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Current Events in March 2014

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    Years late, feds issue backup-camera rule

    Obama Administration finally implements rule one day before it is due to appear in court

    Six years after Congress ordered it to do so, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today issued a rule that will require new cars and light trucks to have backup cameras to help prevent accidents in which drivers accidentally back over pedestrians, most often children.

    Continuing the plodding pace for which the government is famous, the rule won't go fully into effect until 2018. The rule was issued just one day before the Obama Administration was scheduled to defend itself in federal court against a lawsuit brought by Public Citizen on behalf of safety advocates who were outraged over the delay.

    The law, named after Cameron Gulbransen, who was killed in such a crash at age 2, was passed in 2008 and instructed DOT to implement it by 2010. DOT proposed regulations on time but the Obama Administration unaccountably delayed implenting them.

    "While the administration delayed the rule, more children died in backover accidents. The cost of regulatory delay, in human lives, could hardly be more clear than it is today. It's absurd that the government had to be sued before it would comply with the law," said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, said.

    A long fight

    “It’s been a long fight, and this rule took too long, but we’re thrilled this day has finally come," said Dr. Greg Gulbransen, Cameron's father. "It’s a bittersweet day, because this rule should have been in place three years ago at the latest. But this rule will save lives. Though his own life was short, Cameron inspired a regulation that will save the lives of countless others.”

    Each year, according to DOT, more than 200 individuals are killed and 15,000 injured in “backover” crashes. Drivers using all three mirrors cannot see anything in a blind zone 10-40 feet long directly behind their vehicles.

    Over half of those killed in backover accidents are children under 5 or adults 70 or older, DOT’s analysis shows. The new rule will set a standard for rear visibility that effectively requires rearview cameras in new vehicles under 10,000 pounds (excluding motorcycles) by 2018. 

    "This is the first federal regulation of rear visibility in our nation's history," said Janette Fennell, president of KidsAndCars.org. "It's about time the motoring public will finally be able to see what's behind their vehicles while backing up. This measure will most definitely save children's lives."

    All deliberate speed

    Backup cameras are hardly new, unproven technology. They are already included in many luxury cars and high-end trim packages. Even the Honda Civic, an economy car, includes a backup cameras as standard equipment.

    Using the double talk that passes as dialogue in Washington, automakers said they think the cameras are great but don't think they should be required.

    “These are exciting new innovations, but we know our customers have their own preferences among new technologies,” said the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers in a prepared statement. “It is one of our core beliefs that consumers should be in the driver’s seat when choosing which technologies they want to purchase.”

    Of course, that doesn't stop automakers from bundling backup cameras with navigation systems, high-end audio systems, mirror warmers and other geegaws that force consumers to spend hundreds or thousands more than they would if accessories were offered a la carte. 

    Two-thirds of 50 top-selling vehicles in the U.S. already offered backup cameras, the manufacturers said proudly.

    DOT has estimated that a full backup system -- camera, display screen and a few feet of wire -- will cost about $132 to $142 per car by 2018. For cars that already have a suitable display screen, the additional cost per vehicle would be $43 to $45, the agency said.

    Six years after Congress ordered it to do so, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today issued new rules that will require new cars and light truck...
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    Studies suggests we might not need all that medication

    Lifestyle changes may improve both blood pressure and erectile dysfunction

    Consumers spend billions of dollars a year on prescription medication to treat all sorts of conditions. But are some of us taking pills – and spending money – needlessly?

    A couple of recent studies suggest we may be. The separate research projects, released late last week, studied prescription medications for high blood pressure and those treating erectile dysfunction. They may cause some heartburn at drug companies.

    For example, researchers at Duke University say 5.8 million U.S. adults may no longer need to take medication to treat high blood pressure. The reason?

    In February the Eighth Joint National Committee voted to relax the blood pressure goal in adults 60 years and older to 150/90, instead of the previous goal of 140/90.

    The Duke researchers analyzed a number of previous studies of hypertension patients and their blood pressure readings to reach the conclusion that many who are now taking medication don't need it. But that doesn't mean you should throw away your pills. The researchers make clear they aren't advocating that.

    Admittedly controversial

    “Raising the target in older adults is controversial, and not all experts agree with this new recommendation,” said lead author Ann Marie Navar-Boggan, a cardiology fellow at Duke University School of Medicine. “In this study, we wanted to determine the number of adults affected by these changes.”

    The Duke study, in collaboration with McGill University, reviewed a database with more than 16,000 participants whose blood pressure measurements were listed. Based on the sample, the researchers conclude the proportion of U.S. adults who should be treated for high blood pressure would decrease from 40.6% under the old guidelines to 31.7% under the new recommendations.

    “The new guidelines do not address whether these adults should still be considered as having hypertension,” Navar-Boggan said. “But they would no longer need medication to lower their blood pressure.”

    Discuss it with your doctor

    Whether a patient needs to continue taking medication is a decision to be made only after discussing it with a doctor. But if millions of people now paying for prescription medication no longer had to, that could be very bad news for the pharmaceutical industry, not to mention very good news for consumers.

    The news may be equally as bad for the makers of drugs to treat erectile dysfunction. A new report in the Journal of Sexual Medicine suggests men can reverse their erectile dysfunction by lifestyle changes without relying completely on medication.

    Gary Wittert, head of the Discipline of Medicine at the University of Adelaide, in Australia, says his research team found a large number of men in their study were naturally overcoming erectile dysfunction issues without taking medication.

    “The remission rate of those with erectile dysfunction was 29%, which is very high,” he said. “This shows that many of these factors affecting men are modifiable, offering them an opportunity to do something about their condition."

    The researchers found that even in cases where medication was required to treat erectile dysfunction, it was more effective if the men adopted improved lifestyle behavior.

    Simple steps

    Lifestyle changes include losing weight, getting more exercise, drinking less alcohol, eating a more nutritious diet and getting a good night's sleep.

    Treating both high blood pressure and erectile dysfunction are profitable businesses. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Americans spent $20.4 billion in 2010 to treat high blood pressure.

    According to government statistics, worldwide sales of the three most popular drugs to treat erectile dysfunction total $1 billion per year.

    It bears repeating that no one who is currently taking prescription medication should stop on their own. But it might be a question to raise with your health care provider.

    Consumers spend billions of dollars a year on prescription medication to treat all sorts of conditions. But are some of us taking pills – and spendin...
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    Court upholds new meat-labeling guidelines

    Meatpackers will be required to disclose their products' country of origin

    You might soon notice some changes in the labels of whatever meat products you buy, now that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District if Columbia has rejected the American Meat Institute's attempt to overturn new federal country-of-origin requirements for meat labels.

    At the moment, it's still possible to visit an American supermarket and buy meat whose label reads “Product of Canada, the U.S. or Mexico,” but — barring the unlikely event of last-minute intervention by Congress or a still-higher court — those catch-all labels will soon disappear and be replaced by more specific country-of-origin information.

    This most recent court battle started last November, when large American meat-packing firms asked Congress to overturn new federal guidelines requiring more-precise identification of where a meat animal was born, raised and slaughtered — instead of “Product of Canada, the U.S. or Mexico,” for example, the new guidelines would make labels specify “Born and raised in Mexico, packaged in the U.S.” or whatever the specifics may be.

    Not just a whim

    Those new federal guidelines, by the way, do not merely reflect federal whims, but were implemented to meet the standards of the World Trade Organization, and other international requirements necessary if America wishes to keep trading with the rest of the world.

    Consumer groups supported the new origin guidelines because they granted more information to consumers. American beef ranchers also supported the guidelines, presumably from the belief that if their products were labeled 100% American, that would give them a competitive advantage with consumers who, for example, might prefer all-American food over imports.

    But the meatpacking industry, represented by the American Meat Institute, opposed the new guidelines on the grounds that they would be too burdensome, and would also violate the meatpackers' First Amendment free-speech rights by requiring them to print information which, they say, is of no value to the end consumer.

    But the Court of Appeals in D.C. clearly was not swayed by these arguments, and refused to overturn a lower-court ruling requiring the guidelines. The court released its decision on March 28 (available in .pdf form here); the 15-page ruling discussed and dismissed the AMI's arguments and concluded:

    "There is, moreover, a public interest factor that we did not consider in our constitutional analysis, that of allowing the United States’s effort to comply with the WTO ruling to take effect. We are clearly in a poor position to assess the effects of any noncompliance. Accordingly, the judgment of the district court is Affirmed.”

    You might soon notice some changes in the labels of whatever meat products you buy, now that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District if Columbia has rej...
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      Taxpayers warned about new phishing scam

      IRS continues the battle against fraudulent returns using stolen identities

      Taxpayers eagerly awaiting their federal income tax refund should remain vigilant against a new scheme to steal their identities.

      The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has issued a warning about an email phishing scam that has been reported with increasing frequency during this tax season. The scam's objective is to steal the taxpayer's Social Security number and other sensitive information.

      A number of people have reported receiving an email that appears to come from the IRS Taxpayer Advocate Service – a real agency. The email carries disturbing news.

      “Your reported 2013 income is flagged for review due to a document processing error,” some of the messages read. “Your case has been forwarded to the Taxpayer Advocate Service for resolution assistance. To avoid delays processing your 2013 filing contact the Taxpayer Advocate Service for resolution assistance.”

      Below the message is a link and instructions to click on it. Those who do are taken to a site that appears to be a page on the Taxpayer Advocate's website, but is really a dummy site constructed by the scammer.

      Profitable scam

      There they are instructed to enter all sorts of personal information. The IRS says this scheme is especially dangerous because stealing taxpayers' identities and filing bogus tax returns in their names has become a huge and profitable business.

      In the most recent fiscal year the tax agency initiated 1,492 identity theft related criminal investigations. That amounts to a 66% increase over the previous year.

      What's even more telling, perhaps, is the number of identity theft attempts the IRS says it has thwarted. The agency says that from 2011 through November 2013, the IRS has stopped 14.6 million suspicious returns, and prevented over $50 billion in fraudulent refunds from going out.

      Refunds – not legitimate ones but bogus ones – are what the scammers are after. Armed with a victim's name and Social Security number, the thief produces a fake W-2 form and files a fake return that shows a sizable refund is due.

      The scam is made easier by the IRS' preference for sending out refunds through direct deposit. In the past, in order to receive a paper check, the scammer would need an address – increasing their exposure and risk. They would also need a way to cash the check.

      But with direct deposit, all the scammer need do is request a direct deposit for the refund onto a reloadable money card. After collecting the refund, the scammer disappears. The scam doesn't come to light until the victim gets around to filing their real tax return.

      Drain on resources

      The IRS is diverting more and more of its resources to dealing with taxpayer identity theft. In January the agency assigned 3,000 people to work on identity theft-related issues.

      When criminals steal a taxpayer's identity and file phony returns with big refunds, it creates problems for both the government and the victim. The government gets scammed out of millions of dollars in bogus refunds that most likely can't be retrieved.

      The taxpayer has to jump through numerous hoops to straighten out the mess and prove they are who they say they are. In the meantime, any legitimate tax refund to which they are entitled gets held up, usually for several months.

      The IRS produced the video below to offer taxpayers some tips for protecting their identities and avoiding becoming victims.

      Taxpayers eagerly awaiting their federal income tax refund should remain vigilant against a new scheme to steal their identities.The Internal Revenue Ser...
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      New York sues FedEx for cigarette shipments

      Shinnecock Nation cigarettes: legal to buy, illegal to ship

      Last December, New York City discovered a creative new interpretation of the RICO anti-racketeering statutes originally written for use against the Mafia and other organized-crime gangs: using it to sue FedEx for shipping merchandise from the Shinnecock [Indian] Nation cigarette shops to non-Shinnecock New Yorkers.

      Today, New York's state attorney general filed a $70 million lawsuit against FedEx because “FedEx’s blatant disregard for its long-standing agreement with New York, as well as federal and state law, enabled tens of millions of cheap, untaxed cigarettes to be shipped to New Yorkers.”

      The Shinnecock Nation is not included in either lawsuit because it is perfectly legal for them to sell untaxed cigarettes; however, New York Public Health Law 1399-ll bans the direct shipment of cigarettes to customers in the state, ostensibly for public-health rather than tax-collection reasons.

      New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said FedEx has shipped nearly 80 million contraband cigarettes to consumers across New York State, amounting to a direct tax loss to the state of over $10 million.

      Last December, New York City discovered a creative new interpretation of the RICO anti-racketeering statutes originally written for use against the Mafia a...
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      Required Minimum Distribution clock is running for retirees

      Those who turned 70½ last year have to hurry to pull money from their retirement plans

      You're almost too late if you turned 70½ during 2013 and haven't yet received a required minimum distribution (RMD) from your IRAs and workplace retirement plans. The deadline is almost here: Tuesday, April 1, 2014.

      That deadline applies to owners of traditional IRAs but not Roth IRAs. Normally, it also applies to participants in various workplace retirement plans, including 401(k), 403(b) and 457 plans.

      And, the April 1 deadline applies to the required distribution only for the first year. For all subsequent years, the RMD must be made by Dec. 31. For example, a taxpayer who turned 70½ in 2013 and receives the first required payment on April 1, 2014 must still receive the second RMD by Dec. 31 of this year.

      Determining your required distribution

      Affected taxpayers who turned 70½ during 2013 must figure the RMD for the first year using their life expectancy on Dec. 31, 2013 and their account balance on Dec. 31, 2012.

      The trustee reports the year-end account value to the IRA owner on Form 5498 in Box 5. Worksheets and life expectancy tables for making this computation can be found in the Appendices to Publication 590.

      Most taxpayers use Table III (Uniform Lifetime) to figure their RMD. For a taxpayer who turned 71 in 2013, for example, the first required distribution would be based on a life expectancy of 26.5 years. A separate table, Table II, applies to a taxpayer married to a spouse who is more than 10 years younger and is the taxpayer’s only beneficiary.

      Some exceptions

      Though the April 1 deadline is mandatory for all owners of traditional IRAs and most participants in workplace retirement plans, some people with workplace plans can wait longer to receive their RMD. Usually, employees who are still working can, if their plan allows, wait until April 1 of the year after they retire to start receiving these distributions (See Tax on Excess Accumulations in Publication 575) .

      Employees of public schools and certain tax-exempt organizations with 403(b) plan accruals before 1987 should check with their employer, plan administrator or provider to see how to treat these accruals.

      Start planning now

      The IRS encourages taxpayers to begin planning now for any distributions required during 2014. An IRA trustee must either report the amount of the RMD to the IRA owner or offer to calculate it for the owner.

      Often, the trustee shows the RMD amount in Box 12b on Form 5498. For a 2014 RMD, this amount would be on the 2013 Form 5498 that is normally issued in January 2014.

      More information on RMDs, including answers to frequently asked questions, can be found on IRS.gov.

      You're almost too late if you turned 70½ during 2013 and haven't yet received a required minimum distribution (RMD) from your IRAs and workplace retirement...
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      Changes coming for liquid laundry packets

      New packaging and warning labels are being added

      About a year and a half ago, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) put out a warning about dangers connected to single-load liquid laundry packets, which are filled with highly concentrated, toxic chemicals. A 7-month-old in Florida died from swallowing the soap.

      CPSC has received about 1,230 reports of children unintentionally injuring themselves with packets. Injuries include swallowing the detergent and getting the chemical in their eyes or on their skin. The Poison Help Line reports even more -- nearly 17,500.

      Changes in the works

      Several companies that make these packets -- Cot ‘n Wash, Dial, Procter & Gamble, and Sun Products -- have agreed to make some changes to begin addressing these safety concerns.

      Here are some of the changes so far:

      • Safety standards: Makers and sellers of laundry packets have come together, along with consumer advocates and CPSC staff, to start the process of creating a voluntary consensus standard. ASTM International, a standards setting organization, is overseeing this process. The goal is for all of the members to work together, as quickly as possible, to craft a strong safety standard that meaningfully protects children from these products.
      • Opaque packaging: Part of the allure of these packets for young children is that they can look like familiar items such as candy, toys and teething products. Companies have changed the containers that hold the packets to be opaque.
      • Labels and Warnings: “Keep Out of Reach of Children” and “Keep Contents Out of Eyes” safety warning stickers and graphics have been placed in multiple places on the containers. Also, look for posters and other warnings near laundry packets in stores. Warning labels alone are not the answer, but are part of a larger system of safety.

      In addition, companies are researching a switch to containers that are more difficult for children to open. Safety latches -- both on containers and on cabinets -- can be a deterrent to children getting access to these packets. As with all household cleaning products, make sure to keep these packets tightly closed in the original containers and out of sight and out of reach of young children.

      These companies also report that they are researching chemical formulations of the laundry detergent in the packets, with the goal to find formulations that remain effective, but are less toxic.

      What to do

      Follow these safety tips if you use these products in your home:

      • Do not let children handle laundry packets
      • Do not puncture or take packets apart
      • Do not leave loose packets around – keep them stored securely in the container
      • Store out of a child’s sight and reach in their original containers
      • Keep containers closed and dry
      • Read and follow package warnings and instructions
      • Remember, these packets can quickly dissolve upon contact with water, wet hands and saliva. They can also rupture, releasing the chemicals into eyes. If you or your child swallows or is exposed to these chemicals, call Poison Help immediately at (800) 222-1222.
      About a year and a half ago, The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) put out a warning about dangers connected to single-load liquid laundry packets,...
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      Diet drinks linked to heart attacks, strokes in older women

      Women who drink two or more diet drinks a day more likely to have a heart attack or stroke

      Diet drinks may help keep the pounds off but a new study finds they may be dangerous for older women, raising the chance of heart attack and strokes for those who drink two or more a day.

      In fact, compared to women who never or only rarely consume diet drinks, those who consumed two or more a day were 30% more likely to suffer a cardiovascular event and 50% more likely to die from related disease, according to, according to research prepared for the American College of Cardiology's 63rd Annual Scientific Session.

      Researchers analyzed diet drink intake and cardiovascular risk factors from 59,614 participants in the Women's Health Initiative Observational Study, making this the largest study to look at the relationship between diet drink consumption, cardiac events and death.

      "Our findings are in line with and extend data from previous studies showing an association between diet drinks and metabolic syndrome," said Ankur Vyas, M.D., University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, and the lead investigator of the study. "We were interested in this research because there was a relative lack of data about diet drinks and cardiovascular outcomes and mortality."

      Raises questions

      Vyas says the association between diet drinks and cardiovascular problems raises more questions than it answers, and should stimulate further research.

      "We only found an association, so we can't say that diet drinks cause these problems," Vyas said, adding that there may be other factors about people who drink more diet drinks that could explain the connection.

      "It's too soon to tell people to change their behavior based on this study; however, based on these and other findings we have a responsibility to do more research to see what is going on and further define the relationship, if one truly exists," he adds. "This could have major public health implications."

      Information on women's consumption of diet drinks was obtained through a questionnaire that asked them to report their diet drink consumption habits over the previous three months. This information was assessed at follow-up year three of the Women's Health Initiative Observational Study.

      Previous studies have found artificially sweetened drinks to be associated with weight gain in adults and teens, and seem to increase the risk of metabolic syndrome, which makes both diabetes and heart disease more likely.

      Diet drinks may help keep the pounds off but a new study finds they may be dangerous for older women, raising the chance of heart attack and strokes for th...
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      Daylight saving time affects timing of lots of things, including heart attacks

      Setting the clocks ahead accelerates cardiac events in some consumers, a large study finds

      Moving the clock back or ahead just one hour doesn't sound so bad. How much difference could it make, after all? The answer may surprise you.

      The largest study of its kind finds that that hour of sleep that's lost or gained may play a bigger, perhaps more dangerous role in our body's natural rhythm than we think.

      In fact, moving the clock forward or backward may alter the timing of when heart attacks occur in the week following these time changes, according to research prepared for presentation at the American College of Cardiology's 63rd Annual Scientific Session.

      Data from the largest study of its kind in the U.S. reveal a 25% jump in the number of heart attacks occurring the Monday after we "spring forward" compared to other Mondays during the year – a trend that remained even after accounting for seasonal variations in these events.

      But the study showed the opposite effect is also true. Researchers found a 21% drop in the number of heart attacks on the Tuesday after returning to standard time in the fall when we gain an hour back.

      "What's interesting is that the total number of heart attacks didn't change the week after daylight saving time," said Amneet Sandhu, M.D., cardiology fellow, University of Colorado in Denver, and lead investigator of the study. "But these events were much more frequent the Monday after the spring time change and then tapered off over the other days of the week. It may mean that people who are already vulnerable to heart disease may be at greater risk right after sudden time changes."

      Monday morning is dangerous

      Heart attacks historically occur most often on Monday mornings. Sandhu explains that in looking at other "normal" Mondays, there is some variation in events, but it is not significant.

      However, when Sandhu and his team compared admissions from a database of non-federal Michigan hospitals the Monday before the start of daylight saving time and the Monday immediately after for four consecutive years, they found a consistent 34% increase in heart attacks from one week to the next (93 heart attacks the Monday before compared to 125 the week after the start of daylight saving time for the duration of the study.).

      Although researchers cannot say what might be driving the shift in heart attack timing after the start of daylight saving time, they have a theory.

      "Perhaps the reason we see more heart attacks on Monday mornings is a combination of factors, including the stress of starting a new work week and inherent changes in our sleep-wake cycle," Sandhu said. "With daylight saving time, all of this is compounded by one less hour of sleep. Whatever the reason, he said, the findings may indicate a need to better staff hospitals the Monday after setting our clocks forward.

      "If we can identify days when there may be surges in heart attacks, we can be ready to better care for our patients," said Sandhu. Gaining an hour in the fall may have the opposite effect, though authors don't know why there were fewer heart attacks on Tuesday rather than Monday.

      The hospitals included in this study admit an average of 32 patients having a heart attack on any given Monday. But on the Monday immediately after springing ahead there were on average an additional eight heart attacks. 

      This study comes amid ongoing debate about whether daylight saving time is actually needed anymore. Widely implemented during World War I, it was primarily adopted to save energy. But some experts question whether it really saves energy and if it has negative health effects beyond just leaving us feeling groggy and out of sorts.

      "We go through daylight saving time periods twice yearly," Sandhu said. "We may want to look more closely at whether the shift in the timing of heart attacks seen after daylight saving time leads to any negative health outcomes."

      There are limitations to the study. For example, it was restricted to one state and heart attacks necessitating percutaneous coronary intervention, therefore excluding patients who died prior to hospital admission or intervention.

      Sandhu said it would be interesting to compare these findings against heart attack trends in Hawaii and Arizona, which do not have daylight saving time. Future research is also needed to better understand the role of our circadian rhythms on heart health.

      "We know from previous studies that a lack of sleep can trigger heart attacks, but we don't have a good understanding of why people are so sensitive to changes in sleep-wake cycles. Our study suggests that sudden, even small changes in sleep could have detrimental effects," he said.

      Moving the clock back or ahead just one hour doesn't sound so bad. How much difference could it make, after all? The answer may surprise you.The largest ...
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      Don't fall for "overdue tax balance" scam

      Demanding, aggressive callers tell consumers they'll be arrested

      “Your driver’s license has been suspended. You will be arrested. You will be deported. We are on our way to your home right now.” These are just a few of the threats that scammers are making against hundreds of Fairfax County, Va., residents over the past several weeks.

      Police warn consumers not to fall prey to these scammers and to notify police of these criminal incidents.

      These telephone scammers are described as demanding, aggressive, threatening, and easily angered when callers don’t immediately agree to their demands of “overdue tax balances.” Some complainants have described the suspects as having a heavy accent.

      Typically, callers demand between $4,000-$6,000 in immediate payment of unpaid tax bills. These scams are sophisticated and involve false names, numbers and “IRS” badge numbers. Suspects often continue to call and harass the recipient.

      What to do

      Police urge residents to:

      • Contact IRS is you feel there is any discrepancy with your tax bills.
      • Use these numbers to contact IRS if you feel you are being scammed: 
      • Be skeptical if someone demands you pay overdue with a Green Dot Moneypack;
      • Report suspicious or harassing calls to your local police.

      Remember, once money has been wired, it is impossible to recover.

      “Your driver’s license has been suspended. You will be arrested. You will be deported. We are on our way to your home right now.” These a...
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      Fresh Express recalls Italian Salad

      The salad may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Fresh Express of Salinas, Calif., is recalling a limited number of cases of 10-oz. and 6-oz. Italian Salad with the already expired Use-by Date of March 26 and a Product Code of H071A11A.

      The salad may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No illnesses have been reported in association with the recall and no other Fresh Express products are affected.

      The following recalled salad was distributed in limited quantities to predominantly Eastern and Mid-Atlantic states.

      Fresh ExpressItalian10 oz.0 71279-21100 8H071A11A26-MarCT, DE, MA, MD, ME, NC, NH, NY, NJ, OH, PA, RI, VA, VT, WV, DC

      Consumers who have the recalled product should not eat it but rather discard it.

      Consumers with questions may call Fresh Express at (800) 242-5472 during the hours of 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. EDT.

      Fresh Express of Salinas, Calif., is recalling a limited number of cases of 10-oz. and 6-oz. Italian Salad with the already expired Use-by Date of March 26...
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      Honda recalls Civic LX vehicles

      Tires on the vehicles may be damaged

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 9,816 model year 2014 Honda Civic LX vehicles manufactured November 26, 2013, through January 21, 2014.

      In the affected vehicles, during mounting of the tires, the tire bead may have gotten pinched between the assembly equipment and the steel wheel rims, resulting in damage to the tire. The tire damage could cause the tire to lose air, increasing the risk of a crash.

      Honda will notify owners, and dealers will inspect and replace any damaged tire, free of charge. The recall was expected to begin on March 28, 2014.

      Owners may contact Honda at 1-800-999-1009. Honda's number for this recall is JD8.

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 9,816 model year 2014 Honda Civic LX vehicles manufactured November 26, 2013, through January 21, 2014. In the aff...
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      Toyota recalls Avalons with faulty restraint systems

      Airbgs could deploy inadvertantly

      Toyota is recalling119,140 model year 2003-2004 Avalon vehicles manufactured June 5, 2002, through December 20, 2004.

      In these vehicles, the supplemental restraint system (SRS) circuits are susceptible to internal shorting. The electrical short may create an abnormal current flow and increased heat which can damage the circuits. This could result in an inadvertent deployment of the front air bags and/or seat belt pretensioners, increasing the risk of an injury or crash.

      Toyota will notify owners and dealers will install a noise filter between the air bag control module and the wire harness, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Toyota at 1-800-331-4331.

      Toyota is recalling119,140 model year 2003-2004 Avalon vehicles manufactured June 5, 2002, through December 20, 2004. In these vehicles, the supplemental...
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      Researchers say alcohol is an under-reported cause of death

      Study finds it is rarely listed on a death certificate

      The U.S. has made dramatic strides in recent years in reducing highway deaths caused by drunk drivers. Tougher enforcement and numerous awareness campaigns, including strong emphasis on designated drivers, are getting a lot of the credit.

      For example, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) cites National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data showing the number of drunk driving deaths in the U.S. has been reduced by 50% since MADD was founded in 1980.

      But researchers writing in the March issue of theJournal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs suggest a lot of highway deaths – and other accidents in which alcohol was a factor – might not make it into the alcohol-related statistics.

      Between 1999 and 2009, more than 450,000 Americans were killed in a traffic crashes. The researchers maintain that in cases where alcohol was involved, death certificates very often failed to list alcohol as a cause of death.

      A leading killer

      Since accident trauma is the leading cause of death for people under age 45, the researchers say alcohol's role bears exploring.

      "We need to have a handle on what's contributing to the leading cause of death among young people," said Ralph Hingson, of the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and one of the researchers.

      Not only that, Hingson argues that researchers need reliable data to study the effects of policies that are supposed to reduce alcohol-related deaths. Without reliable numbers, he says, its hard to know what's working and what isn't.

      Two sets of data

      The disconnect appears to stem from two sets of data. First, about half the states in the U.S. require fatally injured drivers to be tested for blood alcohol levels. Nationwide, about 70% of those drivers are tested.

      This information goes into a NHTSA database called Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), which contains the blood alcohol levels of Americans killed in traffic crashes.

      MADD's claims of a huge drop in drunk driving deaths is accurate since it is based on that data, but what about deaths from other kinds of accidents? There is no such database of blood alcohol levels for people who die after falling off a ladder or stepping in front of a bus.

      All researchers have to go on is the death certificate, and here the researchers found a notable discrepancy. When they looked at the FARS figures, they found 21% of driver fatalities were over the legal alcohol limit. Yet when they examined these drivers' death certificates, only 3% listed alcohol as a contributor to the death.

      There could be any number of reasons for the discrepancy. One reason could be the time it takes to get blood-alcohol test results back.

      Coroners or medical examiners usually have to file a death certificate within three to five days, Hingson's team points out, but toxicology results might take longer to obtain.

      Other accidents

      Whatever the reasons, Hingson believes the role of alcohol in injury deaths may be seriously underestimated on death certificates nationwide – not just highway accidents but all types of accidental deaths, for which there is no system of reporting blood alcohol levels.

      Other countries may be doing a better job than the U.S. in tracking alcohol's role in accidental injury and death.

      According to a British public interest group, DrinkAware, alcohol is the single biggest cause of accidents at home. Of the 4,000 fatal accidents that happen in homes in the UK every year, it says 400 are alcohol-related.

      In 2008, it says the London Fire Brigade estimated that almost a third of accidental fire deaths in the capital were alcohol related.

      The U.S. has made dramatic strides in recent years in reducing highway deaths caused by drunk drivers. Tougher enforcement and numerous awareness campaigns...
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      Homeowners get some relief from big flood insurance rate hikes

      Premium increases capped at 18% for grandfathered properties

      Homeowners in coastal and flood-prone areas are getting at least some relief from huge spikes in flood insurance costs, although many will still face premium increases of 18% per year.

      President Obama earlier this month signed legislation that modifies the more horrifying provisions of a 2012 rewrite of the National Flood Insurance Program, which covers 5.5 million homeowners and is currently drowing in a $24 billion sea of red ink that threatens to lap even higher as future storms come roaring ashore.

      “At a time when ordinary families are frustrated because government doesn’t seem to listen, I heard you loud and clear and thankfully both sides of the aisle came together to fix this problem so middle class families can afford flood insurance and stay in their homes, businesses can stay open, and property values won’t plummet," said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who co-sponsored the bill in the Senate. "This fight isn’t just about insurance-rate-tables and actuarial risk rates – it’s all about hardworking people.  People who played by the rules their whole lives." 

      Shore it up

      The 2012 rewrite was intended to shore up the program by making property owners pay insurance rates that would have driven many middle-class taxpayers from their homes.

      Congress acted to modify the program after lawmakers from both parties were haranged for months by homeowners who said there was no way they could afford to pay increases of 100% or more. Critics say the relief measure simply will simply shift costs to taxpayers the next time a hurricane strikes.

      "That's fine," said a property owner on New York's Long Island. "But if we're not going to insure taxpayers who live in flood plains, people that live in tornado or earthquake zones should be on their own too."

      Most homeowners in flood-prone areas have no choice but to buy the federal flood program, since private insurers have largely abandoned coastal areas. Even simple homeowner's policies are barely affordable and, in some areas, can't be found at any price.

      Grandfathered properties

      Those who stand to benefit the most from the revision are those whose properties were originally built to code but subsequently were found to be at greater flood risk.

      Such “grandfathered” homeowners currently benefit from below-market rates that are subsidized by other policyholders, and the new legislation preserves that status and caps premium increases at 18 percent a year. The 2012 overhaul required premiums to increase to actuarially sound rates over five years and required extensive remapping.

      “Today, draconian flood insurance rate increases have been stopped, and we have returned affordability as a centerpiece of the National Flood Insurance Program,” Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said in a statement.

      In another provision intended to provide relief to middle-class voters, sellers of older homes -- those built before flood insurance risk maps were drafted -- will be able to pass their subsidized policies on to buyers of their homes. 

      However, homeowners whose homes have flooded repeatedly and those whose second home is in a flood zone will still see premiums go up by 25% a year until they reach a point that's deemed consistent with the risk of flooding.

      Homeowners in coastal and flood-prone areas are getting at least some relief from huge spikes in flood insurance costs, although many will still face premi...
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      Tesla adds titanium shield to reduce Model S fire danger

      Feds close safety investigation upon hearing the news

      Tesla says it will add a titanium underbody shield to its $90,000 Model S sports sedans, hoping to prevent battery fires like the two that destroyed two of the cars last year when they struck road debris.

      That was good enough for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which promptly closed its three-month investigation of the fires.

      Tesla says the shield will be built into all cars manufactured after March 5. Owners of cars built before that may have the shield added on request, the company said.

      Writing on the Tesla.com site, ever-churlish CEO Elon Musk called the 2013 fires the result of "extremely unusual" collisions. NHTSA documents, however, note that hitting road debris is inevitable but say the shield and a software upgrade that raised the car's riding height should minimize the risk of future fires.

      Musk still miffed

      Musk, never satisfied, still thinks he was needlessly beaten up over the 2013 fires.

      "These incidents, unfortunately, received more national headlines than the other [sic] 200,000 gasoline car fires that happened last year in North America alone," he wrote. "In both cases, the occupants walked away unharmed, thanks to the car’s safety features."

      Musk notes that, so far, no Model S occupants have been killed in collisions and he claimed the latest change will bring the risk of serious injury or death "down to virtually zero." 

      Musk said the changes will help prevent fires even in accidents that occur at very high speeds, "like the other Model S impact fire, which occurred last year in Mexico."

      "This happened after the vehicle impacted a roundabout at 110 mph, shearing off 15 feet of concrete curbwall and tearing off the left front wheel, then smashing through an eight foot tall buttressed concrete wall on the other side of the road and tearing off the right front wheel, before crashing into a tree," Musk said. "The driver stepped out and walked away with no permanent injuries and a fire, again limited to the front section of the vehicle, started several minutes later. The underbody shields will help prevent a fire even in such a scenario."

      NHTSA agreed.

      “In this case, Tesla's revision of vehicle ride height and addition of increased underbody protection should reduce both the frequency of underbody strikes and the resultant fire risk. A defect trend has not been identified. Accordingly, the investigation is closed,” the agency said in a statement on its website, adding: "The closing of the investigation does not constitute a finding by NHTSA that a safety-related defect does not exist, and the agency reserves the right to take further action if warranted by new circumstances."

      Tesla says it will add a titanium underbody shield to its $90,000 Model S sports sedans, hoping to prevent battery fires like the two that destroyed two of...
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      Big Apple may impose dime fee on plastic and paper bags

      Several states are considering a similar action

      New York City is the latest U.S. municipality poised to place a fee on every plastic and paper bag supermarkets and other retailers provide consumers to carry their purchases.

      The fee, of course, would be passed along to consumers.

      The New York City Council this week received a proposal from two of its members to impose a 10-cent fee on each bag. City officials said the ordinance stops short of an outright ban on bags for merchandise but is designed to encourage consumers to bring reusable bags with them when they shop.

      The proposed ordinance exempts bags provided for medication, take-out food from restaurants and alcoholic beverages. The measure appears to have wide support on the council.

      DC has banned the bag

      If enacted, New York would join Washington, D.C., which in 2009 banned the distribution of disposable, non-recyclable plastic carry-out bags and set a fee of 5 cents for distribution of all other disposable bags.

      That same year North Carolina banned plastic bags in its Outer Banks region, a popular beach resort area. The ban was temporarily lifted in 2011 and has yet to be reimposed.

      The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) reports more states are beginning to look for ways to reduce the number of disposable bags used in retail commerce. The objective is to reduce pressure on landfills and reduce the amount of plastic finding its way into oceans, lakes and rivers.

      Hawaii's de-facto ban

      NCSL says no state has yet enacted a statewide ban, fee or tax. However, Hawaii has come close. The state now has a de facto statewide ban, as all four counties in the state now ban non-biodegradable plastic bags at checkout as well as paper bags that are not at least 40% recycled. Honolulu County was the last to approve the ban and retailers there have until July 1, 2015, to make the change.

      As of now 3 states -- California, Massachusetts and Washington, along with Puerto Rico -- are considering legislation that would ban single-use bags, according to NCLS.

      California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia and Washington are all considering a fee or tax on the distribution of bags which a shopper will have to pay, either directly or indirectly. Depending on the state, the revenue would go to state parks, school districts, community improvement trusts or other public programs.

      Industry response

      The plastic bag industry isn't taking all of this lying down. Lee Califf, Chair of the American Progressive Bag Alliance, an organization representing the United States' plastic bag manufacturing and recycling sector, says the New York council members supporting the bag fee are misleading consumers.

      "Denying that this legislation is a tax is disingenuous to the hardworking residents of New York City,” he said. “This proposed ordinance will drive up the cost of already expensive groceries for New Yorkers while failing to achieve any environmental goals."

      Califf says his organization “promotes the responsible use, reuse, recycling and disposal of plastic bags and advocates for American-made plastic products as the best environmental choice at check out—for both retailers and consumers.”

      Reusable bags

      Without plastic or paper bags to carry their purchases consumers are being encouraged to bring their own reusable bags with them when they shop. But a word of caution to consumers; these bags need to be washed after each trip to the supermarket.

      An April 2012 survey by the the Home Food Safety Program, a collaboration between the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) and ConAgra Foods, found only 15% of Americans regularly wash their bags, creating a breeding zone for harmful bacteria.

      "Cross-contamination occurs when juices from raw meats or germs from unclean objects come in contact with cooked or ready-to-eat foods like breads or produce," registered dietitian and Academy spokesperson Ruth Frechman said at the time. "Unwashed grocery bags are lingering with bacteria which can easily contaminate your foods."

      New York City is the latest U.S. municipality poised to place a fee on every plastic and paper bag supermarkets and other retailers provide consumers to ca...
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      Self magazine confuses catty fashion critiques with health and fitness advice

      Backfires when the "lame" marathon runner they insult turns out to have brain cancer. Oops!

      Since I haven't read her biography, I don't know if Selfmagazine editor-in-chief Lucy Danziger is the most famously catty middle-school student in America, or a grown woman who still thinks like one.

      I do know that if I had a daughter and wanted her to grow up kind, confident and with a healthy self-image, I'd buy her a Playboy subscription before letting her read any so-called “women's” magazines, and the recent debacle with Danziger and Self  underscores why: the main theme of any such publication is “You there, Double-X-Chromosome Reader, just aren't good enough. Your body's the wrong shape, your face needs major cosmetic assistance, your wardrobe's hopelessly out of date, and now lemme offset my concern-trolling by mumbling some hypocritical half-assed platitude in favor of gender equality and women's empowerment. Girl power, yay!”

      Brain cancer

      Danziger and Self are currently taking heat after they published a photo essay insulting women who failed to meet proper fashion standards while running in long-distance marathons, then backpedaled after learning one of those unfashionables was undergoing chemotherapy treatments for brain cancer at the time.

      Here's what happened: San Diego residents Monika Allen and Taramae Baize are co-owners and founders of a company called Glam Runners, which makes just-for-fun tutus to wear over regular running outfits, with a portion of the proceeds donated to local girls' athletic charities.

      Allen was diagnosed with a brain tumor last year, and still undergoing chemotherapy when she and Baize ran in the LA Marathon. Unsurprisingly, they also wore superhero-themed Glam Runners tutus over their jogging clothes – Baize dressed like Superman (Supergirl?), and Allen like Wonder Woman.

      Classified as lame

      Sometime after the marathon, Allen was understandably excited to get an email from Self, requesting permission to print a picture of her as Wonder Woman in an upcoming photo essay. But when the April issue of Self came out, either Allen or Baize posted this dismayed update on the Glam Runners Facebook page (ellipses lifted from the original):

      “Excited to see our tutus in SELF Magazine ... but shocked to see that running tutus are classified as lame. Especially considering the fact that this picture is from last year's LA Marathon when Glam Runner founders Tara and Monika ran together as superheroes ... because Monika was recently diagnosed with brain cancer and was running a marathon in the middle of a year of chemo.”

      Self published the photo of Baize and Allen as part of a feature called “The BS Meter,” dubbed the photo “lame” and gave it a caption reading: “A racing tutu epidemic has struck NYC's Central Park, and it's all because people think these froufrou skirts make you run faster. Now, if you told us they made people run from you faster, maybe we would believe it."

      [Speaking of BS: the LA Marathon where Allen dressed as Wonder Woman is roughly 3,000 miles away from New York's Central Park. And nobody ever claimed tutus make you run faster.]

      The Glam Runners Facebook post soon came to the attention of NBC's San Diego affiliate, which ran a story about Monika Allen's encounter with Self. Allen told NBC that “The reason we were wearing those outfits is because this was my first marathon running with brain cancer,” and that “I feel like we were misled in providing the picture. Had I known how the picture was going to be used, I wouldn't have wanted to send it.” She also said she'd emailed Self magazine on Tuesday, asking for an explanation, and had not heard any response as of Wednesday night.

      Self apology

      But Self did send NBC a statement apologizing “for the association of her picture in any way other than to support her efforts to be healthy," and added, “Of course if tutus make you run with a smile on your face or with a sense of purpose or community, then they are indeed worth wearing, for any race.”

      Of course. Even a middle school student behaving like a misogynist's parody of a shallow, catty, fashion-obsessed Mean Girl knows enough to backpedal when someone else points out “You do realize that the unfashionable kid you're bullying has brain cancer, right?”

      Still, cynics detected a lack of sincerity in Self's newfound appreciation for tutu wearers. As one commenter noted on the Glam Runners Facebook page:

      “What is point in even having a BS meter feature? Why do we feel that we have to shame others to get readership? I personally don't subscribe to SELF but have picked it up here and there. I had always thought the magazine was about wellness promotion, would have never thought it was another entity using negativity and mockery to add to our epidemic of low self esteem and body image disturbance.”

      Another commenter said the same thing with fewer words:

      “SELF, a magazine meant to motivate & inspire yet ok's the "BS METER"? Then insults numerous people that are just doing good. WOW. Epic fail SELF. Just epic.”

      Self's editor-in-chief eventually posted the following apology on Self's Facebook page:

      “On behalf of SELF, we sincerely apologize for our inadvertent insensitivity. I have personally reached out to Monika and her supporters online to apologize for the misstep and tell them we are trying to remedy the situation. At SELF we support women such as Monika; she is an inspiration and embodies the qualities we admire. We have donated to her charity and have offered to cover her good work in a future issue. We wish her all the best on her road to good health.

      Most sincerely,

      Lucy Danziger”

      Minor quibbles

      Minor semantic quibbles: one, there was nothing “inadvertent” about Self's insensitivity; when you publish a photo of a woman and deem her clothes something that “made people run from you faster,” you intend to be insulting. Even middle school kids know that much.

      Two: you were not “insensitive”; you were insulting, belittling and outright rude.

      Three: in light of points one and two, "sincere" probably isn't le mot juste to describe your apology.

      Four: which specific “qualities” of Ms. Allen does Self “admire”? Danziger did not say, but it clearly isn't the quality of wearing cheerful, silly costumes while running marathons, because if Danziger and Self admired people who did such things, they wouldn't have looked at Allen's photo and thought “Hey, let's run this in our BS Meter section without so much as blurring out their faces or marathon-runner ID signs; we admire these lame tutu-wearing runners so much, we want everyone to know exactly who they are.”

      I don't know if Self magazine editor-in-chief Lucy Danziger is the most famously catty middle-school student in America...
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      Switching fonts could save U.S. taxpayers up to $400 million per year

      Or: another reason to hate Comic Sans

      A clever sixth-grader in Pennsylvania has figured out that the U.S. government could cut its annual printing costs by up to $400 million simply by switching to less ink-intensive fonts — and smaller organizations or individuals could cut their printer-ink costs by as much as 24 percent.

      CNN Money shares the story of Suvir Mirchandani, who originally was looking for ways his schoolteachers might reduce their printing costs. So he made a careful study of various handouts and worksheets the school gave him — or, more specifically, he studied and compared the different fonts and typefaces used to print them.

      Computer-printer manufacturers make far more money selling ink than printers; as Mirchandani noted, “Ink is two times more expensive than French perfume by volume.”

      By making precise measurements of the size (and ink coverage) of identical letters printed in Times New Roman, Garamond, Century Gothic and Comic Sans, he determined that if all staff in his school district switched to the thin-stroked Garamond font for official school or classroom printouts, its annual cost for printer ink would drop by 24%, an annual savings of about $21,000 for the school.

      Mirchandani's teachers encouraged him to submit his results to the Journal of Emerging Investigators (a scientific journal for teenaged students), and the JEI in turn encouraged Mirchandani to apply his investigative methods to a much larger organization — the federal government.

      On that much larger scale, he found, the simple act of switching from thick, heavy-ink fonts to thin-stroked ones like Garamond could cut federal printing costs by $400 million per year -- or about $1.26 per year for each of the estimated 317 million of us.

      A brilliant sixth-grader analyzed ink use in various fonts; learned how to cut printing costs by 24%...
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