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By Gregory Karp, Chicago Tribune (TNS)

As the calendar flips to November and visions of Black Friday dance in their heads, holiday shoppers using new, more secure chip credit and debit cards will be learning a new checkout procedure.

While the added security might be welcome, new cards could mean more frustration and slower checkout lines during the bustle of holiday shopping.

“The bricks-and-mortar retailers were already fighting an uphill battle against the e-commerce guys, so the last thing they need are more reasons for customers to be ticked off at them,” said Neil Stern, senior partner at Chicago-based McMillanDoolittle.

One Wal-Mart executive said he expects widespread checkout problems and “anarchy” during the holiday season because of confusion over how to use the new cards, which must be “dipped” into the machine and left there for several seconds, as opposed to a momentary swipe.

While Wal-Mart was among the first to install and use new readers for chip cards and has become proficient over the past year, many merchants are just starting that transition and many consumers are baffled.

The timing of the shift “wasn’t necessarily optimal, given that we’re going into the holiday season,” said Wal-Mart spokesman Randy Hargrove, elaborating on recent comments by John Drechny, senior director of payment services at Wal-Mart, during a panel discussion at the Money20/20 payments conference in Las Vegas. “There could have been a better time, off-season.”

Many shoppers have already witnessed the confusion at retailers widely accepting chip cards, perhaps at Target, Wal-Mart or Walgreens.

It involves failed swipes, trying to follow the cashier’s instructions, fumbling with the card while trying to insert it correctly into the reader slot and remembering to remove the card at the end of the transaction.

“I’m a retail consultant, and I still put it in the wrong way and yank it out too soon,” Stern said. “It takes a long time for people to change habits.”

Even without confusion, the so-called push-and-pause method generally takes longer than the swipe. Although that difference can be as little as about 1 second longer, a Wal-Mart spokesman said.

“From a retailer standpoint, it’s really bad because it slows down productivity at the front end,” Stern said.

It will likely be more problematic for retailers whose customers expect a quick checkout, like Walgreens. “People don’t like waiting,” Stern said. “At Macy’s, customers might be a little more patient with the transaction process.”

Credit and debit cards are likely to be a big deal for the holidays, with 76.4 percent of consumers saying cards are their primary payment method, split about equally between debit and credit cards, according to the latest National Retail Federation numbers from 2014. That compares with 21.6 percent paying cash, and 2.1 percent paying by personal check.

Oct. 1 was a soft deadline for banks to issue new credit and debit cards with microchips and for retailers to install readers that can use the new chip technology.

However, it turned out that the Oct. 1 date was more of a starting gun than a checkered flag in the race to add security to card payments. Far from all banks and retailers were ready, and many still aren’t. Most Americans don’t even have the new cards yet, as banks and credit unions have been slow to replace old ones.

Among U.S. merchants, just 27 percent were expected to be ready to accept chip cards by the deadline a month ago, according to management consultant The Strawhecker Group. By the end of the year, that’s expected to rise to 44 percent and not hit 90 percent until 2017, a Strawhecker survey showed. Banks and merchants have said they will likely make the conversion to issue and accept credit cards first and debit cards later.

The good news about the relatively slow rollout is that many consumers won’t be affected this holiday season — if they don’t have chip cards yet or they shop at retailers that don’t accept the new cards.

Meanwhile, Target, which can accept chip cards at all its stores, recently made the bold move to accept yet a different card payment procedure. It started issuing new Target store credit and debit cards, called REDcard, that are more secure because they not only have microchips embedded but require users to enter a personal identification number at checkout instead of signing.

So-called chip-and-PIN is a process used in most other countries that have switched to chip cards, but is not typical in the U.S. so far — a point of conflict between banks that issue cards that require signatures and retailers who want the added safety of PINs.

“We realize that data security is top-of-mind for American consumers, so we wanted to offer them the solution that really is most secure in the marketplace today,” said Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder. “We recognized that would be on the early side, both on the issuance and acceptance (of PIN-enabled cards), and so we put a ton of effort into making sure our team members, people who are engaging with guests on the frontline, are equipped to answer questions. What we’re seeing is that is going really smoothly.”

Target officials might be especially sensitive to security concerns because of the retailer’s massive data breach during the 2013 holiday shopping season, in which some 40 million cards were compromised. The breach likely expedited the change to new card technology in the U.S., which had been sluggish to switch compared to other developed nations, experts say.

Overall, the switch to new checkout habits is a significant change for shoppers, “putting additional financial pressure on financial institutions and confusing consumers, many of whom don’t even know why the transition is happening and have no idea how to use an EMV chip, or ‘smart’ card,” said a report by Chicago-based Arroweye Solutions, which manufactures payment cards and sends them to consumers on behalf of issuers. EMV stands for Europay MasterCard Visa, the coalition that developed specifications for the system in the 1990s.

“It’s still very much a work in progress,” said Arroweye CEO Render Dahiya. “There will be a lot of on-the-job — or on-the-shopping — learning.”

The new cards, with both the new microchip visible on the front and the old black magnetic stripe on the back, are only safer when used with a new chip card payment terminal. Chip cards make every transaction at a payment terminal and ATM unique. Old machines read the old-tech magnetic stripe, and are no safer with the new cards.

While it’s true that avid shoppers of big retailers will be skilled at the new card “dipping” checkout process — and checkout employees adept at helping customers — everything changes during the crush of holiday shopping.

“We haven’t seen it yet when it’s a stress point, and the holidays are a stress point,” Stern said.

The new cards could cause in-store checkout woes on Black Friday and throughout the season, but they won’t affect Cyber Monday and other online holiday shopping. Customers make online purchases with the new cards the same way they always have, by typing in the card number, expiration date and security code. Those transactions are no more secure with the chip cards.

Still, payment-terminal slowdowns alone probably won’t force holiday shoppers to abandon stores for websites.

“I suspect we’re going to see some frustration, but it probably doesn’t elevate to the point of customers saying, ‘I’m not going to the store. I’m just going to do this online,’” Stern said. “More people are going to shop at home, but not because of this. But it’s certainly not going to help physical retailers.”

If shoppers become frustrated enough with chip cards, it might speed adoption of yet another payment method: mobile payments with a smartphone using such services as Apple Pay, Android Pay and Samsung Pay.

“If EMV does slow down the transaction process, if people do leave cards in the machine, then you have a scenario where mobile does become a value-add, if that transaction is quicker,” Dahiya said.

©2015 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: A chip credit card. (Image Source/Zuma Press/TNS)

 

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Former President Donald Trump, left, and former White House counsel Pat Cipollone

On Wednesday evening the House Select Committee investigating the Trump coup plot issued a subpoena to former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, following blockbuster testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who said the lawyer had warned of potential criminal activity by former President Donald Trump and his aides.

The committee summons to Cipollone followed long negotiations over his possible appearance and increasing pressure on him to come forward as Hutchinson did. Committee members expect the former counsel’s testimony to advance their investigation, owing to his knowledge of the former president's actions before, during and after the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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