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    Investigations of $5 Gas in North Carolina, Florida, and Virginia

    Price gouging, shortages at the pump probed

    The average price of regular self-serve gasoline dropped 2 cents throughout the country overnight to $3.835 but thousands of consumers continued to complain to state officials about price gouging immediately following Hurricane Ike.

    Prices climbed almost 19 cents over an eight day period as Ike moved across the Gulf of Mexico, jumping 6.2 cents on Sunday alone.

    Price-gouging complaints are flooding state officials in Florida, Virginia and North Carolina.

    Along with high prices in Florida, the Attorney General's office reported that there continues to be some gasoline shortages throughout the state.

    Consumers in Tallahassee faced plastic bags over fuel pumps as the aftermath of Hurricane Ike disrupted gasoline deliveries.

    Palm Beach topped the number of price gouging complaints in South Florida with 93. Broward registered 63 and Miami-Dade had 58 complaints. Pumps dried up throughout West Palm Beach as handmade signs stuck to pumps proclaimed no gas was available.

    Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum's office reported a total of 5,500 calls from around the state and 2,397 open cases for review of price-gouging violations.

    As part of its inquiry, the attorney general has issued subpoenas to four oil companies.

    The attorney general in Florida can fine stations that took advantage of consumers as much as $1,000 for each consumer or up to $25,000 a day, according to the state price gouging law.

    Gas prices in some areas of the Sunshine State jumped more than a dollar to more than $5 a gallon in Tallahassee, Orlando and Miami, according to reports.

    The Office of Consumer Affairs in Virginia has received more than 2,000 consumer complaints about price gouging and the state ha sent 30 inspectors statewide to investigate the complaints.

    The penalty for price gouging in Virginia is a fine of up to $2,500 for each violation.

    The Virginia Office of Consumer Affairs reported that proving price gouging following Hurricane Ike will be difficult because prices may have already been inflated follow Hurricane Gustav disruption of Gulf Coast refining capacity a few weeks ago.

    Virginia Governor Tim Kaine issued a waiver in the state that allows the distribution of gasoline blends not usually sold until October 1 in an effort to increase gas supplies in the state.

    In North Carolina, the attorney general subpoenaed seven gas stations that were reported to have charged $5.49 a gallon for regular gasoline following Hurricane Ike.

    North Carolina Governor Mike Easley also warned consumers in the state that "there may be temporary limitations on our gas supply."

    The attorney general in North Carolina has received 2,800 consumer complaints of dramatic increases in gas prices, some occurring over a matter of hours. Investigators have sent subpoenas to seven separate retailers that were allegedly charging in excess of $5.49 per gallon on either Friday or Saturday.

    Tom Crosby, a spokesperson for AAA Carolinas said the problems with high gas prices are attributed to both the shortage due to Hurricane Ike and a public panic.

    "We have what's called 'panic pumping,' where motorists drained the supply of gas more than they needed to," he said. "And at the same time we had a problem with the hurricane affecting the supply of product from the Texas area."

    Crosby said he predicted gas prices would stabilize later this the week.

    Investigations of $5 Gas in North Carolina, Florida, and Virginia...
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    Simplicity Drop-Side Cribs Recalled

    Retailers and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) are recalling about 600,000 Simplicity drop-side cribs because of an entrapment and suffocation hazard.

    It's the latest in a series of safety warnings and recalls affecting Simplicity baby furniture. Last month, safety regulators warned that Simplicity bassinets had been implicated in the deaths of two infatns.

    The recall notice said that, due to sizing problems with the cribs hardware, the drop side can come off the tracks. When the drop side detaches or partially detaches, it creates a hazardous gap, which can lead to infant entrapment and suffocation.

    There have been at least nine incidents in which the drop side detached but so far, there have been no reports of injuries.

    This recall of Simplicity drop side cribs involves models that used a different style of hardware from those cribs recalled in September 2007. The recalled model numbers include: 8620, 8745, 8748, 8755, 8756, 8778, 8810, and 8994. The recalled drop side cribs have a date code, which can be found on a label on the headboard under the mattress support, which ends in 05DH, 05GB, 06DH, 06GB, 07DH or 07GB (examples: 1806 DH or 0507 GB). The recalled model names include: Aspen and Crib N Changer Combo, Gabrielle, Camille, Providence and Shenandoah. Only the brand name Simplicity can be seen on the label on the headboard.

    The cribs, made in China, were sold by department stores, childrens stores and mass merchandisers nationwide from January 2005 through August 2008 for between $150 and $300.

    Retailers participating in the recall include:

    AAFES, of Dallas, Texas
    BabiesRUs, of Wayne, N.J.
    Burlington Coat Factory/Baby Depot, of Burlington, N.J.
    Ks Merchandise (out of business)
    Meijer Distribution Inc., of Grand Rapids, Mich.
    Nebraska Furniture Mart, of Omaha, Neb.
    ShopKo, of Green Bay, Wis.
    Target, of Minneapolis, Minn.
    Wal-Mart Stores Inc, of Bentonville, Ark.

    Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled cribs and find an alternative, safe sleeping environment for their baby. Consumers should return the recalled crib to the place of purchase for a refund or store credit. SFCA Inc., of Reading, Pa., Simplicity's successor company, is working with retailers to carry out this recall program.

    For additional information, contact:

    AAFES - (800) 866-3605 www.AAFES.com

    Babies R Us - (800) 869-7787 www.babiesrus.com

    Burlington Coat Factory/Baby Depot - www.babydepot.com

    Meijer Distribution Inc. - (866) 280-8419 www.meijer.com

    Nebraska Furniture Mart 800-359-1200 - www.nfm.com

    Shopko - (800) 791-7333 www.shopko.com

    Target - (800) 440-0680 - www.target.com

    Wal-Mart - (800) 925-6278 - www.walmart.com

    The recall is being conducted in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

    Simplicity Drop-Side Cribs Recalled...
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    John Deere Gator XUV 620i Utility Vehicles

    September 17, 2008
    John Deere is recalling the Gator XUV 620i Utility Vehicle.

    The fuel tank can leak from a gap in the seam at the base of the filler neck, posing a fire hazard.

    Deere & Company has received seven reports of fuel tank leaks. No fires or injuries have been reported.

    The recalled utility vehicle is Model 620i. The model number is painted on the side of the vehicle. The recall includes the following serial numbers. The serial number plate is on the vehicles frame in front of the passenger side rear fender.

    ModelSerial Number Ranges
    XUV 620i Gas (Como)M0XUVGC020001 thru
    XUV 620i Gas (Olive)M0XUVGT021581 thru
    XUV 620i Gas (Green)M0XUVGX023930, M0XUVGX023941,
    M0XUVGX023961 thru
    M0XUVGX023968 thru

    The Gators, made in the United States, were sold by John Deere dealers nationwide from April 2008 through August 2008 for about $10,000.

    Consumers should stop using the recalled utility vehicles immediately and contact any John Deere dealer to schedule a free inspection and repair. Keep fuel tank below half full until the repair is made. Registered owners were sent direct mail notification of this recall.

    For additional information, contact Deere & Company at (800) 537-8233 between 8 a.m. and 6p.m. ET Monday through Friday, and Saturday between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. ET, or visit the firms Web site at www.johndeere.com

    The recall is being conducted in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

    John Deere Gator XUV 620i Utility Vehicles...
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      United Doubles Second Bag Fee To $50

      First bag check fee remains $15

      Even though oil prices have fallen below $100 a barrel, United Airlines says the cost of jet fuel is still wrecking havoc on its budget. As a result, the airline has announced it is increasing the fee for a second piece of checked luggage from $25 to $50 effective September 16, 2008.

      The fee for the first piece of checked luggage remains $15, the airline said.

      The new fee will apply to passengers traveling on an Economy ticket or an Economy award ticket. Passengers with first class or business class tickets will not be charged the fee. Members of United's various rewards programs, including Global Services, Mileage Plus, Premier Executive, Premier, or Premier Associate, are also exempt.

      United said it will waive the increase for active duty military personnel and/or their dependants, with ID and traveling on order. The airline said passengers may be subject to additional fees if:

      • you check more than two bags;

      • any of your bags weigh more than 50 lbs. (23 kg);

      • any of your bags exceed 62 linear inches (158 linear cm)*; and/or

      • any of your checked bags are considered special items.

      United Doubles Second Bag Fee To $50...
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      Mars Recalls More Pet Food

      Possible salmonella contmination in dog, cat food

      Mars Petcare US has recalled all of its dry pet food products manufactured at the company's Everson, Pennsylvania, facility between February 18 and July 29, 2008 because of possible salmonella contamination.

      The voluntary recall involves such brands of dog and cat food as Pedigree, Special Kitty, Ol'Roy, and PMI Nutrition Gravy Crunches manufactured at that plant.

      This the second time in recent weeks that Mars has recalled some of its products because of possible salmonella contamination.

      In August, a salmonella scare forced the company to recall 100 of its 20-pound bags of Pedigree Complete Nutrition Small Crunchy Bites sold at some Albertsons in Southern California and Las Vegas, Nevada.

      Mars also manufactures Nutro pet food, which scores of consumers nationwide have blamed for the recent illnesses -- and even deaths -- of their dog and cats.

      Nutro products, however, were not included in that recall. They are also not involved in this latest action.

      Back in August, Mars said a "component" that tested positive for salmonella was inadvertently shipped to its Tracy, California, plant and used in the production of 100 bags of Pedigree pet food.

      In this latest recall, Mars said it has not received any confirmed reports of illnesses caused by the contaminated pet food.

      "Even though no direct link between products produced at the Everson manufacturing plant and human or pet illness has been made, we are taking this precautionary action to protect pets and their owners," Catherine Woteki, global director of scientific affairs for Mars, said in a statement issued by the company.

      "We are continuing to work collaboratively with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to determine the nature and source of Salmonella Schwarzengrund at the Everson facility, and are committed to making sure our consumers and customers have the information they need regarding our voluntary recall," she said.

      Mars said it stopped production at the Everson facility on July 29, 2008, when it learned of a possible connection between dry pet food produced at the plant and two isolated cases of people infected with salmonella.

      Many of the pet food brands involved in the recall are produced at multiple facilities, the company said.

      The products involved in this action have the number "17" as the first two digits of the second line.

      This chart lists all the pet food involved in this recall:

      Product Name / Bag Size


      Product Name / Bag Size


      Country Acres Cat Food40#

      16603 02181

      Retriever Bites & Bones Dog Food8#

      79818 96757

      Country Acres Ration Dog Food40#

      16603 02333

      Retriever Bites & Bones Dog Food20#

      79818 96634

      Country Acres 18% Dog Food40#

      16603 02331

      Retriever Bites & Bones Dog Food50#

      49394 05666

      Country Acres Hi Pro Dog Food50#

      16603 02021

      Retriever Gravy Blend Dog Food50#

      49394 05665

      Doggy Bag Dog Food40#

      73893 40000

      Retriever Gravy Blend Dog Food8#

      79818 96756

      Members Mark Complete Nutrition Premium Cat Food20#

      81131 89881

      Retriever Hi Protein Dog Food8#

      79818 96755

      Members Mark Complete Nutrition Premium Dog Food50#

      05388 67055

      Retriever Hi Protein Dog Food25#

      49394 00002

      Members Mark Crunchy Bites & Savory Bones Adult Dog Food50#

      05388 67309

      Retriever Hi Protein Dog Food50#

      49394 00003

      Members Mark High Performance Premium Dog Food50#

      81131 75479

      Retriever Mini Chunk Dog Food8#

      79818 96754

      Natural Cat Food (Sam's Club)15#

      81131 89883

      Retriever Mini ChunkDog Food25#

      49394 00006

      Natural Dog Food(Sam's Club)25#

      81131 89884

      Retriever Mini ChunkDog Food50#

      49395 00005

      Ol' Roy Complete Nutrition4.4#

      81131 69377

      Retriever Puppy Blend Dog Food6#

      49394 56221

      Ol' Roy Complete Nutrition8#

      05388 67144

      Retriever Puppy Blend Dog Food8#

      79818 96758

      Ol' Roy Complete Nutrition 22#

      05388 60342

      Retriever Puppy Blend Dog Food20#

      49394 00004

      Ol' Roy Complete Nutrition50#

      78742 01022

      Retriever Puppy Blend Dog Food40#

      79818 96706

      Ol' Roy High Performance Nutrition Dog Food20#

      05388 60345

      Special Kitty Gourmet3.5#

      81131 17546

      Ol' Roy High Performance Nutrition Dog Food50#

      78742 05815

      Special Kitty Gourmet4#

      78742 53199

      Ol' Roy Meaty Chunks 'n Gravy Dog Food8#

      81131 69629

      Special Kitty Gourmet7#

      81131 17547

      Ol' Roy Meaty Chunks 'n Gravy Dog Food22#

      81131 69630

      Special Kitty Gourmet8#

      78742 53200

      Ol' Roy Meaty Chunks 'n Gravy Dog Food50#

      81131 69631

      Special Kitty Gourmet18#

      81131 15748

      Ol' Roy Puppy Complete4#

      81131 79078

      Special Kitty Gourmet20#

      78742 53201

      Ol' Roy Puppy Complete8#

      81131 79079

      Special Kitty Gourmet25#

      78742 54314

      Ol' Roy Puppy Complete20#

      81131 79080

      Special Kitty Kitten3.5#

      81131 17553

      Paws & Claws Delicious Mix Cat Food8#

      79818 96632

      Special Kitty Kitten4#

      78742 53198

      Paws & Claws Delicious Mix Cat Food20#

      49394 05746

      Special Kitty Kitten7#

      81131 17554

      Paws & Claws Delicious Mix Cat Food40#

      79818 96676

      Special Kitty Kitten8#

      81131 24739

      Paws & Claws Premium Choice Cat Food8#

      79818 96633

      Special Kitty Original3.5#

      81131 17557

      Paws & Claws Premium Choice Cat Food20#

      49394 00008

      Special Kitty Original4#

      78742 04930

      Paws & Claws Premium Choice Cat Food40#

      49394 05747

      Special Kitty Original7#

      81131 17562

      Pedigree Large Breed Adult Nutrition20#

      23100 29158

      Special Kitty Original8#

      78742 05744

      Pedigree Large Breed Adult Nutrition30.1#

      23100 31484

      Special Kitty Original18#

      81131 17559

      Pedigree Large Breed Adult Nutrition36.4#

      23100 31479

      Special Kitty Original20#

      78742 05794

      Pedigree Large Breed Adult Nutrition40#

      23100 29154

      Special Kitty Original25#

      81131 68869

      Pedigree Small Crunchy Bites Adult Nutrition4.4#

      23100 05104

      Wegman's Bruiser Complete Nutrition Dog Food4.4#

      77890 33654

      Pedigree Small Crunchy Bites Adult Nutrition8.8#

      23100 05103

      Wegman's Bruiser Complete Nutrition Dog Food20#

      77890 32988

      Pedigree Small Crunchy Bites Adult Nutrition20#

      23100 14719

      Wegman's Bruiser Complete Nutrition Dog Food37.5#

      77890 32994

      Pedigree Small Crunchy Bites Adult Nutrition32#

      23100 31483

      Wegman's Bruiser Puppy Dog Food4.4#

      77890 33621

      Pedigree Small Crunchy Bites Adult Nutrition40#

      23100 31478

      Wegman's Bruiser Puppy Dog Food17.6#

      77890 32991

      Pedigree Small Crunchy Bites Adult Nutrition44#

      23100 05100

      Wegman's Bruiser Small Crunchy Bites Dog Food4.4#

      77890 33618

      Pedigree Small Crunchy Bites Adult Nutrition52#

      23100 05110

      Wegman's Bruiser Small Crunchy Bites Dog Food20#

      77890 32982

      Pet Pride Indoor Cat3.5#

      11110 74584

      Wegman's Buju & Ziggie Complete Cat Food3.5#

      77890 10005

      Pet Pride Indoor Cat18#

      11110 74585

      Wegman's Buju & Ziggie Complete Cat Food18#

      77890 10004

      Pet Pride Weight Management Dog Food17.6#

      11110 74578

      Wegman's Buju & Ziggie Indoor Cat Food3.5#

      77890 12038

      PMI Nutrition Bites & Bones Dog Food50#

      42869 00174

      Wegman's Buju & Ziggie Indoor Cat Food18#

      77890 12039

      PMI Nutrition Canine Advantage50#

      42869 00172

      Wegman's Buju & Ziggie Kitten3.5#

      77890 12036

      PMI Nutrition Feline Medley20#

      42869 00171

      Wegman's Buju & Ziggie Original Medley Cat Food3.5#

      77890 10006

      PMI Nutrition Gravy Crunches Dog Food40#

      42869 00033

      Wegman's Buju & Ziggie Original Medley Cat Food18#

      77890 10003

      Red Flannel Active Formula Dog Food40#

      42869 00063

      Red Flannel Adult Formula Dog Food20#

      42869 00055

      Red Flannel Adult Formula Dog Food40#

      42869 00054

      Red Flannel Canine Select Dog Food20#

      42869 00068

      Red Flannel Canine Select Dog Food40#

      42869 00067

      Red Flannel Cat10#

      42869 00059

      Red Flannel Cat20#

      42869 00058

      Red Flannel Hi Pro Formula Dog Food50#

      42869 00065

      Red Flannel Prime Dog Food25#

      42869 00052

      Red Flannel Prime Dog Food50#

      42869 00053

      Red Flannel Puppy40#

      42869 00056

      FDA officials say salmonella can cause serious infections in dogs and cats -- and in humans if there is cross contamination from handling the pet food.

      Salmonella is especially dangerous in children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems.

      Symptoms of salmonella poisoning in humans include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramping and fever. In rare cases, salmonella can cause more serious ailments, such as arterial infections, endocarditis, arthritis, muscle pain, eye irritation, and urinary tract symptoms.

      Consumers who have these symptoms after handling the pet food should immediately contact their doctor.

      Pets with salmonella poisoning may be lethargic and have diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, fever, and vomiting.

      Some pets will have only decreased appetite, fever, and abdominal pain, the company said. Any pets that have eaten the recalled products -- and show these symptoms -- should see a veterinarian.

      The company said it is working with the FDA to determine the nature and source of the salmonella at the Everson facility. Mars will not resume production at the facility until the source of the salmonella is identified.

      Mars also said it will also work with retail customers to ensure the recalled products are not on store shelves.

      Consumers who have purchased products involved in this recall should return them for a full refund.

      For more information about the recall, pet owners can contact the company at 1-877-568-4463 or visit its Web site: www.petcare.mars.com.

      The FDA also has tips on safe pet food handling on its Web site.

      More about pets ...

      Mars Recalls More Pet Food...
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      Why Individual Investors Shouldn't Buy Individual Stocks

      Hedge fund managers are controlling the market

      It's finally happened. The risks could outweigh the rewards when it comes to individual investors investing directly in the stock market. Whether it's due to a creeping contagion of toxic debt, or what CNBC's Mad Money guru Jim Cramer calls "hedge fund managers gone wild," there are forces at work impacting stock prices that have nothing to do with a stock's fundamental value.

      As Cramer explained it, hedge fund managers are in control of the stock market and they are causing all this volatility and erratic trading. He says that hedge funds wield such massive influence that many stocks are now completely disconnected from their underlying businesses.

      That's why it's so hard to establish a buying price. Cramer says that until the hedge funds "finish selling or some buyers -- real corporate buyers -- come out of the woodwork, it's not going to get any easier. And it simply may not be worth your effort, your time or your sanity."

      In the last ten years, the number of hedge funds increased from 600 to 13,600 with assets under management zooming from around $100 billion to an estimated $2.2 trillion. This means that hedge funds, which are not regulated by any agency, represent as much as 60 percent of all global trading.

      Hedge fund managers typically are expected to come up with at least a 20 percent return for their clients. That means they need quick returns--and they'll do almost anything to satisfy their investors from spreading rumors and using leverage, as well as long, short, and derivative positions. This churns up volatility and causes the stock market to feel like Hurricane Ike.

      So what should individual investors do if the stocks they hold are at all-time-lows--hold them until they come back, or get out now before short sellers drive prices to the point they're worthless? Ask anyone who still holds Lehman Brothers, the giant insurance company AIG, or Merrill Lynch then stand back as they hurl.

      As for those risk-reward scenarios, there are some charts that say now is the time to buy financials. But that's not necessarily true for individual investors looking at individual stocks.

      Let's take Merrill Lynch. Citigroup issued a report on Friday (September 12), calling Merrill a "buy" because as it valued the company's fundamentals at $45 a share. But Merrill actually closed out the week at $17.05, a new 52 week low. Why? Because in the mind of many hedge fund managers, Merrill is infected with the same toxic debt that destroyed Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns, and there was nothing Merrill could do about it.

      And then there was Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Individual investors were still pouring money into the two government sponsored mortgage companies after being reassured a government takeover wouldn't be necessary until it was.

      Most investors are aware that stock investing carries some risk and that share prices can collapse if the business fails. But these days the business can be just fine, while the stock price continues to drop.

      One logical alternative solution would be for individual investors to simply put their money into mutual funds. But wait. Aren't there reports out there that say three out of four mutual fund managers underperform the stock market when you take their fees into account?

      So what should individual investors do? As long as the stock market is being controlled by hedge funds, you might want to consider low cost index funds. At least that way the up and down swings will mirror whatever index you've invested in and not some company the predatory short sellers have targeted as their next victim. If you had an index fund tied to the Dow Jones Industrials, you would have been up slightly for the week.

      That said, many investors have a difficult time determining when they should sell an individual stock, especially when it has lost most of its value. There's the temptation to hold on until the price comes back. But it may never come back.

      Financial advisors will give you some parameters when it comes to selling stocks. For example, you shouldn't allow individual stocks to lose more than 10 percent of what you bought it for. Individual stocks are volatile and you should cut your losses quickly. Too many investors act like deer in the headlights and freeze up when their stocks prices drop. So when you buy a stock, you should write down the price you will sell at and stick with it. The bottom line is that you want to make sure you sell losing stocks before they turn into bottomless pits like Lehman and Bear Stearns.

      Of course, for those high rollers out there who still feel the urge to place their bets on this roulette wheel of a market, you may be able to select a few individual stocks. Cramer, for example, recommends FedEx and Sears. Just be careful and be ready to move quickly if their prices begin to fall too far too quickly.

      For those true long shot bets, you may also pick the next Google. Just keep in mind that Google is now selling for around $435 a share after going up to $747. If you bought Google at $747 you lost $300 a share in the past year.

      And even Jim Cramer, who touts stocks for a living, says that unless you can devote four hours a week to study a stock's fundamentals, go the index fund route.

      Why Individual Investors Shouldn't Buy Individual Stocks...
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      'Protocol' Toy Helicopters Recalled

      September 10, 2008    
      About 78,000 Protocol Remote-Controlled Mini Helicopter Toys are being recalled. The rechargeable battery inside the helicopter can overheat. This can result in the helicopters body melting, as well as a risk of fire or burns to consumers.

      There have been nine reports of incidents of the helicopter overheating, including one minor burn to a consumers fingertip.

      This recall involves the Protocol remote-controlled mini helicopter toys with model number starting with 1442. The helicopter is made of foam and plastic and measures about 7 inches long. Protocol is printed on the tail and on the side of the helicopter. 1442-X can be found on the packaging. The remote-control component measures 5 1/2 inches by 4 3/4 inches.

      The toys, made in China, were sold at retail stores nationwide from October 2007 through December 2007 for between $30 and $50.

      Consumers should immediately take the recalled toys away from children and contact the firm for information on how to receive a replacement helicopter.

      For additional information, contact Protocol at (800) 261-1193 between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. ET, or visit the companys Web site at www.protocoldesign.com.

      The recall is being conducted in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

      'Protocol' Toy Helicopters Recalled...
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      RFID Eyed as Anti-Shoplifting Tool

      Tags used to identify stolen items within bags

      Radio-frequency identification, or RFID, has caused concern among some privacy advocates because of its ability to identify and track both objects and people. Its supporters praise its security qualities.

      The debate could well intensify as the technology appears headed for the retail sales floor, as a tool to deter shoplifting. The technology reportedly performed well in a new feasibility study on its use as a potential sales-floor theft-deterrent system, conducted by researchers in the RFID Research Center at the University of Arkansas.

      The researchers says the study demonstrated RFID's usefulness in several shoplifting scenarios, including many items moving through a security/reader portal at a high rate of speed and many items stuffed into a "booster bag," a traditional shopping bag lined with aluminum foil.

      Bill Hardgrave, director of the research center and professor of information systems in the Sam M. Walton College of Business, announced the findings at a two-day forum on item-level RFID hosted by the research center, the Voluntary Interindustry Commerce Solutions Association and the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals.

      "The most interesting data came from scenarios involving the booster bag and testers running through portals with many items," Hardgrave said. "These scenarios included many multiple RFID tags, and we were able to obtain a great deal of information at the entry/exit portal."

      Researchers tested two types of ultra-high frequency, generation 2 RFID tags in various baseline and shoplifting scenarios. The tests involved comparisons to two conventional systems, acousto-magnetic and low-level radio-frequency electronic article surveillance, currently used in many retail stores.

      In the baseline tests, the researchers experimented with various tag locations and orientations as the tags moved through portal readers. In each test, the RFID system performed as well as or better than the conventional systems. The specific strength of RFID, as demonstrated in the baseline tests, was its ability to capture individual tags at various locations and orientations. Perhaps more importantly, the RFID technology recorded the total number of individual tags, while the other technologies simply noted the presence of any tag in the read field.

      "Because RFID can uniquely identify individual tags, it can provide information on the number of stolen items within a bag or the number of items held by a shoplifter," Hardgrave said. "Conventional systems cannot uniquely identify individual tags, which means they can report only one item in a bag that may have 20 or 50 stolen items."

      Business was quick to jump on the concept of millions of products that could be individually identified and tracked. Wal-Mart has led the way in using RFID tagging, investing $250 million in RFID technology and requiring their distributors to mark high-end items such as consumer electronics with RFID tags.

      RFID Eyed as Anti-Shoplifting Tool...
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      MillerCoors Sued Over "Sparks" Alcoholic Energy Drink

      CSPI claims drink is too dangerous for teens

      The Center for Science in the Public Interest has filed suit against MillerCoors Brewing Company, formerly Miller, over its alcoholic energy drink, Sparks.

      The product has more alcohol than regular beer and contains unapproved additives, including the stimulants caffeine and guarana, according to the lawsuit, which is asking the Superior Court of the District of Columbia to stop MillerCoors from selling the controversial drink, which is also under scrutiny from state attorneys general.

      Drinkers of caffeinated alcoholic drinks are more likely to binge drink, ride with an intoxicated driver, become injured, or be taken advantage of sexually than drinkers of non-caffeinated alcoholic drinks, according to a 2007 study conducted at Wake Forest University.

      CSPI says Sparks contain 6 to 7 percent alcohol by volume, as opposed to regular beer, which typically has 4 or 5 percent alcohol. Also unlike beer, Sparks' appeal to young people is enhanced by its sweet citrusy taste, much like SweeTarts candy, and the bright color of orange soda. Sparks Light also contains the artificial sweetener sucralose. In October, CSPI says MillerCoors plans to release Sparks Red, which will have 8 percent alcohol by volume.

      "MillerCoors is trying to hook teens and 'tweens on a dangerous drink," said CSPI litigation director Steve Gardner. "This company's behavior is reckless, predatory, and in the final analysis, likely to disgust a judge or a jury."

      Sparks' juvenile web site and guerilla marketing appeal to young consumers, according to CSPI. The web site offers a recipe for a drink called a "Lunchbox," consisting of half Miller beer and half Sparks, and elsewhere, the site proposes consuming Sparks for breakfast alongside omelets.

      The company also hosts give-aways of Sparks at house parties, sponsors events unrelated to beer such as art shows, and engages in other unconventional marketing practices, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

      CSPI's court filing notes that private gatherings such as house parties do not have the same licensing or other safeguards as public establishments that prevent minors from accessing alcohol.

      "Mix alcohol and stimulants with a young person's sense of invincibility and you have a recipe for disaster," said George A. Hacker, director of CSPI's alcohol policies project. "Sparks is a drink designed to mask feelings of drunkenness and to encourage people to keep drinking past the point at which they otherwise would have stopped. The end result is more drunk driving, more injuries, and more sexual assaults."

      According to a 2006 study, the stimulants in these products do not reduce alcohol's negative effects on motor skills and reaction times but do impair people's perception of intoxication. As a result, drinkers may engage in risky behavior, such as driving, because they feel less drunk but in reality are too intoxicated to get behind wheel.

      CSPI's lawsuit also contends that it is illegal to use caffeine, guarana, ginseng, and taurine in alcoholic beverages. The federal agency with primary responsibility for regulating alcoholic beverages, the Treasury Department's Tax and Trade Bureau, says alcoholic beverages may contain only ingredients considered General Recognized as Safe, or GRAS, by the Food and Drug Administration.

      But the FDA has given only very narrow approval for caffeine and guarana -- with no allowance for alcoholic drinks -- and no approval for ginseng in any food or beverage. Taurine is approved only for use in chicken feed, not human food.

      In February, CSPI notified Anheuser-Busch and Miller of its intent to sue both companies over caffeinated alcoholic drinks. In June, Anheuser-Busch entered into separate agreements with CSPI and 11 state attorneys general in which the brewer agreed to take caffeine and other unapproved additives out of its two alcoholic energy drinks, Bud Extra and Tilt.

      Anheuser-Busch paid the 11 states $200,000 to reimburse them for the cost of the investigation and called on other brewers and distillers not to market pre-packaged caffeinated alcoholic drinks.

      MillerCoors Sued Over Sparks Alcoholic Energy Drink...
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      Alfalfa Sprouts Recalled in Salmonella Outbreak

      New incident reported in Washington state

      With the Salmonella-St. Paul outbreak finally contained, the Food and Drug Administration reports 13 cases of Salmonella Typhimirium in Oregon and Washington State. The outbreak is apparently linked with the consumption of raw alfalfa sprouts.

      Sprouters Northwest, Inc. of Kent, Washington is recalling its alfalfa sprout products - including alfalfa sprouts, onion sprouts, and salad sprouts - because they may be linked to the recent outbreak.

      Salmonella Typhimiriumis an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea (which maybe bloody), nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.

      In rare circumstances, infection with Salmonella can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections (i.e. infected aneurysms), endocarditis - swelling of the lining of the heart - and arthritis. Individuals who may have experienced any of the above symptoms after eating any of the recalled products should contact their health care provider.

      The recalled sprouts were distributed in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Alaska in retail stores and through wholesale produce suppliers. The products are Sprouters Northwest brand and include all lot numbers with a best by date of 9/17/08 or earlier of:

      • 5oz alfalfa sprout cups UPC - 033383701417

      • 4oz alfalfa clamshells UPC - 815098001088

      • 1lb bags of alfalfa sprouts UPC - 079566123508

      • 2lb trays of alfalfa sprouts UPC - 079566123492

      • 5oz salad cups UPC - 033383702674

      • 4oz salad clamshells UPC - 815098002061

      • 5oz alfalfa onion sprout cups UPC - 033383701905

      • 4oz onion sprout clamshells UPC - 815098002054

      Sprouters Northwest said it is working closely with state officials and the FDA to determine the cause of this problem and what steps can be taken to combat it.

      Alfalfa Sprouts Recalled In Salmonella Outbreak...
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      iTunes Version 7.7.1 Erases Music Libraries

      Apple provides fix and five free downloads; iTunes 8 launched Sept. 9

      Some consumers lost parts or all of their music libraries when they upgraded to the latest version of iTunes and Apple has provided a fix and five free song downloads for consumers who had those issues.

      Five complaints in the ConsumerAffairs.com database and many more on Apple's Web site describe the frustration of losing songs, videos and movies previously purchased from Apple, when consumers upgraded to iTunes version 7.7.1, released July 30.

      "Most of the music I have purchased online from Apple's iTunes Store has been deactivated," wrote Martin of Suisan, Calif. "I have purchased approximately $140 dollars worth of songs and videos from iTunes Store, which currently is worthless due to the fact that iTunes will no longer play any of them."

      Consumers said files on their iPods and iPhones was also deactivated and rendered useless after they upgraded.

      "I went to download a song and was prompted to upgrade to the newest version," wrote Dione of Northridge, Calif. "I did. What a huge mistake! All of a sudden my iPod was wiped clean of all my purchased music."

      The problem was a result of the software not re-authorizing the purchased songs after upgrading to the latest version, Apple spokeswoman Randi Wolfson wrote in an e-mail.

      "This problem could affect playing back purchased music or videos or launching applications on iPhone or iPod touch," she wrote.

      To fix the problem, consumers must follow these steps:

      1. Deauthorize your account, by choosing "Deauthorize Computer" from the Store menu in iTunes.

      2. Select "Authorize Computer" from the Store Menu in iTunes, and re-authorize your account.

      3. Try playing any one of your purchases from this account.

      4. Resync any iPod or iPhone containing purchases from this account.

      To apologize for the glitch, Apple is offering five free song downloads to consumers who contact iTunes customer support and complain about the problem.

      Apple today announced the latest version of iTunes, iTunes 8, as part of its regular fall announcement of new products.

      iTunes Version 7.7.1 Erases Music Libraries...
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      Prius Vandalism On the Rise in California

      Hybrids damaged in night attacks

      Prius envy has taken an ugly twist in California with violent anger and vandalism aimed at the hybrids and their owners.

      Following a recent Prius fire on the streets of Los Angeles, investigators concluded that the inferno that consumed the new hybrid parked on a residential street was the result of arson.

      The owner of the Los Angeles Prius told investigators that she heard an explosion early in the morning in July, followed by the sirens of fire engines. "I went outside to see what was going on and saw it was my car," she said.

      An earlier investigation of violence aimed at Prius owners by police in Petaluma near San Francisco reported that at last seven Priuses were damaged by vandals during a two-week period in April.

      One Petaluma Prius owner told police that she heard banging sounds in the middle of the night. She found that someone had taken a hammer to the body and windshield of her Prius.

      A second Prius owner suffered car damaged from vandals twice during a two-week time frame. While the first hybrid was in a shop for repairs, a vandal threw a large rock at a Prius the owner was renting, causing substantial damage to the hybrid.

      The attacks all occurred at night while the cars were parked and unoccupied. Vandals used large rocks and bricks to damage the hybrids. In one instance a Prius was rammed by another vehicle.

      The Prius is not the first vehicle to serve as a target in the sea of disdain and resentment that is flooding U.S. roads as commuters jam highways and gas prices linger at historically high prices. The Web site IhateHummer.Com encourages motorists to give Hummer owners a one-finger hello. Vandals in Washington D.C. smashed a new Hummer last year and left environmental messages painted on the side of the large SUV.

      A Toyota spokesman said the violence may be motivated by people angry with the environmental movement in the U.S. since the Prius is now a symbol for greens and environmentally conscience consumers. In California, many hybrid drivers can legally drive in carpool lanes without any passengers as a reward for burning less gasoline and producing fewer environmentally harmful emissions.

      "For people who are sitting in traffic in an SUV, to see a Prius go by with just a driver in it , maybe there's some resentment there as well," the spokesman suggested.

      One new Web site, PriusDrivers.Com, proclaims "I hate Prius drivers. 'I'm better than you are! I drive a Prius,'" underscoring the harsh highway relations polluting roads across the country.

      The violence against Prius owners is now a topic of worried discussion on Internet sites like PriusChat.Com. "Unfortunately, some of the hatred directed against Prius drivers doesn't end with words. In the most brutal of a spate of violent attacks against the hybrids and their owners this year, someone torched a six-month-old Prius parked on a residential street in Los Angeles seven weeks ago," one contributor wrote.

      The atmosphere of anti-Prius violence is a cause for concern among many owners of the fuel efficient hybrids. "My Prius was hit in a Costco parking lot with large parking spaces. My right rear bumper was smashed in. I was at an end spot against the curb. Of course no one saw anything and no name was left. The next time I went to Costco I was shaking as I headed out the door," wrote one Prius owner.

      "Sure, there are small minded people out there that probably target Prii. They will probably be the last holdouts to drive their perfectly good trucks to the junk yard and sell them for $200 worth of scrap metal when gas goes up to 8 bucks a gallon or more," replied another Prius owner.

      Prius Vandalism On the Rise in California...
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      CDC Counts 2.4 Million Tobacco-Linked Cancer Cases in Five Years

      Lung and bronchial cancers top the list

      Despite decades-long efforts to curtail its use, tobacco remains a serious health issue. A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports some 2.4 million cases of tobacco-related cancers were diagnosed in the United States from 1999 to 2004, with lung and bronchial cancer accounting for almost half of these diagnoses.

      The study marks the first time CDC has reported on all tobacco-related cancers for more than 90 percent of the population.

      "The data in this report provides additional, strong evidence of the serious harm related to tobacco," said Sherri Stewart, Ph.D., in CDC's Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, who is the lead author of the study. "We've long known tobacco was associated with lung and laryngeal cancer, but this study gives us even greater clarity. The rates for these two cancers were highest in areas with the highest prevalence of tobacco use."

      Since 1964, the U.S. Surgeon General has found tobacco use causes cancers of lung and bronchial, laryngeal, oral cavity and pharyngeal, esophageal, stomach, pancreatic, kidney and renal pelvis, urinary bladder, cervical and acute myelogenous leukemia.

      Though tobacco is a major cause for all the cancers presented in this report, not all cases of cancer studied could be linked directly to tobacco use, the authors said. Some of these cancers have several important risk factors such as infections or genetic factors that can operate in concert with, or independently, of tobacco. In addition, information on tobacco use was not available in these databases. Therefore, some cases of cancer included in this report may not be attributable to tobacco use.

      Key Findings:

      Age-adjusted rates are presented in parentheses where appropriate and are per 100,000 persons.

      • The incidence of tobacco-related cancers was higher among black and non-Hispanic populations, and among men, which reflect patterns of tobacco use.

      • Lung, laryngeal, and cervical cancer incidence rates were highest in the South, where the highest prevalence of smoking exists. Kentucky had the highest rates of lung cancer among men and women (133.2 and 75.5, respectively), the third highest rate of laryngeal cancers among men (9.7) and the highest rate of laryngeal cancer among women (2.6). Kentucky had the highest prevalence of current smoking (28.6 percent).

      • States with the lowest smoking rates are in the West: Utah (10.4 percent), California (18.5 percent), and Montana (18.5 percent). Cancer incidence rates were consistently lowest in the West for all the cancers, with the exception of stomach cancer.

      • In 2004, lung and bronchial cancer incidence rates were highest among men in the South (97.9) and lowest in the West (66.0); Among women, rates were similar in the South, Midwest, and Northeast regions (55.3-56.4) and were lowest in the West (48.1)

      • In 2004, laryngeal cancer incidence rates were highest among men in the South (8.4) region of the United States and lowest in the West (4.8). Among women, rates were similar in the South, Midwest, and Northeast (1.6-1.7) and were lowest in the West (1.1).

      • The high incidence rates of both lung and laryngeal cancer in the South are consistent with smoking patterns and reflect the strong association of these cancers with tobacco use.

      The report also noted other cancers associated with tobacco use (pancreas, urinary bladder, esophagus, kidney, stomach, cervix, and AML) accounted for more than 1 million cases diagnosed.

      "Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States and the most prominent cause of cancer," said Matthew McKenna, M.D., M.P.H., director, CDC's Office on Smoking and Health. "The tobacco-use epidemic causes a third of the cancers in America. If proven strategies were fully implemented to decrease tobacco use, much of the suffering and death that cancer inflicts on families and communities could be prevented."

      CDC Counts 2.4 Million Tobacco-Linked Cancer Cases in Five Years...
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      Late-Model Used Car can Save Thousands Over First Five Years

      "Sweet spot" of auto deals

      Want a good deal on a car? Then skip the new car ads and instead look for a recent vintage used car.

      A new Consumer Reports study of owner costs shows that choosing a reliable three-year-old car instead of a new one can save drivers thousands of dollars over the first five years. In many cases, that's enough to pay for all the gas used during that time.

      With relatively low mileage, modern safety and convenience features, and usually a much lower price than similar new vehicles, late-model used cars are in the sweet spot of auto deals.

      On average, CR's findings show that consumers can save 32 percent in the first five years by buying a three-year-old car. Similarly, with a one or two-year-old car, they can save 19 and 27 percent, respectively.

      According to the analysis, buying a 2005 Toyota Camry with a V6 engine, for example could save consumers about $13,000 over five years compared with buying a new 2008 version. At $4 per gallon, the driver could pay for all of his or her gas during that period, based on driving 12,000 miles per year, and still be almost $2,500 ahead.

      Similarly, driving a 2005 Ford Focus can save more than $8,000 over the first five years, compared with buying the new Focus. And with demand for big SUVs plummeting and their used-car values dropping, drivers could save $25,500 over five years by buying a three-year-old Chevrolet Tahoe instead of a new one.

      CR's five-year owner costs are based on:

      • Depreciation --- calculated by using CR's Auto Price Service;

      • Fuel costs --- $4 a gallon for regular gas and $4.20 for premium, based on driving 12,000 miles annually and CR's overall fuel economy for the vehicle;

      • Insurance -- the cost of insuring an average driver based on data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety;

      • Interest --- CR assumed buyers purchased cars with a 15 percent down on a five-year loan (Bankrate.com was the source for the average interest rate);

      • Maintenance and repairs --- Data were taken from CR's 2007 Annual Auto Reliability Survey;

      • Sales tax --- Calculated using the national average at the time of purchase.

      "A reliable late-model used car can be one of the best values out there when buying a car," said Rik Paul, automotive editor, Consumer Reports. "Savvy shoppers can also get a more upscale model with more features for the same owner cost as a less expensive new car."

      Why used cars are good values

      The real key to used-car savings is depreciation, or how much value a car loses over time. On average, depreciation accounts for a whopping 45 percent of a new vehicle's owner costs over the first five years, with the steepest drop in value coming in the first year.

      By contrast, a three-year-old vehicle has already taken its biggest hit in resale value. Its depreciation accounts for only about 25 percent of its five-year owner costs. Big depreciation for new cars means lower prices for used cars, which in turn mean lower finance charges and sales tax. When combined, that can cut owner cost dramatically.

      However, CR found that some popular models such as the Mini Cooper and Toyota Prius don't depreciate much. So buying a used version of those models results in modest savings.

      Many people shy away from buying a used car because they're afraid of buying someone else's problems. Yet CR's reliability data show that cars, overall, are much more reliable than they used to be. Rust and exhaust-system problems, once common in older cars, are no longer of major concern. And reliable late-model vehicles usually have few problems overall. That said, if a car hasn't been well-maintained, reliability and value are wild cards.

      Bottom Line

      While most used cars on the market are five years or older, it's worth looking for late-model used vehicles that are three years old or less. Drivers can often find a late-model used car with many of the latest safety features, such as electronic stability control and side and curtain air bags. It's even possible to find one with a transferable factory warranty.

      Late-Model Used Car can Save Thousands Over First Five Years...
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