous, adventurous spirit of the attraction,” a Disney spokeswoman said.

This isn’t the only change Disney has made to the ride in recent years, notes the Los Angeles Times. It also tweaked a scene that used to feature pirates chasing women: Now the women are carrying trays of food, so it appears the men are just very hungry and impatient.

A balcony scene that previously portrayed the tale of a pirate chasing a woman was reversed to show the opposite as well.

The changes will appear July 24 at Disney Paris, and take effect as part of planned refurbishments in 2018 at Disneyland and Disney World.



5 Tips From A Pro For Cooking Up An Awesome Hamburger

At Consumerist, we take burgers very seriously. So much so, that we wanted to share some tips we gathered from an expert about the basics every burger lover should know before they fire up their grill.

We spoke to Chef Howie Velie, Associate Dean of Specializations at the Culinary Institute of America, and here are a few things he says every home cook should keep in mind:

1. Use ground beef with an 80/20 lean-to-fat ratio

If you want something to be moist, like a burger, you have to maintain the moisture within the product. To do that, Chef Velie says, it’s important to use a ground beef with high fat content, because fat equals moisture.

He adds that whatever heat source you use, whether it be a grill or a pan on the stove, heat transfers very well through fat. That means the fattier the burger, the faster it will cook, Chef Velie explains.

2. Charcoal grills are great — but propane works too

Chef Velie says his personal preference is using lump charcoal in a charcoal grill, instead of briquets, but ultimately he says it’s a matter of personal preference.

“I like cooking over a fire,” he tells Consumerist, likening it to methods of cooking that go back thousands of years.

Propane grills will also do the trick, he adds — “you’re getting plenty of good flavor from that.”

Don’t have an outdoor space or a grill at your disposal? Cooking a burger on the stove works, too, as we found out when we previously tested Chef Velie’s burger-making tips.

“If you have a nice heavy iron, cast iron skillet or something like that, that’s gonna hold heat, you can get a really good char,” he notes.

3. Don’t press that patty!

You might’ve heard that moving a burger around on the grill is bad — that’s arguable, Velie says, but there is one thing you definitely shouldn’t do: smushing the burger with your spatula — even if makes your grill flare up in a cool way.

“A lot of people do that,” Velie admits, but says this common practice is “kind of the most tragic thing you could do because you’re basically just pressing out all the flavor.”

4. Salt & pepper are your friends

While you can add whatever seasonings you want to your burger patties, don’t shy away from good old salt and pepper.

“I think salt and pepper are tragically under utilized on burgers on grills,” Chef Velie says. “Salt and pepper are where you build flavor in everything. So you’re enhancing the meat flavor, you’re enhancing the char and smokiness of the grill by using salt.”

Beyond that, Chef Velie says he’s not a fan of mixing in or adding too many other things to burgers.

“If you’re gonna do that, make meatloaf and serve it with potatoes.”

5. Use a heat thermometer to make sure it’s done

When it comes to cooking raw meat, it’s important to get the temperature up to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit for safety reasons. And you can’t just judge by color, as the USDA’s Food Safety & Inspection Service explains, oxidation from freezing and thawing can cause red meat to turn brownish without any cooking.

FSIS also notes that “some lean ground beef may remain pink at temperatures well above” 160° F.

Chef Velie agrees that a meat thermometer is the “guaranteed way” to make sure a burger is cooked thoroughly.

“Don’t guess. You can guess all day, but unless you’ve done it 10,000 times, you’re not gonna be good at it,” he advises, adding, “I know when it gets to 165 degrees it’s done, it’s gonna be juicy.”

Happy eating, everyone, from our stomachs to yours.

(Note: This is an updated and slightly revised version of a story that first appeared on Consumerist in May 2016.)



Charges Re-Filed Against Restaurant Owners Accused Of Dumpster-Diving For Deer Heads

Preventing food waste is good, but not to the point of dumpster-diving for deer brains at a wild game butcher. The former owners of a Chinese restaurant in Pennsylvania are accused of dealing in illegal deer meat, at least some of which came from the trash at butchers that process deer for hunters.

PennLive.com reports that back in 2015, the state Game Commission found hundreds of pounds of deer parts at the restaurant, which included heads, brains, and parts that the Game Commission couldn’t identify offhand. The couple who owned the restaurant ultimately pleaded guilty to restaurant violations and paid a fine. They no longer own the restaurant, which is still open.

In Pennsylvania, restaurants are allowed to serve venison, but only from animals raised on commercial farms. Butchers process wild deer for the hunters who killed them, but those hunters are only able to keep and eat the meat themselves, or give it away. It’s illegal to buy, sell, or barter meat from wild animals.

“No one is permitted to sell the meat or other edible parts from harvested game,” a spokesman from the state’s Game Commission explained to PennLive when the restaurant owners were originally charged, and hundreds of pounds of deer parts confiscated from their restaurant. “When hunters pay at the processor, they’re paying for their deer or a deer they’ve been given to be butchered and/or turned into some processed product.”

The couple denied that they were planning to serve venison to customers, and claimed that they were using bones obtained from local butchers to make soup for their own meals, not to be sold to the public. The Game Commission alleges that they got these deer parts from dumpsters outside of local butchers, and had permission to take at least some of the parts.

Yet one of the restaurant owners was charged with selling items from the deer parts stash out of a van in New York’s Chinatown. She pleaded guilty to those charges and paid a fine of $2,250, but the charges related to trafficking in deer parts in Pennsylvania hadn’t yet been resolved.



Here’s Some Advice On How To Avoid Getting Head-Butted By A Bison

Look, we’re not wildlife experts by any stretch of the imagination, but there is one very easy way to avoid injury by head-butting or other aggression from our large animal friends: Don’t get too close, even if it means the difference between an amazing selfie and one that is only great.

The National Park Service is reminding people to steer clear of park animals after two visitors were injured by a bison in Yellowstone National Park on Wednesday.

The married couple was taking photographs on a boardwalk at Mud Volcano when a bison lumbered over. It butted the woman, who then fell into her husband, sending them both to the ground.

Park rangers immediately evacuated the couple from the trail and transported them to a clinic. The husband had minor injuries, while his wife was flown to a hospital in Idaho, where she was reported to be in stable condition.

The visitors were not cited, but park officials are stressing the importance of taking “safe selfies,” and staying at least 25 yards away from all large animals — bison, elk, bighorn sheep, deer, moose, and coyotes — and at least 100 yards away from bears and wolves when they show up near trails, boardwalks, parking lots, or in developed areas.

This is the first confirmed incident of a bison-inflicted injury this year, while five people were hurt by approaching bison last year.



Fidget Spinners Not Just Exploding In Popularity, But Literally Exploding With Fire

If you have been in the vicinity of any children between roughly ages 6 and 18 lately, you have been in the vicinity of fidget spinner toys. They are everywhere, and so when someone says, “Wow, fidget spinners are exploding” you could be forgiven for thinking they mean it figuratively. Alas, it seems that “exploding” is now true in both senses of the word.

Parents in at least two states have recently gone to local news outlets, alleging that their kids’ chargeable fidget spinners burst into flames while plugged in.

Because nothing can just be left alone, these fidget spinner models don’t just have movable parts you can mess around with, but also have internal batteries that power bluetooth speakers. Sure, why not.

But batteries are a problem. As we’ve seen with everything from hoverboards to laptops and smartphones, if there’s a battery inside a thing, that thing can catch fire when you least expect it. As at least two of these spinning, singing, song-pumping toys have now done.

A parent in Alabama told local Fox affiliate WBRC that her son’s spinner burst into flames after 45 minutes on the charger. “He noticed that it burst into flames and he just started screaming. I was downstairs and all I heard was ‘fire, fire” and the fidget spinner had literally, it was smoking, it was in flames,” she said.

A Michigan parent told local NBC affiliate WEYI a similar story, showing off the melted remnant of a spinner she said caught fire after half an hour of being plugged in.

She also told WEYI that her spinner didn’t come with a charger or safety instructions, so she just used another charger — in this case, for a baby monitor — that she happened to have in the house.

A spokesperson for the Consumer Product Safety Commission confirmed to Gizmodo that it is investigating the incidents, and also recommended that consumers never leave a product unattended while it’s charging.

“Never charge a product with batteries overnight while you are sleeping,” the Commission advised. (Yes, this means your phone too.) “Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions and use the charger from the manufacturer that is designed specifically for your device.”

The CPSC also urged anyone who has had a safety issue with a fidget spinner — or frankly, any other device, really — to report the problem at SaferProducts.gov.

[via Gizmodo]



Which Fireworks Are Legal In My State?

This holiday weekend is a long one, giving people everywhere ample opportunity to stock up on all manner of fireworks from not-at-all sketchy roadside vendors conveniently situated near the state border. But are you actually allowed to set off those Big Bang Boomers and Star Spangled ‘Splosions, or are you limited to staring into the glinting abyss of a sparkler, hoping to recapture the simple joys of youth?

As usual, that largely depends on where you live.

There are two rules — conveniently both on the same page of the Code of Federal Regulations — that govern fireworks on a nationwide level.

The first rule — Title 16, Part 1500.17(a)(3) for those keeping track — prohibits: “Fireworks devices intended to produce audible effects (including but not limited to cherry bombs, M-80 salutes, silver salutes, and other large firecrackers, aerial bombs, and other fireworks designed to produce audible effects, and including kits and components intended to produce such fireworks) if the audible effect is produced by a charge of more than 2 grains of pyrotechnic composition.”

Later down the page, you’ll see that subparagraph (a)(8) also bans: “Firecrackers designed to produce audible effects, if the audible effect is produced by a charge of more than 50 milligrams (.772 grains) of pyrotechnic composition (not including firecrackers included as components of a rocket), aerial bombs, and devices that may be confused with candy or other foods, such as ‘dragon eggs,’ and ‘cracker balls’ (also known as ‘ball-type caps’), and including kits and components intended to produce such fireworks.”

There are exceptions to these bans, but they generally apply to farmers and ranchers for practical wildlife management purposes. We’re guessing that most of you won’t be using firecrackers to scare animals away from your crops this weekend.

READ MORE: Don’t Use These Recalled Fireworks

But what about my state, you ask? Good question. Rather than walk everyone through each state’s particular rules, we’ll point you to the folks at the American Pyrotechnics Association, who have this handy breakdown of the peculiarities in each state.

There are only a handful of states that outright prohibit the use of fireworks. For instance, while Delaware might be the home of tax-free shopping, all consumer-grade fireworks, including sparklers, are not allowed under state law. The same for New Jersey and Massachusetts.

Another three states are dubbed “sparkler” states because of state laws that effectively ban the use of anything but novelty fireworks. In Ohio, people can buy some fireworks, but they generally can’t use them in the state. Vermont allows sparklers, snakes, party poppers and the like, but not firecrackers, and the Illinois state Fire Marshall has a list of approved and prohibited products, which is largely limited to novelty items.

The rest of the country gets more complicated, with states ranging from very close to being sparkler-only, to others that say it’s all okay so long as it meets those two federal rules.



Here’s A Bunch Of Patriotic-Ish Movies You Can Stream This Fourth Of July

For many people, this Fourth of July weekend is sure to be a busy one — Parades! Picnics! Parties! But when the fireworks have all stopped and you’ve been rendered immobile after consuming too many grilled things — or if you just need a few hours to not talk to your family and friends about the definition of “patriotism” — you can still get into the spirit of the weekend with some movies.

Here’s a list — far from encyclopedic, but a good start — of holiday-relevant viewing available on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu (some are admittedly a bit of a stretch, but not every movie can be 1776) on July 4:

Netflix

American Genius
A National Geographic series that “depicts some of America’s fiercest scientific and technological rivalries, including Colt vs. Wesson, Edison vs. Tesla, and Jobs vs. Gates.”

American Hero
A reluctant superhero named Melvin is all about crime, womanizing, and drugs, until he inevitably goes through some kind of change of heart that makes him see everything differently.

Armageddon
Bruce Willis — that steely-eyed icon of American can-do grit — is tasked with saving the world from a Texas-sized asteroid threatening to wipe out humankind. Meanwhile, Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” will threaten to take over your brain after only one listen.

Captain America: Civil War
It’s not about the American Civil War, but rather, fictional, internal strife in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Captain America and Iron Man have beef, deliver witty barbs while they (and most of the Avengers) slug it out.

Forrest Gump
You know what they say about life, sometimes it can be boiled down to fictionalized versions of important events in American history in a movie starring Tom Hanks.

House of Cards
Oh hey, this one is not a movie and is instead a TV series about politics and presidents starring Kevin Spacey, his southern accent, and the flawless Robin Wright.

How to Make an American Quilt
Romantic drama about a group of women who come together every year to make quilts and tell stories about their lives. A spy thriller it is not.

Inside The American Mob
America’s history isn’t all about heroes, after all. This documentary explores the organized crime activities of the Italian Mafia, especially in New York City.

JFK: The Making Of A President
This documentary is about how John F. Kennedy’s formative years and personal tragedies informed his worldview in the Oval Office.

Ken Burns-apalooza: The War, The Civil War, The West, Prohibition, and The Roosevelts: An Intimate History
You want Ken Burns? You got him — hours upon hours of American history.

Making the American Man
Another documentary, this one takes a look at “the makers of American-made goods for men, and the resurgence of clothing manufacturing in the United States,” according to IMDB.

Nick Offerman: American Ham
Nick Offerman’s secrets to a happy life involve red meat and minor nudity in this comedy special.

Of Men and War
A 2015 documentary following several veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, winner of a special jury award at the San Francisco International Film Festival.

Patton
If you’re a fan of World War II General George S. Patton, well, this movie is right up your alley. Starring the similarly named George C. Scott and written by Francis Ford Coppola.

Seal Team Six: The Raid On Osama Bin Laden
A dramatic recreation that follows U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6 from training for a critical mission through the nighttime raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound.

The West Wing
Okay, so it’s not a movie. But it is about a president in the White House, so, you know. All seven seasons are available.

Unsung Heroes: The Story of America’s Female Patriots
A documentary profiling some of the top-ranking women in the U.S. military.

U.S.S. Indianapolis
Somehow, this is Nicolas Cage’s first appearance on this list. Anyway this one takes place during World War II, when an American navy ship is sunk by Japanese forces — in the middle of shark-infested waters. I haven’t seen it but I fully expect Nicolas Cage to punch a shark.

Wet Hot American Summer: The First Day of Camp and
Hurricane of Fun: The Making of Wet Hot American Summer
For the millions of Americans who’ve spent a Fourth of July at summer camp, the WHAS series based on the 2001 flick will bring back all those hours of macrame, capture the flag, and awkward adolescent social interactions. But funnier. Obsessed with the original movie? It’s not on Netflix right now, but a documentary about the making of it is.

Hulu

Clear and Present Danger
Oh, look, it’s American Treasure Harrison Ford, starring once again as CIA analyst Jack Ryan. This time he’s fighting a Colombian drug cartel.

La Bamba
The story of the life of teen wonder Ritchie Valens leading up to the tragic [spoiler alert] plane crash that changed American music when it took the life of the 17-year-old musician, as well as fellow legends Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper.

Patriot Games
Sure, it’s more about the IRA but there’s spy action and the word “patriot” is in the title. Plus, American Treasure Harrison Ford as CIA analyst Jack Ryan.

Rescue Dawn
Christian Bale is a U.S. fighter pilot who gets shot down over Laos during the Vietnam War. Co-starring another American Treasure Steve Zahn and directed by Werner Herzog.

The Hunt for Red October
The year is 1984, it’s America vs. Russia, and Sean Connery is there.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Clint Eastwood stars in this hunt for buried gold in the old West. His steely-eyed gaze co-stars.

Top Gun
Maverick! Goose!! Iceman!!! Kenny Loggins!!!! Hotshot fighter pilots compete to be the best at The Top Gun Naval Fighter Weapons School while Tom Cruise learns some important life lessons about falling in love with your instructor.

Amazon

American Rodeo: A Cowboy Christmas
Cowboys! Nothing more American than cowboys, right?

America’s Sweethearts
Hey, it has the word “America” in it and is about our nation’s obsession with celebrities so it’s pretty apt.

Clear and Present Danger
Oh, look, it’s American Treasure Harrison Ford, starring once again as CIA analyst Jack Ryan. This time he’s fighting a Colombian drug cartel [Yes, this is the same description used in the other section for this movie! You caught me!].

Cold Mountain
This isn’t an uplifting tale but it is about American history, and Nicole Kidman teaming up with Renee Zellweger to fend off miscreants that would threaten their livelihood in the ashes of the Civil War.

Days Of Thunder
IMDB sums up this Tom Cruise flick pretty aptly so let’s just go with it: “A young hot-shot stock car driver gets his chance to compete at the top level.” Not top gun, but top level, you see.

Footloose
Kevin Bacon dancing out his frustrations with a repressive, backwards-thinking society in a factory while wearing a tank top? That’s America.

John Adams (Season 1)
Paul Giammatti and Laura Linney both earned Golden Globes for their performance in this miniseries, which I have not yet watched but which my mother assures me is great.

Ken Burns-apalooza!: The War; The National Parks — America’s Best Idea; Baseball; The Central Park Five; The Dust Bowl; The West (Season 1); Prohibition (Season 1); Theodore Roosevelt: A Cowboy’s Ride to the White House
You could destroy at least an entire three-day weekend on Ken Burns documentaries alone. Here’s a start.

Patriot
No, this isn’t the Mel Gibson/Heath Ledger Revolutionary War movie. The titular patriot of this Amazon original series is an undercover American spy/assassin who also moonlights as a folk singer, and whose songs reveal a little too much about his secretive activities.

Patriotic Cartoon Classics: 25 All-American Cartoons from World War II
You’ve got your Bugs Bunny, you’ve got your Porky Pig, and then there’s Daffy Duck, Popeye, and Superman — for two and a half hours. If your kid has chicken pox and can’t go outside, this will help (believe me).

Rescue Dawn
Christian Bale is a U.S. fighter pilot who gets shot down over Laos during the Vietnam War. Co-starring another American Treasure Steve Zahn and directed by Werner Herzog. [Yes, I reused the summary from above, you are very observant].

Spirit of the Pony Express
The story of how the Pony Express became the Pony Express at the beginning of the Civil War. Also, PONIES!

The Jackie Robinson Story
The Dodgers legend stars as himself in the 1950 drama about Robinson’s journey to becoming the player that broke long-enforced ban against non-whites in Major League Baseball.

The Tuskegee Airmen
Laurence Fishburne stars in this tale of “The Fighting 99th” — the first squadron of African American U.S. Army Air Corps fighter pilots in WWII.

Wild Wild West
A not-entirely-accurate depiction of the American Old West, as interpreted by Will Smith and Kevin Kline.

4th of July Fireworks Patriotic Ambient Video for Independence Day Party
If, for some reason, you cannot view fireworks in person, you can always put them on your TV to set the scene.

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Today In Streaming TV: Charter Tests Skinny Bundle, CenturyLink Launches $45 Package

The trend continues: As consumers increasingly cut the cord and back away from traditional pay-TV, they still want to watch content. And rather than let all the money go to Hulu, PlayStation Vue, and YouTube, cable and satellite companies are cautiously wading into the all-online world. This week, CenturyLink and possibly Charter are joining the fray.

First up, CenturyLink. As DSL Reports has observed, CenturyLink’s own over-the-top streaming service has officially launched, although it’s still technically considered a beta test.

Packages start at $45 per month and are available to anyone, not just existing CenturyLink subscribers. However, customers who also have CenturyLink broadband can get a $5 per month discount by bundling the two.

CenturyLink Stream includes a Cloud DVR, for recording programming to watch later, and can be used on a Roku, via an iOS or Android app, or a dedicated CenturyLink player, which is basically CenturyLink’s version of a Roku or similar device.

The price and channels on offer put CenturyLink Stream pretty much right in line with similar offerings from Hulu, Sling (Dish), DirecTV Now (AT&T), YouTube TV (Google), and PlayStation Vue (Sony). Subscribers can also add bundles of premium networks, sports, movies, or Spanish-language programming to their packages for extra fees.

Verizon is rumored to be considering its own similar offering, as is Comcast, but neither has gotten there yet.

The last big holdout, Charter, also seems to be working on a new online service. A Reddit user spotted the offer for a Spectrum streaming bundle — not including sports — for $20.

Charter confirmed the offer to Fast Company reporter Jared Newman, who Tweeted out the company’s statement.

The official name of the service is Spectrum Stream — yes, a difficult-to-Google name just like CenturyLink Stream and Comcast Stream — and right now it’s just a small pilot program, Charter said. Currently the offer is in testing with “a small group of pre qualified and current Spectrum Internet customers” to see of it “resonates” with “a certain segment of non-video customers.”

That’s the sound of Charter trying really hard not to say “millennials,” for which we thank them.

Stream is viewable on “connected and mobile devices, without requiring a set-top box.” There is as yet no word on when or if the pilot will expand.



RadioShack Creditors Sue Sprint, Accuse It Of Destroying 6,000 Jobs

Just over two years ago, venerable but bankrupt electronics chain RadioShack cut a deal with mobile carrier Sprint to save thousands of jobs and keep 1,740 stores that were formerly part of RadioShack open. Only the unsecured creditors in RadioShack’s second bankruptcy now accuse its pal Sprint of using information from the contract to open hundreds of stores near the strongest RadioShack locations, dooming the reborn RadioShack..

Reuters reports that in a lawsuit filed in Delaware state court, the committee of unsecured creditors in this 2017 bankruptcy accuses Sprint of breaching its contract with RadioShack, not providing the phone inventory and employees that were part of the contract that the two companies signed to create the SprintShacks.

Instead, the unsecured creditors allege, Sprint used information it obtained from the deal with RadioShack to learn which locations were the “best” ones, then opened its own stores near those Shacks. The unsecured creditors committee accuses the carrier of opening 200 stores meant to take business from high-grossing RadioShacks.

The unsecured creditors are seeking $500 million in damages from Sprint, accusing it of destroying RadioShack and 6,000 jobs. These creditors also lost the money that they loaned to the company.

A Sprint spokesman told Reuters that the company plans to defend itself against these accusations “vigorously,” and that it is “disappointed by the creditors’ committee action.”

Like people, businesses have two kinds of debt: The kind backed up with collateral that the lender can take back (like real estate or merchandise) and the kind that isn’t. Holders of secured debt (the kind with collateral) get to line up first in bankruptcy proceedings, and unsecured creditors get what’s left.

At the time the new version of RadioShack was created, other lenders objected to the acquisition of the RadioShack business from General Wireless, complaining that hedge fund Standard General was able to use the company’s debt as currency in the bankruptcy auction instead of cash, which would have won back more money for other creditors.

It took a year to get the stores up and running and full of merchandise again, with executives noting at the time that they had to remind people that the chain even still existed.



Convenience Store Clerk Shames Would-Be Robber Into Apologizing

Proving that a guilty conscience can be a powerful thing, a convenience store clerk in South Carolina shamed an armed man who was trying to rob the store into backing out of the dastardly deed.

Horry County police responded to the store on June 18 after a man walked in and demanded man while brandishing a knife, reports The Sun News.

But the night clerk — who police say remained “unfazed” by the threat — refused to hand over any cash, and instead ordered the suspect out of the store.

Stymied in his robbery efforts, “he apologized to the clerk,” put the knife away, and left.

Police are now asking the public to help find the suspect, who is described as a white man in his early 30s, about 5’9” and 130 pounds. He was either driving or was the passenger in a Chevrolet Suburban. Recognize him? Contact the Horry County Police Department.

This isn’t the first time a would-be criminal or an actual thief has felt bad enough to apologize for their misdeeds, actual or attempted:

An apologetic citizen returned a city’s anti-drug signs 30 years later with a note and $50.

A regretful thief returned money to a gas station hours after robbing it, and offered up a mea culpa.

A shoplifter said “sorry” for beating up a Walmart greeter who got in the middle of an altercation with a store guard.

A remorseful thief brought back a three-month old kitten stolen from a pet store with an apology note, blaming a lack of funds and Valentine’s Day pressure.

A KFC customer sent the restaurant $2 and an apology letter for stealing a piece of chicken.

A bar worker returned $200 she stole from her job 15 years before, with an apology note.

A pumpkin thief brought back a kid’s gigantic stolen gourd and offered his apologies in a letter saying it was wrong and that the boy had earned the pumpkin.

Penitent burglars returned their ill-gotten loot to the scene of the crime and put their apology in writing.

A thief felt awfully bad about stealing a couple’s tandem bike, and returned it with an apology note.



5 Questions To Ask Before Using A Peer-To-Peer Mobile Payment App

It’s never been easier to split the bill with your friends — from “Venmo-ing” $20 for a birthday gift or Facebook messaging $12 for your share of last night’s pizza. But brand new peer-to-peer (P2P) payment systems backed by big players, including established banks, are hitting app stores this year. Apple plans to debut its own P2P app this fall, while the big banks are banding together for a product called Zelle. With so many competing services, how will you decide which system (if any) to use?

Sure, you might be confident enough to download an app based on your friends’ recommendation (or simply because they owe you money), but you might be better served if you do a little investigating on your own.

From knowing your legal rights, to understanding just how long you have to wait before your cash is available to withdraw, there’s more to P2P systems than silly app names and convenience.

Here are five questions to ask when looking for a peer-to-peer payment system.

Can I Talk to a Human?

No one imagines running into an issue when sending their friend a quick $10 to split some happy hour cocktails, but when you use an service to send money — things can go wrong. For example, it can be easy to send a payment to the wrong contact.

No matter the issue, sooner or later P2P users will want to contact customer service. But when you do, will you get to talk to an actual person or will you have to rely on a ‘bot for help? That’s a question you should be able to answer before picking a system, said Christina Tetreault, our colleague and staff attorney for Consumers Union.

“The reason that’s the first piece of advice is that some P2Ps might have something in their contract that says ‘we aren’t going to help you, or we aren’t going to help you, but you should talk to your bank,” she tells Consumerist. “Having that information is crucial.”

While automated customer service might help in some situations, talking to a real person can typically serve to resolve issues more quickly and thoroughly.

Additionally, if you’re dealing with a business, like a store, you may need to contact the merchant instead of the payment app. For example, Venmo suggests customers contact the authorized merchant to attempt to resolve your issue before filing a dispute or claim with the P2P provider.

For those seeking to file a complaint about Facebook’s payment system, the company provides specific contact plans for different types of customers in certain states.

Is This Business or Personal?

There are a plethora of peer-to-peer payment options on the market, but many have very specific intended uses; some are for paying your friends, others are for buying goods or paying for services. Some can be used for both, but may require different accounts.

Because your use of the service can influence your rights, Tetreault notes that it’s crucial to read the terms and conditions to ensure you’re using the system for what it was designed to do.

For instance, if you’re using an app for commercial purposes, like cutting grass, you want to make sure you’re using a system designed for businesses.

“Even if you don’t think of yourself as a business, you could be,” Tetreault says, noting that even doing something as minor as yard work or snow shoveling could constitute a business in the system’s terms.

If you’re using a personal peer-to-peer app for business purposes, you might not be covered legally if something were to happen, like a payment bounced.

For example, Venmo offers separate business and personal accounts for users. Personal accounts are to be used only for person-to-person transfers with friends and family, and others you may know. These accounts may not be used to receive business, commercial, or merchant transactions.

Venmo specifically notes that using a personal account for business purposes, or a business account for personal, family, or household purposes would constitute as a breach of contract, which could result in holds or transaction reversals.

As for Facebook, the company notes in its payment terms that the P2P service “is not intended to be used for business, commercial, or merchant transactions and such use may be discontinued without notice by us at any time.”

Additionally, the company may place a hold on transactions or place a reserve on funds if evidence of business, commercial, or merchant use is discovered.

What Does It Cost?

While using a P2P payment service can be a quick and rather effortless process, there could be fees that will impact which service is the best fit for you, Adam Rust, research director for Reinvestment Partners told Consumerist.

Different payment services offer different fee structures depending on the type of transaction and which payment method is linked to your account.

For instance, Venmo charges a standard 3% fee for some transactions, including those when a credit card is used to send money. However, that fee is waived when the transactions are funded by Venmo balance, bank account, or debit card.

Additionally, Venmo notes that users may be subject to third-party fees, such as insufficient fund fees, reversal fees, or ACH insufficient fund fees that a bank may charge if your payment is rejected.

Square Snapcash doesn’t charge fees for sending or receiving money, at least not right now. However, the company says it reserves the right to charge for and/or change the fees associated with use at anytime.

Facebook also notes that it doesn’t charge any fees for P2P transfers, but that customers could be on the hook for fees in the future if the payment is later invalidated for any reason.

Where’s The Actual Money?

Simply hitting “Pay” or “Transfer” doesn’t necessarily mean that funds will appear in your bank account. For many services, funds don’t actually go straight to your bank account. Instead, they appear as credit in your P2P account. For instance, if a friend sent you money to pay for a pizza you split, those funds would go into your P2P account. You could keep the credit in the P2P system, and then use those funds then to send another friend money for last night’s drink.

As with depositing a check or making a payment via a debit or credit card, it can take days for a peer-to-peer payment service to process a transaction that involves your bank. Rust tells Consumerist that while non-banking P2P services, like Venmo and Facebook, seem to transfer funds quickly within their systems, they must still traverse the traditional banking system in order to deliver actual cash to you — meaning that you’ll likely have to wait for a payment to clear before being able to access your funds outside the service.

Reading the terms and conditions for each service is crucial to knowing where and when you might expect funds to appear in your bank account.

“You need to check how quickly you can use the money, not just within the service, but to other accounts,” Tetreault said. “It’s complicated, and these are things people don’t think about, they want to spend it on what they want, but it could add a few days.”

Venmo, for example, says it will provide customers with an estimated arrival date when transferring funds from your Venmo account to your actual bank.

If a transfer is submitted before 7 p.m. ET, they will typically reach a user’s bank account in one business day. However, Venmo notes that all withdrawls could be delayed or blocked if a problem arrises.

When receiving a payment, the funds are automatically transferred to the customer’s Venmo account. If the funds aren’t transferred to a bank account or used after 30 days, Venmo will send the user a reminder to withdraw the funds or return them to their attached bank account.

Rust tells Consumerist that the systems are being forced to evolve with the addition of Zelle to the marketplace. Zelle is the bank-backed P2P system, and because this service is the service is fully-integrated into the banks that support it, the transactions are quicker, with near immediate payments.

According to its website, Zelle claims that customers can transfer funds to friends in a matter of minutes. However, the website notes that is only possible when the transactions are made between financial intuitions that both use Zelle. If this isn’t the case, it could take one to three days.

Where’s My Information Going?

Using a P2P service means sharing a wealth of personal information, not just your name and email, but also data pertinent to your bank account.

Knowing what these companies do with that information is critically important to users, and that means reading your chosen service’s terms and conditions and privacy policy. Here’s the privacy policy for Venmo, for example.

Privacy policies don’t necessarily guarantee you privacy, but they do provide you with information on what you can expect a business to do — or not do — with your data. Read the policy carefully. Look for phrases like “third-party sharing” and check to see if your consent is required for your information to be shared, sold, or used for marketing.

“Generally speaking, you want to use a reliable service provider,” Tetreault says, explaining that answering just few questions by reading the fine print can help you decide if a service will work well for you. It’s also a good idea to see if the service is generally popular with its userbase — or if there seem to be a lot of problems.

“You also may want to look online to see what complaints are for any given service,” she adds.



Sony Returns To Making Vinyl Records After 28-Year Break

Although streaming music services are currently duking it out for listeners’ ears, there will always be people out there who insist to their friends, “You know, this actually sounds a lot better on vinyl.” For those folks — as well as many other music fans who enjoy tunes produced by a solid hunk of plastic — Sony has decided to resume pressing vinyl records for the first time since 1989.

Sony wants to keep up with demand from not only from aging hipsters, but also younger people who might be discovering vinyl for the first time.

Production will start in March 2018 at a plant in Japan run by a subsidiary of Sony Music Entertainment, reports Nikkei. The last vinyl record Sony pressed in-house was in 1989, when CDs were beginning to replace cassettes as the dominant format.

Sony will be pressing popular older albums, mostly Japanese music it holds the rights to, as well as newer hit records. The company will also field offers from other record labels, as one of only two record manufacturers in the country.

The company also installed record-cutting equipment at a Tokyo recording studio earlier this year, which will allow it to make the masters required to copy vinyl records. Sony may have a hard time finding engineers who know the old ways and can share that knowledge with the next generation.

The timing is right, as the last few years have seen vinyl LPs return to popularity. For example: In 2015, while CD sales were flagging, vinyl sales hit $321 million, a whopping 50% increase from 2014.

“A lot of young people buy songs that they hear and love on streaming services,” Sony Music CEO Michinori Mizuno said of vinyl’s newfound popularity.



Trump, GOP Senators Suggest Simply Repealing Obamacare Without Replacement

With Republican lawmakers unable to reach a consensus on how to replace the Affordable Care Act, President Trump and some influential senators are now calling for a straightforward repeal of the law, with any replacement to come at some later date.

President Trump, as is his tendency, made his suggestion in an early morning Tweet, saying that if GOP senators can’t reach a deal on their current repeal-and-replace legislation, they should “immediately REPEAL, and then REPLACE at a later date!”:

Shortly after this remark, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky — who has decried the Senate bill as being “Obamacare Light” — claimed to have spoken to the President about this issue and that they are of a like mind about moving forward with simply repealing the 2010 healthcare law:

Nebraska’s Ben Sasse said this morning that he has written to the White House arguing for “maximum repeal, however much repeal we can do under these arcane reconciliation rules.”

In his letter, Sasse contends that it looks like his party “will either fail to pass any meaningful bill at all, or will instead pass a bill that looks to prop up many of the crumbling Obama care structures.”

The senator argues that if there is no way to get to 50 yes votes by July 10, “we should immediately vote again” on a 2015 repeal bill — introduced by Tom Price, the new Health and Human Services Secretary, when he was still in Congress. That bill made it all the way to President Obama’s desk before being vetoed in early 2016. The GOP did not have enough votes to overcome that veto.

What Would Repeal-Only Look Like?

If lawmakers were able to pass a clone version of that bill, what would that mean for Americans?

Among the key points of the vetoed Price legislation:
• Repealing the so-called “individual mandate” — the requirement that most people purchase some minimal form of qualifying healthcare coverage or face a financial penalty.
• Repealing the “employer mandate” — the requirement that larger employers provide qualifying coverage to their workers.
• Getting rid of subsidies for individual insurance policies purchased through state healthcare exchanges.
• Eliminating the 3.8% tax on investment earnings for individuals making at least $200,000 or married couples earning $250,000 combined.
• Eliminating the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which helps to pay for many state and local public health and disease prevention initiatives.
• Eliminating new taxes on medical devices manufacturers and insurers.
• Maintaining provisions that required insurers to let young adults stay on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26.
• Maintaining the prohibition against denying access or charging excessive premiums to Americans with pre-existing conditions.

A Dec. 2015 analysis of this bill by the Congressional Budget Office concluded that this legislation “would result in a less healthy population” in the individual insurance market, and “correspondingly higher average premiums.” The pain would be hardest felt in smaller states, where markets could become unstable “leading to very low to no participation by insurers and consumers.”

More recently, the CBO looked back at the Price legislation to estimate its impact on the number of Americans who would lose or go without coverage. According to that Jan. 2017 report, an additional 18 million people would likely lose or ditch their insurance within the first year of repeal. By 2026, that number would swell to 32 million — that’s 10 million more than the latest prediction for the current replacement bill being considered by the Senate.

Could A Straight Repeal Pass?

Anything is possible, and there are reportedly other hardline conservative senators who would line up to support a second chance at passing the Price bill. At the same time, with only a two-vote majority in the Senate, any bill would need strong backing by its more moderate members.

When the Senate voted on the Price bill in 2015, two Republicans — Sen. Mark Kirk (IL) and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine — voted against the measure, with no Democrats crossing party lines to vote yes. Kirk is no longer in the Senate, but there are other moderates who may have trouble selling their constituents on a full repeal.

Remember that the 2015 legislation — one of many repeal bills introduced since 2010 — was passed by Congress knowing full well that it would be vetoed by the White House and that it likely didn’t have the votes to override that veto. In fact, the House vote to override fell far short of the two-thirds majority needed.

If the Senate did decide to move forward with a strict repeal-only plan, knowing this time that there’s a very good chance the President would sign it, if all GOP lawmakers would feel comfortable passing a legislation that could leave so many Americans without insurance.



Consumerist Friday Flickr Finds

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

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



jeudi 29 juin 2017

UPS Deliveries By Golf Cart Now Legal In Kentucky

UPS is testing package delivery drones on trucks so a single driver can make multiple deliveries at once, but how can it make short-range deliveries now, without buying more trucks? A new law in Kentucky allows for package deliveries by golf cart on public roads. Yes, golf carts.

In theory, UPS can begin using its special golf carts to make deliveries starting today, the Wall Street Journal reports. However, the vehicles and the part-time, lower-paid drivers who drive them will mostly be deployed during holiday shopping season to help UPS keep up with shipping demand.

The company’s drivers aren’t very happy about the new vehicles, though. Golf carts are included in the UPS drivers’ union contracts. Until now, deliveries using them have been limited to places like retirement communities in Florida where people get around primarily using similar carts, and the paths don’t accommodate cars.

However, union representatives point out that even if the carts are retrofitted with seat belts and turn signals, and have decals marking them as “slow-moving vehicles,” letting drivers on public roads with regular passenger vehicles and trucks is unsafe.

The carts have flat beds for packages or haul cart-sized package trailers, and travel at about 15 miles per hour. Each charge runs a cart for up to 40 miles. They would only operate in areas where the posted speed limit is under 35 miles per hour. The part-time cart drivers would make a few dollars less per hour than a beginning driver of UPS delivery trucks.

“They’re just looking to pay the drivers less at the expense of the safety,” a Kentucky UPS driver and member of the Teamsters union told the WSJ.

A UPS spokesman countered that the company would not put its employees in danger.

“The safety of our [workers] always comes first and we will not operate in conditions that are determined to be unsafe,” he told the newspaper.

UPS, which has its “Worldport” sorting facility in Kentucky and is a major employer, lobbied the state government to make cart deliveries legal. Its goal is more “flexibility” during the busy holiday season.



Budget Office: Long-Term Medicaid Spending Would Drop 35% Under Obamacare Repeal Plan

As we mentioned in our coverage of the Congressional Budget Office’s review of the Senate proposal to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the ten-year focus of the CBO analysis could not fully illustrate the impact of Medicaid cuts that wouldn’t come until the latter half of that decade. Today, the CBO released a separate report that estimates what effect those cuts might have ten to twenty years from now.

In the CBO’s initial report, it said that the Senate’s Better Care Reconciliation Act would lead to a 26% cut in Medicaid spending by 2026. Today’s analysis [PDF] predicts that this gap would continue to grow over the subsequent decade, reaching 35% by 2036.

Opponents of the BCRA said the typical 10-year window for a CBO report was inadequate for the senate GOP proposal, since many of the long-term changes to federal involvement in Medicaid don’t begin until the latter portion of that window.

For instance, starting in 2025, the BCRA would change how the government calculates its per-person spending caps for Medicaid. The new formula, which ties growth the the cost of consumer goods rather than, as the House proposed, the cost of medical care, will mean slower spending growth for Medicaid in the long run, but just how slow was unknown. The CBO report gives us a first estimate of that long-range effect.

Earlier this week, President Trump attempted to counter reports of Medicaid cuts by posting this graph on Twitter that shows Medicaid spending projected to still continue through 2026:

However, as Vox.com quickly pointed out, the actual effect of the GOP proposal is only shown when you show where spending would be under current law:

Medicaid is a joint program of the federal and state governments, and decreases in federal spending will likely mean shifting more of the financial burden to states.

The CBO analysis notes that states will have to decide “whether to commit more of their own resources, cut payments to health care providers and health plans, eliminate optional services, restrict eligibility for enrollment,” and that “Over the long term, there would be increasing pressure on more states to use all of those tools to a greater extent.”

Additionally, while CBO does not provide specifics, it expects that Medicaid enrollment would continue to drop after 2026, meaning an even larger number of Americans would likely be without healthcare. The 10-year analysis predicted that the BCRA would result in 22 million people going without insurance who would otherwise be covered under the current law, with 15 million of those being people who would have otherwise been eligible for Medicaid.

Medicaid currently covers nearly 70 million Americans, paying for about half of all childbirth in the U.S. and covering the majority of nursing home stays, in addition to providing healthcare for low-income families and the disabled.



Phone Sex Operators Say They Are Making Less Than Minimum Wage

No matter what field you work in, we all have the right to make at least minimum wage. But phone-sex operators working for a Florida-based company claim in a lawsuit that they’re being paid far less for their intimate chat time.

In a complaint [PDF] filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, the plaintiff claims that Tele Pay USA — a company whose overly bland name is incongruously attached to an image of a lingerie-clad model — pays its workers as little as $4.20 per hour, in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The national minimum wage is currently $7.25/hour, though a number of states and cities have set higher minimums.

The workers contend that the allegedly low wages they receive are a small fraction of what Tele Pay charges. According to the lawsuit, callers pay as much as $5 per minute for the intimate chit-chat. That would be $300 for an hour of Tele Pay talk, per these numbers.

The plaintiffs say that Tele Pay portrays itself as a “booking agent” for actors who are seeking to provide “entertainment services” over the phone, with the purported purpose of negotiating and booking engagements for these actors — the engagement, of course, being a phone call between a customer and the sex-talk operators.

But there is no negotiation involved, the lawsuit alleges, and Tele Pay doesn’t book engagements. The plaintiff says that as an employee, she was hired to field calls on telephone sex chat lines and engage in sexually explicit talk for a fee that’s paid directly to Tele Pay.

She works from home, and is required by Tele Pay to keep a landline telephone, and stay within reach of it and her personal computer for certain periods of time to field customer calls, the lawsuit says.

In a typical week, the plaintiff usually fields dozens of calls, with a weekly call average of six minutes per call. But at that pace, she’s only paid about $0.10 per talk minute, the lawsuit claims.

Often when she fields the required calls, the length of her chats fall below an average of six minutes per call, at which point her hourly income drops to just $0.07 per minute, the lawsuit claims.

Other factors that are out of her control determine her hourly rate, the complaint claims: For example, even if it’s a prank call, dropped call, or just a silent call with no one talking on the other end, those calls get included in her average call length calculation.

According to the complaint, Tele Pay also makes it difficult “if not impossible” for the workers to track time and ensure they’re being paid properly.

“Tele Pay makes sure that Plaintiff cannot see a real time estimate of what her day’s average call time is until the following day,” when averages are calculated and posted online. But the suit claims that the statistics listed on that site are just an “estimate”: The final calculations are done at the end of the work week, on Sunday, making it “impossible for any actor to have an accurate accounting of their job performance and pay.”

The complaint also describes meetings convened by Tele Pay, where a man referenced as “Don” gives the employees pointers on what to say and how to keep their average call times up.

“He reminds them repeatedly, cajoling them over and over with the telephone sex talk mantra – ‘Remember, it’s not HOW MANY calls you take, but HOW LONG you keep these guys on the phone!’” the complaint claims.

Micro-managing is also an alleged problem: Tele Pay is accused of controlling “all aspects of each call,” ordering operators to answer the phone on the first ring, and “stressing how very important it is to pick up after the first ring or face termination.” The company also allegedly dispatches conduct tests almost daily to make sure operators are picking up immediately.

Not only that, but the phone-sex actors are spammed on a daily basis with several emails from Tele Pay, the complaint alleges, with subject lines like “Calls Coming in like Crazy! Log-In Now!”

The plaintiff also alleges that Tele Pay requires her and other workers to work overtime hours without compensating them for that work.

“Women are a core part of both the national and global economy,” the lawsuit states. “Unfortunately, the abuses and financial exploitation they experience often remain invisible. This is especially true for workers in female-dominated sectors of the economy such as sex talk workers. They are hidden from the public eye.”

The class-action suit is seeking to recover unpaid minimum hourly wages and compensation, unpaid overtime wages, and other compensation, including but not limited to wages for hours worked but not recorded or paid.

Consumerist has reached out to Tele Pay for comment on the allegations in this lawsuit, and we will update this post if we hear back.

[h/t Courthouse News]



GOP Might Not Include $172 Billion Tax Cut In Obamacare Repeal Plan

Though Senate leadership recently decided to delay a vote on its plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, the GOP is still hoping to get the details of that bill ironed out before the holiday. One possible change involves a controversial tax on the wealthy that has long been a target of repeal advocates.

The current version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act would eliminate a 3.8% tax on investments that only applies to individuals earning more than $200,000 per year or married couples earning a total of $250,000, and only on earnings from things like capital gains, investment interest, dividends, and annuities.

Critics of this tax cut — which would total more than $172 billion over the next ten years, according to the Congressional Budget Office — have characterized it as a giveaway to the wealthy, especially as the tax repeal offers no apparent direct benefit to the insurance markets.

Multiple reports now indicate that the GOP is leaning toward keeping this tax in place and using the money to help pay for subsidies that would keep insurance premiums affordable.

Speaking this morning, Sen. Bob Corker (TN) said the GOP wants to “address the issue of ensuring lower-income citizens are in a position to buy plans that are actually provide them appropriate healthcare,” and that he believes “my sense is the 3.8% repeal will go away.”

This move might help convince some moderate Republicans to ultimately vote in favor of the BCRA. However, keeping the tax may upset the balance and push some more conservative senators to question their support.

“I don’t remember anybody going around saying oh, except for these job-killing tax increases,” said Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania today about the possibility of keeping the investment tax. “So I expect that we’ll be repealing all the taxes.”

Cutting the ACA’s taxes has been a key promise for some lawmakers like Toomey, who received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Club for Growth, an organization whose stated focus is reducing taxes and cutting government spending. In fact, Toomey served as president of CFG between his stints in the House and Senate.

Other top senate recipients of Club For Growth contributions, like Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Utah’s Mike Lee, have been more explicit in their disapproval of this bill. Lee, along with Ted Cruz (TX) and Rand Paul (KY), is among the hardline conservatives who have dubbed the BCRA “Obamacare Light,” while Johnson penned a NY Times op-ed piece this week saying he could not support the bill in its current state.

It’s not known if the decision on the investment tax will be made before the July 4 holiday, or in time for the next estimate of the BCRA’s effects from the Congressional Budget Office. Rather than wait for each new iteration of the BCRA to be finalized, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has reportedly been providing the CBO with incremental updates to the legislation to expedite their review.

The GOP can only lose two Republican members to “no” votes if it hopes to pass this bill. Currently, there are at least five senators — from both ends of the party’s ideological spectrum — who have indicated they would not vote for the proposal as initially released by McConnell.



Former StarKist Tuna Executive Pleads Guilty To Price-Fixing

Of all the industries to be rocked by scandal, you probably never expected that Big Tuna would be a hotbed of conspiracy. And yet, another fishy exec has agreed to plead guilty to his part in a price-fixing scheme that resulted in American shoppers paying more at the store.

The Department of Justice says that the former senior vice president of sales at StarKist was part of a conspiracy of three executives who, according to the federal government, illegally discussed the prices of their products and agreed on prices, keeping the cost of shelf-stable fish artificially high from at least 2011 to 2013.

The StarKist executive is the third executive who was part of the conspiracy to plead guilty: The other two worked for competitor Bumble Bee. He will be sentenced at an undetermined later date, and in the meantime will pay a fine and cooperate with the investigation.

“With today’s plea, the Antitrust Division continues to send a strong signal that senior executives will be held accountable for their actions,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Andrew Finch of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division said in a statement, vowing that prosecutors and their colleagues in law enforcement will “continue to investigate price fixing among packaged seafood companies and the executives who worked at those companies.”

Last month, Bumble Bee pleaded guilty as a company to the same scheme, and agreed to pay a $25 million fine for its role in a scheme to set the price of shelf-stable fish artificially high for at least two years.



Strapping Dressers, Bookshelves, Lamps, Cleaning Supplies, A TV, & A Bike To Your Minivan Will Probably Get You Pulled Over

Just because you can arrange every item you own into a patchwork rooftop tower of furniture, household items, cleaning supplies, blankets, and bungee doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. The best you can say about it is that your efforts will make for a good photo when the police pull you over.

In fact, the New Hampshire State Police did just that after pulling over the above minivan whose owners should probably be congratulated for their ingenuity, but still ticketed because they posed a danger to themselves and everyone else on the road.

There appear to be several large pieces of furniture in the mix — draped in towels and other fabric — like book shelves, dressers, and chairs; a flat screen TV box with other stuff shoved inside it; a broom or two, a rake, and a dolly — all topped off with a bike.

But wait, there’s more.

The stuff then spills down the back in a veritable waterfall of furniture, lamps, and cleaning supplies.

All of this amounts to a potentially unsafe driving situation, police note in their post.

“Driving with items attached/strapped to your vehicle can be extremely dangerous for you and those driving nearby,” police warn. “These objects can obstruct your view or even worse become unsecure and cause an accident.”



Amazon/Whole Foods Merger Forcing Supermarkets To Take Delivery Seriously

With Amazon set to merge its massive delivery network with Whole Foods’ existing retail business, more supermarkets are beginning to realize they have to start offering food delivery to their customers.

While some chains already offer delivery in certain markets, the easiest answer may be to partner with an existing service, whether it’s a personalized shopping platform like Instacart or companies like Peapod and FreshDirect that act more like online supermarkets.

Now that Amazon is set to become a bona fide competitor, the Wall Street Journal reports that these services have been racing to make new or expanded partnerships with regional grocery chains.

 

Analysts believe that Amazon could eventually double Whole Foods’ 466 stores as distribution centers and cut prices to make goods more attractive to online shoppers.

“This gives them another way to drive up penetration in grocery purchasing and ultimately delivery,” Bill Bishop, co-founder of Brick Meets Click, an e-commerce grocery consulting firm, tells the WSJ.

Such a system could also incorporate or absorb Amazon’s current delivery services, Prime Pantry and Amazon Fresh.

Grocery delivery services, and their retail partners, aren’t planning to wait to find out just how Amazon plans to leverage Whole Foods, though. Many are already expanding their own reach.

For instance, Schnucks Markets is expected to become the latest supermarket to delve into delivery by teaming up with Instacart, which will cart groceries to customers’ homes in about 100 cities next month.

Likewise, Shipt plans to double its service, which includes delivering orders from Costco and Meijer among others, over the next year.

The WSJ reports that Instacart, which provides delivery from some Whole Foods stores, plans to increase delivery to 80% of U.S. households next year, a 11% increase from current availability.

Despite the services’ push for growth, they could face an uphill battle, but not necessarily from Whole Foods/Amazon. Food-service research firm Technomic estimates that delivery accounts for less than 2% of last year’s food-retail sales.

While online delivery of groceries accounts for a very small portion of all food-retail sales, that doesn’t mean it’s not growing. Data from Willard Bishop, a grocery consulting firm, found that the online sale of consumables increased by 21% in 2015.