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    Better automatic braking means higher safety ratings

    The improvement comes less than a year into a new program

    More vehicles are earning top ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) when it comes to front crash prevention.

    Less than a year into the new IIHS rating program, auto manufacturers are making moving to adopt the most beneficial systems with automatic braking capabilities, and are offering the features on a wider variety of models.

    As a result, 21 of 24 cars and SUVs -- all 2014 models unless noted -- earn an advanced or higher rating in the latest round of IIHS evaluations.

    “We are already seeing improvements from automakers since the initial launch of our ratings last September,” said David Zuby, IIHS executive vice president and chief research officer. “BMW and Lexus, for example, have added more braking capability to their systems, which has paid off in higher ratings.”

    Large family cars and large luxury cars make up the bulk of the test group. Four midsize luxury/near luxury cars, three midsize luxury SUVs and a midsize SUV were tested also.

    Cream of the crop

    Four vehicles earn perfect scores when equipped with certain options: the BMW 5 series large luxury car, BMW X5 midsize luxury SUV, 2015 Hyundai Genesis large luxury car and Mercedes-Benz E-Class large luxury car.

    In all, eight models earn the highest rating of superior, 13 earn advanced, and three earn a basic rating.

    In addition to familiar luxury brands, consumers will find mainstream nameplates among the newest rated vehicles, including Buick, Chevrolet, Dodge and Toyota.

    The ratings

    IIHS rates vehicles as basic, advanced or superior for front crash prevention depending on whether they offer autobrake and -- if so -- how effective it is in tests at 12 and 25 mph.

    Forward collision warning systems that meet performance criteria set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and autobrake systems that provide only minimal speed reduction in IIHS tests earn a basic rating.

    Vehicles that combine the warning with moderate speed reductions earn an advanced rating. It is possible to qualify for an advanced rating with an autobrake system that doesn’t first warn the driver before taking action.

    Models that offer a warning and provide major speed reduction in IIHS tests earn a superior rating. Some models have multiple ratings because they are available with different versions of front crash prevention systems and their test performance varies. In the current group, this is the case with the BMW 3 series, 5 series and X5.

    “We know that this technology is helping drivers avoid crashes,” Zuby says. “The advantage of autobrake is that even in cases where a crash can’t be avoided entirely, the system will reduce speed. Reducing the speed reduces the amount of damage that occurs to both the striking and struck cars and reduces injuries to people in those cars.”

    Front crash prevention systems use various types of sensors, such as camera, radar or laser, to detect when the vehicle is getting too close to one in front of it. Most systems issue a warning and precharge the brakes to maximize their effect if the driver responds by braking. Many systems brake the vehicle autonomously if the driver doesn’t respond. In some cases, automatic braking is activated without a preliminary warning.

    Availability

    Most front crash prevention systems have to be purchased as part of an optional package, but consumers will find that availability is growing, especially for autobrake. More than 20% of 2014 models in the Highway Loss Data Institute's vehicle features database offer a front crash prevention system with autobrake capabilities -- twice as many as in 2012. Forward collision warning is offered as an option on nearly 40% of 2014 models.

    “Sorting through the various trade names and features can be confusing, even if you’re looking at models from the same manufacturer. Before buying, consumers should consult the IIHS ratings to find out if the specific model they are considering comes with a top-rated front crash prevention system,” Zuby advises.

    More vehicles are earning top ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) when it comes to front crash prevention. Less than a year int...
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    Children can suffer from high blood pressure too

    And it's becoming more common

    It's a grown-up affliction but an alarming number of children are beginning to feel its effects: hypertension, or high blood pressure.

    The typical person suffering from high blood pressure is middle aged, stressed out and overweight. However, the average age of people with hypertension is steadily declining.

    More than 50 million Americans are now believed to suffer from hypertension, putting them at increased risk for cardiovascular disease, end-stage renal disease, and cerebrovascular accidents.

    And now doctors estimate that nearly 5% of the pediatric population has unhealthy levels of blood pressure.

    Lifestyle factors

    Hypertension can have many causes but it is primarily influenced by lifestyle factors. Being overweight, not eating properly and getting little or no exercise can all be contributors.

    That may be why so many children are now affected. The rise in childhood hypertension coincides with the rise in childhood obesity.

    “Hypertension puts a strain on the cardiovascular system, and makes children at risk for heart disease and chronic kidney disease later in life,” said Dr. Robert Woroniecki,of Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. “Conversely, sometimes chronic kidney disease leads to high blood pressure. Whatever the cause, the effects can dramatically influence a child’s health.”

    High blood pressure poses a different sort of problem for children's health, but it poses a problem nonetheless. In adults, high blood pressure can mean the patient is at short-term risk of a heart attack or stroke.

    Future problems

    Not so with children but hypertension can still cause changes in your child’s body, putting them at risk for future complications. Once they reach middle age, these children may have even more severe health problems than do adults diagnosed during middle age.

    High blood pressure has no symptoms, leading it to be sometimes called “the silent killer.” But being overweight or obese are big risk factors.

    Woroniecki says children who meet this physical description should get regular blood pressure readings. Until recently pediatricians were not all that likely to screen their young patients for high blood pressure because it was so rare.

    Difficult to diagnose

    Diagnosing high blood pressure in children is more difficult than in adults. According to the Mayo Clinic, pediatric hypertension is defined as “blood pressure that's the same as or higher than 95% of children who are the same sex, age and height as your child.”

    There isn't a simple target blood pressure reading the problem in all ages for children, because what's considered normal blood pressure changes as children grow.

    But the condition in children can occur for the same reasons it shows up in adults -- being overweight, eating a poor diet and not exercising.

    Other causes

    While hypertension can be addressed in these children by having them make lifestyle changes, some cases are more complicated and may require medication. For example, the Mayo Clinic notes that high blood pressure in children under 10 is usually caused by an underlying medical condition.

    For adolescents, the American Heart Association says age, body size and the degree of sexual maturation are major factors in determining blood pressure levels. Heavier and more sexually mature teenagers tend to have higher blood pressure.

    The group cites research suggesting teens who are obese and have high blood pressure may develop thicker arteries by age 30. Fatty buildups in artery walls can lead to a variety of health problems including heart disease and stroke.  

    It's a grown-up affliction but an alarming number of children are beginning to feel its effects: hypertension, or high blood pressure.The typical person ...
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    Text spammer fined for scam that promised free Walmart and Best Buy gift cards

    Phil Flora was also found in contempt for violating a prior Federal Trade Commission order

    The operator of a text message spamming operation that sent more than 29 million text messages to consumers promising “free” $1,000 Walmart and Best Buy gift cards, has been ordered to pay $148,309 for his involvement in the scam. Phil Flora, of Orange County, Calif., was also found in contempt for violating a prior Federal Trade Commission order.

    “When scammers ignore court orders, they do so at their own peril,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “As this case shows, no matter how much scammers may try to hide their involvement, we will work to uncover their role and ensure they give up their ill-gotten gains.”

    In March 2013, the FTC named Flora as a defendant in one of several enforcement actions brought across the country against operators of “free” gift card text messaging scams.

    In November 2013, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California entered a final order and default judgment against Flora for his involvement in the scam. The final order permanently bans Flora from sending spam text messages and imposes a judgment of $148,309 – an amount equivalent to the money he gained through his illegal scheme.

    The court also found Flora in civil contempt because his conduct violated an order from a previous FTC case concerning highly similar illegal practices. In this 2011 case, the FTC alleged that Flora sent millions of unwanted text messages advertising bogus mortgage loan modifications.

    The stipulated order settling the 2011 case permanently banned Flora from sending spam text messages. The court found that Flora had violated this provision through the conduct that led to the FTC’s 2013 case.

    The operator of a text message spamming operation that sent more than 29 million text messages to consumers promising “free” $1,000 Walmart and...
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      Subprime auto lender to pay $5.5 million for using illegal tactics

      Consumer Portfolio Services will "adjust" 128,000 customer accounts

      Consumer Portfolio Services (CPS), a national subprime auto lender, will pay $5.5 million to settle charges that it used illegal tactics, including collecting money consumers did not owe, harassing consumers and third parties, and disclosing debts to friends, family, and employers.

      The Federal Trade Commission said the company will refund or "adjust" 128,000 customer accounts involving more than $3.5 million and will also stop trying to collect an additional 35,000 accounts. 

      CPS will pay another $2 million in civil penalties to settle FTC charges that the company violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)’s Furnisher Rule.

      “At the FTC, we hold loan servicers responsible for knowing their legal obligations and abiding by them,” said Jessica Rich, director, FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “The law is very clear: Loan servicers can’t charge consumers more than they owe. And they can’t threaten and harass consumers about delinquent debts.”

      The company has also agreed to change its business practices and provide the FTC with independent assessments of its progress over the next 10 years.

      Violations

      According to the FTC’s complaint, CPS’ loan-servicing violations include:

      • Misrepresenting fees consumers owed in collection calls, monthly statements, pay-off notices, and bankruptcy filings;
      • Making unsubstantiated claims about the amounts consumers owed;
      • Improperly assessing and collecting fees or other amounts;
      • Unilaterally modifying contracts by, for example, increasing principal balances;
      • Failing to disclose financial effects of loan extensions;
      • Misrepresenting that consumers must use particular payment methods requiring service fees; and
      • Misrepresenting that the company audits verified consumer accounts balances.
      Consumer Portfolio Services (CPS), a national subprime auto lender, will pay $5.5 million to settle charges that it used illegal tactics, including co...
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      Dish Network will begin accepting bitcoin payments

      With 14 million customers, it's the biggest to do so

      DISH Network says it will begin accepting bitcoin payments in the third quarter. It says it's the biggest company and the only pay-TV provider to do so.

      "We always want to deliver choice and convenience for our customers and that includes the method they use to pay their bills," said Bernie Han, DISH executive vice president and chief operating officer. "Bitcoin is becoming a preferred way for some people to transact and we want to accommodate those individuals."

      Lots of people still don't know quite what bitcoin is, including regulators who have been looking with furrowed brow at the growth of the online virtual currency.

      DISH has more than 14 million customers. How many of them are bitcoin users remains to be seen.

      Bitcoin has been around since 2008, when it was designed as a secure way to move money across the Internet. It has no central issuing authority and uses a public ledger to log each transaction.

      Other well-known companies accepting bitcoin include Overstock.com and Lord & Taylor.

      Payment processor

      DISH has selected Coinbase as the payment processor for bitcoin transactions with customers who choose to pay their bill online with the bitcoin wallet of their choice. DISH will use Coinbase's Instant Exchang feature to exchange bitcoin payments to U.S. dollars at the moment of the transaction.

      "We're excited to support DISH and their current and new subscribers for their bitcoin transactions," said Coinbase co-founder Fred Ehrsam. "This is a large step forward in the growing momentum of customers paying companies in bitcoin for things we do every day, like watching premium TV."

      "As a bitcoin payment processor, Coinbase will help DISH make the payment experience easy for our customers and make it easy for DISH to receive immediate credit in dollars, at an attractive cost for DISH," added Han.

      DISH Network says it will begin accepting bitcoin payments in the third quarter. It says it's the biggest company and the only pay-TV provider to do so."...
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      U.S. economy shifts into reverse

      A second look at early 2014 shows we're losing ground

      What a difference a couple of months can make.

      The government reports that the economy, after growing at an annual rate of 2.6% in the last three months of 2013, is now shrinking at a clip of 1.0%.

      Just a month ago, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) estimated that real gross domestic product -- the output of goods and services produced by labor and property located in the United States – grew at an 0.1% annual rate for the first three months of 2014.

      This "second" estimate is based on more complete source data than were available for the "advance" estimate.

      The drop in real GDP reflects negative contributions from private inventory investment, exports, nonresidential fixed investment, state and local government spending, and residential fixed investment. These were partly offset by a positive contribution from personal consumption expenditures. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, increased.

      Inflation slows

      The price index for gross domestic purchases, which measures prices paid by U.S. residents,

      increased 1.3% in the first quarter -- down 0.1% from the advance estimate; the index rose 1.5% in the fourth quarter.

      Excluding food and energy prices, the price index for gross domestic purchases increased 1.3% in the first quarter, compared with an increase of 1.8% in the fourth.

      Sterne Agee Chief Economist Lindsey Piegza says this shows a much weaker start to the year than previously reported, meaning the subsequent "rebound" is even more lackluster in comparison.

      “The good news -- if there is any in a negative GDP report,” she adds, is that the consumer “was reaffirmed as the one bright spot in the economy at the start of the year. The bad news, other sectors of

      the economy, particularly investment, were much weaker than originally reported in the advanced report.”

      The full GDP report is available on the BEA website.

      Jobless claims

      In a separate report, the Labor Department (DOL) says first-time applications for unemployment benefits fell by 27,000 In the week ending May 24 to a seasonally adjusted total of 300,000.

      The 4-week moving average, which is less volatile and seen as a more accurate gauge of the labor market, plunged 11,250 to 311,500 -- the lowest level since August 11, 2007 when it was 311,250.

      The complete report can be found on the DOL website.

      What a difference a couple of months can make. The government reports that the economy, after growing at an annual rate of 2.6% in the last three months o...
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      Pending home sales head higher in April

      Lower mortgage interest rates could continue the trend

      Gains in the Midwest and Northeast offset declines in the West and South, pushing pending home sales higher in April for the second straight month.

      The National Association of Realtors (NAR) says its Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI), which is based on contract signings, inched ahead 0.4% -- to 97.8, but is 9.2% below its year-ago level of 107.7.

      The PHSI in the Northeast increased 0.6% to 79.3 in April, but is 12.0% below a year ago. In the Midwest the index rose 5.0% to 99.2 last month, but is 6.9% below April 2013.

      Pending home sales in the South slipped 0.6% to a reading of 111.9, and are 6.4% below a year ago. The index in the West declined 2.9% in April to 88.4, and is 15.0% below April 2013.

      Looking ahead

      The realtors trade organization expects a gradual uptrend in home sales. “Higher inventory levels are giving buyers more choices, and a slight decline in mortgage interest rates this spring is raising prospective home buyers’ confidence,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. “An uptrend in closed sales is expected, although some months will encounter a modest setback.”

      Yun projects the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage to trend up and average 5.5% next year. “The extent to which higher mortgage interest rates will impact housing affordability and sales depends on income growth, ongoing improvement in the labor market and any change to mortgage underwriting conditions,” he said

      With sub-par activity in the first quarter, annual existing-home sales are expected to be modestly below the nearly 5.1 million in 2013, but should be close to 5.3 million in 2015.

      The national median existing-home price is projected to grow between 5 and 6% this year, and in the range of 4 to 5% in 2015.

      Gains in the Midwest and Northeast offset declines in the West and South, pushing pending home sales higher in April for the second straight month. The Na...
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      Federal Corporation recalls tires with shoulder cracks

      The cracks could result in an unexpected loss of pressure

      Federal Corporation is recalling 6,209 model Couragia A/T LT245/75R16 120/116Q 10PR tires manufactured May 2013, through April 2014, and with sidewall stampings of DOT UXA3 and calendar weeks of 1913 through 1414.

      The affected tires may experience cracks in the shoulder caused by separation of the steel belt edge. Thus, they fail to to comply to the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 139, "New Pneumatic Radial Tires for Light Vehicles."

      Shoulder cracks in a tire may result in an unexpected loss of tire pressure, increasing the risk of a crash.

      Federal Corporation will notify owners, and dealers will replace the affected tires with new tires, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on, or about, July 15, 2014.

      Owners may contact Federal at 1-855-444-8235.

      Federal Corporation is recalling 6,209 model Couragia A/T LT245/75R16 120/116Q 10PR tires manufactured May 2013, through April 2014, and with sidewall stam...
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      Nissan recalls Rogue vehicles with steering issues

      A bolt used to connect the intermediate shaft to the upper steering assembly could fall out

      Nissan North America is recalling 1,644 model year 2014 Rogue vehicles manufactured January 10, 2014, to January 17, 2014.

      An incorrect bolt may have been used to connect the intermediate shaft to the upper steering assembly in the affected vehicles. The incorrect bolts could loosen and fall out, resulting in a loss of vehicle control and increasing the risk of a crash.

      Nissan will notify owners and, dealers will inspect and repair all affected vehicles, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin by the end of June 2014.

      Owners may contact Nissan at 1-800-647-7261.

      Nissan North America is recalling 1,644 model year 2014 Rogue vehicles manufactured January 10, 2014, to January 17, 2014. An incorrect bolt may have bee...
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      Survey: younger consumers believe privacy is a thing of the past

      Nearly half don't object to tracking if it produces relevant offers from brands

      Just one day after the Federal Trade Commission urged Congress to grant consumers more control over data gathered about them, a new study finds that 80% of younger consumers think total privacy is a thing of the past.

      The FTC studied nine data brokers, representing a cross-section of the industry, and found that just one of the data brokers studied holds information on more than 1.4 billion consumer transactions and 700 billion data elements and another adds more than 3 billion new data points to its database each month.

      The Washington Post said the FTC's findings would "unnerve" some consumers but the Accenture survey released today found that nearly half (49%) of the U.S. and U.K. consumers aged 20-40 say they wouldn't object to their behavior being tracked if the surveillance produced relevant offers from brands and retailers.

      In fact, the survey of 2,012 consumers conducted in March and April 2014 found that nearly two-thirds of the respondents – 64% – said that when they are physically in a store, they would welcome text messages from that retailer alerting them to offers matching their buying preferences.

      Concerns shared

      However, reading beyond those headlines, it becomes clear that the consumers surveyed share many of the FTC's concerns about how personal data is used.

      A resounding majority -- 87% -- believe, like the FTC, that adequate safeguards are not in place to protect their personal information.
      And 64% say they are concerned about websites tracking their buying behavior.

      More than half (56%) say they are trying to safeguard their privacy by inputting their credit card information each time they make an online purchase rather than having that data stored for future use.

      The survey found that 70% of respondents believe businesses aren’t transparent about how their information is being used, again echoing the FTC's findings.

      A large number of respondents – 40% – believe only 10% of their personal data is actually private.

      So how do businesses strike the right balance in providing consumers with what they want while taking their concerns about privacy into consideration?

      “In today’s digital age where consumers are connected and empowered and data is abundant, businesses must align their organizations, technology and strategies to deliver relevant and loyalty-enabling experiences to their consumers,” said Glen Hartman, global managing director of Digital Transformation for Accenture Interactive. 

      What consumers want

      Looking beyond the privacy issue, the survey found that consumers are becoming increasingly demanding.

      Asked to rank the factors that would make them most likely to complete the purchase of a product or service, respondents’ top three choices were sales and competitive pricing (61%), superior products (36%) and superior customer experience – both online and in-store (35%).

      Customer loyalty programs and relevant promotions followed, at 31% and 26%, respectively, but engaging advertising campaigns and celebrity endorsements trailed far behind, at 6% and 3%, respectively.

      Further, the survey confirms that consumers in the 20-40 age groups are ubiquitous users of digital technology across multiple mobile platforms. Respondents own between three and four digital devices per person, on average, and 27% own more than four devices. They also spend an average of six to six and a half hours per day using a digital device for personal activities including messaging/texting (48%), emailing (39%), getting news (27%) and shopping for a product or service online (20%).

      Just one day after the Federal Trade Commission urged Congress to grant consumers more control over data gathered about them, a new study finds that 80% of...
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      Microsoft says Skype will soon translate "on the fly"

      Beta version expected to be released later this year

      Microsoft says Skype will soon be able to translate voice calls in "near real-time," meaning that you could call someone in, say, Germany and carry on a relatively normal conversation with each person speaking in his or her native tongue.

      Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella demonstrated the system at the Code conference today. It uses technology developed by the company's Skype and Translator teams. 

      "Ever since we started to speak, we wanted to cross the language boundary," Nadella said, promising a beta version later this year and a commercial product within the next few years.

      Although the Redmond software giant’s real-time language translation tool was demonstrated a few years ago as a concept, it is finally scheduled to reach beta stage in an update of Skype some time later this year.

      A Microsoft researcher demonstrates Skype's translation software at the Code conferenceMicrosoft says Skype will soon be able to translate voice calls...
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      How to prevent dangerous tick bites

      Exposure in some areas can be hundreds an hour

      Health officials in recent years have tried to increase public awareness of the serious diseases carried by ticks. But the tiny insect is usually the last thing you're thinking about when you're preparing for a hike, camping trip or picnic.

      That lack of awareness can be dangerous, especially in areas of the country that are infested with ticks.

      "There are areas in this part of the country that the tick exposure can truly be massive," said Michael Dryden, a professor at Kansas State University and one of the world's foremost experts on the pest. "You can walk into areas and literally encounter dozens or hundreds of ticks.”

      Reducing the risk

      No one is suggesting you stay inside this summer but Dryden says a few precautions can dramatically reduce your risk of a tick bite. First and foremost, try to avoid areas known to be heavily infested.

      Your state agriculture extension office is likely to have this information. Otherwise, consider that ticks love areas with a heavy tree canopy with good vegetation, some type of water source, adequate humidity and wildlife, particularly whitetail deer and turkeys.

      Any time you are outdoors in the summer and fall use insect repellent. Dryden suggests it will be most effective sprayed on the inside of your pant legs, on your socks, ankles and shoes. Then, roll your pant legs into your socks to reduce the amount of exposed skin. Also, conduct a daily inspection to make sure you are carrying no ticks.

      "Sometimes that's the best thing we can do is to inspect ourselves because many of these diseases take a day or longer after the ticks attach to be transmitted," Dryden said.

      Don't forget gear and pets

      And don't just examine yourself and your children. Examine both gear that has been exposed to the outdoors and pets. Ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats, and day packs.

      Remember that you can attract ticks anywhere outdoors – even walking through a field of tall grass.

      "Many people believe that ticks fall out of trees," he said. "They do not do that. What happens is these ticks get on us and they crawl upward until they hit bare skin. The back of the neck is often the first bare skin they find, which leads people to believe they dropped down."

      Use the right repellent

      The kind of tick repellent you use will also make a difference in your level of protection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends products containing 20% to 30% DEET on exposed skin and clothing. It should provide several hours of protection.

      For clothing, use products that contain Permethrin. You should treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents with products containing 0.5% permethrin. It remains protective through several washings. Pre-treated clothing is available and may be protective longer.

      The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has an online tool to help you find the right commercial repellent for your particular need.

      What if you find a tick on your body that appears to be feasting on your blood? Don't panic.

      The recommended removal technique, according to the CDC is to use fine-tipped tweezers to grab the tick as close to the skin as possible. Next, pull it out with a steady motion.

      Once the tick has been removed, clean the skin with soap and water. The tick is probably still alive so dispose of it by placing it in alcohol or flushing it down the toilet.  

      Health officials in recent years have tried to increase public awareness of the serious diseases carried by ticks. But the tiny insect is usually the last ...
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      Uber dubs itself a jobs creator

      The popular ride-sharing service says it's generating 20,000 jobs per month

      Crowd-sourcing is the engine that drives Uber, Airbnb and other fast-growing "peer-to-peer" businesses -- and a powerful engine it is.

      Just how powerful is illustrated in statistics from Uber, showing that the ride-sharing service has been generating an average of 20,000 new driver jobs per month.

      Perhaps more startling is the median income those drivers are earning -- $90,766 in New York City, $74,191 in San Francisco for UberX drivers. 

      The Uber release is in response to efforts by city and state government units around the country who have been trying to more tightly regulate, and even outlaw, Uber and its competitors, Lyft and Sidecar. 

      The regulators argue that the independently-owned cars are essentially taxis and should have to jump through all the regulatory hoops that cabs do -- including city permits that can cost as much as $1 million. That's the current price of a New York City medallion that every city cab is required to have.

      By contrast, an Uber driver just needs ... well, a car, a driver's license, adequate insurance and a well-charged smartphone. 

      Instant entrepreneurs

      "Hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs are using the [Uber] platform to build their own small business, resulting in a huge job growth engine for cities resulting in billions of dollars being pumped into the U.S. economy," said Travis Kalanick, Uber CEO.

      In contrast, Kalanick said traditional taxi drivers in most cities are barely making ends meet: 

      "The nation’s taxi drivers are often below the poverty line, required to spend $3,500/month – over $40,000/year – just to lease their taxi, so that wealthy taxi company owners can reap the benefits of drivers having no other option to make a living."

      Former cab drivers who switched to Uber say they are not only making more money but feel much safer, since they no longer pick up total strangers at all hours of the day and night.

      Using the Uber platform, both driver and passenger's identities are known to each other and each is able to rate the other. This crowd-sourcing is more effective than any bureaucratic regulatory appartus operated by local governments, Uber enthusiasts argue.

      Ah, but what does the future hold for Uber drivers?

      The smartphone and Uber's algorithms effectively replaced the taxi dispatcher and it just may be that Google's self-driving car will replace Uber drivers one of these days.

      "We are most certainly going to partner with other companies, possibly Uber," Google co-founder Sergey Brin said at a technology confernce, ZDNet reported

      Crowd-sourcing is the engine that drives Uber, Airbnb and other fast-growing "peer-to-peer" businesses -- and a powerful engine it is.Just how powerful i...
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      Latest scientific discovery: cats eat more in the winter

      Cat owners take note -- your feline craves more food when it's cold

      You have to admire the scientific mind. It is constantly on a quest for new knowledge and insights. Just last week, researchers posited that we are fat because we eat too much.

      And now another group of researchers has found that cats eat more during the winter and -- therefore -- cat owners should give their pet more food during the winter months.

      Researchers from the University of Liverpool's School of Veterinary Science, in collaboration with colleagues at the Royal Canin Research Centre in France, spent four years monitoring how much cats chose to eat. They found that food intake increased in colder months and decreased during the summer. The research appears in PLOS One.

      The 38 cats studied had a microchip on their collar which allowed them to take as much food as they wanted from a dispenser which only opened for them. At the same time, this microchip recorded how much the cat had eaten and when.

      "Cats, like many humans are more inclined to comfort eat when it's cold outside but, in their case, it's likely to be due to the extra energy they need to keep warm when out and about," said veterinarian and study author Alex German. 

      The study found that cats ate approximately 15% less food during the summer, when the temptation to rest contributed to the swing in activity levels during the year.

      Seasonal food intake has also been examined in the past on farm animals, such as dairy cows, to establish new ways of increasing milk production, but this is the largest study that has yet taken place with domestic cats.

      "People should consider the amount of food their cats need at different times of year as this can be part of helping them to maintain a healthy weight," German said.

      Cats eat more during the winter and owners should give their pet more food during this time, University of Liverpool research has found.Researchers from ...
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      New technology threatens old banking institutions

      Accenture survey suggests younger generation more open to alternative banking options

      The phrase “Younger people are more likely than older people to embrace new technology and innovations” has always been true regardless of the techno-innovation in question.

      So it's not surprising to read that, according to a new survey by management-consulting firm Accenture, “Younger bank customers are nearly twice as likely as older customers to consider switching to a branchless bank and to consider banking with major technology players if those companies offered banking services.”

      Or, as the Washington Post's WonkBlog put it, “Walmart and Google could steal young customers from traditional banks.”

      It's the bank-specific version of a story you've read many times before: “Old, established businesses in a given industry have trouble adapting to new technology.”

      Film companies had to adapt or die (well, go bankrupt) after digital cameras killed the demand for their product; the post office is still figuring out how to remain financially viable now that free email and other communication technologies have wiped out most of the market for First Class mail, and traditional brick-and-mortar bankers, in addition to dealing with the unpleasant connotations which have attached to the word “banker” after the financial problems of the past few years, now find that people who have grown up since childhood in the “24/7 connectivity” world of the Internet harbor different expectations for all service providers, including bankers.

      Some of these expectations can be chalked up to technological improvements. For example, Accenture said that among consumers on the 18 to 34 age range (the younger end of which includes some people with no memories of pre-Internet life) “68% expressed interest in receiving real-time analysis of their spending from their bank,” compared to only 35% of those over 55.

      Before the Internet, of course, such real-time analysis would've been impossible for banks to provide; only now can such a service even be possible, let alone expected.

      However, other aspects of the survey suggest that younger consumers' changed expectations go beyond mere technology, and entail different ideas of exactly what services a “bank” is actually supposed to provide.

      Among 18-to-34s, 55% “would like their bank to help with the 'heavy lifting' of car-buying and provide discounts in that process, compared with 45% of those age 35 to 55, and one-quarter (24%) of those over 55,” according to the survey.

      The phrase "Younger people are more likely than older people to embrace new technology and innovations" has always been true regardless of the ...
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      Allergists caution e-cigarette users

      No evidence to support claims e-cigs help users cut back tobacco use, researchers caution

      E-cigarettes have captured the interest of smokers, and they've also captured the interest of researchers, who are turning out a flurry of studies of the risks and rewards of the nicotine burners.

      One of the latest is an article in the June issue of Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, the scientific journal of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). It examines the risks associated with e-cigarettes, including the ongoing dependence on nicotine and the dual use of e-cigarettes and regular cigarettes.

      The conclusion: caveat emptor – "buyer beware."

      The article notes that while e-cigs are frequently promoted as helping smokers cut back, that theory hasn't been proven, and there's little evidence to support the claims.

      "Despite the apparent optimism surrounding e-cigarettes and their purported therapeutic role in smoking cessation, there just simply is not enough evidence to suggest that consumers should use e-cigarettes for this purpose." said allergist Andrew Nickels, MD, Mayo Clinic Division of Allergy and Immunology, the lead author of the study.

      Recently, however, a large survey of smokers in England found that people who use e-cigs to help them stop smoking are 60% more likely to succeed than those who use other over-the-counter therapies such as nicotine patches or gum.

      The study, conducted by University College London and published in Addiction, surveyed 5,863 smokers between 2009 and 2014 who had attempted to quit smoking without the aid of prescription medication or professional support; 20% of people trying to quit with the aid of e-cigarettes reported having stopped smoking conventional cigarettes at the time of the survey.

      Another cause for concern, the ACAAI report said, is that when people use e-cigarettes in public and still smoke regular cigarettes at home, they continue to expose children and asthma sufferers in the household to dangerous second hand smoke, the article cautions.

      "Dual use of both e-cigarettes and regular cigarettes carries the risk of secondhand smoke exposure, causing worsening respiratory effects on children and asthma sufferers. It also promotes ongoing nicotine dependence," said Chitra Dinakar, MD, Professor of Pediatrics, Children's Mercy Hospitals.

      Long-term complications

      Because e-cigarettes are fairly new, there could be other long-term health complications that have yet to be discovered. Results of long-term exposure to such substances are unknown. Due to the lack of production oversight, most consumers don't know what's in the e-cigarettes they buy, the article says.

      Organizations like ACAAI are calling for enhanced scrutiny and regulation by the FDA. The ACAAI's position statement on e-cigarettes recognizes that nicotine delivered by any mechanism represents a drug exposure, and that vaporization instruments are a drug delivery system, both of which are within the FDA's scope of regulation.

      Inhaling irritants such as smoke and vapors has an impact on the lungs, whether it is mild or severe and could cause asthma attacks in some individuals. These attacks are responsible for some of the 4,000 asthma-related deaths per year.

      E-cigarettes have captured the interest of smokers, and they've also captured the interest of researchers, who are turning out a flurry of studies of the r...
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      "Lice Shield" manufacturer agrees to pay $500,000, cancel deceptive ads

      Feds say the company's shampoo, sticks and sprays don't perform as advertised

      It would be great if a simple shampoo or spray could repel head lice but the Federal Trade Commission says that the maker of "Lice Shield" products has not presented any scientific proof that its products can do that.

      Lornamead, Inc. has agreed to pay $500,000 and stop making deceptive claims about its products, which are widely advertised and sold in stores including Albertsons, CVS, Safeway, Rite Aid, ShopRite, Walgreens, and WalMart.

      “As any parent knows, an outbreak of lice can wreak havoc,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “When marketers say their products can be used to avoid these pests, they’d better make sure they can back up their claims.”

      Misleading claims

      Unlike traditional head lice treatments, or pediculicides, Lornamead markets its Lice Shield products for preventing rather than treating head lice infestations. Lornamead claimed in print ads, website and banner ads, and on product packaging, that the citronella and other essential oils in its Lice Shield products would “dramatically reduce” the risk of head lice infestations, according to the complaint.

      The company claimed that the best way to treat lice was to avoid getting them, with Lice Shield products that are “scientifically shown to repel head lice.”

      The proposed order requires Lornamead to have at least one well-controlled human clinical study supporting its claims that Lice Shield products and other drugs, cosmetics or pesticides it markets will shield consumers from pediculosis; reduce the risk of an infestation by a specific percentage or amount; repel all lice; or repel a specific percentage or amount of lice.

      For any other claims it makes about repelling lice or reducing the risk of infestation, and for claims it makes about the health benefits of any drug, cosmetic, or pesticide, the company is required to have competent and reliable scientific evidence. The proposed order also prohibits Lornamead from misrepresenting any tests, studies, or research when marketing such products.

      For consumer information about avoiding head lice, see the “Heading off Head Lice” portion of the FDA publication Treating Head Lice, which advises avoiding head-to-head contact, and not sharing items such as hats, scarves, helmets, combs, and brushes.

      It would be great if a simple shampoo or spray could repel head lice but the Federal Trade Commission says that the maker of "Lice Shield" products has not...
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      Mortgage applications post first decline in 4 weeks

      Refinancing applications were down as well

      Applications for home mortgages fell during the week ending May 23 after posting gains during the previous 3 weeks.

      According to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey, applications were down 1.2% on a seasonally adjusted basis from one week earlier.

      The Refinance Index dipped 1%, with the refinance share of mortgage activity holding steady at 52% of total applications.

      The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity was unchanged at 8% of total applications.

      Contract interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) fell 2 basis points -- from 4.33% to 4.31%, the lowest level since last June. Points decreased to 0.15 from 0.20 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate was down from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) dipped to 4.23% -- the lowest level since June 2013 -- from 4.24%, with points increasing to 0.16 from 0.09 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA was down 2 basis points to 4.04%, the lowest level since June of last year, with points falling to -0.45 from -0.39 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs decreased to from 3.43% to 3.42%, the lowest level since October 2013, with points dropping to 0.06 from 0.15 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs slipped to 3.13% from 3.14%, with points down to 0.19 from 0.29 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.

      The survey covers over 75 percent of all U.S. retail residential mortgage applications.

      Applications for home mortgages fell during the week ending May 23 after posting gains during the previous 3 weeks. According to data from the Mortgage Ba...
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      Belleville Farmer’s Market recalls shelled walnuts

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Belleville Farmer’s Market of Belleville, Ill., is recalling packages of shelled walnuts.

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No illnesses have been reported to date in connection with this problem.

      The recalled Shelled Walnuts were distributed in Belleville retail stores.

      The product comes in an 8-ounce, clear plastic package marked with a Farmer’s Market label indicating pack dates from March 2014, through May 2014.

      No illnesses have been reported to date in connection with this problem.

      Consumers who have purchased the recalled product should return them to 1901 N. Belt West, Belleville, Ill., for a full refund.

      Belleville Farmer’s Market of Belleville, Ill., is recalling its packages of shelled walnuts. The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes....
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      Sun Tree recalls shelled walnuts

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Sun Tree LLC is recalling 46 cases of 24-count 12-oz produce bags of California Grown Shelled Walnuts, Lot No. 42720, Best by 12/11/2014 UPC code, 69887507806.

      There is a possibility the wall nuts may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No illnesses or customer complaints have been reported to date.

      The recalled products were sold to retailers in Kansas City, Kan., in March 2014.

      Consumers who have purchased these walnuts are urged not to consume them, but to dispose of them or return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.

      Consumers with any questions may call Glen Kerby at (623)-707-5604, 8:30a.m. to 5 p.m. CST weekdays.

      Sun Tree LLC is recalling 46 cases of 24-count 12-oz produce bags of California Grown Shelled Walnuts, Lot No. 42720, Best by 12/11/2014 UPC code, 69887507...
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