Current Events in December 2010

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    Potential E. Coli Prompts Organic Beef Recall

    California firm reports possible contamination

    California-based First Class Foods, Inc., is recalling approximately 34,373 pounds of organic ground beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today.

    The following products are subject to recall:

    • 16-oz. packages of "NATURE'S HARVEST ORGANIC GROUND BEEF BRICK" sold singly with one of the following "USE or FREEZE by" dates: "12/30/10" or "01/08/11."
    • 16-oz. packages of "ORGANIC HARVEST ORGANIC GROUND BEEF BRICK" sold singly and in three-packs with one of the following "USE or FREEZE by" dates: "12/28/10" or "01/06/11."
    • 16-oz. packages of NATURE'S HARVEST GROUND PATTY" containing four (4) 4-oz. patties with the following "USE or FREEZE by" date: "12/30/10" or "01/08/11"

    According to the manufacturers, each package label bears the establishment number "EST. 18895" as well as the identifying Pack Date of "10341 and 10350 Julian date.

    The ground beef products in question were produced on Dec. 7, 2010, and Dec. 16, 2010, and were shipped to retail establishments in Calif., N.J., N.Y., N.C., Wis., and Wash. State. When available, the retail distribution list(s) will be posted on FSIS' website.

    According to FSIS, the problem was discovered through company microbiological sampling which confirmed a positive result for E. coli O157:H7. FSIS and the company have received no reports of illnesses associated with consumption of these products. However, individuals concerned about an illness should contact a physician.

    FSIS routinely conducts recall effectiveness checks to verify recalling firms notify their customers of the recall and that steps are taken to make certain that the product is no longer available to consumers.

    E. coli O157:H7 is a potentially deadly bacterium that can cause bloody diarrhea, dehydration, and in the most severe cases, kidney failure. The very young, seniors and persons with weak immune systems are the most susceptible to foodborne illness.

    An organic meat packer has recalled more than 34,000 pounds of beef for possible E. coli contamination....

    Borders Can't Afford to Pay Publishers for Books

    Are bookstores going the way of the drive-in movie theater?

    When was the last time you were in a bookstore? Exactly. On-line books sales and electronic readers have replaced our primary need for going there. There are other reasons to go to a book store, to socialize, or see what new books are out, but they have little to do with actually buying a book.

    And that's the conundrum facing the nation's second largest bookstore chain, Borders. Shares of Borders fell to below $1 after it announced that it couldn't afford to pay publishers for their books at this time and would have to delay payment.

    That news followed an earlier report in which Borders said a third party had lowered the value of its inventory in the event it had to sell the company or go out of business. That hurt Borders' ability to borrow and forced it into talks with senior credit facilities to refinance its debt.

    Borders spokeswoman Mary Davis says that as part of this potential refinancing, it is necessary for Borders to restructure its vendor financing arrangements and is delaying payments to some of its publishers. Davis added that Borders has notified the publishers and will be working with them to restructure payment arrangements.

    According to The Wall Street Journal, Borders admitted that there can be no assurance that its refinancing efforts will be successful. The company reiterated an earlier disclosure that without refinancing, it could violate its existing credit agreements in the first quarter of 2011 and experience what it called "a liquidity shortfall."

    Earlier this month, there was a report that Bill Ackman, who runs the Pershing Square Capital hedge fund, was going to help finance a Borders-led takeover of Barnes and Noble, the nation's largest bookseller.

    Analysts say that deal would have made sense because it would put Borders deeper into the digital book store and hardware game, via Barnes and Noble's Nook. Now, however, they say the real problem isn't where Borders needs to be, it's where it is now, with a lot of property no one is visiting, or if they are visiting, just not buying books when they do.

    Fewer books

    Consumers are simply buying less published material in stores than ever before. That trend is not likely to change. But both Borders and Barnes and Noble have excessive real estate holdings that need to be cut.

    In December, Borders reported a loss of $74.4 million for the third quarter, nearly twice as deep as the loss posted a year earlier.

    Meanwhile, sales of electronic books and the devices used to read them exploded in popularity. Amazon, which sold about 2.4 million Kindles in 2009, is expected to at least double that number in 2010. Apple has sold about 7.5 million iPads since April.

    Barnes and Noble announced that same-store sales fell more than 3% in the most recent quarter at the same time the Nook, its e-reader, was breaking sales records.

    Barnes and Noble, which even put itself up for sale, so far hasn't attracted any buyers other than possibly Borders. But then that would appear to be like the Hindenburg buying the Titanic.

    Meanwhile both Borders and Barnes and Noble are closing stores. Borders is scheduled to close its downtown Portland store on January 7. The rest of the chain could be right behind.

    If you wonder what the future is for books, just think about the last time you bought a CD or even a DVD. It's unlikely that the physical book is going away completely, just as some audiophiles still prefer to listen to their music on vinyl. But there will probably be fewer print versions of books than there are today.

    Studies show people with e-readers are reading more than they did before. I know that's true among the people I know who have them, and they love their iPads, Kindles and Nooks. Still, it's a little sad to see bookstores close, even though I never go there anymore.

    I guess I just like to see them there when I drove by.

    Borders Can't Afford to Pay Publishers for Books. Are bookstores going the way of the drive-in movie theater? ...

    Feds: Avoid Rock Hard Extreme and Passion Coffee

    Sexual enhancement products contain undeclared drug ingredient

    Consumers are being advised not to purchase or use Rock Hard Extreme and Passion Coffee -- products promoted and sold as dietary supplements for sexual enhancement.

    These products are promoted and sold on various Websites and possibly in some retail stores.

    Users in jeopardy

    Food and Drug Administration (FDA) laboratory analysis confirmed that Rock Hard Extreme and Passion Coffee contain the undeclared ingredient sulfaildenafil. Sulfaildenafil is structurally similar to sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra, an FDA approved prescription drug for Erectile Dysfunction (ED).

    The undeclared ingredient may interact with nitrates found in some prescription drugs such as nitroglycerin and may lower blood pressure to dangerous levels. Men with diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or heart disease often take nitrates.

    Do not use

    Consumers should stop using these products immediately and throw them away. Anyone who has experienced any negative side effects is advised to consult a health care professional as soon as possible.

    Healthcare professionals and patients are encouraged to report adverse events or side effects related to the use of these products to the FDA's MedWatch Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program online, download the form or call 1-800-332-1088 to request a reporting form, then complete and return to the address on the pre-addressed form or submit by fax to 1-800-FDA-0178.

    Expanding marketplace

    FDA says there is a growing trend of products marketed as dietary supplements or conventional foods with hidden drugs and chemicals.  These products are typically promoted for sexual enhancement, weight loss, and bodybuilding, and are often represented as being “all natural.” 

    The agency is unable to test and identify all products marketed as dietary supplements on the market that have potentially harmful hidden ingredients.  Consumers should exercise caution before purchasing any product in the above categories.

    Feds: Avoid Rock Hard Extreme and Passion Coffee Sexual enhancement products contain undeclared drug ingredient...

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      Where the Jobs Are Most Likely To Be In 2011

      New survey tells you where to look amid signs that employment trends could be stronger

      If you're one of the millions of Americans looking for work, here's a bit of good news. According to a survey by, your prospect for finding work could be improving.

      But it will depend on the field you're in as well as where you are in the country.

      Hiring blitz?

      According to CareerBuilder's annual job forecast, more employers plan to add full-time, permanent headcount in 2011 compared with 2010, with a continued emphasis on hiring in technology and revenue-producing fields.

      The survey was conducted by Harris Interactive from November 15 to December 2 and included more than 2,400 hiring managers and human resource professionals across industries and company sizes.

      Matt Ferguson, CEO of CareerBuilder says more than half of employers reported they are in a better financial position today than they were one year ago and that 2011 will usher in a healthier employment picture as business leaders grow more confident in the economy.

      He added that although the survey indicates more jobs will be added in 2011 than 2010, job creation will remain gradual.

      Hiring plans

      The survey found 24 percent of employers plan to hire full-time, permanent employees in 2011, up from 20 percent in 2010 and 14 percent in 2009. Meanwhile, seven percent plan to decrease headcount -- a slight improvement from the nine percent in 2010 and 16 percent in 2009. Another 58 percent anticipate no change in their staff levels while 11 percent are unsure.

      As for part-time hiring, 13 percent expect to hire part-time employees in the next 12 months, up from 11 percent in 2010 and nine percent in 2009. Some five percent plan to decrease part-time help, an improvement from eight percent in 2010 and 14 percent in 2009. Approximately 71 percent anticipate no change in their staff levels while 12 percent are unsure.

      Businesses will be relying on interim solutions to help shoulder growing workloads. One-third of hiring managers (34 percent) reported they will hire contract or temporary workers to supplement leaner staffs in 2011, up from 30 percent last year and 28 percent in 2009.

      Of those hiring, nearly one-in-four (24 percent) expect to add more than last year. Some 39 percent plan to transition some contract or temporary staff into full-time, permanent employees.

      Hiring areas

      Among employers who plan to increase their full-time, permanent headcount in 2011, Sales is the most popular functional area they will be hiring for as they focus on expanding their customer base and market penetration.

      The top ten functional areas for recruitment include:

      • Sales - 27 percent
      • Information Technology - 26 percent
      • Customer Service - 25 percent
      • Engineering - 21 percent
      • Technology - 19 percent
      • Administrative - 17 percent
      • Business Development - 17 percent
      • Marketing - 17  percent
      • Research/Development - 15 percent
      • Accounting/Finance - 14 percent Hiring

      By region

      Similar to last year's forecast, more employers in the West plan to recruit new employees in 2011 than other regions. About 26 percent of hiring managers in the West reported they plan to add full-time, permanent headcount followed by 24 percent in the Northeast and 23 percent in the Midwest and South.

      Plans to downsize staffs are trending below the last two years with eight percent of employers in the South expecting to decrease headcount followed by seven percent in the Northeast, Midwest and West.

      Company size

      While small businesses have been slower to recover, hiring is gradually improving among companies of all sizes. About 30 percent of employers with more than 250 employees plan to increase full-time, permanent headcount in 2011, followed by 27 percent of employers with 51 to 250 employees, and 14 percent of employers with 50 or less employees.


      As for compensation, 41 percent of employers are concerned that their best talent will leave their organizations once the economy improves, as heftier workloads and longer hours take their toll on worker morale. Therefore, 67 percent said they will increase compensation for their existing staff in 2011, compared with 57 percent in 2010. While most employers estimate the average raise will be three percent or less, one-in-ten (10 percent) expect the average increase will be five percent or more.

      If you’re looking for work, a new survey shows the top ten fields in which companies will be hiring in 2011...

      10 Ways To Make Your Smartphone More Secure

      When it comes to security, treat your phone like your PC

      If 2010 was the year of the smartphone, 2011 could be the year of dangerous malware that targets those devices.

      Despite the huge sales of iPhones, Droids, Blackberries and others during the year, millions of consumers received new smartphones as Christmas gifts. All this creates a target-rich environment for hackers.

      “This year people will be doing more with their phones than ever before,” said John Hering, CEO and founder of Lookout Mobile Security. “As millions of new smartphone users come online this holiday season, we want to give them some simple tips to stay safe.”

      For anyone with a smartphone in the new year, Lookout Mobile Security created a quick list of tips to help smartphone owners stay safe:

      1. Set a password.

      One of the most common challenges for smartphone owners is losing the phone and all the personal data on it. Setting a strong password for your phone and enabling the screen auto-lock time to be five minutes is the simplest way to keep your personal information private during this busy season.

      2. Download the updates for your phone.

      Always take the extra time to download software updates. Often, they include patches to security flaws recently found in the software. Just like a desktop or laptop computer, staying up to date is your first line of defense from hackers and viruses.

      3. Treat your phone like your PC.

      As phones become more powerful and consumers do more with them, they become more attractive targets for malicious attacks. Protect yourself and your private data from malware, spyware and malicious apps by downloading a security app.

      4. Use discretion when downloading apps.

      One of the most exciting things to do with a new smartphone is explore all the great applications you can download onto it. As you begin to explore, make sure you download responsibly. Only download apps from sites you trust, check the app’s rating and read the reviews to make sure they’re widely used and respected.

      5. Pay attention to the private data accessed by apps.

      Applications have the capability to access a lot of information about you. When you install an app, take the time to read the data and personal information that it needs to access. Whether it is access to your location, your personal information or text messages, it should make sense that the application needs access to those capabilities.

       6. Download a “find your phone” app.

       No matter how diligent you are about keeping your phone on you at all times, you’re bound to lose it once, or it may even get stolen at some point. Download an app that helps you find your phone in case it is lost or stolen. Make sure you can remotely lock your phone if it is lost or stolen.

      7. Exercise caution with links in SMS messages.

      Smishing, or a combination of SMS texting and phishing, is when scammers send you a text to a malicious website or ask you to enter sensitive information. Don’t click on links in text messages or emails if you don’t know the sender or they look suspicious. Trust your instincts.

      8. On Public WiFi, limit email, social networking and only window shop.

      Public WiFi networks have become ubiquitous, but unfortunately securing the Websites you may access haven’t. Many Websites, email programs, instant messaging programs and social networking sites are not entirely safe to browse or access from a public WiFi network. Also, trying to limit your online shopping to “window shopping” on a public network.

      9. Never enter your credit card information on a site that begins with only “http//”.

      If a website ever asks you to enter your credit card information, you should automatically look to see if the web address begins with “https”. On unsecured networks, (those that have only have http://), a hacker could easily steal information like usernames, passwords and credit card numbers, which could lead to identity theft.

      10. Enable a Wipe feature on your phone.

      If you find yourself (or your phone) in a difficult situation, and you won’t be able to get your phone back, a Wipe application will clear all the data so your private information won’t fall into the wrong hands. If you can, try to download an app where you can wipe your SD card too.

      A security firm offers advice to protect your smartphone from malware...

      German Company Claims Successful Treatment of Parkinson's

      An artist with Parkinson's Disease is painting again After receiving adult stem cell therapy

      The use of embryonic stem cells to treat debilitating illness is still being hotly contested in the U.S.

      Meanwhile, two clinics in Germany report success using adult stem cell therapy for the past four years to treat such illnesses as Parkinson's, diabetes, cerebral palsy, heart disease, autism and even AIDS.

      Researchers in Germany announced that they have used adult stem cell therapy to cure a man afflicted with both leukemia and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

      Doctors from the Charite-University of Medicine in Berlin say that in 2007, a 44-year-old American patient volunteered to receive a then-experimental adult stem cell therapy to treat his leukemia. At the same time, the researchers decided to perform a stem-cell transplant in an effort to fight his HIV.

      Not only was the stem cell donor a good blood match for the patient, wrote the researchers, but he also had what the doctors determined was a gene mutation that demonstrated a natural resistance to HIV.

      Stunning success

      Now, three years later researchers say the patient shows no signs of either leukemia or HIV infection, and they are guardedly optimistic that he has been cured.

      The researchers say he has been taken off anti-retroviral drugs nearly a year ago and neither disease has shown signs of returning in the 20 months since he received the stem cells.

      Parkinson's treatment

      In Dusseldorf, Germany, the XCell-Center has been performing adult stem cell therapy since 2007 and has treated 4,000 patients.

      Recently, the personal doctor of a 61-year-old Australian painter who suffered from Parkinson's disease confirmed that his patient showed spectacular improvements after his successful stem cell treatment at the XCell-Center. The doctor described the patient as being 80 percent recovered.

      Embryonic stem cell controversy

      As for the controversial use of embryonic stem cells, two American companies won regulatory approval earlier this year to start the first experiments using embryonic stem cells on humans suffering from spinal cord injury and blindness.

      Doctors have known for some time now that embryonic stem cells can transform into nearly any cell in the human body, opening a path toward eliminating such ills as Parkinson's disease, paralysis, diabetes, heart disease, and maybe even aging.

      Critics of embryonic stem cell research argue that it should be banned because it involves the destruction of early human life. American scientist James Thomson's team isolated human embryonic stem cells for the first time 12 years ago and the field has been cloaked in controversy ever since.

      Legal wrangling

      Former President George W. Bush restricted federal funding for the research because it involves the disposal of human embryos -- a ban that President Barack Obama reversed shortly after taking office in 2009.

      But in August of 2010, Judge Royce Lamberth blocked federal government funding for embryonic stem cell research after ruling in favor of a coalition of groups.

      While the funding has since been permitted to go ahead pending appeal, the legal wrangling has left some scientists wondering about the future.

      Scientific workaround

      To get around the problems associated with embryonic stem cell research, scientists in 2010 forged new paths toward creating induced pluripotent cells, which can transform into skin, blood or heart cells. Embryonic stem cells are pluripotent cells.

      Writing in the journal Nature, Canadian researchers described their method of turning adult human skin cells into blood without manipulating them back into pluripotent cells, making the process more time efficient and potentially safer.

      And a Harvard University scientist, Derrick Rossi, discovered a way to avoid risky genetic modification and instead use RNA molecules to reprogram adult human cells into pluripotent cells without altering the DNA.

      Clinical trials

      Bob Lanza, chief scientist at Advanced Cell Technology, says that after a decade of intense controversy, the field of embryonic stem cell therapy is finally ready to start proving itself and to actually start helping patients suffering from a range of diseases.

      His company was cleared in November by the Food and Drug Administration to begin testing a therapy derived from embryonic stem cells to treat a rare form of blindness that strikes in childhood, known as Stargardt's disease. Clinical trials are expected to start in the coming months, and results could be known within six weeks.

      In October, Geron Corporation announced it had begun the first-ever test of human embryonic stem cells in a patient suffering from spinal cord injury. About a dozen patients are expected to participate in the year-long study. The primary aim of both studies is to gauge its safety, and not necessarily to restore mobility or vision.

      The major concern with stem cell therapies is that the transforming cells could form tumors. But if the methods appear safe, both companies aim to expand their trials to wider populations in the hopes of eventually curing paralysis and blindness.

      An adult stem cell treatment center in Germany claims it has successfully treated such debilitating diseases as Parkinson’s, diabetes, cerebral palsy and...

      More Jobs Going to Freelance Workers

      U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics finds freelancers one of the few growing "job" categories

      Research by The Human Capital Institute indicates that one-third of the U.S. work force is now composed of freelancers, also known as contract workers. And the institute says the pool of these workers, who often are part-time, is growing at more than twice the rate of the full-time work force.

      According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, freelancers were one of the few groups that continued to see job growth throughout the recession and the slow economic recovery. The bureau adds that this trend has been building for a number of years. From 1990 to 2008, the bureau says the number of contract positions grew from 1.1 million to 2.3 million and includes a larger share of workers in higher-skill occupations.

      Another labor bureau study found that about one in nine American workers is self-employed. It's not just entry level, or even midcareer, job hunters who are joining the freelance world. Increasingly, top-level managers and executive teams are being shaken from established bureaucracies, replaced by temporary CEOs and troubleshooters brought in for their expertise in solving specific problems.

      Corporations are sitting on piles of cash rather than investing in new employees to replace the ones they downsized in cost-cutting moves. Employers are waiting to add to permanent payrolls until they're more certain about the recovery, their future taxes and health care expenses.

      Furthermore, it's simply easier to bring in or release temporary freelance workers as needed. There's less expense in hiring or firing and less worry about employment-related lawsuits. To underscore this trend,, which claims to be the world's largest outsourcing marketplace, connecting small business with freelancers from around the world, says it has now registered two million professional freelancers. recently acquired the New York based outsourcing company LimeExchange. It says the two million freelancers and small businesses are from 240 countries, regions and territories worldwide. The largest country represented is the United States, with over 21% of users. Second is India with 19%.

      To date over 890,000 projects have been posted on, from projects as simple as designing a website or a logo to designing a fully functional dune buggy. One project called for the composition of a Rap Song to help Chinese students learn English. Each gig only pays a few hundred dollars and the average is under $200. Still, claims there are some who earn hundreds of thousands of dollars.

      Some possible good news for all you self-employed freelancers out there as hiring of freelancers appears to be on the rise ...

      Could Google Become Your Telephone Company?

      Some think the search giant is angling to become a wireless carrier

      Google already dominates the internet search market, owning an estimated 80% plus of all online searches. It's competing in the online shopping business with Google Shopping. Then there's Google TV, which is being held back for a re-tooling before it gets re-booted into our living rooms. And not long ago, Google took on Apple's iphone and RIM's Blackberry with its hot-selling Android smart phone operating system.

      Now, according to some, Google wants to become your telephone company as well. According to a report on Money from David Goldman, Google already has the technology necessary to become a mobile provider like Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint.

      Goldman writes that currently Google licenses its ultra-popular Android smartphone operating system and it is trying its hand at becoming an Internet service provider. But its biggest weapon appears to be Google Voice, a low-cost calling service that launched in May 2009. Just five months later, the service had 1.4 million users -- almost half of whom were using it every single day.

      Google currently relies on the other carriers to sell and support its devices. But Goldman says that over the years, Google has been assembling the pieces that would allow it to be its own carrier. He notes there are rumors that Google is buying up "dark fiber," broadband cables that have been laid but are not in use. Google refused to comment on those rumors.

      Goldman adds that in February 2010, the company announced that it will become an Internet provider of "ultra high-speed broadband" for up to 500,000 customers for a U.S. city. That project is still under development, but Google is about to start testing its service out at Stanford University.

      Goldman says Google already allows people to bypass their mobile carrier's service because the new version of Android ("Gingerbread") supports VoIP Internet calling, allowing users to make calls over Wi-Fi networks. Android by the way is currently the fastest-selling smartphone operating system with about 300,000 new Android devices being activated every day. Android is free for device manufacturers to license, so it has caught on like wildfire. Google makes its money by driving search traffic on Android phones.

      As for the phone market, Google began selling the Nexus One Android phone directly to consumers online. Even though it wasn't very successful, Goldman says Google has laid the foundation for a future in retail.

      The key question according to Goldman is would Google really be willing to give up its strong relationships with the carriers, most notably Verizon -- the largest network -- to go head-to-head with them in the wireless space?

      Goldman says it's probably not going to happen in the immediate future because Google relies so much on other carriers to adopt its software and drive customers to its search site. But down the road, Goldman says it's a real possibility.

      The Federal Communications Commission recently declined to enact strong Net neutrality rules for the wireless community. That leaves open the option for carriers to continue restricting their subscribers' access to some of Google's offerings. Goldman points out that there have already been a number of battles. Verizon made Microsoft's Bing the default search engine in some of its Android phones, depriving Google of that coveted spot, and it took more than a year of fighting to make Google Voice available for iPhone users.

      Not everyone agrees with Goldman. Forrester Research Analyst Jeffrey Hammond is quoted as saying, "While I think Google could become a mobile provider, I'd view it as a nuclear option." Hammond believes that as long as Google can get 300,000 new phones a day into customers' hands via the existing carriers, and as long as those devices allow consumers to download anything they want, there's no reason for them to compete as a carrier.

      Also Goldman points out the extensive regulatory scrutiny Google would face if it were to become a wireless provider. It has very little customer service or retail experience. And becoming a telecom carrier is an expensive business that could weigh on its margins. But when you have as much money as Google has, are such expenses are hardly an obstacle.

      Google took on Apple’s iphone with the Android smart phone operating system and now some believe it wants to be your telephone carrier as well...

      Ohio Courts Take Action In Foreclosure Cases

      Ohio Attorney General urges courts to do more to help homeowners dealing with foreclosures

      After a lull in foreclosure action in the last three months, many housing experts expect the process to crank up again as lenders put forward changes in their paperwork policies.

      But many homeowners are likely to fight their foreclosures, claiming lenders have abused the system with robo-signers and other steps to expedite the process. In Ohio, Attorney General Richard Cordray has requested that the state courts continue to pay close attention to foreclosure cases that may have affidavits signed by robo-signers.

      Taking action

      In support of continued vigilance, Cordray highlights several courts that have taken action to address the situation.

      "In tracking these cases throughout the state, we have found that judges are finding different ways to handle them," said Cordray. "Judges from Cuyahoga to Trumbull to Butler Counties have all found ways to deal with affidavits that may be fraudulent. I strongly urge other courts to consider options that will work best for them as our office decides how to handle the individual cases."

      • In Butler County, Ohio, Cordray says Judge Charles Pater issued an order denying GMAC's motion to ratify a judgment because "neither the Ohio Civil Rules nor the local rules of this court provide a procedure for or authorize a court to 'ratify' a final appealable order." The judge further stated that "the proper course of action would be for GMAC to first file a motion to set aside its judgment and then, once the court grants that motion, to refile its motion for summary judgment with a correctly executed affidavit in support."
      • In Cuyahoga County, Ohio, Judge Nancy Russo has scheduled a hearing requiring a foreclosure plaintiff "to provide the court with proof of integrity of all documents submitted." Another judge, Cordray says, has issued an order in a foreclosure case requiring that foreclosure counsel "personally certify the authenticity and accuracy of all documents submitted in support of judgment."
      • In Trumbull County, Ohio, a court sent a letter to foreclosure counsel requiring that affidavits state that the signatory "has personal knowledge of the file and has personally reviewed the documents."

      Courts to the rescue

      If courts are stepping in to help homeowners deal with foreclosure issues, it might offset the reduced help they are getting from the government, through official assistance programs. Officials in the Office of Thrift Supervision say fewer than a half million homeowners received help on their mortgages in the July-September quarter.

      That's down about 17 percent from the second quarter and down 32 percent from the third quarter of 2009. Officials say the decline is due to a recent slowdown in foreclosures and a shrinking pool of homeowners who qualify for modification programs.

      Homeowners are beginning to fight foreclosures in court and one Attorney General urges courts to take strong action against fraudulent paperwork....

      Rising Gas Prices Put a Chill in SUV Sales

      Compact SUVs still popular but full-size models may be hit hard

      With gas prices climbing steadily, car dealers are taking a wary look at full-sized SUVs. Nationwide pump prices are now averaging $3.05, up nearly 45 cents from a year ago and are already well into $4 territory in California and other fuel-hungry states.

      While SUV sales have not yet gone over the cliff, dealers surveyed by the trade journal Automotive News say they're not taking any chances. Dealers remember being stuck with lots full of hulking Expeditions, Hummers and Suburbans the last time gas prices spiked in the spring of 2008.

      Dealers fear they will soon find themselves drowning in SUVs again. “There are far more truck-based SUVs being traded in than customers to buy them,” said Mike Jackson, CEO of AutoNation.

      Rising gas prices and falling SUV demand can also hurt consumers who paid top dollar for a gargantuan family hauler when they try to trade it on a more economical vehicle.

      While electric cars like the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt have garnered rock-star-style press attention lately, dealers say that most consumers who might have bought a full-sized SUV a few months ago are now opting for compact crossovers – the Ford Escape, Nissan Rogue, Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 being the big sellers at the moment.

      The compact crossovers, or mini-SUVs, are built on car platforms instead of light-truck bodies, making them lighter, more economical and more maneuverable.

      Yours truly has been piloting a Volkswagen Tiguan with optional 4motion all-wheel-drive the last week or so through the snowy and icy roads of the Washington, D.C. area. It has been unfailingly sure-footed on slippery surfaces. Better yet, it is ready to rumble as soon as the pavement is dry, acting more like a Mini Cooper or VW Jetta on hilly, curvy roads.

      Most auto analysts think the smaller SUVs will satisfy all but the biggest families or most dedicated off-roaders while providing superior fuel economy and safety. The latest generation of crossovers are less top-heavy than earlier versions, they have stronger roofs and nearly all come with electronic stability control, invaluable in preventing rollovers.

      “The American consumer still generally wants to have a vehicle that offers a lot of utility but at the same time they are conscious of the fuel economy that the vehicle offers and what they are going to pay at the end of the month,” said Kelley Blue Book's Alec Gutierrez in a statement to Automotive News.

      Speaking of Kelley Blue Book, it and other online and print publications may not yet have caught up with falling SUV values, as their statistics are based primarily on transactions that have already happened and may not be truly up to the minute.

      In other words, just because you find an online or print estimate that your 2003 Expedition is worth $7,700, that doesn't mean you'll get that on a trade or that your neighbor will rush to buy it from you at that price.

      On the other hand, a vehicle's value is not measured only in dollars.  Some hardy Northeasterners say they would have been hopelessly marooned during this week's blizzard had it not been for their big SUVs and say they will keep driving them until the wheels fall off.

      Rising Gas Prices Put a Chill in SUV Sales Compact SUVs still popular but full-size models may be hit hard...

      iPhone, Android, Mac OSX Likely Malware Targets in 2011

      Hackers turn attention to newly popular devices, systems

      The most popular smartphones with consumers appear to be in the greatest danger of viruses and malware in the coming year, according to the security firm McAfee.

      In its 2011 Threat Predictions report, the company's list comprises 2010's most buzzed about platforms and services, including Google's Android, Apple's iPhone, foursquare, Google TV and the Mac OSX platform, which are all expected to become major targets for cybercriminals.

      McAfee Labs also predicts that politically motivated attacks will be on the rise, as more groups are expected to repeat the WikiLeaks paradigm.

      "We've seen significant advancements in device and social network adoption, placing a bulls-eye on the platforms and services users are embracing the most," said Vincent Weafer, senior vice president of McAfee Labs. "These platforms and services have become very popular in a short amount of time, and we're already seeing a significant increase in vulnerabilities, attacks and data loss."

      URL-shortening services

      Social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook have created the movement toward an "instant" form of communication, a shift that will completely alter the threat landscape in 2011. Of the social media sites that will be most riddled with cybercriminal activity, McAfee Labs expects those with URL-shortening services will be at the forefront.

      The use of abbreviated URLs on sites like Twitter makes it easy for cybercriminals to mask and direct users to malicious websites. With more than 3,000 shortened URLs per minute being generated, McAfee Labs expects to see a growing number used for spam, scamming and other malicious purposes.

      Geolocation services

      Locative services such as foursquare, Gowalla and Facebook Places can easily search, track and plot the whereabouts of friends and strangers. In just a few clicks, cybercriminals can see in real time who is tweeting, where they are located, what they are saying, what their interests are, and what operating systems and applications they are using.

      This wealth of personal information on individuals enables cybercriminals to craft a targeted attack. McAfee Labs predicts that cybercriminals will increasingly use these tactics across the most popular social networking sites in 2011.

      Mobile attacks

      Threats on mobile devices have so far been few and far between, as "jailbreaking" on the iPhone and the arrival of Zeus were the primary mobile threats in 2010. With the widespread adoption of mobile devices in business environments, combined with historically fragile cellular infrastructure and slow strides toward encryption, McAfee Labs predicts that 2011 will bring a rapid escalation of attacks and threats to mobile devices, putting user and corporate data at very high risk.

      Creases in Apple's armor?

      Historically, the Mac OS platform has remained relatively unscathed by malicious attackers, but McAfee Labs warns that Mac-targeted malware will continue to increase in sophistication in 2011. The popularity of iPads and iPhones in business environments, combined with the lack of user understanding of proper security for these devices, will increase the risk for data and identity exposure, and will make Apple botnets and Trojans a common occurrence.

      Privacy leaks—from your TV

      New Internet TV platforms were some of the most highly-anticipated devices in 2010. Due to the growing popularity among users and "rush to market" thinking by developers, McAfee Labs said it expects an increasing number of suspicious and malicious apps for the most widely deployed media platforms, such as Google TV.

      These apps will target or expose privacy and identity data, and will allow cybercriminals to manipulate a variety of physical devices through compromised or controlled apps, eventually raising the effectiveness of botnets.

      Disguised as a friend

      Malicious content disguised as personal or legitimate emails and files to trick unsuspecting victims will increase in sophistication in 2011. "Signed" malware that imitates legitimate files will become more prevalent, and "friendly fire," in which threats appear to come from your friends but in fact are viruses such as Koobface or VBMania, will continue to grow as an attack of choice by cybercriminals.

      McAfee Labs said it expects these attacks will go hand in hand with the increased abuse of social networks, which will eventually overtake email as a leading attack vector.


      Botnets continue to use a seemingly infinite supply of stolen computing power and bandwidth around the globe. Following a number of successful botnet takedowns, including Mariposa, Bredolab and specific Zeus botnets, botnet controllers must adjust to the increasing pressure cybersecurity professionals are placing on them. McAfee Labs predicts that the recent merger of Zeus with SpyEye will produce more sophisticated bots due to improvements in bypassing security mechanisms and law enforcement monitoring.

      Additionally, McAfee Labs said it expects to see a significant botnet activity in the adoption of data-gathering and data-removal functionality, rather than the common use of sending spam.


      Next year marks a time in which politically motivated attacks will proliferate and new sophisticated attacks will appear. More groups will repeat the WikiLeaks example, as hacktivism is conducted by people claiming to be independent of any particular government or movement, and will become more organized and strategic by incorporating social networks in the process.

      McAfee Labs said it believes hacktivism will become the new way to demonstrate political positions in 2011 and beyond.

      A whole new category

      Operation Aurora gave birth to the new category of advanced persistent threat (APT, a targeted cyberespionage or cybersabotage attack that is carried out under the sponsorship or direction of a nation-state for something other than pure financial/criminal gain or political protest. McAfee Labs warns that companies of all sizes that have any involvement in national security or major global economic activities should expect to come under pervasive and continuous APT attacks that go after email archives, document stores, intellectual property repositories and other databases.

      Internet security firm McAfee has issued its 2011 threat assessment....

      Consumer Groups Oppose Federal Reserve Home Lending Rules Changes

      Consumer groups coalition says the proposals enable loan scams on senior citizens

      Proposed changes to home lending rules from the Federal Reserve Board not only exceed its authority, but could actually encourage predatory lending targeted at senior citizens, according to a coalition of consumer groups.

      In response to the "flawed proposals", the Center for Responsible Lending, the National Consumer Law Center (on behalf of its low-income clients), the National Association of Consumer Advocates, the California Reinvestment Coalition, the National Fair Housing Alliance and others have urged the Federal Reserve Board to withdraw its proposed regulations under the Truth in Lending Act. The Fed’s proposals involving reverse mortgages and the right to cancel illegal loans "would be particularly harmful to senior citizens," the groups contend.

      Reverse mortgage concerns

      The Fed has issued a wide-ranging proposal on reverse mortgages -- a loan product that represents a growing market for lenders, but which the coalition believes can pose major risks for older homeowners. In comments submitted to the Board, the groups detail how the Board’s proposal would permit several negative outcomes:

      • Bundling harmful and unnecessary products with reverse mortgages.  When seniors get a reverse mortgage, the lender would be allowed to also sell them harmful or unnecessary financial products after a 10-day waiting period.
      • False advertising. Would allow advertisers to make false statements, such as “you can never lose your home,” as long as they present additional information.
      • Gouging homeowners unfairly.  Would open the door for a harmful new type of reverse mortgage where borrowers could owe much more than the home is worth.  As it stands now, borrowers cannot owe more than the home is worth if they pay off the reverse mortgage by selling the home.
      • Undermining the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Clashes with specific requirements in the financial reform bill passed last summer, which calls on the CFPB to study reverse mortgages and issue regulations based on its findings.

      Right of rescission

      Another major issue involves the “right of rescission,” which provides homeowners up to three years to refinance or restructure a mortgage if a lender made the loan without providing timely and accurate disclosures about the loan’s terms and conditions.

      Under the new proposal, the definition of "accurate" disclosures would be relaxed, allowing -- for example -- a lender to tell a homeowner that the monthly payment was $100 less than it actually was. The groups urge the Fed to preserve this right of rescission, which has been a major tool in combating predatory lending.

      The groups, which also included Consumers Union, Consumer Action, the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project and the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, say that although some parts of the Fed’s proposal are positive, on balance they believe “some of the proposals are extremely damaging to consumers and to preservation of homeownership, and are beyond the Board’s authority.”

      Consumer Groups Opposes Federal Reserve Home Lending Rules Changes Consumer groups coalition says the proposals enable loan scams on senior citizens...

      Bank of America Ends Year With Flurry of Lawsuits

      Plaintiffs allege a variety of offenses against bank

      Bank of America (BOA) is facing an onslaught of litigation, with plaintiffs accusing it of everything from wrongfully foreclosing on their homes to failing to comply with loan modification obligations.

      The bank received some unwanted attention last week when a California woman filed suit, saying her home had been wrongfully repossessed. When she returned from a ski trip to her home in Truckee, Mimi Ash found that the locks had been changed. And once she finally managed to get inside, Ash discovered that all of her possessions had been swept from the house -- furniture, clothing, even her son’s ski medals and her deceased husband’s ashes.

      “This is in essence a burglary, but when a burglar goes in, they don’t take your photos and your husband’s ashes,” Ash told the New York Times, adding that the house had turned into a “sad reminder that 22 years of my history vanished.”

      Other snafus

      Ash’s story, though nightmarish, was far from unique. Last October, BOA foreclosed on a Pittsburgh house, incorrectly labeling it as vacant and in default. The bank cut power and water lines, poured antifreeze down the drains, and took a macaw that was living inside.

      And a Texas resident found his paid-up home padlocked with the power shut off, leaving 75 pounds of frozen fish to slowly roast in the southern heat. Both homeowners filed suit.

      TARP suits

      The bank is also facing at least three suits claiming that it reneged on duties it undertook by accepting $25 billion under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). 

      The suits, filed by the attorneys general of Nevada and Arizona, and by private plaintiff Susan Fraser of Missouri, say that, by accepting TARP money, Bank of America agreed to engage in a TARP-authorized foreclosure prevention program.

      Fraser alleges that in April 2009, the bank promised the U.S. Treasury Department that it would comply with provisions in the Treasury Department Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) relating to loan modifications and other foreclosure prevention methods. She contends that the bank reneged on that obligation out of a desire to maximize its profit margin.

      “Under HAMP, the federal government incentivizes participating servicers to make adjustments to existing mortgage obligations in order to make the monthly payments more affordable,” Fraser’s complaint alleges. “However, this incentive is countered by a number of financial factors that make it more profitable for a mortgage for a mortgage servicer such as Bank of America to avoid modification and to continue to keep a mortgage in a state of default or distress and to push loans towards foreclosure.”

      Litigious year at BofA

      It has been a busy -- and litigious -- year for Bank of America. In February, the bank was hit with a suit accusing it of duping shareholders when merging with Merrill Lynch. That suit, filed by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, alleged that the bank failed to disclose Merrill’s huge losses in order to complete the deal more quickly. And in June, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan charged that the bank discriminated against minority borrowers when making lending decisions.

      The latest suits suggest that BOA wasn’t entirely serious when it committed in January to redouble its loan modification efforts. At that time, the bank announced the launch of its “Second Lien Modification Program,” which was intended to reduce the monthly payments on qualifying home equity loans and lines of credit under certain conditions, such as completion of a HAMP modification on the first mortgage on the property.

      Bank of America Ends Year With Flurry of Lawsuits Plaintiffs allege avariety of offenses against bank...

      New Facebook Message Asks For More Info In the Name of Security

      Security expert weighs in on whether giving Facebook additional info will keep you safe

      If you were wary of a message from Facebook about your profile security levels being low, you’re not alone.

      Considering the recent rash of profile hack-ins and password breaches, many Facebook users are thinking before clicking these days.

      And with good reason: hackers have been able to access thousands of profiles this year either due to user error or other sites’ negligence (see: Gawker’s massive password snafu from two weeks ago).

      But this message, appearing on profiles everywhere, despite looking similar to fake anti-virus and phishing virus pop-ups, is actually from Facebook.

      According to the social networking site, many (if not all) profiles have low or “very low” account protection statuses -- even the profiles run by very tech-savvy users.


      Facebook’s apparent solution to this problem is what leaves some Internet security experts scratching their heads. Is it making your password harder to guess? Or disabling rogue applications?

      Nope. It’s giving Facebook more of your personal information.

      Once the note’s “increase protection” link is clicked, Facebook asks for an additional email address; a different one than was used to create the profile.

      “Facebook's thinking is that if you lose control of the, say, Hotmail or Gmail account that you normally log into the site with, you'll be able to regain access to your Facebook account by giving them an alternative email address. They could then use this, for instance, to communicate with you,” said Graham Cluely, senior technology consultant at

      Which is all well and good, but Cluely wonders if Facebook’s intentions are not purely security-related.

      Where does it go?

      Along with the obvious issue of people who use the same password for their email accounts and their Facebook profile (don’t, by the way), Cluely points out Facebook makes no mention of what else, exactly, they possibly plan to do with users’ alternate email addresses.

      “Not only would you be right to be concerned about whether you are increasing the potential for data loss by sharing alternative email addresses with online companies, but is it possible that Facebook might also use this secondary email address to further interconnect you with possible contacts?” said Cluely.

      While Cluely points out Facebook has good intentions, attempting to cull data from users to help them regain control of compromised profiles, the company is going about it in a curious way. They also want your phone number.

      Along with another email address, Facebook claims your profile security will be beefed up if you provide your cell phone number (for those users who haven’t already).  

      Facebook is possibly asking for this so users will be able to utilize the new “one-time password” feature they announced plans for in October 2010.

      For users whose profiles have been compromised, they can receive a one-time temporary password to access their account via text -- only if Facebook has the mobile phone number on file, of course.

      Unanswered questions

      Again, all well and good, but Cluely brings up some interesting, real life problems with this “security fix.”

      “What happens if you lose your mobile phone, or someone else briefly swipes it from your jacket pocket? Then an unauthorized individual -- whether they be a potential identity thief or a jealous partner -- could potentially access your account via the system,” he said.

      Plus, if Facebook has your cell phone number on hand, what else are they planning to do with it?

      Lastly, Facebook wants you to pick one of their “security questions” and provide an answer only you would know. This would also act like a password in a pinch. But again, Cluely points out the flaw in Facebook’s plan.

      The questions, including “In what city or town was your mother born?” and “What was the first name of the first boy or girl you ever kissed?” are ones whose answers could, relatively easily, be guessed based on… wait for it… information culled from people’s profiles.

      “Where's the advice from Facebook that you shouldn't answer these questions honestly? Where's the option to write your own question?” wonders Cluely.

      While Facebook appears concerned about profile security, many users are unhappy with the way, intentional or not, they‘re presenting the issue.

      “The suggestion that users' accounts currently have a protection status of ‘very low’ is entirely misleading and stinks of scare tactics,” said Cluely.

      Simple fixes

      For users who don’t want to provide additional information to Facebook, but are still concerned about keeping their profiles safe, there are some simple fixes:

      • Choose a Facebook password that is completely different from all your other passwords. Mixing upper-and lower-case letters along with a few numbers is always a safe bet. If you’re scared about forgetting it, write it down and keep it in a safe place.
      • Log out of your account every time you’re finished with it. Even if you think you’re the only one using that computer or handheld device.
      • Don’t use the word “password.” Seriously.

      New Facebook Message Asks For More Info in The Name of Security Security expert weighs in on whether giving Facebook additional info will keep you safe ...

      Is Your Checking Account Looking a Little Light?

      Maybe it's time to plug up those slow financial leaks

      Do you read your bank and financial statements every month? You probably scan them, just to make sure there's enough money there to cover expenses, right?

      That's what I used to do until one day something jumped out at me. It was a monthly charge of $19 for AOL. Wait, wasn't AOL free now? So I called them and was told that I had the option of using AOL for free or for paying a monthly charge to have extra benefits. I said in that case I'll take the free version thank you.

      I then started to scrutinize the statement more carefully and realized there were a number of things I was being charged for every month that I no longer use or need, such as a subscription to an investment newspaper I get for free at work, or an upgrade to a jobsite that I could just as easily access for free. By time I was done cancelling these small but annoying charges, I had saved close to $300 a month.

      So here's a list of some of the things you may be paying for each month that are draining your checking account. Some of these tips are supplied by the Motley Fool while others come from yours truly.

      1. Banking fees. These can often be hard to spot. But the Motley Fool says that if you're being over-charged for banking, it may be time to evaluate your choice of financial institutions. Things to watch out for include being double charged for fees for both online and paper statements. There are banks that give you online service for free. You might also want to approach your existing bank to see if you qualify for an account upgrade that will offer you free checks or other perks and save you money in the process.

      2. Programs through your employer. This has happened to me a few times. I once continued to pay for legal services even though I realized I was probably never going to use them. Unfortunately, I just forgot about it until my year-end payroll statement showed the $200 that had gone out my pay check in small amounts each month. I immediately plugged that leak. So don't just look over your bank statement. Check your monthly pay statement for anything your employer may withholding, that you forgot to stop.

      3. Netflix. Here's a no-brainer and I hope Netflix doesn't cancel my subscription over it because I need my Netflix. I used to pay around $20 a month so I could have three DVDs out at the same time. Today, I pay $11. The difference is that now I watch many of the movies streaming online through my Blu-ray player on my television. I reduced my plan to I can watch as many streaming movies as I want and still get one DVD at a time in the mail.

      4. Web hosting.  Are you paying for any web hosting fees for a site you no longer use or for something you could be getting for free, like access to AOL and AOL email?

      5. Cable charges have always been one of my pet peeves. Mine got to over $250 a month before I realized something was very wrong. Who in their right mind pays that much just to watch television? I immediately canceled my cable subscription and went to a competitor who gave me one of those great $99 a year combo deals that includes hi-def television, telephone and high speed internet. If you don't want to cancel cable television completely, you could always drop some of those premium channels you never watch. Go from a gold to a silver plan and you'll probably save $30 or $40 a month depending on the provider.

      6. Gym membership. This one's up to you. If you go to the gym a lot, the more power to you, but if you're like a lot of us, who sign up right after the first of the year and then seem to be unable to fit another trip to the gym into our busy schedules for the rest of the year. If that's you, take a look at your contract and figure out when it makes sense to opt out. You can use that money to pay all those other bills you still have to pay.

      7. Credit protection programs. This is basically a scam that credit card companies try to pull in order to scare you into thinking you should pay for extra protection against fraud or theft. Check out the fine print on your credit card agreement. Chances are they already offer this protection and you don't need any upgrade and additional charges.

      8. Credit monitoring services. Here's another waste of money. There are basically three credit monitoring services and they charge monthly fees to keep you apprised of your credit report. But according to federal law, you're supposed to be able to get a credit report every 12 months from each of the credit bureaus for free. If you space out your requests, and ask for Experian's report on January 1, Trans Union's four months later in May, and your Equifax credit report in September, you can monitor your own credit all year long and it won't cost you anything. Go to

      9. The Library. Today, you can get most anything you want to either read, watch or listen to at the library and you won't have to pay for it, unless you're late bringing it back. Want to save a bundle? Use your local library. They have everything from books, magazines, newspapers, computers, DVDs, and Blu-ray Discs, and CDs (remember those?) They also have access to data bases you and I would have to pay for that you can use for free. They're also great places to meditate because they tend to be quiet.

      Money could be flowing out of your checking or cash management account and you don’t even realize it until you read your monthly statement...

      Full-Body Scanners on Incoming Congress' Radar

      Scanner industry books non-stop lobbying flights to protect its turf

      Grumbling over weather-related delays this holiday season temporarily displaced consumer complaints about the full-body scanners that are being rushed into service at airports around the country, but the debate is likely to resume as soon as the snow melts.

      Passengers' complaints – traditionally given little more than lip service – may find a friendlier reception among at least some of the incoming Republicans elected to Congress. Those of the Tea Party persuasion have let it be known that stopping government waste and protecting individual rights – well, some individual rights anyway -- will be at or near the top of their agenda.

      For the defense contractors and high-tech industries that have come to rely on a steady stream of lucrative contracts from the Department of Homeland Security, this is about as welcome as being pulled out of line at the airport for an "enhanced" pat-down.

      But fear not. The scanner-makers aren't letting their guard down. They're hiring armies of lobbyists to plead their case on Capitol Hill. The Washington Post reported recently that top scanner manufacturers spent at least $6 million on lobbying during 2010. As public opposition to the scanners grows, it's likely to be an even bigger bonanza for the lobbyists, who are often former government employees or Congressmen.

      In fact, citizens who wanly pine for bipartisanship on Capitol Hill need look no farther than K Street, NW, D.C.'s fertile field where "retired" Republicans and Democrats graze among the lush greenery sown by the companies that harvest billions annually from the public coffers.

      Odd couples

      One such unlikely couple: former U.S. Senator Alfonse D'Amato (R-N.Y.) and Linda Daschle, wife of Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.), the former Senate majority leader. They labor in the vineyards for L-3 Communications, a New York-based company that has so far won about $900 million of TSA business for its airport body scanners.

      Then there's Michael Chertoff. Remember him? Not long ago, Chertoff headed the Department of Homeland Security. After leaving DHS, he worked as a "consultant" for Rapiscan, another scanner-maker.

      It's this kind of revolving-door job-jumping that makes would-be reformers, like Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), see red.

      Chaffetz made jaws drop in 2009 when he introduced legislation to ban whole-body imaging at airports, saying that, Passengers expect privacy underneath their clothing and should not be required to display highly personal details of their bodies as a pre-requisite to boarding an airplane.”

      Whole-body imaging is exactly what it says; it allows TSA employees to conduct the equivalent of a strip search. Nobody needs to see my wife and kids naked to secure an airplane. At $170,000 apiece, we can hardly afford the machines,” Chaffetz said back in April 2009.

      Industry was quick to respond to Chaffetz, sending up attack squadrons of lobbyists to argue that the scanners provided the most reliable safeguard against terror in the sky. Perhaps more persuasive was the Christmas Day 2009 "underwear bomber," a would-be terrorist who attempted to detonate explosives concealed in his underwear on a flight approaching Detroit.

      Even Chaffetz was moved to change his position. A few days after the Christmas Day incident, he said he would support the machines being widely deployed.

      No clothes

      But notwithstanding the boxer-bomb fears, privacy advocates and civil libertarians say the king has no clothes.

      They argue that the full-body scanners will go the way of the "puffers," the short-lived devices that tried to sniff passengers for explosive residues. They were abandoned as impractical after the TSA spent $30 million on them.

      Among the most persistent critics is the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which has filed suit to stop the use of the scanners on the grounds that the procedure is "unlawful, invasive, and ineffective."

      The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has scheduled oral arguments in the case for March 10, 2011.

      In its opening brief, EPIC argued that the federal agency has violated the Administrative Procedures Act, the Privacy Act, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Video Voyeurism Prevention Act, and the Fourth Amendment

      Whether the new Congress is willing to fight heavy headwinds to throttle back the flow of taxpayer money to the scanner industry remains to be seen.

      Full-Body Scanners on Incoming Congress' Radar...

      Taxpayers To See More Generous Deductions In 2011

      Tax breaks expanded because of inflation

      At the end of the year Congress extended tax cuts for all taxpayers for another two years, but it turns out that's not the only tax benefit you'll enjoy in the new year.

      The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has announced that, in 2011 personal exemptions and standard deductions will rise and tax brackets will widen due to inflation.

      These inflation adjustments relate to eight tax provisions that were either modified or extended by the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010 that became law on Dec. 17.

      New dollar amounts affecting 2011 returns, filed by most taxpayers in early 2012, include the following:

      The value of each personal and dependent exemption, available to most taxpayers, is $3,700, up $50 from 2010.

      • The new standard deduction is $11,600 for married couples filing a joint return, up $200, $5,800 for singles and married individuals filing separately, up $100, and $8,500 for heads of household, also up $100. The additional standard deduction for blind people and senior citizens is $1,150 for married individuals, up $50, and $1,450 for singles and heads of household, also up $50. Nearly two out of three taxpayers take the standard deduction, rather than itemizing deductions, such as mortgage interest, charitable contributions and state and local taxes.
      • Tax-bracket thresholds increase for each filing status. For a married couple filing a joint return, for example, the taxable-income threshold separating the 15-percent bracket from the 25-percent bracket is $69,000, up from $68,000 in 2010.
      • The maximum earned income tax credit (EITC) for low- and moderate- income workers and working families rises to $5,751, up from $5,666 in 2010. The maximum income limit for the EITC rises to $49,078, up from $48,362 in 2010.The credit varies by family size, filing status and other factors, with the maximum credit going to joint filers with three or more qualifying children.
      • The modified adjusted gross income threshold at which the lifetime learning credit begins to phase out is $102,000 for joint filers, up from $100,000, and $51,000 for singles and heads of household, up from $50,000.

      Several tax benefits are unchanged in 2011. For example, the monthly limit on the value of qualified transportation benefits (parking, transit passes, etc.) provided by an employer to its employees, remains at $230. Details on these inflation adjustments can be found in Revenue Procedure 2011-12.

      By law, the dollar amounts for a variety of tax provisions, affecting virtually every taxpayer, must be revised each year to keep pace with inflation. Most of the new dollar amounts, including retirement-plan-related adjustments, were announced in October. To avoid confusion, the eight new provisions were not included in the October announcements, due to the anticipated impact of extender legislation.

      Read more about income tax

      The Internal Revenue Service has increased some tax deductions next year to offset inflation....

      Consumers Urged To Avoid Tiny Greens Brand Alfalfa Sprouts and Spicy Sprouts

      Food and Drug Administration says there are indications the veggies contain Salmonella

      The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is advising consumers not to eat Alfalfa Sprouts and Spicy Sprouts (which contain alfalfa sprouts mixed with radish and clover sprouts) from Tiny Greens Organic Farm of Urbana, Ill.

      Preliminary results of the investigation of a multistate outbreak of Salmonella infections indicate a link to eating Tiny Greens' Alfalfa Sprouts at Jimmy John's restaurant outlets. The sprouts were distributed in 4 oz. and 5 lb. containers to various customers, including farmers' markets, restaurants and groceries, in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and possibly other Midwestern states.

      The problem

      Approximately half of the illnesses occurred in Illinois, where nearly all of the ill individuals ate sandwiches containing sprouts at various Jimmy John's outlets. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has posted epidemiological information about this outbreak. 

      Jimmy John's has stopped serving sprouts on its sandwiches at all Illinois locations.


      Most people infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts four to seven days, and most people recover without treatment. However, some may require hospitalization from severe diarrhea.

      Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream and then to other body sites. It can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics. The elderly, infants and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to become severely ill from Salmonella infection.

      What to do

      Consumers should not eat Tiny Greens brand Alfalfa Sprouts or Spicy Sprouts. Restaurant and food service operators should not serve them. Consumers, retailers and others who have Tiny Greens Alfalfa Sprouts or Spicy Sprouts should throw them away in a sealed container.

      Consumers who think they may have become ill from eating contaminated sprouts should consult their health care providers.

      Illness history

      Sprouts are a known source of foodborne illness. Since 1996, there have been at least 30 reported outbreaks of foodborne illness associated with different types of raw and lightly cooked sprouts. Most of these outbreaks were caused by Salmonella and E. coli.

      The FDA advises children, the elderly, pregnant women, and persons with weakened immune systems to avoid eating raw sprouts of any kind (including alfalfa, clover, radish and mung bean sprouts). To reduce the chance of foodborne illness, FDA advises consumers to cook sprouts thoroughly and to request raw sprouts not be added to your food.

      Consumers Urged To Avoid Tiny Greens Brand Alfalfa Sprouts and Spicy SproutsFood and Drug Administration says there are indications the veggies contain...