TIME Companies

Bank of America Inks $772 Million Settlement For Credit Card Practices

A man walks past a Bank of America ATM in Charlotte, N.C., May 8, 2013.
A man walks past a Bank of America ATM in Charlotte, N.C., May 8, 2013. Davis Turner—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Bank of America is paying $772 million in refunds and fines to settle accusations that it illegally deceived 2.9 million customers into purchasing additional credit card services between 2000 and 2012

Bank of America is paying $772 million in refunds and fines to settle accusations by the government that it illegally deceived 2.9 million customers into purchasing additional credit card services, regulators said Wednesday.

The deal, announced by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, is the largest refund ever ordered by the three-year-old CFPB, as well as the largest settlement over credit-card add-ons won by the federal government, the Associated Press reports.

“Bank of America both deceived consumers and unfairly billed consumers for services not performed,” CFPB director Richard Cordray said. “We will not tolerate such practices and will continue to be vigilant in our pursuit of companies who wrong consumers in this market.”

Bank of America has not admitted to or denied the accusations, but a statement from the bank said it had already ceased offering the products in question and refunded “the majority” of affected customers.

The feds claim that from 2000 to 2011, the Charlotte, N.C.-based bank billed 1.5 million customers a total of $459 million for various identity-protection products without the proper authorization. From 2010 to 2012, the bureau says Bank of America also exaggerated or misstated the benefits of two credit-protection programs that allowed some customers to cancel credit-card debt in instances of unemployment or other hardships, allegedly misleading another 1.4 million customers into paying $268 million.

In addition to those refunds, Bank of America will pay $20 million and $25 million in civil penalties to the CFPB and the office of the Comptroller of the Currency, respectively.

TIME Environment

Banning GMO Labeling Is a Bad Idea—For GMOs

GMO labeling laws in California
A new bill in Congress would nullify state efforts to mandate labeling of GMO foods Robyn Beck—AFP/Getty Images

A bill introduced in Congress would nullify any state effort to require labeling of genetically modified organisms. But that will make GMO acceptance even less likely, as public support for GMO labels is on the rise

Americans in two states have voted on ballot initiatives that would have required the labeling of any foods made with genetically modified ingredients (GMOs, for short). And twice, voters rejected those initiative in close ballots—thanks in part to tens of millions of dollars spent by GMO crop developers like Monsanto and industry groups like the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA). You’d think then that GMO supporters in the food industry would be feeling pretty confident that they could win on genetically-modified food legislation.

Apparently you’d be wrong. Republican Representative Mike Pompeo of Kansas introduced on Wednesday new legislation that would nullify any attempt by states to require GMO labeling. More than two dozen states so far are considering bills that would mandate some form of labeling, with Maine and Connecticut having so far passed labeling measures into law. According to Pompeo, that’s enough to mandate a federal response:

We’ve got a number of states that are attempting to put together a patchwork quilt of food labeling requirements with respect to genetic modification of foods. That makes it enormously difficult to operate a food system. Some of the campaigns in some of these states aren’t really to inform consumers but rather aimed at scaring them. What this bill attempts to do is set a standard.

The bill—the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act”—would prohibit any mandatory labeling of foods made with bioengineering. The bill would also make it virtually impossible for states to block any efforts by food companies to put a “natural” label on any product that does contain GMO ingredients, requiring the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to create regulations that specify the maximum level of accidental GMO presence allowed in foods that come with a non-GMO label.

Translation: it’s almost as if the bill’s drafters were trying to hit on every fear that GMO-phobes have. It’s not surprising that the Environmental Working Group (EWG)—an environmental non-profit that has been deeply skeptical of GMOs—has called the bill the “Deny Americans the Right to Know Act.” As Marni Karlin, the director of legislative and legal affairs at the Organic Trade Association, said in a statement:

Consumers, particularly the eight out of ten American families who buy organic products, want to know what is in their food. Rep. Pompeo’s bill ignores this consumer demand for information. Instead, it ties the hands of state governments, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Food and Drug Administration concerning GMO labeling. It is fatally flawed.

It’s worth noting that even though ballot initiatives to require GMO labeling have twice failed, polls indicate strong support for labeling nationally. A New York Times survey last July found that 93% of Americans believe that foods containing GMO ingredients should be labeled. But we’re still a long way from that happening. While both Connecticut and Maine have passed laws mandating labeling, the measures don’t actually kick in until other nearby states approve similar laws. It seems a little early to pass a federal law to nullify state laws that aren’t actually in power yet.

In reality, though, arguments about GMO labeling tend to be arguments about GMOs—their usefulness and their safety. Confusion is rampant over GMOs, and if you want smart, straight reporting on the subject, check out Nathanael Johnson’s great series at Grist, which is summarized here. Like Johnson, I think the hazards posed by GMOs are “negligible to non-existent.” While they have yet to really fulfill their promise, GMOs can be a useful tool as the world tries to figure out how to feed billions more people without significantly increasing farmland, something that would be far worse for the environment than any genetically modified crop.

But the fact that I think properly regulated GMOs can be an important part of global farming is also why I think this bill is a mistake. Would a patchwork of laws mandating GMO labeling in some states and not others be an enormous and costly headache? Yes. But the same surveys that show support for GMO labeling also show deep distrust of bioengineering in food. And a lot of that distrust stems from the sense that GMOs are somehow being foisted on consumers without their knowledge or their consent. As Johnson notes, that increases the sense of risk around GMOs:

In a famous paper on risk perception, published in Science in 1987, Paul Slovic pointed out that people judge voluntary, controllable actions as much less risky than those that are involuntary and out of their control. Similarly, people see the unknown as much more risky than the known. Genetically engineered foods are, for most people, both unknown and uncontrollable.

By passing a law that would preemptively ban any attempt to require labeling, GMO defenders are playing into the hands of their opponents, making bioengineering feel far more risky than it really is. GMO advocates are losing this battle—see a company as mainstream as General Mills announce that a flagship product like Cheerios would now be made without genetically modified ingredients. If the food industry was smart, it would take a leading role in establishing a national standard for GMO labels. But given the bloody way this endless debate has played out, I wouldn’t expect a truce any time soon.

 

TIME Congress

Watch Sen. Lindsey Graham Use Comcast Hearing To Discuss Cable Options

At a Senate Judiciary hearing this Wednesday on the Comcast and Time Warner Cable merger Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham seemed most interested in how combining the two largest U.S. cable companies would affect one particular resident of South Carolina. That is, himself.

“Somebody can sell me a product at this hearing, because I really don’t know,” said the South Carolina senator, before asking if any representatives from DirecTV were present at the hearing. “I’m thinking about changing because I’ve had the satellite signal knocked out twice, I’ve had to move the satellite twice. But before that, the cable went out right in the fourth quarter of a ball game.”

Graham said he had problems with his DirecTV when the weather is bad.

“In two seconds, tell me why I should switch back to cable,” Graham said to conclude his line of questioning.

 

TIME Military

Obama Pledges Help For Troubled Soldiers At Fort Hood Memorial

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama pay their respects during a memorial service at Fort Hood April 9, 2014 in Texas.
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama pay their respects during a memorial service at Fort Hood April 9, 2014 in Texas. Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images

The President joined military leadership, soldiers' families and Texas lawmakers in mourning the loss of the three soldiers killed at Fort Hood on April 2. He added he would "step up efforts to reach troops and veterans that are hurting"

President Obama pledged to improve mental health services for troubled soldiers and veterans Wednesday, while paying respects at a memorial service to three soldiers who were killed at the Fort Hood Army base on April 2.

“In our open society we can never eliminate every risk, but as a nation we can do more to help counsel those with mental health issues to keep firearms out of the hands of those facing deep difficulties,” Obama said. ” As Commander-in -Chief I’m determined that we will continue to step up efforts to reach troops and veterans that are hurting.”

The memorial honored the lives of three soldiers—Staff Sgt. Carlos Lazaney-Rodriguez, Sgt. Timothy Owens, and Sgt. First Class Daniel M. Ferguson—who were killed when Army Spc. Ivan Lopez, an Iraq War veteran, allegedly opened fire on the Army base, wounding at least 16 people and killing three before turning the gun on himself.

The incident was the second mass shooting on the base since 13 people were killed by former army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan on Nov. 5, 2009. Lopez, 34, had reportedly gotten into an altercation over leave before opening fire. Military officials said Lopez had been undergoing treatment for anxiety, depression and was being analyzed for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Throughout Tuesday’s service, leaders on the base eulogized the three fallen as their families, their fellow servicemen, military leaders, and Texas lawmakers looked on. Together, the three servicemen had served in the Army for 50 years. Between them, Obama said, they had been deployed nine times. Sgt. Carlos A. Lazaney-Rodriguez, 38, had joined the military soon after he turned 18 was planning to retire.

Obama quoted several family members and friends during his speech, including a social media post Sgt. Timothy Owen’s daughter Lori published shortly after her father was killed. “Love your family because you never know when they’re going to be taken from you. I love you daddy,” she reportedly wrote.

“Like the 576 Ft Hood soldiers who have given their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan they were taken far too soon,” Obama said. “Like the 13 Americans we lost five years ago, their passing shakes our soul.”

Both U.S. Senators from Texas, Republicans John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, also attended the service. On Tuesday, Sen. Cornyn delivered remarks on the floor of the Senate paying tribute to the victims. He took time to note not only the horror of the event, but also the “best of humanity demonstrated during this time of tragedy and crisis.”

“Last Wednesday, Sgt. Ferguson used his own body to prevent the shooter from entering a crowded room,” Cornyn said. “He gave his life so that his fellow soldiers could keep theirs. He showed the kind of heroism that few of us could even imagine, the kind of heroism that defines our men and women in uniform.”

During the service Tuesday, President Obama reiterated that sentiment.

“It was love for country that inspired these three Americans to put on the uniform and join the greatest army the world has ever known, “ Obama said. “And it was love for their comrades, for all of you, that defined their last moments.”

TIME Transportation

Man Paralyzed in Metro-North Crash Sues For $100 Million

Metro-North Train Derails In Bronx, Multiple Injuries, Deaths Reported
The wreckage of a Metro-North commuter train lies on its side after it derailed just north of the Spuyten Duyvil station December 1, 2013 in the Bronx, New York City. Christopher Gregory—Getty Images

Samuel Rivera says he needs the nine figure sum to look after his family, after losing use of his legs in last December's derailment. He added that he had forgiven the train's driver, who has admitted to feeling 'dazed' on the day of the accident

A railroad mechanic paralyzed in last year’s deadly Metro-North Railroad derailment has announced plans to sue the railroad for $100 million.

Samuel Rivera, who lost movement in both of his legs and much of his arms during a Dec. 1 derailment in the Bronx, says he needs the nine figure sum to protect his family, according to the Associated Press. But he added that he has forgiven the train’s driver, William Rockefeller, who recently admitted suffering from a sleep disorder and said he had been “dazed” on the day of the crash.

“I do forgive Mr. Rockefeller,” Rivera said. “People make mistakes. I’ve made mistakes. … His mistake ended up as a major tragedy.”

Accident investigators say the train was traveling at 82 mph when it approached a curve with a 30 mph speed limit on a stretch of track in the Bronx in New York City. The accident killed four people and left dozens injured.

A Metro-North spokesman declined to comment to the AP on the pending lawsuit.

[AP]

TIME

Geoffrey Canada and the New Harlem Renaissance

When Geoffrey Canada founded the Harlem Children’s Zone 17 years ago, it was a one-block pilot program of wrap-around services for school children in Harlem. Today it covers 100 city blocks and serves thousands, providing everything from great education to early-childhood programs. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wrote for the TIME 100 in 2011 that Canada “has shown time and again that education is the surest path out of poverty.

TIME TIME 100

Ai-jen Poo: Organizing for Transformation

A child of immigrants creates social change from the bottom up

Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance Ai-jen Poo first found her calling toward social justice in the mid-1990s, when she was a student at Columbia University. As organizer of the Women Workers Project at CAAAV in New York City, she was incensed to see how domestic workers–often immigrants and women of color–toiled long hours for low pay as maids, nannies and elderly caregivers.

Over the next 17 years, her efforts to understand and organize domestic workers in New York helped earn her the trust of thousands of women who had been too often treated like they were expendable, even though they were responsible for raising children, caring for the ill and aged and charged with making the daily lives of millions of families easier.

The Domestic Workers United Poo co-founded in 2000 galvanized a city-wide, multiracial coalition of of workers and eventually led New York State to pass the nation’s first Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in 2010. That legislation extended basic labor protections to more than 200,000 domestic workers in the state and, as a consequence, helped prompt California, Hawaii and the U.S. Government to follow suit.

In 2012, TIME honored Ai-jen as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. Journalist and feminist icon Gloria Steinem praised her at the time as a “gifted” and “empathic” leader who was making history by “showing the humanity of a long devalued kind of work.”

TIME Crime

PETA Won’t Be Turning Serial Killer’s House into Vegan Restaurant After All

Suspected serial killer Jeffrey L. Dahmer enters t
Suspected serial killer Jeffrey L. Dahmer enters the courtroom of judge Jeffrey A. Wagner 06 August 1991. Eugene Garcia—AFP/Getty Images

The animal rights organization had mulled converting Jeffrey Dahmer's childhood home in Ohio, the site of his first of 17 murders, into a vegan eating establishment but local zoning laws and issues over plumbing and waste disposal have foiled the plans

PETA has given up on its plans to turn serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer’s childhood home into a vegan restaurant.

The animal rights organization had proposed that the notorious murderer and cannibal’s home in Bath Township, Ohio could become a restaurant called Eat for Life: Home Cooking. But local authorities nixed the idea, PETA said in a statement.

“We regret that we won’t be able to move forward with this project, even though it was met with some enthusiasm as well as some derisive comments,” a PETA spokesperson Moira Colley said. “Although some people thought the home’s out-of-the-way location was a deal breaker, that was not our opinion. And we were delighted that the real-estate agent representing the home was as enthusiastic about the project as we were. However, getting zoning for a restaurant on this site is apparently impossible, in part because of issues with the plumbing and waste systems.”

The house was the site of the first of 17 murders committed by Dahmer. In 1978, he killed a 19-year-old hitchhiker before dismembering him and scattering his remains across the property. The three-bedroom home went on the market for $295,000 this week.

TIME Crime

At Least 22 Injured in Mass Stabbing at Pa. High School

Parents and students embrace near Franklin Regional High School after more than a dozen students were stabbed by a knife wielding suspect at the school in Murrysville, Pa., April 9, 2014.
Parents and students embrace near Franklin Regional High School after more than a dozen students were stabbed by a knife wielding suspect at the school in Murrysville, Pa., April 9, 2014. Sean Stipp—Tribune Review/AP

A 10th-grader suspected in the slashing spree at a high school near Pittsburgh, Pa., on Wednesday has been charged with four counts of attempted homicide and 21 counts of aggravated assault

Updated at 8:12 a.m. ET

A 10th-grader suspected of committing a stabbing rampage at a Pennsylvania high school on Wednesday has been charged as an adult with four counts of attempted homicide and 21 other counts.

The suspect, identified as 16-year-old sophomore Alex Hribal, injured at least 22 people before being taken into custody, the Associated Press reports. The teenager reportedly had a “blank expression” on his face as he slashed at his victims. He was being held without bail Thursday in a juvenile detention center.

Many of the victims—at least 21 students and a security guard—were critically wounded and hospitalized, though there were conflicting reports about how many. No deaths had been reported by Thursday morning. Several of the victims from the Franklin Regional High School outside Pittsburgh suffered life-threatening injuries, health officials said, but all were expected to survive. Eight patients were transported to nearby Forbes Hospital, including three male students between 15- and 17-years-old who suffered relatively deep single stab wounds with a wide knife. One of the three was in stable condition while the two others the hospital described as “critical but stable.”

“It was penetrating enough to damage multiple organs,” Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mark Rubino said. Four more male students at the facility suffered superficial injuries and one 60-year-old adult was treated for a non-stabbing medical issue and released.

Police said the suspect used kitchen-style knives between eight and 10 inches long in the attack. A motive for the attack at the school, about 18 miles east of Pittsburgh in Murrysville, was not yet known. Officials said the student brought two knives into the school. Mark Drear, the vice president of a security company with personnel at the school, said on CNN that the suspect “was just running down the hall stabbing kids as they were going by.”

One student described Hribal as introverted, but claimed she was unaware of him exhibiting violent tendencies in the past.

“He didn’t talk to many people,” Mia Meixner, a sophomore, told USA TODAY. “He wasn’t mean or anything, he just wasn’t outgoing.”

Police said the school’s principal tackled the suspect and helped with the arrest, along with security guards on the premises. The stabbing took place in several classrooms and hallways as the school day began.

“I was shocked and saddened upon learning of the events that occurred this morning as students arrived at Franklin Regional High School,” Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett said in a statement. “As a parent and grandparent, I can think of nothing more distressing than senseless violence against children. My heart and prayers go out to all the victims and their families.”

Victims were being treated for stab wounds to their torso, abdomen, chest and back areas. Three medical helicopters and dozens of ambulances were dispatched to the scene, the local CBS affiliate reports. The stabbings occurred in the science wing of the school building at 7:13 a.m., people on the scene said, and lasted for about 15 minutes before the student was apprehended.

Franklin Regional school district canceled all elementary classes.

[AP]

TIME Healthcare

Tiny Share of Doctors Get Big Slice of Medicare Pie

Newly released data that details how Medicare pays doctors for specific procedures shows the top 2% of the highest-paid doctors who accept Medicare accounted for a significant portion of the federal program's costs, likely leading to changes in insurance practices

A single Florida ophthalmologist was paid $21 million by Medicare in 2012, according to federal data released Wednesday that shows a tiny sliver of U.S. doctors who accept Medicare account for an outsize proportion of the insurance program’s costs.

Medicare payments to 880,000 doctors nationwide totaled roughly $77 billion in 2012. But the top 2 percent of highest-paid doctors who accept Medicare accounted for about $15 billion in payments under the system, almost a quarter of the total not including commercial entity payments, according to data analyzed by the New York Times.

The data shows in detail for the first time how Medicare pays doctors for specific procedures. Fraud investigators, health insurance plans and researchers will sort through the new data with a fine-tooth comb in the upcoming weeks, likely leading to lawsuits and changes in insurance practices.

“There’s a lot of potential for whistle-blowers and justified worry for fraudsters,” Steven F. Grover, a lawyer who represents whistle-blowers who sue doctors they claim have committed Medicare fraud, told the Times. “There’s going to be a lot of litigation over this.”

In 2012, 100 doctors received a total of $610 million from Medicare payouts, and about 3,300 ophthalmologists were paid $3.3 billion from Medicare, the Times reports. Medicare paid $12 billion for 214 million office and outpatient visits—most of them outpatient visits between 15 and 25 minutes long. The doctors and nurse practitioners were paid an average of $57 per visit.

Ophthalmology and oncology both accounted for a large chunk of Medicare spending.

The doctor’s group the American Medical Association has withheld Medicare data for decades, but a federal judge ruled last year the information could be made public. This release marks the first time since the 1970s that detailed figures on Medicare reimbursements have been made available.

[NYT]

 

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