Friday, 20 October 2017

Bagged Salad Recall Expands To Include Vegetables Sold At Walmart, Target, Others

This morning, we shared a recall notice from grocery chain Trader Joe’s that its kohlrabi salad mix had been recalled after a supplier let the company know about potential listeria contamination. It turns out that recall was much bigger, involving other retailers including Albertsons, H-E-B, and Walmart, and vegetables that are less fun to say than “kohlrabi.”

What happened

The company behind the recalled products, Mann Packing, exports some products to Canada, and routine testing of those exports turned up Listeria. While there have been no reported or confirmed illnesses from these products, note that the incubation period for Listeria ranges from three to 70 days, so people could get sick more than two months from now.

What to look for

There are a lot of products included in this recall. They were sold under Mann’s own brand name, and also under the store brands of Archer Farms (Target), H-E-B, Little Salad Bar, Signature Farms (Albertsons), Trader Joe’s, Walmart, and Western Family. You can find a table with all of the items listed at the bottom of this post, and images of the Mann’s packaging for each product is available on the company’s website.

What to do

Mann’s asks that you throw affected products away or return them to the store where they were purchased for a refund. If you have any questions about the recall or the products, contact the company at 888-470-2681 or use its email form.

Product “Best Before” Date UPC
Mann’s Family Favorites Broccoli Carrots, 12 oz bags 10/14, 10/15, 10/16 716519013058
Mann’s Family Favorites Broccoli Cauliflower Florets, 16 oz bags 10/14, 10/16 716519012174
10/16/2017
Mann’s Family Favorites Broccoli Cauliflower Florets, 12 oz bags 10/14/2017 716519013034
10/16/2017
10/15/2017
10/16/2017
Mann’s Broccoli Cole Slaw, 1 lb bags 10/15/2017 716519011009
10/17/2017
Mann’s Broccoli Cole Slaw, 12 oz bags 10/14/2017 716519013072
10/15/2017
10/17/2017
Mann’s Family Favorites Broccoli Wokly, 1 lb bags 10/14/2017 716519010163
10/16/2017
Mann’s Family Favorites Broccoli Wokly, 12 oz bags 10/14/2017 716519013010
10/15/2017
10/16/2017
Mann’s Culinary Cuts Shaved Brussels Sprout, 9 oz bas 10/14/2017 716519036859
10/15/2017
Mann’s Family Favorites California Stir Fry, 2 lb bags 10/14/2017 716519020186
10/15/2017
10/16/2017
Mann’s Family Favorites California Stir Fry, 1 lb bags 10/14/2017 716519012181
10/16/2017
Mann’s Family Favorites California Stir Fry, 12 oz bags 10/14/2017 716519013065
10/15/2017
10/16/2017
10/16/2017
Mann’s Family Favorites Cauliflower Florets, 3 lb bags 10/14/2017 716519020292
10/16/2017
Mann’s Culinary Cuts Cauliettes Chopped Cauliflower, 14 oz bags 10/15/2017 716519069017
10/14/2017 716519069017
10/15/2017 716519069017
10/16/2017 716519069017
Mann’s Family Favorites Cauliflower Florets, 10 oz bags 10/14/2017 716519014031
10/15/2017
10/16/2017
Mann’s Snacking Favorites Cheddar Pretzel Veggie Tray, 19.6 oz tray 10/15/2017 716519020445
10/16/2017
Mann’s Fiesta Vegetable Tray, 35.5 oz tray 10/14/2017 716519088728
10/16/2017
Mann’s Snacking Favorites Honey Turkey Cheddar, 20.3 oz Tray 10/14/2017 716519020483
10/15/2017
10/16/2017
Mann’s Kale Beet Blend, 8 oz Bags 10/14/2017 716519000287
10/15/2017
10/16/2017
Mann’s Nourish Bowls Southwest Chipotle, 10.5 oz trays 10/18/2017 716519036958
10/19/2017
Mann’s Nourish Bowls Bacon Maple Brussels, 7.15 oz Tray 10/12/2017 716519036941
10/13/2017
10/14/2017
10/15/2017
10/16/2017
10/17/2017
10/18/2017
10/19/2017
10/20/2017
Mann’s Nourish Bowl Monterey Risotto, 8.75 oz Tray 10/11/2017 716519036798
10/12/2017
10/13/2017
10/14/2017
10/15/2017
10/16/2017
10/18/2017
10/19/2017
Mann’s Nourish Bowls Sesame Sriracha, 12 oz Tray 10/12/2017 716519036811
10/13/2017
10/15/2017
10/16/2017
10/17/2017
10/19/2017
10/20/2017
Mann’s Nourish Bowl Cauli Rice Curry, 11 oz Tray 10/11/2017 716519036897
10/12/2017
10/13/2017
10/14/2017
10/15/2017
10/16/2017
10/18/2017
10/19/2017
Mann’s Nourish Bowls Southwest Chipotle, 10.5 oz Tray 10/12/2017 716519036859
10/13/2017
10/14/2017
10/15/2017
10/16/2017
10/18/2017
10/19/2017
Mann’s Vegetable Tray, 54 oz tray 10/15/2017 716519014055
Mann’s Power Blend, 20 oz bags 10/17/2017 716519000416
Mann’s Power Blend, 10 oz bags 10/14/2017 716519013119
10/16/2017
10/17/2017
Mann’s Rainbow Salad, 12 oz bags 10/14/2017 716519013089
10/15/2017
10/16/2017
10/17/2017
Mann’s Family Favorites Vegetable Medley, 2 lb bags 10/14/2017 716519020155
10/15/2017
10/16/2017
Mann’s Family Favorites Vegetable Medley, 1 lb bags 10/14/2017 716519012150
10/15/2017
10/16/2017
Mann’s Family Favorites Vegetable Medley, 12 oz bags 10/14/2017 716519013041
10/16/2017
10/14/2017
10/16/2017
Mann’s Vegetable Tray, 2.5 lb tray 10/15/2017 716519014079
10/16/2017
Mann’s Snacking Favorites Hummus Tray, 16.5 oz trays 10/14/2017 716519014758
10/15/2017
10/16/2017
Mann’s Snacking Favorites Veggie Ranch Tray, 16.5 oz bags 10/14/2017 716519020575
10/15/2017
10/16/2017
Archer Farms (Target) Broccoli Slaw 12 OZ bags 10/16/2017 85239343142
Archer Farms Broccoli Cauliflower Florets, 12oz bags 10/14/2017 085239341148
10/15/2017
Archer Farms Broccoli Florets 12oz bags 10/14/2017 085239319147
10/15/2017
10/16/2017
Archer Farms Broccoli Medley 12oz Bags 10/14/2017 085239339145
10/15/2017
Archer Farms Brussels Sprouts, 12oz bags 10/14/2017 085239301142
Archer Farms Shaved Brussels Sprouts, 9oz bags 10/15/2017 085239193143
Archer Farms Cauliflower Florets, 10oz bags 10/14/2017 085239030141
H-E-B Broccoli Carrots, 12 OZ bags 10/15/2017 4122097508
10/16/2017
H-E-B Broccoli Cauliflower, 12 OZ bags 10/14/2017 4122097503
10/15/2017
10/16/2017
H-E-B Broccoli Florets, 12 OZ bags 10/15/2017 4122097505
10/16/2017
H-E-B Broccoli Slaw, 12 OZ bags 10/16/2017 4122097512
10/17/2017
H-E-B Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad, 10OZ bags 10/14/2017 4122065112
10/15/2017
H-E-B Veggie Toss Kit Caulibit Mushroom Sauce, 11oz bags 10/15/2017 4122017706
10/16/2017
H-E-B Caulibits Chopped Cauliflower, 14oz bags 10/15/2017 4122009327
10/16/2017
H-E-B Cauliflower Florets, 10 OZ bags 10/15/2017 4122032278
10/16/2017
H-E-B Fiesta Salad, 12 OZ bags 10/14/2017 4122097501
10/16/2017
10/17/2017
H-E-B Power Slaw, 10 OZ bags 10/14/2017 4122083223
10/17/2017
H-E-B Stir Fry Medley, 12 OZ bags 10/14/2017 4122097504
10/16/2017
H-E-B Vegetable Medley, 12 OZ bags 10/14/2017 4122097506
10/15/2017
10/16/2017
Little Salad Bar Broccoli Florets, 12 OZ bags 10/15/2017 041498216030
Little Salad Bar Broccoli Slaw, 12 OZ bags 10/16/2017 041498216047
Signature Farms Meat & Cheese Tray, 36 OZ trays 10/14/2017 021130110964
10/16/2017
Signature Farms Broccoli Cauliflower Florets 4/28 OZ bags 10/14/2017 021130984497
10/15/2017
10/16/2017
Signature Farms Broccoli Cauliflower Florets 6/12 OZ bags 10/14/2017 21130983407
10/15/2017
10/16/2017
Signature Farms Broccoli Slaw 12 OZ bags 10/15/2017 21130983391
10/17/2017
Signature Farms Broccoli Stir Fry 28 OZ bags 10/14/2017 021130984459
10/15/2017
10/16/2017
Signature Farms Broccoli Florets 12 OZ bags 10/14/2017 021130983407
10/15/2017
Signature Farms Broccoli Stir Fry, 12 OZ bags 10/14/2017 21130983322
10/15/2017
10/16/2017
Signature Farms Veggie Tray with Ranch Dip, 24 OZ. trays 10/14/2017 021130299553
10/15/2017
10/16/2017
Signature Farms Veggie Tray with Ranch Dip, 24OZ (NS) trays 10/14/2017 021130299553
10/15/2017
Signature Farms Veggie Tray with Ranch Dip, 54 OZ. trays 10/16/2017 21130299560
Signature Farms Vegetable Medley, 28 OZ bags 10/14/2017 021130984466
10/15/2017
10/16/2017
Signature Farms Vegetable Medley, 12 OZ bags 10/14/2017 21130983322
10/15/2017
10/16/2017
Signature Farms Veggie & Hummus Tray (NS), 16.5OZ trays 10/14/2017 021130984282
Signature Farms Veggie & Hummus Tray, 16.5 OZ trays 10/14/2017 021130984282
10/15/2017
10/16/2017
Trader Joe’s Kohlrabi Salad Blend, 10 OZ Bags 10/14/2017 0058 6146
10/15/2017
10/16/2017
Walmart Broccoli Cauliflower Florets, 12 OZ bags 10/14/2017 681131328852
10/15/2017
10/16/2017
Walmart Broccoli Florets, 32 oz bags 10/14/2017 681131122344
10/16/2017
Walmart Broccoli Florets, 12 OZ bags 10/14/2017 681131328845
10/15/2017
10/16/2017
Walmart Broccoli Slaw, 16 OZ bags 10/14/2017 681131148207
10/15/2017
Walmart Stir Fry Medley, 12 OZ bags 10/13/2017 681131457460
10/14/2017
10/15/2017
10/16/2017
Walmart Cauliflower Florets, 10 OZ bags 10/14/2017 681131091381
10/15/2017
10/16/2017
Walmart Cauliflower 6/16 oz 10/14/2017 681131122320
10/15/2017
10/16/2017
Walmart Super Blend, 10oz bags 10/13/2017 681131148368
10/15/2017
10/16/2017
Walmart Vegetable Medley, 2LB bags 10/14/2017 681131457378
10/15/2017
10/16/2017
Walmart Vegetable Medley 9/12 OZ WM 10/14/2017 681131328791
10/15/2017
10/16/2017

by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

California Accuses Retailer Of Using Bait-And-Switch Tactics To Lure In Customers

A Los Angeles-area chain of retail stores is accused by the state of repeatedly misleading customers into thinking they were going to get a good price on merchandise only to be told after they get into the store that the only way to get that advertised price is if they spend more money.

The office of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced today that it has filed a lawsuit [PDF] against Curacao, an L.A.-based retailer that largely serves the areas Spanish-speaking community.

Curacao has been around for nearly 40 years, and currently operates a dozen stores, mostly in Southern California, with two locations in Arizona, and one store in Las Vegas.

While the store represents itself as a competitor with the big box chains, the state’s lawsuit alleges that “Curacao victimizes consumers through a variety of unlawful, unfair, and fraudulent business practices.”

Becerra claims that Curacao advertises low prices and easy credit, primarily to an immigrant community with no or limited access to credit. But, alleges the complaint, these ads are “false or misleading,” and in-store employees are allegedly instructed to not sell items at the advertised price unless the customer spends additional money on unnecessary add-ons, like warranties or overpriced accessories.

“Curacao often tells consumers that merchandise advertised by Curacao is either unavailable, or available only as part of a more expensive bundle that was not disclosed in Curacao’s advertising,” reads the complaint. “Curacao fails to honor prices as they are advertised and marked on its sales floor, and fails to supply reasonably expected demand for the merchandise it advertises.”

In some cases, says the state, Curacao employees are adding warranties or additional services to the customer’s order without telling them. The lawsuit claims that employees hide these add-ons by getting the customer to sign a touch screen agreeing to the contract and only then providing them with an itemized bill and a full copy of the agreement.

Curacao customers are often talked into warranties that in many cases were meaningless, alleges the lawsuit. The state claims that store employees would fail to provide customers with copies of, or any information about, these warranties. Those customers who tried to get a warranty repair were frequently denied or had their warranties voided by Curacao, according to the state.

What’s more, the complaint claims that Curacao misled state regulators about the warranties it sells. The retailer had told state authorities that it was selling warranties administered by a third party, when in reality it was allegedly selling self-administered warranties, but without the insurance or financial backing that is required under California law.

The state says that customers who returned products to Curacao would still be charged for installment payments warranties for products they no longer owned, and that customers were charged for third-party warranties that didn’t exist.

But wait… There’s more. Employees allegedly deceive customers about the price and necessity of accessories, falsely telling shoppers these add-on items may be vital to operating their main purchase.

Additionally, says Becerra, sometimes the prices are low on Curacao products because they are used; a fact that is not disclosed to the customer.

Even if a customer does purchase a Curacao product at the advertised price, they could end up paying several times the product’s value if they sign up for the store’s financing program, which is heavily marketed in both the stores and the Curacao website. The complaint notes that Curacao markets this option at the reasonable — for a store credit line — APR or 19.99%, but that most Curacao customers are ultimately given rates that are about one-and-half times that rate at 34.99%.

The state also alleges that Curacao employees are instructed to encourage customers to use up all their available store credit immediately.

If a Curacao customer did fall behind on payments, Becerra says the retailer used illegal debt-collection tactics, like calling customers early in the morning, late at night, threatening arrest and seizure of property. The state claims that these tactics sometimes kept going years after a customer had already paid their debt to Curacao in full.

When Curacao did make good on threats of legal actions against debtors, it allegedly used an unlicensed process server who fabricated proof of service documents to make it appear as if a customer had been served with legal papers when they had not. As a result, contends the complaint, these customers were unable to contest their alleged debt in court but Curacao was able to obtain default judgments and their wages to repay debt the customer might not have owed.

At a press event in L.A. this morning to announce the lawsuit, Becerra labled Curacao’s alleged bad behavior “disgraceful” and “unlawful.”

“Curacao has a right to market its goods but not to take advantage of its customers,” said the attorney general.


by Chris Morran via Consumerist

Twitter Puts Timeline On Curbing Hateful Abuse; For Real This Time. No, Seriously

Ever since it gave birth to its first anonymous, hateful egg, Twitter has been promising to do something to repair its reputation as a verbal battle royale of vitriolic threats and malicious dog-piling. After a decade of half-steps (and steps back, in some cases), Twitter has now given an actual timeline for when it will implement what it hopes are policy changes that will result in a less menacing social media platform — but can Twitter actually stuff its nasty genie back in the bottle?

One Thing at a Time

The calendar Twitter released today includes a detailed timeline of when planned features and rules are supposed to role out between today and the first week of January.

Up first are the changes to the non-consensual nudity (i.e. “revenge porn”) policy, joined by an ability to appeal account suspensions.

Those will be followed in November by an initiative to “educate abusers about our rules,” as well as some updates to the rules themselves. The updated terms of service will include language about violent groups, hateful imagery and symbols, “unwanted sexual advances,” and an “Expanded definition” of “spam and related behaviors.”

Later in the month, Twitter says it will be updating its process for reviewing reports, and adding new tools that help them process reports about harassment, abuse, and spam when they come in.

Then, in December, Twitter plans to update the way it handles “witness” reports — the ones you send when you are not the target of an abuser or harasser, but see it happening. Updates to the review process for witness reports are scheduled to be completed in January.

Promises, Promises

Twitter, as a platform, has never been immune to abuse and harassment — but in recent years, streams of abuse have become rivers, and then tsunamis.

After actor Robin Williams’ death in 2014, his daughter Zelda was driven off of Twitter by a wave of abuse. As we noted at the time, there’s really nothing Twitter can do to prevent some users from being, well, utter a-holes.

But the service can take action to mitigate the massive, unrelenting, targeted hate campaigns that regularly strike anyone — especially, but not exclusively, women and people of color — who speaks out about a cultural or political issue.

Then-CEO Dick Costolo admitted in internal emails in 2015 that “we suck at dealing with abuse and trolls, and we’ve sucked at it for years.”

He added that he was, “frankly ashamed of how poorly we’ve dealt with this issue,” adding, “There’s no excuse for it.”

That was more than two years ago. Many times since, the company has promised to do something. Consider:

To many users, however, the company’s endless promises to do better seem more than a bit rote, at this stage, and so far most of the “solutions” on offer have evidently failed to curb the problem in any meaningful way.


by Kate Cox via Consumerist

T-Mobile & Sprint May Have To Delay Their Halloween Wedding Until Closer To Thanksgiving

If you were eagerly planning to fete the rumored Halloween elopement of T-Mobile and Sprint, you might want to hold on to your candy corn. The corporate nuptials may now be delayed a few weeks, with the telecom lovebirds announcing their “I do”s closer to Thanksgiving.

Bloomberg, citing people close to the matter, reports that an official merger deal between Sprint and T-Mobile may still be several weeks away.

While it had been rumored that the two companies would announced their agreement before, or possibly during, their upcoming quarterly earnings calls, it now appears that they won’t make that sacred vow until sometime in November.

Neither company has announced when their earnings calls will take place, but T-Mobile has, in the past, posted that information during the last week of October. Sprint, on the other hand, has used both the last week of the month, and first week of November for earnings announcements.

What’s all this mean? That instead of hosting a costume-filled wedding, the No. 3 and No. 4 wireless providers might just tie the knot before hitting Black Friday sales.

It’s unclear what might be holding up the deal, as sources only noted to Bloomberg that the two companies have agreed on most of the merger’s more important details, such as not divesting any assets before the marriage. 

Earlier this week, sources said the companies were planning to go into the merger without tipping their hand to regulators about what they may eventually be willing to give up if they have to.

Previously, it was rumored that those regulators were gearing up to look into the merger… once it’s announced.


by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

For Some Reason, No One Wants Entry-Level Retail Jobs

With more commerce shifting online every year and a “retail apocalypse” at hand shuttering stores and malls, you’d think that there would be plenty of folks clamoring for the few retail jobs that remain. But even the stores that are actually looking to hire employees seem to be having trouble finding them, it turns out

Staffing firms have noticed a national trend that there are more low-level jobs and fewer people interested in taking them.

Recruiters told Reuters that entry-level employees are looking for flexibility that isn’t always available in retail. They blame ride-hailing services and on-demand delivery apps for taking entry-level workers, since they offer (or at least advertise) higher starting pay and opportunities for tips and bonuses.

“There just aren’t enough people who are looking for work,” the chief economist of job site Glassdoor told Reuters.

Walmart, the country’s biggest bricks-and-mortar retailer, says that it’s putting money toward higher pay for current employees rather than hiring seasonal help, but in turn is asking employees to do more.


by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

Some Cities Vying For New Amazon HQ Haven’t Learned From Past Mistakes

It’s like the Olympics for corporations: Cities all over the country have put themselves into the running to be the home to Amazon’s planned second headquarters, and many of them are offering huge tax breaks and other incentives. But just like the Olympics, cities may regret making such a deal, and several places vying for Amazon’s attention have apparently not learned important lessons from themselves and others that were overly eager to court a new corporate HQ.

Pew’s Stateline blog recently took a look at the costly incentive packages many states and cities are using to attract Amazon and its jobs, and how those expensive benefits could backfire.

According to a request for proposals [PDF], the future home of Amazon’s second headquarters should be near a “significant” population center, have access to major highways and an airport with frequent flights to major cities, access to good schools, and an “overall high quality of life.”

Sounds like a lot of cities in the U.S. and Canada, no?

In order to set themselves apart from the rest of the pack, many cities have offered to provide the company with free land, low taxes, and other hard-to-turn-down benefits.

But according to researchers, offering these so-called “megadeals” could cost the cities and their residents more in the long run.

A Large Cost

Stateline, citing a recent report from non-profit group Good Jobs First, notes that in many cases the cost-benefit ratio for these megadeals isn’t great.

While states and cities might be happy to create jobs for their residents through these packages, experts note that it doesn’t come free.

“There’s no fairy godmother paying for them,” Timothy Bartik, senior economist at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, tells Stateline.

In fact, Good Jobs’ analysis of 386 megadeals worth at least $50 million struck between cities or states and large since 1976 have often been more costly than expected.

For instance, the group found that the average cost per job created for these deals was $658,427.

That’s a pretty steep figure, and it’s one the group contends cities and states will never recoup.

Not As Expected

Stateline points to a deal between New York state and aluminum producer Alcoa as an example of a megadeal falling short.

New York provided the company with a 30-year discount on electricity — a benefit worth about $5.6 billion — nearly a decade ago if the business would keep 900 jobs in the state.

Just a few years into the deal, however, Alcoa’s employment roster fell to 750 jobs, and the company was in need of financial help.

The state stepped in once again, providing the company with $73 million in power subsidies.

Similarly, in Louisiana, Stateline reports incentive packages including property tax abatements has cost local governments more than $7 billion in five years.

Why Go For It?

Despite the limited success of some incentive deals in New York and Louisiana, Stateline reports that Albany, New York City, New Orleans, and other cities in the states are vying for Amazon’s headquarters.

In Louisiana’s case, the state has taken some steps to rein-in incentive packages that have in the past cost so much money.

Stateline reports that Gov. John Bel Edwards signed an executive order last year that required companies to adhere to strict requirements, including hitting job creation goals and creating new manufacturing plants.

Those requirements don’t apply to Amazon, a rep for Louisiana’s Economic Development agency says, and the agency plans to use offer incentives to attract the company.

Don Pierson, secretary for the agency, said the state just likes to compete, and incentive packages are one way to do that.

He likened megadeals to professional athletes receiving bonuses if they make playoffs or other milestones.

Of course, bringing jobs isn’t the only reason states and cities offer these megadeals, sometimes it’s all about the ego boost.

“There are major political benefits to presiding over a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a press conference to announce you have created or saved all these jobs,” Bartik tells Stateline.

Still, when that politician moves on and the deal goes sour, it inevitably will cause problems for city and state leaders, as well as employees and residents.


by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

Will Republican Tax Cuts Mean Lower Limit On 401(k) Contributions?

Some people with 401(k) retirement plans will put as much money into it as they can, but there are whispers that the tax cuts being drafted by Republicans in Congress could reduce the maximum amount of money you contribute to your retirement savings each year.

The Wall Street Journal reports today that among the many plans being considered on Capitol Hill is one that could leave a lot of hurt in its wake in the long term.

Retirement is complicated… and expensive

Obviously, the exact amount an individual is supposed to save in order to retire comfortably varies widely. Some parts of the country have drastically higher costs of living than others, just for starters; the variables are seemingly endless, and the math gets complicated.

As a general rule of thumb, retirement planners calculate based that you’ll want to replace 80% of your income from retirement until death. So if you retire at 65 and live to 90, you’ll need 80% of your income at age 64 for 25 years.

The U.S. median household income in 2016 was $59,039 — we can round that off to $59,000, for our purposes. That means someone who retires at that income level would need $47,200 per year to live on for 25 years, a total of about $1.18 million.

Now granted — not all of that has to come from money socked away over the previous 40 years of employment. Some will come from returns on investment, in a plan like a 401(k), and some will probably come from Social Security.

Still, by age 30, experts recommend you have retirement savings equivalent to about one year’s pay. By age 40, that increases to 3 times your annual pay (which, ideally, is also higher for you at 40 than it was at 30), and up to 10 times your annual pay by the time you retire. For that median income household, then, that’s at least $590,000.

The current cap on 401(k) contributions is $18,000 per year for workers under 50 and $24,000 for workers over 50, so under the current rules someone who works from age 25 to 65 could put a theoretical maximum of $810,000 a single 401(k) account. (Those limits are set to rise by $500 each in 2018.)

That’s a lot of math, but so far fairly straightforward: Experts guesstimate your retirement will cost seven figures, and you can currently contribute most of it to your 401(k) yourself in theory, not even accounting for employer matches or returns.

If 401(k) contributions were to be capped at $2,400, though, then the maximum a person could contribute to it for the 40 years between ages 25 and 65 would be $96,000.

That’s $200 per month, or about 4% of the gross pay our median household brings in… when experts recommend saving 10% – 20%. In other words, it’s a bare fraction of what you need.

So… why?

The thing that makes 401(k) accounts popular is that they’re tax-deferred. If you make $50,000 this year, but put $5,000 into a 401(k), then when it comes time to do your taxes that $5,000 doesn’t count, and your taxable income drops to $45,000. That means you probably get a fatter refund back (or owe less), and most people like that.

Instead, you pay your taxes on the back end: When you withdraw the funds in retirement, you pay income tax on that money. The benefit there, though, is that you’re probably in a lower tax bracket at that point in life than you were when you were working and saved it up, and so you still come out ahead in the long run.

And there’s the bind. Republicans in Congress want to pass a tax cut. That’s kind of their thing. But taxes fund things; the government uses the money.

Some of the shortfall can be made up in spending cuts, which the White House has already suggested, but some of it needs to be revenue that comes from other sources, too.

So there’s the reasoning behind the math: Congress can cut your tax rate, but — by limiting 401(k) contributions — increase your taxable income at the same time, thus limiting the damage to revenue from a tax cut.

Not exactly popular

Slashing the maximum limit for 401(k) contributions is unlikely to be warmly greeted by pretty much anyone.

Investment firms, and the lobbyists and trade groups that represent them, are concerned about the idea, the WSJ says — and that makes sense. If fewer people are investing money with them, and the ones who are are investing less, that’s bad news for the companies that make money from the funds.

Some members of Congress aren’t so sure this is a good idea, either.

Ohio Senator Rob Portman told the WSJ that he was “skeptical” about the proposal, adding, “I don’t think you want to disincentivize retirement savings in any way right now.”

Indeed, recent surveys find that between one third and one half of all American households have literally no retirement savings at all.

The House Ways and Means Committee is expected to release a version of the tax bill by mid-November, the WSJ reports. After that, given how Congress has operated this year, it’s anyone’s guess what happens next.


by Kate Cox via Consumerist

5 Ways To Make Sure You Have A Safe Halloween

It’s nearly Halloween, which means costumes, candy, parties, pumpkins, and — again — candy. But just because you’re all jacked up on a sugar high — or by the mere thought of your eventual sugar high — doesn’t mean you and your family can’t be safe this Halloween.

The Food and Drug Administration — along with the Consumer Product Safety Commission and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — recently updated their Halloween safety tips, warning individuals to be wary of the dangers lurking on Halloween — and we don’t mean ghosts and goblins.

From flammable costumes to face paint allergies, the agencies issued guidelines intended to keep children and festive adults happy and healthy on Oct. 31.

1. Wear Bright, Flame-Resistant Costumes

We’ve already warned Halloween revelers that it’s not a great idea to wear an entirely black body suit while trick-or-treating, and the agencies reiterate that sentiment.

For instance, the guidelines suggest individuals wear bright, reflective costumes or add strips of reflective tape so they’ll be more visible.

Costumes should also be “flame resistant” or made with polyester or nylon.

2. Test Your Makeup

When it comes to decorating your face, the agencies urge individuals to test their makeup in advance to ensure they don’t suffer an allergic reaction.

For example, the agencies suggest putting a small amount of the makeup on the arm of the person who will be wearing it.

If a rash, redness, swelling, or other signs of irritation develop where the makeup was applied, that’s a sign of a possible allergy, and shouldn’t be used, the guidelines note.

Additionally, because much of the makeup used during Halloween include vibrant colors, users should check that FDA’s list of color additives to see if their products are FDA approved for use.

3. Avoid Decorative Contact Lenses

While colored contact lenses — think cat eyes — might seem like the perfect finishing touch to a costume, the FDA warned the decorative lenses could pose a health risk for users.

The FDA and several eye care professional groups, including the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, and others, are discouraging the use of decorative or colored contact lenses this year.

When bought and used without a valid prescription, without the involvement of a qualified eye care professional, or without appropriate follow-up care, the lenses can lead to significant risks of eye injuries, including blindness.

Additionally, if you have never worn contact lenses before, Halloween should not be the first time you wear them, the agencies warn.

Instead, if you plan to wear decorative lenses, you should first see an eye care professional for a proper fitting and instructions for safe use.

4. Safe Handling

As for the bags and buckets you use to collect candy, safety experts have previously warned that you should pick those containers carefully.

Two years ago, Consumerist saw a variety of ways in which parents were reusing their orange Tide Pods buckets as Halloween candy buckets.

Sure, the idea might seem to be a creative way to “epicycle” the Pods packaging, but there were concerns that the containers might send a confusing message to children. Namely, that the orange containers house candy year-round.

“We all like Halloween,” William Wallace, policy analyst with our colleagues at Consumers Union, told Consumerist in 2015. “But these containers are intended to keep detergent pods away from young kids. Using them for candy baskets could be confusing.”

While potentially confusing a child on what holds candy and what holds detergent is bad enough, the reuse of Tide containers also created other concerns: are people properly cleaning these containers — which only recently held dozens of poisonous detergent pods — before turning them into treats totes?

5. Check Your Candy

When it comes to all that candy you (or your children) will undoubtedly receive this year, the FDA, CPSC, and CDC provide a few steps that should be taken before you indulge.

For instance, adults should inspect children’s candy for any sign of tampering, read labels for allergy warning, and remove any choking hazards from Halloween bags before giving them to children.

For more Halloween safety tips, check out the FDA’s full list of guidelines. 

 


by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

How Did This Retiree Get A $184K DirecTV Bill?

Most of us have been hit with an unexpectedly high cable or satellite bill, but not like this. One DirecTV customer in Ohio says that after she signed up for service from AT&T and DirecTV, she was slammed with a bill for more than $184,000.

The customer says she switched her phone service to AT&T about six months ago so that she could enjoy the small monthly savings that DirecTV offers to AT&T subscribers.

What she got in the months since, however, has been service issues and bills she didn’t understand. It’s unclear from the WJW-TV story whether she’d been keeping up with all her bills during this time period, but even if she had been delinquent on every bill for the entire six months, that wouldn’t explain why DirecTV was suddenly demanding that she pay $184,530.67.

She says that she tried to get AT&T’s attention and some help to figure out where the bill came from, but no one could help her.

“I know I don’t have that kind of money,” she told TV reporters.

Even after she brought in the media, hoping that the threat of publicity would force AT&T and DirecTV to figure things out, all AT&T was able to do was fix her account, not explain what happened or whether it would could happen again.

“We apologize for the billing error that occurred,” an AT&T spokeswoman told WJW. “We’ve reached out to the customer to resolve the issue.”

The six-figure bill is gone, but the other problems with her service are still happening. She told WJW that she planned to seek help from the state attorney general. We’d recommend reaching out to the state Public Utilities Commission as well.


by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

Taco Bell Testing Quesadillas Filled With Kit Kats, Twix Bars

Taco Bell is basically a deep-fried stick of butter away from being a food booth at your local state fair. The latest result of the Bell’s plan to wrap any recognizable junk food inside a tortilla has resulted in two dessert quesadillas stuffed with either Twix bar pieces or Kit Kats.

Taco Bell customers began spotting the “Kit Kat Chocoladilla” and “Twix Caramel Chocoladilla” in recent weeks, as Brand Eating reports that the fast food company is testing the desserts at stores in Wisconsin.

The items look much like a traditional quesadilla, but instead of chicken and cheese, they come stuffed with Kit Kat or Twix pieces and melted chocolate.

Both of the desserts — or they could be your meal, no judgment here — are selling for $1.

This isn’t the first time Taco Bell has offered the chocolatey quesadillas. Brand Eating notes that the fast food company sold the Kit Kat version in the UK last year, but called it the “Chocodilla.”

Consumerist has reached out to Taco Bell for more information on how long the tests will last and if the product will make it to more restaurants. We’ll update this post if we hear back.

Spotted In The Wild

Several Twitter users have spied both versions of the Chocoladilla at their local Taco Bell restaurants.

Reddit user kgjettaIV said the Twix version wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great, either.

“I was hoping for something good as I really enjoy a Twix bar every now and then and while it wasn’t perfect it was pretty good,” he wrote, adding that the flavors “worked pretty well together,” though the filling was as plentiful as photos make it seem.


by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

Frontier Still Overbilling Some Customers More Than A Year After Aquiring Them From Verizon

In 2015, Frontier announced it would be acquiring Verizon’s old-school, copper-wire landline networks in California, Florida, and Texas for a cool $10.54 billion. The transition took place in early 2016, but some subscribers say that 18 months later, they’re still having trouble with the handoff.

Overbilling Galore

Customers in Florida tell their local ABC affiliate (warning: autoplay video) that they’ve been having troubles with their Frontier bills for months or years.

“The very first bill was wildly wrong,” one customer told WFTS in Tampa Bay. She was supposed to be charged roughly $100 per month; instead, the bill came in at $340.

She called, and Frontier promised to fix the mistake. And yet she was somehow overcharged repeatedly in later months.

Ever time, she called customer service; every time they promised a fix that never came, she said, telling WFTS, “It’s just really frustrating. Businesses should do what they say they’re going to do.”

Another customer echoed the sentiment. “Ever since Frontier took over, our bill has gotten exceedingly more each month, now up to $260,” she said, adding that the company also charges her for equipment her account has never had.

She has tried repeatedly to get customer service to fix the problem, she told the TV station, but has gotten so frustrated trying to get through to them that she gave up and now just pays the incorrect charge.

A Rocky Road

For many customers, the change from Verizon to Frontier went poorly from the start.

We reported last year on many of the woes customers were facing.

For starters, many Verizon customers had no idea that the sale was taking place, or that their accounts were among the assets being transferred between the companies.

“My landline telephone, Internet and TV services are now with Frontier,” one Dallas-area customer said at the time. “I’ve never heard of Frontier. I thought it was a prank until other customers I know received the same email.”

One Consumerist reader first heard about the change on a Reddit post, and had to call Verizon to find out that he was one of the affected customers. Verizon told him the shift would occur in April or May of 2016 and that he would get “plenty of notice.” However, he received an email in March, on Easter Sunday, giving him less than one week’s notice that he was going to become a Frontier customer.

Customers who didn’t know their provider was changing, though, sure did notice a change in service: The transfer immediately led to widespread outages in many of the new Frontier markets. And even when internet, TV, and phone service was restored, many customers were told they might have to wait “weeks” for video on demand service to be restored.

Time To Complain

WFTS suggests that Florida customers should contact the FLorida Attorney General’s Office to file a consumer complaint. That’s good advice for customers in other states, too.

If you’re having trouble with Frontier (or any other company) consistently overfilling you and not responding well to customer service calls, search for [your state] attorney general consumer complaints to find yours.


by Kate Cox via Consumerist

Artist Sues Hotel, Claiming His Paintings Became Infested With Bedbugs, Were Used In Porn Shoots

Hotel guests are notorious for treating their temporary living quarters with utter disregard; the phrase “trashing a hotel room” has been part of cultural parlance since at least the dawn of the rock star. Even the poshest of resorts often fall victim to their guests’ worst proclivities. In spite of all the obvious risk involved, one artist thought it would be a good idea to not only have his artwork displayed throughout a luxury hotel, but to install that artwork in the form of headboards. Now he’s suing the hotel after finding out that guests have apparently been treating his art like any other piece of hotel furniture — which, obviously, includes being in the background of porn videos.

In a complaint [PDF] filed this week in a San Diego court, French painter Yves Clement lays out multiple allegations against the operators of the city’s historic U.S. Grant Hotel, where his work has been on display for more than ten years.

According to the lawsuit, Clement spent five months in 2005 working at the U.S. Grant and creating hundreds of pieces of artwork. In addition to his drawings and paintings being shown in public spaces around the hotel, it was also integrated directly into the guest room furniture. As part of a “Sleeping With Art” concept, several of Clement’s paintings were integrated into headboards.

In all, he claims the collection was originally estimated at around $3.8 million and is now worth anywhere from $6.6 million to $17 million, depending on who you ask.

The big catch here is that the hotel doesn’t own Clement’s artwork — apparently not even the headboard pieces — but rather leases them from the artist. The original 2005 lease was extended in 2015 for another ten years, according to the lawsuit.

One of the conditions of this deal, according to the lawsuit, is that U.S. Grant is supposed to return any damaged artwork to Clement. Instead, he claims that he just happened to learn about a possible bedbug infestation while visiting the framing shop used by the hotel to mount Clement’s paintings.

He says he noticed some of his hotel canvasses at the shop and asked why they were covered in plastic. According to Clement, the shop’s owner told him that these paintings had just been treated for bedbugs and were to be remounted.

“Mr. Clement observed small dark spots on the canvas underneath the plastic,” reads the complaint. “Aside from the physical evidence of what appeared to be bedbugs and/or bedbug droppings, which ruins the visual look of Mr. Clement’s art, a bedbug infestation renders the artwork unsalable. Mr. Clement’s clientele would be unwilling to purchase work that had been exposed to bedbugs. Therefore, all affected pieces must be considered a total loss.”

A subsequent visit to the hotel turned up 90 pieces of artwork that Clement claims were “damaged or destroyed” — cut canvases, unidentifiable splatters, and graffiti, among other ugliness.

Clement argues that it’s not just the physical damage that is problematic; the fact that the hotel allowed these pieces to continue to be displayed while in such allegedly poor condition could result in reputational harm. He says he has asked the hotel to return the damaged pieces to him, but to no avail. Similarly, Clement claims that hotel management has refused to show him copies of the insurance polices the U.S. Grant was contractually required to take out to protect the collection.

The lawsuit also notes that Clement’s headboards have been “prominently featured in commercial pornographic films,” all made by a San Diego website that shoots its videos in the city’s various upscale hotels. Clement argues that this site has multiple X-rated videos shot in different rooms of the U.S. Grant and showing his distinctive headboard artwork. Clement argues that the hotel was negligent, by failing to take “appropriate and effective measures to prevent this practice.”

Clement seeks unspecified compensatory damages, plus interest.

The U.S. Grant is owned by Marriott under the Starwood and Luxury Collection brands. We’ve reached out to the company for comment and will update if we receive a response.

[via Courthouse News]


by Chris Morran via Consumerist

Could A Laptop Ban Be Coming For Checked Luggage?

Given the possibility of theft, damage, and loss, packing your laptop in a checked bag is not a good idea to begin with. Even so, travelers continue to stow their computers and other large electronics in their checked luggage. But that could come to and, now that the Federal Aviation Administration has urged airlines around the world to stop this practice, citing the fire and explosion risk posed by the batteries in these devices.

The Chicago Tribune reports that the FAA made the suggestion in a paper filed with the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations agency that sets global aviation safety standards.

Exploding Batteries

The FAA pointed to recent tests of laptop lithium-ion batteries packed in checked luggage that found the devices could overheat causing fires, and in some cases explosions, as evidence supporting the need for a ban.

In all, the FAA conducted 10 tests in which a fully-charged laptop was placed in a packed suitcase near a variety of different consumer products permitted to be stored in checked luggage.

To imitate the cargo area of a plane, researchers placed a heater near the bag. This forced the laptop’s battery into a condition in which its temperature rises continually, The Tribune reports.

In one test, researchers placed an aerosol can of dry shampoo — which is permitted to be stored in checked luggage — next to the battery inside a suitcase. Once the battery was heated up, a fire started almost immediately. After about 40 seconds, the aerosol can exploded and the fire grew.

According to the FAA, the Halon gas fire suppressant system used in the plane’s cargo area was unable to extinguish the fire before the explosion occurred.

While the FAA notes that the fire and explosion might not be enough to damage the plane, if the Halon system doesn’t work properly the fire could spread, causing more damage.

Safety experts previously addressed this concern with our colleagues at Consumer Reports, noting that even if the suppression system worked, the batteries could continue to heat up or cause a chain reaction in which other batteries catch fire.

The Tribune reports that other FAA tests included packing nail polish remover, hand sanitizer, and other products near the laptop. In these cases, a fire started, but no explosion occurred.

The Recommendation

The FAA recommended to ICAO in the paper that passengers be prohibited from packing large electronic devices in checked baggage unless they have specific approval from the airline, The Tribune reports.

The agency notes that even without an airline’s approval lithium-ion batteries could make their way on to a plane via baggage transfers or cargo shipments. The FAA already prohibits passengers from packing spare lithium-ion batters in checked luggage, requiring travelers pack those items in carry-on luggage.

The Tribune reports that other aviation agencies — including the European Safety Agency — along with Airbus, the International Federation of Airline Pilots’ Association, and other groups agreed with the FAA’s findings and recommendation to ICAO.

The ICAO is expected to discuss a possible laptop ban during meetings this week and next week in Montreal.

Past Issues

The FAA’s recommendation to ICAO comes just months after the agency reported that exploding lithium-ion battery explosions appeared to be on the rise.

According to a June report [PDF] from the FAA, in just the first four months of 2017 the agency had received reports of 17 incidents in which devices with lithium-ion batteries caught fire, overheated, or smoked in airplanes. Of these incidents, at least four occurred in the cargo or baggage hold area of the plane.

In all, the FAA said that since 1991 there have been 160 air or airport incidents involving lithium-ion batteries carried as cargo or baggage. However, the agency notes that the statistics shouldn’t be considered complete list, as it only reflects episodes reported to the agency.


by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

Salad Mix From Trader Joe’s Recalled For Potential Listeria

Check your salad mix before you sit down to your next crunchy bowl of shredded kohlrabi, cabbage, and beets: Bags of that blend from Trader Joe’s that were distributed nationwide have been recalled because they may contain Listeria monocytogenes, a foodborne illness that can have potentially deadly complications.

What to look for

The affected products are 10-ounce bags of Trader Joe’s Kohlrabi Salad Blend, which were distributed to Trader Joe’s stores nationwide. Potentially affected bags are marked with “best before” dates of OCT 14 2017, OCT 15 2017, or OCT 16 2017. Yes, Oct. 17 has passed, but “best before” dates on a package aren’t a hard expiration date.

There have been no reported illnesses from this product, and the supplier discovered the potential contamination.

What to do

If you do have this product in your home, Trader Joe’s asks that you either throw it away without eating it or return it to the store for a refund. If you have any questions about the prouct or about the recall, call Trader Joe’s at 626-599-3817 or use the retailer’s email contact form.

Listeria is a potentially deadly pathogen, posing a particular danger to pregnant women and their fetuses, children, people with compromised immune systems, and elderly people. Symptoms of infection can include a high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea.

If you’ve already eaten the product, monitor yourself for symptoms and contact a health care provider if you become sick, especially if you’re in a high-risk group.The bacteria have an incubation period of up to 70 days, meaning it can be in your body for two months or more before making you sick.


by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

Consumerist Friday Flickr Finds

Here are ten 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.


by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Target’s Plan To Combat Online Rivals: Open, Remodel More Actual Stores

While Walmart increasingly turns its focus online to bring in customers, Target is doing the opposite, doubling down on efforts to get customers inside its physical stores. To that end, the company will open dozens of new stores and remodel another 1,000 in coming years.

Target announced today that it would build on its previously unveiled initiative to remodel stores in a way that is more convenient for customers and encourages them to stick around, and you know, shop some more.

Getting A New Look

The expanded plan will see Target add 325 additional stores to its list of to-be-remodeled locations.

Previously, the company said it would remodel more than 600 locations through 2019. Now, the retailer says it will remodel more than 1,000 stores through 2020.

The decision to add to the number of remodels came after Target saw an increase in sales at recently redesigned locations.

CEO Brian Cornell said at an event marking the opening of a New York City store today that the retailer experienced a 2% to 4% sales boost at the locations, The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.

The remodels, which will be customized based on customer feedback, will feature stenciled floors, unique lighting, and wood-paneled walls and beams, Target previously announced.

One entrance will be for customers in a rush, complete with an online order pickup counter close by and grab-and-go food and beverage displays near the exits. This section will also house the stores’ groceries and new beer and wine section.

The second entrance will contain merchandise displays meant to grab customers’ attention in the hopes they’ll make purchases. The store will also feature outdoor space for those times when guests are just wandering around the store avoiding their family.

Additionally, the new Target stores will have curved, more circular center aisles that will feature merchandise displays to engage guests with compelling products.

New Stores

In addition to remodeling more than 1,000 existing stores, Target says it will also accelerate the opening of new locations, including its smaller-format design.

Target is opening 32 new stores in 2017, with plans to open 35 new stores in 2018.

Cornell noted today that building the smaller-format locations — typically located in urban areas and near colleges — has provided the company with a set of untapped customers.

“The majority of shoppers are brand new to Target,” Cornell said of customers to the smaller-format locations.

So far, Target has opened 55 small-format stores, but expects that number to increase to 130 by next fall.


by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

Report: Former GE CEO Brought Along An Extra Empty Plane On Some Trips

Have you ever stashed a spare shirt in your bag in case you spilled something, or brought along a spare pair of shoes in case you got a blister? Former General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt reportedly took similar precautions: According to company insiders, he brought an extra jet along with him on some business trips in case the first one broke down.

Jets, of course, aren’t something that you can stash in your messenger bag or the trunk of your car. According to “people with knowledge of the situation” who spoke to The Wall Street Journal, Immelt had another empty plane follow his jet on some trips.

The crews were told not to discuss the spare jet, and the two planes sometimes wouldn’t even park near each other, making it less likely that onlookers would connect them.

A spokesperson for GE told the WSJ that Immelt didn’t always double up on planes when he traveled, explaining, “Two planes were used on limited occasions for business-critical or security purposes.”

This news is coming out now because Immelt is no longer in charge, and his successor, John Flannery, started his time in the top job by grounding all of GE’s corporate jets, at least temporarily.

He’s conducting a “strategic review” of the entire business, which will involve even bigger cost cuts than grounding the extra private planes. Another visible cost cut will be ending the program of company cars, which around 700 executives have.


by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

Patent Trolls, Big Pharma Try To Use Native Tribes To Skirt Patent Review

There are always patent lawsuits and challenges happening around the country. But the new trend in patent suits — from major, established drug companies to fly-by-night outfits alike — seems to be an attempt to get a leg up by using tribal sovereignty to avoid certain parts of the process.

Patents, at their core, are designed to give some innovative party exclusive rights to make the thing they thought of for a certain period of time. They’re a legal tool to create incentives for research, development, and invention: If your efforts lead you to create a brand new widget, then we, the government, will give you the exclusive right to make and sell that widget for a while, so you recoup your costs and make a bit of profit, too.

But that means patents themselves — and not just the things they describe — are extremely valuable. And anything with value can be bartered, sold, traded, and sometimes abused in the name of money.

Patent trolls, for example, are an entire category of individuals and small businesses that exist to buy up patents for things, then sue anyone they can think of who may be using that patented thing. Most entities settle, and so a decent troll can make a steady stream of income through the courts.

Much in the same way that payday lenders have tried hiding behind tribal affiliation in order to skirt laws regulating debt instruments, some patent holders are now shifting their patents to native tribes in order to try to skirt review or prevent competitors from arising.

Big Pharma’s Big Patent

Allergan owns the patents on the dry-eye drug Restatis, which you’ve probably seen TV or magazine ads for.

In recent months, the company had been facing a legal challenge to its Restasis patents, however. And so Allergan tried a workaround: It transferred all of the patents for Restasis to the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe in New York.

Under the agreement, the tribe became the patent-holder — but immediately granted Allergan an exclusive license to use the patents. For sitting on the ownership and letting Allergan do its thing, the tribe got more than $13 million up front and up to $15 million in annual royalties thereafter.

“I believe it’s novel,” Allergan CEO Brent Saunders told CNBC at the time.

But giving the tribe ownership of the patents can’t protect the patents from being thrown out in court — and that’s what happened anyway, a month later.

In a ruling [135-page PDF] issued Monday, U.S. Circuit Judge William Bryson not only invalidated the patents, but also made very clear he thought Allergan’s “novel” legal strategy was a terrible idea.

“The court has serious concerns about the legitimacy of the tactic that Allergan and the Tribe have employed,” Bryson wrote. “When faced with the possibility that the PTO [patent office] would determine that those patents should not have been issued, Allergan has sought to prevent the PTO from reconsidering its original issuance decision.”

“What Allergan seeks,” Bryson concluded, “is the right to continue to enjoy the considerable benefits of the U.S. patent system without accepting the limits that Congress has placed on those benefits.”

Further, Bryson noted, “If that ploy succeeds, any patentee facing [review] proceedings would presumably be able to defeat those proceedings by employing the same artifice.”

The Same Artifice

And Bryson was indeed correct: Allergan is far from the only entity trying to use tribal sovereignty to skirt around patent law.

Amazon and Microsoft are both also facing patent suits from the Saint Regis Mohawk tribe, Reuters reports. In this case, the other patent holder trying to skirt review is a company called SRC Labs

Apple is also facing a patent-troll style lawsuit over patents owned by a new entity called MEC Resources, Ars Technica reports. And MEC Resources is owned in its entirety by the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation (Three Affiliated Tribes).


by Kate Cox via Consumerist

GM, States Reach $120M Settlement Over Claims It Kept Ignition Switch Defect Under Wraps

Three years after General Motors recalled millions of cars that contained a ignition switch defect that was ultimately linked to more than 120 deaths, the carmaker is finally closing another chapter of the saga. The company will pay $120 million to resolve allegations that it failed to disclose the safety defect in a timely manner. 

The settlement puts an end to a years-long multi-state investigation that aimed to determine if GM failure to properly address the dangerous safety defect.

“Instead of prioritizing customers, General Motors turned a blind eye for years and chose to conceal the safety defects associated with several models of their vehicles,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement.

In all, 49 states and the District of Columbia will receive $120 million from GM, while the company has also agreed to complete all applicable repairs and no longer misrepresent vehicles as “safe” until they comply with federal safety standards.

Arizona was not included int eh settlement, as the state had filed its own lawsuit against GM. 

According to the states’ complaint [PDF], General Motors and certain employees knew as early as 2004 that the ignition switch found in millions of vehicles contained a safety defect that could cause an airbag to fail to deploy in the event of a crash.

The states contended that General Motors Corporation (GM before its 2009 bankruptcy restructuring) knew prior to the switches going into production in 2002 that the device was “prone to movement out of the ‘run’ position, but that production was approved regardless.”

Road To Recall

Starting in 2004 and 2005, GM customers and employees began experiencing sudden stalls and engine shutoffs caused by the switch.

In late 2004, the company opened the first of six engineering inquiries into the switch; this was meant to consider changes to the device. That inquiry was closed “with no action.”

Despite this purported knowledge, the suit alleged that GM did not issue a recall of these dangerous vehicles until nearly 10 years later.

Instead, the company decided the issue wasn’t a safety concern, and continued to market the vehicles as reliable and safe, the suit claims.

Finally, beginning in Feb. 2014, GM issued seven recalls affecting nine million vehicles that contained the ignition switch defect.

The states alleged that GM’s inaction and reiteration that vehicles were safe constituted unfair and deceptive practices in violation of state consumer protection laws.

To resolve these claims, GM will no longer represent a vehicle as “safe” unless it complies with the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety standards; will only represent that certified pre-owned vehicles are safe if they do not have open safety recalls or those recalls have been addressed; and will instruct dealers that all recall repairs be made before a GM vehicle is sold in the U.S.

 


by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

Google’s Alphabet Takes Aim At Uber With $1B Investment In Lyft

A long time ago, in a ride-hailing era that now seems far away, Google and Uber were friends, with the internet giant plugging $258 million in Uber in 2013. Four years later, the two sides are embroiled in a legal battle over self-driving cars, and the tech company is pouring money into Uber’s biggest rival, Lyft, instead.

Lyft announced today that Alphabet’s investment arm, CapitalG, led a $1 billion round of funding in the ride-hailing company. CapitalG partner David Lawee will also be joining Lyft’s board of directors.

It’s not like no one saw this coming: Things first started to go sour between the two comapnies back in 2015 amid speculation that Google was interested in starting its own ride-hailing service.

The relationship got a lot more tense when Google’s self-driving-unit Waymo sued Uber, claiming the company stole trade secrets.

Then a few months later, Waymo and Lyft announced they were working together on autonomous vehicles.

This investment was also the subject of speculation last month, when rumors started to swirl that Alphabet was considering a $1 billion investment in Lyft, buzz that has now been borne out with today’s news.


by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist

Report: Chocolate Industry Paid For Research Showing That Chocolate Is Healthy

Chocolate isn’t just delicious (although it definitely is); according to some studies out there, it’s good for your health, too. But as you’ve probably guessed, the research supporting that idea isn’t exactly objective: It was commissioned by chocolate makers

Yes, Vox reports, companies like Mars have paid for studies that show chocolate is good for study subjects’ hearts and circulatory systems.

“Keep in mind that too much of anything is not really good,” a chocolate historian (yes, that is an actual thing) at Yale University told Vox. “If you’re hooked on chocolate, you’re hooked on sugar.”

Marion Nestle, a nutrition researcher who is not related to the food conglomerate that also makes chocolate products, told Vox that chocolate companies “made a conscious decision to invest in science to transform the image of their product from a treat to a health food.”

Nestle has cataloged chocolate research funded by snack companies, noting that Mars even markets a “cocoa flavonol” dietary supplement for heart health, even though the product was originally developed as a snack. Why? Supplement-makers can make broader, if more vague, claims about what their products do than if the same product were sold as a food or a drug.

Vox’s review of chcoolate studies funded by Mars found that 98% of what was published had positive results. It’s not necessarily that researchers deliberately skewed their projects, or that Mars prevented negative studies from being published. Mars may have only approached researchers whose work was already choco-friendly, and simply funded them to perform more of it.

We’re sorry to tell you that while specific compounds in chocolate are linked to improved health, these effects are less pronounced in studies that aren’t funded by the candy industry, and in any case, chocolate itself is not good for your health. Research on flavonols is promising, but those compounds are mostly processed out of the chocolate that we snack on.

The thing is, chocolate isn’t the only source of the plant-based chemicals, flavonols, that can have a positive effect on our health. You can also get these substances by drinking tea or eating, say, apples, cranberries, kale, onions, or pears. Bonus: Apples and pears contain sugar naturally, but don’t come with huge doses of added sugar and fat like even dark chocolate does.


by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

MasterCard Ending Signature Requirements

For as long as we can remember, paying with a credit card required you to sign your name on the dotted line. While this system has changed over the years — mandating your John Hancock only for purchases over a certain amount — MasterCard is perhaps planning the biggest change of them all: The payment company will eliminate signature payments altogether. 

Starting in April 2018, MasterCard users will no longer be required to sign their name when they purchase something using their debit or credit cards.

The change comes as the company has eliminated signatures over time. To date, the company says that just 20% of transactions in North America still require a signature at checkout.

Convenient & Secure

By doing away with signatures, MasterCard says it is taking another step in its “digital evolution of payments and payment security,” while also providing convenience for customers.

“At first glance, this might sound like a radical proclamation, especially to people who have had credit and debit cards for decades,” Linda Kirkpatrick, executive vice president of market development at MasterCard, said in a statement. “However, the change matches all of our expectations for fast and convenient shopping experiences.”

According to MasterCard’s own consumer research, the majority of people believe it would be easier to pay and that checkout lines would move faster if they didn’t need to sign when making a purchase.

As for security, MasterCard assures customers that removing the need for signatures at the time of checkout will not impact the safety of their purchases.

For starters, shoppers generally just scribble their name in the “sign here” box at checkout. Often those signatures aren’t checked against anything, otherwise we’d probably have a lot more denied transactions.

MasterCard notes that its network and payment system already include other methods to prove someone’s identity, including the use of chips, tokenization, and personalized identification numbers.

“Beyond what you see and experience at checkout, there is behind-the-scenes technology at work every second of every day to protect every transaction,” Kirkpatrick notes.

All In Agreement

MasterCard’s impending signature change has already been greeted with support from merchants.

Kirkpatrick says the move will help partner merchants speed customers through checkouts, provide more consistent experiences, and decrease the costs associated with storing signatures.

The Retail Industry Leaders Association — which counts a number of major retailers, such as Apple, Best Buy, Gap, Target, Walmart, and others as members — called MasterCard’s end of signature requirement a “good first step.”

The change addresses retailers’ long-argued position that signature requirements are costly, and a now less relevant way to secure transactions.

“RILA supports this policy change and encourages other payment networks to follow Mastercard’s lead,” Austen Jenson, president of government affairs for RILA, said in a statement. “Going forward, the payment industry needs to focus on finding solutions to the growth of fraud both in stores and online, where current measures are inadequate for protecting consumers and merchants.”


by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist