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    The New Romantic Movie Classics

    Check out some of the newer films that are destined to stand the test of time.

    Who doesn't like a good movie?

    Whether it’s a good action flick that has its leading man shooting a gun while dangling from a helicopter, or it’s a suspenseful drama where the actor completely vanishes into the character, there's something about the silver screen that keeps us coming back, despite today's DVDs, movie-streaming and cable television options.

    And when it comes to romantic films there's a host of gems to choose from. Films like "Casablanca" and "Ghost" for example, either speak to our romantic selves or help create that romantic person inside of us.

    Whether it’s the black-and-white romance flicks of the 30s, 40s and 50s, or the slick, fast-talking love films of the early thousands, each movie era has its fair share of romantic classics that have stood the test of time and hold a special place in our collective memories.

    What's considered a new classic?

    The films that aren’t old enough to be on many of the "best-of" lists yet, but they're old enough for consumers to watch repeatedly in order to appreciate all of its qualities.

    So we at ConsumerAffairs have taken the liberty to compose a list of what we consider to be the new classics within the romantic film genre.

    Of course it's impossible to list all of the newer romantic films, and we won't list the obvious ones like "When Harry Met Sally", or "Pretty Woman."

    You’ll also notice all of the listed movies aren’t your usual love stories, as each one avoids the typical Hollywood way of creating plots and endings where the sole purpose is seemingly to appease the audience.

    True Romance

    Despite its title, many people wouldn't put this movie on a list of romantic films due to some of its dark and violent content, but that's what makes "True Romance" so special. It borrows ingredients from other movie genres and stirs them together to create a very off-the-wall love story.

    Written by "Pulp Fiction’s" Quentin Tarantino, directed by the recently-deceased Tony Scott and starring Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette, the movie is about a lonely video store worker who meets his true love under the most unordinary circumstances.

    After they meet, the couple gets entangled in a crime due to not much fault of their own, turning the film into part caper film, part romantic love story.

    And the characters are so likable you root for them the entire film, despite some of the questionable things they have to do to escape their circumstances.

    The movie is also a who’s-who of current film stars including Brad Pitt, Samuel L. Jackson, James Gandolfini and Val Kilmer. If you haven’t seen "True Romance" watch it immediately and if you have seen it already give it another spin. It only gets better and better.

    Before Sunrise

    Okay here's the scene: A young American male traveler on a train which speeds through different parts of Europe. A beautiful French woman also traveling on that train eventually meets the lone traveler.

    From there, they spontaneously get off the locomotive in Vienna, Austria and spend the next 24 hours together walking the city and slowly falling for each other.

    Sound good? Not really, right? You may be asking, "Is that all that happens in this movie?" Well, yes and no, meaning that's all that physically happens but beneath the surface of the film lies a very unique and unconventional love story.

    I think what turns a lot of men off to some romantic movies is the excessive  amount of sappiness or improbable story lines that lead to predictable endings. In fact, plenty of women aren't able to stomach these movies either, but Before Sunrise is anything but.

    What makes this romantic flick such a new classic is that it doesn't have an overwhelming amount of romance in it.

    The film is simply about two people relating to each other just as people, talking about world events, their personal outlooks and how they grew up. Many films have characters that immediately fall in love upon first glance and too quickly deem each other soul mates. But this film is different.

    If you want to see what a realistic courtship is like between two intelligent, funny and likeable characters, this movie is one to check out.

    (500) Days of Summer

    Released in 2009 this quirky and heartfelt movie is the true meaning of a new romantic classic. For those who despise predictable endings and are experts at determining the ending of a film from the very first scene, this one is definitely for you.

    The movie tracks characters Tom and Summer during their very realistic relationship in non-linear fashion. Also, the film ends in a way you never actually see coming, which makes any movie great, but especially a love story.

    The connection between the couple, played by Joseph Gordon Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, is a very believable one, as the film doesn’t manipulate one’s emotions by forcing viewers to witness a sugary formulaic courtship.

    "(500) Days of Summer" is beautifully offbeat and has all of the romantic components that moviegoers like, but it's done in a very unique way. The movie is also loaded with generous amounts of clever humor that does a good job of offsetting the film's tenser moments.

    Anyone who loves smart writing, clever dialogue and believable acting will love this movie tenfold.

    Leaving Las Vegas

    Okay, so a love story about an alcoholic and a prostitute doesn’t sound all that romantic off the bat, but "Leaving Las Vegas" shows that a connection between two people can be made in life’s seediest places. This movie certainly wouldn’t be considered a feel-good picture in the traditional sense, as the characters go through their fair share of misfortune.

    But how many times have you been to a movie where the characters face no real challenges, and have no hurdles to leap over to get to the films climax?It kind of leaves you feeling cheated as if the writers did nothing to flush out the storyline and simply wanted to hurry towards the ending.

    "Leaving Las Vegas" does nothing of the sort, as the movie shows no fear in terms of delving into the dark parts of the human psyche and providing the viewer a glimpse of what a love story looks like with skid row being the backdrop.

    Actors Nicholas Cage and Elizabeth Shue do a wonderful job of bringing these two troubled but engaging characters to life.

    Match Point

    A scandalous love affair, a rich family and a murder. These are the some of the components to this atypical love story that isn’t really a romance film as much as it is a suspenseful thriller. But it still needed to make this list.

    The film is set in London, which at the time was a big departure for New York director Woody Allen. Another thing that’s different about "Match Point" from Allen’s other movies is the serious and dramatic tone he incorporates. "Annie Hall" this film ain't.

    Although the dialogue doesn’t have that usual Woody Allen-style banter, the film makes up for it by showing a realistic portrayal of what can happen when a married man’s attraction for a stranger leads him to dark places and extremely bleak-looking circumstances.

     Romantic, disturbing, wildly entertaining and beautifully shot, "Match Point" sucks you up within its first scene, holds you hostage throughout, and then frees you back into your seat once it’s finished. It’s definitely one of the new romantic classics in the film world.

    Who doesn't like a good movie?Whether it’s a good action flick that has its leading man shooting a gun while dangling from a helicopter, or it&rsqu...
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    How Sweet It Is: Diet Pepsi May Get a Touch-Up

    Sodamaker says it's not fooling with the formula, just the sweetener

    Life is pretty exciting in the soft drink business. Every decade or two somebody comes up with the bright idea of tampering with the formula or fiddling with the packaging. Otherwise, things just sort of bubble along.

    But this is one of those rare moments when there's a buzz in the executive suite that doesn't just come from too much caffeine and artificial sweetener. Pepsi is considering making changes in Diet Pepsi.

    Sales have been kind of flat lately, so the Pepsi generators would like to fizz things up a bit. We looked at 71,000 consumer comments on social media over the last year and found that, sure enough, there's not a lot of enthusiasm for Diet Pepsi, with net sentiment burbling along around 55% or so, as shown in this graph:

    Coke fiasco

    Remembering the train wreck that occurred a few decades ago when Coca-Cola tried to fiddle with the Coke formula, Pepsi is emphasizing that it's not changing the taste or recipe for Diet Pepsi, it's just trying to get the stuff to stand up a little better to the battering it takes as it gets from the bottling plant to your lips. (Even changing the logo can get tricky, as Pepsi learned last year).

    After all, the colored bubbly gets smashed into cans, loaded onto trucks, bounced around city streets, off-loaded, slammed into storerooms and just generally is shaken not stirred for what could be weeks or even months before it gets to the end guzzler.

    All this rocking and rolling affects the aspartame that gives Pepsi its sickly sweet taste.

    Oh, people still like the stuff, our sentiment analysis found, but the Pepsi people would like to see a bit more enthusiasm.

    Ace K

    So Pepsi is pondering whether it should replace aspartame or maybe give it a boost from another chemical, maybe one like acesulfame potassium, a really sweet little number.

    Aspartame is, of course, more commonly known as Equal and NutraSweet. Most of us aren't on a first name basis with acesulfame potassium, although its really close acquaintances have been known to call it Ace K.

    What you really want to know about Ace K is that he's stable under heat, not like that delicate little aspartame, who tends to go all to pieces, chemically speaking, when things get hot and heavy.

    Both aspartame and Ace K are about 200 times sweeter than sugar, although Ace K has a teeny bit of bitterness in his aftertaste. Kind of gives him that rugged outdoorsy image, you know? Aspartame does too but chemists will tell you that put the two together and they cancel out each other's aftertastes and are just as sweet as they can be.

    Kind of like some couples we know. Sometimes anyway.

    Those pesky health advocates quibble about the safety of aspartame and Ace K, but hey, they've been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Rats have been stuffed full of sweeteners and nothing much happened to them, although there was some evidence of heightened prenatal cancer risks, so don't drink the stuff until after you're born.   

    Life is pretty exciting in the soft drink business, no doubt. Every decade or two somebody comes up with the bright idea of tampering with the formula or f...
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    Gasoline Prices Rise into Labor Day Weekend

    After a one-week pause, the average pump price surged higher this week

    Normally at this time of year, gasoline prices are starting to come down after a summer of driving. But this year, as consumers hit the road for the long Labor Day weekend, fuel prices continue to rise.

    The national average price of self-serve regular today is $3.829 per gallon, compared with $3.730 last Friday, according to AAA's Fuel Gauge Survey. That's up 30 cents a gallon in the last month.

    The average price of diesel fuel today is $4.019 per gallon, versus $.090 a week ago.

    After a week of little movement in prices at the pump, the cost of gasoline virtually exploded, rising more than 10 cents a gallon in more than a dozen states. Seven states now have average gasoline prices north of $4, up from only two the week before. In Illinois, the average price jumped by nearly 15 cents a gallon.

    States with relatively cheap gas were not spared from this week's price surge. South Carolina, which has enjoyed the cheapest gas in the nation for weeks, saw the average price jump 14 cents a gallon. New Mexico, Mississippi and Arizona also had double-digit price increases. Kentucky, Ohio, North Carolina and Georgia also saw sharp price spikes.

    In its weekly report the Energy Information Administration reported a surprising build-up in U.S. supplies of crude oil, thanks to an increase in imports, but a drop in gasoline stockpiles.

    World oil prices have been rising, meanwhile, on speculation that the U.S. Federal Reserve will launch another round of stimulus, which will have the effect of driving down the dollar and making things purchased with dollars, like oil, more expensive.

    The states with the highest gas prices this week are:

    • Hawaii ($4.321)
    • California ($4.157)
    • Illinois ($4.134)
    • Michigan ($4.066)
    • Washington ($4.035)
    • Connecticut ($4.035)
    • Oregon ($4.018)
    • New York ($3.999)
    • Alaska ($3.984)
    • Wisconsin ($3.921)

    The states with the lowest gas prices this week are:

    • Colorado ($3.549)
    • New Mexico ($3.601)
    • South Carolina ($3.607)
    • Mississippi ($3.609)
    • Alabama ($3.631)
    • Wyoming ($3.635)
    • Arizona ($3.642)
    • Tennessee ($3.668)
    • Texas ($3.672)
    • Arkansas ($3.674)
    Normally at this time of year, gasoline prices are starting to come down after a summer of driving. But this year, as consumers hit the road for the long L...
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      When Slimming Down, Target Belly Fat First

      Mayo Clinic study suggests it's the deadliest fat of all

      Not all fat, it seems, is created equal. Some is more harmful than others and the fat around the stomach is the most dangerous of all, according to researchers at the Mayo Clinic.

      Their study found that people who are of normal weight but have fat concentrated in their bellies have a higher death risk than those who are obese. The subjects in the study who had a normal body mass index but central obesity -- a high waist-to-hip ratio -- had the highest cardiovascular death risk and the highest death risk from all causes.

      "We knew from previous research that central obesity is bad, but what is new in this research is that the distribution of the fat is very important even in people with a normal weight," said senior author Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, M.D., a cardiologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. "This group has the highest death rate, even higher than those who are considered obese based on body mass index. From a public health perspective, this is a significant finding."

      Major study

      The study included 12,785 people that comprised a representative sample of the U.S. population. Over the course of the study there were 2,562 deaths, with 1,138 of them cardiovascular related.

      The risk of cardiovascular death was 2.75 times higher, and the risk of death from all causes was 2.08 times higher, in people of normal weight with central obesity, compared with those with a normal body mass index and waist-to-hip ratio.

      Why belly fat is particularly deadly isn't immediately clear. Researchers say it may be related to a "higher visceral fat accumulation" in this group, which is associated with insulin resistance and other risk factors. Other types of fat is known to provide some protective elements. With less of the "protective fat" the visceral fat around the belly is even more dangerous.

      Takeaway lesson

      The take away from the research, the scientists say, is knowing your body mass index (BMI) isn't enough. It's also important to know that a normal BMI doesn't mean heart disease risk is low.

      Getting a waist-to-hip measurement can tell you where on your body fat is distributed and can tell you if you are at risk, even if you have what is considered normal body weight.

      Not all fat, it seems, is created equal. Some is more harmful than others and the fat around the stomach is the most dangerous of all, according to researc...
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      Is There Really a Way for Non-Rich People to Fly Private?

      Surf Air says yes, and it hopes to change the way frequent fliers travel

      Some believe those people who are considered frequent fliers are lucky.

      From the perspective of a person who may not get to travel a lot, a frequent flier seems to have an exciting life filled with adventure and many fun experiences.

      However the perpetual traveler often sees things differently, and they're sometimes envious of the person who doesn't fly a lot. After dealing with long airport lines and lengthy security checks, sometimes frequent fliers wish they didn't have to travel so often.

      But what if there was another way to fly? What if you could pay a set monthly fee that would allow you to avoid all the airport hassles, and you could walk directly to your own private plane? And better yet, what if you didn't have to be a rich person to afford it?

      Well, the company Surf Air has asked itself the same questions and for the past few years its founders, brothers Wade and David Eyerly, have been hard at work getting the answers.

      $1,000 a month

      Surf Air allows frequent travelers the opportunity to pay a monthly fee that's around $1,000 to have unlimited flights within the state of California, and the company says there are no hidden charges, baggage fees or any other costs.

      Once the company obtains approvals from both the Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration, it will offer flights to Palo Alto, Santa Barbara, Monterey and Los Angeles. Other flights in different parts of the country and around the globe will be announced in the future, the company says.

      Here's how it works: Travelers go to the airport in one of the mentioned cities, go through security, and simply walk to a private plane where a personal staff awaits.

      Want to fly to Monterey for lunch? Feel free.

      The best part? You then enjoy your flight either by yourself or with a small group of other passengers on a private Pilatus PC-12 NG plane. It's a single-engine turboprop manufactured in Switzerland.  Set up as a corporate transport, it generally seats four, although it can seat up to nine using smaller seats. It is certified to operate with a single pilot.

      OK, so it's not Frank Sinatra's Lear. But consider the cost -- $1,000 a month. Compare that to private flights listed on the private-plane search site bluestarjets.com, where private flights start at $1,550 per hour. Surf Air says it will allow unlimited flights and members will be able to make up to six different reservations at once.

      No advance reservations

      Also, with a traditional private-plane company you often have to make your reservations far in advance, but Surf Air allows you to book your flight just a few minutes before you travel.

      The company says it wants to differentiate itself from the big commercial airlines by developing a smaller frequent flier community, where the staff knows each passenger's name and provides a very personalized type of service.

      So instead of trying to get the attention of a flight attendant for a drink, there's a whole team of workers waiting on board to help you, according to the company.

      Many California residents have to decide whether to drive or fly to places within the state due to its sheer size. For that reason, Surf Air says it will cater to those people who would normally drive at least two and a half hours to reach their destination. The company will also focus on those travelers that often fly an average time of 30 to 90 minutes within the state.

      Surf Air's reasoning is that yes, driving is usually cheaper but it doesn't allow you to work while you travel and you pay the other costs of not maximizing the day's hours.

      Less stress

      The founders of the company believe those who travel often would gladly fork over the $1,000 monthly cost to not only avoid the stress of traditional commercial flying, but also to get a small taste of how the rich and privileged live. It seems the company is selling temporary access to a specific lifestyle, just as much as it’s selling the flights.

      Once Surf Air officially launches at the close of this year, it will announce exact routes. Routes so far include a non-stop flight from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles in about 30 minutes, Los Angeles to Monterey in about 120 minutes, and Santa Barbara to Palo Alto in about 130 minutes.

      The company uses social networking to enhance its small-community-of-travelers feel, and allows each passenger to bring one guest with the use of complimentary guest passes. Surf Air also uses a third-party company to do security clearances before membership is granted.

      Will it really get off the ground? Most new airlines fail but Surf Air is just different enough that it may have a shot.

      Those interested in this new way of travel can go to the company's website and sign a wait list, although the company is not taking any money for memberships until later this year when it officially launches and offers its first fights.

      Some believe those people who are considered frequent fliers are lucky.From the perspective of a person who may not get to travel a lot, a frequent flier...
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      The Fire Is Out, but Look Out -- Sparks Will Fly Next Week

      Amazon says the Kindle Fire is sold out but schedules a news conference for Sept. 6

      The fire is out.  The Kindle Fire, that is. The Fire broke out in the tablet market just nine months ago and already controls 22 percent of the market, with a new spark expected Sept. 6, when Amazon has scheduled a news conference in Santa Monica.

      "We're grateful to the millions of customers who have made Kindle Fire the most successful product launch in the history of Amazon," CEO and founder Jeff Bezos said in a statement. "Kindle Fire is sold out, but we have an exciting roadmap ahead -- we will continue to offer our customers the best hardware, the best prices, the best customer service, the best cross-platform interoperability and the best content ecosystem."

      So, those who parse statements for a living think Bezos is saying that the current model of the Fire is not only sold out but that it will be replaced by whatever is in the company's tinder box.

      Consumers rate Amazon

      Speculation is that Amazon will introduce seven-inch and 10-inch versions of the Kindle Fire next week, along with perhaps a backlit e-reader and maybe a gaming console or a phone.

      Bloomberg reported recently that the Chinese plant that makes iPhones and iPads is already grinding out an Amazon phone that will rival the iPhone and Android phones.

      It was just a year ago that Bezos introduced the Kindle Fire for $199. Skeptics at the time said it was a cheap knock-off of the iPad but, in fact, it has -- to carry the metaphor just a little longer -- caught fire and may soon be nipping at the iPad's heels.

      It's not hard to understand why. The iPad starts at $499 while the Kindle Fire starts at $199 and does essentially the same thing. Add in the Google Nexus 7, which sells for $199 and the Microsoft Surface which will go on sale in September and it's pretty apparent that Apple faces a continuing loss of market share, while the Fire -- with its lower price and access to Amazon's enormous content warehouse -- is well-positioned to hold its own against Google and Microsoft.  

      The fire is out.  The Kindle Fire, that is. The Fire broke out in the tablet market just nine months ago and already controls 22 percent of the market...
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      Chipotle Has Been Purposely Keeping Some of Your Change

      And the company says it's all for your benefit, just trying to save you a little time

      The next time you get that chicken burrito at Chipotle, you'd better check your receipt. The Mexican food chain restaurant has been accused of rounding up its prices to the nearest nickel and keeping the change.

      The company says it has been using this method to speed up long lines in some of its stores, since doling out exact change, according to the restaurant, is unnecessarily time consuming. So a meal that would cost say $7.36 would be rounded off to $7.40, and the company keeps the change.

      Chipotle has since claimed this practice does not enhance company profits, and insists it was only done to decrease the customer's wait time.

      “The idea is simply to limit the possible combination of change on cash transactions to keep the lines moving quickly in high volume areas, said Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold in a published interview. “It was never our intention to have a policy that was confusing or misleading.”

      The story was first broken by a reporter from the Newark Star-Ledger after many customers took notice of getting short-changed, especially in Chipotle’s New Jersey and New York locations. The chain restaurant also chose to round down too. So if one's total was $7.42 for example, they actually paid $7.40.

      Not too forthcoming

      Some have accused the company of being non-forthcoming, since Chipotle never made this practice widely known to its customers. In its defense the company said the rounding up and down is indicated on each receipt, although this part of the receipt was only added earlier this summer.

      Chipotle also emphasizes that time saving, not profit, is the only reason it chose to round off.

      “It's something we do in some high-volume markets, including New Jersey,” said Arnold. “The way it works is that prices auto-round to the nearest quarter and that's indicated on the receipt. The idea is simply to limit the possible combinations of change on cash transactions to keep the lines moving quickly.”

      But the question is would you rather save a little time or get your accurate amount of change? Some may say it’s not up to a company to decide, which has seemed to be the majority consumer opinion as the restaurant has announced it will no longer be rounding costs up, just down.

      Although Chipotle has denied using this practice to pad its pockets, Chipotle has seen a 23.2 percent profit increase in the first six months of 2012 compared to last year.

      Time is money, but whose?

      Whether the company was being deceptive or not is arguable, but it makes one think what others chains are doing the same thing in an effort to “save time.”

      In the course of consumers' lunch hour, when they're trying to get a quick bite, the receipt or exact change is usually the last thing on their mind. Sure a few pennies may not make or break you, and in fact, places like Canada have stopped using the penny altogether. But at the end of it all — it's still your money, no?

      Be sure to take a second or two to read each receipt, as each consumer deserves to be in the know if a company decides to keep your change by rounding up the cost.

      The next time you get that chicken burrito at Chipotle, you better check your receipt.The Mexican food chain restaurant has been accused of rounding...
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      States Throw the Book at E-Book Publishers

      Publishers will pay consumers $69 million for antitrust violations

      In a story with a happy ending for consumers, the attorneys general of 54 states, territories and the District of Columbia, have reached an antitrust settlement with three of the largest book publishers in the United States.

      “We believe publishers illegally fixed e-book prices and that as a result, consumers paid more – millions more – for these products,” Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna said. “Today’s settlement ... turns the page on the way e-books are priced. Competition will be restored.”

      Hachette Book Group Inc., HarperCollins Publishers L.L.C. and Simon & Schuster Inc. have agreed to pay a total of more than $69 million to consumers to resolve the claims. 

      The settlement is in conjunction with a civil antitrust lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster. 

       Competition undermined

      “Unlawful collusion and price-fixing not only violates antitrust laws, it is anti-competitive and inconsistent with the free market approach that is critical to our economy," said Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. "In this case, competition was undermined when publishers colluded to artificially set prices that should have been determined by the free market. Today’s settlements provide refunds to customers who paid artificially inflated prices for e-books and prohibit publishers from colluding, so that retail price competition is restored within the e-book market.”

      The states allege that the three publishers and others, including non-settling publishers Macmillan and Penguin (collectively, the “Agency Five” publishers), “conspired and agreed to increase retail e-book prices for all consumers” and “agreed to eliminate e-book retail price competition between e-book outlets, so that retail prices to consumers would be the same regardless of which outlet they patronized.” 

      As a result, the states allege that consumers paid millions of dollars more for their e-books.

      The lawsuit and the settlement come from a two-year investigation conducted by the Connecticut and Texas Attorneys General and U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division. 

      Consumer compensation

      Under the proposed agreement, which the court must approve, the three publishers will compensate consumers who purchased e-booksfrom any of the Agency Five between April 1, 2010 and May 21, 2012.  Payments will begin 30 days after final court approval of the settlement. In addition to paying restitution, the settling defendants will also pay to the states approximately $7.5 million in fees and costs.

      The three publishers have agreed to terminate their existing agency agreements with certain retailers, requiring the publishers to grant those retailers – such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble – the freedom to reduce the prices of their e-book titles.  For two years they will be prohibited from making any new agreements limiting retailers’ ability to offer consumer discounts or other promotions which encourage the sale of e-books.  

      The proposed settlement agreement also precludes the three publishers from further conspiring or sharing competitively sensitive information with their competitors for five years.  Also for five years, Hachette, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster will be forbidden from entering into any agreement that could undermine the effectiveness of this settlement.

      Another case against non-settling publishers-Penguin Group, Inc. and Holtzbrinck Publishers LLC (doing business as Macmillan) and Apple, Inc., remains pending in the Southern District of New York. 

      In a story with a happy ending for consumers, the attorneys general of 54 states, territories and the District of Columbia, have reached an antitrust settl...
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      Exercise Caution When Buying Gold

      As with any investment, do your homework and get trusted advice

      Consumers who purchased gold three, four or five years ago are probably very pleased with their investments. Gold prices have climbed sharply since then.

      But the commercials are still on TV, urging you to buy gold now to protect yourself against the declining dollar. It's interesting, however, that the companies selling the gold are perfectly willing to accept your declining dollars in exchange for their gold, but that's neither here nor there.

      Gold has been gaining again in recent weeks on the growing belief that the federal reserve would launch another round of stimulus, which is another way of saying expanding the money supply. While the inflationary effects of that policy haven't shown up everywhere, they have definitely shown up in the price of gold.

      Advice from the FTC

      What does the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) say about buying gold? In a nutshell, it says "be careful." It advises consumers to do some digging -- not for the precious mental but for information about it -- before making a purchase.

      The questions that have to be considered are how much gold to buy, in what form, at what price, and from whom?

      The FTC warns that some gold promoters don't deliver what they promise and may push people into an investment that isn't right for them. While the commercials on TV push gold in the form of coins and bullion, that may be the most expensive way to buy it. With coins, especially, there can be a significant mark-up from the price gold is traded on the exchanges.

      Gold stocks

      Buying stock in a gold mining firm or buying into a mutual fund that invests in gold bullion is a common way to invest in gold. Most brokerage firms buy and sell these financial instruments.

      Gold stocks and mutual funds may offer more liquidity than actual gold, and there's no need for an investor to store or protect gold investments purchased in this form. That said, any gold stock or mutual fund investment may carry inherent risk and may drop in value regardless of the price of gold.

      Gold stocks and funds should only be purchased from licensed commodity brokers. You can check the registration status and disciplinary history of any futures firm or broker by contacting the National Futures Association.

      Universal truths

      Regardless of the form of gold you may invest in, the FTC says you should consider these universal truths:

      The price of gold fluctuates over time. There is no guarantee that gold will increase – or even maintain – its value.

      The prices coin dealers, banks, brokerage firms, and precious metals dealers charge for gold products, like bullion and coins, are almost always higher than the value of the gold the products contain. So it's wise to compare prices before making a purchase.

      Some sellers say that the government may confiscate gold. Others say that "reportable" transactions lead to confiscation. Yet other sellers claim that modern bullion coins produced by the U.S. Mint are subject to confiscation while historic or collectible coins aren't. These claims sometimes lead people to buy historic coins at prices that exceed their value. No current federal law or Treasury Department regulation supports any of these claims.

      Investigate Before You Invest

      Whether you are buying gold stocks and funds, bullion and bullion coins, or collectible coins, the FTC says it's critical to do your homework first. If you are buying bullion coins or collectible coins, ask for the coin's melt value – the basic intrinsic bullion value of a coin if it were melted and sold. The melt value for virtually all bullion coins and collectible coins is widely available.

      Consult with a reputable dealer or financial adviser you trust who has specialized knowledge. Get an independent appraisal of the specific gold product you're considering. The seller's appraisal might be inflated.

      Consider additional costs. You may need to buy insurance, a safe deposit box, or rent offsite storage to safeguard bullion. These costs will cut into the investment potential of bullion.

      Walk away from sales pitches that minimize risk or sales representatives who claim that risk disclosures are mere formalities. Reputable sales reps are upfront about the risk of particular investments. Always get a receipt for your transaction.

      Refuse to "act now." Any sales pitch that urges you to buy immediately is a signal to walk away and hold on to your money, even if they are dollars that are "declining in value."

      Consumers who purchased gold three, four or five years ago are probably very pleased with their investments. Gold prices have climbed sharply since then....
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      Mortgage Rates Falling Again

      The average rate is down for the first time in five weeks

      After five straight weeks of increases, the average home mortgage rate is falling again, according to two separate gauges. Both Freddie Mac and Bankrate.com report the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage (FRM) was between 3.8 and 3.59 percent in the just-ended week.

      Freddie Mac shows the 30-year FRM average averaged 3.59 percent with an average 0.6 point for the week ending August 30, 2012, compared with last week when it averaged 3.66 percent. Last year at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.22 percent.

      The average 15-year FRM this week averaged 2.86 percent with an average 0.6 point, versus last week's average of 2.89 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.39 percent.

      Contributing factors

      "Treasury bond yields fell, allowing mortgage rates to follow, after the release of the July 31st and August 1st minutes of the Federal Reserve's monetary policy committee," said Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist, Freddie Mac. "Committee members agreed that economic activity had decelerated more in recent months than they had anticipated at their last meeting in June. Some members even saw room for additional stimulus fairly soon if needed."

      Since mortgage rates are keyed to bond yields, home loan rates began falling again. That trend is confirmed in Bankrate.com's weekly mortgage rate round-up. It found the average rate on the benchmark 30-year FRM retreated to 3.8 percent, the lowest since August 1. That loan has an average of 0.4 discount and origination points.

      The average 15-year FRM pulled back to 3.03 percent and the larger jumbo 30-year mortgage tied the record low of 4.38 percent. Adjustable mortgage rates were lower, with the 5-year and 7-year ARMs resetting record lows of 2.8 percent and 2.91 percent, respectively, Bankrate reported.

      Influence of the Fed

      The Website also credited the release of the Fed minutes with putting downward pressure on rates. All of this is good news for consumers hoping to buy a home. The rise in mortgage rates during August appeared to be bad timing, coming as it did amid signs the housing market is finally recovering.

      New home sales rose 3.6 percent in July matching May's pace as the strongest month since April 2010. At the same time, pending existing home sales rose in July to their highest rate since April 2010. Finally, the S&P/Case-Shiller National Home Price Index rose 1.2 percent between the second quarter of 2011 and 2012, reflecting the first annual increase since the second quarter of 2010.

      After five straight weeks of increases, the average home mortgage rate is falling again, according to two separate gauges. Both Freddie Mac and Bankrate.co...
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      Linzess Approved to Treat Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Constipation

      Medication could help ease abdominal pain

      Relief could be on the way for as many as 63 million people that the National Institutes of Health estimates are affected by chronic constipation.

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved Linzess (linaclotide) to treat chronic idiopathic constipation and irritable bowel syndrome with constipation (IBS-C) in adults.

      Chronic idiopathic constipation is a diagnosis given to those who experience persistent constipation and do not respond to standard treatment. An estimated 15.3 million people are affected by IBS. IBS-C is a subtype characterized mainly by abdominal pain and by hard or lumpy stools at least 25 percent of the time and loose or watery stools less than 25 percent of the time.

      The treatment

      Linzess is a capsule taken once daily on an empty stomach, at least 30 minutes before the first meal of the day. The medication helps relieve constipation by helping bowel movements occur more often. In IBS-C, it may also help ease abdominal pain.

      No one medication works for all patients suffering from these gastrointestinal disorders,” said Victoria Kusiak, M.D., deputy director of the Office of Drug Evaluation III in FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “With the availability of new therapies, patients and their doctors can select the most appropriate treatment for their condition.”

      Safety and effectiveness

      The safety and effectiveness of Linzess for the management of IBS-C were established in two, double-blind studies. A total of 1,604 patients were randomly assigned to take 290 micrograms of Linzess or a placebo for at least 12 weeks.

      Results showed Linzess was more effective in reducing the amount of abdominal pain and increasing the number of complete spontaneous bowel movements compared with placebo.

      The safety and effectiveness of Linzess for the management of chronic idiopathic constipation also were established in two, double-blind studies. A total of 1,272 patients were randomly assigned to take Linzess at doses of 145 mcg or 290 mcg or a placebo for 12 weeks.

      Results from these studies showed patients taking Linzess experienced more complete spontaneous bowel movements than those taking the placebo. The 290 mcg dose is not approved for chronic constipation because studies indicated it was no more effective than the 145 mcg dose.

      Linzess is approved with a Boxed Warning to alert patients and health care professionals that the drug should not be used in patients 16 years of age and younger. The most common side effect reported in during the clinical studies was diarrhea.

      Relief could be on the way for as man as 63 million people that the National Institutes of Health estimates are affected by chronic constipation. The U.S...
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      HypeTree: A Cool and Unique Way to Listen and Post Music

      The artist-friendly site is what MySpace should have evolved into years ago.

      Many of us tend to dream.

      I'm not talking about the kind where you're flying above earth during your deepest part of slumber; I'm talking about the type of dream that usually occurs in the middle of the day, with your eyes wide open, while you’re in the middle of doing some unwanted task or job.

      And a good portion of those dreamers imagine themselves jumping around a stage in a packed arena, or accepting that gold statue of a phonograph at the Grammys.

      However there are also those people who don't daydream at all all, they simply plug in their headphones while they're working, or crank up the speaker nob to escape their day-to-day drudgery through music.

      Democracy in action

      Now there's a new website that serves both the aspiring musician and the music listener, and it's called Hypetree.

      What's cool about this site is that it allows the Internet community to vote on independent music, which can grow a song's popularity and buzz among consumers.

      The website has something it calls the “battle player” which allows users to vote on two songs, and whichever tune receives the most votes, it goes up in both score and chart rating, giving the independent artist more exposure.

      Hypetree also provides the artist with statistical information about which song is being listened to the most and which is garnering the heaviest online buzz.

      Musicians using the site also fill out a profile page which lists their social networks, their personal websites and other background info. The company is what Myspace should have evolved into quite some time ago.

      For some reason Myspace chose not to focus on how popular its site used to be among independent artists.

      Hypetree seemingly does a good job of catering to up and coming bands by allowing them to post three songs for free, and only charging a fee — not exceeding 99 cents — to upload each song afterward.

      Yes, MySpace is free for artists, but the site provides no detailed statistical data and more importantly, it lost its cool factor a long time ago. And what's a musician without a little cool factor in their midst?

      Artists can also sell their music through Hypetree as the site uses PayPal to accept payments.

      Casual listeners welcome

      Hypetree is also for the casual music listener, especially those who had their fill of traditional radio. The site allows users to create their own radio station, which is made up of songs the user selects.

      As the listener chooses which song they prefer in the battle player challenge, Hypetree saves that song for you, while suggesting other music based on your preferences. You also have the ability to select a song as a favorite that eventually will be saved to your personal playlist.

      There's also no charge for accessing songs and users can listen to and rate a tune without signing up or becoming a member of the site. But if you want the ability to rate and save a tune you'll need to sign up, but there's still no charge.

      Hypetree appears to be better than, say, Pandora because it allows you to personally choose the songs your radio station consists of. It's especially different for independent musicians compared to sites like Spotify where artists  have a harder time getting their music posted.

      No red tape

      Independent artists that want to get on Spotify usually have to go through a digital distribution company like Ditto Music or Tunecore, but on Hypetree there is no red tape to contend with and offering your music to the public is pretty fast and painless.

      The company also says it will abstain from working with a large amount of advertisers in order to keep the site free, and avoid its users having to deal with intrusive pop-ups.

      Although there have been other sites that help independent artists, Hypetree seems to be using this particular niche to its fullest advantage.

      Today, the Internet and advancements in home recording studios have increased the number of independent artists from as recently as 15 years ago.

      In previous times, an independent artist or band had to possess a substantial amount of money to pay for necessities like studio costs, marketing and printing up CDs. Today, most of these things are low-cost or free, which has increased the number of people making and offering music to the public.

      It's safe to say there are a good number of indy artists today that wouldn't have taken the musician’s leap if costs weren't so dramatically reduced by technology.

      Community radio

      And for the music listener, Hypetree further pushes the current trend of community radio and consumers using their taste and purchasing power to determine which songs should be getting recognized and heard.

      The site says it will not turn away any song based on the company's musical taste or personal preference, and will only reject something if it has poor sound quality or violates one of the company's rules. If a song is rejected, it can still be appealed by the user.

      Many of us tend to dream.I'm not talking about the kind where you're flying above earth during your deepest part of slumber; I'm talking about the type o...
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      Caring For Your Diabetic Dog

      The right diet is essential to controlling blood sugar levels

      Diabetes is, unfortunately, a relatively common disease in dogs, just as it is in humans. In both species, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle can be contributing factors, although dogs are more likely to develop Type 1 diabetes -- the kind that is caused by inadequate production of insulin by the pancreas rather than by lifestyle factors.

      Thus, heredity gets most of the blame in dogs, as the disease occurs more widely in some breeds than in others and in some families within breeds. It can also result from repeated bouts of pancreatitis, inflammation of the pancreas. 

      Pet owners sometimes blame their pet's food for diabetes, pancreatitis and other conditions.

      "I have been feeding my 4 Chihuahuas Science Diet for 8 years. They are 10 and 11 years old and all 3 have diabetes and one has kidney problems from the dog food," said Cathy of Van Bureau, Ark., in a ConsumerAffairs posting. Medical authorities aren't likely to agree with Cathy, however.

      "It is usually unclear why one pet develops diabetes and another does not. It is likely that many factors are involved and that most of them were beyond your immediate control," says Ron Hines, DVM, PhD, a widely-quoted Texas veterinarian.

      Proper diet

      Whatever the cause of your pet's diabetes, just as in humans, keeping it under control involves eating a proper diet -- one prescribed by the veterinarian who is caring for your pet -- as well as seeing to other lifestyle factors that can have a big influence on how well your dog manages its diabetes.

      It's important to remember that Type 1 diabetes cannot be cured but it can be managed with daily injections of glucose and careful monitoring of blood sugar levels. Just like humans, dogs with Type 1 diabetes don't manufacture enough of the insulin that's needed to transfer glucose from the bloodstream into the cells, where it's needed to maintain life.

      Thus, a dog whose diabetes is not properly managed can quickly develop too much sugar, or glucose, in the bloodstream while, at the same time, its muscle and nerve cells are starving because of inadequate glucose. This can lead to serious complications, including death, so it's not to be taken lightly, which brings us back to careful monitoring of blood sugar levels.

      "There is absolutely no question in my mind that the best way to monitor pets with diabetes to aid in regulating insulin levels is for the veterinary client to learn to monitor blood sugar at home using a blood glucose meter," said Dr Mike Richards, DVM, in a posting on VetInfo.com. "If your vet is one of those who discourages clients from attempting home glucose monitoring I personally think that you ought to change vets, at least for the pet with diabetes, unless there is a really compelling reason to stay."

      Simple answer

      What kind of food is best for a diabetic dog? The simple answer is, the kind your veterinarian prescribes. In general, these will be high-fiber foods that are low in simple sugars. This helps prevent fluctuations in blood sugar levels throughout the day.

      There are many prescription dog foods and chances are, your vet will prescribe one or more. Whether your dog will eat it is, of course, another matter.

      If your dog refuses to eat the food your vet prescribes, you may have better luck with over-the-counter foods that are intended for overweight dogs. Again, check with your vet.

      Dogs that refuse to eat prescribed foods may need additional insulin injections.

      Lifestyle changes

      Most dogs are creatures of habit. Left to their own devices, they tend to do the same thing at the same time day in and day out. Fortunately, this is exactly what your veterinarian is likely to prescribe for your dog -- a consistent schedule that combines feeding, insulin injection, exercise and the lounging about that is the specialty of most dogs.

      If your dog is a female, it's important to have her spayed, as the pregnancy and reproduction routine causes wild fluctuations in hormones, just as it does in humans. This is bad news for diabetes management.

      Also, since diabetes is regarded as primarily hereditary in dogs, spaying diabetic dogs helps to hold down the number of affected animals. 

      As in humans, diabetes is a serious disease that cannot be taken lightly. If your dog is not treated properly, it will not have long to live. So take action promptly and follow your veterinarian's instructions. 

      Diabetes is, unfortunately, a relatively common disease in dogs, just as it is in humans. In both species, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle can be contrib...
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      Should Older Workers Be Rewarded for Putting Off Retirement?

      Economists suggest eliminating payroll tax as incentive for older workers

      U.S. workers now have the option of retiring at age 62, and with increases in longevity could expect to draw Social Security benefits for some 30 years. Should they be paid for extending their work lives?

      Two economists at the University of Michigan (U-M) think they should and are advocating adjustments in the payroll tax rate to provide the incentive.

      “People are living longer, healthier lives, and so far have opted to take most of that extra time as additional retirement rather than work,” said U-M economist John Laitner, who conducted the analysis with U-M economist Dan Silverman. “We are proposing a way of responding to this situation through targeted tax-rate changes that would reward older workers for staying on the job and also benefit the economy as a whole.”

      Both Laitner and Silverman are affiliated with the U-M Retirement Research Center, based at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR). Their outside-the-box approach would, in effect, give every employee over age 55 an automatic 10 percent pay raise. Under their plan, when a worker reached age 55 they would stop paying anything toward Social Security and Medicare tax, the payroll tax.

      Tax cut would raise take-home pay

      By eliminating social security payroll taxes starting when workers are 55-years-old, the study shows that people’s take-home pay would jump by 10.6 percent and they would work 1.5 years longer on average, paying more income taxes and helping to reduce the Federal deficit.

      "Our idea is to lower the taxes on an individual precisely at the time of life when people are making decisions about whether to work longer or retire,” Silverman said.

      The reasoning is that if employees were making more money they wouldn't want to give it up. Maybe so, but what about the drain that would place on the already over-burdens retirement system?

      The answer, say Silverman and Laitner, is an increase in the payroll tax rates. Workers would pay about one percent higher payroll taxes a year until age 55 in order for the Social Security system to break even, the researchers said. This would mean that over their lifetimes, households would pay about $15,000 more in Federal income tax, providing welcome reductions in the Federal deficit.

      Increases the incentive

      It also increases the incentive to work as long as possible after age 55, they say. The longer they work the more they get back.

      Work years beyond age 54 would not affect benefits, and as in the current system, workers could claim benefits as early as age 62 although waiting until full retirement age would continue to be rewarded with higher benefit levels.

      “Not everyone would benefit,” said Laitner. “Households with a strong preference for very early retirement would pay the slightly higher payroll tax before age 55, but leave the labor force before gaining much from the elimination of the payroll tax after that. Late retirees would, by the same token, be big winners. And the point of the reform, after all, is to encourage work by rewarding it.”

      The two economists say the whole point is to keep workers in the labor force as long as possible so that they are productive and paying taxes, rather than drawing benefits.

      U.S. workers now have the option of retiring at age 62, and with increases in longevity could expect to draw Social Security benefits for some 30 years. Sh...
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      New York Attorney General Reportedly Probing Energy Drinks

      Neither the Attorney General nor the companies will comment

      Earlier this month Monster Beverage reported in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing that it was being investigated by an unnamed state attorney general. News reports this week put a name with the story. 

      Published reports say New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has issued subpoenas to Monster, as well as Living Essentials, maker of the heavily advertised 5-Hour Energy Drink. Scheiderman's office refused to comment on the reports, as did the companies named.

      Back in July, Living Essentials said it had received an inquiry from an attorney general, which it did not identify, requesting documents that related to the marketing of its products. According to the reports this week, Schneiderman is investigating whether the companies are overstating claims about the benefits of their products while soft-peddling the role of caffeine.

      Health concerns

      To date, it has mostly been health officials that have shown concern about energy drinks, which make up a rapidly growing component of the beverage market, mainly because they appeal to young consumers. They're marketed as a quick and easy way to boost energy levels and as an alternative to coffee.

      In 2011 researchers at the University of Maryland School of Public Health and Wake Forest University School of Medicine issued a study suggesting highly-caffeinated energy drinks may pose a significant threat to individual and public health.

      Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), they recommended immediate consumer action, education by health providers, voluntary disclosures by manufacturers and new federal labeling requirements.

      The study followed a crackdown on energy drinks containing alcohol. A number of states banned those products and, under increasing pressure, Anheuser-Busch ended sales of energy drink products containing alcohol.

      Removing alcohol not enough?

      “Recent action to make pre-mixed alcoholic energy drinks unavailable was an important first step, but more continued action is needed,” University of Maryland School of Public Health researcher Amelia Arria as the time of the study. “Individuals can still mix these highly caffeinated energy drinks with alcohol on their own. It is also concerning that no regulation exists with regard to the level of caffeine that can be in an energy drink.”

      Arria, who also directs the Center on Young Adult Health and Development, and co-author Mary Claire O’Brien, associate professor of emergency medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, alerted various state attorneys general to the risks of alcoholic energy drinks starting in 2009.

      Partly as a result of that campaign, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Federal Trade Commission too action against some energy drinks with alcohol content.

      The 2011 JAMA paper said energy drinks -- even those without alcohol -- have become part of the subculture of partying.

      “The practice of mixing energy drinks with alcohol -- which is more widespread than generally recognized -- has been linked consistently to drinking high volumes of alcohol per drinking session and subsequent serious alcohol-related consequences such as sexual assault and driving while intoxicated… Research has demonstrated that individuals who combine energy drinks with alcohol underestimate their true level of impairment,” the authors wrote.

      Earlier this month Monster Beverage reported in a Securities and Exhange Commission filing that it was being investigated by an unnamed state attorney gene...
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      10 Gas-Saving Technologies for 2013

      How carmakers are squeezing more MPG out of their vehicles

      Gasoline prices keep rising along with the price of crude oil. One answer is to increase the fuel efficiency of automobiles and the U.S. government is following that track.

      You may have just read that the Obama administration has finalized new fuel efficiency standards that virtually double miles-per-gallon by 2025. A few years ago that number might not have seemed credible but now, hardly anyone seems to think it can't be done.

      But how? Total Car Score, an automotive Website, reports carmakers have been focused on improving fuel efficiency without sacrificing performance for much of the last decade.

      "Fuel efficient technology, and the impact it has on EPA ratings for current and future models, is a critical component in the design of today's cars," said Karl Brauer, Editor in Chief of Total Car Score. "Gas prices and miles-per-gallon claims are now top consideration points for new car shoppers when buying a car, playing a much bigger role than they did 10 years ago. Given the average car on the road is 11 years old, many consumers will be encountering all-new fuel-efficient technology when they research their next vehicle purchase."

      And many automakers are not waiting to either incorporate or offer fuel-saving technologies on the cars they sell. Some of these fuel efficiency innovations have been around for several years on hybrids or compact cars while others are just coming to market, but all of them are becoming increasingly common on modern vehicles.

      Consumers who want to control their fuel costs might consider these features as they prepare to make their next new-car purchase.

      1. Start-Stop Engines – Once reserved for hybrids, start-stop technology now improves fuel efficiency in non-hybrids by shutting the engine down when the vehicle is stopped. Seen on: BMW 3 Series, Kia Rio, Porsche Cayenne
      2. Variable Valve Control – Variable valve control maximizes fuel efficiency and performance by altering the opening and closing of an engine's valvetrain based on RPM and throttle input. Seen on: Mazda CX-5, SRT Viper, Volkswagen Golf
      3. Continuously Variable Transmissions (CVT) – These transmissions have an infinitely variable gear ratio that keeps an engine in its most fuel-efficient operating zone across a wide range of speeds. Seen on: Infiniti JX, Nissan Altima, Subaru Outback
      4. Active Aerodynamics – Modern cars are taking traditional aerodynamics a step further by actively altering their coefficient of drag according to vehicle speed and driving conditions. Seen on: Cadillac ATS, Dodge Dart, Ford Escape
      5. Lightweight Materials – Using high-strength steel, carbon fiber and aluminum allows automakers to create lighter cars without sacrificing safety and less weight means lower fuel consumption. Seen on: Acura RDX, Hyundai Santa Fe, Scion FR-S
      6. 1. 7+ Transmission Gears – A conventional automatic transmission with seven or more gears reduces fuel consumption by keeping the engine operating at peak efficiency at any speed. Seen on: Bentley Continental GT Speed, Dodge Ram, Mercedes-Benz S-Class
      7. Direct Injection – An evolution of fuel injection, this method injects fuel directly into the combustion chamber in extremely precise amounts to maximize fuel efficiency and reduce emissions. Seen on: Buick Encore, Fiat 500, Lincoln MKZ
      8. Cylinder Deactivation – Shutting down one or more engine cylinders when a car is coasting, or cruising under a light load, reduces fuel consumption without impacting performance. Seen on: Audi S8, Dodge Challenger, Lamborghini Aventador
      9. Plug-In Hybrids – Hybrids have evolved from charging their battery packs while driving to charging their battery packs while plugged into either a standard wall outlet or high voltage "quick charger." Seen on: Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Toyota Prius
      10. Mild/Light Hybrids – By using a smaller motor and battery pack than traditional hybrids, a mild hybrid can increase fuel efficiency with a minimal increase in vehicle cost or weight. Seen on: Buick LaCrosse, Chevrolet Malibu, Honda CR-Z
      Gasoline prices keep rising along with the price of crude oil. One answer is to increase the fuel efficiency of automobiles and the U.S. government is foll...
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      Aerolineas Argentinas Fined for Violating Price Advertising Rule

      Taxes and fees were not included in the ads

      Aerolineas Argentinas has been fined $50,000 for violating the Department of Transportation's (DOT) new rule on full-fare advertising by failing to include government taxes and other fees in advertised airfares and was ordered to cease and desist from further violations. 

      “Consumers deserve to know the full price they will have to pay for air travel, including all fees, before they purchase their tickets,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “DOT will continue to take enforcement action against carriers and ticket agents when our price advertising rules are violated.” 

      Rule change 

      DOT requires all ads that include airfares to state the entire price to be paid by the consumer. Prior to the rule taking effect on Jan. 26, advertised fares were not required to include certain government-imposed taxes as long as these additional charges were clearly disclosed in the ad. 

      Under the new full-fare advertising rule, all government taxes and fees must be incorporated into the advertised fare. The rule applies to both U.S. and foreign airlines as well as ticket agents. 

      Airfare searches made by the Department’s Aviation Enforcement Office on Aerolineas Argentinas’ Website after Jan. 26 returned separate listings of base fares for outbound and inbound legs that did not include additional government taxes and fees. 

      By failing to advertise the entire price of the flight, the airline violated the full-fare advertising rule.  

      Aerolineas Argentinas has been fined $50,000 for violating the Department of Transportation's (DOT) new rule on full-fare advertising by failing to include...
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      Another Lawsuit -- the 14th -- Filed Against Bumbo

      Filing follows the latest recall of child seats

      Two personal injury and product safety law firms have filed their 14th lawsuit against Bumbo International Trust.

      The CPSC earlier this month announced the second recall of approximately 4 million Bumbo molded foam rubber seats sold at Toys R Us, Target, WalMart and other major retailers. The nation-wide recall follows hundreds of reported incidents in which babies have been injured after falling out of the chair manufactured by Bumbo International, based in South Africa.

      Rose Walker LLP and Pulaski & Middleman, LLC previously represented the families of 10 injured children. Those lawsuits were voluntarily dismissed less than a week before the first one was scheduled to start trial in a Houston courtroom almost two years ago.

      But, they kept pressing and in June 2011, filed suit in federal court in Austin, Texas. That lawsuit is set to start trial in November. And, since filing that suit, the firms say they have been contacted by more parents who wanted to sue Bumbo because of injuries suffered by their children.

      Frightening incident

      There's no shortage of horror stories. Brittany of Washington, UT, says her son was sitting in his Bumbo on the kitchen table. Her husband, she writes in a ConsumerAffairs post, "was cooking dinner. My husband had his back turned to him, and heard a noise. He turned around and my son had fallen out of his chair. He had a huge bump on the back of his head. We rushed him to the hospital and upon receiving a CAT scan, we got news that he had a skull fracture. We were required to overnight at the hospital so they could run test results and monitor his progress."

      "We have sued Bumbo 14 times now, and another 8 families have already contacted us and asked us to sue Bumbo because of their children's injuries," says Rose Walker attorney Ross Cunningham. "We will keep suing Bumbo and these retailers as long as parents keep hiring us because of the injuries to their children."

      Two personal injury and product safety law have filed their 14th lawsuit against Bumbo International Trust. The CPSC earlier this month announced the se...
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      Obama Administration Finalizes Fuel Efficiency Standards

      Touts consumer savings comparable to lowering price of gasoline by $1 per gallon by 2025

      The Obama Administration has finalized standards that would increase fuel economy to the equivalent of 54.5 mpg for cars and light-duty trucks by Model Year 2025. 

      When combined with previous standards, this will nearly double the fuel efficiency of those vehicles compared with new vehicles currently on the road, according to the administration. Officials say the standards would improve fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, saving consumers more than $1.7 trillion at the gas pump and reducing U.S. oil consumption by 12 billion barrels. 

      “These fuel standards represent the single most important step we’ve ever taken to reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” said President Obama. “This historic agreement builds on the progress we’ve already made to save families money at the pump and cut our oil consumption. By the middle of the next decade our cars will get nearly 55 miles per gallon, almost double what they get today. It’ll strengthen our nation’s energy security, it’s good for middle class families and it will help create an economy built to last.” 

      Reaction 

      The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) threw its support behind the initiative. 

      "This is not only a big win for consumers, it is vital to the U.S. auto industry and the single most important thing we can do to end America’s addiction to oil -- something President George W. Bush called “a serious problem" -- and to improve our national energy security," said Mark Cooper, director of research at CFA. "The many benefits of this policy are so clear that is has garnered widespread support from the public, automakers, auto workers, national security experts, public health advocates and environmentalists." 

      The Auto Alliance, which represents the major automobile manufacturers, posted a statement on its Website reading, "The Auto Alliance has called for a single, national program because conflicting requirements from several regulatory bodies raise costs, ultimately taking money out of consumers' pockets and hurting sales. We all want to get more fuel-efficient autos on our roads, and a single, national program with a strong midterm review helps us get closer to that shared goal." 

      The standards issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) build on the standards for cars and light trucks for Model Years 2011-2016. Those standards raised average fuel efficiency by 2016 to the equivalent of 35.5 mpg.

      New technologies 

      Major auto manufacturers are already developing advanced technologies that can significantly reduce fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions beyond the existing model year 2012-2016 standards, according to EPA. In addition, many technologies are currently available for automakers to meet the new standards, including advanced gasoline engines and transmissions, vehicle weight reduction, lower tire rolling resistance, improvements in aerodynamics, diesel engines, more efficient accessories, and improvements in air conditioning systems. 

      The program also includes targeted incentives to encourage early adoption and introduction into the marketplace of advanced technologies to dramatically improve vehicle performance, including: 

      • Incentives for electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and fuel cells vehicles; 
      • Incentives for hybrid technologies for large pickups and for other technologies that achieve high fuel economy levels on large pickups; 
      • Incentives for natural gas vehicles; 
      • Credits for technologies with potential to achieve real-world greenhouse gas reductions and fuel economy improvements that are not captured by the standards test procedures.
      The Obama Administration has finalized standards that would increase fuel economy to the equivalent of 54.5 mpg for cars and light-duty trucks by Model Yea...
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      Banks Adopting More Transparent Checking Disclosures

      Pew Charitable Trust has pressed banks to make statements simpler and more user-friendly

      Banks and consumers have had an uneasy relationship the past few years as banks have taken steps to increase profits that have almost always resulted in more fees.

      Stepping into the fray as something of a referee is the Pew Charitable Trust, which has spent the last few months trying to persuade banks to adopt a set of uniform disclosures on checking accounts, so that at least consumers know about the fees and can take steps to avoid them. To date, the group says 12 major U.S. banks have signed on.

      Bank of America on board

      Bank of America is the latest to adopt the Pew disclosures. Webster Bank of Waterbury, Conn., the Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank of Harwich Port, Mass., and Fifth Third Bank of Cincinnati, Ohio, also recently introduced this simple disclosure to their customers. Pew now says five of the top 12 U.S. banks are on board, representing 27 percent of total deposit volume.

      "Now, millions more Americans can obtain essential financial information in an easy-to-understand format," said Susan Weinstock, director of Pew's Safe Checking in the Electronic Age Project. We urge other financial institutions to follow suit."

      Most banks not user-friendly

      Pew said it found that most financial institutions do not summarize key information in a simple, user-friendly way, making it cumbersome for consumers to find important policies and fees. It found disclosure documents among the nation's 12 largest banks have a median length of 69 pages.

      So Pew said it set out to make the process simpler and more transparent. Its model disclosure box, as a preface to the larger document, allows customers to comparison shop and determine which checking account best meets their needs. Pew says consumers like it and, when you explain the benefits to them, so do the banks.

      "Our customers want clear and easily accessible information about their accounts so they can make the choices that are right for them," said Susan Faulkner, Bank of America Consumer and Small Business Products executive. "We listened to customers and made enhancements that help make it easier for them to understand and control their finances. Our commitment to clarity is not new, but we continue to look for ways to improve our customers' experience."

      Pew says the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) should make the more transparent disclosures standard within the banking industry.

      Banks and consumers have had an uneasy relationship the past few years as banks have taken steps to increase profits that have almost always resulted in mo...
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