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07 Feb 12:11

ReStore gets warm welcome - Gainesville Times - Northern VA News


Gainesville Times - Northern VA News

ReStore gets warm welcome
Gainesville Times - Northern VA News
Traci DeGroat, the president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity Prince William County, worked throughout the day meeting and greeting new and old friends at the new Manassas locaation. DeGroat said the at the former Food Lion location at 10159 Hastings ...

07 Feb 17:54

Prince William County community calendar - Washington Post


Prince William County community calendar
Washington Post
Dale City winter farmers market 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Dale City farmers market, Dale Boulevard, Dale City. Call Betty Finney at 703-670-7112, Ext. 227. Free. Lucasville School open house In celebration of African American Heritage Month, the one-room ...

and more »
08 Feb 19:34

50 Cadavers Lost By GW University - Daily Caller


RT

50 Cadavers Lost By GW University
Daily Caller
3D illustration of human male anatomy and skeleton. Standing pose. Torso with head Flikr/Creative Commons. 4891934. Washington, D.C.'s George Washington University (GW) shut down its medical school's body donation program after losing track of up to ...
GWU medical school no longer accepting donated bodiesWashington Post
GW medical school can't identify cadavers, has stopped accepting donated bodiesBecker's Hospital Review

all 21 news articles »
09 Feb 20:44

Lawsuit: Defective Plug, Draining System Turned Walk-In Jacuzzi Into Death Trap

by Mary Beth Quirk

Example of a Jacuzzi walk-in tub, which is not necessarily the same model as the one in this story.
Many people seeking relief from aches and pains use walk-in tubs, because they allow for a more immersive experience, and they can be especially useful for elderly folk who can’t easily climb in and out of a traditional bathroom fixture. But the family of a 67-year-old woman says her Jacuzzi walk-in tub turned into a death trap, when it failed to drain and prevented her from getting out.

Her family says in a lawsuit filed against Jacuzzi Brands and six suppliers and installers that she was in her walk-in tub in February 2014 when she tried to pull the drain plug so she could get out, reports Courthouse News.

But the plug was defective and the drain system didn’t work, the suit alleges. With the Jacuzzi full of water, she was unable to open the door to leave. When her friends couldn’t reach her for a few days, they went to check on her and found her dead in the tub.

The administrator of her estate filed the lawsuit claiming negligence, strict liability, and failure to warn, claiming that Jacuzzi and those who installed the tub should have known the tub “had a design and/or manufacturing defect” that made it “unreasonably dangerous and potentially deadly.”

According to the family’s suit, the plug and drain system posed an unreasonable safety risk; defendants did not warn her about potential safety hazards; negligently designed, tested, manufactured and installed the walk-in Jacuzzi tub; and did not give her effective instructions or warnings on its use. The family is seeking punitive damages.

We’ve reached out to Jacuzzi Brands for comment, and will update this story when we hear back.

Defective Jacuzzi Called a Deadly Trap [Courthouse News]

09 Feb 14:57

New Chipotle Food Safety Procedures Include Shutting Down Restaurant If Anyone Barfs

by Laura Northrup

(JeepersMedia)
Yesterday, Chipotle restaurants didn’t open until 3 PM so 50,000 or so restaurant employees could sit in hotel conference rooms or movie theaters to watch a live-streamed company-wide meeting about food safety. The future of the chain is at stake, and their task is to prove to the public that they’re not trying to make us all sick.

Chipotle’s food safety worries started to attract national attention when the same strain of E. coli showed up in customers in disparate states with no connection between incidents and investigators unable to figure out which food item actually caused the outbreak.

After the multi-state E. coli outbreak, a different foodborne illness, norovirus, broke out in Boston at a location popular with Boston University students. That caused news outlets to look back at an earlier norovirus outbreak in California, as well as a Salmonella outbreak in Minnesota, and customers to conclude that they shouldn’t go to Chipotle.

Sales at comparable restaurants fell 36% compared to last year, and the company needed to fight the crisis. As soon as they were confident that no one else would get sick.

That’s what led to yesterday’s much-publicized company-wide lunchtime meetings. Two reporters were allowed in: Candice Choi of the Associated Press and Mark Sullivan of FastCompany.

They shared what happened inside, but it’s pretty much exactly what you would expect: repetitive instructional videos about food safety and cleaning procedures, explanations of new policies, and questions for company leadership from the audience.

There were two announcements that were noteworthy for non-employees, though. First, they announced that in addition to the three normal sick days that they receive every year, employees with symptoms of common foodborne illnesses will be sent home and told to stay there for five days.

Those are paid days off, and are meant to cover the period during which someone can still be contagious from common foodborne illnesses, though they mainly seem concerned about super–contagious norovirus.

Another important new policy is that if anyone vomits in the restaurant, the whole establishment will be shut down for cleanup and to prevent contagion. This includes customers.

Finally, the

What We Learned During Chipotle’s First Company-Wide Food Safety Meeting [FastCompany]
Chipotle Urges Workers to Stay Home If They’re Sick [AP]

09 Feb 15:13

Man Arrested For Allegedly Throwing A Live Alligator Into Wendy’s Drive-Thru Window

by Mary Beth Quirk

(WPTV.com)
There are a few things alligators do well: chomping on stuff, looking like dinosaurs, and gliding around in swamps, marshes, and the like. They are not good at flying, however, and as such, should not be tossed carelessly into the drive-thru window at Wendy’s. A Florida man was arrested recently for allegedly attempting to do just such a thing.

While it’s unclear whether he was asking employees to cook up the reptile, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission incident report says the man heaved the gator into a Wendy’s restaurant in Royal Palm Beach last October, reports WPTV. The suspect was only just taken into custody by U.S. Marshals recently, however.

Officials say the 23-year-old man had pulled up to grab his order, and a server handed him a drink. When the worker turned around, the man allegedly reached into the back of his truck and threw the three-and-a-half foot alligator through the open window, where it landed inside the restaurant.

Law enforcement say the suspect admitted to picking up the alligator by the side of the road and bringing it with him to Wendy’s. The gator was later released into a nearby canal to go about his day, while the customer is facing charges of aggravated assault and unlawful possession and transportation of an alligator.

Man accused of tossing gator into Wendy’s drive-thru window [WPTV.com]

09 Feb 15:59

Honda Officially Recalls 2016 Civics Over Engine Failures, Continues Halt To New Sales

by Ashlee Kieler

hondacivicgrabA week after directing dealers to stop selling the newest model Civic sedans after detecting a problem in the vehicles that could lead to engine failure, Honda has announced an official recall of the affected cars. 

Honda issued a recall of approximately 45,000 model year 2016 Civics in the U.S. and Canada because the engine can stall while the car is in motion, The Associated Press reports.

According to the notice [PDF] sent to Honda dealers and posted on the CivicX forum, Honda recently notified dealers and federal safety regulators that certain 2-liter Civics may have a piston clip that was not installed or may have been improperly installed into the piston during assembly.

As a result, over the course of engine operation, the piston pin will rub against the cylinder wall causing noise and damage, or in the worst case, the piston pin may detach from one side of the piston and cause an engine failure.

Engine failure may result in the sudden loss of motive power, increasing the possibility of a fire under the hood, according to the notice issued to Honda dealers that reiterated the stop-sale initiative.

Dealers will use a scope to inspect the pin snap rings. Because replacement parts aren’t available yet, Honda expects to notifying customers of the issue in March.

Still, it appears customers are already aware of the issue, submitting complaints to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In one complaint, the owner of a 2016 Civic says they were sold the vehicle the day after Honda issued the stop-sale of the cars.

“I bought one a week before this ‘stop-sale’ and I am apparently going to be forced to drive a vehicle that may have a potentially life threatening defect until they fix it, which will not be until this summer,” another complaint states. “‘Engine failure’ on any roads much less a busy highway is dangerous and an obvious major problem.”

[via The Associated Press]

09 Feb 16:30

Did Net Neutrality Kill Broadband Investment Like Comcast, AT&T, Verizon Said It Would?

by Kate Cox

Last year, when the FCC was preparing to vote on the new Open Internet Order (aka “net neutrality”) and its reclassification of broadband Internet as a vital utility, virtually the entire telecom and cable industry claimed this change would ruin investment and slow innovation. But a look at the year-end financial figures for the biggest naysayers casts a lot of doubt on these dire predictions.

One Issue, Two Stories

The TL;DR Version

• Before last year’s FCC vote to restore net neutrality and reclassify broadband as Title II utility, all the major cable Internet companies repeatedly claimed it would harm investment industry-wide.
• But recently released financials show that, with two full financial quarters under the new classification, broadband providers continued to invest.
• These providers are also assuring investors that they will continue to invest going forward.
• Likewise, both the suppliers who sell hardware to cable companies and the industry’s biggest lobbying group are painting a rosy vision of continued, steady investment.

From changes in market share, competition levels, innovation, to buzzworthy marketing, brand awareness, and public image, there are many ways to measure the success of a business. To stockholders, investors, C-suite executives, and board presidents, though, there’s one that matters more than all the others: money.

Those good old American dollars have, in one way or another, been at the center of most of the rhetoric about net neutrality… but they aren’t always saying the same thing. In order to give themselves the best possible positioning, telecoms and cable companies tell two competing stories about their money.

One is the story they tell regulators. In both filing with the FCC and in astroturfing campaigns aimed at realigning public perception, the most common story told by the telecom/cable industry was this: reclassifying broadband as a more heavily regulated Title II utility will hurt investment, hurt innovation, and generally spoil all the fun everyone is having.

But while regulators and the public were getting the doom-and-gloom version of things, investors were hearing a much sunnier story.

In that sphere, everything is always as great as possible — growth is continuing and inevitable, and sticking around means you too can make buckets full of money from your investment.

As you might guess, those two stories can come into conflict.

Time To Check The Figures

Despite businesses’ strenuous objections, the Open Internet Order did pass, and — against even further challenges from the industry — it went into effect on June 12, 2015.

That means by the end of calendar year 2015, all of the ISPs had two full quarters — half the year — in which to either suffer under the new regime, thrive under it, or generally maintain the status quo.

The earnings calls are all now in, the SEC forms all filed, and the stockholder presentations all made. That means we can look at the data that companies give to investors and ask: how’s that all shakin’ out?

As we go through each company, we’ve got three key questions in mind:

1: How is performance, generally?
2: How much are they investing in their business, as compared to last year?
3: Does that track with what they told the FCC would happen?

AT&T

Image courtesy of Mike Mozart

WHAT AT&T TOLD THE FCC THEN:

AT&T, currently suing to overturn the new neutrality rules, has always stridently opposed the Title II approach. Months before the issue even came to vote at the FCC, AT&T was already trying out its legal arguments for an eventual lawsuit against.

Some highlights from comments AT&T made to the FCC (PDF) during the rulemaking process:

“Reclassification would mire the industry in years of uncertainty and litigation, and it would abruptly stall the virtuous circle of investment and innovation that has propelled the United States to the forefront of the broadband revolution.”

“There is no justification for adopting the new and intrusive net neutrality rules… that would drain investment, stifle innovations, and roll back the impressive gains that the Commission’s measured approach to Internet regulation has helped to secure.”

“Achieving the next phase of broadband deployment … will require far more investment — according to the Commission’s own estimates, hundreds of billions more. And such sums will not be sunk into broadband infrastructure if providers fear that their multi-billion-dollar investments will be subject to 1930s-style public utility regulation. Moreover, reclassification also would unleash a flood of litigation and regulatory disputes, further undermining stability in the marketplace and compounding the investment-chilling effects of Title II regulation.”

Continued investment is not assured. Indeed, a range of market analysts, stakeholders, and others have cautioned that broadband deployment and innovation would be stifled if the Commission were to break from the Title I framework in place today.”

As recently as Nov. 2015 AT&T was still calling FCC actions “a war on infrastructure investment,” and in December it said the company had delayed, and we quote, “a bunch of stuff.”

AT&T's plans for 2016 (highlight ours).

WHAT AT&T TELLS INVESTORS NOW:
AT&T, which held its 2015 earnings call on Jan. 26, 2016, is in a bit of an unusual position this year: the acquisition of DirecTV was approved in 2015, so the back half of the year (and the front half of this year) has been all about the process of bringing those operations in-house.

That means AT&T’s financials look a little different than they would in most years. The timeline of that merger also complicates our analysis a bit; it was announced in May, 2014, a full year before net neutrality went into effect — but it wasn’t approved until July of 2015.

(Although one could argue that buying an entire company for $49 billion is a pretty strong sign of ability to continue investing in one’s own business.)

The company’s operating revenues in 2015 were about $42 billion. That’s a significant increase over their 2014 operating revenues of $34.4 billion, but that jump does include the DirecTV acquisition.

Operating expenses over at the Death Star also dropped significantly, from $39.9 billion in 2014 to $34.5 billion over 2015.

Capital expenditures, however, went up significantly year over year. Their total capex for 2015 rang in at about $5.9 billion; in 2014, that number was closer to $4.4 billion.

During the call with investors, CEO Randall Stephenson began by calling 2015 “an eventful year,” before delivering statements about investment like:

“We’re investing aggressively in the network architecture that is going to give us a competitive advantage in cost … and I have seen few opportunities over my career to drive down the cost to deliver service like this. We’re also on track to deliver at least $2.5 billion in DirecTV synergies by 2018, and we continue to invest in spectrum.”

“[In 2016] Capital spending will be in the $22 billion range with our focus on cost efficiencies”

During the call, CFO John Stephens also gave many favorable statements about continued investment:

“For the year, we made capital investments of nearly $21 billion.”

“We’re going to continue to invest in networks as we’ve said, keep this quality up and keep these product offerings moving out and we feel comfortable about doing that within that $22 billion range.”

“We are investing at a rapid rate in all of our businesses.”

Charter

Image courtesy of DCvision2006

WHAT CHARTER TOLD THE FCC THEN:
Charter was less vocal about their objections to reclassification than the headliners (Verizon and AT&T, in particular), but Charter still agreed nonetheless.

Charter’s comments to the FCC [PDF]were shorter than its peers’ voluminous tomes, but still contain snippets like:

“Put simply, the growth of investment in U.S. broadband has taken place in the private marketplace without the need for government intervention or regulation.”

“Trying to fit broadband under the Commission’s Title II authority would upend this climate, creating a prolonged period of legal uncertainty that would dampen investment and ultimately harm consumers.”

“Changing the rules midstream to classify broadband service as a ‘telecommunications service’ under Title II would inequitably frustrate the expectations that informed these investments, while exposing broadband providers to a substantial range of new legal and regulatory risks that disincentivize further investment.”

“[S]uch a restrictive regulatory scheme would represent a sea change likely to cause many investors to move their funds to areas offering more certain returns, depriving ISPs of capital needed to improve their networks.”

WHAT CHARTER IS TELLING INVESTORS NOW:

On Feb. 4, Charter held its 2015 earnings call, and like AT&T, some of Charter’s financials are tied up in a large transaction, with the company currently attempting to leapfrog its way into second place by buying both Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks.

However, Charter’s financial situation otherwise looks to be stable, and possibly improving, year-over-year. Its 2015 revenue came in at about $9.75 billion, up just over 7% from $9.1 billion in 2014.

Total operating costs at Charter did increase this year, due in part to the merger transaction. In 2014, Charter’s operating costs came in at about $5.92 billion, but in 2015 they were $6.35 billion — also roughly a 7% increase.

Capital expenditures at Charter were slightly down in 2015, however. In 2014, Charter spent about $16.6 billion investing in their own networks; in 2015, that number dropped to about $16.4 billion.

Charterinvestments2015

During the call with investors, Charter answered very few questions overall about capital expenditures specifically, as most questions dealt with their plan for (1) continuing to make money, while (2) spending oodles of cash on the TWC/Bright House merger.

(Although the point of the transaction is to poise Charter for future growth, the actual action of merging involves a whole lot of costs all at once, and Charter is planning to use debt to finance part of the transaction. That leaves investors and analysts with a lot of questions about those details.)

Charter’s executives also told investors that they were not planning a rate increase for their customers in 2016, and so had to answer questions about where the money was going to come from. (Answer: making the company bigger.)

However, Charter CFO Christopher Winfrey did reference the merger’s abilities to increase Charter’s investments in the future, saying that New Charter “will have the transaction synergies to help fund those types of investments” in personnel and customer service going forward.

Comcast

Image courtesy of Mr.TinDC

WHAT COMCAST TOLD THE FCC THEN:
Because it was attempting to buy Time Warner Cable at the time, Comcast was less outwardly antagonistic about net neutrality than they might otherwise have been. However, the company’s comments on the matter did repeatedly prioritize “protecting investment” as its major concern [PDF]:

“[Title II] also would be unwise in that it would stifle capital investment and dynamic innovation at the very time the Commission is seeking to encourage the deployment of higher speed services.”

“Such interference would also have serious and inevitably unintended consequences, including hindering innovation and investment in broadband infrastructure.”

“The sheer uncertainty surrounding such a regulatory environment would produce ‘a profoundly negative impact on capital investment.’ By itself, reduced investment would inhibit job creation, hinder the deployment of broadband infrastructure, and undermine the ‘virtuous circle’ of innovation that the open Internet rules are designed to advance.”

“Reclassification alone would impose a bevy of common carrier duties on broadband providers, deterring network investment and innovation and fostering tremendous uncertainty.”

WHAT COMCAST TELLS INVESTORS NOW:

On Feb. 3, Comcast held its 2015 earnings call, and, in spite of not being able to acquire TWC or scuttle net neutrality, the company continues do to very well. Its 2015 revenue clocked in at about $74.5 billion, a greater than 8% increase over 2014’s revenue figure of approximately $68.8 billion.

Capital expenditures at Comcast also increased significantly year-over-year. In 2014 it spent about $7.4 billion investing on its business; in 2015, however, that number jumped 14.5% to just shy of $8.5 billion.

Because Comcast — a cable company, a broadcast and cable TV mega-network, a theme park operator –operates a wider variety of businesses than its competitors, it also broke down the expenditures a bit, showing that $7 billion of the $8.5 billion they spent on capex in 2015 related to its cable and Internet business (another $1.4 billion was filed under NBCU, for building out theme parks).

According to Comcast, that money reflects “increased spending on customer premise equipment related to the deployment of the X1 platform and wireless gateways.” The percentage of cable arm revenue going back into investments has gone up, too: “For the year,” Comcast said, “Cable capital expenditures represented 15.0% of Cable revenue compared to 13.9% in 2014.”

Several Comcast executives spoke to the company’s success with investments and capital expenditures during the call. Company CEO Brian Roberts said:

“We continue to be entrepreneurial and look for ways to invest and grow.”

CFO Mike Cavanagh similarly added:

 “This growth [in non-programming expenses] reflects increased spending to improve the customer experience as we’ve added technicians and service personnel to strengthen our dispatch teams and operations and invested in training, tools and technology.”

“This [capital expenditure] growth reflects higher spending on our customer premises equipment, including X1 and wireless gateways, increased investment in network infrastructure to increase network capacity, as well as the continued investment to expand Business Services. In 2016, we will continue to invest in each of these areas as they are driving positive results in our business. As a result, cable capex as a percent of cable revenue [in 2016] is expected to remain flat to 2015 at approximately 15%.”

 

Time Warner Cable

Image courtesy of Photo Nut 2011

WHAT TIME WARNER CABLE TOLD THE FCC THEN:

Because of the then-pending Comcast deal, Time Warner Cable tempered much of its anti-neutrality rhetoric at the time, mostly because many of the justifications the two gave for that (ultimately doomed) merger involved Comcast being able to up its network investment game in TWC’s territories.

However, despite being less vocal than others, TWC was still very clear ]PDF] that continued investment, under Title II, was a major concern:

“TWC continues to believe that … over broad regulation — especially in its most extreme form, fashioned under Title II — would pose particular risks to the Internet’s vitality that far outweigh any benefits.”

“The specter of Title II regulation would risk undermining the private investment that has made the Internet such an extraordinary success and that remains necessary to fulfill the core objectives of the National Broadband Plan.”

“The prospect of imposing public utility regulation on cable broadband services for the first time would discourage the substantial investment in broadband networks that the Commission seeks to foster.”

WHAT TWC IS TELLING INVESTORS NOW:

Time Warner Cable held its 2015 earnings call on Jan. 28, and once again the company is in a bit of a funny position: while it needs to look attractive for investors, this is the second year running that TWC is actively trying to be bought out by someone else, and that juxtaposition can create some tension.

On the whole, though, TWC reported positive news. Revenue came in at about $23.7 billion, a 3.9% increase from 2014’s revenue of $22.8 billion.

TWC’s operating costs also went up, however, increasing from $14.6 billion in 2014 to just shy of $15.6 billion in 2015, a 6.7% jump. Those costs were “primarily due to increases in programming, employee, and maintenance costs,” TWC reported.

Capital expenditures, likewise, saw a significant increase between 2014 and 2015. They came in at about $4.4 billion this past year, an 8.5% increase over the $4.1 billion spent in 2014.

During the call with investors, TWC executives repeatedly cited the investments they’ve made in their networks and customer service. Highlights from CEO Robert Marcus include:

“Once again in 2015, we invested heavily in our network and equipment. Network investments to drive better reliability and greater capacity.”

Fueled by our [TWC Maxx] investments, at year end almost 45% of our [internet] customers subscribed to speed tiers of 50 Mbps or greater.”

We have an ambitious 2016 financial operating plan marked by continued subscriber growth, better financial performance, and continued investment to improve the customer experience.”

Acting CFO Matthew Siegel added:

“In Q4, as in recent quarters, we continued to invest aggressively to drive subscriber growth, take care of our expanded customer base, and improve the customer experience.”

“Full year capital spending … was up 8.5% from 2014 due to customer relationship growth as well as investments to improve network reliability, upgrade older customer premise equipment, and expand our network to additional residences, commercial buildings, and cell towers.”

Verizon

Image courtesy of Alain Ferraro

WHAT VERIZON TOLD THE FCC THEN:

Verizon is the reason we ended up with Title II reclassification in the first place. The original 2010 Open Internet Order did not rebrand broadband as a utility, but Verizon still sued to overturn it, and eventually succeeded in gutting the comparatively hands-off regulation. The only way to enact neutrality rules that could possibly stand this legal challenge was to reclassify broadband as a utility.

So it’s not surprising that, during the comment and filing periods leading to the current Open Internet rule, Verizon was adamant [PDF] that stricter regulation would harm its ability to invest in innovative solutions for attracting and retaining consumers.

Some highlights include:

“Further regulation of broadband providers’ behavior is not needed at this time and would threaten the healthy dynamics fueling the growth and continued improvement of the Internet and the many services it enables.”

“This [pre-Title II] flexible approach … has succeeded in unleashing extensive network investment and facilities deployment. For example, in reliance on the Commission’s decisions to refrain from applying utility-style [Title II] regulation to new broadband networks and services, Verizon has invested more than $23 billion deploying [FiOS] … Just since 2009, providers have spent nearly $250 billion to deploy wired and wireless broadband networks.”

Verizon even quoted an economist saying, “The current competitive environment, and massive historical and planned investments in deploying broadband networks to meet consumer demands, have been achieved by relying on competitive market forces, not through rigid regulation.”

WHAT VERIZON IS TELLING INVESTORS NOW:

Verizon held its 2015 earnings call on Jan. 21, and in general, the company is performing well.

Its 2015 operating revenues were about $131 billion, as compared to 2014 operating revenues of about $127 billion; a modest but significant 3.6% increase. Meanwhile, Verizon’s operating expenses also dropped by more than 8%, from $107 billion and change in 2014 to $98.5 billion in 2015.

But what about its actual investment in the company? For Verizon, 2015 capital expenditures came in at about $17.8 billion. That’s an increase over both 2014 ($17.2 billion) and 2013 ($16.6 billion).

Verizon also spent significantly more money in 2015 than in the previous years on acquisitions, both of other businesses and of wireless licenses. In other words: their investment in their own business went up, not down, during the first year of the Open Internet rule.

During the investor call, CFO Fran Shammo mentioned his company’s commitment to continued investment several times:

“We remain committed to consistently investing in our networks for the future. Our 2015 investments have positioned us for growth and allow us to maintain our network leadership position as consistently acknowledged by third parties.”

“We continue to invest in our 4G LTE network to provide the industry’s highest reliability and position ourselves to capture the efficiencies and capabilities of new technologies.”

“Look, 2015 was a year of significant change at Verizon. And even with all that change we delivered a strong financial year, continued to invest in growing our customer base, invested in our networks, developed and expanded new businesses, and returned value to our shareholders. … in 2016, we will continue what we started in 2015.”

Indeed, it doesn’t seem like “investment” is going to be a challenge for Verizon going forward, since it’s right there in the #2 position of its strategic goals for this year (after, of course, the one that translates to “make money”).

The final slide of Verizon's 2015 earnings presentation (highlight ours).

CONCLUSION

By and large, the half-dozen companies representing the overwhelming majority of cable Internet and wireless broadband customers in the country, are continuing to invest. But is that just puffed-up chest-thumping to cheer up investors?

Those most directly impacted by broadband investment don’t seem terribly concerned. In January, Multichannel News reported that the suppliers who make the stuff that the telecoms spend their money on aren’t losing sleep about a decrease in investment.

More precisely, analysts said they expect to see about a 3% increase in spending over last year, in total, with the wired and wireless phone companies spending 2% more and the cable companies spending 1% more.

Those are small gains, granted — but they are still growth, and not in any way a negative trend. In particular, the analysts said that Comcast is expected to be one of the bigger, earlier movers in spending on network improvements thanks to the arrival (finally) of DOCSIS 3.1 systems, which use existing cable lines to deliver speeds comparable to fiberoptic broadband.

Likewise, the big lobbying group that supports the cable and telecom industries is also happy to keep touting the growth of investments made by its member companies.

In a recent blog post, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association once again sang the praises of its members for keeping the U.S. economy afloat with 20 years of investments in networks:

"Cable operators are investing billions of dollars each year in capital expenditures to stay ahead of consumer needs," says the NCTA.

If you think that the best way to measure the success of the U.S. broadband market is by the amount of money its biggest private businesses spend on the task of getting people connected, then it looks like we’re still winners, despite Title II.

If you think that the best way to measure the success of the U.S. broadband market is in the number of people connected, the available speeds, the prices, the competition, and the customer service, well… We’ve still got quite a way to go to be as great as the ISPs say we always have been.

09 Feb 16:37

“Happy Birthday” Song Settlement To Pay Out $14 Million To People Who Paid To Use Song

by Chris Morran

(twoguns)
Last year, a decades-old battle over the rights to one of the most famous songs in the world finally came to an end when a federal judge ruled that the “Happy Birthday” song is in the public domain, meaning that its publisher, Warner/Chappell, has been improperly charging hefty sums for its use. The terms of a settlement in the case show that Warner will now fork over up to $14 million to people who should not have had to pay to use the song.

Just a quick catch-up for those who haven’t been following the ins-and-outs of this case. In 2013, the filmmakers behind Happy Birthday, a documentary about the song’s history, sued Warner to recover the $1,500 they paid for its use in the film.

The filmmakers had turned up what they believed to be the “proverbial smoking-gun” that proved the publisher did not hold copyright for the song’s lyrics; at best, Warner could claim copyright over just a particular piano arrangement for the song, the filmmakers claimed.

The tune was originally created around 1893, when sisters Mildred and Patty Hill penned a song called “Good Morning To You,” which was subsequently printed in song books by publisher Clayton F. Summy. The copyright on “Good Morning” expired in 1949.

Meanwhile, the earliest publication of the words for “Happy Birthday” were printed in a 1911 song book called The Elementary Worker and His Work. No author was credited, though the book mentioned that the song was to be sung to the tune of “Good Morning.”

After the song grew in popularity — appearing in multiple films and a stage play without permission from the supposed authors — Summy was granted copyright for “Happy Birthday” in 1935. And, thanks to the lobbying of Disney, copyright law has been revised (and will continue to be revised to protect Mickey Mouse) so that most things copyrighted after 1923 still haven’t entered the public domain.

But the court ruled that the evidence showed that Summy (which was acquired by Warner in 1988 for $15 million) should never have been granted copyright, that the Hill sisters had only granted him “a number of licenses” for “various piano arrangements” for “Good Morning” and “Happy Birthday.”

“Because Summy Co. never acquired the rights to the ‘Happy Birthday’ lyrics,” Warner/Chappell does not “own a valid copyright” on the birthday song, wrote the judge, who noted that the song’s authors never made any attempt to protect the lyrics of for the song, “even as Happy Birthday became very popular and commercially valuable.”

After the judge’s ruling, Warner and the filmmakers reached a settlement deal that would finally put the song back into the public domain where it belongs (even though Warner still contends it does not) and provide some measure of financial redress for people who were improperly charged for its use.

In a Feb. 8 court filing [PDF], Warner has agreed to set up a fund that will pay out claims totaling up to $14 million.

Of that amount, a maximum of $6.25 million is earmarked for claimants who paid to use the birthday song after mid-June 2009. The remainder of the money will be used to cover claims going back all the way to 1949. Claimants in either group should expect to only recoup a fraction of what they paid to Warner and the various other publishers of the song over the years. As usually happens in a class action, the named plaintiffs will likely receive more. In this case, they are asking for between $10,000 and $15,000.

But if the settlement is approved, it’s the lawyers who will come out with a real birthday gift on this one. The lawyers for the plaintiffs are seeking $4.6 million from Warner to cover their costs of the case.

[via The L.A. Times]

09 Feb 17:53

5 Tips For Tackling Winter Driving Safely

by Ashlee Kieler
(Melissa)

Waking up to freshly fallen snow can be a peaceful, idyllic scene, but realizing just moments later that you have to drive in all that white fluffy stuff to get to work can take the serenity out of the moment.

While it’s important to keep up with car maintenance all year, our colleagues at Consumer Reports point out it’s more critical in the winter months when travel can be hazardous and when waiting for help in the cold can be unpleasant.

Consumer Reports put together several helpful tips to ensure that your travel plans aren’t hampered by unexpected car troubles this winter.

• Make Sure Your Tank Is Full…: Maintaining a full — or nearly full — tank of gas not only helps to ensure you’re able to wait out a cold traffic jam or being stuck in the snow, it also helps reduce the moisture that can condense in the tank.

• … and your tires: CR notes that winter driving safety is mostly impacted by traction, and tires play a large part in that. Drivers should make sure the pressure in their tires is adequate, by checking the pressure monthly and topping it off when necessary. Additionally, motorists should check their tire tread, as it should be at least 1/8 an inch.

• Four- or all-wheel-drive is great, but not perfect: While four- and all-wheel-drive can certainly come in handy while traversing through snow-covered streets, they only provide extra traction when accelerating. That means they don’t offer much help when braking or cornering.

• Accelerate slowly: When jumping in the car to take off, remember that slow and steady wins the race, or at least gets going safely without wheel spin.

• Avoid passing snow plows: Snow plows have a job to do: clear the street for motorists like you. Often that job puts them on the roads when weather isn’t ideal, so passing plows during this time can be even more dangerous for other drivers. CR points out that passing a plow requires a car to accelerate, which can increase your risk of sliding on already slick roads.

For more winter driving safety tips visit Consumer Reports.

09 Feb 18:57

Lawyer Bombarded With Errant Texts Demanding Free Chipotle Burritos

by Chris Morran

(Mike Mozart)
On one end of the wrong-number spectrum is the lawyer who still gets calls and texts intended for Sir Mix-A-Lot, on the other end is the D.C.-area attorney who received some 300 text messages yesterday from people seeking free burritos from Chipotle.

Yesterday, with the restaurant chain temporarily closed for a company-wide meeting about safety, Chipotle attempted to appease hungry customers by offering them “raincheck” burritos.

You just had to text the word “raincheck” to the six-digit number 888-222. Except some people inexplicably tried to add a seventh digit. Doing so sends a text, not to Chipotle, but to whomever else in your area code has that phone number.

And so that, reports the Washington Post, is how one Maryland attorney ended up with hundreds of random “raincheck” texts on his phone yesterday.

The 64-year-old lawyer wrote back to tell the first texter they had the wrong number. That person apologized and explained the Chipotle deal.

“The first thing I did was get my free burrito, because I don’t dislike burritos,” he admits to the Post.

But then others in the 240 area code started making the same mistake, resulting in hundreds of unsuccessful request for a burrito. Some folks wouldn’t give up, sending upwards of five or six texts before he broke the bad news to them.

Not everyone was happy to hear about their inability to get a free Chipotle burrito from a telecom attorney who doesn’t work for the company.

“This isn’t fit to print, but the text was essentially ‘Get me my bleeping burrito you bleeping burrito, or I’ll bleepity bleep you,’ ” he tells the Post.

When the man contacted Chipotle to tell them about all the errant attempts to get a burrito, the company offered to send him some free meal coupons for his troubles.

08 Feb 16:30

Target Launches Gender-Neutral Home Decor For Kids

by Ashlee Kieler

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 10.35.27 AMTarget’s gender-neutral approach to children’s toys is seeping into other aspects of the retailer’s business. Over the weekend the big box store unveiled a new brand of kids’ home decor that comes without boy or girl designations. 

Target announced Sunday that the brand, called Pillowfort, will debut at stores later this month, marking yet another step in the retailer’s move toward a more gender-neutral store format.

The line, which will replace the long-running Target house brand Circo, will still feature pinks and blues, but with more prints, patterns, and neutral motifs including trees, arrows, astronauts, and bicycles.

“It was an aisle of pink, fairy princesses, ponies and flowers,” Julie Guggemos, Target’s senior vice president of design and product development tells the Minneapolis Star Tribune of Target’s current offerings for children’s bedrooms. “And for the boys it was rockets and dinosaurs. Well, you know what? Girls like rockets and basketball. And boys like ponies. Who are we to say what a child’s individual expressing is?”

That means that Target shoppers will continue to see products with hearts and basketballs, but that they will more likely be in neutral colors such as white, black, and yellow. In all, the brand contains 12 whimsical themes, like “Tropical Treehouse,” “Stellar Station,” and “Ocean Oasis.”

Guggemos says that the company didn’t exactly set out to create a gender-neutral line. Instead, the approach was driven by consumers who previously criticized the company for using gender-based signs in the toy aisles.

“It gets back to listening to mom, understanding what she’s looking for from Target and making sure we’re delivering the products and the content that’s going to be right,” Chief Executive Brian Cornell tells the Star Tribune.

While developing the new Pillowfort line, the company asked children to create collages of their ideal bedrooms and questioned parents on what they would like to see. In the end, most chose neutral designs.

“Girls were picking prints that the boys picked and vice versa,” Guggemos said. “They’re not afraid to express who they are. We picked up on that right away and decided we were getting in our own way a little bit with some of those paradigms … It’s time to change.”

The company isn’t doing away completely with boy- and girl-specific bedding and room decorations. It plans to still offer an assortment of princesses, superheroes, as well as licensed brands like Star Wars and My Little Pony in the department.

Target plans to next tackle its children’s house brand of clothing. A new apparel line will debut this summer, replacing the Cherokee and Circo brands.

A spokesperson tells the Star Tribune that while the company isn’t going to adopt a unisex or androgynous approach to apparel, some common themes will be found in both boys’ and girls’ clothing.

Target takes gender-neutral approach with new kids home brand [Star Tribune]

08 Feb 17:25

Is Amazon Doing Anything To Fight Latest Wave Of Fake, Paid-For Reviews?

by Chris Morran

Since Amazon began allowing customers to post reviews on product pages, various waves of bogus reviewers have attempted to game the system by posting fictitious or dishonest write-ups. While Amazon has recently taken legal action against people paid to write fake reviews for products, and the site has a ban on most forms of “paid” reviews, there’s a new crop of compensated reviewers who are receiving free or discounted products in exchange for then writing “honest” reviews. But some of these users are writing dozens of reviews a day, sometimes for products they couldn’t possibly have tried.

This newer form of fake, paid Amazon reviews are creeping in thanks to marketing sites that offer free and deeply discounted items if buyers promise to then share their honest feelings on Amazon.

The TL;DR Version

• Third-party marketers are selling products, or giving them away, in exchange for “honest” Amazon reviews.
• Amazon allows such reviews, so long as the compensation is clearly disclosed in the review and the writeup is truthful.
• Some people who receive free/discounted items are posting reviews for products they could not possibly have tried.
• They are also posting dozens of reviews daily, upwards of hundreds of reviews a month (almost all 5-star reviews), without being flagged by Amazon.
• Ignore star ratings and read the full text of reviews to get an idea if the reviewer (A) actually tried the product, and (B) has similar standards to yours.
• Amazon users can filter reviews so that only “verified” purchases show up. This will also filter out people who bought items through Amazon at a deeply discounted price.
• Use sites like FakeSpot.com to scan through reviews to help determine whether or not the content may be useful to you.

While Amazon’s review guidelines prohibit most “paid” reviews, they do include an explicit exception “when a free or discounted copy of a physical product is provided to a customer up front” if the user “clearly and conspicuously disclose[s] that fact” in their review.

That’s because e-tail giant has its own form of a “free stuff for reviews” in Amazon Vine, which allows select customers to get pre-release access to some products.

But Amazon knows who Vine members are and what they’ve received through the program. Amazon does not, however, necessarily know if a reviewer purchased an item through some discount marketer with the promise of writing a review.

In an effort to avoid the Amazon police and to stave off legal concerns (more on that in a minute), these marketers require that reviews comply with Amazon policy and include disclosures like “I received this product in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.”

But it’s those very statements that are giving regular Amazon customers an indication of just how bad this problem can be.

Reviewing the Unreviewable

Case in point — no pun intended — Consumerist readers directed us to the Amazon page for this phone case for the Lumia 650 smartphone.

fitssowellClick image to see full size.

When we began researching this story, there were 10 reviews posted on this page, many of them mentioning how well the phone fits on their Lumia 650: “It fits snuggly and provides good protection,” reads one review. “it is great fit my phone great,” opines another user.

All of the reviews indicated in some fashion that they had received the case for free or at a discount, and all but one of the reviews was a five-star writeup, potentially leading a shopper to possibly believe that this is a decent product.

Except there aren’t yet any shoppers looking for this case, because the Lumia 650 hadn’t been released when these reviews were written. Perhaps it’s possible that all 10 of these reviewers managed to get an early release of the device?

Three of the reviewers involved also posted their email addresses on their profiles, so we wrote them to ask, but have yet to hear back from any of them.

Revieworrhea

The Curious Case Of “Andrea”

In one week in January, a reviewer named “Andrea” wrote up approximately 200 5-star opinions, including reviews for cases for at least 14 different phones:
In one week in January, a review named "Andrea" wrote up approximately 200 5-star opinions, including reviews for cases for at least 14 different phones.

Out of curiosity, we looked at what else these users had reviewed, and every single one of them with a public profile appears to have spent an inordinate amount of time writing up their supposedly honest feelings about dozens of products — a day.

We looked at the list of reviews since Jan. 1 for each of these users and found that they averaged more than 400 reviews each in just those few weeks. The fewest was around 100 reviews since Jan. 1, while one user managed to somehow crank out approximately 950 reviews in a single month.

Assuming eight hours of sleep per day, that’s nearly two reviews an hour for every single waking hour, every day of the week for 31 days.

So what are these people reviewing? Apparently anything they can get at a deep discount in exchange for a review.

In just a few hours, one reviewer posted her thoughts on a USB travel charger, melatonin pills, two USB cords, novelty wine glasses, a selfie stick, a bunion splint, and phone cases — lots of phone cases.

And not just for a single type of phone. A quick scan of one user’s list turned up multiple reviews — all from Jan. 2016 — for cases or screen protectors for each of the following devices:

Galaxy Note 4; Galaxy E7; iPhone 6S; iPhone 6S Plus; iPhone 5C; Galaxy S6; Galaxy S7 Plus (a device that doesn’t even exist); Galaxy Grand Prime; Galaxy Centura; HTC One A9; LG V10; Galaxy S5; ZTE Grand X Max; Galaxy Alpha; Lumia 950; Moto X; Lumia 550; Lumia 850; Lumia 650; ZTE Allstar; Huawei Union; Galaxy Avant; Droid Turbo 2; Galaxy S6 Edge; Nexus 6P; LG Optimus F6; OnePlus One; Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3… and that’s when we just gave up taking notes.

By the way, all these reviews — 5 stars. In fact, we had to scroll past approximately 650 reviews to Jan. 10 before we got to one from this user that was not a 5 star writeup.

If It Quacks Like A Fake…

Yes, it is possible (inasmuch as virtually anything is possible in an infinite universe) that there is someone out there legitimately purchasing hundreds of items a month — many of them redundant, based on previous purchases — then taking the time to write glowing reviews for each of those items.

But in the real world of limited possibility, all of the above signs point to many of these reviewers being blatant fakes — or at least meriting further scrutiny from Amazon.

So why are these reviews allowed to be posted? Shouldn’t the very fact that someone received something for free call into question that person’s ability to provide an unbiased point of view? At the very least, that reviewer can’t be fully relied upon to tell other shoppers whether something is worth the real price of the product.

Then again, if someone receives an item as a birthday gift, they aren’t expected to disclose that in a review. And almost all publications that review products — from cars, to appliances, to books, music, movies, and video games — get these items without spending a dime.

But the difference is that no one gets a birthday gift on the condition that they then review it. And while professional reviewers have been known to be cut off from free products by companies that feel they were treated unfairly, pros who routinely rave about everything they try rarely carry much authority with readers.

Does Amazon Care?

Given the obvious red flags shown in the examples above — too many reviews, too many raves, use of easily identifiable language showing that these products were discounted in exchange for reviews — you’d think that Amazon would be able to filter out these users’ feedback, much in the way that Yelp’s algorithm automatically hides reviews it deems questionable; those writeups are still available for reading, but they aren’t included in the star ratings and aren’t shown unless the reader deliberately unhides them.

After we brought the questionable reviews for Lumia 650 case to Amazon’s attention, some of the reviews were taken down. As of now, only one of the ten reviews from compensated users remains. Interestingly, it’s the only one that did not give the case five stars.

“We do not allow paid reviews and terminate accounts that abuse the system or violate our guidelines,” an Amazon rep tells Consumerist. “That being said, the vast majority of reviews on Amazon are authentic, helping millions of customers make informed buying decisions every day. Our goal is to make reviews as useful as possible for customers.”

Is Amazon actually doing anything proactive to prevent the spread of these dubious reviews? Aside from pointing to the recent legal actions taken against allegedly fake reviewers, the company would not provide any information on any efforts to track and/or filter users with questionable motives, though a source at the company did say it is aware of the problem and how the presence of apparently fake reviews hurts real customers and Amazon’s image.

What You Can Do

First off, as we’ve advised on all crowdsourced review sites, ignore the star rating, not just the average rating for a product but for each individual review. What is a 3-star product for one person might be a 5-star product for another. Sometimes people knock off stars for reasons you wouldn’t even consider, like the color of a DVD player’s remote control, or because they simply don’t like the company that makes a product. Read the actual text of the review and decide for yourself if it’s of any relevance to your needs.

Filter reviews so that you’re only seeing “verified purchases” from Amazon customers. Yes, this will remove all the reviewers who legitimately bought a product elsewhere, but at least you’ll know that the reviews you do see are from people who paid for it.

Some of these discount marketers have tried to game this “verified purchase” badging system. Rather than sending the reviewer the product directly, the reviewer buys the product through Amazon with a promotional code that allows it to be purchased at a discount. However, Amazon now only places the “verified” badge on reviews from a customer “who purchased the product at Amazon and didn’t receive the product at a deep discount.”

Amazon would not say what level of a discount triggers that “verified” threshold, or whether that rule also applies to customers who purchase items directly from Amazon (as opposed to third-party sellers on the site).

Then there are third party sites like FakeSpot, which analyzes not just the reviews on an Amazon product page, but other reviews written by the users on that page.

Putting the Lumia case URL into FakeSpot turned up a “thumbs down” from the site and a poor rating of “73% low quality reviews.”

Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 4.38.36 PM

“Our analysis has detected product exchange for reviews,” reads the results page. “We believe these reviews are harmful for real consumers because of the inherent bias and our opinion reflects that.”

Combining these three tactics won’t guarantee that you avoid fake reviews, but they will give you a better sense of whether or not the reviews for a product have been overrun by compensated shills.

Can Anyone Get In Trouble For This?

Aside from diluting real reviews to the point where Amazon customers don’t know who to trust, is anyone really doing anything they could get in trouble for? That depends, according to some lawyers we spoke to.

If people are deliberately posting false reviews to hurt a company, that’s certainly something that can, and has been, the subject of legal action.

“Fake unfavorable reviews are actionable under product disparagement laws and other causes of action related to defamation,” explains Regina Austin, the William A. Schnader Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania.

When the fake reviews are negative, it’s usually the manufacturer being slighted that does the suing, says Austin, not the customers who are getting bad information. It’s much more difficult to argue harm from bogus positive reviews.

But if a company makes a concerted effort to distort Amazon reviews — either negatively or positively — then that could lead to the involvement of a regulator like the Federal Trade Commission.

“There would have to be a pattern of conduct on the part of the advertiser to encourage consumers to post reviews that are overly glowing or not truthful,” explains Dana Rosenfeld, former assistant director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.

So who is ultimately liable in such a case? Certainly, the individual reviewers shoulder the blame for writing the actual reviews, but the more likely target of a regulatory complaint would be either the discount marketer or the manufacturer paying that marketer to get their products reviewed.

Yes, the discounter requires “honest” reviews and transparent disclosures, but — at least judging by the examples we’ve seen — they are not questioning why some of their customers seem to love everything they review, or how some of these people are posting reviews for items that they couldn’t possibly have used yet.

Rosenfeld tells Consumerist there’s nothing inherently wrong with an Amazon page full of glowing reviews — even ones for which reviewers receive some sort of compensation — so long as they accurately reflect the reviewer’s experience, are truthful, and adequately disclose any incentive provided by the advertiser.

“If, however, a significant number of the paid-for reviews reflect results that are nearly impossible to achieve, or the review pertains to a product not yet released, then there could be liability on the part of the advertiser if it does not take steps to remove the reviews,” she explains. “These reviews could be the result of the advertiser or affiliate marketer affirmatively encouraging such reviews or willful ignorance.”

“The manufacturer has an obligation to monitor what their marketing partner is doing,” explains Rosenfeld.

08 Feb 17:40

Chipotle’s Closed Today, But You Can Get A ‘Raincheck’ Free Burrito… Or A Deal From Competitors

by Ashlee Kieler
(Josh Bassett)

Burrito lovers have had weeks to prepare for the hours-long closure of Chipotle restaurants today, and in that time several competing fast Mexican chains have promoted special offers for the lunchtime crowd. But it looks like Chipotle may also have a deal for its temporarily abandoned customers: a raincheck for a free burrito. 

While Chipotle, which closed today for a four-hour long meeting to discuss food safety issues and initiatives, aims to win back the confidence of its customers, some rival chains are hoping to turn the eatery’s missed lunch into revenue of their own, offering promotions timed to the closures.

Freshii, which specializes in burritos, wraps, soups, and other fast-casual eats, announced weeks ago that it would offer a half-off promotion Feb. 8 (that would be today) for its Mexican-inspired dishes.

Under the promotion, the company will discount five Mexican dishes at its 200 locations. The deal is limited to one per customer.

“Like millions of other people, we at Freshii are big fans of Chipotle,” Freshii Founder and CEO Matthew Corrin said in a statement on the promotion. “Founded almost three decades ago, Chipotle has been a pioneer of fast-casual food. We figured the least we would do was look after their customers while Chipotle pauses to recalibrate.”

But if those customers decide they like Freshii better, that’s even better, the company says.

On The Border also jumped on the closure discount bandwagon, announcing last week that it would offer $5 to-go Burrito Boxes or Border Bowls.

The boxes and bowls contain come with your choice of grilled meat, Portobello mushroom, or vegan filling, along with typical Mexican fare toppings like cheese, rice and pico de gallo. Chips and salsa are also included in the deal.

As for Chipotle, the company is live-Tweeting the company-wide meeting and offering customers a raincheck for today’s missed lunch.

The deal, which includes a coupon for a free burrito, is available for customers who text “raincheck” to a dedicated number.

IMG_0293

“If we messed up your lunch plans today, follow the steps and we’ll hook you up,” a Tweet promoting the deal states.

After texting the number, customers receive a link to input their name and ZIP code. A coupon for a free burrito will then be texted to the customer “in the next few days.”

The company’s Twitter account previously debunked rumors that it was giving away $1 burritos all week, noting that the deal was from a hoax news site.

Chipotle will reopen its stores at 3 p.m. local time.

[via Mashable]

08 Feb 17:43

Don’t Like Your Papa John’s Pizza? Tell The Company Why, And Get Another One For Free

by Mary Beth Quirk

(Aaron TD)
What’s a pizza-loving person to do when the pie they ordered turns out to be a disappointment? After you’ve flung the offending pizza against the wall, that is? Papa John’s says it wants to turn those frowns upside down, by guaranteeing that customers will love their pizzas — and if not, they can get another one for free.

Papa John’s is touting its new “Quality Guarantee” initiative to “underscore its commitment to delivering quality pizzas to customers,” the chain says. Though it’s not expecting you to hate your food, of course.

“Papa John’s didn’t need a ‘Quality Guarantee’, but if we want to live by our commitment to provide ‘Better Ingredients and Better Pizza’ we have to be able to deliver,” said founder, chairman, and CEO of Papa John’s, John Schnatter.

Anyone who’s displeased with their food will have to tell Papa John’s why they’re unhappy in order to get a new pizza. Examples of unsatisfactory quality include: temperature (cold), undercooked/overcooked pizza, skimpy toppings, wrong pizza/toppings, and damaged pizza, Papa John’s terms and conditions state. The offer does not apply to any issues regarding delivery time, sides, drinks, or desserts.

Here’s how it works: Customers who ordered pizzas directly from Papa John’s can call the restaurant where their pizza was ordered within 30 minutes of the time of delivery or pickup to report their unsatisfactory pizzas, with their receipt available to reference order info.

If you picked the pizza up from the restaurant, you’ll have to go back to that same location with the unsatisfactory food. If you had your order delivered, the new pizza will arrive at the same location.

You also can’t eat more than two slices of the offending pizza if you want a new one, and Papa John’s reserves the right “to collect your original pizza order at the time you receive your replacement pizza.”

08 Feb 19:26

More Than 100 Crashes Caused By Confusing Jeep, Chrysler, Dodge Gear Shifters

by Ashlee Kieler
(Van Swearington)

For most vehicles, shifting into “Park” seems to be a simple task. But for thousands of people who own Fiat Chrysler cars, that’s not the case. Federal regulators expanded their investigation into these vehicles after receiving more complaints about crashes and injuries   because drivers say they have inadvertently left their vehicles in gear with the engine running because the electronic gear shifter is confusing.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration nearly doubled the number of vehicles under investigation for the issue after finding more than 100 crashes and a dozen injuries involving Fiat Chrysler cars.

With the expansion, NHTSA is investigating more than 856,000 model year 2014 to 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokees, and 2012 to 2014 Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 sedans with 3.6-liter engines.

According to a notice [PDF] filed by NHTSA, the investigation, which was first opened in August 2015, centers on vehicles equipped with Monostable electronic (E-shift) gearshifts.

The shift system operates electronically and the gear requested by the driver is transmitted from the sifter via the CAN Bust to the Transmission Control Module which makes the requested shift.

However, in some vehicles, the gearshift doesn’t actually move, but springs back to a centered or neutral position.

If a driver opens his or her door when the gearshift isn’t in “park,” a chime rings and a message pops up to alert them that the transmission is not in “park.”

The engine also will not turn off normally without the transmission in “park.”

“This function does not protect drivers who intentionally leave the engine running or those who do not realize that the engine is still running after an attempted shut-off,” investigators said.

As a result, drivers may exit the vehicle when the engine is running and the transmission is not in “park,” leaving the unattended vehicle to roll away, NHTSA states.

NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation is aware of 314 consumer complaints about the issue, 267 submitted to Fiat Chrysler and 69 submitted via NHTSA’s database.

In all, 121 have resulted in crashes or fires, with 30 incidents involving injuries to drivers or passengers such as a broken nose, facial lacerations requiring stitches, sprained knees, severe bruising, and trauma to legs.

“While in ‘park’ and idling, the vehicle rolled forward and struck objects 20 yards away causing $1,500 worth of damage to the right front bumper,” one complaint states. “My wife parked the car and had exited the vehicle, when after about 30 seconds it rolled forward and struck headstones in a cemetery. The car still indicated it was in ‘park’ when my son reentered the vehicle.”

In another complaint, the owner of a 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee says the vehicles rolled from the “park” position without warning. When the woman attempted to stop the car, it ran over her hip, causing injuries that required medical attention.

Owners of affected Charger and Chrysler 300 vehicles offered similar experiences to NHTSA.

“When I put the car into ‘park,’ it pops into reverse,” the owner of a Chrysler 300 writes in a complaint. “Then I hit the engine off button, but since it is in reverse, the engine stays on. Then I open the door to get out, thinking the engine is off and the car is in ‘park,’ and it starts rolling backward. This has happened six times.”

The owner of another 2014 Chrysler 300 writes in a complaint that, on occasion, when the vehicle is in “park” it rolled away. In one instance, the owner was able to stop the vehicle and shift it back into part on the third attempt. However, he suffered injuries to the neck and back that required medical attention.

Fiat Chrysler tells the Associated Press that the company is cooperating with the investigation, and noted that it changed the shifters in the 2016 Grand Cherokee and 2015 Charger and 300 sedans.

Still, NHTSA has opened an engineering analysis to assess the scope, frequency, and safety-related consequences of the alleged defect.

08 Feb 20:09

4 Things We’ve Learned About Getting The Best Valentine’s Day Flowers For Your Money

by Laura Northrup

Every year, after the major flower-giving holidays, readers send us photos of what they ordered and what they actually received. It’s a dismaying scene, and what we really want is to never publish another of these features again. That’s why we’re sharing what we’ve learned about the flower business from readers and from florists in the 10 years that Consumerist has been around.

Go directly to your local florist

While you might see a deal advertised online though a national wire service that promises a dozen red roses delivered to your sweetest for $50, this deal has a catch. The local florist that actually fills your order may end up losing money on the deal.

Wire services were useful thirty years ago when you didn’t have easy access to contact information for a florist near your faraway loved ones, that’s no excuse today. Just make sure that the local florist you contact is real (more on that in a bit).

Tina Semock, a florist in the Chicago area, explained to us that she isn’t part of a floral wire service like FTD or Teleflora because it simply doesn’t work out for her economically.

“The site will tack on a $10 or $15 ‘service fee,’ which you would think goes for delivery,” she explained to Consumerist. “That goes right in [the wire service’s] pocket. The florist doesn’t see any of that… You’re paying $20 or more just to place your order online.”

That’s right: you could be paying the wire service 40% or more of the total just for the privilege of not bothering to look up the phone number or website of the nearest florist to your loved one’s home or office. Don’t do that.

Avoid the fake local florist trap

Image courtesy of Ashley

You’re sending flowers to your mom, who lives in Omaha, so naturally you type “Omaha florist” in Google to find a nice local florist. You end up on a landing page that lists hospitals and schools in Omaha, and that says they deliver to Omaha, so you place your order. You’ve fallen into the fake local florist trap.

omaha

These sites pretend to be florists local to your recipient, but are actually affiliate sites that skim a percentage off your order and then pass it along to one of the national wire services, which in turn takes more money off the top. The actual florist filling the order gets even less money… and the quality of the flowers they use will probably be crappier in turn.

How can you avoid this? When searching for a florist in a city in that city or town, make sure that their website gives a local address and phone number located in that city or town on their website.

pinkaddress

Cross-check with your favorite online yellow pages source or Yelp to make sure they’re a real store that really exists. If you’re feeling really ambitious, give them a call.

The 3-D penalty

Image courtesy of Sarah Sphar

Since virtual reality flower shopping isn’t yet a thing, we’re forced to use two-dimensional pictures to shop for flowers. That’s why the three-dimensional penalty is important. It’s why flower arrangements seem so much smaller when they arrive in person.

A florist explained to us that the reason why flower arrangements appear so much smaller in real life. “[A]ll of those pretty pictures you see on [wire service] websites are arranged in a 2-dimensional layout, with all blooms tilted toward the camera,” she explained to Consumerist.

“It’s deceptive – the photo arrangements are done in a way that implies a “round” arrangement (like a ball sitting on top of a vase) – it’s implied that there are more flowers that you can’t see.”

How can you avoid disappointment? Count the flowers.

ftd-fail

Both of these photos show a 12-bloom arrangement, but the picture on the left implies twelve more roses on the other side that aren’t there in real life. You expect the arrangement that arrives to be taller and fuller unless you’ve counted the flowers.

Remember, it’s a holiday

It’s a minor botanic miracle that enough roses are ready at exactly the right time, and if the harvest doesn’t come out just right, shortages can mean higher prices. However, a florist with Bloomers in Chatham, NJ points out that maybe you should think outside the dozen roses.

“There’s a lot more to Valentine’s Day arrangements than red roses and baby’s breath,” she points out. Have confidence that your significant other will appreciate something unusual.

Keep in mind, after all, that at a peak flower-ordering time, florists’ expenses and what’s in season will be different. What you order for your anniversary in August and how much it costs will be different from what’s available to them wholesale during a holiday in the winter, and the price will differ accordingly.

Consider calling the local shop you plan to use and asking for a “florist’s choice” bouquet. By giving them the opportunity to make something special with what’s most plentiful on hand, you’ll get a bigger and fresher bouquet than if you chose an image on the website.

08 Feb 20:10

FAA: There Are Now More Drones Registered Than Piloted Aircraft

by Mary Beth Quirk

(Northwest dad)
What’s that in the sky — is it a bird? A plane? No, it’s a swarm of drones, blacking out the sun as they rise as one to push other aircraft out of the sky. At least, that’s the vision we got after the Federal Aviation Administration announced that drone registrations have now outstripped registrations for piloted aircraft.

From small planes like the Cessna to the hulking mass of a Dreamliner, the FAA says there are 320,000 piloted aircraft registered with the agency right now, compared to 325,000 people who have registered their drones, FAA administrator Michael Huerta told media outlets at a press conference, including USA Today.

There could be even more drones out there than 325,000, potentially, as each drone registration number can apply to any number of aircraft an owner wants to fly. To that end, Huerta says the average operator has 1.5 recreational drones.

“We’re very encouraged by the registration numbers we’ve seen so far,” Huerta said. “Safety is at the heart of this new registration system. We need to bring the unmanned aircraft enthusiasts into the culture that has characterized aviation throughout its history – that is a culture of safety and a culture of responsibility.”

There’s a deadline of Feb. 19 to register any previously owned drones, and if you get a new one, you’re supposed to register it before it flies for the first time.

FAA: Drone registration eclipses that of regular planes [USA Today]

08 Feb 20:39

Consumer Group Sues DOT For Failure To Create Searchable Database Of Safety Defects

by Ashlee Kieler
(Phil's 1stPix)

More than three years ago, Congress instructed the Department of Transportation to create a publicly accessible, and easily searchable, website featuring communications between regulators, automakers, dealers, and consumers about safety defects. One safety group says this hasn’t happened, and is suing DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx in an effort to make this database a reality.

The Center for Auto Safety filed the lawsuit [PDF] against Foxx last week accusing the Department of Transportation of violating the “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act.”

The Act, enacted in July 2012, directed the Secretary to make a website that would feature an index that:
• Identifies the make, model, and model year of the affected vehicles
• Includes a concise summary of the subject matter of the communication; and
• Shall be made available by the Secretary to the public on the Internet in a searchable format.

According to the lawsuit, the DOT’s failure to create such a website has “deprived the Center for Auto Safety and its members of important information about motor vehicle safety and defects.”

While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration lists recalls, it requires consumers to use their vehicle identification number to find details about their car, and it does not provide information on service bulletins — issues that do not require a recall.

“DOT’s failure to implement the law costs consumers money for repairs covered by service bulletins and endangers their lives by withholding service bulletins that disclosures defects that can cause crashes, deaths and injuries,” Clarence Ditlow, executive director for CAS, said in a statement.

By filing the lawsuit, CAS seeks to force Foxx to do what the law requires: set up a consumer-friendly, searchable database.

A spokesperson for the Dept. of Transportation tells Consumerist that it does not comment on matters that are in litigation.

08 Feb 23:17

Companies Move Back To Cities, Abandon Suburban Office Parks

by Laura Northrup

(Chris Stephens)
How many likely tenants are there for a concrete suburban office complex of 470,000 square feet? The owners of office complexes are having similar problems to the owners of malls, but for different reasons. As shoppers have moved either to ritzier malls or to shipping online, offices have moved back into cities. Both changes leave behind massive buildings or complexes that nobody wants.

One example that serves as an illustration is a building constructed for Western Union in 1973 in northern New Jersey. It was most recently the headquarters of education company Pearson, which took off for the city of Hoboken. The building’s design hasn’t aged very well, and the building’s owner wants to tear it down and replace it with a mixed-use development: apartments, retail, restaurants, maybe a few offices.

That seems like it would be the most logical re-use of these complexes, or the land where they sit. However, the offices’ suburban neighbors object to this plan, as they did with the plans for the Western Union/Pearson building in the wealthy suburb of Upper Saddle River, NJ.

The complex’s neighbors didn’t like the idea of replacing up to 2,000 office workers with a few hundred apartments. Residents would support apartments if the development were less dense, but “It looks out of place—you’re going to overpopulate the area,” a man who is a literal neighbor to the now-empty office complex told the Wall Street Journal.

It would be difficult to build any kind of development that’s as spread out as the rest of the community that would still be profitable, posing a problem for the landlord. Pearson isn’t alone in abandoning its suburban home, though: General Electric is moving its headquarters from Connecticut to Boston, to cite one prominent example.

Casualty of Cities’ Resurgence: The Suburban Offices Left Behind [Wall Street Journal]

05 Feb 09:20

Woman charged in teen’s death says she, too, was bullied

by wtopstaff

BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) — Natalie Keepers told a judge that she was bullied — just like the 13-year-old girl she is accused of plotting to kill.

And like seventh-grader Nicole Lovell, the 19-year-old Virginia Tech student had endured health challenges, though Keepers’ were of the emotional variety: suicidal thoughts, cutting herself, stress and anxiety that required medication.

The similarities emerged in a Blacksburg courtroom Thursday as Keepers and her lawyer argued that she should be released on bail while she awaits trial for allegedly helping plan Lovell’s slaying and then improperly dumping her body just across the state line in North Carolina, two hours south of Virginia Tech’s campus, where she was a student. Bond was denied.

Keepers’ classmate, 18-year-old David Eisenhauer, is charged with kidnapping and killing Lovell, who survived a liver transplant and other health scares only to have her life ended after apparently climbing out her bedroom window last week. Eisenhauer also is being held without bond.

In court, Montgomery County Commonwealth’s Attorney Mary Pettitt described how authorities believe Eisenhauer and Keepers planned Lovell’s stabbing death but left key aspects of the crime a mystery. She did not suggest a possible motive nor describe the killing itself.

But the prosecutor said messages on the girl’s phone led to the suspects and accused the college students of deciding together in a fast-food restaurant that Eisenhauer would cut her throat.

Defense lawyers argued that Keepers’ mental health could unravel behind bars.

“We understand the allegations are disturbing and serious,” attorney Kristopher Olin said. “But they are just allegations.”

Keepers told the judge that she began cutting her body and had considered suicide “a few times” after being bullied in school five years ago. She said she’s been in therapy and taking Prozac since then.

She’s also allergic to the gluten in jail food, Olin added.

Judge Robert Viars Jr. decided Keepers should remain behind bars after Pettitt said she “is in the same position as the person who carried out the murder.”

The prosecutor said Eisenhauer initially denied his involvement when police found his messages on Nicole’s phone, but eventually he said he drove to the girl’s home, watched her climb out her window and greeted her with a “side hug” before they drove off to pick up Keepers.

Keepers insists she was not present at the killing itself but she went along for the ride, Pettitt said. And once Nicole was dead, Keepers helped load her body into Eisenhauer’s Lexus, the prosecutor added.

Pettitt said Keepers revealed the plot after officers tracked her down but that she first tried to warn Eisenhauer, sending him a one-word text message reading “Police.”

Nicole’s parents, David Lovell and Tammy Weeks, attended the bail hearing but made no comments before leaving for their daughter’s private funeral, where several hundred mourners paid their respects.

Friends and neighbors have described Nicole as a lovely if awkward girl, clinging to childhood ways while exploring older behaviors.

A neighbor said she told 8-year-old friends before she vanished that she planned to sneak out to meet her 18-year-old “boyfriend,” a man she said was named David, whose picture she displayed on her phone. Authorities have not confirmed that this was Eisenhauer’s photo.

A 911 call on Jan. 27 alerted police that Nicole was missing, Pettitt said. Weeks discovered that the door to her daughter’s bedroom had been barricaded, and that her phone and her “Minions” blanket also were gone.

An examination of emails and social media showed that Eisenhauer and Nicole last made contact at 12:39 that morning, shortly before she disappeared, the prosecutor said.

Like others her age, Nicole was tech savvy, posting on Facebook and chatting using the Kik messenger app. Unlike other young teens, she had to take daily medicine to keep her transplanted liver from failing and endured bullying over a disfiguring tracheotomy scar in her neck, a reminder of the months she spent in a coma.

Keepers told the judge that she has problems, too. Shackled, handcuffed and wearing an orange jumpsuit, she said she’s not getting her full dosage of anti-anxiety medicine in jail.

“I’ve learned how to love myself and to take care of myself and deal with any stress that I have,” Keepers said, describing how she had promised a friend that if she stopped cutting herself, she would get a tattoo of a semicolon, representing that her life was not ending, but taking a new path.

Her father, Tim Keepers, said he and his wife, Sara, first heard of Eisenhauer in October. He said the young man had “dropped everything” last year to rush their daughter to a hospital for an emergency appendectomy.

Eisenhauer and Keepers went to high schools five miles apart in Columbia, Maryland. Excelling in the classroom and on the track, Eisenhauer was focused on competing with top college runners while pursuing a career as an engineer.

Keepers, for her part, displayed a packed resume on her LinkedIn profile, including a summer internship with NASA, where she made how-to videos for engineers. Her father choked up in court Thursday when he said she had planned to follow his footsteps into aerospace engineering.

___

Nuckols reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Allen G. Breed in Blacksburg, Virginia; Jessica Gresko in Washington and Juliet Linderman in Columbia, Maryland; contributed to this report.

___

Follow Ben Nuckols on Twitter at https://twitter.com/APBenNuckols . His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/ben-nuckols .

The post Woman charged in teen’s death says she, too, was bullied appeared first on WTOP.

05 Feb 13:03

Firefighters reassigned after not diagnosing gunshot wound

by wtopstaff

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two emergency medical technician firefighters have been reassigned after failing to diagnose a gunshot wound to a patient they treated.

District of Columbia Fire and EMS Department spokesman Timothy Wilson says the two employees have been reassigned to duties away from patient care after a preliminary investigation.

During Saturday night’s incident, crews responded to a report of a shooting in Washington. Two firefighters found one person with a gunshot wound and took that patient to a hospital. They also found a second person and failed to detect the gunshot wound. Hospital staff treating the second patient later detected the wound.

Wilson says the two firefighters have also been reassigned for additional training.

It’s unclear how the department learned of the missed diagnosis.

Officials continue to investigate the matter.

The post Firefighters reassigned after not diagnosing gunshot wound appeared first on WTOP.

05 Feb 14:37

Judge: Ex-lawyer for ‘D.C. Madam’ can’t argue to release her records

by Neal Augenstein

WASHINGTON — Despite claiming records of “D.C. Madam” Deborah Jeane Palfrey could be relevant to the upcoming presidential election, her former lawyer will not be allowed to argue for their release, after a ruling by a federal judge.

Chief Judge Richard Roberts of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia has ruled Montgomery Blair Sibley no longer has the right to argue for the modification of 2007 restraining orders, which prohibited Sibley from releasing records from Palfrey’s escort service, Pamela Martin and Associates.

Sibley claims to have 815 names and 40 escort agency records that have remained unsealed, but has refused to say how he believes the records could affect the election.

In his ruling, Roberts says Sibley has been suspended from practicing before D.C. federal court since 2008.

“Sibley’s motion purports to refer to records subpoenaed on behalf of the defendant that it seems would properly be in the possession of the attorney of record for the defendant, not in Sibley’s possession,” the ruling says.

Sibley and Palfrey had a sometimes rocky relationship leading up to her trial and conviction for racketeering, money laundering, and mail fraud.

Despite firing Sibley, he has maintained Palfrey’s records since Judge Gladys Kessler ordered Palfrey and her lawyer to cease distributing them.

“Why Sibley would have possession of subpoenaed records in a case from which he has been terminated and why he would not instead have turned all copies of them over to the defendant’s continuing counsel of record is not set forth in the motion,” Roberts wrote.

Palfrey faced a maximum penalty of 55 years in prison, but she committed suicide before sentencing in May 2008.

Contacted by WTOP after the ruling, Sibley says he is reviewing his options.

The post Judge: Ex-lawyer for ‘D.C. Madam’ can’t argue to release her records appeared first on WTOP.

07 Feb 08:39

AP FACT CHECK: Fumbles from the Republican field

by wtopstaff

WASHINGTON (AP) — What happened in Iowa didn’t stay in Iowa. And when it reached the stage in the latest Republican presidential debate, Ted Cruz had some explaining to do.

Cruz wasn’t quite square with the facts Saturday night when he explained why and how his campaign spread the false insinuation that rival Ben Carson was quitting the race after the Iowa caucuses. The episode was among a number of fumbles from the field in the intense confrontation before Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary.

Among them:

—Chris Christie misstated the U.S. policy on paying ransom to hostage-takers.

—Donald Trump botched tax numbers.

—In his zeal to condemn the Obama administration’s immigration record, Cruz once again vastly overstated deportations under the previous two presidents.

Some of the claims and how they compare with the facts:

CRUZ on why his campaign spread inaccurate suggestions to voters on Iowa caucus night that Carson was quitting: “My political team saw CNN’s report, breaking news, and forwarded that news to our volunteers.”

THE FACTS: Cruz’s campaign took accurate reports from CNN and twisted them to make it appear that Carson was quitting. The motive: to convince caucus-goers that support for Carson would be wasted and they should back the Texas senator instead. Even while apologizing to Carson for the tactics, Cruz tried to deflect blame.

CNN on air and in tweets said Carson, in an unusual move, planned to go home to Florida after the caucuses, instead of directly to New Hampshire to campaign for the next contest. But that information was coupled with assurances from the Carson campaign that he was not getting out of the race, but rather planning to attend the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington after Florida.

Based on that, the Cruz campaign pushed out its own story line, saying Carson would reportedly “stop” campaigning after Iowa and would be “making a big announcement next week.” In addition, a key Cruz supporter, Rep. Steve King, tweeted that Carson was planning “the equivalent of suspending.” Candidates who quit a primary race “suspend” their campaigns.

___

TRUMP: “Right now, we’re the highest taxed country in the world.”

THE FACTS: Far from it. The U.S. tax burden pales in comparison with that of other industrialized countries.

Taxes made up 26 percent of the total U.S. economy in 2014, according to the 34-nation Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That measure looks at the entire tax burden, which is different than tax rates that can be gamed through loopholes, deductions and credits.

In Sweden, the tax burden is 42.7 percent of the economy. It’s 33.6 percent in Slovenia (Trump’s wife, Melania, was born in the part of Yugoslavia that became Slovenia). Britain clocks in at 32.6 percent, while Germany’s burden is 36.1 percent.

Where is the tax burden lower than the United States?

South Korea, Chile and Mexico.

___

CRUZ on whether waterboarding is torture: “Under the law, torture is excruciating pain that is equivalent to losing organs and systems, so under the definition of torture, it is not. It is enhanced interrogation, it is vigorous interrogation, but it does not meet the generally recognized definition of torture.”

THE FACTS: One generally recognized definition, the United Nations Torture Convention, does not limit the meaning of torture to physical, disabling pain. It defines torture as “severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental,” and mental anguish is at the core of waterboarding, which simulates drowning and now is banned by the U.S. Even so, there is no consensus that waterboarding, for all its severity, constitutes torture in legal terms.

The U.N. convention, for example, says suffering inflicted as part of “lawful sanctions” may not fit the definition of torture.

Cruz would not rule out restoring waterboarding as president. He said it would not be commonplace, and he would not let low-level officers do it.

___

CRUZ, defending his vow to deport 11 million people living in the U.S. illegally: “I would note that in eight years Bill Clinton deported 12 million people. In eight years George Bush deported 10 million people. Enforcing the law. We can do it.”

THE FACTS: Statistics from Immigration and Customs Enforcement show that roughly 1.6 million were deported under Bush, not 11 million. Under Clinton, about 870,000 immigrants were deported, not 12 million, according to the Migration Policy Institute. So far, about 2.4 million have been deported under the Obama administration.

To get the swollen figures, Cruz appears to be combining deportations with arrests made by the Border Patrol in the previous administrations, according to the institute.

___

RUBIO: “Under Chris Christie’s governorship of New Jersey, they’ve been downgraded nine times in their credit rating. This country already has a debt problem, we don’t need to add to it by electing someone who has experience at running up and destroying the credit rating of his state.”

CHRISTIE: “Incorrect and incomplete information.”

THE FACTS: Incomplete, perhaps, but Rubio is right that the state’s credit rating has been downgraded nine times since Christie took office, a reflection of concern by the major rating agencies about New Jersey’s fiscal health and pension system. It did not go down nine notches, however. Each of the three major agencies downgraded the state’s rating three times.

___

CHRISTIE: “The president and his former secretary of state are for paying ransoms for hostages. When (you) do that, you endanger even more Americans around the world to be the subject of this type of hostage-taking and illegal detention.”

THE FACTS: President Barack Obama said exactly the opposite in June, when the White House reaffirmed its opposition to paying ransom to terrorist groups that hold American citizens hostage.

The president said such payments only serve to endanger more Americans and finance “the very terrorism that we’re trying to stop” — points that Christie actually echoed during the debate.

Though the new White House policy precludes ransom payments by the U.S. government, the Obama administration did leave open the door to communication with hostage-takers — whether by the government, families of victims or third-parties — and said relatives who on their own decide to pay ransom won’t be threatened with prosecution.

___

RUBIO on fighting the Islamic State group: “The Kurds are incredible fighters and they will liberate the Kurdish areas, but Kurds cannot and do not want to liberate and hold Sunni villages and towns.”

THE FACTS: The Kurds are overwhelmingly Sunni. Rubio did not distinguish between Sunni Arabs and Sunni Kurds. The areas predominantly held by IS fighters are in Sunni Arab territory. They did infiltrate Kurdish regions in both Iraq and Syria, but it is problematic to paint this picture with a broad sectarian brush.

___

Associated Press writers Jim Drinkard, Alicia A. Caldwell, Jill Colvin, Eric Tucker and Vivian Salama contributed to this report.

EDITOR’S NOTE _ A look at political claims that take shortcuts with the facts or don’t tell the full story

The post AP FACT CHECK: Fumbles from the Republican field appeared first on WTOP.

05 Feb 15:45

Woman Who Stuffed Electronics Inside Her Skirt Returns To Same RadioShack Store, Does It Again

by Laura Northrup

shop_dressLast spring, a woman wearing a full-skirted dress walked into a RadioShack store in Florida and used the garment to conceal electronics with a retail value of more than $1,100. That was no one-time crime of opportunity, it turns out: people who appear to be the same woman and her male companion were spotted on camera again at the same store, though the items this time were lower value.

This time, only about $400 worth of merchandise is missing, but the woman did change her outfit. Instead of a floral dress, this time she wore a black sleeveless one. The full skirt wouldn’t look out of place at all in any tropical area, but there’s a secret inside the skirt.

The police aren’t really sure how the garment works. “Detectives believe she has some kind of bag or pockets sewn into the inner lining of the skirt,” a police spokesperson explained to the Sun-Sentinel.

In the video footage, you can see her slip boxes inside a hidden pocket or slit in the front of her skirt. The dress was clearly made or modified for this purpose.

browse

The couple were clearly aware that there were cameras, and that no one was monitoring them in real time. The woman looks directly into the camera at one point.

If you happen to know anything about the crime, contact Broward County Crimestoppers online or at 954-389-2010.

Same crime this year? Weston shoplifter changes her skirt, but not her technique, detectives say [Sun Sentinel] (Warning: auto-play video)

PREVIOUSLY:
Police Seek Woman Who Stuffed $1,140 In Electronics Inside Her Skirt

05 Feb 16:58

Hungry Sea Lion Pup Seats Herself In A Booth At Fancy San Diego Restaurant

by Mary Beth Quirk

(SeaWorld, via Reuters)
We’ve heard tales of animals taking a walk on the tame side and frequenting human businesses before, but usually we’re talking about bears, more bears, deer, more deer, and other strictly land animals. Things are a bit different in San Diego, where a hungry sea lion pup eschewed the surf and took a table for herself at a fancy seaside restaurant.

A sea lion pup on the skinny side apparently made her way down a ramp from the beach and went through a door left open by a restaurant cleaning crew, the chef told Reuters.

The staff was amused when the pup climbed into a booth “almost like she wanted to have dinner,” he added.

It’s unclear whether the marine mammal could afford any of the items on the menu at the white table-cloth restaurant, she wasn’t given the chance to put in an order anyway: a rescue team from SeaWorld San Diego arrived to pull the barking pup from the booth and transport it to the theme park for care, a spokesman for the tourist center said.

The pup was malnourished and lethargic, at less than half the normal size for its age, the spokesman said, adding, however, that SeaWorld staff is “guardedly optimistic” they can nurse her back to health and release her into the wild eventually.

Sea lion takes a booth at San Diego restaurant on the beach [Reuters]

05 Feb 17:58

Man Arrested After His Drone Crashes Into The Empire State Building

by Mary Beth Quirk

(Joel Zimmer)
A lesson for you drone owners out there trying to get just the right shot: if you crash your unmanned aerial vehicle into a famous landmark, you should probably just kiss it goodbye. Because if you ask for it back, you may find yourself arrested, like one New Jersey man who police say flew his drone into a little New York City landmark called the Empire State Building.

The 29-year-old was arrested on Thursday after his drone allegedly crashed into the 40th floor of the building, NBC New York reported.

Police said the small aircraft he was piloting eventually came to rest on the 35th floor of the landmark building, and was retrieved by security staff.

When he asked building security workers to give him his drone back, they called the police on him instead, Reuters reported. Police say he’s now facing reckless endangerment and navigation in and over the city charges.

NBC New York identified the man as a Twitter user who Tweeted last night that he’d been filming with a drone and that it had gotten “stuck” on the Empire State Building, as in, stuck “with security.”

05 Feb 18:06

Consumer Reports Shares Mosquito Repellent Ratings For Zika Virus Prevention

by Laura Northrup

(frankieleon)
Even if you’ve only been half paying attention to the news, you’ve heard something about the Zika virus, even if it’s only that a bunch of people have changed their travel plans, governments are advising couples to delay trying to conceive children, and someone had to rename a car. It’s spread mainly by mosquitoes, , and that’s something that our product-testing cousins down the hall at Consumer Reports can help with. They test mosquito repellents, and have released their ratings to non-subscribers.

What they found was that the most effective repellents had high proportions of picardin or Deet, with one brand based on oil of lemon eucalyptus, Repel Lemon Eucalyptus, scoring well in their tests. Recommended brands include Repel, Sawyer, Off! Deepwoods, and Natrapel.

Zika is new to the Americas, there is no vaccine for it, and the disease has been potentially linked to a serious birth defect. The disease is spreading quickly, and the catch is that most people who are infected have no symptoms. Experts also aren’t sure how or at what point in a pregnancy the virus causes microcephaly.

While there’s evidence that the virus is sexually transmitted as well, the main infection route is through mosquitoes. While the disease is currently circulating in central and South America, patterns from other mosquito-borne diseases predict that it will eventually hit tropical parts of the United States. Infected travelers have brought it here, but infected mosquitoes haven’t made the trip yet.

Insect Repellent Ratings [Consumer Reports]

05 Feb 21:55

British Airways’ Female Flight Attendants Can Now Wear Pants

by Ashlee Kieler
(Paul Thompson)

A long-running fight between British Airways and cabin crew staff has come to an end today with the decision that recently hired female flight attendants are no longer forced to wear skirts on the job.

Unite, the union representing British Airway crew members, announced Friday that the airline had lifted its ban stopping women from wearing pants after a years-long dispute.

[Ed. note: Yes, we know that “pants” means underwear in England, and that we should probably be referring to the garment as “trousers,” but that’s a silly word.]

“British Airways’ stance was unbefitting of a modern airline in the modern age and demonstrates that Unite will not allow cases like this to go unchallenged,” the union said in a statement. “Not only is the choice to wear trousers a victory for equality it is also a victory for common sense and testament to the organizing campaign of our members.”

[Ed. note: See what we mean about “trousers”? It’s just a goofy word and it should be retired, like “bumbershoot” and “velocipede.”]

Crew members who joined the company after 2012 have been subject to a dress code that mandated women wear a skirt, unless they applied for a waiver on medical or religious grounds.

Unite says that a recent survey found that 83% of female members wanted the option to wear pants.

A spokesperson for British Airways tells The Guardian that employees who would like a pair of pants as part of their uniform can request them through their manager.

Female British Airways cabin crew win the right to wear trousers [The Guardian]

05 Feb 19:21

Campaign reform group calls White House response to secret money petition 'offensive' - Washington Post


Washington Post

Campaign reform group calls White House response to secret money petition 'offensive'
Washington Post
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