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The Low-Down on Energy Drinks

Are they really that bad for you? Should they be replacing your morning coffee?

I used to like a good cup of coffee in the morning. In early adulthood I would stagger to a bodega, as we call them in New York, on my way to work, wi...

PhotoI used to like a good cup of coffee in the morning. In early adulthood I would stagger to a bodega, as we call them in New York, on my way to work, with heavy and sleepy eyes as if my lids were made out of genuine leather.

Black and sweet is how I would take it, and I would consider the stomach battle that followed a sort of trade-off for being awake at my cubicle. I would consider it a type of occupational hazard.

Then slowly, all these energy drinks began to surface on commercials, billboards, and yes, on the shelf of my neighborhood bodega. I’ll give it a try, I thought. I mean how bad can a small skinny can of Red Bull really be for you?

I slowly replaced my morning coffee with an energy drink, since it wasn’t that expensive, it was cold and sweet like soda, and there were no stomach pains involved. Well, at least not at first, but over time a few side effects crept in. Occasional jittery feelings, coupled with a bit of stomach rumblings made me rethink my drinking options for the morning time.

Today, the energy drink business is in full swing and with products like 5-Hour Energy, AMP, and Rockstar Energy, the entire industry is making a pretty decent go at standing side by side with coffee when folks need a morning jolt or a much-needed afternoon pick-me-up.

How safe?

PhotoBut how safe are these things if they’re overused, and just what type of side-effects should one expect to encounter from consumption?

Melissa from San Diego, Calif. wrote to ConsumerAffairs about some pretty nasty ailments she received after frequently consuming Rockstar Energy Drinks.

“I am a 25-year old single mother,” she wrote. I started drinking Rockstar Energy drinks to help me study and focus during a class I was taking. I would drink the smaller cans of Red Bull about twice a day, once a while three a day. Then I started drinking the larger cans twice a day. Eventually I started drinking Rockstars because Red Bulls seemed like they have side-effects, and I thought Rockstars had less caffeine.”

“Over a 1.5 month period of time, I started experiencing these symptoms: Foot drop, foot and leg practically numb, tingly. If I sat too long in class my right foot and lower part of leg would stay practically numb,” she explained. “If I sat too long in class my right foot and lower part of leg would stay partially numb/tingly for about three hours. I had to walk differently due to the right foot not working right, it’s called foot drop.”

Melissa goes on to explain how her symptoms eventually got worse, and how she had to go to the emergency room, while learning that her symptoms were similar to a patient having multiple sclerosis, said doctors. But they never found out what was wrong with her. 

“Finally after 4 days in the hospital I left,” she added. “I have not drank one energy drink and my foot numbness is gone, my anxiety is almost gone, and all these symptoms were results of drinking too many and too often of those Rock Stars and Red Bulls.”

Strange combiination

Photo
Karen Ansel

To get some expert advice on energy drinks, we reached out to a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Karen Ansel, MS, RD, who also co-authored the book, The Calendar Diet: A Month By Guide to Losing Weight While Living Your Life.

Ansel says what can be dangerous about drinks like Rock Star and 5-Hour Energy is their strange combination of unnatural ingredients.

“The concern with many energy drinks on the market is that they combine many ingredients not usually found together in nature," she said to ConsumerAffairs in an interview. “As a result, people who don’t know that they have underlying conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure or seizure disorders may unknowingly be susceptible to dangerous elevations in blood pressure and heart rate or the risk of seizures.”

“In addition, energy drinks are easy to chug much faster than you would ever drink a cup of coffee so you could end up inhaling much more caffeine than you normally would from more natural sources such as coffee or tea. The labels of some of these suggest limits as to how much is safe per day, but few people actually read the label.

Plus, “There’s nothing healthy about energy drinks. Even though they promise an energy boost they’re often packed with sugar, calories and excessive caffeine”, she said.

Natural remedies

Ansel suggests using natural remedies to give you a morning boost, and says what you choose to eat will have a direct impact on your energy level throughout the day.

“One thing people can do if they want to stay alert and focused is to be sure to include some lean protein in each meal such as lean beef, skinless chicken or fish. Research reveals that protein packed meals are more likely to keep us alert while carb-heavy meals are prone to make us drowsy.”

And people are taking huge risks by mixing energy drinks with alcohol, says Ansel.

“Energy drinks and alcohol are a dangerous combination. When combined with alcohol, energy drinks interfere with the body’s natural sensation of inebriation so a person may not feel drunk even though they may have had way too much to drink,” she explains.

Ansel also says that people really shouldn’t be replacing their coffee with energy drinks, as we mainly know what the ingredients are in coffee, and know much more about what it does to our bodies.

“If you want an energy kick, stick with coffee,” she says. “It’s 100 percent natural and for the average healthy person, a couple cups of coffee a day are perfectly safe.”

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Bank of America to Pay $2.4 Billion to Settle Class Action

Investors sued over Merrill Lynch merger, claiming they had been misled

Another setback for Bank of America -- it has agreed to pay $2.4 billion to its investors to settle a class-action lawsuit resulting from the 2009 merger w...

PhotoAnother setback for Bank of America -- it has agreed to pay $2.4 billion to its investors to settle a class-action lawsuit resulting from the 2009 merger with Merrill Lynch & Co.

The lawsuit charged that Bank of America made misleading statements to investors as it pursued the Merrill Lynch acquisition during the financial meltdown that caused it to suffer huge losses.

In agreeing to settle the suit, Bank of America denied wrongdoing and said it agreed to the settlement to eliminate the uncertainties and expense of litigation.  

"As we work to put these long-standing issues behind us, our primary focus is on the future and serving our customers and clients," Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan said in a statement.

The settlement is awaiting final approval by Judge Kevin Castel in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Analysts gasp

Bank of America  Sept. 28, 2012, 2:36 p.m.
Consumers rate Bank of America

The suit has been pending for some time and the settlement was not unexpected. But its size surprised financial analysts and is expected to drive down Bank of America's already sagging stock price even further.

“This settlement is far larger than we expected given the weak merits of such suits and historical precedence,” David Trone, a JMP Securities LLC analyst, wrote in a note to clients, Bloomberg Businessweek reported. “Bank of America is attempting to rebuild its capital base, and these hits will essentially erase the past six months of progress.”

Consumers grumble

While the settlement doesn't directly involve consumers, it's nevertheless likely to further hammer BA's already sagging image with its customers.

ConsumerAffairs analyzed about 1.2 million postings to social media and found that consumer perceptions, which had started to climb back into positive territory, slumped back towards zero in recent days, a trend likely to be hastened by the massive settlement.

 

Long stretch of bad road

Life has not been kind to Bank of America the last few years. Its record of missteps, errors and miscalculations is a lengthy one. Notable disasters include:

  • $25 Billion mortgage settlement Federal and state officials reach a landmark $25 billion  agreement with BA and four other mortgage servicers over foreclosure abuses and fraud, and unacceptable nationwide mortgage servicing practices  
  • $1 Billion fine for mortgage fraud  In February, the bank agreed to pay $1 billion for "fraudulently and recklessly" underwriting loans to unqualified borrowers, thereby defrauding the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).  
  • Great idea - let's charge more fees  Having failed to impose a fee on debit cards, BA thinks may it can change free checking to "free" checking. 
  • Homeowners charge "Pay Plan" was deceptive  A federal class action filed in June 2011 claimed BA told customers its "PayPlan" of automatic weekly or fortnightly mortgage payments would save them money on interest, then "systematically and persistently" took the payments late and charged them even more interest.  
  • BA Settles Overdraft Suit  Lawsuit alleged BA charged excessive overdraft fees. The bank agreed to pay $410 million to put the action to rest.

     

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Facebook Dislikes Phony Likes, Tries to Purge Them

Social media becoming engulfed in paid content?

We all know that lots of people "like" a lot of things on Facebook. But do they really like them like them? And are there really real people doing all this...

PhotoWe all know that lots of people "like" a lot of things on Facebook. But do they really like them like them? And are there really real people doing all this liking.

It might all seem kind of silly, like a couple of pre-teen girls giggling about whether a certain dreamboat really likes them likes them or just plain old likes them.

And in fact, it is all kind of silly. Who cares how many supposed louts like one type of beer compared to another? 

On the other hand, we can't just admit that this is all pretty silly, especially since so much that Facebook has done lately has turned out be even worse than silly. So Facebook has resolved to do something about phony "likes," meaning those generated by malware, fake accounts and bulk buying services.

This is sort of like Google trying to root out all the sites that spam its search engine through the use of deceptive Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tactics, as opposed to legitimate SEO tactics.  Sure, it can be a little hard to tell the difference, but it all comes down to protecting the brand, as they say in Marketing 101.

After all, if nothing on Google or Facebook or Twitter can be trusted, where does that leave Western Civilization? Or social media? 

It is always, of course, debatable how much any of the drama surrounding IPOs, class action lawsuits, regulatory actions and so forth mean to consumers. We analyzed more than 91 million comments about Facebook on various social media over the last year and found it maintaining a rather mediocre positive rating in the mid-20% range.

 

Counting the cards

Facebook Sept. 28, 2012, 5:57 p.m.
Consumers rate Facebook

Today, the results of Facebook's efforts are being tallied up by those keenly observant analysts who spend all day staring at their computer screens. It's quite possible no one else has noticed but at least no one can say Facebook isn't trying.

The trade journal eCommerce Times reports that among the big losers is Texas HoldEm Poker, which lost more than 103,000 likes while Eminem lost more than 17,000.

Back in the bad old days when people read ink squiggles on dead trees, it was headline writers who were lambasted for writing headlines that were "just designed to sell newspapers," as critics in that dim time had it.

Today, it's the algorithmic wizards who claim they can reverse-engineer the inner workings of the search engines and social media sites. The actual content of the tweets, sites, pages, likes, etc. are beside the point, it's how the whole mess gets assembled that supposedly affects its ranking in the search engines and its prominence on social sites.

There is a difference, of course. There were actual news stories underneath those headlines and, believe or not, they were written by lowly scribes who could not give less of a damn whether the publisher managed to sell any newspapers that day. Today, there is often no content to speak of, just manipulation.

Over time, this erodes consumer confidence in social media and search engines. If everything that appears "real" is actually a disguised commercial, eyeballs eventually drift off towards something that appears a bit more legitimate.

So what does this purge mean for average consumers? It may mean you can put a little more trust in the whole "like" phenomenon -- and it may also mean that when you choose to like or tweet or post about something you think is important, you have a better chance of being noticed and having a little influence, however fleeting.

And that, now that you mention it, is pretty important.  

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Gasoline Prices Provide Some Relief This Week

National average price is down about a nickel a gallon in the last seven days

After an uncharacteristic run-up at the end of the summer driving season, gasoline prices appear to be on their way down once again.The national average ...

PhotoAfter an uncharacteristic run-up at the end of the summer driving season, gasoline prices appear to be on their way down once again.

The national average price of self-serve regular today is $3.787 per gallon, compared with $3.833 last Friday, according to AAA's Fuel Gauge Survey. That's two cents lower than a month ago but more than 32 cents higher than the price a year ago.

The average price of diesel fuel today is $4.086 per gallon, versus $4.114 a week ago.

Oil prices continue to fall

For another week oil prices declined on world markets, removing some price pressure at the pump. However, the latest data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows U.S. oil supplies dropped unexpectedly during the week, mainly because of a drop in imports. At the same time, supplies of gasoline fell more than expected because of a pick-up in demand.

In the states prices fell the most in the southeast. The average price fell 11 cents in Georgia, seven cents in South Carolina and nearly eights cents in Tennessee. Elsewhere, Illinois saw a nine cent drop.

Photo

 

The states with the most expensive gas prices this week are:

  • Hawaii ($4.418)
  • California ($4.131)
  • Connecticut ($4.089)
  • New York ($4.079)
  • Alaska ($4.062)
  • Washington ($4.014)
  • North Dakota ($3.974)
  • Illinois ($3.968)
  • Oregon ($3.966)
  • Rhode Island ($3.936)
  • The states with the lowest gas prices this week are:
  • South Carolina ($3.524)
  • Mississippi ($3.549)
  • Alabama ($3.560)
  • Texas ($3.569)
  • Tennessee ($3.565)
  • Louisiana ($3.603)
  • Arkansas ($3.611)
  • Virginia ($3.628)
  • Georgia ($3.630)
  • Missouri ($3.631)
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Classic Beatles Vinyl Remasters Headed for November Release

In the digital age, will music fans embrace the past?

Beatles fans were no doubt thrilled a few years back when Apple -- the record label, not the electronics company -- released the Beatles' remastered studio...

PhotoBeatles fans were no doubt thrilled a few years back when Apple -- the record label, not the electronics company -- released the Beatles' remastered studio albums on CD.

Then a year later the albums were made available for digital download through iTunes. But for many old school Beatles fans, it probably just wasn't the same.

Not to worry, the record label is rectifying that with the November 12 release of the entire collection on 180-gram, audiophile quality vinyl. Not only will you hear them the same way you did when you brought them home from the record store -- remember those? -- but all 14 albums will come with replicated artwork, including the poster in The Beatles (The White Album), the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band's cutouts, and special inner bags for some of the titles.

Boxed set available

The albums will be sold individually as well as in a limited edition boxed set.

The titles include The Beatles' 12 original UK albums, first released between 1963 and 1970, the US-originated Magical Mystery Tour, now part of the group's core catalog, and Past Masters, Volumes One & Two, featuring non-album A-sides and B-sides, EP tracks and rarities.

Since it was recorded, The Beatles' music has been heard on a variety of formats -- from cumbersome reel-to-reel tapes and eight-track cartridges to invisible computer files. For many music fans -- including some born long after albums had mostly disappeared -- there is a certain romance to listening to music on vinyl.

More than a piece of cardboard

Then there is the cardboard sleeve containing the vinyl disk. For many, it added to the whole music experience. Rather than a merely functional object to protect the disc, it was elevated to a stylish accessory.

With the advent of the cassette tape in the seventies and the compact disc in the 1980s, album artwork was reduced in size and importance, losing much of its charm.

Maybe that's why vinyl LPs have not, as predicted, been discarded. Below is a list of the Beatles albums included in the collection. Some albums were released in the U.S. under different names:

  • Please Please Me "Love Me Do" and "P.S. I Love You" are presented in mono (North American LP debut in stereo)
  • With The Beatles (North American LP debut in stereo)
  • A Hard Day's Night (North American LP debut in stereo)
  • Beatles For Sale (North American LP debut in stereo)
  • Help! Features George Martin's 1986 stereo remix
  • Rubber Soul Features George Martin's 1986 stereo remix
  • Revolver
  • Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band Packaging includes replica psychedelic inner sleeve, cardboard cutout sheet and additional insert
  • Magical Mystery Tour Packaging includes 24-page color book
  • The Beatles (double album) Packaging includes double-sided photo montage/lyric sheet and 4 solo color photos
  • Yellow Submarine "Only A Northern Song" is presented in mono. Additional insert includes original American liner notes.
  • Abbey Road
  • Let It Be
  • Past Masters (double album) "Love Me Do" (original single version), "She Loves You," "I'll Get You," and "You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)" are presented in mono. Packaging, notes and photographic content is based on the 2009 CD release.
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Census Report Finds More Americans Moving 'Downtown'

The lights are much brighter there, you can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares

Americans are no longer infatuated with the suburbs, it seems. A U.S. Census Bureau report shows that in many of the largest cities of the most-populous me...

PhotoAmericans are no longer infatuated with the suburbs, it seems. A U.S. Census Bureau report shows that in many of the largest cities of the most-populous metro areas, downtown is becoming a place not only to work but also to live.

Between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, metro areas with five million or more people experienced double-digit population growth rates within their downtown areas, defined as within a two-mile radius of their largest city's city hall.

Chicago experienced the largest gain in its downtown area, with a net increase of 48,000 residents over 10 years. New York, Philadelphia, Salt Lake City and Washington also posted large population increases close to city hall.

Story continues below video

Exceptions

But not everyone is moving downtown. New Orleans and Baltimore experienced the greatest population declines in their downtown areas. New Orleans lost 35,000 downtown residents, no doubt an effect of its overall post-Katrina population loss.

Downtown Baltimore lost more than 10,000 residents. Two smaller areas in Ohio -- Dayton and Toledo -- also saw downtown declines of more than 10,000.

Just who are the people who are moving downtown? Mostly the people who once populated the suburbs.

Leaving the suburbs

The report found that non-Hispanic white population from 2000 to 2010 increased in the central areas of many of the largest principal cities, especially those in the largest metro areas.

"The Washington metro area is a notable example of this pattern," said Steven Wilson, a co-author of the report. "We see increases in the non-Hispanic white population, in both numeric terms and share of the total population, in many of the District's census tracts in or close to the city's downtown area."

At the same time, this group's share of the population declined by 10 or more percentage points in many tracts in the surrounding suburbs of Washington, DC.

The report doesn't delve into why this migration is occurring. It's possible that it's a response, in part, to the escalation in home prices that occurred during the housing bubble. Neglected inner city property was renovated and sold, often at attractive prices.

Many college-educated professionals who work in downtown areas no doubt decided to live there as well because of the cultural amenities these areas offer. And as traffic congestion worsens, the idea of spending less time commuting holds obvious appeal.

City development and revitalization efforts may have contributed to the trend, or may be a response to it. Many major cities, such as Denver, have in recent years undertaken developments to make downtown a "magnet" for the work force.

While many people obviously choose to live downtown for practical reasons, lifestyle probably enters the equation as well. There's a certain romance about the city -- especially one that has been revitalized -- captured in Petula Clark's 1965 hit song "Downtown."

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Following the Money in a Typical Household

It's the end of the month, do you know where your money went?

Unemployment is up and household income is down. It's still hard to make ends meet for millions of people. So where does the money goes in a typical househ...

PhotoUnemployment is up and household income is down. It's still hard to make ends meet for millions of people. So where does the money goes in a typical household in a typical month?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has released a report on consumer spending in 2011 that shows just where we're spending our money. Not surprisingly, a lot of it went into our gas tank.

Spending on transportation recorded the largest percentage increase last year, but it wasn't just for gasoline. That line item includes airline tickets and ground transportation too.

Food spending rises

Overall spending on food and cash contributions -- including payments for support of college students, alimony and child support, and giving to charities and religious organizations -- both increased by 5.4 percent.

Consumers increased healthcare spending by 4.9 percent but clothing expenses by only 2.4 percent and entertainment by just 2.7 percent. Insurance premiums and pension contributions rose by only 0.9 percent.

When government economists broke down transportation spending, they found spending on gasoline increased 33.7 percent during the period, on top of a 24.5-percent increase from 2010 to 2011.

More spending on healthcare

Healthcare spending rose from $3,126 in 2009 to $3,313 in 2011. The overall increase in healthcare spending was driven by a 7.7 percent increase in health insurance spending during the period. The level of spending for healthcare has increased every year starting in 1996, while the level of spending for health insurance has increased every year starting in 1997.

Spending on telephone services -- primarily mobile phone services -- was up four percent last year, suggesting that cell phones are taking an ever-larger bite out of household budgets.

Overall, the agency found annual spending was up 3.3 percent per consumer unit last year, following a decrease of two percent in 2010.

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Harry & David Brand Peanut Products Recalled

Action tied to recall of products produced by Sunland

Harry and David is recalling its 12 oz. jars of Harry & David Crunchy Almond and Peanut Butter, Harry & David Creamy Banana Peanut Spread and Harry & David...

PhotoHarry and David is recalling its 12 oz. jars of Harry & David Crunchy Almond and Peanut Butter, Harry & David Creamy Banana Peanut Spread and Harry & David Creamy Raspberry Peanut Spread with “Best By” dates of 01MAY13 through 24SEPT13. 

In addition, it is recalling the following multi-component food items which included the above-named peanut butter products as components: Harry & David Apple Snack Box, Wolferman’s Bee Sweet Gift Basket, Wolferman’s Hearty Snack Gift Basket, Wolferman’s All-Day Assortment Gift Basket and Wolferman’s Father’s Day Basket. 

The “Best By” date is located on the upper part of the peanut butter product jar near the lid. The recalled peanut butter products were produced by Sunland, Inc. 

The recall was initiated by Harry and David upon learning that Sunland had recalled products, including the above-named Harry & David brand peanut butter products, manufactured between May 1, 2012 and September 24, 2012, due to possible Salmonella contamination. 

Products subject to this recall were sold nationwide through Harry & David and Wolferman’s catalogs and Websites, as well as through Harry & David stores, between May 1, 2012 and September 25, 2012. 

Individual jars of the recalled peanut butter products sold through Harry & David stores have UPC numbers of 8099473871, 8099473872, or 8099473873 printed on the Bar Code. The recalled multi-component food items have lot code numbers of 1212M through 2372M, 1212H through 2372H, or 1212C through 2372C. 

To date, there have been no illnesses or injuries reported in connection with the Harry & David brand recalled products, and no other Harry & David products are being recalled at this time. 

Consumers with recalled product are urged not to eat the product, and to dispose of it or return it to any Harry & David retail store for a full refund. 

Consumers with questions about the recalled products may phone the Harry & David Customer Service division at 800-233-1101, 5:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. PDT.  

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Kodak Getting Out of the Inkjet Printer Business

Will focus on ink sales as it tries to emerge from bankruptcy

As part of its process to get out of bankruptcy, Eastman Kodak says it will stop selling printers in 2013 and instead focus on selling ink for the printers...

PhotoAs part of its process to get out of bankruptcy, Eastman Kodak says it will stop selling inkjet printers in 2013 and instead focus on selling ink for the printers it has already sold.

Just a few years ago the company stopped making film to focus on the printer business, which it is now exiting.

In a motion to the bankruptcy court, Kodak said it is making substantial progress toward reorganization goals since filing for Chapter 11 early in 2012.

Aimed at emerging from Chapter 11

“Kodak is making good progress toward emergence from Chapter 11, taking significant actions to reorganize our core ongoing businesses, reduce costs, sell assets and streamline our organizational structure,” said Antonio M. Perez, Kodak chairman and CEO. “Steps such as the sale of Personalized Imaging and Document Imaging, and the Consumer Inkjet decision, will substantially advance the transformation of our business to focus on commercial, packaging and functional printing solutions and enterprise services. As we complete the other key objectives of our restructuring in the weeks ahead, we will be well positioned to emerge successfully in 2013.”

Kodak said it remains committed to its installed base of consumer inkjet printer customers who will still be able to purchase Kodak ink to operate the devices. Diane, of Prescott, AZ, isn't concerned about ink so much as she is the service on her ESP 520, which she says she purchased in November 2010.

"On August 9, 2011, it stopped printing," Diane wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. "I was told I needed a new print head and was sent a whole new printer. On August 24, 2012, the print head went out again. This time, I had to buy my own. On September 21 the print head quit again. I'm not investing any more money in this piece of junk. No more Kodaks for this kid."

Savings expected

The company said that in the near term, it expects it will begin realizing savings from its new, more strategically focused business, workforce reductions and other cost-reduction initiatives. Kodak said it continues to look for ways to streamline operations and generate profits.

“The actions we are taking are significant steps toward our successful emergence,” said Perez. “We are committed to take the remaining steps required for our emergence in 2013 as a profitable, sustainable company.”

Founded as Eastman Kodak Company in 1892, the company has struggled to find its footing in the digital age. The company last reported a profit in 2007 as it moved into producing digital cameras and office equipment.

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Consumer Agency Warns of Children Drowning in Bathtubs, Bath Seats and Buckets

More than 400 deaths estimated over a five-year period

Nothing -- NOTHING -- is more devastating that the death of a child. And in today's world, there seem to be so many hazards. Take drowning, for instance...

PhotoNothing -- NOTHING -- is more devastating that the death of a child. And in today's world, there seem to be so many hazards. Take drowning, for instance. 

Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death among children ages 1 to 4 years-old and it takes only a few inches of water for a young child to drown. With that in mind, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is urging parents and caregivers to look for and protect against drowning risks inside and around their homes. 

A new CPSC report on in home drownings and non-fatal submersions in products such as bathtubs, buckets, bath seats, toilets, and landscaping features indicates that from 2006 to 2010, there were 684 incidents involving children younger than five-years-old. This figure includes 434 fatalities (an average of 87 per year), 233 injuries, and 17 incidents with no known injuries. 

Little ones at risk 

Eighty-two percent of the victims were younger than the age of two and 81 percent of the incidents involved bathtubs or bath related products. After pools, bathtubs are the second leading location where young children drown. CPSC's analysis of the fatalities found that 92 percent of the incidents occurred in residential settings. 

"Too many young children are drowning," said Chairman Inez Tenenbaum. "Just as with pools, I urge parents and caregivers to childproof their home and constantly supervise young children around bathtubs, bath seats and buckets. Taking extra safety steps at home can help prevent a tragic drowning." 

Of the reported fatalities, 28 percent involved a lapse in supervision, such as a parent or caregiver leaving the bathroom while the child was in the bathtub to answer the phone or door, or to retrieve a towel; in 23 percent, the child was left with another child, usually older; in 10 percent, the child was found in a product outside the home, such as decorative yard equipment or a bucket; and another 3 percent were found inside the home in a bucket/container or trash basket that was being used for cleaning. 

Safety tips 

CPSC's drowning prevention safety tips include: 

  • Never leave young children alone near any water or tub or basin with fluid. Young children can drown in even small amounts of liquid.
  • Always keep a young child within arm's reach in a bathtub. If you must leave, take the child with you.
  • Don't leave a baby or young child in a bathtub under the care of another child.
  • Never leave a bucket containing even a small amount of liquid unattended. Toddlers are top heavy and they can fall headfirst into buckets and drown. After using a bucket, always empty and store it where young children cannot reach it. Don't leave buckets outside where they can collect rainwater.
  • Consider placing locks on toilet seat covers in case a young child wanders into the bathroom.
  • Learn CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). It can be a lifesaver when seconds count.
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Fresh Express Recalls Hearts Of Romaine Salad

The salad contains a possible health risk from Listeria monocytogenes

Fresh Express is recalling a limited quantity of expired 18 oz. Hearts of Romaine salad with the expired Use-by Date of September 26, 2012 and Product Code...

PhotoFresh Express is recalling a limited quantity of expired 18 oz. Hearts of Romaine salad with the expired Use-by Date of September 26, 2012 and Product Code H256808.

FRESH EXPRESS PRECAUTIONARY SALAD RECALL - 9/27/12

(No other Fresh Express Salads are included in this recall)

 

 BRANDPRODUCT NAMESIZEUPCProduction
Code
Best If Used
By Date
POSSIBLE DISTRIBUTION STATES
Fresh ExpressHearts of Romaine18 oz.071279-262017H256A08SEP 26CT, DE, ME, MD, MA, NH, NJ, NY, NC, OH, PA, RI, VT, VA, WV, 
WASHINGTON D.C.

 

 

 

 

 

The recall notification for the now-expired salad is being issued due to an isolated incident in which a sample of a single package of 18 oz. Hearts of Romaine salad yielded a positive result for Listeria monocytogenes. 

No consumer complaints have been received by Fresh Express Consumer Response Center in association with this recall. No other Fresh Express products are being recalled. 

The product was distributed primarily in Northeast and Midwest. 

Fresh Express customer service representatives are contacting retailers to confirm the product was removed from their inventories and store shelves in accordance with standard procedures for products that have reached their expiration date. Customers with questions may contact their Fresh Express customer service representative 

Should consumers have this expired product in their refrigerators, it should discarded and not consumed. Consumers with questions may call the Fresh Express Consumer Response Center at (800) 242-5472 during the hours of 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time.

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Captain Cutlass Pirate Toy Guns Recalled

The toy is in violation of the lead paint standard

Dillon Importing of Oklahoma City is recalling about 6,970 Captain Cutlass toy pirate pistols. The surface paints on the pistols contain excessive levels o...

PhotoDillon Importing of Oklahoma City is recalling about 6,970 Captain Cutlass toy pirate pistols. The surface paints on the pistols contain excessive levels of lead, a violation of the federal lead paint standard. No incidents or injuries have been reported. 

This recall involves Captain Cutlass Pirate Pistol toys with a brown plastic grip, a black metallic stock and barrel, and a muzzle with an orange cap. The double-barreled toy pistol has one trigger and two hammers. A skull and crossbones motif is engraved on the grip. 

The toy pistol, manufactured in China, was sold in Halloween and specialty stores nationwide from April 2008 through May 2012 for about $6.50. 

Remedy: Consumers should immediately take the recalled pistol toys away from children and contact Dillon Importing for instructions on returning the product for a full refund. 

For additional information, call (800) 654-3696 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. CT Monday through Friday.

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Public Health Alert Expanded for Imported Canadian Beef from XL Foods

Additional information has been received about the scope of the adulterated products

The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is expanding the Public Health Alert for XL Foods (Canadian Establishment 038) to include all beef and...

PhotoThe USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is expanding the Public Health Alert for XL Foods (Canadian Establishment 038) to include all beef and beef products produced on August 24, 27, 28, 29 and September 5. 

FSIS was notified that XL Foods has expanded its recall to include all beef and beef products produced on the above dates. 

Consumer info 

Because FSIS has been informed that all beef and beef products produced on the above dates are being recalled by XL Foods, the agency is working to make the public aware that these products are considered adulterated and should be returned to the place of purchase or destroyed. 

Products subject to the recall include, but are not limited to, steaks, roasts, mechanically tenderized steaks and roasts, and ground beef. 

Information for industry 

FSIS has reason to believe, based on information provided by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), that beef from cattle slaughtered during the period associated with the recall was produced under insanitary conditions that resulted in a high event period (a period when the trim from carcasses exhibited an unusually high frequency of positive findings for the possible presence of E. coli O157:H7). 

Therefore, all products produced on the affected dates are considered adulterated and must be either destroyed or verified as having received a full lethality treatment. 

CFIA is overseeing the effectiveness of the recall in Canada and FSIS is overseeing the effectiveness in the United States. FSIS continues to verify that all receivers of affected beef from the Canadian-initiated recall have been notified and have removed product from commerce, and will take appropriate action if prohibited activity is found. FSIS will update the retail consignee list as FSIS verifies information received during the recall effectiveness verification process. 

FSIS testing of raw boneless beef trim product from Canadian Establishment 038, XL Foods, Inc., confirmed positive for E. coli O157:H7 on September 3, 2012. After alerting the CFIA of the positive results, the agencies launched an investigation including additional testing, and CFIA announced a recall by XL Foods, Inc. of a variety of ground beef products on Sept. 16. 

FSIS also issued a Public Health Alert (PHA) on September 20, 2012, provided updated information on September 21 and September 26, 2012.  CFIA has now notified FSIS that XL Foods is recalling all product produced on August 24, 27, 28, 29 and September 5. 

This latest Public Health Alert applies to all beef and beef products produced by Canadian Establishment 038, XL Foods, Inc. on these dates.  

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Deloitte Forecasts Modest Increase in Holiday Sales

Double-digit non-store sales growth expected; Smartphones to influence $36 billion in retail store sales

Wow! It's not even Halloween yet and we're already talking about Christmas shopping. Since that seems to be the way of the world now, a major business cons...

PhotoWow! It's not even Halloween yet and we're already talking about Christmas shopping. Since that seems to be the way of the world now, a major business consulting firm is out with its shopping prognostication. 

Deloitte's retail & distribution practice expects total holiday sales to climb to between $920 and $925 billion, representing a 3.5 to 4 percent increase in November through January holiday sales (excluding motor vehicles and gasoline) over last season. Last year's growth rate was 5.9 percent. 

Additionally, Deloitte forecasts a 15 to 17 percent increase in non-store sales. Nearly three-quarters of non-store sales result from the online channel with additional sales coming from catalogs and interactive TV. 

"Economic headwinds nagging consumers this fall include stubbornly high gasoline prices that continue to creep up and soft housing and job markets," said Carl Steidtmann, chief economist at Deloitte. "While consumers turned out in the summer to give retailers solid gains for a few months, that pace may be difficult to sustain through the end of the year. Consumers and businesses alike may pause in advance of the election; however, retailers may benefit from a post-election consumer spending boost." 

Bargain hunters 

Alison Paul, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP and retail & distribution sector leader, noted that consumers might consolidate or reduce trips to the store in response to higher gas prices. Conversely, she added, consumers are expected to keep a sharp eye on promotions and pricing, making retailers' digital connections with consumers before and during each shopping trip even more critical this year. 

"Non-store sales continue to outpace overall growth, but increasingly influence consumers' experience with the retail store, from trip planning, to in-store product research, and post-purchase reviews and sharing," said Paul. "This holiday season, retailers' most lucrative customers may be the ones they engage across physical and virtual storefronts." 

Paul anticipates retailers will come to the starting gate with true omni-channel pricing strategies, as opposed to disparate or reactionary strategies of the past. "Consumers should see more price transparency across mobile, online and store channels, and retailers will use these same channels to gain insights into their core customers' behavior,” she said. “Retailers that interpret and respond to real-time information about shoppers can hit the right notes on pricing and promotions that drive traffic without eroding margins." 

Smartphone shoppers 

Deloitte also anticipates that mobile-influenced retail store sales will account for 5.1 percent, or $36 billion, in retail store sales this year during the holiday season, driven by consumers' store-related smartphone activity such as product research, price comparison or mobile application use. 

"Retailers that welcome the smartphone shopper in their stores with mobile applications and WI-fi access -- rather than fear the showrooming effect -- can be better positioned to accelerate their in-store sales this holiday season," said Paul. Recent research from Deloitte indicates that shoppers armed with smartphones are 14 percent more likely to make a purchase in the store than those who do not use a smartphone as part of their in-store journey. "The mobile channel is a powerful customer engagement tool, enabling retailers to capture a shopper's attention at the point-of-purchase, while gleaning valuable information about shopper behavior regardless of the shopper's location."

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Want to Shop Locally? Amazon Is Happy to Help

Online giant's new Vine.com offers "local" products from its massive warehouses

Look out, local retailers. Amazon is at it again. Until now, Amazon has mostly been selling big national brands -- basically offering the same thing no mat...

PhotoLook out, local retailers. Amazon is at it again. Until now, Amazon has mostly been selling big national brands -- basically offering the same thing no matter where you live. This makes it a headache for Best Buy and Walmart but doesn't do too much to upset local specialty shops.

But that's all changed. Amazon now owns Vine.com -- which is sort of the online version of that cute little boutique in the quaint old building downtown that sells chintzy little crafts and maybe some fancy soaps and candles.

Vine is part of Quidsi, which Amason bought in 2010. It also operates baby and toy sites but it's Vine.com that's likely to cause some pretty serious heartburn on Main Street. That's because it not only features organic products and "trusted green solutions" but also "local" products.

Photo

"When you shop Local on our site, you're buying products made within 100 miles of your selected city," the site burbles. "That means you're the ultimate good neighbor -- helping local businesses thrive and supporting the economic wellbeing of your community."

And what are these quaint little cities where you can buy locally made goods? Well, for now, it's an even dozen: New York City; San Francisco; Portland, Oregon; Philadelphia; Denver; Los Angeles; Chicago; Boston; Milwaukee; Raleigh, North Carolina; Minneapolis, and Seattle.

We were a little insulted to see that our hometown of Washington, D.C., wasn't listed. But maybe because there's already so much of what we make here that nobody would want to buy any more of it. But that's another story.

Perhaps what's likely to be most upsetting to local merchants is that shoppers won't realize that while they're trying to be a "good neighbor," they're really pouring more money into Amazon's coffers, instead of the ones on Main Street. That's because there's no mention of Amazon on the Vine.com site. 

Do consumers care? Maybe not, especially when they're getting Amazon's super-efficient one- and two-day delivery while preserving the illusion that they're shopping locally.

You'll recall that Amazon has recently begun making nice with local governments -- agreeing to pay sales tax in many cities. This enables it to open warehouses closer to big cities, making one-day and even same-day delivery more feasible, and making it that much harder for local retailers to defend their turf.

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Dish Network Offers New Satellite Internet Service

New technology makes dishNET faster than previous versions, the company claims

It's mighty nice being out there all by your lonesome, if that's the kind of thing that appeals to you. Whether it's on a mountaintop, out on the lone prai...

PhotoIt's mighty nice being out there all by your lonesome, if that's the kind of thing that appeals to you. Whether it's on a mountaintop, out on the lone prairie or on the rocky coast of Maine, the solitary life appeals to many.

There's one big drawback, though: no broadband Internet service. Cities and suburbs may be noisy, dirty and crowded but at least you can jump on Netflix and catch up with "Breaking Bad," right?

Well, that may finally be about to change. After decades of disappointment with satellite Internet services, rural dwellers will soon get another chance. Dish Network is launching a nationwide broadband service next Monday under the brand name dishNet -- and it swears this one will work the way consumers want it to.

dishNET still won't match the 305 Mbps you can get from FiOS but thanks to new satellite technology, Dish says it will deliver 4G-level service of about 10 Mbps; that's markedly better than the dismal 1.5 Mbps which has been about the best any of the current services have been able to achieve. 

Data limits

PhotoAh, but here's the catch: there will be data limits. This is wireless service, after all, so dishNET will be offering tiered service, which is a fancy way of saying the more you use, the more you pay.

The cheapest service -- starting at $39.99 per month -- offers five gigabytes a month of "anytime" service and five "offpeak" gigabytes that must be used between 2 a.m. and 8 a.m. Five gigabytes is roughly enough to stream three high-def movies, so you'll still have plenty of time to get out there and milk the cows, run the nets or whatever it is that lured you to the sticks in the first place.

DISH's CEO Joseph Clayton is unveiling dishNET today at the flagship Cowboy Maloney's Electric City retail store in Jackson, Miss., the historic retail launch site of digital satellite TV and satellite radio services.

"Today, we are launching a revolutionary consumer broadband service that delivers high-speed Internet available in metropolitan areas to rural markets nationwide," Clayton said. "With nearly one-in-four rural residents lacking a high-speed connection, reaching these underserved markets is vital. Our mission is to provide broadband at an outstanding value with fast speeds and large data plans."

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) estimates there are 19 million Americans without access to high-speed Internet. It has been wringing its hands and conducting studies for decades with about as much success as you'd expect. Namely none.

Pricing plans

In rural and outlying suburban regions nationwide, dishNET satellite broadband starts at $39.99 per month (plus equipment fees) for 5 Mbps download/1 Mbps upload speeds and data plans of 10 GB, when bundled with DISH's America's Top 120 or higher programming packages and with a two-year agreement.

Combining dishNET with DISH TV saves $10 per month. Most satellite customers can upgrade to a 10 Mbps /1 Mbps plan available with 20 GB of data for $49.99 per month.

Wild Blue Satellite Broadband Sept. 27, 2012, 5:05 p.m.
Consumers rate Wild Blue Satellite Broadband

Say what you will, dishNET has to be better than WildBlue, which Dish has been selling for the last few years.

"First of all, I hate Wild Blue!" said Annie of Escondido, Calif., in a recent ConsumerAffairs posting. "Unfortunately, I must use satellite because I live and work in a rural area. San Diego county! Yes, one of the most progressive cities in the world. I live on the outskirts and have to use the awful satellite service. On my 4th year now and have always had problems with all of it."

Joy of Fort Lupton, Colo., agrees: "I had Wild Blue for almost five years and the service was horrible the entire time."

About the only consolation for WildBlue has been that customers of competing Hughes Network are even madder, or maybe there are just more of them.

"Do not get Hughes Internet, the worst internet service I have ever seen," said Jim of Washington State. "They have no connection, horrible installation crew. They literally ran out of the house so they wouldn't have to help me get my computer running. Bad, bad, bad. ... You could walk to Europe and deliver a letter faster than you could email your neighbor."

 

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Survey: Car Insurance Rates Should Be Based on Driving Record

Study finds using non-driving factors can increase premiums by 100 percent or more

Consumers are often shocked to learn that their car insurance rates are based on more than just their driving record, and now a survey by the Con...

PhotoConsumers are often shocked to learn that their car insurance rates are based on more than just their driving record, and now a survey by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) confirms that consumers find it unfair that insurers use factors such as level of education, occupation, and lack of previous insurance in setting prices. 

CFA found in a separate analysis that most major insurers use these types of non-driving factors, which greatly increases premiums for low- and moderate-income drivers, often by more than 100 percent.

“Insurers are permitted to use factors such as education and occupation in setting prices even though these factors have nothing to do with driving and discriminate against lower-income drivers,” said Stephen Brobeck, Executive Director of CFA.  “Premiums should largely reflect factors such as accidents, speeding tickets, and miles driven, over which drivers have some control and which directly affect insurer costs.”

State Farm Auto Insurance  Sept. 27, 2012, 6:52 p.m.
Consumers rate State Farm Auto Insurance

The analysis of auto insurance premiums, which used the websites of the five largest auto insurers, priced minimum liability coverage for a 35-year old woman with a good driving record in five cities, while altering characteristics such as marital status, educational levels, occupation, homeownership, and other attributes.

The companies included in the study were State Farm, Allstate, GEICO, Progressive, and Farmer’s, which together have more than half the private passenger auto insurance market.  The cities studied were Baltimore, Miami, Louisville, Houston, and Los Angeles.

The survey was undertaken for CFA by ORC International, which interviewed 1010 adult Americans in June of this year (margin of error, plus or minus three percentage points).    

High premiums for unmarried clerical worker

GEICO  Sept. 27, 2012, 6:53 p.m.
Consumers rate GEICO
Like CFA’s survey of premiums for a moderate-income man and woman with good driving records, released last June, the new analysis reveals that most premiums quoted for the woman remain high when she is single, a renter in a moderate-income area, a high school graduate, a bank teller or clerical worker, and lacking continuous insurance coverage. 

Twenty-five examples – involving five companies in five cities – were examined.  In three examples – involving Farmer’s, Allstate, and State Farm in Miami – the companies would not provide a quote.  In the remaining 22 examples, 15 of the quotes exceeded $1000, and eight exceeded $2000.  However, four of the five companies quoted premiums ranging between $616 and $810 in Los Angeles.

“The lowest rate quotes are in California because it regulates insurance premiums more effectively than any other state,” noted J. Robert Hunter, CFA’s Director of Insurance and former Texas Insurance Commissioner.  “California prohibits or limits insurers from using non-driving factors to set premium levels,” he added.

Lower premiums for married professional

Allstate Auto Insurance  Sept. 27, 2012, 6:54 p.m.
Consumers rate Allstate Auto Insurance
CFA’s analysis considered the impact of seven non-driving factors on premium quotes.  The five insurer websites each asked for information on four to seven of these factors.

In most of the 22 examples in which prices were quoted, changing these factors significantly lowered insurance premiums.  In twelve examples, these premiums declined by about half or even more.  In four of these examples, the premiums fell by at least 68 percent.  (CFA assumed a good credit score for this consumer in all cases.  If it had lowered the credit score, the rate differences would have been more extreme.) 

For GEICO, changing marital status, level of education, occupation, continuity of coverage, and the ZIP code reduced premiums by 86 percent in Miami and 68 percent in Louisville.

State Farm relied the least on non-driving factors in setting premium levels.  In fact, in two of their four priced examples, the premiums increased when the non-driving factors were varied.

Consumers object

Progressive Insurance Sept. 27, 2012, 6:55 p.m.
Consumers rate Progressive Insurance
In the CFA survey, ORC International asked respondents whether they thought it was fair for insurers to use each of eleven factors in pricing insurance.  All six factors rejected by consumers – gender, credit score, level of education, no previous insurance because the consumer did not own a car, occupation, and ZIP code of residence – do not relate to the consumer’s driving history and result  in  a wide variation in rates.   

In particular, residence in a moderate-income neighborhood or the lack of a college degree resulted in sizable premium increases, which may discriminate against moderate-income drivers.  On the other hand, four of the five factors approved by consumers – traffic accidents, moving violations, number of years with a license, and miles driven – involve driving experience or frequency.  And the remaining factor, age, is related to years of experience.

“Consumers strongly favor the use of factors related to driving, over which they have some control, in the pricing of auto insurance,” said CFA’s Hunter.  “And they reject factors unrelated to driving over which they have little or no control,” he added. 

For example, only 31 percent favor the use of level of education, and 33 percent favor occupation, in setting prices.  On the other hand, 87 percent favor the use of traffic accidents caused, and 85 percent favor moving violations, in determining premium levels.

Action urged

A broad coalition of consumer, civil rights, and labor groups has written to insurance commissioners urging them to evaluate auto insurance premiums charged to low- and moderate-income drivers. 

Farmers Auto Insurance Sept. 27, 2012, 6:56 p.m.
Consumers rate Farmers Auto Insurance
In a lengthy report released last January, CFA found that most lower-income families need a car to take advantage of economic and other opportunities, yet because all but one state require the purchase of liability coverage, high insurance premiums act as a significant barrier to pursuing these opportunities.

“Low- and moderate-income families who are disadvantaged by insurer pricing policies need affordable liability coverage so they can drive legally,” said CFA’s Brobeck.  “The fact that these families often can’t obtain this coverage helps explain why so many risk fines, or even imprisonment, by driving without insurance,” he added.

CFA’s January report suggested several steps insurance commissioners could take to make rates fairer, lower, and more affordable:

  • Prohibit or severely restrict auto insurers from using factors unrelated to driving, such as education and occupation, in the pricing of policies.
  • Create programs in which lower-income drivers with good driving records can purchase required liability coverage for affordable rates.  California has such a program, with rates that are usually lower than $300 a year that cover the program’s costs with no subsidy from other drivers.
  • Urge state legislatures to lower minimum liability coverage and make certain that insurers are charging fair rates for this coverage.
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Missing iPad Tracked to TSA Agent's Home

ABC News investigation finds 381 TSA officers fired for theft

 The Case of the Missing iPad is turning into a major embarassment for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). It's the latest apparent ca...

 

PhotoThe Case of the Missing iPad is turning into a major embarassment for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). It's the latest apparent case in hundreds of thefts by TSA officers of passenger belongings.

It involves an iPad left behind at a security checkpoint in the Orlando airport that was tracked as it moved 30 miles to the home of the TSA officer last seen handling it. Confronted two weeks later by ABC News, the TSA officer, Andy Ramirez, at first denied having the missing iPad, but ultimately turned it over after blaming his wife for taking it from the airport.

The iPad was one of ten purposely left behind at TSA checkpoints at major airports with a history of theft by government screeners, as part of an ABC News investigation into the TSA's ongoing problem with theft from passengers.

The full video report is being broadcast today on "Good Morning America," "ABC World News with Diane Sawyer" and "Nightline."

The TSA is already among the most unpopular agencies even, with a recent survey finding that 90 percent of frequent flyers think the agency is doing either a poor or a fair job of performing security screenings.  

An outrage

Photo"This is the tip of the iceberg," said Rep. John Mica, (R.-Fla.), chair of the House Transportation Committee and a frequent critic of TSA senior management. "It is an outrage to the public, and actually to our aviation system."

The TSA said Ramirez was no longer with the agency as of Wednesday afternoon. In a statement to ABC News, the agency said it has "a zero-tolerance policy for theft and terminates any employee who is determined to have stolen from a passenger."

According to the TSA, 381 TSA officers have been fired for theft between 2003 and 2012.

The agency disputes that theft is a widespread problem, however, saying the number of officers fired "represents less than one-half of one percent of officers that have been employed" by TSA.

In the ABC News investigation, TSA officers at nine of the ten airport checkpoints followed agency guidelines and immediately contacted the owner, whose name and phone number were displayed prominently on the iPad case.

Luggage checked at the same airports with iPads and cash went through security undisturbed.

Tracking device

But in Orlando, the iPad was not immediately returned and two hours later its tracking application showed the device as it moved away from the airport to the home of the TSA officer.

After waiting 15 days, ABC News went to the home and asked Ramirez to return the iPad. He denied knowing anything about the missing iPad and said any items left behind at security checkpoints are taken to lost and found.

The Orlando airport lost and found said there was no record of an iPad being turned in on the day in question. 

Ramirez produced the iPad only after ABC News activated an audio alarm feature, and turned it over after taking off his TSA uniform shirt. His explanation for the missing iPad in his home was that his wife had taken it from the airport.

"I'm so embarrassed," he told ABC News. "My wife says she got the iPad and brought it home," he said.

Moments later, his wife appeared at the door to say she had found it and "no told my husband."

Asked how that was possible given that ABC News tape showed him handling the iPad at the security checkpoint, Ramirez shut the door and has not responded to questions since.

No TSA official, including director John Pistole, would agree to be interviewed by ABC News about the issue of theft and what steps TSA has taken to address the long-standing problem.

In its statement, the TSA said it "holds its employees to the highest ethical standards."

Congressman Mica says TSA management has failed to properly do background checks on the employees it hires as officers, and had earlier this year asked the Government Accountability Office to do a full investigation of TSA's theft problems. 

"[If] you're not vetting them before you put them on the job, and allow them to rummage through people's personal effects, there is something wrong," said Mica. 

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Refund Checks Going to Consumers Who Ordered 'Free' Services

Nearly $1 million being refunded to 138,000 consumers

The Federal Trade Commission is mailing refund checks to 138,737 consumers nationwide who allegedly were taken in by a group of telemarketers who fals...

PhotoThe Federal Trade Commission is mailing refund checks to 138,737 consumers nationwide who allegedly were taken in by a group of telemarketers who falsely promised them “free” goods and services. In all, the FTC is returning more than $978,000 to consumers who lost money as part of the scheme.

The refunds stem from settlements with the operators of telemarketing schemes that did business as Sure Touch Long Distance and DigiTouch Long Distance. 

According to the complaint filed by the FTC, Sure Touch billed consumers for goods and services they never agreed to buy after bombarding them with confusing sales pitches over the telephone. Sure Touch contacted consumers with promises of “free” goods and services, including gift cards, gas cards, and resort vacations.  Sure Touch telemarketers often read their pitch so fast that consumers did not understand or realize they were being asked to pay for additional goods or services that were being offered. 

Consumers who did understand the pitch were told that they would not be billed, since they did not provide their billing information. However, unbeknownst to consumers, Sure Touch already had their billing information and charged their credit cards or debited their bank accounts for the additional goods or services, and without providing the “free” goods or the services they promised. 

The FTC filed suit against Sure Touch as part of the 2008 law enforcement sweep “Operation TELE-PHONEY,” which included more than 180 telemarketing cases brought by civil and criminal attorneys throughout the United States and Canada.

Consumers victimized by Sure Touch will receive checks from Epiq Systems Inc., a refund administrator working for the FTC.  Consumers should cash the checks within two months of the date they are issued. 

The redress checks are valid for 60 days from the date they are issued, after which they become void.  The FTC never requires the payment of money up front, or the provision of additional information, before consumers cash redress checks issued to them.  Consumers with questions should call the redress hotline at 1-877-841-8156.

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Homeowners Manage to Hold Their Own on Mortgage Payments

Serious delinquency is sharply lower

It's not sufficient for home sales to increase and prices to rise to constitute a full housing recovery. Current and future homeowners must be able to make...

PhotoIt's not sufficient for home sales to increase and prices to rise to constitute a full housing recovery. Current and future homeowners must be able to make their monthly payments. Lately the news on that front looks mixed but mostly encouraging.

A new report from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) shows the overall quality of first-lien mortgages serviced by large national and federal savings banks improved from the same period a year ago but went down from the prior quarter.

The percentage of mortgages that were current and performing at the end of the quarter was 88.7 percent. It was a little higher in the previous quarter, but only by a fraction of a point.

The percentage of mortgages that were 30 to 59 days past due was 2.8 percent, up 12.1 percent from the prior quarter but down 7.5 percent from a year ago. Seriously delinquent mortgages -- 60 or more days past due or held by bankrupt borrowers whose payments are 30 or more days past due -- fell to their lowest level in three years. The percentage of mortgages that were seriously delinquent was 4.4 percent, down 0.8 percent from the prior quarter and 9.2 percent from a year earlier.

Why it's important

The numbers are important for a housing recovery for two reasons. People buying homes need to be able to afford them. Otherwise there are more foreclosures and the market sinks lower. For the most part, homeowners seem to be handling their payments, though the spike in past dues from the previous quarter bears watching. But serious past-dues appear to be receding.

Secondly, mortgage lenders need reassurance to make it easier for qualified buyers to get loans. Right now Realtors complain that isn't happening. It probably won't until the delinquency rate goes down and prices begin rising on a predictable basis. If serious delinquencies continue to fall at their present rate, this could help.

Meanwhile, the OCC has found that loan servicers are now going out of their way not to foreclose when a homeowner is struggling. Servicers implemented 416,036 new home retention actions during the quarter, while starting 302,636 new foreclosures. The number of home retention actions implemented by servicers increased 17.9 percent from the prior quarter but decreased 8.8 percent from a year earlier.

The report found that, on average, the modifications implemented in the second quarter of 2012 reduced borrowers’ monthly principal and interest payments by 24.6 percent, or $381. Modifications made under the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) reduced payments by 35.3 percent on average, or $576.

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Report Shows College Debt Continues to Grow

One out of five U.S. households now on the hook for a college loan

U.S. college students and former students now owe more than $1 trillion in student loans, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). A n...

PhotoU.S. college students and former students now owe more than $1 trillion in student loans, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). A new report shows just how wide-spread that debt is.

The report, conducted by the Pew Research Center, is based on its analysis showing nearly one out of five U.S. households owes money for student loans. That's more than double the share from 20 years ago and a fairly significant increase to the 15 percent of households with student loan debt in 2007.

More people going to college

Since the onset of the Great Recession and the jump in unemployment, more people are choosing to go to college because they can't find a job, or hope to improve their job prospects by earning a degree. Because college costs so much, almost no one goes to college anymore without borrowing money.

It's not just parents who are going into debt to pay for their children's education. The Pew report found that a record 40 percent of all households headed by someone younger than age 35 owe student loan debt -- by far the highest share among any age group.

That's a bit disturbing because it shows the debt burden is being assumed by people early in their careers when the debt service on their loans commands a large percentage of their incomes.

Burden falls heaviest on low-income households

The report also finds that, whether computed as a share of household income or assets, the relative burden of student loan debt is greatest for households in the bottom fifth of the income spectrum, even though members of such households are less likely than those in other groups to attend college in the first place.

Since 2007 the incidence of student debt has increased in nearly every demographic and economic category, as has the size of that debt, the report finds.

The households owing student loan debt owe, on average $26,683. That's up from $23,349 in 2007.

In 2007 10 percent of households holding student debt owed more than $54,238. In 2010, those 10 percent of households owed more than $61.894.

Need help repaying your student loans? The CFPB offers help and advice to students and former students who are trying to get a handle on their payments.

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New Treatment Approved for Advanced Colorectal Cancer

The new med adds more than six months to life expectancy

Patients with colorectal cancer that has progressed after treatment and spread to other parts of the body (metastatic) have a new treatment option....

PhotoPatients with colorectal cancer that has progressed after treatment and spread to other parts of the body (metastatic) have a new treatment option. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Stivarga (regorafenib), a multi-kinase inhibitor that blocks several enzymes that promote cancer growth. The drug was reviewed under the FDA’s priority review program that provides an expedited six-month review for drugs that offer major advances in treatment or that provide treatment when no adequate therapy exists. 

Stivarga was approved one month ahead of the product’s prescription drug user fee goal date of Oct. 27, 2012, the date the agency was scheduled to complete review of the drug application. 

Life-extending properties 

“Stivarga is the latest colorectal cancer treatment to demonstrate an ability to extend patients’ lives and is the second drug approved for patients with colorectal cancer in the past two months,” said Richard Pazdur, M.D., director of the Office of Hematology and Oncology Products in FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. 

The safety and effectiveness of Stivarga were evaluated in a single clinical study of 760 patients with previously treated metastatic colorectal cancer. Patients were randomly assigned to receive Stivarga or placebo in addition to best supportive care (BSC), which includes treatments to help manage side effects and symptoms of cancer. Patients received treatment until their cancers progressed or side effects became unacceptable. 

Study results showed patients treated with Stivarga plus BSC lived a median of 6.4 months compared to a median of five months in patients treated with placebo plus BSC. Results also showed patients treated with Stivarga plus BSC experienced a delay in tumor growth (progression-free survival) for a median of two months compared to a median of 1.7 months in patients receiving placebo plus BSC. 

Side effects outlined 

Stivarga is being approved with a Boxed Warning alerting patients and health care professionals that severe and fatal liver toxicity occurred in patients treated with Stivarga during clinical studies. The most common side effects reported in patients treated with Stivarga include weakness or fatigue, loss of appetite, hand-foot syndrome (also called palmar-plantar erythrodysesthesia), diarrhea, mouth sores (mucositis), weight loss, infection, high blood pressure, and changes in voice volume or quality (dysphonia). 

In August 2012, the FDA approved Zaltrap (ziv-aflibercept) for use in combination with a FOLFIRI (folinic acid, fluorouracil and irinotecan) chemotherapy regimen to treat adults with metastatic colorectal cancer. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in men and in women and the third leading cause of cancer death in men and in women in the United States. The National Institutes of Health estimates 143,460 people in the U.S will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and 51,690 will die from the disease this year. 

Stivarga is marketed by Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals, based in Wayne, N.J. Zaltrap is marketed by Bridgewater, N.J.-based sanofi-aventis.

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Forever Cheese Expands Marte brand Ricotta Salata Frescolina Recall

Listeria monocytogenes contamination is possible

Forever Cheese Inc. is expanding its recall of all Marte brand Ricotta Salata Frescolina cheese, originally announced ...

PhotoForever Cheese Inc. is expanding its recall of all Marte brand Ricotta Salata Frescolina cheese, originally announced earlier in September 2012, due to possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination. 

The cheese was sold to distributors for retailers and restaurants in AL, CA, CO, CT, D.C., FL, GA, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MN, MT, NC, NE, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OH, OR, PA, TX, UT, VA, WA between September 1, 2011 and August 31, 2012. Products were sold to supermarkets, restaurants and wholesale distributors. 

The cheese in question is Marte brand Frescolina Ricotta Salata, which is a product of Italy. The expanded recall includes ALL lots and ALL production codes. 

The following lots/production codes may be found on the original wheel. T5086/440220, T5520/440315, T6048/440417, T6528/440519, T7012/440703, T7452/440601, T7939/440822, T8419/441003, T8899/441020, T9425/441202, T9962/441227, U1392/450126. 

Consumers may wish to follow up at the place they purchased the ricotta salata to ensure when it was cut or repacked that it was not relabeled. If the product was relabeled, consumers may not be able to determine if the cheese is Marte brand Ricotta Salata Frescolina. 

There is an outbreak of 15 reported illnesses in 12 states that has been linked to this particular cheese. 

Distributors and retailers are being contacted in an effort to recall any and all remaining product in the marketplace. 

If you believe that you have purchased any of this cheese, contact your distributor or retailer for a full refund. If you have any questions please call Forever Cheese contact Jeff DiMeo at (888)930-8693 between 9 am – 5pm (Monday-Friday) EST and mention “Recall”.

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Whole Foods Market Recalls Peanut Butter Cookies in Four States

Peanut butter used as an ingredient may be contaminated with Salmonella

Whole Foods Market is recalling 3oz peanut butter cookies and 3oz peanut butter chocolate chunk cookies sold in its self-serve pastry case, and mini peanut...

PhotoWhole Foods Market is recalling 3oz peanut butter cookies and 3oz peanut butter chocolate chunk cookies sold in its self-serve pastry case, and mini peanut butter cookies sold in 12-pack paper bags due to possible Salmonella contamination in the peanut butter used as an ingredient. 

The recalled cookies were sold before Sept. 29, 2012, in all Whole Foods Market stores in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. No illnesses have been reported related to the cookies. This cookie recall is in response to a recall by Sunland, whose recalled peanut butter has been connected to 29 illnesses in 18 states. 

Two of the recalled items are sold in the self-serve pastry case (3oz Peanut Butter Cookie, 3oz Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk), under the cookie PLU (47963). The packaged cookies (Mini Peanut Butter Cookie 12pk) are sold in small, plain brown bags featuring a cellophane window on the front, an oval Whole Foods Market sticker that says "mini peanut butter cookies" and has the PLU (22096100000). The recall includes all of these cookies sold before Sept. 29, 2012. 

Signs are posted in Whole Foods Market stores to notify customers of this recall. 

Consumers who have purchased the recalled products in these four states should discard them, and may bring their receipt to the place of purchase for a full refund. 

Anyone with questions may contact 512-542-0060 Monday to Friday 9:00am to 5:00pm CDT.

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fresh&easy Recalls Nut Butters

Recall is tied to possibility of Salmonella contamination

fresh&easy is recalling several nut butters (almond, cashew, peanut and tahini) marked with 'Best Before' dates from May 1, 2013 to September 24, 2013 due...

Photofresh&easy is recalling several nut butters (almond, cashew, peanut and tahini) marked with 'Best Before' dates from May 1, 2013 to September 24, 2013 due to potential contamination with Salmonella. This recall is in response to the recall issued by Sunland, Inc. 

The company says any customers who may have purchased these products to stop using them immediately and discard the product, keeping just the label or store receipt to claim a full refund from the store. 

The following products are included in this recall: 

  • Sunland Creamy Peanut Butter Salt Free 16 oz
  • Sunland Tahini 16 oz
  • fresh&easy Crunchy Almond Butter 16 oz
  • fresh&easy Creamy Almond Butter 16 oz
  • fresh&easy Crunchy Peanut Butter 18 oz
  • fresh&easy Creamy Peanut Butter 18 oz
  • fresh&easy Creamy Peanut Butter 40 oz
  • fresh&easy Organic Crunchy Peanut Butter with Sea Salt 16 oz
  • fresh&easy Organic Creamy Peanut Butter with Sea Salt 16 oz
  • fresh&easy Goodness Creamy Valencia Peanut Butter 8 / 1.1 oz cups
  • fresh&easy Deli Box Protein Power Lunch
  • fresh&easy Creamy Cashew Butter
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U.S. Beer Consumption Continues to Decline

Unemployment among beer's core consumers takes its toll

  U.S. consumers are drinking less beer these days. Industry analysts says it's partly because of high unemployment rates among beer's tradit...

 

PhotoSay it ain't so!!

U.S. consumers are drinking less beer these days. Industry analysts say it's partly because of high unemployment rates among beer's traditional core consumers and the fact that Americans are drinking more wine and spirits.

The consumers who normally prefer beer can't afford to buy as much as they did in the past. The consumers who can afford it prefer to drink something else.

According to the recently released Beverage Information Group's 2012 Beer Handbook, the overall beer industry lost 35.6 million 2.25 gallon cases – a 1.3 percent decline – to end the year at 2.787 billion cases.

Exploring new beverages

The report found that consumers are leaving beer and gravitating to the wine and spirits industries with their new product offerings such as flavored vodkas, category-crossing whiskey liqueurs, sweet reds and high-end blends.

Meanwhile, the report suggests domestic beer saw declines due to its lack of innovation and ability to connect with consumers. With the largest segment, Light beer, losing 39.2 million 2.25-gallon cases, the other beer segments could not make up for the loss.

The Craft and Imported beer segments' continued success helped to offset some of the overall industries' declines, but could not fix the problem.

Americans prefer imports

According to the Beer Handbook, domestic brewers are being pressured by imports. Imported beer saw an increase of 1.3 percent in 2011 and is projected to climb. Consumers are increasingly drawn to imports due to the wide variety of high-end products available, as consumers are trading back up to more premium brands.

The growth in the Craft and Imported beer categories seen over the years is expected to continue, with Imports projected to grow at a slightly slower rate. It remains to be seen if they can offset the declines in the domestic categories.

"We are looking to the Craft segment to continue to spur growth in the beer industry," says Adam Rogers, senior analyst for the Beverage Information Group, Norwalk, Conn. "Consumer interest is at its peak and there is unlimited potential for growth as more craft brewers enter the marketplace."

Craft beer segment still growing

Craft beers, usually brewed in small quantities by "micro-brewers," have a similar appeal as a fine wine. They're generally favored by consumers who have disposable income.

In the past, however, the brewing industry has been carried by its mass-produced domestic brands whose consumers tend to be less discriminating and more value-conscious.

But high unemployment rates, economic uncertainty, rising commodity and fuel costs all affect beer pricing structure and the report suggests the effects are clearly visible in falling beer consumption.

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SuperTracker Diet and Physical Activity Planner Lets You Set Personal Calorie Targets

Tailor your diet and exercise regimens to fit your doctor's calorie target recommendations

Need a little help keeping track of your calorie intake? The Department of Agriculture's (USDA) SuperTracker...

PhotoNeed a little help keeping track of your calorie intake? The Department of Agriculture's (USDA) SuperTracker may be just the ticket. 

According to Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon, the tool  has added a new feature that allows users to set personal calorie goals based on targets prescribed by their nutritionists, dietitians and health care providers. 

"With one in three Americans overweight or obese, resources like SuperTracker play a critical role in helping people to develop good health and nutrition habits," said Concannon. "This update allows individuals to set goals tailored to their specific needs and improve their overall health and well-being." 

Built and maintained by USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP), SuperTracker is free to use and available at ChooseMyPlate.gov. As originally designed, SuperTracker assigned users a calorie level based on information entered in their user profile such as age, height, weight, and physical activity level. 

New feature 

The new feature allows users to tailor their diet and exercise regimens to fit calorie target recommendations made by their physician. To access the new personal calorie goal feature, go to SuperTracker and click on My Features (My Top 5 Goals). 

SuperTracker is also one of ten government projects receiving the 2012 Government Computer News (GCN) Award for IT Achievement, which recognizes government agencies that show creativity and ingenuity in connecting citizens with the government through technology tools. Earlier this month, SuperTracker reached over one million registered users. 

"Within the Federal sector of providing online services to the public, this award is the equivalent of winning an Oscar or a Grammy," said Concannon. "We are extraordinarily proud of the work done by the staff at USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion and their commitment to improving the health of Americans." 

Family plan 

To help families make healthier food choices, USDA released MyPlate, a new generation food icon acclaimed as a simple, powerful visual cue to promote healthier eating at mealtimes. It is supported by tools and resources at the ChooseMyPlate.gov, and is available for Spanish-language speakers as MiPlato. Over 6,400 community partners have joined together with USDA in helping promote MyPlate in communities across the country. 

SuperTracker was unveiled in December 2011 as a complement to the MyPlate nutrition guidance initiative and First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative. 

SuperTracker is a free online tool that incorporates both the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines to help Americans make and assess daily healthy food and lifestyle choices.

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Anti-Smoking Group Targets E-Cigarettes

Claims products contain unknown ingredients and make unsubstantiated claims

  Ever since e-cigarettes came on the scene, offering smokers a tobacco-free alternative to smoking, health advocates have raised questions....

PhotoEver since e-cigarettes came on the scene, offering smokers a tobacco-free alternative to smoking, health advocates have raised questions.

Earlier this month Greek researchers suggested using the device, which delivers nicotine in water vapor, could still be harming the lungs. Now, an anti-smoking group says e-cigarettes are just as obnoxious to non-smokers as real cigarettes.

Criticizes marketing

Americans for Non-Smokers Rights is slamming the marketers of e-cigarettes, claiming they are using press releases and social media to tout the benefits of their product, despite a lack of independent peer-reviewed scientific evidence demonstrating the safety or effectiveness.

E-cigarettes don't just produce harmless water vapor, the group claims. Instead, they say they pollute indoor air with detectable levels of carcinogens and other toxic chemicals.

"What I find most egregious are the direct advertisements with false and misleading claims, including that e-cigarettes are effective smoking cessation devices, that e-cigarette use is permissible in all indoor environments, including venues that are smoke-free, and targeting pregnant women claiming that e-cigarettes are safer and healthier than other tobacco products," said Cynthia Hallett, executive director of Americans for Non-Smokers Rights.

Disputes claims

In a press release of its own, the group disputes e-cigarette manufacturers' claims that e-cigarettes are "safer than commercial tobacco products." It says the contents of the e-cigarette liquid and the "vapor mist" that is exhaled by the user remain undisclosed. E-cigarettes are currently an unregulated product, which leaves a great deal of unknowns not only about the health risks, but also about product manufacturing quality and safety.

The group points to a study recently published in Indoor Air, which measured the contents of exhaled e-cigarette vapor and found that exhaling the vapor releases measurable amounts of carcinogens and toxins into the air, including nicotine, formaldehyde and acetaldehyde.

New source of chemical exposure

The authors concluded that e-cigarettes are a new source of chemical and aerosol exposure and their potential health impact is a concern that should be investigated further. Other researchers have found inconsistent labeling of nicotine content on e-cigarette cartridges -- that cartridges labeled as not having nicotine did in fact contain nicotine, and vice versa -- as well as other signs of poor quality control, including leaky cartridges and defective parts.

A number of states, including California, have sued the marketers of some brands of e-cigarettes for making what officials described as "misleading and irresponsible" claims that electronic cigarettes are a safe alternative to smoking.

E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices with nicotine cartridges designed to look and feel like conventional cigarettes. Instead of actual smoke, e-cigarettes produce a vapor from the nicotine cartridge that is inhaled by the user. Smoking Everywhere, one of the largest e-cigarette retailers in the United States, claims in its ads that the e-cigarettes have no carcinogens, no tar, no second-hand smoke, and are therefore safe and healthy.

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Most Consumers Plan To Celebrate Halloween This Year

Social media and in-store displays help consumers choose costumes

The economic outlook may be a little scarey, but that's not spooking consumers out out of their plans to celebrate Halloween In fact, the National Retail...

PhotoThe economic outlook may be a little scarey, but that's not spooking consumers out out of their plans to celebrate Halloween 

In fact, the National Retail Federation's (NRF) 2012 Halloween consumer spending survey conducted by BIGinsight finds a record 170 million people plan to celebrate Halloween this year. 

Seven in 10 Americans (71.5%) will get into the haunting Halloween mood, compared with 68.6 percent last year and the most in NRF’s 10-year survey history. Consumers are expecting to spend more too; the average person will spend $79.82 on decorations, costumes and candy, versus $72.31 last year, with total Halloween spending expected to reach $8.0 billion. 

“By the time Halloween rolls around each year it’s safe to say Americans have already spent two months preparing for one of the fastest-growing and most widely-loved holidays of the year,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “Retailers know that when it comes to Halloween, new costume ideas for children, adults and pets, and the latest in home and yard décor top people’s shopping lists. We expect retailers to stock their shelves well ahead of time to capture the attention of eager holiday shoppers.” 

What to buy 

When it comes to looking for Halloween costume ideas, consumers say their biggest source of inspiration is what they see in a retail store or costume shop. More than one-third (35.7 percent) will look for new ideas in a store and nearly one-quarter (23.7%) will turn to their friends and family. 

Social media will also play a role in choosing costumes: 15.2 percent will check out Facebook for inspiration and 7.1 percent will scour the visually-appealing Pinterest. Online searches will also be popular with celebrants: 33.3 percent say they will get their inspiration online. Of those buying or making costumes, the average person will spend $28.65 on costumes this year, up slightly from $26.52 in 2011. 

“Almost as soon as people bring down their fall and winter apparel from the top shelves in their closets, Halloween becomes top of mind,” said BIGinsight Executive Vice President, Strategic Initiatives, Phil Rist. “There’s certainly pent-up demand for having some fun this year and shoppers are planning to spend their hard-earned dollars on items that help them get into the Halloween spirit.” 

How we spend 

Of the people celebrating Halloween this year, more than half (51.4%) will decorate their home or yard, up from 49.5 percent last year, and 45.0 percent plan to dress in costume, also up from last year (43.9%.) More than one-third (36.2%) will throw or attend a party and 33.2 percent will take children trick-or-treating. Additionally, 15.1 percent will ensure their furry friends are part of the fun too, by dressing their pet in costume. 

Despite record spending figures for this year’s Halloween holiday, one-fourth of U.S. consumers (25.9%) say the state of the economy will affect their Halloween plans. To compensate, most say they will spend less overall (83.5%), while others will make a costume instead of buying one (18.0%), and over one-third (36.1%) will buy less candy.

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Tips For Successfully Selling Your Car

There are things you can do to get the most for your vehicle

  So you have finally decided to buy a new car. Congratulations. Now, what are you going to do with your old car?You have a number of optio...

PhotoSo you have finally decided to buy a new car. Congratulations. Now, what are you going to do with your old car?

You have a number of options. You could trade it in on the new car. Most people do that because, frankly, it's so much easier. But the dealer counts on that and usually doesn't offer you very much. The dealer, after all, plans to turn around and sell it for more than he paid for it.

Sometimes you can just sell the car to a dealer. Again, you run into the same problem. The dealer needs to acquire the car at a low cost so he can sell it at its market value and make a profit.

Consider making it a hand-me-down

Some people transfer the car to a family member. Hand-me-down cars are a tradition for some families and a good way to provide a known, reliable used car for a young driver.

Some people donate cars to charity. Once upon a time the IRS allowed you to deduct the market value of the car when you donated it. Now, however, you can only deduct the amount the charity resells the car for, making the tax break much less generous.

Finally, you can put an ad online or in the paper and try to sell the car yourself. While a private sale will probably yield the most money, it can sometimes be a time-consuming and rather unpleasant experience.

Time and effort

"Selling a vehicle yourself is not difficult, but it does take time and effort," said John Nielsen, AAA director of Automotive Engineering and Repair. "Pricing the vehicle properly and preparing it for sale are keys to quickly selling the vehicle for a reasonable amount."

If you're going to sell a vehicle yourself, you should take a number of important steps to make sure you get top dollar. First, prepare your vehicle for a buyer by having it professionally detailed.

Remove any personal items from your vehicle, including any stickers you have placed on the exterior. Have your vehicle inspected by a repair shop prior to the sale and ask for a detailed report, which can be shared with perspective buyers.

Next, determine a price. This may require some research. Be realistic in the condition of your vehicle, very few vehicles are in "excellent" condition. Do your homework and keep a list of comparable prices from various vehicle pricing sources for any potential buyers to take with them.

How's your salesmanship?

Marketing your vehicle for sale is another important step to successfully selling your vehicle independently. Use social media technology and online websites to let others know you are selling your vehicle. Facebook, Twitter, AutoTrader.com, Cars.com and eBay Motors are all examples of electronic resources.

Colorful photos and diverse images can help support the description and features of the vehicle. Be sure to include contact information and any other important details pertaining to the sale.

Once you prepare, price and market your vehicle for sale, you should receive inquiries from potential buyers. Use common sense and caution when showing your vehicle. Meet potential buyers in a public location and do not let them test drive the vehicle by themselves.

Be ready for questions, have detailed information readily available, include a CARFAX vehicle history report and keep repair and maintenance documents compiled and organized.

Once you have found a buyer for your vehicle, AAA recommends creating a bill of sale that both parties can sign and have it notarized. Notaries can be located at a bank.

Always secure payment before you transfer ownership. Options for payment include certified checks, cash or money order. AAA suggests completing a transaction at a bank to verify the payment is legitimate. If a buyer is uncomfortable with any part of the agreement, be cautious and use good judgment to avoid the possibility of being scammed.

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What's Up With the Consumerist Being Down?

Popular site is trying to get back online after being attacked

  f you are a regular reader of FoodBeat, you’ve probably noticed that we regularly post stories from the Consumerist. In the last...

PhotoThe Consumerist is one of those sites that people either love or hate. Owned by Consumers Union, the not-for-profit publisher of Consumer Reports, the site is a free-wheeling forum where consumers and columnists spin yarns that horrify other consumers and infuriate the companies who are cast as the villains.

But for the last few days, the Consumerist has been absent from the Web and is only now beginning to get itself back together. Consumerist is quite clear about one thing: it's still not quite sure what happened but in a posting this afternoon, Consumerist's executive editor, Meg Marco, said that on Sept. 20, the site began getting reports that some its pages had been altered and were redirecting traffic to spam websites.

"We took the site down as quickly as possible and began investigating," Marco said. While the investigation continues, Marco said a new site was being built at a different hosting provider and would be appearing around the country gradually.

At least for now, the new site will not include comments from readers, Marco cautioned.

"Consumerist feels really strongly about not sharing our user’s personal information with outside organizations who may want to use it for commercial interests. ... While we build something that meets our needs (and yours) Consumerist will temporarily not feature commenting. We are sorry for the inconvenience, and hope to have commenting back soon," she said.

Marco said it's too soon to say whether Consumerist readers' user names and passwords were hacked, but noted that it's always good practice to use a different password on every site.

Marco also said it's not possible to say whether malware was downloaded onto Consumerist readers' sites and recommended that concerned users should check their anti-virus program and go to StopBadware.org for more information on safe browsing.

Readers complain

Consumerist readers have been quick to complain about the handling of the incident and say they were kept in the dark. 

One reader posting on Consumerist's Facebook page said he had emailed the president of Consumers Union, Jim Guest, every day asking for information but had not received a reply.

Noting that Consumerist staffers have not posted or Tweeted, some readers see a conspiracy while others see Consumers Union setting a poor example by leaving its readers -- who must be considered consumers even though they do not pay to view the site -- in the dark about possible threats to their personal information.

"Consumerist.com is truly no better than any other company that they trash on a daily basis. This is an epic fail for the Consumerist and heads should roll over this fiasco," said Jeff Talbert in a Facebook posting earlier today.

Consumerist spokesmen told ConsumerAffairs late today there is no conspiracy of silence and that it has simply been an all-hands effort to identify the problem and pitch in to get at least a skeletal version of the site back online. 

 

 

 

 

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Wells Fargo Takes Its Hits, U.S. Bancorp, PNC Next in Line

Cyber attacks are tied to online video that insults the prophet Muhammad

The online video that insults the prophet Muhammad has sparked a crisis in the Middle East and isn't doing much to make life easier for banking customers i...

PhotoThe online video that insults the prophet Muhammad has sparked a crisis in the Middle East and isn't doing much to make life easier for banking customers in the U.S. either.

Cyber attacks blocked Wells Fargo's site in much of the country today and U.S. Bancorp and PNC are said to be next on the list.  Bank of America, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase were all hit earlier. 

The disruptions were caused by what are known as denial of service attacks, in which massive numbers of computers hit sites simultaneously, flooding them with requests that cause the sites to either go down or operate at a crawl.

Wells Fargo Sept. 26, 2012, 7:56 p.m.
Consumers rate Wells Fargo

A group calling itself the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Cyber Fighters has claimed responsibility for the attacks and says they will continue until that controversial video is taken down.

The Wells Fargo site was completely unreachable for much of today, creating cries of anguish and outrage from many of its 21 million online customers.

Many customers have blamed the banks for the attacks, although experts say there is little that anyone can do to defend against massive distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks, so called because they use thousands of computers all around the world to mount simultaneous attacks that overwhelm not just the targeted sites but, in many cases, other sites hosted within the same data centers.

Wells Fargo issued a statement apologizing for the outage. 

"We are working to quickly resolve this issue. Customers can still access their accounts through our ATMs, stores and by phone," the bank said in a statement.

 

 

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Amtrak Now Testing Trains That Go 165 MPH

Trips from Washington D.C. to New York could be quite painless. Then again ...

How fast is the fastest train you’ve ever been on? If you’ve been to places like China you possibly ridden on the country’s 268 mph ...

PhotoHow fast is the fastest train you’ve ever ridden? If you’ve been to places like China you have possibly ridden on that country’s 268-mph locomotive or maybe you’ve been to Europe and taken their train that whips through the continent at a cool 200 mph.

Well, if you haven't had the opportunity to ride these trains, you might get your chance right here in the good old U.S. of A, as Amtrak is currently making test runs in the Northeast section of the country with  new trains that go 165 mph, making the trip from Washington D.C. to New York City in less than three hours, reports indicate.

Amtrak is currently making the test runs at 165 mph, which is the current U.S. record for fastest passenger trains, and testing will be conducted from Perryville, Md. to Wilmington, Del.

The company is also testing trains from Trenton to New Brunswick N.J. and if all goes well, the new trains along with an updated track system will be up and ready for business by 2017, Amtrak says.

PhotoIt’s been some pretty trying times for the government-owned railroad. With the emergence of mom and pop bus companies, along with constant airline deals being offered on travel sites, many people have put Amtrak last on their list when it comes to making their travel plans.

Also, Amtrak’s prices have seemed to only get ridiculously higher, and many passengers believe the raised prices haven’t been used to improve service, or maintain proper scheduling. Some of our readers have experienced this lack of company growth first hand.

Amtrak Sept. 26, 2012, 1:46 p.m.
Consumers rate Amtrak

“It was my first experience on Amtrak, so I booked the ticket with no prejudice about the company,” wrote Andrea in our ConsumerAffairs Complaints and Review section. “It was a pretty short commute from Trenton (N.J.) to Baltimore (MD), just a one hour and 40-minute ride. Well, in theory it was only a 1:40 trip but because the train had a two hour delay, my supposed time was doubled.”

And “the train was very dirty,” she added. “I don’t think that having a carpet on the floor was a very hygienic idea from the beginning but at least keep it clean. “In short, $109 for a one way ticket with two hours delay, a train as dirty as a Times Square sidewalk after the New Year’s Eve ceremony and no Wi-Fi service was definitely not with it,” she wrote.

A ConsumerAffairs colleague recently took a Northeast regional train from Washington, D.C., to Newark, N.J., and found it excessively bucolic.

"We crept slowly through the countryside, making it possible to count the leaves on the trees," he grumped. "Boaters on the Delaware had time to turn around and 'moon' us as the train made its stately journey northward. Not really the scenery I was hoping for."

$450 million

PhotoThe new Acela was recently tested from Westerly to Cranston, R.I. and in Massachusetts from South Attleboro to Readville, and after Amtrak’s expected $450 million upgrade it’s hoping to make itself the primary way of travel for passengers, especially for people in the Northeast Corridor.

Critics of the new Acela trains, say the smaller and local train stops will not be able to benefit from the upgraded trains and faster service, since it was reported that the upgrade would only be in major train hubs like New York’s Penn Station or Baltimore’s Union Station.

Todd O’Donnell, who co-owns a train station in New London, Conn., says Amtrak has no plans to make stops with the new Acela in any of the Connecticut cities, which he feels defeats the purpose of even going forward with an upgrade. He also says the state will suffer fiscally as a result.

“This will have a major impact on the economic vitality of southeastern Connecticut going forward,” he said.

According to Amtrak, the upgrade will also consist of new commuter rail tunnels that go beneath the Hudson River to Manhattan, and a new station in New Jersey is also supposed to be constructed. Both projects, collectively known as the Gateway Program, which also includes other upgrades in the New York-New Jersey area is said to be completed by the time the new Acelas hit the tracks.

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Who's No. 1 In Internet Freedom? Would You Believe -- Estonia?

U.S. is falling farther behind other developed countries in terms of speed, cost and broadband availability

Next time you feel standing up in your seat and chanting, "We're No. 1," it might be a good idea to define your terms just a little. If it's the Internet y...

PhotoNext time you feel standing up in your seat and chanting, "We're No. 1," it might be a good idea to define your terms just a little. If it's the Internet you're talking about, the United States is actually No. 2. Iran, Cuba, and China were dead last.

That's according to the annual Freedom House transparency and access report, Freedom on the Net, which found that slow and gentrified broadband access and occasional government intrusion stunted the U.S. to the No. 2 spot, with the tiny Eastern European technological powerhouse, Estonia, taking the gold medal.

What does Estonia have that we don't?

Well, online voting for one thing. Free access to online medical records for another. Not to mention the most widespread broadband access in the world.

“Although the United States is one of the most connected countries in the world, it has fallen behind many other developed nations in terms of Internet speed, cost, and broadband availability,” explains the report. The U.S. lags behind Japan, South Korea, Norway and Sweden in access to blistering fast Internet (average peak speeds in Hong Kong — 49 Mbps — are nearly twice that of the U.S. — 28 Mbps).

Repression increases

The U.S. is also falling behind other nations in how well it protects freedom of speech online.

Brutal attacks against bloggers, politically motivated surveillance, proactive manipulation of Web content, and restrictive laws regulating speech online are among the diverse threats to internet freedom emerging over the past two years, according to the Freedom House report.

And it's not just government agencies that are putting the screws to Internet content.

“The findings clearly show that threats to internet freedom are becoming more diverse. As authoritarian rulers see that blocked websites and high-profile arrests draw local and international condemnation, they are turning to murkier—but no less dangerous—methods for controlling online conversations,” said Sanja Kelly, project director for Freedom on the Net at Freedom House.

The battle over internet freedom comes at a time when nearly one third of the world’s population has used the internet. Governments are responding to the increased influence of the new medium by seeking to control online activity, restricting the free flow of information, and otherwise infringing on the rights of users.

The methods of control are becoming more sophisticated, and tactics previously evident in only the most repressive environments — such as governments instigating deliberate connection disruptions or hiring armies of paid commentators to manipulate online discussions — are appearing in a wider set of countries.

Key trends

The report identified these emerging trends:

  •  New laws restrict free speech: In 19 of the 47 countries examined, new laws or directives have been passed since January 2011 that either restrict online speech, violate user privacy, or punish individuals who post content deemed objectionable or undesirable.
  •  Bloggers and ordinary users increasingly face arrest for political speech on the web:  In 26 of the 47 countries, including several democratic states, at least one blogger or ICT user was arrested for content posted online or sent via text message.
  •  Physical attacks against government critics are intensifying: In 19 of the 47 countries assessed, a blogger or internet user was tortured, disappeared, beaten, or brutally assaulted as a result of their online posts. In five countries, an activist or citizen journalist was killed in retribution for posting information that exposed human rights abuses.
  •  Paid commentators, hijacking attacks are proliferating: The phenomenon of paid pro-government commentators has spread over the past two years from a small set of countries to 14 of the 47 countries examined. Meanwhile, government critics faced politically motivated cyberattacks in 19 of the countries covered.
  •  Surveillance is increasing, with few checks on abuse: In 12 of the 47 countries examined, a new law or directive disproportionately enhanced surveillance or restricted user anonymity. In authoritarian countries, surveillance often targets government critics.
  •  Citizen pushback is yielding results: A significant uptick in civic activism related to internet freedom, alongside important court decisions, has produced notable victories in a wide set of countries. Advocacy campaigns, mass demonstrations, website blackouts, and constitutional court decisions have resulted in censorship plans being shelved, harmful legislation being overturned, and jailed activists being released. In 23 of the 47 countries assessed, at least one such victory occurred.
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Big Lots Recalls Garden Swings

The Swing seat could break, causing a falling hazard

Big Lots of Columbus, OH, is recalling about 6,900 Wilson & Fisher garden swings. The wooden swing’s seat can break while in use, posing a fall hazard to...

PhotoBig Lots of Columbus, OH, is recalling about 6,900 Wilson & Fisher garden swings. 

The wooden swing’s seat can break while in use, posing a fall hazard to the consumer. Big Lots has received 14 reports of swing seats breaking, resulting in four reports of back pain and five reports of scratches and scrapes. 

This recall involves Wilson & Fisher log-style swing sets sold in a natural wood finish. The swing’s two-person bench seat is suspended between two wooden A-frame supports. Assembly instructions sold with the swings have item number JY1107 and SKU number 210020400 printed on the sheet. 

The swings, manufactured in China, were sold exclusively at Big Lots stores nationwide from March 2012 through June 2012 for about $130. 

Consumers should stop using the recalled swing sets, detach the bench seat and return it to any Big Lots store for a full refund. Consumers should destroy the remaining components. 

For additional information, consumers should contact the firm toll-free at (866) 244-5687 between 9 a.m. through 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday.

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Falcon Trading Company/SunRidge Farms Recalls Products Containing Peanut Butter

Recall is tied to problem with its peanut butter supplier

Falcon Trading Company, Inc./SunRidge Farms of Royal Oaks, CA, recalling the following three bulk items. The products contain peanut butter supplied by S...

PhotoFalcon Trading Company, Inc./SunRidge Farms of Royal Oaks, CA, is recalling the following three bulk items:

RE: Sunridge Farms – Energy Nuggets

Item Code

UPC Code

Item Description
Pack Size
Case Quantity
Lot Codes
022160086700221600Sunridge Candy - Energy Nuggets10 Pound Case852 Cases2351244; 2361244; 2411244; 2421244; 1851217; 1871217; 1881817; 1911217; 1921217; 1931217; 1941217; 1951217

RE: Sunridge Farms - Peanut Butter Power Chews

Item Code

UPC Code

Item Description
Pack Size
Case Quantity
Lot Codes
500200086700902004Sunridge Candy - Peanut Butter Power Chews10 Pound Case1846 Cases

2511230; 2541230; 2551230; 2561230
2361214; 2371214; 2401214; 2211283
2221283; 2271283; 2281283; 2011212
2021212; 2051212; 2061212; 2071212
2081212; 1711269; 1721269; 1731269;      1741269; 1771269; 1781269

RE: Sunridge Farms - Treasure Trove Mix

Item Code

UPC Code

Item Description
Pack Size
Case Quantity
Lot Codes
430110086700301104Sunridge Snack Mix - Treasure Trove Mix20 Pound Case50 Cases2051213; 2271263

 

The products contain peanut butter supplied by Sunland, which initiated a voluntary recall of all peanut butter products manufactured between May 1, 2012, and September 24, 2012, "because the products may have the potential to be contaminated with salmonella." 

No illnesses have been reported in connection with the SunRidge Farms recalled product and no other SunRidge Farms products are being recalled at this time. 

Consumers who have purchased the above items should return them to the retail store where they were purchased for a full refund. Anyone with questions should call Falcon Trading Company's customer service at 1-831-786-7000.

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Study: Many Texting Drivers Unaware They're Doing It

We tend to automatically respond to 'texting cues'

If you ask a friend if they text while driving, they'll like say no, or "not much." But after observing them behind the wheel for a while, you might find t...

PhotoIf you ask a friend if he texts while driving, he'll likely say "no," or "not much." But after observing him behind the wheel for a while, you might find he checks his phones for messages a lot.

It's common, say researchers at the University of Michigan (U-M). When people check their cell phones without thinking about it, the habit represents a type of automatic behavior, or automaticity, the researchers say. Automaticity, which was the key variable in the study, is triggered by situational cues and lacks control, awareness, intention and attention.

"In other words, some individuals automatically feel compelled to check for, read and respond to new messages, and may not even realize they have done so while driving until after the fact," said Joseph Bayer, a doctoral student in the Department of Communication Studies and the study's lead author.

Safety issue

Texting behind the wheel has become a major highway safety concern as smartphones have proliferated. And it's not just teens who fall victim to the habit; adults can be offenders too.

The U-M study identifies the role of unconscious thought processes in texting and driving, making it different from other research that has focused on the effects of this behavior. The U-M study investigates the role of habit in texting while driving, with a focus on how, rather than how much, the behavior is carried out.

Many people have phones that vibrate when a new message is received. Or, the phone makes a sound. These can be texting cues that people respond to automatically.

"In the case of more habitual behavior, reacting to these cues becomes automatic to the point that the person may do so without even meaning to do it," said Scott Campbell, associate professor of communication studies at U-M.

Automatic tendencies

The study tried to determine subjects' level of automatic response and frequency of texting, as well as their attitudes about texting behind the wheel. The findings show that automatic tendencies are a significant and positive predictor of both sending and reading texts behind the wheel, even when accounting for how much individuals text overall, norms and attitudes. It found that not all drivers pose the same risk.

"Two mobile phone users, then, could use their devices at an equal rate, but differ in the degree to which they perform the behavior automatically," Campbell said.

Bayer says the implications of the study may help provide solutions to texting and driving. He says the current campaigns to stop people from texting while driving aren't as effective if individuals don't realize how much they are doing it.

"By targeting these automatic mechanisms, we can design specific self-control strategies for drivers," he said.

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Chattanooga Bakery Recalls Peanut Butter Crunch Products

Recall is tied to problem with its supplier of peanut butter

Chattanooga Bakery, maker of MoonPie and LookOut! branded snacks, is recalling a limited number of its Peanut Butter Crunch products with “Best By” dates o...

PhotoChattanooga Bakery, maker of MoonPie and LookOut! branded snacks, is recalling a limited number of its Peanut Butter Crunch products with “Best By” dates of 02/26/13, 03/25/13, and 04/29/13. 

No other Chattanooga Bakery / MoonPie / LookOut products are affected by this recall. 

The was initiated upon learning that the firm's peanut butter supplier, Sunland, has recalled product produced from May 1st, 2012 - September 24th, 2012. Sunland says 29 people have reported Salmonella Bredeney PFGE matching illnesses in approximately 18 states. These illnesses were associated with Sunland's Creamy Salted Valencia Peanut Butter. 

Chattanooga Bakery’s Peanut Butter Crunch products (9.6 ounce multipack and 2.4 ounce twin pack) have not been associated with any of the reported illnesses. Customers who have purchased this item are urged not to eat the product, and to dispose of it or return it to the retailer for a full refund. 

For further information, contact Chattanooga Bakery’s customer service at (423) 267 ‐ 3351.

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Why Your Home's Value May Be Rising

The economy may still be sluggish but home values are headed higher

  After years of watching the equity in their homes plummet, U.S. homeowners may be a bit skeptical about recent predictions that the housing...

PhotoAfter years of watching the equity in their homes plummet, U.S. homeowners may be a bit skeptical about recent predictions that the housing market is about to turn. But the latest statistics suggest it's true and the Federal Reserve appears determined to give home prices a boost.

The Commerce Department reports sales of new homes decreased slightly from July but the median price of a new home rose to $256,000 -- the highest since March 2007. The day before that report was released the S&P Case-Shiller Indices showed all 20 monitored cities recorded price gains in July.

"We have seen home construction and new home sales soar by twenty percent this year while existing housing demand is up by over seven percent," said economist Joel Naroff, of Naroff Economic Advisers, in Holland, PA. "All this increase in activity is leading a rebound in housing prices."

Rising despite the drag

But unemployment remains stuck over eight percent and mortgage companies, despite record low rates, are making fewer loans because fewer buyers can meet new qualification standards. So why are home prices rising?

Part of it goes back to supply and demand. While demand is less than it once was, it's still there and it's fairly constant month after month. But have you noticed the size of real estate magazines lately? While they were once as thick as a phone book they now are paper-thin.

With a smaller inventory of homes for sale, the consumers who want to buy them have fewer to choose from and less bargaining power. That allows homeowners who want to sell to demand more.

Reasons for falling inventory

Inventory is falling because many homeowners who would like to sell their homes are still under water. They owe more than their homes are worth.

Some homeowners who want to sell eventually are in no hurry, sensing the market is beginning to turn. If they wait to sell, they conclude they'll get more for their homes.

Finally, for whatever reason, fewer foreclosures are coming on the market. Many were held back while major lenders worked out a settlement with the states and the U.S. government. Now that the settlement has been reached, some long-delayed foreclosures are being sold but the number remains subdued in many states.

The Fed's role

The Federal Reserve's latest round of Quantitative Easing (QE) appears aimed, in part, at encouraging these recent trends and boost home values even more. The Fed has committed itself to purchasing massive amounts of mortgage-backed securities for the foreseeable future.

If the Fed is increasing the demand for these securities, it stands to reason that it would be increasingly profitable -- and less risky -- to create more of them. But to create more mortgage-backed securities, banks must first create more mortgages.

To create more mortgages, banks will need to loosen the very tight lending standards they instituted after the housing meltdown. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) has spent the last four years begging the mortgage industry to just use the lending standards that were in place before the housing bubble began to inflate.

If they were to do that, NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun has predicted home sales would surge 15 percent. A pick-up in sales that large would undoubtedly boost home prices even more.

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Specialized Bicycle Components Recalls Bicycles

A problem with the front fork poses fall and injury hazards

Specialized Bicycle Components of Morgan Hill, CA, is recalling about 12,000 bikes. The front fork can break, posing fall and injury hazards to riders. T...

PhotoSpecialized Bicycle Components of Morgan Hill, CA, is recalling about 12,000 bikes. 

The front fork can break, posing fall and injury hazards to riders. The company has received four reports of front forks breaking, resulting in facial fractures, head and shoulder injuries and cuts. 

This recall involves some 2008 and 2009 models women's and men's Globe model bicycles. 

Recalled models include the Globe Elite, Globe Sport, Globe Sport Disc, Globe Centrum Comp, Globe Centrum Elite, Globe City 6, Globe Vienna 3, Globe Vienna 3 Disc, Globe Vienna 4, Globe Vienna Deluxe 3, Globe Vienna Deluxe 4, Globe Vienna Deluxe 5 and Globe Vienna Deluxe 6 bicycles. 

The bicycles were sold in various colors, including gun, silver, black, khaki, navy, bone, blue, charcoal, burgundy and gold. The brand name "Specialized" is on the lower frame tube and the model name is on various locations on the bicycle frame. 

The bicycles, manufactured in China, were sold at authorized Specialized retailers nationwide from July 2007 to July 2012 for between $550 and $1,100. 

Consumers should immediately stop riding these bicycles and return them to an authorized Specialized retailer for the free installation of a free replacement fork. 

For additional information, contact Specialized toll-free at (877) 808-8154 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT Monday through Friday.

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Health Alert Updated for Imported Canadian Beef

Trim and ground beef may also pose a health risk

It's more widespread than they thought. The Agriculture Department's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) say that, in conducting standard rec...

PhotoIt's more widespread than they thought. 

The Agriculture Department's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) say that, in conducting standard recall effectiveness checks of U.S. domestic establishments receiving beef from XL Foods, Inc. (Canadian Establishment 038), the agency discovered that whole muscle beef cuts produced on the same production dates as beef subject to recall in Canada were being used to produce raw ground products. 

Specifically, FSIS discovered that sub-primal materials (i.e., beef short ribs) produced on the same production dates as beef subject to recall in Canada were being used by a U.S. facility to manufacture other products and that the beef short ribs were being trimmed in order for the trim to be used to make ground beef.

Expanded recall 

FSIS says it has reason to believe, based on information provided by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), that beef from cattle slaughtered during the period associated with the recall was produced under insanitary conditions. That resulted in a high event period (a period when the trim from carcasses exhibited an unusually high frequency of positive findings for the possible presence of E. coli O157:H7). 

Therefore, all products that are non-intact, such as trim and ground beef subject to the recall, as well as all cuts of beef that will be processed into non-intact product, are considered adulterated. 

Because FSIS now has evidence gathered through its effectiveness checks that whole muscle cuts were being used to produce ground beef, it is working to make the public aware that product from these cuts are also are considered adulterated unless they receive a full lethality treatment capable of eliminating E. coli O157:H7 that may be present. 

FSIS testing of raw boneless beef trim product from Canadian Establishment 038, XL Foods, Inc., confirmed positive  for E. coli O157:H7 on September 3, 2012. After alerting the CFIA of the positive results, the agencies launched an investigation including additional testing, and CFIA announced a recall by XL Foods, Inc. of a variety of ground beef products on Sept. 16. FSIS also issued a Public Health Alert (PHA) on September 20, 2012, provided updated information on September 21, 2012, conducted effectiveness checks this week, and notified the public once more through today's PHA. The CFIA has expanded the scope of the recall to now include the production dates of Aug. 24, Aug. 27, Aug. 28 and Aug. 29, 2012 and FSIS has determined that a slaughter date of August 23, 2012 is common to all four production dates.  

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World Warned It Faces Bacon Shortage

British pig farmers pressuring supermarkets to raise the price

  The world may have to make do with less bacon in the future. In fact, Britain's National Pig Association, the trade group representing pork...

PhotoThe world may have to make do with less bacon in the future. In fact, Britain's National Pig Association, the trade group representing pork producers, is warning that a world-wide shortage of pork and bacon in the year ahead is "unavoidable."

The association has issued data showing that pig herds in Europe are in rapid decline. Producers have thinned their herds to cope with the high cost of feed, which has been driven up by rising commodity prices.

Pushing for higher prices

But the warning also seems to have something to do with the farmers' standoff with British supermarkets over pricing. The retailers, it seems, have been reluctant to raise pork prices to the extent the farmers say is necessary because it might drive away customers.

Still, the U.S. Agriculture Department (USDA) doesn't completely dismiss the idea of declining pork herds, especially after this summer's drought.

"High feed costs from lower U.S. corn and soybean production is expected to reduce U.S. pork production in 2013," USDA said in a recent Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook. "Per capita consumption of pork products in 2013 are expected to decline by 1.23 percent. Next year, per capita consumption of red meat and poultry is expected to drop below 200 pounds per person for the first time since 1990."

Exports are rising

USDA notes U.S. pork exports increased more than eight percent year-over-year in the second quarter of 2012. In the first 6 months of 2012, China was the third largest foreign destination for U.S. pork products. Exports in 2013 are expected to be about equal to shipments in 2012, meaning there won't be an increase in exports to keep pace with increased demand. It also means any shortage in Europe is not likely to be alleviated by increases in U.S. pork.

In Britain, pork producers say the only way to increase supplies of bacon and other pork products is for consumers to be willing to pay more for it.

"British supermarkets know they have to raise the price they pay Britain's pig farmers or risk empty spaces on their shelves next year," said National Pig Association chairman Richard Longthorp. "But competition is so fierce in the high street at present, each is waiting for the other to move first."

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Consumer Groups Step Up Pressure on Prepaid Cards

Regulator reportedly hits bank for 'violations of laws' in working with payday lender

  Consumer groups are claiming victory in an encounter with a bank they say evaded the law in collaborating with a payday lender.The Nation...

PhotoConsumer groups are claiming victory in an encounter with a bank they say evaded the law in collaborating with a payday lender.

The National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) and Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) fired off a letter to the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) in May, claiming that Florida-based Urban Trust Bank (UTB), the issuer of the Insight prepaid cards used by the payday lender CheckSmart, was evading state payday and usury laws.

This week the OCC said it has found “violations of law and regulations and unsafe and unsound banking practices” by the institution.

The OCC said that the consumer groups’ letter “raises several troubling concerns,” including “that the prepaid cards are sold in cooperation with a major payday lender” and have “characteristics similar to predatory payday loans.”

"Banks should not help payday lenders to evade state law,” said Lauren Saunders, managing attorney of NCLC’s office in Washington. “We applaud the OCC for scrutinizing the sordid relationship between Urban Trust Bank and the CheckSmart prepaid card payday loans, and urge the OCC to eliminate payday loans completely from the Insight prepaid cards."

The groups noted that UTB and CheckSmart have discontinued one version of the prepaid card payday loans but continue to offer payday loans presented as overdraft fees of $0.15 per $1 negative balance or $15 per $100 borrowed.

Formal agreement

The OCC has entered into a Formal Agreement with UTB requiring the bank to correct legal violations, to submit an analysis of its prepaid card program that “fully assesses the risks and benefits of this line of business” and to submit for OCC review a business plan that addresses deficiencies in its oversight of CheckSmart.

“Prepaid card payday loans cannot be fixed, and Urban Trust Bank should get out of this business,” said Saunders.

After Arizona and Ohio imposed 36 and 28 percent interest rate caps, respectively, the groups claim that CheckSmart, which is owned by Community Choice Financial, Inc. (CCFI), began disguising its payday loans as a line of credit or overdraft protection on prepaid cards managed by Insight Card Services, which is part owned by CCFI, and issued by Urban Trust Bank.

The loans cost $14 to $15 per $100 borrowed, or an annual rate of about 400 percent, but the groups maintain the costs were cloaked in various fees designed to evade state laws. After the consumer groups criticized the loans, CheckSmart dropped the line of credit and CCFI called off its planned initial public offering of stock.

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Consumers Feel More Confident in September

Conference Board index jumps nine points

  The Conference Board's monthly Consumer Confidence Index is one way economist keep track of consumer sentiment, and what it might mean for ...

PhotoThe Conference Board's monthly Consumer Confidence Index is one way economist keep track of consumer sentiment, and what it might mean for the economy. The latest reading is cause for smiles.

The Index, which fell in August, is back up this month, standing at 70.3 -- an increase of nine points. The Expectations Index increased to 83.7 from 71.1. The Present Situation Index rose to 50.2 from 46.5 last month.

More positive

“The Consumer Confidence Index rebounded in September and is back to levels seen earlier this year, said Lynn Franco, director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board. “Consumers were more positive in their assessment of current conditions, in particular the job market, and considerably more optimistic about the short-term outlook for business conditions, employment and their financial situation.”

Despite everything, Franco says consumers are slightly more optimistic than they have been in several months.

Why is this important? Because when consumers are not confident, they tend not to spend money. When they don't spend money, economic conditions tend to get even worse. It's been a vicious circle since the economy tanked at the end of 2008.

In truth, consumers have been up and down, month to month, over the last four years. One month confidence will rise, only to fall a couple of months later. Economists hope to see several months of sustained gains in the consumer confidence level.

Housing

One thing that could be helping consumers feel better is an uptick in the housing market. The latest Case-Shiller Home Value Indices show all 20 monitored cities showed price gains in July.

“Home prices increased again in July,” said David M. Blitzer, Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “All 20 cities and both Composites were up on the month for the third time in a row. Even better, 16 of the 20 cities and both Composites rose over the last year. Atlanta remains the weakest city but managed to cut the annual loss to just under 10 percent. “

Blitzer says 15 cities and both Composites had stronger annual returns in July’s report. New

York was the only city with a worse 12-month decline in July than June. Dallas and Washington, DC, saw no change in their annual rates. Cleveland and Detroit saw annual rates decelerate in July versus June, although they remain positive for both cities.

“The news on home prices in this report confirm recent good news about housing,” Blitzer said.

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We Review the Fiat 500 as Alfa Romeo's Rumored Return Draws Nigh

Our man Truman finds the 500 a bit sedate for his tastes but it is economical and easy to maneuver

A band of fanatical loyalists for years have awaited the Second Coming and believe that it may be at hand. The target date has not been narrowed down but i...

1979 Alfa Romeo
A 1979 Alfa Romeo

A band of fanatical loyalists for years have awaited the Second Coming and believe that it may be at hand. The target date has not been narrowed down but is expected to be sometime in 2014.

We're talking, of course, about the return of Alfa Romeo to American shores. The Italian marque began to fade in the 1980s and by 1995, only the tiniest flock of Alfa sports sedans and roadsters made their way across the pond.

That may all be about to change, however, as CEO Sergio Marchionne continues his attempts to meld Fiat SpA and Chrysler Group LLC into a global automaker that realizes the same economies of scale as Volkswagen, Toyota and General Motors.

Fiat 124 Spider
A Fiat 124 Spider

Italian cars were once noted for their wind-in-the-face, devil-may-care sportiness.  Even humble Fiats, like the classic 124 roadster, delivered more jauntiness for the buck than you could find elsewhere. Alfa Romeo was a notch up the ladder, with Maserati, Ferrari and Lamborghini atop the pyramid.

Ah, but that was then. Today, the Italians, at least the lesser Fiats and Alfas, have lost much of their cachet to the BMWs, VWs, Mini Coopers and other interlopers.

Enter the Fiat 500

A Fiat Studio
A Fiat "studio"

Fiat made a tentative return to the U.S. last year with the tiny Fiat 500, so far little more than a bit player. Marchionne is hoping that Alfa Romeo makes a grander entrance, riding on the contrails of Maserati and Ferrari rather than puttering along in the Fiat 500's wake.  Alfas will be sold through the Chrysler dealer network rather than the newly-established Fiat salons, we're told.

A week with Little Paolo

So in preparation for all of this, and to renew old ties with Fiats, we recently rented a Fiat 500 for a week from our friends at Fox Rent A Car in Los Angeles.

We picked up a well-broken-in little number at LAX and headed out to put it through its paces. We had barely reached the bottom of the ramp to the northbound 405 when a bully in a Chevy Tahoe cut short our polite attempt to merge sequentially into traffic. Seconds later, a brute in a ridiculous Ford Expedition did likewise. 

Little Paolo
Little Paolo

Casting a glance at the right shoulder, we found ample room to create our own lane and promptly returned the favor, sneaking around both hulking wastes of metal on the right and cutting smartly in front of them.

Little Paolo handled well during this escapade though his engine screamed bloody murder and there was barely enough pickup to accomplish this admittedly adolescent display.

The rest of our trip up the 405 and down the 101 were peaceful enough, as we crawled along in the mid-20 mph range with other mid-morning sluggards. This gave us time to examine the intelligently-arranged controls and search for a place to put our left foot, which already was becoming numb in the cramped cabin.

We found the cockpit, if we may call it that, much easier to comprehend than the Mini's, which is downright befuddling to most newbies. But, sadly, that's about the only thing we found superior to the Mini.

In terms of handling, speed and comfort, we would have to rate the Fiat a sorry second to the Mini, although as a pure urban errand-runner, little Paolo was more than adequate. It turns in an extremely small radius, making U-turns and last-minute lunges for parking spaces eminently achievable.

The "Mini effect"

Also, we found that -- other than those with severe emotional disturbances that cause them to drive Expeditions and Tahoes -- other drivers and pedestrians were quick to give us a break. I called this the "Mini effect" -- defined as the tendency of others to assume that anyone who would drive such a harmless-looking vehicle must be at least a vegan if not a completely benign and admirable individual.

None of this is true in my case, but that's another story.

For example, the last remaining parking space in the Trader Joe's lot on  Riverside Drive in the Toluca Lake area would have been beyond our reach in any "normal" car, as two or three other vehicles were already heading for it. But, wearing our wolf in lamb's clothing disguise, we were able to go in the exit and weave among pedestrians who smiled tenderly at us, beating out the other foodies. The remote locking allowed us to beat a hasty retreat into the store before the other drivers could alight from their hulking vehicles and mount a pursuit.

So for a few days, we drove blissfully around Greater LA, enjoying the smiles and you-first waves of other drivers -- something we never get when piloting our daily driver, an elderly but still mean-looking Porsche.

3D - Don't Do Decker

By week's end, the time had come to put the 500 through its paces, to see if it retained any of the la dolce vita attitude of its ancestors. We hit the 101 and headed north to Kanan Dume Road, a pleasant but unchallenging semi-freeway that will take you peacefully to Malibu.

Paolo takes a break
Paolo takes a break

Ah, but not if you turn onto Mulholland Highway, a twisty, devilish little mountain trail that leads to the even more extreme Decker Canyon Road. We have whipped through, around and over these and neighboring roads in all kinds of cars and to date found the Mini Cooper S to be about as sure-footed and enthusiastic as anyone can reasonably expect. Passengers have occasionally become ill during these romps, a true tribute to any car though perhaps not to its driver.

The 500 was willing, plucky and determined but its tiny 1.4-litre engine and rather wobbly handling don't really put it in the same class as today's Minis and other pocket rockets. For daredevils, the Abarth version features more power and surer handling.

I had hoped the base 500 would display at least a little of the spirited handling of my lamented 70s-vintage 124, which took no prisoners in its runs through the mountain canyons of Southern California and Arizona back in its day. Of course, the 124 was never the same after that day we demonstrated that those "Watch for Falling Rocks" signs are not just there as decoration. But that's another story.

Admittedly, we were hampered by our rental car's being equipped with an automatic transmission, an abomination second to none. No doubt, a stick shift would have helped but the base 500, we'd have to say, is nevertheless a great little around-town car though maybe not something you'd want to take out for daily combat on the freeways or for long drives on the open road.

With a list price starting at $15,500, the Fiat 500 costs quite a bit less than the $19,700 Mini Cooper is asking for its base hardtop. For those addicted to automatic transmissions, the Mini delivers much better performance. With a stick shift, the 500 might be just fine.

Fit and finish on the Mexican-built car we drove were good. Little Paolo already had 25,000 miles on the clock and everything still seemed shipshape, except for the armrest that had begun to sag, in the process making the seat belt buckle hard to get to.

Can't wait to drive the new Alfa Romeo. 

 

 

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Consumers, Lenders See Different Credit Scores

CFPB study points up discrepancies that may harm consumers

Many consumers spend good money subscribing to services that supposedly give them factual information about their credit score. But a study released today...

PhotoMany consumers spend good money subscribing to services that supposedly give them factual information about their credit score. But a study released today by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) finds that about one out of five consumers would likely receive a meaningfully different score than would a lender.

“This study highlights the complexities consumers face in the credit scoring market,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “When consumers buy a credit score, they should be aware that a lender may be using a very different score in making a credit decision.”

 

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act directed the CFPB to compare credit scores sold to creditors and those sold to consumers by nationwide credit bureaus and to determine whether differences between those scores harm consumers.

Today’s study analyzes credit scores from 200,000 credit files from each of the following credit bureaus: TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian.  It is a follow-up to a study the Bureau released in July 2011 that described the credit scoring industry, the types of credit scores, and the potential problems for consumers that could result from differences between the scores they purchase and the scores creditors use.

The study released today determined:

  • One out of five consumers would likely receive a meaningfully different score than would a creditor: When consumers purchase their score from a credit bureau, the score they receive may be meaningfully different from the score that a lender would consult in making a decision. A meaningful difference means that the consumer would be likely to qualify for different credit offers – either better or worse – than they would expect to get based on the score they purchased. 
  • Score discrepancies may generate consumer harm:  When discrepancies exist between the scores consumers purchase and the scores used for decision-making by lenders in the marketplace, consumers may take action that does not benefit them.  For example, consumers who have reviewed their own score may expect a certain price from a lender, may waste time and effort applying for loans they are not qualified for, or may accept offers that are worse than they could get.
  • Consumers unlikely to know about score discrepancies:  There is no way for consumers to know how the score they receive will compare to the score a creditor uses in making a lending decision.  As such, consumers cannot exclusively rely on the credit score they receive to understand how lenders will view their creditworthiness.

What to do

 

Photo
Richard Cordray

The Bureau recommends that consumers consider the following in evaluating the credit score they receive:

 

  • Shop around for credit.  Consumers benefit by shopping for credit.  Regardless of the scores different lenders use, they may offer different loan terms because they operate different risk models or face different competitive pressures.   Consumers should not rule out of seeking lower priced credit because of assumptions they make about their credit score.  While some consumers are reluctant to shop for credit out of fear that they will harm their credit score, that negative impact may be overblown.  Inquiries generally do not result in a large reduction in a consumer credit score. 
  • Check the credit report for accuracy and dispute errors.  Credit scores are calculated based on information in a consumer’s credit file.  Inaccurate information may be the difference between a consumer being approved or denied a loan.  Before shopping for major credit items, the Bureau recommends that consumers review their credit files for inaccuracies.   Each of the nationwide credit bureaus is required by law to provide credit reports for free to consumers who request them once every 12 months. 

The Bureau will begin supervising consumer reporting agencies as of September 30, 2012.  The CFPB’s supervisory authority will cover an estimated 30 companies that account for about 94 percent of the market’s annual receipts. 

The Bureau’s examiners will be looking to verify that consumer reporting companies are complying with federal consumer financial law, including that the companies are using and providing accurate information, handling consumer disputes, making disclosures available, and preventing fraud and identity theft.

 

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Samsung Ad Makes Fun of iPhone Fans

Stung by legal setback, Samsung TV ads get personal

  It's no secret that Apple and Samsung are locked in a titanic struggle. Apple just gained the upper hand when a jury found that Samsung vio...

PhotoIt's no secret that Apple and Samsung are locked in a titanic struggle. Apple just gained the upper hand when a jury found that Samsung violated a number of Apple patents with its smartphones and tablets.

The jury awarded Apple more than $1 billion in damages and the court is now considering Apple's request that a number of Samsung devices be banned from the market. While the court is deciding, Samsung is airing a TV commercial for one of the devices Apple seeks to squash -- the Galaxy S III -- and gets in some licks at Apple and its iPhone acolytes.

The spot, entitled "The Next Big Thing Is Already Here," seeks to lampoon Apple customers for lining up for hours last week in order to be the first to purchase the new iPhone 5.

"I heard you have to have an adapter to use the dock on the new one," says one young man waiting patiently in line.

"Yeah, but they make the coolest adapters," responds another young man.

Everything we didn't get last year

"This year, we're finally getting everything we didn't get last year," says another young man waiting in line, a reference to the fact that Apple updates the iPhone just once a year, and that last year's iPhone 4S had little in the way of advancements.

The iPhone 5 has a larger screen and runs on the 4G LTE network -- something that Android phones, in particular Samsung phones, have had for some time. When a former iPhone owner shows up to greet his friends on line, they try to convince him of what he's missing by not getting the new iPhone.

"This one's 4G," says a friend.

"We've had that for a while," the Samsung owner responds.

It's hard to imagine a current iPhone customer will be swayed to switch to Samsung by being portrayed as a clueless poser in TV ads. But who knows? Watch the ad below. 

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Myspace Spiffs Itself Up For Its Upcoming Re-Launch -- And It Looks Great!

Will a facelift and better functionality bring the site back to its glory days of prominence?

 Hey, let’s walk the grounds of memory lane a little bit. If you remember, before there was something called Facebook there was something called...

PhotoHey, let’s walk the grounds of memory lane a little bit. If you remember, before there was something called Facebook there was something called Myspace.

Before people were able to Tweet their latest thoughts or life-altering epiphanies there was still Myspace. Far before Instagram became popular and Internet radio sites like Pandora or Spotify lived on everybody’s mobile device Myspace existed.

Then all of a sudden everything went black for the social networking company, and Myspace quickly went from a trendy happening-now company, to a non-trendy remember-when company.

New owners

Last year Myspace was sold to the advertising group Specific Media for about $35 million, and since then mum's been the word when it came to just how the social site would be reinventing itself. But just this week some brand new info on the site has been released.

PhotoSinger and actor Justin Timberlake, who currently owns a stake of Myspace, tweeted a video link showing the site's new appearance and functionality, and quite honestly it looks pretty darn good.

The new site allows users to have all of their information like personal music selections and Myspace friends, to be accompanied with big bright sexy pictures to provide a big dose of eye candy as one navigates.

And for musicians who post their own music, the site not only gives you listening stats, but it also pulls up a global map so the artist can see where in the world fans are actually listening. It even brings up the picture profile of the listener so you can visit their page and communicate with them if you choose.

In addition, it seems like Myspace has fully conceded to the new generation of social sites, as it suggests you log in by using your Facebook and Twitter information.

It will then suggest music and friends for you to follow based on your Facebook or Twitter profiles.

Side glides

What’s also cool is that upon clicking the web pages it seems to glide from side to side, instead of the old version where pages just boringly popped open after choosing a link. There also seems to be a “discover” link that can be selected, where pages of new music and events are colorfully presented, and once you access those pages you can bring them over to your profile.

PhotoSee, Myspace was a regular destination for web surfers as it was one of the first sites to successfully center around music, making it a website of necessity for music lovers, casual music fans, and musicians alike.  In fact, many people and companies used Myspace as their official website, as it contained all of the informational and visual components that a personal website needs.

But ironically, where Myspace failed is in the area of music, as that was pretty much its most used feature. As other social sites perpetually improved their music offerings and combined it with dollops of technological sophistication, Myspace kind of fell into a cavernous hole of complacency.

Of course this was slightly before the time that most people knew just how fast social network sites could come and go. And it’s safe to assume at the beginning of MySpace’s Internet onslaught, no one saw Facebook, Spotify or Twitter becoming what they are now.

Too late?

But is it too late for Myspace? Will people return to a site that’s not really considered cool or happening anymore? And yes I used the word “happening,” as the newest group of slang words which signify prominence can easily elude you as you grow older.

There was time not that long ago, where having a Myspace address made one look like a player in either social areas or in the business world, but now if you’re still using the site as a profile destinations it could look like you’re out of the loop and not completely up on what’s hot and current.

The biggest challenge for Myspace will be to regain a bit of its cultural relevance, and it looks like the company is off to a good start with its updated and colorful look. And attaching itself to sites like Facebook and Twitter definitely can’t hurt the site's re-launch.

As of now Myspace hasn’t changed over to its new face and body yet, as I logged in and saw the same old page and set-up. A launch date hasn’t yet been set for the new version of the social networking site either, and a video currently circulating the Internet is the first phase of the companies marketing push.

It’s rumored that Timberlake is trying to recruit some of his famous chums in the music and acting worlds to sign on with the site and give it some much needed advertising push, but just which artists will be involved has been kept under wraps for the time being, which is Timberlake’s idea to build levels of anticipation for the site.

“I know some artists. For me to reach out to the ones that I know, I think for now to be a beta tester, as well,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “I want them to feel a sense of comfortable anonymity to that.”

But we’ll see if a beautiful design and celebrity co-signers will be enough to bring Myspace back to being a popular website destination. The company certainly has its work cut out for them, but at least by the looks of it, people are already starting to once again pay attention.  

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Is a Hybrid or Plug-In in Your Future?

Automotive website predicts more drivers will switch to hybrids in next two years

  Can you see yourself driving a plug-in electric or hybrid vehicle? Edmunds.com, the automotive site, can. It's out with a report predicting...

PhotoCan you see yourself driving a plug-in electric or hybrid vehicle? Edmunds.com, the automotive site, can. It's out with a report predicting alternative fuel vehicles will make up five percent of the U.S. fleet by the 2015 model year.

Hybrids currently make up about three percent of vehicles on U.S. highways.

"One of the reasons these vehicles haven't quite taken off yet is that there just aren't enough choices that appeal to shoppers," said Edmunds.com Green Car Editor John O'Dell. "But the competitive landscape promises to expand significantly over the next few years, and it's likely that a vehicle with some type of electric drive or alternative fuel will wind up on your consideration list the next time you shop for a new vehicle."

43 new vehicles in the pipeline

O'Dell says at least 43 new hybrid, plug-in hybrid, battery-electric, diesel and fuel-cell electric vehicles will be introduced to the U.S. market by the 2015 model year. That's enough choice, he says, to draw consumers' attention. High gasoline prices will make them more attractive.

Toyota's Prius is probably the vehicle most associated with hybrids while the Chevy Volt gets the most attention among plug-ins. But they're about to get a lot more competition.

Chevrolet and Ford are expected to introduce the most new "alt-drive" vehicles through the 2015 model year, with four each. Chevy's offerings will be headlined by its popular Cruze model, which will be introduced as a diesel version in 2013 and as a plug-in electric hybrid in 2014.

Ford, meanwhile, will offer its C-Max Energi and C-Max Hybrid by the end of this year. The Fusion Energi will be available early next year.

Another offering from Toyota

Toyota isn't just resting on the Prius. The Japanese carmaker has introduced the 2012 RAV4 EC. It's a cooperative effort by Toyota and Tesla Motors and combines the body and interior of Toyota's popular small crossover with the battery and electric motor system found in the new Tesla Model S sedan.

At first you'll only find it in California with just one trim level and with no options. The EV will cost $50,610 before any tax incentives or government rebates.

BMW is introducing a 2013 EV four-passenger subcompact. Edmunds says the lithium-ion battery pack will deliver a range close to 93 miles and funnel sufficient power to the 170-hp electric motor for a 0-60-mph acceleration time of just under 8 seconds. BMW has promised a two-cylinder gasoline generator as an option to extend cruising range.

VW's first hybrid

Volkswagen is rolling out a 2013 Jetta Hybrid, hitting showrooms before the end of this year. It will be VW's first hybrid and boast a new, 150-hp turbocharged 1.4-liter engine, a 27-hp electric motor that draws power from a lithium battery and a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission.

The Jetta Hybrid is expected to get an EPA fuel economy rating of around 45 mpg combined.

Mitsubishi is planning a plug-in hybrid version of its Outlander SUV for the 2014 model year. It will feature an all-wheel-drive system powered by electric motors, plus a gasoline engine that will deliver several hundred miles of range and allow for continuous operation even when there's no charger available for the battery pack.

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First Gen Kindle Fire Now Comes Without Wall Charger

They've cut the price but you'll probably have to buy something to charge it with

  Amazon recently introduced a new generation of Kindle Fire devices at price points starting at $499, a move that seems to have been general...

PhotoAmazon recently introduced a new generation of Kindle Fire devices at price points starting at $499, a move that seems to have been generally well received by technology consumers.

While the new Kindle HD devices won't ship until November 20, you can still buy the original first generation Kindle Fire. To make it more attractive, Amazon has dropped the price of this seven-inch tablet from $199 to $159.

But the deal might not be as good as it appears. Now, when you purchase the original Kindle Fire, it no longer comes with a charger that plugs into a wall electrical outlet. Previously, these chargers were included with the Kindle Fire.

Instead of the charger the $159 device comes with a USB cable, that connects the unit to a computer. But even Amazon concedes that's a less-than-satisfactory answer.

Included charging tool isn't recommended

"Charging your Kindle Fire through your computer is not recommended," the company says on its website. "The power from a USB port on your computer is insufficient to fully charge your Kindle Fire."

Some consumers have noticed. A poster, going by the handle "Old School," complained in an Amazon review.

"My seven-year old son has the 1st gen Kindle Fire, and we've been very happy with it," she wrote. "My five-year old wanted one too, so we just purchased the Kindle Fire for her. We've had it now for three days, and while it's still the same great product, we were disappointed to find after receiving the device that the Fire comes WITHOUT a wall charger."

Walmart advertises a Kindle Fire charger kit, which includes an auto charger, for $20. Some smartphone chargers may also work with the Kindle Fire.

But if you order one of the old units for $159, you'll have to find a way to charge it, one way or the other.

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Homeowners Who Lost Homes to Foreclosure May Be Eligible for Settlement Payments

Claims forms are being sent to 2 million borrowers nationwide

If you lost your home to foreclosure between January 1, 2008 and December 31, 2011, you may be eligible for a settlement payment under the $25 billion...

PhotoIf you lost your home to foreclosure between January 1, 2008 and December 31, 2011, you may be eligible for a settlement payment under the $25 billion national mortgage foreclosure settlement.

Eligible borrowers had mortgages serviced by Ally/GMAC, Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, the servicers that agreed to the settlement with the federal government and attorneys general of 49 states and the District of Columbia.

The settlement earmarked approximately $1.5 billion in payments for 2 million borrowers nationwide. The actual payment amount will depend upon the total number of borrowers who decide to participate. Payment checks are expected to be mailed in mid-2013.

Last week, the national settlement administrator mailed notification postcards to eligible borrowers across the nation. Eligible borrowers should complete the claim form and return it as soon as possible in the envelope provided, or file the claim form online at www.nationalmortgagesettlement.com. The deadline for all claims is January 18, 2013.

Simple to complete

The claim forms are simple to complete. Borrowers who have questions or need help filing a claim should contact the settlement administrator, toll-free, at 866-430-8358, or send questions by email to administrator@nationalmortgagesettlement.com. The information line is staffed Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST.

Eligible borrowers do not need to prove financial harm to receive a payment, nor do they give up their rights to pursue a lawsuit against their mortgage servicer or to participate in the Independent Foreclosure Review Process being conducted by federal bank regulators. More information about that program is available at www.independentforeclosurereview.com.

Eligible borrowers may receive payment from this settlement even if they participate in another foreclosure claims process. However, any payment received may reduce payments that a borrower may be eligible to receive in any other foreclosure claim process or legal proceeding.

Borrowers who believe they may qualify for a payment, but did not receive a notice because they have moved, should contact the settlement administrator, toll-free, at 866-430-8358, or send an updated address by email to administrator@nationalmortgagesettlement.com. The line is staffed Monday through Friday from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. PST.

Watch for scams

Officials are warning all homeowners to be aware of settlement-related scams. Do not provide personal information or pay money to anyone who calls or emails and claims to provide settlement-related assistance. The offical claim form does not ask for personal financial information. 

The national settlement followed state and federal investigations, which alleged that the five mortgage servicers routinely signed foreclosure-related documents outside the presence of a notary public and without personal knowledge that the facts contained in the documents were correct. This civil law enforcement action also alleged that the servicers committed widespread errors and abuses in their foreclosure processes.

The settlement resulted in broad reform of the mortgage servicing process, as well as financial relief for borrowers who are still in their homes via direct loan modification relief, including principal reduction.

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Newest Source of Movies, TV Series: Nook Video

Barnes & Noble will unveil "expansive digital collection" this fall

Here's the latest entry in the digital movie and TV series sweepstakes: Barnes & Noble. It's unveiling its new Nook Video this fall, featuring new...

PhotoHere's the latest entry in the digital movie and TV series sweepstakes: Barnes & Noble. It's unveiling its new Nook Video this fall, featuring newer hit movies, classic films, and original TV shows from major studios including HBO, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Starz, Viacom, and Warner Bros. Entertainment, plus movies from The Walt Disney Studios.

Barnes & Noble says its "expansive digital collection" of popular films and television shows will be available anywhere on Nooks, TVs, tablets, and smartphones. It's a major challenge to Netflix, Amazon, Apple and other online distributors of digital content.

Nook Cloud

Videos that are streamed and downloaded from the Nook Store will be stored safely and securely in the Nook Cloud, so Nook Video content can be enjoyed on Nooks and other devices via soon-to-launch free Nook Video apps, Barnes & Noble said. As with the Nook Reading apps, Nook Video apps will seamlessly work together so customers can pick up watching right where they left off on any of their connected devices.

 

Barnes & Noble Sept. 25, 2012, 7:52 p.m.
Consumers rate Barnes & Noble

Nook Video will also integrate a customer’s compatible physical DVD and Blu-ray Disc purchases and digital video collection across their devices through UltraViolet. Customers will be able to link their UltraViolet accounts to the Nook Cloud allowing them to view their previously and newly purchased UltraViolet-enabled movies and TV shows across Nook devices and Nook Video apps, as well as through third party applications. 

 

“As one of the world’s largest retailers of physical video discs and digital copyrighted content, our new Nook Video service will give our customers another way to be entertained with a vast and growing digital video collection, as part of our expansive Nook Store,” said William J. Lynch, Chief Executive Officer of Barnes & Noble. “The launch of our new digital video service with our long-time studio partners allows us to bring award-winning current and classic movies, TV shows, documentaries and more to millions of customers’ screens, coming soon.”

“With the great success of the Nook tablet and Barnes & Noble’s in-store promotional efforts, we are very excited to bring our acclaimed programming to the Nook Store,” said Henry McGee, President, HBO Home Entertainment. “Nook Video offers a customized and convenient way for entertainment enthusiasts to own award-winning shows such as Game of Thrones®Boardwalk Empire®Girls(SM), and True Blood® and enjoy them across a multitude of devices.”

 

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Rented Computers Spied on Consumers in Their Homes

Some computers even took webcam photos of consumers, others recorded keystrokes

Seven rent-to-own companies and a software design firm have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they spied on consumers using ...

PhotoSeven rent-to-own companies and a software design firm have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they spied on consumers using computers that consumers rented from them, capturing screenshots of confidential and personal information, logging their computer keystrokes, and in some cases taking webcam pictures of people in their homes, all without notice to, or consent from, the consumers. 

An earlier class action lawsuit against Aaron's made similar claims. 

The software design firm collected the data that enabled rent-to-own stores to track the location of rented computers without consumers’ knowledge according to the FTC complaint.  The settlements bar the companies from any further illegal spying, from activating location-tracking software without the consent of computer renters and notice to computer users, and from deceptively collecting and disclosing information about consumers.  

 

Aaron Rents Sept. 25, 2012, 7:32 p.m.
Consumers rate Aaron Rents

“An agreement to rent a computer doesn’t give a company license to access consumers’ private emails, bank account information, and medical records, or, even worse, webcam photos of people in the privacy of their own homes,” said Jon Leibowitz, Chairman of the FTC.  “The FTC orders today will put an end to their cyber spying.”

 

“There is no justification for spying on customers.  These tactics are offensive invasions of personal privacy,” said Illinois Attorney General Madigan.

The FTC named DesignerWare, LLC, a company that licensed software to rent-to-own stores to help them track and recover rented computers.  The FTC also reached settlements with seven companies that operate rent-to-own stores and licensed software from DesignerWare, including franchisees of Aaron’s, ColorTyme, and Premier Rental Purchase.

Kill switch

According to the FTC, DesignerWare’s software contained a “kill switch” the rent-to-own stores could use to disable a computer if it was stolen, or if the renter failed to make timely payments. DesignerWare also had an add-on program known as “Detective Mode” that purportedly helped rent-to-own stores locate rented computers and collect late payments.  DesignerWare’s software also collected data that allowed the rent-to-own operators to secretly track the location of rented computers, and thus the computers’ users.

When Detective Mode was activated, the software could log key strokes, capture screen shots and take photographs using a computer’s webcam, the FTC alleged.  It also presented a fake software program registration screen that tricked consumers into providing their personal contact information.

Data gathered by DesignerWare and provided to rent-to-own stores using Detective Mode revealed private and confidential details about computer users, such as user names and passwords for email accounts, social media websites, and financial institutions; Social Security numbers; medical records; private emails to doctors; bank and credit card statements; and webcam pictures of children, partially undressed individuals, and intimate activities at home, according to the FTC.

Unfair and illegal

In its complaint against DesignerWare, the FTC charged that licensing and enabling Detective Mode, gathering personal information about renters, and disclosing that information to the rent-to-own businesses was unfair, and violated the FTC Act.  The agency also alleged that DesignerWare’s use of geolocation tracking software without first obtaining permission from the computers’ renters and notifying the computers’ users was unfair and illegal.  It charged that providing the rent-to-own operators the means to break the law was unfair, and providing the fake registration forms to obtain consumer data was deceptive. 

The seven rent-to-own companies were charged with breaking the law by secretly collecting consumers’ confidential and personal information and using it to try to collect money from them.  Use of the bogus “registration” information was deceptive, the FTC alleged. 

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Sunland Recalls Almond Butter and Peanut Butter Products

Salmonella contamination is possible

Sunland is recalling Almond Butter and Peanut Butter products, manufactured between May 1, 2012, and September 24, 2012, because these products may be cont...

PhotoSunland is recalling Almond Butter and Peanut Butter products, manufactured between May 1, 2012, and September 24, 2012, because these products may be contaminated with Salmonella, an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and those with weakened immune systems. 

The voluntary recall was initiated after learning that between June 11, 2012, and September 2, 2012, 29 people reported Salmonella Bredeney PFGE matching illnesses in approximately 18 states, including Washington, California, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Missouri, Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, North Carolina, Virginia, Connecticut, New Jersey and Maryland, according to a report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

No other Sunland products are affected by this recall. The products were distributed nationally to numerous large supermarket chains. 

The specifics of the affected products are as follows:

 

UPC

Type of product

Jar Size

8523902334

Archer Farms Creamy Almond Butter

16 oz

8523902333

Archer Farms Peanut Butter with Flax Seeds

16 oz

3377610090

Earth Balance Natural Almond Butter and Flaxseed

16 oz

051379022518

fresh & easy Crunchy Almond Butter

16 oz

20003357

fresh & easy Organic Creamy Peanut Butter with Sea

Salt

16 oz

20003364

fresh & easy Creamy Peanut Butter

18 oz

20003388

fresh & easy Organic Crunchy Peanut Butter with Sea

Salt

16 oz

051379026431

fresh & easy Creamy Peanut Butter

40 oz

20003395

fresh & easy Creamy Almond Butter

16 oz

20003357

fresh & easy Organic Creamy Peanut Butter with Sea

Salt

16 oz

20003371

fresh & easy Crunchy Peanut Butter

18 oz

2060140048

heinen's All Natural Peanut Butter, Creamy

16 oz

2060140047

heinen's All Natural Peanut Butter, Crunchy

16 oz

2060140046

heinen's Organic Peanut Butter, Creamy

16 oz

2060140045

heinen's Organic Peanut Butter, Crunchy

16 oz

3307915073

Joseph's Salt-Free No Sugar Added New Crunchy

Valencia Peanut Butter

18 oz

3307915072

Joseph's Salt-Free No Sugar Added New Creamy

Valencia Peanut Butter

18 oz

910053

Natural Value Creamy Peanut Butter/Salt

15 lb

910060

Natural Value Crunchy Peanut Butter/Salt

15 lb

5859500020

Naturally More Organic Peanut Butter

16 oz

5859500019

Naturally More Almond Butter

16 oz

5859500033

Naturally More Peanut Butter Crunchy

16 oz

5859500055

Naturally More Peanut Butter, Gluten Free Vegan

26 oz

5859500050

Naturally More Peanut Butter, Gluten Free Vegan

16 oz

7989311202

Open Nature Crunchy Peanut Butter

16 oz

7989311201

Open Nature Old Fashioned Creamy Peanut Butter

16 oz

5855200003

Peanut Power Butter, Original Formula

16 oz

5855200007

Peanut Power Butter, Original Formula

4 lb

4792100442

Serious Food, Silly Prices Almond Butter Creamy

12 oz

4792100439

Serious Food, Silly Prices Organic No-Stir Peanut

Butter, Crunchy

16 oz

4792100438

Serious Food, Silly Prices Organic No-Stir Peanut

Butter, Creamy

16 oz

4792100436

Serious Food, Silly Prices Organic Peanut Butter, Creamy

16 oz

4792100435

Serious Food, Silly Prices, No-Stir Peanut Butter,

Crunchy

16 oz

4792100434

Serious Food, Silly Prices, No-Stir Peanut Butter,

Creamy

16 oz

4792100432

Serious Food, Silly Prices, Peanut Butter, Creamy

16 oz

8506000004

Snaclite Power PB

16 oz

7487500334

Sprouts Farmers Market Creamy Peanut Butter, No

Salt

16 oz

7487500335

Sprouts Farmers Market Crunchy Peanut Butter, No

16 oz

 

Salt

 

7487500336

Sprout's Creamy Peanut Butter

16 oz

7487500337

Sprout's Crunchy Peanut Butter

16 oz

7487500433

Sprout's Creamy Almond Butter

16 oz

7487500434

Sprout's Crunchy Almond Butter

16 oz

7487500431

Sprout's Creamy Peanut Butter

16 oz

4868787906

Sunland Natural Peanut Butter Crunchy Valencia No

Stir

16 oz

4868786906

Sunland Natural Peanut Butter Creamy Valencia No

Stir

16 oz

4868722906

Sunland Natural Peanut Butter Creamy Salt Free

Valencia

16 oz

4868709915

Sunland Creamy Peanut Butter with Sea Salt

40 oz

4868726910

Sunland Creamy Peanut Butter

12 oz

4868785920

Sunland Valencia Peanut Butter

36 oz

062725

Sunland Dark Roast Creamy Peanut Butter

40 lb

4868730725

Sunland Organic Creamy Peanut Butter

40 lb

029725

Sunland Pecan Deluxe Creamy Peanut Butter

40 lb

028725

Sunland Pecan Deluxe Crunchy Peanut Butter

40lb

26570

Sunland Creamy Dark Roast Peanut Butter

500 lb

4868726909

Sunland Creamy Peanut Butter

18 oz

4868767909

Sunland Natural Creamy Peanut Butter

18 oz

4868785920

Sunland Valencia Peanut Sauce

36 oz

22725

Sunland Creamy Peanut Butter

40 lb

22704

Sunland Creamy Peanut Butter

5 lb

4868722715

Sunland Organic Creamy Peanut Butter

40 lb

4868721722

Sunland Crunchy Peanut Butter

15 lb

48687009704

Sunland Natural Creamy Peanut Butter

5 lb

4868790301

Sunland Creamy Natural Stabilizer Peanut Butter

50 lbs

87725

Sunland Crunchy Natural Stabilized Peanut Butter

40 lb

4868786724

Sunland Creamy Peanut Butter

35 lb

4868786704

Sunland Creamy No Stir Peanut Butter

5 lb

4868784301

Sunland Extra Stabilized Organic Creamy Peanut

Butter

50 lb

21705

Sunland Crunchy Peanut Butter

40 lb

25704

Crunchy Sugar Butter

5 lb

26704

Creamy Sugar Butter

5 lb

072704

Sunland Almond Butter

5 lb

003050

Dogsbutter RUC with Flax PB

16 oz

4868772906

Sunland Natural Almond Butter, Creamy Roasted

Almond

16 oz

00989275

Trader Joe's Valencia Peanut Butter with Roasted

Flaxseeds, Crunchy and Salted

00940795

Trader Joe's Almond Butter with Roasted Flaxseeds,

Crunchy & Salted

16 oz

The UPC is located on the side of the jar's label below the bar code.

 

Best-If-Used-By Dates: This recall applies to the above products with Best-If-Used-By Dates between May 1, 2013 and September 24, 2013. (Stamped on the side of the jar's label below the lid of the jar.) 

Consumers who have purchased Sunland's Almond Butter and Peanut Butter products with the above UPC and Best-If-Used-By-Dates are urged to discard the product immediately. Consumers can contact the company at 1-866-837-1018, which is operational 24 hours a day, for information on the recall. In addition, a consumer services representative is available Monday through Friday between 8:00 AM and 5:00 PM MT at (575) 356-6638.

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Scam Alert: Beware of Bogus FDA Agents

While quick and convenient, buying your meds online could put your personal information in the hands of criminals.

What a great idea: Buying the medicine you need online. It can save time and gasoline by cutting out that drive to the drug store. But it's not all upside....

PhotoWhat a great idea: Buying the medicine you need online. It can save time and gasoline by cutting out that drive to the drug store. But it's not all upside. 

Since 2008, hundreds of people who have purchased drugs over the Internet or by phone have unwittingly exposed themselves to extortion by individuals posing as Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agents. 

Despite continuing investigations and arrests by FDA, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement's, Homeland Security Investigations, such scams are hard to trace and eliminate. And -- according to Philip Walsky, special agent in charge at FDA's Office of Criminal Investigations (OCI) -- they are likely to continue. 

You've been warned 

FDA has warned in the past that consumers face an increased risk of purchasing unsafe and ineffective drugs from Websites operating outside the law, and about the danger that personal data can be compromised. 

These criminals are getting personal information from transactions with individuals buying drugs online or by telephone, or from medical questionnaires frequently sought by illegal online websites. Personal information can also turn up on customer lists obtained by criminals. These lists can contain tens of thousands of names and a great deal of self-reported information, including names, addresses, telephone numbers, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, purchase histories and credit card account numbers. 

Here's how the scam works: Someone will call you and identify him or herself as an FDA special agent or another kind of law enforcement official. You'll be told that purchasing drugs over the Internet or telephone is illegal and be threatened with prosecution unless a fine or fee -- ranging from $100 to $250,000 -- is paid. If you refuse to pay up, the caller threatens to search your properties, arrest or deport you, put you in jail and even harm you physically. 

Just hang up 

Since the scams first came to FDA's attention, Walsky and other OCI staff have handled dozens of calls from alarmed consumers. "I tell them it's a scam," Walsky says, "and that the best thing they can do is ignore the caller and hang up." 

Walsky and others who have spoken to concerned consumers also assure that no federal official would ever contact a consumer by phone and demand money or any other form of payment. As for actual physical danger, no known victim has ever been approached in person. Most of the fraudulent callers are actually based overseas, Walsky says. 

The call is likely a scam if the so-called agent directs you to send the money by wire transfer to a designated location, usually overseas, and if you are warned not to call an attorney or the police. In fact, FDA special agents and other law enforcement officials are not authorized to impose or collect fines imposed for criminal acts. Only a court can take such action, with fines payable to the U.S. Treasury. 

According to Walsky, some fraudulent callers have a "veneer of legitimacy" about them. Like many telephone solicitors for illegal prescription medications, he says, they're based overseas and use Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) telephone numbers, which enable extorters to select phone numbers with specific area codes, and change numbers frequently. 

Some even go to the trouble of using the Internet to find names of actual FDA law enforcement personnel, Walsky says. And they are adept at exploiting people's fears. 

Stopping the calls 

Walsky advises victims of these scams to change whatever phone number(s) the caller used to contact them in the first place, and to stop buying drugs online unless they know the Website is trustworthy. If you have purchased medication online or via telephone, you may also want to alert your credit card company and make sure that your account is up to date, and that no suspicious charges have been made against your credit card.

Victims can report their experience to FDA here

Trustworthy Websites 

Some online Websites sell prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications that may not be safe and can put your health at risk, including counterfeit versions of FDA-approved medications. When buying medications online, it helps to know the following signs of a trustworthy Website: 

  • It's located in the United States and provides a physical street address.
  • It's licensed by the state board of pharmacies where the Website is operating. A list of these boards is available at the website of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP).
  • It has a licensed pharmacist available to answer your questions.
  • It requires a prescription from your licensed health care professional for prescription medicines.
  • It provides contact information and allows you to talk to a person if you have problems or questions.

In addition, many Websites display the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site (VIPPS) seal. The VIPPS seal verifies that an Internet pharmacy is safe and meets state licensure requirements and other NABP requirements.

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Allergy Alert Issued for Jill's Jams and Jellies

Products contain undeclared margarine with milk and soy

If you're allergic to milk and soy, you'll want to pay attention to this alert from Hanover Pike Enterprises of Hampstead, MD. The company is notifying cu...

PhotoIf you're allergic to milk and soy, you'll want to pay attention to this alert from Hanover Pike Enterprises of Hampstead, MD. 

The company is notifying customers that its 8 ounce and 4 ounce jars of Hot Pepper Jelly and Green Pepper Jelly and its 4 ounce and 9 ounce jars of Blackberry Brandy Jam and Peach Brandy Jam may contain undeclared milk and soy. 

People who have allergies to dairy products may run the risk of allergic reactions if they consume these products. These items were distributed nationwide through retail stores and via the company website under the label “Jill’s Jams Mixes and More” or “Jill’s Jams and Jellies”. No illnesses have been reported to date in connection with this situation. 

This notification was initiated after it was discovered that the products containing milk and soy were distributed in packaging that did not list milk or soy as ingredients. The use of milk and soy as ingredients has been discontinued. 

Retail stores who have these products in inventory will be furnished with an additional label indicating these allergens as ingredients. 

Consumers with dairy or soy related allergies, who have purchased these products may return them to their place of purchase or contact the company at 410-239-7433 between the hours of 9-4 weekdays.

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Expired 9 oz. Leafy Green Romaine Salad Recalled

A single package tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes

Fresh Express Incorporated is recalling a limited quantity of 9 oz. Leafy Green Romaine Salad with the expired Use-by Date of September 16 in the unlikely...

PhotoFresh Express Incorporated is recalling a limited quantity of 9 oz. Leafy Green Romaine Salad with the expired Use-by Date of September 16 in the unlikely event that consumers may still have the expired salad in their refrigerators. 

(No other Fresh Express Salads are included in this recall)

BrandProduct NameSizeUPCProduction CodeBest If Used By DatePossible Distribution States
Fresh ExpressLeafy Green Romaine9 oz.0 71279-26112 6I246A5BMGSEP 16IL, MI, MN, ND, NY, NJ, SD, WI, IA, IN, OH, PA

 The recall was necessitated by a positive test result for Listeria monocytogenes on a single package out of many samples collected for the U. S. Department of Agriculture random sample testing program. 

Because it is beyond the expiration date, the salad is no longer available for sale in stores. No illnesses are reported in association with the product recall. No consumer complaints have been received about the salad. No other Fresh Express products are being recalled. 

In an unlikely event consumers may still have this particular salad -- now well beyond its Use-by Date and expected usability -- in their refrigerators, they should not eat it and throw it out. Consumers with questions may call the Fresh Express Consumer Response Center at (800) 242-5472 during the hours of 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time.

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New York Shuts Down Mystery Shopper Websites

Beware of any 'opportunity' that asks you for money

  Work-at-home schemes have always had appeal but these days they may have an even stronger pull on consumers who want to believe they can ea...

PhotoWork-at-home schemes have always had appeal but these days they may have an even stronger pull on consumers who want to believe they can earn a good income by starting a home-based business or by working from home.

Scammers take advantage of this enthusiasm to separate consumers from large chunks of cash. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has shutdown two websites as part of his investigation of a “work at home” scam involving a fake mystery shopper program.

Mystery shoppers are real. Market research firms use them to go into stores and file reports on customer service. It's a part-time job and it doesn't pay particularly well. However, scammers have made it sound glamorous and highly-paid, making it easier to recruit victims into their schemes.

Schneiderman says that's exactly what a company operating as T. Crefideal Corp did. He charges the company lured consumers into becoming mystery shoppers to gather information anonymously about the customer service of a particular store, but instead of getting paid, were duped into paying the scammers thousands of dollars.

How it worked

In this version of the scam, consumers were asked to log into the company's Website with a job number. They were then given an assignment as a mystery shopper to evaluate Western Union.

The scammer sent a counterfeit check for $2,000 the victim, who was told to wire back $1,700 to the scammer. That was to be the "test," to see how Western Union handled the transfer.

First, of course, the victim had to deposit the phony check in his bank account and write a check for $1,700 to Western Union. The bank accepted the counterfeit check but, within a week or so, discovered it was bogus and withdrew $1,700 from the victim's account to make up for it.

Western Union sent the $1,700 from the victim to the scammer, so the whole thing amounted to a $1,700 transfer from victim to scammer. Because the money was wired through Western Union, there was no way to trace or retrieve it.

"These scams are particularly insidious because they target individuals looking for ways to bolster their income in today's challenging job climate," Schneiderman said.

How to avoid

You can avoid these schemes by being very suspicious of work-at-home opportunities that come to you unsolicited. If it were a real money-making opportunity, it would be very hard to get. Promises of easy money are always scams.

There is no legitimate reason for someone to send you a large check and ask you to cash it and send most of it back through Western Union. Any time you are asked to wire money, your scam alarm should start ringing.

Legitimate mystery shoppers are generally paid after the job is completed and they have filed their report -- they aren't paid up front. They usually make small purchases with gift cards provided by the employer.

The best way to avoid the scams, of course, is to avoid any and all work-at-home enterprises. There's usually a big "catch," even if it isn't a scam, and the only person making money is the company selling the work-at-home idea.

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Advertising Spending for Cigarettes, Smokeless Tobacco Declines in 2009 and 2010

Cigarette give-aways to retailers and wholesalers are down as well

Although cigarette commercials have been banned from radio and television for more than 40 years, a lot of money is still being spent to advertise tobacco ...

PhotoAlthough cigarette commercials have been banned from radio and television for more than 40 years, a lot of money is still being spent to advertise tobacco products. But not as much as there used to be. 

In fact, the amount of money spent on cigarette advertising and promotion by the largest U.S. cigarette companies declined from $9.94 billion in 2008 to $8.53 billion in 2009, and again to $8.05 billion in 2010, according to a report released by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). 

The FTC has issued the Cigarette Report periodically since 1967, and another one, the Smokeless Tobacco Report, periodically since 1987. 

Ad, promotion spending drop 

The largest spending category in the Cigarette Report in both 2009 and 2010 was spending on price discounts paid to cigarette retailers or wholesalers in order to reduce the price of cigarettes to consumers. 

This category accounted for $6.67 billion, or 78.2 percent of total spending on advertising and promotion in 2009, and $6.49 billion, or 80.7 percent of that total, in 2010. 

The number of cigarettes sold or given away to wholesalers and retailers in the United States declined from 322.6 billion in 2008 to 290.3 billion in 2009, and to 282.0 billion in 2010. 

Smokeless spending drops 

According to the Smokeless Tobacco Report for the major manufacturers of smokeless tobacco products in the United States: 

  • Their spending on advertising and promotion fell from $547.87 million in 2008 to $492.10 million in 2009, and again to $444.20 million in 2010.
  • The dollar value of sales by these manufacturers fell from $2.76 billion in 2008 to $2.61 billion in 2009, then rose to $2.78 billion in 2010.
  • The weight of smokeless tobacco sold fell from 119.90 million pounds in 2008 to 117.70 million pounds in 2009, and rose to 120.50 million pounds in 2010. 

The full Cigarette Report is available here and the Smokeless Tobacco Report can be found here.

 

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Watching Your Favorite Programs Together May Be Killing Your Relationship

Researchers say cuddling in front of the television every night can actually be deadly to your union

You know the classic story: Boy meets girl. Boy falls for girl, girl falls for boy. Several years later girl gets bored with boy, boy gets bored with ...

PhotoYou know the classic story: Boy meets girl. Boy falls for girl, girl falls for boy. Several years later girl gets bored with boy, boy gets bored with girl. Both of them call it quits.

This particular scenario happens a lot, and many times couples aren’t able to see boredom creeping towards their union -- which, if you let it, can snuff out any good relationship.

Usually when a couple first gets together, it’s all sunshine and rainbows and each day is filled with romantic hand-holding, while strolling together through a varied amount of activities and new adventures.

It's usually because one partner dabbles in the hobby of the other, and before you know it, both of you have a relationship filled with new activities and fresh experiences -- all while the both of you are hovering on cloud 10 in your newfound life together.

Then routine sets in and before you know it every night is filled with nights on the couch, feet on the ottoman, watching Jay Leno belt out yet another corny joke about a politician or the day’s events.

As deadly as infidelity

PhotoWell, according to two separate studies this particular kind of lifestyle can be as deadly to a relationship as infidelity. In fact, this type of daily routine can easily lead one to infidelity, researchers say.

The relationship and intimacy experts at Good in Bed, a company that conducts surveys among married and single couples, shows that 24 percent of people said they cheated on their mate simply because they were bored.

“Boredom is basically like an attack on our relationship’s immunity system -- once weakened we’re all the more susceptible to a cascade of ailments,” said relationship expert Ian Kerner.

After surveying 3,341 people in monogamous relationships, researchers found boredom crept in at different times and in many different ways.

According to the study results, 15.6 percent of couples said that once they went from dating to moving in together, relationship boredom soon followed. It was also revealed that 32.2 percent of couples said that once kids came into the fray much of the excitement between them and their partner diminished.

The study also showed that 13.8 percent of couples said boredom set in once they got married. Other reasons for boredom, according to the survey, were pregnancy (8 percent) and getting older (38.5 percent).

Sense of individuality

PhotoRelationship experts at Good in Bed suggest that couples have to maintain a strong sense of individuality in order to keep the relationship fresh. Many times all of the things that make us initially attracted to the other, like our hobbies and interests, get sucked into the relationship to the point of non-distinction.

This is a crucial error, according to relationship experts, as boredom is more likely to set in if each person in the relationship doesn’t make an effort to grow individually.

The folks at Good in Bed also say to find new things to discuss. For couples that have been together for a long period of time, it can be easy to run out of things to talk about.

Experts also say that just having the obligatory “how was your day” conversation can easily lead to boredom, and can eventually cause a feeling of indifference to how your partner’s day really went.

If you don’t continually add new shared hobbies, and try to learn new things together, say the Good in Bed experts, it can lead to depression and even infidelity.

Go easy on the TV

A separate study published in the September edition of Mass Communication and Society shows that couples who are heavy TV watchers are in danger of harming their relationship.

After researchers examined 390 married couples it was learned that not only does frequent TV watching increase boredom and make it easier for routine to set in, some of the shows that have romantic themes can slowly cause a person to have unrealistic expectations about their relationship.

Also, researchers found that couples making television their daily form of entertainment can slowly start to believe in the phony romantic portrayals, and start to compare their relationship with those on TV. This can mean doom for any couple, say the researchers.

“In this study I found that people who believe the unrealistic portrayals on TV are actually less committed to their spouses and think their alternatives to their spouse are relatively attractive,” said Dr. Jeremy Osborn, who is the author of the study.

“We live in a society that perpetually immerses itself in media images from both TV and the web, but most people have no sense of the ways those images are impacting them. The rate of marriage failure in the U.S. is not dropping, and it is important for people to have a sense of what factors are leading to the failure of so many relationships," he said. 

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Done Deal: Universal Buys EMI -- What it Could Mean For Music Consumers

Critics of the merger say it could raise music prices and harm online companies like Spotify.

Last week both the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and the European Commission (EC) approved Universal Music Groups (UMG) takeover of EMI, making UMG even bi...

PhotoLast week both the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and the European Commission (EC) approved Universal Music Groups (UMG) takeover of EMI, making UMG even bigger giants in the music industry, now owning the catalogues of mega acts like the Beatles and Pink Floyd.

In the buyout that went for a cool $1.9 billion, UMG had to let go of some of its own major acts like Coldplay and the Gorillas, which was a stipulation  European regulators set in place to better ensure fair competition.

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of UMG Lucian Grainge, was obviously thrilled at the closing of the deal, as he believes it will better allow his company to provide a much-needed jolt into the current music industry.

“It will enable us to continue to invest in more music, to create investment opportunities for the entire Universal group,” he told the Los Angeles Times in a recent interview. “It will give us the opportunity to work with entrepreneurs in different genres and it will give us a cushion through this crucial crossover period as we hurtle toward a primarily digital business.”

40%? No problem

PhotoThe deal gave UMG ownership of 40 percent of the music industry, after the FTC voted 5-0 and said that approving the deal would not harm or threaten the level of competition within the music industry by any measure.

“Commission staff did not find sufficient evidence of head-to-head competition to conclude that the combination of Universal and EMI would substantially lessen competition, said Richard Feinstein, FTC’s bureau of competition director.

Critics of the merger disagree that music industry competition wouldn’t be threatened and say that it truly would negatively impact the consumer. And with now only three record labels in Sony, Warner Bros. and UMG controlling 90 percent of the industry, it could drive prices up for music buyers considerably.

Detractors also say the merger could harm the way digital music is licensed and distributed, which can also potentially damage the way consumers receive their tunes.

And now with UMG having the most power in the music industry, critics also say the deal could potentially allow the record label powerhouse to restructure digital music prices and impact how songs are able to be downloaded or shared.

Also, with one record label owning the lion’s share of the market place, it could  change the rules of  posting music to social networking pages and how we're able to use songs as ring tones.

Will streamers still be streaming?

PhotoFurthermore, music providers like Spotify, Jango, or Pandora could be forced to pay even costlier licensing fees, as all of these companies are currently agreeing to some hefty pricing to host the music they provide consumers.

The merger also gives fewer options for those subsidiary labels under UMG and those formerly under EMI, particularly in the way these smaller companies are able to sell and release music.

The deal also gives less wiggle room to independent and signed artists that want to negotiate or re-negotiate fair contractual terms. However the EC feels the provisions set in place will keep these potential occurences from ever happening.

“The Commission had concerns that the transaction, as initially notified, would have allowed Universal to significantly worsen the licensing terms it offers to digital platforms that sell music to consumers. To meet these concerns, Universal offered substantial commitments. In light of these commitments, the Commission concluded that the transaction would not raise completion concerns anymore,” it said.

The FTC gave no such stipulations and honored the merger as it was requested.

Opponents warn of negative impacts

PhotoPreviously, ConsumerAffairs spoke to Jodie Griffin, an attorney for the watchdog group Public Knowledge based in Washington D.C, who is strongly opposed to the merger and feels it could harm the current way digital music is provided to the consumer.

And having fewer record labels compared to more of them, threatens to negatively impact both the music lover and the casual music consumer.

“This merger gives Universal increased incentive and ability to discriminate against digital music services that challenge their business models,” she said. “We think that the FTC should have done more to protect competition in the U.S.”

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Discover Ordered to Pay $200 Million for Deceptive Marketing

More than 3.5 million customers will split $200 million in refunds

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) have ordered Discover Bank to refund ap...

PhotoThe Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) have ordered Discover Bank to refund approximately $200 million to more than 3.5 million consumers and pay a $14 million civil money penalty.  This action results from an investigation started by the FDIC, which the CFPB joined last year. 

The joint investigation concerned deceptive telemarketing and sales tactics used by Discover to mislead consumers into paying for various credit card “add-on products” – payment protection, credit score tracking, identity theft protection, and wallet protection.

The agencies jointly determined that Discover engaged in deceptive telemarketing tactics to sell the company’s credit card add-on products.  Payment Protection was marketed as a product that allows consumers to put their payments on hold for up to two years in the event of unemployment, hospitalization, or other qualifying life events. 

Discover also sold its Credit Score Tracker, designed to allow a customer unlimited access to his or her credit reports and credit score.  The third product wasIdentity Theft Protection, which was marketed as providing daily credit monitoring. 

Lastly, Discover’s Wallet Protection product was sold as a service to help a consumer cancel credit cards in the event that his or her wallet is stolen.

Telemarketing scripts

Discover Sept. 24, 2012, 2:50 p.m.
Consumers rate Discover
Discover’s telemarketing scripts contained misleading language likely to deceive consumers about whether they were actually purchasing a product.  Discover’s telemarketers also often downplayed key terms and spoke quickly during the part of the call in which the prices and terms of the add-on products were disclosed.  Because of the misleading language in the scripts and the actions of Discover’s telemarketers, consumers were: 

  • Misled about the fact that there was a charge for the products: Discover’s telemarketing scripts often used language implying that the products were additional free “benefits,” rather than products for which a fee would be applied to their accounts. 

 

  • Misled about whether they had purchased the products:  The telemarketing scripts frequently suggested that consumers would not be charged for the products until after having a chance to review printed materials from Discover.  Discover, however, did not provide consumers with the information until after Discover had already initiated the consumer’s purchase of a product.

 

  • Enrolled without their consent: Discover representatives processed the add-on product purchases without some consumers’ consent.  These consumers were then charged for the product on their Discover card.

 

  • Withheld material information about eligibility requirements for certain benefits:Discover’s telemarketers typically did not disclose critical eligibility requirements for certain payment protection benefits, such as exclusions for pre-existing medical conditions and certain limitations concerning employment.

Discover agrees 

 

Under the order, Discover has agreed to: 

  • Stop deceptive marketing: Discover is required to institute certain changes to its telemarketing of these products that are designed to ensure that these unlawful acts do not occur again.  Discover has also agreed to submit a compliance plan to the FDIC and the CFPB for approval, and to take specific corrective actions related to the products. 

 

  • Pay restitution to consumers who purchased the products: Discover will pay approximately $200 million in restitution to more than 3.5 million consumers who were charged for one or more of the products between December 1, 2007 and August 31, 2011.  Generally, all consumers affected by Discover’s deceptive practices regarding these products, except those who affirmatively made use of Payment Protection, will receive restitution, with amounts varying depending on when they purchased, and how long they held, the add-on products.  All consumers will receive at least 90 days’ worth of fees paid (minus any refunds they have already received), with approximately 2 million consumers receiving full restitution of all of the fees they paid (minus any refunds they have already received).

 

  • Provide refunds or credits without any further action by consumers: Consumers are not required to take any action to receive their credit or check. If an affected consumer is still a Discover customer, he or she will receive a credit to his or her account.  If an affected consumer is no longer a Discover credit card holder, the consumer will receive a check in the mail or have any outstanding balance reduced by the amount of the refund. 

 

  • Submit to an independent audit: Compliance with the restitution terms of the order will be assured through the work of an independent auditor, who will report to the FDIC and the CFPB on Discover’s compliance with the joint FDIC-CFPB Consent Order.

 

  • Pay a $14 million penalty: The FDIC and the CFPB imposed civil money penalties of $14 million.  Discover will pay $7 million of that penalty to the U.S. Treasury and $7 million to the CFPB’s Civil Penalty Fund. 

 

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Study: Active Video Games Help Burn Calories

The study lends support to claims that more active games increase heart rate, energy expediture

Video games are often criticized for being sedentary and too violent. The violent part is still open for debate but a British study lends support to claims...

PhotoVideo games are often criticized for being sedentary and too violent. The violent part is still open for debate but a British study lends support to claims that more active video games help kids burn energy, which can promote fitness and fight obesity.

The results are similar to those reported in a 2008 study which found that kids who play an active video game burn more than four times as many calories per minute than those playing a seated game. 

Researchers found that, compared with rest and sedentary video game play, active video gaming with dancing and boxing were associated with increased heart rate, oxygen uptake and energy expenditure. The study of 18 school children in England was published Online First by Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, a JAMA Network publication.

Low levels of physical activity have been linked to obesity. Active video game playing compared with traditional sedentary video game playing encourages more movement and could help children increase their physical activity levels, according to the study background.

Stephen R. Smallwood, M.Sc., and colleagues from the University of Chester, England, examined the physiologic responses and energy expenditure of active video gaming using a video game with a webcam-style sensor device and software technology that allows the player to interact directly without the need for a game controller, the authors explain in the background. The study included 10 boys and eight girls ages 11 to 15 years. 

“Significant increases were observed in heart rate, VO[oxygen uptake] and energy expenditure during all gaming conditions compared with both rest and sedentary game play,” the authors comment.

PhotoThe games, Dance Central and Kinect Sports Boxing, increased energy expenditure by 150 percent and 263 percent, respectively, above resting values and were 103 percent and 194 percent higher than traditional video gaming, according to the study.

“Although it is unlikely that active video game play can single-handedly provide the recommended amount of physical activity for children or expend the number of calories required to prevent or reverse the obesity epidemic, it appears from the results of this study that Kinect active game play can contribute to children’s physical activity levels and energy expenditure, at least in the short term,” the authors conclude.

 

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New Village Voice Owners Leave Backpage.com Behind

Reviled sex-for-sale site will remain with previous owners

Backpage.com started out in life as a reasonably simple idea: it would be the combined classifieds section for a group of magazines and websites owned by V...

PhotoBackpage.com started out in life as a reasonably simple idea: it would be the combined classifieds section for a group of magazines and websites owned by Village Voice Media.

But somewhere along the way, sales of used bicycles and Honda Civics got overtaken by prostitution ads. Soon the site was being condemned by attorneys general and parents' groups for enabling the sex trafficking of minors.

Just last month, three girls in Washington State said they were raped multiple times after pimps advertised them as prostitutes on Backpage.com, while in Washington, D.C., a man was sentenced to prison for running a prostitution ring that employed more than 50 prostitutes and generated more than $1.8 million from servicing clients in the D.C. area.

Craigslist suffered a similar fate and responded by eliminating its "Erotic Services" section. But Backpage soldiered on, sometimes arguing that while prostitution might be illegal, advertising personal services was protected by the First Amendment.

Now, a group of Village Voice senior managers have put together a leveraged buyout and will be taking over the group's publications, including Village Voice, LA Weekly, Phoenix New Times, SF Weekly and others. Ownership of Backpage.com will remain with the Village Voice Media, led by CEO Jim Larkin and Executive Editor Michael Lacey.

"Backpage.com, which is not included in the transaction, will become the centerpiece of a new online classified advertising company with business worldwide," Village Voice Media said in a statement provided by general counsel Elizabeth McDougall.

Backpage has claimed that most of the escort ads on the website are placed by consenting adults and that management makes an effort to screen ads for abuses, but anti-trafficking groups, law enforcement and advertisers have still called for the company to stop running escort ads entirely.

Some advertisers had dropped their ads in Village Voice publications because of petitions from consumers objecting to the erotic ads.

 

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iPhones? They've Gotten Too Popular

Wall Street glum over news the iPhone 5 sold "only" 5 million its first weekend

You remember that restaurant that nobody goes to anymore because it's gotten too popular? That's sort of what has happened to the iPhone. Apple says it sol...

PhotoYou remember that restaurant that nobody goes to anymore because it's gotten too popular? That's sort of what has happened to the iPhone. Apple says it sold more than 5 million of the new iPhone 5 in just three days, but Wall Street isn't impressed.

Industry analysts had been expecting sales of 6 to 10 million in the iPhone 5's opening weekend, so a "mere" 5 million? It's a bitter disappointment.

Maybe so but Apple says demand has been "incredible."

“While we have sold out of our initial supply, stores continue to receive iPhone 5 shipments regularly and customers can continue to order online and receive an estimated delivery date," said Tim Cook, Apple's CEO.

Of course, it's not just iPhones that are flying off the shelves. A report today says worldwide smartphone shipment will reach 1.7 billion units in 2017, driven by growth from China and other emerging markets.
 
Analyst firm Ovum said emerging markets last year accounted for 160 million of 450 million smartphones sold worldwide. China accounted for about 66 percent of smartphones sold in developing markets, it added.

You might not care about that, but the huge demand for smartphones worldwide is what supports the frantic pace of software and hardware development that enables Apple and other smartphone manufacturers to keep on keeping on with development of new and improved models on such an accelerated basis.

"China is at the center of smartphone development and adoption in emerging markets, with the whole ecosystem increasingly geared toward the production of feature-rich affordable devices. This new wave of affordable smartphones will have a major impact on consumer choice in emerging markets," said Shiv Putcha, Ovum principal analyst for telecoms emerging markets.

 

The iPhone 5 is already available in the U.S., Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, and the UK, and will be available in 22 more countries on September 28 and more than 100 countries by the end of the year.

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American Airlines Hopes for a Better Week

Airline is still struggling with rising cancellations and delays

  It was a rough weekend for travelers on American Airlines. The company continued to cancel and delay flights, blaming a job action by its p...

PhotoIt was a rough weekend for travelers on American Airlines. The bankrupt company continued to cancel and delay flights, blaming a job action by its pilots.

The Allied Pilots Association (APA), however, denied the union was purposefully trying to disrupt American's flight schedule.

The airline, in the midst of bankruptcy proceedings, is trying to cut expenses by rewriting some union contracts. In the last week American has been forced to cancel or delay some 300 flights because of an increase in pilot-reported maintenance issues or pilots calling in sick.

The Allied Pilots Association, the collective bargaining unit for American pilots, denies any coordinated work action, saying pilots are only looking out for the welfare of the flying public.

Pilots' response

“American Airlines pilots are trained professionals who are responsible for flying their passengers safely around the world every day. The list of unresolved maintenance issues grows every day on each of the aging aircraft we operate, and we can’t ignore serious maintenance issues that could easily turn into safety risks. Our pilots will not compromise safety, ever,” said APA President Keith Wilson.

“American Airlines chose to reject our contract and the operational procedures and protections that go with it. Understandably, our pilots are taking a prudent and cautious approach in their operational decision-making process.”

Wilson said the maintenance issues that resulted in delayed or cancelled flights include a failed left engine generator, a lightening strike, a partial flight control failure and an inoperative weather radar test.

The Wall Street Journal reports only 55 percent of American flights arrived within 14 minutes of their published schedule on Saturday. It was the end to a very tough week for the airline.

Bad press

At midweek Scott McCartney, travel writer for the Wall Street Journal, urged consumers to avoid traveling on American.

“If you’re making travel plans for this fall, avoid American Airlines. American has become too unreliable,” McCartney wrote in his blog.

By the end of the week, American felt compelled to issue an apology to its customers.

"To our customers, we are sincerely sorry for the disruptions they've been feeling," said American spokesman Bruce Hicks. "We know our customers don't like it. We know they're irritated."

Cost-cutting

American is trying to negotiate contract reductions with its pilots as it seeks to trim expenses. The company's lone bright spot during the week was a better than expected response to its offer to flight attendants to take a buy-out package.

More than 2,200 flight attendants took the offer of $40,000 to anyone who would voluntarily leave the company. American says that means the company won't have to layoff any flight attendants as it tries to reorganize under bankruptcy.

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Free Checking Declines While ATM Fees Rise

Many consumers feel a bigger bite from their bank

  Bankrate.com's latest checking account survey may tell you all you need to know about the state of relations between consumers and their ba...

PhotoBankrate.com's latest checking account survey may tell you all you need to know about the state of relations between consumers and their banks. The survey -- the 15th annual -- shows the percentage of free checking accounts offered by U.S. banks continues to fall as other checking fees continue to rise.

Specifically, the cost of using an ATM at the typical bank climbed in the last year. The survey found the average ATM surcharge -- the fee charged by an ATM operator to a non-customer -- rose four percent to a record $2.50.

The average ATM fee increased for an eighth straight year and, for the first time, 100 percent of banks that Bankrate.com surveyed charge non-customers to use their ATMs.

Many banks also charge their own customers for using another company's ATM. This fee jumped 11 percent to $1.57. For a typical bank customer paying both fees, the average total of $4.07 is a record and is up nearly seven percent from last year.

Free checking is fast disappearing

In addition to raising ATM fees, more banks are saving money by doing away with free checking policies. Only 39 percent of non-interest checking accounts surveyed are available to all customers free of charge, down from 45 percent last year and the peak of 76 percent in 2009.

Some banks raised their fees on checking accounts, a move the survey shows tends to lose customers.

Seventy-two percent of consumer say they would consider switching checking account providers if their financial institution raised its fees on checking accounts, compared with 64 percent in March 2011. Households earning $75,000 or more are the most likely to say they would switch, at 82 percent.

Banks saw this demonstrated last November when one disgruntled consumer organized National Bank Transfer Day, a grassroots movement in which hundreds of thousands of consumers switched their accounts to small banks and credit unions, which charge lower fees.

"Checking accounts that are free on a standalone basis continue to diminish," said Greg McBride, Bankrate.com's senior financial analyst. "But a free checking account is still within reach of the majority of Americans, whether by getting the fee waived through direct deposit or moving to a bank or credit union that still offers free checking."

McBride says consumers who practice good financial habits should rarely -- if ever -- incur ATM and overdraft fees.

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Insurance Company Fined for Dropping Good Drivers

Massachusetts law says drivers with clean records can't be dropped

  Auto insurance companies are all about risk management. If you are considered too much of a risk, then you might be at risk of being droppe...

PhotoAuto insurance companies are all about risk management. If you are considered too much of a risk, then you might be at risk of being dropped as a customer.

It happened to Hose, of Fort Mill, of Ft. Mill, SC, who says State Farm dropped him after nine years when he had two claims in two years. He doesn't understand why.

“Why pay for, and have the law mandate insurance if you're dropped when you use the coverage you pay for,” Hose asked in a ConsumerAffairs post. “It's the biggest legal scam going. Then, once they've dropped you, they can code you which makes your next policy cost higher.”

Sometimes consumers find they are not renewed, even though they have made no claims. Insurance companies sometimes do that if there has been an increase in claims in a particular zip code, for example. The company tries to manage its risk by insuring fewer people.

But companies that do that in Massachusetts can run afoul of the law. Massachusetts has a state law called the “clean-in-three” rule. If you haven't had an accident or traffic violation in three years, your insurance company can't drop you.

Two-year investigation

In 2010 Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley's office began investigating Metropolitan Property and Casualty Insurance Company’s (Met P&C) termination of more than 2,600 Massachusetts automobile insurance policies and found some of them violated the law since the policyholders had clean driving records. As a result, the insurance company is required to pay close to $345,000 in restitution to consumers and $50,000 to the Commonwealth.

Under the terms of the settlement with the state, Met P&C will pay 56 consumers a total of $35,000 after their policies were allegedly terminated in violation of state law, and were unfairly assigned to the state’s more expensive residual market -- the Massachusetts Automobile Insurance Plan (MAIP). The company will also pay an approximate total of $310,000 to 2,583 policyholders who were wrongfully non-renewed but found alternative insurance in the voluntary market.

Along with an additional $50,000 in payments to the state, Met P&C has agreed that it will abide by Massachusetts' “clean-in-three” law in the future.

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Safeway Recalls Ground Beef Products Sold in the Northwest

E.coli contamination is possible

Safeway is recalling a number of ground beef items sold in Oregon, Washington State and Montana in connection with the Food Safety Information Service's (F...

PhotoSafeway is recalling a number of ground beef items sold in Oregon, Washington State and Montana in connection with the Food Safety Information Service's (FSIS) public health alert on raw boneless beef trim products imported from Canada by XL Foods that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. 

No illnesses have been reported to date. Safeway is issuing this recall out of an abundance of caution. 

The recalled products have Sell By dates of 09-07-12 to 09-23-12. Safeway is asking its customers to check all ground beef in their refrigerators and freezers. The following recalled products were sold from the self-service meat cooler and are packaged on black Styrofoam trays: 

Product Name

UPC Code

States

80% Lean Ground Beef Patties 20% Fat Extreme Value Pack

20165300000

Oregon, Washington

80% Lean Ground Beef Steakhouse Patty 20% Fat Seasoned

20165600000

Oregon, Washington

73% Lean Ground Beef Patties 27% Fat

20165900000

Oregon, Washington

80% Lean Ground Beef 20% Fat Sliders

20166100000

Oregon, Washington

85% Lean Ground Beef 15% Fat Extreme Value Pack

20167900000

Oregon, Washington

80% Lean Ground Beef Patties 20% Fat Seasoned Extreme Value Pack

20168700000

Oregon, Washington

85% Lean Ground Beef 15% Fat Natural

20169000000

Oregon, Washington

80% Lean Ground Beef 20% Fat

20169200000

Oregon

80% Lean Ground Beef 20% Fat Extreme Value Pack

20169300000

Oregon

85% Lean Ground Beef 15% Fat

20169600000

Oregon, Washington

80% Lean Ground Beef 20% Fat Market Trim

20170200000

Oregon

80% Lean Ground Beef 20% Fat Market Trim Extreme Value Pack

20170300000

Oregon

80% Lean Ground Beef Patties 20% Fat

20170400000

Oregon, Washington

85% Lean Ground Beef 15% Fat

20183200000

Oregon, Washington

85% Lean Ground Beef 15% Fat Value Pack

20183600000

Oregon, Washington

80% Lean Ground Beef 20% Fat

20249400000

Washington

80% Lean Ground Beef 20% Fat Extreme Value Pack

20249500000

Washington

84% Lean Ground Beef Patties 16% Fat Extreme Value Pack

20251600000

Washington

86% Lean Ground Beef Patties 14% Fat

20251700000

Washington

80% Lean Ground Beef For Chili 20% Fat

20253500000

Washington

80% Lean Ground Beef 20% Fat Market Trim

20253700000

Washington

80% Lean Ground Beef 20% Fat Market Trim Extreme Value Pack

20253800000

Washington

Gourmet Beef Burger Patty W/Grn Chile/Monterey Jack Cheese

20883800000

Oregon, Washington

Gourmet Beef Burger Patty With Bleu Cheese/Pepper

20890500000

Oregon, Washington

Gourmet Beef Burger Patty W/Sundrd Tomato/Asiago Cheese

20891000000

Oregon, Washington

Gourmet Beef Burger Patty With Bacon/Cheddar Cheese

20892800000

Oregon, Washington

Burger 85% Lean Seasoned

20893000000

Oregon, Washington

80% Lean Ground Beef 20% Fat Sliders Seasoned

20893100000

Oregon, Washington

Gourmet Beef Burger Patty With Cheddar Ranch

20896500000

Oregon, Washington

Gourmet Beef Burger Patty With Whiskey River Seasoning

20897800000

Oregon, Washington

Gourmet Beef Sliders W/ Grn Chile/Monterey Jack Cheese

20902100000

Oregon, Washington

Gourmet Beef Sliders With Bleu Cheese/Pepper

20902200000

Oregon, Washington

Gourmet Beef Sliders With Bacon/Cheddar Cheese

20902300000

Oregon, Washington

Gourmet Beef Sliders W/Sundrd Tomato/Asiago Cheese

20902400000

Oregon, Washington

Gourmet Beef Sliders Whiskey River

20902600000

Oregon, Washington

Gourmet Beef Sliders Cheddar Ranch

20902800000

Oregon, Washington

Meatloaf Seasoned

20928900000

Oregon, Washington

80% Lean Ground Beef 20% Fat

20944300000

Oregon, Washington

80% Lean Ground Beef Patties 20% Fat

20947500000

Oregon, Washington

Gourmet Beef Burger Patty W/Grn Chile/Monterey Jack Cheese

20958800000

Oregon, Washington

Gourmet Beef Burger Patty With Bleu Cheese/Pepper

20959900000

Oregon, Washington

Gourmet Beef Burger Patty With Bacon/Cheddar Cheese

20971700000

Oregon, Washington

Gourmet Beef Burger Patty W/Sundrd Tomato/Asiago Cheese

20972100000

Oregon, Washington

80% Lean Ground Beef Steakhouse Patties 20% Fat Seasoned

20974400000

Oregon, Washington

Gourmet Beef Burger Patty With Whiskey River Seasoning

20988300000

Oregon, Washington

Gourmet Beef Burger Patty With Cheddar Ranch

20989400000

Oregon, Washington

85% Lean Ground Beef 15% Fat Natural

20735300000

Oregon, Washington

85% Lean Ground Beef 15% Fat

20737900000

Oregon, Washington

 

The following recalled products were sold from the full-service meat counter and are wrapped in white butcher's paper:

Product Name

UPC Code

States

Meatloaf Seasoned                                              

20928900000

Oregon, Washington

80% Lean Ground Beef 20% Fat                                   

20944300000

Oregon, Washington

80% Lean Ground Beef Patties 20% Fat                           

20947500000

Oregon, Washington

Gourmet Beef Burger Patty W/Grn Chile/Monterey Jack Cheese     

20958800000

Oregon, Washington

Gourmet Beef Burger Patty With Bleu Cheese/Pepper              

20959900000

Oregon, Washington

Gourmet Beef Burger Patty With Bacon/Cheddar Cheese            

20971700000

Oregon, Washington

Gourmet Beef Burger Patty W/Sundrd Tomato/Asiago Cheese        

20972100000

Oregon, Washington

80% Lean Ground Beef Steakhouse Patties 20% Fat Seasoned       

20974400000

Oregon, Washington

Gourmet Beef Burger Patty With Whiskey River Seasoning         

20988300000

Oregon, Washington

Gourmet Beef Burger Patty With Cheddar Ranch                   

20989400000

Oregon, Washington

85% Lean Ground Beef 15% Fat Natural                           

20735300000

Oregon, Washington

85% Lean Ground Beef 15% Fat                                    

20737900000

Oregon, Washington

 

 

In addition, the following pre-packaged products distributed by Interstate Meat Distributors are also subject to the same expanded XL Foods Inc. recall.


Product Name

UPC Code

States

Fresh Ground Beef Patties 80% Lean- 20% Fat—Four 1/3rd Pound Patties

75290760083

Montana, Oregon, Washington

Fresh Ground Beef Patties 80% Lean- 20% Fat—Ten 1/3rd Pound Patties                         

75290760084

Montana, Oregon, Washington

 

 

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

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Hydrocodone Bitartrate and Acetaminophen Tablets Recalled

Potential exists for oversized and superpotent tablets

Watson Laboratories is recalling for two lots of Hydrocodone Bitartrate and APAP Tablets, USP 10 mg/500 mg, which are indicated for the relief of moderate...

PhotoWatson Laboratories is recalling for two lots of Hydrocodone Bitartrate and APAP Tablets, USP 10 mg/500 mg, which are indicated for the relief of moderate to moderately severe pain. 

A customer complaint was received for tablets that were thicker and darker shade than the other tablets. It is possible that some tablets from lots 519406A and 521759A exceed the weight specification and may contain higher than indicated amounts of the ingredients Hydrocodone Bitartrate and/or Acetaminophen. 

Unintentional ingestion of excessive amounts of acetaminophen may potentially result in such things as liver toxicity, especially in patients on other acetaminophen containing medications, patients with liver dysfunction, or people who consume more than 3 alcoholic beverages a day. 

The product label warns consumers that acetaminophen overdose can potentially cause severe liver damage, at times resulting in liver transplant or death. Unintentional ingestion of excessive amounts of hydrocodone may result in an adverse event, including an increase in the severity or frequency of side effects, such as sedation or respiratory depression, particularly in patients who are elderly, have severe kidney or liver impairment, or are also taking interacting medications, for example other sedating medications or certain antidepressants. 

No reports of injuries related to the recalled product have been received to date. 

The recall includes the following product lots: 

  • Hydrocodone Bitartrate and Acetaminophen Tablets, USP 10 mg/500 mg, 500 count NDC 00591-0540-05, Lot Numbers 519406A and 521759A both with the expiry date April 2014. 

The affected lots were distributed between 6/27/2012 and 7/18/2012 to wholesale distributors and retail pharmacies nationwide. The lot numbers can be found on the manufacturer’s bottle label. 

Hydrocodone Bitartrate and Acetaminophen Tablets are approximately 0.6 inches in length, blue, bisected capsule shaped, with "Watson 540" de-bossed on one side of the tablet. 

Consumers who have lots 519406A or 521759A should contact their pharmacy or health care professional. Consumers who are unsure if they have the affected lot numbers should consult their pharmacy or health care professional. 

Pharmacists and wholesalers are asked to check their inventories for lots 519406A or 521759A segregate any material from the lots, and to contact GENCO Pharmaceutical Services at 1-800-950-5479 for instructions on product return. 

Pharmacies that received lots 519406A or 521759A will receive a copy of this press release with their recall notification information. In order to make your patients aware of this recall, please post the enclosed press release prominently in the pharmacy area. 

Reports of adverse reactions or quality problems can be reported to Watson Laboratories at 1-800-272-5525 Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. EST. 

Adverse reactions or quality problems experienced with the use of this product may be reported to FDA’s MedWatch Adverse Event Reporting program either on line, by regular mail, or by fax.  

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Study: Cigarette Taxes Hit Poor the Hardest

Low-income smokers spend greater portion of their income on cigarettes

  There's been a lot of back and forth about income taxes in this presidential campaign season - who's paying them and who's not. But as has ...

PhotoThere's been a lot of back and forth about income taxes in this presidential campaign season -- who's paying them and who's not. But as has been pointed out elsewhere, almost all Americans in all income brackets pay taxes of some kind. They're hard to avoid.

If you smoke, you pay a lot of taxes, both federal and state. Governments have jacked up the tax rates on cigarettes in recent years in an effort to discourage consumers from smoking. Research shows it's an effective tactic.

The more cigarettes go up in price, the fewer people smoke them. Unfortunately the people who have the hardest time kicking the habit -- or simply don't want to quit -- are the people least able to pay the tax.

Where the tax falls heaviest

New research published in PLoS One, a medical journal, shows the cigarette tax falls heaviest on low-income Americans. The study, conducted on behalf of the New York State Department of Health, found smoking prevalence is highest among those with low income, low education, and working-class occupations.

While the researchers found that some lower-income smokers respond to increases in the price of cigarettes, many don't, resulting in a highly regressive tax.

"That is, lower-income smokers spend a disproportionate share of their income on cigarette taxes compared to smokers with greater incomes," the authors wrote.

A 2008 study estimates that smokers in the lowest income tercile spent 7.7 percent of their income on cigarette purchases, followed by 3.1 and 1.4 percent for the middle and highest income terciles, respectively. Since that study was completed, cigarette excise taxes have risen sharply in many states and now five states have taxes in excess of $3 per pack.

$30,000 a year or less

What, exactly, is a low-income smoker? For the purpose of the study the researchers defined it as individuals in households earning $30,000 a year or less. These smokers spent an average of 23.6 percent of their yearly income on cigarettes.

The recent increases in the cigarette taxes haven't done much to lower that number. In fact, it's higher than in the past, when taxes were lower.

Higher-income smokers pay the same tax, of course, but it's a much smaller percentage of their income. The study found that individuals in households earning $60,000 or more a year only spent -- on average -- 2.2 percent of their income on cigarettes.

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Consumers Urged Not to Eat Trader Joe’s Valencia Creamy Salted Peanut Butter

Product is possibly linked to outbreak of Salmonella

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state and local public health officials are investigating...

PhotoThe Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state and local public health officials are investigating a multi-state outbreak of Salmonella Bredeney infections possibly linked to Trader Joe’s Valencia Creamy Salted Peanut Butter. The product has a Stock Keeping Unit (SKU) identifier of 97111. 

The CDC reports a total of 29 people infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Bredeney from 18 states. 

On September 20, the FDA, the CDC and the state of California briefed Trader Joe’s on the status of the investigation, and the company agreed to remove the suspected product from their store shelves. 

The peanut butter is sold at Trader Joe's grocery stores nationwide and on the Internet. 

Most people infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most people recover without treatment. However, in some people, the diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized. In these patients, the Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream, and then to other body sites and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics. 

The CDC recommends that consumers do not eat Trader Joe’s Valencia Creamy Salted Peanut Butter made with sea salt. This is especially important for children under the age of 5 years, older adults, and people with weak immune systems. 

Trader Joe's has encouraged consumers to return the product to any Trader Joe’s store for a full refund. 

Consumers who show any signs of illness from salmonellosis should consult their health care provider.  

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New Jersey Shuts Down Travel Membership Company

Consumers warned to avoid travel club presentations that make big promises

  If you receive a postcard inviting you to a presentation on how to saving big money on travel, you might be wise to show some skepticism. T...

PhotoIf you receive a postcard inviting you to a presentation on how to saving big money on travel, you might be wise to show some skepticism. These come-ons, usually offering some kind of incentive to attend -- can end badly for consumers.

A suit filed by the state of New Jersey claimed Global Travel Solutions, LLC and its owner, Jason A. Krieck, took payments from consumers for costly travel club memberships that promised steep discounts on vacation packages and other travel benefits, and then failed to deliver the contracted-for services.

Consumers were also charged monthly fees for the memberships. The defendants allegedly invited consumers to attend sales presentations for the memberships with free promotional items, and then failed to deliver the items.

Must pay $350,000

In a settlement with the state Global Travel Solutions is required to direct all billing and reservations companies to immediately stop trying to collect payments from consumers on the company’s behalf. The company is also required to pay $350,000 to the state.

In addition, for a period of 5 years, Krieck is required to post a bond of at least $250,000 with the division if he opens, owns or operates any business in the state that sells merchandise to consumers. The defendants entered into the settlement without any admission of liability but has agreed to dissolve the business.

“We have stopped the sale of these allegedly worthless travel club memberships in the state and the continued collection activity against consumers who previously purchased memberships,” said New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa.

He also advised consumers to be extremely careful when listening to an attractive sales pitch for any product, including travel and vacation packages.

Beware of travel scams

“Travel scams, offering free amenities and big discounts for cruises and airfare, can be shockingly effective at separating consumers from their hard-earned money,” Eric T. Kanefsky, Acting Director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, said. “These operations often begin with postcards inviting consumers to attend a presentation at which they will hear about amazing deals that really are too good to be true.”

Kanefsky says consumers who purchased memberships based on sales presentations lost thousands of dollars. He said any consumer who receives a similar solicitation should be extremely skeptical.

To date, New Jersey has identified more than 700 affected consumers, the majority of whom paid between $995 and $9,995.00 for the Global Travel memberships, plus a $29.95 monthly fee.

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Makowski’s Real Sausage Recalls Bratwurst Products

Misbranding and undeclared allergen could lead to illness

Makowski’s Real Sausage of Chicago is recalling approximately 1,305 pounds of cooked bratwurst sausage products because of misbranding and the undeclared a...

PhotoMakowski’s Real Sausage of Chicago is recalling approximately 1,305 pounds of cooked bratwurst sausage products because of misbranding and the undeclared allergen – milk -- that is not declared on the label. 

The following products are subject to recall:

  • 10-lb. packages of “Real Sausage Co. COOKED WHITE BRATWURST 4-1”
  • 10-lb. packages of “Real Sausage Co. COOKED WHITE BRATWURST 3-1” 

The products also bear the establishment number “EST. 6844” inside the USDA mark of inspection and the Julian dates of: 17812, 18812, 25112, 25712 or 26512. The products were produced June 25, July 5, Sept. 6, Sept. 12, and Sept. 20, 2012, and were shipped to foodservice distributors for hotel, restaurant and other institutional use throughout Illinois. 

The problem was discovered during a routine label review and may have occurred due to a misprinting of the product’s label. There have been no reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products. Anyone concerned about a reaction should contact a healthcare provider. 

Consumers with questions about the recall should contact the company’s president, Nicole Makowski, at (312) 842-5330.

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Hand Sanitizer Maker Settles Deception Charges

State of Maryland says company made unsubstantiated claims

  Germs are everywhere and consumers are increasingly aware of them. Walk into a supermarket these days and you are greeted at the door by a ...

PhotoGerms are everywhere and consumers are increasingly aware of them. Walk into a supermarket these days and you are greeted at the door by a dispenser of antiseptic wipes.

Consumers spend millions as well on products to remove germs from their hands when washing them isn't practical or convenient. But how effective are these products?

In Maryland, Attorney General Douglas Gansler has reached a settlement with one such product maker, CleanWell Company and its affiliate OhSo Clean, Inc. It resolves claims that CleanWell hand sanitizer is "proven to kill 99.99% of germs that can make you sick," and is "proven to kill 99.99% of germs including MRSA, Salmonella, Staph, and E. coli," without adequate substantiation for those statements.

'Unsubstantiated claims'

"Companies that make unsubstantiated claims about their products deceive consumers into spending their hard-earned money on something that may not live up to its billing," Gansler said. "With flu season approaching, consumers should know that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), washing with soap and water is the best way to reduce germs on your hands and that hand sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs."

Under the terms of the agreement CleanWell has agreed to change how it markets its hand sanitizer products and to refrain from any false, misleading or deceptive promotion of its hand sanitizer products.

$100,000 in penalties

CleanWell will also pay $100,000 in penalties and costs and refrain from representing that its hand sanitizer can prevent disease or infection. The agreement also bars CleanWell from asserting that its product can kill any specific percentage of germs.

In 2011 the Food and Drug Administration cited CleanWell -- maker of CleanWell All-Natural Foaming Hand Sanitizer, CleanWell All-Natural Hand Sanitizer, CleanWell All-Natural Hand Sanitizing Wipes, and CleanWell All-Natural Antibacterial Foaming Handsoap drug products -- for “significant violations” of Current Good Manufacturing Practice (CGMP) regulations for Finished Pharmaceuticals.

Inspectors said they found the products to be adulterated within the meaning of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act.

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Are Facebook Users Just A Bunch of Narcissists?

A recent study says plenty of users are, and only WE care about our own social network postings

We’ve all seen it on Facebook before. Pictures of an exotic location being posted, with a caption that reads ‘I’m vactioning on&nbsp...

PhotoWe’ve all seen it on Facebook before. Pictures of an exotic location being posted, with a caption that reads "I’m vactioning on such and such island," which sometimes is a way of asking "can you envy me a little bit please?"

Or this one: A person takes a photo of their lunch and posts it on their Facebook page as if a plate of food is a brand-new invention. "But it’s MY plate of food," they may think — which obviously makes it more special than anyone else’s, and definitely more important to share.

But the question is: do people really care about each minute detail of our daily lives? Are Facebook followers really sitting by their keyboards or constantly checking their smartphones in anticipatory pain until you update them about you, your family, or your escapades?

Probably not, and according to a university study these postings are mainly for the user to feel better about themselves, and many times all of the Facebook updates are attached to a strong level of narcissism.

Christopher Carpenter, an assistant professor of communication at Western Illinois University conducted the study entitled Narcissism on Facebook: Self-promotional and Anti-social Behavior, and he found that people who incessantly update their Facebook pages with personal details are more likely to exhibit narcissistic behaviors not only in virtual realms but in the physical world too.

Virtual & real

PhotoMeaning, if you tend to brag about the fabulous places you’re visiting or show people what a wonderful meal you’re having, you’re more than likely to talk about these things to people in your daily lives, regardless if they’re really interested or not.

Carpenter examined 292 people to gauge each person’s level of self-absorption and found a direct correlation between time spent on Facebook posting photos, updating statuses and gathering followers, to having feelings of narcissism.

The study also found these same people are more likely to seek social support rather than give it, and are surprised and even upset if people don’t comment, or “like” their photo or their posted update.

Also, using Facebook and other social networking pages like it, allows one to shape outside perceptions and kind of tailor their image to what they want it to be. It’s a way of showing your old high-school chums how wonderful your life is, while also letting them know you turned out great.

“If Facebook is to be a place where people go to repair their damaged ego and seek social support, it is vitally important to discover the potentially negative communication one might find on Facebook and the kinds of people likely to engage in them,” said Carpenter.

“Ideally, people will engage in pro-social Facebooking rather than anti-social me-booking. In general, the dark side of Facebook required more research in order to better understand Facebook’s socially beneficial and harmful aspects in order to enhance the former and curtail the later,” he said.

All-time high

PhotoAccording to other studies like the University of Southern Mississippi’s Narcissism and Machiavellianism in Youth, narcissism is at an all-time high, not only within social networking pages, but in the real world too, and these days it’s starting with people at a very young age, researchers say.

Christopher Barry, the lead author of the study designed a self-esteem test for middle school kids and found that 80 percent of the students scored higher in 2006 than kids did in the late 80s. And the same trait was found in college students, as the study found more occurrences of narcissism compared to college kids who were tested in the 70s.

“You can look at individual scores of narcissism, you can look at data on lifetime prevalence of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, you can look at related cultural trends, and they all point to one thing, narcissism is on the rise,” said Keith Campbell of the University of Georgia psychology department, in a statement.

Blame the boomers

In another study conducted by the University of Michigan, it showed that narcissism has been on a steady incline since the Baby Boomer Generation.

The study also goes on to reveal that with each generation, things like concern of self-image, and showing a lack of compassion towards other people has been on a consistent decline.

Researchers at the mid-western school ran a 30-year study on 72 college students and found that over the course of three decades, feelings of kindness, empathy and sympathy have dropped by 34 percent.

And while these attributes were falling off from parts of our society, feelings of narcissism and self-involvement have been on the steady rise, and currently those feelings are at an all-time high, say researchers.

“College students today may be so busy worrying about themselves and their own issues that they don’t have time to spend empathizing with others, or at least perceive such time to be limited,” said the study authors.

And of course it’s not just younger folks who obsess about self-image, as all ages are now feeling the need to detail a great deal of their lives on Facebook, with the idea that others really, really care.

I mean, some might care like close friends and family, but for the most part it’s pretty safe to assume that the average person liking or commenting on our Facebook post, could be doing it out of social networking etiquette, compared to really being concerned about each detail of our lives.

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Apple Maps Flap Mars iPhone 5 Debut

Users complain of distorted images and many inaccuracies

  There was at least one sour note as consumers lined up to take delivery of the iPhone 5, Apple's latest version of its smartphone. Apple's ...

PhotoThere was at least one sour note as consumers lined up to take delivery of the iPhone 5, Apple's latest version of its smartphone. Apple's replacement of Google Maps with its own version, called Apple Maps, drew some instant consumer complaints.

It wasn't just that Apple wanted to cut the cord with Google, it said it wanted to provide an improved "map experience." The maps in the app were supposed to be prettier, provide turn-by-turn directions, synced up with Siri, and give users the perspective of flying over the landscape.

But some users say it's not ready for prime time. Specifically, they say there are problems with accuracy and in some cases, distorted or missing images. An Apple spokeswoman, in a statement to, asked users be patient.

We're working on it

"We launched this new map service knowing that it is a major initiative and we are just getting started with it," Spokeswoman Trudy Muller said. "We are continuously improving it, and as Maps is a cloud-based solution, the more people use it, the better it will get. We appreciate all of the customer feedback and are working hard to make the customer experience even better.”

Writing on Apple Forum, a poster going by Sparkyscott21 said Apple should have called the new maps app a beta and introduced it slowly, overlapping it with Google Maps.

"To have such a 'not ready' product as one of the most touted new features in the brand new iOS 6 is pretty embarrassing," he wrote.

The technology press was similarly unkind.

“Apple's decision to swap out Google Maps is a rare example of the company openly placing its own interests above those of its customers,” wrote Nilay Patel at The Verge.

Google and Apple are not on the friendliest of terms. Apple, notably late CEO Steve Jobs, has maintained that Google's Android operating system is just a bit too similar to the iPhone's.

No interest in Google?

Google, meanwhile, has reportedly produced a version of its maps app for the OS6 system but there has been no indication it will be added to the new iPhone, whose first day of sales proceeded with the usual frenzy in spite of the maps flap. Consumers who pre-ordered an iPhone were able to pick them up for the first time today.

Apple said pre-orders of the iPhone 5 topped two million in just 24 hours, more than double the previous record of one million held by iPhone 4S. Demand for iPhone 5 exceeded the initial supply and while the majority of pre-orders were expected to be delivered to customers today, many are scheduled to be delivered in October.  

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Nation Remembers Its POW/MIA Troops

Companies honored for hiring Guard, Reserve members

Military and civilian leaders are pausing today to take part in ceremonies marking National POW/MIA Recognition Day, an annual event to honor the nati...

PhotoMilitary and civilian leaders are pausing today to take part in ceremonies marking National POW/MIA Recognition Day, an annual event to honor the nation’s service members who were held prisoner or are still missing, and their families.

“As long as members of our Armed Forces remain unaccounted for, America will bring our fullest resources to bear in finding them and bringing them home. It is a promise we make not only to the families of our captured and our missing, but to all who have worn the uniform,” President Barack Obama said.

"On September 21, 2012, the stark black and white banner symbolizing America's Missing in Action and Prisoners of War will be flown over the White House; the United States Capitol; the Departments of State, Defense, and Veterans Affairs; the Selective Service System Headquarters; the World War II Memorial; the Korean War Veterans Memorial; the Vietnam Veterans Memorial; United States post offices; national cemeteries; and other locations across our country. We raise this flag as a solemn reminder of our obligation to always remember the sacrifices made to defend our Nation," Obama's official proclamation concluded.

Meanwhile, 15 companies and organizations from a port to a power company received the Secretary of Defense Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Freedom Award yesterday.

Panetta visits troops

PhotoSecretary of Defense Leon Panetta visited with troops in Japan on his way to New Zealand and told them that, although the U.S. has the largest and most sophisticated array of weaponry in the world, "None of it would be worth a damn without the men and women who volunteer to serve their country."

The day’s events include a Pentagon commemoration ceremony hosting former prisoners of war, family members, military service members and distinguished guests.  Traditionally held on the third Friday in September, the event will include formal military honors.  A flyover of military aircraft is scheduled to conclude the ceremony. 

Also, in New York City, Department of Defense (DoD) representatives will participate in the New York Stock Exchange’s Closing Bell Ceremony to honor prisoners of war and those missing in action.  The New York Yankees will acknowledge the day with a home plate tribute to service members, past and present, during a game that evening. 

In addition, observances of National POW/MIA Recognition Day are held across the country on military installations, at state capitols, in local communities, schools and at various veterans' facilities.  

As a result of resolutions passed in Congress, the first official commemoration of POW/MIAs was in 1979, when the first national ceremony was held.  The observance is one of six days of the year that Congress has mandated flying of the POW/MIA flag, created by the National League of Families', at major military installations, national cemeteries, all post offices, VA medical facilities, the World War II Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the offices of the secretaries of state, defense and veterans affairs, the director of the selective service system and the White House. 

The DoD has more than 600 people dedicated to the worldwide mission of accounting for the more than 83,000 missing service members from conflicts as far back as World War II.  

Companies honored

The ESGR Freedom Award ceremony highlighted private and public companies, large and small, which go above and beyond what the law requires to support their deployed Guard and Reserve employees, said keynote speaker Erin C. Conaton, the Undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness.

Now in its 17th year, the ESGR Freedom Award is the top honor the federal government can present to employers in recognition of the extra steps taken to support their deployed employees and families.

"We must take time to salute the magnitude of this contribution and to thank you," Conaton said to a large civilian and military audience at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.

"With approximately 50 percent of the nation's military strength residing in the Guard and [the] Reserves, we know that we wouldn't be able to field the world's greatest military without the depth of reserve components," she added.

These forces maintain their high quality and readiness directly from their dedication to service, strong family support and civilian employer backing, Conaton said.

Such employers seek to not only retain and support their employees who serve in military, they also hire veterans, she said.

Award recipients

This year’s award recipients include:

-- Basin National Cooperative, North Dakota

-- Caterpillar Inc., Illinois

-- Citi, South Dakota and New York

-- Crystal Springs United Methodist Church, Mississippi

-- Delta Airlines, Georgia

-- Gary Jet Center, Indiana

-- iostudio, Tennessee

-- Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety, Michigan

-- L-3 Communications, Utah, New York

-- Nyemaster Goode, Iowa

-- Port of Seattle, Washington

-- Siemens Corp., Delaware, District of Columbia

-- Tennessee Valley Authority, Tennessee

-- Uniform Color Co., Michigan

-- Verizon Wireless, New Jersey

Winners are selected based on nominations from employees who are in the Guard or reserves. This year’s 15 winners bring to 160 the number of awards that have honored companies and organizations across the nation. This year's competition received 3,200 nominations, ESGR officials said.
  

 

 

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Groupon Dives Into Credit Card Processing Business

Another step towards becoming the "operating system" for local businesses

Groupon is diving into the credit card processing business, offering its merchants a lower rate than most other providers charge. It's taking on competitor...

PhotoGroupon is diving into the credit card processing business, offering its merchants a lower rate than most other providers charge. It's taking on competitors including PayPal and Square.  

Built into the latest version of the Groupon Merchants app for the iPhone and iPod Touch, Groupon Payments provides restaurants, salons and spas, retail establishments and other local businesses with the ability to accept all credit card payments at a lower rate than other providers, the company said.

Groupon aims to reach a size where it will become the "operating system" for local commerce, as Chief Executive Andrew Mason put it earlier this year.

Pilot test

After a pilot test of the program in the San Francisco Bay Area, any merchant that runs a deal with Groupon in the United States can now accept payments at the what Groupon says are the lowest rates in today’s marketplace:
  • Swiped transactions – MasterCard, Visa and Discover (1.8% plus $0.15 per transaction) and American Express (3% plus $0.15 per transaction)
  • No hidden costs or monthly fees

Merchants will also have their credit card deposits in their bank accounts overnight, which is much faster than the typical experience of waiting two to three business days offered by most credit card processors, the company said.

“Our goal is to provide merchants with the most affordable and powerful tools to run and grow their businesses,” said Mihir Shah, VP Mobile and Merchant Products at Groupon. “With groundbreaking pricing and service, Groupon Payments does just that.”

While Groupon Payments is designed for local businesses that run deals with Groupon, the service is also available as a pilot to non-Groupon merchants at the rate of 2.2% (3% American Express) + $0.15 per transaction.

Competitors

There's a lot of new competition in the payment processing field, but Groupon is hoping that it will be on a fast track because of its existing deals with retailers throughout the country.

 

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Risky Business: Study Measures Risk of Distracted Driving

Researchers were "amazed" at the magnitude of the increase in risk

Tom Dingus stands by an instrumented vehicle. VTI photo by Tom StroupWe're constantly being told that it's dangerous to drive while distracted by other...

Photo
Tom Dingus stands by an instrumented vehicle. VTI photo by Tom Stroup

We're constantly being told that it's dangerous to drive while distracted by other tasks. But just how dangerous is it really? Research published in Ergonomics and Design reveals the crash risk of various activities based on observations of drivers in instrumented vehicles.  Even the researchers were amazed by the magnitude of the increase in risk.

"Taking your eyes off the road to dial a cell phone or look up an address and send a text increases the risk of crashing by 600 to 2,300 percent," said Rich Hanowski, director of the Center for Truck and Bus Safety at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute in Blacksburg, Va.

Asserting that driver behavior and performance needs to be understood in the context of the driving environment, the researchers used the results of several naturalistic driving studies. Traditional driver studies have been done on test tracks or with simulators, or have been based on crash studies based on interviews where "drivers and other eyewitnesses are deceased, dazed, inattentive, or fearful," according to the research article.

"Naturalistic driving research involves the instrumentation of vehicles, including video cameras, for the purpose of precisely recording participants as they normally drive as well as in the seconds leading up to crashes and near-crashes," the article explains. Continuous data are collected for as long as two years.

"Near crashes" contain all the elements of a crash except the outcome, which is averted by successful last-second maneuvers.

Most dangerous tasks

PhotoThe researchers observed that the most dangerous tasks are visual-manual in nature. "You have to take your eyes off of the road to do something," said Tom Dingus, director of the transportation institute. "Most of the tasks require multiple steps to complete and multiple glances away from the road."

The tasks are also rarely associated with built in features that come as original equipment of the car or truck.

"The tasks that we should focus heavily on correcting are the newer cell phone tasks of texting, typing, reading, dialing, and reaching for a phone," Charlie Klauer, research scientist at the transportation institute, said.

The researchers conclude with these recommendations:

  • Vehicle manufacturers and aftermarket suppliers need to focus on minimizing visual-manual interaction with devices and thereby minimizing eyes-off-road time. The article suggests interfaces that lock out features while the vehicle is in motion as well as the use of auditory or voice interfaces.
  • Manufacturers of nomadic devices should integrate via Bluetooth or wireless to interact seamlessly with an in-vehicle interface that has the features in the first item, or that simply lock out all the most complex features while a vehicle is in motion (as detected by GPS).
  • The public needs to be informed of the relative risks of the various tasks that are commonly accomplished in a moving vehicle.

Regarding legislation, the researchers wrote that "Texting bans are appropriate (and) handheld cell phone bans – particularly as applied to smartphones – may be necessary."  However, "Total cell phone bans that include true hands-free voice input-output devices are unwarranted," the transportation research team said.

"Other devices, such as mobile data terminals in trucks, need to be seriously and immediately assessed from design, education, and legislative viewpoints," Hanowski said.

The paper, "Estimating Crash Risk," by Dingus, Hanowski and Klauer, research scientist at the transportation institute, has just received the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society’s 2012 Best Ergonomics in Design Article Award, to be presented at the society's annual meeting, Oct. 22-26, in Boston.

 

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Political Campaigns May Matter Less Than We Think

Professors say all those political ads are mostly a waste of money

  In the 2012 presidential campaign, it has not been a particularly good week for Republican Mitt Romney. Even President Obama has encountere...

PhotoIn the 2012 presidential campaign, it has not been a particularly good week for Republican Mitt Romney. Even President Obama has encountered a few bumps in the road to re-election.

But fortunately for both candidates, gaffes and foreign events matter little in determining the outcome of an election, in spite of what the news media covering the campaigns might think.

At least that's the conclusion of two political science professors -- Christopher Wlezien of Temple and Robert Erikson of Columbia -- who argue that specific events in a campaign matter much less than we think and certainly much less than it would appear based on the media attention they receive.

Erikson and Wlezien have studied the timelines of every presidential election since 1952 to develop an idea of how voters' preferences take shape over the course of a campaign. What they found goes against conventional wisdom.

Slow evolution

They found that over the timeline of a presidential campaign the electorate's collective choice undergoes a slow "evolution." And, Wlezien says, "this evolution is predictable and based on fundamental factors, such as partisan predispositions, economic conditions and candidate attributes."

Early polls, the authors say, rarely predict the election outcome. However, by mid-April after the candidates have been selected, voters start to make up their minds -- and polls during this period in past years have successfully named the winner in 11 of 15 elections.

If that's the case, the 2012 race between Obama and Romney appears it may come down to the wire. Most polls show the race virtually tied or the president with a small lead.

Last six months are key

In their book, The Timeline of Presidential Elections: How Campaigns do (and do not) Matter, Wlezien and Erikson argue that voter evolution begins in the last six months before the election, and it takes place slowly.

Instead of resulting in dramatic change, particular events during this period of a campaign -- including debates -- simply confirm voters' inclinations.

"Voters see things through their preference lenses, typically viewing their favored candidate to be the winner of a debate," Wlezien said. “Given an electorate that is as polarized as it is this year, the impact of the 2012 debates might be particularly hard to find.”

The importance of conventions

Again turning conventional wisdom on its ear, the authors suggest the political conventions, which have been markedly de-emphasized in recent years, matter more to voter persuasion than the debates.

"They focus voters’ attention on the election and often substantially rearrange their preferences,” Wlezien said. “Most importantly, unlike other campaign events, the effects of conventions can last to impact the Election Day outcome.”

According to Wlezien and Erikson, voter preferences by now should have hardened.

"History shows that the leader in the polls at the onset of the fall campaign almost certainly will be the victor," Wlezien said.

In the end, Wlezien and Erickson conclude that it's the fundamentals that matter in a presidential election. Even though the election is weeks away, voters may have already made up their minds.

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New iPhone App Could Diagnose Kids' Ear Infections

There seems to be an app for just about anything

  Parents of young children know the drill. Late at night the child awakens in pain with what may be an ear infection.What usually follows ...

PhotoParents of young children know the drill. Late at night the child awakens in pain with what may be an ear infection.

What usually follows is a late night visit to the emergency room or a costly doctor visit the next morning. But Wilbur Lam, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at both Georgia Tech and Emory universities, has a different vision.

He's designing Remotoscope, a clip-on attachment and software app that turns an iPhone into an otoscope. Pediatricians currently diagnose ear infections using the standard otoscope to examine the eardrum.

With Remotoscope, parents would be able to take a picture or video of their child’s eardrum using the iPhone and send the images digitally to a physician for diagnostic review.

Potential home diagnosis

“Ultimately we think parents could receive a diagnosis at home and forgo the late-night trips to the emergency room,” said Lam, who is also a physician at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Emory School of Medicine. “It’s known that kids who get ear infections early in life are at risk for recurrent ear infections. It can be a very big deal and really affect their families’ quality of life.”

Remotoscope's clip-on attachment uses the iPhone's camera and flash as the light source as well as a custom software app to provide magnification and record data to the phone. The iPhone’s data transmission capabilities send images and video to a doctor's inbox or to the patient's electronic medical record.

The device has the potential to save money for both families and healthcare systems, Lam says. Ear infections, or otitis media, affect 75 percent of children by age 6, making it the most common diagnosis for preschoolers.

15 million office visits

They result in more than 15 million office visits per year in the United States and thousands of prescriptions for antibiotics, which are sometimes not needed. At the initial visit with a patient, physicians say it is difficult to differentiate between ear infections caused by viruses, which resolve on their own, and those caused by bacteria, which would require antibiotics.

“As pediatricians will likely only see the child once, they often err on the side of giving antibiotics for viral infections rather than risk not giving antibiotics for a bacterial infection, which can lead to complications,” Lam said. “So, we are currently over-treating ear infections with antibiotics and consequently causing antibiotic resistance.”

Lam believes Remotoscope may result in fewer prescriptions, saving the consumer -- or their health insurer -- a lot of money.

A clinical trial for the Remotoscope is currently under way to see if the device can obtain images of the same diagnostic quality as what a physician sees with a traditional otoscope. The Food and Drug Administration, through the Atlanta Pediatric Device Consortium, is partially funding the trial, Lam said.

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Health Alert Issued for Imported Canadian Raw Boneless Beef Trim Products

Products test positive for E. coli O157:H7

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has put out a Public Health Alert for raw boneless beef trim products import...

PhotoThe U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has put out a Public Health Alert for raw boneless beef trim products imported from Canada that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. 

FSIS testing of raw boneless beef trim product from Canadian Establishment 38, XL Foods, Inc., confirmed positive for E. coli O157:H7 on September 3, 2012. FSIS alerted the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) of the positive results. After follow-up testing by FSIS and CFIA, the CFIA announced a recall by XL Foods, Inc. of a variety of ground beef products on September 16, 2012. The CFIA has expanded the scope of the recall since then to include additional products. 

Certification call 

The company has notified its customers, including U.S. establishments that beef trim associated with the recall was shipped to them. FSIS is working to perform effectiveness checks to confirm that all trim received at FSIS-inspected establishments from Canadian Establishment 38, either received a full lethality treatment or that no raw trim was further distributed and manufactured into other not-ready-to-eat product. 

In addition, for products that may have been further distributed and manufactured into other not-ready-to-eat product, FSIS is working to confirm that actions are being taken to remove the product from commerce. FSIS is taking steps to ensure that all raw ground products produced from the recalled trim are removed from commerce. 

While the investigation continues, FSIS is issuing a Public Health Alert to inform food service operations and consumers. The products subject to the Canadian recall were distributed to U.S. establishments in the following states: California, Michigan, Nebraska, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin. 

At the U.S. establishments, these products may have been further processed into various products, such as ground beef, ground beef patties, beef jerky and pastrami. FSIS will continue to provide information as it becomes available, including information about any related recall. 

FSIS advises all consumers to safely prepare their raw meat products, including fresh and frozen, and only consume ground beef that has been cooked to a temperature of 160° F. The only way to confirm that ground beef is cooked to a temperature high enough to kill harmful bacteria is to use a food thermometer that measures internal temperature.

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Gasoline Prices Begin to Drift Lower

Prices are still up 26 cents from last year at this time

  Little by little, gasoline prices that rose rapidly over the course of the late summer began to come down in the last week.The national a...

PhotoLittle by little, gasoline prices that rose rapidly over the course of the late summer began to come down in the last week.

The national average price of self-serve regular today is $3.833 per gallon, compared with $3.871 last Friday, according to AAA's Fuel Gauge Survey. That's about 12 cents higher than a month ago and more than 26 cents above the year-ago price.

The average price of diesel fuel today is $4.114 per gallon, versus $4.123 a week ago.

Gasoline prices followed oil prices lower during the week. Crude prices dropped unexpectedly as traders cashed in their positions over apparent concern about economic data.

There was also a big increase in the amount of oil the U.S. has on hand. The Energy Information Administration reported crude oil stockpiles in the previous week jumped to their highest level since early August. However, U.S. supplies of refined gasoline fell for an eighth straight week.

In the states prices showed remarkable stability, going down a few cents a gallon. There was one state where the price at the pump went up. The average pump price in North Dakota rose two cents a gallon while Ohio saw a significant drop, from $3.905 to $3.764.

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The states with the most expensive gas prices this week are:

  • Hawaii ($4.419)
  • California ($4.149)
  • Connecticut ($4.133)
  • New York ($4.121)
  • Illinois ($4.056)
  • Michigan ($4.044)
  • Washington ($4.034)
  • Alaska ($4.006)
  • Oregon ($3.989)
  • Maine ($3.986)

The states with the lowest gas prices this week are:

  • South Carolina ($3.592)
  • Mississippi ($3.599)
  • Alabama ($3.635)
  • Texas ($3.635)
  • Tennessee ($3.640)
  • Louisiana ($3.662)
  • Arkansas ($3.672)
  • New Mexico ($3.684)
  • Virginia ($3.694)
  • Missouri ($3.700)
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Time Running Out on Farm Bill

U.S. agriculture policy goes into limbo Oct. 1

  While there is a lot of justified concern about Congressional inaction to avert the so-called “fiscal cliff” at the end of the ...

PhotoWhile there is a lot of justified concern about congressional inaction to avert the so-called “fiscal cliff” at the end of the year, another deadline is looming on the horizon that could have dire consequences, farm experts say.

Congress passes a new Farm Bill every five years and the current one is set to expire in less than two weeks. Without approval of a new one everything from crop production to school lunches could feel the impact.

The Senate has passed a version of the legislation but it became bogged down in the House. Speaker John Boehner confirmed Thursday the House won't take up the Farm bill until after the election. There appears to be a split among Republicans who either think the massive bill makes too many changes to farm and nutrition-related programs or doesn't make enough changes.

Dairy producers feeling effects

Meanwhile, Andrew Novakovic, a professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell, says the U.S. dairy industry is already paying the price.

“On Sept. 1, provisions for the Milk Income Loss Contract program reverted to pre-2008 levels that render the program meaningless,” Novakovic said. “Under the MILC program, dairy farmers have been receiving substantial countercyclical subsidies to help them offset the large imbalance between the price of milk they receive and the prices they pay for corn and soybean meal that they use to feed their cows. MILC payments began in February 2012 and would continue through November or December based on currently expected prices, if the 2008 provisions stayed in effect.”

However, under current law, the last payment made for milk produced was in August. The exact amount of the payment varies each month and across farms, but for many of the nation's farms of average size or smaller, the payment amounts to almost 10 percent of their monthly milk check and can mean the difference between losing money and breaking close to even.

The dairy industry itself is split over the Farm Bill. Producers support it but dairy processors oppose a provision in the bill they saw unfairly manipulates prices.

Takes issue with price management

“This year’s Farm Bill goes in the wrong direction and calls for more government regulation and intervention into milk markets -- not less,” the International Dairy Foods Association, an industry trade group, said in a position statement.” “Instead of helping farmers manage through hard times, some dairy producer organizations want government to guarantee profit margins for producers by imposing new regulations and 'growth management' on processors.”

While corn growers will continue to be covered by the crop insurance they purchased last spring, dairy producers won't -- exposing them to heavy losses from the summer's drought.

Several mandatory research programs that are in the Farm Bill will receive no funds once the legislation expires and there is no new Farm Bill to replace it. Scientists working on subjects critical to the health of the nation and the rural economy, such as specialty crops and organic production would have their primary funding programs suspended.

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Haier America Trading To Pay Penalty for Failure to Report Defective Blenders

A problem with the blender assembly resulted in dozens of incidents and one injury

Haier America Trading has agreed to pay a civil penalty of $850,000, resolving Consumer Product Safe...

PhotoHaier America Trading has agreed to pay a civil penalty of $850,000, resolving Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) staff allegations that it failed to report immediately a defect involving its blenders that resulted in nearly 60 incidents and an injury to a consumer’s hand. 

The nut on the blender that holds the blade assembly can dislodge during use, allowing the blade assembly pieces to break apart, and/or crack the blender’s glass jar, posing a laceration hazard to consumers. 

The settlement agreement has been provisionally accepted by the Commission (4-0). 

Haier America sold the blenders through retail stores between October 2006 and October 2009. The company became aware of the incidents and injury between January 2007 and September 2009, yet did not file a full report to CSPC until October 2009. 

Violation of the law 

Federal law requires manufacturers, distributors and retailers to report to CPSC immediately (within 24 hours) after obtaining information reasonably supporting the conclusion that a product contains a defect that could create a substantial product hazard, creates an unreasonable risk of serious injury or death, or fails to comply with any consumer product safety rule or any other rule, regulation, standard or ban enforced by CPSC. 

CPSC and Haier America announced a recall of nearly 54,000 blenders in December 2009. 

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Blood Pressure Expert Questions Current Meds

Some medicines aren't helping, he claims

  Millions of Americans take a prescribed medication to control their blood pressure, some of which are very expensive. And some of which do ...

PhotoMillions of Americans take a prescribed medication to control their blood pressure, some of which are very expensive. And some of which do very little at all to help.

So says Dr. Samuel J. Mann, a nationally-known hypertension specialist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center and professor of clinical medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College.

"Despite their best intentions many physicians continue to place their hypertensive patients on blood pressure medications, drug combinations or doses that may not be the best treatment available to them, Mann said. "I believe that with the medications we have, we can do much better than we are doing.

On drugs needlessly

Mann has put his concerns in a new book, Hypertension and You: Old Drugs, New Drugs and the Right Drugs for Your High Blood Pressure. In it, he suggests many people on blood pressure medication don't even have high blood pressure.

He blames incorrect blood pressure measurement, both at the doctor's office and at home, for the mistaken impressions. According to the Mayo Clinic, a normal blood pressure is 120/80 or below.

Mann said he wants consumers to understand the shortcomings of current treatment approaches and present new and better approaches that can help improve blood pressure control, reduce side effects of medications and lower health care costs.

For example, he thinks beta blockers, which slow down the heart to reduce blood pressure, have too many side effects, responsible for what he calls an “epidemic” of fatigue and, in some cases, can cause cognitive impairment.

Diuretics underused

While doctors prescribe many new, expensive drugs Mann says they virtually ignore many older, cheaper drugs that may be more effective. As an example he cites diuretics, which he calls effective and inexpensive but are widely underused and underdosed, resulting in inadequate blood pressure control, unneeded multi-drug regimens and avoidable costs.

And then there are causes of high blood pressure that aren't physical in nature but rather psychological. Hypertension linked to psychological factors, Mann says, responds to a different set of blood pressure drugs than other cases of hypertension.

The bottom line, Mann says, is that blood pressure medications are currently failing millions of people who, despite taking the drugs, are still at increased risk for heart attack and stroke.

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Voter Fraud or Voter Supression: What Are New State Laws Really Trying To Do?

Critics of new voter ID laws say they are aimed squarely at minorities and the poor

Last month a Texas judge rejected a proposed law that would force residents to get a government issued ID in order to vote in this coming election.Many p...

PhotoLast month a Texas judge rejected a proposed law that would force residents to get a government-issued ID in order to vote in the November election.

Many political officials in the Lone Star State said the law was needed to prevent various types of voter fraud, like someone using another person’s ID to cast a vote.

Critics say that forcing people to get government-issued IDs would disproportionately affect the state’s lower-income and minority voters, while at the same time intimidating them and suppressing their opportunity to vote.

These critics also say that many people in lower-income communities do not possess government-issued IDs for several reasons, including not having a driver's license because they can't afford a car. Others don't have a passport because they can't afford to travel.  

Photo“Chalk up another victory for fraud,” Texas Gov. Rick Perry  wrote on his website after the judge's ruling. “Federal judges subverted the will of the people of Texas and undermined our effort to ensure fair and accurate elections. The Obama administration’s claim that it’s a burden to present a photo ID to vote simply defies common sense. I will continue to work with [Texas] Attorney General [Greg] Abbott to fight for the same right that other states already have to protect their elections.”

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder commended the judge’s decision in a recent statement.

“Under the proposed law, many of those without required voter identification would be forced to travel great distances to get one -- and some would have to pay for the documents they might need to do so,” he said.

19 states 

Currently, there are 19 states that have passed ID laws for voting, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.

And all of these states maintain the new voting laws will protect the integrity of this upcoming election as well as future ones, although there are few documented cases of people using phony IDs or trying to pass themselves off as someone else in order to vote.

Opponents, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) say the new restrictions are no more than modern versions of the poll taxes and literacy tests that for decades were used to disenfranchise voters in the South.

"Poll taxes and literacy tests have given way to more modern voter suppression tactics packaged as voter ID laws, restrictions to voter registration and cuts to early voting. With these new laws in effect, up to 5 million voters could be turned away at the polls in November," the ACLU charged recently. 

Hollywood celebrities have joined the campaign against the restrictions, as in this video narrated by Whoopi Goldberg.

The ACLU notes that voter turnout in the 2008 election was the most racially diverse in American history, closing the longstanding gap between white and minority voter participation. It charges that the more restrictive voting laws are a response to the growing influence of voters who are not white males.

"States are making it harder and harder for people to vote, virtually guaranteeing that many people won’t really have the right at all," the ACLU said.

Pennsylvania maneuvers

PhotoIn Pennsylvania, Judge Robert Simpson upheld a March 2012 decision to implement a new voting ID law in that state, after individual plaintiffs filed an injunction and attended a lengthy hearing explaining how such laws would impact them and others in their communities.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs said the law could keep at least 100,000 of the state’s residents from voting in this coming election.

“The vice is not in requiring photo identification, said lead plaintiff lawyer David Gersch. “The vice is in requiring photo identification that not everyone has or has the ability to obtain." 

Of course Pennsylvania is a major swing state, and in recent years the state has swung left. In fact, it wasn’t since 1988 when George H. W. Bush won the presidential election over Michael Dukakis that Pennsylvanians pushed the Republican ticket through the victory tape. And many on the left feel the passing of the ID law is an obvious attempt to better even the Republican score.

Additionally, Democrats say the comments made by Rep. Mike Turzai, the Republican majority leader of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, are proof that the state is trying to manipulate the upcoming presidential election by abruptly changing voting laws.

“Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor [Mitt] Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania? Done,” Turzai was overheard saying recently. 

Pennsylvania Democrats pounced on Turzai’s comment, portraying it as an admission of partisan motivations in enacting the new law, renewing their charge that it is an effort to suppress Democratic votes.

Florida changes

In Florida state officials have also modified that state's voting laws, by shortening the allotted amount of time for early voting.

Last week the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division upheld the modifications, but specified that residents have to get 96 hours for early voting over an eight-day period. However, the option to vote early on the Sunday right before the election has been removed. African Americans have traditionally turned out in large numbers on Sunday.

Republican Ken Detzner, Florida’s secretary of state and chief elections officer, sees the change as a benefit to Floridians and not a form of voter suppression.

“The approval of these changes is a tremendous victory for Florida voters,” he said. “In the areas of the state already able to implement the changes, we have seen how the changes offer more flexibility to vote, more accountability and faster reporting times on Election Day.”

 

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Walmart Joins Target, Gives Amazon's Kindle the Boot

Retailers hit back at online giant but does anyone care?

Perhaps the most iconic futile gesture of the current epoch is "unfriending" someone whose Facebook comments we find trite, offensive or just plain old bor...

PhotoPerhaps the most iconic futile gesture of the current epoch is "unfriending" someone whose Facebook comments we find trite, offensive or just plain old boring. Chances are, our former "friends" will neither know nor care.

And that about sums up the latest attempt by brick-and-mortar retailers to hit back against Amazon, the Internet giant that is slowly but inexorably eating the lunch of just about every retail segment you can think of. OK, Amazon's not selling used cars or puppies yet, but just you wait.

The latest to take a swing at Amazon is Walmart, which announced today it will stop selling the Amazon Kindle e-readers. Target did the same thing last May.

Amazon.com Sept. 20, 2012, 7:42 p.m.
Consumers rate Amazon

Of course, the Kindle and Kindle Fire continue to sweep the country like, well, wildfire, but never mind that -- Walmart and Target are tired of people looking at stuff in their stores and then buying it online, sometimes while actually standing there flat-footed in the stores.  

Retailers call this the "showroom" effect -- shoppers using their stores to look at stuff they then buy online. 

Walmart said snippily today that it will continue to carry "a broad assortment of tablets and e-readers and accessories at a variety of great price points."

Last we heard, Best Buy and Staples are still selling the Kindle, not that Amazon is likely to be too concerned. Amazon doesn't break out sales results for the various Kindle models, but no one disputes that Amazon and Apple are taking the lion's share of the e-reader and tablet market, with Barnes & Noble, Samsung and others somewhere back in the pack.

Retailers might want to consider whether eliminating Kindles is a good idea with the holiday shopping season bearing down on them. After all, the devices are popular gifts that could draw purchasers into their stores, where they might then find something else to buy. Who knows -- they might even buy it in the store instead of ordering it from Amazon.

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Chicken Slaughter Speed-Up a Recipe for Disaster?

Consumer groups object to higher speeds, fewer inspectors on poultry processing lines

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that there has been no significant progress since 1999 in reducing illness from Salmonell...

PhotoThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that there has been no significant progress since 1999 in reducing illness from Salmonella -- the leading cause of death and hospitalization due to food poisoning -- and Campylobacter.

Chicken is one of the foods most often contaminated with Salmonella, so why would anyone suggest speeding up the slaughtering process while cutting back on the number of federal inspectors?

Good question, and one a coalition of 23 groups and 16 individuals says has not been satisfactorily answered. They today urged the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to withdraw its proposal that increases poultry processing line speeds and removes hundreds of federal inspectors from poultry processing plants.

The proposal, which would modify USDA’s poultry slaughter inspection program, increases the poultry line speed to an unsafe level and allows plant employees to replace federal government inspectors for certain inspection activities, the groups charged.

Specifically, the coalition is alarmed by the proposed increase in poultry slaughter line speeds to 175 birds per minute, a five-fold increase over current speeds. At such rates, government inspectors would have only one-third of a second to examine each chicken carcass for food safety risks and other problems. Further, increased line speeds would contribute to higher rates of carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive motion injuries among poultry plant workers.

The proposal also reduces the numbers of federal inspectors working at poultry plants.

Improvement needed

PhotoThe coalition said it doesn't deny that the poultry inspection program needs improving but said the proposal was developed with limited public input. USDA did not consult with its inspection advisory committee prior to issuing its proposal; nor were public meetings held to solicit the views of the public before the proposal was announced. 

In addition, the groups highlighted a number of critical food safety and worker safety concerns raised by the proposal.

The coalition is also concerned that the proposal would change the standards for accepting or rejecting birds. There is no provision in the new rule mandating training of plant employees, who would be assigned tasks previously conducted by federal government inspectors. USDA whistleblowers have commented that plant workers with insufficient training often overlook things.  

Moreover, employers might pressure plant employees to let as many birds pass as possible. As a result, there would likely be an increase in the rate of “defects” such as bruises, scabs, bile and ingesta on the carcasses.

The coalition includes the Consumer Federation of America, Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention.

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Your Used Car May Be Worth More Than You Think

Consumers are building equity in their cars at a faster rate

  Consumers are getting more money when they trade-in or sell their cars. Industry insiders attribute it to a declining supply of used vehicl...

PhotoConsumers are getting more money when they trade in or sell their cars. Industry insiders attribute it to a declining supply of used vehicles, strong consumer demand and improving vehicle quality.

"Higher trade-in equity on used vehicles will help facilitate the release of pent-up demand for a growing number of consumers making the jump off the sidelines and into a vehicle purchase," said Jonathan Banks, executive automotive analyst with the NADA Used Car Guide. "The equity position that consumers find themselves in today is better, and in some cases, dramatically better than it was three years ago."

It's accepted as fact that once you drive a new car off the lot, its value falls. But fortunately for consumers, it's not falling as far and as fast as it once did.

For example, in 2006 it took a consumer who purchased a new Ford Explorer XLT 4WD with a 6-cylinder engine 41 months of loan payments or nearly 3.5 years to reach a positive equity position. After 45 months of ownership, equity in the vehicle reached $2,895.

Three years later, in 2009 it took a consumer who purchased a new Ford Explorer XLT 4WD with a 6-cylinder engine just 26 months, or 15 months faster than the individual who bought in 2006 to reach an equity position. The equity stake after 45 months of ownership jumped to $6,830, or nearly $4,000 more than three years earlier.

Depreciation falling

NADA estimates that used-vehicle depreciation averaged just 13.1 percent from 2009 through 2011, or about nine percentage points better than the 22 percent average rate of loss recorded over the past 10 years.

That means the car in your garage is probably worth more than you think. That's good information to have if you are thinking of trading it in.

Of course, not every dealer may give you what you think your car is worth on a trade-in. Dealers are notorious for low-balling trade-ins in order to maximize their margin on the new car they are selling.

Even though it's more trouble, consumers will probably come out ahead if they try to sell their vehicle in a private sale before heading to the new car showroom, especially if they have a vehicle in high demand.

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Corporations Shift From Bottom Line to Waist Line

Walmart joins McDonald's in taking steps to combat obesity

  Just days after McDonald's installed menu boards with calorie information in all its restaurants, Walmart launched an effort it said would ...

PhotoJust days after McDonald's installed menu boards with calorie information in all its restaurants, Walmart launched an effort it said would help consumers in the U.S. save money on more-nutritious foods and ultimately, live longer, healthier lives.

The corporate giants, both part of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, seem to have enlisted in the nation's war on obesity.

Walmart said it will partner with HumanaVitality, a subsidiary of Humana, to encourage people to eat better. The retailer said it will do its part by helping consumers save money by purchasing healthier foods.

Discounts on healthy food

Beginning on Oct. 15, more than one million HumanaVitality members who shop at Walmart will be eligible for the new program giving them a five percent savings on products that qualify for Walmart's Great For You icon, including fresh fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy.

HumanaVitality is a program that rewards its members for making healthy lifestyle choices and reaching certain health goals. Walmart is providing one of those incentives by offering the price discount.

"Price is an important factor in incentivizing wellness in America,” said John Agwunobi, M.D., president of health and wellness, Walmart U.S. “By offering affordable, healthier foods, we will help make our customers healthier and reduce costs to our healthcare system as a whole. This represents preventative care in its purest form.”

Will others follow their lead?

The two initiatives, one by a America's largest fast food chain and the other by its largest retailer, marks a shift that experts say could make a difference, if others follow their example.

“The decision by McDonald’s to post the number of calories on their menu boards is a welcome first step toward taking accountability for the role of their products in shaping the health of Americans,” said Jeff Niederdeppe, a professor of communication in Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, whose research explores the effects of mass media and health news coverage on health behavior and social policy. “The decision shows leadership and is likely to promote similar changes from other large fast-food chains.”

But Niederdeppe says time will tell if the McDonald's move actually helps solve the obesity problem. Meanwhile, Ginny Ehrlich, chief executive officer of the William J. Clinton Foundation's Health Matters Initiative, calls the Walmart-HumanaVitality initiative an innovative approach.

"Walmart and HumanaVitality working together to help people make better decisions in the grocery aisle is a perfect example of how promoting healthier lifestyles can be a win for companies willing to explore new paths and, far more importantly, a great benefit for the health status of Americans," she said.

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401(k) Fee Disclosure Resource Website Launched

Site includes new tool to help consumers make the most of new disclosures

The U.S. Department of Labor's Employee Benefits Security Administration has announced a new 401(k) fee disclosure Website as a r...

PhotoThe U.S. Department of Labor's Employee Benefits Security Administration has announced a new 401(k) fee disclosure Website as a resource for consumers. 

The new site offers information on disclosures that -- for the first time -- will help workers with 401(k)-type retirement plans see what they are paying to invest their savings. It also includes new tips and tools on making smart retirement investment decisions. 

"Workers deserve to know how much they are paying for their retirement investments. These disclosures will help workers get the most for their money when it comes to their 401(k)-type retirement plans," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employee Benefits Security Phyllis C. Borzi. "Fees can eat away at retirement savings. Access to good information can lead to an increase of tens -- even hundreds-of-thousands of dollars -- in retirement savings over the course of a career." 

Fees take a toll 

As a result of a rule published by EBSA, workers investing in 401(k)-type plans began receiving fee disclosures from their employers this summer, marking the first time that employers have been required to provide this information. Research has shown that paying just one percent more in fees can lead to a 28 percent decrease in a 401(k) account balance over the course of a career. 

The launch of the new site follows a Webinar featuring Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council and assistant to the president for economic policy; Hilda L. Solis, secretary of labor; and Borzi that offered advice on how to utilize the new disclosures. 

A recording of the Webinar is available here and a transcript will be available soon. 

Workers in employer-sponsored health and retirement benefit plans who have questions about benefits laws can contact an EBSA benefits advisor here or by calling 866-444-EBSA (3272).

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Buying Club to Pay Refunds to Iowa Consumers

Another company found to enroll consumers for service without their knowledge

  The state of Iowa has reached an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance agreement with Platinum Online Group, Inc., a “buyng” club b...

PhotoThe state of Iowa has reached an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance agreement with Platinum Online Group, Inc., a “buying” club based in Portland, Oregon, which does business as Premier Membership Clubs.

According to Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, a number of consumers were signed up for the company's subscription “SavingPays Discount Club” without knowing it.

“A Des Moines consumer alerted us to this illegal conduct, when she complained to the Consumer Protection Division last summer that this operation had taken almost $100 from her checking account for a membership she had never intentionally enrolled in,” Miller said. “Adding insult to injury, the unauthorized withdrawal caused her account to be overdrawn, resulting in overdraft fees. We’ve seen far too many similar abuses among membership buying clubs, and were grateful to the consumer for bringing this latest one to our attention.”

Negative option

Platinum Online Group is not the first of these types of companies, which use the “negative option” marketing concept to sign up customers, to run afoul of Miller and other state attorneys general. A year ago another buying club, Vertrue, settled with Iowa and agreed to pay $30 million in restitution and penalties.

Platinum Online Group's penalty was relatively light. The company agreed to pay more than $26,000 to Iowans and to the state, and has also agreed to change its marketing practices. It did not admit to any wrong doing.

Miller said that enrollments in the “SavingPays” club occurred both online and over the phone. Online enrollments were often associated with a consumer’s visit to a website that offered to arrange for loans. Miller says the loan application was blurred with an unrelated membership enrollment, and Platinum used checking account information provided in a loan application to withdraw membership charges directly from the consumer’s bank account.

Monthly fee

Once enrolled in SavingPays, Platinum charged consumers an initial fee of $99.49, followed by monthly $14 charges until the consumer contacted the company to cancel. Membership in SavingPays purported to provide discounts on shopping, dining, and entertainment.

“It is becoming more and more common that consumers are unwittingly charged membership fees as a result of an unrelated transaction,” Miller said. “We do what we can to make these enrollments more transparent and to prevent unauthorized charges, but consumers -- like the Iowan who complained in this case -- are the first line of defense.”

Protecting yourself

How do you avoid inadvertently signing up for some kind of buying club that carries a monthly fee? The best way is to decline any and all “free trial offers” or “special instant discounts” as part of an online purchase.

Examine your credit card bills every month, your checking account and debit card statements, other financial accounts and phone bills. Watch for unauthorized charges, and dispute them at once, in writing.

Also, beware of cashing a check that comes in the mail with a “free trial offer.” The fine print may obligate you to future payments.

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Natural Gas Prices are Falling and Consumers Have Noticed

As prices have fallen satisfaction with gas utilities has risen

  Unfortunately for consumers, lots of things are going up in price. However, the natural gas to heat their homes and generate their electric...

PhotoUnfortunately for consumers, lots of things are going up in price. However, the natural gas to heat their homes and generate their electricity isn't one of them.

Because of huge gas reserves in North America and the increase in drilling and exploration, the price of this energy source has steadily dropped. That decrease in price is reflected in the J.D. Power and Associates survey that measures customer satisfaction with gas utilities.

The study, now in its 11th year, measures residential customer satisfaction with gas utility companies across six factors: billing and payment; price; corporate citizenship; communications; customer service; and field service.

Overall satisfaction with natural gas utility companies has increased slightly -- averaging 634 on a 1,000-point scale, compared with 627 in 2011. However, residential natural gas customer satisfaction with price is 570, an increase of 14 points from 2011.

Fewer rate hikes

Fewer consumers report hearing of rate hikes from their utility in the last year, probably because there have been fewer rate hikes. With natural gas prices continuing to fall, both gas companies and the electric utilities that use gas to generate power have passed some of the savings onto consumers, or at least slowed the increases.

"Each year, as natural gas prices continue to drop, satisfaction with price will continue to be positively affected," said John Hazen, senior director of the energy practice at J.D. Power and Associates. "Additionally, both communication and customer service efforts by utility providers are also contributing to the overall satisfaction increases from last year."

The price of gas has dropped sharply since the U.S. stepped up production in the last decade. The Energy Information Administration reports the wellhead price of natural gas in July 2008 peaked at $10.79 per thousand cubic feet but has since fallen to a low in April 2012 of $1.89.

The current price of gas is around $2.76, about where it was last January at the height of the heating season. So while the price of gasoline and most other energy sources continues to rise, consumers heating with gas this winter can probably look forward to more moderate heating bills.

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Chicago Funeral Home Settles Funeral Rule Violations Charges

Charged with failing to show itemized price lists to consumers

A Chicago funeral home operator has agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charges that he violated the Funeral Rule, which helps ensure that peop...

PhotoA Chicago funeral home operator has agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charges that he violated the Funeral Rule, which helps ensure that people have the information they need to compare prices and buy only the funeral services and goods they want. 

In July 2011, at the FTC’s request, the U.S. Department of Justice charged Harry J. Carter III, doing business as Carter Funeral Chapels Ltd. of Chicago, with not providing consumers with itemized price lists, as required by the Funeral Rule. The complaint was based on inspections by FTC staff posing as consumers seeking to make funeral arragements. 

Undercover inspections 

The FTC conducts undercover inspections every year to ensure that funeral homes are complying with the Funeral Rule, which gives consumers important rights when making funeral arrangements. 

The Rule, issued in 1984, requires funeral homes to provide consumers with an itemized price list at the start of an in-person discussion of funeral arrangements, a casket price list before consumers view any caskets, and price information by telephone on request. It also prohibits funeral homes from requiring consumers to buy any item, such as a casket, as a condition of obtaining any other funeral good or service. 

Under the consent order, the defendant is permanently prohibited from violating the Funeral Rule. It also imposes a $64,000 civil penalty, which will be suspended due to the defendant’s inability to pay. The full judgment will become due immediately if the defendant is found to have misrepresented his financial condition.

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Mortgage Rates Revisit Record Lows

Rates drop just a week after Fed announced new round of stimuls

  Just a week after the Federal Reserve announced its intention to drive mortgage rates still lower with massive purchases of mortgage-backed...

PhotoJust a week after the Federal Reserve announced its intention to drive mortgage rates still lower with massive purchases of mortgage-backed securities, rates have responded by diving. The average 30-year fixed rate mortgage (FRM) hit record lows this week in both the Freddie Mac and Bankrate.com weekly surveys.

Freddie Mac reports the 30-year FRM averaged 3.49 percent with an average 0.6 point for the week ending today. Last week, it averaged 3.55 percent and a year ago the 30-year FRM averaged 4.09 percent.

Freddie's average 15-year FRM was 2.77 percent with an average 0.6 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.85 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.29 percent.

Adjustable rate mortgages either rose or remained the same as last week, apparently finding a floor.

"Following the Federal Reserve's announcement of a new bond purchase plan, yields on mortgage-backed securities fell bringing average fixed mortgage rates to their all-time record lows which should aid in the ongoing housing recovery, said Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist, Freddie Mac. “New construction on one-family homes rebounded in August, rising by 5.5 percent to the fastest pace since April 2010. In addition, existing home sales increased by 7.8 percent in August to its strongest pace since May 2010."

New low for Bankrate

Bankrate.com also found the 30-year FRM sinking to its lowest rate in its survey's history, although the average 3.70 rate was higher than Freddie Mac's average. Bankrate's average 30-year fixed mortgage has an average of 0.43 discount and origination points.

The average 15-year FRM plunged to 2.95 percent and the larger jumbo 30-year mortgage retreated to 4.32 percent -- both record lows. Adjustable mortgage rates reset record lows also, with the 5-year and 7-year ARMs dropping to record lows of 2.69 percent and 2.87 percent, respectively.

Bankrate also credited the Fed's newly announced stimulus program known as QE3 for the drop. Under QE3, the Fed will be buying $40 billion of mortgage-backed securities each month on an open-ended basis. Bankrate said that exceeded the market's expectations and helped bring mortgage rates to new lows.

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ACTRA-Sx 500 Capsules Recalled

Supplement contains unapproved ingredients

Body Basics is conducting a nationwide recall of ACTRA-Sx 500 Dietary Supplement Capsules, Lot 008-A, Expiration December 2013. Through independent lab...

PhotoBody Basics is conducting a nationwide recall of ACTRA-Sx 500 Dietary Supplement Capsules, Lot 008-A, Expiration December 2013. 

Through independent lab analysis, the company has confirmed the presence of Sildenafil Citrate making this product unapproved new drugs. Sildenafil, the active ingredient used in an FDA approved drug to treat Erectile Dysfunction (ED), is not listed on the product label. 

Use of the product may pose a threat to consumers because it may interact with nitrates found in some prescription drugs (such as nitroglycerin) and may lower blood pressure to dangerous levels. Consumers with diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or heart disease often take nitrates. 

No known complications or other health problems have been reported to date. 

Body Basics Inc. has distributed ACTRA-Sx 500 via sales made to independent distributors in the Los Angeles area and directly to some consumers. It is not distributed or sold via the Internet. 

ACTRA-Sx 500, is a purple and gold capsule sold in bottles of 5 count with a UPC code of 830733002015. 

Consumers should cease all use of this product immediately. Any customer in possession of the it is advised to return to the company any unused product for a full refund. 

As there is no practical or economical way to determine whether the product purchased is so contaminated, consumers are encouraged to contact Body Basics Inc. at 800-595-2718 for instructions and return policy or any other questions or concerns. 

Any adverse reactions or quality problems experienced with the use of this product may be reported to the FDA’s MedWatch Adverse Event Reporting program either online, by regular mail, or by fax.

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Pakistan International Airlines Fined for Tarmac Rule Violation

Carrier denied passengers opportunity to leave aircraft during lengthy tarmac delay

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has fined Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) $150,000, saying the carrier violated federal rules last Octobe...

PhotoThe U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has fined Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) $150,000, saying the carrier violated federal rules last October by not providing passengers on an aircraft diverted to Washington Dulles Airport an opportunity to leave the plane before it was delayed on the tarmac for more than four hours. 

DOT also ordered the airline to cease and desist from further violations. 

First fine for international carrier 

This is the first fine for an international flight in violation of DOT’s new consumer protection rule, which took effect in August 2011, setting a four-hour limit for tarmac delays on international flights. 

While other lengthy tarmac delays that occurred on the same day are still under review, the PIA incident was the only one occurring at Dulles, which was not subject to the weather, equipment, infrastructure, and international arrival limitations that existed at other affected airports. 

“Passengers deserve to be treated with respect when they fly, and DOT’s tarmac delay rules were put into place to ensure that they receive that respect,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “We take any violation seriously, and will continue to take enforcement action against airlines that fail to comply with these rules.” 

Rule violation 

Under DOT rules, foreign airlines operating aircraft, with 30 or more passenger seats, that fly to and from U.S. airports are prohibited from allowing their aircraft to remain on the tarmac for more than four hours at most U.S. airports without giving passengers an opportunity to leave the plane. 

Exceptions to the time limits are allowed only for safety, security, or air traffic control-related reasons. The rules require carriers to include the four-hour provision in their tarmac delay contingency plan commitments to passengers. 

PIA flight 711, traveling from England’s Manchester Airport to New York’s JFK Airport, was scheduled to arrive at JFK at 3:27 p.m. on Oct. 29, 2011, but diverted to Washington Dulles Airport due to interruptions in JFK’s Instrument Landing System equipment. After landing at Dulles at 4:28 p.m., the plane remained delayed on the tarmac for four hours and forty-seven minutes. 

Although the captain and first officer were able to deplane the aircraft safely via air stairs in order to conduct external safety inspections of the aircraft, airline officials believed that deplaning passengers by air stairs may have been unsuitable due to the inclement weather, as well as the number of passengers requiring wheelchairs and the number of small children on board. 

However, PIA made no other attempts to deplane passengers by any other means or to seek assistance from the airport operator in deplaning before the tarmac delay exceeded four hours, in violation of DOT rules.  

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Forget Smartphones -- Your Shoes Are Becoming More Technologically Advanced

With the new GPS shoes and the Lebron X sneakers, it seems our feet have seen the future

Over the years shoe wear has really come a long way, especially in the area of sneakers.From the Reebok Pump in the 1990s, that supposedly inflated ...

PhotoOver the years footwear has really come a long way, especially in the area of sneakers.

From the Reebok Pump in the 1990s, that supposedly inflated and gave you additional support by pressing the shoe’s tongue, to other sneakers that light up with each step, it’s been a long time since shoes were just worn for utility purposes.

In fact, shoes aren’t really worn these days, they’re sported, and some companies are now making them with some very impressive extras and doodads.

Take the Nike LeBron X sneakers for instance that come with what manufacturers call a “Sports Kit,” which is a technological component that records how high your vertical leap is while playing.

Apparently, Nike is moving toward the recent trend of consumers having the ability to document statistical information during their workout regimen by simply wearing a watch, electronic belt, or pairs of shoes.

Users can then look up the results from an app or home computer, but of course this added feature isn’t going to make the sneakers less expensive, it's going to drive up the cost considerably.

Pretty pricey

The LeBron sneaker is reportedly going for $270 which has spawned a pretty decent debate among the online community.

"Who would dare spend this amount on a pair of sneakers?" some say. "These kids are insane for wanting anything so darn costly, especially when the shoes are made so inexpensively," a few complained.

It seems that people are offended by the cost of the shoe and truly bothered that consumers want to own them. You would think it was Nike that created people's desire for expensive things.

OK, but explain this: If designer high heels, handbags and overpriced watches -- which can easily reach the $1000 range -- are fine for people to want and own, why is it that but I guess young adults shouldn’t desire anything that costs more than $50 or $100?

It’s pretty easy to determine that neither age nor the amount of money one makes determines what items they'll want to purchase. I mean, forget baseball, its product consumption that’s America’s favorite pastime and a desire to play this ancient sport doesn’t limit itself to a particular age group or financial bracket.

Nike says the LeBron shoes will be officially released on September 29, and those interested can expect to wait on corner-bending lines for hours to own them, even though the shoes are more gimmicky than anything.

GPS shoes

But if you really want something that combines technology and footwear you don’t have to look beyond what’s known as the GPS shoe.

PhotoThe “No Place Like Home GPS Shoe" -- its full name -- was dreamed up by British designer Dominic Wilcox, and it has the ability to navigate your feet back to your house if you’re lost or stuck in a foreign neighborhood.  And by the lengthy name of the shoes, it’s not hard to tell that Wilcox used the Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy for the design inspiration.

“I decided to make a pair of shoes that can navigate you home where ever you are,” he said on the company’s website. “I thought about the Wizard of Oz and how Dorothy could click her shoes together to go home.  After uploading your required destination to the shoes via a piece of custom made mapping software and a USB cable, the GPS, which is embedded in the heel, is activated by a heel click,” explains Wilcox.

At the start of your trek towards home, a red light appears at the toe of the shoe, while other lights lead and direct you to your house. Once you’ve arrived, the red light turns green.

The actual shoes, made in a throwback Stacy Adams style, surprisingly look pretty good. It has the appearance of a normal shoe that you would wear to work or to a casually dressed social gathering.

As far as the lights on the shoe’s toe, they’re really not that noticeable, but I’m sure they’ll attract at least small bits of attention from people wondering why your shoes are lighting up with tiny green and red dots.

The GPS shoes also have a small red tag coming out of the back of the upper heel area that serves as the satellite antenna.

Wilcox says the shoes will work anywhere in the world, which is ideal for those on vacation or in an unfamiliar area, as the shoes will be able to get folks back to their hotel in pedestrian friendly cities, that are hard to navigate with or without a map.

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Problems and Cancellations Mount for American Airlines

Travel writer urges consumers to avoid the airline

  If you are a struggling U.S. airline, hoping to arrange one more merger with a rival while dealing with labor unrest among union employees,...

PhotoIf you are a struggling U.S. airline, hoping to arrange one more merger with a rival while dealing with labor unrest among union employees, the last thing you want is for the leading travel writer for America's major business newspaper to write something like this:

“If you’re making travel plans for this fall, avoid American Airlines. American has become too unreliable.”

That's how travel writer Scott McCartney of the Wall Street Journal began his blog Tuesday. In recent days, American Airlines has seen a surge in flight cancellations, according to KXAS-TV in Dallas-Fort Worth.

'In shambles'

McCartney says American's contentious negotiations with the pilots union spells trouble for the airline and passengers who depend on it. He describes American's operations as being “in shambles.”

American, which earlier this month signed non-disclosure agreements with US Airways as a prelude to a possible merger, is implementing pay and benefit cuts and trimming time off. It's also outsourcing more of its flights to regional carriers.

A number of pilots have called in sick recently but it's a point of dispute whether it's an organized effort. The union says it isn't and blamed the company for mismanagement.

Layoff warnings

American, meanwhile, is still in bankruptcy proceedings. As part of that it is sending out layoff warnings to more than 11,000 employees, who are being told only that they could lose their jobs -- not that they will. An American spokesman said actual layoffs will be less than half that number.

Last month members of the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU) at two American Airlines bargaining units voted to ratify new contract agreements which reduce the concessions demanded by AMR, the airline’s parent company, which has been in bankruptcy reorganization since November of 2011.

One of the TWU units narrowly approved the package. The other accepted it by a 79 to 21 percent vote.

'A lot of frustration'

“There is a lot of frustration associated with this entire bankruptcy process, which is designed to facilitate concessions and to ensure the reorganization of the debtor, rather than advance the interests of working people,” said TWU International President James C. Little. “That is how it has worked in every airline bankruptcy. Nobody is happy with a concessionary agreement, and our members are still waiting to see a business plan that instills confidence. But this result a lot better than what our members would have faced with a court-imposed solution.”

KXAS-TV quotes an American spokesman as saying the airline is cutting its schedule for the rest of September and all of October by one to two percent. That may hit Texans particularly hard, since American currently operates as many as 75 percent of the flights from Dallas-Fort Worth Airport.

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Damage to iPhones Totals $5.9 Billion Since 2007

Are consumers hard on these phones or are they just fragile?

  The release of the iPhone 5 has created record sales for Apple's smartphone, which is the company's major profit center. But the consumers ...

PhotoThe release of the iPhone 5 has created record sales for Apple's smartphone, which is the company's major profit center. But the consumers who shell out $199 and up for the device have paid a lot more than that.

SquareTrade, a company that sells smartphone insurance policies, has released a study showing that damaged iPhones have cost U.S. consumers $5.9 billion since their introduction in 2007.

Based on a survey of more than 2,000 iPhone users, the results combined the cost of repairs, replacements and insurance deductibles for cracked, dropped, pummeled, kicked, and water-damaged iPhones. The study also found that in the last 12 months alone, 30 percent of iPhone users damaged their device.

Hard on their phones

The study also shows that younger consumers are clumsiest with their iPhones: half of iPhone users under 35 have had an accident.

The top five iPhone accident scenarios, according to the study, are:

  1. Phone dropped from my hand
  2. Phone fell into a toilet, sink, hot tub, swimming pool, lake, etc.
  3. Phone dropped from a lap
  4. Phone knocked off a table
  5. Phone drenched by some liquid

Common complaints

Complaints about the fragility of iPhones are nothing new. Consumers generally expect problems to be covered under warranty but usually find out they are not.

“Less than one month after purchasing an iPhone4 which AT&T suggested for an upgrade, my iPhone went out, no screen, nothing,” Robert, of Slidell, LA, wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. “The AT&T store could do nothing. I was told to go to an Apple store and make an appointment first, of course. Apple store took phone in the back room, came out several minutes later and said phone not warranted because of liquid-wet. Phone was not wet (was in a life proof case) but they proceeded to show me red dots in phone to indicate wet.”

But SquareTrade says it sees plenty of problems with iPhones caused by moisture.

The toilet drop

"We were astonished at how many people drop their phones in the toilet as well as how frequently an innocuous drop from the hand actually killed the device,” said Ty Shay, CMO at SquareTrade. “We look forward to seeing what the new iPhone 5 users report with regard to durability."

Because of common accidents and the high cost of repairs, the SquareTrade study suggests many iPhone owners resort to improvised repairs.

For example, 11 percent of iPhone owners surveyed are currently using a device that is cracked and 6 percent have taped up their iPhone as a solution.

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Arsenic in Rice: What You Can Do

There are some simple steps you can take to reduce your exposure

 Quinoa is a tasty rice substitute and is very high in proteinThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) isn't recommending that consumers cut ...

Photo
Quinoa is a tasty rice substitute and is very high in protein
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) isn't recommending that consumers cut back on their rice consumption despite the discovery of arsenic, a known human carcinogen,  in rice samples.

But others aren't so sure, and say the FDA and other government agencies have a long record of being a little, well, blasé about such things. 

“In many cases the arsenic found in food comes from natural sources, but that doesn't mean it is safe,” said Sonya Lunder, senior research analyst at the Environmental Working Group (EWG) . “Arsenic is known to cause cancer in humans, and FDA needs to do everything possible to reduce people’s exposure.

"Unfortunately, the agency has spent the past 20 years testing foods without making any recommendations on what consumers can do to reduce their risk," Lunder said. "The public should not wait for FDA; there are number steps people can take that will dramatically reduce the amount of arsenic they ingest.”

What consumers can do to reduce their own exposure:

  • Eat a varied diet and try out alternatives to rice such as quinoa, barley, grits/polenta, couscous or bulgur wheat.
  • Boil brown rice in a lot of water (as you do with pasta). Evidence suggests that can lower arsenic levels. White rice does not hold up as well to this method of cooking.

What parents can do to reduce children’s exposure:

  • For babies, try orange vegetables such as sweet potatoes and squash, bananas and avocados as first solid foods.
  • Buy non-rice baby cereals, such as oatmeal or mixed grains.
  • Do not use rice milk as a dairy substitute.
  • Limit fruit juices to a maximum of one-half to one cup a day.
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Vimeo Adds a Tip Jar

Like what you see? Flip a little cash into the hat

You tip the barista who whips up your brew and we hope you tip the shuttle-bus driver who helps you with your bags. You may even tip the guy on the corner ...

PhotoYou tip the barista who whips up your brew and we hope you tip the shuttle-bus driver who helps you with your bags. You may even tip the guy on the corner who doesn't do much of anything.

So why not tip the hard-working content slaves who produce that little piece of video you just enjoyed on Vimeo?  Soon you'll be able to do just that. The video-hosting site is adding a virtual tip jar today and says it will have an optional paywall available within the next few months.

"Empowering creators to make money from their videos is a logical next step for Vimeo as a service and an opportunity to expand the overall marketplace for video creators and viewers,” said Vimeo CEO Kerry Trainor. “Established creators and emerging talent alike can connect directly with their audiences without the need to conform to industry standards around video format, price or timing releases.”

We're sure Trainor is all sincere and stuff about helping struggling content producers but it's worth noting that, just like the barista's boss, Vimeo will have its hand in the tip jar. It will keep 15% of gross revenue.

Trainor notes that while consumers haven't rained down money on every online request for donations, there have been some pretty spectacular successes with crowd-funding over the past few years and he thinks the time may be right for the tip jar approach.

Of course, if the tip jar doesn't work, content producers can take a page from the cruise lines that automatically add tips to the ticket price: they can use Vimeo's new paywall, which will work just like its cable counterparts: you  watch, you pay.

YouTube, the biggest video-hosting site, said in April that it would soon be offering a paywall option for live event streaming.

 

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Report Finds Mercury in Tuna Sold to Schools

Parents and schools advised to limit servings of tuna to children

Tuna is a tasty, high-protein, low-fat food and it can even be prepared in recipes that kids like. But a new report finds that children may be at more risk...

PhotoTuna is a tasty, high-protein, low-fat food and it can even be prepared in recipes that kids like. But a new report finds that children may be at more risk from mercury in tuna than had previously been thought.

The report, co-released by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), Physicians for Social Responsibility, Safe Minds, and several other groups, advises schools and parents not to serve any albacore tuna to kids and to limit consumption of light tuna to twice a month for most kids and only once a month for smaller children (under 55 pounds).

The study by the Mercury Policy Project contains the first-ever test results of canned tuna sold to schools.  It also notes that new studies have found adverse effects of tuna consumption at lower levels than expected.

 

"Most children are already consuming only modest amounts of tuna and are not at significant risk," said Michael Bender, director of the Mercury Policy Project. "So the focus really needs to be on kids who eat tuna often, to limit their mercury exposure by offering them lower-mercury seafood or other nutritious alternatives."

"Fish, including tuna, is generally a nutritious part of a healthy diet," said Sarah Klein, staff attorney in the Food Safety program at CSPI. "But especially for our littlest, most vulnerable children, we have to make sure the risks from mercury in tuna don't outweigh tuna's benefits. We're urging parents and schools to limit children's tuna consumption and, when they do serve it, to choose lower-mercury options."

Not a low-mercury fish

Photo"As the report states, light tuna has one-third as much mercury as albacore does," added Eric Uram of Safe Minds. "But contrary to the current Federal fish consumption advisory, it is definitely not a low-mercury fish."

The report points out that canned tuna is by far the largest source of methylmercury in the U.S. diet and accounts for nearly one-third of Americans' total exposure to this toxic mercury compound.

MPP tested the mercury content of 59 samples, representing eight brands of tuna, sold to schools in 11 states around the country.

"As far as we know, no one has previously tested this market sector," said Bender. Testing showed that the tuna contains mercury levels similar to what other investigations have found in canned tuna sold in supermarkets. Albacore or "white" tuna had much higher mercury levels than did "light" tuna, and mercury levels in both types were highly variable.

PhotoCanned tuna is inexpensive and nutritious, a low-fat protein source, and a popular lunch food for kids. American kids eat twice as much tuna as they do any other kind of fish, and one out of every six U.S. seafood meals is canned tuna. A tuna sandwich is an easy-to-fix parental favorite, and canned tuna is served through the federally subsidized school lunch program. And schools may be switching to leaner protein sources this fall as they implement the new school lunch standards.

The report offers these recommendations (among others):

  • Children should not eat albacore tuna. Albacore or "white" tuna contains triple the mercury level of light tuna; nothing justifies tripling a child's mercury dose.
  • Children weighing more than 55 pounds should not eat more than two servings of light tuna per month. This amount of tuna (six ounces) is more than the average child currently consumes; the mercury dose it contains is acceptably low in risk.
  • Children up to 55 pounds should consume no more than one tuna meal per month.Because of their smaller body size, an added margin of caution is appropriate for younger children.
  • "Tuna-loving" kids should be the focus of risk-management efforts. In particular:
    • No child should eat tuna every day. (Tuna Surprise presents cases of children who did that, and were diagnosed with clinical methylmercury poisoning.)
    • Parents and schools should offer children other seafood choices, such as shrimp and salmon, which are just as nutritious but contain far less mercury.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture's School Lunch Program should phase out commodity purchases of canned tuna, and replace it with lower-mercury alterative seafood items and other extra-lean protein sources.
  • Parents should monitor their children's canned tuna consumption at school and ensure that the total consumed at home and at school does not exceed the recommendations for exposure.
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Food and Drug Administration Looks for Answers on Arsenic in Rice

No need for any dietary changes, agency says

On the heels of a Consumer Reports test that found inorganic arsenic -- a known human carcinogen -- in most of the name brand and other rice product samp...

PhotoOn the heels of a Consumer Reports test that found inorganic arsenic -- a known human carcinogen -- in most of the name brand and other rice product samples, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is testing rice and rice products for the presence of the chemical. 

The agency has analyzed nearly 200 samples of rice and rice products and is collecting about 1,000 more. Since rice is processed into many products, these samples include rice products such as cereals, rice beverages and rice cakes. 

Arsenic levels can vary greatly from sample to sample, even within the same product. FDA’s testing of the initial samples found these examples of inorganic arsenic in micrograms (one millionth of a gram) in individual samples: 

  • Rice (other than Basmati rice): 6.7 per 1 cup (cooked)
  • Rice cakes: 5.4 per 2 cakes
  • Rice beverages: 3.8 per 240 ml (some samples not tested for inorganic arsenic)
  • Rice cereals: 3.7 per 1 cup
  • Basmati rice: 3.5 per 1 cup cooked 

No changes recommended 

Based on data and scientific literature available now, FDA is not recommending that consumers change their consumption of rice and rice products at this time, but that people eat a balanced diet containing a wide variety of grains. 

Data collection is the critical first step in assessing long-term health risks and minimizing those risks.

“We understand that consumers are concerned about this matter. FDA is committed to ensuring that we understand the extent to which substances such as arsenic are present in our foods, what risks they may pose, whether these risks can be minimized, and to sharing what we know,” says FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. 

Once FDA has completed its analysis of about 1,200 rice products, the agency will analyze these results and determine whether or not to issue additional recommendations. 

Arsenic in the environment 

Arsenic is a chemical element distributed in the Earth’s crust. It is released from volcanoes and from the erosion of mineral deposits. It is found throughout the environment -- in water, air and soil. For that reason, it is inevitably found in some foods and beverages. 

Human activities also add arsenic to the environment. They include burning coal, oil, gasoline and wood, mining, and the use of arsenic compounds as pesticides, herbicides and wood preservatives. 

FDA has been monitoring arsenic levels in rice for more than 20 years. Its analysis thus far does not show any evidence of a change in total arsenic levels. The change is that researchers are better able to measure whether those levels represent more or less toxic forms of arsenic. 

Rice comes from all over the world and is grown very differently from region to region, which may greatly vary the levels of arsenic within the same kind of product. The larger sample that FDA is taking will cover the wide variety of rice types, geographical regions where rice is grown, and the wide range of foods that contain rice as an ingredient. 

FDA expects to complete the additional collection and analysis of samples by the end of the year. The agency is paying particular attention to rice and rice products consumed by children, as well as consumers like Asian-Americans and those with celiac disease who may consumer higher levels of rice. 

The next steps 

After analyzing all samples and conducting a comprehensive assessment of potential health risks, FDA will evaluate strategies designed to limit arsenic exposure from rice and rice products. 

The agency is working with other government agencies, industry, scientists, consumer groups and others to study the issue and assess risks. 

“It is critical to not get ahead of the science,” says Michael R. Taylor, FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods. “The FDA's ongoing data collection and other assessments will give us a solid scientific basis for determining what steps are needed to reduce exposure to arsenic in rice and rice products.” 

So what should a person who eats rice do in the meantime? 

“Our advice right now is that consumers should continue to eat a balanced diet that includes a wide variety of grains -- not only for only for good nutrition but also to minimize any potential consequences from consuming any one particular food,” Hamburg said.

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More Consumers Living Paycheck-to-Paycheck

Sixty-eight percent say they couldn't go a week without getting paid

  Personal finance counselors usually advise that it is prudent to have enough money in savings to cover six months of living expenses withou...

PhotoPersonal finance counselors usually advise that it is prudent to have enough money in savings to cover six months of living expenses without income. In this era of job insecurity, that has never been better advice.

But most Americans don't or can't take that advice. A survey by the American Payroll Association finds 68 percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck.

Respondents were asked how difficult it would be to meet their current financial obligations if their paychecks were delayed for a week. More than 28,300 of the 30,611 people responding to the survey -- 68 percent -- said they would find it somewhat or very difficult to meet their financial obligations if their paychecks were delayed.

The results are not that surprising since an entire industry has sprung up in response to that reality. Payday loan stores market to consumers who are stretched thin and have no savings. When they encounter an unexpected expense, they often turn to a payday lender as a last resort.

Falling behind

The fact that consumers' incomes are falling also make it harder to accumulate an emergency savings account. The Pew Research Center has crunched Census Bureau numbers showing that U.S. household income has continued to fall since the Great Recession ended in June 2009.

“The decrease in household income from 2009 to 2011 almost exactly equaled the decrease in income in the two years of the recession,” the Pew report said. “During the Great Recession, the median U.S. household income dropped from $54,489 in 2007 to $52,195 in 2009, a loss of 4.2 percent. By this yardstick, the recovery from the Great Recession is bypassing the nation’s households.”

The Pew report mirrors one issued earlier this month by Sentier Research, a survey and data analysis firm. According to the Sentier report, median annual household income declined during the recession, from $54,916 in December 2007 to $53,508 in June 2009. That's the point at which the economy began to register positive growth.

But the downward trend in household income continued, according to Sentier. During the last three years of economic recovery, real median annual household income has fallen to $50,964 -- a decline of 4.7 percent over the last three years. During the same period, the economy has grown an average 3.9 percent per quarter.

So with less money coming in, it only seems logical that more Americans would be living paycheck-to-paycheck.  

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JetBlue Adding In-Flight Internet

First planes will get service early next year

  JetBlue is the latest airline to announce it will provide Internet access to its passengers. The carrier said it plans to partner with ViaS...

PhotoJetBlue is the latest airline to announce it will provide Internet access to its passengers. The carrier said it plans to partner with ViaSat to bring the Web to its fleet beginning in the first quarter of 2013.

The news got out before the company planned. The Verge reported it obtained a company email detailing the plans. JetBlue confirmed the report on its Website.

That prompted ViaSat to go public with a press release of its own, saying its system enables airlines to specify a high-speed service level to each passenger, rather than simply an aggregate amount of bandwidth to the plane that leaves passengers competing for service.

The system is capable of delivering 12 Mbps or more to each connected passenger. However, neither party has yet specified exact speeds to be offered aboard JetBlue.

ViaSat says its high-capacity can offer significantly higher transmission speeds, more bandwidth for each passenger, less network congestion, and more attractive airtime pricing than other in-flight Internet access alternatives.

The full aircraft system, which ViaSat says is the first of its kind for commercial aviation, is undergoing certification by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Company says Ka-band satellite a plus

“Compared to air-to-ground and traditional satellite in-flight networks, the improved capacity and economics of our Ka-band system enable airlines to finally bring a high-speed home or office Internet experience to passengers,” said Mark Dankberg, ViaSat CEO and chairman. “Customer feedback on our Exede home Internet service has been overwhelmingly positive and we’re eager to prove that the in-flight experience can be just as good.”

ViaSat is already under contract to install its in-flight system, working together with partner LiveTV, onto 370 aircraft operated by JetBlue and one other U.S. carrier, which it did not name. LiveTV currently provides DIRECTV service to all passengers on JetBlue.

Internet installations are expected to begin later this year with all 370 aircraft scheduled to be online by the end of calendar 2015.

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Existing Home Sales Rise in August

Sales occurring in spite of tight mortgage standards

  The news from the real estate market continues to suggest that housing is finally on the mend. Sales of existing homes rose 7.8 percent in ...

PhotoThe news from the real estate market continues to suggest that housing is finally on the mend. Sales of existing homes rose 7.8 percent in August from July. The seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.82 million was up 9.3 percent from August 2011.

"The housing market is steadily recovering with consistent increases in both home sales and median prices. More buyers are taking advantage of excellent housing affordability conditions," said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors (NAR). "Inventories in many parts of the country are broadly balanced, favoring neither sellers nor buyers. However, the West and Florida markets are experiencing inventory shortages, which are placing pressure on prices."

In many cases, there hasn't been any kind of pricing pressure favorable to sellers since 2006. Yun said the improvement in the market is occurring in spite of, not because of, mortgage lenders.

Difficult mortgage qualifying conditions

"The strengthening housing market is occurring even with difficult mortgage qualifying conditions, which is testament to the sizable stored-up housing demand that accumulated in the past five years," Yun said.

In a separate report federal regulators noted that mortgage lending dropped to its lowest level in 16 years in 2011. The Federal Reserve reports lenders funded about 7.1 million mortgages in 2011 -- down 10 percent from the year before.

Rising sales last month also lifted prices. The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $187,400 in August, up 9.5 percent from a year ago. The last time there were six back-to-back monthly price increases from a year earlier was from December 2005 to May 2006.

The August increase was the strongest since January 2006 when the median price rose 10.2 percent from a year earlier.

Fewer distressed properties

Distressed homes -- foreclosures and short sales sold at deep discounts -- accounted for 22 percent of August sales, down from 24 percent in July and 31 percent in August 2011. Foreclosures sold for an average discount of 19 percent below market value in August, while short sales were discounted 13 percent.

First-time buyers accounted for 31 percent of purchasers in August, versus 34 percent in July; they were 32 percent in August 2011.

All-cash sales were unchanged at 27 percent of transactions in August; they were 29 percent in August 2011. Investors, who account for most cash sales, purchased 18 percent of homes in August, up two percent from July; they were 22 percent in August 2011.

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Fed Action Halts Debt Relief Marketing Operation

Allegedly made illegal robocalls, debited consumers' bank accounts without their consent

A federal court has halted a purported debt relief operation that allegedly contacted consumers through recorded telemarketing calls, falsely claimed it wo...

PhotoA federal court has halted a purported debt relief operation that allegedly contacted consumers through recorded telemarketing calls, falsely claimed it would reduce their unsecured debt by 50 percent or more, made unauthorized charges to their bank accounts and called phone numbers listed on the National Do Not Call Registry. 

The action, which came at the request of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), is part of the agency’s efforts to stop scams that target consumers in financial distress and its continuing crackdown on illegal “robocalls.” The court ordered a stop to the defendants’ allegedly deceptive practices and froze their assets pending a trial. 

The FTC has brought 88 enforcement actions against 250 corporate and 194 individual defendants involving robocalls and Do Not Call violations, resulting in payments of more than $69 million in civil penalties and equitable monetary relief. 

Giving 'false hope' 

“Giving people false hope by promising to reduce their debt is bad enough. But stealing their money by debiting their bank accounts without their permission is beyond the pale,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said. “Consumers can count on the FTC and state Attorneys General to find the bad actors and stop them from doing further harm.” 

According to the FTC’s complaint against Jeremy R. Nelson and four companies he controlled -- Nelson Gamble & Associates LLP, Jackson Hunter Morris & Knight LLC, BlackRock Professional Corporation and Mekhia Capital LLC -- the defendants marketed and sold debt relief services via telemarketing and Websites. They promised to settle consumers’ debts for substantially less than they owed and said lawyers would provide the services. 

One Website cited in the complaint stated, “Nelson Gamble works with the utmost diligence to obtain the best possible outcome for our clients, with over $90 million of debt settled in the past 12 months -- and over $800 million since our inception . . . ,” noting that it employs “proven tactical methods to settle debt by 50% to 80% of your total outstanding balances. . . . Typically, you can be free from debt in three years or less.” 

According to the complaint, the defendants were not lawyers, as they claimed; they settled few, if any, debts for customers; and some consumers who did not order their services found that the defendants had debited money from their bank accounts. 

Numerous charges 

The FTC charged the defendants with violating the FTC Act and the agency’s Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) by making false and deceptive claims and by causing consumers’ bank accounts to be debited without their express, informed consent. They also allegedly violated the TSR by charging advance fees for debt relief services, calling phone numbers listed on the National Do Not Call Registry, calling consumers who had told them not to call, failing to transmit caller identification to consumers’ caller ID service, delivering recorded messages without consumers’ prior written consent, repeatedly calling consumers to annoy them and delivering recorded messages that failed to identify the seller, the call’s purpose and the product or service. 

In addition, the defendants allegedly violated the Electronic Fund Transfer Act and Regulation E by debiting consumers’ bank accounts on a recurring basis without their written authorization, and without providing consumers with a copy of the authorization. 

Robocall summit 

The FTC also announced it will host a summit on October 18, 2012, in Washington, DC, to examine the issues surrounding the robocall problem. The summit will be open to the public, and will include members of law enforcement, the telemarketing and telecommunications industry, consumer groups and other stakeholders. 

It will focus on exploring innovations that could potentially be used to trace robocalls, prevent wrongdoers from faking caller ID data, and stop illegal calls. More information about the summit and a draft agenda will be forthcoming.

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Five Ways to Make Retirement More Secure

Times have changed and your retirement plans should reflect that

  Retirement planning has undergone a radical change in the last decade. Times have changed and so has the way people are thinking about reti...

PhotoRetirement planning has undergone a radical change in the last decade. Times have changed and so has the way people are thinking about retirement.

Before 2008 many financial planners talked to their clients about buying a vineyard or opening a New England bed and breakfast in their golden years. After all, stocks would continue to gain in value and so would the equity in their home.

Then came the reality check of 2008. Now, it seems, the goal is to just have enough money to live the rest of your life above the poverty line.

Doubts about pensions and Social Security

In the past, many could rely on pension plans and Social Security benefits, but pension plans are increasingly rare and Social Security benefits should not be used as a sole source of retirement, financial planners now say.

Problem number one is Americans are living longer. Not really a problem except that if you stop working at age 65 and live to be 95, there's 30 years of living expenses you have to cover.

According to a recent Employee Benefit Research Institute study (EBRI), nearly 47 percent of early baby boomers, ages 56 to 62, are at risk of outliving their retirement savings. To make sure that doesn't happen requires a plan. A realistic plan.

A realistic plan

"To develop a sustainable strategy that meets your specific needs, some important considerations would be your age at retirement, life expectancy, living expenses and the rate of return you expect from your investments," said Dean Urbanski, Vice President, BMO Harris Financial Advisors, Inc.

A realistic retirement should include these steps:

  • Reduce living expenses
  • Develop a withdrawal strategy
  • Carefully allocate your assets
  • Choose a post-retirement career
  • Improve your health

While most planners begin their strategy on the income side, it may be best to look first at the expense side and housing is one of the biggest expenses. If your home is nearly paid for, step up efforts to pay it off early.

If you still have a large mortgage consider downsizing. If you have equity in a home consider selling it, now that the housing market is beginning to recover, and relocating to an area where the cost of living is less. Living without a mortgage is an excellent way to make your retirement funds go further.

Withdrawal strategy

If you have retirement savings, you must come up with a withdrawal strategy. Knowing how much money should be withdrawn from your retirement savings each year is a critical factor in building a retirement plan.

Withdraw too much and you are likely to outlive your assets; take too little and you may unnecessarily sacrifice your standard of living, especially in the early years of retirement.

Asset allocation

Asset Allocation is another important consideration. As individuals seek increased income in retirement, they often shift their holdings more toward bonds and cash. This may or may not be a good move, as there are other key investment considerations beyond having a need for income. Confer with your financial advisor to determine the appropriate allocation for your needs, investment objective, risk profile and time frame.

If possible, your retirement assets should keep working, providing an income stream. This income can be used to meet your day-to-day expenses.

One possible option is to allocate a portion of your savings to an annuity. Annuities are an investment tool that can provide guaranteed income for the rest of your life, no matter how long you live.

While not guaranteed, another source of income are stocks that pay dividends. While many retirement people shy away from equities, a diversified portfolio of income producing stocks and funds reduces some of the risk while providing steady cash flow.

Have a plan

"Whatever your specific plans, it's crucial that you enter retirement with a strategy for turning your savings into a retirement 'paycheck' that will allow you to live retirement on your own terms," Urbanksi said.

In addition to the “paycheck” you receive from your retirement savings, consider an actual paycheck from a full or part-time job. In other words, just because you retire doesn't mean you have to stop working.

Many people, however, can't wait to retire. The last thing they want to do is consider another job. But consider this: most people don't hate work, they just hate their jobs. What if you could find a job doing something that actually gives you pleasure, even at a reduced paycheck? The income from that job would supplement the income from your investments, pension and Social Security.

Finally, remaining in good health during retirement will have a major positive economic effect. Staying active in both mind and body will help you be more productive and, should you choose to, work longer.

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Statins Unlikely to Prevent Blood Clots, Analysis Finds

Study that found otherwise was too limited

Despite previous studies suggesting the contrary, statins -- cholesterol-lowering drugs -- may not prevent blood clots (venous thrombo-embolism) in adults,...

PhotoDespite previous studies suggesting the contrary, statins -- cholesterol-lowering drugs -- may not prevent blood clots (venous thrombo-embolism) in adults, according to a large analysis by international researchers published in this week's PLOS Medicine

In 2009, an additional analysis of data from a randomized controlled trial called the JUPITER trial reported that the statin rosuvastatin cut by half the risk of venous thromboembolic events among apparently healthy adults. However, this finding was based on a small number of patients who had thromboembolic events (34 vs 60). 

To gather more evidence about the possible benefits of statins, a group of international researchers led by Kazem Rahimi from the George Centre for Healthcare Innovation at the University of Oxford in the UK, combined the results (performed a meta-analysis) of 29 suitable published and unpublished randomized controlled trials of the effects of statins involving over 100 000 participants and more than 1000 events: Only two studies presented venous thrombotic events in the published report, but such events had been recorded as adverse events in all of the included trials, which the authors were able to include in their analysis. 

'Small, if any, effect' 

In the combined analysis, the authors found that venous thrombosis occurred in 0.9% of people taking statins compared with 1% of people not taking statins, which suggests that statins have a very small, if any, effect. These results did not change when the authors excluded the findings of the JUPITER trial. The authors also found that there was no effect at all in people taking high doses and low doses of statins. 

"This study provides a more detailed assessment of the potential effects of statins (or higher dose statins) on venous thromboembolic events than has previously been possible,” the authors wrote. “We were unable to confirm the large proportional reduction in risk suggested by some previous studies. 

"However,” they concluded, “a more modest but perhaps clinically worthwhile reduction in venous thromboembolic events in some or all types of patient cannot be ruled out." 

In an accompanying Perspective article, Frits Rosendaal from the Leiden University Medical Center in The Netherlands (uninvolved in the study) argues that even if the study cannot provide definite answers to the statin question, some tentative conclusions can be drawn. 

"Firstly, that for the association between statins and venous thrombosis the methodologically strongest analysis shows at most a very small effect,” he says. “Secondly, if we do not wish to discard the possibility of a beneficial effect for the whole class, any such effects are limited to rosuvastatin."

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47% of Americans Don't Pay Taxes: True or False?

Cynical, divisive candidates use demagoguery to avoid having a responsible discussion about taxes

Election years provide an opportunity for political leaders and the parties they represent to raise and debate crucial issues. This can not only help voter...

PhotoElection years provide an opportunity for political leaders and the parties they represent to raise and debate crucial issues. This can not only help voters make an informed decision but can also contribute to an elightened public dialogue about how best to address these issues to achieve the most desirable long-term solution.

To say that this seldom occurs is the mildest of understatement. In this year's election cycle, both parties and their candidates have carelessly and recklessly thrown around misstatements, distortions and outright lies in hopes of eking out another vote or two in crucial swing states.

Few topics have been more cynically misused and abused in the current campaign than tax policy. The Democratic candidate, Barack Obama, has proposed to raise taxes on those who have invested in America by putting their money in stocks and bonds, where it finances the operations of corporations and governments, thereby creating jobs and helping to grow the economy.

The Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, has lately spent his time denigrating voters who don't pay federal income taxes, suggesting they will vote for Obama to keep the cash flowing their way.

"There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent on government, who believe that, that they are victims, who believe that government has the responsibility to care for them. Who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing," Romney said in a secretly-recorded video.

This has become a GOP rallying point lately, with former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleisher saying on CNN last night that these supposed free loaders are "getting government for free."

Is it true?

PhotoIs it true that a large segment of American society is getting a free ride, contributing nothing to the greater good?

Not according to most reasonable economists. In a timely analysis, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that when all federal, state, and local taxes are taken into account, the bottom fifth of households pays about 16 percent of their income in taxes, on average.

After all, the fact that someone is not required to pay income tax in a given year does not mean that that person does not pay other taxes, including:

  • Payroll taxes. These are levied on all workers. Lower-income workers generally pay nearly 10 percent of their income on payroll taxes. Higher-income workers pay a much smaller percentage.
  • Sales taxes. Among the least progressive of all taxes, sales taxes hit lower-income people harder than those with higher incomes. Oddly, even Democrats have recently applauded the extension of sales taxes to online purchases.   
  • Gas tax. Everyone pays taxes on the gas they pump into their tanks to get to work, to the doctor or to class. Lower-income Americans are more likely to have older cars that get poorer gas mileage and thus may pay more in gas taxes than their wealthier counterparts.
  • Property tax. Nearly everyone pays property taxes, which go to support local schools and municipal government.  Even renters pay property tax, as nearly all landlords jack up the rent sufficiently to cover the tax on each unit. Of course, landlords can deduct the property tax from their return; their tenants can't.

Is it permanent?

PhotoGov. Romney and the others who denigrate those who have fallen on hard times seem not to have considered that this condition is quite possibly temporary.

Many of those who have not paid federal income tax in recent years are those both candidates say they want to help -- workers who have lost their jobs as a result of globalization and the financial meltdown that is still rippling through the economy. The most recent jobs report finds only 96,000 new jobs were created in August, leaving the unemployment rate at 8.1%, a figure that everyone agrees would be much higher if it included those who have given up and quit looking for work.

If and when the economy begins to perk and new jobs are created at a faster clip, many of those who are not unemployed may return to work and begin paying income taxes again.

Likewise, many of those who have not paid taxes for the last year or two are students, who presumably will become taxpayers when they graduate and find steady work. 

Millions more have fallen out of the work force because of illness -- their own or others -- while others have simply become too old to work.

Eventually, those who are elderly, ill or disabled may be expected to die, which will persumably remove them from Mr. Romney's list of slackers.

No assets

PhotoPresident Obama, who won election on a promise that he would work to mend fences and reduce partisanship, has chosen to demagogue the taxation issue, proposing to persecute the rich rather than offering a comprehensive proposal for tax reform.

Fundamentally, as Obama well knows, the United States economy will remain on shaky ground as long as most Americans essentially have no assets. A study released today finds that in 2010 the typical middle class family had financial assets of $27,300 – including retirement savings but not pensions.

When debt is calculated into the equation, many families today have a negative net worth -- more debt than assets, leaving them helpless to respond to setbacks and changing conditions. The housing crisis, for one, would have been much less damaging if most families were not mortgaged to the hilt.

Why is it like this? Part of the reason is a tax policy that rewards spending and penalizes investment. Taxpayers -- all of us, not just the wealthy -- are encouraged to deduct expenses but, with few exceptions, are taxed on interest and dividends that we have earned.

Obama, who knows better, has advocated increasing the tax rate on dividends and interest, in effect falling into Romney's trap by encouraging Americans to spend, spend, spend and discouraging them from saving and investing so that they can care for themselves and their families and provide capital that creates prosperity and jobs.

Consumption tax

In its early years, the United States had no income tax. The federal government raised money through sales and excise taxes.  Investments were not taxed and families were encouraged to buy property, open savings accounts and make other investments.

For years, economists and Congressional staff members have talked longingly of replacing the current hodge-podge of taxes with a consumption tax that would reward Americans for saving money while taxing them when they spend it.

With a deduction that protected lower-income Americans, such a system could keep the lights on in Washington while enabling middle-class families to accumulate wealth that could help them through troubled times and eventually be passed on to their children. 

There are other options that deserve discussion but you'll hear none of them from the candidates who have chosen the path of divisive demagoguery this year. Americans deserve better.  

 

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How to Eat, Live and Be Healthy With High Blood Pressure

Professor Joan Salge-Blake provides some great tips to manage hypertension.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention nearly 1 in 3 U.S. adults have high-blood pressure, which equates to about 68 million people.M...

PhotoAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) nearly 1 in 3 U.S. adults have high blood pressure, which equates to about 68 million people.

Managing hypertension can simultaneously be easy and difficult, depending on several factors like health coverage, finances, and getting the knowledge of how to do it.

And when it comes to eating right for both preventing and managing high blood pressure it can be a challenge to develop proper eating habits as well as maintain dietary consistency.

To get some eating tips for managing high blood pressure we reached out to author and registered dietician Joan Salge-Blake, who is also a nutrition professor at Boston University. Professor Salge-Blake previously spoke to us about her take on the organic food debate.

Salge-Blake says when it comes to high blood pressure, a big misconception is that people diagnosed with it have to stay away from salt altogether.

“They [high blood pressure patients] don’t have to avoid it, they just have to get it down,” she told ConsumerAffairs. “The problem is that the majority of the foods and the sodium that we take in is from processed foods, so the consumer doesn’t really have control over that. The good news is that Kraft, General Mills and many big corporations are committed over the next several years to reducing the amount of sodium in their products."

"They’re working to do that, because really as a consumer who uses these products we’re just held basically to whatever is available out there. So that has to happen for the American public to get their sodium down,” she says.

Supermarket "pretty healthy"

 

Photo
Joan Salge-Blake

Salge-Blake also points out that most grocery stores already provide enough food items for consumers to avoid a great deal of sodium. She says anything in the produce section is okay and if we’re able to select foods grown and made naturally, it makes the average supermarket still a pretty healthy place to shop.

 

“Anything from Mother Nature, fruits and vegetables are naturally low in sodium,” she says. "The whole grains are going to be just fine, I wouldn’t worry about the sodium in lean dairy products, and by itself lean meat, fish or poultry. So if you can get away from buying things more processed it would be better.”

“For example, the whole grains in brown rice are very low in sodium," she adds. "Now if you get seasoned brown rice or one of those little packets, the sodium goes up. But the good news is there’s plain brown rice and the sodium is low, so what the consumer can do is just use a nutrition label -- to see in the category in which they're buying -- which one would be lower in sodium, and typically it’s the ones that are not seasoned,” she said.

But can one lower their blood pressure by simply eating healthy foods? I mean, is prescription medicine always the first line of defense when you’re first diagnosed with hypertension?

“There are many lifestyle habits that can help you lower your blood pressure should it be high,” says Salge- Blake. "One of the first things you should do is look at your weight and if you’re overweight, you should think about trying to get some weight off because we know that even by losing 10 percent of your body weight can have a dramatic effect on lowering your blood pressure."  

"So you want to get more potassium-rich foods in your diet, and believe it or not, those are fruits and vegetables and lean dairy, so going back to Mother Nature again that would be a really, really good thing to do."

“You want to be exercising, and you want to watch your alcohol intake should you consume alcohol. Consume small amounts because it could increase your blood pressure, so you want to keep it to a more moderate amount,” Salge-Blake warns.

Not always enough

PhotoBut sometimes eating right and exercising just aren't enough, as many people live a healthy lifestyle but still have high blood pressure, and for them, prescription medicine is typically the way to go. However, the risks of being on such medicines can easily lure one towards a level of complacency after seeing their blood pressure numbers drop to healthier levels.  

Some may think, "Hey my blood pressure counts are good now, I guess I can ease up on the exercising and all that healthy eating for a while," which is a dangerous form of logic, says Salge-Blake.

“That’s the magic of the medicine,” she said. “It’s beautiful because for some people they may not be able to control it with diet alone. Some people may say, ‘gee, I’ll just take the hypertension pill and not worry about it’. But what you want to think about is not just hypertension, when you’re eating a well-balanced diet, you’re also fighting heart disease which is the number one killer of Americans."

“We’ll also be getting a diet that would be best in preventing diabetes. Typically if you have high blood pressure, you [should] say ‘Let me start now to see if I can change my diet to get that lower, and guess what, I may help myself reduce the risk of Type-2 diabetes later in life. That’s the way you have to look at it.'"

"You have to look at it like ‘This [high blood pressure] is the first signal that what I’m eating may not be good for my health’, and correct it before another signal, i.e. your glucose starts to get a little bit too high and you start developing a risk for Type-2 diabetes,” she says.

Prescription may be needed

PhotoSalge-Blake also said high blood pressure patients may not be able to pinpoint and cure the condition from proper diet and exercise, but they’ll be able to manage it better, while also diminishing the chances of getting another condition and taking yet another type of medication.

She also states that once you’re diagnosed with hypertension, your first line of defense should be trying to lower your blood pressure on your own, and if that doesn’t work talk to your doctor about getting the right prescription.

But once you start taking medication, don’t stop exercising or eating right, because if you continue to live the same type of lifestyle, you may eventually have to increase the strength of your medicine. She also says that just because you’re on a high blood pressure medication doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily be on it for the rest of your life.

“I’ve had clients, who have come to me on hypertension medication, and through their diet they lost weight, and made changes and they were able to lower their dose and get off it [the medication]. So not necessarily is it something that you’ll stay on for the rest of your life,” she says.

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QE3 Changes Consumer Investment Strategies

Look at what gains value when the dollar loses value

  If you are fortunate enough to have money to invest, or have investments in your retirement accounts, you may be wondering how the Federal...

PhotoIf you are fortunate enough to have money to invest, or have investments in your retirement accounts, you may be wondering how the Federal Reserve's new round of Quantitative Easing (QE) will affect you.

It's generally agreed that, in the short run at least, it will reduce the value of the U.S. dollar. So if you have cash lying around, its value is going to go down.

Lots of things you can exchange for money, however, have already begun to go up in price. For the most part, only assets of a finite nature are being affected. If you buy a new car, for example, don't expect it to go up in price. The normal laws of automotive depreciation still apply.

But if you are invested in the stock market – especially if you are in the right stocks – those investments should go up in value, not necessarily because the underlying companies are increasing in value but to reflect the cheaper dollar.

Stocks of oil companies should do particularly well because oil prices are also rising in response to the Fed's QE3.

Gold on the rise once again

And then there's gold. In recent years gold has gone from being a precious metal to being an alternative currency. In recent months the governments of India and China have been heavy purchasers of gold as a hedge against the declining dollar. As the dollar gets weaker the price of gold goes higher.

There's more than one way to buy gold, of course. The commercials on cable TV for the most part only push what's called “physical” gold. With these purchases the consumer takes delivery of the actual gold – either bullion or coins.

Physical gold is favored by consumers who are pessimistic about the future, or in extreme cases, worried that the world is headed for an economic collapse. They want to make sure that when and if that happens they have something they can trade for life's necessities.

But assuming the world isn't going to end, buying physical gold may not be the best, most efficient way to obtain the precious metal. If you have an online brokerage account, you can purchase shares of an exchange fund based on actual gold assets or purchase stock in a gold mining company. Both tend to rise and fall with the price of gold.

If purchasing a gold mining stock however, there are other issues that could affect the price of the stock – just like the stock of any other type of company. If the mining company isn't well run, or has lots of labor issues, the stock could lose value even when gold prices are rising.

Mark-up

When buying gold coins there are also ways to lose. A coin has other value beside the gold that's in it. The dealer will sometimes mark up a coin more to reflect that perceived value. In other words, its possible to overpay for a gold coin.

Like any investment, talking with a trusted financial advisor is an important step. Independent research also is helpful.

But the status quote isn't an option. QE3 has changed the investing landscape. They don't call it inflation any more but the cost of a lot of important things are going up. Your investments should be one of them.

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Study: Americans Are Feeling Better About the Economy

And since the economic crash of 2008, many people have forever changed their financial ways.

Whatever sinks to the depths is bound to eventually rise.At least that’s what many Americans now believe, as a new report indicates that consumers ...

PhotoWhatever sinks to the depths is bound to eventually rise.

At least that’s what many Americans now believe, as a new report indicates that consumers are feeling more optimistic about their personal finances and the overall economy than they did this time last year.

According to Chase Bank’s “Pulse of the Consumer Survey” 64 percent of Americans believe the economy has reached a place of stability compared to 33 percent in 2011. This may be due to the belief among some consumers that the economy has already reached its lowest point, and it can only show improvement from this point on.

Whether this is true is debatable, but it appears to be a widely-held belief.

The report also shows that putting away enough money for retirement is the chief concern among consumers, as 64 percent said they worry about having enough for their golden years, but only 34 percent of those surveyed admitted to actually saving more money since the economy fell in 2008.

Not enough savings

PhotoAnd being able to live comfortably isn’t the only financial concern among consumers, as way more than half (74 percent) of Americans said they’re worried about their current savings, however only 36 percent of consumers said they made an effort to add more to their savings accounts since the economic collapse.

But as the economy shows signs of consistent improvement, many are still concerned about paying off their everyday expenses. The survey shows that 40 percent of consumers are worried about things like paying their mortgage or rent on time, and making steady payments on their credit card bills.

The survey also showed that 53 percent of Americans are still concerned about getting good deals when they shop, which seems like a low percentage in this area, as one would easily assume that most people would want to save a buck or two.

It also seems the economic crash put a jolt in many consumers, as 78 percent of those surveyed said they’ve modified their spending ways since the economy fell.

In addition, 61 percent of consumers admitted to paying off credit card bills quicker compared to four years ago, and 54 percent said the economic downturn has encouraged them to start a monthly budget since then, the survey reveals.

Unexpected expense

PhotoThe researchers also asked participants how they would pay for an unexpected $1,500 expense that abruptly popped-up.

Almost half (49 percent) said a credit card would be used, and many of those same consumers said they would make gradual payments until the entire amount is paid off. The report also indicates that 45 percent of consumers said that getting the most bang for their buck when purchasing items, is what  gives them the most amount of financial enthusiasm.

Other clear signs that consumers are feeling better about their personal finances as well as the economy, is the fact that 38 percent of Americans said they’re now saving up to purchase a car, and 24 percent they’re planning to take their ultimate vacation trip in the next five years.

Additionally, 20 percent of respondents said they see themselves purchasing a new home or condo between now and the year 2017.

All of these percentages show an increase in consumers making major purchases in the next five years, compared to last year when there was an 11 percent increase of people saying they would purchase a car, and a 13 percent rise in the amount of consumers that plan to buy a new house or condominium.

And when it comes to managing their personal finances most consumers (70 percent) prefer online banking as a successful way to manage their income, which may not be surprising. This same percentage said that credit card websites are preferable when it comes to making timely payments and trying to budget money, compared to the traditional way of mailing payments in.

Dubious about mobile apps

PhotoHowever, banking on mobile apps doesn’t seem to be catching on with consumers just yet, as only 24 percent said they conduct financial transactions on their smartphones.

“All signs point to mobile payments and online banking increasing at a rapid pace over the next few years, said Chief Executive Officer for Chase Card Services Eileen Serra.”

She also says although the economy is showing definite signs of improvement, people still need to seek out effective methods to properly budget their money and control their financial futures.

“We’re encouraged that consumers think the economy and their personal finances are on the upswing, but there is still work to be done,” Serra noted. “Consumers continue to need the correct financial tools and services to better manage their everyday expenses—that is a critical first step to gaining full control over their financial future," she said.

 

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Homes Selling Faster and for Higher Prices

A huge drop in inventory may be helping the market recover

  Two pieces of data in the latest Real-Time Home Price Tracker from real estate firm Redfin point to continued improvement in the housing ma...

PhotoTwo pieces of data in the latest Real-Time Home Price Tracker from real estate firm Redfin point to continued improvement in the housing market.

Homes are spending less time on the market and when they sell, they are going for higher prices. The latest report shows the percentage of homes selling within 14 days of their listing was 27.6 percent in August, compared with 26.7 percent in July.

In the 19 major real estate markets Redfin monitors, prices were up five percent over August 2001.

Fewer homes for sale

A third piece of data may point to the reasons prices are up and time on the market is down. The number of homes for sale continues to decline. Inventory plunged 28.5 percent year-over-year and was down 4.5 percent from July.

With fewer homes to choose from, a classic supply and demand dynamic comes into play. In some markets homes have gone for more than the asking price because of multiple contracts. In the early days of the housing crunch there was a huge inventory of homes, helping to depress sales and prices.

"In our business, Redfin saw a monster surge in August closings," said Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman. "While September now seems likely to be down nearly 20 percent from August's peak, we were surprised after Labor Day to see a relatively large number of new customers begin touring homes for the first time, which has given us reason to be optimistic about the rest of the fall and even the year ahead.”

Why aren't there more sellers?

While housing demand appears to be picking up, there has not been a corresponding increase in sellers. Kelman says he thinks many homeowners sense the market is turning and are holding out for more price gains in the coming year.

Another reason is that many homeowners who bought at the top of the housing bubble are still “underwater,” owing more on their mortgage than their home is worth. They might like to sell, but can't without taking a huge loss.

In the August report, Phoenix had the highest gain in home prices, with the average rising 31 percent year-over-year. Chicago, which has been hard hit by foreclosures, had the worst showing with the average price dropping four percent.

The top six fastest-selling markets are all in California:San Jose, San Francisco, Ventura, Inland Empire, San Diego, and Los Angeles. Boston is the slowest-selling market.

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Study Finds We All Make Mistakes

Two-thirds of Americans admit making costly financial errors

In an analysis of two new sources of information about family finances, the Consumer Federation of America and Primerica found that two-thirds of middle cl...

PhotoA ConsumerAffairs report yesterday advised parents that just giving their children an allowance was no substitute for providing them with financial literacy training.

A report today casts doubt on whether many parents are equipped to provide that training and suggests that many adults are in dire need of a refresher course in managing their personal finances.

The analysis by the Consumer Federation of America and Primerica found that two-thirds of middle class Americans acknowledge having made financial mistakes, often costly ones.

The new report also concluded that the financial condition of most middle class families is challenging. For example, in 2010 the typical middle class family had financial assets of $27,300 – including retirement savings but not pensions – which was 28 percent less than the $37,800 held in 2007.

The comprehensive analysis includes a national survey of 2015 representative adult Americans by ORC International in July of this year and a statistical examination of the Federal Reserve Board’s 2010 Survey of Consumer Finances, by Professor Catherine Montalto of The Ohio State University.

In the ORC International survey, 843 out of 2015 respondents reported household incomes between $30,000 and $100,000 and were considered to be middle class. Key findings from an analysis of the survey data are:

  • Two-thirds of middle class Americans (67%) said that, in the past, they had made at least one “really bad financial decision,” and nearly half of those questioned (47%) acknowledged that they had made more than one bad decision. The typical (median) cost of these bad decisions was $5,000, but the average cost was $23,000.
  • Few of these Americans said their main source of information or advice about specific financial decisions would be from the Internet, books, magazines, or TV. And a number said they would not seek information or advice in making these decisions. For example, for “saving and investing,” only 15 percent said they would rely on the Internet, publications, or TV for the information, yet another 17 percent said they “wouldn’t seek any information or advice, and just make a decision.” However, for this kind of decision, 45 percent said they would use information and advice from a financial professional.
  • These middle class Americans are much more risk-averse than those with higher incomes. If given $1,000,000 to invest for retirement, only 21 percent of middle class Americans, compared to 48 percent of higher-income persons (incomes $100,000 and over), would invest mainly in “stocks, bonds, and/or mutual funds.” And 19 percent of the middle class group would “invest” most of their funds in a savings account while 25 percent would invest mainly in real estate.
  • Yet, large majorities of these Americans believe their ability to make financial decisions is “good” or “excellent” – for example, 81 percent for ability to budget income and 80 percent for ability to manage credit card debt though only 63 percent for ability to save for retirement and 67 percent for their ability to purchase a mortgage loan.

Surprising results

Photo“Considering their past mistakes and the complexity of the financial services marketplace, we were surprised at how highly most middle class Americans rate their ability to make a variety of financial decisions and how infrequently they rely on information from the Internet and publications,” said CFA Executive Director Stephen Brobeck.

The second source of information was the Federal Reserve Board’s 2010 Survey of Consumer Finances, which was released several months ago. Professor Catherine Montalto of The Ohio State University used its database, and that of the Fed’s 2007 survey, to compute financial statistics for the 40 percent of households in the third and fourth income quintiles -- incomes between $35,600 and $94,600 in 2010. Analysis of these data revealed that:

  • This typical middle class family had financial assets of $27,300, including $3,900 in checking and/or savings accounts. These financial assets were 28 percent less than the $37,800 held in 2007.
  • Most of these financial assets represented money in contributory retirement accounts, but only about three-fifths of all families (61%) had such an account (though a number of middle class families did have pensions).
  • For middle class families, the typical debt payments to income ratio was 20 percent with only 9 percent having debt payments that were overdue by 60 days or more. But nearly half (49%) still carried credit card debt from month to month, and the typical (median) debt for these families was $2,700.
  • The decline in housing prices was the main reason that the net assets of the typical middle income family declined 35 percent, from $145,600 to $94,700.

“Families without a lot of resources are balancing difficult and expensive priorities such as saving enough for college and retirement or paying off a mortgage and consumer debt. When you consider these demands within the context of the last decade’s falling incomes, we are nearing a crisis in this country,” said John Addison, Primerica Co-CEO. “Primerica’s representatives specialize in working with families that earn between $30-$100,000, and trust me, this can be a lonely field to be in. The trend on Wall Street is to work with wealthier and wealthier clients, but this report lays out very clearly the urgent need for more financial services aimed at middle income earners.”

Other findings from the analysis of the Fed data include:

  • Only 21 percent of the middle class families had a cash value life insurance policy, 15 percent stocks outside a retirement account, 14 percent certificates of deposit, and 13 percent U.S. Savings Bonds.
  • Over half of these families (53%) had installment debt whose typical amount was $13,500. Almost all of this debt represented auto loans and student loans.
  • These families held consumer and mortgage debt that was, typically, $85,400 in 2007 and $84,400 in 2010.
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Dog Bite Claims Push Up Home Insurance Premiums

Medical bills and jury awards up 53 percent in eight years

  There is no doubt dog is man's best friend, but she can be expensive. There's food, flea and tick medicine and periodic visits to the vet, ...

PhotoThere is no doubt dog is man's best friend, but she can be expensive. There's food, flea and tick medicine and periodic visits to the vet, which can be as expensive as some trips to the doctor.

Then there's your insurance premiums, one of the hidden costs of living with a dog. The Hanover Insurance Group says dog bite claims are on the rise and accounted for more than one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claim dollars in 2011.

If you have a dog living in your household, your insurance company may increase your premium to reflect that. The Insurance Information Institute reports the cost of dog bite claims -- reflected in both medical costs and jury awards -- rose 53.4 percent from 2003 to 2011.

Some breeds aren't covered

While dog bites are covered under most homeowner liability policies, some policies exclude certain breeds. Before adopting, rescuing or buying a dog, The Hanover recommends checking with your insurance agent to see if the breed you are planning to add to your household can be covered.

Some dog owners have taken the precaution of purchasing an umbrella policy to add additional liability coverage. These policies kick in when a liability claim exceeds the normal homeowners policy coverage. Mark Desrochers, president of The Hanover's personal lines business, says a one million dollar umbrella policy can cost between $100 and $300 per year.

Advice

If you don't have a dog but are planning on getting one, the Insurance Information Institute offers these tips for reducing the risk of dog bites:

  • Consult with a professional (e.g., veterinarian, animal behaviorist or responsible breeder) to learn about suitable breeds of dogs for your household and neighborhood
  • Spend time with a dog before buying or adopting it. Use caution when bringing a dog into a home with an infant or toddler. A dog with a history of aggression is inappropriate in a household with children
  • Be sensitive to cues that a child is fearful of or apprehensive about a dog. If a child is or seems fearful or apprehensive, delay acquiring a dog. Never leave infants or young children alone with any dog
  • Have your dog spayed or neutered. Studies show that dogs are three times more likely to bite if they are not neutered
  • Socialize your dog so it knows how to act with other people and animals
  • Teach children to refrain from disturbing a dog that is eating or sleeping
  • Play non-aggressive games with your dog, such as "go fetch." Playing aggressive games like "tug-of-war" can encourage inappropriate behavior
  • Avoid exposing your dog to new situations in which you are unsure of its response
  • Never approach a strange dog and always avoid eye contact with a dog that appears threatening
  • Immediately seek professional advice from veterinarians, animal behaviorists, or responsible breeders if your dog develops aggressive or undesirable behaviors

Of course, most dogs are friendly and loving creatures and the insurance industry acknowledges that. Still, they're paid to look at the risks and in recent years, the risks have been rising. The numbers don't lie.

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New Gene Offers Hope for Preventive Medicine Against Fractures

The identification of Wnt16 holds a lot of promise

How would you like to be able to go through life without the risk of a broken bone? We're not there yet, but there's hope on the horizon. A big internatio...

PhotoHow would you like to be able to go through life without the risk of a broken bone? We're not there yet, but there's hope on the horizon. 

A big international study has identified a special gene that regulates bone density and bone strength. The gene can be used as a risk marker for fractures and opens up opportunities for preventive medicine against fractures. 

The study, led by the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Sweden, was published in the journal PLoS Genetics

Huge study 

The international study, which involved more than 50 researchers from Europe, North America and Australia and was led by Associate Professor Mattias Lorentzon and Professor Claes Ohlsson at the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, is based on extensive genetic analyses of the genetic material of 10,000 patients and experimental studies in mice. 

Through the combined studies, researchers have succeeded in identifying a special gene, Wnt16, with a strong link to bone density and so-called cortical bone thickness, which is decisive to bone strength. 

The genetic variation studied by the international research network could predict, for example, the risk of a forearm fracture in a large patient group of older women. 

"In the experimental study, we could then establish that the gene had a crucial effect on the thickness and density of the femur. In mice without the Wnt16 gene, the strength of the femur was up to 61 per cent lower," according to Mattias Lorentzon at the Institute of Medicine, the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg. 

Anti-fracture medicine 

The discovery opens up opportunities to develop new medicines to prevent the most common fractures. 

"Low cortical bone mass is a decisive factor in, for example, hip and forearm fractures. Unfortunately, the treatments currently used for brittleness of the bones have very little effect on the cortical bone mass," says Mattias Lorentzon. 

"If we can learn to stimulate the signaling routes of the Wnt16 gene, we could strengthen the skeleton in these parts too, thereby preventing the most common and serious fractures. The discovery of Wnt16 and its regulation of cortical bone mass is therefore very important," according to Mattias Lorentzon.

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Peterson Company Recalls Ricotta Salata Frescolina Brand Cheese

The product poses a possible health risk in two states

Peterson Company is recalling Ricotta Salata Frescolina brand cheese that came from its supplier, Forever Cheese of Long Island City, NY. Forever Cheese ...

PhotoPeterson Company is recalling Ricotta Salata Frescolina brand cheese that came from its supplier, Forever Cheese of Long Island City, NY. 

Forever Cheese recalled this cheese product due to possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination, an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. 

The cheese was sold to distributors, retailers and restaurants in Washington state and Oregon between July 17 and September 10, 2012. 

The cheese is Ricotta Salata Frescolina brand, cut into 7 ounce pieces, with manufacturer codes 7022, 7212, 7272 and 7432. There is a total of 390 pounds in distribution. 

The potential for contamination was noted after an illness was reported in connection with eating the cheese. Each and every distributor, retailer and restaurant has been contacted in an effort to recall any and all remaining product in the marketplace. 

If you believe that you have purchased any of this cheese please contact your distributor or retailer for a full refund. If you have any questions call Scott Williams or Kelly Beale at Peterson Company at 253-249-2453 Monday through Friday 9 am – 5pm PST and mention Recall, or email Recall@petersoncheese.com. 

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Ford Says Fusion Hybrid Gets 47 MPG

2013 Fusion gas-powered models also improve efficiency

  In the race for fuel efficiency, Ford is touting improvements in the 2013 Ford Fusion models, with the Fusion hybrid earning a rating of 47...

PhotoIn the race for fuel efficiency, Ford is touting improvements in the 2013 Ford Fusion models, with the Fusion hybrid earning a rating of 47 miles per gallon (MPG) in both city and highway driving. Ford points out that tops the Toyota Camry hybrid by eight MPG highway, four MPG city.

While high MPG has long been expected in compacts and subcompacts, larger cars are gradually increasing their mileage ratings. Ford calls the Fusion the most fuel-efficient car of its mid-size class.

"The new Fusion is part of our plan to offer vehicles with the very best quality, fuel efficiency, safety, smart design and value," said Alan Mulally, Ford president and CEO. "We are absolutely committed to class-leading fuel efficiency as a reason to buy Ford vehicles, with customers able to choose the fuel-efficient powertrain that best fits their lifestyle."

Five power-train options

Ford says it has achieved this fuel efficiency by designing five different power-train options for the Fusion. It offers hybrid and plug-in hybrid variants and two fuel-efficient EcoBoost four-cylinder engines for customers.

In addition, Ford has added the option of an auto start-stop system, which automatically shuts off the engine at stationary idle to help save fuel. Fusion is available in front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive configurations with both six-speed automatic and six-speed manual transmissions.

Besides the hybrid models, Ford is heavily promoting the gasoline engine versions of the Fusion. It says the 1.6-liter version gets 25 mpg city, 37 mpg highway, 29 mpg combined; the 2.0-liter version gets 22 mpg city, 34 mpg highway, 26 mpg combined.

"Ford is bringing power of choice to mid-size sedan buyers," said Mark Fields, Ford's president of The Americas. "More than two million customers this year will purchase mid-size cars. Our new Fusion delivers the fuel savings people truly want and value, with technologies that cost two to three times the price on some German sedans."

Consumers choosing mid-size cars

Ford is putting a lot of emphasis behind its new Fusion because it believes American drivers prefer a mid-size car to a compact. At the same time, they want and expect fuel saving technology that will help them save money on ever more expensive gasoline.

According to the automaker, the mid-size car segment is the fastest-growing segment in America this year. Overall U.S. industry sales are up 15 percent in 2012, while mid-size car sales have grown 26 percent.

To turn out the new Fusion, Ford said it is adding 1,200 hourly jobs and investing $555 million at its Flat Rock Assembly Plant in Flat Rock, Mich. The new models are expected to be in showrooms later this fall.

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Mayo Clinic Researchers Identify New Enzyme to Fight Alzheimer's Disease

BACE2 destroys a toxic protein fragment in the brains of Alzheimer's patients

An enzyme that could represent a powerful new tool for combating Alzheimer's disease has been discovered by researchers at Mayo Clinic in Florida. The enzy...

PhotoAn enzyme that could represent a powerful new tool for combating Alzheimer's disease has been discovered by researchers at Mayo Clinic in Florida. The enzyme -- known as BACE2 -- destroys beta-amyloid, a toxic protein fragment that litters the brains of patients who have the disease. 

The findings were published online in the science journal Molecular Neurodegeneration

Alzheimer's disease is the most common memory disorder. It affects more that 5.5 million people in the United States. Despite the disorder's enormous financial and personal toll, effective treatments have not yet been found. 

More effective than other enzymes 

The Mayo research team, led by Malcolm A. Leissring, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at Mayo Clinic in Florida, made the discovery by testing hundreds of enzymes for the ability to lower beta-amyloid levels. BACE2 was found to lower beta-amyloid more effectively than all other enzymes tested. The discovery is interesting because BACE2 is closely related to another enzyme, known as BACE1, involved in producing beta-amyloid. 

"Despite their close similarity, the two enzymes have completely opposite effects on beta-amyloid -- BACE1 giveth, while BACE2 taketh away," Dr. Leissring says. 

Beta-amyloid is a fragment of a larger protein, known as APP, and is produced by enzymes that cut APP at two places. BACE1 is the enzyme responsible for making the first cut that generates beta-amyloid. 

The research showed that BACE2 cuts beta-amyloid into smaller pieces, thereby destroying it, instead. Although other enzymes are known to break down beta-amyloid, BACE2 is particularly efficient at this function, the study found. 

Previous work had shown that BACE2 can also lower beta-amyloid levels by a second mechanism: by cutting APP at a different spot from BACE1. BACE2 cuts in the middle of the beta-amyloid portion, which prevents beta-amyloid production. 

Attractive treatment candidate 

"The fact that BACE2 can lower beta-amyloid by two distinct mechanisms makes this enzyme an especially attractive candidate for gene therapy to treat Alzheimer's disease," says first author Samer Abdul-Hay, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at Mayo Clinic in Florida. 

The discovery suggests that impairments in BACE2 might increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease. This is important because certain drugs in clinical use -- for example, antiviral drugs used to treat human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) -- work by inhibiting enzymes similar to BACE2. 

Although BACE2 can lower beta-amyloid by two distinct mechanisms, only the newly discovered mechanism -- beta-amyloid destruction -- is likely relevant to the disease, the researchers note. This is because the second mechanism, which involves BACE2 cutting APP, does not occur in the brain.

The researchers have obtained a grant from the National Institutes of Health to study whether blocking beta-amyloid destruction by BACE2 can increase the risk for Alzheimer's disease in a mouse model of the disease.

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New Jersey Cancer Charity Shut Down Over Tax Issue

State found it was using tax-free status to buy and sell luxury cars

  Charities are supposed to be just that. They collect money for a worthy cause and, because there is no profit involved, they are tax-exempt...

 

 

PhotoCharities are supposed to be just that. They collect money for a worthy cause and, because there is no profit involved, they are tax-exempt organizations.

But the state of New Jersey has reached a settlement with one charity it said was using its tax-exempt status to purchase millions of dollars’ worth of luxury cars without paying sales tax and then selling them all over Europe, Asia and North America.

New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa says the state received $25,000 in certified checks from the defendants, toward a total required payment of $65,000. The defendants have also agreed to pay $18,000 to the NYU Langone Medical Center -- a concession the state demanded due to the charity’s claims that it would “supply needed funds to families or individuals battling cancer.”

'Elaborate ruse'

"The defendants allegedly created an elaborate ruse, abusing the 501(c)(3) status of a purported charity in order to buy and export millions of dollars worth of luxury vehicles," Chiesa said. “What is particularly galling is that, as alleged in our lawsuit, the defendants claimed to be raising money for cancer patients. Our settlement agreement fulfills that promise by requiring donations for a medical treatment and research center.”

The state claims the defendants conspired to purchase the cars in the name of the charity. The lawsuit charged the defendants with violations of New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act, Charities Registration and Investigation Act, and Charities Regulations.

“Government provides legitimate charities with tax-exempt status as a way to help them perform the good works that are the purpose for the charity’s existence, not as a loophole for those who wish to help themselves to a profit at the government’s expense,” Eric T. Kanefsky, Acting Director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, said.

Purchased 71 cars

The charity, Tri-County Charity Center, allegedly purchased a total of 71 luxury and other motor vehicles from 2009 through 2011, spending more than $2.3 million without paying sales tax. Chiesa says the organization then quickly exported many of the vehicles to destinations including Canada, China, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Lithuania, Russia, South Korea and Sweden.

The settlement requires the defendants to prove they have stopped operating as a charity in New Jersey and shut down their Website.

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Two Online Placement Services for Senior Care Centers Settle Charges

Allegedly did not check out long-term care facilities as claimed

Two companies that recommend long-term care facilities for senior citizens have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charges that they misled co...

PhotoTwo companies that recommend long-term care facilities for senior citizens have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charges that they misled consumers to think that they had researched the facilities and had detailed knowledge about them. 

The proposed settlements, which prohibit the companies from misrepresenting their services in the future, resolve the FTC’s first cases involving Internet-based concerns that offer placement assistance for seniors who need institution-based, long-term care. 

“Senior citizens need honest information when they’re considering long term care options,” said David Vladeck, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Companies that claim to know which facilities to recommend to consumers need to be able to back up their claims or they will hear from the FTC.” 

According to two administrative complaints issued by the FTC, CarePatrol Inc. and ABCSP Inc. offer consumers free assistance to obtain placements at care facilities for senior citizens, and state that the facilities pay the companies for the placements. CarePatrol operates via franchises in 12 states; ABCSP, which also does business as “Always Best Care,” operates via a network of franchisees throughout the nation. 

CarePatrol Charges 

As alleged in one complaint, CarePatrol’s claims include: 

  • “We Grade Each and Every Facility From ‘A’ to ‘F’ Based on Their Last State Survey. Our Local Senior Care Consultants also Pre-Screen every home we recommend.”
  • “…CarePatrol’s local, Nationally Certified Advisors look beyond the chandeliers and fancy lobbies to monitor each community’s care history and state violations so we can recommend: The Safest Options For Your Loved One.”

 

ABCSP Charges

The complaint against ABCSP alleges that its claims include:

  • “We provide the best choices to our clients while maintaining the highest standards for living arrangements. . . . we match our clients with the top three or four most appropriate living options based upon individual needs, custom screening and available budgets. . . .”
  • “Our Care Coordinators are local and have personally viewed virtually all of the assisted living communities in your area.”

Misrepresentations charged

CarePatrol allegedly misrepresented that it monitors or grades the care history and violations of virtually all, or a substantial majority, of assisted living facilities (ALFs) in a consumer’s desired location, that it provides services through a network of senior care consultants located in every state, and that it monitors or grades facilities based on a review of the facilities’ latest state inspection reports. 

According to the FTC complaint, in most states listed on CarePatrol’s website, the company has not monitored or graded any facilities; it does not operate through senior care consultants in every state; and in numerous instances, it does not monitor or grade facilities based on the most recent state inspection reports. 

 

 

ABCSP allegedly misrepresented that its placement recommendations for ALFs and residential care homes in different geographic regions are based on the personal knowledge of its personnel or agents regarding virtually all, or a substantial majority, of the facilities in those regions. 

According to the complaint, the company typically does not know which ALFs and residential care homes have contracts with its franchisees, and in numerous regions, its recommendations are not based on the personal knowledge of its personnel or agents. 

Both complaints note that there are at least 39,000 ALFs and thousands of smaller, residential care homes in the United States. 

Under proposed consent orders that apply for the next 20 years, CarePatrol and ABCSP are barred from making false or unsubstantiated representations about their placement services.

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Washington State Health Club Settles Consumer Charges

Consumers told they had a right to cancel but contracts stated otherwise

  A settlement between a health club and the state of Washington highlights a number of complaints consumers often voice about health club co...

PhotoA settlement between a health club and the state of Washington highlights a number of complaints consumers often voice about health club contracts in general.

Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna charged a Liberty Lake, Wash., health club, Physzique, with violating state consumer protection laws. His office responded to complaints that are not uncommon from customers of many health clubs.

“Consumers complained that the contracts signed with Physzique obligated them to a year’s worth of dues, when they had been told they had a right to cancel,” said Assistant Attorney General Brooks Clemmons. “Our investigation also found that several other sections of Physzique’s contracts violate state requirements for health club contracts.”

Illegal omission

The attorney general’s office filed a complaint alleging that Physzique failed to include in their contracts, as required by state law, notices that the club may not raise fees more than once a year and that customers have the right to cancel if they move more than 25 miles from the facility.

Physzique contracts also authorized the health club to increase the amount debited from customer accounts from month to month. State law only allows health clubs to increase fees or dues once a year.

“Physzique also used deceptive advertising, along with health claims that can’t be backed up with scientific evidence,” said Clemmons. “These are misleading tactics that violate state laws to protect consumers.”

Consumers across the country, members of many different health clubs and fitness franchises, have often complained of being misled when they signed up for a trial membership and encountering resistance when they tried to cancel memberships.

Free, unless you don't come

According to the Washington complaint, Physzique provided free trial offers, free consultations or free visits that required “winners” to supply credit card information so that the health club could charge prospective members if they did not show up for their “free” visits.

Spokane’s Better Business Bureau (BBB) reports that the free or reduced services were either bought using the Website Groupon or solicited at events such as bridal fairs through raffles where complainants noticed that not only did they “win” but so did their sister, friend, etc.

The BBB said it received 14 complaints against Physzique in the last 12 months and visited, as a secret shopper, in order to investigate the complaints. The BBB also alerted the attorney general’s office to Physzique’s business practices. The Spokane BBB gives the Liberty Lake business an “F” rating due to failing to cooperate with BBB efforts to address a pattern of complaints and misleading advertisements.

$175 for failing to show up

According to McKenna's office, the health club charged prospective customers $175 if they did not show up for their scheduled consultation, even if those visits were offered as a free trial. That's a violation of Washington’s Prizes and Promotions Act.

Under the settlement Physzique will change language to make clear that patrons are signing contracts and disclose all material terms. They are prohibited from soliciting customers guaranteeing specific weight loss or percent body fat reduction without possessing competent and reliable scientific evidence to support such claims.

Physzique will also pay $15,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs. The consent decree also requires $20,000 in civil penalties, which are suspended as long as the health club abides by the terms of the agreement.

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Is Your DVR a Dinosaur? Advertisers Are Hoping It Is

Video On Demand is quickly making DVRs obsolete

The digital video recorder, or DVR, is one of those things that seemed almost revolutionary when it was invented, but just a few years later, it's kind of ...

PhotoThe digital video recorder, or DVR, is one of those things that seemed almost revolutionary when it was invented, but just a few years later, it's kind of yesterday's news.

You can record a show and watch it later? Big deal. You can record two shows while watching another one? So what? Who needs to do that when there's Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and all those other streaming services?

It's really like comparing iTunes and Spotify or Pandora. Sure, you can download a track or a whole CD from iTunes and lots of people still do. But everyday more people figure out they can have all their music everywhere, anytime, on any Internet-connected device. Eventually, iTunes must -- so to speak -- streamify.

The same is true of video. Nearly everyone who's not in a coma at least occasionally streams video and as more TVs and DVD players come with built-in connectivity, the numbers are expected to grow exponentially.

Hang around an electronics department at your local big box store, eavesdrop a little while and you'll find that a major decision point in many DVD purchases is what streaming services it's able to receive. 

This is not a small phenomenon we're talking about. No. 1 video streamer Netflix is already estimated to use 30% of the available Internet bandwidth in the United States during peak hours. 

More after this ...

PhotoThere is just one little cloud looming over all this sunny prognosticating -- and it is, yes, advertising.

No one follows media trends more closely than Madison Avenue and at the moment, the Mad Men are lusting after streaming video, seeing it as a magic river of data that lacks nothing except a swarming schools of ads, spots, commercials, call them what you will. 

"Video on demand is going to play a major role in how people consume video going forward," said Alan Wurtzel, president-media and research development at NBC Universal, quoted by Advertising Age

Why are ad people so fired up about this? Well, it's pretty simple. You can't fast-forward past commercials when you're watching streaming video. The DVR and its ancestor, the VCR, have caused enough heartburn in adland to keep the Rolaids factory working overtime for decades.

After all, it's the ads that foot the bill for all those prime-time shows. Viewers who skip past the commercials have cost the TV business untold millions of dollars in lost ad revenue.

But, you say, there are no ads on Netflix or Amazon Video. True, but this is today and it's tomorrow we're talking about.

Two Pandoras

PhotoIf you go back to the Pandora model, there are really two Pandoras -- the one you can get for free and the one you subscribe to. (Actually, there are tiers but let's keep it simple for now). The free one has ads, the paid one doesn't.

While no one is talking about it publicly right now, you can expect something similar in the world of streaming video as it displaces the DVR and, for that matter, over-the-air and cable broadcasts.

Even TiVo, which invented the DVR, is now shifting its emphasis to enabling consumers find what they want to watch wherever it may be in the omnisphere (nice word, eh?) on whatever device they happen to be using at the moment.

For example, TiVoStream, a new service that lets TiVo owners stream shows they've recorded to their iPhone. 

So is all this a bad thing? Well, it's a good thing for the networks and program producers in that it gives them more control over their products and should at least protect and perhaps enhance their revenue stream.

Is that a bad thing for consumers? Perhaps those who think everything should be free will think so. But if everything was free, we wouldn't have much other than what YouTube offered in its early days. Or what Facebook offers today.

Free content sounds good in theory but it takes a lot of money to produce the high-production-value programming Americans and consumers everywhere have come to expect. Streaming video may well turn out to keep the lights on in Hollywood, at 30 Rock and all the other fantasy factories.

Besides, think how much more entertainment-cabinet space you'll have when that bulky DVR is gone. You've already pitched all your old DVDs and CDs, haven't you?

 

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An Allowance Is No Substitute for Financial Literacy Training

A recent study provides some good tips on how to distribute your child's allowance

When you're a kid, it's nice to get an allowance.Even though I didn't do much to get mines when I was a child, receiving a few bucks from my folks always...

PhotoWhen you're a kid, it's nice to get an allowance.

Even though I didn't do much to get mine when I was a child, receiving a few bucks from my folks always gave me a slight feeling of accomplishment back then.

In a recent survey released by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) it was found that 61 percent of parents give their kids a steady allowance and 54 percent said they started doling out money to their children once the child reached 8 years old.

“These findings make clear that it can pay to be a kid,” said Jordin Amin who is chairman of AICPA's Financial Literacy Commission in a statement.

“Parents need to make sure they're also passing along financial sense with those dollars and cents. Earning, budgeting and saving are all important lessons that can be tied to allowances, lessons that can help put children on solid financial footing," Amin said.

$65 a month


The survey also revealed that kids were paid an average of $65 a month, with 89 percent of parents requiring their children to do some type of job for at least an hour a week.

In addition, 48 percent of children were paid for good grades, and the average going rate for an "A" is $16.60, according to the report.

Although such a high percentage of parents shell out a consistent amount of allowance on a regular basis, they ironically don't spend much time talking to their kids about how to manage those dollars.

The most popular topics parents spoke to their children about instead of money management were good manners (95 percent), proper eating ways and good grades (87 percent), warnings against drugs and alcohol (84 percent) and the dangers of cigarette smoking (82 percent).

It's safe to assume that many parents assume kids will learn the lessons of personal finance at school, but in a separate survey conducted by the National Jumpstart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy, over half of children (58.3 percent) learned money management tips from home, instead of the classroom.

The Jumpstart survey also showed that only 19.5 percent of children learned money management from home and 17.6 learned it through financial trial and error.

Importance of saving


The AICPA says parents should still monitor their kids’ money after allowance is given, and children should learn the importance of saving a portion of their cash for long term purchasing goals, like buying a new skateboard, or saving up some spending money for a school trip.

According to AICPA this will teach children to balance their funds, which will hopefully be carried over in to their adult life.

The accountants organization also says parents shouldn't be hiding all of the household’s financial decisions from their children, as discussing some things with them can give them a far better perspective on how to budget funds.

So if you're saving money for a new car for example, explaining to your kids what it will take to budget in order to pay for it, will help them tremendously in their future.

Another suggestion is to put limits on the allowance you give, so children can understand it’s not a legal right of theirs to receive it. Parents should let their kids know that allowance can be taken away or raised if certain accomplishments are reached, like doing extra chores or getting good grades in school, says the AICPA.

The report by the CPA group also shows that parents who give their kids a steady allowance usually don't pay for other expenses like cell-phone bills, expenses to join sports teams, or other costs  many adolescents run into.

It also revealed that 47 percent of parents expect to financially support their children until they reach 22 years of age.

Bank account

Other financial experts say it's of great benefit to your child if you open a bank account for them, as it allows children the opportunity to see their allowance grow with each savings deposit, which will provide a huge incentive for them to keep adding to their balance.

For younger kids a piggy bank or a home-safe of some kind that shows the tally amount is also good for kids to have, say experts.

“As parents we feel a strong commitment to our children and ensuring they have all that they need to succeed,” said Amin. “One of the best gifts we can give them is a solid education on managing money," he says.

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No More Tax-Free Amazon Shopping for Californians

Online retailers must begin charging sales tax on all orders delivered in California

The party's over, California. The online retailer started charging sales tax on California purchases over the weekend.  The exact amount of the tax ra...

 

Photo
Gov. Brown greets politicos as he signs "landmark" sales tax legislation last year

The party's over, California. Amazonstarted charging sales tax on California purchases over the weekend and other retailers will be doing so as well.  The exact amount of the tax ranges from 7.25% to 9.75%, depending on how much various cities and counties add on.

 

The deal was sealed just one year ago, when Gov. Jerry Brown signed "landmark" legislation imposing sales tax on online purchases. Brown said then that it would "create tens of thousands of jobs and inject hundreds of millions of dollars" into the state's moribund economy. 

State tax officials are expecting to take in as much as $100 million in taxes just on Amazon purchases during the first year, plus another couple of hundred million from other online retailers.

A hundred million here, a hundred million there ... pretty soon you're talking about real money.

As for those tens of thousands of jobs Brown promised, the only ones we know about so far as 35 new auditors, collectors, clerks and lawyers that the Board of Equalization plans to hire.  That, if you haven't guessed, is the official name of the state tax collector agency.

 

Amazon.com Sept. 15, 2012, 5:47 p.m.
Consumers rate Amazon.com

"The agency is ready," said Jerome E. Horton, chairman of the Board of Equalization. He said the agency's 90 investigators will be on the lookout for online retailers who don't collect the tax.

 

Amazon for years resisted collecting state sales taxes but has now shifted its strategy. Previously, it tried to avoid collecting taxes in major states by putting its distribution centers in adjacent states, enabling it to say it had no operations in, say, California.

But now, Amazon is opening distribution centers in big, populous states and putting them close to big cities, hoping to offer same-day or at least next-day delivery.  Thus, while Amazon gives up the no-tax advantage bricks-and-mortar retailers have complained about for years, it may soon be able to offer such fast delivery that it becomes easier and quicker to order something online than to jump in the car and slog through traffic to get to a physical store.

As part of its deal with Gov. Brown last year, Amazon promised to open two million-square-foot distribution centers in Northern and Southern California and said it would create 10,000 full-time jobs and hire 25,000 seasonal employees by the end of 2015.  Might want to mark your calendar to make sure that happens. 

Amazon spokesman Scott Stanzel says the deal means that Amazon will offer  "vast selection and fast delivery" while adding jobs in California.

 

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Google Says It Will Add Do Not Track Option ... Finally

Dead-last in the privacy derby, Google drags its feet all the way

Ever so grudgingly, Google says it is adding a "do not track" option to its Chrome browser by the end of the year. There's been a lot of foot-dragging by e...

PhotoEver so grudgingly, Google is adding a "do not track" option to its Chrome browser by the end of the year. There's been a lot of foot-dragging by everybody but Google has managed to come in dead last. Mozilla Firefox and Microsoft's Internet Explorer already offer the do-not-track option. Microsoft even makes it the default.

Google and other Internet dynamos agreed in February to support the idea but it took some serious jaw-boning by the White House to get them to reluctantly get on board.

The White House had called for Congress to pass a "consumer privacy bill of rights" that would give consumers more control over the personal data that Internet companies collect about them.

“American consumers can’t wait any longer for clear rules of the road that ensure their personal information is safe online,” said President Obama in February. “As the Internet evolves, consumer trust is essential for the continued growth of the digital economy.

Not very excited

Google still is making no pretense that it's excited about giving consumers a little bit of private time.

"We undertook to honor an agreement on DNT that the industry reached with the White House early this year," a spokesman for the company said in a statement emailed to the Los Angeles Times. "To that end we’re making this setting visible in our Chromium developer channel, so that it will be available in upcoming versions of Chrome by year’s end."

Big G isn't saying when the option will available but says that when it is, consumers will be able to go into Chrome's settings panel and select "Do Not Track."

No guarantee

PhotoSo then Google will flip a big switch in the Cloud that turns off tracking, right? Well, not exactly. Rather, it will send a message to every website the consumer visits saying that the consumer doesn't want to be stalked. It's then up to the individual sites to follow through. Or not follow, to be more precise.

This is the same methodology used by other search engines and many consumer and privacy advocates worry that unscrupulous advertisers will simply ignore the notification and continue tracking consumers around the Web.

By instilling a false sense of security, the do not track option could make matters worse, these advocates fear. 

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Social Networks: Cute But Dangerous

The oh-so-clever technorati give little thought to the dangers social sites present

Social networks are the darlings of today's technorati. Google is just all aglow today with its announcement that Google+ now has more than 100 million mon...

PhotoSocial networks are the darlings of today's technorati. Google is just all aglow today with its announcement that Google+ now has more than 100 million monthly active users.

“We couldn’t have imagined that so many people would join in just 12 months,” Google executive Vic Gundotra gushed. Facebook reports having 955 million monthly users so put that all together and you have a huge pile of unfiltered information, much of it trivial, a little of it interesting but some of it also quite dangerous.

A recent FBI report summarizing a long-running case in Virginia shows just how dangerous social media can be and provides yet another reason why parents need to keep a close eye on their kids’ involvement with social sites. 

During a three-year period ending in March 2012, members of a violent Virginia street gang used social media to recruit vulnerable high-school age girls to work in their prostitution business, the FBI recounted.

Five defendants in the case recently pleaded guilty to federal charges and the gang leader —27-year-old Justin Strom—was sentenced to 14 to 40 years in prison, while the sentences handed down for the other four defendants totaled 53 years.

 

Strom headed up the Underground Gangster Crips (UGC), a Crips “set” based in Fairfax, Virginia. The Crips originated in Los Angeles in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and since then, the gang has splintered into various groups around the country. Law enforcement has seen a number of Crips sets in the U.S. engaging in sex trafficking as a means of making money.

Trolling the web

That’s certainly what was happening in Virginia, as the FBI and local media tell it. Strom and his UGC associates would troll social networking sites, looking for attractive young girls. After identifying a potential victim, they would contact her online using phony identities, complimenting her on her looks, asking to get to know her better, sometimes offering her the opportunity to make money as a result of her looks.

If the victim expressed interest, Strom or one of his associates would ask for her cell phone number to contact her offline and make plans to meet.

After some flattery about their attractiveness, sometimes hits of illegal drugs and alcohol, and even mandatory sexual “tryouts” with Strom and other gang members, the girls were lured into engaging in commercial sex, often with the help of more senior girls showing them the ropes. The girls might be sent to an apartment complex with instructions to knock on doors looking for potential customers…or driven to hotels for pre-arranged meetings…or taken to Strom’s house, where he allowed paying customers to have sex with them. 

Some of the juvenile victims were threatened with violence if they didn’t perform as directed and many were given drugs or alcohol to keep them sedated and compliant.

Strom and his associates did not discriminate—their victims were from across the socio-economic spectrum and represented different ethnic backgrounds. 

Tips for parents

Here's some advice from the FBI on keeping your kids safe:

Talk to your kids about the dangers of being sexually exploited online and offline.

Make sure your kids’ privacy settings are high, but also keep in mind that information can inadvertently be leaked by friends and family…so kids should still be careful about posting certain information about themselves—like street address, phone number, Social Security number, etc.
 
Be aware of who your kids’ online friends are, and advise them to accept friend requests only from people they know personally.
 
Know that teens are not always honest about what they are doing online. Some will let their parents “friend” them, for example, but will then establish another space online that is hidden from their parents.
 
Teens sometimes employ an “Internet language” to use when parents are nearby. For example:
- PAW or PRW: Parents are watching
- PIR: Parents in room
- POS: Parent over shoulder
- LMIRL: Let’s meet in real life

 

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Financial Education Program Targets Older Americans

Americans 50+ are the hardest hit by the economic downturn, AARP research finds

While jobless college graduates get a lot of ink, it's older Americans who are being hit hardest by the weak economy. An AARP study finds that while m...

PhotoWhile jobless college graduates get a lot of ink, it's older Americans who are being hit hardest by the weak economy. An AARP study finds that while more than 20 million people over age 50 are struggling to make ends meet, there are few programs specifically designed to address their often complex situation.

AARP said its research finds that many older Americans face overwhelming stresses from mounting debt, poor credit, insufficient savings and even loss of their family homes, while others face the added pressures of caring for adult children and aging parents. Yet, there are few financial education programs that speak to the unique needs of older low-income workers and their families. 

In an effort to address the distinct needs of low-income workers and jobseekers age 50 and older, the AARP Foundation and Charles Schwab Foundation have launched a new financial capability program, AARP Foundation Finances 50+, which is being rolled out in seven major cities across the United States. 

“This is really a financial intervention program, designed to help people before they fall deeper into instability,” said Jo Ann Jenkins, president of AARP Foundation. “We know that stabilizing a person’s financial situation and increasing their financial capability can be a prerequisite for success in finding and retaining a job. This program is about empowering individuals to take control of their finances regardless of their circumstances.”

Teens and young adults

“Financial capability efforts in this country have been mainly focused on educating teens and young adults, and there hasn’t been enough emphasis on reaching older adults of lesser means,” said Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, president of Charles Schwab Foundation. “In light of the numbers of older Americans living on the brink of financial disaster, and the expected growth of this population in the coming years, we wanted to do something to make a difference, and we felt we could make the greatest impact by joining forces with an organization like AARP Foundation.”

The program aims to give low-income older workers and jobseekers not only the skills and tools to reduce debt, repair credit and build savings, but also the encouragement and motivation to overcome emotional obstacles and put their lives back on track.

The program is being piloted in seven cities across the U.S.:  Austin, Texas; Baltimore; Denver; New Orleans; Phoenix; San Francisco; and Washington, D.C..

For those who do not reside in any of the seven pilot cities, Finances 50+ materials, including a participant workbook and volunteer guide, are available online at aarp.org/finances50plus

 

 

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Airlines Report Uptick in Lengthy Tarmac Delays in July

Weather was a factor in in many of the delays

Airlines reported 18 tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights and one tarmac delay of more than four hours on international flights in Ju...

PhotoAirlines reported 18 tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights and one tarmac delay of more than four hours on international flights in July, according to a new U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Air Travel Consumer Report. 

Sixteen of the long domestic tarmac delays took place on July 13 and involved flights bound for or departing from Chicago O’Hare Airport, where severe storms affected the area that day. DOT is investigating all of the reported tarmac delays. 

The larger U.S. airlines have been required to file complete reports on their long tarmac delays for domestic flights since October 2008. Under a new rule that took effect Aug. 23, 2011, all U.S. and foreign airlines operating at least one aircraft with 30 or more passenger seats must report lengthy tarmac delays at U.S. airports. 

Also beginning Aug. 23, 2011, carriers operating international flights may not allow tarmac delays at U.S. airports to last longer than four hours. There is a separate three-hour limit on tarmac delays involving domestic flights, which went into effect in April 2010. Exceptions to the time limits for both domestic and international flights are allowed only for safety, security, or air traffic control-related reasons. Severe weather could cause or worsen such situations. 

Among other areas covered by the report are: 

On-time performance 

  • The reporting carriers posted an on-time arrival rate in July of 76.0 percent, compared with July 2011’s 77.8 percent mark and June 2012’s 80.7 percent. 

Cancellations 

  • The reporting carriers canceled 1.4 percent of their scheduled domestic flights in July, versus the 1.7 percent cancellation rate posted in July 2011 June 2012’s cancellation rate of 1.1 percent. 

Chronically delayed flights 

  • At the end of July, there were four flights that were chronically delayed -- more than 30 minutes late more than 50 percent of the time -- for three consecutive months. There were 14 additional flights that were chronically delayed for two consecutive months. There were no chronically delayed flights for four consecutive months or more. 

Causes of flight delays 

  • In July, the carriers filing on-time performance data reported that 6.07 percent of their flights were delayed by aviation system delays, compared with 4.82 percent in June; 9.03 percent by late-arriving aircraft, versus 6.98 percent in June; 6.32 percent by factors within the airline’s control, such as maintenance or crew problems, compared with 5.62 percent in June; 0.82 percent by extreme weather, versus 0.50 percent in June; and 0.04 percent for security reasons, the same as in June. Weather is a factor in both the extreme-weather category and the aviation-system category. This includes delays due to the re-routing of flights by DOT’s Federal Aviation Administration in consultation with the carriers involved. Weather is also a factor in delays attributed to late-arriving aircraft, although airlines do not report specific causes in that category. 
  • Data also show the percentage of late flights delayed by weather, including those reported in either the category of extreme weather or included in National Aviation System delays. In July, 40.71 percent of late flights were delayed by weather -- up 6.54 percent from July 2011, when 38.21 percent of late flights were delayed by weather, and up 35.79 percent from June when 29.98 percent of late flights were delayed by weather. 

Mishandled baggage 

  • The U.S. carriers reporting flight delays and mishandled baggage data posted a mishandled baggage rate of 3.52 reports per 1,000 passengers in July, compared with July 2011’s rate of 3.72 and June 2012’s rate of 3.35. 

Incidents involving pets 

  • In July, carriers reported three incidents involving the loss, death or injury of pets while traveling by air; six reports were filed in July 2011 and two reports were filed in June 2012. July’s incidents involved two pet injuries and one lost pet. 

Complaints about airline service 

  • In July, there were 2,466 complaints about airline service from consumers, up 91.8 percent from the 1,286 complaints filed in July 2011, and up 49.2 percent from the 1,653 received in June 2012. 

Complaints about treatment of disabled passengers 

  • The report also contains a tabulation of complaints filed with DOT in July against airlines regarding the treatment of passengers with disabilities. The department received a total of 97 disability-related complaints in July compared with 75 complaints filed in July 2011 and 81 in June 2012. 

Complaints about discrimination 

  • In July, the DOT received 16 complaints alleging discrimination by airlines due to factors other than disability -- such as race, religion, national origin or sex. There were five recorded in July 2011 and 10 in June 2012. 

Consumers may file their complaints in writing with the Aviation Consumer Protection Division, U.S. Department of Transportation, C-75, W96-432, 1200 New Jersey Ave. SE, Washington, DC 20590; by voice mail at (202) 366-2220 or by TTY at (202) 366-0511; or on the Web

Consumers who want on-time performance data for specific flights should call their airline’s reservation number or their travel agent. This information is available on the computerized reservation systems used by these agents. The information is also available on the appropriate carrier’s Website.

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Organic Advocates Fire Back at Stanford Study

Whole Foods, Organic Center cite research showing organic's benefits

  When Stanford researchers released a study of organic food earlier this month, the headline was the finding of no significant difference in...

PhotoWhen Stanford researchers released a study of organic food earlier this month, the headline was the finding of no significant difference in nutritional content when compared with conventional food. But organic advocates say that's misleading.

"Here's what the study said. It confirmed the major differences in pesticides on conventional foods and antibiotics in non-organic meat," Walter Robb, co-CEO of Whole Foods, said in an interview today with Yahoo!'s Daily Ticker. "I thought it was a major affirmation of the differences and reasons why someone would choose an organic product."

Robb also said he disagrees with the conclusion that there is no nutritional difference. He pointed to other studies that he said show nutrient density in organic food 20 to 50 percent greater that conventional food.

New study

The Organic Center, an organic advocacy group, issued a new report this week using analytical tools and data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to determine the nutritional quality and pesticide risk of a typical diet for a 30-year old woman.

The report compares the effects of "Jane Doe's" traditional diet with a new diet that reflects modest food changes, replacing several high-calorie foods with nutrient-dense fruit and vegetable-based products, and purchasing mostly organic fruits, vegetables, and grain-based products.

The study found that by making a few simple modifications, her daily intake of fruits and vegetables rose from 3.6 servings to 12.3 servings, her overall nutritional quality rose by 79 percent -- based on a comparison of intakes across 27 essential nutrients -- and by consuming mostly organic fruits and vegetables, her pesticide risk was reduced by over two-thirds.

Fewer calories

Jane Doe also consumed 10 fewer calories per day, which is enough to prevent long-term weight gain approaching 10 pounds per decade, assuming Jane remains at least as active as in her 20s.

"Jane Doe's smart food choices will help stabilize her weight, improve the likelihood of a healthy pregnancy and markedly reduce the chance that pesticides might disrupt or impair her child's development. This trio of benefits will pay dividends over a lifetime, and perhaps also across generations," said report author Charles Benbrook, the Organic Center's chief scientist.

Substitutions

Here's a list of the the top eight things the study found yielded the greatest benefit when substituted for traditional food items:

  1. Whole wheat bread instead of white bread
  2. Peanut butter instead of butter
  3. Fresh, organic strawberries instead of strawberry jam
  4. Plain yogurt topped with fruit instead of fruit-filled yogurt
  5. Tomato juice instead of a lemon-lime soda
  6. 50 percent whole wheat pasta instead of white pasta
  7. One whole apple instead of apple pie
  8. Light cream instead of coffee creamer
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Penn State's University Creamery Recalling Ice Cream

Plastic objects were found in the ice cream

The University Creamery at Penn State is recalling all ice cream and frozen yogurt made between May 16, 2012, and August 11, 2012, because of isolated inci...

PhotoThe University Creamery at Penn State is recalling all ice cream and frozen yogurt made between May 16, 2012, and August 11, 2012, because of isolated incidents involving reports of small plastic foreign objects in the product. 

The recalled ice cream was manufactured and sold from the Berkey Creamery on the University Park campus of Penn State and also was available for purchase on the internet from the Creamery’s Website. 

In mid-August, University police began a criminal investigation into several isolated incidents involving reports of small foreign objects in ice cream manufactured by the University Creamery on the University Park campus. The Creamery has received three reports of consumers finding small plastic pieces in the ice cream, specifically, three small pieces of plastic less than 21 mm (about .82 inches) in size. 

While the reports have only related to half-gallon containers, the Creamery is extending the recall to cover all ice cream and frozen yogurt in all container sizes made during the time period listed above. 

Ice cream subject to the recall will bear a BEST IF USED BY date on the label falling on or between Feb. 10, 2013, and Aug. 11, 2013. Consumers who have purchased ice cream covered by this recall are urged to not eat the ice cream and to return any product subject to the recall to the place of purchase for a full refund or exchange. Consumers with questions may contact the Creamery at 1-855-677-0464 (toll-free). 

No illnesses or injuries have been reported in connection with this situation. Anyone who believes he may have ingested an object should immediately consult a healthcare professional. 

An independent investigation of the reports of foreign objects conducted for the Creamery, while not conclusive, suggests that the objects did not enter the ice cream during the manufacturing process. 

The Creamery has extended the recall to cover not only the dates when the ice cream was made that were subject to the reports, but to also include all ice cream made during a buffer period after the last known production date, up to the point when the Creamery instituted enhanced security measures to protect against the chances of undetected objects being placed in the ice cream. 

These measures include limiting access to production and packaging areas, increased surveillance systems, purchase of an X-ray device and metal detectors, and notification of ingredient suppliers. In the near future, the Creamery also will move to a tamper-resistant packaging solution.

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Justice Department Urged to Oppose Marijuana Ballot Initiatives

Former directors of the Drug Enforcement Administration apply pressure

  The presidential race isn't the only contest on the ballot this fall. In several states voters will consider a number of questions about th...

PhotoThe presidential race isn't the only contest on the ballot this fall. In several states voters will consider a number of questions about the status of marijuana, most of which would reduce penalties for its possession.

Nine former directors of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) are calling on the U.S. Justice Department to actively oppose the initiatives in states where they appear on the ballot.

The former officials have signed a letter to US Attorney General Eric Holder urging his office to take active steps to make sure measures that seek to de-penalize the personal use and possession of cannabis by adults do not pass.

"We urge you to oppose publicly Amendment 64 in Colorado, Initiative 502 in Washington and Measure 80 in Oregon," the letter states. "To continue to remain silent conveys to the American public ... a tacit acceptance of these dangerous initiatives."

Every former director signs

Every former director of the DEA since the agency was founded signed the letter.

Amendment 64, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, Initiative 502, and Measure 80, the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act, all seek to amend state law to allow for the limited possession and distribution of cannabis to adults.

According to the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) both Amendment 64 in Colorado and Initiative 502 in Washington hold solid leads among likely voters. Last week, a Survey USA poll of Washington voters showed I-502 ahead by a margin of 57 percent to 34 percent.

The DEA letter did not specifically address separate state initiatives in Arkansas, Massachusetts, and Montana that seek to regulate the physician-recommended use and distribution of cannabis.

Helped defeat California initiative

Holder's office previously spoke out in 2010 against Proposition 19 in California after receiving a similar letter from past chiefs of the DEA. That measure sought to allow for the limited possession and cultivation of cannabis for adults. The measure was defeated at the polls by a vote of 46.5 percent to 53.5 percent.

State and local moves to lessen penalties for possession and use of small amounts of marijuana puts the states in conflict with the federal government on the issue. Under U.S. law, possession of any amount of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by one year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

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Are Car Seats Getting Any Easier to Install?

AAA says its research finds many parents are in the dark

  It's not enough that you use a car seat for your child anytime they get in a vehicle. If it isn't properly installed they could still be at...

PhotoIt's not enough that you use a car seat for your children anytime they get in a vehicle. If it isn't properly installed they could still be at risk in the event of an accident.

AAA, after a recent survey, said it's clear that many parents are still missing the mark, even with new technologies like Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) that are supposed to take some of the guesswork out of the process.

AAA's recent survey of Child Passenger Safety Technicians (CPSTs), those certified to inspect and properly install car seats, reveals that LATCH misuse is cause for concern. Nearly three-quarters of CPSTs surveyed observe parents misusing the LATCH system more than half of the time.

"While strides have been made to make car seats easier to use, the overwhelming majority of car seats are still not installed properly," said Jennifer Huebner-Davidson, manager, Traffic Safety Advocacy at AAA.

LATCH has been standard equipment since 2002 and is generally regarded as a user-friendly alternative to the seat belt. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 75 percent of parents with experience installing car seats using both methods prefer LATCH.

No guarantee

Despite this preference, LATCH does not guarantee a perfect installation; a recent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) survey found that only 13 percent of parent volunteers were able to use LATCH correctly to install car seats.

Part of the problem is where parents place the seat. For years they have been told the safest position in the vehicle is the rear-center seat. However, in an IIHS study of 2010-11 model year vehicles, only seven of the 98 top-selling vehicles supported LATCH use in the rear-center seat.

AAA's safety experts say many parents make the mistake of using the inner anchor for each outboard seat to install a car seat in the center seat using LATCH. If the vehicle does not support a LATCH installation in the rear-center seat, a seat belt should be used to secure the car seat, or the car seat should be moved to an outboard seat.

Parents should also consult the vehicle owner's manual before installing a car seat in any vehicle, AAA says.

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AT&T Reports iPhone 5 Sales Record

Apple's new phone greeted with predictable enthusiasm

  It didn't take long for the iPhone 5 to sell out once carriers who will offer it started taking orders over the weekend. Apple may only int...

PhotoIt didn't take long for the iPhone 5 to sell out once carriers who will offer it started taking orders over the weekend. Apple may introduce only one new smartphone per year but when it does, everyone seems to want it.

AT&T reports pre-order sales for the iPhone 5 set a record over the weekend, with customers ordering more of the devices than any previous model both on its first day of pre-orders.

The carrier did not release any numbers for sales but did say there are still phones available for pre-order and that it expects to have a supply of the devices in stores September 21 when it officially goes on sale.

Not everyone's buying one

But not every tech aficionado is lining up to buy the new iPhone. James Kendrick, who writes about mobile technology for ZDNet, says he, for one won't be rushing out to buy the new iPhone.

He says it's not because it's not a good phone -- he calls is a very "solid" upgrade. The problem, he says, is that he still has another year to go on his Verizon contract for his iPhone 4S. To get a new phone now would require him to pay the full, unsubsidized price. In his case, since he would buy the top of the line 64 GB model, his cost would be more than $800.

Other consumers may be held by by their carriers recent change in policies, requiring new contracts to switch to a shared data plan rather than unlimited data. Verizon Wireless customers, for example, may keep their unlimited data plans until they buy a new subsidized phone. At that point they must switch to a shared data plan.

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Crunchy Chicken Strips Recalled

Food may contain plastic fragments

Serenade Foods of Milford, IN, is recalling approximately 2,250 pounds of crunchy chicken strip products that may contain fragments of plastic. ...

PhotoSerenade Foods of Milford, IN, is recalling approximately 2,250 pounds of crunchy chicken strip products that may contain fragments of plastic. 

The following products are subject to recall:

  • 7.5-lb cases containing 30-oz. cartons of "Milford Valley Farms Crunchy Chicken Strips" 

The cartons bear the establishment number "P-2375" inside the USDA mark of inspection and the UPC code 0-73981-32286-7. The products, with a use by date of Jan. 17, 2014, were packaged on Jan. 17, 2012, and shipped to a distributor in Lakeland, FL for further distribution. 

The company alerted U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the problem after receiving two consumer complaints. There have been no reports of injury or illnesses associated with consumption of this product. Anyone concerned about an injury should contact a healthcare provider. 

Consumers with questions about the recall should contact Janelle Deatsman, Communications Manager, at 1-866-873-7589.

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More Than Eight Percent of Households Have No Bank Account

Response to high fees is sometimes to just not have a bank account

  Consumers, it seems, are deciding they can live without banks. At the time a grassroots campaign urged Americans to transfer their accounts...

PhotoConsumers, it seems, are deciding they can live without banks. At the time a grassroots campaign urged Americans to transfer their accounts from large national banks, government statistics show consumers were dropping out of banks altogether.

The survey, conducted every two years by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), shows that 28 percent of U.S. households either had no bank in 2011 or used minimal banking services.

According to the 2011 Survey, 821,000 more U.S. households are operating without a bank account since the first survey in 2009, representing a 0.6 percentage point increase. More than half of all unbanked households said they do not have an account because they believe they do not have enough money or that they do not need or want an account. In addition, the report shows that three in ten households nationally don't have a savings account.

"The results of the 2011 National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households indicate that insured financial institutions have an important chance to grow their customer base by expanding opportunities that bring unbanked and underbanked individuals into mainstream banking" said FDIC acting chairman Martin J. Gruenberg.

One in 12 households has no account

The survey shows that 8.2 percent of U.S. households have no bank account. This represents one in 12 households in the nation, or nearly 10 million in total.

Approximately 17 million adults live in households with no bank account. More than 20 percent of U.S. households are considered underbanked, meaning they have minimal banking services. This represents one in five households, or 24 million households with 51 million adults.

The survey found that 29.3 percent of households do not have a savings account, while about 10 percent do not have a checking account. About two-thirds of households have both checking and savings accounts.

What do consumers use if they don't have a bank account? One-quarter of households have used at least one alternative financial service (AFS), such as non-bank check cashing or payday loans in the past year, and almost one in ten households have used two or more types of AFS products or services.

More people turning to alternative financial services

In all, 12 percent of households used an AFS in the past 30 days, including four in 10 unbanked and underbanked households.

FDIC is concerned by the numbers. While banking fees have proliferated in recent years, the agency says consumers tend to benefit if they have a relationship with a bank.

"There are many positives to establishing a relationship with an insured financial institution,” Gruenberg said. “Access to an account at a federally insured institution provides households with the opportunity to conduct basic financial transactions, build wealth, save for emergency and long-term security needs and access credit on fair and affordable terms."

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Oil and Gas Leases Not Always a Great Deal for Homeowners

Consumer Finance Protection Bureau asked to investigate misrepresentations

Being paid for doing nothing always sounds great but frequently carries risks that aren't immediately apparent. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) ...

PhotoBeing paid for doing nothing always sounds great but frequently carries risks that aren't immediately apparent. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) says that's the case with oil and gas leases presented to landowners around the country.

EWG and about 100 other organizations are calling on the Obama administration to address the impact of deceptive oil and gas leasing practices on U.S. property values and mortgages.

In a letter to Richard Cordray, director of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the groups urged the agency to focus on companies that misrepresent or conceal the inherent risks of fracking as they approach landowners to lease their property for oil and gas exploitation.

“As we continue to weather this country's housing crisis, regulators must prevent oil and gas companies from using deception to acquire drilling leases - deception that could carry ramifications for homeowners and lenders," said Thomas Cluderay, EWG assistant general counsel.

“We encourage the CFPB to look into the risks that homeowners and their families face in signing these lease contracts, such as inadvertently signing away their property rights and potentially losing the value of their homes or being stuck with water unsafe to drink," said Ellen Bloom, director of federal policy for Consumers Union.

The organizations ask the federal watchdog bureau to:

  • Investigate the extent to which oil and gas companies misrepresent or fail to disclose the risks of drilling and hydraulic fracturing when they approach landowners to lease their land for drilling operations;
  • Develop robust disclosure standards and other regulations that would prevent oil and gas companies from engaging in deceptive leasing practices and hold them accountable for representations made by their leasing agents; and
  • Work with state regulators, the lending community, insurance companies and public interest groups to develop a campaign to educate the public about the ways that oil and gas leases may affect property values and mortgages.

Risks downplayed

An EWG investigation found that drilling companies regularly disclose the risks of fracking to their shareholders and investors, yet downplay or conceal these very same risks from potential leaseholders.

Some of the risks disclosed to investors but not property owners include leaks, spills, explosions, bodily injury and even death.

The letter to Cordray says: "The debate over drilling and hydraulic fracturing has largely focused on whether it can be done safely, without compromising water supplies. However, we cannot afford to ignore its serious spillover effects, including how drilling operations affect property values and mortgages. We believe this is an area where the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau should be taking the lead to protect the public, especially when no other regulatory agency appears to have the ability to address this issue on a comprehensive, national scale."

 

 

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Why We Seem To Be Okay With Buying Overpriced Items

Experts say the reasons could be emotional, or maybe we're just being duped

So you’re walking down a street that has a lot of tiny shops with big display windows. Before leaving home that day you had a mental argument with yo...

PhotoSo you’re walking down a street that has a lot of tiny shops with big display windows. Before leaving home that day you had a mental argument with yourself about saving money and the conversation when something like this:

"Okay, last night was the last time I’m eating out for a few weeks, I just have to buy groceries today," you think to yourself. 'Oh yeah, I also have to get a new cell phone contract because these rates for my data plan are killing me. And that darn cable bill, first thing Monday morning I’m going to call and renegotiate my’ ... then all of a sudden, before you can finish the thought, something catches the corner of your eye.

Is it? Could it be? It’s those darn shoes you saw the other week that you really wanted, and that conversation you were having with yourself is now replaced by a very vivid mental picture of you owning and wearing those shoes that cost way too much.

You then mentally proclaim "this will be the last spontaneous purchase I’ll make for quite some time" -- and you proceed into the boutique and buy what you know you can’t truly afford.

Very satisfying

Has this ever happened to you? Chances are yes, and it also happens to a lot of us. What is it about buying expensive items that we can’t afford? Why does it seem so satisfying?

In a 2011 study lead by Cornell University, it showed that buying expensive items helps to lift moods of low self-esteem, and improves feelings of low self-worth, at least temporarily.

Researchers Niro Sivanathan and Nathan Pettit gathered a group of volunteers to determine why people buy expensive items even though they may not need them or can’t afford the cost. The participants were separated into two groups and each was given a computerized intelligence test.

PhotoAfterward, half of the group was told they scored well on the test and possessed a high level of intelligence. The other half of the group was told they did poorly on test and had a low level of intelligence. Both results were actually phony and the test itself was comprised of random questions that had no ability to gauge intellect.

Each group then viewed a snazzy new pair of designer jeans and researchers asked how much the participants would pay to own them. The group that was told they weren’t intelligent by scoring poorly on the test offered to pay 30 percent more for the jeans than the other group. Researchers also learned the group that was told they weren't smart was 60 percent more likely to purchase the product with a credit card.

According to the researchers, paying more for the jeans helped soothe the recent news of not being considered smart for one group. Paying for an item they considered to be luxurious and highly coveted, lifted the low-esteem feeling that was associated with the news of doing badly on the intelligence test.

Something called framing

Experts say another reason one may choose to spend money on an item is because they’re being tricked by a pricing technique called “framing”.

Gizem Saka, an economics professor at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, explained in her writings that manufactures will create an extremely overpriced product just so consumers will buy another product of theirs that’s priced  lower.

PhotoFor example, one day you walk into a Target let’s say, and notice two coffee makers. One is priced at $50 the other priced at $100, and in theory the pricier machine works better and is of higher quality.

Since you’re not a coffee enthusiast and you just need something to give you a morning jolt each day, you decide to by the cheaper coffee maker upon your next visit.

When you come back a few weeks later you notice the manufacturers have created a coffee contraption it calls La machine à café français, (the French coffee maker) and the price is $250. I mean, everything in France is supposed to taste better, right?

Now your’e stuck with three coffee machine options, and you decide the $100 product isn’t that bad compared to the $250 French coffee maker. So you buy it – and guess what – you’ve just been swindelled.

According to Saka, the $250 coffee maker would be what’s called a "premium loss leader" since manufactures already expected not to make a profit with the costlier machine.

See, it’s all a trick to get you to buy the medium priced coffee maker that you thought was way too expensive just two weeks prior. It’s Pretty sneaky, huh ?

Dont get me wrong, there are millions of reasons why consumers buy expensive products, and having low self-esteem and being duped by manufactures with framing schemes are just among two of them, but a very popular two reasons they are.

Limit yourself

A good way to stop impulse spending according to financial experts is by limiting yourself on the amount of store deals you’ll take advantage of.

Every brick-and-mortar along with every online retail store has some sort of sale, deal, special, or low-price offer to get you to buy a product directly on the spot. Simply put, you don’t have to take advantage of all of them.

Also, be sure to carry a set amount of spending cash and leave the credit and debit cards at home, experts say. This technique will also weaken impulses to purchase items you may not really need or even want.

Of course these are just some of the suggestions from experts, but I would say common sense  supersedes both of these rules. If you can’t afford it leave it alone and think of the financial reprucussions you’ll have to face in the weeks and months to follow.

It’s like anything else you do on impulse, like eating an unhealthy meal for example. It’s tasty and satisfying at first, but afterwards, the feelings of ‘why did I do that’, overtake that feeling of satisfaction.

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QE3: What's It Mean For Consumers?

In the short run it's going to make things more expensive

  Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and the Fed's Open Market Committee announced Thursday that the Fed will begin a new round of stimulu...

PhotoFederal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and the Fed's Open Market Committee announced Thursday that the Fed will begin a new round of stimulus to boost the economy.

The program of bond purchases is called Quantitative Easing, and since this will be the third round, it's called QE3 for short. Maybe you think it's all about Wall Street but actually consumers will feel the effects. Some, hopefully, will be positive. Others are not likely to be so positive.

In his news conference following the announcement, Bernanke took pains to point out that the Fed is not “printing money” or adding to the deficit when it undertakes its campaign to purchase hundreds of billions of dollars worth of mortgage-backed securities. But the markets, unfortunately, see it differently.

Immediate impact

PhotoJust as soon as the announcement was made Thursday the U.S. dollar began to fall against the yen and the euro. So the effect of QE3 is to make your money worth less. That means that commodities that are priced in dollars suddenly cost more.

True to form, the price of gold began moving higher just as soon as the dollar started moving lower. You can also expect oil prices to go up, and along with them gasoline prices. Food will also probably cost more in the weeks ahead.

But if the plan works, there should be some positive results from QE3. For starters, Bernanke and company are committing themselves to buy mortgage-backed securities and keep buying them, even if the economy starts to improve.

Even cheaper mortgages

That should have the effect of making long-term interest rates – including mortgages – cheaper. Mortgage rates are already near historic lows so it's hard to see how lowering them a few more basis points is going to make much difference, but the Fed is banking on lenders beginning to make it a little easier for credit-worthy home buyers to qualify for a mortgage. If that happens, a robust housing recovery could significantly boost the economy.

Driving down interest rates is also aimed at reducing unemployment. Businesses have been reluctant to hire employees since the recession because there simply hasn't been enough demand for their products and services.

The Fed is hoping that its announced commitment to rock-bottom interest rates will change that mindset, causing businesses to be more optimistic and to begin to expand. If that happens, the unemployment rate should begin to drop and, as more people go back to work, the economy will get stronger.

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Study: Whooping Cough Vaccines Lose Effectiveness Over Time

Researchers say the disease has come back with a harsh vengence.

Just when you think a chronic illness has been permanently defeated, it sometimes creeps back up. For example, take whooping cough or pertussis, as it...

PhotoJust when you think a chronic illness has been permanently defeated, it sometimes creeps back up. For example, take whooping cough or pertussis, as it’s otherwise known.

This year alone over 21,000 cases of the sickness have been documented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is up from 18,179 cases in 2011. In the last two years nearly 25 children, in some cases babies younger than 1 years of age, have died from whooping cough.

You may ask why the disease has come back with such a vengeance?

According to a study conducted by Kaiser Permanente and recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the vaccine for pertussis tends to weaken over time, losing its ability to combat the disease effectively.

Protection wanes

“During the five years after the last dose of vaccine, protection from the disease wanes substantially each year, said Dr. Nicola Klein, co-director of Kaiser’s Vaccine Study Center, and lead author of the report.

“If we estimate that after the fifth dose of vaccine, protection is at 95 percent, protection would decrease to 71 percent after five years. A large part of the reason the epidemics have been occurring here and in other states around the country has to do with this waning immunity in this school-aged population,” she said.

PhotoTom Clark, who is an epidemiologist with the CDC, also revealed other important truths about whooping cough. One: The disease actually never went away, it’s just been somewhat contained compared to many years ago. Two: No one -- especially parents -- should use this particular study as an excuse not to get their children vaccinated, as it’s still our best form of protection against the pertussis disease.

“We want to make sure parents understand that even though the protection wears off more quickly, the vaccine shouldn’t be misconstrued as not being protective,” said Clark. “Pertussis never went away, and it’s back now with a vengeance. And this vaccine protects against severe disease and its complications.”

Pertussis infections usually linger somewhere between one and six weeks, says the CDC, but can also stretch on for longer periods of time. The government agency also states that 50 percent of infants who are younger than one years old and develop whooping cough have to be hospitalized.

The CDC also says that infants should be vaccinated with what’s known as DTaP, and adults, teens and preteens should be protected with what’s known as Tdap.

Weakens over time

Although these vaccines are still considered the first line of defense against whooping cough, scientists have known for quite some time that effectiveness does in fact weaken over time.

This truth was confirmed after Klein and her research team studied the previous findings of two groups of children who both received full whooping cough vaccinations. They first examined 277 children between 4 and 12 years of age with pertussis, and also studied 3,318 children who didn’t have the disease.

Klein and her research team found that 4.5 percent of the 6-year olds who were studied had whooping cough, along with 12.2 percent of the 8-year olds and 18.5 percent of the 10-year olds.

 The research determined that children who didn’t have the disease received their vaccination on a more recent date, confirming the potency of the vaccination diminishes over time. The findings also explained why a higher percentage of the older kids who were studied had pertussis.

According to the CDC, DTaP should be given to children at 2-months of age up until the age of 6. If children haven’t been immunized by age-7, they should receive Tdap, and doses of the vaccine differs depending on how consistent your child has been protected since infancy.  

“In conclusion, our evaluation of data from a large pertussis outbreak in California showed that protection from disease after a fifth dose of DTaP among children who had received only DTaP vaccines was relatively short-lived and waned substantially each year, wrote Klein and her research team. “Our findings highlight the need to develop new pertussis-containing vaccines that will provide long-lasting immunity.”

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GoDaddy Credits Customers For Monday's Outage

Customers have seven days to redeem credits

  When your cable goes out for a few hours, your cable company doesn't adjust your bill. Neither does your cell phone provider.But GoDaddy....

PhotoWhen your cable goes out for a few hours, your cable company doesn't adjust your bill. Neither does your cell phone provider.

But GoDaddy.com, the web hosting and registrar company that suffered a six hour outage on Monday, is compensating its millions of customers, who received an email from company CEO Scott Wagner.

“We owe you a big apology for the intermittent service outages we experienced on September 10 that may have impacted your website, your email and other Go Daddy services,” Wagner said in his message. “We let you down and we know it. We take our responsibilities — and the trust you place in us — very seriously. I cannot express how sorry I am to those of you who were inconvenienced.”

To make amends, Wagner said GoDaddy will credit customers for a months worth of service.

“As a result of this disruption, your account will be credited for the value of one month of service for each plan that has at least one active or published site,” Wagner wrote. This credit will be available to you for the next seven days.”

The email directs customers  to click a link to redeem credits.

The company says the service outage was due to a series of internal network events that corrupted router data tables, disputing claims by a hacker that he was responsible. GoDaddy says no sensitive customer information was compromised as a result of the outage.

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Say Cheese -- The FBI Will Be Taking Your Photo

The feds are making a family scrapbook and we'll all be in it

Who doesn’t like to pose for a picture now and again?Sure, very few of us are models or anything like that, but it’s pretty painless to just ...

PhotoWho doesn’t like to pose for a picture now and again?

Sure, very few of us are models or anything like that, but it’s pretty painless to just stand still and say "cheese" for somebody.

But annoyance can set in if someone takes your picture without asking. I mean, it’s your image, right? Shouldn’t you have a say when somebody captures it?

Apparently the folks at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) don’t think so, as the agency has developed a new sophisticated database that will keep millions of photos of both criminals and non-criminals alike.

What’s strange about this new technology is that photos for the database will be comprised of pictures of you walking the street, entering a building, or joining a protest.

Meaning a picture can be taken of you and eventually stored in a law enforcement database, just in case you ever need to be tracked down in the future.

The new technology is called “Next Generation Identification” (NG), and it’s a substantial upgrade to the FBI’s current Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS), with an added picture taking component, and other new advanced features.

At the moment the IAFIS holds several million fingerprint records, but as early as 2014 NGI will couple each record with a photograph, making even easier to identify someone. Currently the photos being used for the system's testing are from criminal mug shots and other pictures that are taken by of law enforcement.

Security cameras

PhotoHowever, NGI will eventually allow law enforcement to submit public security camera photos into the national database, whether you were ever a criminal or not. Photos taken from private security cameras will also be used for database submission, according to a 2008 Privacy Impact Assessment.

In theory, this will help law enforcement track people if necessary, while making it much easier to do so. So whether you’re involved in a crime or not, there’s a good chance your mug will be residing in a database by 2014, which would be accessible to every level of law enforcement.

NGI will also include other methods of multimodal biometrics to identify a person easier such as, documenting your specific facial characteristics, scanning your retina, and capturing your voice. We previously ran a story about a new version of public cameras that can capture your conversation in public, just in case you were wondering how on earth law enforcement could get your voice without your knowledge or consent.

The NGI system has already been used in a pilot program in a few U.S. cities, and is expected to be fully implemented in just two short years throughout the country. Privacy groups have been keeping a close eye on the program and have already expressed concern over its level of invasiveness.

For the pilot program the FBI says they’ve been testing the system with current mug shots of criminals and have to abide by a strict set of rules before accessing each photo.

Whether this same set of rules will apply when non-criminal photos are stored in the database remains to be seen.

“Pilot participants are informed that information derived from pilot search requests and resulting responses is to be used only as an investigative lead,” said Jerome Pender of the FBI to the Senate. “Results are not to be considered as positive identifications,” he said.

Fingerprints affected

The NGI technology will also affect the current fingerprint system by making photos a part of the background-checking process. For example, teachers typically have to submit a set of fingerprints to their local Board of Education before they're hired, and soon they’ll probably have to submit a photo as well.

Sure, it's not the worst thing in the world one has to do, but it is kind of creepy knowing your picture can already be in a national database next to criminals, and the photo you’re submitting for your job is merely for confirmation purposes.

The FBI also says it will use two separate databases to differentiate non-criminal and criminal information, but that hasn’t made privacy groups exhale much at all. The whole security upgrade has cost around $1 billion to complete, and theoretically it will assist in not only domestic crime solving, but international crimes as well.

Some would say if you’ve done nothing wrong, you really shouldn’t mind having your photo in a database. But shouldn’t you have say on whether your picture is taken or not?

You could almost compare it to a stranger coming up to you on the street and snapping your photo without asking. It’s kind of the same thing, and most of us don’t like that.

  

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CashCall Loses West Virginia Court Fight

Lender must pay $15 million in penalties, refunds and cancelled debts

  A West Virginia court has ruled that California-based CashCall must pay $15 million in civil penalties, refunds, and cancelled debts for th...

PhotoA West Virginia court has ruled that California-based CashCall must pay $15 million in civil penalties, refunds, and cancelled debts for the 292 West Virginia consumers who obtained the loans and to the State.

The ruling came in a suit filed by West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw, who claimed CashCall entered into a "sham" relationship with the First Bank & Trust of Milbank, South Dakota, for the purpose of using the bank’s charter to evade the State’s usury laws.

McGraw argued that although the loans obtained by West Virginia consumers were made to appear as if they were issued by the South Dakota Bank, in fact, CashCall was the "true lender" because it bore the entire economic risk of the loans. The court agreed.

McGraw’s suit also claimed that CashCall engaged in abusive debt collection practices, violating any number of consumer protection laws. The complaint says CashCall harassed debtors with up to 25 telephone calls a day, sometimes disclosing alleged debts to various third parties, including friends, family members, co-workers, and persons that consumers listed as "references" on their loan applications.

Complaints

Complaints to ConsumerAffairs about CashCall have reflected similar charges.

“Their employees and even supervisors are unaware of company policies and procedures and will call and harass you to death even after you make a payment because their system has to play catch-up,” Ticondria, of Palm City, FL, wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. “I even made payment arrangements to change my payment date. The representatives never note accounts correctly.”

“I paid off my loan in full with Cash Call and they took an additional payment from my account,” wrote Linda, of Temecula, CA. “They acknowledge the error, but haven't return my funds and refuse to return my calls.”

Embarrassment and humiliation

McGraw’s suit also alleged that CashCall repeatedly contacted consumers at work, subjecting them to embarrassment and humiliation before their co-workers, after consumers had asked that such calls stop.

McGraw says the his case could well have national implications.

"I am proud of my Consumer Protection staff for making West Virginia the only state to successfully challenge CashCall’s 'sham' business model that was designed to evade laws intended to protect West Virginia consumers from excessive interest rates,” McGraw said.

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'Mini' Stroke Can Cause Major Disability, May Warrant Clot-Busters

More aggressive treatment is recommended, study says

A transient ischemic attack, TIA or a "mini stroke," can lead to serious disability, but is frequently deemed by doctors too mild to treat, according to a ...

PhotoA transient ischemic attack, TIA or a "mini stroke," can lead to serious disability, but is frequently deemed by doctors too mild to treat, according to a study in the American Heart Association journal Stroke

"Our study shows that TIA and minor stroke patients are at significant risk of disability and need early assessment and treatment," said Shelagh Coutts, M.D., lead author of the study at Foothills Hospital in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. "We should be imaging patients earlier and be more aggressive in treating patients with thrombolysis if we can see a blockage no matter how minor the symptoms are." 

Thrombolysis is a treatment used to dissolve dangerous clots and restore healthy blood flow to the brain. TIA and minor stroke patients don't typically receive this treatment because the condition is frequently not deemed serious enough to warrant it, researchers said. 

After-effects reported 

Among the 499 patients studied, 15 percent had at least minor disability 90 days after their original "mini stroke." Minor disability was defined as being unable to carry out previous activities, but capable of and handling personal affairs without assistance. 

Computed tomography (CT) scans showed some "mini stroke" patients had narrowed blood vessels in the brain, and others reported continuing or worsening symptoms. Those patients were more than twice as likely to have disability at 90 days. Coutts suggests that thrombolysis treatment should be considered in these patients. 

Patients with type 2 diabetes had a similarly high risk of disability. Also, women were nearly twice as likely as men to be disabled 90 days after TIA. 

Time is critical 

"For every second after a mini stroke, the patient's brain may be losing oxygen -- possibly leading to a major event," Coutts said. "If a scan finds that you have a narrowing of a blood vessel in or outside of the brain, you are at a high risk of being disabled." 

Recurrent strokes posed the greatest threat to patients. Of those who had recurrent strokes, 53 percent were disabled, compared with 12 percent of patients without a recurrent stroke. 

In 2009, the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association recommended immediate action and thorough testing for TIA -- much like the exams performed after a full-blown stroke. These exams can show blockage in a brain blood vessel, which can increase patients' risk of a subsequent, more serious event. 

"The symptoms of a TIA -- abrupt onset of inability to move one side of your body, numbness on one side, dizziness and trouble walking -- may pass quickly," Coutts said. "But, if you experience them, you should immediately go to the hospital, where proper scans can be done. Based on these results we have started a trial in Canada giving clot-busting drugs to patients with mild symptoms, but blocked blood vessels in the brain. 

"If ignored, these symptoms can lead to death. This is not a benign disease."

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Inflation Rears Its Ugly Head

Gasoline and food account for most of the increase

  Prices are moving higher, with greater speed, at both the wholesale and retail levels, government reports show.The Labor Department repor...

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New Multiple Sclerosis Treatment Approved

Aubagio is to be used in treating relapsing forms of the disease

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved Aubagio (teriflunomide), a once-a-day tablet for the treatment of adults with relapsing forms of multipl...

PhotoThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved Aubagio (teriflunomide), a once-a-day tablet for the treatment of adults with relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis (MS). 

“In a clinical trial, the relapse rate for patients using Aubagio was about 30 percent lower than the rate for those taking a placebo,” said Russell Katz, M.D., director of the Division of Neurology Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “Multiple sclerosis can impair movement, sensation, and thinking, so it is important to have a variety of treatment options available to patients.” 

MS is a chronic, inflammatory, autoimmune disease of the central nervous system that disrupts communication between the brain and other parts of the body. It is among the most common causes of neurological disability in young adults and occurs at least twice as frequently in women as in men. 

For most people with MS, episodes of worsening function (relapses) are initially followed by recovery periods (remissions). Over time, recovery periods may be incomplete, leading to progressive decline. 

The most common side effects of Aubagio experienced by patients in clinical trials include diarrhea, abnormal liver tests, nausea, and hair loss. 

Contains some risks 

The drug contains a Boxed Warning to alert prescribers and patients to the risk of liver problems, including death, and a risk of birth defects. Physicians should do blood tests to check liver function before a patient starts taking Aubagio and periodically during treatment. 

Also included in the Boxed Warning is an alert noting that, based on animal studies, the drug may cause fetal harm. For this reason, Aubagio is labeled as Pregnancy Category X, which means women of childbearing age must have a negative pregnancy test before starting the drug and use effective birth control during treatment. 

Aubagio will be dispensed with a patient Medication Guide that provides important instructions on its use and drug safety information. 

Aubagio is made by Bridgewater, N.J.-based Sanofi Aventis.  

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Prestigio Office Chairs Recalled

A problem with the seat plate presents a falling hazard

True Innovations is recalling about 8,400 Realspace Soho Prestigio high-back leather chairs. The seat plate can break, posing fall and injury hazards to...

PhotoTrue Innovations is recalling about 8,400 Realspace Soho Prestigio high-back leather chairs. 

The seat plate can break, posing fall and injury hazards to consumers. Office Depot, the importer of the chair, says it has received 78 reports of incidents involving seat plates breaking, including one report of a fall injury. 

This recall involves Prestigio model leather office chairs. The high-back leather chairs were sold in black and have a five-leg metallic finish base with casters. The SKU number 181-265 and the words "Realspace Soho" and "Prestigio High-Back Chair Black Leather" are printed on a label located on the underside of the seat. 

The chairs, manufactured in China, were sold at Office Depot retail stores nationwide and online at OfficeDepot.com from October 2008 through February 2011 for about $250. 

Consumers should stop using the chairs immediately and contact True Innovations for a free seat repair kit including a replacement seat plate and an installation tool. 

For additional information, contact True Innovations at (800) 379-9773 between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. ET Monday through Friday.

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Gas Prices Up Another Nickel a Gallon

Middle East tensions and falling dollar add up to more expensive fuel

  Gasoline prices show no sign of slowing their rise just because the summer driving season is over. The price at the pump rose another five ...

PhotoGasoline prices show no sign of slowing their rise just because the summer driving season is over. The price at the pump rose another five cents a gallon in the last seven days.

The national average price of self-serve regular today is $3.871 per gallon, compared with $3.822 last Friday, according to AAA's Fuel Gauge Survey. That's about 17 cents higher than a month ago and more than 23 cents higher than the price a year ago.

The average price of diesel fuel today is $4.123 per gallon, versus $4.113 a week ago.

Gasoline prices, of course, take their cue from oil prices, which have steadily marched higher over the last few weeks amid increasing concerns about tension with Iran. This week's attacks on U.S. embassies in the Middle East has only heightened those worries.

Weaker dollar

Thursday the Federal Reserve announced another round of Quantitative Easing, which sent the dollar lower and oil prices sharply higher. At a time of year when gasoline prices typically fall U.S. motorists should prepare for prices to go higher.

Among the states there were big price moves in Connecticut, New York and Mississippi. The average price surged 12.5 cents a gallon in Connecticut and New York while it fell more than three cents in Mississippi.

Photo

The states with the most expensive gas prices this week are:

  • Hawaii ($4.394)
  • Connecticut ($4.160)
  • California ($4.158)
  • New York ($4.137)
  • Illinois ($4.118)
  • Washington ($4.063)
  • Oregon ($4.024)
  • Alaska ($4.015)
  • Michigan ($4.044)
  • Rhodes Island ($3.995)

The states with the lowest gas prices this week are: 

  • Mississippi ($3.620)
  • South Carolina ($3.630)
  • Alabama ($3.669)
  • Texas ($3.670)
  • Tennessee ($3.675)
  • New Mexico ($3.691)
  • Louisiana ($3.692)
  • Arkansas ($3.699)
  • Colorado ($3.706)
  • Virginia ($3.718)
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Spartan Stores Recalls Deli Products

Concerns of possible Listeria monocytogenes contantamination

Spartan Stores is initiating a precautionary recall of certain deli products due to concerns of possible Listeria monocytogenes contact. This recall is pre...

PhotoSpartan Stores is initiating a precautionary recall of certain deli products due to concerns of possible Listeria monocytogenes contact. This recall is precautionary and is being initiated to ensure the highest degree of confidence to our customers. Listeria monocytogenes is an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women. 

No products have been identified as coming into contact with the Listeria monocytogenes organism. 

The deli products were distributed to Family Fare, D&W Fresh Markets, Glen's, VG's and a limited number of independent supermarkets in Michigan. Spartan Stores has received no reports of illness associated with the consumption of these products. Anyone concerned about an illness should contact their healthcare provider immediately. All of the products involved in the recall should be discarded or returned for a full refund. 

For a specific list of items go to Spartan’s retail Websites listed below or the courtesy desks at each store.

This recall is the result of a routine surface swabbing conducted by the FDA which resulted in positive samples of Listeria monocytogenes. 

Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Spartan Stores' Consumer Affairs at 1-800-451-8500 from 8 am to 5 pm EST.

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10 Things to Consider When Buying A House

These days, a mistake in choosing a home can prove costly

  With home prices still at bargain levels and interest rates at historic lows, more people are beginning to look at buying a house. And why ...

PhotoWith home prices still at bargain levels and interest rates at historic lows, more people are beginning to look at buying a house. And why not? In many cases the cost of owning is now much less than renting?

Before embarking on a house hunt, there are things to consider. Chief among them is how long you expect to stay in one place. If you think you will move to another area in a couple of years, then buying is probably not a good idea. But assuming you do plan to stick around for a while, the experts at Zillow.com have come up with 10 things you really should consider before making an offer on a home.

1. Location, location, location

It's the oldest of real estate clichés, but that's probably because it is so true. Location is extremely important when it comes time to sell. You can have the worst house in the world with the ugliest kitchen and bath. But put it on a great block or in a good school district, and your home will be coveted.

What makes a good location? At the highest level is the town where the house is located, then the school district, then the neighborhood and the block -- right down to the location of the lot on the block. Keep all of this in mind when shopping.

2. The school district

Most people who buy houses have school-age children, so the school district is right up there on the list of what’s most important to many buyers. It’s not uncommon for buyers to start their search based solely on the school district they want to be in.

Parents want their kids to go to the best school, which can drive up prices of homes in those districts. Even though you might not have children, buying a home in a good school district is always smart.

3. The home’s position on the lot

Where the home sits on the lot in relation to the street or the overgrown oak are key elements in picking out a home. In the case of a condo, an end unit vs. an interior unit is a key consideration. You may have chosen the most beautifully renovated home in the best school district and figure all is good. But if the main living areas are shaded by a neighbor’s extension or the master bedroom looks into the neighbors’ family room, you may have a location problem. Light or privacy may not be a hot button for you, but chances are, they might be concerns for a future buyer.

4. Crime

If you are unfamiliar with a community or neighborhood, it is always a good idea to check the latest crime figures for a neighborhood. It can give you a good snapshot about the number and severity of crimes over a time period. So much information is online nowadays that when you find your perfect home, a quick Internet search on the area should provide you with the much-needed information.

The website MyLocalCrime.com is a good tool. Simply type in the address of the home you are considering and you'll get a list of recent crimes in the area, displayed on a map, broken down by the type of crime. No one wants to think about things like this, but it's a fact of life. Don’t freak out if you notice more crime than what you’d have expected. Crime, especially petty crime, is everywhere.

5. Walkability

If you can walk from your prospective house to a grocery store or coffee shop, that's a real plus. More than ever, "walkability" is becoming a key factor in the search process. There are entire Websites, apps and algorithms that help people figure out how walkable their future home is. As a matter of fact, Zillow even has a Walk Score for most homes. Even if the nearest shopping area is too far away to reach on foot, a neighborhood with sidewalks and jogging and bike trails is preferable to one without.

6. The neighborhood’s character

You may have found the absolute most perfect home, on the best block, in the best school district and on a great lot. But there could be circumstances outside your control that may give you pause -- specifically, the character of the surrounding neighborhood.

This is basically a personality test. So much of the home search is based on physical characteristics of the houses. Try to see how neighbors interact with one another. Talk to a few, if possible, asking what they like about the neighborhood and what they wish they could improved.

That next-door neighbor practicing drums in the garage at 9 p.m. could be a source of immediate neighbor conflict. Go into it with eyes wide open.

7. Don’t buy the best house on the block

If you buy the best house on the block, there's no place for your investment to go but down. It’s better to buy the worst house on the best block, because you can improve the house to add value to an already great location.

8. Is it a fixer-upper?

If you’re buying a fixer-upper, make sure you understand what you’re getting into. Did you set out to buy a home that needed work? Or does the home just happen to be in the most desirable neighborhood, the block of your dreams?

Unless you are a skilled handyman, the fixing-up part can cost more than you think. Keep in mind as well that significant deficiencies in the house may affect what kind of financing you can get.

9. Will the home hold its value?

Back during the housing bubble you could buy a home and it would be worth more than you paid for it before you moved in. It's just the opposite now. Seek some advice on home values in the area and specifically look for things you can do to add value to the home you are buying.

10. Taxes, dues and fees

Once you've bought a home and moved in, you aren't finished paying. There are other costs to be paid on a regular basis, starting with taxes. Find out the annual property taxes on the home you are considering. If it is close to another jurisdiction with lower tax rates, it might be wise to move your search to that location, if you can find a house you like.

Also, some neighborhoods have homeowners' associations that assess annual, or even monthly dues. This is especially an issue with condos, all of which will have some type of fee to maintain buildings and grounds.

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Nearly 140 Child Drownings Reported in Summer 2012

Initial summer drowning figures are only part of the annual toll

Information compiled from media reports show 137 children younger than 15 years drowned in a pool or spa during the traditional summer season of Memorial D...

PhotoInformation compiled from media reports show 137 children younger than 15 years drowned in a pool or spa during the traditional summer season of Memorial Day to Labor Day this year. An additional 168 children of that age required emergency response for near-fatal incidents in pools or spas. 

"These figures are a strong indication that child drownings are a serious public health problem," said U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's (CPSC) Chairman Inez Tenenbaum. "We are losing too many children to drowning, tragically cutting short these young lives and leaving families devastated. While summer is ending, our vigilance in ensuring that all children pool safely must not end. With so many indoor community pools, hotel pools and spas, indoor waterparks, as well as outdoor pools that remain open in warm-weather states, we must continue our efforts to remind everyone to pool safely whenever they are near the water." 

Young children at risk 

The media figures show that 54 of these drownings occurred soon after the children left an adult who was in their immediate vicinity, and 31 children drowned despite the presence of others at the pool. 

In addition, the media reports are consistent with CPSC's annual reports in showing that young children and toddlers are especially vulnerable to drowning -- at least 100 of the 137 children who drowned were younger than five. Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death among children one to four years of age. 

Not every child drowning is reported on or tracked by the media. In turn, it takes time for CPSC to compile data of all child drownings from around the country. Each May, CPSC releases reports for drownings and non-fatal submersions for children younger than 15 years of age. Agency data from 2007 to 2009 show an annual average of 243 children drowned in pools or spas during the summer months, which is about 63 percent of the average annual drowning figures for these years. 

CPSC's Pool Safely campaign message reinforces the important safety steps: stay close to children in the water, be alert, and watch children in and around the pool at all times. 

Texas tops the toll 

During the summer of 2012, the following twelve states suffered the largest number of pool and spa drownings for children younger than 15: 

  1. Texas (17)
  2. California (10)
  3. Ohio (9)
  4. Arizona (8)
  5. Michigan (8)
  6. Pennsylvania (7)
  7. Florida (6)
  8. Illinois (6)
  9. North Carolina (6)
  10. Alabama (5)
  11. Georgia (5)
  12. New York (5) 

CPSC's 2012 submersion report shows on average 390 pool or spa-related drownings occur each year for children younger than 15, based on statistics from 2007-2009. About 5,200 pool or spa-related emergency department-treated submersion injuries occur on average each year for children younger than 15. 

Pool safety tips 

The Pool Safely campaign provides information on the simple steps that parents, caregivers and pool owners should take to ensure that children and adults stay safe around pools and spas: 

  • Stay close, be alert and watch children in and around the pool. Never leave children unattended in a pool or spa; always watch children closely around all bodies of water; teach children basic water safety tips; and keep children away from pool drains, pipes and other openings.
  • Learn and practice water safety skills. Every family member should know how to swim. Learn how to perform CPR on both children and adults.
  • Have appropriate equipment for your pool or spa. This includes pool fencing, a lockable safety cover for spas, proper drain covers to avoid entrapments, and lifesaving equipment such as life rings and a reaching pole.
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Illinois Posts Highest August Foreclosure Rate in Nation

Only a handful of states see a spike in activity last month

  For the nation as a whole, August was another fairly quiet month for foreclosures. But there were some exceptions. The latest report...

PhotoFor the nation as a whole, August was another fairly quiet month for foreclosures. But there were some exceptions.

The latest report from RealtyTrac, a marketer of foreclosure properties, shows foreclosures rose just one percent in August -- and were down 15 percent from a year ago -- but a handful of states saw a lot more action.

“Bucking the national trend, deferred foreclosure activity boiled over in several states in August,” said Daren Blomquist, vice president of RealtyTrac. “In judicial states (states where court action is required to foreclose on a home) such as Florida, Illinois, New Jersey and New York, this was a continuation of a trend we’ve been seeing for several months now.”

The increases in Florida and Illinois pushed foreclosure rates in those states to the two highest in the country, taking the place of non-judicial states like Arizona, California, Georgia and Nevada. Before last month the nation’s top two state foreclosure rates have been from those four non-judicial states every month since December 2010.

Effects of settlement

That increase is due to the national settlement between major mortgage lenders and the states and federal government, signed in the spring. Prior to that settlement many foreclosures in states that require judicial proceedings to foreclose on a home had been put on hold.

In an encouraging sign, foreclosure activity in most non-judicial states continued to decline. That suggests most cases of distressed property have already been resolved.

Illinois posted the nation’s highest foreclosure rate, with one in every 298 housing units subject to a foreclosure filing. August was the first month that Illinois has ranked No. 1 since RealtyTrac began issuing its report in January 2005.

Twenty states registered year-over-year increases in foreclosure activity, led by judicial foreclosure states such as New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Illinois and Pennsylvania.

Florida foreclosures

Florida, a hotbed of foreclosure activity since the housing meltdown began, saw its foreclosure activity increase in August on a year-over-year basis for the seventh time in the last eight months, helping the state post the nation's second highest foreclosure rate: one in every 328 housing units received a foreclosure filing.

Despite a 32 percent year-over-year decrease in overall foreclosure activity in August -- the ninth consecutive month with an annual decrease -- California still managed to post the nation’s third highest state foreclosure rate. One in every 340 California housing units had a foreclosure filing in August -- twice the national average.

Other states with foreclosure rates among the nation’s 10 highest were Arizona, Nevada, Georgia, Ohio, Michigan, Delaware and Colorado.

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It's Official -- New York City Bans Large Sugary Drinks

After much back and forth, Mayor Michael Bloomberg finally gets his way.

And just when you thought you were old enough to make your own health choices, now this:In a voting count of nine to one, New York City’s Boar...

PhotoAnd just when you thought you were old enough to make your own health choices, now this. In a 9-1 vote, New York City’s Board of Health made the city’s controversial soda ban official, ending a great deal of back and forth between Mayor Michael Bloomberg and critics of the beverage ban.

The new ruling will take effect on March 12, 2013, when restaurants, sports arenas, corner markets, movie theaters and food vendors are forbidden to sell sugary beverages over 16 ounces in size.

In addition, establishments that don’t comply with the ruling will have to fork over a $200 fine. 

However, grocery stores will still be able to carry and sell large sugar-based drinks over the 16-ounce limit. The ruling also doesn’t apply to beverages containing more than 70 percent fruit juice, to diet products, or alcohol-based drinks.

One of the major groups to criticize the impending soda ban was New Yorkers for Beverage Choices, which says the ruling will not improve the city’s obesity problem by any measure, since individuals will simply purchase large drinks at locations not included in the ban.

Eliot Hoff, the spokesman for New Yorkers for Beverage Choices says the mayor "is only focusing on the large-sizing drinks, not food, and only certain drinks. So you will be able to buy a smoothie that is dairy-based with tons of sugar and fat, because that will not be banned.” 

“You will be able to buy whatever you want at any of the hundreds of 7-Elevens around the city, but not in a local pizza parlor. So all this ban is doing is impacting an individual’s ability to freely purchase the drinks they want where they want,” he said.

The reason, by the way, that grocery stores and convenience stores are exempt is that they are not under the Health Department's jurisdiction. 

Other bans

Photo
Mayor Bloomberg

The latest ban follows a string of New York City health laws that include a strict policy on public smoking, and a ban on trans fats throughout the five boroughs.

Many have perceived New York to be a do-whatever-you-want kind of town similar to Las Vegas, but with new rules and questionable safeguards put in place by officials, a lot of residents feel the city is becoming a bit too conservative and not the free-flowing place it used to be.

Cynics say that Hoboken -- yes, Hoboken -- is becoming the wild and crazy place New York used to be. Well, you must admit it does have a better view of the New York skyline.

Not surprisingly, Bloomberg officials disagree with this assessment of New York, as they believe no rulings or health laws can ever turn residents or tourists away from a city that’s seeing increasing numbers of both residents and tourists.

“We’ve heard claims of pending apocalypse before when we proposed bold public health initiatives, and they have been proven false, said a spokeswoman for Bloomberg, Samantha Levine, in a statement. “Critics predicted the end of tourism and that businesses would sink when we banned smoking in bars and restaurants, yet we’ve grown tourism to record levels and the restaurant and bar industry continues to grow.”

Obesity a problem

PhotoAccording to a report released by local officials, entitled “Reversing the Epidemic: The New York City Obesity Task Force Plan to Prevent and Control Obesity,” 21.3 percent of children in the Big Apple between the ages of 6 to 11 suffer from obesity. The rest of the country has an obesity average of 19.6 percent, the report indicates.

It also shows those in lower income neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs, like Bedford Stuyvesant or Brownsville in Brooklyn; suffer from obesity and the related illnesses in disproportionate numbers.

And city officials believe the soda ban will lower these percentages not only in these particular areas, but all across the various income brackets and neighborhoods through the city.

“Months from today, our city will be an even healthier place,” tweeted the mayor after the decision. “Portion size drives consumption,” he wrote.

Those opposed to the ban will obviously contest the decision legally, but starting this coming March New Yorkers will have to go the grocery store if they want a sugary beverage that’s over 16 ounces, unless the ruling is over turned.

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Study: Men and Women Can't Be Just Friends

And researchers say it's all the guy's fault

We’ve all heard the question before, in conversations with our friends during dinner, in daytime talk shows and in a host of romantic comedies. Can m...

PhotoWe’ve all heard the question before, in conversations with our friends during dinner, in daytime talk shows and in a host of romantic comedies. Can men and women really be just friends?

Right off the bat many would say yes, as a lot of us do have good friends of the opposite gender, but a study by the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire says otherwise.

When it comes to guys and girls maintaining a platonic relationship, guys are much more likely to see female friends as potential mates, finds the study.

Researchers at the Midwestern school conducted an analysis of 88 young adults, and found that men have an unbalanced interest in female friends, compared to women being attracted to their male pals. They also conveyed that no matter how platonic a relationship is between the opposite sex, there are still hints of attraction between the friends.

It's persistent

“Attraction in friendship is happening, and it’s persistent,” said April Bleske-Recheck, associate professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and chief study author. “I’d venture to say based on all our data that in the majority of friendships there’s at least a low level of attraction. And if it’s coming more from one friend than the other, it’s probably the guy.”

Photo“Historically, men faced the risk of being shut out genetically if they didn’t take advantage of various reproductive opportunities,” she added. “So the argument is that men have evolved to be far more sexually opportunistic.”

In the recently-conducted survey, researchers gathered a group of platonic opposite-sex friends and gauged each person’s level of attraction to one another. The participants were also asked to list both the cost and benefit of being attracted to a friend of the opposite gender.

Researchers found that 32 percent of those surveyed said that being attracted to the opposite sex came with a cost, while 6 percent said that attraction was a benefit to the friendship. And as far as the gender split, 47 percent of women between 18 to 23 said being attracted to a male friend came with a cost, and 22 percent of men said the same when it came to being romantically drawn to their female chums.

Age matters

In a separate study, Bleske-Rechek found that middle=aged adults who were attracted to opposite-sex friends were more inclined to be dissatisfied with their current romantic relationship.

 

Photo
Bleske-Rechek

“Although middle-aged adults reported less attraction overall to their cross-sex friends than did young adults, those who did report being attracted romantically to their friends were less satisfied with their current mates,” she said. “I think this is a significant finding.”

 

In both studies Bleske-Rechek and her team found that attraction and flirtation were significant motivators for both men and women to maintain friendships, and this particular finding was consistent among all age groups in the study.

“Mating strategies may influence people’s involvement in cross-sex friendships to begin with, as well as unintentionally color people’s feelings toward members of the opposite sex with whom their conscious intent is platonic,” said the researchers.

“Perhaps attraction can be both benefit and burden for the same individual in different friendships, or be both benefit and burden for the same friendship at different points in time,” they said.

Relatively new 

Bleske-Rechek also says that platonic opposite-sex relationships are still somewhat new compared to years past, and that neither gender has yet learned how to socially adjust to the change, or how to properly manage the attraction.

“It’s very likely that modern environment has changed so quickly that we’ve got these novel opportunities to engage in a variety of types of relationship with the opposite sex that we probably didn’t historically,” she noted. “It’s going to take us a while to adjust.”

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Federal Reserve to Pump More Money Into the Economy

Federal Open Market Committee will buy $40 billion per month in mortgage-backed securities

Noting that information received since the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) met in August suggests that economic activity has continued to expand at a ...

PhotoNoting that information received since the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) met in August suggests that economic activity has continued to expand at a moderate pace in recent months, the Federal Reserve says it will move to stimulate the economy. 

To that end, the Federal Reserve has agreed to purchase additional agency mortgage-backed securities at a pace of $40 billion per month. The FOMC said it will also will continue through the end of the year its program to extend the average maturity of its holdings of securities as announced in June, and is maintaining its existing policy of reinvesting principal payments from its holdings of agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities in agency mortgage-backed securities. 

These actions, which together will increase the Fed's holdings of longer-term securities by about $85 billion each month through the end of the year, should put downward pressure on longer-term interest rates, support mortgage markets and help make broader financial conditions more accommodative. 

Latest findings 

In making the announcement, the FOMC said growth in employment has been slow and the unemployment rate remains elevated. Additionally, household spending has continued to advance, but growth in business fixed investment appears to have slowed. The housing sector has shown some further signs of improvement, according the the committee, albeit from a depressed level. While inflation has been subdued, the prices of some key commodities have increased recently. Longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable. 

The committee says it is concerned that, without further policy accommodation, economic growth might not be strong enough to generate sustained improvement in labor market conditions. Furthermore, strains in global financial markets continue to pose significant downside risks to the economic outlook. The FOMC also anticipates that inflation over the medium term likely would run at or below its 2 percent objective. 

Hand on the tiller 

The committee says it will closely monitor incoming information on economic and financial developments in coming months. If the outlook for the labor market does not improve substantially, it will continue its purchases of agency mortgage-backed securities, undertake additional asset purchases, and employ its other policy tools as appropriate until such improvement is achieved in a context of price stability. In determining the size, pace, and composition of its asset purchases, the FOMC will, as always, factor in the likely efficacy and costs of such purchases. 

The FOMC also decided to keep the target range for the federal funds rate -- a key interest rate --at 0 to 1/4 percent and currently anticipates that exceptionally low levels for the federal funds rate are likely to be warranted at least through mid-2015.

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Martha Stewart Selling Counterfeit Solingen Knives, Suit Charges

Solingen knives hawked on HSN are fakes, German Chamber of Commerce alleges

Martha Stewart may have some admirers but she also has a fair share of detractors. Let's see, there are all the consumers who bought glass-top patio tables...

PhotoMartha Stewart may have some admirers but she also has a fair share of detractors. Let's see, there are all the consumers who bought glass-top patio tables only to have the tops disintegrate without warning. Then there's Macy's and other retailers whose partnerships with Martha have ended badly.

And now there's the Chamber of Industry and Commerce Wuppertal-Solingen-Remscheid -- a long name for the Chamber of Commerce that includes Solingen, the smallish town where Solingen knives are made, Courthouse News Service reports.

The local burghers are irate with Martha (a/k/a Martha Helen Kostyra) because they say she has been selling phony Solingen knives on the Home Shopping Network under the Emeril Lagasse brand, and they have filed suit against Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Emeril Lagasse, Home Shopping Network and SED International Holdings in Miami Federal Court.

The suit argues that the Solingen trade name dates back to 1853 and is protected in Germany and the United States. It was trademarked in the United States in 1974, with a first-use date of 1853, according to the complaint.

Made in China

PhotoSolingen claims it discovered the trademark violations and unfair competition this spring when it saw Solingen cutlery being sold on the Home Shopping Network, marked with the "Emeril" trademark on one side, and "China" on the other.

The suit argues, basically, that you can't have it both ways: Solingen knives can only be made in the Solingen area of Germany, not in China.

Solingen, whose original products were "mainly swords and daggers," now makes "wide-ranging" cutlery items, and the Solingen mark "certifies that the goods sold under that brand are of a certain origin and comply with extremely high and specific standards of manufacture," according to the complaint.

Germany protected the mark again with special legislation in 1994, called the Solingen Decree. Like the French mark Champagne, then, Solingen products cannot be produced outside the designated area.

 

Martha Stewart Outdoor Furniture Sept. 13, 2012, 8:22 p.m.
Consumers rate Martha Stewart Outdoor Furniture

"Defendants are not entitled to use the Solingen Certification Mark in connection with designing, manufacturing, advertising, promoting, distributing, publicly displaying, offering for sale, and/or selling the counterfeit products, as the counterfeit products are made in China and do not comply with the Solingen Decree," the lawsuit alleges.

 

Lagasse personally pushes the phony products in "infomercials" on the Home Shopping Network website, the Chamber says. And Martha Stewart's company, controlled by Martha herself, "was and is responsible and in charge of the Emeril brand, which includes the licensing, advertising, promotion, distribution, and sales of the Counterfeit Products," the complaint states.

The Chamber seeks $2 million in statutory damages for each trademark violation, or treble damages of illicit profits, treble damages for false advertising and unfair competition, an accounting, punitive damages, and a protective injunction.

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USA Today Turns 30, Gets a Face Lift

Brighter colors, more images, a flashier logo mark the event

If you spend a lot of time in hotels and airports, it's hard to avoid USA Today, the colorful, photo-splashed national newspaper that turns 30 years old th...

PhotoIf you spend a lot of time in hotels and airports, it's hard to avoid USA Today, the colorful, photo-splashed national newspaper that turns 30 years old this weekend.

Like many other 30-year-olds, USA Today is trying to freshen itself up a bit and get with the times. So, effective tomorrow (Friday), the  Gannett Co. paper will debut a new design that's supposed to be more in tune with the Internet and all things digital.

When the original USA Today made its bow 30 years ago, critics and fans alike said it looked like it was trying to resemble a TV screen. We wouldn't go so far as to say it now looks like it's trying to resemble an iPad screen, but it's certainly moving in that direction.

Also getting a facelift is USAToday.com. It's becoming downright app-like and sort of resembles the Flipboard mobile app. It will make its appearance over the weekend.

"We are making a real investment in USA TODAY, and putting a major focus on reinvigorating the value of print media while introducing new digital products," says Larry Kramer, president and publisher of USA Today. "We want to provide our readers with a unique perspective and relevant context on a full range of issues, across all mediums. We are revolutionizing the way we cover and distribute the news in relevant ways that inform and entertain our readers." 

The complete overhaul of the newspaper is designed to showcase USA TODAY's prowess in visual storytelling and bring "stronger voices" to its stories. The new logo reflects "the pulse of the nation," the company said in a statement.

Concise and "stately" 

 

Photo
The original USA Today building

Gannett, the parent company of USA Today, launched the newspaper on Sept. 15, 1982, with the mission of providing news and information that was clear, concise and presented largely without opinion or unsubstantiated analysis. Its heavy integration of graphics and color photos in the pages, which was controversial at the time of the launch, went on to influence many U.S. and foreign newspapers to inject more style and color into their products.

 

A unique feature 30 years ago was the centerfold state news section, where USA Today assembled Associated Press and staff news reports from all 50 states, highlighting major state stories that would normally not be seen outside the state where they originated.

Besides being a service for travelers, the state section provided an interesting snapshot for news junkies and policy wonks who for the first time could easily track trends around the country.

There was, believe it or not, no Internet then so news was not quite as easy to come by as it is today.

The state news section, consisting mostly of AP state news reports, was not only the only place in print that one could find routine stories from all 50 states. It was also the only place the AP could find them. Although AP at that time operated news bureaus in all 50 states, it distributed its state news stories only within a two- or three-state radius. Only stories deemed of national interest were sent on to editors in New York and Washington.

USA Today was at that time in a modern, even garish, building in Rosslyn, Va., just across the Potomac from Washington. (It has since moved farther into the Virginia suburbs, to McLean). I was at that time chief of the national broadcast desk in Washington and several of us trooped over to Virginia to see this technical marvel -- routine, even dull, stories from all 50 states in one location. 

The new look of USA Today is designed to take "visual storytelling to the next level" by displaying more color, photos and infographics, USA Today says. The States page will contain photos for the first time, while the Weather page will sport a cleaner look.

USA Today's new logo -- a large circle in colors corresponding to to the sections -- will be an infographic that changes with the news, containing a photo or image that represents key stories of the day.

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New Fantasy Football App Sets Itself Apart From The Rest

With real-time capabilities, the app MyGuy brings instant gratification to fantasy sports.

Fantasy Football has become quite popular in recent years, and with each rise in technology, the virtual sport of choosing players and teams has spread fas...

PhotoFantasy Football has become quite popular in recent years, and with each rise in technology, the virtual sport of choosing players and teams has spread faster and has gained more ground than an All-Pro NFL running back.

The folks over at Viggle, the television app that gives you redeemable points for watching TV shows, have created a real-time fantasy sports app called MyGuy.

What’s different about MyGuy from other fantasy sports apps is its real-time capabilities -- users can select fantasy players while the game is still going on, and you'll accumulate points if one of your players scores.

Chief Operations Officer and President of MyGuy Chris Stephenson says the new app speeds up the competition aspects of fantasy sports, by users having the opportunity to gain instant point totals. “It is a fantasy app, but there’s one big difference, he told the New York Post.

“With fantasy football you have to draft players and wait through the entire season. This is different because you can pick the player right there and then and that player is getting them points on every play. It’s a form of fantasy football but it is instantaneous. It’s fantasy sports meets instant gratification,” he said.

Branching out

PhotoStephenson says branching out to the sports realm only makes sense as it’s arguably the biggest and most far reaching form of entertainment in the United States, and creating MyGuy isn’t a risky expansion move since the nationwide customer base is already there.

“When you look at what drives social TV, the thing that really drives it is sports,” he said. “There’s lots of activity around other things like the VMAs, but on a week-to-week basis, game-in, game-out, no matter what the sport, this is what generates the most activity. People ask why are you creating a niche, but it’s not the niche, the rest of it is the niche, what we’re getting into is the big chunk.”

And he’s right. We Americans love watching sports more now than ever.

According to Nielsen Ratings, both broadcast and cable television aired over 43,700 hours of sports in the U.S. in 2011, so creating a sports related app or website is a safer bet, believes Stephenson.

Social interaction

And just like many apps and social networking sites which have been influenced by Facebook, MyGuy is choosing to take advantage of the current real-time trend, by offering instantaneous feedback and some sort of social interaction component for its users. And other companies are doing the same.

Take the site LinkedIn for example. The company recently announced it was changing its site to operate more like Facebook where users will have the ability to add and invite friends. The new version of LinkedIn will also provide you with an instant count of how many people are viewing your profile.

Although MyGuy doesn’t actually use its app in the same way it does have a chatroom area, where fans can comment on the game, vent frustrations because of the referee, or gloat to one another after victory. Think a virtual sports bar slash social networking app.

Also, with other fantasy sports app you usually have to choose your team before-hand and wait for results, but MyGuy allows you to switch players during the game to gain points if one of your players isn’t playing well, which Stephenson says is the smartest way to use the app and accumulate points.

“Let’s say you stick with Peyton Manning for the whole game,” he says. “You are only scoring when Petyon Manning is scoring. Other people are scoring, passing, intercepting and getting points. You might do well [using only one player], but you’ll never get to the leaderboard.”

Three sports

Stephenson also says by 2013 MyGuy will be a three-sport fantasy app. “We started with the basketball version of this during the playoffs,” he said. “It was really our test concept and it went really well. We then developed a football version of it for College and the NFL. We have an MLB product coming in October for the playoffs and will re-up with the NBA. By January we’ll have all three sports.”

He also says the new app will have actual prizes you can receive for having the most points, and in the near future MyGuy will attach the app to both the Super Bowl and Rose Bowl, which he says is quite unique. These are gaming perks he says the “normal football viewer cannot get access to.”

The new app can be used on Apple devices, Androids and computers, and can also be downloaded for free in the Apple App Store.

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What Are September's Best New Car Bargains?

Cars that are being updated in the next model year offer the best deals

  When September arrives the kids are back in school, there may be a break in the heat and there are more bargains than usual at car dealers....

PhotoWhen September arrives the kids are back in school, there may be a break in the heat and there are more bargains than usual at car dealers.

September is prime new car buying time since dealers are starting to get new model year vehicles and find they have to do something with all the current models they haven't been able to sell. You might not get the car you really wants because, let's face it, the reason these cars are still available is no one else wanted them either.

But, it's a new car and if you are ever going to beat down a new car dealer on prices, this is probably the one time of year you can do it.

Pragmatism pays

"If you're the pragmatic type whose decisions aren't driven by fashion, this is your chance to score a new set of wheels at a low price," said Edmunds.com Senior Consumer Advice Editor Philip Reed. "This year there is a wide range of vehicles that will soon be updated significantly, from sedans, to sports cars to SUVs, and many of them rank among the best-selling models in America."

Because these particular cars are being updated, there may be significant differences from one model year to the next. That's all the more reason for the dealer to get the car off the lot.

Edmunds.com has identified thirteen vehicles scheduled to be refreshed or redesigned in 2013 that it says are prime candidates for the biggest discounts in the coming weeks:

  • 2012 Chevrolet Impala
  • 2012 Chevrolet Malibu
  • 2012 Chevrolet Traverse
  • 2012 Ford Escape
  • 2012 Ford Fusion
  • 2012 Ford Mustang
  • 2012 GMC Acadia
  • 2012 Honda Accord
  • 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe
  • 2012 Lexus ES 350
  • 2012 Nissan Altima
  • 2012 Nissan Pathfinder
  • 2012 Toyota Avalon 

Keep in mind that when an automaker significantly updates a model, the previous year's model will depreciate in price more than usual. So if you buy one of these cars, make sure you plan to drive it for a while.

Edmunds also advises negotiating your best price first before discussing any rebates or other incentives.

Also, secure your financing with a bank or credit union before visiting the dealership. That gives you even more leverage since you will be negotiating what amounts to a cash deal.

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Tips For Avoiding Used Car Disasters

Get information about the vehicle and have it inspected before you buy

  Buying a used car is often a crap shoot under the best of circumstances. A vehicle can look to be in perfect shape but may have issues unde...

PhotoBuying a used car is often a crap shoot under the best of circumstances. A vehicle can look to be in perfect shape but may have issues under the hood that aren't readily visible.

Elaine, a Canadian reader from Heinsburg, Alberta, writes to say that her used Kia has been repaired eight times in four years.

"I am driving my 2005 Amanti without working air bags," she wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post.

Mamie, of Pittsburgh, Pa., reports that her daughter purchased a used 2008 Nissan Versa with 55,000 miles in April.

"Last week the tranny blew," she wrote. "The powertrain warranty goes to 60,000 miles and she was at 60,200. The dealer refuses to help, Nissan refuses to help..they want $3,000-$4,000 to replace it.

It's our experience that automakers and dealers rarely, if ever, make exceptions to the mileage in their warranties. It's just another reason why you need to make the right choice when you shop for a used car. Or a new one, for that matter.

Tips

Here are some tips supplied by Onstar and Autotrader.com:

  • Consider purchasing a certified pre-owned vehicle: Certified pre-owned vehicles usually come with an extra warranty from the dealer and have been thoroughly inspected before being sold.
  • Make sure the potential vehicle is functional for everyone who will be traveling in it: If searching for a used family vehicle, bring the whole family on an extended test drive to make sure everyone is comfortable with the vehicle. If you have small children, use this time to make sure child safety seats fit and can easily be installed in the vehicle.
  • Purchase a vehicle history report and have the vehicle inspected by a qualified mechanic: Taking both of these actions can reduce the chance of unexpected issues later like the ones Elaine and Mamie experienced.
  • Secure your financing in advance: Because used vehicle loans can vary when it comes to interest rates, visit your local bank or credit union before making a final decision so you can be sure you're receiving the best interest rate.
  • Don't negotiate price based on what you want your monthly payment to be: Monthly payments can always be lowered to fit your budget by extending the length of the loan. But extending the length of the loan makes the car more expensive. Negotiations should be made based on the price of the car, rather that the monthly payment.
  • Remember the sale process continues past the acceptance of an offer: After both parties agree upon an appropriate price, dealers usually will offer extra accessories and services you might not be interested in. Be sure to stand firm and make it clear that you are not interested in paying more than the previously agreed upon price.
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Study: The Washington D.C. Metro Area Defies U.S. Economic Statistics

Researchers say the nation's capital is booming on the business front.

With all of its dissension and petty bickering, who would have thought the nation’s capital would have the strongest amount of business growth within...

PhotoWith all of its dissension and petty bickering, who would have thought the nation’s capital would have the strongest business growth in the United States?

A recent study conducted by The Kauffman Foundation showed the Washington D.C. metropolitan area has the highest number of successfully growing businesses in the nation.

D.C. also has the biggest number of Inc. firms per capita, due to the fact that many companies in the area conduct business with the federal government. Thanks, taxpayers. Keep sending money.

“There are probably a few reasons the region tops the list,” said Kauffman’s Director, Dane Stangler. “But most roads lead back to the federal government. Despite all the talk about downsizing and shrinking, the fact is the government expanded under Bush, then again under Clinton, then again under Bush, and now again under Obama, and that creates more opportunities for companies in and around Washington,” he said in a published interview.

About 46 percent of Washington D.C. area businesses deal in government services, shows the study.

Parties don't matter much

PhotoThe report also indicates regardless of which political party is in the White House, the nation’s capital has seen a consistent amount of high business growth within the last 20 years, with one-third of that growth coming from increases in defense spending, as a good portion of companies in the Washington D.C. area provide a bevy of military and intelligence essentials.

Most of the companies dealing in government services are based in the nearby area of northern Virginia as opposed to being directly in Washington D.C., the report shows.

Researchers also found that Washington D.C. was the first major metro area to recover from the recent housing crisis, and the consistent amount of jobs opportunities are also connected to the federal government.

Perhaps not surprising, D.C., Maryland and northern Virginia had the highest ratio of government jobs in the continental 48 states. Baltimore also benefits from the same opportunities, as 16.3 percent of jobs in that small Maryland city are attached to government services.

Other hangers-on

PhotoHowever, the federal government isn’t the only source of company growth and gainful employment, as other industries also continue to thrive in the D.C. metro area.

IT companies, Business Services, and Human Resource companies are too on an upward trajectory, shows the report. Strangler also noted that bio-med and life-science companies are increasing in both size and muscle in the D.C region.

Although Washington D.C. IT firms are on an upswing, the usual kings of technological development are still cities like San Francisco, as it has a 23.2 percent ratio of IT firms in its metro area.

Other cities in the U.S. that boast a strong amount of IT businesses are New York and Los Angeles at 18.8 percent, Atlanta at 17.3 percent and Chicago with 12.9 percent.

And not only has D.C. become a reputable force in the area of business development, it’s also become the most popular city to move to, according to a report from the moving company United Van Lines.

Between the peak moving season of May 1 to Aug 31 there were 2,134 moves to the nation’s capital in that time period. According to Van Lines that number is up from last year when 2,098 moving trips were made into Washington D.C.

“With the economic downturn in the whole economy and Washington being one of the largest of the 50 [states] with the lowest unemployment rate, it has been attractive for people to come here,” Peter Chinloy, told the Washington Post in an interview.

Chinloy is a professor at American University’s Kogod School of Business.

“When times get tough, people tend to move to Washington, and then when times get good, they tend to move out of Washington,” he said. The United Van Lines report also showed that D.C.  led the nation in the amount of people leaving the city at 1,774 this summer season. Go figure.

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DFI Marketing Recalls Cantaloupes

Fruit could be contaminated with Salmonella

DFI Marketing of Fresno, CA, is recalling cantaloupe because it has the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella. Salmonella was found on a single samp...

PhotoDFI Marketing of Fresno, CA, is recalling cantaloupe because it has the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella. Salmonella was found on a single sample of cantaloupe during routine testing conducted at a wholesale produce distribution center (terminal market) as part of a USDA testing program. No illnesses have been reported. 

It has been determined the suspected cantaloupes include approximately 28,000 cartons of bulk-packed product. The cantaloupes are packed in 6, 9, 12, 15, or 18 cantaloupes per carton. 

All cantaloupes are packed in a DFI brand carton and the following is stamped in black on the carton “826 CALIFORNIA WESTSIDE.” 

The cantaloupes were packed on August 26, 2012. They may have been distributed from August 27 to September 10, 2012, primarily to retail customers in the following states and one country: Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Mexico.

 

It is believe that, due to the perishable nature of cantaloupe, the majority of the recalled product is no longer on the market. 

Retail customers who may have received this product should contact DFI Marketing Inc. Consumers who may have this product should discard it or return it to the store where they purchased it. Consumers with questions can the company at 1-559-449-0244 24 hours a day.

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Mortgage Rates Remain Near All-Time Lows

Rates may head lower again on new round of stimulus

  Two reports show mortgage rates are little changed this week, hovering just above their historic lows. The benchmark 30-year fixed rate mor...

PhotoTwo reports show mortgage rates are little-changed this week, hovering just above their historic lows. The benchmark 30-year fixed rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.55 percent in Freddie Mac's weekly survey and 3.81 percent in Bankrate.com's weekly report.

The average 30-year mortgage has been below 4.00 percent all but once this year and the average 15-year fixed, a popular choice among refinance borrowers, has been below 3.00 percent since the last week in May.

Unchanged

This week Freddie Mac found the average 30-year FRM was unchanged from last week, at 3.55 percent and 0.6 point. Last year at this time the rate averaged 4.09 percent.

The 15-yer FRM averaged 2.85 percent with an average 0.6 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.86 percent. A year ago at this time, it averaged 3.30 percent.

The five-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.72 percent this week with an average 0.6 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.75 percent. The one-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.61 percent this week with an average 0.4 point, the same as last week.

"Despite a lackluster August employment report, Treasury bond yields and mortgage rates were little changed this week with the financial markets speculating on further monetary stimulus from the Federal Reserve," said Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist, Freddie Mac.

Bankrate finds higher rates

As usual, the Bankrate weekly survey showed mortgage rates a bit higher. The average 30-year FRM ticked up to 3.81 percent with an average of 0.39 discount and origination points.

The average 15-year fixed mortgage rate held steady at 3.04 percent, while the larger jumbo 30-year mortgage increased to 4.36 percent. Adjustable mortgage rates were mixed, but the 3-year and 5-year ARMs reset record lows of 2.84 percent and 2.75 percent, respectively.

Bankrate attributed the lack of movement to a mixed economic data. But it said the weak jobs picture did increase the likelihood of further Fed stimulus, such as purchases of mortgage-backed bonds that would drive mortgage rates down further in the coming weeks.

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Generational Differences Surface in Work Styles, Communication and Changing Jobs

One in seven U.S. workers has a boss at least ten years younger

The “kids” are taking over. A new generation of professionals entering management means the correlation between seniority and leadership could be disappea...

PhotoThe “kids” are taking over. 

A new generation of professionals entering management means the correlation between seniority and leadership could be disappearing. One third of U.S. workers say their boss is younger than they are and 15 percent say they work for someone who is at least ten years younger, according to a new CareerBuilder survey. 

While most workers said it isn't hard to work for a younger boss, differences in work styles, communication and expectations illustrate the changing nature of office life. 

Age-diverse workplaces 

"Age disparities in the office are perhaps more diverse now than they've ever been. It's not uncommon to see 30-year-olds managing 50-year-olds or 65-year-olds mentoring 22-year-olds," said Rosemary Haefner, Vice President of Human Resources at CareerBuilder. "While the tenants of successful management are consistent across generations, there are subtle differences in work habits and views that all workers must empathize with when working with or managing someone who's much different in age." 

Looking at managers and workers ages 25-34 and managers and workers 55 and older, the survey found generational differences in several areas related to communication, work style and career advancement. 

Communication styles 

While a majority of both age groups expressed a preference for face-to-face communication, evidence of a small digital divide exists. The phone, however, has fallen out of favor across the board. 

How do you most like to communicate at work? 

  • Face-to-face: 60 percent (ages 55+); 55 percent (ages 25-34)
  • E-mail/Text: 28 percent (ages 55+); 35 percent (ages 25-34)
  • Phone: 12 percent (ages 55+); 10 percent (ages 25-34) 

Perspectives on career path 

Younger workers tend to view a career path with a "seize any opportunity" mindset, while older workers are more likely to place value in loyalty and putting in the years before advancement. 

You should stay in a job for at least three years: 

  • Ages 25-34 – 53 percent
  • Ages 55+ – 62 percent 

You should stay in a job until you learn enough to move ahead: 

  • 25-34 – 47 percent
  • Ages 55+ – 38 percent 

Similar contrasts were found when looking at promotions. 

You should be promoted every 2-3 years if you're doing a good job: 

  • Ages 25-34 – 61 percent
  • Ages 55+ – 43 percent 

Hours Working 

Younger workers are more likely to log shorter hours than workers 55 and older. 

Work eight hours or less per day: 

  • Ages 25-34 – 64 percent
  • Ages 55+ – 58 percent 

Older hiring managers are more likely to arrive to work earlier than younger managers but less likely to take work home with them. 

Arrive earlier than 8 a.m.: 

  • Ages 25-34 – 43 percent
  • Ages 55+ – 53 percent

Leave by 5:00 p.m.: 

  • Ages 25-34 – 38 percent
  • Ages 55+ – 41 percent 

Work after leaving the office:

  • Ages 25-34 – 69 percent
  • Ages 55+ – 62 percent 

Younger workers are more open to flexible work schedules than their older counterparts. 

Arriving on time doesn't matter as long as work gets done: 

  • Ages 25-34 – 29 percent
  • Ages 55+ – 20 percent 

Work Styles 

Different generations take a much more distinct approach to workplace projects. Younger generations are more likely to want to plan rather than "dive right in" to a new initiative. 

I like to skip the process and dive right into executing: 

  • Ages 25-34 – 52 percent
  • Ages 55+ – 66 percent

I like to write out a detailed game plan before acting: 

  • Ages 25-34 – 48 percent
  • Ages 55+ – 35 percent 

However, there is one area where older and younger workers see eye-to-eye: Approximately 60 percent of both groups prefer eating alone during lunch hour, as opposed to dining with their co-workers. 

The national survey was conducted by Harris Interactive between May 14 and June 4, 2012 among more than 3,800 full-time workers and more than 2,200 hiring managers across industries and functions.

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Americans May Have to Work Well Past 70, Report Says

Current planning doesn't account for catastrophic illness

  Made your retirement plans? You may need to revisit them. A new report from the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) has called into ...

PhotoMade your retirement plans? You may need to revisit them. A new report from the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) has called into question the financial soundness of assuming you can end your working life at age 70, which is already an increase from more traditional retirement ages.

"It would be comforting from a public policy standpoint to assume that merely working to age 70 would be a panacea to the significant challenges of assuring retirement income adequacy, but this may be a particularly risky strategy, especially for the vulnerable group of low-income workers," the authors write.

It can be expensive to get old

The reason? The costs of aging keep going up. For example the report cites prior research which it says demonstrates the significant error introduced into retirement readiness calculations if nursing-home costs are excluded. There is a need, the report says, to re-examine the methodologies behind studies that assume a fairly static picture of retirement savings.

While many 401(k) savings plans and other sources of retirement income are based on best case scenarios, sometimes the worst case can happen -- such as a major illness.

"While workers need to make their own decisions on the correct trade-offs of saving today vs. deferring retirement, they should be able to expect that those presenting alternatives be as accurate and complete as possible, avoiding simplistic 'rules of thumb' that may result in future retirees, through no fault of their own, coming up short," the report says.

Working past 80?

Lower income workers may be at most risk. The research suggests that those in the bottom 25 percent of income might have to stay on the job into their 80s before most of them would have enough retirement income.

The authors stress they don't think everyone needs to work past 80, just that it's risky to assume that you won't be affected by a catastrophic -- and expensive -- illness as you get older.

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Survey: Consumers Who've Purchased a Tablet Like It

Most people who've bought one would do it again

  Three years ago a tablet was something your parents wrote in when they went to school. Now, it's synonymous with mobile computing, all but ...

PhotoThree years ago a tablet was something your parents wrote in when they went to school. Now, it's synonymous with mobile computing, all but replacing laptop computers. If you are thinking of buying one of these devices, your fellow consumers who have one are giving it a thumbs up.

In its first Tablet Satisfaction Survey, J.D. Power and Associates finds that tablet owners spend 7.5 hours per week browsing the Internet, watching videos, listening to music, and reading books on their device, compared with spending 9.6 hours per week on a personal computer for the same activities.

Apparently they enjoy the experience. Overall satisfaction is 857 on a 1,000-point scale among owners who view three or more hours of video per week on their tablet. That's 45 points higher than among those who do not.

Let's have another

In addition, those who spend three or more hours viewing video content are more likely to purchase another tablet from their current manufacturer in the future than are those who do not watch as much video content.

"As tablet computing, multimedia, display, and application offerings continue to evolve, their impact on usage patterns will continue to grow," said Dr. Uma S. Jha, senior director of mobile devices at J.D. Power and Associates. "Tablets are a force in the marketplace that offer a great alternative to laptops and netbooks."

The study focuses in on consumers who have owned their tablet for less than two years. Satisfaction is measured across five key factors, including performance, ease of operation, styling and design, features and price.

Apple leads the pack

Apple, which was the first to enter the space with the iPad, ranks highest, logging a score of 848. It also gets high scores for performance, ease of operation, styling and design and features.

Amazon, which introduced the Kindle Fire a year ago and recently updated the line with three new models, is close behind Apple with a score of 842. It scores particularly well in the price factor since the current Kindle Fire is $300 cheaper than the entry-level iPad.

The study also found that tablet owners who also have smartphones tend to use their tablets more than their phones. And why not? The screen is larger and the same apps and features are available, in most cases.

While tablets were initially looked at as toys, one-quarter of the respondents in the survey said they use their tablets for business purposes. More than one-third said they plan to buy a new tablet within the next 12 months.

Among tablet owners who are highly satisfied -- those rating their device 10 on a 10-point scale -- 90 percent say they are likely to purchase additional consumer electronic devices from the same manufacturer.

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Safe Driving 'Prescription' for Seniors

AAA suggests tool to help keep older drivers safe

More than 80 percent of drivers age 65 and older regularly take medications, yet only half have talked to a medical professional about possible safety issu...

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Consumers Warned About 'Misleading' Gold Ads

Nevada Attorney General calls out World Reserve Monetary Exchange

  If you're a fan of the A&E series "Storage Wars," you know the concept. A group of collectors bid for the contents of an abandoned stor...

PhotoIf you're a fan of the A&E series "Storage Wars," you know the concept. A group of collectors bids for the contents of an abandoned storage locker without really knowing what it holds.

It makes for entertaining reality television but Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortex Masto is warning residents of her state it's no way to buy gold.

Masto is calling attention to ads run in Nevada newspapers by Ohio-based World Reserve Monetary Exchange (WRME), enticing Nevada residents to roll the dice on a "vault bag." The bags cost $149 and may be loaded with gold coins and U.S. currency. On the other hand, they might not be.

Masto's problem is with the way these vault bags are advertised.

'Confusing ads'

“These confusing ads, which are designed to look like an official news story, have the capacity to mislead consumers,” said Masto. “The picturing of the products is unclear and inconspicuously identifies the total price for each items featured."

What is omitted from the ad, Masto says, is that the contents of these vault bags do not necessarily meet or exceed the price paid for each bag.

"During tough economic times, it is troubling that people are fooled into believing misleading ads,” she said.

Small fortune 'up for grabs'

WRME, which sells coins, paper currency and safes, placed a full-page color ad titled, "Cash in limbo goes to residents in 15 of 17 Nevada counties," claiming that “bags of U.S. Government issued money loaded with a small fortune are up for grabs."

The ad continues by saying residents of fifteen Nevada counties have forty-eight hours to claim their bags at a fee of $149 for the vault bag fee. The ad guarantees that each vault bag contains 11 U.S. Government issued notes, which amounts to $23.

On January 12, 2012, the Santa Cruz County, Calif., District Attorney’s Office announced a $223,000 settlement with the company over deceptive ads that offered California consumers free gold coins. Masto says the advertisement failed to mention that 32 of those coins had not been minted and that the price for the completed set would cost hundreds of dollars more than the advertised price.

Masto also warned that the Better Business Bureau has rated WRME as an "F" and has logged 249 complaints against the company, mostly for misleading advertisements.

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Safe Infant Sleep Outreach Effort Expanded

‘Safe to Sleep’ seeks to reduce risk of sleep-related infant death

The U.S. national campaign to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome has entered a new phase and will now encompass all sleep-related, sudden unex...

PhotoThe U.S. national campaign to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome has entered a new phase and will now encompass all sleep-related, sudden unexpected infant deaths, according to the National Institutes of Health. 

The campaign, which has been known as the Back to Sleep Campaign, has been renamed the Safe to Sleep Campaign. 

SIDS reduction effort 

The NIH-led Back to Sleep Campaign began in 1994, to educate parents, caregivers, and health care providers about ways to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The name was derived from the recommendation to place healthy infants on their backs to sleep, a practice proven to reduce SIDS risk. SIDS is the sudden death of an infant under one year of age that cannot be explained, even after a complete death scene investigation, autopsy, and review of the infant's health history. Sudden unexpected infant death (SUID) includes all unexpected infant deaths: those due to SIDS, and as well as those from other causes. 

Many SUID cases are due to such causes as accidental suffocation and entrapment, such as when an infant gets trapped between a mattress and a wall, or when bedding material presses on or wraps around an infant’s neck. 

In addition to stressing the placement of infants on their backs for all sleep times, the Safe to Sleep Campaign emphasizes other ways to provide a safe sleep environment for infants. This includes placing infants to sleep in their own safe sleep environment and not on an adult bed, without any soft bedding such as blankets or quilts. Safe to Sleep also emphasizes breast feeding infants when possible, which has been associated with reduced SIDS risk, and eliminating such risks to infant health as overheating, exposure to tobacco smoke, and a mother’s use of alcohol and illicit drugs. 

"In recent years, we've learned that many of the risk factors for SIDS are similar to those for other sleep-related causes of infant death," said Alan E. Guttmacher, M.D., Director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), the NIH institute which sponsors Safe to Sleep. "Placing infants on their backs to sleep and providing them with a safe sleep environment for every sleep time reduces the risk for SIDS as well as death from other causes, such as suffocation." 

Available materials 

A new one-page fact sheet, "What does a safe sleep environment look like," shows how to provide a safe sleep environment, and lists ways that parents and caregivers can reduce the risk for SIDS.  

The NICHD's new brochure, Safe Sleep for Your Baby, provides more detailed information on ways that parents and caregivers can reduce the risk of SIDS and other sleep-related causes of infant death. The Safe Sleep for Your Baby brochure, as well as the one-page fact sheet, are available for order at 1-800-505-CRIB (2742).  

In the next month, new Safe to Sleep materials will be available in Spanish. Additional materials will be available for the black and American Indian/Alaska Native communities, which have had higher SIDS rates. Also, a Safe Sleep for Your Baby DVD will be available for order and the new Safe to Sleep campaign Website will be launched in October.

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Generation Y: How These Kooky Kids Differ From The Rest of Us Professionally

Higher pay and more education makes this generation a force to be reckoned with.

It’s interesting when your particular generation is no longer the youngest or the most trend setting. It happens kind of subtly without you even know...

PhotoIt’s interesting when your particular generation is no longer the youngest or the most trend-setting. It happens kind of subtly without you even knowing.

One day your generational group is the most technologically advanced, the most educated, and for a fleeting moment in time determines what’s relevant and cool within popular culture.

Next thing you know the letter associated with your generation moves on down the alphabet, and all of a sudden Gen X becomes Gen Y and so on and so on. I wonder what letters we’ll use after Generation Z is born.

The youngest generation of adults are the ones who decide what ways the globe will shift, while at the same time influencing some of what the following generation will be exposed to.

A good test for yourself to determine if your age group is still on the front lines of world change is to look at some of the technology and the people behind it.

If most of the creators of new technology are of the younger generation it’s a sign that shows the younger ones are really starting to impact the globe.

Or turn on the radio to see if any of the groups or acts you like is on heavy rotation.  If not, that’s surely another sign some of the culture has moved on, unless you listen to adult contemporary.

Once you notice a large portion of your surroundings are vastly different from the things you were raised with, you know a new generation is on its way of taking over. And that's not a bad thing, I mean, our particular age group can’t be in the global spotlight forever, right?

Job situations

PhotoAnother way to tell a generational change is by looking at how younger people are employed. New job opportunities, newly developed industries and the way people work are definite indications of changing times.

A newly released study by job and salary experts PayScale.com shows that 63.3% of Generation Y workers have at least Bachelor degrees while 12.8 % have their Master’s.  And the median years with each employer for Gen Y’ers is only two, compared to Generation X (5 years), Baby Boomers (7 years) and the Silent Generation (10 years).

PayScale along with the research company Millennial Branding conducted a survey with 500,000 workers from the Gen Y age group. And just what years represent this younger corner of the working population?

Different dates have been used by different people, but the general range of folks in Gen Y were born somewhere between the late 1970s to the very early 2000s. They’re also called “Generation Next” or the “Millennial Generation”. I’ve even heard Gen Y’ers being referred to as the “@ Generation”.

Technology a constant

In short, this particular age group has never known a world without sophisticated technology. Many in Generation Y have used that technology to create jobs for themselves instead of breaking their neck looking for a specific position.

The PayScale survey showed that 47% of Generation Y employees work in companies with 100 employees or less, showing many of these businesses are start-up brands that are often run by people in their 20s and 30s.

The survey also showed that 15% of Gen Y’ers are already in management roles, and they're working in higher-paying jobs like software developers, which earn $61,900 on average.

PhotoThe Millennial Generation also work in jobs like mechanical engineering ($59,300), web developer ($45,100), registered nurse ($50,200) office manager ($32,600) and administrative assistant ($29,300).

 Not only does Generation Y appear to live life more inclusively — seemingly co-existing with people from other races, sexual orientations and backgrounds more harmoniously -- they also think on more global terms as it pertains to both business and travel.

Studying the Chinese language and culture is one of the most popular majors in college, shows the survey. Other popular majors among the Gen Y group are neuroscience, bioengineering, entrepreneurial studies, and sports management.

According to the survey the most lucrative majors for those in Gen Y are petroleum engineering ($97,400), chemical engineering ($66,600), systems engineering ($65,900), nuclear engineering ($64,000) and computer engineering ($63,000).

Big cities

It also seems the bigger cities are where younger people are moving and working nowadays, as 26% have found jobs in Washington D.C., and 25% have found jobs in both New York City and Boston.

Another unearthed fact by the researchers was that “more professional Gen Y employees have an M.B.A than have no higher education at all.”

The overall average salary for Generation Y employees is $44,600 for men and $35,400 for women. Apparently one thing Gen Y still has is that pay discrepancy between the genders.

Right now it’s Gen Y’s turn to show the world what they got.

At this very moment the generation is behind the curtain of the world stage trying to remember all the lessons from previous generations, while at the same time&nb