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    Consumers often trapped in debt by payday and deposit advance loans

    A new study finds sustained use of these loans can lead to a 'cycle of indebtedness'

    We all run a little short of money from time-to-time and there are both good and bad ways of dealing with the problem. Among the worst, according to a study by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), is depending on payday and deposit advance loans.

    According to the study, these products can lead consumers to a cycle of indebtedness.

    “This comprehensive study shows that payday and deposit advance loans put many consumers at risk of turning what is supposed to be a short-term, emergency loan into a long-term, expensive debt burden,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “For too many consumers, payday and deposit advance loans are debt traps that cause them to be living their lives off money borrowed at huge interest rates.”

    Consumer protection concerns

    According to the CFPB report, payday and deposit advance loans offered by a growing number of banks are generally similar in structure, purpose, and the consumer protection concerns they raise.

    Typically described as a way to bridge a cash flow shortage between paychecks or other income, they offer quick and easy accessibility, especially for consumers who may not qualify for other credit.

    The loans generally have three features: they are small-dollar amounts; borrowers must repay them quickly; and they require that a borrower repay the full amount or give lenders access to repayment through a claim on the borrower’s checking or savings account.

    Renee of New Orleans says she found herself trapped when she agreed to a loan of $400 with Cash Direct Express. "Like other payday loan company I delt with you can reduce your payments to 4 payments," she writes in a ConsumerAffairs post. "But this company took $100 for 4 paydays and then begin to take monies owed on the principal $40 at a time and then charged interest on the balance. the first pay was $40 + $120 then $40 + $95. I call to check the balance it was $354 so on $400 dollars I paid $1069. How do company get away with this?"

    Not uncommon is the case of Andrew of Palm Springs, Calif., who says he borrowed $300 from EZPayDayCash.com, which offered a 6-month payback at $50 per month.

    But, "the fine print charges you $75 per month to do it," he writes in a ConsumerAffairs post. "After 6 months you will repay the original loan of $300 along with almost $450 in fees. OMG! Didn't I understand what I was signing? Well, apparently not... and I'm a pretty bright guy. I didn't realize it on my bank statement initially and got a chuckle out of it as they explained it to me. Each time I asked a question they replied by chanting, 'You agreed, you agreed, all explained, you agreed.' And I guess they're right, which is why I am stunned by the smooth way they pulled the wool over my eyes and am now urging you to run away, run away, run away."

    Study highlights

    The study, which looked at a 12-month period with more than 15 million storefront payday loans and data from multiple depository institutions that offer deposit advance products, found:

    • Payday and deposit advance loans can become debt traps for consumers. The report found many consumers repeatedly roll over their payday and deposit advance loans or take out additional loans; often a short time after the previous one was repaid. 
    • Lenders often do not take a borrower’s ability to repay into consideration when making a loan. For the consumer, this means there may not be enough money left after paying off the loan for expenses such as for their rent or groceries -- leading them to return to the bank or payday lender for more money.
    • The risk posed by the loose underwriting is compounded by some of the features of payday and deposit advance loans, particularly the rapid repayment structure. Paying back a lump sum when a consumer’s next paycheck or other deposit arrives can be difficult for an already cash-strapped consumer, leading them to take out another loan.
    • Both payday loans and deposit advances are designed for short-term use and can have very high costs. These high costs can add up -- on top of the already existing loans that a consumer is taking on.
    • The loose underwriting, the rapid repayment requirement, and the high costs all may contribute to turning a short-term loan into a very expensive, long-term loan.

    It's unclear whether consumers fully appreciate the risk that they may end up using these loans over a much longer period of time than the original term. Or, that they may end up paying fees that equal or exceed the amount they borrowed, leading them into a revolving door of debt.

    We all run a little short of money from time-to-time and there are both good and bad ways of dealing with the problem. Among the worst, according to a stud...
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    Technology makes online cheating easier

    But beware, the tech world isn't as private as you think

    We're living in an interconnected world. We've gone from surfing the Internet at our desk at home to connecting with friends through social media on the go, using a growing array of mobile devices.

    All this technology may make us more productive and plugged-in, but it may also be leading us astray, making it easier to cheat on a spouse or partner – and it makes us more subject to betrayal.

    Let's start with Facebook. The social networking site, with nearly a billion members, allows us to keep up with what our friends are doing. But it has also put us in touch with old friends from our past and provided a seemingly private, back-channel way to communicate with them.

    According to Divorce Online, social media has become a factor in one in three divorces in the UK. The site says what people post not only causes marital friction but can be used as evidence in a divorce trial.

    Seeds of an affair

    While there are no hard numbers to confirm this, it can be safely assumed that all that chatting, flirting and interacting online can sow the seeds of an affair, a virtual one at first but perhaps later, the real thing.

    The British website MyCheating reports a huge spike in female membership on UK “cheating” websites among married women over 30. It links the spike to another technology trend, the 2012 “Fifty Shades/Mummy Porn” e-book phenomenon.

    "The Internet, and specifically social networks, have changed the way we interact with each other,” said Victoria Coxen, co-founder at MyCheating. “And one of the negative consequences is that it has become easier for people to cheat. Social media and technological advancements have put temptation at our fingertips, and this is demonstrated by the meteoric rise in extra-marital encounters.”

    Recipe for disaster

    Which brings us to online dating. When married people go to a dating website and post a phony bio in hopes to starting a relationship, it is usually a recipe for disaster.

    A spouse hoping to meet someone for a romantic affair can do so from the privacy of his or her computer, though sometimes a misdirected email can be their undoing. In 2011 ConsumerAffairs received a complaint from a woman who said an online dating site had emailed her husband recommendations for potential dates. She was angry at the dating site's “mistake” and hadn't quite figured out it might not be a mistake.

    Online dating sites can be used to cheat another way. Dating scams abound on most dating websites when one of the parties pretends to be something they are not. Barbara, of Central, S.C., recently reported meeting a man on Match.com and carrying on what seemed like a normal online relationship for four months.

    More and more money

    “He needed to go to Malaysia on business, and when he came back, we were to get married,” Barbara wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. “He got over there and things were more than Michael expected so he needed $1,000 till he got back, then another $1,000. Then finally, he came home but he needed more money. I didn't think much about it then; supposedly he was at the airport and had a heart attack and was in the hospital for two weeks. Now, he can't leave. They kept his passport because he couldn't pay the bill.”

    So Barbara gave “Michael” her credit card, which ended up getting maxed out. When she went back to the dating site to look for his profile, she said it was gone.

    Are fraud and infidelity on the rise because of technology? It seems that way. As the use of social media becomes second nature, individuals may be forgetting its very public nature. You aren't just sharing private thoughts with online friends. It's more public than you realize.

    So, be careful what you write on your wall!

    We're living in an interconnected world. We've gone from surfing the Internet at our desk at home to connecting with friends through social media on the go...
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    Appeals court throws out credit reporting settlement

    Says settlement creates “divergence of interests” among class members

    The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has thrown out a settlement in a case alleging that three leading credit reporting companies had disseminated incorrect information about consumers who had declared bankruptcy.

    The suit, which originated as multiple actions in 2005 and 2006, alleged that Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion issued credit reports that claimed consumers had been delinquent in paying down certain debts. In reality, the suit alleged, those debts had been discharged during bankruptcy proceedings. The allegedly erroneous information would constitute a violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), a federal statute.

    The court ruled that the settlement -- which totaled $45 million -- “created a patent divergence of interests between the named representatives and the class” and thus should not have been approved by the district court.

    Incentive awards

    The settlement offered “incentive awards” to the named plaintiffs in the suit. This is common in class action suits, since those individuals typically spend considerable time helping lawyers prosecute the action.

    However, the court ruled that, in this case, “these awards were conditioned on the class representatives’ support for the settlement,” which “caused the interests of the class representatives to diverge from the interests of the class because the settlement agreement told class representatives that they would not receive incentive awards unless they supported the settlement.”

    The settlement offered “actual damage awards” to class members who could show that they suffered harm from the agencies’ alleged conduct. Class members who were denied housing would receive $500; those who could not obtain car or credit loans would receive $150; and those who were denied employment would receive $750.

    Class members who did not suffer economic damage were set to receive a “convenience award” of around $26.

    Lawyers plan to rewrite settlement

    The settlement would have been the second-largest ever reached in an FCRA suit, according to plaintiffs’ counsel Michael Caddell of Caddell and Chapman.

    "Obviously we're disappointed," Caddell told Thomson Reuters. "We didn't believe the settlement agreement was coercive, and the facts were undisputed that our class representatives had decided months before the language was drafted to support it.

    Caddell said he planned to rewrite the settlement.

    ...
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      iPhone 4: The check is in the mail

      It's the final chapter of Antennagate settlement

      The Apple iPhone 4 has achieved its place in history as the last iPhone not spookily inhabited by Siri. But the phone was also responsible for one of 2010’s biggest tech scandals: “Antennagate.”

      Within days of the phone’s June 2010 release, users discovered that when the device was held a certain way, it received almost no signal. Users said that putting one’s hand over the phone’s metal frame in the lower left-hand corner -- where the antenna is exposed -- led to a marked decrease in signal strength.

      Unsurprisingly, the issue quickly produced a flurry of lawsuits, with class actions filed in California and Maryland by the beginning of July. Ultimately, 18 cases were filed, although all were ultimately combined into a single class action.

      Last year, Apple agreed to settle the matter for $53 million. This week, the final chapter of Antennagate will be written, with $15 checks being sent to eligible class members. Apple had also offered free iPhone 4 cases in place of monetary compensation.

      Jobs: “Just avoid holding it that way”

      The issue provoked a characteristically brusque response from late Apple CEO Steve Jobs. When a customer emailed Jobs to ask, “What's going to be done about the signal dropping issue[?],” Jobs replied, “Non issue. Just avoid holding it that way.”

      Jobs did ultimately issue a mea culpa, stating that, “We are human and we make mistakes sometimes.”

      Consumers who receive a check must cash it by July 16. If you haven’t filed a claim yet, it’s too late -- the deadline passed in August 2012.

      Glassgate

      The iPhone 4 was also at the center of “Glassgate,” involving the device’s alleged propensity to shatter when dropped. A Los Angeles suit centering around that issue claimed that “Apple ... failed to warn and continues to sell this product with no warning to customers that the glass housing is defective.”
      The Apple iPhone 4 has achieved its place in history as the now-ubiquitous smartphone that first introduced the world to Siri. But the phone was also...
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      Worried about an upcoming surgery? View the procedure beforehand

      Touch Surgery doesn't only train surgeons, it can make patients feel more secure too

      Before you go under the knife for surgery, why not get a look at what it’s going to look like beforehand?

      Today, you can do that with Touch Surgery, an app that gives patients a virtual walk-through of the procedure they’re getting. The app serves as a training tool for surgical students as well.

      Jean Nehme, who created the app with Andre Chow, Advait Gandhe and Sanjay Purkayastha, said it really allows patients to involve themselves with the details of the surgery, which in turn allows them to feel better about it.

      Furthermore, Touch Surgery lowers the wall of mystery that exists between many surgeons and patients and helps patients feel more secure about their procedure, since they’re able to see what’s being done.

      “We’ve found that it really improves patient comprehension and reduces anxiety, and people are getting out of hospitals faster,” said Chow. “Once upon a time, the surgeon was god, but now it’s more of a shared partnership.”

      Up close and personal

      Although the virtual images may be graphic and disturbing for patients to see, Touch Surgery lets them get an idea of what the problem is and what needs to be fixed.

      Chow says he and his partners really wanted to bring patients into the hard-to-understand aspects of surgery and the best way to do that was by creating an interactive tool.

      Barrett Veldsman, a patient who underwent gallbladder surgery, said Touch Screen was the best way to understand his procedure, which he wasn’t able to understand when he went on the Internet to do research.

      “You look at Wikipedia, you read it, it goes in and you really don’t understand all the terminology, but this is so simple it relaxes you,” he told a media outlet.

      “With Touch Surgery we focused on the essence of surgical education and we combined it with new advances in consumer technology that allowed us to make something that’s mobile and interactive in a way that’s never been done before,” he said.

      Training tool

      But Touch Surgery just wasn’t made to educate patients on an upcoming surgery; it was made so surgeons have an easier and better way to teach their students.

      And having training that’s more thorough will allow those students to feel more confident about procedures and explain things to patients a lot clearer, say the creators of the app.

      “What the app has allowed trainees to do is to be much more prepared when they actually come to the operating room for the first time, so they understand the anatomy better,” Purkayastha said.

      And for future surgeons, Touch Screen couldn’t be easier to use, its creators say. In order to perform mock surgeries, students simply have to swipe the screen or use a pair of virtual cutters to make incisions.

      The app doesn’t only teach the technical aspects of performing a surgery, but it helps surgeons learn how to be more decisive in the operating room and make better decisions.

      “There is a saying that decision is much more important than incision,” said Nehme.

      “Before you cut, you need to be sure of your decision and what comes next. It’s about 75% decision making and 25% technical skill. The interactive learning process helps you identify risks, at what point should you be aware of this nerve, when should you be aware of this artery.”

      Touch Screen is available on iPhones and iPads and can be downloaded in the iTunes app store.

      Before you go under the knife for surgery, why not get a look at what it’s going to look like beforehand?Today, you can do that with Touch Surgery,...
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      Study finds the rich really are getting richer

      On the other hand, those who aren't so rich...

      The first two years of the nation’s economic recovery have not been particularly even. As a matter of fact, just the opposite appears to be the case.

      A Pew Research Center analysis of new data from the Census Bureau data says the mean net worth of households in the upper 7% of the wealth distribution rose by an estimated 28%. Households in the lower 93%, however, suffered a decline of 4%.

      To put it in other terms, the mean wealth of the 8 million households in the more affluent group rose to an estimated $3,173,895 from an estimated $2,476,244 from 2009 to 2011, while the 111 million households in the less affluent group saw their mean wealth fall to an estimated $133,817 from an estimated $139,896.

      What happened?

      The fact that the stock and bond markets rallied during the 2009 to 2011 period while the housing market remained flat played a major role.

      Affluent households typically have much of their assets in stocks and other financial holdings, while the wealth of less affluent households is typically concentrated in the value of their home.

      From the end of the recession in 2009 through 2011 (the last year for which Census Bureau wealth data are available), the 8 million households in the U.S. with a net worth above $836,033 saw their aggregate wealth soar by an estimated $5.6 trillion. The 111 million households with a net worth at or below that level saw their aggregate wealth plunge by an estimated $0.6 trillion.

      The gap widens

      These differences resulted in an increase in wealth inequality during the first two years of the recovery. The upper 7% of households saw their aggregate share of the nation’s overall household wealth pie rise to 63% in 2011 from 56% in 2009. On an individual household basis, the mean wealth of households in this more affluent group was almost 24 times that of those in the less affluent group in 2011. At the start of the recovery in 2009, that ratio had been less than 18-to-1.

      The overall wealth of America’s households rose by $5 trillion, or 14%, during this period. Household wealth is the sum of all assets, such as a home, car, real property, a 401(k), stocks and other financial holdings, minus the sum of all debts, such as a mortgage, car loan, credit card debt and student loans.

      During the period under study, the S&P 500 rose by 34% (and has since risen by an additional 26%),. At the same time, the S&P/Case-Shiller home price index fell by 5%, continuing a steep slide that began with the crash of the housing market in 2006.

      The different performance of financial asset and housing markets from 2009 to 2011 explains virtually all of the variances in the trajectories of wealth holdings among affluent and less affluent households during this period.

      Among households with net worth of $500,000 or more, 65% of their wealth comes from financial holdings, such as stocks, bonds and 401(k) accounts, and 17% comes from their home. Among households with net worth of less than $500,000, just 33% of their wealth comes from financial assets and 50% comes from their home.

      Getting it back

      Overall, net worth per household in the U.S. in 2011 made up nearly all the ground it had lost since 2005 -- $338,950 versus $340,252 in 2005, the latest pre-recession data published by the Census Bureau.

      Pew says total household wealth doubtless rose for a period after 2005 before falling precipitously during the Great Recession of 2007-2009 and rebounding since then. However, no household wealth data are available from the Census Bureau for the years between 2005 and 2009, so it is not possible to pinpoint when, or at what level, the peak in wealth per household occurred.

      The first two years of the nation’s economic recovery have not been particularly even. As a matter of fact, just the opposite appears to be the case. A Pe...
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      Remember Bosco Chocolate? There's now a new flavor

      The company hopes to make its chocolate syrup popular again.

      It seems like Bosco Chocolate Syrup has been around forever. For most of us it has: The company was established in 1928.

      Since that time, millions of people have put Bosco in their milk, ice-cream and other deserts as a sweetener and to give deserts a nice chocolaty pop.  

      It’s been about 10 years since Bosco released a new flavor, but recently the company announced a new addition, Bosco Mocha, made with cocoa and real coffee extract.

      The new flavor will be released in 530 Walmart stores in 12 Eastern states, so if you live in places like Rhode Island, New Jersey, Connecticut, New York, New Hampshire, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts or West Virginia, you should be able to find the syrup pretty easily.

      Bosco Mocha is the latest attempt by the company to reintroduce itself to Baby Boomers and to capture the attention of younger customers as well.

      Is there a market?

      But just how many kids and teens will flock to a coffee-flavored chocolate syrup remains to be seen.

      About a year ago, the New Jersey-based company partnered with Walmart, which has given the 85-year-old brand a much-needed shot in the arm, since chocolate syrup isn’t as popular as it used to be.

      A reason for this decline in popularity may have to do with ice cream and milk being made in a variety of flavors today, so often one doesn’t have to add anything to get the taste he or she wants.

      Gone regional

      Besides Walmart, Bosco Syrup can be found in other large and independent retailers nationwide including Shop Rite, A&P, Pathmark, Cost Plus World Market, Stater Bros and select Publix, and HEB stores among others, although Scott Sanders, the company’s vice president, said it may be easier to find in states like New York and New Jersey.

      “Over the years, Bosco became a regional item, with its strongest following in the New York City metro area,” he said in a published interview. "Much to my chagrin, chocolate syrup isn’t as popular as it was years ago, and the reduced sales volume doesn’t warrant large-scale advertising any longer. We are marketing Bosco in new, creative, cost-effective ways today. We are working hard to find new distribution for Bosco.”

      Speak up

      In addition, Sanders says if you want to see Bosco at a store near you, simply ask the store manager.

      “It is cliché to ask, but it really does help: Ask your grocery for Bosco! We find that when regular people ask the manager at your supermarket to carry Bosco, it often helps us out.”

      And it’ll help you out too, if you really love the stuff.

      Sanders said he’s excited about the company’s new mocha flavor and feels people both young and old will really take to it.

      “This is our first new flavor in nearly a decade and we’re thrilled to be the first to create a syrup that combines real coffee and cocoa to create an authentic mocha flavor,” he said. “We’re confident that Bosco Mocha will be almost as popular as Bosco Chocolate."

      It seems like Bosco Chocolate Syrup has been around forever. For most of us it has: the company was established in 1928. Since that time, millions of peop...
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      Lawmakers question pace of e-cigarette regulations

      Some states have begun to consider their own rules as feds move slowly

      The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) served notice some time ago that it will probably regulate electronic cigarettes but has yet to take the first step.

      The FDA said it was preparing proposed regulations in 2011 but none appeared. It said the same thing the following year with the same results. Earlier this year it suggested a proposal would be offered in April.

      Now the agency is coming under pressure from some lawmakers to get the process rolling. Five U.S. Senators have written to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, urging her agency to issue "deeming regulations" for the increasingly popular devices that some smokers have adopted in place of cigarettes.

      The letter was signed by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Il.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Oh.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.). They note that the number of people who have used e-cigarettes has doubled since 2010 but, to date, the nicotine delivery devices are currently not required to be evaluated or approved by the FDA.

      Can currently be marketed to children

      “Unlike traditional tobacco products, e-cigarettes can be legally sold to children and are not subject to age verification laws,” the Senators wrote. “E-cigarettes marketed to appeal to kids in candy and fruit flavors, like bubblegum and strawberry, are readily available to youth in shopping malls and online. These products risk addicting children to nicotine, which could be a pathway to cigarettes and other tobacco products.”

      Earlier this month the CEO of an e-cigarette company also endorsed some regulation of his industry by the FDA. Eli Alelov, CEO of LOGIC Technology, told ConsumerAffairs that he wants to see manufacturing standards and age restrictions.

      “I support raising the bar for the industry,” Alelov said. “Right now my biggest enemy is not the FDA, it's these 'me too' brands that come into the market with cheap electronic cigarettes, trying to make a buck, and they're putting lousy products on the market. That's hurting the entire industry.”

      Alelov's company makes e-cigarettes in only two flavors – tobacco and menthol. He says the wide variety of fruit flavored e-cigarettes offered by other companies don't appeal to people who smoke cigarettes, but instead appeal to young people who don't smoke.

      'Reasonable regulation'

      The general counsel of FIN Branding Group LLC, another e-cigarette company, is also calling for "reasonable regulation."

      "As the electronic cigarette industry continues to grow, it is important to work with stakeholders, including the FDA, to better understand how new regulations might alter our industry," said FIN Branding Vice President and General Counsel Rebecca Maisel. "We believe that some reasonable regulation that addresses quality control, product consistency, and a ban on selling products to minors is important."

      State action

      While the FDA ponders regulations, some states are considering action of their own. California is considering a measure that would ban the use of e-cigarettes in locations where smoking is banned. Currently e-cigarettes can be used in public spaces since they do not emit smoke, only water vapor.

      The measure, SB 648, would ban e-cigarette use inside or within 20 feet of any public building or in a vehicle owned by the state. It would also allow landlords to ban e-cigarette use in private homes.

      The Rhode Island legislature is currently debating a measure to ban e-cigarette sales to minors, but would also greatly restrict online sales of nicotine-containing products by treating e-cigarettes the same as traditional tobacco products.

      E-cigarettes contain no tobacco but simulate the act of smoking by using heat to create water vapor that is inhaled. The flavored vapor contains nicotine and many smokers have said they find e-cigarettes an acceptable alternative to tobacco.

      Anti-smoking groups, however, don't consider them acceptable. They have called for regulating e-cigarettes as tobacco products.

      The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) served notice some time ago that it will probably regulate electronic cigarettes -- also called e-cigarettes -- but ...
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      Kale, collards, squash, baby food loaded with pesticides, study finds

      Apples, peaches, spinach, potatoes also make "Dirty Dozen" list

      Kale and collards are popular lately but, along with an apple a day, they can give you a daily mouthful of pesticides, a study by the Environmental Working Group finds. Strawberries, grapes and celery are nearly as bad. Baby food isn't so great, either.

      Other fresh fruits and vegetables on the organization's Dirty Dozen list this year include peaches, spinach, sweet bell peppers, imported nectarines, cucumbers, potatoes, cherry tomatoes and hot peppers.

      But wait, it gets worse. For the second year, EWG has added a "Plus" category to its Dirty Dozen, highlighting crops that were commonly contaminated with pesticides exceptionally toxic to the nervous system.

      This year's Plus crops are domestically-grown summer squash and leafy greens, specifically kale and collards.

      In USDA tests, kale and collars were found to be contaminated with organophosphate pesticides, potent neurotoxins that can affect children's IQ and brain development, even at low doses.

      Baby food

      Baby food's not exactly kid stuff, either. EWG found that green beans canned for baby food tested positive for five pesticides. Pear samples tested positive for 11.

      Pesticides are, after all, toxic by design and are created expressly to kill living organisms -- insects, plants and fungi that are considered "pests." Many pesticides pose health dangers to people and have been linked to brain and nervous system toxicity, cancer, hormone disruption, skin, and eye and lung irritation.

      Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics, which represents more than 60,000 pediatricians, for the first time adopted an official position warning doctors and parents that pesticide exposures from food are potentially dangerous to children's health.

      Clean 15

      Find all this upsetting?

      It is, but the good news is that EWG also has a "Clean Fifteen" list, consisting of those fruits and vegetables with the least pesticide load, including corn, onions, pineapples, avocados, cabbage, frozen sweet peas, papayas, mangoes, asparagus, eggplant, kiwi, grapefruit, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes and mushrooms.

      Want to go beyond that list? Choosing organic food is the most reliable way to avoid toxins, EWG says.

      "When given a choice, more consumers are choosing organic fruits and vegetables or using EWG's Shopper's Guide to find an easy affordable way to avoid toxic chemicals," said Sonya Lunder, an EWG senior analyst. "They want to eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables without eating too many pesticides. And they want to support local farms and agriculture that is better for the environment."

      EWG's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce ranks pesticide contamination on 48 popular fruits and vegetables and gives consumers a head-start on finding healthier foods for themselves and their families.

      Kale and collars are popular lately but, along with an apple a day, they can give you a daily mouthful of pesticides, a study by the Environmental Wor...
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      Safety regulators issue guidelines to limit distracted driving

      The voluntary guidelines only apply to devices installed in cars by the manufacturer

      The feds have had it with electronic devices that distract drivers, so much so that U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today released voluntary guidelines that call on automobile manufacturers to disable distracting gadgets unless the vehicle is stopped.

      "Distracted driving is a deadly epidemic that has devastating consequences on our nation's roadways," said LaHood. "These guidelines recognize that today's drivers appreciate technology, while providing automakers with a way to balance the innovation consumers want with the safety we all need."

      According to federal data, 3,331 people died in distracted-driving accidents in 2011, up from 3,092 in 2010. Another 387,000 people were injured in 2011 in crashes involving a distracted driver, vs. 416,000 in 2010.

      Issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the guidelines establish specific criteria for devices that require drivers to take their hands off the wheel or eyes of the road to use them. The guidelines include recommendations to limit the time a driver must take his eyes off the road to perform any task to two seconds at a time and twelve seconds total.

      Put it in park

      The guidelines also recommend disabling several operations unless the vehicle is stopped and in park, such as:

      • Manual text entry, including text messaging and internet browsing;
      • Video entertainment and communications like video phoning or video conferencing;
      • Display text messages, web pages and social media content.

      The guidelines only apply to built-in devices -- like the navigation units mounted in the dashboards of many of today's cars and the growing number of devices being offered on new cars.

      New study identifies risks

      The guidelines are based partly on a new NHTSA "naturalistic driving" study, which found tha tasks associated with handheld phones and other portable devices increased the risk of getting into a crash by three times.

      "The new study strongly suggests that visual-manual tasks can degrade a driver's focus and increase the risk of getting into a crash up to three times," said David L. Strickland, NHTSA Administrator. "The new guidelines and our ongoing work with our state partners across the country will help us put an end to the dangerous practice of distracted driving by limiting the amount of time drivers take their eyes off the road, hands off the wheel and their attention away from the task of driving."

      The study found text messaging, browsing, and dialing resulted in the longest duration of drivers' taking their eyes-off-road. Text messaging increased the risk of a crash or near-crash by two times and resulted in the driver's eyes off the road for an average of 23.3 seconds total. Visual-manual activities performed when completing a phone call – such as reaching for a phone, looking up a contact and dialing the number – increased the risk by three times.

      Another study currently underway is examining the nation's highway system including speed, curves, intersection control, lighting, driver fatigue, and distraction, among others.

      Ray LaHoodThe feds have had it with electronic devices that distract drivers, so much so that U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today relea...
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      Adults with autism finding success in the tech world

      A Texas-based company is teaching job skills and independence

      When it comes to autism, many people might be aware of the social challenges involved but not the professional ones. That’s not the case with Gary Moore, the founder of the nonPareil Institute in Plano, Texas.

      Moore and his partner, Dan Selic, have created a software and training program for people on the autism spectrum to help them find employment and develop skills to work in the tech industry.

      “There is a 90% unemployment rate for adults with autism,” said Moore in a published interview.

      “Many people with autism have the intellectual capacity to do the work, but their social and sensory issues prevent them from going into the workforce. We think we have figured out the solution to train them with marketable skills that will generate more than a minimum wage income that will be sustainable the rest of their lives.”

      How it works

      For about $600 a month, students are taught software design, which includes training in 3D animation and video game creation. For training purposes, instructors use an on-site computer lab, as well as a home training system so students can practice at home.

      The institute even has a residential services program that helps students find housing close to the training program if they happen to live far away.

      After the training is completed, students are either hired by the institute or seek employment through an outside company, as the whole idea of the training is to build confidence among the students and teach them a skill that can be used in a variety of ways.

      Moore says that a lot of his students are fully capable of understanding the tech world, but they just need the right type of training, and so far the nonPareil Institute is one of the few places they can go.

      “Many of the high-functioning guys are brilliant, but they can’t get a job because they’re different,” said Moore. “We’re trying to build a future for them.”

      Selic agrees and says although the training program is about job placement, it’s about teaching adults with autism how to be independent as well. 

      “If we can consistently get product on the market, instead of having this tidal wave of individuals look for a welfare answer or a governmental answer, what we’re focused on is getting them resources they need to learn and earn their own way in their lives,” he said. “We’re committed to giving them the skills that they need to build great products and compete in the marketplace.”

      Success stories

      So far, the program has been successful at getting major companies to hire nonPareil graduates.

      Jim Pierce, vice president of corporate administration for the Fortune 500 company Alliance Data, says hiring people with autism has worked out well.

      “We’ve got this one guy, for example -- his productivity is three times as productive as the person doing his job, who did not have cognitive disabilities before him,” said Pierce. “And his error rate is 2%. He is 98% accurate. He’s a phenomenal worker.”

      Moore says the institute will be adding more to its curriculum in the near future.

      “We’re still young, but we fully intend to expand the curriculum to include a lot of other disciplines,” he said. “We may do 3D movies down the road, astronomy, art, music. We may have our own restaurant or cafeteria someday and run a chef program.”

      When it comes to autism, many people might be aware of the social challenges involved. But not the professional ones, but that’s not the case with Ga...
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      YouTube wins again in long-running Viacom suit

      Judge in intellectual property case calls Viacom’s position “anachronistic”

      Google has prevailed -- again -- in a closely-watched lawsuit brought by media giant Viacom. In a ruling that could have major reverberations throughout intellectual property law, a federal judge in New York granted summary judgment to YouTube, rejecting Viacom’s argument that the video site should be held liable for its users posting Viacom-owned material on the platform.

      Judge Louis Stanton, of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Manhattan, held that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s “safe harbor provisions” dictate that, because there is no proof that YouTube had knowledge of copyright infringement, it cannot be held liable.

      The case began back in March 2007, when Viacom filed suit, claiming that YouTube’s then-recent appearance on the media scene came partly from Viacom-owned content being posted on the site. Viacom pointed out that episodes and clips of copyrighted shows like South Park and Comedy Central’s The Daily Show were regularly posted to YouTube.

      Google acquired YouTube for $1.65 billion in 2006.

      First summary judgment in 2010

      In 2010, Judge Stanton ruled in YouTube’s favor, granting a summary judgment motion. Viacom appealed, and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case back to Stanton, holding that “a reasonable jury could find that YouTube had actual knowledge or awareness of specific [copyright] infringing activity on its website,” making summary judgment inappropriate.

      In holding again for YouTube, Stanton said that given the volume of clips uploaded to YouTube on a daily basis, the Safe Harbor Provision of the DMCA did indeed protect the site.

      Viacom argued that YouTube “apparently are unable to say which [video clips] they knew about and which they did not,” and that “[i]t follows, given the applicable burden of proof, that they cannot claim the ... safe harbor [provision]-especially in light of the voluminous evidence showing that [YouTube] had considerable knowledge of the clips on their website, including Viacom-owned material.”

      In a 24-page ruling, Stanton called Viacom’s argument “ingenious, but ... anachronistic.” The judge said that the entire purpose of the safe harbor provision is to protect high-traffic service providers like YouTube -- which has “more than 1 billion daily video views, [and] more than 24 hours of new video uploaded to the site every minute” -- and to “place[] the burden of notifying such service providers of infringements upon the copyright owner or his agent.”

      “Great victory for YouTube”

      “The ruling is a great victory for YouTube,” said Eric Goldman, who directs the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University School of Law, in an interview with TIME Magazine. “The judge emphatically rejected all of Viacom’s arguments, as well as its spin on the facts. Given that Viacom has made no real progress in this case after 6 years of litigating, the judge’s ruling reinforces how the entire lawsuit has been a waste of time and resources for everyone concerned.”

      Viacom has vowed to press on, saying in a statement that “[t]his ruling ignores the opinions of the higher courts and completely disregards the rights of creative artists.”

      “We continue to believe that a jury should weigh the facts of this case and the overwhelming evidence that YouTube willfully infringed on our rights, and we intend to appeal the decision,” Viacom’s statement continued.

      YouTube founder Chad Hurley was considerably more upbeat. In a Twitter posting, apparently referencing Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman, Hurley said, "Hey Philippe, wanna grab a beer to celebrate?! YouTube Again Beats Viacom's Massive Copyright Infringement Lawsuit."

      YouTube Wins Summary Judgment in Viacom Suit Judge in intellectual property case calls Viacom’s position “anachronistic” ...
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      Millions of Americans still falling for scams

      Weight-loss programs and prize promotions are the biggest offenders

      Have you been scammed? If so, you have a lot of company.

      The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has released a statistical survey showing that an estimated 25.6 million American adults -- 10.8% of the adult population -- were fraud victims.

      “The FTC fights fraud every day by taking scammers to court and telling consumers how to avoid being scammed,” said Charles Harwood, acting director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Studies like this one help us fine-tune both our enforcement and education efforts.”

      Online caution

      Online commerce has been a boon for consumers, giving them greater choice and convenience. However, it cuts both ways. The FTC survey indicates that, as of 2011, the Internet was also the place where consumers most often learned about fraudulent offers.

      The Internet category, which included email, social media, auction sites and classified ads, was followed by print advertising, and TV and radio. Most consumers were scammed via the World Wide Web. Telephone purchases ranked second.

      The survey asked consumers about 15 specific categories of fraud, and two general categories. Of the specific categories the top 10 were:

      • Weight-loss Products (5.1 million estimated)
      • Prize Promotions (2.4 million est.)
      • Unauthorized Billing for Buyers’ Club Memberships (1.9 million est.)
      • Unauthorized Billing for Internet Services (1.9 million est.)
      • Work-at-Home Programs (1.8 million est.)
      • Credit Repair Scams (1.7 million est.)
      • Debt Relief (1.5 million est.)
      • Credit Card Insurance (1.3 million est.)
      • Business Opportunities (1.1 million est.)
      • Mortgage Relief Scams (800,000 est.)

      Most likely to be cheated

      An estimated 17.3% of blacks and 13.4% of Hispanics were victims; the rate for non-Hispanic whites was 9%. The survey found that high school graduates were the least likely to have been fraud victims; those who did not complete high school were the most likely to have been victims.

      Consumers who were more willing to take risks and those who had recently experienced a negative life event (such as a divorce, death of a family member or close friend, serious injury or illness in their family, or the loss of a job) were much more likely to have been victims. Consumers who indicated they had more debt than they could handle were significantly more likely to have been fraud victims than those who were more comfortable with the amount of debt they had.

      Have you been scammed? If so, you have a lot of company. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has released a statistical survey showing that an estimated 25...
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      Nokia wins injunction against HTC

      Claims new One phone uses Nokia-owned microphone parts

      Phone manufacturer HTC has been hit with an injunction in a lawsuit by competitor Nokia, threatening to trip up the progress of its new HTC One phone, which has already been hobbled leading up to its release.

      The injunction was granted by a court in Amsterdam, and stemmed from parts of a microphone installed in the One. The microphone parts, manufactured by ST Microelectronics, are allegedly identical to parts in the microphone of Nokia’s Lumia 720. Nokia says that it invented the parts in question and that they were made solely for use inside Nokia phones.

      "HTC has no license or authorization from Nokia to use these microphones or the Nokia technologies from which they have been developed," read a statement from Nokia.

      "In its marketing materials, HTC claims that its HDR microphone is a key feature for the HTC One, but it is Nokia technology, developed exclusively for use in Nokia products.”

      More problems for the One

      The injunction is one more hurdle for HTC, which has struggled with delays for the One. The flagship phone was originally scheduled to be released in February, but just last week became available in AT&T and Sprint stores.

      The pressure is on for the Taiwanese manufacturer, which reported record-low profits in the first quarter of 2013. The company posted a net income of $2.8 million, an eye-popping 98 percent decline from the first quarter of 2012.

      The company said it is  “considering whether [the decision] will have any impact on our business and we will explore alternative solutions immediately."

      The injunction, which prohibits ST from selling microphone parts to HTC, will remain in effect until March 2014.

      Nokia and HTC have a lengthy litigation history, with Nokia having filed around 40 other patent cases against HTC.

      Phone manufacturer HTC has been hit with an injunction in a lawsuit by competitor Nokia, threatening to trip up the progress of its new HTC One phone, whic...
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      Survey: job prospects brightening for recent college graduates

      High-skill pros may have the upper hand

      The college class of 2013 may find a better world out there when it comes to job-hunting.

      A new study from CareerBuilder.com and CareerRookie.com finds 53% of U.S. employers plan to hire recent college graduates in 2013 -- about the same (54%) as in 2012, but significantly that the 46% in 2011 and 44% in 2010.

      Industries that generally demand more high-skill workers -- primarily information technology -- are more likely to recruit recent college graduates. Sixty-five percent of IT hiring managers and human resources professionals said they plan to hire recent graduates, followed by financial services employers (63%) and health care employers (56%). IT and financial services are also the most likely to recruit workers for hard-to-fill jobs (37%) prior to graduation.

      “New college graduates are facing a better employment situation this year, but the number of employers planning to recruit them are still trailing pre-recession estimates by more than 20 percentage points,” said Brent Rasmussen, president of CareerBuilder North America. “The market remains highly competitive. Those graduating with niche or technical skill sets will be in a better position to find more opportunities in higher-paying jobs.”

      The money

      Twenty-seven percent of those who plan to hire recent college graduates say they expect to offer higher starting salaries than they did last year. Nearly half report that starting salaries will range between $30,000 and $49,999. But offers will also be offered at the low and high ends of the pay scale:

      • Less than $30,000 -- 25%
      • $30,000 to less than $40,000 -- 29%
      • $40,000 to less than $50,000 -- 20%
      • $50,000 and higher -- 25%

      Job types

      Recent college grads are likely to be recruited to fill two types of jobs: front-line customer and client facing roles such as customer service and sales, and roles that require specific technical knowledge or hard skills, such as IT, finance or health care.

      • IT -- 26% (employers recruiting for jobs in this role)
      • Customer service -- 19%
      • Finance/accounting -- 16%
      • Sales -- 16%
      • Business development -- 15%
      • Health care – 12%

      Educational prestige

      A majority of hiring managers and human resource professionals say the name of the school won't make a difference. Still, a notable percentage concede they may be influenced by it. Twenty-five percent of hiring managers said they are more likely to hire a recent grad who went to a more prestigious school. Similarly, 20% said they are more likely to hire someone who is a fellow alumna or alumnus.

      Job hunting tips

      If you are a recent grad about to enter the labor market, here are a few things to keep in mind:

      • Highlight relevant “non-work” experience. The majority of employers agree that internships are the most common form of relevant experience (70%), and many also consider volunteer work (46%), involvement in school organizations (36%), relevant class work such as research projects or term papers (31%) and fraternity or sorority leadership (21%) as relevant experience. If positioned to match requirements on the job listing, such information can make a difference.
      • Do your homework on the company. The most common reasons employers pass on recent college graduates have to do with candidates’ lack of preparedness or disinterest in the company, such as: candidate didn’t know anything about the company (20%); candidate seemed bored (19%); candidate didn’t ask questions (19%).
      • Network early and often. More than one quarter (27%) of employers recruit candidates for hard-to-fill jobs before graduation. Expected graduates can get a leg up on their peers by attending campus career fairs, preparing resumes early, following company career pages on social media or joining a College Talent Network (custom recruitment sites for college students or recent graduates seeking employment at a specific organization).

      The nationwide survey -- conducted online by Harris Interactive from February 11 to March 6, 2013 -- included more than 2,000 hiring managers and human resource professionals across industries and company sizes.

      The college class of 2013 may find a better world out there when it comes to job-hunting. A new study from CareerBuilder.com and CareerRookie.com finds 53...
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      Pace of new home sales picks up in March

      Home prices were on the rise as well

      Sales of new single-family homes picked up a little steam in March.

      Government figures show sales last month were up 1.5% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 417,000. That's a bit shy of the Briefing.com forecast of 415,000, but better than the February rate of 411,00. It's also well below the January peak of 445,000 homes sold.

      The median sales price of new houses sold in March 2013 was $247,000 -- up 3% from the same time a year ago. The medial means half cost more and half cost less. The average sales price was $279,900.

      The complete report can be found at the Commerce Department website.

      Housing price index

      In a separate report, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) reports its monthly House

      Price Index (HPI) rose 0.7% from January to February. And for the 12 months ending in February, prices of homes shot up rose 7.1%.

      Still, the HPI is down 13.6% from its April 2007 peak and is roughly the same as the October 2004 index level. Housing prices have not declined on a monthly basis since January 2012.

      The nation's nine census divisions saw monthly price changes from January to February ranging from -0.6% in the Middle Atlantic region to +1.7% in the South Atlantic. The changes over 12 months ranged from +1.9% in the Middle Atlantic to +15.3% in the Pacific division.

      Sales of new single-family homes picked up a little steam in March. Government figures show sales last month were up 1.5% to a seasonally adjusted annual...
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      Forcing your kids to clean their plates? Stop it

      Researchers say you could be teaching your child unhealthy eating habits.

      Forcing your kids to clean their plates at each meal increases their chances of becoming obese, say researchers at the University of Minnesota.

      Katie Loth and her team used two separate studies to learn more about the relationship between food and children. One study involved 2,800 kids from Minnesota public schools; the other was called Project F-Eat, which focused on the eating habits of teenagers.

      After examining both studies, researchers said they found a strong link between parents and their relationship with food, and how their children saw food.

      Pressuring to eat

      “We found that between 50% and 60% of parents from our sample reported requiring that their child eat all of the food on their plate at a meal,” said Loth in an interview with CNN. “Further, we found that between 30-40% of parents from within our sample reported encouraging their child to continue eating even after their child stated that they were full.

      “While these pressures-to-eat behaviors were more frequent among parents of non-overweight adolescents, they were still endorsed quite frequently by parents of overweight and obese adolescents, indicating that many parents endorse these behaviors regardless of their child’s current weight status.”

      In addition, Loth said that forcing a child to clean his plate could start an unhealthy relationship between that child and food, and instead of eating something because he's hungry or because it’s mealtime, a child could start eating for other reasons, which could lead to obesity.

      “Parental pressure to eat can be detrimental to children because it takes away from a child’s ability to respond naturally to their own hunger,” Loth said. “Instead, (it) encourages them to respond to cues in their environment which can lead to unhealthy weight gain over time.”

      And placing food restrictions on your children isn’t the best approach either, researchers say, as it can make them want that particular food even more when they become adults.

      Moderation the key

      Teaching moderation instead of banning certain foods is a much better approach, said Loth, since at some point kids will have to learn how to live among items like salty snacks and desserts -- so it’s better to teach them coping skills from early on.

      Elaine Schulte, MD, of Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital, who didn’t participate in the study, believes parents have to do a complete about-face when it comes to their involvement with their kids eating habits, especially with older kids.

      “Parents are doing way too much in controlling the way kids eat,” said Schulte in an interview with MedPage Today. They “need to back down in terms of the way they are helping children figure out how to eat.

      “When you’re a teenager, you don’t want to be controlled; parents need to help regulate what their children put in their mouth, and it’s not by telling them what to eat," she said.

      Other studies have confirmed that telling kids what to eat has very little influence on what they’ll eat when they grow older. One group of researchers found that 72% of adults who were forced to eat a particular food as a child, stayed away from it when they got older.

      Experts say a better way for parents to teach their kids healthier eating is by being patient with them; many times a child will start liking healthier foods after they’ve tried it several times.

      Additionally, parents should eat the same foods as their child, as this should work much better than sticking a plate of broccoli in front of them while you’re away from the table.

      And it’s extremely important for parents to practice what they preach, say experts. If you’re eating pizza while making your child eat his vegetables, you’re sending the wrong message.

      Loth says it’s the parent’s responsibility to establish healthy eating habits and that these lessons should come through example, not force.

      Forcing your kids to clean their plates at each meal increases their chances of becoming obese, say researchers at the University of Minnesota.Katie Loth...
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      Oogababy: Learn how your child is developing

      The creators say the app makes tracking your child’s growth fun and easy

      Hot off the presses in the tech world is Oogababy, an app that lets parents track their child’s development and compare it to national statistics and the standards set by the World Health Organization (WHO).

      Just like Instagram or Viddy, Oogababy allows you to capture photos and videos of your child and share them on timelines if you choose, but that’s not its main purpose.

      When it comes to Facebook, some parents don’t mind posting a lot of photos, but for those who do, Oogababy might be a better fit. The company says it wants to help parents get children’s photos off Facebook and onto a more private and useful site.  You can still set up lists of relatives and friends who have access.

      “Our idea has evolved into an awesome product which aims to shift baby-related posts away from Facebook to a channel controlled by parents,” Oogababy, a Norwegian company, says on its website. 

      Some parents who have already reviewed the app said it helps them keep track of their child’s development and document certain milestones. And based on your child’s level of growth, Oogababy may be able to predict some of their future achievements, like being able to walk or read.

      The app can track the development of your unborn baby too.

      Digital baby book

      Like many of the other apps that record child development, Oogababy is pretty much a digital baby book that parents can look through and see how far their child has grown both physically and mentally.  

      Another cool thing about the app is its user friendliness, which makes it kind of fun to use.

      “Oogababy lets parents track and predict growth and development in a simple manner,” said company CEO Gunnar Wold in a press statement.

      When it comes to posting your child’s photos on Facebook, you can set controls but it’s easy to get the feeling that anyone can still access those photos anytime they want. With Oogababy, photos stay inside the app unless parents choose to share them.  

      Again, the app seems to be more for the parent who has less of a desire to post photos on timelines, and more of a desire to track growth and development for their own sake.

      But with that said, Oogababy still links with Facebook and Twitter, for those who want to post more publicly. And in fact, the founders of Oogababy say they’re planning to work with other social media platforms in the future.

      Oogababy is free to download. An iPhone version was just released.

      Not as cute

      It may be something new parents should look into. Because seeing and hearing about how little Johnny scored a goal at last Saturday’s soccer game can be cute the first couple of times you hear about it. Scratch that. It’s only cute the first time; after that it can be a bit much.

      So who knows, maybe Oogababy could pull some parents away from always putting their kids' photos on Facebook, which wouldn’t hurt, because you never know what creepy folks are lurking behind a keyboard these days.

      Hot off the presses in the tech world is Oogababy, an app that lets parents track their child’s development and compare it to national statistics. Th...
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