Current Events in April 2012

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    Tax Resolution Firm Decries 'Bad Apples' in Industry

    Says abuses are big mess that needs to be cleaned up

    Companies that offer services to taxpayers, to help resolve problems with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), say a handful of companies in their business have given the rest of them an undeserved bad reputation.

    "Not all tax problem resolution and mediation firms are created equal," said Michael Rozbruch, founder and CEO of Tax Resolution Services, Co., and part of an association that is working toward regulating the industry to protect consumers. "When some companies make news by doing things the wrong way, it makes the rest of us look really bad—the consumers lose, the legitimate tax debt resolution businesses lose, the taxing agencies lose, and it's just a huge mess that needs to be cleaned up now."

    Rozbruch notes his industry began getting unwelcome attention in 2010 when then-California Attorney General Jerry Brown skewered "Tax Lady" Roni Lynn Deutch for purposely "engaging in a scheme to swindle taxpayers." Since then, he says media outlets have started a trend of lambasting tax debt resolution companies across the board.

    Authorities shut down firms

    "Over the past couple years, nationally recognizable firms such as American Tax Relief (ATR), JK Harris and TaxMasters were either shut down by federal regulators or recently filed for bankruptcy. Additionally, JK Harris and TaxMasters are also under investigation for similar issues that helped to take down the Deutch firm.

    Rozbruch criticizes those firms for engaging in what he called the "dubious practice" of not working clients' cases until they were full paid by the consumer, which was generally months after folks hired them, even though they offered their clients payment plans.

    Even if Rozbruch is correct about his industry, it would be wise for taxpayers to tread very carefully when considering paid assistance in dealing with the IRS. A number of reputable law firms specialize in tax issues, and they may be a good place to start.

    IRS is easier to deal with

    At the same time, it is easier to deal with the IRS than it has been in the past and dealing directly with the tax agency should be explored. The objective is to reach an "offer in compromise" that will allow you to settle your tax debt for less than the full amount you owe. Here's what the IRS says about offers in compromise:

    It may be a legitimate option if you can't pay your full tax liability, or doing so creates a financial hardship. We consider your unique set of facts and circumstances:

    • Ability to pay;
    • Income;
    • Expenses; and
    • Asset equity.

     "We generally approve an offer in compromise when the amount offered represents the most we can expect to collect within a reasonable period of time," the IRS says on its website. "Explore all other payment options before submitting an offer in compromise. The Offer in Compromise program is not for everyone. If you hire a tax professional to help you file an offer, be sure to check his or her qualifications."

    Companies that offer services to taxpayers, to help resolve problems with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), say a handful of companies in their business ...

    Should Hospitals Hand Out Infant Formula Samples?

    Public Citizen doesn't think so and is launching a crusade against the practice

    Hospitals should stop including industry-provided samples of infant formula in new mothers’ discharge bags because the distribution is unethical and violates good public health policy, the consumer group Public Citizen argues.

    It's launching a crusade against the practice, including sending letters co-signed by more than 100 other organizations to more than 2,600 hospitals across the country. 

    Public Citizen also is launching an online petition calling on the three major formula makers – Abbott (maker of Similac), Mead Johnson (maker of Enfamil) and Nestle (maker of Gerber) – to stop marketing their products in healthcare facilities.

    Nearly every medical authority agrees that breastfeeding for the first six months after a child is born is best for the health of both babies and mothers. But Public Citizen said research convincingly shows that mothers who received infant formula samples were less likely to breastfeed exclusively and are more likely to breastfeed for shorter durations.   

    The consumer group said hospitals that distribute formula samples are in violation of a 1981 World Health Organization (WHO) code that prohibits healthcare facilities from marketing infant formula.


    Yet, at least two-thirds of hospitals in the U.S. distribute samples of infant formula, even if mothers have indicated that they plan to breastfeed. Succumbing to infant formula companies’ marketing techniques is costly, both in terms of money spent on formula and the health of mothers and children. Formula feeding costs between $800 and $2,800 per year.

    Additionally, the formula samples usually are brand-name products, which cost up to 66 percent more than store brands. Families typically continue to use the same expensive brand they receive in samples.

    “Hospitals and doctors’ offices shouldn’t be used as marketing vehicles for any product, period,” Public Citizen President Robert Weissman said. “They certainly shouldn’t be pushing products that harm the health and well-being of babies and new moms.”

    Added Elizabeth Ben-Ishai, campaign coordinator for Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert project, “When hospitals distribute formula samples, they are engaging in marketing for major pharmaceutical and food companies. Many hospitals are actively trying to promote breastfeeding in their obstetrics units. But by continuing to allow marketing of infant formula in their facilities, they are undermining their own efforts.”

    Public Citizen to Hospitals: Stop Handing Out Industry-Provided Samples of Infant FormulaHospitals Should Focus on Public Health, Not Marketing for Drug ...

    Pesticides Associated with Lower Birth Weight, Shorter Pregnancy

    Study reinforces belief that pregnant women should avoid pesticides

    A new study is reinforcing obstetricians’ standard warning that pregnant women should avoid exposure to pesticides in foods and weed killers because the chemicals can harm the developing fetus.

    In the study, Cincinnati-area women had levels of organophosphate insecticides that significantly affected birth weight and gestation period.

    “This latest report is further evidence that babies in the womb are exquisitely sensitive to pesticide exposure,” said Ken Cook, president and co-founder of the Environmental Working Group. “While much has been done to reduce people’s exposure to organophosphates, this important study shows that even remaining exposures are harmful.”

    Lead researcher Bruce Lanphear, MD MPH, and his colleagues tracked an ethnically and economically diverse group of more than 300 expectant mothers from the Cincinnati area. They found that newborns of women with the highest levels of organophosphates in their urine were delivered, on average, about half a week earlier and weighed one-third of a pound less than those of women with the lowest exposures.

    For years, EWG has urged the US Environmental Protection Agency to reduce the use of these highly toxic pesticides in agriculture and advised consumers to avoid fruits and vegetables with the highest levels of pesticides.

    Last year, three studies found that prenatal exposure to organophosphates was associated with diminished IQ in children. Other research has linked organophosphate exposure in children to increased risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

    The abstract of the new study can be found in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

    A new study is reinforcing obstetricians’ standard warning that pregnant women should avoid exposure to pesticides in foods and weed killers because ...

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      Neil Young Hopes to Tune Up Digital Music

      Young, other artists have long lamented the horrific quality of MP3 audio

      Those iPad earpods may look cool but they sound awful.  So says no less an authority than Neil Young.  It's not entirely the pods' fault, though, it's the abysmal audio quality of the MP3 protocol that today encodes most digital music.

      Young launched into a diatribe at a recent media conference, dissing and dismissing the MP3 format as having just "5 percent of the data present in the original recording."

      "When I started making records, we had a hundred percent of the sound," said Young at the D: Dive Into Media conference in January, Rolling Stone magazine reported. "And then you listen to it as an MP3 at the same volume – people leave the room. It hurts...It's not that digital is bad or inferior. It's that the way it's being used is not sufficient to transfer the depth of the art."

      If you think this isn't true, hook your iPod up to a really decent stereo system -- not a "home entertainment" system with lots of itty bitty speakers hidden around the room. First, play a complex piece of music -- you know, something like Beethoven or the Grateful Dead. Then listen to the same piece of music from a CD. 

      Go ahead, crank it up.  The neighbors won't care. They're in foreclosure anyway.

      Hear the difference? If everything's working properly, it should be as obvious as the difference between high-def TV and the old NTSC (a technical term that might as well mean "never the same color").

      Not just saying ...

      But unlike lots of us, Neil Young isn't just sitting back and complaining, he's doing something about it.  Or so it appears anyway. Rolling Stone says Young has filed a number of trademark applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office recently, applications with names like "21st Century Record Player," "Earth Storage" and "Thanks for Listening."

      Young apparently envisions a service that would allow music fans to download audio files that sound like the studio recordings of the past, as opposed to the über-compressed song files that are currently available at MP3 stores like iTunes and Amazon.

      This would fit with Young's previous assertions that we're in desperate need of a "high resolution" audio format that would deliver the 95 percent of the sound that's completely missing from the MP3 format.

      There are other formats out there now but none really approaches original studio quality -- which is odd considering how much fawning attention is given to high-def video and, for that matter, to the upgrading of sound systems in major theaters around the country. Why are most consumers willing to put up with 1950s sound in 2012?

      It's likely to take about a year for the applications to work their way through the trademark office, which is both notoriously slow and also notoriously picky. But keep your ear to the ground and we'll see -- and hear -- what develops.

      Those iPad earpods may look cool but they sound awful.  So says no less an authority than Neil Young.  It's not entirely the pods' fault, though,...

      Study: Early BPA Exposure Affects Adult Learning

      Researchers tests on zebrafish show BPA can make it harder to learn

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration days ago announced it will not take immediate steps to ban the use of the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) in food product packaging and other containers. The FDA says it will continue to review studies on the substance.

      Here's another one it can review. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) scientist Daniel Weber says his study found exposure to BPA in early development led to profound behavioral changes in adulthood. He conducted his experiments on fish.

      Like developmental exposure to mercury, adult fish that had been exposed to tiny amounts of BPA as embryos had learning and memory problems, compared to fish that had not been exposed, he found.

      Testing on zebrafish

      Weber, a researcher with the NIEHS Children’s Environmental Health Science Core Center at UWM, collaborated with Robert Tanguay at Oregon State University. Their pilot study, funded by the center, is the first to identify a neurobehavioral effect of BPA using a zebrafish model exposed to concentrations comparable to what humans might encounter in the environment.

      “What was amazing is that exposure only happened at the embryonic stage,” said Weber. “But somehow the wiring in the brain had been permanently altered by it. It’s an example of why children are not just little adults when it comes to gauging the effects of contaminants.”

      BPA is widely used in plastic food containers and container liners. Conflicting reports of its safety have made it the subject of vigorous public debate.

      Industry already reacting

      Amid the debate, the Campbell’s Soup Company recently announced it would be removing BPA from the linings of the company’s soup cans as soon as a viable alternative is found. At the retail level, Walmart has taken steps to remove plastic infant bottles containing BPA from store shelves.

      At issue is the amount of exposure with some studies concluding BPA is a health risk only at concentrations that are higher than environmental levels. Results of this study, however, suggest that lower concentrations may be more potent during early-life exposures. The study tested three different small amounts considered environmentally relevant.

      Teaching zebrafish

      You might be wondering how it is possible to test the learning ability of zebrafish, but Weber says it's not that hard. Since zebrafish mature in only a few months, he says they are a useful model to test effects of toxicity over a lifetime. Scientists also can control the conditions and timing of chemical exposure with zebrafish because the embryos can live outside the mother.

      Using a T-shaped maze, Weber freed adult fish that were exposed to BPA as embryos at the base of the T and conditioned them choose the left arm of the intersection. He then reversed the task, conditioning them to choose the right.

      Weber says it took seven to ten trials for an unexposed fish to learn this. But the exposed fish took two to three times as many trials to learn it. Almost none of the fish exposed to the highest levels of BPA Weber used learned even the first part of the task.

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration days ago announced it will not take immediate steps to ban the use of the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) in food product...

      Chrysler Premiers New Ads in NCAA Finals

      The second half of Chrysler's "Halftime in America" marketing campaign is now making the rounds in the American living room

      As the Kentucky Wildcats shut down Kansas for this year’s title, some new Chrysler ads were playing on the screens of Final Four watchers around the country. News from the automaker’s marketing offices and from affiliated dealers shows Chrysler is also set to roll out the second half of its “Halftime in America” campaign in other televised events like the NASCAR season, as well as the Stanley Cup and the popular tv series “Mad Men.” The new ad play is a concentrated effort to tie in Chrysler products with the people that buy them, and the America in which they live.

      Is it working? A ConsumerAffairs sentiment analysis of 990,000 consumer comments on Twitter, Facebook and other social media over the last year finds the company, now part of Italian automaker Fiat, with an overall positive sentiment of 51%, way up from its nadir of 23% last June.  

      The first part of Chrysler’s ad campaign featured Clint Eastwood on screen during the NFL Superbowl and generated some debate about the politics of the spots, including speculation on how auto makers are reacting to the industry bail-outs of years past. Now, Chrysler is switching the camera from celebrities to “folks like us,” attempting to give viewers a picture of some of the brand loyalists who buy Chrysler products. There’s also a “Made in America” theme running through the ads, a pull for Detroit and for the domestic automakers as the American economy continues to rebound.

      The new ads are comprised of four individual spots, each featuring a family, where a family member provides an intimate voice-over as a Chrysler vehicle roves the streets of quintessentially American small towns and cities. There’s “Steven” and the Chrysler 300, “Jenny” and the Jeep Wrangler, “Shaun” and the Dodge Challenger, and “Tommy” and the Ram truck; in each ad, an authentic voice talks emotionally about family ties, the challenges of modern American life, and the will to persevere and care for loved ones. Unlike many of today’s tv spots, these ads read almost poetically, and not in the zany-kitsch or even bordering-on-mockery style of other wordsmithing commercials (like those weird Levi’s ads), but as an ode to the people who make those Jeeps, Chryslers and Dodges their own.

      While not everyone likes the commercials, they're one of the top five positive attributes we found in our consumer sentiment analysis.

      If you're wondering about the other attributes, further analysis finds that "faster in America" generally refers to U.S. consumers feeling that the Chrysler-Fiat duo is rolling out new models faster in the U.S. and is being more responsive to the American market.  By "look," consumers are saying they like the sporty Italian look of the new Chrysler models. The "rev up city" comments are consumers -- Detroiters, maybe? -- who are enthused by Chrysler's new "Imported from Detroit" tagline, finding it a helping hand to a city that's been down on its luck a long time.

      As for "building," that's not fans of New York's Chrysler Building, it's gearheads who think Chrysler is building some pretty fine cars, with good workmanship and attention to detail. The negative attributes are pretty self-explanatory and, in many cases, have more to do with consumers' dealer experience than with the company itself. 

      Despite its share of recalls within the last year, the numbers show that there are quite a lot of Chrysler fan around these days; a story from January showed big gains in vehicle registrations for the brands, citing an staffer who attributed at least part of the boom to the original first part of the “Halftime in America” ad campaign, calling it “a good comeback story” that Americans can latch onto in a more than superficial way as they browse local lots for a new ride. Chrysler execs are hoping that these ads bring shoppers close enough to the new lineup to see what their new vehicles have to offer, from new off-roading features and more technology in Jeep models, to classy sedans, hot-rod Dodge street cars, and tough, capable Ram trucks. Despite being fused with Italian carmaker Fiat, Chrysler still hopes to keep its uniquely American appeal alive for another generation of drivers.

      The new ads began during the 2012 Superbowl, will now run in other high profile sports venues like NASCAR coverage...

      Trojan Reportedly Infects 500,000 Macs

      Russian software firm says the malware can give hackers control of users' computers

      A Russian anti-virus company, Doctor Web, has issued a report saying its research shows the Trojan BackDoor.Flashback is now infecting more than a half-million computers running Apple's Mac OS X.

      It says most of the infected machines are in the U.S. and Canada. While Apple users have long thought their machines were virtually invulnerable to virus and worm threats, the harsh truth is that most threats were aimed at Windows machines simply because there are so many more of them. With Apple taking a bigger market share, it becomes a more attractive target.

      "Systems get infected with BackDoor.Flashback.39 after a user is redirected to a bogus site from a compromised resource or via a traffic distribution system,” the company said in a press release. “JavaScript code is used to load a Java-applet containing an exploit. Doctor Web's virus analysts discovered a large number of web-sites containing the code.”

      According to the security firm, the recently discovered codes include:


      The exploit saves an executable file onto the hard drive of the infected Mac machine. The file is used to download malicious payload from a remote server and to launch it. Once launched, it gives the hacker control of the user's machine. Doctor Web said it found two versions of the Trojan horse: attackers started using a modified version of BackDoor.Flashback.39 around April 1.

      The news has Apple user forums buzzing, with Mac owners looking for instructions for determining if a machine is infected. Several users offered simple tests to determine if a Mac is clean or infected. Doctor Web said Apple closed the vulnerability on April 3 by issuing a patch. Users who do not install it remain exposed, according to the security firm.

      A Russian anti-virus company, Doctor Web, has issued a report saying its research shows the Trojan BackDoor.Flashback is now infecting more than a half-mil...

      Long Island Broker Fined $2.3 Million for Excessive Markups

      David Lerner Associates also ordered to pay restitution of $1.4 million

      A Long Island, New York, brokerage firm has been fined $2.3 million for charging retail customers excessive markups on municipal bond and collateralized mortgage obligation (CMO) transactions over a two-year period, causing the firm's retail customers to pay unfairly high prices and receive lower yields than they otherwise would have received.

      A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) hearing panel imposed the fine on David Lerner Associates, Inc. and ordered the firm to pay restitution of more than $1.4 million, plus interest, to affected customers.

      The panel also fined its head trader William Mason $200,000 and suspended him for six months from the securities industry. The ruling resolves charges brought by FINRA's Department of Enforcement in May 2010.

      1,500 transactions

      The panel found that from January 2005 through January 2007, DLA and Mason charged retail customers excessive markups in more than 1,500 municipal bond transactions and charged excessive markups in more than 1,700 CMO transactions from January 2005 through August 2007.

      FINRA rules require that the amount of a markup must be fair and reasonable, taking into account all relevant factors and circumstances, including the type of security involved, the availability of the security in the market and the amount of money involved in a transaction.

      The hearing panel decision notes that Lerner's municipal bond and CMO trades reflected a pattern of intentional excessive markups. The municipal bonds and CMOs in the transactions were all rated investment grade or above, and were readily available in the market at significantly lower prices than DLA charged.

      Investors can obtain more information about, and the disciplinary record of, any FINRA-registered broker or brokerage firm by using FINRA's BrokerCheck. FINRA makes BrokerCheck available at no charge. In 2011, members of the public used this service to conduct 14.2 million reviews of broker or firm records. Investors can access BrokerCheck at or by calling (800) 289-9999. 

      A Long Island, New York, brokerage firm has been fined $2.3 million for charging retail customers excessive markups on municipal bond and collateraliz...

      AirTran Gets Chicago-Cancun Route

      Route has been vacant for four years

      The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has given shivering Chicagoans a new escape route.

      The department today announced that it has finalized the tentative decision made on March 16, 2012 to allow AirTran, a wholly owned subsidiary of Southwest Airlines, to provide daily nonstop service from Chicago’s Midway International Airport to Cancun International Airport. It will be the first service from Midway to Cancun in four years.

      “This decision provides consumers the opportunity to travel to Cancun from each of Chicago’s international airports,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Not only will this new service provide the traveling public with more options, it will also support jobs in the aviation industry and boost economic activity throughout the region.”

      Under the U.S.-Mexico agreement, three carriers may provide scheduled passenger services between Chicago and Cancun. Currently, American Airlines and United serve Cancun from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. USA 3000 Airlines ceased its U.S.-Mexico services on January 30, 2012, leaving one opportunity available for Chicago-Cancun scheduled passenger service.

      Two competing applicants, AirTran and Frontier Airlines, participated in the Department proceeding to award the one available Chicago-Cancun opportunity. Frontier may continue to serve the Chicago-Cancun market from O’Hare International Airport on a charter basis.

      The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has given shivering Chicagoans a new escape route.The department today announced that it has finalized the te...

      Public Bikes Recalls Bicycles Due to Fall Hazard

      The pedals can crack and break, posing a fall hazard

      Public Bikes Inc. is recalling about 4,100 bicycles. The pedals can crack and break, posing a fall hazard to the rider.

      Public Bikes has received 24 reports of pedals cracking. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves 18 models of women’s and men’s Public Bikes. The bicycles are various colors and sizes. “Public” or “” is printed on either the bicycle chain guard or the rear fender. The bicycles have a metal “badge” at the top of the down tube with a number stamped on it. Recalled badge numbers are 1-5843, 5845, 12560, 20743 and 20757. The “Apple” model, which has no badge, is also included. The word “Wellgo” is embossed on both the top and bottom of the pedals. All bicycles with Wellgo pedals are included in this recall.

      The bicycles, made in Taiwan, were sold by Public Bikes & Gear in San Francisco and other Public Bikes dealers in 16 states nationwide and from April 2010 through January 2012 for between $500 and $1,250.

      Consumers should immediately stop riding the recalled bicycles and contact Public Bikes or an authorized Public Bikes dealer for free replacement pedals. The recalled pedals have a black spindle, the replacement pedal spindles are chrome.

      For additional information, please contact Public Bikes toll-free at (855) 840-1400 between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. PT Monday through Friday or visit the firm’s website at

      Public Bikes Inc. is recalling about 4,100 bicycles. The pedals can crack and break, posing a fall hazard to the rider.Public Bikes has received 24 ...

      Increase In Memory Loss May Signal Impending Death

      Researchers say memory decline accelerates a couple of years before death

      When an elderly person begins losing their memory at a noticeably faster rate, it may mean they are in the last years of life.

      New research finds that a person’s memory declines at a faster rate in the two- and-a-half years before death than at any other time after memory problems first begin. A second study shows that keeping mentally fit through board games or reading may be the best way to preserve memory during late life.

      Both studies are published in the online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

      Small study

      The results are based on a relatively small study. For the study, 174 Catholic priests, nuns and monks without memory problems had their memory tested yearly for six to 15 years before death. After all the test subjects had died, scientists examined their brains for hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease called plaques and tangles.

      “In our first study, we used the end of life as a reference point for research on memory decline rather than birth or the start of the study,” said study author Robert S. Wilson, PhD, of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

      The study found that at an average of about two-and-a-half years before death, different memory and thinking abilities tended to decline together at rates that were eight to 17 times faster than before this terminal period.

      Higher levels of plaques and tangles were linked to an earlier onset of this terminal period but not to rate of memory decline during it.

      Staying mentally fit

      The second study, also conducted by Wilson, focused on mental activities and involved 1,076 people with an average age of 80 who were free of dementia. Participants underwent yearly memory exams for about five years.

      They reported how often they read the newspaper, wrote letters, visited a library and played board games such as chess or checkers. Frequency of these mental activities was rated on a scale of one to five, one meaning once a year or less and five representing every day or almost every day.

      The results showed that people’s participation in mentally stimulating activities and their mental functioning declined at similar rates over the years. The researchers also found that they could predict participants’ level of cognitive functioning by looking at their level of mental activity the year before but that level of cognitive functioning did not predict later mental activity.

      “The results suggest a cause and effect relationship: that being mentally active leads to better cognitive health in old age,” said Wilson.

      When an elderly person begins losing their memory at a noticeably faster rate, it may mean they are in the last years of life.New research finds that a p...

      Movie Chain Settles Discrimination Claims

      Moviegoers with vision, hearing disabilities to get assistive technology

      In a settlement with the state of Illinois, AMC Theatres will provide access to movies for consumers with both vision and hearing disabilities.

      Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan says the chain will provide personal captioning services and audio-description technology for movie-goers with hearing and vision disabilities at all of its theaters and its 460 movie screens.

      “This technology will allow people with disabilities to enjoy a movie right alongside their friends and families unlike ever before,” Madigan said.

      By 2014, AMC movie theaters in Illinois will be equipped with captioning services and audio-description devices. The technology will be available to movie-goers at nearly any movie at an AMC theater and at all of a film’s listed showings.

      In 2010, AMC settled charges with the U.S. Department of Justice that its theaters were not in compliance with the Americans for Disability Act. The suit concerned wheelchair accessability and not whether the movies were accessible for the hearing and sight impaired.

      Madigan said the settlement is a significant development for people living with disabilities in Illinois. Prior to the agreement, Madigan said, only 21 out of 246 movie theaters in Illinois offered closed-captioning services and only 10 offered audio-description services.

      Two-year effort

      Madigan got involved two years ago when a disability rights group, Equip for Equality, brought the issue to her attention. At the time, she says, only a small fraction of movie theaters offered the technology for only a limited number of movies and usually at showings set at off hours. Whether or not it took a lot of persuading, AMC seems to be fully on board now.

      “AMC is committed to providing the best possible moviegoing experience for all of our guests, which includes the conversion to digital presentation,” said Noel MacDonald, vice president of Operations at AMC Theatres. “For the past several years we’ve worked with suppliers to develop digital assistive technologies that can be implemented on a broad scale. We’re excited that this technology allows everyone to join us at an AMC theatre.”

      Equip for Equality sees the agreement as a big step forward.

      “Under the agreement, people who are deaf, hard of hearing, and blind will now be able to fully enjoy going to the movies, like all other citizens of Illinois,” said Amy Peterson, senior attorney for Equip for Equality.

      In a settlement with the state of Illinois, AMC Theatres will provide access to movies for consumers with both vision and hearing disabilities.Illinois A...

      Google Thinks Its Glasses Can Make Reality Really Really Real

      Why settle for plain old reality when you could have augmented reality?

      Yesterday it was flying cars. Today it's Google Glasses -- thin wraparound shades that give new meaning to "in your face."

      Googlers say the new glasses will not only display maps, information, ads and other stuff we already see all day long but will also snap photos, accept voice commands and do just about everything except help you cross the street.

      Oh wait, maybe they'll do that too. We're not quite sure, since the glasses aren't for sale yet.


      Actually, we'd better hope the glasses will help you cross the street. The side frames -- which house the electronics -- appear to be so thick they completely obliterate the wearer's peripheral vision. If you've ever tried wearing really thick frames, you'll know how annoying this is to you and those around you, the people you're constantly bumping into.

      And by the way, we have checked our sources and today is definitely April 5, not April 1.  So maybe this Google Glasses thing really is for real? It's in The New York Times, so it must be true. There's nothing about it on Google's official blog, though, which instead is headlining yet another too-weird-to-be-true story about Google developing a self-driving NASCAR race car. 

      Oh wait, that NASCAR story.  It's an April Fool's prank, even though it's dated March 31. Good one, Google. These are the people who run Google News. Keep that in mind for future reference.

      But back to those glasses for a minute. Google released a video yesterday that showed a man wandering around the streets of New York City, talking to unseen friends, getting directions out of thin air and chatting with a remarkably beautiful girlfriend only he could see.

      It's kind of hard to see what's so nifty about that. The sidewalks of New York are full of people who fit that description. Is it really necessary to create more of them?

      Yesterday it was flying cars. Today it's Google Glasses -- thin wraparound shades that give new meaning to "in your face."Googlers say the new glasses wi...

      Be Skeptical About Search Engine Results

      Scareware attacks increase around holidays like Easter

      Scam artists hawking “scareware” products -- which make you think you have a virus when you don't -- are increasingly use what's called Search Engine Optimization (SEO) poisoning attacks.

      They do it by manipulating search engine results to make their links appear higher on the search page than legitimate results.

      You see it a lot around holidays like Easter, when scammers know that there will be a lot of computer users searching using terms like “Easter egg,” “chocolate,” and “bunny.” When an unsuspecting user clicks on one of these “poison” links, they get a phony message like those below warning them of a virus and encouraging them to purchase and download supposed security software.

      Those who fall for it not only throw away money on a product they don't need and that may not even work.  They also give criminals access to their credit card and download malware onto their computer.

      Fraser Howard, an anti-virus specialist at Sophos Security reports an increasing number of the SEO attacks in recent week, as Easter approaches. He notes that most people fall for this scam.

      “The reason why SEO attacks are successful, is that all of us tend to trust search engine results,” Howard writes in his blog. “ After searching for something we happily click any of the links high up in the first page of results.”

      Howard suggests we all be a little more discriminating and a lot more careful about what we click on. Before clicking, look at the URL. This might not always help, but if the domain name doesn't come anywhere close to the subject you were searching, it should be a red flag.

      Many reputable anti-virus products block the viruses distributed through "black hat" SEO but cautious humans are still the best defense. If you see a security "warning" like the ones pictured on this page, don't click on it.  Close your browser immediately and start a new session.

      Why You Shouldn't Always Trust Search Engine Results...

      Ford Fusion's Auto Stop-Start Saves Gas, Lends a Green Hue

      Ford pushes technology to generate near-hybrid results at much lower cost

      As prices for regular unleaded gasoline stay stuck around $4.00, Ford wants its customers (and other shoppers) to know that they can get additional fuel savings with an “auto stop-start system” for the company’s conventional 2013 Ford Fusion for just a few hundred dollars.

      In a way, the technology behind this new feature is relatively simple. The auto stop-start system simply turns the engine off automatically when the vehicle comes to a stop, then switches it back on when the driver wants to go. Doing this, says Ford, can save owners upwards of $1000 in fuel costs over five years by improving overall mpg by about 3%, or more for those who regularly sit in heavy traffic.

      Ford isn’t the only auto maker unrolling this feature. Yesterday, we covered a similar system available for some Mazda cars, and there’s a lot of buzz lately about how this feature is being added to truck lines, including Chrysler’s Dodge Ram product. However, while this fuel-saving gear can cost over a thousand dollars on some models, Ford is pushing auto start-stop at an affordable price, as part of a strategy to brand its vehicles green.

      The auto stop-start system, which is available as an added feature for $295.00, is part of an attractive fuel-efficiency package for the new Fusion, which comes in three “green” varieties:

      • the "regular" gas-engine Fusion, 
      • a Fusion Hybrid, and 
      • a Fusion Energi plug-in model. 

      Ford calls this “MPG to the Power of 3,” a careful strategy to blend choice in auto innovations which fuel-efficient options across the board. The non-electric Fusion design, billed as “Great Haste, Less Filling” in Ford promos, starts with a four-cylinder EcoBoost engine, a newly designed block that Ford is putting into a major portion of its lineup to entice customers who want to burn less fossil fuels without driving a hybrid. The Fusion’s standard 1.6 liter EcoBoost delivers 179 hp with an estimated 26 mpg in city and 37 mpg on the highway. Other engines in less expensive models will get slightly lower miles per gallon. A new six-speed transmission will also add fuel economy by more finely matching the most efficient gear at any speed.

      “What we’re seeing today,” says Ford CEO Alan Mulally of the new Fusion, “is the result of continuous improvement over all these years, in vehicle design, in materials, in integrated electronics…the new Fusion represents Ford today, and it also represents where Ford is going in the future.”

      The new face for this car comes after Ford has recalled many thousands of Fusion cars from the 2010 and 2011 model years because of possibly faulty wheel studs. There's also a new issue with the MyFord Touch in-dash systems put into various Ford vehicles, which may affect some late-model Fusion cars.

      While we’ve been alerting auto buyers and owners to these issues, we’ve also been noting the new developments of more efficient Fusions in months past, where the new hybrid and electric systems are renovating the company’s product line to rival the “greening” of big Japanese auto makers in the North American market. For today’s shopper, getting a more fuel-efficient car and buying American don’t have to be mutually exclusive goals – with these upgrades to recent model years, Ford is dedicated to staying competitive in helping U.S. drivers spend less on a valuable commodity, lessen overall foreign oil dependence, and promote a cleaner future.

      Customers can get auto stop-start on the Ford Fusion for just $295...

      Looking for Credit Reports in All the Wrong Places

      There is no reason to use a commercial site to retrieve your credit report

      Consumers continue to look for a free copy of their credit report in the wrong places and, as a result, find themselves enrolled in a credit monitoring service that charges a monthly fee.

      Avery, of Lompoc, Calif., said he typed in “free credit report” on a search engine and ended up with a large number of sites to choose from. He clicked on ScoreSense.

      “I picked one that said 'free' and typed in required info for a free report,” Avery wrote in a post at ConsumerAffairs. “At the end it said to possess it would require a one dollar refundable processing fee. I typed in all my credit card info.”

      But Avery said he was charged $29.95. He said he called the company and cancelled the program in which he had been enrolled.

      “I asked about the $29.95 and he told me that was up to the billing dept,” Avery wrote.

      At last report, Avery had not been refunded his $29.95. Dan, of Collyville, Tex., reports a similar experience, ending up at He says he was aware that he was being enrolled in a credit monitoring program but had seven days in which to cancel it.

      “I viewed and then promptly cancelled my membership,” Dan wrote in a post. “My credit card was billed once for the $1.00 but then again for $31.95. I called to get second charge removed. They said best they could do was refund $17.00 because I had already viewed it.”

      Don't go there

      But the question needs to be asked, why would consumers choose to run the risk of being signed up for a service they don't want, and have to cancel, just to get a copy of their credit report?

      By law, every consumer can get a copy of their credit report from all three credit reporting agencies once each year at This is the one and only place consumers can get this information without providing a credit card or signing up for a service.

      There's really no excuse for not doing so. If you do a Google search for “free credit report,” is at the top of the search results.

      If you do find yourself at any other credit report site, read the information on the site very carefully and make sure you actually want what they are sell. 

      Feds could make it easier

      Of course, the federal government could clear up all this confusion once and for all but giving the official free credit report a ".gov" suffix instead of the ".com."  Using the same suffix as commercial sites is a guarantee for confusion.

      Consumers continue to ignore the government's free credit report site...

      Red Wine May Block Fat Cells

      Piceatannol, a substance in red wine, interferes with formation of fat cells

      If red wine enthusiasts need another reason to indulge their favorite passion, here it is: piceatannol, a substance found in red grapes, may help keep you trim.

      Researchers at Purdue University report piceatannol has a structure similar to another substance found in red wine, resveratrol, which may hold some health benefits of its own.

      Kee-Hong Kim, an assistant professor of food science, and Jung Yeon Kwon, a graduate student in Kim's laboratory, say piceatannol is able to block cellular processes that allow fat cells to develop, opening a door to a potential method to control obesity.

      Alters the timing

      "Piceatannol actually alters the timing of gene expressions, gene functions and insulin action during adipogenesis, the process in which early stage fat cells become mature fat cells," Kim said. "In the presence of piceatannol, you can see delay or complete inhibition of adipogenesis."

      Previous studies of red win have focused mostly on resveratrol, which is also found in peanuts, and is believed to be helpful in combating cancer and heart and cognitive diseases. It turns out that resveratrol is converted to piceatannol in humans after consumption.

      While similar in structure to resveratrol – the compound found in red wine, grapes and peanuts that is thought to combat cancer, heart disease and neurodegenerative diseases – piceatannol might be an important weapon against obesity.

      The way the researchers explain it, fat cells reach maturity over a relatively short period of time.


      Kim found that piceatannol, in effect, interferes with that process. Piceatannol essentially blocks the pathways necessary for immature fat cells to mature and grow.

      Increasingly, red wine is being analyzed for its potential health benefits. Besides studies suggesting it is helpful in preventing various types of cancer, a National Institutes of Health study earlier this year tried to figure out why.

      Researchers found that resveratrol does not directly activate sirtuin 1, a protein associated with aging. Rather, the authors found that resveratrol inhibits certain types of proteins known as phosphodiesterases (PDEs), enzymes that help regulate cell energy.

      These findings may help settle the debate regarding resveratrol's biochemistry and pave the way for resveratrol-based medicines.

      If red wine enthusiasts need another reason to indulge their favorite passion, here it is: piceatannol, a substance found in red grapes, may help keep you ...

      Cell Providers Selling Your Data to Police

      Industry expert calls for reform of cellular communication laws

      Civil libertarians are up in arms over revelations that police departments around the country routinely track individuals using cell phones without getting a warrant.

      The law enforcement officials say they do it as a matter of public safety, as in the case when someone is missing. The cell phone companies, meanwhile, are making a tidy profit providing the data

      Stephen B. Wicker, Cornell University professor of electrical and computer engineering, says it it just points up what he calls our “obsolete” federal data privacy laws. He conducts research on wireless information networks, and focuses on networking technology, law, sociology, and how regulation can affect privacy and speech rights. He is also the author of “Cellular Convergence and the Death of Privacy,” a book to be published by Oxford University Press at the end of 2012.

      Tracking your location

      “Cellular telephony is a surveillance technology – and despite the hundreds of millions of Americans who use cell phones every day, we still have out-of-date and obsolete federal data privacy laws,” Wicker said.

      When a cellular handset is on, it periodically transmits a registration message that allows the service provider to track the location of the user. While useful for routing incoming calls to the handset, the location data has proven irresistible to law enforcement as a means for tracking individuals.

      “Last August, the American Civil Liberties Union submitted requests under the Freedom of Information Act to over 380 state and local law enforcement agencies regarding their tracking of cell phone users,” Wicker said. “Over 200 agencies responded, and the results were alarming both in the extent of the surveillance and the variability in supervision by the judicial system.”

      Cashing in

      A Justice Department document obtained by the ACLU shows that service providers retain location data for at least a year, and in some cases, appear to do so indefinitely. Wicker says cell phone companies are cashing in, treating consumers' data as a commodity.

      “Some service providers are charging fees in return for providing their subscribers’ personal information without telling the subscribers about the transactions,” Wicker said. “All consumers should be annoyed – and alarmed.”

      It turns out that only a small minority of the police department requested a warrant before requesting the data. In recent court cases, Wicker says federal courts have been divided over the actual requirements, with some requiring a warrant and others not.

      “We must reform our data privacy laws,” Wicker said.

      Civil libertarians are up in arms over revelations that police departments around the country routinely track individuals using cell phones without getting...

      Timeshare Mega Media Owners Must Find a New Line of Work

      FTC action bans company and its owners from telemarketing and timeshare resales

      The Federal Trade Commission put the telemarketing and timeshare businesses off-limits to a south Florida couple who allegedly operated a deceptive telemarketing scheme that victimized property owners hoping to sell their timeshares.

      Pasquale Pappalardo and his wife, Lisa Tumminia-Pappalardo, agreed to settlements with the FTC that permanently ban them and their companies -- Timeshare Mega Media and Marketing Group, Inc. -- from telemarketing and engaging in timeshare resale services. 

      According to the FTC's complaint, filed in October 2010, the defendants conned consumers by promising that they had buyers lined up and waiting to buy the consumers' timeshares. The defendants charged consumers an up-front fee, usually $1,996, but promised a full refund upon closing of the timeshare sale.

      The FTC alleged that, after the consumers paid the fee, they were told to expect a contract from Timeshare Mega Media. What they received turned out to be a contract to market and advertise their timeshare, and not a sales contract, and many consumers signed and returned the contract thinking it was a sales contract, the complaint alleges.

      Those who questioned its validity allegedly were given the runaround by the company and falsely told that a sales contract would follow.

      In fact, according to the FTC, the company never had any timeshare buyers lined up and never actually assisted anyone in selling a timeshare. When consumers discovered this and demanded their money back, they found it nearly impossible to get a refund, or even get a call back.

      The Commission estimates that in the 20 months the defendants operated, thousands of consumers were defrauded out of at least $2.7 million. In October 2010, a federal court halted the operation and froze the defendants' assets, pending resolution of the case.

      In addition to banning the duofrom telemarketing and engaging in timeshare resale services, the settlement orders announced today permanently prohibit them from misrepresenting any product or service, selling or using customers' personal information, failing to properly dispose of customer information within 30 days of the orders, and attempting to collect payments from past customers.

      The order against Pasquale Pappalardo imposes a judgment of almost $2.7 million, which will be suspended when he surrenders the proceeds from the sale of a condominium.

      The Federal Trade Commission put the telemarketing and timeshare businesses off-limits to a south Florida couple who allegedly operated a deceptive telemar...