vendredi 29 septembre 2017

Health & Human Services Secretary Tom Price Resigns Amid Private Jet Scandal

Tom Price, the physician-turned-congressman who recently became Donald Trump’s first Health and Human Services Secretary, has officially resigned in the middle of a scandal involving Price’s apparent overuse of private jets for government — and possibly personal — travel.

In his official resignation letter [PDF], Secretary Price tells President Trump that he is resigning to allow the administration to focus on something other than claims that Price abused his authority at the expense of taxpayers.

“I regret that the recent events have created a distraction,” writes Price.

Politico was first to report that Price had chartered private planes on at least 26 occasions for official government business, even though there were significantly less expensive commercial options available for these non-emergency trips. The timing of some trips left open the question of whether Price was using taxpayer money to fund personal visits.

Following these revelations, Price apologized to the President and pledged to reimburse the government for the unnecessary travel expenses.

However, the nail in Price’s coffin may have come in a Thursday Politico report which claimed that the Secretary had used military aircraft for travel to Africa, Europe, and Asia, at a reported expense of $500,000 to the American public.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has also taken heat in recent days over reports that he too has used private and military jets when they were not necessary.

Price’s sudden departure leaves an empty seat in a critical cabinet position that has authority over a vast array of agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and many others.

Wells Fargo Teller Pleads Guilty To Stealing $185K From One Customer

A year after thousands of Wells Fargo employees were accused of opening unauthorized accounts in customers’ name in order to make sales goals, one bank teller has pleaded guilty to also opening an account without authorization, this time, in order to steal more than $185,000 from one customer.

The 29-year-old former Wells Fargo bank teller pleaded guilty [PDF] this week to a federal felony count of transporting stolen property.

According to court documents [PDF], over three years, the man — who worked at a Wells Fargo branch in D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood — stole thousands of dollars from a customer identified as a homeless street vendor and used the funds to buy a home, go on vacation, and pay off other debts.

The scheme began in Oct. 2014 when a customer entered the Wells Fargo branch wanting to deposit “thousands of dollars of cash” that he was carrying in garbage bags. It’s unclear how or why the customer had so much money on hand.

Surprised by the amount of cash the customer had on him and the amount already in his account, the teller proceeded to open a new account in the customer’s name by forging his signature.

The teller then set up an ATM card, PIN, email address, and online login information for the new account. To begin with, the teller transferred $3,000 to the new account.

However, the customer never had access to this account, and the teller used it for his own gain.

Over the next two years, the teller transferred $177,400 between the customer’s accounts, withdrawing $185,440. Because the funds were transported over state lines to the man’s home in Maryland he was charged with the federal felony.

The customer did not receive mailed statements, use email, or have access to a computer; as such, he did not know the fraud was occurring.

Under the man’s plea deal, he will pay back the stolen money. He could also face between 18 to 30 months in prison.

Chamber Of Commerce Files Lawsuit To Stop American Consumers From Being Able To File Lawsuits

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce may sound like a government agency or a quaint organization of helpful business leaders, but it is, in fact, the single largest lobbying organization in the country, spending nearly $104 billion last year alone on lobbying, about $40 billion more than any other group. The Chamber also thinks the U.S. Constitution is mistaken, that the Sixth and Seventh Amendments don’t apply to consumers; that the mere fact you are a customer should strip you of your constitutional right to sue banks like Wells Fargo or credit bureaus like Equifax when they open millions of bogus accounts in customers’ names or fail to protect sensitive information for more than 100 million people.

And how does the Chamber of Commerce plan to stop the American people from being able to bring lawsuits? By doing the one thing it doesn’t want you to be able to do.

The Chamber of Commerce — along with dozens of others including the American Bankers Association, and the Financial Services Roundtable — have filed suit against the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (an actual government agency, though there are some on Capitol Hill who would rather that weren’t so), trying to stop a Bureau rule that would limit banks’ and other financial services’ ability to strip wronged consumers of their right to a day in court.

In July, the CFPB finalized a new rule — the result of several years of research — that would restrict certain companies’ use of “forced arbitration.”

Forced arbitration is when a company inserts a paragraph or two into its customer agreement saying that all legal disputes must be handled outside the legal system. Instead, you must go through private, binding arbitration — a process that most Americans don’t even know exists, let alone understand the finer points of.

So if your bank screws up some paperwork and forecloses on your house by mistake, you don’t get a judge in an open courtroom with a docket and evidence that becomes part of the public record. Instead, you get an arbitrator — who may be very familiar with the bank and its attorneys — presiding over a closed-door process where the results are often confidential, the arbitrator’s decision can’t be appealed through the court system, and no precedent is set.

The second, and more insidious, aspect of most arbitration clauses is that they almost always also prohibit customers who have been wronged in the same way from joining their disputes together into one complaint — even through arbitration.

So, imagine you find out that the bank has been making this same foreclosure error all over the country. You and all the other victims can’t pool your resources and sue, or even arbitrate, as a class. Instead, you must each go through arbitration on your own. That means 1,000 victims could go into 1,000 different arbitration hearings and each come out with a different ruling despite having the same evidence and being wronged in the same way.

The CFPB rule doesn’t forbid the use of arbitration for individual disputes. Rather, it bars affected companies — the various financial institutions and services regulated by the CFPB — from using arbitration clauses to halt class actions.

Within days of the rule being published, a group of bank-backed House members, led by Rep. Jeb Hensarling — a top recipient of campaign cash from the savings & loan, commercial bank, finance, and payday loan sectors — introduced a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution seeking to overturn the rule.

The CRA gives Congress a 60-day window to effectively roll back any new federal regulations. If a majority in each chamber of Congress, and the President, all approve the CRA resolution of disapproval within that window, it’s like the rule never happened.

The actual “60 day” thing is a little complicated, as it’s neither 60 working days nor 60 calendar days. It does count weekend, but only when either chamber of Congress is not out for at least three days. Because D.C. effectively shuts down for the month of August — meaning that entire month doesn’t count — the best estimate for the 60-day window on the CFPB rule is around Nov. 4.

The resolution glided through the House on a nearly party-line vote in late June, with only one Republican — Walter Jones of North Carolina — voting against it.

However, the CRA resolution has stalled in the Senate, where Republicans only hold a slim 52-48 majority. There were reports earlier this week that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would try to quietly force a vote on the CRA this week while media attention would be focused on the Graham-Cassidy healthcare bill. However, between the last-minute failure of that bill and reports that the GOP was having trouble getting the 50 votes it would need, it remains unconsidered by the Senate.

Which is why, some critics suspect, the Chamber of Commerce has filed its lawsuit now, more than two months after the CFPB rule went on the books.

“What a brazen act of hypocrisy that the financial services lobby is bringing a lawsuit to block consumers from having their day in court,” says Amanda Werner, of Americans for Financial Reform and Public Citizen. “The protection they want to take away is the result of five years of diligent work by CFPB, including the most extensive study ever done on forced arbitration. This baseless legal challenge is a desperate move after their Senate repeal effort ran into massive resistance this week due to public outrage over Equifax and Wells Fargo.”

The actual arguments in the Chamber of Commerce complaint [PDF] have little to do with the regulation that the bank-backed groups are trying to overturn.

First, they make the well-worn claim that the CFPB’s structure is unconstitutional, even though neither the Constitution nor any of its amendments say anything about the proper structure of an independent federal agency. The CFPB’s structure is also an issue that is currently being considered by the full D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The lawsuit also makes the claim that the multi-year study by the CFPB was “deeply flawed” and “improperly limited public participation.” Perhaps the most astonishingly stupid allegation in the lawsuit is the assertion that the CFPB is violating the very law that created the CFPB by “fail[ing] to advance either the public interest or consumer welfare.”

This is where the Chamber brings up its favorite talking point: That class-action lawsuits take a long time, consumers get small payouts, and the big money goes to the lawyers.

But as we’ve covered before, this all glosses over one of the main purposes of class actions: To hold companies accountable for their bad actions.

Say you found out your credit card company has been illegally charging you $1/month for the last six months for a credit-monitoring service you didn’t sign up for. You’re only out $6 and the bank will probably give it back to you.

But what if the bank has been doing this to 5 million other customers for the same period of time, and only reimbursing people when they noticed the charges? That’s $30 million collected illegally, and the bank should be held accountable for it. Yet, because you’re bound by an arbitration agreement, you can only dispute your $6; you can’t represent all the bank’s customers in a class action that could seek full redress and possibly additional damages. Yes, in the end each customer might only get a few bucks back, but those dollars add up to a huge financial lesson for the bank — and a warning for other banks to shape up.

Karl Frisch, of Allied Progress, is astounded by the idea that the banking industry is using the legal system to block consumers’ access to the legal system.

“Even Alanis Morissette couldn’t handle this much irony,” says Frisch. “The idea that the Chamber and big banking interests would take the CFPB to court to stop consumers from going to court when they’re screwed over by big banks, reeks of desperate hypocrisy. The fact is that the Chamber is fighting to deny consumers the right to take financial institutions – like Equifax and Wells Fargo – to court for wrongdoing. They are dead wrong and they deserve to be called out.” Launching “Uniquely J” House Brand Targeting Millennials

Walmart already has a slew of house brands that it sells in stores and on, but rather than try to sell brands like Great Value or Sam’s Choice through its recently acquired, the company is coming up with new house brands specifically for Jet that it hopes will appeal to a younger buyer.

Walmart’s will soon launch a house brand, dubbed “Uniquely J,” in the next few months with the aim of attracting more millennial customers.

House brands — like Walmart’s own Great Value or Whole Foods’ 365 — typically offer customers similar products to name-brand items at a lower price.

Targeting Millennials

A rep for the company tells Consumerist that the brand, which will debut in the “coming months,” is designed for “metro millennials.”

While it’s unclear how the company is targeting millennials with products like soap, olive oil, paper towels, and household items, the rep says that Uniquely J will focus on quality and design of products.

For instance, the products will come in custom “bold” packaging with illustrations by artists and witty labels.

The brand’s coffee — Badass Espresso — comes in a bag decorated in a black and grey design featuring a skull. The bag also comes with Jet’s “J” logo along with the product’s name. Uniquely J’s version of Ziploc bags — called double seal snack bags — come in a box featuring cartoons and words like “emergency snack kit,” “nom nom,” and “on the go-go.”

The items seem to focus on customers’ desire to know where their goods come from. The coffee, for example, includes the notation that it is fair trade and organic.

“Instead of focusing in on any one aspect of product development, we’ve created a uniquely valuable brand experience that will speak to the metro millennial lifestyle,” the rep said.

Joining The Crowd

Jet’s new house brand will join a number of other similar products on the sites.

Walmart already sells its Great Value, Equate, and Sam’s Choice products on the e-commerce site.

However, retail experts tell the New York Post that these store brands have yet to catch on with younger customers, hence’s decision to jump into the house brand gang.

Apple Admits That Face ID May Be Fooled By Evil Twins & Little Kids

When Apple introduced the iPhone X’s new “Face ID” feature — which scans a user’s face to unlock the phone — the company said it had considered the “Evil Twin” scenario. And now, it’s admitting that if you have a twin — or an alternate reality doppelgänger– he or she could totally break into your phone.

In its Face ID Security Guide [PDF], Apple notes that the probability of a random person successfully unlocking your phone is about 1 in 1,000,000 — compared to versus 1 in 50,000 for Touch ID.

However, the likelihood of a false match is different for twins, as well as siblings who may look like you.

And in case there are any kids out there running around with the $1,000 phones, you should be warned that False ID may provide false matches for children under the age of 13, “because their distinct facial features may not have fully developed,” Apple explains.

There are two solutions. First, don’t use Face ID and just lock your overpriced iPhone X with a passcode. Or… buy a different phone that doesn’t use such a problematic unlocking mechanism.

Lawmakers Say Mattel’s Always-On ‘Aristotle’ Kid Monitor Raises “Serious Privacy Concerns” For Families

Despite announcing the product in January, toy giant Mattel has still not released the always-on, always-listening Aristotle kid monitor that has already raised red flags among privacy advocates. Now, a bipartisan pair of U.S. legislators are asking Mattel to address what they see as serious concerns about this connected-home device that is intended to track info about your kid from birth through adolescence.

In a letter [PDF] sent this week by Sen. Ed Markey (MA), and Rep. Joe Barton (TX) to Mattel CEO Margaret Giorgiadis, the lawmakers say they have “serious privacy concerns” about Aristotle’s ability to build an “in-depth profile of children and their family.”

Aristotle isn’t just a web-connected video camera or audio monitor. According to marketing materials for the device, it will be able to track things like kids’ feeding and sleeping patterns. As they get older, it would be able to answer users’ questions, much like other digital assistants such as Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and Google Home.

“It appears that never before has a device had the capability to so intimately look into the life of a child,” reads the letter, which goes on to pose a series of questions about Aristotle, including:

• Does it shoot and collect any photo or video, or use facial-recognition tech?
• Does it record audio of children speaking within listening distance of Aristotle? If so, how and where (and how securely) are these file stored?
• Is it truly an “always-on” device, meaning it collects data regardless of whether it’s actively being used?
• What data will be transmitted to, and stored on, Mattel servers?
• What information will be shared with third parties?
• What measures have been taken to make sure Aristotle gets parental permissions when needed, and that it complies with federal laws regarding online products targeted at children?

Barton and Markey have given Mattel until Oct. 18 to reply.

We’ve reached out to Mattel for comment about the letter, but have not yet received a reply.

Aristotle is technically a product of nabi, a kid-focused tech company. Mattel purchased nabi’s parent company Fuhu shortly before announcing the Aristotle, so now the brand is under the Mattel umbrella.

Interestingly, while the original Aristotle press release is still available on the Mattel corporate website, the page once dedicated to Aristotle on the nabi site has been removed (though you can still see it via the Internet Archive), and a search of the nabi site turns up no results for Aristotle.

Mattel is no stranger to privacy concerns. Its “Hello Barbie” talking doll was slammed by privacy and family advocates for recording kids’ conversations and transmitting those recordings to third parties, and was eventually named worst toy of the year by Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

Last year, Mattel agreed to pay $200,000 to settle allegations brought by the New York state Attorney General’s office that several of its kid-targeted websites were in violation of the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by allegedly collecting information on kid users without parental authorization and sharing this data with third parties that tracked the youngsters as they continued to browse the web.

Report: Google Developing A Rival For Amazon’s Echo Show

Earlier this week, Google pulled YouTube from Amazon’s Echo Show, claiming that the device provides a “broken user experience.” Perhaps it’s no coincidence that there are now rumors swirling that Google is working on its own smart screen device.

TechCrunch cites multiple sources who say Google is developing a tabletop smart screen that could make video calls, and would have a similar sized screen to the 7-inch Echo Show.

Along with video calls, the devices would also offer YouTube, Google Assistant, and Google Photos, and could act as a smart hub for other home devices like the Nest.

These insiders tell TechCrunch that the original released date has been moved up from mid-2018 to earlier in the year or even late 2017, partly amid pressure to compete with Amazon.

As for what it will cost, there’s no word. We’ve reached out to Google for comment on TechCrunch’s story and will update this post if we receive a response.

27% Of Vehicles At Carmax Have An Open Safety Recall

Even though CarMax, the nation’s largest seller of used cars, has been called out publicly by safety advocates and federal regulators, a new report claims that more than 1-in-4 vehicles being sold by CarMax is currently under an open safety recall.

The Center for Auto Safety, along with Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS) Foundation and the MASSPIRG Education Fund, recently released a report [PDF] finding that 27% of vehicles for sale at eight CarMax locations contained unrepaired safety defects.

The report — based on a survey of 1,699 vehicles that CarMax advertised for sale at eight locations in Northern and Southern California, Massachusetts, and Connecticut — found that more than one-in-four — or 461 — vehicles had open safety recalls.

The figure represents a 15% increase since the groups performed their last survey in 2015. At that time, the report looked at five CarMax dealerships, finding that 12% of the vehicles had open recalls.

Not Making Changes

Despite finding a number of unrepaired recalled vehicles at the original five dealerships in 2015, CarMax allegedly hasn’t changed its practices.

For instance, in 2015, 10% of vehicles sold a dealership in Hartford, CT, had open recalls. Fast forward to 2017 and the report found that 28% of the vehicles at the same dealership had unrepaired safety recalls.

Likewise, in 2015, a North Attleboro, MA, dealership had 17% of vehicles with open safety recalls. In 2017, that figure increased to 31% of vehicles.

The Recalls

The recalls ranged from seat belt defects, non-deployment of airbags, engine fire risks, loss of power steering while driving, faulty parking breaks, and shrapnel-shooting airbags.

At least 45 of the 1,699 vehicles surveyed contained recalled Takata airbags that have been linked to 11 deaths and hundreds of injuries in the U.S.

Of the vehicles found to have open safety recalls, 86 had more than one unrepaired safety issue. Among those vehicles, 19 had three or more open safety issues.

One GMC Sierra Light-Duty Pickup Truck for sale in Westborough was found to have six unrepaired safety recalls.

No Fixes

While CarMax advises customers to have recalls repaired immediately by the manufacturer, many of the vehicles for sale with recalls can’t be fixed.

Of the vehicles surveyed, 41 (or 9%) have an unrepaired safety recall for which no remedy is yet available.

Consumers who purchase such a vehicle may have to wait months or years before their unsafe recalled vehicle can be repaired, the groups contend.

These vehicles included a 2014 Ford Escape that was recalled over a seatbelt anchor that could break, preventing the passenger from being restrained in the event of a sudden stop. Another 2016 Mercedes GLE Class vehicle was recalled over an unintentional engine shutdown problem that could increase the risk of crash in certain traffic situations.

“It is dangerous and irresponsible for CarMax or other dealers to assume that car buyers will have time to get unsafe, defective vehicles repaired before disaster strikes,” the report states.

The group points to a June 2016 incident in which a woman purchased a 2013 Chrysler Town & Country for a different dealer. The company had not disclosed that the van had two unrepaired safety recalls. Six months later, the driver’s door caught fire without warning.


“CarMax is selling huge numbers of unsafe, defective recalled cars that are ticking automotive time bombs. They pose a serious threat to the safety of all American motorists and their families,” Rosemary Shahan, President of the Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS) Foundation, said in a statement.

As with the 2015 report, the coalition notes CarMax continues to sell vehicles using the claim that it provides disclosures of safety recalls.

However, the group claims that the information CarMax provides verbally and in writing is often false, contradictory, deceptive, or misleading, or presented too late to be an effective form of disclosure.

Additionally, the new report found that sometimes the AutoCheck vehicle history reports provided by CarMax to prospective car buyers falsely indicates that there is no safety recall. This, despite the fact that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed there were multiple unrepaired safety recalls.

In some cases, the groups found that CarMax didn’t inform customers of the recalls until after they had already purchased the car.

One advocate says this happened to him in 2015. While he told the associate it was important that the vehicle didn’t have a recall, he didn’t receive the disclosure form until after he had signed the purchase contract.

The CarMax disclosure noted that according to NHTSA there was an open recall, but the AutoCheck said there was no safety recall. In reality, the Jeep had three unprepared safer recalls, including catching fire, faulty breaks, and stalling issues.

But Isn’t This Illegal?

The answer to whether or not CarMax’s practices are illegal is complicated.

The groups contend that CarMax may be in violation of some state laws. For example, in Massachusetts it is illegal for a car dealer to sell a used vehicle to a consumer that is not fit to be driven on roads.

However, there is no specific federal law that gives NHTSA the authority to force dealers to fix recalled used cars before they are sold or rented.

That’s because, while it’s illegal for consumers to sell recalled microwaves, blenders, or other products, the folks at NHTSA lack the authority to actually force people to fix recalled vehicles before they are sold or rented.

Additionally, while the groups contend that CarMax is engaging in deceptive advertising by claiming that vehicles are safe when they have recalls, this practice isn’t illegal.

In fact, the Federal Trade Commission recently finalized a consent order that allows used car dealers to continue marketing their vehicles as safe even while they may have unrepaired defects.

The groups have asked a court to overturn this decision. The case is currently pending.

Mystery Couple Delights Diners At Applebee’s By Regularly Picking Up Strangers’ Bills

Although they say there’s no such thing as a free lunch, patrons of one Pennsylvania Applebee’s would beg to differ, thanks to the generosity of a mystery couple that’s been paying the tab for strangers at least a few times a month.

According to KDKA, these unnamed benefactors — a husband and wife — sit at the bar of the Pittsburgh-area restaurant three or four times a week, and have picked up the bill for several people over the last few months.

RELATED: Mystery Diner Pays $485 Lunch Bill For Students With Autism & Their Teachers

One restaurant patron said the anonymous patrons paid for her entire party of 16 people, bringing tears to everyone’s eyes.

“I was almost in tears,” the server who worked at that table told KDKA. “It touches me, too.”

She says she knows who paid the bill, but that he wants to remain anonymous.

Another woman said the tab for her group of six people was taken care of a few months ago, inspiring her to start paying it forward as well.

RELATED: Stranger Pays For Family’s Dinner At Pizza Hut Because Parenting Ain’t Easy

The manager of Applebee’s knows who the generous couple are — they own an area business and pay for strangers two or three times a month. She’s keeping her lips zipped on their identities.

“He always says, ‘I grew up poor and now I’m not’ and that is all he says,” she said.

Volkswagen Trying To Lure Customers Back With 6-Year/72,000-Mile Warranties On Most 2018 Models

In the wake of the still-lingering Dieselgate scandal, which has cost Volkswagen billions of dollars and left a smog-colored stain on its reputation, the carmarker is hoping to turn schadenfreude into fahrvergnügen* by having a warranty on many of its new vehicles that lasts twice as long as the standard warranty you’d find on most cars in the U.S.

VW had previously announced that the upcoming 2018 Atlas and Tiquan vehicles would get the 6-year/72,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, but today the company said that several additional 2018 VW models will also come with this extended coverage.

According to the company, the following will now all be covered by the longer warranty: Beetle, Beetle Convertible, Golf, Golf Alltrack, Golf GTI, Golf R, Golf SportWagen, Jetta, and Passat.

Because not everyone owns a car for six years before reselling it, Volkswagen is making this warranty transferrable. So if you sell your 2018 Beetle in 2022, the new owner still has about two years (or whatever remains of the 72,000 mile cap) of warranty coverage left.

The apparent hope behind the 6-year warranty is that the additional years and miles of coverage will give car-buyers the sense that VW is willing to stand behind the quality of its vehicles. That’s a turnaround in image the company needs following the Dieselgate scandal, in which the car company was alleged to have deliberately modified its “clean diesel” line of vehicles so that they would pass emissions tests in a garage but emit potentially dangerous levels of toxins while driving on the road.

But even before Dieselgate, VW’s U.S. business was on a downward trend. In 2016, VW sales were down nearly 8% from the year before, and down more than 25% from their all-time high in 2014. The company’s U.S. marketshare has also dropped to three-quarters of what it once was. Things have turned around more recently, with the latest year-to-date U.S. sales up about 6% over where they were a year ago.

Given Volkswagen’s rather small marketshare in the U.S., many Americans may not realize that VW is the second-largest (or largest; it depends on how one counts these things) car company in the world, moving more than 10 million vehicles in 2016.

VW has previously expressed its aim of chiseling away at the U.S. market, where it not only lags behind fellow mega-manufacturers like General Motors, Ford, and Toyota, but also has less of a presence stateside than smaller competitors like Subaru, Kia, and Hyundai.

Speaking of Hyundai, it has long touting itself as having the best standard warranty in the U.S. at 5 years or 60,000 miles, which looks like it will soon be surpassed by the VW warranty. However, Hyundai has scheduled a press event for Oct. 10, where some expect that the carmaker will announce improvements to make its warranty more attractive to American customers.

*(Yes, we know that doesn’t really make sense, but it sounds like it should.)

Uber Charges Passenger $925 For What Is Normally $117 Ride

In certain markets, Uber will charge a “surge” rate during busy times that is in excess of what a passenger normally pays for a ride. But one Chicago Uber customer says she had no idea she’d be charged $925, nearly eight times the standard rate, for her lengthy trip.

The customer tells Chicago’s ABC-7 that she is relatively new to using Uber, and didn’t realize that the 100-mile ride she took to get home after a concert was being charged at a sky-high surge rate.

“I think it’s absolutely crazy and ridiculous,” she told ABC-7. “That’s like a house payment.”

While it was a long ride — with an added stop at O’Hare airport — that journey would’ve normally cost just $117 without surge prices in place.

She says she contacted Uber through the app, but the situation wasn’t resolved until the news station contacted Uber.

Uber called the situation a “perfect storm” that was partly the result of the woman changing her destination and added the airport stop after her car arrived.

“We have refunded the rider for the charges related to her ride including the additional 93 miles she added to the trip,” a spokesperson told ABC-7, adding that the company encourages riders to “input all desired stops into the app upfront to receive a correct fare estimate.”

Royal Caribbean Cancels Cruise To Help In Puerto Rico

In the last month a number of cruise lines have either canceled or rerouted trips after a string of hurricanes raged through the Caribbean. While the storms have passed and many companies have once again set sail, Royal Caribbean canceled yet another trip this week. This time, however, the change of plans was intended to help bring much-needed relief to the millions of Americans in Puerto Rico whose lives have been turned upside-down by Hurricane Maria.

Royal Caribbean announced this week that it had canceled a Sept. 30 Adventure of the Seas trip in order to use the ship for evacuation and humanitarian efforts.

The ship was scheduled to arrive Wednesday in San Juan, Puerto Rico to evacuate residents and drop off supplies. It then headed to St. Thomas and St. Croix with the same mission.

Royal Caribbean says it will bring the evacuees to Fort Lauderdale before making a return trip to San Juan on Oct. 6.

“We are very sorry for the impact this storm has had on your vacation,” the company said in a statement to passengers booked on the cruise.

Customers scheduled for the canceled cruise will receive a 100% refund and a 25% credit for a future cruise if a new trip is booked in the next 30 days.

Pre-booked shore excursions will also be refunded to your original form of payment.

The Help

Royal Caribbean has already mobilized its ships to assist in relief efforts in the Caribbean following Hurricane Irma and Maria.

To date, the company says it has helped to evacuate 1,700 people, dropped off nearly 30,000 gallons of water, and more than 25 pallets of medical supplies.

The company says it plans to continue to provide recovery assistance in coming weeks.

American Airlines CEO Predicts Industry Is Never “Going To Lose Money Again”

In words that will most surely never come back to haunt him, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker boldly declared this week that the U.S. airline industry is in such a solid place right now that he doesn’t see how it could ever end up in the red.

“I don’t think we’re ever going to lose money again,” Parker told investors at a media and investor day in Texas on Thursday. “I’ve said this for a long time; I believe it. We have an industry that’s gonna be profitable in good and bad times. We have an airline that’s going to be profitable in good and bad times.”

There are four remaining major airlines — American, United, Delta, and Southwest — that account for the vast majority of air travel in the U.S. Yet, all of these carriers, except for Southwest, have gone bankrupt at some point in the last 15 years, with American’s 2011 bankruptcy filing being the most recent.

Even these carriers’ biggest merger partners — U.S. Airways, Continental, Northwest — had all had to file for Chapter 11 protection at least once since 2002. U.S. Airways, which effectively took over American when the two carriers merged, went bankrupt in 2002 and then again in 2004.

And after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, which grounded all planes in the country and cast a pall over the entire industry, Congress approved a $15 billion bailout of the transportation industry, with around $10 billion going to keep these carriers from collapsing.

Beyond that, the airline industry is at the whims of weather, fuel prices, consumer demand, government regulation, and other factors. Just look at the network and software issues that have resulted in massive, system-wide outages for United, Delta, and Southwest, costing them hundreds of millions of dollars.

So why does Parker seem so convinced that it’s all smooth sailing from now on for his industry?

He points out that, combined, American and U.S. Airways netted a total of $1 billion in profit from 1978 through 2013, never cracking more than $3 billion a year in pre-tax revenue, and compares that to the last three years, during which the airline has averaged nearly $5 billion a year in pre-tax revenue.

According to Parker, the industry is in a “profoundly different” place than it was only a few years back, and all those concerns about hoping to just break even while vacillating between profitable years and money-losing years are “arguably irrelevant… that is not who we are anymore.”

The CEO did admit that his is a “cyclical business. There will be good and bad years.” But in his mind, he believes that having a “lesser” year would mean around $3 billion in profit, while “great” years would amount to around $7 billion in profit.

Whether or not the U.S. airline industry is truly locked into a profitable future remains to be seen, but the way carriers make money has certainly changed in recent years, with much of an airline’s revenue coming not from ticket sales but from ancillary fees and deals with credit card companies.

A recent report from the Government Accountability Office calculated that U.S. carriers are now making $7.1 billion per year on fees for checked bags and ticket changes.

With regarding to American Airlines, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics says the carrier brought in more than $1.1 billion in baggages fees in 2016, more than $200 million above any other airline’s bag fee revenue. AA has already earned nearly $600 million from these fees in the first half of 2017; again, more than any other airline.

American also leads the industry in change fee revenue, with nearly $900 million in 2016, and on track to improve on that mark in 2017.

So between just those two fees — and not counting any other add-ons a passenger might pay for — American is looking at north of $2 billion per year; about 40% of its average annual revenue since the U.S. Airways merger.

Then there are the deals that airlines make with banks and credit card companies for rewards miles. The carriers don’t just give those miles away for free; rather, they charge a few cents each, and those pennies add up with bigger banks buying billions of miles each month, to the point where some airlines may now be making more money from selling miles than they are from selling tickets. And while unused miles are technically an accounting liability for an airline, the money made from selling these miles in bulk is far more than the actual value of the mile when it’s ultimately cashed in.

Elon Musk Says His Rocket Ship Will Fly You Anywhere On Earth In Under An Hour

Right now, the quickest way to get from, say, New York to Siberia involves at least a few plane tickets and a lot of layovers. But if Elon Musk has his way, travelers won’t have to rely on airlines to get them to the other side of the world — they can just hop on a rocket ship and be there in the same time it takes to get a pizza delivered.

Speaking at the 68th International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia, Musk revealed his plan for a rocket ship dubbed “BFR” that he says could fly travelers anywhere in the world in under an hour. By all appearances, at 30 feet in diameter, this would be a big frickin’ rocket, indeed — check out that tiny person standing underneath it:

The way Musk sees it, if SpaceX — the aerospace company he founded — is going to colonize Mars, and make us a “multiplanet species,” they might as well improve life on this planet, too.

“If we are going to places like Mars, why not Earth?” Musk asked while onstage, saying that if BFR is a success, travelers could get from New York to Shanghai in 30 minutes.

The BFR would have a maximum speed of 27,000 km/h, and accommodate 40 cabins that could carry about 100 people at one time, Musk said. After his on-stage appearance, he added in an Instagram post that fares would cost about the same as an economy airfare.

“Fly to most places on Earth in under 30 mins and anywhere in under 60,” he wrote. “Cost per seat should be about the same as full fare economy in an aircraft. Forgot to mention that.”

The BFR would also be able to make trips to the Moon and Mars, carry satellites into orbit, and ferry cargo and crew members to the International Space Station.

Although Musk originally to use a rocket called Red Dragon for unmanned missions to Mars, the new plan is land the first unmanned BFR on the planet in 2022 and then send crewed rocket ships out there in 2024.

You can watch Musk’s appearance at the conference in its entirety below:

Toymakers Owed Millions Brace For Hit After Toys ‘R’ Us Bankruptcy

Many toymakers say they won’t let Toys ‘R’ Us die after filing for bankruptcy, noting that doing so would be bad for their own businesses. After all, the chain is typically their biggest client. However, it appears there’s more at stake, namely, the millions of dollars the manufacturers are owed. 

Now, instead of relying on Toys ‘R’ Us to make sales and pad their bottom lines, many toymakers are bracing to take a hit as a result of the debt-strapped retailer’s bankruptcy.

The Washington Post reports that there is a “widespread panic” making its way through the toy companies that supply products to Toys ‘R’ Us, as many believe they won’t be able to recoup the millions of dollars they’re owed by the chain.

A Lot Of Debt

When Toys ‘R’ Us filed for bankruptcy [PDF] earlier this month, the company noted that it owed more than $7.5 million in debt to more than 100,000 creditors.

Many of those creditors happen to be toymakers, both large and small ventures.

For instance, the second largest creditor is Mattel, which is owed $136 million; Hasbro comes in next with $59 million; and Spin Master is owed $32 million.

But smaller toymakers are likely to feel the biggest pinch: Baby supplier Munchkin Inc is owed about $3.1 million, while Playmobile is owed $2.5 million.

Cutting Ties

Earlier this week, some small vendors cut ties with Toys ‘R’ Us citing concern that they would never be paid their debts.

Product Launchers — which connects small toymakers with retailers — said it had “taken down all connections” with the chain, noting that it would “rather focus on retailers that have strong financials.”

The company had recently delivered an order of $500,000 worth of fidget spinners with licensed DC Comics characters on them to the chains.

Product Launchers estimates that it’s owed around $1 million, which sounds like a lot of money to mere humans, but doesn’t even put it in the top five creditors of Toys ‘R’ Us.

“We’re bottom of the barrel when it comes to getting paid back,” Linda Parry Murphy, chief executive of Product Launchers, told The Post. “They’ll get to us last, even though we’re the ones who will get impacted the most.”

Preparing For A Hit

Jakks Pacific, a California-based toy supplier, is owed about $14 million from Toys ‘R’ Us. That debt will likely cause the company to post a loss for the year, executives warned last week.

The year “continues to present a challenging retail environment, which has now been further disrupted by the Toys ‘R’ Us Chapter 11 filing,” CEO Stephen Berman said in a statement.

However, unlike some of the smaller toymakers cutting ties, Jakks believes its relationship can be salvaged as Toys ‘R’ Us has recently received financing to pay some of its debts.

To that end Berman says he is “optimistic that we can resume our relationship with Toys ‘R’ Us as one of its significant suppliers.”

There’s (Some) Hope

With larger toymakers likely to be paid by Toys ‘R’ Us, bankruptcy experts tell The Post that there could be hope for the chain, yet.

As long as the company can continue to keep suppliers on board, shipping their products to stores, then the brand could continue. If suppliers don’t continue working with the company, the upcoming holiday season could be Toys ‘R’ Us’ last. That’s apparently something the chain is aware of.

One smaller toymaker, who asked not to be identified, told The Post that Toys ‘R’ Us has been insistent that products continue to ship despite the financial woes.

The executive says that “without product for the holidays, they don’t survive.” But the toymaker’s survival is also in question now.

“This has ruined our year,” the executive said. “Right now everybody is basically working out their own side deals, getting what they can. We’re not a Mattel, Hasbro or Spin Master. We’re not a multibillion-dollar company. We’re a small company that is going to end up getting pennies on the dollar.”

Whole Foods Investigating Credit Card Breach At Some Stores

Have you eaten at or enjoyed an adult beverage at Whole Foods this year? If you paid with a credit card, your information might have been leaked. Whole Foods is investigating a possible credit card breach at some of its stores. 

Whole Foods revealed Thursday that it had recently “received information regarding unauthorized access of payment card information.”

The company says that the possible breach is centered on its taprooms and full table-service restaurants located inside some stores.

While Whole Foods did not specify how many customers were affected by the breach or how long the hack lasted, Consumerist has reached out to the company for additional information. We’ll update this post if we hear back.

Whole Foods notes that customers who purchased groceries from the company are not at risk, as its primary store checkout systems use a different point of sale system.

“When Whole Foods Market learned of this, the company launched an investigation, obtained the help of a leading cyber security forensics firm, contacted law enforcement, and is taking appropriate measures to address the issue,” the company said in a statement.

For now, the investigation is ongoing, and Whole Foods will provide updates as it learns more.

Whole Foods, which was purchased by Amazon for $13.7 billion earlier this year, notes that systems do not connect to its own. To that end, transactions on are not impacted.

You Can No Longer Fly Your Drone Over The Statue Of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, Other Sites

When it comes to catching sight of a national landmark, it can get pretty crowded on the ground. But starting next week, you won’t be able to use a drone to get a better view of 10 famous spots in the U.S.

The Federal Aviation Administration says it’s agreed to restrict drone flights up to 400 feet within the lateral boundaries of 10 Department of the Interior sites, starting Oct. 5.

Sites on the no-fly-over list:
• Statue of Liberty National Monument, New York, NY
• Boston National Historical Park (U.S.S. Constitution), Boston, MA
• Independence National Historical Park, Philadelphia, PA
• Folsom Dam; Folsom, CA
• Glen Canyon Dam; Lake Powell, AZ
• Grand Coulee Dam; Grand Coulee, WA
• Hoover Dam; Boulder City, NV
• Jefferson National Expansion Memorial; St. Louis, MO
• Mount Rushmore National Memorial; Keystone, SD
• Shasta Dam; Shasta Lake, CA

Other sites could be added to the list, as the FAA says it’s considering additional request from other federal agencies.

There are a few exceptions where drones are allowed to fly over those sites, but that has to be coordinated with either the individual landmark or the FAA.

While the FAA has put similar airspace restrictions in place for military bases, this is the first time it’s restricted drones from flying over any DOI landmark.

jeudi 28 septembre 2017

New Clothing Line From Taco Bell and Forever21 Is Reason To Just Give Up

Imagine a world where humans are not only vessels for advertising multibillion-dollar global fast food chains, but where we’re expected to pay for that privilege. If that sounds good to you, then Taco Bell and Forever21 have some clothes they want you to buy.

Starting Oct. 11, anyone who ever dreamed of giving over their personal identity to prance around in a top that looks like a Taco Bell hot sauce packet, can do so, thanks to the Forever21 x Taco Bell collection.

The advertising apparel (adverpparel?) features all various Taco Bell items splashed across sweatshirts, bodysuits, and T-shirts.

For example, you could score a pink pullover sweatshirt with the “Live Mas” logo on the chest, because you apparently don’t like yourself very much and want the world to know it.

If you feel compelled to dress up like a condiment package on days that aren’t Halloween, there’s the Fire Sauce tank top.

Taco Bell, which for some reason refers to itself as “the fast fashion of food,” says it used its knowledge of creating limited edition products to influence the clothing line.

While it remains to be seen if Taco Bell fans who love Doritos Locos tacos will actually want to wear that love on their sleeves, the fast food chain and Forever21 seem to think the clothing line will be a hit.

Some Taco Bell executive who gets paid so much more money than most of us could possibly ever imagine actually said the following: “We’ve seen our fans get individually creative in expressing their love for Taco Bell through fashion, and we believe this collection with Forever 21 is going to be everything they would expect from us in extending the Taco Bell lifestyle to fashion: original, affordable, creative a little quirky and definitely fun,” Marisa Thalberg, Chief Marketing Officer at Taco Bell Corp., said in a statement.

Heaven forbid this clothing line does take off, pushing ever closer to the future envisioned in Idiocracy:

Not The First

While we might not be sold on wearing around what is essentially a billboard for Taco Bell, the company certainly isn’t the first to mesh food and fashion.

Back in the ‘80s Coca-Cola tried its hand at the whole clothing thing, giving soda customers the chance to plaster their bodies with Coke T-shirts, button0downs, and other apparel.

According to InThe80s (and to the lone Consumerist staffer old enough to remember his sister crying because she didn’t get one for Christmas), the long-sleeved Coca-Cola shirts in red and off-white were the most popular.

Later in the decade, Sears teamed up with McDonald’s on a slew of “McKids” stores that sold children’s apparel. The offerings featured McDonald’s characters and ranged from clothing to shoes and toys.

Those stores — 47 in all — closed in 1991, but the brand lived on when Walmart became the exclusive carrier in the mid-1990s, according to Chiefmarketer.

More recently, McDonald’s rolled out its own clothing line to coincide with its delivery service, the New York Post reports. The McDelivery Collection featured french fry-themed sweatsuits and sandals, hamburger pillowcases, and blankets littered with McDonald’s items.

DirecTV Won’t Confirm Or Deny Reports It’s Letting Upset Customers Cancel NFL Sunday Ticket

DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket is such a massive money-maker for the satellite company that its exclusive arrangement with the NFL for this package was a make-or-break aspect of AT&T’s decision to acquire DirecTV. Yet some reports claim that DirecTV is willing to let subscribers part with this pricey package, which costs around $300 per year, if they simply say they are upset over some NFL players kneeling or locking arms during the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

The Wall Street Journal was the first major source to report this week that some DirecTV customers were able to get out of their Sunday Ticket obligations after telling DTV customer service reps they no longer wanted to support the NFL.

DirecTV has been notoriously stingy about letting customers out of Sunday Ticket agreements in the past, and the company’s policy for the service effectively locks the subscriber in once the season has begun. AT&T makes at least $1.5 billion a year just from Sunday Ticket, so why is it doing this now?

It’s a good question that no one at AT&T or DirecTV will answer. The company did not comment on the Journal story and has refused multiple requests from Consumerist just asking to confirm that this is indeed an option for customers. We have also asked AT&T if it is also providing this out to Sunday Ticket customers who are unhappy with this reported loophole for just those subscribers who are offended by the peaceful pre-game demonstrations. Again, no reply.

What’s unclear — because AT&T and DirecTV refuse to say anything — is if this opt-out is actual company policy, with DirecTV realizing that it’s perhaps best to placate a longterm satellite customer who pays at least $100/month rather than lose their business entirely. But if that’s the case, then shouldn’t anyone be able to call DirecTV up after week 8 or 9 in the season if their team is out of contention and threaten to drop their satellite service if they still have to pay for the rest of Sunday Ticket?

It could also be a situation where some customers have gotten lucky and spoken with customer retention employees willing to give them a break on the Sunday Ticket contract.

Without that clarity from the company, we can’t say whether anyone else would experience the same results as those customers who say they’ve successfully gotten out of their usually binding agreements with DirecTV.

Here’s Where To Get Free Coffee & Other Deals For National Coffee Day

Is coffee your best friend? If so, Friday is your big moment: Sept. 29 is National Coffee Day, which means a slew of caffeine slingers are offering up discounts in celebration — and we can tell you how to score these deals.

As always, some deals might not be offered at your local restaurant or chain, so call ahead if you want to avoid abject disappointment.

Dunkin’ Donuts: Customers can buy one hot signature coffee, get a second one for free (medium, large, or extra-large). The chain and its franchisees will also donate 14 tons of coffee to the American Red Cross.

Krispy Kreme: Starting Sept. 29 and through Oct. 1, Krispy Kreme customers can get a free drink — any size Krispy Kreme signature hot brewed blends or a small Krispy Kreme premium iced coffee.

McDonald’s: The fast food chain is offering any small McCafe for $2.

Peet’s: Shoppers can get 25% off fresh beans and a free cup of coffee with bean purchase.

Cinnabon: Get a free 12-oz coffee all day on Sept. 29.

Pilot/Flying J: Guests can get free small cup of Pilot Coffee or another hot beverage of their choice, including tea and cappuccino. To redeem, display an online coupon — available here or at Pilot Flying J’s Facebook page — at any time on Sept. 29.

Wawa: Receive a free coffee of any size all day at any of Wawa location.

Sheetz: Customers who order through the Sheetz app on Sept. 29 will be entitled to a free Pumpkin Pie latte. The promotion is only valid on Friday.

Cumberland Farms: Text the word FREECOFFEE to 64827 to receive a mobile coupon on your smartphone on Sept. 29, which can be redeemed at any Cumberland Falls retail location for a free coffee of any size, iced or hot. The company is also bringing back its Free Coffee Friday’s, where starting Oct. 13, customers can get a free cup of coffee every Friday, no coupon required.

Tim Hortons: Starting Sept. 29 and continuing through Oct. 8, Tim Hortons locations in the U.S. are giving away a free Original Blend, Dark Roast, Decaf or Iced Coffee of any size redeemable by downloading the chain’s free app.

Maui Wowi: Customers can receive 50% off online orders at whenthey use promo code ALOHACOFFEE at checkout.

Illy: The company is offering a slew of National Coffee Day deals and discounts on coffee, frothers, and espresso machines. Click here for more info.

High Brew Coffee/Lyft: Lyft passengers in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Austin, Dallas, and Philadelphia will receive a free can of High Brew on Sept. 29.

Keurig: Get 20% off all K-Cup pods on, by entering the code “CELEBRATE” at checkout. The offer is valid through Oct. 1.

Giving Back

Instead of offering freebies to customers, some brands are using National Coffee Day to give back to others.

Starbucks: The chain is sticking with its tradition of not offering free coffee on Sept. 29. However, it will remove menu boards for three days, and instead share information with customers about how their coffee purchases “helps make a difference for those whose livelihoods depend on it.”

Caribou: While Caribou isn’t offering free drinks either, it will donate 10% of National Coffee Day and October sales (up to $250,000) to CancerCare, a nonprofit organization offering support, education and financial assistance to those affected by cancer.

207,000 Resistance Bands Recalled Because They Could Break, Hit You In The Face

Planning to get a workout in this afternoon? You might want to rethink using those stretchy resistance bands: More than 207,000 pieces of the workout equipment sold at Dick’s Sporting Goods have been recalled as they pose an injury risk. 

Dick’s Sporting Goods announced this week the recall of 207,500 Fitness Gear resistance tubes after receiving several reports that the bands broke while in use and injured users.

According to a notice posted with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the bands — which are used as upper and lower body workout equipment — can break while in use and strike the user, posing an injury hazard.

So far, Dick’s says it has received 12 reports of the tubes breaking, resulting in two incidents in which customers were struck by a broken tube. One customer reported falling when the tube broke.

The affected resistance tubes — which come in blue, gray, green, orange, purple, and red with grey handles — range in resistance from five pounds to 30-pounds and were sold either individually or in kits of three, four or five tubes.

Recalled models numbers include: STA00560, STA00561, STA00562, STA00563, STA00564, STA00565, STA00566, STA00567, and STA00568.

The resistance tubes were sold from Sept. 2015 to Aug. 2017 at Dick’s Sporting Goods and online for between $15 and $80.

Customers who own the tubes are urged to immediately stop using them and return the product to their nearest Dick’s Sporting Goods store. Those with a receipt will receive a full refund and those without will receive store credit.

Individuals with questions can contact Dick’s at 877-846-9997 or online at

IKEA Acquires TaskRabbit, Saving Relationships Nationwide

If you want to break up with your significant other, just spend an afternoon at IKEA, where all your previous petty disagreements will be awkwardly resurrected amid the snaking displays of furniture that neither of you really want but are better than living on milk crates. Thankfully, IKEA just purchased TaskRabbit, the company that will allow you to stay in your relationship by sending someone to shop at IKEA — and maybe even put your mid-priced furnishings together.

IKEA Group says it’s signed a conditional agreement to buy 100% of the shares in TaskRabbit, which will be a separate subsidiary.

For those unfamiliar, TaskRabbit connects customers with “Taskers” — people willing to run errands, wait in long lines, or hey — put together furniture.

To that end, one of the reasons IKEA is buying TaskRabbit is to expand the kinds of services it can offer to shoppers — for example, someone could do your shopping for you, deliver it, and assemble furniture.

“In a fast changing retail environment, we continuously strive to develop new and improved products and services to make our customers’ lives a little bit easier,” says Jesper Brodin, President and CEO of IKEA Group.

Getting into on-demand services helps IKEA do that, he adds, noting that the company can learn from TaskRabbit’s digital expertise, “while also providing IKEA customers additional ways to access flexible and affordable service solutions.”

Once completed, the deal would enable IKEA “to provide consumers and IKEA customers with access to the services provided by the TaskRabbit Taskers,” the company says, noting that such services would start in the U.S. and United Kingdom, but that “other countries may be added at a later date.”

It wouldn’t be an entirely new idea for IKEA and TaskRabbit, as the companies partnered up for a Nov. 2016 pilot in London IKEA stores that provided furniture-assembly services by Taskers.

State Says OxyContin Maker “Conducted Uncontrolled Experiment On American Public”

The state of Washington and the City of Seattle filed separate lawsuits today against Purdue Pharma, maker of controversial opioid pain medication OxyContin, alleging that the drug company lied to doctors, regulators, and the public about the efficacy and safety of a drug that many place at the center of the ongoing opioid epidemic.

“In 2015, opioid overdoses killed 718 Washingtonians, more than either car accidents or firearms,” reads the complaint [PDF] filed today by Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson. “These deaths are attributable to a flood of prescription opioids into the state over the last two decades.”

The lawsuit, which involves other Purdue-made opioids in addition to Oxy, alleges that “Purdue aggressively marketed what was essentially an uncontrolled experiment on the American public,” and that the drug company lacked “reliable evidence that opioids are effective at relieving chronic pain in the long term.”

In fact, counters Ferguson, when Purdue began seeing evidence that opioids might be ineffective at treating chronic pain and that they could have deadly consequences, the company “offered half-solutions and half-truths as it continues to push its pills.”

The “Experiment”

Until two decades ago, opioids were not seen as a reliable and safe method to treat chronic pain. But then came arguments from some researchers like Dr. Richard Portenoy, who claimed that — based on evidence from just a handful of cancer patients treated with opioids — that the painkillers could also be used on more traditional pain patients.

Ferguson says Purdue took Portenoy’s research and ran with it, taking the doctor’s hypothetical assertions that opioids may be affective in treating chronic pain, and that there may be a slight likelihood of abuse and addiction, and presented them to the public as proven facts.

“Purdue’s decision to market opioids for long-term use despite the absence of clinical evidence and based on the hypothesis of a few cherry-picked doctors was a calculated gamble,” argues the complaint. “Purdue bet that the conventional medical wisdom was wrong and that the detrimental side effects of long-term opioid use could be acceptably managed.”

Of course, that gamble paid off for Purdue, and opioid makers in general. According to GBI Research, opioid sales in the U.S. totaled $11 billion in 2014, and were projected to continue growing in spite of the current epidemic. The complaint notes that Purdue has previously generated nearly $3 billion in a single year just from the sale of OxyContin.

Purdue’s Allegedly False Claims

As with the other lawsuits filed by Ohio and New Hampshire, the state argues that Purdue has been making false claims about the efficacy and safety of opioids for decades.

Not a 12-Hour Drug
OxyContin was marketed as a safe treatment because it was time-released over a 12-hour period. Fewer pills and more even distribution of the drug was supposed to not only provide steady relief from pain but also reduce the likelihood of abuse or addiction. However, it has repeatedly been shown that many Oxy patients do not enjoy the full 12 hours of relief.

Ferguson alleges that Purdue manipulated the visuals it presented in its marketing to make it appear as if Oxy was absorbed and a more steady and consistent rate than the actual rate.

“Purdue knew, according to its own research during the development of OxyContin and after, that the drug wears off in under 6 hours in one quarter of patients and in under 10 hours in more than half,” notes the complaint.

Managing Addiction
The state alleges, as the other states have previously claimed, that Purdue provided marketing materials that it knew contained inaccurate information about managing the risks of opioid addiction.

Publications published by Purdue-backed groups, and lectures from doctors paid by Purdue attempted to convince physicians that screening tools, urine tests, and patient agreements have the effect of preventing “overuse of prescriptions” and “overdose deaths.”

“Convincing prescribers that they could effectively manage risk and prevent addiction was essential to Purdue’s marketing strategy of increasing the number of prescriptions of opioids and its own branded drugs,” reads the complaint. “It was also unsubstantiated.”

Purdue: Opioids Are A Risk… When Made By Someone Else

In 2010, Purdue reformulated OxyContin, opening up the door to possible generic versions of the original drug. But in attempt to stave off this competition, Ferguson notes that Purdue petitioned the FDA in 2012 to deny generic applications because the drug poses a risk to public health.

Purdue’s argument was that the very drug it had been selling for over a decade should not be sold as a generic because the ‘abuse of extended release oxycodone could return to the levels experienced prior to the introduction of reformulated OxyContin.”

To Ferguson, this is an admission from Purdue that the company knowingly made billions selling a drug that it knew was being so widely abused as to constitute a public health risk.

Ultimately, Purdue decided to pull original OxyContin from the market under purported safety reasons, while continuing to sell the patent-protected reformulated version.

The state also accuses Purdue of violating a 2007 court order that was part of a settlement between the company and 26 states regarding allegations deceptive marketing of OxyContin.

As part of that deal, Purdue was barred from making misleading statements about OxyContin with regard to abuse, addiction or dependence. However, Ferguson contends that Purdue has continued to mislead the public about this drug.

Seattle’s Lawsuit

A separate complaint [PDF] was filed today by the City of Seattle against Purdue, and several other opioid drugmakers: Teva, Cephalon, Johnson & Johnson, Janssen; Endo; Actavis, and others.

The city’s complaint seeks compensation for much of the costs Seattle has had to absorb related to the opioid epidemic.

“Unlike earthquakes and hurricanes, this disaster is human-made,” said City Attorney Pete Holmes in a statement, adding that “Seattle has paid upfront” for all the additional expenses related to criminal justice, first-responders, public health and human services. “These are sums that, but for defendants’ conduct, Seattle could have devoted to other beneficial uses.”

Google Also Drops Price On 4K Video To Compete With Amazon & Apple

The late-but-welcome entry of Apple into 4K video rentals is finally shaking things up in the market for this ultra-HD content. Just days after Amazon slashed its 4K prices to compete with Apple, Google is following suit.

Engadget reports that Google dropped the cost of its new 4K HDR titles to just $20, a price in line with Apple and Amazon’s offerings.

“We always look to offer customers competitive pricing on Google Play and have been working closely with our studio partners to do so,” a rep for Google said.

The price cuts on 4K aren’t just about Apple entering the competition. Both Amazon and Apple are also pushing new streaming hardware with 4K capabilities.

Amazon had included limited 4K video on its Fire TV box since last year, but this week the company redesigned the smaller 4K Fire TV so that it functions more like a dongle.

Apple announced the new device earlier this month, noting it would support both 4K and HDR color, in case you have a TV that can actually display those things already.

Meanwhile, Google has offered 4K streaming on its Chromecast Ultra dongle for nearly a year.

Maker Of Banana Costume Claims Kmart Is Ripping Off Its Design

I have never received as many high fives for a Halloween costume than the year a friend and I dressed as giant bananas with huge cartoon hands. But despite the ubiquity of these fruity outfits — as a simple Internet search will show you — the maker of one banana costume is accusing Kmart of dropping it as a vendor in order to sell its own alleged knockoff version.

It seems pretty straightforward: A yellow banana with holes out of it for a person’s face, hands, and legs. However, Rasta Imposta claims in a lawsuit [PDF] filed Wednesday in a New Jersey federal court that Kmart is infringing on its 2010 “Banana Design” copyright.

After selling Rasta Imposta’s banana costume every year since 2008, the complaint says Kmart told the company in late September that it had found another vendor for “that item.”

“Shortly thereafter, Rasta Imposta discovered that Kmart had begun offering the infringing Totally Ghoul Banana Men’s Halloween Costume (“Totally Ghoul Costume”), which is a direct replication and knockoff of Rasta Imposta’s copyrighted Banana Design,” the lawsuit reads.

And while there are surely a plethora of banana-themed outfits available — inflatable, sweatsuits, half-peeled, etc. — Kmart’s offering (on the right in the photo above) is way too close to Rasta Imposta’s version (on the left), the company claims.

Rasta Imposta says that when its banana costume debuted in 2001, theirs was the only design “with this distinctive overall appearance.”

But te Kmart costume “has the same shape as the Banana Design, the ends of the banana are placed similarly, the vertical lines running down the middle of the banana are placed similarly, the one-piece costume is worn on the body the same way as the Banana Design, and the cut out holes are similar,” reads the complaint.

While some third parties license the design from Rasta Imposta, Kmart doesn’t have a license ot use it, the company says.

“Kmart is not free to simply appropriate Rasta Imposta’s intellectual property for its own business advantage without Rasta Imposta’s consent,” the plaintiff claims, adding that Rasta Imposta “has suffered significant financial harm and irreparable harm to its reputation as a result of Kmart’s conduct.”

The lawsuit is seeking unspecified damages from Kmart and its parent, Sears Holdings Corp, for unfair competition and copyright infringement.

Kmart declined to comment on the complaint.

Woman Forcibly Removed From Southwest Flight Charged With Disorderly Conduct

A woman forcibly removed from a Southwest Airlines flight earlier this week now faces a slew of charges following the incident. 

CBS News reports that the 46-year-old Maryland woman was charged Wednesday with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, obstructing, and hindering a police officer.

The charges stem from an incident on Tuesday evening in which the woman was forcibly removed from the Los Angeles-bound flight after alerting crew members that she had a life-threatening pet allergy.

According to reports, the woman had complained about two animals on the plane, asking crew members to remove them because of her allergy.

When the crew told her they couldn’t remove the animals, the woman asked for an injection to alleviate her symptoms. However, the airline couldn’t provide her with an injection if she didn’t have a proper medical certificate, a requirement under the airline’s policies.

As a result, she was asked to exit the plane. A rep for Southwest said that the crew made repeated attempts to explain the situation to the customer but she refused to leave the aircraft and law enforcement was brought in.

A video taken by another passenger showed the woman being removed from the plane by two officers, she can be heard multiple times asking the officers what they are doing, and noting that they had ripped her pants.

Southwest apologized for the situation, noting it was “disheartened by the way this situation unfolded.”

Dunkin’ Donuts CEO Says There Are Too Many Restaurants, Even As His Company Expands

While a number of chain restaurants like Joe’s Crab Shack, Bob Evans, and Logan’s Roadhouse have closed locations in recent years, there’s still a wealth of options for people looking to dine out or grab a quick cup of java. But that’s not necessarily a good thing. 

Dunkin’ Donuts CEO Nigel Travis tells Business Insider that there are simply too many restaurants in the U.S. for all of them to be successful.

“The country is probably over-restauranted,” Travis said, adding that not many categories are actually growing.

More Stores, Fewer Customers

Part of the problem with the restaurant industry hinges on the fact that many of the chains with a large number of stores have opened even more locations.

Dunkin’ Donuts has 8,828 locations in 2016, and that’s after the company added 397 stores since 2015, according to QSR.  Since 2013, Dunkin’ has added around 1,000 stores in the U.S., in spite of this alleged over-saturation.

Business Insider reports that Starbucks and Darden Restaurants — parent company to Olive Garden — have each expressed concerns about the glut of restaurants available to consumers.

At the same time — just like Dunkin’ — both Starbucks and Olive Garden have continued to expand. Starbucks added 651 locations between 2015 and 2016 and is nearing the size of McDonald’s in the U.S. with 13,172 stores. Olive Garden now operates more than 800 locations.

Whatever the reason, Americans just aren’t dining out as frequently as they used to. According to industry tracker TDn2K, customer traffic at U.S. restaurants has been declining for nearly two years.

Which Fast Food Chain Do Legal Marijuana Users Prefer When Hunger Hits?

When the last joint has been smoked, the vaporizer has run out of oil, and the Munchies Monster is demanding to be fed, where do marijuana users go to feast?

According to a new study of legal cannabis consumers, McDonald’s is the most popular destination for folks with the munchies.

Green Market Report and Consumer Research Around Cannabis conducted a survey in 25 U.S. markets and found that 43% of people who purchased cannabis from a legally authorized dispensary said they ate McDonald’s food in the previous four weeks.

Coming in at a distant second was Taco Bell, with just 18% of those marijuana users, followed by Wendy’s (17.8%), Burger King (17.6%), Subway (8.7%), and KFC (5.5%).

However, it’s worth noting that McDonald’s spot at the top of the list has a lot to do with the fact that it has more locations than the other chains: The Golden Arches has about 14,000 restaurants in the U.S., while Taco Bell has about 5,600 domestic locations.

“McDonald’s wins by virtue of the sheer number of locations – by default really,” said Jeff Stein, Vice President of Consumer Research Around Cannabis. “Those competitors which better understanding cannabis users and their consumer habits can certainly close the gap by integrating what they learn through their marketing efforts.”

Though this size argument doesn’t hold true for Subway. The sandwich shop chain has more locations than any other fast food operation. At around 27,000 stores, Subway has nearly double the number of U.S. locations as McDonald’s, but couldn’t even crack the top four in most markets in this survey.

Aid For Residents Of Puerto Rico Remains Unloaded At Docks

As residents of Puerto Rico continue to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, much of the needed aid sent to the island has yet to make it into their hands. Instead, cargo container after cargo container — holding things like meals, first aid materials, and other items — remain at port because the system in place to move the goods has been equally devastated by the storm. 

Bloomberg reports that despite efforts to ease the transport of emergency materials to the island — such as the recent 10-day waiver of the 1920 Jones Act, which limited the way shipments could be made to Puerto Rico — little in the way of aid has actually reached residents.

Instead of heading to residents in need, the emergency supplies packed into thousands of cargo containers remain untouched near docks, in part because of a lack of workers to unpack them and infrastructure no longer stable enough to transport or house the goods.

“There are plenty of ships and plenty of cargo to come into the island,” Mark Miller, a spokesman for Crowley, an operator of one Puerto Rico dock, tells Bloomberg. “From there, that’s where the supply chain breaks down — getting the goods from the port to the people on the island who need them.”

Not Moving

Trouble transporting the aid comes from a combination of issues on the island: a lack of workers, damaged infrastructure, and a lack of power.

For instance, many of the buildings that would typically be used to house the aid after it is removed from the containers have been damaged and remain without electricity.

Additionally, while Bloomberg notes that trucks sit ready to transport aid, there aren’t drivers available to move them. Instead, many of these people are now caring for their families, cleaning their properties, and abiding by the island’s 7 p.m. curfew.

But even if there were drivers, they likely would run into issues with the island’s infrastructure, as the large trucks used to transport goods across the island are no longer able to navigate unstable, washed out roads or the roads are simply impassable thanks to downed power lines.

Retired army lieutenant general Russel Honore tells Bloomberg that Puerto Rico is in need of assistance from the U.S. military, which could provide ships, aircraft, and trucks that could move the supplies to communities.

Waiting For Space

Another issue affecting the ability to get relief to victims of the storm is the abundance of retailers’ goods sitting on docks.

Bloomberg reports that the storage space used by Crowley is currently housing thousands of containers full of products meant for retailers’ shelves.

The company is trying to get those containers moved in order to make room for aid supplies.

Bob’s Discount Furniture Accused Of Falsely Claiming Its Mattress Is Same As Serta But Cheaper

If you live in any of the 15 states where Bob’s Discount Furniture operates, you’re probably familiar with the retailer’s “Dare to Compare” ads that pit expensive brand-name furniture against Bob’s more affordable versions. But one major mattress maker claims some of these comparisons are misleading and illegal.

Serta Simmons recently filed a lawsuit [PDF] against Bob’s in a Chicago federal court, accusing the retailer of false advertising and deceptive trade practices.

In particular, Serta takes issue with ads that compare Simmons’ Beautyrest Black Mattress to Bob’s Black Label Gel Euro-Top Mattress.

“Both have comfy gel-infused memory foams, supportive latex foam, individually wrapped innerspring coils, and luxurious stretched thin fabric,” states the Bob’s commercial. “So, besides the fancy logo, what’s another big difference? Well, theirs is priced at a whopping $2799, while ours is priced at only $999. Plus, you get the satisfaction of knowing you didn’t just spend $1800 on a fancy logo.”

Serta’s problem with this commercial is illustrated in the following screengrab, which shows illustrations of some innerspring coils, memory foam, and latex foam:

The issue, according to the lawsuit, is that Bob’s only shows one set of each of these items, despite the fact that the Serta bed and the Bob’s bed use different springs and foams. By using just one image, argues the complaint, Bob’s is misleading the viewer into thinking both beds are made of the same exact materials.

Serta says it sent Bob’s a cease-and-desist letter about this ad in May 2017. In response, a lawyer representing Bob’s argued that the retailer’s ad does not imply that the two beds are identical except for price.

The ad “merely states that each product contains those elementary mattress components,” reads the response [PDF], which attempts to use a sporting goods analogy to make Bob’s case.

“It’s like an ad by a golf club manufacturer comparing its club to a competitor’s club which states that each club has a steel shaft, an adjustable hosel, a rubber grip and blade iron club heads,” explains the attorney for Bob’s. “Such a statement hardly implies that the clubs are the ‘same.’ Many variations remain.”

Though this ad still remains on the Bob’s website and YouTube account, the company did subsequently release a second ad comparing these same mattresses, but without that diagram of the springs and foams:

Instead, you get a side-by-side shot of the two products with their allegedly shared characteristics overlaid on each:

“Both have comfy gel-infused memory foams, supportive latex foam, individually wrapped innerspring coils, and luxurious stretched thin fabric,” states this second ad. “Sure, they’re not exactly the same, but you be the judge. Theirs is priced at a whopping $2799, while ours is priced at only $999.”

Even though this version of the ad eschews the allegedly confusing diagram of the mattress materials and explicitly states that the two mattresses are “not exactly the same,” Serta contends that “such statements and imagery deceive or are likely to deceive customers about the true nature, characteristics, and quality of Bob’s Mattress and Simmons’ Mattress, namely by implying that Bob’s Mattress and Simmons’ Mattress contain the same components and/or materials when, in fact, they do not.”

Serta points out that in 2013, Bob’s agreed to take down one of its other mattress ads after receiving a cease-and-desist from Serta Simmons. However, in that dispute the issue involved apparently inaccurate comparisons regarding the thickness of a gel memory foam layer on the compared mattresses. That’s a more cut-and-dry issue, as opposed to a general “we’re made of similar components but cost less” comparison ad.

Neither company is commenting publicly on this latest lawsuit, notes the Chicago Tribune.