Current Events in December 2011

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    Snowballing Concerns About Online And Mobile Privacy

    Websites and mobile devices getting closer scrutiny

    Online privacy and security concerns have taken center stage in the last week.

    It started with Facebooks's settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) promising that from now on, it will give consumers clear and prominent notice and obtain consumers' express consent before their information is shared beyond the privacy settings they have established.

    "I'm the first to admit that we've made a bunch of mistakes," said Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a post on the company's blog. "In particular, I think that a small number of high profile mistakes ... and poor execution as we transitioned our privacy model two years ago, have often overshadowed much of the good work we've done."

    Smartphone vulnerabilities

    If Facebook users are breathing a little easier, smartphone users might have something to worry about. ConsumerAffairs,com reported Wednesday that researchers at North Carolina State University found that some smartphones specifically designed to support the Android mobile platform have incorporated additional features that can be used by hackers to bypass Android’s security features, making them more vulnerable to attack.

    The researchers found that HTC’s Legend, EVO 4G and Wildfire S, Motorola’s Droid X andSamsung’s Epic 4G all had significant vulnerabilities – with the EVO 4G displaying the most vulnerabilities.

    Meanwhile, London's The Telegraph reported that malware installed on millions of Android phones could be secretly tracking every key stroke, Google search, and text message by their users. The paper reported that an Android app developer in the U.S. has posted a video showing what he claims is conclusive proof that 'Carrier IQ' software installed by manufacturers of many US phones record the way those phone are used in real time, as well as their geographic locations.

    Carrier IQ, meanwhile, has claimed that the software only tracks information for the benefit of users, not for any spying purposes.

    Congress takes note

    Where issues of privacy are concerned, you can expect regulators and lawmakers to take an active interest. On Thursday Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass) made public communications he had with CEO Jeff Bezos concerning Markey's security concerns about the new Kindle Fire. Markey said he was concerned that Amazon was collecting too much information about consumers who used the e-reader.

    “Amazon’s responses to my inquiries do not provide enough detail about how the company intends to use customer information, beyond acknowledging that the company uses this valuable information,” Markey said. “Amazon states ‘Customer information is an important part of our business’, but it is also important for customers to know how the company uses their personal information. Amazon is collecting a massive amount of information about Kindle Fire users, and it has a responsibility to be transparent with its customers. I plan to follow-up with the company for additional answers on this issue.”

    Markey said he thinks Bezos is dodging questions about how the informatin will be used. He cited a New York Times story reporting that Amazon could collect and utilize information about its users Kindle Fire Internet surfing and buying habits through the combination of its new tablet and Silk browser, including which items users buy and how much they pay on sites across the Internet.

    there are new concerns about privacy...

    What's On Your Mind? Walmart, T-Mobile, Payday Loans Yes

    Our daily look at consumer reviews

    Thinking of doing some online holiday shopping using your Paypal account? Nadita, of New York, N.Y. says she bought an iPod at for in-store pickup at the Bayonne, N.J., store. What happened next will make her think twice about doing that again

    "I checked the status of the order and it said I would be able to pick up by 10am," Nadita told "At 10:15 the item cancelled because of lack of stock. Item not available. I originally paid with my Paypal balance which is not a credit card nor a bank. I waited all day and they never refunded me my money. I called customer service and they said it would take three to five days for me to receive my refund."

    It's another reason why, if at all possible, you should use a credit card for online purchases. It's more secure and, if it takes a long time to get a refund, it's not coming out of your pocket.

    Not so final bill

    Kristi, of Las Vegas, says her contract with T-Mobile was up and she wanted to terminate her service. She also wanted to make sure she didn't get any surprise bills after everything was settled. She says she not only paid the current due but paid ahead so there would be no more bills.

    "I was told clearly, as I asked for it, that I would have no further obligations to T-Mobile," Kristi said. "They started attempting to bill me over $180, and I have no idea where they even came up with that as my plan was $120 per month and I no longer had service with them. They sent me to collections."

    The fact that the bill is in collections is a serious matter, as it will affect Kristi's credit rating. She has the right to be informed specifically what she is being charged for. If the charge is erroneous, she will then have to challenge it with T-Mobile.

    Unwanted loan

    Taking out a payday loan is almost always a bad idea. Doing it online is even worse, as Susie, of Pacifica, Calif., discovered when she started the loan process with Payday Loans Yes.

    "I inquired about the loan and submitted the required papers," Susie said. "I tried going to the e-signature for processing, but it didn't go through and I did not get a response approving my application. After going through the internet and found out that there were a lot of complaints. so I immediately cancelled my applications. Now, I have a $350 deposit in my account and a $10 processing fee charge to my account. I called them to remove the deposit and to put back the $10 processing, but they told me that it could not be done."

    Susie should immediately pay back the $350 before it incurs more fees. If she gets out of this encounter only paying $10, she'll be fortunate.

    Here is what's on consumer's minds today: Walmart, T-Mobile, Payday Loans Yes, Not so final bill and Unwanted loan....

    McDonald's Skirts Happy Meal Toy Ban -- Maybe

    San Francisco law bans free toys with fatty foods, so McD adds a 10-cent charge

    Today's the day that, by decree of the San Francisco City and County Board of Supervisors, restaurants can no longer give away toys with meals that don't meet nutrition guidelines spelled out in the law.

    So does that mean no more Happy Meals?  Not the way McDonald's sees it. Beginning today, the toy that used to be free with a Happy Meal now costs ten cents, with the proceeds going to the city's Ronald McDonald House.  Burger King is doing something similar.

    Can this be legal?  USA Today seems to think so.  "McD, Burger King outwit San Francisco's Happy Meal rules," the paper says. McDonald's "outwits City Hall," squeaked the San Francisco Chronicle.

    Maybe, but there are quite a few attorneys out there who think the McDonald's strategy is just a little too cute and that newspapers ought to do that thing they talk about all the time -- you know, that objectivity, get-both-sides thing.

    One is Michele Simon, who writes for Grist, a "green news" Website.  Simon says fast food outlets routinely manipulate the "default options" on the menu to ensure maximum sales.  Order a combo meal, for example, and it's likely to automatically come with a soda, not juice or milk.

    So if McDonald's is just automatically adding ten cents to the price of a Happy Meal and assuming the parent wants the toy included, it may not pass muster in court, Simon suggests.  What's called "legislative intent" carries a lot of weight in court, after all.

    Fully comply

    For its part, McDonald's is arguing that it is simply protecting the God-given right of parents to fatten up their children however they choose.

    "While we will fully comply with this law, we also have a responsibility to give our customers what they want," Danya Proud, a spokeswoman for McDonald's, said in a statement, "Parents have told us they'd still like the option of purchasing a toy separately for their child when they buy them a Happy Meal."

    Other critics said this was just the latest in a long line of cynical ploys by McDonald's to skirt any attempt to improve the healthfulness of its food aimed at children.

    "As McDonald's long has, it is again using a charity that helps children get well to defend a practice that contributes to a range of diet-related conditions like diabetes," said Corporate Accountability International. "Currently McDonald's uses its contributions to the charity to defend the hundreds of millions it spends marketing its junk food brand to kids each year."

    Relatively reasonable

    Supervisor Mar

    The San Francisco ordinance isn't as draconian as it's being made out to be.  It sets a few relatively reasonable nutrition guidelines -- a maximum of 600 calories and limits on fat and salt, for example -- that meals must meet if they include a free toy.

    San Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar, who initiated the ordinance,  dismissed the 10-cent strategy as a marketing ploy. Mar, who represents the Richmond District, is a public interest attorney who has also served on the San Francisco Board of Education.

    The measure passed last year with a supermajority of the board despite heavy lobbying by McDonald's. 

    “This is a tremendous victory for our children’s health. Our children are sick. Rates of obesity in San Francisco are disturbingly high, especially among children of color,” Mar said last November. “This is 
    a challenge to the restaurant industry to think about children’s health first and join the wide range of local restaurants that have already made this commitment.”

    Mar said at the legislation is aimed at promoting healthy eating habits and to address issues related to childhood obesity. The legislation encourages restaurants to provide healthier meal options. To provide an incentive item -- like the toys in Happy Medals -- meals must contain fruits and vegetables, not exceed 600 calories, and must not have beverages that have excessive fat or sugar.

    Today's the day that, by decree of the San Francisco City and County Board of Supervisors, restaurants can no longer give away toys with meals that don't m...

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      Pediatricians Fault Food Served In Children's Hospitals

      Survey found only seven percent of entrees were healthy

      Children's hospitals are health care facilities that cater to children's special needs, but a UCLA pediatric specialist says they fall short when it comes to serving healthy meals to their patients.

      Dr. Lenard Lesser, primary investigator and a physician in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program in the Department of Family Medicine, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, led the team that studied menus at California's children's hospitals.

      The researchers found that only seven percent of entrees could be classified as healthy.

      “As health professionals, we understand the connection between healthy eating and good health, and our hospitals should be role models in this regard,” Lesser said. “Unfortunately, the food in many hospitals is no better – and in some cases worse – than what you would find in a fast food restaurant.”

      Hard to find whole wheat bread

      For example, 81 percent of the hospitals offered high-calorie, high-sugar items such as cookies and ice cream near the cash register. Only 25 percent sold whole wheat bread. Forty-four percent did not provide low-calorie salad dressings.

      On the plus side, the researchers found that all offered low-fat or skim milk and diet soda.

      Overall the average score for the 14 hospital food venues was 19.1, out of a range of 0 (least healthy) to 37 (most healthy). While nearly all the hospitals offered healthy alternatives such as fruit, less than one third had nutrition information at the point of sale or signs to promote healthy eating.

      Already seeing improvement

      The researchers, who published their findings in the journal Academic Pediatrics, say they are providing the results to hospital administrators to encourage improvement. Since the study was conducted in July 2010, they say some of the hospitals surveyed have taken steps to either improve their fare and/or reduce unhealthy offerings. For example, some have eliminated fried food, lowered the price of salads, and increased the price of sugary beverages or eliminated them altogether from their cafeterias.

      “The steps some hospitals are already taking to improve nutrition and reduce junk food are encouraging,” Lesser said. “We plan to make this nutritional quality measurement tool available to hospitals around the country to help them assess and improve their food offerings.”

      Study finds unhealthy food served by children's hospitals...

      California Lists Activities of Commercial Charity Fundraisers

      States moves for more transparency in fundraising

      It's not against the law to earn a profit by soliciting money for charity. But consumer advocates say there needs to be more transparency, so potential donors know how much of their contribution goes to the cause and how much goes to the fundraiser's bottom line.

      Toward that end California Attorney General Kamala Harris has released a report on the activies of commercial fundraisers in the state. Her data shows that for-profit fundraisers in California raised $362.9 million in 2010, of which charitable organizations received less than 45 percent.

      This represents an increase from the 2009 total of less than 43 percent. The data is included in the California Department of Justice's Annual Report of Commercial Fundraisers, produced by the Charitable Trusts Section.

      "The data in this report allows donors to make informed choices this holiday season," Harris said. "Commercial fundraisers play a role in supporting charities in California, but it's important for donors to know how much of their money will be used to support the charity's programs, and how much will go to fundraising expenses."

      Charities that hire fundraisers

      Among numerous other tables, the annual report contains an alphabetical list of charities that hired commercial fundraisers in 2010 - along with the total revenue raised in those campaigns and the dollar amount and percentage of total funds raised that went to the charity.

      Commercial fundraisers, who are hired by charities to raise money on their behalf, typically charge a flat fee for their services or a percentage of the contributions they collect.

      By law, commercial fundraisers must register with the Attorney General's office prior to fundraising in California and must file annual financial disclosure reports detailing income and expenses for each fundraising campaign.

      According to reports filed with the Attorney General's office, commercial fundraisers collected $362.9 million in donations in 2010. On average, $161.1 million - or 44.38 percent of the funds raised - went to the charities. The remainder was retained by the commercial fundraisers as payment of fees and expenses.

      When asked by a solicitor to make a donation, the American Institute of Philanthropy suggests consumers follow these steps:

      • Ask the solicitor how a donation will be distributed.
      • Ask what percentage of donations will be used to pay for fundraising expenses.
      • Ask if the solicitor works for a commercial fundraiser and is being paid to solicit.
      • Avoid cash donations.
      • Avoid giving credit card information to a telephone solicitor or in response to a telephone solicitation.
      • Learn about a charitable organization, its activities and its fundraising practices before giving.  

      California Lists Activities of Commercial Charity Fundraisers...

      Older But Wiser? 65+ Now Biggest Population Group in U.S.

      65 and up group growing faster than total U.S. population

      Look out, kids.  Your grandparents are taking over.  New Census figures shod the 65 and up group is now the largest in terms of size and percent of the U.S. population -- and it's also the fastest-growing.

      According to the 2010 Census, there were 40.3 million people 65 and older on April 1, 2010, increasing by 5.3 million since the 2000 Census when this population numbered 35.0 million. The percentage of the population 65 and older also increased during the previous decade.

      In 2010, the older population represented 13.0 percent of the total population, an increase from 12.4 percent in 2000.

      Growing faster

      Between 2000 and 2010, the population 65 and older grew 15.1 percent, while the total U.S. population grew 9.7 percent. The opposite happened between 1990 and 2000 when the growth of the older population was slower than the growth of the total population, with growth rates of 12.0 percent and 13.2 percent, respectively.

      Examining the growth of 10-year age groups within the older population shows that 85- to 94-year-olds experienced the fastest growth between 2000 and 2010. This group grew by 29.9 percent, increasing from 3.9 million to 5.1 million.

      Among five-year age groups in the older population, 65- to 69-year-olds grew the fastest. This age group grew by 30.4 percent, rising from 9.5 million to 12.4 million. The 65- to 69-year-old group is expected to grow more rapidly over the next decade as the first baby boomers start turning 65 in 2011.

      The only older population age group to decline between 2000 and 2010 was the 75- to 79-year-old age group. This group decreased by 1.3 percent from 7.4 million to 7.3 million. The changes in this group mainly reflect the relatively low number of births during the early 1930s as fewer numbers of people entered these ages between 2000 and 2010.

      Old guys closing the gap

      While women continue to outnumber men in the older ages, men have continued to close the gap over the decade by increasing at a faster rate than women. The largest growth rate for a 10-year age group within the older population was for men 85 to 94 years old (46.5 percent). Women in this age group also increased but to a smaller degree (22.9 percent).

      When five-year age groups are compared, men 90 to 94 years old had the fastest growth rate (50.3 percent) while women increased the fastest in the 65- to 69-year-old age group (28.2 percent).

      The number of men per 100 women in the older ages has increased over time as differences in male and female mortality continued to narrow and more males entered into the older population. For most single years of age above age 65, the ratio of men to women was higher in 2010 than in 2000 and 1990.

      In the 2010 Census, there were approximately twice as many women as men at age 89 (361,309 compared with 176,689, respectively). This doubling point occurred about four years older than it did in 2000 and six years older than it did in 1990, illustrating the narrowing gap in mortality between men and women at the older ages.

      South is oldest

      Comparisons across the nation's four regions in 2010 show that the South contained the greatest number of people 65 and older at 14.9 million, followed by the Midwest at 9.0 million, and the West at 8.5 million. The Northeast had the smallest number of people 65 and older at 7.8 million but also had the highest percentage of people 65 and older at 14.1 percent. 

      85+ growing fast

      Between 2000 and 2010, all states experienced increases in the number of people who were 85 and older. However, the magnitude of growth varied among states.

      Alaska had the largest percent change between 2000 and 2010 (78.9 percent), increasing from 2,634 in 2000 to 4,711 in 2010. Mississippi had the smallest growth rate (3.4 percent) and increased from 42,891 in 2000 to 44,359 in 2010. Alaska was also the state with the lowest number and percentage of the population 85 and older when compared with other states.

      Other Highlights

      • In the 2010 Census, there were 53,364 centenarians (people 100 and older), an increase of 5.8 percent since 2000.
      • The number of people 65 and older more than doubled in 21 counties in the United States.
      • Approximately 1.3 million people 65 and older - or 3.1 percent of this population - lived in skilled-nursing facilities in 2010.

      Look out, kids.  Your grandparents are taking over.  New Census figures shod the 65 and up group is now the largest in terms of size and per...

      Feds Shut Down Acai Berry 'News" Sites

      "Free trial" cost consumers $25 million, complaint charges

      The Federal Trade Commission and the state of Connecticut have filed a complaint that seeks to permanently stop a Connecticut-based operation that allegedly used fake news websites to promote their products, made deceptive weight-loss claims, and told consumers they could receive free trials of acai berry and "colon cleanse" products, and only have to pay the nominal cost of shipping and handling.

      The FTC alleges that many consumers ended up paying $79.99 for the trial, and for recurring monthly shipments of products that were hard to cancel. The defendants have allegedly taken in more than $25 million from consumers in the United States.

      The parties have agreed to a court order temporarily halting the illegal conduct of Boris Mizhen, LeanSpa LLC, and two other companies Mizhen controls; continuing an asset freeze; appointing a temporary receiver; and giving the receiver, the FTC, and the State of Connecticut immediate access to the business premises.

      Fake news

      The complaint alleges that the defendants hired affiliate marketers who used fake news websites to promote the defendants' products. The fake news websites used domain names that appear to be objective news or health sites, such as,, and

      The sites included stories such as "Acai Berry Diet Exposed: Miracle Diet or Scam?" and "1 Trick of a Tiny Belly: Reporter Loses Her 'Belly' Using 1 Easy Tip," and often displayed the logos of major news sources, such as CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News.

      Fake reporters on the sites claimed to have tried the defendants' weight-loss products, such as LeanSpa, NutraSlim, and SlimFuel, and to have lost a substantial amount of weight quickly – sometimes as much as 25 pounds in four weeks without any special diet or vigorous exercise regime.

      The fake news sites had links to the defendants' own websites, where consumers were offered trial samples of two weight-loss dietary supplements: an acai-berry product and a colon cleanse product. The affiliate marketers earned a commission for each consumer who landed on their sites and signed up for a trial.

      Limited time only!

      According to the complaint, once consumers landed at the defendants' sites – including,, and – they were told that for a limited time only, in exchange for a nominal shipping and handling fee, typically $4.95 or less, they would receive trial samples of the acai berry or colon cleanse product, or both, and consumers were urged to provide their credit or debit card account information to pay the nominal fee to obtain a trial sample.

      If they tried to navigate away, a pop-up message sometimes appeared stating: "Don't miss out on this GREAT OFFER!!! Just press Cancel to remain on this page and receive an instant discounted S&H price of $1.95." The defendants allegedly would typically charge consumers either $79.99 for one of the products, or $158.98 for two.

      The complaint alleged that the defendants used several entities known as "Independent Sales Organizations," including Check21, LLC and Eureka Payments, LLC, to obtain merchant accounts at banks to process credit and debit sales transactions.

      Using these merchant accounts with several banks, including National Bank of California, WestAmerica Bank, HSBC Bank, and First Bank of Delaware, the defendants caused millions of dollars of unauthorized credit and debit card charges. The bulk of those unauthorized charges allegedly were processed through First Bank of Delaware.

      $79.99 for "trial samples"

      The defendants' allegedly deceptive practices also included charging some consumers $79.99 for products before the consumers even received the trial samples or before the 14-day trial period had ended; falsely promising a "100% Satisfaction Guarantee" and full refunds to customers who were dissatisfied with the product; misrepresenting that objective news reporters have performed independent tests on the products and independent consumers have endorsed the products; making unsupported claims that consumers could lose a significant amount of weight quickly; and falsely stating that the claims were clinically proven.

      The Federal Trade Commission and the state of Connecticut have filed a complaint that seeks to permanently stop a Connecticut-based operation that all...

      Supplement Makers ASN Found in Contempt, Sentenced to Prison

      Companies violated earlier consent decree, court finds

      New Jersey-based dietary supplement companies, Quality Formulation Laboratories Inc. (QFL) and American Sports Nutrition Inc. (ASN), were sentenced for multiple counts of criminal contempt of court for violating a consent decree entered by the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey on March 16, 2010.

      The defendants’ businesses manufactured and distributed food products and supplements, including many varieties of protein powder mixes sold in health food stores, as well as other powder mixes and dietary supplements.   The defendants’ products were distributed under the ASN brand to locations throughout the United States.   

      U.S. District Court Chief Judge Garrett E. Brown Jr. sentenced company executives Mohamed S. Desoky to a term of 40 months in prison, three years supervised release and a fine of $60,000; Ahmad Desoky Esq., to a term of 34 months in prison, three years supervised release and a fine of $12,000; and Omar Desoky to a term of 34 months in prison and three years supervised release.   

      In addition, Judge Brown ordered QFL and ASN to pay criminal fines totaling $1 million, and placed them on probation for a period of three years.  

      All defendants, the individuals and the corporations, were prohibited from doing business in the dietary supplement industry during their periods of supervised release or probation unless they first obtained consent of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Court.   Ahmad Desoky was barred from practicing law during his period of supervised release.   

      In imposing sentence, the court commented that defendants’ criminal contempt was unique in its persistence and scope.

      Adulterated food           

      The complaint in the civil case that led to the court order alleged that the defendants, which included Mohamed S. Desoky, QFL and ASN, adulterated food by manufacturing them without following the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) regulations regarding current good manufacturing practice (CGMP) requirements.       

      The complaint alleged that the defendants caused misbranding of food because the food contained milk, a major food allergen, not declared on the product labels.   The civil complaint went on to allege that defendants’ failure to have adequate sanitizing and cleaning operations and follow their own procedures for manufacturing products on dedicated equipment may have led to food being contaminated with this major food allergen by virtue of “cross-contamination” or “cross-contact” in the manufacturing process.           

      The civil complaint also alleged that during an FDA inspection of the defendant’s facility in January 2009, FDA investigators observed a dead rodent—cut in half—on a blender motor platform; a dead rodent, surrounded by rodent excreta pellets, in an area used to store near-finished product; and, on two occasions, a live rodent running through the blending room.

      Consent decree            

      The consent decree that settled the civil action required that defendants shut down their manufacturing operation and not reopen there or elsewhere without first correcting these violations and getting FDA’s approval to reopen.   The criminal contempt charges alleged that Ahmad Desoky and Omar Desoky, with knowledge of the court’s order, assisted their father, Mohamed S. Desoky, in violating the order, and thus were criminally liable for the violations even though they were not named as defendants in the original civil case.        

      “After the FDA found egregious sanitation and manufacturing problems at the defendants’ facility, we obtained a court order requiring the defendants to clean up their act,” said Tony West, Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Division of the Department of Justice.   “Instead of complying with that order, the defendants thumbed their nose at it and continued distributing product.   The court’s appropriately stiff sentences in this case make clear the lesson:   If you jeopardize the health and safety of the American people, we will hold you accountable.”

      The petition for criminal contempt charged all five defendants with violating the decree almost immediately upon its entry by setting up operations at a separate location in Congers, N.Y., to which they transported their employees and equipment.   

      In addition, the petition alleged that the defendants violated the decree by failing to notify FDA of this relocation of their operations.   On June 1, 2011, a jury found all five defendants guilty of these charges.  

      New Jersey-based dietary supplement companies, Quality Formulation Laboratories Inc. (QFL) and American Sports Nutrition Inc. (ASN), were sentenced ...

      Chevy Volt Tops Owner Satisfaction Survey

      93% of Volt owners say they would "definitely" buy one again

      The Chevrolet Volt has its detractors but it also has its fans and, more significantly, many of those fans are Volt owners who drive the plug-in hybrids day in and day out.

      The Volt has topped this year's Consumer Reports owner-satisfaction study with a whopping 93 percent of Volt owners saying they "definitely" buy one again.

      Tied for second-place were the V8-powered Dodge Challenger and the legendary Porsche 911, each getting a thumbs-up from 91 percent of their owners.

      However, Consumer Reports noted that the Volt had only been selling for a few months when the survey was conducted, so it remains to be seen how the Volt owners feel after they put more miles on the clock.

      Then there's the federal investigation of the flammability of the Volt's battery.  Depending on that turns out, it could dim the car's popularity.

      Then there's the "newer is better" mantra. With its usual caution, CR noted that "early adopters of a new technology tend to be among the most enthusiastic buyers."

      High tech, high performance

      This year's ratings are not surprising.  Sporty cars and technically-advanced cars -- sometimes the same thing but not always -- usually top the list.

      After all, your Toyota Sienna van might be just fine, but are you really going to get all enthused about it?  

      A 911 or something similar, on the other hand, will make just about anyone spend at least a few minutes a day in his garage just looking at the thing.  You don't even have to drive it to get that nice warm feeling.

      Same with high-tech cars.  Driving the latest and greatest fuel-sipper makes that trip to Trader Joe's feel really enobling.  

      Or, as Rik Paul, Consumer Reports' automotive editor, put it: "These models reflect a larger trend we've seen in recent years: Sporty cars and fuel efficient cars with alternative drivetrains tend to generate more enthusiasm and loyalty than most other types of vehicles."  

      Consumer Reports said 12 of the 27 models that topped its owner--satisfaction ratings -- meaning at least 80 percent of respondents said they'd definitely buy the vehicle again -- were sporty cars or convertibles; nine were hybrids or diesels.

      Consumer Reports' owner-satisfaction survey includes responses from more than 314,000 subscribers on 2009-12 model year vehicles. It is based on the results from the magazine's annual auto survey conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center.

      The Chevrolet Volt has its detractors but it also has its fans and, more significantly, many of those fans are Volt owners who drive the plug-in hybrids da...

      Abusive Boss Could Harm Your Marriage

      Problems at work can lead to problems at home

      If you're having trouble in your marriage, it may not be just your spouse that's giving you problems. Your boss might be involved, say researchers at Baylor University – especially if he's a jerk.

      The study also found that more children at home meant greater family satisfaction for the employee, and the longer the partner's relationship, the less impact the abusive boss had on the family.

      "These findings have important implications for organizations and their managers,” said Baylor psychology professor Dawn Carlson, the study author. “The evidence highlights the need for organizations to send an unequivocal message to those in supervisory positions that these hostile and harmful behaviors will not be tolerated."

      A supervisor's abuse may include tantrums, rudeness, public criticism and inconsiderate action. Complaints to detail a wide range of bad behavior on the part of supervisors.


      “They give us a rate/per hour ratio for the stock room and give us impossible goals for the day and then yell at us for not getting the job right,” one employee of Ross' Dress for Less in Fairfield, Calif., told “We are to the point that we are not even allowed to talk while we are in the back. They believe that if we are talking the we are not unpacking boxes.”

      An employee of a Holiday Inn Express in Little Rock, Ark., reports that two supervisors are abusing the people who work there.

      “I have seen this for two years but the employees are afraid to say something because anyone who says anything to them gets fired,” he said. “There have been multiple people that have quit because of this and people are suffering now as I speak.”

      Taking the stress home with them

      When employees are subjected to an abusive boss at work, the researchers say, they often bring that stress home with them, where it spreads to a spouse.

      "It may be that as supervisor abuse heightens tension in the relationship, the employee is less motivated or able to engage in positive interactions with the partner and other family members," said Merideth Ferguson, PH.D., study co-author and assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship at Baylor.

      She says organizations should encourage subordinates to seek support through their organization's employee assistance program or other resources (e.g., counseling, stress management) so that the employee can identify tactics or mechanisms for buffering the effect of abuse on the family.

      Abusive Boss Could Harm Your Marriage: If you're having trouble in your marriage, it may not be just your spouse that's giving you problems....

      iPhone 4 Burns On Australian Airliner

      Filled cabin with 'dense, black smoke'

      Passengers aboard an Regional Express (Rex) flight in Australia were alarmed this week when black smoke began filling the cabin.

      The airline said a quick check found that the smoke was coming from a passenger's iPhone 4, which was also glowing. In accordance with company standard safety procedures, the airline said the flight attendant on the Lismore to Sydney flight carried out recovery actions immediately and “the red glow was extinguished successfully.”

      Rex did not disclose whether the device was turned on at the time. The damaged iPhone has been turned over to Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) for investigation.

      The airline released a photograph of the iPhone, showing large cracks on the back case and dark, charred areas around the edges of the device.

      The plane, a Saab 340 aircraft, had just landed and was not in the air when the iPhone began smoking. No one was injured but the cabin was described as being filled with “dense, black smoke.”

      It's the first reported incident of a smartphone overheating to the point of catching fire on an airline flight. However, notebook computers have been known to cause fires, destroying property on the ground.

      In 2007 an Australian consumer reported his Macbook ignited in his home, causing extensive damage. In 2005 the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a warning that cell phone batteries run the risk of exploding and catching fire.

      Smartphone catches fire on aircraft...

      Electronics Drive Early Holiday Sales

      It seems everyone wants a gadget this year

      Consumers headed to the electronics aisle in big numbers on Black Friday and the days that followed, according to a report by NPD Research.

      The firm's numbers show more than 23 percent of Black Friday shoppers purchased some type of electronics product, up 15 percent from 2010 and 50 percent above toys, the third most popular post-Thanksgiving shopping category.

      Half of all consumer electronics buyers shopped the midnight Doorbusters between 12am and 3am, a significant increase from the 13 percent who bought last year during that time period, the report says. More than 28 percent of the shopping trips by consumer electronics buyers occurred between Thanksgiving night and 3AM on Friday, a significant increase over the 5 percent in 2010.

      If the holiday shopping season is off to a successful start for most retailers, NPD says they can thank consumer's desire for games and gadgets. Smartphones, tablets and video game consoles were among the big sellers.

      TV buyers were out in full force as nearly six percent of all Black Friday shoppers walked out with a new TV, a 36 percent increase from 2010. Smartphones, video game systems and software, and tablets were also extremely popular as buyers increased by 85 percent, 35 percent, and 34 percent respectively.

      Top of mind

      “A confluence of factors have kept consumer electronics top of mind during Black Friday”, said Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis at NPD. “A combination of the Black Friday promotional period expanding, the continuing focus on electronics in advertising and sales messaging, and the popularity of the category in general have helped to make Black Friday the consumer electronics shopping holiday.”

      The buying continued through the weekend and into Cyber Monday. This year almost 28 percent of consumers reported shopping online Cyber Monday compared to 21 percent last year.

      Of those shoppers, 16 percent reported making a purchase this year compared to 12 percent last year. The study’s results also indicate that brick & mortar stores got a Cyber Monday bounce. More consumers reported shopping in a store on Cyber Monday this year (20 percent) than last year (14 percent) and of those shoppers this year 16 percent report making a purchase compared to last year’s 11 percent.

      “Cyber Monday turned into ‘Hyper Monday’ as both online and brick & mortar got healthy increases due to more shoppers even though they spent less,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at NPD.

      More people may have been shopping but they were spending less money. This year's average expenditure on Cyber Monday was $187.83, compared to $276.71. However, it doesn't mean they bought less. Cohen said there were more bargains this year, which may have affected the spending total.

      Holiday sales off to strong start...

      What's On Your Mind? Edenpure, Verizon Wireless, Charmglow

      Our daily look at consumer reviews

      With winter on the way, consumers are thinking about keeping their homes warm over the next few months. Edenpure space heaters have proved a popular product, but not everyone is convinced.

      “All of the advertising talked about heating 1000 square feet and they were offering a $349 heater for $199,” Don, of Montgomery, Tex., told It also said it was safe to touch. When it arrived it showed on the cover, that it was safe for pets and showed it under a desk with a woman's knee up against it.”

      But Don said when he opened the box it was a smaller model for 350 square feet, and and the instructions said not to block the front or the rear, suggesting it should not go under a desk as the picture showed.

      “All in all, I think we got taken,” Don said. “I listened to the infomercial again this morning and now they say, just send $39 and then later send four more payments, implying that those payments will also be $39, but when I called and finally, after much insistence, was told the additional payments are $89.”

      From our observation some people really like Edenpure heaters and some definitely do not. It might help to purchase it from a local store and not from an infomercial.

      Account monitoring pays off

      Verizon and other cell phone companies have been prompted by government regulators to begin warning their customers when they are about to exceed limits and incur additional charges. Robert, of The Colony, Tex., said he specifically asked when he signed up with Verizon Wireless if he would get these warnings and said he was assured that he would.

      “I was more concerned about exceeding the 2gb of data,” Robert said. “I also noticed on their website they state that they 'strive' to notify customers to prevent overage charges. After receiving my first bill, I noticed $403 in overage charges for voice and $73.76 in taxes! Upon contacting customer service, I was informed the keyword there is they 'strive' to inform customers.”

      While a reminder from the carrier is convenient, consumers should also take some responsibility for managing their account. Each Verizon Wireless customer, for example, can log into their account and monitor their voice and data usage. It's a good idea to do that on a regular basis.

      Turkey-day mishap

      We heard from some consumers who say their Thanksgiving feast was marred by exploding glass baking dishes in the kitchen. But Victor, of Orlando, Fla., says his Charmglow grill was the source of a food-related holiday mishap.

      “On Thanksgiving, while using the grill the holes that lead into controls caught fire and melted,” Victor said. “It was my third time using it since I purchased it from Home Depot. I was told to report the incident to the manufacturer.”

      If this sounds familiar, it should. In 2005 Brinkmann Corporation recalled about 130,000 Brinkmann-brand and Charmglow-brand gas grills because they posed a fire hazard. Since then, he have continued to get complaints. Victor should report his problem to the company and to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

      Here is what's on consumer's minds today: Edenpure, Verizon Wireless, Charmglow, Account monitoring pays off and Turkey-day mishap....