1. Home
  2. News
  3. 2011
  4. December

News in December 2011

Browse by year

2011

Browse by month

Get trending consumer news and recalls

    By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

    Thank you, you have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

    Verizon Wireless Backs Off $2 'Convenience' Fee

    Consumer uprising forces company to retreat, following Bank of America's example

    Just days after it stumbled badly in its handling of a series of 4G LTE network failures, Verizon Wireless has hastily abandoned an ill-conceived "convenience" fee of $2 for some customers paying their bill online or over the phone.

    The holiday period around the end of the year -- when consumers are not paying attention to the news -- is when companies and politicians often try to sneak through new policies they hope will manage to flit under the radar.

    It didn't work this time.  Verizon Wireless ran into the same wall of consumer outrage that Bank of American encountered just a few months ago with its $5 debit card fee, also quickly abandoned.  

    Speed of light

    Verizon's landline division likes to talk about its FiOS fiber-optic service operating at the speed of light, and that's just the speed at which consumers landed on Verizon Wireless. They lit up the Internet in no time with denunciations of grinchlike behavior befouling their holidays.

    "I am unhappy with the fee for paying my bill online," said Victor of Lutz, Fla., in a complaint to ConsumerAffairs.com.  

    "I think this is terrible," said Ria of Glendale, Ariz. "I will be looking for a different cell phone company that does not charge to make a payment over the phone."

    A ConsumerAffairs.com survey of comments made on Twitter, Facebook and other social media wasn't much better.  In fact, it might have been a little worse.

    Verizon kept a stiff upper lip and managed to mouth platitudinous assurances that it had had its customers' best interests at heart at all times.

    "Improve efficiency"

    "The company made the decision in response to customer feedback about the plan, which was designed to improve the efficiency of those transactions," a spokesman said. "The company continues to encourage customers to take advantage of the numerous simple and convenient payment methods it provides."

    Even more solicitous was Dan Mead, Verizon Wireless CEO.  “At Verizon, we take great care to listen to our customers. Based on their input, we believe the best path forward is to encourage customers to take advantage of the best and most efficient options, eliminating the need to institute the fee at this time," he purred.

    One might reasonably expect there were harsher words behind the scenes as Mead and his lieutenants sought someone to take the fall for the blunder.

    The $2 fee would have applied to customers making one-time payments via the Web or over the phone. Besides attracting 100,000 angry consumers who signed an online petition, the affair drew the attention of the Federal Communications Commission, which isn't easy to do over the holidays.

    The commission said Friday it was "concerned about Verizon's actions" and was looking into the matter, the Wall Street Journal reported.

    Just days after it stumbled badly in its handling of a series of 4G LTE network failures, Verizon Wireless has hastily abandoned an ill-conceived "convenie...
    Read lessRead more

    Isabella, Jayden Win the Baby Name Derby in NYC

    Ashley falls back, Chloe moves up; Jacob & Joseph make the Top 10

    Isabella and Jayden held fast as the most popular baby names in New York City for the second year in a row, according to the city Health Department’s latest tally of birth certificates.

    There nearly 600 Isabellas born in the Big Apple in 2010 (yes, the statistics are a year behind) and more than 800 Jaydens.

    Nine of the top 10 girls’ names for 2010 were holdovers from 2009, with Ashley falling to number 13 and Chloe joining the list, up from 11 to number 10.

    Among boys, Jacob and Joseph made it into the top 10 after getting bumped off two years ago. Jacob came back strong, listing in the 4th place slot as most popular in 2010 while Michael’s rank fell further to 7th place from 4th place in 2009. Michael had been the top boy’s name during the 1980’s through early 2000’s.

    From 2009 to 2010, the number of babies born in New York City dipped slightly, down 1.6% from 126,774 to 124,791 (64,076 boys and 60,715 girls). Brooklyn saw the greatest number of babies born last year with 41,469 births. Queens came is second with 26,955 births followed by 21,258 babies born in the Bronx, 19,646 in Manhattan and 5,580 on Staten Island.

    There are almost as many babies born on Staten Island (5,580) as there are babies born to New York State residents who live outside of New York City (5,719).

    Star Power

    MOST POPULAR BABY NAMES
    NEW YORK CITY, 2010
    RankGirlsBoys
    1IsabellaJayden
    2SophiaEthan
    3OliviaDaniel
    4EmilyJacob
    5MadisonDavid
    6MiaJustin
    7EmmaMichael
    8LeahMatthew
    9SarahJoseph
    10ChloeJoshua
    NYC Total Births60,71564,076

    New Yorkers continue to be inspired by movie, music, sports and fashion icons as they search for the perfect name. Last year’s big draws included common actress names such as Sofia (#16) and Angelina (#28), popular singer names like Usher (#155) and Mariah (#99), and athlete names namely Eli (#49) and Carmelo (#168). Suri (#136) and Jayden (#1) – names chosen by celebrity parents Katie Holmes and Will Smith – were also popular.

    Biblical Names

    Religious figures were an even bigger source of inspiration. Holy names for girls included Leah (#8), Sarah (#9), Esther (#15) Rachel (#18) and Chana and Miriam (tied for #34), while Daniel (#3), Jacob (#4), David (#5), Matthew (#8), Joseph (#9), Joshua (#10), Noah (#20) and Elijah (#21) were often bestowed upon boys.

    Geographic Names

    Big cities and states were also popular baby names. Charlotte (#33) and Brooklyn (#138) were on the 2010 list. Austin (#109), Georgia (#136), Phoenix (#146), and Virginia (#151) also made the cut. Some parents selected international monikers like Paris (#125) and London (#164).

    Isabella and Jayden held fast as the most popular baby names in New York City for the second year in a row, according to the city Health Department’s...
    Read lessRead more

    Verizon Explains 4G Outages ... Sort Of

    Vague yet boastful statement attributes outages to "growing pains"

    Verizon Wireless is blaming "growing pains" for the three recent outages that left many of its 4G LTE customers without the high-speed wireless service they're paying for.

    "Being a pioneer comes with growing pains," Verizon said in a prepared statement. "The recent issues that affected our customers’ 4GLTE service were unforeseen despite careful, diligent planning, deployment and ongoing upgrade programs."

    "Nonetheless, we estimate that 4GLTE connectivity has been available approximately 99 percent of the time this year," the statement continued.

    Be that as it may, the repeated outages and the delayed, vague explanations are giving Verizon a black eye with at least some of its customers, who are paying a premium for fast, reliable service.

    Verizon and other telecoms lose no time texting, calling and emailing when customers fail to pay 100 percent of their bill.  4G customers might reasonably expect the company to notify them when the service they're paying for is unavailable, even if it is only one percent of the time.

    99% nothing to brag about

    Ninety-nine percent, by the way, is not as great as it sounds.  U.S. airlines are finishing 2011 with only one fatality for every 7.1 million passengers, which is about as close to 100 percent as you can get. A 99 percent record would mean that one of every 100 airline flights crashed.

    In its statement, Verizon attributed the problems to multiple, unspecified issues: "Each incident has been different from a technical standpoint. Our engineers have successfully diagnosed those past triggering events, and they have not re-occurred. We also work diligently to rectify technical problems in the Network before they affect any customers."

    Whatever the problems might have been, Verizon says it's working to prevent them from happening again.

    "We are taking a number of steps, working closely with our network suppliers, to ensure the integrity of our 4GLTE Network. We continue to fortify and improve its performance, and our goal is that our 4GLTE Network meets the same high standards that our 3G Network has set for performance and reliability," the company said.

    It's the network

    Verizon has spent millions of dollars advertising the supposed superiority of its network, often at the expense of AT&T, which has been struggling with network congestion in major cities for years.

    While the latest incidents will most likely not be catastrophic for Verizon, as more serious failures were for rival Blackberry, a ConsumerAffairs.com sentiment analysis of about 4.4 million comments posted on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites and blogs finds less than negligible dissatisfaction with Verizon's network.

    Many companies facing a similar situation would try to nip disaffection in the bud by issuing at least a token refund and a sincere apology to customers, rather than Verizon's boastful and defensive bromide, which includes this rather unseemly bit of chest-thumping:

    "The Verizon Wireless 4GLTE Network is BY FAR the largest and the most advanced 4GLTE wireless network in the world. It is available in 190 US markets and covers more than 200 million people, providing the fastest 4G Network in the US."

    Well, most of the time, anyway.

    Verizon Wireless is blaming "growing pains" for the three recent outages that left many of its 4G LTE customers without the high-speed wireless service the...
    Read lessRead more

    Get trending consumer news and recalls

      By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

      Thank you, you have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

      Sears Identifies 79 Stores to be Closed

      Weak holiday sales contributed to the decision, company says

      Sears Holdings has identified 79 of the 100 to 120 stores that it plans to close.  The company said the stores each employed from 40 to 80 people.  Sears said earlier this week that poor holiday sales contributed to the decision to begin stores that have not been profitable.

      The rest of the closings will be announced soon, the company said.

      "Given our performance and the difficult economic environment, especially for big-ticket items, we intend to implement a series of actions to reduce ongoing expenses, adjust our asset base, and accelerate the transformation of our business model,” said Sears Holdings CEO Lou D'Ambrosio.

      “These actions will better enable us to focus our investments on serving our customers and members through integrated retail -- at the store, online and in the home.”

      FORMATSTREET ADDRESSCITYSTATEZIPCLOSE DATE
      Sears Hardlines Only1916 19th AveLewistonID83501TBD
      Sears Hardlines OnlyUs Hwy 25e - Ste B2 MiddlesboroKY40965TBD
      Grand/Essentials5451 Halls Mill Rd Ste 14Mobile - Halls MillAL36619TBD
      Grand/Essentials101 E Interntn'l SpeedwayDelandFL32724TBD
      Grand/Essentials12080 Carmel Mountain RdSan Diego - CarmelCA92128TBD
      Grand/Essentials3020 Se Federal HwyStuartFL34997TBD
      Grand/Essentials4560 Forest Hill BlvdW Palm BeachFL33406TBD
      Grand/Essentials3610 Peck RdEl MonteCA91732TBD
      Grand/Essentials7655 Clairemont Mesa BlvdSan Diego - ClarmntCA92111TBD
      Grand/Essentials375 Amherst St Bldg 1NashuaNH03063TBD
      Grand/Essentials480 West StreetKeeneNH03431TBD
      Grand/Essentials1363 Nw St Lucie W BlvdPort St LucieFL34986TBD
      Grand/Essentials9200 Baltimore Nat PikeEllicott CityMD21042TBD
      Grand/Essentials8375 E Grand RiverBrightonMI48116TBD
      Grand/Essentials601 North M-291Lee's SummitMO64063TBD
      Grand/Essentials625 Highway 136West BarabooWI53913TBD
      Sears Full-Line1400 MetrocenterJacksonMS39209TBD
      Sears Full-Line150 S 69th StUpper DarbyPA19082TBD
      Sears Full-Line18000 Vernier AveHarper WoodsMI48225TBD
      Sears Full-Line15 Crestwood PlzSt Louis-CrstwdMO63126TBD
      Sears Full-Line5244 Hickory Hollow PkwyAntiochTN37013TBD
      Sears Full-Line3661 Eisenhower PkwyMaconGA31206TBD
      Sears Full-Line880 N Military Hwy Ste 1086 NorfolkVA44221TBD
      Sears Full-Line921 Eastchester Dr Ste 1002High PointNC27262TBD
      Sears Full-Line2121 N Monroe St Space 300MonroeMI38671TBD
      Sears Full-Line1722 Veterans BlvdMccombMS39648TBD
      Sears Full-Line1404 Old Aberdeen RdColumbusMS39705TBD
      Sears Full-Line2109 S Scatterfield RdAndersonIN46016TBD
      Sears Full-Line1357 S Main StAdrianMI49221TBD
      Sears Full-Line5167 Hwy 70 Cypress Bay Plaza; Suite 90Morehead CityNC28557TBD
      Sears Full-Line2727 Iowa StLawrenceKS66046TBD
      Sears Full-Line1400 Nw Garden Valley Blvd #1RoseburgOR97470TBD
      Sears Full-Line200 Paul Huff Pkwy Nw ClevelandTN37312TBD
      Sears Full-Line1057 Broad StSumterSC29150TBD
      Sears Full-Line363 S Illinois AveOak RidgeTN37830TBD
      Sears Full-Line1250 S Hover RdLongmontCO80501TBD
      Sears Full-Line351 W Schuylkill Rd PottstownPA19465TBD
      Sears Full-Line1801 Nw Us Highway 19Crystal RiverFL34428TBD
      Sears Full-Line1631 W Rose St Ste 2Walla WallaWA99362TBD
      Sears Full-Line1100 N Wesleyan BlvdRocky MountNC27804TBD
      Sears Full-Line1689 E Broad St StatesvilleNC28677TBD
      Kmart17625 Chillicothe RdChagrin FallsOH44023TBD
      Kmart951 By-Pass Rd WinchesterKY40391TBD
      Kmart2601 S Main StRice LakeWI54868TBD
      Kmart2960 Derr Road Springfield - N'landOH45503TBD
      Kmart51027 Highway #6Glenwood SpringsCO81601TBD
      Kmart1605 Buford HighwayBufordGA30518TBD
      Kmart101 Town & Country LaneHazardKY41701TBD
      Kmart1525 Sadler Road Fernandina BeachFL32034TBD
      Kmart225 S Tyndall PkwyCallawayFL32404TBD
      Kmart66011 Van Dyke Washington Twp.MI48095TBD
      Kmart9550 WickerSt. JohnIN46373TBD
      Kmart1724 State Road 44New Smyrna BeachFL32069TBD

      Kmart1605 S First StreetWillmarMN56201TBD
      Kmart50700 Gratiot Ave NorthChesterfield Twp.MI48051TBD
      Kmart9552 Highway 5DouglasvilleGA30135TBD
      Kmart237 East MainHendersonvilleTN37075TBD
      Kmart5005 W 120thBroomfieldCO80020TBD
      Kmart1777 U S 1 SouthSt. AugustineFL32086TBD
      Kmart2047 E University DriveAuburnAL36830TBD
      Kmart75 E Broad StGadsdenAL35903TBD
      Kmart2727 16th Ave S WCedar Rapids-16th AvIA52404TBD
      Kmart2244 S Reynolds RdToledo - Reynolds RdOH43614TBD
      Kmart627-701 E Manhattan BlvdToledo - Manhatn BlvOH43608TBD
      Kmart7201 Pendleton PikeIndy - Pendlton PlzaIN46226TBD
      Kmart230 Cleveland Ave S WAtlantaGA30315TBD
      Kmart1105 North Court StreetMedinaOH44256TBD
      Kmart810 Saxon BlvdOrange CityFL32763TBD
      Kmart5600 Milgen Rd - Bldg 106Columbs-Manch SqGA31907TBD
      Kmart7965 Tara BoulevardJonesboroGA30236TBD
      Kmart11003 Hull St RdMidlothianVA23113TBD
      Kmart3616 W Kimberly RdDavenprt-Kimbrly RdIA52806TBD
      Kmart2421 N Federal HwyPompano BeachFL33064TBD
      Kmart4141 Martin WayLaceyWA98516TBD
      Kmart3100 Hamilton RdColumbus - Hamltn RdOH43227TBD
      Kmart1734 Mall DrDuluth - Mall DrMN55811TBD
      Kmart4300 Xylon NNew HopeMN55428TBD
      Kmart3201 White Bear AveWhite Bear LakeMN55110TBD
      Kmart6807 Midlothian TurnpikeRichmond - MidlothVA23225TBD
      Sears Holdings has identified 79 of the 100 to 120 stores that it plans to close. ...
      Read lessRead more

      Battery Fire Danger Leads to Recall of Fisker's First Model

      Problem with hose clamps could cause short circuit and start a fire

      Electric and hybrid car manufacturers have another headache: a recall of Fisker Automotive's very first production model, the Karma.

      The company announced the recall today, saying that hybrid-electric battery supplier A123 Systems had found a possible safety problem with the cooling system on batteries it made for Fisker.

      "At Fisker Automotive we see this quick and thorough response as an investment in our long-term reputation as we build a solid company that understands the importance of doing what is right for our customers," said CEO Henrik Fisker in an open letter to customers.

      Hose clamps on some of the batteries made by A123 were not aligned properly, and could lead to a leak of coolant fluid, which could lead to an electrical short circuit and possibly start a fire, an A123 official said.

      Only 50 or so of the sleek -- and expensive -- Fisker cars have been delivered so far, so the recall won't inconvenience may consumers, but it may cause more consumers to think twice about potential safety problems in battery-powered and hybrid cars.

      "We expect this situation to have minimal financial impact on A123, and our relationship with Fisker remains strong," said A123 CEO David Vieau.

      $529 million loan

      The Karma, supported by $529 million in loans from the U.S. Energy Department, was long-delayed and whether the luxury car takes off remains to be seen.  Fisker has said it expects to sell between 10,000 and 12,000 vehicles in 2012. The plug-in hybrids go for about $100,000 each.

      A123, meanwhile, received a $249 million grant from the Energy Department to fund battery production in Michigan, plus another $125 million from the state of Michigan.

      Besides Fisker, A123 has a contract to supply batteries for GM's all-electric version of the Chevrolet Spark minicar that's scheduled to be introduced in 2013.

      Luxury Car of the Year

      The Fisker Karma has also had its share of good news recently. It was crowned ‘Luxury Car of the Year’ by BBC Top Gear magazine as well as ‘Car of the Year’ by Top Gear TV presenter, James May.

      The Karma – Fisker’s first production car – is a 403 hp luxury sedan and the company claims it is the world’s first true electric vehicle with extended range (EVer). The EPA rates its electric-only range at 32 miles, its gas and electric range at 230 miles.

      Hybrid-electric battery supplier A123 Systems says it has identified a possible safety problem with the cooling system on batteries it made for Fisker Auto...
      Read lessRead more

      Dead Mouse Case Scampers Forward in Illinois Court

      Pepsi denies there was a dead mouse in Ronald Ball's Mountain Dew

      Truth may be the best defense but it's not always the most appetizing. 

      In defending itself against charges that there was a dead mouse in a can of Mountain Dew, Pepsi-Cola says there couldn't possibly have been a mouse in the can of soda, as plaintiff Ronald Ball claims.

      Why?

      Because it would have dissolved, according to expert testimony submitted on Pepsi's behalf.  

      The case is being heard in Madison Madison County, Ill., Circuit Court, where Judge Dennis Ruth recently ordered the case continued.

      Ball claims that after opening and beginning to drink the soda he purchased from a vending machine at work, he tasted something foul. He claims he spat out the soda to reveal a dead mouse, according to court testimony cited by The Madison Record.

      Ball claims he sent the mouse to Pepsi, which destroyed the mouse body. He is seeking damages in excess of $50,000 and other relief.

      Truth may be the best defense but it's not always the most appetizing. In defending itself against charges that there was a dead mouse in a can of M...
      Read lessRead more

      Another Verizon 4G Outage Goes Unexplained

      Unexplained outages don't do much for "most reliable" ad claim

      There's a bit of a buzz in telecom circles, as everyone tries to figure out what's up with Verizon's 4G LTE coverage, jinxed by outages lately. The third nationwide outage started yesterday and was fixed overnight, according to Verizon.

      Unlike Blackberry's disastrous outages of a few months ago, however, the 4G outage probably went unnoticed by many Verizon users, since smartphones automatically fall back to the 3G network when 4G service is not available.  Blackberry users, by contrast, were left high and dry.

      That doesn't mean, however, that it isn't a black eye for Verizon. Since 4G is still fairly new and rather expensive, current customers tend to be tech-savvy early adopters who are quick to notice, pounce on and complain about service failures.

      Verizon hasn't made any official statements about the problem, although it tweeted earlier today: “4GLTE issue resolved overnight. 3G operated normally; calling, texting were unaffected.”

      Jack of Edcouch, Texas, said he has been having connectivity problems with his Verizon 4G MiFi device and wonders if it's related to the outages.

      "We have the Verizon 4G MiFi device which usually works great.  I run a script to a file and get 100% loss or trips times from four seconds on down. This is very irritating to say the least," Jack said.

      Companies increasingly put their heads in the sand when problems occur, sending out a few tweets and perhaps a coy posting on their Facebook page, neglecting to issue the formal statements that were taken for granted just a few short years ago.

      Whether that's effective is anyone's guess. We ran a sentiment analysis of some 4.4 million consumer comments on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere looking for weak spots in Verizon's armor.

      While many customers still view Verizon's network as a plus, there is a substantial group that views it as a negative.  Continued outages with no explanation may not be a good long-term solution to whatever Verizon's network problem is.

      ---

      Sentiment analysis powered by NetBase

      There's a bit of a buzz in telecom circles, as everyone tries to figure out what's up with Verizon's 4G LTE coverage, jinxed by outages lately. The third n...
      Read lessRead more

      Tips For Avoiding a New Year's Day Hangover

      Physician stresses moderation on New Years Eve

      Even people who don't usually drink to excess sometimes get carried away on New Year's Eve. It can result in a raging hangover the next day.

      There are a number of ways to deal with a hangover - first and foremost by being very measured in your alcohol consumption. Limiting yourself to a glass of wine at dinner and a Champagne toast at midnight will usually do the trick.

      For those who expect to imbibe a bit more than that, Loyola University Health System family physician Dr. Aaron Michelfelder offers the following tips:

      Before the party:

      • Plan to drink moderately -- a maximum of five drinks for men and three drinks for women during a minimum three-hour period.
      • To prevent inflammation, take an anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen or Aleve.

      During the party:

      • Eat first, and then drink, not the other way around. Food slows the absorption of alcohol.
      • Drink slowly.
      • To prevent dehydration, drink a glass of water after each alcoholic drink.
      • Take a B vitamin supplement.

      After the party:

      • Do not drink and drive.
      • Get as much sleep as possible.

      The morning after:

      • Take another B vitamin.
      • Drink lots of water.
      • Exercise (if you can stand it). During vigorous exercise, blood circulates three times as fast as it does when you are sitting on the couch. And the faster you circulate blood through your liver and kidneys, the faster your body will remove the toxins.

      Michelfelder also has some advice about what will not work. Coffee will make you more alert, but it won't prevent or help a hangover, he says. Also, forget "hair of the dog" -- the notion that having a drink can relieve a hangover. It will only make you feel worse.

      Tips for avoiding the very unwanted New Year's day hangover provided by Dr. Aaron Michelfelder: Before the party, during the party, after the party and the...
      Read lessRead more

      Retailers Reluctant to Restock Enfamil

      Many stores waiting for feds to test the infant formula to be sure it's safe

      Retailers are in no hurry to put Enfamil Premium Newborn infant formula back on their shelves, even though Mead Johnson Company says its tests have found no problems.

      Walmart, Walgreens, Supervalu, Price Chopper and many smaller retailers removed the formula last week after a Missouri infant who had been fed Enfamil died from a rare bacterial infection attributed to Cronobacter, a microorganism that occurs in nature and is sometimes implicated in infant deaths. An Illinois baby also became ill but is recovering, officials said.

      Retested

      Mead Johnson says it has retested the batch of the formula involved in the infant's death and found no problems but the stores say they prefer to wait until they get the all-clear from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

      There has been no official recall of the formula but retailers said they didn't want to take any chances.  Besides testing the formula, the FDA is examining other possible sources of the infection, including the water used to mix the formula in the infant's home.

      The FDA has confirmed that it visited the plant in Zeeland, Mich., where the formula was manufactured and also examined some records at a Mead Johnson facility in Evansville, Ind.

      About Cronobacter

      Cronobacter is a naturally-occurring organism that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is implicated in a handful of infant illnesses each year.  It has a fatality rate of about 40 percent.

      Although formula in sometimes implicated in infant illnesses, it is often not known whether the Cronobacter was in the formula when it was packaged or whether it was introduced later, after the package had been opened by parents and caregivers.

      In 2001, a Mead Johnson product, Portagen, was recalled after an infant died in Tennessee.

      CDC officials stressed the importance of parents and caregivers washing their hands thoroughly, sterilizing bottles and other equipment and preparing only small amounts of formula. 

      Breast-feeding is safest

      In 2008, two cases of Cronobacter infection, one in a male infant and the other in a female, were reported in New Mexico, in families living aobut 200 miles from each other. Although the infants had been fed the same brand of formula, the genetic types of Cronobacter were different.  The female suffered severe brain damage and the male infant later died of SIDS.

      The exact path of transmission was not determined but traces of Cronobacter were found in vacuum cleaner samples taken from the male infant's home. No Cronobacter was found in unopened canisters of formula in either home.

      The message, say health officials, is to practice extremely careful sanitation and sterilization practices when preparing and handling formula.

      The safest procedure is to breast feed.  Breast-feeding not only eliminates the problem of contaminated formula but provides better nutritional and emotional support to infants.

        SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — Price Chopper Supermarkets won’t stock Enfamil Premium Newborn formula until it gets the all-clea...
      Read lessRead more

      Court Blocks Bogus Tax Credit Scheme

      California man claimed he had billions of dollars of tax credits to sell

      If someone offers to sell you a batch of tax credits he just happens to have lying around, it's a good idea to run, not walk, in the opposite direction.
      A federal court in Los Angeles has permanently barred Lamar Ellis of Brea, Calif., from promoting a scheme involving sales of bogus federal tax credits.  
      According to the government’s complaint, Ellis fraudulently claimed to have billions of dollars in federal research tax credits that the United States supposedly granted him for purported scientific breakthroughs.                                         

      The government's suit alleged that Ellis advertised the sale of these bogus credits on the Internet and issued phony documents to people purporting to give them credits that could reduce their tax obligations.   The government also alleged that Ellis partnered with the Southwest Louisiana Business Development Center, a nonprofit organization in Jennings, La., to try to sell $24 billion of the fictitious credits.

      The civil injunction order entered against Ellis bars him from telling prospective customers that he can transfer tax credits to them.  

      Ellis is also required to give the government a list of the names, addresses and social security or tax identification numbers of everyone he previously sold the "credits" to. Those unfortunate souls can expect to hear a knock on the door soon.

      If someone offers to sell you a batch of tax credits he just happens to have lying around, it's a good idea to run, not walk, in the opposite direction...
      Read lessRead more

      Yahoo Could Wind Up in Chinese Hands

      Alibaba pursuing a Yahoo purchase, reports say

      OK, so the U.S. has lost its leadership in the manufacturing category, but it still reigns supreme as the world leader in software and entertainment products.  But maybe not for much longer.

      Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. has hired the Washington, D.C. lobbying firm headed by former White House official Kenneth Duberstein as it explores a possible Yahoo takover. The hiring was disclosed in a December 23 filing.

      Yahoo now owns 40% of Alibaba but Alibaba founder Jack Ma has previously said he is interested in acquiring all of Yahoo.

      Although Alibaba is an independent business, the U.S. reaction to a Chinese firm taking over an American media company would be likely to arouse considerable opposition in Washington.  Hence the Duberstein hiring.

      Duberstein, who was chief of staff during the Reagan Administration, would be expected to do that voodoo that lobbyists do so well, smoothing ruffled Congressional feathers and calming hyperactive regulators.

      Yahoo, which recently ousted its CEO, Carol Bartz, has been in an earnings slump for years Google and Facebook cut into its audience and earnings, and its board is exploring various options to make the company profitable or unload all or part of it.

      OK, so the U.S. has lost its leadership in the manufacturing category, but it still reigns supreme as the world leader in software and entertainment produc...
      Read lessRead more

      Survey: Job Market May Not Improve Much In 2012

      Careerbuilder.com's annual job forecast sees little change ahead

      If you plan to look for a new job in 2012, better plan on a longer-than-expected search. The job market should improve some, but not a lot, according to CareerBuilder.com's annual job forecast.

      According to the report, nearly one-in-four hiring managers plan to hire full-time, permanent employees in 2012, similar to 2011. Employment trends among small businesses, which account for the majority of job creation in the U.S., are expected to show some improvement over last year.

      The nationwide survey, which was conducted by Harris Interactive from November 9 to December 5, 2011, included more than 3,000 hiring managers and human resource professionals across industries and company sizes. Though the forecast is not all that encouraging, CareerBuilder says the situation could turn out to exceed expectations.

      “Historically, our surveys have shown that employers are more conservative in their predictions than actual hiring,” said Matt Ferguson, CEO of CareerBuilder. “Barring any major economic upsets, we expect 2012 to bring a better hiring picture than 2011, especially in the second half of the year. Many companies have been operating lean and have already pushed productivity limits. We’re likely to see gradual improvements in hiring across categories as companies respond to increased market demands.”

      Full-time, Permanent Hiring

      Twenty-three percent of employers surveyed plan to hire full-time, permanent employees in 2012, relatively unchanged from 24 percent for 2011 and up from 20 percent for 2010. Seven percent expect to decrease headcount, the same as for 2011 and an improvement from nine percent for 2010. Fifty-nine percent anticipate no change in their staff levels while 11 percent are unsure.

      Small Business Hiring

      Small businesses are reporting more confidence in both hiring and retaining headcount in 2012. Plans to downsize dropped two percentage points across small business segments while plans to hire increased two percentage points among companies with 50 or fewer employees.

      • 50 or fewer employees – 16 percent plan to add full-time, permanent staff in 2012, up from 14 percent for 2011; those reducing headcount fell from 5 percent for 2011 to 3 percent for 2012
      • 250 or fewer employees – 20 percent plan to add full-time, permanent staff, up from 19 percent for 2011; those reducing headcount fell from 6 percent for 2011 to 4 percent for 2012
      • 500 or fewer employees – 21 percent plan to add full-time, permanent staff, on par with 2011; those reducing headcount fell from 6 percent for 2011 to 4 percent for 2012

      Despite a stubbornly high jobless rate, some companies insist that they have job vacancies because they are unable to find qualified applicants to fill them. That's prompted some job seekers to return to school for an advanced degree, a step they believe will make them more marketable.

      The New York Times reports that the increased number of workers dropping out of the labor force are women. It says for the first time, there are more young women in school than in the labor force.

      A job site issues its employment forecast for 2012...
      Read lessRead more

      Teens May Be Damaging Hearing With Personal Music Players

      One in four teens at risk, study says

      If your child got an iPod or MP3 player for Christmas, it might be a good idea to supervise its use and volume. According to new Tel Aviv University research, advances in audio reproduction have turned personal listening devices into a serious health hazard, with teenagers as the most at-risk group.

      The researchers contend that one in four teens is in danger of early hearing loss as a direct result of these listening habits. Their results, published in the International Journal of Audiology, demonstrate clearly that teens have harmful music-listening habits when it comes to iPods and other MP3 devices.

      Too late

      "In 10 or 20 years it will be too late to realize that an entire generation of young people is suffering from hearing problems much earlier than expected from natural aging," said Prof. Chava Muchnik, a leader of the research team.

      Hearing loss caused by continuous exposure to loud noise is a slow and progressive process. People may not notice the harm they are causing until years of accumulated damage begin to take hold, the researchers warn.

      While today's Baby Boomers are beginning to feel the effects of rock concerts and headphone use, those who are misusing MP3 players today might find that their hearing begins to deteriorate as early as their 30's and 40's — much earlier than past generations.

      80 percent of teens use them

      Today's problem may be worse, since the researchers found 80 percent of teens use a personal music player regularly, with 21 percent listening from one to four hours daily, and eight percent listening more than four hours consecutively. Taken together with the acoustic measurement results, the data indicate that a quarter of the participants are at severe risk for hearing loss, the study warns.

      The increased use of smartphones has increased the number of young people listening to music using earbuds. They are now able to download music directly to their devices or listen to online music services, such as Pandora.

      Solutions

      Currently, industry-related health and safety regulations are the only benchmark for measuring the harm caused by continuous exposure to high volume noise. But is it enough? The research suggests it is not.

      The study recommends that manufacturers adopt the European standards that limit the output of PLDs to 100 decibels. Currently, maximum decibel levels on music players can differ from model to model, but some can go up to 129 decibels.

      Steps can also be taken by schools and parents, the researchers suggest. Some school boards are developing programs to increase awareness of hearing health, such as the "Dangerous Decibels" program in Oregon schools, which provides early education on the subject. Teens could also choose over-the-ear headphones instead of the ear buds that commonly come with an iPod.

      Teens at risk of hearing loss because of music players...
      Read lessRead more

      Feds Investigating Rust Issues on Older Ford, GM Vans

      Fuel leaks and corrosion in wheel wells causing concern

      Federal safety regulators say older Ford and General Motors vans are getting rusty.  That's not surprising, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says the rust and corrosion is so severe in some models that it may pose a safety risk.

      The investigation involves 63,000 2004 Ford Freestar and Mercury Monterey minivans over severe corrosion in rear wheel wells and rust-related fuel leaks in 17,165 2003 Chevrolet Express vans.

      In the case of the Express vans, NHTSA said fuel filter pipe could corrode and leak fuel. It has already received five complaints from the “salt-belt” states (locations that use road salt during winter months) for rust issues.

      NHTSA said it has also received seven complaints regarding the 2004 Ford Freestar and Mercury Monterey minivans from salt-belt states. Consumers said the rear wheel wells had become severely corroded, noting that the anchor mount for the third-row seats had become completely detached from the minivans.


       The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Tuesday it has opened investigations into rust issues on older vans and minivans built by G...
      Read lessRead more

      What's On Your Mind? Sears, Smishing Scam, AT&T

      Our daily look at consumer reviews

      Recently, Leanna, of Johnson City, Tenn., said she received a call from a Sears telemarketer, asking her to renew the service plan on her washer and dryer. She had a ready answer.

      "Why would we want to renew it if we couldn't get them to come when we had a problem," Leanna asked. "After four calls and being told there was nothing wrong with the washer I demanded someone come and check it out. For two years, I struggled to wash a load of clothes without it stopping in mid cycle with the error SD (too much suds). It didn't matter how much soap I used or how many times I washed the same load WITHOUT soap, I got the same message. I was even told by a customer service representative that I should always wash clothes without soap. When a repair man finally came two-plus years later, I was told there was a recall over a year before on a circuit board and the agitator which did fix the problem."

      Long story short, Leanna told the telemarketer she'd take a pass on the service plan renewal. She says the news this week that Sears is closing some stores did not come as a surprise to her.

      Smishing attempt

      Sabrina, of West Valley City, Utah, reports getting a suspicious text message, purportedly from Health Care Credit Union, she instantly recognized as a scam.

      "Received a text message stating my card is locked and to call 650-200-4041 to unlock it," Sabrina told ConsumerAffairs.com. "I do not have an account with this company, my guess is it is a scam to obtain additional information."

      Sabrina is absolutely correct. If she had taken the bait and called the number, she would have received a scammer who would have asked her for all sorts of personal information that could be used to steal her identity or break into her bank accounts.

      Stiffed in small claims

      We often advise consumers who feel they have been wronged by a large company to sue them in small claims court. Georgia, of Oakland, Calif., did just that but has been unable to resolve the matter.

      "I took AT&T to Small Claims Court," Georgia said. "I won a judgment for damages on a television during a U-Verse installation. However, the judgment was awarded in August. I have been unable to reach any department or individual will accept responsibility or knows whom to contact to have this judgment satisfied. This is outrageous."

      This is often the hardest part of litigation -- collecting what the court has awarded. If Georgia can find an AT&T office or even just a van, she can ask the sheriff to seize it on her behalf.  No all jurisidictions will do this but the sheriff or the clerk of the court should be able to put her in touch with a commercial debt collector who will do it for a fee. 

      Here is what's on consumer's minds today: Sears, Smishing Scam through suspicious text messages, AT&T, smishing attempt and stiffed in small claims....
      Read lessRead more

      Pennsylvania Bus Company Ordered to Shut Down

      Double Happyness Travel violated federal safety regulations

      The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has ordered Double Happyness Travel, Inc., of Huntingdon Valley, Pa., to immediately cease all intrastate and interstate passenger service declaring the carrier an “imminent hazard” to public safety.

      Thes order follows an extensive review of the company’s operations, which found multiple hours-of-service, vehicle maintenance, and controlled substance and alcohol testing violations.

      “Safety is our highest priority,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.  “During this busy holiday travel season, we will remain vigilant in our efforts to protect bus passengers and all motorists from unsafe bus companies.”

      Double Happyness Travel was immediately shut down after FMCSA safety investigators found the company failed to comply with hours-of-service, records of duty and driver qualification requirements.

      Double Happyness Travel provided service between New York City and Albany, N.Y.; Baltimore, Md.; and Wilmington, Del.

      “FMCSA will continue to do everything within its current legal authority to remove unsafe bus operators like this one from our roadways,” said FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro.

      What to do

      Before buying a ticket or hiring a bus company for group travel, consumers are encouraged to review the Department of Transportation’s pre-trip safety checklist.  The list helps consumers review a bus company's safety record, safety rating and DOT’s operating authority. 

      The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has ordered Double Happyness Travel, Inc., of Huntingdon Valley...
      Read lessRead more

      Study: Vitamins Do Nothing For Health

      But FDA still says they can be helpful in some cases

      Another study casts doubt on any health benefit from taking a daily multivitamin. French researchers who spent six years following 8,000 test subjects found those taking a daily supplement were just as likely to develop cancer or heart disease as those taking a placebo.

      The researchers conclude that consumers who take a daily vitamin supplement are wasting their money. They are not the first to reach that conclusion.

      Previous studies

      In 2009, the Women's Health Initiative study, led by researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, found women taking a daily vitamin pill got no protection against cancer or heart disease. A year earlier, In perhaps the largest cancer chemoprevention trial ever conducted, researchers found that taking vitamin E or selenium, alone or in combination, was not associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer or other cancers.

      Other researchers have concluded that parents don't need to give their children multi-vitamins either.

      "Multivitamin preparations for older children and adolescents are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and may result in adverse effects ranging from nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain to increased cerebrospinal pressure, liver abnormalities and neuropathy," wrote the authors of a February 2009 report in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

      Unproven claims

      A year ago, under a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), major marketers of children's vitamins must stop making false and unproven claims that their supplements promote healthy brain and eye development in kids. The companies have agreed to pay $2.1 million in refunds to consumers who purchased certain multivitamins in their Disney and Marvel Heroes line.

      Not only do vitamin supplements not protect against gastro-intestinal cancer, they may slightly increase the risk of cancer, according to a 2004 systematic review and meta-analysis of previously published randomized trials in THE LANCET, a leading British medical journal. If the findings are correct, 9,000 in every million users of such vitamin supplements will die prematurely as a result of taking something they think is good for them.

      "The prospect that vitamin pills may not only do no good but also kill their consumers is a scary speculation given the vast quantities that are used in certain communities, David Forman of the University of Leeds and Douglas Altman, Cancer Research UK, said in an accompanying commentary.

      FDA's position

      What does the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have to save about vitamin supplements?

      "There are many good reasons to consider taking vitamin supplements, such as over-the-counter multivitamins," the FDA says on its website.

      The agency says a doctor may recommend supplements for certain health problems, if you eat a vegetarian or vegan diet, or if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

      Another study says buying vitamins is a waste of money...
      Read lessRead more

      Seven LCD Screen Makers Settle Price-Fixing Charges

      Firms will pay a total of $553 million

      The prices of flat screen TVs, computer monitors and laptops were higher than they should have been because companies making the LCD screens were fixing prices - that's the conclusion of a legal settlement that resolves suits by eight states against seven manufacturers.

      The settlement totals $553 million in fees, penalties and restitution.

      The companies named in the settlement include: Chimei Innolux Corp., Chi Mei Optoelectronics USA, Inc., Chi Mei Optoelectronics Japan Co., Ltd, HannStar Display Corporation, Hitachi, Ltd., Hitachi Displays, Ltd., Hitachi Electronic Devices, USA, Inc., Samsung Electronics, Co., Ltd., Samsung Electronics America, Inc., Samsung Semiconductor, Inc., Sharp Corporation, and Sharp Electronics Corporation.

      Arkansas, Florida, California, Michigan, Missouri, New York, West Virginia and Wisconsin are parties to the settlement.

      Conspiracy

      The complaint alleged the defendants conspired to prevent competition and to increase prices for TFT-LCD panels, the most common form of LCD panels used in popular electronic devices such as desktop monitors, laptop screens, and flat panel televisions.

      “Price-fixing is detrimental to Florida’s consumers, governmental agencies, and the economy,” said Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. “I am pleased that we will be able to return funds to those who were harmed by this illegal and deceptive behavior.”

      The complaint alleged that the defendants organized the conspiracy at the highest levels of their organizations in various secret meetings and telephone conversations. A number of the defendants and their employees have pleaded guilty to federal charges in the same federal court. The litigation will continue against other non-settling defendants, including well-known manufacturers of electronic goods, LG, Toshiba, and AU Optronics.

      'Manipulating the playing field'

      “This price-fixing scheme manipulated the playing field for businesses that abide by the rules, and left consumers to pay artificially higher costs for televisions, computers and other electronics,” said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. “Protecting the integrity of the marketplace is the only way to ensure the best outcome for New York’s consumers. That is why my office will aggressively police anti-competitive practices and hold accountable those who violate the law.

      As part of the settlements, the companies that engaged in price fixing will provide a fund for consumers and businesses in 25 states. The settling companies have also resolved claims brought by California Attorney General Kamala Harris for civil penalties under California's Unfair Competition Law, as well as restitution for government agencies that purchased the flat screen LCD panels.

      Litigation continues

      The California case was originally filed in San Francisco Superior Court, where litigation continues against AU Optronics Corporation, AU Optronics Corporation America, Inc., LG Display Co., Ltd., LG Display America, Inc., Toshiba Corporation, Toshiba Mobile Display Co., Ltd., and Toshiba America Electronics Components, Inc.

      In 2008, two companies - LG Display Co., Ltd. and LG Display America, Inc. - pleaded guilty to federal charges for price fixing TFT-LCD panels and paid $400 million in federal fines. Defendants AU Optronics Corporation and AU Optronics Corporation America, along with several employees, have been indicted on federal charges of price fixing. The criminal trial is scheduled for January 2012 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.

      The prices of flat screen TVs, computer monitors and laptops were higher than they should have been because companies making the LCD screens were fixing pr...
      Read lessRead more

      More Than 40,000 New State Laws Set to Take Effect

      All 50 state legislatures were hard at work in 2011, passing loads of laws

      You can no longer sell a live animal in the street in California. Voters must now present a photo ID in  voters to present photo identification will go into effect in Kansas, Rhode Island, Tennessee  and Texas. And in North Carolina, you can't run for more than one office in the same election.

      Those are just a few of the more than 40,000 new laws passed by state legislatures around the country in 2011.  Most take effect Jan. 1, 2012.

      Washington, D.C., may have suffered gridlock but back home in Sacramento, Santa Fe, Springfield and Salem, lawmakers were toiling away, seemingly regulating everything in sight and slapping new taxes and fees on anything that moved. States blessed -- or cursed, depending on your point of view -- with a full-time legislature cranked out more laws than those whose lawmakers must earn a living on Main Street most of the year.

      Several states passed legislation regarding the use of E-Verify that will go into effect at the start of the new year. Other bills range from prohibiting the sale of shark fins to allowing civil unions, from creating a license plate for music teachers and banning people under the age of 18 from using tanning beds.

      Here, courtesy of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), are just a few of the new laws, grouped by topic.

      Alcohol & Drug Policy

      A new law in California will make it a misdemeanor to sell, dispense or distribute a synthetic cannabinoid compound, commonly known as “spice” or “K2.”   At least 40 states have adopted laws or departmental rules to ban chemical substances related to synthetic cannabinoids. California SB 420

      Another California law prohibits the production, distribution or sale of beer to which caffeine has been directly added as a separate ingredient. California SB 39

      And another new law in California will prohibit any person or retail distributor from knowingly supplying a drug or substance containing any quantity of dextromethorphan, or DXM, to a person under 18 without a prescription. DXM, an active ingredient in cough suppressants, is often used as a recreational drug. California SB 514

      Animals & Wildlife

      New legislation in California increases the misdemeanor penalty for animal neglect and makes it a crime to sell a live animal on any street, highway, public right-of-way, parking lot, or carnival. California SB 917

      Two new laws in Oregon and California prohibit the possession, sale, trade or distribution of shark fins.  California AB 376 and Oregon HB 2838

      A package of bills in Oregon aims to increase compliance with the requirement to report any hunting  activity. HB 2125 allows the department to impose a $25 surcharge on the hunting license renewal of anyone who fails to file a report.

      An Oregon law increases the damages for unlawfully taking or killing certain game mammals, and specifies the value of the wildlife for purposes of certain crimes. Oregon HB 2439

      Children & Families

      A law in New Mexico amends the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act to provide a basis for the registration, recognition and enforcement of child support orders from foreign countries. New Mexico SB 284

      Civil Unions / Rights

      A law in California amends the  Fair Employment and Housing Act to add gender identity and gender expression to the enumerated characteristics that require equal rights and opportunities under the law and prohibit discrimination. California AB 887

      New laws in Delaware and Hawaii make same-sex couples eligible for civil union recognition and grant them the same rights and benefits as married couples under the law. Delaware SB 30,Hawaii SB 232

      Consumer Protection

      A new law in California prohibits the use of ultraviolet tanning devices by children under the age of 18. California SB 746

      Legislation in Oregon will exempt certain farmers from certain regulations, allowing them to sell products directly to the consumer without licenses of inspection. The law also issues labeling requirements for products sold by one farmer but produced by another.Oregon HB 2336

      California begins banning stores from selling expired infant food and formula, and over-the-counter medication that has lost important nutritional or pharmaceutical benefits.  California AB 688

      Corrections & Criminal Justice

      Legislation in California requires that when a defendant is extradited back to the state, the judge issue bail at $100,000 in addition to any bail already issued for the underlying original offense. California SB 291

      An Oregon law expanded the list of people eligible to have their convictions set-aside to include some non-violent class B felony offenses. Oregon HB 3376

      Crime & Law Enforcement

      A California law includes encouraging, persuading or forcing a person under 18 years of age to engage in a commercial sex act within the definition of a criminal profiteering activity. California AB 90

      California now will include injury as a result of strangulation or suffocation in the list of traumatic conditions under the felony domestic violence statute. California SB 430

      A new law in California makes it a misdemeanor to openly carry an exposed, unloaded handgun while in a public place or on a public street in an incorporated city, or in specified prohibited areas of an unincorporated county. California AB 144

      A new law in Kentucky amends the provisions for those who commit elder and vulnerable adult abuse, neglect and financial exploitation. Kentucky HB 52

      A new California law authorizes wage garnishments of those convicted of elder financial abuse. California AB 2619

      Legislation in California will include certain posts on social networking sites as a form of bullying, incorporating them into existing law that deems cyber bullying as grounds for student suspension or expulsion. California AB 746

      Distracted Driving

      Many states passed laws restricting texting or the use of cell phones while driving. A Nevada law will prohibit all drivers from text messaging and using handheld phone devices (SB 140). North Dakota passed a law that bans drivers younger than 18 from using cell phones in their cars (HB 1256), and another that bars all drivers from text messaging (HB 1195)

      A new Oregon law adjusts exceptions to the offense of operating a motor vehicle while using a cell phone. The law prohibits texting while driving, but adds an exception for Oregon drivers operating a tow vehicle, roadside assistance vehicle, or a vehicle owned by a utility. Oregon HB 3186

      Education

      California will now require school districts that offer athletic programs to remove an athlete who is suspected of sustaining a concussion or head injury from the activity. The law also prohibits the return of the athlete until he or she is evaluated and receives written clearance from a licensed health care provider. California AB 25

      The California Dream Act expands eligibility for non-state funded scholarships to students who quality for the existing exemption from non-resident tuition (California AB 130). 

      A law in California adds lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, persons with disabilities, and others to the list of cultural groups whose roles and contributions to the development of the United States should be accurately portrayed in social science instructional materials. California SB 48

      A law in Oregon requires state universities and community colleges to waive tuition and fees for current and former foster children under age 25, and gives foster children priority for state Opportunity Grants when there aren’t enough funds to help all eligible students.  Oregon HB 3471

      Elections

      California passed a series of election reform bills that will go into effect on Jan. 1.  AB 80 consolidates the presidential primary with the state primary.  AB 84 allows new citizens to register and vote on Election Day, compared with other citizens who must register at least seven days before the election.AB 547 makes it a misdemeanor for someone who provides care to an elderly person in a state facility or program to coerce or deceive the person into voting a certain way.

      A new law in California allows active duty military personnel who are serving outside the state to file candidacy papers through a power of attorney. AB 754

      North Carolina adopted the Uniform Military and Overseas Voters Act, which makes the voting process easier for service members and civilians overseas. HB 514.

      A Tennessee law clarifies that the federal postcard application used by military and overseas voters will be accepted for all elections, not just federal elections (HB 1081).

      A new law in Texas require deputy and volunteer voting registrars to meet the same requirements as a registered voter:  be U.S. citizens and eligible to vote in the state of Texas. The law also prohibits performance-based compensation for voter registration drives. Texas HB 2194

      E-Verify

      Laws requiring businesses to enroll in the federal E-Verify program to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the U.S. will go into effect in Louisiana (HB 646), Tennessee (HB 1378), South Carolina (SB 20) and Georgia (HB 87).

      California will now prohibit any state or local government from requiring a private employer to use the federal E-Verify program unless required by federal law or as a condition of receiving federal funds.  AB 1236

      Employment

      A new law in California prohibits an employer or prospective employer from using a consumer credit report for employment purposes. The law will bar employers from using consumer credit reports to evaluate candidates unless the position for which the candidate is applying meets one or more of the law’s exemption criteria and the employer obtains the consent from the candidate.  AB 22

      Another new law in California prohibits employers from refusing to maintain and pay for individual maternity coverage under a group health plan for the duration of an employee’s pregnancy leave, for up to four months. SB 299

      A law in Oregon prohibits employers from ceasing to provide health, disability, life or other insurance to an employee who is serving jury duty. It also makes it illegal for employers to fire, threaten to fire, or intimidate employees over their service as a juror. Oregon HB 2828

      Health Care

      Florida has enacted new reporting requirements for physicians and dentists who dispense controlled substances for treatment of nonmalignant pain. Florida HB 7095

      A Louisiana law requires health benefit plans to notify and disclose covered prescription drugs. The law will also limit modifications to drug coverage during a plan year and will allow it only upon renewal. Louisiana HB 345

      Human Trafficking

      The California Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010 requires large retailers and manufacturers to tell consumers on their websites what steps, if any, they take to ensure their product supply chains are free from slavery and trafficking. California SB 657

      A new Oregon law will require businesses with liquor licenses to supply proof of age for all their employees upon request. Oregon SB 898

      Housing

      A New Mexico law adopts the Uniform Assignment of Rents, which defines who should receive rent payments when a creditor takes over a mortgage on a property.  New Mexico HB 199

      Impaired Driving

      A new law in California authorizes courts to revoke for up to 10 years the driver’s license of any person convicted of three or more DUI offenses. The current law allows for a license revocation of three years. California AB 1601

      An Oregon law requires the courts to include ignition interlock devices as a condition of DUI diversion agreements. Oregon HB 3075

      Insurance

      A law enacted in North Carolina and five other states requires companies offering insurance against loss, theft, or mechanical failure for portable electronic devices to hold a limited lines license issued by the North Carolina Department of Insurance. The Department of Insurance would have the same regulatory authority over portable electronics insurance as it has with all limited lines insurance. North Carolina HB 617

      Transportation

      In addition to being asked if they want to be an organ donor, people applying for a driver’s license or state identification card in Minnesota will be asked to contribute $2 to a donor awareness campaign. Minnesota HF808

      A new California law will prohibit the impounding of a vehicle at a sobriety checkpoint if the driver’s only offense is the failure to hold a valid license. California AB 353

      An Oregon law directs the Transportation Department to construct and maintain a roadside memorial sign for police officers killed in the line of duty. The law creates a Roadside Memorial Fund to finance the memorials. Oregon HB 3039

      A Minnesota law taking effect May 25, 2011, required that information about carbon monoxide poisoning be included in the driver’s manual and be part of driver’s education training. Minnesota HF 650

      Legislation in California mandates that children remain in booster seats an additional two years until they reach age 8 or four feet nine inches tall. California SB 929

      Washington legislation authorizes the use of modified off-road motorcycles on public roads and grants drivers all the rights of motorcycle drivers. Washington SB 5800

      Washington approved special license plates to support volunteer fire fighters (HB 1136) and music teachers (HB 1329).

      A wide range of new legislation goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2012. A host of new laws—from making it a crime to sell a live animal on any stree...
      Read lessRead more

      Google Speeds Up Travel Searches, Annoys Travel Search Sites

      Speedy search helps consumers, airlines but harms smaller competitors

      Google is causing trouble again.  This time, the search giant is making waves for travel sites like Kayak, Expedia and Orbitz.  But its defenders say it is helping travelers find flights faster and as for the  airlines, they like anything that cuts out the middleman sites like Orbitz and Expedia.

      There's a lot that goes on behind the scenes in the seemingly simple search business, but screenshots are sometimes worth a thousand words, as someone might have once said had there been screenshots way back when.

      Say you're going from Washington Dulles to Los Angeles International, a busy route with many flights. We tried three different ways of finding available flights.

      Orbitz

      From the Orbitz search page, we typed in our itinerary, then waited eight seconds while this placeholder graced our screen:

      That was followed by a results page listing available flights, times and prices:

      This is all pretty familiar to anyone who's done much traveling in the last few years. The next step is to click on the desired flight and book it through Orbitz, which acts as a travel agent and takes a cut of the ticket price.

      Now, Orbitz will argue that this is the best option since it supposedly will be there for us if anything goes wrong during our travels.  This sounds good but many consumers have found it doesn't always work that way.

      Let's be clear: Orbitz is selling something.  Like Expedia and other online travel agents, it wants to sell you an airline ticket, book a hotel room and reserve a rental car.  It takes a cut from each of these. Whether it gives greater prominence to deals that give it a bigger slice of the pie isn't something that's easy to find out.

      Kayak

      Kayak is different.  We might call it a specialized search engine.  It really doesn't do anything but find flights, prices, times, etc. and, in most cases, provide a link directly to the airline. Kayak doesn't sell you anything and doesn't take any money out of your or the airlines' pocket.  It sells advertising on its site, just like Google, and relies on that for its revenue.

      We entered the same travel parameters on Kayak and had to wait only three seconds for the results:

      The results, sorted by price, came up quickly and gave us several options for booking our selected flight. We can book directly through the airline, thorugh Cheaptickets.com, Travelocity or Expedia.com.

      Fair enough.  The Kayak site is indeed covered with ads but it is relatively straightforward and appears to present all of the available options impartially.

      Google

      Using Google, we simply typed "IAD to LAX" into the search box and immediately (or, as Google would prefer, in 0.22 seconds) got the results in the familiar Google format -- paid ads on the top, then the results, then more results for other pages related to the topic.

      As on the other sites, we simply select the flight we want and hit "Book." Unlike Kayak, Google didn't try to direct us to Expedia.com, Cheaptickets.com or any other third party; it took us right into the United Airlines reservation system and brought up a final purchase screen confirming the itinerary and price.

      Like Kayak's pages, Google's pages contain advertising, which remains Big G's primary revenue source.  

      Consumers complain about advertising, of course, but it is the basis of the free press that is in turn the basis of American democracy, so perhaps the less said about that the better.

      The problem?

      So what's the problem?  Well, the other travel sites say the problem is that Google will in short order put them out of business by "favoring" its own searches.  It's what they've been saying since Google bought ITA Software Inc. last year. 

      ITA is the mother lode of flight data.  It supplies the information used not only in Google flight searches but also in nearly all of the competing searches, including Kayak, Expedia, etc.

      The Justice Department allowed the purchase to go forward after Google promised that it would "build tools that would drive more traffic to airline and online travel agency sites." The other sites are now complaining loudly that Google isn't doing that.

      Proper role

      The question comes down to whether Google must forever more be nothing but a passive search engine, combing through data posted on the Internet by others or whether it should try to live up to its mandate to "organize the world's information."

      Providing comprehensive, impartial flight data quickly seems to fit into Google's mandate and also, just in passing, would seem to be a benefit to consumers.  Google is not obligated to think first of consumers, of course, but publishing has traditionally been a public service business -- providing information that meets consumers' needs in a reasonably impartial manner.

      If other businesses are damaged by that, it may be what in other venues is called collateral damage.  It wasn't many years ago that the online travel agencies were being vilified for running bricks-and-mortar travel agents out of town.

      Some of those traditional travel agents found ways to adapt and survive. The Expedias of the world may have to do the same.

      Caveats

      A couple of points should be noted: the Google travel search is, for the moment, only domestic.  International flights are available directly from the airlines and through online travel agents.  

      Also, the Google travel search does not include hotels and car rentals, so Orbitz, et al can continue to eke out an existence there, although hotels are putting on a full-court press to get their regular customers to book directly, promising better service and lower rates.

      And finally, it should be noted that not all airlines are included.  Southwest, JetBlue and a few others don't make their schedules available, preferring to handle everything themselves.

      Google is causing trouble again.  This time, the search giant is making waves for travel sites like Kayak, Expedia and Orbitz.  But its defenders...
      Read lessRead more