Current Events in December 2012

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    Economy adds 146,000 jobs in November

    Unemployment rate dips to 7.7 percent

    In its first employment report since the election, the government reports the economy added 146,000 non-farm payroll jobs in November -- a larger number than many economists expected. At the same time, the Bureau of Labor Statistics revised the previous two months' job creation numbers to lower totals.

    Job creation in September was revised from 148,000 to 132,000, and the change for October was revised from 171,000 to 138,000.

    In November, the growth in jobs was helped by employment increases in retail trade, professional and business services, and health care. The nation's unemployment rate edged down slightly to 7.7 percent.

    Long-term unemployed

    The number of long-term unemployed -- those jobless for 27 weeks or more -- was little changed at 4.8 million in November. These former workers accounted for 40.1 percent of the unemployed.

    The number of people working part-time for economic reasons -- sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers -- was 8.2 million in November, little changed over the month. These individuals were working part-time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job.

    Retail gained the most jobs

    The number of people working in retail rose by 53,000 in November and has increased by 140,000 over the past 3 months. Over the month, job gains occurred in clothing and clothing accessory stores, in general merchandise stores and in electronics and appliance stores. Employment in miscellaneous store retailers fell by 13,000.

    In November, employment in professional and business services rose by 43,000. Employment continued to increase in computer systems design and related services.

    Healthcare employment continued to increase in November, with gains in hospitals and in nursing care facilities. Healthcare has added an average of 26,000 jobs per month this year.

    Little change in factory jobs

    Manufacturing employment didn't change much in November. Within the industry, job losses in food manufacturing and chemicals more than offset gains in motor vehicles and parts. Overall, manufacturing employment has changed little since this past spring, the government said.

    The addition of 146,000 jobs in November was about average for the year. Since the beginning of this year, employment growth has averaged 151,000 per month, about the same as the average monthly job gain of 153,000 in 2011.

    In its first employment report since the election, the government reports the economy added 146,000 non-farm payroll jobs in November, a larger number than...

    Gas prices continue to fade

    Lowest prices still found in southeast and Midwest

    December has brought reduced demand at the pump and heightened uncertainties about 2013's economy. As a result, gasoline prices have continued to fall.

    The national average price of self-serve regular today is $3.371 per gallon, compared with $3.402 last week, according to AAA's Fuel Gauge Survey. That's nine cents lower than a month ago but 11 cents higher than the price a year ago.

    The average price of diesel fuel today is $4.001 per gallon, versus $4.017 a week ago.

    Fiscal cliff concerns

    The "fiscal cliff" in Washington remains a major influence on oil prices and, as a result, gasoline prices. If Congress and the White House fail to reach an agreement before the end of the year, automatic tax hikes and spending cuts go into effect, which most economists predict will cause a recession next year.

    The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports U.S. oil production hit a 15-year high in September, one of the reasons that the U.S. is importing less oil. U.S. produced oil also sells at a lower price than petroleum produced in other countries.

    In the states the lowest prices can be found in the southeast and Midwest, where prices have dropped rapidly over the last two weeks. Hawaii remains the only state where the average price is over $4 a gallon. California, which had the nation's most expensive fuel back in September, has dropped to number five among the most expensive states.

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

    • Hawaii ($4.033)
    • New York ($3.836)
    • Alaska ($3.782)
    • Connecticut ($3.768)
    • California ($3.664)
    • Vermont ($3.619)
    • Rhode Island ($3.612)
    • Maine ($3.569)
    • Pennsylvania ($3.552)
    • Massachusetts ($3.551)

    The states with the lowest gas prices this week are:

    • Missouri ($3.096)
    • Texas ($3.134)
    • Oklahoma ($3.149)
    • South Carolina ($3.145)
    • Tennessee ($3.150)
    • Arkansas ($3.157)
    • Mississippi ($3.165)
    • Louisiana($3.181)
    • Alabama ($3.204)
    • Kansas ($3.209)

    December has brought reduced demand and heightened uncertainties about 2013's economy. As a results, gasoline prices have continued to fall.The national ...

    Holiday gifts for the kids that are even better than electronics

    Instead of breaking the bank, you can go for these unique gems

    Sometimes it’s hard not to get jealous when you see the many gadgets that kids have access to today.

    Although a lot of children still love classic holiday gifts like dolls and train sets, tons of kids have their eyes set higher, usually on pricey smartphones, nifty little tablets and handheld computer games.

    And just about every consumer survey this year shows that electronics will be the most coveted gift for the young ones this holiday season, and with all of the ads and commercials about buying kids electronics this year, one could easily forget that there are other gifts that don’t have to be charged, and are just as good.

    And what are some of these wonderful toys, you may ask?

    Snowball thrower

    One of the first items that caught my attention was the Arctic Force Snowball Crossbow, which is a great gift for any child that has to hold their own among the neighborhood kids during a snowball fight, where it’s every kid for themself.

    Unlike a new video game or an iPad mini, the Snowball Crossbow will encourage outside play and exercise, while allowing kids to add a new and fun twist to the old art of snowball throwing. To use the crossbow is really simple too.

    All one has to do is put together the appropriate-sized snowball for the battle at hand, load it into the launcher and aim at their desired target.

    The Snowball Crossbow, which is made of a light-weight plastic, can be used by children as young as 8 years of age, but it could also be fun for adults. By purchasing a few of the crossbows at once, Mom and Dad can also arm themselves in a family snow fight. It sounds dangerous but we're told it's not. Parents should take a careful look before turning kids loose with it.

    The toy weapon even comes with a vinyl target for practicing.

    The Arctic Force Snowball Crossbow is made by Wham-o and you can purchase it on several online stores like Amazon, which has it for $50.

    Personalized novels

    Another great holiday gift that isn’t just another trendy electronic, is by a company called Book By You--which allows parents to personalize children’s novels, so the child is the star of story and the character contains their personal features like eye and hair color.

    When ordering a book through the company’s website, parents fill out a character questionnaire that will determine who is in the story, what they look like and what other characters are in the novel.

    How cool would it be if you could read your child a bedtime story, they turn out to be the hero in the plot and the rest of their characters in the book are their friends?  

    Each story is prewritten so the questionnaire simply plugs in certain details of the story that will hopefully engage your child that much more into the story. Book By You is also great for kids who aren’t too enthusiastic about reading, as allowing them to co-author a novel is great incentive for them to give it a page turn.

    Also, the books aren’t on a kindle or tablet, they’re the paperback books of old, which makes it a bit cooler for some reason. You can also purchase hardcover editions.

    Paperback books go for $24.95 on the company’s website and hardcovers are $44.95. Shipping isn’t included.

    Plasma bike

    For smaller kids, as young as 18-months of age, there’s the Plasma Bike, which is meant to be a child’s first bicycle that teaches balance.

    But what’s different about this first bike is the no training wheels, and the two wheels that the bike does have are wide enough to provide the proper amount of steadiness on each side.

    And since the Plasma Bike allows children to learn how to ride on a two wheeler, it can help them along in their confidence by avoiding training wheels and allowing them to feel a little grown- up.

    The bike also comes fully assembled and you can find it for $58.67 on Amazon, which is a fairly good price. Target and Walmart have it too.

    Flying rocket

    Another popular non-electronic gift item that’s making the holiday rounds is the Bandito Flying Rocket Kit, which can be purchased for under $10 or up to $80, depending on the type of rocket and kit you select.

    What’s great about the Bandito is that families can build a rocket together from the ground up, quite literally.  Once you and your child spend time putting the rocket together, you then get to see it take off and then come down softly by parachute.  There’s something about building a toy and getting it to work, that makes it a little more special.

    The company also says the rockets aren’t hard to put together and in most cases they can be assembled in about an hour, so you and your child don't have to spend the whole day inside with a bunch of hard-to-read-instructions.

    So remember, you don’t have to get electronics for your children this holiday season, as they’ll have an entire lifetime to be totally consumed with gadgetry just like many of us are.

    There are tons of inexpensive gifts on the market that will encourage both play and quality family time. And quite honestly, there’s no better gift than that for the holidays.

    Sometimes it’s hard not to get jealous when you see the many gadgets that kids have access to today.Although a lot of children still love classic h...

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      What to get the person who has everything

      It's tricky, but there are things you can get that hard-to-shop-for person

      The holiday shopping season is full of some wonderful traditions like heading downtown to spend a little money while taking in the holiday lights or bringing your kids to that guy who plays Santa Claus in the mall, who you hope is getting paid handsomely for enduring that hot red suit.

      But there are also some pretty stressful traditions attached to holiday shopping, like enduring crowded stores and parking lots, hoping you have enough money to buy all the gifts you want, and trying to carve out enough time in your workweek to make it to the store to buy that one gift you’ve been searching for.

      Another big challenge associated with holiday shopping is buying that gift for the person who already has everything. In the world of holiday shopping, there isn’t a more difficult task.

      That person who’s hard to shop for may be a well-to-do person who purchases items left and right for the fun of it, or it could be one of those people that goes out and buys something as soon as they notice it.

      Eight people

      A new survey released by Sears finds the average American consumer has about eight people who are extremely hard to shop for, and spouses are usually one of the eight people on that list.

      The creators of the study said if in doubt of what to buy for the holidays—especially for men between the ages of 18 to 34—electronics are the way to go, as the survey reveals that two-thirds of men in this age group mainly want headphones, television sets and tablets this holiday season.

      Electronic accessories are also on the wish list of the hard-to-buy-fors, so items like docking stations for smartphones and miniature portable speakers are a safe purchase if you’re not sure what to buy this year, say the researchers.

      The survey also showed that 21 percent of men said hand and power tools are high on their wish list this year, and 17 percent of men said sporting goods and exercise equipment are what they’ll want this Christmas over anything else.  

      A good number of consumers--both men and women--want home appliances, shows the survey, as 30 percent said they either want an appliance for a gift or to spruce up their house to give it a new look for holiday parties and company.

      The same boat

      In a separate survey jointly released by Groupon and the company Research Now, researchers found that 68 percent of people have a person who has everything and is hard to shop for, which proves that most people are in the same boat when it comes to this particular holiday challenge.

      But it’s just not the person who has everything that’s difficult to shop for, the Groupon survey also revealed other people that fall into the difficult-to-buy-for-category.

      Results showed that 33 percent of shoppers had a love interest who didn’t fall into a particular category like boyfriend or spouse, making it nearly impossible to know what to buy that person or if they should get a gift at all.

      Additionally, over 25 percent had a person in the "frenemy" category, and they weren’t sure about what to buy this person at all. A frenemy for example, can be a co-worker you like, but still have heavy competition with or an ex-companion that you’re still friends with, but have bitter feelings towards.

      Among the respondents that have a love interest in this category, 36 percent said they weren’t sure if the other person would give a gift in return, so it left them confused whether they should actually buy something or not.

      The survey also showed that women suffered from this particular dilemma of buying a gift for a frenemy more than men.

      No sweaters

      And before you go out and buy yet another sweater or pajama set for that relative, you should stop yourself dead in your tracks.

      According to the survey, 30 percent of respondents said clothing is the top unwanted gift, mainly because clothing gifts can sometimes have an improper fit or fail to match a person’s specific style.

      The Groupon survey findings differ from the findings in the Sears survey that show apparel is an ideal gift, especially for women who may need a particular outfit for a New Year’s or Holiday party.

      But we all know when it comes to clothes, especially for one who is really into fashion, a gift card is always the way to go, and buying something that you think is nice for someone definitely has its risks. You don't want to waste your money on clothing and have it never be worn or even liked by the person you give it to--that would stink.

      Some retail experts suggest maybe giving a framed picture to the person who has everything for a holiday gift.

      For example, if your father is already into gadgetry and buys every new electronic that comes out, he may appreciate a simpler gift like a picture of his children in a nice frame.

      Other experts suggest that donating to a charity that the hard-to-shop-for person is interested in is a good way to go.

      Another idea is offering a service like baby sitting or maybe even baking a cake for that person who has it all. Either way, there are several ways to go if you’re looking for that perfect gift.

      It may just take a little more creativity on your part and a little more patience, and simply asking that person what they want or need isn’t a bad idea either. It could save you a lot of hassle this holiday season.

      The holiday shopping season is full of some wonderful traditions like heading downtown to spend a little money while taking in the holiday lights or bringi...

      Feds want more information on used-car window stickers

      Dealers will have to offer more information about warranties

      Buying a used car used to be basically a shot in the dark. You might get lucky. Or not. But things have improved a bit since 1985, when the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) adopted rules requiring a "Buyers Guide" to be posted on every used car.

      The Buyers Guide is a window sticker similar to the one that is plastered on new-car windows. It contains basic information about the car and, significantly, whether or not it is covered by a warranty.

      The FTC now wants to toughen the rules a bit -- thought not too much -- to provide a bit more warranty information on the stickers. But it stopped short of requiring dealers to provide a copy of the warranty.

      Too much trouble

      Why? Dealers convinced the commission it would be too much trouble despite consumer groups' contention that the terms of the warranty are an essential piece of information.

      "We've showed them that the rule that's in place is effective at policing the market, and it is doing so," Bailey Wood, a spokesman for the National Automobile Dealers Association, told industry publication Automotive News.

      The Buyers Guide currently discloses whether the dealer offers a warranty and, if so, its terms and conditions, including the duration of the coverage, the percentage of total repair costs the dealer will pay, and which vehicle systems the warranty covers. In states that do not permit sales of used cars “as is,” or without warranties, dealers must display an alternative version of the Buyers Guide.

      But if the car is still covered by a manufacturer's warranty or a third-party warranty, it will be up to the consumer to track down that information.

      Since dealers -- who are presumably experts -- insisted the information is not that easy to obtain, one might ask why it will be any easier for consumers to find it.

      Instead of providing copies of the warranty or details about it, the new rule would require placing boxes on the back of the Buyers Guide where dealers will have the option to indicate whether (1) the manufacturer’s warranty still applies; (2) the manufacturer’s used vehicle warranty, such as a manufacturer’s certified used car warranty, applies; or (3) some other used vehicle warranty applies

      Other changes include:

      • adding a statement to the Buyers Guide encouraging consumers to seek vehicle history information and directing consumers to an FTC website for more information about vehicle histories;
      • adding a statement in Spanish to the Buyers Guide directing Spanish-speaking consumers to ask for a copy in Spanish, if they desire;
      • adding catalytic converters and airbags to the List of Systems on the back of the Buyers Guide.

      Buying a used car used to be basically a shot in the dark. You might get lucky. Or not. But things have improved a bit since 1985, when the Federal Trade C...

      Netflix: Disney deal won't mean higher prices

      Reports say Netflix paid $350 million for the rights to Disney's films

      Netflix got a major jump on its competitors when it bought the exclusive streaming rights to Walt Disney Co. movies but some subscribers found themselves clutching their wallets, fearing the coup would result in a price increase.

      Not so, says a senior Netflix executive.

      Ted Sarandos, the company's chief content officer, told analysts at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference that the Netflix is not planning to raise prices to finance the deal, which gives Netflix exclusive rights to stream Disney movies beginning in 2016, Reuters reported.

      Although the price wasn't revealed, industry sources say Netflix paid more than $350 million for rights to Disney's live-action and animation films.

      "We are not contemplating" raising the $8-a-month subscription fee for unlimited online viewing, Sarandos said during an interview with filmmaker Harvey Weinstein at the event, Reuters said.

      Netflix got a major jump on its competitors when it bought the exclusive streaming rights to Walt Disney Co. movies but some subscribers found themselves c...

      Natural drugs often overlooked, researcher tells NIH conference

      Combinations of herbs can be effective in treating chronic pain

      Doctors and medical researchers crowded into an auditorium at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) yesterday as Dr. David G.I. Kingston, a chemistry professor and researcher at Virginia Tech University, discussed his work.

      And what might Dr. Kingston's work involve? Perhaps surprisingly, it's natural drugs and medicines, which Kingston says have been overlooked, especially for pain relief, for too long.

      Kinston said greater ussed of natural products could help those suffering from chronic ailments and help with the side effects that are associated with undergoing harsh treatments, like chemotherapy.

      Kingston discussed drug combinations like Iberogast, also known as STW5, which he said can help those suffering from severe stomach pain or heartburn when living with a chronic illness.

      “It’s been used in Germany for years as a combination therapy,” he said.  “And six clinical trials demonstrated it was effective in relieving the symptoms of functional dyspepsia.”

      Nine herbs

      STW5 is made up of nine herbs and Kingston says each extract has a different effect on a particular symptom--and when the effects come together, natural products like Iberogast can be extremely effective in managing pain.

      Kingston also said that anticancer drugs like etoposide, vincristine and teniposide are partially made of natural products, and in past studies it was learned that 61 percent of new drugs produced between 1981 and 2002 were derived from natural products, which proves that certain extracts can be effectively used as a medication.

      The reason natural products have been useful in making certain medicines, is the many biologically active ingredients they produce, some so complex they can't be duplicated in a synthetic drug.

      Kingston said the only way a natural ingredient can be used in prescription medicine is by isolating it, and when removing that ingredient from the plant or marine life’s other compounds, one could also be removing those other compounds treatment capabilities.

      Kingston also explained that a combination of factors have kept the pharmaceutical companies from looking more into natural products as medicine, including the high cost associated with collecting samples, the challenges behind isolating the needed compound from the natural source, and being able to reproduce the substance in large quantities.

      Combinatorial chemistry

      But probably the main thing that has kept pharmaceutical companies from delving into natural products more, is because of a disproportionate focus on combinatorial chemistry, which is the technique of creating drugs by the aid of a computer.

      However, researchers are learning that further attention should have been paid to natural products for medicine, and when combinatorial chemistry first became popularized, a lot of the research surrounding natural products took an abrupt back seat among many in the health community, but things are slowly starting to change, he said.

      “The early years of combinatorial chemistry suffered from an excess of hype, and a major victim was natural-product screening,” wrote Dr. Kingston and his research team in a study. “Many organizations went through an irreversible shift in policy, and prematurely discontinued their efforts in this area. We are now seeing the backlash from this knee-jerk reaction.”

      “The early combinatorial strategies were flawed and unproven, and have yet to deliver any blockbuster drugs," the research team wrote. "Meanwhile, we have lost the uniqueness of screening natural-product space as a complement to synthetic compounds. If past indicators are any guide, there are undoubtedly many more unique and potent biologically active natural products waiting to be discovered.”

      This week at the National Institutes of Health, in Bethesda, Md., Dr. David G.I. Kingston, who is a chemistry professor and researcher at Virginia Tech Uni...

      Free app directs consumers to 'certified humane' stores

      Helps consumers find stores that sell food products that meet strict humane standards

      Want to make sure the food you prepare is not only humane, but "certified humane?" Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC), a non-profit certification organization to improve the lives of farm animals in food production, has issued a free Certified Humane App, now available for iPhone and Android.

      Shoppers who want to buy only at stores offering products that meet these standards can find the nearest one quickly, the group says.

      "With over 7,000 supermarkets across the country selling products that are certified humane, consumers should be able to find products wherever they are," said Adele Douglass, HFAC Founder and CEO. "This tool connects consumers and businesses by providing consumers with what they have been asking us for, 'at- their- fingertips access' and rewards retailers who carry certified humane products with more business."

      GPS driven

      The app uses GPS to identify nearby retailers and displays them in an interactive map; the users can also search for specific locations as well.

      In addition to finding mainstream supermarkets that sell certified humane products, users can also find farmers and ranchers that sell directly to consumers using the "BUY ONLINE" button. For restaurants and other food service providers who want to sell certified humane products, there is a filter option to find wholesale distributors.

      To download the App, go to the App Store for iPhone or Google Play for Android, search for "certified humane," and then download and open.

      Improving lives of farm animals

      HFAC describes itself as an organization working to improve the lives of farm animals in food production. It says the certified humane designation assures consumers that meat, poultry, egg, or dairy products they purchase have been produced according to HFAC's standards for humane farm animal treatment.

      That means animals must receive a nutritious diet without antibiotics or hormones and must be raised with shelter, resting areas and space sufficient to support natural behavior. Since the HFAC program was unveiled in May 2003, more than 90 companies, representing hundreds of farms and millions of farm animals, have been certified, the group says.

      Want to make sure the food you prepare is not only humane, but "certified humane?" Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC), a non-profit certification organization ...

      FTC puts an end to 'history sniffing'

      Online advertising network was charged with deceptively gathering data on consumers

      An online advertising company has agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charges that it used “history sniffing” to secretly and illegally gather data from millions of consumers about their interest in sensitive medical and financial issues.

      Areas of interest ranged from fertility and incontinence to debt relief and personal bankruptcy.

      The settlement order bars Epic Marketplace Inc., from continuing to use history sniffing technology, which allows online operators to “sniff” a browser to see what sites consumers have visited in the past. It also bars future misrepresentations by Epic and requires the company to destroy information that it gathered unlawfully.

      “Consumers searching the Internet shouldn’t have to worry about whether someone is going to go sniffing through the sensitive, personal details of their browsing history without their knowledge,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. “This type of unscrupulous behavior undermines consumers’ confidence, and we won’t tolerate it.”

      Huge online presence

      Epic Marketplace is a large advertising network that has a presence on 45,000 Websites. Consumers who visited any of the network’s sites received a cookie, which stored information about their online practices including sites they visited and the ads they viewed. The cookies allowed Epic to serve consumers ads targeted to their interests, a practice known as online behavioral advertising.

      In its privacy policy, Epic claimed that it would collect information only about consumers’ visits to sites in its network. However, the FTC accuses Epic of employing history-sniffing technology that allowed it to collect data about sites outside its network that consumers had visited, including sites relating to personal health conditions and finances.

      According to the FTC complaint, the history sniffing was deceptive and allowed Epic to determine whether a consumer had visited any of more than 54,000 domains, including pages relating to fertility issues, impotence, menopause, incontinence, disability insurance, credit repair, debt relief and personal bankruptcy.

      The FTC complaint alleges that depending on which domains a consumer had visited, Epic assigned the consumer an interest segment, including categories such as “Incontinence,” “Arthritis,” “Memory Improvement,” and “Pregnancy-Fertility Getting Pregnant.” Epic used these categories to send consumers targeted ads.

      Destruction of data ordered

      The consent order bars Epic Marketplace, Inc., and Epic Media Group, LLC from using history sniffing, and requires that they delete and destroy all data collected using it. It also bars misrepresentations about the extent to which they maintain the privacy or confidentiality of data from or about a particular consumer, computer or device, including misrepresenting how that data is collected, used, disclosed or shared.

      It further prohibits misrepresentations about the extent to which software code on a Webpage determines whether a user has previously visited a Website.    

      An online advertising company has agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charges that it used “history sniffing” to secretly and illegally gather ...

      Delivered meals may help seniors stay in their homes

      States that spend the most on meals programs have smaller nursing home populations

      Nursing home care is expensive and many seniors prefer not to live in nursing homes. A new study suggests a simple thing -- like meals delivered to their homes -- may mean they don't have to.

      The study looked at states where there is relatively low nursing home occupancy and found a common characteristic. The more these states spent on home-delivered meals under the Older Americans Act (OAA), the lower the per capita population of its nursing homes. The researchers at Brown University conclude providing in-home meals is a major factor in extending independence.

      “Despite efforts to rebalance long-term care, there are still many nursing home residents who have the functional capacity to live in a less restrictive environment,” wrote gerontology researchers Kali Thomas and Vincent Mor in the journal Health Services Research. “States that have invested in their community-based service networks, particularly home-delivered meals, have proportionally fewer of these people than do those states that have not.”

      Low-care

      In 2009, 12.6 percent of U.S. nursing home residents were considered “low-care,” meaning they did not need much of the suite of services that a nursing home provides. That proportion had declined from 17.9 percent in 2000 because of a variety of efforts, including OAA programs as well as Medicaid-sponsored home-and community-based services (HCBS).

      But those percentages vary widely between the states. A major reason for that state-to-state variation turns out to be the difference that home-delivered meals can make.

      The researchers maintain that for every $25 per year per older adult above the national average that states spend on home-delivered meals, they could reduce their percentage of low-care nursing home residents compared to the national average by one percentage point.

      Great Society

      The OAA passed in 1965 as part of the Great Society domestic programs. Among all the programs under OAA, home-based meals, which served more than 868,000 people in fiscal 2010, emerged as the only statistically significant factor among federal programs that affected state-to-state differences in low-care nursing home population. Home-delivered meals account for the bulk of OAA spending.

      “My 98-year-old granny was able to remain at home, independent in her house until she died, and we have always, even before I did this research, attributed that to Meals on Wheels,” Thomas said. “She lived four hours away from any family and refused to leave her house. We had comfort in knowing that every day someone was in her house to see how things are.”

      Drivers not only bring food every day but also observe the condition of their clients. If the elderly beneficiary doesn’t answer a delivery, drivers report that. The volunteers therefore provide food and a “safety check” for many older adults.

      Nursing home care is expensive and many seniors prefer not to live in nursing homes. A new study suggests a simple thing -- like meals delivered to their h...

      Smoking may make hangovers worse

      But researchers don't really know why

      People who smoke usually light up when they have a drink. If they have a lot of drinks, it could be the recipe for a nasty hangover.

      Researchers writing in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs were puzzled by an old observation. Some people can drink heavily deep into the night and feel fine the next day. Others who drink the same amount may suffer from headache, nausea and fatigue -- in other words, a hangover.

      Many factors

      While many factors can determine whether someone is more prone to a hangover than others, the researchers say their findings suggest smoking may be one of the factors that makes a hangover more likely. Researchers found that college students were more likely to report hangover symptoms after a heavy drinking episode if they smoked more heavily on the day they drank. And it wasn't simply because they smoked more when they drank more.

      "At the same number of drinks, people who smoke more that day are more likely to have a hangover and have more intense hangovers," said researcher Damaris J. Rohsenow, Ph.D., of the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies at Brown University.

      Her team identified some other factors as well, such as whether students reported drug use in the past year. And smoking, itself, was linked to an increased risk of hangover compared with not smoking at all.

      No answers

      That raises the likelihood that there is some direct effect of tobacco smoking on hangovers, Rohsenow said. But how and why aren't exactly clear.

      Rhosenow points to other research that shows nicotine receptors in the brain are involved in our subjective response to drinking. For example, smoking and drinking at the same time boosts the release of dopamine, a "feel-good" brain chemical.

      So the fact that nicotine and alcohol are connected in the brain may explain why smoking is tied to hangover.

      The best way to avoid a hangover, of course, is to consume alcohol in moderation or not at all. This time of year there are a lot of holiday parties where cocktails flow freely and the threat of hangovers is greater.

      For best results health experts suggest limiting yourself when it comes to beer, wine and spirits and make sure you eat some food at any gathering where alcohol is served.

      People who smoke usually light up when they have a drink. If they have a lot of drinks, it could be the recipe for a nasty hangover.Researchers writing i...

      Georgia Tech: mobile browsers fail safety test

      Researchers find lack of consistency can put consumers at risk

      If you use online banking, your bank has probably encouraged you to sign up for mobile banking. Other financial services companies make it easy for customers to access they accounts with mobile devices.

      But researchers at Georgia Tech say that when they conducted a test, even their cyber-security experts were unable to detect when their smartphone browsers had landed on potentially dangerous Websites. In other words, the site that was supposed to be a bank's Website sometimes wasn't.

      Just like desktop systems, mobile browsers use a range of security tools to make mobile Web-browsing secure. However in one critical area that informs user decisions, Georgia Tech researchers found a glaring problem.

      Strict guidelines for browsers

      When it comes to the incorporation of tiny graphical indicators in a browser’s URL field, all of the leading mobile browsers fail to meet security guidelines recommended by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) for browser safety. Even expert users say they have no way to determine if the Websites they visit are real or imposter sites phishing for personal data.

      “We found vulnerabilities in all 10 of the mobile browsers we tested, which together account for more than 90 percent of the mobile browsers in use today in the United States,” said Patrick Traynor, assistant professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Computer Science. “The basic question we asked was, ‘Does this browser provide enough information for even an information-security expert to determine security standing?’ With all 10 of the leading browsers on the market today, the answer was no.”

      Graphic icons mean the site is secure

      When desktop users visit a site where they will enter sensitive information, there are graphic icons and other indicators that the site is secure. The tiny “lock” icon that typically appears in a desktop browser window when users are providing payment information in an online transaction is one example of a security indicator. Another is the “https” keyword that appears in the beginning of a desktop browser’s URL field.

      The W3C has issued specific recommendations for how these indicators should be built into a browser’s user interface, and for the most part, Traynor said, desktop browsers do a good job of following those recommendations. In mobile browsers, however, the guidelines are followed inconsistently at best and often not at all.

      One problem is the smaller screen size. Sometimes there isn’t room to incorporate the indicators in same way as with desktop browsers. However, given that mobile devices are widely predicted to face more frequent attacks from cyber-criminals, the vulnerability is almost sure to lead to increased cyber-crime unless it is addressed, the researchers warn.

      Best efforts fall short

      Traynor said it appears mobile browser designers did the best they could, considering the constraints of the small screen.

      “But the fact is that all of them ended up doing something just a little different -- and all inferior to desktop browsers," he said. "With a little coordination, we can do a better job and make mobile browsing a safer experience for all users.”

      It's important, he says, because research has shown that mobile browser users are three times more likely to access phishing sites than users of desktop browsers.

      If you use online banking your bank has probably encouraged you to sign up for mobile banking. Other financial services companies make it easy for customer...

      November job cuts at second-highest level total this year

      The bankruptcy of Hostess brands was a factor

      Job cuts increased for a third consecutive month in November, as employers announced plans to drop 57,081 workers from their payrolls. That's an increase of 20 percent from the previous month when announced layoffs totaled 47,724, according to the latest report from outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

      November cuts were 34 percent higher than the 42,474 job cuts announced by employers a year earlier. Last month was only the fourth time this year that job cuts exceeded 50,000.

      Employers have now announced 490,806 job cuts this year. Despite the faster pace of downsizing as the year comes to a close, the year-to-date total is 13 percent lower than the 564,297 job cuts announced through November 2011.

      Hostess bankruptcy a factor

      The November surge was led by the food industry, which saw 19,709 cuts during the month. The bulk of those resulted from the bankruptcy of Hostess Brands which, after years of declining sales of its high-calorie snack cakes in a more health-conscious America, was forced to shut its operations and dismiss all 18,500 employees.

      The next largest job-cutting industry was the computer sector, which announced 3,313 job cuts in November -- up 208 percent from the 1,076 announced by these firms in October. The computer industry remains the top job-cut industry for the year, with a total of 45,060 announced firings since January. About 60 percent of those cuts, however, were the result of the 27,000 job cuts announced by Hewlett-Packard in May.

      Large-scale cuts

      “Job cuts this year have really been driven by a handful of large-scale cuts. This month, the Hostess cuts dominated the monthly total,” said Rick Cobb, executive vice president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “Last month, nearly a quarter of the 47,724 job cuts came from Ford. In May, it was the single job cut by HP that drove the monthly job cut total to 61,887, which is the highest level we have seen so far this year.”

      “The approach of Christmas is not likely to provide any relief from large-scale layoffs. In fact, the end of the year tends to see heavier downsizing activity, as companies make last-minute attempts to meet earnings goals or adjust payrolls based on the budget for the coming year. As if to prove this point, Citigroup announced 11,000 job cuts yesterday,” noted Cobb.

      The Citigroup job cuts, which followed the sudden ouster of CEO Vikram Pandit in October, will be included in Challenger’s December tracking.

      Job cuts increased for a third consecutive month in November, as employers announced plans to drop 57,081 workers from their payrolls. That's an increase o...

      Feds sue maker of Nap Nanny and Chill Infant Recliners

      The lawsuit is prompted by the deaths of five infants

      In what it maintains is an effort to prevent children from suffering further harm, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) staff has filed an administrative complaint against Baby Matters, LLC, the manufacturer of Nap Nanny and Nap Nanny Chill infant recliners.

      According to the complaint, the Nap Nanny Generation One and Two, and Chill model infant recliners contain defects in the design, warnings and instructions, which pose a substantial risk of injury and death to infants. The Commission voted 3-0 to approve the filing of the complaint, which seeks an order requiring that the firm notify the public of the defect and offer consumers a full refund.

      CPSC is aware of four infants who died in Nap Nanny Generation Two recliners and a fifth death involved the Chill model.

      The agency has received more than 70 additional incident reports of children nearly falling out of the product. The staff claims the products create a substantial risk of injury to the public.

      Failure of discussions

      CPSC staff filed the administrative complaint against Baby Matters, LLC after discussions with the company and its representatives failed to result in what the agency considers an adequate voluntary recall plan that would address the hazard posed by consumer use of the product in a crib or without the harness straps being securely fastened.

      In July 2010, CPSC and Baby Matters, LLC issued a joint recall news release to announce an $80 coupon to Generation One owners toward the purchase of a newer model and improved instructions and warnings to consumers who owned the Generation Two model of Nap Nanny recliners.

      At the time of the July 2010 recall, CPSC was aware of one death that had occurred in a Nap Nanny recliner and 22 reports of infants hanging or falling out over the side of the Nap Nanny even though most of the infants had been placed in the harness. Subsequently, despite the improvements to the warnings and instructions, the complaint alleges that additional deaths using Nap Nanny recliners have been reported, including one in a Chill model.

      The Nap Nanny is a portable infant recliner designed for sleeping, resting and playing. The recliner includes a shaped foam base with an inclined indentation for the baby to sit and a fitted fabric cover with a three point harness.

      Five thousand Nap Nanny Generation One and 50,000 Generation Two models were sold between 2009 and early 2012 and have been discontinued. Some 100,000 Chill models have been sold since January 2011. All were priced around $130.

      In what it maintains is an effort to prevent children from suffering further harm, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) staff has filed an admini...

      FDA sued -- charged with wrongfully withholding animal drug data

      Freedom of Information Act requests have been denied numerous times

      The Government Accountability Project (GAP) has filed suit against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), charging the agency's decision to withhold regarding the sale of antibiotics for use in food animals is unlawful.

      Under the Animal Drug User Fee Act (ADUFA), drug companies are required to report basic information about antibiotic sales to the FDA. Such information includes how much of each drug is sold; whether the drugs are formulated for use in feed, water, or by injection; and the animals for which each drug is approved.

      FDA publicly releases a limited summary of ADUFA data each year, but withholds almost all of what companies report.

      Failure to respond

      The lawsuit follows FDA's failure to respond properly to GAP's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the agency, which sought data concerning the amount of antibiotics sold for use in food animals in 2009, classified by animal type and dosage information.

      The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF), an academic research center based at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, approached GAP for help obtaining these data almost two years ago. GAP made the request in February 2011, and has exhausted all other steps to get the information, short of litigation. In the end, the agency denied GAP’s request, claiming that the requested information is “confidential commercial information.”

      “The FDA frequently claims that documents sought through the FOIA process contain ‘confidential commercial information,’” said Jeff Gulley, GAP Food & Public Health Counsel. “When tested in court, however, these claims frequently don’t hold up. This response by FDA is a violation of FOIA and a wrongful withholding of agency records."

      Misuse of antibiotics charged

      Every year, nearly 30 million pounds of antibiotics -- 80 percent of the total antibiotics sold in the United States -- are sold for use in food animals. GAP charges that the misuse of antibiotics in industrial animal agriculture drives the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that have made human illnesses more dangerous and difficult to treat.

      Instead of enforcing stricter regulations or providing vital information to the public on this issue, FDA has asked companies to reduce certain uses of antibiotics voluntarily, allowing rampant misuse to continue.

      “How can we truly know the extent to which these drugs are causing harm if we can’t even access information?” asked GAP Food Integrity Campaign Director Amanda Hitt. “The agency’s job is to protect the public’s health, not industry secrets.”

      “These data will help public health researchers decipher how the industry’s antibiotic use erodes the effectiveness of these life-saving drugs,” said Keeve Nachman, Ph.D., director of the Farming for the Future program at CLF, which has served as a scientific adviser to GAP on the request and lawsuit.

      FDA has 30 days to respond to the lawsuit. 

      The Government Accountability Project (GAP) has filed suit against the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA), charging the agency's decision to withhold reg...

      Airbnb: An invitation to eviction?

      Apartment leases and city zoning rules often prohibit short-term subrentals

      A lot of Internet businesses are based on someone's brainstorm that seemed to be a cool idea at the time. Many such ideas are launched and a few take off, often with unforeseen consequences for their users.

      Case in point: Airbnb, which links up homeowners and apartment dwellers with travelers who are looking for a few nights lodging in something other than a Marriott.

      The company has been around awhile, boasts that it has booked 10 million nights of lodging and is presumably making loads of money while protecting itself from most of the risks associated with short-term rentals.

      After a few cases last year of guests trashing apartments and stealing valuables, Airbnb issued oh-so-sincere statements about how concerned it was and began including insurance coverage in its agreements.

      Eviction and fines

      But what Airbnb doesn't appear to be so concerned about -- and doesn't bother warning its clients about -- is the risk of eviction and fines that unathorized short-term rentals can entail.

      The New York Times recently wrote about the experience of Nigel Warren, who rented out his New York City apartment for $100 per night through Airbnb. When he returned home, he found his landlord fuming.

      City inspectors had descended on the place and cited his landlord on five charges relating to running an unlicensed transient hotel. The potential fines totaled around $40,000 and Warren found himself rushing to hire a lawyer for $400+ an hour, quickly eating up the rental proceeds.

      Airbnb's response was to note that its policies caution its clients against violating any local laws and, of course, shield Airbnb from any liability resulting from such violations.

      While Warren wound up getting off lightly, others may not be so lucky. Local laws in most large cities prohibit unlicensed short-term rentals. Not to mention that most leases also prohibit subletting without permission.

      What's the harm?

      But renting out an apartment for a few nights to people who are neat, clean, quiet and oh-so-hip, who could object to that?

      Well, for starters, many landlords are quite happy to find an excuse to throw out tenants. Occupancy rates are high and if a landlord can evict an existing renter, chances are good he can rent to someone else at a higher monthly fee, not to mention collecting another damage deposit and a month or two in advance (while, of course, pocketing the deposit from the evicted renter).

      And then there are the neighbors. You know your neighbors? Maybe, maybe not. In most apartment communities there are at least a few trolls who keep careful watch on everyone else and who are only too happy to report unauthorized smoking, loud parties, bikes in hallways ... and unauthorized short-term rentals.

      Nigel Warren was indignant that Airbnb hadn't given him a more explicit warning. Airbnb does mention the issue but doesn't couch it as a warning. Rather, it's listed under "Host obligations"on the company's website:

      "You have all necessary permissions to offer your accommodations, including ensuring that your hosting activity (i) will not breach any agreements you have entered into with any third parties (such as any agreements or rules with a landlord or HOA) and (ii) will (a) be in compliance with all applicable laws, Tax requirements, and rules and regulations that may apply to your Accommodations, including, but not limited to, zoning laws and laws governing rentals of residential and other properties and (b) will not conflict with the rights of third parties"

      Airbnb did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

      A lot of Internet businesses are based on someone's brainstorm that seemed to be a cool idea at the time. Many such ideas are launched and a few take off, ...

      Vegas casino interests scheming to muscle in on the states' turfs

      The odds are with the House, or in this case, the Senate

      Years ago, states began muscling in on the numbers racket that had traditionally been run by the Mob, promising to use the funds to finance education, roads, health care and other popular measures, just as the Mob provided protection services to its clients.

      Whether that aid ever actually amounted to much is a story for another time, but the states have certainly managed to find a new way to fleece the working poor, who each year gamble away billions of dollars in the hope of winning the next Super Lotto, something that is literally less likely [1 in 18 million or so] than an individual's chance of being struck by lightning [1 in 10,000].

      Now, the states, like the Mob before them, see their lucrative venture, their "thing," facing a serious threat from a higher power. No, we're not talking about the gods. This is worse. It's Congress.

      A couple of influential senators are sponsoring a measure that would establish a new division in the Department of Commerce to be called the Office of Online Poker Oversight. This might sound like a story inadvertently stolen from the Onion but it is in fact true.

      No less a leading liberal light than Sen. Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat and practicing Mormon who is the Senate Majority Leader and Sen. Jon Kyl, a conservative Republican from neighboring Arizona, are dealing the cards and, although they're not likely to prevail in the current session, there'll be another hand to play next year.

      Of course, it's always possible the Protection of Vegas Casinos Act -- not likely to be the actual name, but fairly descriptive nonetheless -- will get tacked on to some other "must-pass" measure, like whatever smoke screen is used to make it look like the fiscal cliff has been paved over.

      Only game in town

      Just to get the politics out of the way, Reid is, let's not forget, from Nevada, where the casino industry is pretty much the only game in town and casino interests have been pushing for an online poker monopoly for quite some time.  And Kyl, well, he's a rock-ribbed, anti-gambling conservative and he says this measure would restrict gambling and is therefore a good thing. Honest.

      No doubt Kyl, like other conservatives, is a fervent supporter of state's rights but of course none of that means much when it's time to cut the cards. And the Reid-Kyl measure would in effect deal the states out of the game. It would prohibit any other form of online gambling, including sites set up by state lotteries, except for a few minor exceptions here and there.

      The casino interests -- you know, guys like Sheldon Adelson -- would have the United States as their turf and the federal government as their enforcer, knocking off anybody who popped up to challenge them. There's little argument about that aspect of the measure.

      "All of the lotteries in the country agree this is a matter of states' rights," Arch Gleason, president of Kentucky's lottery, told the Wall Street Journal.

      Hey, that's the beauty of federal laws pre-empting state laws. One-stop lobbying and palm-greasing is a lot easier than having to trudge around to 50 states, trying to remember everybody's name and putting up with bad roads and ugly weather.

      Now, it comes as no surprise that this is not going down very well with state lottery directors and governors. So upset are they at this threat to their efforts to provide care and succor to their needy citizens that they have organized a lobbying effort of their own and are descending on Washington to fight back against the loss of their territory.

      Oh, and don't forget about the convenience store owners. They'd like for the states and the feds to butt out.  If lotteries move online along with poker, what does that leave convenience stores to sell? Big Gulps and day-old hot dogs? What kind of business is that?

      Years ago, states began muscling in on the numbers racket that had traditionally been run by the Mob, promising to use the funds to finance education, road...

      For families, two incomes now more important than ever

      Working class families, especially, heavily depend on wife's earnings

      The Great Recession officially ended in June 2009, but for many families the hard times have continued. Household income, in fact, has declined in the three and a half years since the recession ended.

      For many families both the husband and wife must continue to work in order to make ends met. New research from the University of New Hampshire shows the contribution of employed wives to total family income holding steady at 47 percent, which is its highest level in decades.

      “If history is a good guide, it is likely that wives’ share of total family earnings will not return to pre-recession levels, but rather, the Great Recession will serve to propel wives’ contributions higher. It is likely that wives will remain in the labor force even after their husbands return to work, as many families have lost ground due to diminished savings, housing values, and retirement accounts," said Kristin Smith, assistant professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire.  "Thus, it is critical to pay attention to the implications of wives as breadwinners for families and the workplace.”

      Trend began in 2008

      Smith said researchers saw a big jump in wives' contributions to family income early in the recession. From 2008 to 2009, employed wives’ contribution to total family earnings jumped from 45 percent to 47 percent -- the largest single-year increase during the past 23 years -- where it held steady in 2010 and 2011.

      “The massive job losses during the 18 months of the Great Recession, primarily in male-dominated industries such as manufacturing and construction, coupled with sluggish job growth during the recovery, have left many families with lower earnings and have placed an unprecedented importance on wives’ earnings to keep families afloat,” Smith said.

      She says the Great Recession, in particular, substantially accelerated the trend of an increased reliance on employed wives’ earnings.

      Previous recessions

      Smith also looked at previous recessions and found that they substantially accelerate the trend of increased reliance on wives’ earnings. In all three recessions since 1988, annual increases in employed wives’ share of total family earnings rose substantially.

      Smith's research also reveals another detail. The reliance on wives’ earnings is particularly important in working class families, which she sees as falling further behind while much of the rest of the country recovers. Smith found that employed wives’ share of total family earnings is higher and more responsive to economic downturns when the husband has a high school degree or less compared with a college degree.

      She wants to see policy changes that can help lessen this stress on the working class family.

      “Policies to support working families, such as paid sick leave and paid family medical leave, affordable quality child care, livable wages and measures that increase workplace flexibility, could help reduce the work and family conflict that many men and women experience,” she said.

      The Great Recession officially ended in June 2009, but for many families the hard times have continued. Household income, in fact, has declined in the thre...

      Court rules Verizon Wireless must offer data roaming services

      Unanimous ruling is victory for customers of small cell providers

      A federal appeals court in Washington has unanimously ruled that major wireless network providers, like Verizon Wireless and AT&T, must work out roaming deals with smaller providers who lack data network capacity.

      The loser in the case is Verizon Wireless, which had gone to court to challenge the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) 2011 rule that required the major players to offer smaller competitors “commercially reasonable” terms for providing data services to their customers. Verizon claimed the FCC had overstepped its authority in making the rule. The court declared that it had not.

      FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said he was delighted with the decision, noting the court had confirmed the FCC's authority to protect broadband consumers. He wasn't the only one celebrating.

      Smaller carriers applaud

      “We are extremely delighted with the court’s decision,” said Steven Berry, CEO of the Competitive Carrier Association (CCA), a group that includes small cell providers. “The fact that the court made such a prompt and well-reasoned decision, at least in my mind, is a clear and convincing indication of the overwhelming strength of the intervener and FCC arguments presented to the court. The court’s unanimous and unequivocal support for the FCC’s action and authority bodes extremely well for the competitive issue of roaming and other competitive issues that CCA will continue to pursue.”

      The ruling means that customers of small cell phone companies will have access to data services when they are “roaming,” and within range of a major provider's network. The larger providers, like Verizon, are required to provide the access but can charge a reasonable price for it.

      “This is a decisive victory for consumers and an extremely positive outcome for competitive carriers and competitive policies,” Berry said.

      Verizon's argument

      Verizon Wireless argued that it should not be required to provide access to its network because that would reduce it to the status of a “common carrier.” Several small competitors had complained they were unable to provide roaming data service to their customers because Verizon refused to do business with them.

      Genachowski said the FCC took the position it did because the agency is trying to make data services available to wider areas of the market. It's all part of a consumer-centered policy, he said.

      “Our rules have empowered consumers and expanded their ability to enjoy the benefits of seamless and nationwide access to mobile data services, including wireless Internet and e-mail," Genachowski said in a statement. "Enacting data roaming rules is one of many strong actions the FCC has taken in this area, and we will continue to promote broadband investment and innovation."

      Berry said the FCC ruling and the court decision upholding it is an important piece of the puzzle to ensure smaller players will be able to deploy 4G LTE services to consumers across the nation.

      A federal appeals court in Washington has unanimously ruled that major wireless network providers, like Verizon Wireless and AT&T, must work out roamin...