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    Is political peace possible on Facebook?

    Researcher suggests listening to, not tuning out, opposing views

    The 2012 election seems like ancient history now but some of the friendships damaged by political posturing on Facebook linger on.

    Bob, a retired military officer in Washington, D.C., who voted for Obama, said it remains hard to read some of the posts by Facebook friends who supported Romney. He says the Facebook experience has begun to color his real-life relationships.

    “It got nasty,” he said. “Instead of enabling relationships Facebook is destroying them.”

    Carla Naumburg, a Massachusetts blogger, posted a plea last Election Day for peace on both sides of the Facebook political divide.

    “I started getting concerned when I noticed friends announcing that they will unfriend people on Facebook who are voting for the other guy,” she wrote. “I saw the same trend on Twitter, and on the news. And I realized that relationships are falling apart all over the country, not just in my community.”

    Disturbing trend

    It's not just consumers and bloggers who have noted this disturbing trend. A new study from Georgia Tech examines how politics divides people on social media. People who think their friends have opposing opinions engage less on Facebook, they discovered.

    For those who stay logged in and express their political views, the researchers found they tend to stick to their own circles, ignore those on the other side and become more polarized.

    In an effort to be helpful, the researchers came up with a few suggestions for Facebook. They say that by displaying shared interests between friends during their politically heated encounters, Facebook could help defuse possible arguments and alleviate tension. In other words, people need to be reminded of what they have in common, despite political differences. They say increasing exposure and engagement to weak ties could make people more resilient in the face of political argument.

    Echo chamber

    “People are mainly friends with those who share similar values and interests. They tend to interact with them the most, a phenomenon called homophily,” said Catherine Grevet, the Georgia Tech Ph.D. student who led the study. “But that means they rarely interact with the few friends with differing opinions. As a result, they aren’t exposed to opposing viewpoints.”

    The researchers fault Facebook’s algorithms. Newsfeeds are filled with the friends a person most often interacts with, typically those with strong ties. Grevet would like to see Facebook sprinkle in a few status updates on both sides of political issues. That, she says, would expose people to different opinions, which are typically held by weak ties.

    “Designing social media toward nudging users to strengthen relationships with weak ties with different viewpoints could have beneficial consequences for the platform, users and society,” said Grevet.

    The study

    Consumers rate Facebook

    Grevet's study examined more than 100 politically active Facebook users in the spring of 2013 amid debates about budget cuts, gay marriage and gun control regulations. The majority of participants were liberal, female and under the age of 40, reflecting the traditional Facebook user.

    More than 70% of participants said they don’t talk about politics with their friends with different opinions. When they were presented with a post they didn’t agree with, 60% said they ignored it and didn’t comment. When they did, sometimes it made the person question the relationship and drop the friend.

    “Even though people could simply unfriend someone with different opinions, and there were certainly those who did that, there were many relationships that were able to be maintained,” said Grevet. “Through a combination of behaviors on Facebook like hiding, tuning out, logging off or avoiding certain conversations, people negotiated around those differences to stay connected.”

    But Grevet thinks Facebook users should embrace their differences and that the social media site could make that happen if it would remind friends of their shared interests.

    The 2012 election seems like ancient history now but some of the friendships damaged by political posturing on Facebook linger on.Bob, a retired military...
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    PHH accused in mortgage insurance kickback scheme

    Feds say the company collected hundreds of millions of dollars in kickbacks

    An alleged a mortgage insurance kickback scheme is at the heart of an administrative proceeding brought against PHH Corporation and its affiliates by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

    CFPB claims consumers were harmed by the scheme that started as early as 1995, and is seeking a civil fine, a permanent injunction to prevent future violations, and victim restitution.

    The filing is against New Jersey-based PHH Corporation and its residential mortgage origination subsidiaries, PHH Mortgage Corporation and PHH Home Loans LLC, and PHH’s wholly-owned subsidiaries, Atrium Insurance Corporation and Atrium Reinsurance Corporation.

    Mortgage insurance

    Mortgage insurance is typically required on loans when homeowners borrow more than 80% of the value of their home. It protects the lender against the risk of default. Generally, the lender -- not the borrower -- selects the mortgage insurer. The borrower pays the insurance premium every month in addition to the mortgage payment.

    While mortgage insurance can help borrowers get a loan when they cannot make a 20% down payment, it also adds to the cost of monthly payments for borrowers who have little equity in their homes.

    Ken of Puyallup, Wash., had an experience with PHH that left him shaking his head. "Got a runaround for a year and a half, lied to, ripped off, forcing me to use their insurance," he writes in a ConsumerAffairs post. "After all this time hassling back and forth, they gave me a 2% discount on my loan. (Big deal.) Crooks and scammers. My principal has not gone down since I started this loan and I'm current on my payment. Where did this money go that was supposed to go toward my loan? Payments-- where did my payment go?"

    Doing damage

    Mortgage insurance can be harmful when illegal kickbacks inflate its cost. Increasing the burden on borrowers who already have little equity increases the risk that they will default on their mortgages. The Real Estate Settlements Procedures Act (RESPA) protects consumers by banning kickbacks that tend to unnecessarily increase the cost of mortgage settlement services. It also helps promote a level playing field by ensuring companies compete for business on fair and transparent terms.

    CFPB says its investigation showed that when PHH originated mortgages, it referred consumers to mortgage insurers with which it partnered. In exchange for this referral, these insurers purchased “reinsurance” from PHH’s subsidiaries. Reinsurance is supposed to transfer risk to help mortgage insurers cover their own risk of unexpectedly high losses.

    According to the Notice of Charges, PHH took the reinsurance fees as kickbacks, in violation of RESPA. The CFPB alleges that because of PHH’s scheme, consumers ended up paying more in mortgage insurance premiums.

    Enforcement action

    The Notice contends that PHH used mortgage reinsurance arrangements to solicit and collect illegal kickback payments and unearned fees -- through its affiliates Atrium Insurance Corporation and Atrium Reinsurance Corporation -- in exchange for the referral of private mortgage insurance business. The bureau believes that from the start of the arrangements, and continuing into at least 2009, PHH manipulated its allocation of mortgage insurance business to maximize kickback reinsurance payments for itself.

    PHH Corporation and its affiliates are specifically accused of:

    • Kickbacks: Over approximately 15 years, the CFPB alleges that PHH set up a system whereby it received as much as 40% of the premiums that consumers paid to mortgage insurers, collecting hundreds of millions of dollars in kickbacks;
    • Overcharging Loans: In some cases, PHH charged more money for loans to consumers who did not buy mortgage insurance from one of its kickback partners. In general, they charged these consumers additional percentage points on their loans; and
    • Creating Higher-Priced Insurance: PHH pressured mortgage insurers to “purchase” its reinsurance with the understanding or agreement that the insurers would then receive borrower referrals from PHH. PHH continued to steer business to its mortgage insurance partners even when it knew the prices its partners charged were higher than competitors’ prices.

    This case will be tried by an Administrative Law Judge from the CFPBs Office of Administrative Adjudication, an independent adjudicatory office within the bureau. The Administrative Law Judge will hold hearings and make a recommended decision regarding the charges, which may be appealed to the director of the CFPB for a final decision.

    An alleged a mortgage insurance kickback scheme is at the heart of an administrative proceeding brought against PHH Corporation and its affiliates by th...
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    Change your Yahoo passwords! There's been another security breach

    No, not the Yahoo security breach you already know about; this is a new one

    If you have a Yahoo email account, you'll definitely want to change your password, in case yours was one of the countless millions stolen by hackers in the latest bad-Yahoo-security story.

    Yahoo announced the problem on its blog, in an “Important Security Update For Yahoo Mail Users.” The important update started out with an understatement: “Security attacks are unfortunately becoming a more regular occurrence.”

    Indeed. This end-of-January Yahoo email breach is not to be confused with the earlier Yahoo malware attack from the beginning-of-January (actually, it started on New Year's Eve). And, so far as we know, neither the end-of-January nor the beginning-of-January security breaches are connected to the middle-of-January problem wherein emails sent through the Yahoo system simply vanished for some unknown mystery reason.

    At any rate, where this most recent security problem is concerned, Yahoo's blog says “Recently, we identified a coordinated effort to gain unauthorized access to Yahoo Mail accounts.... The information sought in the attack seems to be names and email addresses from the affected accounts’ most recent sent emails.”

    As an end user, the only thing you can do is change your Yahoo password. Hopefully, you're not in the habit of using the same password for multiple sites, but if you are: don't just change your Yahoo password, change your password on every account that shared it.

    And this time, make sure you have a separate password for each account; that way, a hacker who gains access to one of your accounts at least won't gain access to all of them.

    If you have a Yahoo email account, you'll definitely want to change your password, in case yours was one of the countless millions stolen by hackers...
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      Facebook and SecondSync team up to analyze your TV discussion data

      Unrelated to recent class action suits charging Facebook with data manipulation

      On Jan. 30, Facebook proudly announced on its blog that it is teaming up with a “social TV analytics specialist” called SecondSync in order to “help clients understand how people are using Facebook to talk about topics such as TV,” according to the blog post.

      We don't know who these clients are or what specific understanding they lack, and we especially don't know why SecondSync thinks this partnership with Facebook is a good idea.

      After all: Facebook is already facing multiple class action lawsuits charging that it has not only been reading the contents of allegedly “private” messages sent on its site, but also using links to massage “like” counts.

      In other words, if you and your friend both think Congressman Dungheap is an idiot, and occasionally private-message each other with a link to his Facebook page alongside commentary like “Wow, the congressman is being extra-stupid today, even for him” – that bit of political analysis there actually increases the congressman's “like” count on Facebook, if the lawsuit allegations are correct.

      (And they very well might be; as early as October 2012, The Next Web tech blog reported “Facebook confirms it is scanning your private messages for links to increase Like counters.”)

      Inflated feelgood data

      Granted, if Congressman Dungheap is 14 years old and really, really wants his Facebook page to have more Likes than the Facebook pages of his classmates down at the middle school, then having Facebook portray him as more popular than he is probably counts as a good thing, from Dungheap's perspective.

      But if Dungheap is, hypothetically, a grownup politician trying to figure out what the voters actually think about him, so as to determine what campaign strategies might best increase his chance of re-election – in that case, we can't help wondering if maybe falsely inflated feelgood data is worse than no data at all.

      Does Facebook do the same with TV shows? If you and five of your Facebook friends all agree “I hate this stupid TV show, which insults both my intelligence and my basic baseline humanity,” will Facebook conclude “Whoa, there's six people who really hate that stupid TV show,” or will the stupid TV show's Facebook page get six more Likes added to its counter?

      Since SecondSync is supposed to help Facebook analyze whatever TV data it gleans from its users, we'll guess/hope the answer to both questions is “No.”

      On Jan. 30, Facebook proudly announced on its blog that it is teaming up with a “social TV analytics specialist” called SecondSync in order to ...
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      Hope on the horizon for peanut allergy sufferers?

      Brtish researchers reduce severity of peanut allergies via controlled exposure

      There's possible good news for peanut allergy sufferers, though it definitely falls under the “Don't try this at home” category: British medical researchers have reported success in a strategy wherein they treated allergy sufferers by regularly exposing them to small amounts of peanut protein (under strict doctor supervision and other controlled conditions, of course, so don't try this at home).

      The Independent, summarizing a study published in the Lancet medical journal, reported that “Out of 99 children who were given the new form of immunotherapy, 84 per cent of one group and 91 per cent of a second group could safely eat five peanuts a day after six months – 25 times what they would normally be able to tolerate and more than they would be likely to encounter in everyday foods.”

      If you have an allergy – to peanuts or anything else – this means that for some reason, your immune system treats a generally innocuous substance as though it were an actual infectious threat. Nobody knows exactly why the number and percentage of allergy sufferers has increased in recent decades – in America, those “May contain peanuts” warnings you see on various non-peanut foods didn't start appearing until the mid-1990s or so.

      But there are various competing theories: perhaps the increase in allergies is due to modern, sterile living environments – with no microbes to fight, the immune system goes after something else. Maybe it's due to changes in the industrial processes used to prepare these foods. Or maybe there aren't actually more allergic kids than before; maybe we're just doing a better job of identifying and treating them.

      Can be deadly

      Whatever the cause ultimately proves to be, peanut allergies appear to be among the deadliest; for children with particularly bad allergies, exposure to even trace amounts of peanut protein can lead to anaphylactic shock that can be fatal without immediate medical treatment — which is why an immunotherapy granting people the ability to safely eat a mere “five peanuts a day” after six months is such a potentially important breakthrough: not enough to let allergy sufferers nosh on peanut-butter candies, but at least sufficient to let them safely sit in the vicinity of those who do or nibble on cookies or other foods that may contain the merest trace of peanut protein.

      Despite the promising first step offered by this study, additional years of clinical trials will almost certainly be required before this therapy is widely offered to people with allergies.

      And again: don't try this at home. Anyone with food allergies should consult a board-certified allergist or immunologist for treatment and advice.

      There's possible good news for peanut allergy sufferers, though it definitely falls under the “Don't try this at home” category...
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      Amazon Prime looks at raising its Prime membership fee

      Free shipping, free videos, it's almost too good to be true

      If you're an Amazon Prime member, you're in good company. So are 25 million or so other consumers. For $79 per year, you enjoy free two-day shipping on many purchases and a growing library of free streaming videos. 

      Back when Prime started, it sounded a little too good to be true, which raised our suspicions, so we ordered a lawn mower just to see what would happen. What happened was that two days later, a large box containing a lawn mower showed up on our front step. And yes, the price was lower than nearby stores.

      So Prime is a pretty good deal, maybe a little too good. Which is why Amazon is finally starting to talk about raising the fee by as much as 50 percent, a move that would add about $500 million to Amazon's bottom line.

      Kind of odd

      Amazon is, to say the least, unusual. It has for years put growth and customer service ahead of profit. It's a strategy that has paid off, sort of. It has produced stellar growth and unprecedented loyalty -- revenue growth of 22 percent last year, 10 times greater than Walmart's 2.2 percent growth rate and greater than the worldwide average ecommerce growth rate of 18 percent.

      All that is great, but the company is still not consistently profitable, and Prime is part of the reason. It's estimated Amazon loses $1 to $2 billion on Prime each year.

      All of this might be OK if Amazon was a private company that didn't have to answer to investors, but it's not, and Wall Street would like to see a bottom line that has a lot of zeros after the quarterly profit.

      So if you were planning to order, let's say, a snow blower or some other big bulky item without getting stuck for the shipping cost, this might be the time to do it. 

      If you're an Amazon Prime member, you're in good company. So are 25 million or so other consumers. For $79 per year, you enjoy free two-day shipping on man...
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      Consumer spending rises in December as incomes remain flat

      Do the math: That means people were saving less

      While personal incomes pretty much stayed the course in December -- rising less than 0.1% -- personal consumption expenditures (PCE), or consumer spending, jumped 0.4%.

      In dollar terms, that works out to an income increase of $2.3 billion and a PCE rise of $44.1 billion.

      Disposable personal income (DPI) -- personal income less personal current taxes -- decreased $3.8 billion, or less than 0.1 percent.

      Wages and salaries

      Private wages and salaries increased $0.7 billion in December, after surging $35.0 billion in November. Payrolls of goods producing industries' increased $4.2 billion last month, with manufacturing payrolls accounting for $2.7 billion of that.

      Services-producing industries' payrolls fell $3.6 billion, while government wages and salaries increased $0.9 billion.

      Personal spending and savings

      Personal outlays, which are made up of PCE, personal interest payments and personal current transfer payments, were up $42.0 billion in December. PCE increased $44.1 billion.

      Personal saving -- DPI less personal outlays -- took a hit last month , falling to 3.9% from 4.3% in November. Put another way, consumers salted away $495.2 billion in December, compared with

      $541.0 billion in the month before.

      The complete report can be found on the Bureau of Economic Analysis website.

      While personal incomes pretty much stayed the course in December -- rising less than 0.1% -- personal consumption expenditures (PCE), or consumer spending,...
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      Watch out for third-hand smoke, the goop that second-hand smoke leaves on surfaces

      It gets more toxic with time and can cause serious health problems, researchers find

      Everybody knows smoking is bad for smokers, and any bartender will tell you second-hand smoke is annoying and harmful. But third-hand smoke? Who even knew there was such a thing?

      Well, there is and it's as dangerous as second-hand smoke. Third-hand smoke is defined as the second-hand smoke that gets left on the surfaces of objects, ages over time and becomes progressively more toxic, according to a scientist at the University of California, Riverside who, along with colleagues, conducted the first animal study of the effects of third-hand smoke.

      "We studied, on mice, the effects of third-hand smoke on several organ systems under conditions that simulated third-hand smoke exposure of humans," said Manuela Martins-Green, a professor of cell biology who led the study. "We found significant damage occurs in the liver and lung. Wounds in these mice took longer to heal. Further, these mice displayed hyperactivity."

      The study, which was published in PLOS One, provides a basis for further studies on the toxic effects of third-hand smoke in humans and serves to inform potential regulatory policies aimed at preventing involuntary exposure to third-hand smoke, Martins-Green said.

      Threat to children

      Third-hand smoke is a potential health threat to children, spouses of smokers and workers in environments where smoking is, or has been, allowed. Contamination of the homes of smokers by third-hand smoke is high, both on surfaces and in dust, including children's bedrooms.

      Re-emission of nicotine from contaminated indoor surfaces in these households can lead to nicotine exposure levels similar to that of smoking. Third-hand smoke, which contains strong carcinogens, has been found to persist in houses, apartments and hotel rooms after smokers move out, the researchers said.

      The team led by Martins-Green found that the mice exposed to third-hand smoke in the lab showed alterations in multiple organ systems and excreted levels of a tobacco-specific carcinogen similar to those found in children exposed to second-hand smoke.

      In behavioral tests the mice exposed to third-hand smoke showed hyperactivity.

      "The latter data, combined with emerging associated behavioral problems in children exposed to second- and third-hand smoke suggests that with prolonged exposure, they may be at significant risk for developing more severe neurological disorders," Martins-Green said.

      Previously unknown

      Although the potential risks attributed to third-hand smoke exposure are increasing, virtually nothing was known about the specific health implications of acute or cumulative exposure — until now.

      "There is a critical need for animal experiments to evaluate biological effects of exposure to third-hand smoke that will inform subsequent human epidemiological and clinical trials," Martins-Green said. "Such studies can determine potential human health risks, design of clinical trials and potentially can contribute to policies that lead to reduction in both exposure and disease."

      Her research team was surprised to find that the damage caused by third-hand smoke extends to several organs in the body.

      "More recently we have found that exposure to third-hand smoke results in changes that can lead to type II diabetes even when the person is not obese," Martins-Green said. "There is still much to learn about the specific mechanisms by which cigarette smoke residues harm nonsmokers, but that there is such an effect is now clear. Children in environments where smoking is, or has been allowed, are at significant risk for suffering from multiple short-term and longer health problems, many of which may not manifest fully until later in life."

      Research has shown that children living with one or two adults who smoke in the home, where second- and third-hand smoke are abundant, are absent 40 percent more days from school due to illness than children who did not live with smokers.

      Third-hand smoke shown to cause health problemsUC Riverside-led study shows third-hand smoke causes hyperactivity and significant damage in liver, lung; ...
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      Britax recalls strollers

      The hinge on the stroller’s folding mechanism can partially amputate consumers’ fingertips

      Britax Child Safety of Fort Mill, S.C., is recalling about 224,800 B-Agile, B-Agile Double and BOB Motion strollers.

      The hinge on the stroller’s folding mechanism can partially amputate consumers’ fingertips, break their fingers or cause severe lacerations, among other injuries, when they press the release button while pulling on the release strap.

      The company has received eight incident reports. Incidents include one partial fingertip amputation, one broken finger and severe finger lacerations.

      This recall involves Britax B-Agile, B-Agile Double and BOB Motion strollers. The single and double strollers were sold in various color schemes, including black, red, kiwi, sandstone, navy and orange. They were manufactured between March 2011 and June 2013 and have the following model numbers:

      • U341763, U341764, U341782 and U341783 for the B-Agile strollers;
      • U361818 or U361819 for the B-Agile Double strollers; 
      • U391820, U391821 andU391822 for the BOB Motion strollers.

      The model number and the manufacture date in YYYY/MM/DD format can be found on label located on the inside of the stroller’s metal frame near the right rear wheel.

      The strollers, manufactured in China, were sold at major retailers and juvenile products stores nationwide, and online at Amazon.com, albeebaby.com, buybuybaby.com, diapers.com, ToysRUs.com and other online retailers from May 2011, through June 2013, for between $250 and $450.

      Consumers should stop using the recalled strollers immediately and contact Britax to receive a free repair kit.

      Consumers may contact Britax; toll-free at (866) 204-1665 from 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. ET Monday through Thursday and 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Friday, or by e-mail at strollerrecall@britax.com.

      Britax Child Safety of Fort Mill, S.C., is recalling about 224,800 B-Agile, B-Agile Double and BOB Motion strollers. The hinge on the stroller’s folding m...
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      Cloth seats may lead to Toyota recall

      Some sets with electric heaters may not meet flammability standards

      Toyota has halted sales of the Camry and several other cars that are equipped with fabric seats and seat heaters, because of fears that the fabric may not meet federal flammability standards.

      Affected models are the Camry, Camry hybrid, Avalon sedan, Avalon hybrid, Corolla subcompact, Sienna minivan, Tundra and Tacoma trucks sold since August 2012, the date when a new fabric supplier began providing the seat coverings.

      Toyota said it is discussing the situation with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) about a possible recall of cars that have already been sold.

      No accidents or injuries have been reported, the automaker said.

      Toyota has halted sales of the Camry and several other cars that are equipped with fabric seats and seat heaters, because of fears that the fabric may not ...
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      FTC: Medical transcription service failed to protect consumers' private information

      Patients' medical histories and examination notes were displayed on the open Internet

      A medical transcription service company's inadequate data security measures unfairly exposed the personal information of thousands of consumers on the open Internet, in some instances including consumers’ medical histories and examination notes, the Federal Trade Commission charged.

      In its complaint against California-based GMR Transcription Services, Inc., the FTC alleges that GMR hired contractors to transcribe audio files received from the company’s customers. The contractors downloaded the files from the company’s network, transcribed them, and then uploaded transcripts back to the network. GMR then made the transcripts available to customers either directly or by e-mail.

      Because of inadequate security, the complaint alleges, medical transcript files prepared between March 2011 and October 2011 by Fedtrans, GMR’s service provider, were indexed by a major internet search engine and were publicly available to anyone using the search engine. Some of the files contained notes from medical examinations of children and other highly sensitive medical information, such as information about psychiatric disorders, alcohol use, drug abuse, and pregnancy loss.

      The files handled by the company included sensitive information about consumers, including their driver’s license numbers, tax information, medical histories, notes from children’s medical examinations, medications and psychiatric notes, according to the FTC’s complaint.

      According to the complaint, GMR’s privacy statements and policies promised that “materials going through our system are highly secure and are never divulged to anyone.” However, the company never required the individual typists it hired as contractors to implement security measures, such as installing anti-virus software.

      In addition, an independent service provider GMR hired to transcribe medical files stored and transmitted the files in clear and readable text on a server that was configured so that they could be accessed online by anyone without authentication.

      The FTC’s consent order with GMR marks the 50th data security case the Commission has settled since undertaking its data security program 12 years ago.

      A medical transcription service company's inadequate data security measures unfairly exposed the personal information of thousands of consumers on the open...
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      West Marine recalls folding bicycles

      The frame can break causing a rider to fall

      West Marine Products of Watsonville, Calif., is recalling about 4,600 folding bicycles.

      The bike’s frame can break during use, posing a fall hazard to the rider.

      The company has received three reports of the bicycle’s frame breaking, resulting in bruises and scrapes to a rider.

      This recall involves two models of folding bicycles: the Jetty Express 2 and the Port Runner 2, which are designed for use in and around docks and marinas. The Jetty Express 2 has a blue and white frame and folds at a hinge in the middle. Jetty Express 2 is printed on the bike’s frame. The Port Runner 2 has a red frame and folds at a hinge in the middle. Port Runner 2 is printed on the bike’s frame.

      The bicycles, manufactured in China, were sold at West Marine stores nationwide, online at www.westmarine.com and in the West Marine catalog from March 2010, through July 2013, for between $300 and $400.

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled bicycles and return them to West Marine for a free replacement.

      Consumers may contact West Marine at (800) 262-8464 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. PT Monday through Friday.

      West Marine Products of Watsonville, Calif., is recalling about 4,600 folding bicycles. The bike’s frame can break during use, posing a fall hazard to the...
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      Walker’s Food Products recalls chicken salad products

      The products contain soy, an allergen, not listed on the labels

      Walker’s Food Products of North Kansas City, Mo., is recalling approximately 2,200 pounds of chicken salad products.

      The products are formulated with a soy protein concentrate, an allergen not properly declared on the labels.

      There have been no reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

      The products subject to recall include:

      • 5-lb. plastic tubs of “Walker’s All White Chunky Chicken Salad” with packaging dates between June 6, 2013 and Jan. 23, 2014 and use by/sell by dates between July 26, 2013 and March 14, 2014 and sold to wholesale locations in Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma.
      • 1-lb. plastic tubs of “Walker’s All White Chunky Chicken Salad” with packaging dates between June 6, 2013 and Jan. 23, 2014 and use by/sell by dates between July 26, 2013 and March 14, 2014 and sold to retail locations in Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma.
      • 5-lb. tubs of “Walker’s White Chicken Salad Florentine” with packaging dates between June 6, 2013 and Jan. 27, 2014 and use by/sell by dates between July 14, 2013 and March 6, 2014 and sold to wholesale locations for distribution in Kansas and Missouri.

      The recalled products bear the establishment number “P-13335” inside the USDA Mark of Inspection.

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact James Daskaleas at (816) 472-8121, ext. 15.  

      Walker’s Food Products of North Kansas City, Mo., is recalling approximately 2,200 pounds of chicken salad products. The products are formulated with a so...
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      Another look at the Individual Retirement Account (IRA)

      President's proposed MyRA would likely be a far different product

      In his State of the Union speech President Obama offered up a proposal for a new retirement savings vehicle for workers at companies that do not offer a 401(k) plan. Called “MyRA,” the President described it as a new type of savings bond that encourages folks to build a nest egg.

      “MyRA guarantees a decent return with no risk of losing what you put in,” Obama said. “Offer every American access to an automatic IRA on the job, so they can save at work just like everyone in this chamber can.”

      Short on details

      The President's speech was short on details about how MyRA would work, but his assessment that it would carry no risk suggests it would be more of a bond than an equity-based investment vehicle. Right now, the return on bonds is very low -- less than 2%.

      Currently nearly all employees have access to a retirement savings account, whether their employer offers one or not and it is not yet clear whether the President's proposed MyRA would be an improvement over that. The current vehicle is called an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) and has been around since 1975.

      The traditional IRA is an account that can be invested in many different types of assets, including stocks, bonds – even certificates of deposit. Besides serving as a retirement nest egg, it is also a tax shelter. Unlike a savings bond, it can lose value when asset values fall.

      Tax shelter

      Money deposited into an IRA is exempt from taxation the year it is deposited. But the government eventually gets its money, as all withdrawals are taxed as income. However, as the investments grow over the years, those earnings are not subject to taxation. That has the advantage of allowing your money to grow faster.

      But there are strict rules governing IRAs, including how much you can contribute in a given year. First, you can contribute no more than you earn. For example, if you are a student working part time and earn $3,500 during the year, you could contribute no more than that to your Traditional IRA.

      Otherwise, the limits are a bit higher. For 2013 and 2014 the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has set the contribution limit at $5,500 per taxable year, or $6,500 for those age 50 and over. That money is deducted from your gross income and can be invested for your future. Any transactions in the account, including interest, dividends, and capital gains, are not subject to tax while still in the account.

      You're in control

      How the money is invested is up to you. Most people put their money in mutual funds. If you open your account with an online brokerage, for example, you could invest in mutual funds, Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs), individual stocks, bonds, or certificates of deposit – whatever products the brokerage offers. If you know little about investing you would either need to educate yourself of find a trusted, objective financial adviser to help you.

      When you withdraw money from an IRA the full amount of the withdrawal is taxed as though it is earned income. For example, if you have an effective tax rate of 17% and withdraw $5,000 from your IRA in a given year, you would have to pay $850 of that to the IRS in taxes.

      If you make a withdrawal before you are 58 and a half years old you not only have to pay tax on the withdrawal but a 10% penalty as well.

      Required withdrawals

      At age 70 and a half you must begin making regular withdrawals – and paying the tax – from your traditional IRA, called required minimum distributions. Like anything involving the tax code, it can be complicated figuring out what that is.

      According to the IRS the required minimum distribution for any year is the account balance as of the end of the immediately preceding calendar year divided by a distribution period from the IRS’s “Uniform Lifetime Table.” A separate table is used if the sole beneficiary is the owner’s spouse who is ten or more years younger than the owner.

      In his State of the Union speech President Obama offered up a proposal for a new retirement savings vehicle for workers at companies that do not offer a 40...
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      Amazon working on a retail check-out system that uses the Kindle

      Everybody is trying to capture point-of-sale transactions

       There are two or three lines of business that all the big technology companies want a piece of, and perhaps the one with the most potential is retail check-out -- or point-of-sale payment processing, as it's sometimes called.

      Back when everyone paid cash or wrote checks, a dumb old cash register was all that was needed. Then credit cards came along and everyone added a card reader. Now most retailers have integrated systems that combine payment, some form of backroom inventory control and perhaps a loyalty program.

      Big retailers have big complicated systems like, uh, Target and Neiman Marcus. It's going to be awhile before they're scrapped, which may or may not be a good thing.

      Smaller systems

      Ah, but small and medium-sized retailers -- they tend to have small standalone systms that at the most consist of a handful of check-out stations. That's what PayPal, Google, Apple, Samsung and everyone else would like to take over.  

      The latest reported entrant in the race is Amazon, which already has just about the slickest online payment and inventory control system of anyone. A report in the Wall Street Journal today says Amazon has dreamed up a way of using the Kindle as a point-of-sale device.

      Just how it would work isn't quite clear at this point but early reports say retailers would use the Kindle to record sales and, if necessary, a credit card reader to swipe the card of customers not already in the system. Amazon, we would remind you, has 230 million customers in its database, which gives it a big headstart.

      It could also offer retailers economical website development, data analysis and other perks that smaller merchants often can't afford.

      Why is everybody so eager to get into bricks-and-mortar retail, which is supposedly dead on its feet? It's pretty simple: bricks-and-mortar still accounts for 90% of retail sales and a big chunk of that comes from small merchants, the very ones Amazon is said to have in mind.

      All of this is still in the research and development stage and may never happen, but it's a plan that sounds a lot simpler than some of the other daydreams that are floating around in the clouds these days.

      There are two or three lines of business that all the big technology companies want a piece of, and perhaps the one with the most potential is retail check...
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      Teenagers: skip breakfast today, get a metabolic disorder when you're middle-aged

      Although cause and effect aren't as clear as all that

      Swedish university researchers have reported that teenagers with poor breakfast-eating habits are 68 percent more likely to become adults who suffer from metabolic syndrome.

      Clinical Endocrinology Newsreported on Jan. 30 that Maria Wennberg and her colleagues at Umea University published their analysis of results from the Northern Swedish Cohort, a long-term 27-year study of over 1,000 individuals, starting when they were 16; they had additional medical exams and interviews when they were 18, 21, 30 and 43. The periodic examinations checked not just physical or biological factors, but also asked about the participants' lifestyle.

      The 16-year-olds were asked what they ate for breakfast; some skipped breakfast altogether, some ate dessert-style breakfasts (such as cookies or sticky buns), and, as CEN put it: “The others reported consuming something that at least approached healthy: eggs, meat, or fish; milk products; cereal or dark bread; fruit or vegetables.”

      Drastic difference

      When these people reached age 43, they again submitted to a detailed medical exam and lifestyle interview. Results varied dramatically between the three types of breakfast-eaters: compared to those who ate healthy breakfasts in their teens, the breakfast-skippers or junk-food-eaters were more likely to use alcohol or tobacco, less likely to exercise, and more likely to suffer from obesity, high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels, and a variety of other problems.

      The analysis controlled for variables including gender, then-current exercise and lifestyle habits, family medical history and others; even with all those factors weighed in, the former breakfast-skippers still proved more likely to suffer from adult metabolic syndrome in adulthood.

      However, it's not known if the one factor causes the other, or if both are symptoms of the same cause. In other words, does going without breakfast make a teenager grow up to drink and smoke, or is it more that the kind of person who likes to smoke and drink in adulthood also happens to be the type who'd want to skip breakfast as a teen?

      Regardless of which proves to be the case, the good news is that the study results indicate even middle-aged former breakfast-skippers who currently suffer from metabolic disorders can significantly improve their health by adopting a more healthy diet and lifestyle.

      So it's still not too late for ex-teenage breakfast-skippers to get healthy -- though, presumably, it would be a lot easier to fix things now if they'd eaten better breakfasts over a quarter-century ago.

      Swedish university researchers have reported that teenagers with poor breakfast-eating habits are 68 percent more likely to become adults who suffer from m...
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      "Don't let the bedbugs bite" gets harder every year

      DNA tests confirm one pregnant bedbug can spawn an entire colony

      The “insects vs. humans” battle has been ongoing for as long as humans have existed, yet despite humanity's superior intellect, toolmaking ability and other advantages, the bugs keep winning because they outbreed us -- a typical human woman can, at most, have one or two offspring per year, whereas your average insect mom can produce hundreds of thousands of children in a single day.

      So if you have ever wondered, “Why is it so hard to stamp out this insect infestation? I keep killing them all, yet they keep coming back,” chances are the answer is: “Actually, you didn't 'kill them all.' You killed almost all of them, but a lone pregnant female managed to survive, then spawned a brand new infestation all by herself.”

      Thus, it's not surprising to read that recent genetic tests on bedbugs confirmed that prolific bedbug breeding explains much of the recent renaissance in world bedbug populations.

      On Jan. 29, the BBC reported that researchers at the University of Sheffield (UK) confirmed that entire bedbug colonies of the sort that infest houses or hotels are usually descended from only a small number of bedbug females—sometimes, only one.

      Bedbug renaissance

      For awhile, it seemed bedbugs infestations were a thing of the past. In fact, if you are a Baby Boomer or member of Generation X, chances are high that throughout your childhood, you wouldn't have known bedbugs even existed if not for parents who still recited the old rhyme “Good night, sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite.” In mid-20th-century London, bedbugs had almost been eradicated — until their population started expanding in the 1980s.

      It's believed the worldwide bedbug renaissance is due to a combination of factors. Increased human travel is likely a major factor — bedbugs are flightless, and the only way they can move large distances is if they hitch a ride with a human. Evolution also plays a role — traditional insecticides grow less effective as succeeding bug populations evolve resistance to them.

      And, paradoxically, the stigma people have against bedbugs might also help them proliferate: there is a widely held, though incorrect, belief that bedbugs are attracted to filth or dirt — in other words, that bedbug infestations only affect people with poor housekeeping or hygiene standards. So people suffering through bedbug infestations might want to keep it secret, which makes solving the problem even more difficult.

      What are the little critters attracted to? Well, like lots of insects, they find human blood irresistible.  

      The “insects vs. humans” battle has been ongoing for as long as humans have existed, yet the bugs keep winning because they outbreed us...
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