Current Events in February 2014

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    New York takes down largest cockfighting ring in state history

    "Operation Angry Birds" rescues 3,000 roosters in three counties

    New York's Organized Crime Task Force made nine felony arrests last weekend, as part of what state attorney general A.G. Schneiderman's office called “the largest cockfighting takedown in New York State history. “

    Cockfighting is the illegal practice of forcing roosters to fight to the death, usually by replacing their natural fighting spurs with razors.

    The OCTF executed “Operation Angry Birds” in Queens, Kings and Ulster counties, collecting up to 3,000 birds plus fighting paraphernalia.

    In New York, cockfighting, or possession of a fighting bird at a fighting event, is a felony punishable by up to four years in prison and a $25,000 fine. Paying to attend a cockfighting event is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a jail and a $1,000 fine.

    The SPCA has established a temporary shelter to house the rescued birds.

    New York's Organized Crime Task Force made nine felony arrests last weekend, as part of what state attorney general A.G. Schneiderman's office called &ldqu...

    Sales up for brands that best meet customers' expectations

    Amazon, Victoria's Secret, Macy's among brands that best promote customer engagement

    The interaction of mobile and socially networked consumer empowerment, along with perpetual price promotions, have finally reached saturation levels, producing the highest levels of emotional consumer expectations for products and services in two decades, a new report by Brand Keys finds, adding that those expectations have direct effects on consumer loyalty and brand profitability.

    In the Retail category expectations are up nearly 19% while the retail brands have only grown by 4% -- one of the critical findings in the 18th annual 2014 Brand Keys Customer Loyalty Engagement Index (CLEI), conducted by Brand Keys, a New York-based brand and customer loyalty and engagement research consultancy.

    For all 45 brands tracked in the Retail category, emotional engagement expectations related to "brand buzz," "shopping experience" and "value-for-dollar" exerted the strongest influence on consumer decision-making and engagement with brands. While emotional engagement levels vary by category, brands in the Retail category that best met expectations consumers held for the Category-specific Ideal (100%) were:

    • Victoria's Secret (apparel) (81%)
    • Nike (athletic footwear) (91%)
    • Macy's (department) (80%)
    • Walmart (discount) (93%)
    • Home Depot (home improvement) (87%)
    • Whole Foods (natural foods) (90%)
    • Amazon.com (online) (93%)
    • Sam's (price clubs) (94%)
    • Dick's (sporting goods) (83%)

    "Congratulations to the companies that continue to create meaningful differentiation and engagement," said Robert Passikoff, President, Brand Keys. "Our validated and predictive metrics prove that brands able to better meet consumer expectations act as surrogates for added-value, engendering engagement and loyalty than those based on the primacy of product and a coupon!"

    Category rankings

    Emotional loyalty and engagement rankings for the 2014 Retail category are:

    Apparel

    1. Victoria's Secret
    2. GAP
    3. Abercrombie & Fitch
    4. Banana Republic/Old Navy (tie)
    5. American Eagle Outfitters
    6. Aeropostale
    7. J. Crew/H&M (tie)
    8. Express
    9. L.L. Bean
    10. PacSun
    11. American Apparel

    Athletic Footwear

    1. Nike
    2. New Balance
    3. Mizuno
    4. Fila
    5. Asics
    6. Skechers/Adidas (tie)
    7. Reebok
    8. Brooks

    Department Stores

    1. Macy's
    2. Dillard's
    3. Kohl's
    4. Marshalls
    5. T.J. Maxx
    6. Sears
    7. JCPenney

    Discount

    1. Wal-Mart
    2. Target
    2. Kmart

    Home Improvement

    1. Home Depot
    2. Ace
    3. Lowe's
    4. True Value

    Natural Food Stores

    1. Whole Foods
    2. The Fresh Market
    3. Trader Joe's
    4. Sprouts Farmers Market

    Online Retailers

    1. Amazon.com
    2. Ebay.com
    3. Overstock.com
    4. Zappos
    5. Buy.com

    Price Clubs

    1. Sam's
    2. Costco
    3. BJ's

    Sporting Goods

    1. Dick's
    2. Cabela's
    3. REI
    4. Big 5 Sporting Goods
    5. Sports Authority/Modell's (tie)

    "Meeting expectations for the Category Ideal always correlate highly with brand engagement, purchase, loyalty, and sales," said Passikoff. "The difficult part, of course, is accurately measuring consumer expectations. Most brands don't do that very well."

    Categories that are more emotionally-driven are likely to have higher expectations that grow faster. More rational categories have lower expectations and move more slowly, he said.

    The interaction of mobile and socially networked consumer empowerment, along with perpetual price promotions, have finally reached saturation levels, produ...

    Consumer Federation of America: higher fuel standards mean lower prices

    CFA supports fuel-standard initiative oulined in the State of the Union address

    In the 2014 State of the Union address, President Obama mentioned various “green” initiatives, including high fuel-economy standards for heavy trucks.

    Some environmentalists criticized this for not going far enough. A writer for AutoblogGreen noted “The green car rhetoric of President Obama's State Of The Union speech last night was much, much softer than it was three years ago …. It was even less vociferous than last year.”

    But the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is taking a more optimistic view, releasing a report claiming that, if implemented, the proposed fuel standards will save American households a collective $29.5 billion — averaging $250 per household per year.

    The full report, Paying the Freight, is available in .pdf form here. It concluded that American households currently pay about $1,100 per year in fuel costs for medium and heavy trucks. This number is not immediately visible to ordinary consumers, of course, because when you buy something in a store, you're not told how much of the price reflects the cost of shipping the item from factory to store.

    The CFA also said lower fuel costs would surely result in lower retail prices for consumers “[b]ecause the transportation sector is very competitive, [so] the related cost savings in fuel will be passed through to consumers.” 

    Though the bulk of the report focused on dollar-and-cent matters, it did also mention the environmental benefits that would accrue from reduced fossil-fuel use, as well as the national security benefit of reducing American dependence on oil imported from countries which don't necessarily like us.

    In the 2014 State of the Union address, President Obama mentioned various “green” initiatives, including high fuel-economy standards for heavy ...

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      Chrysler recalls Ram ProMasters

      The accelerator pedal may get stuck

      Chrysler Group is recalling 7,935 model year 2014 Ram ProMaster vehicles manufactured July 1, 2013, through December 10, 2013.

      If the accelerator pedal in the affected vehicles is pushed downward at a certain angle, it may get stuck in the wide open throttle position due to interference with the accelerator pedal stopper. A stuck accelerator pedal can result in uncontrolled acceleration, increasing the risk of a crash.

      These vehicles are equipped with a brake override system. In the event a pedal is trapped, pushing on the brake pedal will brake the vehicle and enable the driver to slow and stop and turn off the vehicle.

      Chrysler will notify owners and dealers will replace the accelerator pedal stopper with a larger one, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in March 2014.

      Owners may contact Chrysler at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is P02.  

      Chrysler Group is recalling 7,935 model year 2014 Ram ProMaster vehicles manufactured July 1, 2013, through December 10, 2013. If the accelerator pedal i...

      Rancho Feeding recalls unwholesome meat products

      The company processed diseased and unsound animals

      Rancho Feeding Corporation of Petaluma, Calif., is recalling approximately 8,742,700 pounds of meat products.

      The firm processed diseased and unsound animals and carried out these activities without the benefit or full benefit of federal inspection. The products are adulterated, because they are unsound, unwholesome or otherwise are unfit for human food and must be removed from commerce.

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

      The following Rancho Feeding Corporation products are subject to recall:

      • "Beef Carcasses” (wholesale and custom sales only)
      • 2 per box "Beef (Market) Heads" (retail only)
      • 4-gallons per box "Beef Blood" (wholesale only)
      • 20-lb. boxes of “Beef Oxtail”
      • 30-lb. boxes of “Beef Cheeks”
      • 30-lb. boxes of " Beef Lips"
      • 30-lb. boxes of "Beef Omasum"
      • 30-lb. boxes of "Beef Tripas"
      • 30-lb. boxes of "Mountain Oysters"
      • 30-lb. boxes of "Sweet Breads”
      • 30- and 60-lb. boxes of “Beef Liver”
      • 30- and 60-lb. boxes of “Beef Tripe”
      • 30- and 60-lb. boxes of “Beef Tongue”
      • 30- and 60-lb. boxes of "Veal Cuts"
      • 40-lb. boxes of "Veal Bones"
      • 50-lb. boxes of “Beef Feet”
      • 50-lb. boxes of “Beef Hearts”
      • 60-lb. boxes of "Veal Trim"

      Beef carcasses and boxes bear the establishment number "EST. 527" inside the USDA mark of inspection. Each box bears the case code number ending in “3” or “4.”

      The products were produced Jan. 1, 2013, through Jan. 7, 2014, and shipped to distribution centers and retail establishments nationwide.

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact the plant’s Quality Control manager, Scott Parks, at (707) 762-6651.

      Rancho Feeding Corporation of Petaluma, Calif., is recalling approximately 8,742,700 pounds of meat products. The firm processed diseased and unsound anim...

      Big Red Tomato Packers recalls fresh tomatoes

      The tomatoes may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Big Red Tomato Packers of Fort Pierce, Fla., is recalling 790 - 20 and 25-lb. boxes of fresh tomatoes of lot 1106.

      The tomatoes have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella.

      There are no known illnesses associated with this lot number.

      Tomatoes from the lot were distributed to a limited number of receivers in Florida, North Carolina, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. All receivers have been notified.

      The potential for contamination was discovered as the result of a routine random lot sample taken on January 28, 2014. All currently existing product associated with this lot number is subject to this recall.

      Consumers with questions may contact Erin Cox at 772-466-0700 or erin@bigredtomatopackers.com.

      Big Red Tomato Packers of Fort Pierce, Fla., is recalling 790 - 20 and 25-lb. boxes of fresh tomatoes of lot 1106. The tomatoes have the potential to be c...

      Wyoming Authentic recalls beef jerky products

      The products were processed improperly

      Wyoming Authentic Products of Cody, Wyo., is recalling approximately 365 pounds of beef jerky products due to a processing deviation.

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

      The following products, produced on various dates between November 4 and December 18, 2013, are subject to recall:

      • 3.5-oz. (CRYOVACED) packages of “ALL NATURAL ANGUS ORIGINAL FLAVOR JERKY” with case code “05AE30811”
      • 3.5-oz. (CRYOVACED) packages of “ALL NATURAL ANGUS PEPPERED FLAVOR JERKY” with case codes “06AE30821” , “05AE31021” , “05AE31711” or “05EIJ32511”
      • 3.5-oz. (CRYOVACED) packages of “ALL NATURAL ANGUS HONEY FLAVOR JERKY” with case code “04AE30921”

      The recalled products bear the establishment number “EST. 44972” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and were sold at retail locations in Colorado, Utah, Washington and Wyoming, as well as Internet sales to individuals.

      Consumers with questions regarding the recall may contact David Fales, president, at (307) 587-9841.

      Wyoming Authentic Products of Cody, Wyo., is recalling approximately 365 pounds of beef jerky products due to a processing deviation. There have been no r...

      IRS updates smartphone tax aid app

      You don't have to be at your desktop to keep up with the status of your return

      No matter where you happen to be while working on your taxes, information from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is as close as your smartphone or mobile device. The IRS has just released IRS2Go 4.0, an update to its app with new features, in both English and Spanish.

      What taxpayers might find especially useful is a new refund status tracker. It provides taxpayers an easy-to-use feature that allows them to follow their tax return throughout the process. If you're shopping, for example, and wondering when you can expect that refund to hit your bank account, the app can tell you.

      Around the clock help

      “The new version of IRS2Go provides taxpayers another way to quickly get information and help around the clock,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “The IRS is focused on providing taxpayers with convenient self-service tools like IRS2Go, which provides details on everything from tax refunds to free tax assistance.”

      IRS2GO debuted during the 2011 tax season and since then the IRS says there have been approximately 3.5 million downloads. iPhone and iPod Touch users can update or download the free IRS2Go application by visiting the iTunes App Store. Android users can visit Google Play to download the free IRS2Go app.

      The IRS says its newest version of the free mobile app offers a safe way to check on your refund status. You simply enter a Social Security number, which will be masked and encrypted for security purposes. Then you select a filing status and enter the amount of the anticipated refund.

      The new refund status tracker has been added so that taxpayers can check their refund status 24 hours after the IRS acknowledges receipt of an e-filed return, or four weeks after mailing a paper return. The IRS says the tool is updated just once a day, usually overnight, so there is no reason to check more than once a day.

      Free tax help

      The app can also put you in touch with free tax prep providers. The IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) Programs offer free tax help for taxpayers who qualify.

      This is a new feature of IRS2Go, which will direct taxpayers to the nearest VITA site by simply entering their zip code and selecting a mileage range. By clicking on the directions button within the results, the maps application on the device will load with the address, making it easy to navigate to your desired location.

      Taxpayers can also use the app to request their tax account or tax return transcript. The transcript will be delivered via the U.S. Postal Service to their address of record.

      No matter where you happen to be and working on your taxes, information from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is as close as your smartphone or mobile de...

      Feb. 9, 1964: the day Beatlemania arrived in America

      It was 50 years ago today, Ed Sullivan told the band to play...





      Today, 50 years later, young people probably wonder what all the fuss was about. But on February 9, 1964, the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and entertainment, popular culture, perhaps even the world was never the same.

      “Now yesterday and today our theater has been jammed with newspapermen and photographers from all over the nation and these veterans agree with me that the city has never witnessed the excitement stirred by these youngsters from Liverpool,” Sullivan said as he introduced John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr to a massive U.S. audience.

      Polished image

      But America was a bit late to Beatlemania, which had been in full bloom for months in the group's native England. After playing small clubs in and around Liverpool, the group hired Brian Epstein as its manager. Epstein quickly and cleverly gave the Beatles a polished, professional image. Their music did the rest.

      Teenagers, young women especially, screamed their approval at appearances and mobbed the four musicians if they happened to see them in public. Sullivan is said to have been at Heathrow Airport in London in the fall of 1963, where he witnessed throngs of screaming girls as the Beatles disembarked from a plane.

      There is an alternate version of how the group came to Sullivan's attention. The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite aired a lengthy feature story about Beatlemania in late 1963, which can be seen below.

      Overnight sensation

      Following the Ed Sullivan appearance the Beatles, almost overnight, became the most popular pop music group in America. Capital Records released one Beatles hit after another.

      “I Want To Hold Your Hand” shot to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 immediately. By the time the group quit performing in 1970 it had held the number one spot on that chart for a total of 59 weeks while topping the LP charts for 116 weeks.

      Perhaps more significantly, something about the Beatles captured the imagination of young people, not just in the U.S. but around the world. The group seemed to possess an authenticity that helped launch a social revolution. Some commentators mark the start of the decade of the 1960s on that cold Sunday night in February 1964.

      Huge consumer product

      Before they were finished as a group the Beatles had become a huge consumer product as well. In addition to their records there were books, movies and cartoon shows and their likeness appeared on hundreds of products, including lunchboxes and bed sheets.

      Today these products are collectors' items. On eBay, a Beatles lunchbox has a price tag of $349. A set of Beatles bobble-head dolls has a "buy it now" price of $500.

      Debra Hess Norris, a University of Delaware professor and expert on photographic preservation, says she still has a few treasured artifacts from her days as a Beatles fan which she carefully preserves. For those buying aging memorabilia, she urges careful treatment.

      "Protect these materials from high and fluctuating temperatures and humidity," she said. "Do not store memorabilia in attics or basements. House them in a stable, low-humidity environment, such as an interior closet." 

      Lasting legacy

      After the Beatles broke up the four individual members continued solo musical careers. Today only two members of the group survive and one, Paul McCartney, has been knighted by the Queen of England.

      Every few years their music is remastered and released, not just for nostalgic former teenagers with gray hair but also a new generation of fans, who find something to relate to in their music.

      Today, 50 years later, young people probably wonder what all the fuss was about. But on February 9, 1964, the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan show and ...

      Bank of America doesn't always put its best foot forward

      Once again, data brokers make asses of themselves and their clients

      If we were just a tad more cynical, we'd be tempted to say “American data brokers aren't even trying anymore.” For example: if you can't cash valid checks in various stores because a verification service falsely labeled you a poor credit risk, too bad; you have no recourse except to find other methods of payment.

      Or think of last month, when a Chicago man named Mike Seay, still grieving the loss of his teenage daughter who'd died in a car crash the year before, was appalled to get a form letter from Office Max, addressed to “Mike Seay/Daughter Killed in Car Crash or Current Business.”

      Office Max originally dubbed Seay's claim “impossible,” then relented enough to admit the envelope was real, but blamed it on “a mailing list rented through a third-party provider.”

      (Blaming “third parties” for business screwups is SOP these days. Last month, the developers of the popular Angry Birds game blamed “third party advertising platforms” for allowing the NSA to spy on its customers; Target recently blamed a third-party refrigerator repairman for its massive security breach affecting the data and personal information of over 40 million customers.)

      Consumers rate Bank of America

      And now, Bank of America is blaming third-party data brokers for an insulting credit card offer mailed to a California writer named Lisa McIntire. Offhand, we do not know Ms. McIntire's middle name (if she even has one), but her credit card offer was addressed to “Lisa Is A Slut McIntire.”

      Once again, a third-party data source is apparently to blame; Bank of America got McIntire's name off a mailing list of members of the Golden Key International Honor Society, and a Golden Key executive determined that Ms. McIntire's insulting middle name was added to the Golden Key list sometime between 2004 and 2008, presumably by someone with database access and a grudge against Ms. McIntire.

      What to do

      There's not much you can do to avoid similar situations.

      But here's one piece of advice we can offer: if ever you find yourself the recipient of such an obnoxious mailing and want to post images of it to share with the world, remember that blacking out your street or mailing address is not enough to protect your privacy; you must also black out the last four digits of a nine-digit zip code. For those who know how to read the numbers, those four digits either lead directly to your address, or within a few steps of it.

      If we were just a tad more cynical, we'd be tempted to say “American data brokers aren't even trying anymore.” For example: if you can't cash v...

      Frittering away the day

      A new survey finds Internet surfing and socializing are the biggest time-wasters at work

      How many times have you heard people say, “I just couldn't get anything accomplished at work today?”

      Goofing off at work may be why.

      A new survey of chief financial officers (CFOs) from Robert Half Management Resources find that water cooler chatter and Web surfing are the top time thieves at work. Nearly one-third (29%) of executives interviewed said chatting with coworkers is the greatest time-waster. Non-business related Internet use -- including social media -- ranked a not-too-distant second, garnering 25% cent of the response.

      "Building relationships with coworkers and colleagues is important for office morale, so socializing is acceptable within reason," said David King, Canadian president of Robert Half Management Resources "That said, too many distractions at work can affect productivity so it's best to keep a balance between non-work tasks during business hours and professional obligations."

      Death by meeting

      One in 10 financial executives polled said meetings drain significant time, with the data suggesting this is most pronounced at larger companies. At companies with 1,000 or more employees, meetings received 26% of the response, versus just 9% at firms with 20 to 49 workers.

      CFOs were asked, "Which one of the following is the greatest time-waster at work for employees?" Their responses:

      Employees chatting and socializing29%
      Non-business related Internet use (including social media)25%
      Personal calls or emails15%
      Work-related email14%
      Meetings 10%
      Other/don't know7%
      100%

      King said that if there's a noticeable amount of time spent on non-work tasks, executives should try to find out why. “It could be a matter of too much or too little on employees' plates, or a dip in staff engagement,” he said, adding that bosses need to “monitor the distribution of projects to ensure the right amount of challenge and engagement across the board."

      The Canadian survey was developed by Robert Half Management Resources, and was conducted by an independent research firm based on interviews with more than 270 CFOs from a random sample of Canadian companies.

      How many times have you heard people say, “I just couldn't get anything accomplished at work today?” Goofing off at work may be why. A new survey of chie...

      Guidelines developed for preventing stroke in women

      Low-dose aspirin and blood pressure meds recommended for some

      Noting that more women have strokes than men and have a higher death rate, American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association have issued a scientific statement designed to reduce the risk of stroke in women.

      "If you are a woman, you share many of the same risk factors for stroke with men, but your risk is also influenced by hormones, reproductive health, pregnancy, childbirth and other sex-related factors," said Cheryl Bushnell, M.D., M.H.S., author of the new scientific statement published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke.

      The guidelines, geared to primary care providers, including OBGYNs, outline stroke risks unique to women.

      What to do

      Here are some of the experts' scientifically-based recommendations for treatment, including:

      • Women with a history of high blood pressure before pregnancy should be considered for low-dose aspirin and/or calcium supplement therapy to lower preeclampsia risks.
      • Women who have preeclampsia have twice the risk of stroke and a four-fold risk of high blood pressure later in life. Therefore, preeclampsia should be recognized as a risk factor well after pregnancy, and other risk factors such as smoking, high cholesterol, and obesity in these women should be treated early.
      • Pregnant women with moderately high blood pressure (150-159 mmHg/100-109 mmHg) may be considered for blood pressure medication, whereas expectant mothers with severe high blood pressure (160/110 mmHg or above) should be treated.
      • Women should be screened for high blood pressure before taking birth control pills because the combination raises stroke risks.
      • Women who have migraine headaches with aura should stop smoking to avoid higher stroke risks.
      • Women over age 75 should be screened for atrial fibrillation risks due to its link to higher stroke risk.

      Preeclampsia and eclampsia are blood pressure disorders during pregnancy that cause major complications, including stroke during or after delivery, premature birth, and risk for stroke well after child-bearing. Preeclampsia is characterized by high blood pressure and high protein levels in the urine, and when seizure also occurs, this is called eclampsia.

      High blood pressure, migraine with aura, atrial fibrillation, diabetes, depression and emotional stress are stroke risk factors that tend to be stronger or more common in women than in men. More studies need to be done to develop a female-specific score to identify women at risk for stroke, said Bushnell, associate professor of neurology and director of the Stroke Center at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C.

      Noting that more women have strokes than men and have a higher death rate, American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association have issued a sci...

      Retailers foresee a better 2014

      Online sales are projected to grow as much As 12%

      People in the retail game are predicting that this will be a better year for sales than 2013 -- not a whole lot better -- but better .

      The National Retail Federation's (NRF) 2014 economic forecast projects retail industry sales (which exclude automobiles, gas stations, and restaurants) will increase 4.1% percent. Online sales this year projected to grow between 9 and 12%.

      Preliminary figures for 2013 put sales growth at 3.7%.

      “Measured improvements in economic growth combined with positive expectations for continued consumer spending will put the retail industry in a relatively good place in 2014,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “Though headwinds in the form of the looming debt ceiling debates, increased health care costs, and regulatory concerns still pose risks for both consumers and retailers, we are cautiously optimistic and hopeful that the economic tides will change in 2014.

      Growth factors

      A number of factors contribute to NRF’s 2014 economic forecast, including:

      • Economic growth is expected to be above its long-term historical average. Early estimates for growth in the economy as measured by real GDP could fall between 2.6 and 3%, a noticeable improvement from the estimated 1.9% rate for 2013, and the fastest pace in the past three years.
      • The labor market is expected to continue its modest recovery averaging approximately 185,000 jobs per month, helping drop the unemployment rate to near 6.5% or lower by year's end.
      • Inflation as measured by the consumer price index is predicted to inch higher to as much as 1.7% in 2014.
      • The housing sector is expected to continue to improve in 2014, with stronger household and business confidence spurring more consumer spending overall.

      “The economy remains susceptible to buffets as we are already witnessing in the New Year, thanks to harsh winter weather, domestic and global financial issues,” said NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz. “While we are careful not to ignore the challenges, we are optimistic and hopeful that future disruptions will be limited, allowing employment and business investment to grow all the while giving retailers and their customers the confidence in the economy they need.”

      People in the retail game are predicting that this will be a better year for sales than 2013 -- not a whole lot better -- but better . The National Retail...

      Unemployment rate inches lower amid weaker-than-expected job creation

      Construction, manufacturing, wholesale trade, and mining showed the best gains

      It wasn't much of a performance, but it was better that December.

      The government reports the economy created 113,000 jobs in January, more than the 75,000 the month before, but well short of the 175,000 forecast by economists surveyed by Briefing.com and the 175,000 reported by ADP.

      Even so, the jobless rate dipped 0.1% -- to 6.6%.

      Analysts say the last two months of disappointing job creation suggest the labor market is in something of a funk.

      Where the jobs are

      It was a good month for the construction, which added 48,000 jobs -- more than offsetting a decline of 22,000 in December. Employment in manufacturing rose by 21,000 in January, while wholesale trade added 14,000 jobs, and mining reported 7,000 new hires.

      Among the losers were retail trade with a loss of 13,000 jobs and the federal government, where employment decreased by 12,000 with the U.S. Postal Service accounted for most of it (-9,000).

      Employment in transportation and warehousing, information, and financial activities showed little or no change over the month.

      Who's working and who's not

      The unemployment rates for adult men (6.2%), adult women (5.9%), teenagers (20.7%), whites (5.7%), blacks (12.1%) and Hispanics (8.4%) showed little change in January. The jobless rate for Asians was 4.8% -- down by 1.7% over the year.

      The complete January employment report is available on the Labor Department website.

      It wasn't much of a performance, but it was better that December. The government reports the economy created 113,000 jobs in January, more than the 75,000...

      Singles sound off on dating, sex and marriage

      Dating landscape has changed in some ways, not so much in others

      Have attitudes about romance and dating changed in recent years? Has the new generation of singles – people in their 20s and 30s – reshaped the whole idea of love?

      Pertinent questions as Valentines Day approaches and issues explored in a new survey of singles from online dating site Match.com. The annual survey, now in its fourth year, suggests singles of all ages are leading the way toward more intimate partnerships and dramatically altering traditional beliefs about sex, love and attachment.

      New to this year's survey were questions designed to explore the impact of singles on the economy and how much they spend on their dating lives.

      “It's thrilling for me, as an anthropologist, to dig deep into singles' collective psyche with this annual survey, and watch singles of all ages lead the way toward a less prejudiced society,” said Dr. Helen Fisher, Match.com's science advisor.

      What's new?

      What did Fisher learn from the responses to this year's survey? That men are far more loving -- and committed -- than most believe. That women are eagerly embracing self-expression and independence. That older people are still ‘hip’ and that new sexual and social taboos are emerging. And something else that might surprise you.

      “Both sexes are entering new relationships slowly -- with the aim to make them last,” Fisher said.

      Whether the two parties want the relationship to end in marriage or not, they seem to want it to be long-term, providing some of the perceived benefits of relationships from earlier generations.

      Valuable information

      Here are some things that singles should know:

      That first date may be more important than you think. You might be going into it as a one-time thing but your partner may have other ideas. The survey shows that 51% of singles on a first date have “imagined a future together.” It might surprise you to learn that slightly more men than women admit to this.

      You may expect to be judged by your date, but how will you be judged? If you're a man, you are more likely to judge a woman by her tattoos. You are not likely to even look at her shoes.

      Women, on the other hand, don't put much stock in the kind of car you're driving. On the other hand, she will pay close attention to your clothes.

      Change the subject

      Are there topics of conversation you should avoid on a first date? You betcha. The survey found both men and women would prefer not to hear about your past relationships, your political views, or your belief – or lack of belief – in a deity.

      What about sex on a first date? The survey shows only eight percent of women are okay with it but – no surprise here – 37% of men think it's a fine idea. Both sexes generally agree that kissing is okay.

      Tried and true

      But the more things change, the more they stay the same. Seventy-nine percent of singles in their twenties and 62% of singles in their thirties say they want to get married. Overall, 50% of men and 55% of women are eager to walk down the aisle.

      Another thing that hasn't changed much is tolerance for tardiness. Thirty-five percent of men and 39% of women believe you only can be up to 15 minutes late for a date, while 11% of singles think being late is always unacceptable.

      In the end, dating does more than stimulate your social life. It also stimulates the economy. They survey found that singles spend nearly $61.53 per month on dating-related activities, totaling approximately $738.36 each year per individual. With 111 million singles in the U.S., adds up to some $82 billion a year.

      Have attitudes about romance and dating changed in recent years? Has the new generation of singles – people in their 20s and 30s – reshaped the...

      Feds beef up infant formula standards

      New rules aim to ensure formula is safe and nutritious

      Breastfeeding is one of those things that everybody -- well, mothers anyway -- say they're going to do. But for various reasons it often doesn't happen, leaving about 25 percent of newborns to start out in life as consumers of formula.

      By the time they're three months old, two-thirds of U.S. infants rely on formula for at least some of their daily bread, so to speak. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, taking note of this, is publishing a new rule that's intended to make sure that formula is both safe and nutritious.

      “Many families rely on infant formula as either the sole source of nutrition or an integral part of an infant’s diet through 12 months of age,” said Michael R. Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine. “The FDA sets high quality standards for infant formulas because nutritional deficiencies during this critical time of development can have a significant impact on a child’s long-term health and well-being. This rule will help to prevent adulteration in infant formula and ensure infant formula supports normal, physical growth.” 

      Formula, of course, is supposed to be roughly similar to mother's milk but similar isn't the same as identical.

      Byproducts

      The formula produced in the United States basically uses byproducts of milk -- whey and casein for protein, along with vegetable oils for fat, lactose as a carbohydrate and assorted vitamins and minerals. Exact formulas vary from one manufacturer to another. Some use soy in place of milk. 

      Like all packaged foods, there are safety issues to worry about -- spoilage, contamination, etc. And since most families buy powdered rather than liquid formula, safe preparation also becomes an issue.

      Improper preparation and the use of contaminated water can cause serious health problems, including death. Consumer groups routinely demonize formula manufacturers for promoting their products in underdeveloped nations where sanitation standards make it hard to ensure the safe preparation of formula. 

      Severe health consequences are rare in the U.S. but there are many critics who argue that not enough is done to encourage mothers to breast feed.

      In 2008, some formula was found to contain melamine,  a chemical approved for use in production of some plastics in the U.S., but not approved for use in food. It had earlier shown up in food products imported from China, causing numerous pet injuries and deaths in 2007, and prompting recalls of some milk products. A number of Chinese babies were killed or injured after drinking infant formula containing melamine.

      The FDA later said the amounts of melamine found in formula were safe.

      "Interim final rule"

      Today's FDA document is called an "interim final rule." Yes, it sounds contradictory but that's how they talk in Washington.

      The agency says the rule amends its quality control procedures, notification, and record and reporting requirements for manufacturers of applicable infant formula products. The rule, in part, will ensure that infant formula contains all federally required nutrients. It also establishes current good manufacturing practices specifically designed for infant formula, including required testing for microbial contamination.

      Breastfeeding is one of those things that everybody -- well, mothers anyway -- say they're going to do. But for various reasons it often doesn't happen, le...

      Cheese prices are rising; will pizza prices rise too?

      Bad year for dairy farmers means bad news for cheese lovers

      Bad news for thrifty pizza lovers: the price of cheese is creeping upwards and sooner or later is likely to hit pizza's bottom line.

      Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports that since the beginning of December, cheese prices have risen approximately 16 percent for mozzarella and 25 percent for cheddar. Dairy farmers worldwide had a pretty bad year in 2013, what with poor weather and high feed costs. The milk producers' higher costs led to the higher cheese prices, which have not resulted in noticeable price increases at various pizza chains—at least, not yet.

      But Bloomberg pointed out that last month, at an investors' meeting for Domino's Pizza, Domino's chief financial officer said “In the last couple of days, I’ve had a lot of questions about cheese because it spiked up, and cheese is the biggest commodity. Even taking that into account when you look at the whole basket, and you look at the projections on cheese for the year, we are still projecting that we would be down in the range of 0 percent to 2 percent.”

      If cheese prices continue rising, there's a definite limit to how long pizza makers and sellers would absorb those costs without passing them along to consumers in the form of higher prices.

      So what's a consumer to do? Some types of food-price rises can be dealt with by stockpiling — if this year's peanut crop is bad, it's a good idea to buy a couple extra jars of your favorite peanut butter before the price goes up.

      Laying in a twelve-month supply of peanut butter to tide you over until next year's (hopefully better) crop comes in is easy; however, unless you have industrial-grade deep-freeze storage facilities, you can't stockpile a year's worth of mozzarella without it soon turning into a moldy inedible mess. 

      So maybe the best advice is to get familiar with pasta. 

      Bad news for thrifty pizza lovers: the price of cheese is creeping upwards and sooner or later is likely to hit pizza's bottom line.Bloomberg BusinessWee...

      Subway to change recipe, remove potentially dangerous chemical from bread

      The "FoodBabe" blogger may or may not deserve credit for this

      The Subway sandwich chain is changing the recipe for its sandwich bread, to eliminate a chemical additive called azodicarbonamide, a bleaching agent that can make flour appear whiter. It also gives bread additional elasticity, and works as a preservative to let fresh bread last considerably longer before going stale.

      So why not bake bread with this miracle chemical?

      Well, according to various governments in Europe and Australia, azodicarbonamide is a “respiratory sensitizer” that can trigger asthmatic reactions. In Singapore, using azodicarbonamide in food warrants high fines and lengthy prison sentences.

      In most of the world, azodicarbonamide is primarily used in the manufacture of rubber and plastics.

      But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration takes a slightly different view: azodicarbonamide is “Generally Recognized As Safe” in food — but may only be present in densities no greater than 45 parts per million.

      Pressure from the Blogosphere

      Just why Subway made its decision is open to discussion. It may have been in response to a petition started by Vani Hari, the blogger behind FoodBabe.com.

      Last September, FoodBabe warned her readers about azodicarbonamide in a post that asked, “Are you eating this ingredient banned all over the world?”

      This week, on Feb. 4, she urged her readers to sign a petition asking Subway to remove the chemical from its breads.

      Story continues below video

      Today, the Associated Press reported that Subway is in the process of removing the chemical from its recipes, quoting an unnamed Subway representative who said the change was underway before FoodBabe's petition came to their attention.

      The Subway sandwich chain is changing the recipe of its sandwich bread, to cease use of a chemical additive called azodicarbonamide. Subway, along with var...

      Coca-Cola in a K-cup? Coffee makers expand at-home offerings

      Hot coffee, hot soup and cold soda, all from one company

      Last September came news that Campbell's soup company was joining forces with Keurig coffee makers, presumably in hopes of tapping the lucrative “customers who want their dried soup mix with coffee-flavored water added” market.

      And now, Coca-Cola is making its own forays into the coffee market, having bought a 10 percent stake in Green Mountain Coffee Roasters -- which makes the Keurig machine -- in hopes of selling its beverages through an at-home system Green Mountain is devising. (Or maybe we should reverse that order: Last September, Keurig coffee joined forces with Campbell's to enter the instant-soup market, and now it's going after chilled carbonated beverages, too.) Either way, it's a big deal for Green Mountain.

      "This global relationship combines The Coca-Cola Company's unparalleled brand, distribution and marketing strengths with GMCR's innovative technology and beverage system expertise," said Brian P. Kelley, President and CEO of Green Mountain.

      Coke would have you think it's doing all this to make your life immeasurably better.

      "Importantly, this partnership provides our consumers with a convenient way to enjoy the brands they love through in-home preparation," said said Muhtar Kent, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, The Coca-Cola Company.

      Stop the slide

      It may also help Coke reverse a decade-long slide in soda consumption and put a stake through the heart of Sodastream as well. 

      Some of that decline in soda consumption is doubtless due to the rise in concerns over diabetes and weight gain, but blame also belongs to the rise in at-home soda fountains such as SodaStream. (Indeed, while some people might roll their eyes at the thought of an at-home soda fountain – once upon a time, the thought of people brewing their own coffee at home inspired just as much eye-rolling.)

      For Keurig/Green Mountain, working Coke into its business operations will be more complicated than Campbell's. The Campbell's Soup offerings work on the same basic principle as the coffee K-cups: open the cup and add hot water. Soda-making is a completely different process, requiring a steady source of cold carbonated water.

      Green Mountain says its Coke-based home drink offerings should be available by September 2015.

      Last September came news that Campbell's soup company was joining forces with Keurig coffee makers, presumably in hope of tapping the lucrative “cust...