1. News
  2. 2014
  3. May

Current Events in May 2014

Browse Current Events by year


Browse Current Events by month

Get trending consumer news and recalls

    By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

    Thank you, you have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

    Foreclosures are down but there's a long way to go

    Still, it's a positive sign for an anemic housing market

    Americans continue to lose their homes to foreclosure but the rate continues to fall. Slowly.

    CoreLogic, a company that tracks housing data, reports there were 46,000 completed foreclosures in April, down from 56,000 the previous April. Month over month, the number of homes lost to foreclosure dipped slightly between March and April.

    That's all well and good but the rate is still double what it was before the start of the financial crisis. Between 2000 and 2006, completed foreclosures averaged just 21,000 per month.

    The foreclosure process can be long and involved and can be measured in a number of ways, but counting completed foreclosures is instructive. That's the number of homes repossessed by the lender.

    Property values take a hit

    When that happens it can be highly disruptive to neighborhood property values. Homes typically sit vacant for months – even years – before they go back onto the market, usually at a heavily discounted price.

    At the start of the housing crisis the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) estimated foreclosures would cause the loss of 69.5 million in property value of homes located near foreclosed properties.

    Over a 3-year period – from 2009 to 2012 – CRL estimated 92 million families would lose a combined $1.9 trillion in home values due to foreclosures.

    As of 2014 the housing market has recovered from some of the damaged caused by the wave of foreclosures. Home values have risen well off their lows and in some markets are back above pre-crash levels.

    Sales still slow

    However, sales have not come close to their once-torrid pace and in recent months have slowed. The slowdown has occurred in part because there have been, until recently, fewer homes for sale and in part because it's harder for prospective buyers to get a mortgage.

    National Association of Realtors chief economist Lawrence Yun expects existing home sales this year may be slightly below last year's level.

    “We’ll continue to see a balancing act between housing inventory and price growth, which remains stronger than normal simply because there have not been enough sellers in many areas,” Yun said. More inventory and increased new-home construction will help to foster healthy market conditions.”

    Impacting sales?

    The lack of sellers Yun refers to may be caused, in part, by a reduction in the number of completed foreclosures. Since 2008 foreclosures have made up a sizable portion of the housing market, attracting investors who mostly paid in cash. The decline is seen a good news by everyone, with the exception perhaps of investors.

    “We have now registered two and a half years of continuous decreases in the number of homeowners who are in some stage of the foreclosure process. This consistent decline means fewer Americans are experiencing the distress of delinquency and default,” said Anand Nallathambi, president and CEO of CoreLogic. “The recovery may be slow, but it is steady.”

    And it still may have a long way to go.

    Americans continue to lose their homes to foreclosure but the rate continues to fall. Slowly.CoreLogic, a company that tracks housing data, reports there...
    Read lessRead more

    Ford issues massive vehicle recall

    More than 1 million problem vehicles are being pulled in

    Steering, rust and floor mat problems are prompting Ford to recall 1.4 million SUVs and cars in North America, according to the website Manufacturing.net.

    In an announcement made on Thursday, the automaker said it is recalling 915,000 Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner small SUVs, which – according to the website -- have a problem with a torque sensor within the steering column. This could make the vehicles hard to control, increasing the risk of a crash..

    Explorers recalled

    In addition, Manufacturing.net says 196,000 Ford Explorer SUVs from the 2011 through 2013 model years are being recalled because an electrical problem in a steering gear can knock out power steering.

    Dealers will either update software or replace the steering gear.

    Additional recalls

    That's not the end of it. The website says Ford is also calling back more than 196,600 model year 2010 through 2014 Taurus sedans. Rust around the license plate light can cause a short circuit and fire. The cars were sold in 20 states and Washington, D.C., where salt is used to clear roads of snow and ice.

    Finally , the automaker is recalling some 82,500 Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan, Lincoln Zephyr and Lincoln MKZ cars from the 2006 through 2011 model years. Floor mats interfere with the accelerator s pedal if not installed correctly. The mats will be replaced.

    A Ford spokeswoman told Manufacturing.net that these recalls are just part of the company's normal recall process.

    Steering, rust and floor mat problems are prompting Ford to recall 1.4 million SUVs and cars in North America, according to the website Manufacturing.net. ...
    Read lessRead more

    Europeans can now ask Google to forget about them

    Does this really amount to a cataclysmic assault on the "public's right to know?"

    In the United States, the First Amendment trumps just about everything and, unlike the Second, is relatively non-controversial. But every now and then, we're reminded of how rare the right to "publish and be damned" truly is.

    Witness Google tying itself in knots as it struggles to comply with a European court's ruling that it must allow individuals to request that information about them be removed from Google's search results.

    Google's philosophy, if it can be called that, has always been to include anything and everything in its search index. It has slowly and grudgingly removed links to child pornography and other clearly objectionable information. After all, while the First Amendment protects such activity, that doesn't necessarily mean it's admirable.

    The right to publish isn't an obligation to publish in other words. 

    Buck passing

    Google has traditionally handled individual "take-down" requests by referring them to the publishers of the websites that contain the disputed information. If the publisher removes it, the link eventually disappears from Google.

    To cite an everyday example, many local newspapers and news sites routinely publish the "police blotter" -- the official record of a local police department's action for a particular period of time.

    Frequently, police officers will arrest someone for, let's say, shoplifting. That person's name then shows up in the report published the next day by the local news sites, even if the prosecutor decines to go forward with the charge and the individual is released -- having not been charged with any crime.

    The accused person's name still appears indefinitely, even after the charge is dropped, possibly affecting that person's chances of getting into college, getting a job, security clearance or professional credential.

    In one case I happen to know of, the publisher of a local news site -- after receiving a constant stream of such requests, every one of which he granted -- simply decided to stop publishing the police blotters from the 12 or so local jurisdictions his site covers.

    "We can't follow up each case so in essence we are convicting the accused without giving them their day in court," I said to myself. Of course, we still report major crimes on my local news site but no longer publish what is essentially the daily trivia report -- barking dogs, drunken driving, thefts from cars, shoplifting allegations.

    A public-service business

    Note to Google: this cost me a lot of money. The police blotter pages were heavily read. Eliminating them cost me readers. 

    But publishing is a public-service business, something that has not always sunk in with the digerati. Publishers have discretion and can pretty much do any damned thing they want, including making decisions that are bad for business but perhaps good for the public interest (or whatever high-blown phrase seems appropriate). It is not censorship to decide that some stories are not newsworthy and should not appear in a responsible publication. 

    The European court's ruling strikes many as going too far and strikes others as being impractical. How are Google, Bing, et al supposed to make the decisions that human editors make everyday? It will cost too much money and be too much trouble, critics contend.

    Well, perhaps so, but the court has spoken and today, Google has launched a new form on its European websites that residents of the European Union countries can use to request the removal of "outdated, irrelevant" information that may infringe their privacy.

    There is, of course, no right to privacy spelled out in the U.S. Constitution, despite everyone seeming to think that the guarantee against illegal search and seizure sort of amounts to the same thing. What the legal basis of the European court's ruling was is likewise something of a mystery but it is now a fact of life that the search engines must deal with.

    Void where prohibited

    Keep in mind that the court's ruling applies only within the European Union. Therefore, disputed information that is removed from, say, Google's website in Portugal will continue to be displayed in the United States, Mexico, Brazil and, presumably, any other spot on earth that is not within the confines of the European Union.

    If a disgruntled German wants to dig up the dirt on his neighbor, he can always ask his friends or relatives living abroad to Google the information and send it to him. 

    If this sounds confusing, it is. To keep it all straight, Google has formed a committee to help it navigate the thicket, a task it doesn't seem to think it should be burdened with.

    "The court's ruling requires Google to make difficult judgments about an individual's right to be forgotten and the public's right to know," a Google spokesman said.

    Well, Google, welcome to the publishing business. 

    In the United States, the First Amendment trumps just about everything and, unlike the Second, is relatively non-controversial. But every now and then, we'...
    Read lessRead more

    Get trending consumer news and recalls

      By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

      Thank you, you have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

      9 ways to increase online privacy

      A new Consumer Reports survey suggests most of us need help in that area

      Privacy seems to be a commodity in short supply these days. Every month there seems to be some new revelation of a data breach, in which a hacker is able to gain access to consumers' private information.

      But not all privacy breaches result in identity theft. Information about you is constantly being collected, especially when you use a computer or other device connected to the Internet.

      There are things you, as a consumer and computer user, can do to protect your online privacy but few of us do them. A new report from Consumer Reports find 62% of U.S. consumers using the Internet have done nothing to protect their privacy.

      "The most effective defense against an international onslaught of shadowy hackers is being a well-informed and vigilant individual," said Glenn Derene, Electronics Editor for Consumer Reports. "It should be clear by now that consumers can't rely solely on institutions to safeguard their valuable personal information online. Our report identifies some tools that can help people shut the door on cybercriminals."

      The report finds consumers are vulnerable in a number of different areas. Hospitals and doctors' offices, for example, have your medical history stored on computers that could be vulnerable to a breach. If you use any of the commercial cloud services your privacy may also be at risk.

      Consumer Reports, for example, says services like Dropbox and Evernote “have a spotty security record.”

      What you can do

      So, what can you do to better protect your privacy? It may be impossible to provide complete protection but there are a number of things you can do to increase your protections.

      If you store private information on a cloud-based service the security experts at Consumer Reports say you should encrypt it with an encryption program. In the event of a breach it will be harder for a hacker to access your data.

      Your online privacy starts with your Internet Service Provider (ISP). Your ISP can track your online activity because it has your computer's IP address.

      Often times the website you visit can see your IP address as well and among the information it gleans from that is your geographic location. That's why when you visit a global website you might see an ad for a business in your local area.

      Reduce your visibility

      According to Privacy Rights Clearinghouse you can limit this information by using a service such as Tor  that can block this information from being transmitted.

      You can use a Virtual Private Network (VPN), which replaces your IP address with one from the VPN provider. A VPN subscriber can obtain an IP address from any gateway city the VPN service provides.

      There are other ways to limit your ISP's tracking ability outlined here.

      Your home network should be secured with a password. In public places like airports and coffee shops, remember that WiFi networks are not secure and any information you send over them is vulnerable.

      Evaluate your security settings. Select options that meet your needs without putting you at increased risk.


      Be aware of your Internet cookies setting. Cookies are short pieces of data used by web servers to identify users. Some cookies may be helpful for storing images and data from websites that you frequent, but others are malicious and collect information about you.

      When visiting a new website look for a privacy policy statement or seal that indicates the site abides by privacy standards.

      An important step in protecting your online privacy is being very selective about what you download. While it might be tempting to download a free software application, these “freebies” almost always now come with other Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUPs).

      Another step to enhance your online privacy is to install a good anti-virus software and keep it updated. The updating is important because new threats emerge all the time. Anti-virus programs aren't perfect but they can help.

      You're being followed

      It's worth noting that not all encroachments on your privacy have the objective to getting access to your money or identity, but there can be creepy nonetheless. Companies seeks as much information about your online habits as possible, primary in hopes of selling you something.

      Others collect information about you to sell to other companies, or even share with the government. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is pushing for stronger protections.

      “Protections for online privacy are justified and necessary, and the government must help draw boundaries to ensure that Americans’ privacy stays intact in the Digital Age,” the group says.

      Congress can do something too. As a first step, the ACLU advocates an overhaul of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) which was passed in 1986, before the Internet as we know it today even existed.

      Privacy seems to be a commodity in short supply these days. Every month there seems to be some new revelation of a data breach, in which a hacker is able t...
      Read lessRead more

      Another man blames GPS after he drives into a river

      Safety tip: look through your windshield, not at your GPS, while you're driving

      Before discussing the latest “bad driver made worse by GPS” incident, let's take a moment to remember the history of the Panama Canal: Once upon a time, people said “The only way ships can travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean is by going all the way around South America. That stinks. Let's dig a canal through the narrow part of Panama.”

      So they did, then altered the maps to show how a little slice of former land was now a waterway. Nobody tried that in reverse order — let's alter the map so maybe we won't need to dig a canal — because in those days everybody understood that when a map says one thing and reality says another, reality always wins.

      Unfortunately, too many people do not understand this nowadays, or at least don't apply it to GPS technology, which is why you so often read news stories like “Woman drives into lake because GPS said it was a road” or “Man drives into house because GPS said it was a highway” or even “Couple lost in the wilderness for days after GPS tells them unpaved logging road is actually the Interstate.”

      The Mighty Susquehanna

      So it's no surprise to learn that last week, Pennsylvania State Police made the acquaintance of a man who confused a state highway with the Susquehanna River:

      Jacob W. Ash, 24, of Spencer, W. Va., was driving on state Route 2025 in Wyalusing Township (Homets Ferry Road west of Ferry Road) around 7 a.m. on May 22, police said.

      The road continues to the river. According to police, Ash, who was following directions from a GPS device, did not see the river and drove into it.

      Maybe that was Ash's problem — even when your GPS directions are 100% accurate, and if followed will direct your car onto roadways rather than into waterways, you-the-driver need to look at your GPS in addition to looking at the road, not in lieu of looking at the road.

      Even when the road is genuinely there, you still need to watch out for everything from “other drivers” to “potholes and other obstacles,” none of which a GPS can tell you about.

      Same story, different waterway; this time it was the Susquehanna...
      Read lessRead more

      Want to lose weight? Try prunes

      Eating lots of prunes dampens the appetite, researchers find

      Prunes don't get much respect. Aside from, or perhaps partly because of, their reputation as an unusually effective laxative, they're not something most of us would think about as the ideal snack.

      But a study by the University of Liverpool finds that those who ate dried prunes experienced greater weight loss than those who ate tastier items.

      "These are the first data to demonstrate both weight loss and no negative side effects when consuming prunes as part of a weight management diet," said Liverpool psychologist Jo Harrold, who led the research. "Indeed in the long term they may be beneficial to dieters by tackling hunger and satisfying appetite; a major challenge when you are trying to maintain weight loss."

      Consumption of dried fruit is not generally recommended during weight loss despite evidence it enhances feelings of fullness but the study of 100 overweight and obese subjects found that prunes may be the exception.

      The study also examined whether consumers could tolerate eating substantial numbers of prunes.

      Study details

      To assess the effects of prunes on weight and appetite, participants in the study were divided into two groups – those who ate prunes every day and those who were merely given advice on healthy snacks.

      The researchers found that members of the group which ate prunes as part of a healthy lifestyle diet lost about 4.4 pounds (2kg) in weight and shed about 1 inch (2.5cm) off their waists. However, the people in the group which was given advice on healthy snacks lost only 3.3 pounds (1.5kg) in weight and 6/10 of an inch (1.7cm) from their waists.

      The study also found that the prune eaters experienced greater weight loss during the last four weeks of the study. After week eight, participants showed increased feelings of fullness in the prune group. Moreover, despite the high daily doses, prunes were well tolerated.

      Prunes don't get much respect. Aside from, or perhaps partly because of, their reputation as an unusually effective laxative, they're not something most of...
      Read lessRead more

      Heavy airplane traffic a major source of air pollution

      Cars contribute less than 5% of the pollution in the area around LAX

      Cars and trucks get most of the blame for the blanket of smog that lies over major metropolitan areas but a new study finds that heavy airplane traffic can be an even bigger source of pollution for up to 10 miles around an airport.

      The report, published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology, has serious implications for the health of residents near Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and other airports around the world.

      Scott Fruin and colleagues noted that past research has measured pollution from air traffic but most of these studies only sampled air within a couple of miles, at most, from airports.

      Not surprisingly, these analyses have found higher levels of pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and small particles less than 0.1 micron (about one-thousandth of the width of a human hair), that scientists attributed to airplane emissions.

      This added pollution is potentially a major public health issue. Ultrafine particles, which form from condensation of hot exhaust vapors, are of particular concern because they deposit deeply into the lungs and can enter the bloodstream.

      The oxidative stress and resulting inflammation appear to play a role in the development of atherosclerosis (blocked arteries) and can make other health conditions worse, especially for people with existing cardiac or lung conditions including asthma.

      Fruin's team at the Keck School of Medicine and the University of Southern California suspected that residents near LAX, the sixth busiest airport in the world, were being exposed to excessive doses of pollution from airplanes even farther from the runways than previous research had considered. During its busiest times, 40 to 60 jets take off and land every hour.

      Pollutants measured

      Over a period of 29 days, the scientists drove the area within 10 miles downwind of the airport to measure levels of air pollutants. The area included densely packed residential neighborhoods flanked by three major freeways.

      They found that over a 23-square-mile area, particle number (PN) concentrations were double the background levels while over nine square miles, levels were five times higher than background. And within nearly two miles east of the airport, PN levels were nearly 10 times higher -- equivalent to 174 to 491 miles of freeway traffic. For reference, the entire area of Los Angeles County has a total of about 930 miles of freeways.

      Based on their calculations, scientists concluded that within the area they found to have elevated pollution from the airport, automobiles contributed less than 5 percent of the PN levels.

      "Therefore, the LAX should be considered one of the most important sources of PN in Los Angeles," the scientists state in the journal article.

      Heavy airplane traffic potentially a major contributor to pollution in Los AngelesCongested freeways crawling with cars and trucks are notorious for caus...
      Read lessRead more

      Peer-to-peer banking gains investors' interest

      Short-lived fad or the shape of financial things to come? Investors betting the latter

      Earlier this week we told you about how “new technology threatens old banking institutions,” at least according to a new marketing survey suggesting that, compared to older Americans, those younger than 34 are far more willing to consider getting their banking needs from sources other than traditional brick-and-mortar banks.

      One of those non-traditional banking possibilities is peer-to-peer lending. It's not exactly a new phenomenon – in 2011, we gave advice for potential borrowers seeking a would-be loan through peer-to-peer sources – but at some point in the past year or so, it morphed from “the latest Internet niche product” to a major player in the financial landscape. Last year, for example, Google bought a stake in the peer-to-peer Lending Club.

      What it is

      What is peer-to-peer lending? As the name suggests, it's lending done mostly between individuals (peers) — you borrow money from an individual lender (or a group of individual lenders) as opposed to borrowing from GigantoBankCorp. Or, on the other side, you lend money as an individual investor, rather than as part of GigantoBankCorp.

      The benefit is that, obviously, you're not dealing with GigantoBankCorp either way, so lenders and borrowers both can enjoy more flexibility than huge and highly regulated financial institutions generally allow.

      The downside is also that you're not dealing with GigantoBankCorp, which for all its institutional flaws still enjoys benefits like FDIC insurance coverage — and the inertia left over from generations of people raised to associate “banking” with GigantoBankCorp rather than, say, some lender on the Internet.

      Of course, that inertia might be fading as more people every year become adults whose entire childhoods were spent taking the Internet for granted.

      Investors becoming interested

      Recently, there's been a rise in news reports about peer-to-peer lending – not from a borrower's perspective, but from an investor's. (Overall opinion: investing your money in P2P lending is probably riskier than investing it in old-school banks — but the potential returns are a lot higher, too.)

      On May 8, for example, the Economist ran a story about the role P2P lending plays, especially in the modern Chinese economy (where American-style banking regulations and property rights are nonexistent, of course): headline “We try harder” and subheading “Without the banks' baggage, shadow banks find it easier to oblige customers.” (That “baggage” includes such obvious things as the cost of building and maintaining actual physical bank branches, as opposed to P2P lending which requires little more than a reliable, secure Internet connections.)

      On the other hand, traditional-banking advocates say the main reason P2P lending is so popular among investors right now is because interest rates remain unusually low by historical standards. As the Economist noted:

      bankers often express scepticism about P2P’s staying power. As volumes grow, they say, underwriting standards are bound to fall. Investors will have no real sense of the risks they are running until the next downturn arrives. Moreover, the model’s appeal relies partly on the current low interest rates around the world, which make the extra yield from P2P especially alluring to investors. When rates begin to rise again, that advantage will dissipate.

      What is the yield from P2P, anyway? Lending Memo.com (obviously promoting a pro-P2P point of view) asked this last September:

      what return does peer to peer lending even offer?

      It is this last question that we will devote the focus of our article today, hoping to get an answer by turning to leading voices within the industry. Interestingly, their answers widely vary. Some think a 5% return can be expected; others say 12%.

      Twelve percent return on a non-loan-shark lending investment sounds too good to be true, or at least too good to be reliably counted upon. Five percent, on the other hand, sounds reasonable, and certainly better than the 1 percent or less interest rate banks give on savings now.

      However, it was less than a generation ago that four or five percent was a standard, unremarkable interest rate of return for just a regular FDIC-insured savings account; only in this era of unusually low interest rates would any investor seriously consider putting money in a risky investment in hope of a mere five percent return.

      So those banking advocates mentioned in the Economist, the ones who say P2P's investment advantages will disappear once interest rates return to historically normal levels, might very well be correct.

      Earlier this week we told you about how “new technology threatens old banking institutions,” at least according to a new marketing survey sugge...
      Read lessRead more

      Consumers pull back on spending in April

      The decline came even though incomes moved higher

      Consumers showed some reluctance to open their wallets last month, even though their incomes increased.

      Figures released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) show personal consumption expenditures (PCE) fell by $8.1 billion, or 0.1%. Personal income, on the other hand, increased $43.7 billion, or 0.3%, with disposable personal income (DPI) also up 0.3%. 

      PCE had increased $117.6 billion, or 1.0%, in March , while personal income was up 0.5%, as was DPI.

      Wages and salaries

      Private wages and salaries rose in April, but not as much as they did the month before: $16.9 billion vs. of $44.6 billion in March. Payrolls of goods-producing industries fell $0.1 billion in March, while manufacturing were down $1.2 billion. Services-producing industries' payrolls jumped $16.9 billion, and government wages and salaries rose $1.4 billion.

      Spending and saving

      Personal outlays, which include PCE, personal interest payments, and personal current transfer payments, fell by $9.1 billion in April; they rose $120.2 billion in March. PCE was down $8.1 billion after rising $117.6 billion a month earlier.

      Personal saving -- DPI less personal outlays -- was $518.1 billion in April, compared with $464.4 billion in March. The personal saving rate -- personal saving as a percentage of disposable personal income -- was 4.0% in April, compared with 3.6% in March.

      The complete incomes and spending report is available on the BEA website.

      Consumers showed some reluctance to open their wallets last month, even though their incomes increased. Figures released by the Bureau of Economic Analysi...
      Read lessRead more

      Southwest fined for violating price advertising rule -- again

      The carrier advertised tickets for seats that were not available

      Southwest Airlines is being fined $200,000 for violating the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) full-fare advertising rules. The carrier is also under orders to cease and desist from further violations something the carrier seems inclined to ignore.

      According to DOT, by violating the full-fare advertising rule in this case, Southwest also violated a previous the cease and desist order. Thus, the airline must pay an additional $100,000, which was suspended from an order issued in July 2013.

      “DOT’s full-fare advertising rules were put into place to ensure that consumers are not deceived when they search for plane tickets,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said. “Consumers have rights, and DOT will continue to take enforcement action against carriers and ticket agents when our price advertising rules are violated.”

      Seats unavailable

      In October 2013, Southwest ran a TV ad on eight networks in the Atlanta area advertising $59 sale fares to New York, Los Angeles and Chicago on certain dates. An investigation by DOT’s Aviation Enforcement Office revealed that Southwest did not have any $59 seats available between Atlanta and any of the three quoted cities on any of the applicable travel dates.

      By advertising fares for which no seats were available at all, Southwest violated the full fare advertising rule and engaged in prohibited unfair and deceptive practices.

      Repeat offender

      This latest order order and the one issued in 2013 both stem from violations of the same federal regulation, which requires that any advertisement or solicitation for air transportation that states a price for such transportation state the entire price to be paid. In both cases, the carrier advertised fares for which there were not a reasonable number of seats available.

      By violating the same regulation again within one year, Southwest also violated the cease and desist provision of the order issued in 2013, and was immediately required to pay $100,000 -- half of the original civil penalty which was suspended from the previous order.

      Southwest Airlines is being fined $200,000 for violating the U.S. Department of Transportation ’s full-fare advertising rules. The carrier is also under or...
      Read lessRead more

      Ocean’s Catch brand minced crab meat recalled

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Rome Packing of East Providence, R.I., is recalling Ocean’s Catch brand minced crab meat.

      Routine product sampling has determined some of the finished products may have been contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes bacteria.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      The recalled products, packaged in round plastic containers (tub with snap-on lid) and sold refrigerated, include:

      6-ounce Ocean’s Catch Crab Meat

      • lot number 101366 with a sell by date before 5/14/14;
      • lot number 101507 with a sell by date before 5/20/14;
      • lot number 101540 with a sell by date before 5/21/14;

      8-ounce Ocean’s Catch All Natural Jonah Crab Combo Meat

      • lot number 101372 with a sell by date before 5/14/14;
      • lot number 101432 with a sell by date before 5/19/14;
      • lot number 101474 with a sell by date before 5/20/14;

      16-ounce Ocean’s Catch All Natural Jonah Crab Combo Meat

      • lot number 101372 with a sell by date before 5/14/14;
      • lot number 101391 with a sell by date before 5/16/14;
      • lot number 101407 with a sell by date before 5/16/14;
      • lot number 101432 with a sell by date before 5/19/14;
      • lot number 101474 with a sell by date before 5/20/14;
      • lot number 101539 with a sell by date before 5/21/14.

      The products were distributed nationwide to retail stores including, but not limited to, Shaws Supermarkets, Market Basket and Dave’s Market.

      Consumers who have purchased these products are urged not to consume them and return them to the place of purchase for a refund or discard them.

      Consumers with questions may contact company representative, John F. Whiteside, Jr. at (508)991-3333.

      Rome Packing of East Providence, R.I., is recalling Ocean’s Catch brand minced crab meat. Routine product sampling has determined some of the finished pro...
      Read lessRead more

      Pet Center recalls Lamb Crunchy’s dog treats

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Pet Center of Los Angeles, Calif., is recalling 3-oz bags of Lamb Crunchy’s dog treats (LAM-003) (UPC# 727348200038) with date code 122015.

      The product has the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      The recalled product was distributed to Gelson’s Market, General Pet, Nor-Sky Pet Supply, and Independent Pet in California, Wisconsin, Colorado and Washington.

      Consumers who have purchased this product should return it to the place of purchase for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at 800-390-0575 Monday-Friday from 7:30am- 4pm PST.

      Pet Center of Los Angeles, Calif., is recalling 3-oz bags of Lamb Crunchy’s dog treats (LAM-003) (UPC# 727348200038) with date code 122015. The product h...
      Read lessRead more

      Eugene Oregon expands recall of various dietary supplements

      The products may contain undeclared active pharmaceutical ingredients

      Eugene Oregon of Levittown, Pa., is expanding the recall of the following products: 

       Product Name Lot NumberPackaging Packaging Coloring Quantity Per Package 
      Black Ant
      All lots Small boxes
      inside large
      black, and
      6 capsules per box, 8 boxes per display
       Black AntAll lots Small boxes
      / tins inside
      large box 
      Green 4 capsules per small box, 20 boxes
      display unit. Also packaged in 10 tablets
      and 10 capsules in a metal tin. 
       Mojo Risen All lots
      inside box
       Red and white 2 capsules per envelope, 24 envelopes
      per display box.

      The original recall was issued in early May, and is being reissued to clarify that ALL LOTS of the products are being recalled.

      Laboratory analysis shows the products contain undeclared amounts of the active pharmaceutical ingredients sildenafil and tadalafil -- FDA-approved pharmaceutical ingredients used to treat erectile dysfunction.

      The company contends that conclusive testing has not been done to confirm that the recalled products do, in fact, contain sildenafil and/or tadalafil.

      These products are marketed as dietary supplements for sexual enhancement and packaged in tins, envelopes, and/or boxes and were distributed to consumers nationwide at retail stores.

      Consumers should stop using these products immediately and can return them to Eugene Oregon, Inc., 922 S. Woodbourne Rd. #304, Levittown, PA 19057-1001.

      Consumers with questions may contact Eugene Oregon at 1-800-538-3411 Monday through Friday between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. EST.

      Eugene Oregon of Levittown, Pa., is expanding the recall of the following products: African Black Ant, Black Ant, Mojo Risen. The original recall was issu...
      Read lessRead more

      Trident Recalls ultraviolet sanitation systems for pools

      Electrical arcing can cause the units to catch fire

      Trident Ultraviolet Corp., of Marina del Rey, Calif., is recalling about 3,660 Trident Series 2 Ultraviolet Sanitation Systems for pools.

      Electrical arcing can cause the units to catch fire.

      There have been 38 reports of the sanitation systems melting and or catching fire, one burn injury to a consumer’s hand and about $23,000 in property damage reported.

      This recall involves all Trident Series 2 ultraviolet sanitation systems for pools. The sanitation system is a gray tube that stands 32 inches high by 11 inches in diameter. It is plumbed into the pool’s water circulation pipes and plugged in or hard-wired into an electrical system. The pool’s water runs through the unit and is sanitized by ultraviolet lamps. This is a secondary sanitation system used in conjunction with chemical sanitizers such as chlorine or bromine.

      “Trident Ultraviolet Corporation,” “Series 2” and “UV Ultraviolet Sanitation System” are printed on a black label on the front of the units. “Trident Series 2 Ultraviolet Water Treatment System” and a series of letters for the date code are printed on a silver sticker on the units. Go to www.uvrecall.org to determine if the date code is included in the recall.

      The systems, manufactured in the U.S. and China, were sold at pool companies nationwide from February 2009, through September 2013, for about $600.

      Consumers should immediately unplug the units from the outlet, or if hard-wired, the power source should be disconnected or turned off at the circuit breaker. Contact Trident for a free repair kit.

      Consumers may contact Trident toll-free at (855) 522-8200 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT Monday through Friday or by email at assistance@uvrecall.org.

      Trident Ultraviolet Corp., of Marina del Rey, Calif., is recalling about 3,660 Trident Series 2 Ultraviolet Sanitation Systems for pools. Electrical arcin...
      Read lessRead more

      Sunbeam recalls Holmes ceramic heaters

      The ceramic heaters can overheat, posing a fire hazard

      Sunbeam Products of Boca Raton, Fla., is recalling about 151,600 Holmes ceramic heaters.

      The ceramic heaters can overheat, posing a fire hazard to consumers.

      The firm has received 132 reports of units that unexpectedly stopped working and/or overheated, resulting in 1 report of smoke inhalation and 10 reports of property damage involving burned flooring.

      This recall involves Holmes oscillating ceramic heaters sold in black, purple, red, blue and white. The rectangular heaters included in the recall are about 12 inches tall, 8 ½ inches wide and 5 ½ inches deep and have model number HCH1823M printed on a label on the bottom of the product.

      The “Holmes” logo is on the bottom front of the unit and two knobs controlling the fan and the thermostat are on the top. The heater adjusts between a high and low heat setting and a fan only setting.

      The heaters, manufactured in China, were sold at Fred Meyer, Target, Walmart and other retailers nationwide from August 2013, to March 2014, for about $30.

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled heater, unplug it and contact Sunbeam Products, for instructions on how to obtain a full refund.

      Consumers may contact Sunbeam Products at (800) 834-0056 anytime.

      Sunbeam Products of Boca Raton, Fla., is recalling about 151,600 Holmes ceramic heaters. The ceramic heaters can overheat, posing a fire hazard to consume...
      Read lessRead more

      The richest person in history (plus or minus a few billion)

      We're all rich by world historical standards, so why aren't our lives easier?

      An old proverb says that “The rich man has his ice in the summer, and the poor man gets his in the winter.”

      Of course, that proverb predates the Industrial Revolution, discovery of electricity and invention of refrigeration, not to mention the other technological and economic reasons why, in early 21st-century America, things like refrigerator/freezers aren't “rich-person luxury items” but actual legal requirements — if you're a landlord renting out residential properties, local tenant and zoning codes almost certainly require that you equip those apartments with a working refrigerator and the electrical infrastructure to power it, among other things.

      I first came across the “rich man's ice” saying as a little girl, during whichever summer I read Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books. Like most young kids, even those whose parents provide all necessities, I was absolutely rock-bottom “poor” in terms of “How much money do I, personally, have to spend?” (Usual answer: None, unless I'd recently received some as a gift.)

      But that summer, reading library books about American pioneer life in the 1870s and '80s, was the first time I ever felt rich. Ice in the summer? Anytime I wanted; I didn't even need to ask permission first. In one scene, Wilder described how excited she and her sisters were the day Pa came home with a very special (and expensive) present for the whole family: little panes of window glass, so natural light could enter the house and the family could see outside even when the weather was too cold or rainy to leave the window open. That was a red-letter day in the Ingalls household, even better than when Pa put smooth wooden boards down over the house's original packed-dirt floor.

      Sunday best

      Then I read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and Mark Twain describing Tom's getting ready for church: “Mary got out a suit of his clothing that had been used only on Sundays during two years—they were simply called his 'other clothes' — and so by that we know the size of his wardrobe.” Laura Ingalls and her childhood friends had wardrobes roughly the same size: a regular outfit and a “Sunday best.”

      By contemporary American-kid standards my financial status had always been average-to-poorish, but I'd have been the richest character by far in any of my “life in olden times” storybooks. And the further back in time I go, the richer I become. In fact, if you exclude “everyone who lives or has lived these past hundred years or so,” I'm richer than any person who has ever existed.

      Consider these random facts: in late Elizabethan England (a peaceful and prosperous period by the standards of the day), a single loaf of bread cost twopence (2d), when the average unskilled laborer's income was only 3 to 4d per day, and 12d per day was the high end of a skilled laborer's pay scale.

      Queen Elizabeth I had an enormous income — 60,000 pounds per year (at 240d to the pound) — but for all her wealth she had no access to basic dental care, which is why foreign ambassadors at the time noted that several of the English Queen's teeth were missing, and the remainders rotted to pure black.

      As for Elizabeth's subject William Shakespeare, historians think he wrote his plays (at least his early ones) while sitting in a pub — not because writers prefer noisy, distracting environments, not even so he could eat or drink while writing, but because the pubs were illuminated, and lighting was too expensive for ordinary people, let alone struggling writers, to afford much at home.

      There's some dispute over exactly when and where “glazed ceramics” and “glassware” were first invented, but everyone agrees they were extremely popular innovations mainly for eating and drinking purposes: when you eat and drink out of unglazed pottery, some of its sediments will blend in with your food.

      Everyone who lived in ancient Egypt, even the rich and powerful Pharaohs, had horrible tooth problems because the food-processing methods of the time resulted in bits of sand or stone mixed in with your bread, grinding the teeth down so badly that those of most Egyptian mummies were “worn down to the pulp.”

      Impossible luxuries

      So, yeah — technology, cheap manufacturing, agricultural innovations and countless other advances since Ye Olden Days mean even a poor American today has what would have been literally impossible luxuries for most of history.

      That slummy one-room off-campus apartment where I lived while attending Cheap State U … still bigger than the claim shanties where Laura Ingalls lived with her family of six, and equipped with everything from non-dirt floors and glass windows to indoor plumbing and all the light I wanted.

      Paying for my own food was a rude shock after a lifetime of parents providing it — but even the most overpriced loaf of handmade artisan bread wouldn't cost me two-thirds of a day's pay. I bought cheaper bread, still much better than what Pharaoh had because it didn't wear down my tooth enamel.

      I'm not trying to impress you by bragging about my vast wealth, here — glass windows, stone-free bread, a bathroom — because in modern terms they're not really considered “wealth” anymore; you can have all this stuff and still be poor. Your house's being infinity times nicer than any pioneer shack is irrelevant when you can't afford the payments to keep it.

      Why is the cost of living so expensive, when food and clothes and so many other luxuries and necessities are so unbelievably cheap by world historical standards?

      Higher standards

      Because we have higher living standards, for starters; the Ingalls' claim shanty on the American frontier would be condemned as unfit for human habitation today. And for all the ways technology has made certain things cheaper than ever before, that doesn't mean all necessities are cheap, or even affordable.

      Plus there's all the ways people's finances can collapse for reasons beyond their control: if you need some expensive medical procedure your insurance won't cover, there's nothing much you can do about that.

      Wages have been falling while the price of food, fuel and other necessities keep rising — not much you can do there, either. And the cost of higher education, mandatory for most career paths, has risen faster than inflation every year for more than a generation now.

      Technology hasn't helped costs there. Despite all this, there's a definite subcategory of financial problems directly caused by making bad financial decisions, or overlooking the modern necessity vs. luxury distinction.

      For just one example, if you want a new television, waiting until you have the cash to buy it is much cheaper in the long run than patronizing a “rent-to-own” or “lease to buy” center — even if you do have to wait rather than get the new TV right now. The cheapest, smallest new TVs are still better than anything you could get only 10 or 20 years ago. If you need a new refrigerator, a basic no-frills model from your local "scratch and dent" outlet works better than the top-of-the-line models from when you were a kid.

      Still insecure

      Bear in mind, I'm not trying to say, “You have more and nicer things than the average Elizabethan or frontiersman, so quit complaining.” Indeed, you must be careful not to mistake technological improvement, or historic standards of wealth, for financial or any other form of security.

      In 2011, for example, the Heritage Foundation put out a study, “Understanding poverty in the United States,” which has become notorious among critics who interpreted it as saying “Poor people in America actually have it pretty good, and shouldn't complain.”

      In response to the Census Bureau's report that over 46 million Americans qualified as “poor” in 2010, the Heritage Foundation noted that most poor American households do indeed own a variety of useful material possessions: “In 2005, the typical poor household, as defined by the federal government, had ... a refrigerator, an oven and stove, and a microwave.”

      True. Of course, as mentioned earlier, the typical American municipal building code requires a refrigerator, oven and stove for a dwelling to be legally habitable — and a new microwave oven can be had for less than $50, roughly one day's pretax pay for a minimum-wage earner.

      When Laura Ingalls and Tom Sawyer were kids, owning more than two sets of clothes was enough to make somebody rich. Nowadays a thrift-store shopper on a good day can buy an entire outfit with designer labels for less than an hour's pay — lucky thing, since modern standards of dress have risen so that “wearing the same outfit every single day until you outgrow it or it falls apart” is no longer socially acceptable anyway.

      So it's true that even poor Americans are in many ways rich by historical standards, but those standards don't always apply now. During my “poor years” — college and some while thereafter, until I paid off my damnable student-loan debts — when I worried about immediate or long-term financial matters, I never once thought “How can I buy a single loaf of bread?” or “I'll never be able to afford a microwave of my very own.”

      No, my concerns were bigger: debt and interest payments, health and medical costs, rent increases, hoping my rickety car held together because I couldn't afford a repair bill that month.

      But during those bleak days, when I was broke, indebted and had to practice a lot more self-denial than I generally do now, I could always afford to re-visit the literary friends of my childhood and remember that Laura and Tom and the rest of the gang would still be amazed by my opulent living standards, even in that one-room college apartment.

      Staying out of restaurants was easier when I viewed my home-cooked meals through other people's eyes: I ate lots of eggs because they were cheaper than meat, whereas Laura went years without seeing a single egg because her family couldn't afford chickens.

      Being poor, and taking the steps to be not-poor, were both easier for me to handle when I remembered the ways I was rich.

      An old English-language proverb says that "The rich man has his ice in the summer, and the poor man gets his in the winter." ...
      Read lessRead more

      Yellow ribbon on leash means steer clear of dog

      New symbol mean animal should be left alone

      Ever since the Iran hostage crisis of 1979 a yellow ribbon has symbolized something of a welcome, or a wait for a return. In other words, a welcoming symbol.

      When you see a yellow ribbon on a dog's leash, however, it means something entirely different.

      According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) a yellow ribbon tied to a leash serves as a warning. It means the dog at the other end doesn't like to be approached and petted by strangers, and that you should keep your distance.

      Always ask

      AVMA says it's always proper etiquette – as well as prudent – to ask permission before petting someone's dog but not everyone understands that. They think that just because their dog adores them that all dogs do. That isn't always the case.

      The association is trying to encourage owners of less-than-friendly dogs to adopt the yellow ribbon warning system when they take their pet out for a stroll. It is also trying to encourage parents to warn their children about approaching strange dogs – and in particular those with a yellow ribbon on their leash.

      Dr. Ilana Reisner, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist and consultant on dog bite safety, says the threat of children being bitten by a dog can be greatly reduced with active supervision by a parent or other adults.

      Aimed at reducing dog bites

      State Farm Insurance and the U.S. Postal Service, two entities very concerned about dog bites, recently sponsored Reisner's appearance at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

      “Supervision is not well understood,” Reisner said at the event. “Dog owners in general are lacking knowledge about what kinds of things dogs and children do that can be a risk. For example, they might go out of the room and prepare lunch while the child is alone with the dog maybe 10-20 feet away, and that’s not active supervision. If that’s one message we can get across I think it would prevent a lot of bites.”

      Then there is the whole issue of what Reisner calls “breed bias.” It works two ways.

      While parents might be careful with their children around breeds with a reputation for being aggressive, they may drop their guard for breeds with a reputation for being friendly.

      “Just because you happen to have a dog that’s considered to be a great family pet doesn’t mean that it would be safe for a toddler to crawl up to that dog and give him a hug when he’s sleeping,” Dr. Reisner said.

      Bad body language

      In addition to looking for a yellow ribbon it's also wise to observe a dog's body language. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) says a dog will telegraph its mood and disposition. According to HSUS, here are some things to watch out for:

      • tensed body
      • stiff tail
      • pulled back head and/or ears
      • furrowed brow
      • eyes rolled so the whites are visible
      • yawning
      • flicking tongue
      • intense stare
      • backing away

      Story continues below video

      Even if you don't observe any of these behaviors it's never wise to approach an unfamiliar dog, in particular one who is on a leash or in a confined space. HSUS says you shouldn't even pet your own dog without letting them see and sniff you first.

      Don't disturb a dog while she's sleeping, eating, chewing on a toy, or caring for puppies. Be cautious around strange dogs. According to HSUS, you should always assume that a dog who doesn't know you may see you as an intruder or a threat.

      Ever since the Iran hostage crisis of 1979 a yellow ribbon has symbolized something of a welcome, or a wait for a return. In other words, a welcoming symbo...
      Read lessRead more

      Google settles parts of Gmail privacy-violation lawsuit

      Pre-dates their current Terms of Service: they're still allowed to scan most emails

      Google has settled part of the lawsuit brought against it by various adult Gmail users who claim that Google's practice of scanning email content for targeted advertising violated various privacy protection laws.

      MediaPost reported that Google filed a “stipulation of dismissal” last week, but the exact details of that settlement—including whether or not any money changed hands—has not been disclosed. The settlement was made with adults, and does not apply to minors who claim Gmail violated their privacy as well.

      Last month, on April 15, we warned you that Google had changed its Gmail terms of service, presumably in response to this lawsuit: ever since April 14, Google's terms of service specifically state that “Our automated systems analyze your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection. This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored.”

      Despite this, Google announced two weeks later that it would stop scanning student, government and business emails, though private, personal email accounts presumably still fall under the revised April 14 terms.

      So whatever terms are hidden in this settlement between Google and various Gmail users most likely would not apply to anyone using Gmail accounts under these new terms: you can't complain that the contents of your messages are being scanned, because Google came right out and told you (provided you clicked on the link for its Terms of Service page and read or scrolled down past the first 849 words [consisting of five separate subsection headings and 16 paragraphs]). The 17th paragraph of Google's Terms of Service page clearly states that previously quoted comment about automated systems analyzing your content. So, you've been warned.

      Google has settled part of the lawsuit brought against it by various adult Gmail users who claim that Google's practice of scanning email content for targe...
      Read lessRead more

      Amazon admits contract disputes are behind its battle with Hachette

      Advises customers to look elsewhere for certain books

      The latest development in the Amazon vs. Hachette Book Group saga has Amazon openly admitting that contract disputes are behind the recent inability of customers to buy certain Hachette-published titles on Amazon.com. As Amazon announced on its Kindle forum May 27:

      “At Amazon, we do business with more than 70,000 suppliers, including thousands of publishers. One of our important suppliers is Hachette, which is part of a $10 billion media conglomerate. Unfortunately, despite much work from both sides, we have been unable to reach mutually-acceptable agreement on terms.”

      The Amazon v. Hachette battle started slowly. Earlier this month, we first reported that Amazon was delaying shipments of certain Hachette titles: a book that would normally ship within a day or two of the order being placed instead had shipping dates listed several weeks in the future.

      The New York Times had first noticed this Hachette-specific shipping delay on May 8, when it reported:

      A Hachette spokeswoman said on Thursday that the publisher was striving to keep Amazon supplied but that the Internet giant was delaying shipments “for reasons of their own.” Hachette is one of the largest New York houses, publishing under the Little, Brown and Grand Central imprints, among many others.

      The affected books are a mixture of new and old. A just-published memoir, “Everybody’s Got Something,” by the “Good Morning America” anchor Robin Roberts, is taking as long as three weeks to ship, customers were told. So is Stephen Colbert’s “America Again: Re-becoming the Greatness We Never Weren’t.” …. Generally, most popular books are available from Amazon within two days. An Amazon spokesman declined to comment.

      No comment

      One particular bit of that quote, where Amazon “declined to comment,” was repeated in pretty much every succeeding media story about the officially mysterious dispute between the bookseller and book publisher. Just this week, for example, on May 26, the Associated Press reported “Amazon escalates standoff with publisher Hachette Book Group,” summarizing the previous two weeks' events before providing the latest official responses from the two parties involved:

      "We are doing everything in our power to find a solution to this difficult situation, one that best serves our authors and their work, and that preserves our ability to survive and thrive as a strong and author-centric publishing company," Hachette said in a statement Friday issued through spokeswoman Sophie Cottrell. Later Friday, Hachette released a more strongly worded statement, saying it was "sparing no effort and exploring all options."

      Amazon declined to comment.

      Two days earlier, a reporter for Bloomberg news put out a quick update story that “Hachette apologizes to authors caught in Amazon dispute,” and gave readers a quick summary of the situation:

      Disagreements between Seattle-based Amazon and publishers have centered on digital-book prices and a reluctance by some houses to replace physical copies of older books with online versions.

      Megan Fitzpatrick, a Hachette spokeswoman, didn’t immediately respond to voice-mail and e-mail messages left after business hours. Craig Berman, an Amazon spokesman, declined to comment.

      So after several weeks of Amazon declining to comment, its May 27 comment in the Kindle forum was newsworthy indeed.

      A cynic might suggest Amazon chose to break its comment-silence because public opinion seemed to be against it in this dispute; typical headlines included “Amazon has gone too far/ the e-book monopolist, having strong-armed Hachette, may finally get its day in court” (Fortune/CNN), and “In the standoff between Amazon and Hachette, the customer comes last” (ditto).

      Vintage Bezos

      On the other hand, Time's business opinion page wrote “Amazon's war on Hachette is vintage Jeff Bezos — controlling, ruthless, vicious … and probably good for consumers.”

      How's that? 'The battle boils down to this: What is the optimal price for e-books? If it’s too high, fewer will be sold. Too low, profit margins will narrow even further. Bezos, head of the world’s biggest book retailer, thinks he has a better view than book publishers of what e-books should cost. He’s probably right.”

      But the anonymous headline-writer at the link-aggregation blog Fark.com took a less optimistic view of the situation, linking to Slate's coverage of the story with the sardonic headline: “Amazon encourages readers of Hachette books to purchase them from one of their competitors. The online retail giant then added, 'Good luck finding one. Mwahahahahahahahahahahahaha (inhale) hahahahahahahahahahaha'”

      But on the other other hand (the possibilities here represented by a being with far more hands than your typical human gets), one of the first commenters in that Fark discussion thread pointed out that Hachette is not exactly a poor innocent little put-upon bookseller either: in early 2013, Hachette was one of five publishers to agree to a settlement in a federal lawsuit that eventually found Apple and those five publishers guilty of price-fixing e-books.

      So the Amazon v. Hachette battle isn't David and Goliath so much as Goliath and Goliath, and which giant you root for probably depends on which side you find more sympathetic.

      But in the meanwhile, if you're an Amazon customer hoping to buy certain books published by Hachette, Amazon advises you to look elsewhere if you want to buy them online: “If you do need one of the affected titles quickly, we regret the inconvenience and encourage you to purchase a new or used version from one of our third-party sellers or from one of our competitors.”

      The latest development in the Amazon vs. Hachette Book Group saga has Amazon openly admitting that contract disputes are behind the recent inability of cus...
      Read lessRead more

      Apple buys Beats -- good news for music lovers? How about musicians?

      Recording artists may face slow starvation as streaming services displace download sales

      Maybe it's a little embarassing for Apple, the company that pretty much invented legal online music downloads, to have to pony up $3 billion to buy its way back into the business, as Apple is doing with its purchase of Beats.

      Some of the talking heads are saying the purchase will make Apple cool again -- whatever that means -- while others are saying the company acted out of desperation as it watched the likes of Pandora and Spotify take large bites out of iTunes day after day.

      OK, fine, so it goes out and spends $3 billion on a headphone company that bought MOG, a failing music streaming service, and changed its name to Beats. Of course, it's also buying Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre, who are officially cool and thereby good for Apple's brand.

      And so?

      But what, if anything, does all this commotion mean for music lovers? 

      Well, assuming that iTunes remains more or less intact, it means they'll still be able to buy downloads of individual songs and entire albums. Of course, that's something you can also do at Amazon, Google Play Music and lots of other places.

      In fact, at Amazon you can sometimes buy a physical CD and also get a download as well as the option of streaming it through Amazon's player. 

      Perhaps Apple will offer some kind of bundle that combines iTunes and Beats that is a little more than the sum of its parts. It doesn't get a lot of attention but iTunes already has something iTunes Radio, which offers not just radio stations but streams of assorted musical genres. It's not quite clear how Beats differs from that except we're told it's cooler. Of course.

      Trying to stay on top of things, I signed up for Beats when it displaced MOG, which was an excellent service with far better audio quality than its competitors. I was promised a few free months and a transfer of all my playlists, neither of which happened.

      Beats so far has not even come close to figuring out what kind of music I like to listen to and bombards me with stuff that is wildly off-key. So maybe it's the coolest thing ever but then again, maybe not.

      No gain, no pain 

      So, except for those of us mourning the loss of MOG, it doesn't look like consumers lose anything in this deal, at least for the short term, and they will perhaps gain a few notes around the edges as new packages are assembled.

      What about musicians? They are, after all, where the music comes from and, as a group, they regard streaming as something akin to the plague. Bloomberg today tells the tale of Zoe Keating, a cellist who made more than $70,000 last year on royalties from iTunes and other download services. That's money she uses to pay the mortgage and keep the lights on.

      Pandora, Spotify and all the other streaming services paid her a total of $6,381 for the year. That's not enough to do much of anything.

      The music industry as a whole is having the same experience. Revenues are falling steadily as download spending declines and streaming services fail to make up the difference.

      Big-name artists are increasingly relying on concert tours to make up for declining CD and download sales. Lesser-known artists -- who, after all, make up the vast majority of the performing universe -- wind up playing in bars and on street corners, where unemployed ex-newspaper reporters may throw a few coins at them. 

      One artist quoted by Bloomberg estimated that Pandora would have to play a track 312,000 times for him to make as much as a single CD sale. 

      So this may wind up being the day Apple became cool again as well as the day the music died. 

      Maybe it's a little embarassing for Apple, the company that pretty much invented legal online music downloads, to have to pony up $3 billion to buy its way...
      Read lessRead more