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Why Does Hulu Drive More Cord-Cutting Than Netflix Or Amazon Prime?

When people think of subscription streaming video services, Hulu is usually part of the discussion but is often treated as secondary to Netflix or Amazon Prime. Yet, despite this third-place image of Hulu, it may be the streaming service that is most likely to contribute to people cutting the cord with their cable provider.

Hulu doesn’t have anywhere near the subscriber base of Netflix — which is now a global operation, serving virtually every country in the world — or Amazon, which bundles in its video offerings with its popular Prime subscription plan that includes free shipping and other benefits.

And while Hulu’s original content is beginning to get more attention, it has lagged behind both of the others in terms of the marquee exclusive shows it offers. What’s more, new Hulu shows are generally doled out on a weekly basis like they would be if they were on traditional TV, meaning they can’t be binge-watched (or at least not until a season is over and you can finally watch it all in one sitting). Let’s not forget that Hulu is also the only one of these services to force viewers to watch commercials (though you can pay more for access to an add-free tier).

Yes, despite all these apparent marks against Hulu, it is the streaming service that may be more likely to convince people to ditch Comcast, Charter, or DirecTV.

Speaking this morning to CNBC, M Science analyst Corey Barrett says he was surprised to see that, according to his data, cord-cutting was “most pronounced among Hulu subscribers.”

This disparity appears to be linked to Hulu’s one truly exclusive aspect: New broadcast and cable TV episodes shortly after they’ve aired. Yet, Netflix and Amazon each have some popular TV series in their libraries, but new episodes aren’t usually added until a full season has come and gone.

Take Fox’s Bob’s Burgers, for example. You could (until very recently; damn those expiring licensing deals) watch six seasons’ worth of the show on Netflix, but if you wanted to watch the latest season of the much-loved animated show, you either had to rely on your DVR and hope that Sunday afternoon sporting events didn’t run late and mess up the whole night’s programming, watch the very limited number of episodes made available on-demand or through the Fox website, or get Hulu.

Since Hulu is a partnership of Fox, Disney, and Comcast, users get most of the new content from these three networks at effectively the same time as it airs, and for a lot less than paying for cable.

“Netflix works on a window relative to the kind of timely pay-TV service, whereas Hulu is much more day-and-date, which makes it closer in nature to the type of service that pay-TV is,” explained Barrett, who later added that there was no real indication that the presence of ads on Hulu was affecting the decision to cut the cord.

Hulu recently jumped into the live-TV streaming fray with a test of a new $40/month service available in a limited number of markets. Many of the current players in that market — including Dish’s Sling TV, Sony’s PlayStation Vue, and AT&T’s DirecTV Now — are reportedly having difficulty catching on with consumers in big numbers, despite the growing number of Americans who think pay-TV rates are too high.

As we’ve previously covered, one of the reasons that people aren’t flocking to these platforms is the lack of robust on-demand archives or DVR functionality. By combining a streaming service with its existing library, Hulu may be working toward addressing some of those issues. Users are able to catch up on multiple seasons of currently airing shows, rather than the handful of recent episodes offered elsewhere. Sony and Dish can’t offer anything similar since they don’t run the networks that make up the bulk of their streaming content. AT&T is trying to leverage its pending ownership of HBO parent company Time Warner to win DirecTV Now customers, throwing in discounted or free access to the premium network.


by Chris Morran via Consumerist

Some Taco Bell Customers Say Their Double Chalupa Is A Double Dose Of Nothing

Taco Bell has once again unleashed a fast food menu item that looks pretty appetizing (at least to Bell fans) in the marketing shots, but isn’t as impressive in the real world. But the particular problem with the new Double Chalupa seems to be that some Taco Bells are barely filling the item up with a single Chalupa’s worth of meat.

The Double Chalupa, which was launched yesterday, is supposed to be what the name implies: The Bell’s classic Chalupa stuff, but a lot more of it.

The item is double the size of the traditional Chalupa, clocking in at around 9 ounces, to be exact, Thrillist reports.

Eater went so far as to declare the Double a “meat canoe,” which is either the greatest sounding thing ever, or a horrible way to travel down the river on a hot day.

This photo from Taco Bell’s website is what the Double Chalupa is supposed to look like:

But some customers say they ordered a Double only to get a lot of veggie toppings and little in the way of meat:

Taco Bell replied to many of these customers on Twitter, saying it wanted to remake the order or make it up to the customer.

Consumerist has reached out to Taco Bell about the non-meat-heavy Double Chalupas. We’ll update this post if we hear back.


by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

Target Pulls Hampton Creek Products From Stores Over Food Safety Concerns

Target, a chain that’s popular because “upscale discount store” is apparently not an oxymoron, is a big seller of Hampton Creek’s vegan food products, including its not-mayonnaise Just Mayo. But now Target has reportedly pulled Hampton Creek products from its stores and even disabled cashiers’ ability to scan these items at checkout.

Why? That’s a more complicated question. The retailer has indicated that it involves concerns over safety, but it doesn’t appear to be isolated to just one issue or product line, which is why all of the company’s products are being pulled from stores and Target.com.

“Pending a full review, Target today started a market withdrawal of Hampton Creek products,” a company spokeswoman told Bloomberg Technology.

It has received two separate sets of allegations: One about shoddy practices in a facility that produces Hampton Creek products, and another that some of the company’s products have tested positive for Salmonella and Listeria.

Target also says it has an unconfirmed tip that raises questions about Hampton Creek’s labeling practices. Someone alerted the retailer that products may be described inaccurately as being free of genetically modified ingredients. Other items may contain allergens, like honey, that aren’t on the label.

Again, Target stressed that these are not confirmed allegations, but the chain is acting on them because of their specificity and seriousness.

“The allegations that our products are mislabeled and unsafe are false,” Hampton Creek said in a statement. “We have robust food safety standards, and as such, we remain confident about the safety of all products we sell and distribute. We look forward to working with Target and the FDA to bring this to a quick resolution.”

Hampton Creek mixes containing potentially contaminated coconut milk were recalled last year, but that’s been the company’s only known food safety issue. It has faced accusations of sending representatives to buy its products up from stores and inflate its popularity, and of exaggerating the environmental impact of its products. Three executives were recently fired after they were part of a scheme to oust CEO Josh Tetrick.

Are Hampton Creek’s products still on the shelf at other stores where you are? Keep an eye out during your travels this weekend, and report back to us at tips@consumerist.com.


by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

Ousted American Apparel Founder Dov Charney Tries Again With ‘Los Angeles Apparel’

Say what you will about American Apparel founder Dov Charney, but the man is persistent. After he was ousted as CEO of the company he started, he made a failed takeover bid to get it back. Now he’s returned with a brand that doesn’t do much to distance Charney from his past, replacing “American” apparel with Los Angeles Apparel.

In fact, Charney’s new 100,000-square-foot factory in south L.A. is located in a facility that used to make American Apparel clothing.

And according to California Apparel News, Charney has been churning out the types of clothing associated with American — tees, hoodies, bodysuits — before the bankrupt brand was purchased by Canadian clothing company Gildan.

The factory runs 24 hours per day, with some workers volunteering to work a few hours for free until Charney — who reportedly has a bed in his office as he’s often onsite “at all hours” — can pay them. They can then reinvest some of that pay into equity in the new company if they choose.

Earlier this month, Charney’s privately-held company launched a wholesale website, one that will eventually branch out to consumer sales.

Los Angeles Apparel’s mission has definite echoes of American Apparel’s former corporate ideal: Employing thousands of workers in L.A., sourcing textiles and yarn products made in the U.S. and recycled cotton, and dyeing and finishing fabrics locally.

While talking to a recent tour group at the factory, Charney sounded upbeat about the future of his new/old company, California Apparel News noted.

“There is so much opportunity,” he said. “Don’t listen to crybabies. Get dirty, roll up your sleeves, change things.”

After removing founder and then-CEO Dov Charney from his post in June 2014, American Apparel officially fired him in Dec. 2014. Following an investigation into his “alleged misconduct and violations of company policy,” the company said “it would not be appropriate for Mr. Charney to be reinstated as CEO or an officer or employee.”

Charney then filed a slew of defamations lawsuits against his former company, prompting American Apparel to release some pretty graphic allegations in response.


by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist

Google Will Stop Scanning The Contents Of Your Gmail Messages To Sell Ads

If you use one of Google’s many services then you’ve probably come to the realization that the tech company has a lot of your personal information and data, which it uses to sell ads. Now, after years of debate on whether or not it’s okay for Google to read users’ private emails, the tech giant says it will stop scanning Gmail messages, but only for the purpose of personalizing ads.

In a blog post today Google announced that it would bring its consumer Gmail service more in line with its “G Suite” service for businesses. In doing so, the company says that, starting at some point later this year, Gmail content will no longer be used or scanned for any ad personalization.

“This decision brings Gmail ads in line with how we personalize ads for other Google products,” Google said.

With the change, ads shown in Gmail will be based on users’ settings, and users can change this setting or disable ad personalization at any time.

But just because Google won’t be scanning your emails to target ads, doesn’t mean it will stop scanning them altogether, as the company’s smart reply feature relies on such data.

Google’s tendency to scan users’ emails isn’t new; the company has come under fire for the practice several times.

Back in 2013, consumers filed a class-action lawsuit against the company, claiming it “unlawfully opens up, reads, and acquires the content of people’s private email messages.”

Google argued that it was only scanning the emails to help sell ads, noting that “all users of email must necessarily expect that their emails will be subject to automated processing.” Additionally, the company claimed that it was just targeting works in messages in a fully automated process, meaning no humans actually read the emails.

In 2014, the company changed some of its Gmail scanning policies, saying it would stop indexing students’ messages for the purpose of serving up more relevant ads to them elsewhere on the Internet. The change was part of the company’s Google Apps for Education (GAFE).

Despite this, in Feb. 2016 a group of current and former college students sued the Internet giant for the snooping that did occur for years on the Gmail accounts provided by their university.

More recently, in March, a judge rejected Google’s proposed settlement in a class-action lawsuit with non-Gmail users who sued because their emails to Gmail users were being intercepted and scanned for the purposes of providing targeted advertising to the recipient.

The lawsuit [PDF], filed in 2015 by a San Francisco man, alleged that Google violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act by “intercepting, reading, and analyzing the content of private email messages” without permission.

The judge in the case rejected the settlement, saying it didn’t go far enough in requiring proper disclosures from Google about this invasive practice.


by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

America Has Too Many Malls, Not Enough E-Commerce Warehouses

There are many to blame for the demise of malls, but there’s one important factor that’s easy to fforget: There are just too dang many of them. The U.S. has more retail square footage per person than other industrialized countries, and we keep adding newer and bigger malls without humanely putting enough of the old ones out of their misery. At the same time, online retailers like Amazon are scrambling to find or build warehouse space to keep up with customer demand.

This is a problem for the retail industry, because they need warehouse space to keep up with our shift to online shopping. While there’s literally more retail space available than the industry knows what to do with, the commercial real estate market doesn’t have enough warehouse space to keep the market supplied.

CNBC reports that an industry analyst for investment bank Jefferies wrote to clients this week that “retail sales are not in decline, but rather shifting toward e-commerce retailers who require large amounts of warehouse space.”

Since online retailers don’t have sales floors and fill orders from warehouses, they need about three times as much warehouse space as traditional retailers. As existing bricks-and-mortar retailers expand their online operations, that means they need more warehouse space, too.

About 10% of retail sales happen online right now, and that’s only going to increase. The bank recommended investing in real estate investment trusts that own warehouse space and that are building out new warehouses.


by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

Driver Ignores Safety Measures, Gets His Minivan Stuck In Drawbridge Gap

When you see a brightly colored, reflective traffic arm blocking the path of your car, you probably assume it’s down for a good reason — to keep you and your vehicle safe from whatever is going on beyond it. But one driver apparently saw that precautionary measure as an optional kind of thing, and ended up with his minivan stuck in the gap of a drawbridge.

According to Green Bay Metro Fire Department, the man somehow got his vehicle around the bridge’s gates, reports WBAY.com.

As a result, his van was too far out onto the bridge as it was opening, allowing his vehicle to become wedged into the gap.

“We had a couple firemen that put harnesses on so we could tie ’em off so they wouldn’t have to have anything to worry about falling anywhere,” a lieutenant with the Green Bay Metro Fire Department told the news station.

From there, they cut a hole in the van’s roof and stuck a ladder through it so the driver could climb out himself. Neither the bridge nor the man suffered any serious injuries.

It could have been worse: His car could’ve dropped into the bridge bottom 40-50 feet below. Police say that would have been a very dangerous situation; not only for the driver, but for rescue personnel.

The city’s police department is now investigating how it happened, noting that the man apparently didn’t have a valid driver’s license.

This isn’t the first time this particular bridge has swallowed a vehicle — in 2000, rescue crews performed a similar feat — so police make sure to train officers on how to deal with such situations, and can adapt to different circumstances when the time comes.

“We’re always putting up vehicles in different positions and figuring out different ways of doing things,” the lieutenant explained to WBAY.


by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist

Debt Collector Accused Of Taking Money From People Who Didn’t Owe Anything

As part of its ongoing efforts to crack down on unscrupulous debt collectors, the Federal Trade Commission has accused a North Carolina company of running a “phantom” debt collection scheme that went after people for money that they did not actually owe.

The FTC announced today that it had filed a complaint accusing ACDI Group LLC and Solutions to Portfolios LLC, along with their operator Anthony Swatsworth, of collecting money from people with payday loan debts even after determining those debts were not real.

According to the complaint [PDF], in July 2014, ACDI bought a portfolio of purportedly past-due payday loans worth $992,000 from SQ Capital.

In all, the portfolio contained 2,335 records of purported debts owed issued by payday lender 500FastCash. Information contained in the records included the individual’s name, address, Social Security number, telephone number, email address, loan amount, amount due, and bank account information.

Immediately after purchasing the debts, the FTC claims, ACDI began contacting borrowers to collect on the debts.

However, in many cases, the individuals contacted by the company protested the purported debts, at times even providing evidence that they had never authorized a payday loan from 500FastCash, the complaint states.

ACDI then reported the high number of complaints to UDH, the broker that arranged the purchase of the debt portfolio from SQ Capital.

UDH told ACDI to stop collecting on the debts in Aug. 2014, noting that multiple alleged borrowers were complaining that they had never taken out the loans, the FTC claims. In September, ACDI received a full refund for the portfolio.

According to the FTC, since the debts SQ Capital sold were counterfeit, ACDI had no right to collect on them. Despite this, the complaint alleges that ACDI continued to collect on the fake debts for at least seven months.

In all, the FTC claims that ACDI collected and processed at least $30,000 in payments for alleged debts that were not owed and the company had no authority to collect.

The FTC charged that ACDI with violating the FTC Act and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and seeks to refund individuals affected by the fake debt collection scheme.


by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

Hospital Groups, Public Health Officials: Senate Obamacare Repeal Bill Makes “Unsustainable” Cuts To Coverage

After reviewing the Senate bill to gut and replace much of the Affordable Care Act, groups representing the nation’s hospitals believe that this legislation will leave millions — particularly those with chronic ailments and the disabled — without access to care.

American Hospital Association President Rick Pollack is urging the Senate to “go back to the drawing board” and draft a healthcare bill that “continues to provide coverage to all Americans who currently have it.”

Of particular concern to the AHA, which represents around 5,000 hospitals nationwide, is the bill’s long-term cuts to Medicaid. The Senate bill, officially known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act, allows the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid to continue through 2021, but then makes drastic budget reductions to the entire program.

“The Senate proposal would likely trigger deep cuts to the Medicaid program that covers millions of Americans with chronic conditions such as cancer, along with the elderly and individuals with disabilities who need long-term services and support,” explains Pollack in a statement. “Medicaid cuts of this magnitude are unsustainable and will increase costs to individuals with private insurance.”

Similarly, the Federation of American Hospitals, which represents around 1,000 investor-owned healthcare providers, called for the Senate to “hit reset” on this legislation, arguing that the current version of the Senate bill would require “critical revisions” to “ensure Medicaid remains a viable program because it is essential to our most vulnerable neighbors.”

Dr. Georges Benjamin, Executive Director of American Public Health Association — an organization that represents public health officials nationwide — says the Senate bill as it currently stands “would devastate the Medicaid program, our nation’s health care safety net on which 69 million low-income Americans and people with disabilities — including 37 million children — rely.”

In addition to the proposed Medicaid cuts, the Senate follows the Trump administration’s budget guidance to eliminate the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which accounts for a significant portion of the budget for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Fund provides hundreds of millions of dollars each year in federal financial support to a variety of otherwise underfunded state and local public health concerns, like Alzheimer’s research, diabetes prevention, heart disease prevention, anti-smoking initiatives, immunization, along with scientific support for state and local officials to detect and respond to outbreaks.

“The process by which the Senate has arrived at this bill amounts to legislative malpractice,” says Benjamin. “The Senate is supposed to be our great deliberative body. Instead, Senate leaders created a plan in secret with no hearings, no debate and no public input. It makes no sense to cut investments in America’s health in order to cut taxes for Americans with wealth.”

The predicted impact on Medicaid funding and enrollment, along with other affects on private insurance accessibility and premiums, won’t be known until the Congressional Budget Office releases its report on the Senate bill early next week. However, Republican leadership has let it be known that it intends to have a floor vote on the resolution before the Senate breaks for its 10-day July 4 recess.


by Chris Morran via Consumerist

Is Tesla Working On Its Own Streaming Music Service?

Tesla already makes cars, solar panels and roofs, and CEO Elon Musk also dabbles in space travel, so maybe it’s not that big of a stretch that he’s also looking to create a new streaming music service.

According to music industry sources in the know who spoke with Recode, Musk has been chatting up major labels about licensing content for a streaming service that would be part of the package when people buy Tesla vehicles.

There aren’t many details about exactly what Tesla has in mind for the platform, but insiders think it would have different tiers, starting with a free radio offering similar to Pandora.

And while sure, car owners could connect to services like Spotify or Apple Music themselves, Tesla believes the more options drivers have, the merrier.

“We believe it’s important to have an exceptional in-car experience so our customers can listen to the music they want from whatever source they choose,” a Tesla spokesperson told Recode. “Our goal is to simply achieve maximum happiness for our customers.”

If Tesla does go ahead with its plans to integrate its own streaming music service, record labels are ready to license their music to multiple services, industry insiders noted, especially if it prevents any one platform from cornering the market entirely.

And as we know, when there are more choices, consumers win.

Whether or not the music service would include personalized playlists from Elon Musk with songs like “Electric Avenue” or “The Electric Slide” remains to be seen.


by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist

This Guy Has Gone To Disneyland For 2,000 Days In A Row With No Plan To Stop

Plenty of people don’t get to go to Disneyland even once in their life. Then there’s a guy in California who’s been to the park 2,000 times — in a row.

Disneyland announced Thursday that a Huntington Beach man had crossed through the park’s entrance for the 2,000th day in a row.

“It’s magical, I never expected that it would turn into this much when I started coming back in 2012,” the man tells ABC7.

His visits started on Jan. 1, 2012, after a friend gave him a season pass to help brighten his spirits as he was looking for a job.

For the next five years, he says he looked forward to his daily trips to the park, even coming on days he has to work.

Visits often included enjoying the music, interacting with park cast members, and watching other guests have good time. His favorite show or attraction to see was the Matterhorn Bobsleds adventure.

But just because he’s now visited the park 2,000 days in a row, doesn’t mean the Air Force veteran plans to stop. It’s just the opposite, in fact, as he says he plans to make daily visits for as long as he’s able. His annual pass expires in January.


by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

Surprise Delivery From Neiman Marcus: $40K Worth Of Purses You Didn’t Order

Imagine you get a delivery to your house that you weren’t expecting. Not only is it something you didn’t order, but it’s a very expensive something — almost $40,000 worth of Chanel purses from Neiman Marcus. What would you do?

If you’re the guy this actually happened to, you would return this wealth of overpriced accessories to the local Neiman Marcus, much to the confusion of employees.

Writing on Instagram, an honest person named Matt Hwang explains his story:

Last friday, Neiman Marcus accidentally shipped me $39,168 worth of merchandise. I returned it yesterday morning with their employees looking at me as if I was crazy. Moral of the story – never do the right thing.

Instagram Photo

Maria Malkias of the Dallas Morning News, Neiman Marcus’s hometown newspaper, notes that the company has had serious issues while switching to a new inventory system, which have led to lost sales of as much as $65 million across the company’s various brands. Maybe this random shipment is a fluke occurrence, maybe not: It definitely would help explain those losses.

Consumerist readers have had similar experiences in the past, though usually the excess items are duplicates of items that they already ordered. A reader was supposed to receive one iPad as a gift, and instead received a case of five when someone likely slapped the shipping label on the wrong box at a Best Buy warehouse.

We would argue that one should always at least try to do the right thing, though contacting corporate is a better way to deal with high-priced weirdness like this than just showing up at a retail store. You are, of course, legally entitled to keep anything shipped to you without having to pay for it.

Consumerist contacted Neiman Marcus to see if they had anything to say about the transaction, and also asked what customers should do if they find a similar shipment on their doorsteps. We’ll update this post when we hear back.


by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

Amazon Patents Ridiculous, Terrifying Towers To House Delivery Drones

Because the notion of automated flying robots delivering dog food to your doorstep is something straight out of the Jetsons, it sort of makes sense that Amazon has a very retro vision for the towers that could house its Prime Air delivery drones.

The company filed a patent for a “multi-level fulfillment center” that’s designed “to accommodate landing and takeoff of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), possibly in an urban setting, such as in a densely populated area.”

The patent drawings show a number of varieties that we’ve just gone ahead and given more accurately descriptive names to, like the one we’re calling either the Beehive or the Conehead:

Or the one that looks like an exurban apartment tower that was built for bachelors in 1967 but now houses all those lonely aunts and uncles whose families never visits them:

Then there’s this one that looks like a roll of toilet paper, or perhaps an Apple HomePod:

Here’s basically the same design, but covered in polka dots, like everything you bought at Target in 2004:

Finally, there’s this truly Jetsonian design that we’re just calling the Smiling Mushroom:

The company notes that unlike traditional fulfillment centers, these towers could have several levels — depending on local zoning regulations — and one or more landing/deployment areas where drones could pick up or drop off packages.

They’d also be servicing sites that would allow drones to charge or get a replacement battery, get inspected or serviced, or other operations that might be required between flights. These centers could possibly support old-fashioned deliveries by common carriers using ground vehicles, and include a self-service space where customers could pick up items stored in lockers or other temporary storage.

Amazon claims in its patent that the ML fulfillment center could be used to complete hundreds or thousands of orders each day using UAVs for at least some of those orders.

As such, it’ll be a busy place with lots of drones buzzing around, so there could be a central command “to control at least some operations of the UAVs, which may be analogous to a flight controller at an airport.”

We’re still a long way from the reality of drones winging their way homeward across a city skyline, of course, as the Federal Aviation Administration’s rules for remotely operated UAVs .


by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist

NASA: Goop’s ‘Healing Stickers’ Are An Expensive “Load Of BS”

Gwyneth Paltrow’s “modern lifestyle brand” Goop offers customers a range of tips, tricks, and products to make their lives better and healthier — some which are polarizing or just plain weird. For instance, the Goop website sold “healing” stickers that it claimed were made from material designed for NASA space suits. But the folks at NASA say that’s all a bunch of overpriced hooey.

Gizmodo reports that Goop removed claims that the Body Vibes stickers sold on the site were related to NASA after the agency said its space suits don’t, in fact, use the same material the company claimed were in the wearable stickers.

On Thursday, Goop created a post promoting the wearable body stickers — which sell for between $60 and $120 a pack — that claim to “rebalance the energy frequency in our bodies.”

“Body Vibes stickers come pre-programmed to an ideal frequency, allowing them to target imbalances,” the site states. “While you’re wearing them—close to your heart, on your left shoulder or arm—they’ll fill in the deficiencies in your reserves, creating a calming effect, smoothing out both physical tension and anxiety.”

The post, which has now been altered, originally claimed that the stickers were “made with the same conductive carbon material NASA uses to line space suits so they can monitor an astronaut’s vitals during wear.”

This, NASA tells Gizmodo, is not true, as they “do not have any conductive carbon material lining the spacesuits.” Instead, the spacesuits are actually made of synthetic polymers, spandex, and other materials, a rep for the agency said.

Former chief scientist at NASA Mark Shelhamer was a bit more blunt in his reaction to Goop and Body Vibes’ claims telling Gizmodo, “Wow. What a load of BS that is.”

Shelhamer likened the product to snake oil — an actual thing that was eventually transformed into a sham medicine claiming to relieve inflammation on sore and tired muscles — adding that the logic behind the stickers doesn’t seem to add up.

“If they promote healing, why do they leave marks on the skin when they are removed?” he asked, referencing Goop’s warning that some employees who wore the stickers for the prescribe three days were left with visible marks.

Gizmodo reached out to Goop and Body Vibes for information on their research that concluded the stickers contained material used by NASA and peer-reviewed research that found the stickers actually work.

In response, Goop provided a statement to Gizmodo, noting that “advice and recommendations included on the site are not formal endorsements and the opinions expressed by the experts and companies profiled do not necessarily represent the views” of the site.

“Our content is meant to highlight unique products and offerings, find open-minded alternatives, and encourage conversation. We constantly strive to improve our site for our readers, and are continuing to improve our processes for evaluating the products and companies featured,” the company said.

As for the statements about the conductive carbon material used in the stickers, Goop says based on NASA’s comments it has sent Body Vibes an inquiry on the matter and removed the claim from Goop, “until we get additional verification.”

Body Vibes did not return comment to Gizmodo.


by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

U.S. Halts Import Of Brazilian Beef Following Tainted Meat Scandal

U.S. food safety regulators have put a stop to fresh beef imports from Brazil, following earlier reports that meatpackers in the country — one of the world’s largest beef exporters — had allowed rotten, salmonella-tainted meat to be shipped abroad.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Thursday that it had suspended, until further notice, all imports of fresh beef from Brazil following “recurring concerns about the safety of the products intended for the American market.”

Since March, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) had been inspecting 100% of all meat products arriving in the U.S. from Brazil. FSIS has since blocked about 11% (or 1.9 million pounds) of the beef from entering the country, because of public health concerns, sanitary conditions, and animal health issues.

According to the USDA, the refusal rate is substantially higher than the rejection rate of 1% of shipments from the rest of the world.

The new ban on Brazilian meat imports will continue “until the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture takes corrective action which the USDA finds satisfactory,” the USDA said.

“Ensuring the safety of our nation’s food supply is one of our critical missions, and it’s one we undertake with great seriousness,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.

Concerns about the safety of meat improved from Brazil came to the forefront in March when authorities accused inspectors at a Brazilian exporter of allowing spoiled or tainted meats to be sold.

Investigators claimed that health inspectors at the plants were bribed in an attempt to continue the sale of expired meat. Police also alleged the questionable meat was altered with chemicals such as water and manioc flour to mask the appearance and smell.

In the wake of these allegations, several countries announced temporary bans on imports of Brazilian meat, but not the U.S., despite calls from lawmakers, health advocates, and others to do so.

Part of the reason for the delay was the U.S.’s complicated history with Brazilian meat producers. The USDA only began allowing the import of Brazilian beef in Aug. 2016 after a 13-year ban.

The agency said at the time that it had worked since 2003 to ensure that Brazil’s regulations aligned with the World Organization for Animal Health’s scientific international animal health guidelines.

In a separate decision in August, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service determined that Brazil’s food safety system governing meat products remains equivalent to that of the United States and that fresh — chilled or frozen — beef could be safely imported from Brazil.

Still, the U.S. did say it would step up its inspection of Brazilian beef, but that did little to address the meat that had already been shipped to retailers’ shelves.

Of course, retailers could have tried to pull the products, but that would likely have been a complicated process as the U.S. no longer requires mandatory Country of Origin Labeling for beef and pork muscle cuts, ground beef, and ground pork.

The USDA removed the mandatory COOL requirement in late 2015 as an amendment [PDF] to the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2016 in order to bring the U.S. into compliance with intentional trade obligations.

Prior to the amendment, retailers were required to notify their customers of the country of origin of the products.

Now, retailers are no longer required by the rule to provide country of origin information for the beef and pork that they sell, and firms that supply beef and pork to these retailers no longer must provide them with this information. Additionally, firms in the supply chain for beef and pork are also relieved from the requirements associated with mandatory COOL.


by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

Google Wiping Private Medical Records From Search Results

If the thought of a stranger accessing your medical history online gives you the creeps, you’re not alone: In an effort to tamp down on the spread of such private information, Google has started wiping private medical records from its search results.

As of Thursday, Google had updated the list of information it scrubs from search results to include: “confidential, personal medical records of private people.”

A company spokesperson confirmed to Bloomberg that the changes don’t affect search advertising but didn’t comment further.

Among other things, Google also takes down webpages with identifying financial information, content that violates copyright laws, and revenge porn.

Why might your personal medical records be online in the first place? Just like other kinds of private information, hacks, data breaches, and security glitches can happen in the health industry just like they do in any other consumer-facing area.

As our colleagues at Consumer Reports have noted, hospital data breaches are a fairly regular occurrence these days and can result in your Social Security number, health insurance ID, and other personal information being exposed and misused.

Health insurers, doctors’ offices, and other types of medical facilities have all been targeted as well. Personal patient information was compromised more than once per day, on average, across the healthcare industry last year, according to healthcare data security firm Protenus.


by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist

Consumerist Friday Flickr Finds

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

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


by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

Burger King, Tim Hortons Vow To Cut Back On Antibiotics In Chicken

Amid growing concerns about the overuse of antibiotics in farm animals, Burger King has joined the list of fast food chains that will scale back on the use of drugs that are medically important to human beings.

For livestock farmers, these antibiotics can help produce chickens that yield more meat. Unfortunately, the continuous low-dose use of antibiotics also contributes to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, rendering these very drugs less-effective (or useless) for treatment of actual disease.

In its latest sustainability report [PDF], Restaurant Brands International, parent company to both BK and Tim Hortons, vowed to cut the use of antibiotics in the chicken supply for both restaurant chains by the end of 2018.

The company, which purchased Popeyes earlier this year, said that it plans to roll out the new policy at all of its brands, but did not provide a timeframe for the change.

“We recognize that antibiotics play an important and delicate role in animal wellbeing and human health,” the company said, noting that it would work with its supply chain partners to support and implementing changes.

The company said that it began work toward eliminating the use of antibiotics by creating a partnership with the University of Guelph in 2012 to establish the Tim Hortons Sustainable Food Management fund.

In a recent report card on restaurants’ antibiotics policies, Burger King was one of 16 chains that scored a failing grade. Tim Hortons and Popeyes were not on the list.

Earlier this year, our colleagues at Consumers Union gathered more than 125,000 signatures on a petition calling on Burger King and others to finally adopt policies reducing their use of antibiotics. Today, CU is applauding KFC’s decision, calling it “chicken done right.”

A growing number of restaurants have realized that this risk is too big a price to pay for heavier chickens. McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Chick fil-A, KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut have all already made some commitment to sourcing chickens that are raised with fewer, or no, antibiotics.

In fact, the Natural Resources Defense Council said that with today’s announcement 11 of the top 15 chains in the U.S. have now committed to some level of responsible antibiotics use for their chicken supplies.

The NDRC applauded Restaurant Brand’s announcement.

“We have officially passed the tipping point on antibiotics use in chicken served by the U.S. fast food industry,” Lena Brook, Food Policy Advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “With this commitment, Burger King and Tim Hortons are helping to keep our lifesaving drugs working when sick people need them.”

The organization noted that the next target will be to curb antibiotics use in beef and pork.

Antibiotics used on farm animals account for the overwhelming majority of all antibiotics sold in the U.S., and sales have continued to increase even after drug companies volunteered to stop marketing these drugs for growth-promotion purposes.

Reducing antibiotic overuse in chickens is important, but only represents one facet of the issue. Fast food chains are already feeling the pressure to curb antibiotics in the beef and pork they buy, but that change — if it happens — will take more time. A chicken now reaches market weight in less than two months, while beef cattle may need up to two years.


by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

Report: Sears Closing 20 More Stores, Opening One

Sears Holdings Corporation, parent company of Sears and Kmart, has recently been on a store-closing spree, seeking to lower its expenses to escape a looming retail death spiral. Today, the company announced the opening of a new appliances and mattresses concept store, while also informing employees that the company plans to close another
20 Sears department stores.

Business Insider received the list from Sears insiders. The stores included are scattered across the country, but notably include three stores each in New York and Ohio.

So far this year, Sears Holdings has announced the closings of 150 stores announced in January, and 65 stores announced two weeks ago.

The store closings closings follow the layoffs of 130 corporate employees in February and 400 last week.

Address Town State
4575 La Jolla Village Drive San Diego CA
8201 S Tamiami Trail Sarasota FL
1601 N Harlem Ave Chicago IL
9701 Metcalf Ave Overland Park KS
5715 Johnston Street Lafayette LA
126 Shawan Road Cockeysville MD
17318 Valley Mall Road Hagerstown MD
32123 Gratiot Avenue Roseville MI
14250 Buck Hill Road Burnsville MN
1640 Route 22 Watchung NJ
1425 Central Avenue Albany NY
4000 Jericho Turnpike East Northport NY
601-635 Harry L. Drive Johnson City NY
7875 Johnnycake Ridge Road Mentor OH
6950 W 130th Street Middleburg Heights OH
3408 W Central Avenue Toledo OH
650 Bald Hill Road Warwick RI
300 Baybrook Mall Friendswood TX
9570 Southwest Freeway Houston TX
5200 South 76th Street Greendale WI

The retailer also is trying a new concept store. Similar to the appliances-only test store in Colorado, the Appliances & Mattresses store in Pharr, TX, is a 20,000 square foot showroom for those two product lines. The store will carry 10 brands of appliances, including the retailer’s own Kenmore brand, and major brands of mattresses with space to try them out.

The store will also serve as a pickup point for online purchases from Sears and from Kmart, perhaps looking ahead to a future when people want to test mattresses in person, but don’t need a full-line Sears store nearby.


by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

From Damning To Noncommittal To All-In: The Rainbow Of Reactions To Senate Obamacare Repeal Plan

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has finally pulled back the curtain on his much-awaited and mystery-shrouded plan to repeal and replace much of the Affordable Care Act, and now that people — including some who were supposedly involved in its crafting — are seeing the proposal, the bill is being met with a wide range of reactions and lots of questions about whether the GOP will have the votes to pass it.

Those Opposed

• Democratic Leadership
It’s not surprising that Democratic party leaders quickly came out against the awkwardly titled Better Care Reconciliation Act, as no Democrats (and many Republicans) were involved in the 13-member working group that put together the draft proposal.

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York said this morning that “This is a bill designed to strip away healthcare benefits from Americans who need it most in order to give a tax breaks to the folks who need it least.”

Schumer criticized the bill, which delays the end of Medicare expansion but would ultimately result in massive cuts to the program’s budget in the long-term.

“Medicaid is not just an insurance program for Americans struggling in poverty,” said the senator. “Medicaid is increasingly a middle-class program. Medicaid is how many Americans are able to access opioid abuse treatment. Medicaid foots the bill for two-thirds of all Americans living in nursing homes, and Medicaid provides the cushion — particularly in rural areas — so hospitals can survive and give top-notch healthcare to all of us.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the draft “just as heartless and cruel” as the version that barely passed through the her chamber earlier this spring.

“The Senate draft proves Trumpcare fundamentally means higher health costs, tens of millions of hard-working Americans losing health coverage, gutting key protections, a crushing age tax, and stealing from Medicare,” says Pelosi. “In fact, Senate Republicans made the devastation to working families and seniors with long-term care needs on Medicaid even more severe – destroying jobs across America.”

• Hardline Conservatives
Even though Sen. Ted Cruz and other hardline conservatives were part of the small closed-door working group, they were not pleased with what McConnell released today.

“It does not appear this draft as written will accomplish the most important promise that we made to Americans: to repeal Obamacare and lower their health care costs,” said Cruz, along with Senators Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and Ron Johnson, all of whom have said they are currently “not ready” to sign this bill as it doesn’t go far enough in repealing the changes put in place by the Affordable Care Act.

The GOP can only afford to have two members vote against the bill. However, any changes made to the proposal to please this group of four could cause moderate Republicans to go from being on the bubble to voting “no.” (More on them in a minute.)

• Consumer Advocates
Consumer advocacy groups are coming out in opposition to Senate bill, concerned that it will result in millions of additional Americans going without healthcare.

Betsy Imholz, Special Projects Director for our colleagues at Consumers Union, says this latest repeal legislation is “equally misguided and harsh as the House bill.”

“The consequences of the Senate’s legislation are just as dangerous,” explains Imholz, “Millions of Americans could lose coverage, consumers would likely pay more out-of-pocket for care and higher premiums for plans that cover less, and Medicaid would be cut off at the knees.”

McConnell has promised that this bill will prohibit insurers from denying coverage or raising premiums on people with preexisting conditions, but Imholz notes that it gives states the ability to waive Essential Health Benefits requirements, and “could leave all privately insured Americans at the mercy of annual and lifetime caps — putting meaningful coverage out of reach for many Americans, especially those with chronic and preexisting conditions.”

Non-Committal

•Moderate Republicans

While the group of four hardline conservative senators have effectively said they won’t vote for this bill as it is, a number of more moderate GOP lawmakers are being cautious about what they say right now.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who has previously taken issues with legislative efforts to defund Planned Parenthood and block subsidies to insurers that cover abortion procedures — and who has been critical of McConnell’s secretive tactics in drafting the proposal — released a statement on Twitter explaining that now that the proposal is finally available to her she will do her “due diligence and thoroughly review it.”

I will be working closely with the state over the next several days to analyze the text and crunch the numbers,” wrote Murkowski without giving any indication of where she’s leaning.

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine has not issued a written statement of her own regarding the proposal but told reporters earlier today that she is “very concerned” about the effect of the proposed cuts to Medicaid and how they would ultimately affect rural Americans. Her office later released a statement on the senator’s behalf, saying that Collins is “particularly interested in examining the forthcoming CBO analysis on the impact on insurance coverage, the effect on insurance premiums, and the changes in the Medicaid program.”

In a statement released this afternoon, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio said that while there “some promising changes to reduce premiums in the individual insurance market” in the Senate proposal, “I continue to have real concerns about the Medicaid policies in this bill, especially those that impact drug treatment at a time when Ohio is facing an opioid epidemic… If the final legislation is good for Ohio, I will support it. If not, I will oppose it.”

• President Trump
Even though many have dubbed the repeal-and-replace effort “TrumpCare,” the President is not showing the enthusiasm he previously demonstrated for the healthcare reform legislation.

That’s not to say that he’s said anything negative about it, but the message coming from the White House is far from fireworks and champagne.

“The president is pleased to see the process moving forward swiftly in Congress, and he looks forward to seeing a finalized bill on his desk,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders this afternoon. “I don’t think we’re as focused on the timeline as we are on the final product.”

“He wants to bring the stakeholders to the table, have those conversations and we’ll get back to you,” added Sanders.

Speaking for himself later in the day, the President would only that “Obamacare is dead, and we’re putting a plan out today that is going to be negotiated.”

Vice-President Mike Pence was slightly more upbeat about the Senate bill, saying this afternoon that “The President and I are determined before this summer is out to keep our promise to the American people to repeal and replace Obamacare and give the American people the kind of world-class health care that they deserve.”

All In

• HHS Secretary Tom Price

While Price’s boss isn’t yet pulling out the t-shirt cannon to celebrate today’s proposal, Tom Price, Health and Human Services Secretary and the architect of previous efforts to repeal the ACA, was laudatory about the bill.

“The Senate’s proposal is built on patient-centered reforms that put the American people in charge of their healthcare decisions, not government, protecting patients, bringing down the cost of coverage, and expanding choices,” said Price in a statement. “The Trump Administration is committed to the health of all Americans.”

• Sen. Orrin Hatch
The Utah Republican and Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who has been lambasted by critics for defending McConnell’s lack of transparency on this bill, appears to be happy with what the working group came up with.

“Today, after years of discussions and hearings, Senate Republicans are putting forth solutions to rescue the American people from this devastating law,” said Hatch in a statement released by the Finance Committee. “The discussion draft released today is an important step in our effort to replace Obamacare with patient-centered reforms that address costs, provide more choices, and ultimately put Americans – not Washington – back in charge of their health care.”

Speaking to reporters earlier in the day, Hatch acknowledged that many of his colleagues had concerns or questions about the bill but chalked most of them up to “misunderstandings.”


by Chris Morran via Consumerist

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