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When a car's price tag can be a red flag

Study finds abnormally low-priced cars are often scams

As consumers, we are always looking for the best deal. But when it comes to buying things, certain economic principals almost always prevail. People genera...

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© guynamedjames - Fotolia.com

As consumers, we are always looking for the best deal. But when it comes to buying things, certain economic principles almost always prevail. People generally don't give things away, and when they do – watch out!

This is especially true when it comes to buying a used car. When a car is priced very low, you can expect it's very old, needs some repairs, has a lot of wear and tear and might not be that fun to drive.

But what if you find a car that isn't all that old, appears to be in good repair and and has an unbelievably low price? Chances are there are problems that aren't obvious and if the seller doesn't point them out to you, you could become the victim of a scam.

Cut-off point

To find out which used cars may be too good to be true, iSeeCars.com, an automotive website, looked at 50 million used cars for sale by dealers over the last two and a half years. Its study focused on used cars that were priced well below the average market value.

It found that the lowest-priced vehicles had the best chance of being too good to be true. It also found that $12,000 seemed to be the cut-off point.

If a used car were priced at $12,000 or above the chances of it being a potential fraud were only 0.3%.

Cars priced under $5,000 were more than 7 times as likely to be a scam. Cars under $3,000 had the greatest chance of being a lemon.

Even the small difference between $12,000 and $10,000 appears to be a factor. The study concludes that cars priced below $10,000 are 3.6 times more likely to be a scam than those over $12,000.

Not as advertised

How is the car a scam? Only if it is not as advertised. Defects should be disclosed.

In some cases an abnormally-priced car might have been in a flood. It might have serious mechanical issues not readily apparent to the casual car buyer. It might have been totaled in an accident and, while repaired and drivable, has a “salvage” title that greatly reduces its value.

In some cases the odometer has been tampered with – a crime. The car you are told has 74,000 miles in fact may have closer to 150,000.

The iSeeCars.com study found these problems are much more likely to be found on the low end than the high end.

“It may be that dealers think they are more likely to get away with cheating people who are looking for lower price vehicles,” said Phong Ly, co-founder and CEO of iSeeCars.com. “We found examples of cars being advertised for much less than their market value or what they’re worth. The dealer’s hope is to lure the potential buyer into the dealership in an attempt to sell them a different car or the same car but on an expensive financing plan. It may also be that the advertised car has some major undisclosed issue or it could be odometer fraud.”

In fact, the car that caught your attention with the rock bottom price might not even exist. When you arrive at the lot the car looks like the one in the ad but the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is different.

To counter that trick make sure you bring the ad with you when you visit the dealer to inspect the car. Compare the car's VIN to the one in the ad.

Look into the dealer's reputation. Local consumer agencies may have records of any complaints. Online review sites like ConsumerAffairs often have local dealer reviews, particularly if there have been a number of issues.

If you are interested in a particular make and model, do some research. Check automotive sources to see what the market value is. While you don't want to pay more than the fair market price, paying significantly less is also a bad idea.

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Facebook experiments with manipulating your emotions

It was successful enough to publish the results

Here's two bits of disturbing news which came out about Facebook late last week: not only does the company allow scientists to experiment with manipulating...

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Mark Zuckerberg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Editor's Note: This story contains language that may be offensive to some.

Here's two bits of disturbing news which came out about Facebook late last week: not only does the company allow scientists to experiment with manipulating its users' emotional states, it openly brags about it in scientific journals.

Facebook scientists published a paper called “Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks” in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study's “significance,” as spelled out at the beginning of the paper, is this:

We show, via a massive (N = 689,003) experiment on Facebook, that emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness. We provide experimental evidence that emotional contagion occurs without direct interaction between people (exposure to a friend expressing an emotion is sufficient), and in the complete absence of nonverbal cues.

In other words, by deliberately skewing the results of the secret algorithms determining which posts and articles would appear on the “Feeds” of 689,003 randomly selected Facebook users, the researchers were indeed able to manipulate the users' emotional states: deleting positive content from feeds apparently made users' emotions more negative, judging by their later posts.

Facebook has been doing damage control today, saying it did the study "because we care about the emotional impact of Facebook and the people that use our product." 

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Adam Kramer (Photo credit: Facebook)
Adam Kramer, Facebook data scientist and co-author of the study, noted that it affected only 0.04% of users over one week in 2012. However, at Facebook's scale that covers hundreds of thousands of people. Nevertheless, Kramer insists the company's intentions were good.

"We felt that it was important to investigate the common worry that seeing friends post positive content leads to people feeling negative or left out. At the same time, we were concerned that exposure to friends' negativity might lead people to avoid visiting Facebook," Kramer said.

Informed consent?

The experiment was perfectly legal, and whichever users were unknowingly involved did technically consent to it, thanks to the terms of the Data Use Policy everyone agrees to before opening an account on Facebook: by joining Facebook, you agree to allow information about you to be used for various purposes, including “data analysis, testing, research.”

It's probably no surprise that focusing on negative emotional content leads to negative emotional results, whether in Facebook users or in media outlets learning about it.

The Onion's AV Club, for example, called the study “great news for Facebook data scientists hoping to prove a point about modern psychology,” but considerably “less great for the people having their emotions secretly manipulated.”

Slate.com called it “Facebook's unethical experiment,” and on the other side of the Atlantic, the UK's Daily Mail focused on the negative when it headlined the story “Facebook made users depressed in secret research.”

In light of this brouhaha, it might or might not be worth remembering that four years ago, in Sept. 2010, the New Yorker ran a profile on Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and mentioned how, in the early days when Facebook was still a new thing limited to Harvard students, Zuckerberg boasted in an instant-message conversation about his access to the personal information of a large chunk of Harvard's student body, whom he called “dumb fucks” because they “trust me.”

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Frugal, yes, miserly, no. Time to reclaim the "F-word"

Thrift and frugality have a bad reputation they don't deserve, especially in today's uncertain economy

It's time for polite society to reclaim the F-word and give it back the historic respectability it so undeservedly lost....

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© Kyo46 - Fotolia.com

It's time for polite society to reclaim the "F-word" and give it back the historic respectability it so undeservedly lost.

I'm speaking, of course, about “frugal.” The word enjoyed a stellar reputation for most of recorded history; when Thomas Jefferson gave his first inaugural address to citizens of the fledgling United States, he discussed, among other things, the importance of “a wise and frugal government.”

His contemporary Ben Franklin also spoke well of frugality. Franklin's credited with coining such phrases as “Waste not, want not” and “A penny saved is a penny earned,” both alluding to the F-word without actually saying it. He was more explicit when he said: “The way to wealth is as plain as the way to market. It depends chiefly on two words, industry and frugality: that is, waste neither time nor money, but make the best use of both.”

Not that praise for frugality was limited to early Americans. As early as 2,600 years ago, the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said: “I have three precious things which I hold fast and prize. The first is gentleness; the second is frugality; the third is humility....”

And if we had time, I could show you dozens if not hundreds more pro-frugality comments made by wise men and women from pretty much every culture, era and time period in history — except maybe now.

Look up “frugal” in a modern dictionary. What do you find? Dictionary.com defines it as “economical in use or expenditure; prudently saving or sparing; not wasteful.”

A cold character

The online Oxford Dictionaries say “Sparing or economical with regard to money or food,” but when they offered certain “example sentences” demonstrating how to use the word, this one topped the list:

“Schmidt is potentially a cold character, spartan with words and frugal with money.”

A cold character. Not a flattering depiction at all. Nor are many of the synonyms the dictionaries offer for “frugal”: stingy, scanty, miserly, self-denying, close-fisted … the general implication is that you can be frugal, or you can have a reasonably comfortable life (plus friends), but it's an either-or option. Frugal, miser . . . same thing, right?

Not even close. More like complete opposites, especially if you focus on the end results: misers practice self-denial just for denial's sake, whereas frugal people do so in pursuit of a given goal.

Think about the standard (and often obvious) money-saving tips you find in any “How to cut expenses, pay down debt and build up your savings”-type article: if you make your own food at home, that's cheaper than buying frozen or precooked dinners, which in turn is cheaper than eating in a restaurant. If you stay home and take various day trips, that costs less than a faraway vacation. Shop secondhand to save massive amounts of money on everything from clothes and home furnishings to power tools and camping equipment. Et cetera.

All valid advice, especially for those people currently worried about their high debt and low-to-non-existent savings. Yet somehow, in popular imagination, being “frugal” means: “It doesn't matter who you are or how much money you have; you should never eat in a restaurant, ever! Or visit parts of the country or world more than a day trip away. And you can never buy anything new, never have nice things, never have any fun at all if it costs money.... ” which is a pretty good summation of a typical miser's mentality, but isn't remotely the mindset of frugality.

Thrifty habits

So what is? I discovered it as a kid, when one of my mother's spring-cleaning friends offered me some old books she no longer wanted, inlcuding a battered copy of Everything But Money by Sam Levenson (a former Borscht Belt comedian who'd acquired a degree of national fame some decades before I was born).

The book is mostly comic reminiscing about Levenson's experiences as one of eight American-born children of a Russian-Jewish immigrant couple, raised in the tenement slums of 1910s New York.

But for all his funny stories about eight siblings' old-fashioned shenanigans (the book's very title stems from Levenson's oft-repeated joke that his was a childhood rich in “everything but money”), he'd occasionally sneak in some serious points about his immigrant parents' thrifty habits, including one that lodged itself in my childish memory and never left: Mama Levenson often said that sometimes, you have to do without today so you can have tomorrow with.

That's what made her frugal rather than a miser. Misers always do without, long after they reach “tomorrow with,” and choose to live in deprivation no matter how much wealth they have, whereas the point of frugality is to avoid living in deprivation, at least when it counts. The frugal person understands that money is finite, so depriving yourself of small, temporary pleasures now helps you afford bigger, more lasting pleasures later. Setting money aside when times are good means you'll have it when times are bad.

In my own case, although I remain pretty frugal by contemporary standards, my current lifestyle is ridiculously extravagant compared to how I lived during my “poor years” (college, grad school and some time thereafter, until I'd paid off my damnable debts and built up a decent savings cushion).

Nowadays you'll see me eat in restaurants sometimes, or order out for pizza, and even vacation far enough from home that I must pay for places to sleep. Yet I almost never did these during my “poor years,” not from any masochistic miserly desire to avoid things I enjoy but because, like Mama Levenson, I desired other things even more: “Do without today and have a tomorrow with more money, and freedom from debt.”

Granted: where tales of personal suffering and sacrifice are concerned, “I avoided restaurants, took my lunch to work, shopped in thrift stores and didn't travel much” is pretty weak. Which is fine; I was no miser hoping to win any misery awards, but a frugal hoping to avoid certain types of misery, specifically the not-enough-money kinds.

And since I'm fortunate enough to live a full century after Sam Levenson's childhood, what I called “doing without” was still immense luxury compared to when the Levenson kids had to “do without” in the slums of the gaslight era.

Besides, self-denial in pursuit of a goal is hardly the only part of frugality. Other common frugal tricks, like stockpiling non-perishables when they're on sale so you never have to pay full price for them, require no self-denial whatsoever, only a little planning ahead. Come to think of it, maybe that's the best way to distinguish between the miserly versus the frugal: A miser always hates to spend money, whereas a frugal person only hates to waste it.

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Op-Ed: Organic purists condemn millions to death

Fight to block GMO crops a dagger in the heart of Third World countries, pro-GMO activist argues

So much for "live long and prosper"; India's intelligence agency is targeting organic activists as a threat to its economy. Meanwhile, official...

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Norwegian Air launches cut-rate trans-Atlantic service

Established carriers try to block the flights, which threaten their most profitable routes

(c) David PeacockA price war could be about to break out in trans-Atlantic airline fares. Cut-rate carrier Norwegian Air Shuttle plans to launch $255 f...

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(c) David Peacock

A price war could be about to break out in trans-Atlantic airline fares. Cut-rate carrier Norwegian Air Shuttle plans to launch $255 flights to the U.S. from Europe this week -- less than half the lowest fares charged by established carriers, assuming major carriers aren't successful in their attempt to block the flights.

The first flight is scheduled to leave London's Gatwick Airport and arrive in Los Angeles this Wednesday, with a Gatwick-New York flight on Thursday and Gatwick-Fort Lauderdale on Friday. 

Entrenched carriers are none too pleased with the prospect and have been trying to block Norwegian's plans for months. Last week, former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the federal government should deny Norwegian a permit pending further studies.

“We should not rush approval of the new business model until the consequences for international competition and the impact on airlines, their workers, and consumers are fully understood,” LaHood, who now represents corporate clients for the lobbying firm DLA Piper, said in an op-ed published by The Hill, a Washington news site.

Sparring mouthpieces

LaHood raised questions about Norwegian's decision to base itself in Ireland and use contract workers from a Singapore company. He suggested the tactics subvert the "level playing field" provisons of the Open Skies agreement that is intended to encourage competition.

But former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State John Byerly, who is advising Norwegian, said "former Secretary LaHood's call for further examination and delay in DOT's consideration of Norwegian's application is surprising."

In a press release, Byerly said, "after hundreds of pages of legal filings in the DOT docket, formal discussions in the US-EU Open Skies Agreement Joint Committee, and the over four months that DOT has had to weigh the regulatory record, there simply are no 'unanswered questions.'" 

Norwegian -- Europe's third-largest discount carrier -- has operated flights between Scandanavia and New York for the past year, carrying more than 200,000 passengers, the airline said.

There was little notice of those flights but the discount flights between Gatwick and the gateway cities of New York, Los Angeles and Fort Lauderdale are seen by established carriers as a threat to their most profitable routes.

 

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A short cut through companies' terms of service agreements

Website offers Cliff Notes version of these wordy documents

Last week we reported on non-disparagement clauses many companies are now slipping into their wordy terms of service agreements. Our piece highlights the i...

PhotoLast week we reported on non-disparagement clauses many companies are now slipping into their wordy terms of service agreements. Our piece highlights the importance of reading these documents when making an online transaction.

But who has the time to wade through all that legalese? And sometimes it might take a legal mind to even understand what it means.

Fortunately, some brave soul has volunteered to do it for the rest of us. The website TOSDR.org – which stands for Terms of Service – Didn't Read – has reviewed terms of service agreements for social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, as well as a host of sites that sell products and services.

Cutting to the chase, it reviews each of these sites' terms of service agreements and, in bullet point form, gives consumers a thumbs up or thumbs down review of the most important clauses.

Rating the sites

For example, Google's terms of service agreement gets an overall “C” rating. But among the important points, TOSDR.org gives all “thumbs down” ratings.

It notes that Google keeps your searches and other identifiable user information for an indefinite period of time. That's changing in Europe, however, as Google has responded to a European Union edict by deleting search data under the EU's Right To Be Forgotten law.

Other negative factors include Google's use of your content for all existing and future services, its tracking your movements on other websites and its sharing of your personal information with third parties.

Oh yes, if a government agency asks Google for your data, it doesn't have to tell you.

YouTube, owned by Google, earns a “D” rating. TOSDR.org lists five points it sees as negatives.

The terms can change with no notice; YouTube may remove your content without telling you; the copyright license is overly broad; the legal period for cause of action has been reduced; and deleted videos aren't really deleted.

Things earning a positive rating

Earning a “B” rating, meanwhile, is SoundCloud. a streaming audio service. It wins a “thumbs up” for allowing you to stay in control of your copyright; collected personal data is only used for limited purposes; and when changes to the agreement are made, you have 6 weeks to review them.

What about big retail sites? Amazon, for instance, hasn't been assigned a letter grade yet but does have five “thumbs down” notations. Terms can change with no notice; Amazon tracks you on other websites; it enables advertisers to target you by default; it won't promise to tell you if a government agency asks for your data; and provides no transparency on law enforcement requests.

While these bullet points might prove helpful in assessing whether you want to do business on a particular website, it should be noted that they are simply opinions – what TOSDR.org has gleaned from reading these sites' terms of service agreements.

Consumers, of course, should read the terms of service agreement for themselves. But TOSDR.org's Cliff Notes version is probably not a bad place to start.

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L'Oréal products target genes to fight aging? Not quite

FTC charged L'Oréal's claims were false and deceptive

L’Oréal has been making some pretty big claims for its Génifique and Youth Code skincare products, claims that the Federal Trade C...

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Photo source: FTC

L’Oréal has been making some pretty big claims for its Génifique and Youth Code skincare products, claims that the Federal Trade Commissionsays were false and deceptive.

The cosmetics maker claimed that its Génifique products were “clinically proven” to “boost genes’ activity and stimulate the production of youth proteins" that would cause “visibly younger skin in just 7 days,” and would provide results to specific percentages of users

“It would be nice if cosmetics could alter our genes and turn back time,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “But L’Oréal couldn’t support these claims.”

The FTC said the company has agreed to settle the complaint and to stop making unsubstantiated claims for the products. But within minutes of the FTC's releasing news of the settlement, L’Oréal issued its own statement claiming that, among other things, "The safety, quality and effectiveness of the company's products were never in question."

"The claims at issue in this agreement have not been used for some time now, as the company constantly refreshes its advertising," said L’Oréal's Kristina Schake. "Going forward, L'Oréal USA will continue to serve its customers through industry-leading research, scientific innovation and responsible advertising as it has for the last 60 years."  

Big bucks

L’Oréal has sold Génifique nationwide for as much as $132 per container since February 2009 at Lancôme counters in department stores and at beauty specialty stores. The company has sold Youth Code, which costs up to $25 per container at major retail stores across the United States, since November 2010.

For its Youth Code products, L’Oréal touted – in both English- and Spanish-language advertisements – the “new era of skincare: gene science,” and claimed that consumers could “crack the code to younger acting skin.”

Under the proposed administrative settlement, L’Oréal is prohibited from claiming that any Lancôme brand or L’Oréal Paris brand facial skincare product targets or boosts the activity of genes to make skin look or act younger, or respond five times faster to aggressors like stress, fatigue, and aging, unless the company has competent and reliable scientific evidence substantiating such claims.

The settlement also prohibits claims that certain Lancôme brand and L’Oréal Paris brand products affect genes unless the claims are supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence. Finally, L’Oréal is prohibited from making claims about these products that misrepresent the results of any test or study.

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Today's unit price check reminder: targeting Target

Bigger is usually better, but not for these allergy pills

Here's two pieces of savvy-shopper money-saving advice you hear all the time: “Check the unit prices” and “Bigger is usually better.&rdqu...

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Staff photo

Here's two pieces of savvy-shopper money-saving advice you hear all the time: “Check the unit prices” and “Bigger is usually better.”

The first rule is most important, because it shows when the second rule doesn't apply.

Case in point: I took these photos on June 29 while shopping for over-the-counter allergy meds at a Target store in northern Virginia.

The generic/store-brand version of what I wanted came in two sizes: a 14-pill bottle for $5.19 plus tax, or 30 pills for $13.29 and tax.

Confession: as a frugal shopper, I initially reached for the 30-count bottle because I know “Bigger is usually better,” but fortunately, I also remembered to “check the unit prices” and (with help from the calculator I always carry while shopping) quickly determined that 14 pills for $5.19 comes out to just over 37 cents per pill, whereas 30 pills at $13.29 costs 44.3 cents each.

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Staff photos

The bigger size usually offers the best price, but not this time. I bought two bottles of 14 and, despite having only 28 pills rather than 30, still saved money compared to what I'd've spent had I simply grabbed the largest-size generic offered for sale.

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'Bad' video games may have good results

Virtual violence may lead to increased moral sensitivity

New evidence suggests heinous behavior played out in a virtual environment can lead to players’ increased sensitivity toward the moral codes they vio...

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Photo: Dead Island 2

Coud violent video games make people nicer? It may not sound logical but a recent study found evidence that heinous behavior played out in a virtual environment can lead to players’ increased sensitivity toward the moral codes they violated. 

“Rather than leading players to become less moral, this research suggests that violent video-game play may actually lead to increased moral sensitivity," said Matthew Grizzard, PhD, assistant professor in the University at Buffalo Department of Communication. "This may, as it does in real life, provoke players to engage in voluntary behavior that benefits others.”

Grizzard points out that several recent studies, including this one, have found that committing immoral behaviors in a video game elicits feelings of guilt in players who commit them.

Other studies have established that in real life scenarios, guilt evoked by immoral behavior in the “real-world” elicits pro-social behaviors in most people.

“We suggest that pro-social behavior also may result when guilt is provoked by virtual behavior,” Grizzard says.

Study details

Researchers induced guilt in participants by having them play a video game where they violated two of five moral domains: care/harm, fairness/reciprocity, in-group loyalty, respect for authority, and purity/sanctity.

“We found that after a subject played a violent video game, they felt guilt and that guilt was associated with greater sensitivity toward the two particular domains they violated — those of care/harm and fairness/reciprocity,” Grizzard says. The first includes behaviors marked by cruelty, abuse and lack of compassion, and the second, by injustice or the denial of the rights of others.

“Our findings suggest that emotional experiences evoked by media exposure can increase the intuitive foundations upon which human beings make moral judgments,” Grizzard says. “This is particularly relevant for video-game play, where habitual engagement with that media is the norm for a small, but considerably important group of users.”

The study involved 185 subjects who were randomly assigned to either a guilt-inducing condition — in which they played a shooter game as a terrorist or were asked to recall real-life acts that induced guilt — or a control condition — shooter game play as a UN soldier and the recollection of real-life acts that did not induce guilt.

After completing the video game or the memory recall, participants completed a three-item guilt scale and a 30-item moral foundations questionnaire designed to assess the importance to them of the five moral domains cited above.

The study, “Being Bad in a Video Game Can Make Us More Morally Sensitive,” was published online ahead of print on June 20 in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.

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Here's another good reason to cut back on TV-viewing

Researchers say too much tube time may increase risk of early death

How much TV do you watch? Three hours or more each day? Uh-oh. New research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association says adults who wat...

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© ra2 studio - Fotolia.com

How much TV do you watch? Three hours or more each day? Uh-oh.

New research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association says adults who watch the tube that much may double their risk of premature death compared with those who watch less.

"Television viewing is a major sedentary behavior and there is an increasing trend toward all types of sedentary behaviors," said Miguel Martinez-Gonzalez, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., the study's lead author and professor and chair of the Department of Public Health at the University of Navarra in Pamplona, Spain. "Our findings are consistent with a range of previous studies where time spent watching television was linked to mortality."

Assessing the risk

Researchers assessed 13,284 young and healthy Spanish university graduates (average age 37, 60 percent women) to determine the association between three types of sedentary behaviors and risk of death from all causes: TV viewing time, computer time and driving time. The participants were followed for a median 8.2 years. Researchers reported 97 deaths -- with 19 deaths from cardiovascular causes, 46 from cancer and 32 from other causes.

The risk of death was twofold higher for those who said they watched 3 or more hours of TV a day versus those watching an hour or less. This higher risk was also apparent after accounting for a wide array of other variables related to a higher risk of death.

More study needed

Researchers found no significant association between the time spent using a computer or driving and higher risk of premature death from all causes. They said further studies are needed to confirm what effects may exist between computer use and driving on death rates, and to determine the biological mechanisms explaining these associations.

"As the population ages, sedentary behaviors will become more prevalent, especially watching television, and this poses an additional burden on the increased health problems related to aging," Martinez-Gonzalez said. "Our findings suggest adults may consider increasing their physical activity, avoid long sedentary periods, and reduce television watching to no longer than one to two hours each day."

The study cited previous research that suggests that half of U.S. adults are leading sedentary lives.

The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, or at least 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week.

You should also do moderate- to high-intensity muscle strengthening at least two days a week. 

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Dogs & cats can be friends. Then again ...

Having a pleasant get-acquainted period is key to a good long-term relationship

Can't we all just get along? Well not necessarily if you are a dog and a cat. It can work though in some instances. More people are home around summer time...

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© V&P Photo Studio - Fotolia.com

Can't we all just get along? Well, not necessarily, especially if you have a dog and a cat. It can work, though, in some instances.

More people are home around summertime so it seems like a great time to add a new family member. Dogs and cats who have lived in a dog and cat situation in the past most likely won't find it's an issue. But dogs and cats that have lived in a pure dog or cat world may need some time to adjust.

In fact, it might take years for a trusting, mutually agreeable relationship to develop between a cat and dog who live together. The younger, more energetic and more tolerant your cat is and the smaller, calmer and more obedient your new dog is, the more likely it is that your cat will accept living with a canine companion.

Introduce them slowly. Cats are both territorial and not fond of change, so a supervised, gradual awareness of another pet is the best method for keeping the peace. It is important to be patient as the process can take a few days... or a few weeks.

You might want to keep a leash on your dog during the introduction phase so if your dog becomes aggressive you can correct the behavior immediately.
You can also try a baby gate to keep them in separate rooms (although cats can easily jump over most gates if they really want to).

Practice, practice

To prepare for this first meeting, start by taking your dog outside and running him around to help him work off a bit of energy. Bring delicious treats that your new dog will love. Practice "sit," "down" and "stay" after he’s run around for a while and seems to be getting tired. Then bring him inside and put him in his side of the room, behind the baby gate or however you have decided to keep them a safe distance apart.

Next, fill your pockets with your cat’s favorite treats. If your new dog is rambunctious, put his leash on him and have someone on his side of the gate to handle the leash.

Sit in front of the door and call your cat. Have your dog lie down or sit to keep him from behaving threateningly as she approaches.

When your cat comes, toss her a treat. Praise and treat your dog as well if he behaves calmly in her presence. Do this several times each day for a couple of days. This way, your cat will associate your dog with delicious treats and vice versa.

You also might want to trim your cat's claws as that's their form of protection and they can slice right through a dog's nose or any body part for that matter. (Don't have the cat de-clawed, just keep the claws trimmed during the get-acquainted period).

A positive approach is crucial because you want your cat and dog to associate each other with pleasant experiences. You don’t want them to learn that everyone gets tense and angry and that bad things happen when the other pet is around. Dogs are more likely to engage in chase or prey behavior when they’re tense or aroused, and cats develop many undesirable behaviors — such as urine marking, excessive grooming, hiding and aggression — when they’re stressed or anxious.

A dog is a wonderful loyal companion and the independence that a cat boasts also has its rewards, not to mention the cuddling. If you really take it slow and respect each's territory they can all get along, and you will all be able to live happily ever after.

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A June jump in pending home sales

Affordability is still a concern, though

Lower mortgage rates and increased inventory helped push pending home sales sharply high in May. According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), t...

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© karelnoppe - Fotolia.com

Lower mortgage rates and increased inventory helped push pending home sales sharply high in May.

According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), the Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI) increased 6.1% to 103.9 last month -- the largest month-over-month gain since April 2010, when first-time home buyers rushed to sign purchase contracts before a popular tax credit program ended.

Still, the forward-looking indicator -- based on contract signings -- remains 5.2% below May 2013.

Concerns remain

Analysts are expecting an improvement in home sales in the second half of the year.

“Sales should exceed an annual pace of five million homes in some of the upcoming months behind favorable mortgage rates, more inventory and improved job creation,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. “However, second-half sales growth won’t be enough to compensate for the sluggish first quarter and will likely fall below last year’s total.”  

Despite the positive gains in signed contracts last month, Yun cautions that affordability and access to credit is still an area of concern for first-time home buyers, who accounted for only 27% of existing-home sales in May and typically carry student loan debt and lower credit scores.

“The flourishing stock market the last few years has propelled sales in the higher price brackets, while sales for homes under $250,000 are 10% behind last year’s pace. Meanwhile, apartment rents are expected to rise 8% cumulatively over the next two years because of tight availability,” said Yun. “Solid income growth and a slight easing in underwriting standards are needed to encourage first-time buyer participation, especially as renting becomes less affordable.”

A broad-based expansion

All four regions of the country saw increases in pending sales.

  • The PHSI in the Northeast jumped 8.8% to 86.3 in May, and is now 0.2% above a year ago.
  • In the Midwest the index rose 6.3% to 105.4 in May, but is still 6.6% below May 2013.
  • Pending home sales in the South advanced 4.4% to an index of 117.0 in May, and is 2.9% below a year ago.
  • The index in the West rose 7.6% in May to 95.4, but remains 11.1% below May 2013.

Looking ahead

NAR expects existing-homes sales to be down 2.8% this year -- to 4.95 million, compared with 5.1 million sales of existing homes in 2013.

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.

 

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Health Matters America expands recall of Chia products

The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

Health Matters America of Cheektowaga, New York is expanding its recall of Organic Traditions Sprouted Chia Seed Powder and Sprouted Chia& Flax Seed Powder...

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Photo source: FDA

Health Matters America of Cheektowaga, New York is expanding its recall of Organic Traditions Sprouted Chia Seed Powder and Sprouted Chia& Flax Seed Powder.

The products may be contaminated withSalmonella

The recall, announced earlier this month, is being expanded to include more lot numbers and other products that contain Chia Seeds.

The products have been distributed nationwide.

The products and lot numbers included in this voluntary recall have been expanded to include:

  • ORGANIC TRADITIONS SPROUTED CHIA SEED POWDER Lot numbers: All codes starting with BIO13 and ending with 269 up to and including 365; All codes starting with BIO14 and ending with 001 up to and including 156; NET WT. 8 oz. UPC 854260006162, and NET WT. 16 oz. UPC 854260005462; and all bulk sizes;
  • ORGANIC TRADITIONS SPROUTED CHIA & FLAX SEED POWDER Lot numbers: All codes starting with BIO13 and ending with 269 up to and including 365; All codes starting with BIO14 and ending with 001 up to and including 156; NET WT. 8 oz. UPC 854260006216, and NET WT. 16 oz. UPC 854260005479; and all bulk sizes.
  • ORGANIC TRADITIONS CHIA SEEDS Lot numbers: All codes starting with ASCBO13; NET WT. 8oz. UPC 854260006131, and NET WT. 16oz. UPC 854260006148; and all bulk sizes.
  • ORGANIC TRADITIONS ULTIMATE SUPERFOOD TRAILMIX Lot numbers: ALL LOTS ending in 003-13 to 005-14; NET WT. 3.5oz. UPC 854260010701.

No other Organic Traditions products are affected by this recall.

Consumers who have purchased any of these products with the above stated lot numbers should not consume the product, and discard it or return it to the place of purchase.

Consumers with questions may contact the company at 1-888-343-3278, ext. 730, Monday – Friday, 9am –5pm ET. 

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Nissan recalls 2014 Nissan LEAFs

The inverter may fail, causing the vehicle shut down

Nissan North America is recalling 196 model year 2014 Nissan LEAF vehicles manufactured April 15, 2014, through April 24, 2014. Due to a problem with the ...

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Photo source: Nissan.com

Nissan North America is recalling 196 model year 2014 Nissan LEAF vehicles manufactured April 15, 2014, through April 24, 2014.

Due to a problem with the motor control circuit board, the inverter may fail, causing the vehicle shut down. An unexpected vehicle shut down increases the risk of a crash.

Nissan will notify owners, and dealers will replace the inverter, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on July 7, 2014.

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

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BMW recalls C 600 Sport, and C 650 GT motorcycles

The camshaft chain tensioner may not function properly

BMW of North America is recalling 1360 model year 2012-2014 C 600 Sport, and C 650 GT motorcycles manufactured August 2, 2012, through February 18, 2014. ...

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Photo source: BMWmotorcycle.com

BMW of North America is recalling 1360 model year 2012-2014 C 600 Sport, and C 650 GT motorcycles manufactured August 2, 2012, through February 18, 2014.

The camshaft chain tensioner in the affected vehicles may not function properly, resulting in an engine stall. An engine stall may increase the risk of a crash.

BMW will notify owners, and dealers will replace the camshaft chain tensioner, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in July 2014.

Owners may contact BMW Customer Relations at 1-800-525-7417.

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App-based liquor delivery services take a page from Uber's playbook

But regulators are proving hostile to the idea of unlicensed liquor sales

Source: klinkapp.comFirst it was Airbnb, putting rooms and travelers together. Then Uber, putting riders and drivers together. Now it's companies with ...

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Source: klinkdelivery.com
First it was Airbnb, putting rooms and travelers together. Then Uber, putting riders and drivers together. Now it's companies with names like Ultra and BeerRightNow.com trying to put drinkers and liquor together.

If the reaction from local regulators to Airbnb and Uber was chilly, the reaction to the app-driven liquor delivery services is downright hostile.

In Washington, D.C., the Alcohol Beverage Control Board has ordered Ultra to shut down, after finding that the company was soliciting customers and accepting payments, both actions that require a liquor license.

Ultra, which also operates in New York and Chicago and has plans to expand to Los Angeles and Boston, suspended its service in D.C. and said it would try to find a way to work with the ABC board.

Ultra owner Aniket Shah said D.C. "is an important market for us," the Washington Post reported. Shah said he doesn't plan to use the confrontational tactics that Uber has used in its tussles with local authorities. "We understand we are in a more controlled environment."

PhotoBeerRightNow.com operates in New York and an unspecified list of other cities and features not only an extensive list of mass-market and craft beers but also such essentials as wine, cheese, crackers and tobacco. 

Also opening recently in D.C. was Klink, promising beer and wine delivery within 40 minutes. 

 “The way it works is we have a network of retail partners throughout D.C. and what we do is we use our intelligent routing system that we’ve developed,” said Klink CEO Jeffrey Nadel in an interview with Vox, a Georgetown University blog. “So customers’ orders are routed based on a variety of factors and what it does is it makes sure you’re getting your order at the cheapest price, in the most affordable way possible, and the quickest way possible.”

Nadel, a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, is planning to spend his summer opening up new markets, he told Vox. It already serves thirsty scholars in the college areas of Ann Arbor, Mich., and Orlando, Fla.

Nothing new really

There's nothing really new about this, of course. For as long as there's been booze, there've been ways to have it delivered to thirsty boozers. Wineries routinely ship their products to oenophiles around the world and many neighborhood liquor stores are only too happy to lug over a keg or two of beer. 

But the notion of picking up your smartphone and ordering a fifth of vodka just the way you'd order a ride home from UberX strikes a note of caution in some quarters.

Most delivery services sort of skirt around the issue of when too much is really too much although Los Angeles-based Pink Dot comes right out with it: 

"Have you ever been at a party or thrown a party when all of a sudden you realize you have ran out of alcohol but are too drunk to go out and buy some more? Well with Pink Dot that no longer is a problem. Pink Dot has alcohol delivery that comes straight to your doorstep, saving you from having to risk your life and others while driving drunk."

City fathers across the country may shudder at the notion of hell-bent entrepreneurs zooming around town delivering buckets of beer but it's an idea that no doubt holds a lot of appeal for those looking for a business opportunity.

Besides page after page of existing services, check your favorite search engine and you'll find a do-it-yourself guide to starting a liquor delivery business.

 

 

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Facebook facing contempt of court charges?

Says government grab of users' private data would be "unthinkable in the physical world"

“Tech companies fights federal gag order” officially qualifies as an commonplace-news story in today's post-NSA world. In May, companies includ...

Photo“Tech companies fights federal gag order” officially qualifies as a commonplace news story in today's post-NSA world.

In May, companies including Apple and Facebook made headlines for fighting back against indiscriminate government data collection; their complaint wasn't even that the government was demanding so much information about the companies' customers, but that the companies were forbidden to let the users know of the government's interest in them.

And now Facebook is being threatened with contempt of court charges in New York over the similar argument.

On June 26, Facebook deputy general counsel Chris Sonderby posted an announcement in Facebook's newsroom about “Fighting bulk search warrants in court:”

Since last summer, we’ve been fighting hard against a set of sweeping search warrants issued by a court in New York that demanded we turn over nearly all data from the accounts of 381 people who use our service, including photos, private messages and other information. This unprecedented request is by far the largest we’ve ever received—by a magnitude of more than ten—and we have argued that it was unconstitutional from the start.

Of the 381 people whose accounts were the subject of these warrants, 62 were later charged in a disability fraud case. This means that no charges will be brought against more than 300 people whose data was sought by the government without prior notice to the people affected. The government also obtained gag orders that prohibited us from discussing this case and notifying any of the affected people until now.

Disability fraud

Prosecutors say the data led to last January's much-publicized indictment of over 100 retired police and firefighters for disability fraud; among other things, former officers who claimed they were too psychologically disabled to leave home posted Facebook photographs of themselves flying helicopters or riding jet skis.

But Facebook, in a brief filed with the appeals court, says the government's search stretched much further than it should have:

“The government’s bulk warrants, which demand ‘all’ communications and information in 24 broad categories from the 381 targeted accounts, are the digital equivalent of seizing everything in someone’s home. Except here, it is not a single home but an entire neighborhood of nearly 400 homes …. The vast scope of the government’s search and seizure here would be unthinkable in the physical world.”

The American Civil Liberties Union agreed. A lawyer for the ACLU told the New York Times that it strains belief to think every single bit of Facebook data, every picture and private message and comment, was relevant to the state's fraud prosecution, and said “It’s incredibly important in the digital context to prevent government fishing expeditions.”

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The economic and health costs of summer

Summer is often bad news for older and low-income consumers

Consumers who endured winter's polar vortex and the high heating bills it produced are now preparing for a long hot summer of high cooling costs.But beyo...

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© emieldelange - Fotolia.com
Consumers who endured winter's polar vortex and the high heating bills it produced are now preparing for a long hot summer of high cooling costs.

But beyond the increasing expense of air conditioning a home, some people – particularly seniors – can be affected in other ways.

In New York City, AARP warns older residents to take precautions to deal with the heat, noting that the last major heat wave in the city claimed 46 lives. It warns that bitterly cold winters are very often followed by sweltering summers.

Seniors at risk

Anyone with major health issues can be affected by the heat but generally, older adults stand a greater risk of heat stroke or heat exhaustion because their bodies do not easily adjust to changes in temperature.

It falls to friends, family members and neighbors to make sure older people, especially those in poor health, stay cool over the summer months. Knowing the warning signs for heat stroke may be a good place to start.

Heat stroke symptoms

Heat stroke symptoms can include feeling dizzy, faint or nauseous, and experiencing cramping in the arms or legs. Someone suffering heat stroke may have a fast or weak pulse and their body temperature will be above normal. Body temperatures above 103 degrees can lead to death or permanent brain damage and harmful stress on organs.

Heart-related conditions can also be a problem in the heat. Making these episodes more dangerous is the fact that they can be slow to develop and often the person is unaware they are happening.

AARP's recommendations to avoid heat-related health problems this summer include:

  • Stay indoors and in an air-conditioned environment as much as possible.
  • Plan strenuous outdoor activities for early or late in the day when temperatures are cooler.
  • Take frequent breaks when working outdoors.
  • Drink plenty of fluids but avoid beverages that contain alcohol, caffeine or a lot of sugar.
  • Eat more frequently but make sure meals are balanced and light.
  • Check frequently on people who are elderly, ill or may need help. If you might need help, arrange to have family, friends or neighbors check in with you at least twice a day throughout warm weather periods.
  • Salt tablets should only be taken if specified by your doctor. If you are on a salt-restrictive diet, check with a doctor before increasing salt intake.
  • If you take prescription diuretics, antihistamines, mood-altering or antispasmodic drugs, check with a doctor about the effects of sun and heat exposure.
  • Cover windows that receive morning or afternoon sun. Awnings or louvers can reduce the heat entering a house by as much as 80 percent.
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat, sun block and light-colored, loose-fitting clothes when outdoors.
  • At first signs of heat illness (dizziness, nausea, headaches, muscle cramps), move to a cooler location, rest for a few minutes and slowly drink a cool beverage. Seek medical attention immediately if you do not feel better.
  • Avoid extreme temperature changes. A cool shower immediately after coming in from hot temperatures can result in hypothermia, particularly for elderly or very young people.

Managing A/C expenses

Reducing the financial costs of summer is a bit harder, but can be done. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, heating and cooling costs make up 43% of the average utility bill.

The agency says U.S. consumers spend $11 billion each year to cool their homes, with air conditioning – primarily used only 3 or 4 months a year in most areas – making up 6% of annual utility costs.

To reduce air conditioning costs, make sure your unit is operating as efficiently as possible. Proper refrigerant levels promote efficiency. So does making sure the filter is cleaned or replaced when it gets dirty.

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Audi plans plug-in hybrids for 2015

It's in response to BMW's electric car roll-out

The A3 Sportback E-tron (Photo credit: Audi)Audi and its corporate parent Volkswagen have been slow to embrace electric cars but Audi says it will roll...

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The A3 Sportback E-tron (Photo credit: Audi)

Audi and its corporate parent Volkswagen have been slow to embrace electric cars but Audi says it will roll out at least four plug-in hybrids in 2015, although it's not clear if all of them will make it to the U.S.

It's perhaps partly in answer to BMW, which is launching an aggressive roll-out of its "i" line of electric cars. Audi CEO Rupert Stadler said the first model -- the A3 Sportback E-tron -- will be followed by other plug-in hybrids.

Plug-in hybrids are the best solution for low-emission vehicles because they don't face the same range constraints as battery-powered vehicles, Stadler said, according to Automotive News. Plug-in hybrids run on battery power with zero emissions and switch to a conventional internal combustion engine when the battery's charge is exhauster. 

The A3 Sportback E-tron is expected to have a range of about 30 miles on a single charge while the BMW i3 is claiming a 100-mile range. The A3's total range -- including the internal combustion engine -- is expected to be around 300 miles.

“Plug-in hybrids are electric vehicles for everyday driving, exactly what our customers are asking for,” Stadler said.

Existing platforms

While BMW has designed all-new models for its electric fleet, Audi will simply retrofit the plug-in hybrid capability into existing models, including the A3 Sportwagon, Q7 and A6.

Using existing body styles gives Audi the flexibility to build a lot of cars if demand warrants, not so many if it doesn't. Mercedes is pursuing a similar strategy. 

Whether that works for a hybrid that looks just like the gas model but costs $20,000 more remains to be seen. Many hybrid purchasers want to be seen as environmentally responsible, marketers say, so a "stealth" hybrid may not be as appealing as something that's immediately recognizable.

Some have suggested that's part of the reason the Chevrolet Volt hasn't sold as well as expected. While it's not identical to any other Chevrolet model, it's not as easily identified as, say, a Toyota Prius.

 

 

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Court strikes down New York City's big-soda ban

Board of Health “exceeded the scope of its regulatory authority”

New York City's attempt to legally limit the number of ounces in a single soda is officially dead ...

PhotoNew York City's attempt to legally limit the number of ounces in a single soda is officially dead as of yesterday, when the state Court of Appeals ruled 4-2 that the city Board of Health “exceeded the scope of its regulatory authority” when it tried to ban the sale of any sugar-sweetened drinks in cups larger than 16 ounces.

Former mayor Michael Bloomberg first proposed the ban (which its supporters claimed would help fight obesity, diabetes and similar diet-related health problems) in 2012, and the city Board of Health voted in favor of it. It would have gone into effect six months later, in 2013, except a state judge blocked it. So the city appealed to a higher court, which upheld the lower court decision.

Current mayor Bill de Blasio, who supported the proposal, said he was “extremely disappointed” by the court's decision. Dissenting judge Susan P. Read, who cast one of the two votes in favor of the ban, wrote that the court's decision to strike down the ban “misapprehends, mischaracterizes and thereby curtails the powers of the New York City Board of Health to address the public health threats of the early 21st century.”

Read compared the Board's attempt to regulate soda sizes with earlier public-health initiatives such as banning lead paint for use in homes, or regulating the public water supply.

Personal autonomy

But the court's majority opinion rejected that comparison, saying that such regulations had a more direct link to the health of the public (presumably, as opposed to the health of whichever specific individual chooses to buy more than 16 ounces of soda at once), with “minimal interference with the personal autonomy” of New Yorkers.

The Court of Appeals is the highest authority in New York State; if the city wanted to make another attempt to appeal the ban, it can only look to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Thus far the city hasn't said whether it will attempt such an appeal, but legal experts think the Supreme Court would most likely decline to hear such an appeal anyway. 

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Federal employee of the year charged with stealing mail

Stealing 1980s-era Playboy magazines from the mail is still a felony

A postal supervisor is allegedly responsible for valuable mail missing out of San Jose...

PhotoHere's a piece of advice which everybody in the year 2014 should already know: if you want to see photographs of attractive women in various states of undress, the Internet offers millions of such images absolutely free, so there's no need for you to risk felony mail-tampering charges via stealing other people's issues of Playboy.

But postal inspector Quan Howard, a former federal employee of the year, presumably did not know this. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Howard was charged in federal court this week for allegedly using his supervisory status to illegally filch valuables from the mail stream:

[Howard] used his position as a supervisor to order employees at a San Jose processing and distribution center to call his office or cell phone whenever cash, drugs, electronics, jewelry, rare coins, precious metals and other memorabilia were found loose in the mail …. Federal prosecutors in San Jose charged Howard this week with delaying and destroying mail, theft of mail and possession of stolen mail from 2013 to 2014.

Hoarded valuables

Howard told postal employees that he would track down the items' rightful owners and return their possessions to them. Instead, he allegedly hoarded the valuables for himself, stashing some in various hiding places around the mail distribution center, and smuggling others out to his own house. He also allegedly sought out and disabled various security cameras in the mail center, so he could commit his thefts sight unseen, but couldn't find and disable them all, which is why he eventually got caught:

Although at one point Howard clambered onto a desk and chair and managed to disable a camera lens near a ceiling panel, investigators said they had many surveillance images showing him stealing mail, the affidavit said.... At one point in July, after being notified by an employee about loose mail containing what was suspected to be marijuana, Howard took the marijuana and other mail, including passports and "collectable 1980s-era Playboy magazines," the affidavit said.

Thus far there's been no mention of whether people who had valuable mail go missing out of San Jose have any reasonable chance of reclaiming their items. If you are the rightful owner of the gun parts, electronics, autographed collection of Joan Rivers jewelry, or other valuables Howard is alleged to have stolen, you might try filing a lost-mail claim with the post office. But if you are the owner of the marijuana or other illicit items … just let it go.

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New Jersey cracks down on "cash-for-gold" shops

21 jewelry stores slapped with 936 citations for alleged consumer protection violations

© Giuseppe Porzani - Fotolia.comWith the price of gold rising, more consumers are tempted to turn their jewelry into cash, a process that involves...

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© Giuseppe Porzani - Fotolia.com

With the price of gold rising, more consumers are tempted to turn their jewelry into cash, a process that involves many potential pitfalls.

In New Jersey, the Division of Consumer Affairs and its Office of Weights and Measures announced a crackdown on “cash-for-gold” shops resulting in 936 civil citations for alleged violations of state consumer protection laws at 21 jewelry stores across northern and central New Jersey.

“New Jersey’s cash-for-gold laws serve two important functions. On one hand they require jewelers to be transparent about their pricing and the evaluation of precious metals when buying from consumers. On the other hand, they help fight the sale of stolen jewelry, by requiring the buyers to maintain a fully detailed record that can be provided to police,” Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman said.

The initial crackdown resulted in 936 civil citations being issued against 21 jewelry stores and Hoffman said it marks the beginning of a statewide investigation that will include undercover operations, as well as unannounced inspections at jewelry shops that offer to buy precious metals from consumers.

What to watch for

Here are some tips for consumers. Although some of this information is specific to New Jersey, other states have similar laws and regulations.

  • Know who you're dealing with. The buyer of precious metals and jewelry must include their name and address in all advertisements and at the point of purchase.
  • Remember that any weighing and testing of your precious metals or jewelry must be done in plain view of you, the seller.
  • Check the scale being used to weigh your precious metals or jewelry. The scale must bear a blue New Jersey Office of Weights and Measures sticker, dated to show the scale has been tested by the State within the last 12 months. Make sure the scale bears a seal that is not broken; a broken seal indicates possible tampering.
  • Prices must be prominently posted.
  • Be sure to get a complete sales receipt. The receipt must include the buyer's name and address; the date of the transaction; the names of the precious metals purchased; the fineness and weights of the precious metals purchased; the prices paid for the precious metals at the standard measures of weight; and the name, address, and signature of the seller.

Information on stores cited in the investigation can be found on the attorney general's website

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NY indicts fraudster who allegedly preyed on immigrants

Defendant claimed she could help immigrants with residency permits, state charges

Eric Schneiderman (Photo via YouTube)A New York woman has been charged with bilking immigrants, claiming she could help them with residency permits, So...

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Eric Schneiderman (Photo via YouTube)

A New York woman has been charged with bilking immigrants, claiming she could help them with residency permits, Social Security cards and traffic tickets.

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said Sonia Vertucci bilked Queens residents out of more than $38,000 in upfront cash payments, but never delivered any services or refunded any money.

“Scam artists who prey on immigrants, or other hardworking New Yorkers, with false promises will not be tolerated in our state,” Schneiderman said. “No matter how elaborate their schemes, those who defraud New Yorkers will face justice.”

Schneiderman said his investigation revealed that between 2012 and 2013, Vertucci promised immigrants Social Security cards and help obtaining legal residency status. She promised truck drivers she would clear up tickets and license suspensions to allow them to get back to work. In each case she demanded money up front, usually in cash, and then did nothing. Her alleged fraud cost victims more than $38,000.

Vertucci went to great lengths to cloak her scam with an appearance of legitimacy, Schneiderman said. The investigation revealed that she rented retail storefronts on busy avenues, with awnings and signs advertising “Express DMV Services,” “Mailbox Rentals,” “Auto Insurance,” “Immigration,” and other services. The stores had plausible sounding names, such as “Multi-Service Center” and “Tristate Business Center,” and were populated with administrative staff.

Customers were falsely told that Vertucci had lawyers on call to assist her, and were given official-looking receipts for payment.

In reality, Vertucci had no businesses on file with the New York Department of State. She obtained leases for her commercial spaces by passing bad checks, and vacated – with victims’ money – just before being evicted. She then set up a new store and defrauded new victims, Schneiderman said.

Vertucci most recently moved from Queens to New Rochelle. Anyone who believes they have been a victim of Vertucci is urged to call the Attorney General’s immigration fraud hotline at 1-866-390-2992.

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Size matters when it comes to blood pressure cuffs

Is that monitoring kiosk at the grocery store for you?

You see them everywhere: the supermarket, drugs stores, discount superstore. It's those blood pressure monitoring kiosks where you stick your arm in the c...

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Graphic source: FDA

You see them everywhere: the supermarket, drug stores, discount superstore. It's those blood pressure monitoring kiosks where you stick your arm in the cuff and get a reading.

But here's something to keep in mind: The next time you do that, you could get an inaccurate reading unless the cuff is your size.

Correct cuff size is a critical factor in measuring blood pressure. Using a too-small cuff will result in an artificially high blood pressure reading; a too-large cuff may not work at all or result in an inaccurately low blood pressure reading.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wants you to know that blood pressure cuffs on public kiosks don’t fit everyone -- and might not be accurate for every user.

“They are easily accessible and easy to use,” says Luke Herbertson, PhD, a biomedical engineer at FDA. “But it’s misleading to think that the devices are appropriate for everybody. They are not one-size-fits-all.”

Serious business

Blood pressure is an important indicator of cardiovascular health. High blood pressure (hypertension) is called a “silent killer” because it may not show any symptoms. It increases the risk of stroke, heart attack, heart failure, kidney failure and death. The higher the blood pressure, the greater the risk.

Hypertension affects nearly one in three adults in the United States, and in most patients, it is found only when they have their blood pressure checked.

The need for accuracy

In a clinic or a medical office, this is done by using blood pressure cuffs of various sizes to ensure the reading is accurate. For example, a toddler’s blood pressure is checked by using an extra-small children’s cuff, but a football lineman’s arm may require an extra-large adult cuff.

Not so at kiosks. Most have just one fixed-size cuff that fits arms of only a certain size. The blood pressure reading is reliable only if the user’s arm is within the range that has been validated for that cuff size. Moreover, not all kiosks have the same size cuff. There is no such thing as a “standard” cuff to fit a “standard” arm.

If the cuff doesn’t fit your arm properly, your reading won’t be accurate.

“Different kiosks have different cuff sizes that will fit different people -- so it’s important to know the circumference of your upper arm because not all devices are alike,” says Stephen Browning, a biomedical engineer at FDA. “Many people will be outside the arm size range for a particular kiosk, and the information from that kiosk won’t be reliable for them.”

Other factors, including how someone uses a device, might cause an inaccurate reading. “The user might not have placed the cuff on his arm properly or might not be sitting properly. These things will affect accuracy,” Herbertson says.

That’s why people shouldn’t overreact to any one reading from a kiosk.

“Hypertension isn’t diagnosed solely based on one reading. Inaccurate blood pressure measurements can lead to the misdiagnosis of hypertension or hypotension (low blood pressure), and people who need medical care might not seek it because they are misled by those inaccurate readings,” Browning says.

“Next time you see your doctor, get his or her opinion about whether blood pressure kiosks are right for you and if so, learn to use them properly—using the right size cuff so you can get accurate readings,” Herbertson advises.

What to do

Consumers use kiosks for various reasons. They might have been advised by their doctor to monitor changes to their health. They may be concerned about hypertension. Or they may just be curious about their blood pressure.

Health care providers diagnose hypertension based on several blood pressure measurements over a period of time. Remember that one measurement -- from a kiosk or other device -- doesn’t a diagnosis make.

Like your heart rate, your blood pressure can change quickly. It might be higher during a stressful meeting, after a brisk walk or because you’re sick. Those variations are normal. That’s why people with hypertension monitor their blood pressure frequently. And health care providers often depend on the patient’s own readings to augment the reading in a doctor’s office, so kiosks can be useful in many circumstances.

Although blood pressure kiosks have their limitations, they can provide valuable information when used properly and under the guidance of a health care provider.

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Study: Excessive drinking responsible for 1 in 10 deaths among working-age adults

Lives can be shortened by as much as 30 years

Thinking about a wild weekend? You may want to reconsider. A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says excessive use of alcoho...

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© beeboys - Fotolia.com

Thinking about a wild weekend? You may want to reconsider.

A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says excessive use of alcohol accounts for one in 10 deaths among U.S. working-age adults ages 20-64 years.

According to the report, published in Preventing Chronic Disease, excessive alcohol use led to approximately 88,000 deaths per year from 2006 to 2010, and shortened the lives of those who died by about 30 years.

These deaths, the report says, were due to health effects from drinking too much over time, such as breast cancer, liver disease, and heart disease; and health effects from drinking too much in a short period of time, such as violence, alcohol poisoning, and motor vehicle crashes.

In total, there were 2.5 million years of potential life lost each year due to excessive alcohol use.

“It’s shocking to see the public health impact of excessive drinking on working-age adults,” said Robert Brewer, M.D., M.S.P.H., head of CDC’s Alcohol Program and one of the report’s authors. “CDC is working with partners to support the implementation of strategies for preventing excessive alcohol use that are recommended by the Community Preventive Services Task Force, which can help reduce the health and social cost of this dangerous risk behavior.”

Men most at risk

Nearly 70% of deaths due to excessive drinking involved working-age adults, and about 70% of the deaths involved males. About 5% of the deaths involved people under age 21.

The highest death rate due to excessive drinking was in New Mexico (51 deaths per 100,000 population), and the lowest was in New Jersey (19.1 per 100,000).

“Excessive alcohol use is a leading cause of preventable death that kills many Americans in the prime of their lives,” said Ursula E. Bauer, Ph.D., M.P.H., director of CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. “We need to redouble our efforts to implement scientifically proven public health approaches to reduce this tragic loss of life and the huge economic costs that result.”

How much is too much?

Excessive drinking includes binge drinking (4 or more drinks on an occasion for women, 5 or more drinks on an occasion for men), heavy drinking (8 or more drinks a week for women, 15 or more drinks a week for men), and any alcohol use by pregnant women or those under the minimum legal drinking age of 21.

Excessive drinking cost the U.S. about $224 billion, or $1.90 per drink, in 2006. Most of these costs were due to lost productivity, including reduced earnings among excessive drinkers as well as deaths due to excessive drinking among working age adults.

The independent HHS Community Preventive Services Task Force recommends several evidence-based strategies to reduce excessive drinking. These include increasing alcohol taxes, regulating alcohol outlet density, and avoiding further privatization of alcohol retail sales.

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GM recalls 2013-2014 Cruze sedans to fix potential airbag problem

The company had previously issued a stop-delivery order

Photo source: GMA few days ago, General Motors instructed dealers to stop delivering 2013 and 2014 Chevrolet Cruze vehicles, saying the the driver's fr...

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Photo source: GM

A few days ago, General Motors instructed dealers to stop delivering 2013 and 2014 Chevrolet Cruze vehicles, saying the the driver's front airbag inflator may have been manufactured with an incorrect part.

Now the company has dropped the other shoe and issued a recall notice for cars that have already been sold.

GM said that in a crash, the airbag's inflator may rupture and the airbag may not inflate. Also, the rupture could cause metal fragments to strike and seriously injure occupants.

GM will notify owners, and dealers will replace the driver side airbag, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule. Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020. GM's number for this recall is 14305.

Owners may also contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Vehicle Safety Hotline at 1-888-327-4236 (TTY 1-800-424-9153), or go to www.safercar.gov.

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Mr. Wok Foods recalls raw pork nugget products

The product contains wheat, an allergen not listed on the label

Mr. Wok Foods of Las Vegas, Nev., is recalling approximately 14,760 pounds of raw pork nugget product. The product contains wheat, an allergen not declare...

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© Jacek Chabraszewski - Fotolia.com

Mr. Wok Foods of Las Vegas, Nev., is recalling approximately 14,760 pounds of raw pork nugget product.

The product contains wheat, an allergen not declared on the product labels.

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

The product subject to recall includes:

  • 10 lb. cases of “Battered, deep fried pork nugget” with packaging dates between JAN 25 2014 and JUN 25 2014

The recalled product bears “EST. 20783” inside the USDA mark of inspection on the labels, and was produced on various dates from January 25, 2014, through June 25, 2014. It was distributed for use in hotels, restaurants and institutions in Las Vegas, Nev.

Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Spencer Chung, Owner, at 702-740-5824.

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Rudolph Foods recalls pork products

The product product contains monosodium glutamate, which is not declared on the label

Rudolph Foods of Lawrenceville, Ga., is recalling approximately 34 pounds of pork products. The product contains monosodium glutamate (MSG), which is not ...

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Photo source: USDA

Rudolph Foods of Lawrenceville, Ga., is recalling approximately 34 pounds of pork products.

The product contains monosodium glutamate (MSG), which is not declared on the label.

There are no reports of illnesses due to consumption of these products

The product subject to recall includes:

  • 1.75-oz. packages of “Lee’s Pig Skins Soft Style Cracklins” with a Sell By date of only “SEP 5 2014”

The bags, labeled as Lee’s Pig Skins Soft Style Cracklins, actually contain salt and vinegar cracklins that contains MSG as an ingredient.

The product, packaged June 3, 2014, bears the establishment number “EST-1425” within the Sell By code. The product was shipped to retail locations in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Maryland and Mississippi.

Consumers with questions regarding the recall may contact Deanne Rodgers at (800) 241-7675.

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More research links BPA to health issues

Researchers express concern about prostate, breast cancers

Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical used to manufacture certain plastics and is often found in water bottles, food storage containers and other consumer products...

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© Zerbor - Fotolia.com
Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical used to manufacture certain plastics and often found in water bottles, food storage containers and other consumer products, remains legal but controversial
in the U.S. 

Over the years researchers have found traces of the chemical in both humans and the environment. Some scientists have said the chemical can adversely affect the human reproductive process.

Now, in three studies, researchers say they have found other BPA-related health issues.

Prostate problems

A study at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) has, for the first time, linked BPA to prostate problems in men. Researchers say the endocrine-disrupting chemical appears to reprogram the developing prostate in males, making it more likely to develop precancerous lesions later in life.

“By using two novel models of human prostate development involving embryonic stem cells, this study is the first to show that low doses of BPA can actually reprogram human fetal prostate tissue in a manner that raises the risk of prostate diseases as men age,” said the study’s presenting author, Esther Calderon-Gierszal, a PhD student at UIC.

Calderon-Gierszal says BPA disrupts the way the body processes hormones by mimicking the hormone estrogen. Previous research into adult prostate stem cells and animal models found that exposure to BPA increased the risk of developing prostate cancer.

Breast cancer risks

Meanwhile, researchers at Duke University say they have found that BPA appears to increase the proliferation of breast cancer cells. They report that the chemical, at levels normally found in the human blood system, could not only promote growth of an aggressive breast cancer cell but also diminish the effectiveness of treatments for the disease.

“We set out to determine whether routine exposures to common chemicals such as those in plastics, pesticides and insecticides could influence the effectiveness of breast cancer treatments,” said corresponding author Gayathri Devi, Ph.D., associate professor of surgery at Duke. “BPA was one of the top chemicals to show growth stimulatory effects in breast cancer cells.”

In their study the researcher found that among the chemicals they analyzed, BPA caused breast cancer cells to grow at a faster rate in both estrogen-receptor positive and estrogen-receptor negative breast cancer cells.

Just as disturbing, it lowered the efficacy of FDA-approved anti-cancer drugs used to treat breast cancer, notably lapatinib.

BPA substitute

Replacing BPA with the common substitute Bisphenol S (BPS) doesn't appear to resolve health issues either. A study led by Hong-Sheng Wang, PhD, from the University of Cincinnati, found BPS may have similar toxic effects on the heart as previously reported for BPA.

While some “BPA-free” products contain no bisphenols, some contain the substitute BPS. Wang says this may pose a problem for consumers.

“There is implied safety in BPA-free products,” he said. “The thing is, the BPA analogs — and BPS is one of them — have not been tested for safety in humans.”

Wang said exposure to BPS rapidly increased the heart rate of female rats. Under some conditions it also led to arrhythmias — heart rhythm abnormalities — far greater than in the control rats that did not receive BPS.

Previous health studies of BPA have yielded mixed results. Earlier this year researchers at the University of Missouri determined that daily exposure to low levels of BPA by pregnant primates could cause fetal abnormalities in their offspring.

While U.S. regulators have been slow to rein in use of BPA, Canada and several other countries have classified it as a toxin.

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Aereo: Where does it go from here?

The Supreme Court's ruling doesn't necessarily mean Aereo is doomed

Photo source: AereoConsumers looking for a way out of cable TV bills that can easily exceed $100 a month were presumably disappointed yesterday when th...

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Photo source: Aereo

UPDATE (6/29): On Sunday, Aereo emailed its customers saying it was "suspending operations" following last week's Supreme Court decision. The suspension took effect at 11:30 ET today (Sunday).

--

Consumers looking for a way out of cable TV bills that can easily exceed $100 a month were presumably disappointed yesterday when the U.S. Supreme Court held that Aereo was operating illegally.

The innovative streaming video company uses tiny antennas to provide over-the-air TV signals to consumers via the Internet for as little as $8 a month. But the Supreme Court in its ruling yesterday went along with broadcasters' contention that the company was violating copyright laws and, more significantly, not paying the licensing fees to which the broadcasters have become accustomed.

So does this mean Aereo is dead?

Maybe, but the company's founder and CEO Chet Kanojia says he's not giving up.

“We are disappointed in the outcome, but our work is not done.  We will continue to fight for our consumers and fight to create innovative technologies that have a meaningful and positive impact on our world,” Kanojia said in a prepared statement. 

Work it out

The most obvious course for Kanojia is to approach the broadcasters -- ABC, CBS and the other alphabet-soup characters -- and negotiate the same kind of royalties that cable systems now pay to retransmit broadcast signals.

This would, of course, mean that the $8 per month fee for subscribers was a fond memory. But that doesn't mean the "new" Aereo would cost as much as cable.

Cable systems are generally thought to pay somewhere between $1 and $2 per month per subscriber to each station whose signal is rebroadcast. If Aereo could negotiate a similar fee and -- equally important -- offer consumers an a la carte menu, it could still translate into big savings.

Let's say you're a dyed-in-the-wool Republican who watches Fox but never PBS, CBS or ABC. NBC? Well, maybe now and then. You could perhaps sign up for just Fox and NBC at a cost of $2.50 or so each.

Your total monthly bill would then be $8 for your "basic" membership plus $5 for the two channels you select. Or maybe the first channel would be free. The options are pretty infinite and they are all a lot less than whatever the basic cable fee is in your neighborhood.

The networks chose to respond to Aereo as though it were a meteor hurtling towards midtown Manhattan and, at one point, threatened to take themselves off the air and morph into cable channels if Aereo persisted in its allegedly nefarious practices.

Now that that argument has more or less carried the day, everyone can get down to business and work out a licensing arrangement that works for the networks, their local stations and consumers. 

Anyone with a memory longer than 15 minutes will recall that the networks and other program producers are constantly at war with cable systems over licensing fees. Keeping Aereo in the mix gives them a wedge to use in whatever the next battle is. 

Crude but effective

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A $35 high-def Amazon TV antenna. Photo source: Amazon.com

The other option for consumers is to get one of those once-common gadgets called a TV antenna. You stick on your roof or, depending on your location, hang it out the window or just mount it on an exterior wall and it pulls in all the over-the-air channels that you're now paying the cable company to deliver.

Younger consumers don't even seem to know that over-the-air TV is free. It is perfectly legal and technically simple to get high-definition signals for your own use. 

Other than the cost of the antenna --  seldom more than $30 or so -- "free TV" is just that. You can watch ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and PBS outlets as well as other local stations in your vicinity and the additional digital channels each provides. Search for stations by Zip Code here

Keep in mind the antenna won't get cable networks like CNN or HBO. That's where streaming video comes in again. Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, Hulu and others provide thousands of movies and TV shows for a few dollars a month.

 

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The 9 myths about obesity

UAB researchers dispute long-held assumptions and beliefs

We're well aware of the problem. More than one-third of adults in the U.S. are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).T...

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© Africa Studio - Fotolia.com

We're well aware of the problem. More than one-third of adults in the U.S. are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC).

That leads to increased risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and even certain types of cancer.

All of this carries a huge cost. The CDC says the estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the U.S. was $147 billion in 2008 dollars.

Put another way, if you are obese your medical costs are, on average, $1,492 higher than for people of normal weight.

Reducing obesity requires access to good information, say researchers at the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB).

“Obesity is a topic on which many views are strongly held in the absence of scientific evidence to support those views, and some views are strongly held despite evidence to contradict those views,” said David Allison, associate dean for science in the UAB School of Public Health and senior author of the paper. “We refer to the former as presumptions and the latter as myths.”

Allison and his team have identified what they contend are 9 myths about obesity.

Myth # 1

Losing weight quickly will predispose to greater weight regain relative to losing weight more slowly. Not so, according to Allison. There may be health reasons for slowly shedding pounds but worries about weight regain isn't one of them.

Myth # 2

Setting realistic weight loss goals in obesity treatment is important because otherwise patients will become frustrated and lose less weight. The UAB team says their research doesn't support that.

Myth # 3

Assessing “stage of change” or “readiness” to diet is important in helping patients who pursue weight loss treatment to lose weight.

Myth # 4

Physical education classes, as currently delivered, play an important role in reducing the prevalence of childhood obesity. Any organized physical activity should be viewed as a positive but good nutrition and an active lifestyle – with less screen time -- are much more important.

Myth # 5

Breastfeeding is protective against obesity in breastfed offspring. There may be many benefits of breastfeeding but Allison says links to reduced obesity are largely mythical.

Myth # 6

Daily self-weighing interferes with weight loss. Not really, says Allison.

Myth # 7

Genes have not contributed to the obesity epidemic. In fact, researchers have identified a gene they say promotes obesity.

Myth # 8

The freshman year of college is associated with or causes 15 pounds of weight gain. The “Freshman 15” was not coined by scientific researchers but by Seventeen Magazine.

Myth # 9

Food deserts (i.e., areas with little or no access to stores offering fresh and affordable healthy foods, including produce) lead to higher obesity prevalence.

Instead of clinging to and perpetuating myths about obesity, the UAB researchers say health policymakers need to abandon them and move on.

“We believe scientists need to seek answers to questions using the strongest experimental designs,” Allison said. “As a scientific community, we need to be honest with the public about what we know and don’t know as we evaluate proposed strategies for weight loss or obesity prevention.”  

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Students beware: make sure your school has regional accreditation

A week of lawsuits from graduates who learned this the hard way

A degree from a school without accreditation is pretty much worthless...

 

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Photo source: Apex School of Theology

Any student or would-be student hoping to enroll in college knows the dangers of taking on excessive levels of student loan debt to pay for it. But another form of risk is far less well-known: the danger of spending large amounts of time and money getting a degree that proves entirely worthless, because the school is not accredited.

 

Accreditation is basically a form of quality control assuring that the school meets certain educational standards. If you're hoping to qualify for a professional license, employment with a government agency, or even having your credits transfer to another institution of higher learning, a degree from a non-accredited school is usually worthless.

For example: last week, six graduates of Mount Marty College, a private school in South Dakota, filed suit after the school's nursing program failed to gain accreditation. The graduates had hoped to work as nurse practitioners, but their unaccredited degrees don't qualify them for licenses.

Meanwhile, in North Carolina, students at the Apex School of Theology filed suit claiming that the school and its founder/president deceived them about the school's accreditation status, threatening their ability to become licensed counselors.

A lawsuit filed in Wake County charged that the school and its CEO, Joseph E. Perkins, concealed, suppressed and withheld information about the school's lack of acceditation, Courthouse News Sevice reported.

Not that Apex is completely unaccredited; the suit claims that its “only accreditation is the purported 'national' accreditation awarded it by an entity that calls itself the 'Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools' (TRACS).”

Neither North Carolina nor any other state recognizes TRACS accreditation for professional-licensing purposes, the lawsuit claims.

Public schools too

Though accreditation problems are more common in private or for-profit schools, public schools attached to state university systems are not immune from the problem.

Last week, Alabama State University was put on warning for failing to comply with six different standards required by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools; if things don't improve by the end of the six-month warning period, the university might lose its accreditation. As the Montgomery Advertiser noted, “Loss of accreditation is a near death sentence for a public university since most federal funding and student aid is tied directly to accreditation.”

If you're looking to attend an American college or university, remember to avoid any school which is non-accredited, or boasts having accreditation from a “national” organization; what you want is a school accredited by one of the regional accrediting agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

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GM issues stop-delivery order for Cruze sedans

Some of the top-selling cars may have airbag problems

General Motors has instructed dealers to stop delivering top-selling 2013 and 2014 Chevrolet Cruze sedans because of a possible airbag problem. The company...

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Photo source: GM

General Motors has instructed dealers to stop delivering top-selling 2013 and 2014 Chevrolet Cruze sedans because of a possible airbag problem. The company said the airbag inflator may have been assembled with an incorrect part, Automotive Newsreported.

GM dealers and customers have so far endured 44 recalls this year covering 20 million vehicles worldwide. Many cars have been recalled more than once for multiple problems.

"My car was recalled twice in 2012," said Deborah of The Woodlands, Texas, in a recent posting to ConsumerAffairs. "I've driven this car 60,000 miles and have had to replace the battery twice, fix computer issues dealing with tire pressure and had cooling problems. Also, no spare tire included with vehicle. (had a flat right away) My engine has overheated three times since January, 2014."

The Cruze freeze comes as GM and its dealers have been trying to put the notorious ignition switch recall behind them and start moving cars off their lots.

GM has been offering $2,500 in incentives on most Cruze models in June as it tries to push sales above last year's levels.

Ironically, many owners of Cobalts recalled because of defective ignition switches have been driving around in Cruze loaners while their cars are repaired.

"What am I supposed to do?" asked one dealer quoted by Automotive News. "Tell them to bring the loaner back?" 

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Years in school linked to nearsightedness

Antidote: Go outside now and then

"Put that book down! You'll ruin your eyes with too much reading," grandparents have been saying for centuries. And it ...

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© Igor Mojzes - Fotolia.com

"Put that book down! You'll ruin your eyes with too much reading," grandparents have been saying for centuries. And it turns out, they may have been onto something.

A new German study finds that nearsightedness may be linked to higher education levels and more years spent in school. 

Published online this month in Ophthalmology, the journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the research is the first population-based study to demonstrate that environmental factors may outweigh genetics in the development of myopia.

The antidote to the rise in myopia could be as simple as going outside more often.

"Since students appear to be at a higher risk of nearsightedness, it makes sense to encourage them to spend more time outdoors as a precaution," said Alireza Mirshahi, M.D., lead author of the study, perhaps unconsciously echoing advice from your grandmother.

Always common 

While it has always been somewhat common, nearsightedness has become even more prevalent around the world in recent years and presents a growing global health and economic concern.

Severe nearsightedness is a major cause of visual impairment and is associated with greater risk of retinal detachment, myopic macular degeneration, premature cataracts and glaucoma. In the United States, nearsightedness now affects roughly 42% of the population.

Environmental factors that have been previously linked to myopia include near work (such as reading or using a computer), outdoor activity, living in urban versus rural areas and education.

To further analyze the association between myopia development and education, researchers at the University Medical Center in Mainz, Germany examined nearsightedness in 4,658 Germans ages 35 to 74, excluding anyone with cataracts or who had undergone refractive surgery. Results of their work, known as the Gutenberg Health Study, show that myopia appeared to become more prevalent as education level increased:

  • 24% with no high school education or other training were nearsighted
  • 35% of high school graduates and vocational school graduates were nearsighted
  • 53% of university graduates were nearsighted

The researchers also found that people who spent more years in school proved to be more myopic, with nearsightedness worsening for each year of school. Furthermore, the researchers looked at the effect of 45 genetic markers, but found it a much weaker factor in the degree of nearsightedness compared to education level.

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Chimps prefer silence to most kinds of Western music

Strong, predictable rhythms are perceived as threatening

Psychological research with chimpanzees like Tara, above, has found chimps prefer silence to Western music. Credit: Photo courtesy of the Yerkes National...

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Psychological research with chimpanzees like Tara, above, has found chimps prefer silence to Western music. Credit: Photo courtesy of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University

Humans are always wondering what animals would say if they could talk. If chimps could talk, they might well say, "You call that music?"

Researchers from Emory University and elsewhere found that chimpanzees prefer silence to music from the West but apparently like to listen to the different rhythms of music from Africa and India, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

"Chimpanzees may perceive the strong, predictable rhythmic patterns [in Western music] as threatening, as chimpanzee dominance displays commonly incorporate repeated rhythmic sounds such as stomping, clapping and banging objects," said study coauthor Frans de Waal, PhD, of Emory University.

de Wall said that the researchers were not trying to act as music critics. 

"Our objective was not to find a preference for different cultures' music. We used cultural music from Africa, India and Japan to pinpoint specific acoustic properties," de Waal said.

"Past research has focused only on Western music and has not addressed the very different acoustic features of non-Western music. While nonhuman primates have previously indicated a preference among music choices, they have consistently chosen silence over the types of music previously tested," de Waal said.

Previous research has found that some nonhuman primates prefer slower tempos, but the current findings may be the first to show that they display a preference for particular rhythmic patterns, according to the study.

"Although Western music, such as pop, blues and classical, sound different to the casual listener, they all follow the same musical and acoustic patterns. Therefore, by testing only different Western music, previous research has essentially replicated itself," the authors wrote. The study was published in APA's Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition.

Study details

When African and Indian music was played near their large outdoor enclosures, the chimps spent significantly more time in areas where they could best hear the music. When Japanese music was played, they were more likely to be found in spots where it was more difficult or impossible to hear the music.

The African and Indian music in the experiment had extreme ratios of strong to weak beats, whereas the Japanese music had regular strong beats, which is also typical of Western music.

Sixteen adult chimps in two groups participated in the experiment at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University. Over 12 consecutive days for 40 minutes each morning, the groups were given the opportunity to listen to African, Indian or Japanese music playing on a portable stereo near their outdoor enclosure.

Another portable stereo not playing any music was located at a different spot near the enclosure to rule out behavior that might be associated with an object rather than the music. 

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Whole Foods to pay $800,000 for pricing violations

Southern California cities say the trendy supermarkets overcharged customers

Whole Foods Markets will pay $800,000 to settle allegations it overcharged California customers, the L.A. City Attorney's Office said.A yearlong state inve...

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A Whole Foods market in San Jose, Calif. (Photo credit: Whole Foods)

Whole Foods has run afoul of "thumb-on-the-scale" weight and price regulations in California and will pay $800,000 to settle allegations that it has been overcharging customers in Los Angeles, Santa Monica and San Diego.

"We're taking action to assure consumers get what they pay for," said Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer. "No consumer should ever be overcharged by their local market."

The company noted that it cooperated with investigators and said its pricing was accurate 98% of the time.

"While we realize that human error is always possible, we will continue to refine and implement additional processes to minimize such errors going forward," said Marci Frumkin, executive marketing coordinator for Whole Foods' Southern Pacific region. "Whole Foods Market takes our obligations to our customers very seriously and we strive to ensure accuracy and transparency in everything we do." 

One-year investigation

The case grew out of a more than one-year investigation by state and county Weights and Measures inspectors throughout California. Inspectors, with the cooperation of Whole Foods, found that the grocery chain was charging more than the advertised price for a wide variety of items.

The problems included:

  • Failing to deduct the weight of containers when ringing up charges for self-serve foods at the salad bar and hot bar;
  • Giving less weight than the amount stated on the label, for packaged items sold by the pound; and
  • Selling items by the piece, instead of by the pound as required by law (such as kebabs and other prepared deli foods)

The settlement affects all 74 Whole Foods Markets in the state.

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10% of U.S. beaches fail safety test

"Urban slobber" contributes to high bacteria count that can cause disease

Beach bums take note: 10% of water samples from U.S. beaches contained bacteria levels that failed to meet federal benchmarks for swimmer safety, according...

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© Sergiy Bykhunenko - Fotolia.com

Beach bums take note: 10% of water samples from U.S. beaches contained bacteria levels that failed to meet federal benchmarks for swimmer safety, according to the 24th annual beach report released by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“Sewage and contaminated runoff in the water should never ruin a family beach trip,” said NRDC senior attorney Jon Devine. “But no matter where you live, urban slobber and other pollution can seriously compromise the water quality at your favorite beach and make your family sick."

Each year, the NRDC collects and analyzes water testing results from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state beach coordinators at nearly 3,500 beach testing locations nationwide.

This year, the report found 35 popular “superstar” beaches with excellent water quality, and flagged 17 “repeat offenders” that exhibited chronic water pollution problems. The full report, including a Zip Code-searchable map can be found here.

Superstar beaches      

NRDC designated 35 popular beaches across 14 states as “superstars” – popular beaches for consistently meeting water quality safety thresholds. Each of these beaches met national water quality benchmarks 98% of the time over the past five years:

  • Alabama: Gulf Shores Public Beach in Baldwin County
  • Alabama: Gulf State Park Pavilion in Baldwin County
  • Alabama:  Dauphin Island Public Beach
  • California: Newport Beach in Orange County (1 of 3 monitored sections)
    • Newport Beach - 38th Street
  • Delaware: Dewey Beach-Swedes in Sussex County
  • Florida: Bowman’s Beach in Lee County
  • Florida: Coquina Beach South in Manatee County
  • Florida: Fort Desoto North Beach in Pinellas County
  • Georgia: Tybee Island North in Chatham County
  • Hawaii: Hapuna Beach St. Rec. Area in Big Island       
  • Hawaii: Po’ipu Beach Park in Kauai
  • Hawaii: Wailea Beach Park in Maui
  • Massachusetts: Singing Beach in Essex County
  • Maryland: Point Lookout State Park in St Mary's County
  • Maryland: Assateague State Park in Worcester County
  • North Carolina: Ocean Pier at Main St. and Sunset Blvd. in Brunswick County
  • North Carolina: Beach at Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in Dare County
  • North Carolina: Ocean Pier at Salisbury Street in Wrightsville Beach in New Hanover  
  • North Carolina: Ocean Pier at Ocean Blvd. and Crews Ave. in Topsail Beach in Pender County           
  • New Hampshire: Hampton Beach State Park in Rockingham County
  • New Hampshire: Wallis Sands Beach at Wallis Rd. in Rockingham County
  • New Hampshire: Wallis Sands State Park in Rockingham County
  • New Jersey: Washington (Margate) in Atlantic County
  • New Jersey: 40th St. (Avalon) in Cape May County
  • New Jersey: 40th St. (Sea Isle City) in Cape May County
  • New Jersey: Stone Harbor at 96th St. in Cape May County
  • New Jersey: Upper Township at Webster Rd. in Cape May County
  • New Jersey: Wildwood Crest at Orchid in Cape May County
  • New Jersey: Broadway (Pt. Pleasant Beach) in Ocean County
  • New York: Long Beach City in Nassau County
  • Virginia: Virginia Beach at 28th St. in Virginia Beach County    
  • Virginia: Virginia Beach at 45th St in Virginia Beach County
  • Virginia: Back Bay Beach in Virginia Beach County
  • Virginia: Virginia Beach - Little Island Beach North in Virginia Beach County
  • Washington: Westhaven State Park, South Jetty in Grays Harbor          

Repeat offenders

Over the last five years of the NRDC report, sections of 17 U.S. beaches have stood out as having persistent contamination problems, with water samples failing to meet public health benchmarks more than 25% of the time each year from 2009 to 2013:

  • California: Malibu Pier, 50 yards east of the pier, in Los Angeles County
  • Indiana: Jeorse Park Beach in Lake County (both monitored sections):
    • Lake Jeorse Park Beach I 
    • Lake Jeorse Park Beach II
  • Massachusetts: Cockle Cove Creek in Barnstable County
  • Maine: Goodies Beach in Knox County
  • New Jersey: Beachwood Beach in Ocean County
  • New York: Main Street Beach in Chautauqua County
  • New York: Wright Park – East in Chautauqua County
  • New York: Ontario Beach in Monroe County
  • Ohio: Lakeshore Park in Ashtabula County
  • Ohio: Arcadia Beach in Cuyahoga County
  • Ohio: Euclid State Park in Cuyahoga County
  • Ohio: Noble Beach in Cuyahoga County
  • Ohio: Sims Beach in Cuyahoga County
  • Ohio: Villa Angela State Park in Cuyahoga County
  • Ohio: Edson Creek in Erie County
  • Wisconsin: South Shore Beach in Milwaukee County

Based on EPA’s BAV safety threshold, the Great Lakes region had the highest failure rate of beach water quality samples, with 13% of samples failing to pass the safety test in 2013. The Delmarva region had the lowest failure rate, with 4% of samples failing the safety test. In between were the Gulf Coast (12%), New England (11%), the Western Coast (9%), the New York and New Jersey coasts (7%), and the Southeast (7%).

Individual states with the highest failure rates of reported water samples in 2013 were Ohio (35%), Alaska (24%) and Mississippi (21%). Those with the lowest failure rates last year were Delaware (3%), New Hampshire (3%) and New Jersey (3%).

The EPA estimates that up to 3.5 million people become ill from contact with raw sewage from sanitary overflows each year. Beach water pollution nationwide causes a range of waterborne illnesses in swimmers including stomach flu, skin rashes, pinkeye, ear, nose and throat problems, dysentery, hepatitis, respiratory ailments, neurological disorders, and other serious health problems. For senior citizens, small children and people with weak immune systems, the results can even be fatal.

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BMW midsize luxury car earns top IIHS safety award

The 2 series is a redesign of an earlier model

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has awarded the 2014 BMW 2 series its Top SAFETY PICK+ award. The midsize luxury car turned in a good pe...

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Photo source: IIHS

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has awarded the 2014 BMW 2 series its Top SAFETY PICK+ award.

The midsize luxury car turned in a good performance in the IIHS crashworthiness evaluations and received an advanced rating for front crash prevention.

It's the first Beemer model to earn either of the institute's safety awards for 2014, and the first to earn a good or acceptable rating in the challenging small overlap front crash test.

Strong test results

BMW redesigned the 1 series for the 2014 model year and renamed it the 2 series. It earned good ratings in the small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint evaluations. The head restraint rating applies only to models manufactured after June 2014.

In the small overlap test, the driver's space was maintained reasonably well. Injury measures recorded on the driver dummy indicated a low risk of any significant injuries in a real-world crash of this severity.

The dummy's head made good contact with the frontal airbag, which stayed in position during the crash, and the side curtain airbag deployed to protect the head from contact with side structures.

The small overlap test is more challenging than either the head-on crashes conducted by the government or the IIHS moderate overlap test. Twenty-five percent of a vehicle's front end on the driver's side strikes a rigid barrier at 40 mph, replicating what happens when the front corner of a vehicle strikes another vehicle or object like a tree or a utility pole.

An optional forward collision warning and braking system, called City Braking, earns the 2 series an advanced rating for front crash prevention. The system has automatic braking technology that significantly reduced the vehicle's speed in the Institute's 12 mph test.

The 2 series is the fifth midsize luxury car to earn the IIHS highest award for 2014. To qualify for TOP SAFETY PICK+, a vehicle must earn a good or acceptable rating for small overlap protection, a good rating in four other tests, and a basic, advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention.

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Personal income, spending inch higher in May

Consumers' savings rates moved a little higher

Both incomes and spending posted modest gains in May, with the latter coming in lower than some analysts had expected. The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BE...

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Both incomes and spending posted modest gains in May, with the latter coming in lower than some analysts had expected.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) reports personal income rose 0.4%, or $58.8 billion last month. Disposable personal income (DPI) was also up 0.4%. Personal consumption expenditures (PCE) rose just $18.3 billion, or 0.2%.

In April, personal income rose $49.9 billion, or 0.3%, DPI increased $50.8 billion, or 0.4%, and PCE increased $2.3 billion, or less than 0.1%, based on revised estimates.

Economists surveyed by Briefing.com were calling for increases of 0.4% for both personal income and PCE.

Wages and salaries

The increase in private wages and salaries in May outstripped the gains posted in April: $27.8 billion versus $17.9 billion in April. Payrolls of goods-producing industries rose $7.4 billion, after declining $1.5 billion the month before. Manufacturing payrolls jumped $5.0 billion, compared with a drop of $2.8 billion in April.

Services-producing industries' payrolls rose $20.4 billion, while government wages and salaries increased $1.4 billion.

Personal outlays and saving

Personal outlays, which include PCE, personal interest payments, and personal current transfer payment, increased $18.0 billion in May. PCE was up $18.3 billion.

Personal saving -- DPI less personal outlays -- was $620.3 billion in May, compared with $582.7 billion in April. The personal saving rate -- personal saving as a percentage of disposable personal income -- was 4.8% in May, up 0.3% from April.

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

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Jobless claims

First-time applications for state unemployment benefits moved lower in the week ending June 21.

According to the government, the number of people filing initial jobless claims totaled 312,000. That's a drop of 2,000 from the previous week's level, which had been revised higher by 2,000 -- from 312,000 to 314,000.

The consensus estimate from economists at Briefing.com was for a drop to 310,000. Nonetheless, analysts say an initial claims range of 310,000 to 320,000 should spark an acceleration in payroll growth and clearly show improvements in labor market conditions.

The 4-week moving average, which is not as volatile as the weekly figure and considered a more accurate gauge of the labor market, rose 2,000 from the previous week -- to 314,250.

The full report is available on the BEA website.

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Ford recalls F-150 trucks

The Electronic Power Assist Steering may have a flaw leading to loss of control

Ford Motor Company is recalling 4,629 model year 2014 Ford F-150 trucks manufactured May 26, 2014, to June 19, 2014, and equipped with Electronic Power Ass...

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Photo Source: Ford.com

Ford Motor Company is recalling 4,629 model year 2014 Ford F-150 trucks manufactured May 26, 2014, to June 19, 2014, and equipped with Electronic Power Assist Steering (EPAS).

The affected vehicles may have an incorrectly installed EPAS gear motor position sensor magnet that can lead to a total loss of steering control while driving.

A loss of steering control while driving increases the risk of a vehicle crash.

Owners are advised not to drive their vehicles until they have been remedied.

Ford will notify owners, and dealers will replace the EPAS steering gear, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on July 7, 2014.

Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-800-392-3673. Ford's number for this recall is 14S09.

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K & W Sausage recalls products containing soy and wheat

The known allergens are not listed on the label

K & W Sausage of Evansdale, Iowa, is recalling approximately 1,761 pounds of sausage products. The products contain soy and wheat, known allergens, which...

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Photo source: USDA

K & W Sausage of Evansdale, Iowa, is recalling approximately 1,761 pounds of sausage products.

The products contain soy and wheat, known allergens, which are not declared on the product labels.

no reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

The products subject to recall include:

  • 16-oz. vacuum packed “Hot Franks” with a packaging code in the format “###14”
  • Various size packages of “Polish Sausage Hot” with packaging codes 15314, 15514, 16114, 16214, 16814, 16514, or 16914
  • Various size packages of “Beef Polish Sausage Hot” with packaging codes 15314, 15514, 16114, 16214, 16814, 16514, or 16914

The products subject to recall bear “EST. 15708” inside the USDA mark of inspection on the labels.

The Hot Franks were produced on various dates from January 16, through June 20, 2014. The other products were produced on various dates from June 3, through June 18, 2014. All products were distributed to retailers in Iowa.

Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Mark Knief at 319-233-4714.

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Scott, Trek recall bicycles

The front fork can break, posing a crash hazard

Scott USA of Ketchum, Idaho, and Trek Bicycle of Waterloo, Wis., are recalling about 125, 200 model year 2011 through 2013 Scott and Trek bicycles with SR ...

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Photo source: CPSC

Scott USA of Ketchum, Idaho, and Trek Bicycle of Waterloo, Wis., are recalling about 125, 200 model year 2011 through 2013 Scott and Trek bicycles with SR Suntour front forks.

The front fork can break, posing a crash hazard.

Scott has received one report of a broken SR Suntour fork. No injuries were reported. Trek has received 28 reports of broken forks. Five injuries have been reported, including minor bruises, a separated shoulder and broken bones.

Recalled Scott bicycles have 700c wheels, disc brakes and one of the following Suntour front fork models: NEX or NCX. Bicycle model names and numbers are on the main frame of each bicycle in a location that varies by model. The model year can be identified by the color scheme of the bicycle frame. The fork’s model name is printed on the outer sides of the fork.

The following Scott bicycles with Suntour forks are being recalled:

Model Name(s)

Model Year(s) and Color

SR Suntour Fork

Sportster 10 Men

2011 (black/white/gold)

NCX

Sportster 10 Solution

2011 (black/white/gold)

NCX

Sportster 25 Men

2011 (white/brown/black)

NCX

Sportster 25 Solution

2011 (white/red/orange)

NCX

Sportster 30 Men

2011 (grey/white)

2012 (white/black/grey/gold)

NEX

Sportster 30 Solution

2011 (black/white/grey)

NEX

Sportster 55 Lady 

2011 (black/white/gold) 2012 (white/purple)

NEX

Sportster 55 Men

2011 (black/white/orange)

NEX

Sportster X30 Men

2013 (black/white/grey/red)

NEX

Sportster X30 Solution

2013 (black/blue/grey)

NEX

Sportster X40 Men

2013 (black/white/blue)

NEX

Sportster X50 Men

2013 (grey/white/black)

NEX

Sportster X50 Lady

2013 (white/grey)

NEX

Recalled Trek bicycles have disc brakes and one of the following Suntour front fork models: NEX, NRX (with IS mounts), XCM (on bicycles with 29-inch wheels) or XCT (on bicycles with 29-inch wheels). Bicycle model names and numbers are on the top tube near the seat tube or near the head tube. Bicycles with a serial number ending in F, G or H should be taken to the dealer for inspection. The serial number is on the frame of the bicycle under the bottom bracket. The fork’s model name is printed on the outer sides of the fork.

The following Trek bicycles with Suntour forks are being recalled: 

Model Name(s)

Model Year(s)

SR Suntour Fork

8.3 DS

2012 and 2013

NEX

8.4 DS

2012 and 2013

NRX

8.5 DS

2012 and 2013

NRX

8.6 DS

2013

NRX

Cali

2013

XCM

Marlin and Marlin SS

2011

XCT

Marlin

2012 and 2013

XCM

Marlin SS

2012

XCM

Montare

2011

NRX

Neko SL

2012 and 2013

NRX

Utopia

2011

NRX

Wahoo

2011

XCM

Wahoo

2012 and 2013

XCT

The bicycles, manufactured in China and Taiwan, were sold at bicycle stores nationwide from October 2010, to November 2013, for between $450 and $1,100 for Scott bicycles, and from May 2010, to June 2014, for between $600 and $1,370 for Trek bicycles.

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled bicycles. Consumers with recalled Scott bicycles should take them to an authorized Scott dealer for a free repair of the NEX model or a free replacement lower fork for the NCX model.

Consumers with recalled Trek bicycles should take them to an authorized Trek dealer for a free repair of NEX, XCM and XCT models or a free replacement of the NRX model.

Consumers may contact Scott USA toll-free at (888) 607-8365, ext. 2012, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. CT Monday through Friday.  

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A simple answer to the growing food shortage

Campaign is launched to persuade consumers of the benefits of "ugly food"

As the world's population grows, keeping it fed is an increasingly serious concern. One way to alleviate that concern about food is to not waste so much of...

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© Anson - Fotolia.com

As the world's population grows, keeping it fed is an increasingly serious concern. One way to alleviate that concern about food is to not waste so much of it.

The Institute of Food Technologists estimates the world wastes some 1.3 billion tons of food each year. If that sounds like a lot, it is. It amounts to about a third of the food produced each year for human consumption.

The food technologists have launched a campaign – FutureFood 2050 – to reduce global food waste. That 1.3 billion tons of wasted food, they say, could feed 1.23 billion people.

“So much attention is paid to increasing global food supplies over the next several decades,” said Tristram Stuart, a world-renowned food waste activist profiled on the FutureFood 2050 website. “But we waste a third of the world’s food supply already, so one way of tackling food security and the environmental impact of food production is to implement the many ways to more efficiently use the food that we already produce.”

Only the best make it to market

One place where food gets wasted is in the grocery store supply chain. Walk into just about any supermarket and you'll find row after row of beautiful and inviting produce and fruit.

But what about the fruit and produce that comes out of the ground not meeting standards for perfection? It's still got the same nutritional quality but consumers won't buy it, so it often gets thrown out.

The same is true for dairy, meat and other freshly-produced food items. If it is close to the “sell-by” date, consumers will often not buy them. As a result they end up in the dumpster.

Doug Rauch, the former president of Trader Joe’s, is well aware of this problem. Now he's taking this retail principle of always in-stock, cosmetically desirable food and trying to prevent these perfectly edible items from going to waste.

Market for “ugly food”

Rauch plans to sell “ugly food” at a deep discount so that it won't go to waste. He hopes to launch Daily Table this fall in Boston.

Teaming up with Boston-area supermarkets, farms and food service buyers like hospitals and hotels, Daily Table will provide a market for these unloved products. Rauch says consumers will be able to buy bread, dairy, eggs and produce “as is.”

He hopes to achieve two goals. One: food that might otherwise be wasted is prepared and eaten. Second: low income consumers can get access to nutritious food for less than they would spend for processed products or at fast food restaurants.

“Calories are cheap. Nutrition is expensive,” Rauch told the FutureFood 2050 website. “I’d like 1 in 6 Americans to eat what they should be eating. I want the problem to be solved. Daily Table has a potentially innovative and different approach. And if it works, it’s an idea that is scalable.”

Confusion over dates

While some food never gets to the supermarket for cosmetic reasons, other food products are discarded by the stores because consumers didn't buy them. One of the reasons for that, the food technologists contend, is confusion among consumers about what the dates on the packaging actually mean.

For example, the “sell by” date is determined by the product's manufacturer or producer. It's the date by which the product should be sold at retail. However, typically one-third of the product's shelf life remains, according to the technologists.

Consumers sometimes confuse the “sell by” date with the “use by” date. That's the date after which a product should be discarded.

The “best buy” date suggests the latest a product should be consumed for maximum quality. However, it is perfectly fine after that time.

According to the food technologists, inconsistency in date labeling and consumer confusion about what those dates mean, lead to unnecessary food waste.

“We have done a horrible job of making things clear to customers on what the terms ‘sell by’ or ‘best by’ dates really mean,” said Rauch. Once that date passes, consumers assume that the food or produce is unsafe to eat, “when of course it’s not.”  

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The high cost of cancer

Doctors worry it creates a troubling side effect to an already serious disease

Cancer takes a terrible physical toll. But increasingly, doctors are concerned about what the financial toll of the disease is doing to their patients.So...

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Cancer takes a terrible physical toll. But increasingly, doctors are concerned about what the financial toll of the disease is doing to their patients.

Some of the financial costs are obvious -- costly treatments, expensive drugs. But some of the costs are not so obvious: the loss of income while fighting the disease and travel to see specialists.

The concern is that this financial stress leads to more physical stress.

Avoiding the topic

“Few physicians discuss this increasingly significant side effect with their patients,” said Jonas de Souza, MD, a head-and-neck cancer specialist at University of Chicago Medicine. “Physicians aren’t trained to do this. It makes them, as well as patients, feel uncomfortable,” he said. “We aren’t good at it.”

De Souza is lead author of a study by University of Chicago cancer specialists who have developed a tool — 11 questions, assembled and refined from conversations with more than 150 patients with advanced cancer — to measure a patient’s risk for, and ability to tolerate, financial stress.

“We believe that a thoughtful, concise tool that could help predict a patient’s risk for financial toxicity might open the lines of communication,” de Souza said. “This gives us a way to launch that discussion.”

Escalating costs

All health care costs are rising faster than the rate of inflation. The cost of cancer care is rising even faster than the cost of health care, and the cost of new cancer drugs is rising faster than the cost of overall cancer care.

The financial pain felt by cancer patients often extends far beyond treatment. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study found that 30% of cancer survivors are not able to return to work, or have decreased ability to work.

The cost of fighting the disease goes up every year. For example, for men who have had cancer health care spending rises, on average, by $4,000 a year. For women the total is only slightly less – $3,300.

“We need better ways to find out which patients are most at risk,” de Souza said. “Then we can help them get financial assistance. If patients know what to expect, they may want their physicians to consider less costly medications.”

American Cancer Society concerned

The American Cancer Society (ACS) has also expressed concern about the disease's financial toll. It warns that out-of-pocket costs – those not covered by insurance – can add up quickly and can affect patients' ability to pay for other things they need.

“In some cases, the cost is so high a person decides to stop cancer treatment early, or not get it at all,” ACS warns. “Sometimes this ends up costing more later on. But the bigger problem is that skipping treatment can worsen health outcomes.”

According to ACS, knowing what costs you will be facing can help you better prepare to deal with the financial end of your disease. These costs may include:

  • Doctor visits
  • Lab tests (blood tests, urine tests, and more, which are usually billed separately)
  • Clinic visits for treatments
  • Procedures (for diagnosis or treatment, which can include room charges, equipment, doctors, pathologists, and more)
  • Imaging tests (such as x-rays, CT scans, MRIs, which may mean that you’re billed separately for radiologist fees, equipment, and any medicines used in the test)
  • Radiation treatments (implants, external radiation, or both)
  • Drug costs (inpatient, outpatient, prescription, non-prescription, and procedure-related)
  • Hospital stays (which can include many types of costs such as drugs, tests, and procedures as well as nursing care, doctor visits, and consults with specialists)
  • Surgery (surgeon, anesthesiologist, pathologist, operating room fees, equipment, medicines, and more)
  • Home care (can include equipment, drugs, visits from specially trained nurses, and more)

Cancer patients may feel unsure about bringing up money with their doctor while planning their cancer treatment. But ACS says cost is something patients should address up front. You can start by talking with the doctor who is treating you for cancer.  

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It's worse than we thought as the economy continues to shrink

The decline in GDP is 3 times sharper than the earlier estimate

The U.S. economy is shrinking at a rate faster than the government reported https://www.consumeraffairs.com/news/us-economy-shifts-into-reverse-052914.html...

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The U.S. economy is shrinking at a rate faster than the government reported just a month ago.

The “third" estimate of first-quarter economic growth released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis shows real gross domestic product -- the output of goods and services produced by labor and property located in the United States -- declined at an annual rate of 2.9%.

GDP increased 2.6% in the final three months of 2013.

More data available

The new figure is based on more complete source data than were available for the "second" estimate, which showed GDP decreasing at an annual rate of 1.0%.

The downturn primarily reflected a downturn in exports, a larger decrease in private inventory investment, a deceleration in consumer spending, and declines in nonresidential fixed investment and in state and local government spending that were partly offset by an upturn in federal government spending.

Inflation steady

The price index for gross domestic purchases, which measures prices paid by U.S. residents, increased 1.3% in the first quarter -- the same increase as in the second estimate. The index had risen 1.5% in the fourth quarter.

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

The complete GDP report is available on the Commerce Department website.

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A second consecutive drop in mortgage applications

Contract interest rates were mostly lower as well

Mortgage applications were down last week for a second straight week. The Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey shows a...

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Mortgage applications were down last week for a second straight week.

The Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey shows applications dipped 1.0% during the week ending June 20.

The Refinance Index also fell 1% percent from the previous week to the lowest level since May 2014, with the refinance share of mortgage activity unchanged at 52% of total applications. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity held steady 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 to 4.33% from 4.36 percent, with points dropping to 0.18 from 0.24 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) was down 4 basis points -- from 4.32% to 4.28%, with points increasing to 0.12 from 0.09 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA dropped to 4.03% from 4.07%, with points rising to -0.38 from -0.39 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate was lower than the week before.
  • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs dipped 3 basis points to 3.47%, with points increasing to 0.19 from 0.16 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs rose to 3.23% from 3.20%, with points unchanged from 0.27 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

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

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Lions and tigers and bans, oh my!

New York State bans tiger selfies; Memphis Zoo bans lion-lover for life

There's never really a good time to be the sort of person who believes lions and tigers are just as harmless and cuddly as your own adorable pet puddytat...

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© Gail Johnson - Fotolia.com

There's never really a good time to be the sort of person who believes that lions and tigers are just as harmless and cuddly as your own adorable pet puddytat. But this past week has been an usually badtime to be that sort of person.

First: lawmakers in New York state passed a bill, first proposed by state assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, that bans posing for photos with tigers or other big cats.

Rosenthal's bill is believed to be in response to the popular blog “Tinder Guys with Tigers” which -- as you probably guessed after reading the name -- is a blog, on Tinder, dedicated to photographs of guys (not girls) posing with tigers.

The bill passed the state legislature, though whether the governor will actually sign it into law remains to be seen.

Rosenthal told the New York Post that “They can still pose with bears and monkeys … They just have to take big cats off their list.”

The bill, which Rosenthal first proposed in March (though it remained largely unnoticed until the Post's recent story about it) is actually an amendment to state environmental conservation laws, and says: “The environmental conservation law is amended by adding a new section 11-0538 to read as follows: S11-0538. DIRECT CONTACT BETWEEN PUBLIC AND BIG CATS PROHIBITED.”

Posing penalties

Anyone who violates the law can be fined $500 for the first offense and $1,000 subsequently, though from the way it's written, it's unclear whether the prohibitions and fines apply to the people who actually pose for photos with big cats, or the cat's “dealer” or “exhibitor.”

The bill says (in all-capital letters) that “It shall be unlawful for any person licensed or required to be licensed as an exhibitor or dealer pursuant to the animal welfare act, 7 USC 2132-2134, including agents or employees of such person, to knowingly allow the public to have direct contact with a big cat. Any person who violates the provisions of this section shall be subject to a penalty of not more than five hundred dollars for the first offense and not more than one thousand dollars for a second and subsequent offenses.”

But the bill only mentions “dealers” and “exhibitors,” not “ordinary people who pose for photos, whether posted on Tinder or not.”

The bill applies to tigers, leopards, lions, mountain lions/cougars, panthers, jaguars “or any hybrid of such species.”

Tennessee ban

If the bill is signed into law, it will effect every big-cat-lover in New York State. But the other piece of big-cat-ban-related news from this week, out of Tennessee, applies to only one person: the unidentified woman who was banned for life from the Memphis Zoo after she climbed into the lion enclosure in an attempt to feed cookies to its inmates.

Zoo spokeswoman Abbey Dane said it was the second time in a week that the woman had attempted to feed cookies to the lions. “Last week she was noticed by our security staff throwing objects into the lion exhibit; at that time she was asked to leave the zoo ….[this time] She was asked to leave the zoo permanently. She will not be granted access to the zoo anymore.”

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Tern folding bicycles recalled

The bike’s frame can crack at the hinge on the top tube

Stile Products of Lakewood, Calif., is recalling about 670 Tern folding bicycles in the U.S. and Canada. The bike’s frame can crack at the hinge on the to...

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Photo source: CPSC

Stile Products of Lakewood, Calif., is recalling about 670 Tern folding bicycles in the U.S. and Canada.

The bike’s frame can crack at the hinge on the top tube, posing a fall hazard.

No incidents or injuries reported in the U.S. The firm has received 11 reports of the bicycle frames cracking including five reports of minor scrapes and bruises from outside the U.S.

The recall involves Link Uno, Link D7i, Link D8, Link P9, Link P7i, and Link P24h models of Tern brand adult folding bikes. These six models were sold in black/blue, black/green, black/grey, black/red dark grey/light grey, grey/orange and white/pink color combinations. “Tern” is printed on the front end of the top tube and on other portions of the frame. The model name is printed on the middle of the top tube.

Recalled bicycles have a 10-character alphanumeric serial number that begin with either AI1133 through AI1137 or AI1151 through AI1213 stamped on the bottom bracket shell of the bike. An alphanumeric service tag number is located on the front of the seat tube and this number can be used to determine if the bicycle is affected by going to the firm’s website www.ternbicycles.com.

The bicycles, manufactured in China, were sold exclusively at authorized Stile/Tern dealers nationwide from November 2011, to April 2014, for between $600 and $1250.

Consumers should immediately stop using the bicycles and contact Stile Products or take the bike to an authorized dealer. Consumers will receive a free replacement frame and have it installed at no cost or they can upgrade their bike to one of three designated models at an additional cost.

Consumers may contact Stile Products toll-free at (888) 570-8376 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. PT Monday through Friday.

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The many dangers of teen sexting

Having to register as a sex offender is among them

Plenty of well-known adults have gotten into hot water by texting photos of themselves in various stages of undress. The practice is known as sexting.The...

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In New York, you can now rest in peace with your pet

Pet cemeteries now allowed to accept the cremated remains of pet owners

It's official in New York pets can now spend the afterlife with their owners same time same place.. Thats IF you want to be buried in a pet cemetery..The s...

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Photo source: Wikipedia
It's official -- in New York pets can now spend the afterlife with their owners, same time same place. That's IF you want to be buried in a pet cemetery.

The state has formally adopted regulations proposed last fall allowing pet cemeteries to accept the cremated remains of people who literally want to be with their pets forever ... and ever. Under the regulation, which takes effect in August, pet cemeteries can accept the remains but cannot charge a fee for a human burial and can not advertise their human burial services.

A pet cemetery in Westchester County has been burying people with their pets since the 1920's and they were faced with a 3-year dispute involving a former NYPD officer, Thomas Ryan, who wanted to spend his afterlife with his three Maltese pups.

The state did not want the cemetery to accept his ashes. The Hartsdale cemetery, which claims to be the oldest final pet resting place in the nation, already had accepted the remains of Ryan's wife, Bunny, beside the couple's three Maltese dogs, named DJ 1, DJ 2 and DJ 3.

Good thing the officer had a smart niece. She is an upstate attorney and she battled the state to allow her uncle to be buried with the dogs and his wife. Bureaucrats fought the idea but eventually conceded and allowed the Hartsdale cemetery to accept human remains, but the state's remaining pet cemeteries were still banned from doing so.

With the adoption of the new regulation, pet owners from all over the state will be able to spend eternity with their four legged BFFs.

The International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories estimates that there are around 400 pet cemeteries in the nation; some allow the burial of cremated human remains, and some do not.

Each county, city, and, ultimately, the pet cemetery itself, decides if they will accept humans lying side by side with their pets. Although regardless of where one chooses to be buried, it’s always a good idea to specify that choice in a will. The last thing you want is your relatives arguing that you wanted a human cemetery not a pet cemetery.

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Splash Car Wash hacked; customer credit card numbers stolen

American street gangs now find hacking more profitable than street crime

Check your account for false charges if you've washed your vehicle at Splash Car Wash...

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© mybaitshop - Fotolia.com

If you have a credit or debit card and use it to actually pay for things, you already know there's a high risk some thief has your account information after that database security breach. The only question is, which database did thieves hack into this time?

In the past few months, hackers and identity theives have successfully breached database security at AT&T, P.F. Chang's restaurants, Domino's Pizza (European subsidiaries), Target, Sally Beauty Supply, eBay and PayPal, the California Department of Motor Vehicles and the data broker/credit monitoring agency Experian, among others.

The newest addition to that list appears to be various locations of Splash Car Wash throughout Connecticut and the northeast. Security blogger Brian Krebs reported the breach on June 23, to illustrate how even a small car wash in an obscure, out-of-the-way New England town can be snared by a complicated nationwide criminal web.

A spreading web

Police in Everett, Mass., recently arrested a man in possession of multiple gift cards loaded with stolen credit card numbers that belonged to people ranging from New Hampshire and Connecticut to South Carolina.

Police in Boston realized this all had something to do with a hospitalized robbery suspect in their jurisdiction, and then the United States Secret Service got involved. If you think this sounds complicated you're absolutely right, and this is only the super-simplified version of the story.

As Krebs said, “In effect, thieves were buying stolen cards to finance the purchase of gift cards, some of which would later serve as hosts for new stolen card data once their balance was exhausted. The cops call it money laundering, but in this case it might as well be called card washing.”

From the perspective of a company with a hackable database of customer credit cards — whether that company is a small chain of car washes, or a giant multinational corporation — determining that your system has, in fact, been hacked is often quite difficult.

Discovering the theft

Databases are entirely different from buildings, after all. If a burglar broke into your home and stole your stuff, that would be immediately obvious for two reasons: one, you'd see the broken door latch or shattered window or other entry point he used to smash his way in; and two, whatever he stole is now gone — you know he grabbed your TV set and jewelry box because you don't have them anymore.

But none of this applies when stealing information from a database. Granted, it's relatively easy for an individual credit card holder to know a thief's using her account number: unauthorized charges start appearing on your bill. So it's obvious the information was stolen; what's not obvious is where and how.

Finding the answer usually requires the credit card companies or issuing banks to find the “point of sale compromise” where the security breach happened: look at the recent buying histories of all cardholders with recently breached accounts, and see what business or bureaucracy they all have in common.

The Sally Beauty breach, for example, first came to light last March after investigators found a list of 280,000 stolen credit-card numbers for sale in an “underground crime store,” and discovered that every single one of those compromised accounts had recently bought something at a Sally Beauty store.

Michael Levey, one of the Massachusetts police detectives investigating the recent Splash security breach, told Krebs that the masterminds behind the recent Splash Car Wash breach are not foreign hackers in Russia or eastern Europe, but members of homegrown American street gangs.

“All these kids [involved in the Splash breach] are Blood gang members, tattooed up or self-admitted,” Lavey said. “And they’re starting to work smarter, not harder. Individually, this card fraud doesn’t meet the threshold where the federal government is going to say ‘Hey, let’s grab these guys.’ Locally, they’re doing it across broad jurisdictions and jumping from state to state and coming away with hundreds of thousands of dollars.” …. Given how easy it is to buy stolen cards, encode them onto gift cards and then use those cards to buy goods in big-box stores that can be easily resold for cash, Lavey said he wonders why old-fashioned bank robberies are still a problem.

“Honestly, the fact that we still have bank robberies is sort of perplexing,” he said. “Rob a bank and you’re lucky if you get away with $600. But you can rob a credit card company and all the banks are afraid to have their name associated with a case like this, and they quickly reimburse the victims. And most of the retailers are so afraid of having their name in the press associated with credit card fraud and data breaches that make the job doubly hard for us.”

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Consumer confidence at a 6-year high

Business conditions are a bright spot

Consumers are more confident about the economy than they've been in a long time. According to the Conference Board, its Consumer Confidence Index, which h...

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Consumers are more confident about the economy than they've been in a long time.

According to The Conference Board, its Consumer Confidence Index, which had increased in May, improved again this month and now stands at 85.2 -- up 3 points from the previous month.

The Present Situation Index increased to 85.1 from 80.3, while the Expectations Index rose to 85.2 from 83.5 in May.

“Consumer confidence continues to advance and the index is now at its highest level since January 2008 (87.3),” said Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at The Conference Board. “June’s increase was driven primarily by improving current conditions, particularly consumers’ assessment of business conditions. Expectations regarding the short-term outlook for the economy and jobs were moderately more favorable, while income expectations were a bit mixed. Still, the momentum going forward remains quite positive.”

How they see it

Consumers’ appraisal of current conditions improved in June. Those saying business conditions are “good” increased to 23.0% from 21.1%, while those saying they are “bad” decreased to 22.8% from 24.6%.

Consumers’ assessment of the job market was also more favorable. Those who think jobs are “plentiful” edged up to 14.7% from 14.2%, while those claiming jobs are “hard to get” declined to 31.8% from 32.2%.

Consumers’ expectations were generally more positive in June. The percentage of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months increased to 18.8% from 17.7%. However, those expecting business conditions to worsen increased to 11.4% from 10.7%.

Consumers were more positive about the outlook for the labor market. Those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead rose to 16.3% from 15.2%, while those anticipating fewer jobs edged down to 18.7% from 18.9%.

Fewer consumers expect their incomes to grow, 15.9% versus 18.0%, but those expecting a drop in their incomes also declined -- to 12.1% from 14.5%.

The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey, based on a probability-design random sample, is conducted for The Conference Board by Nielsen, a global provider of information and analytics around what consumers buy and watch. The cutoff date for the preliminary results was June 13.

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A surge in new home sales in May

But will the trend continue if rates head higher?

New single-family home sales soared in May to their highest level in 6 years. Figures released jointly by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Hou...

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New single-family home sales soared in May to their highest level in 6 years.

Figures released jointly by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development show sales soared 18.6% in May to an annual rate of 504,000. That's the first time the rate has topped 500,000 since May 2008.

The consensus estimate of economists surveyed by Briefing.com was for an annual rate of 440,000.

The report shows demand was strong throughout the U.S., led by a sales increase of 54.4% in the Northeast and a 34% jump in the West.

Analysts note that the May surge came as interest rates moved lower, and expressed concern that higher rates could stunt future sales growth.

Prices and inventory

The median sales price of new houses sold in May was $282,000 -- up $12,300 from April. The median is the point at which half the prices are higher and half are lower. The average sales price, however, slipped $1,700 to $319,200.

The seasonally adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of May was 189,000, roughly a supply of 4.5 months at the current sales rate.

The complete sales report is available on the Commerce Department website.

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Home prices rose in April, but annual gains were sharply slower

Obstacles remain, including concerns about rising interest rates

U.S. home prices were higher again in April, but the year-to-year gains were sharply lower. Data released by S&P Dow Jones Indices for its S&P/Case-Shille...

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U.S. home prices were higher again in April, but the year-to-year gains were sharply lower.

Data released by S&P Dow Jones Indices for its S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices show the 10-City and 20-City Composites posted annual gains of 10.8% --- a much slower rate when compared with the previous month.

Nineteen of the 20 cities saw lower annual gains in April than in March.

California (Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco) saw their returns worsen by approximately 3 percentage points. Boston was the only city to see its annual rate improve.

The 10-City and 20-City Composites increased 1.0% and 1.1% in April. Seven cities -- Cleveland, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Phoenix, San Diego and San Francisco -- reported lower returns than in March. Boston rose 2.9% -- its largest monthly gain in over its 27 years of history. San Francisco rose 2.3% -- its sixth consecutive price increase.

The move upward continues

“Although home prices rose in April, the annual gains weakened,” says David M. Blitzer, Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “Overall, prices are rising month-to-month but at a slower rate. Last year some Sunbelt cities were seeing year-over-year numbers close to 30%, now all are below 20%: Las Vegas (18.8%), Los Angeles (14.0%), Phoenix (9.8%), San Diego (15.3%) and San Francisco (18.2%). Other cities around the nation are also experiencing slower price increases.”

While the annual numbers worsened, the monthly figures were seasonally strong. Five cities -- Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle -- reported monthly gains of 2% or more. Dallas and Denver gained 1.6% and continue to set new peaks. Boston and Charlotte are less than 10% away from their peaks.

“Near term economic factors favor further gains in housing: mortgage rates are lower than a year ago, the Fed is expected to keep interest rates steady until mid-2015 and the labor market is improving,” Blitzer added. "However, housing is not back to normal: prices are being supported by cash sales, low inventories and declining foreclosure and REO sales. First time home buyers are not back in force and qualifying for a mortgage remains challenging. The question is whether housing will bounce back before the Fed begins to tighten sometime next year.”

Positive annual gains

All cities continue to post positive year-over-year returns. Boston was the only city to show improvement in its annual rate, going from 8.3% in March to 9.0% in April. After posting 13 months of annual gains of over 20%, San Francisco saw its rate dip below 20%. 

In April, all cities saw prices increase, with 12 cities reporting higher returns than last month.

Boston gained the most with an increase of 2.9%, its highest month-over-month gain. San Francisco and Seattle trailed at +2.3%.

At the bottom of the list, New York gained only 0.1%. Dallas and Denver continue to set new peaks while Detroit remains the only city below its January 2000 value.

FHFA price report

​Separately, however, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) says its monthly House Price Index (HPI) showed no change in U.S. house prices from March to April.

The FHFA HPI is calculated using home sales price information from mortgages either sold to or guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

From April 2013 to April 2014, house prices were up 5.9%. Still, the index is 6.9% below its April 2007 peak and is roughly the same as the July 2005 index level.

For the nine census divisions, seasonally adjusted monthly price changes from March 2014 to April 2014 ranged from -1.3% in the New England division to +0.6% in the East South Central division.

The 12-month changes were all positive ranging from +1.7% in the Middle Atlantic division to +10.7% in the Pacific division.

The full report is available on the FHFA website.

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Pet bothered by fleas and Ticks? Help is available

But you have to use the right product to handle the problem

With the arrival of summer, pets are likely to be spending a lot more time out of doors. And that can lead to confrontations with fleas and ticks. More th...

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With the arrival of summer, pets are likely to be spending a lot more time out of doors. And that can lead to confrontations with fleas and ticks.

More than an itchy annoyance to some dogs and cats, flea bites can cause flea allergy dermatitis -- an allergic reaction to proteins in flea saliva. And a pet’s constant scratching can cause permanent hair loss or other skin problems. Anemia and -- in rare cases – death can be a result of fleas feasting on a pet's blood.

Ticks can also harm your pet, transmitting infections such as Lyme disease. And, even worse, pets can bring ticks into the home, exposing you and your family to illness from a tick bite.

Hundreds of pesticides, repellents, and growth inhibitors are available to protect your pet from flea and tick bites. Some of these products are available only from a veterinarian; others can be bought over the counter.

A multitude of products

Flea and tick products range from pills given by mouth to collars, sprays, dips, shampoos, powders and “spot-ons” -- liquid products squeezed onto the dog’s or cat’s skin usually between the shoulder blades or down the back. A few spot-on products are available for flea control in ferrets, and fly and tick control in horses.

Pet owners need to be cautious about using flea and tick products safely. According to Ann Stohlman, V.M.D., a veterinarian in the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Veterinary Medicine, “You need to take the time to carefully read the label, the package insert, and any accompanying literature to make sure you’re using the product correctly.”

Flea and Tick product regulation

Both the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulate flea and tick products for pets.

FDA is responsible for regulating animal drugs; however, some products to control external parasites come under the jurisdiction of EPA. The agencies work together to ensure adherence to all applicable laws and regulations. In general, flea and tick products that are given orally or by injection are regulated by FDA.

Before an animal drug is allowed on the market, FDA must “approve” it. Before a pesticide can be marketed, EPA must “register” it.

Both base their decisions on a thorough review of detailed information on the product’s safety and effectiveness provided by the manufacturer or other product sponsor. The sponsor must show that the drug or pesticide meets current safety standards to protect:

  • the animal
  • people in contact with the animal
  • the environment

The sponsor must also show that the drug or pesticide produces the claimed effect, and the product must carry specific labeling so that it can be used according to the directions and precautions.

When to treat

It's best to treat your pet at the beginning of flea and tick season, says Stohlman. The length of flea season, which peaks during warm weather months, varies depending on where you live.

“It can last four months in some places, but in other places, like Florida, fleas can live all year long,” says Stohlman. And fleas can live inside a warm house year-round no matter where you live.

Ticks are found in some places year-round. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that in most parts of the U.S., the greatest chance of infection by a tick bite is spring and summer.

What to do

  • Read the label carefully before use. If you don't understand the wording, ask your veterinarian or call the manufacturer. “Even if you’ve used the product many times before,” says Stohlman, “read the label because the directions or warnings may have changed.”
  • Follow the directions exactly. If the product is for dogs, don't use it on cats or other pets. If the label says use weekly, don't use it daily. If the product is for the house or yard, don't put it directly on your pet.
  • Keep multiple pets separated after applying a product until it dries to prevent one animal from grooming another and ingesting a drug or pesticide.
  • Talk to your veterinarian before using a product on weak, old, medicated, sick, pregnant, or nursing pets, or on pets that have previously shown signs of sensitivity to flea or tick products.
  • Monitor your pet for side effects after applying the product, particularly when using the product on your pet for the first time.
  • If your pet experiences a bad reaction from a spot-on product, immediately bathe the pet with mild soap, rinse with large amounts of water, and call your veterinarian.
  • Call your veterinarian if your pet shows symptoms of illness after using a product. Symptoms of poisoning include poor appetite, depression, vomiting, diarrhea, or excessive salivation.
  • Do not apply a product to kittens or puppies unless the label specifically allows this treatment. Use flea combs to pick up fleas, flea eggs, and ticks on puppies and kittens that are too young for flea and tick products.
  • Wash your hands immediately with soap and water after applying a product, or use protective gloves while applying.
  • Store products away from food and out of children's reach.

Reporting problems

Keep the product package after use in case side effects occur. You will want to have the instructions available, as well as contact information for the manufacturer.

To report problems with spot-on flea or tick products, contact the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) at 1-800-858-7378.

To report problems with FDA approved flea or tick drug products, contact the drug manufacturer directly (see contact information on product labeling) or report to FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine on a Form FDA 1932a.

If your pet needs immediate medical care, call your local veterinarian, a local animal emergency clinic, or the National Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435. The NAPCC charges a fee for consultation.

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Senators propose 12 cent hike in gasoline tax

The highway fund is running out of money

At a time when millions of consumers are struggling to keep gasoline in their vehicles, two United States Senators – a Republican and a Democrat &nda...

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At a time when millions of consumers are struggling to keep gasoline in their vehicles, two United States Senators – a Republican and a Democrat – have proposed raising the federal gasoline tax 12 cents a gallon – an increase of nearly 65%.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) are winning praise for their bold proposal in an election year. But chances are none of that praise is coming from the growing number of consumers who struggle to make ends meet.

The average price of self-serve regular these days is $3.68 a gallon, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Survey. It's nearly a dime more than consumers were paying a year ago and 37 cents higher than at the start of the year.

Consumers aren't exactly getting raises at work, so another increase in gas prices – 6 cents a year for 2 years – is going to make a dent in the wallet. So the question has to be asked: Are Corker and Murphy out of their minds?

Highway fund running out of money

The two lawmakers make what they say is a rational argument for the tax hike. The gasoline tax revenue goes into a fund to pay for highway construction and maintenance and they point out the fund is nearly broke.

The gasoline tax – 18.5 cents a gallon – hasn't been raised since 1993. Looked at that way, perhaps it isn't unreasonable to conclude that the tax should be raised to cover the cost of the roads that motorists use.

What seems to have been overlooked, however, is the extremely regressive nature of the gasoline tax and what raising it could do to consumers – and the economy.

High income drivers will have no trouble absorbing a higher price for gasoline. On the other hand, it's going to be a problem for a single mom who hasn't had a raise in 4 years. Could there be some way to cushion the blow for her?

Budgetary footwork

In an effort to prevent the tax increase from being seen as a tax increase, Corker and Murphy propose to restore some unnamed tax breaks that are scheduled for elimination. But Forbes' Howard Gleckman says that won't cut it.

“Thus, instead of moving cash from the general fund to the highway fund, they’d reduce the amount of money the general fund collects in the first place,” Gleckman writes. “The effect on federal borrowing is exactly the same.”

And there's an added problem. The tax burden has shifted to consumers who drive – including the single mom. Is she likely to benefit from those restored tax breaks? Don't count on it.

The problem, it seems, is that the price of gasoline has less to do with supply and demand and more to do with what the market will bear. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimated in 2009 the real costs of producing a barrel of oil was around $52. The current price is north of $106.

When gasoline prices reached their record highs – over $4 a gallon – in 2008 the market established where the breaking point was. It's probably no accident that the prices haven't fallen too far below that since.

State gasoline taxes

Besides the current federal gasoline tax each state also levies its own gasoline tax, and in nearly every case the state tax far exceeds the federal levy. That's partly responsible for the wide swing in prices from state to state.

According to the American Petroleum Institute California adds nearly 53 cents a gallon to the price of gas while New York adds 42 cents. South Carolina, meanwhile, tacks on less than 18 cents – one of the only states with a tax lower than the federal rate.

Would the states cut their tax rate to offset a federal tax hike? Again, don't count on it. Most states have budget crises of their own.

The good news for drivers is that, in an election year the gas tax hike proposal is probably going nowhere. The bad news, however, is that gasoline prices – tax hike or no tax hike – will continue to go up.

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Uncertain future for Everest Institute and Corinthian Colleges

Feds cut federal funds, then temporarily restore them, putting schools on a short leash

You've probably seen those cajoling commercials for Everest College or Everest Institute: “You want the skills that pay the bills.”...

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An Everest Institute building in Rochester, NY (Photo source: Wikipedia)
If you watch TV, especially in the wee small hours of the night when advertising rates are dirt-cheap, you've probably seen those cajoling commercials urging under-educated and therefore under-employed viewers to improve their lives by enrolling at the for-profit Everest College or Everest Institute: “You want the skills that pay the bills.”

Indeed you do, but Everest may not be the best place to get them, especially in light of the school's recent troubles with the federal government. The U.S. Education Department last week halted federal student aid to some colleges operated by Everest and its corporate parent, Corinthian Colleges, Inc.

In an SEC filing, Corinthian said the action could put it out of business. 

But Corinthian said today that it had "reached a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Department of Education that maintains uninterrupted daily operations at its schools" pending completion of a more detailed plan, which the company said might involve the sale of some of its schools.

Corinthian said it would "continue to seek new owners for most of its campuses" and "proceed in an orderly fashion with the 'teach-out' of schools that are under-performing" or that have been kicked out of the federal student aid program.

"During the teach-out process, no new students will be enrolled at the affected schools, but all current students will be able to complete their instructional programs or transfer to another institution," Corinthian said.

Adequate protection?

Whether that's adequate protection for students remains to be seen.

“It’s time to make the protection of Everest College students our highest priority. Corinthian should immediately stop enrolling students to prevent more students from being loaded with debt if the company fails because of fraudulent disclosures to the federal government,” said U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), upon learning last week that several Chicago-area Everest campuses were in danger of shutting down.

Durbin also called on accrediting agencies to take a closer look at for-profit schools.

"For years I have been calling public attention to the growing scandal in the for-profit college industry. Their “accrediting commissions” are nothing more than in-house lap dogs; their tuitions are sky high; their diplomas are often worthless and they account for an incredible 46% of all student loan defaults, despite enrolling only 10% of the nation’s students," Durbin said, “The Corinthian canary has a bad cough and it’s time to start protecting unsuspecting students from the tragic consequences of a potential failure of this enterprise.”

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said she was "encouraged" by the federal action.  

“My office has been investigating for-profit colleges for several years having received hundreds of complaints about questionable marketing and lending practices, including dubious claims of job placement rates and accreditation status,” said Madigan said.

Credits transferable?

Consumers rate Everest Institute
The transferability of Everest credits may also be uncertain, however. In February 2013, an Everest graduate sued the school, alleging that none of the credits he took at Everest were transferable to a state community college, and many consumers posting on ConsumerAffairs have complained of problems transferring their credits.

"I attended Everest here in Miami in 2010," a consumer named Lucy said in a ConsumerAffairs posting a few days ago. "At the time I had no high school diploma. I completed a test that qualified me for the pharmacy technician program. ... I passed with flying colors."

But that hasn't done Lucy much good. "To make a long story short, I am $13,000 in debt and still no employment in my field of study," she said. "We cannot transfer our education credits because it's not considered real."

The schools have also faced charges of lax academic standards.

Earlier this month, the Republic Report said that a former librarian from an Everest College campus in California resigned from her job after the school granted admission to a 37-year-old man who can only read at a third-grade level:

The man, who shakes, speaks haltingly, and may suffer from a developmental disability, told the librarian he expected to be a police officer after completing the program. But the librarian, Laurie McConnell, is certain he can never obtain such a job.

McConnell, who had been devoting much of her time at work to helping the student with his reading assignments, wrote to the campus’s president on May 21 that the student would be “impossible to place in the field” and had “no idea of the ramifications of signing the enrollment agreement” at Everest. But the president, Richard Mallow, did not give her a response. McConnell quit on May 27, four days after she first contacted me to say that the student was “being defrauded” by Everest. “He breaks my heart,” she told me, “and I feel completely helpless.”

The student was enrolled in Everest's two-year criminal justice program, which would cost $40,000 for fees and tuition, plus $4,783 for books and supplies. By way of comparison: as of 2013, the average annual tuition rate for state residents attending two-year California community colleges was $1,174.

Educators generally advise consumers thinking of enrolling at a for-profit school to consider their local community college instead. Almost all community colleges will allow you to take on a part-time rather than full-time courseload, if necessary, so you can still work while attending school, and even pay your tuition and other costs as you go, rather than take on a student-loan debt that can't even be discharged in bankruptcy.

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Study: Consumers demanding better mileage in their next car

Families saving hundreds of dollars per year in fuel costs, thanks to higher mpg

The nation’s passenger vehicle marketplace is in the midst of a major transformation according to new research undertaken by the Consumer Federa...

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Cars are getting better mileage and consumers are reaping the benefits and expecting even better results in their next car, according to a new study released today by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA).

From 2008 to 2014, the average fuel economy of new cars increased by 20 percent from 21 miles per gallon (mpg) to 25.6 mpg, CFA said. As a result, in 2014, a consumer who drives a typical 2014 new car model will spend almost $300 less for gasoline than someone who drives a typical 2008 new car model (assuming both drove 15,000 miles this year, and in spite of the fact that gasoline was somewhat less expensive in 2008), as shown in Figure 1a.

These savings are likely to increase in the coming years because more than ever, as consumers plan to substantially increase the fuel economy of their next vehicle purchase compared to their current vehicle.

According to the recent survey of 1,000 adults, conducted for CFA by ORC International, drivers expect a median of 30 mpg in their next vehicle purchase.

At current gas prices ($3.56), the increase of over four mpg (25.6 mpg to 30 mpg) would save the typical driver more than $300 in the first year and thousands over the lifetime of the vehicle, compared to new vehicles purchased in 2014 (if the consumer drives 15,000 miles annually).[2]

The ORC survey also revealed that more than four-fifths of those surveyed (83 percent) support (with 56 percent “strongly” supporting) the current federal fuel economy standards of 54.5 mpg by 2025. Support for the current fuel economy standards cuts across partisan lines, with 76 percent of Republicans, 83 percent of Independents and 89 percent of Democrats favoring the standards.

“Consumers want and expect the vehicles they intend to purchase to get significantly higher fuel economy,” said CFA’s director of research, Mark Cooper. “Many Americans struggle to live within their budgets, and a large majority are troubled about future gasoline prices,” he added.  In the ORC survey, 80 percent of those surveyed said that “in thinking about the next five years,” they were “concerned” about gasoline prices with 64 percent indicating “great” concern.

Manufacturers on board

“Car manufacturers are well on their way to meet the 2025 fuel economy standards,” said Jack Gillis, CFA’s director of public affairs and author of The Car Book.  “Because the new federal standards are in line with consumer demand, carmakers understand that meeting those standards is one of the best ways to ensure market success in the future.” 

Of the 29 truly new vehicles introduced in 2014, 19 have a model that is compliant with 2014 requirements, 13 are compliant with 2016 standards and seven meet 2018 standards (Figure 2). Of the all-new 2014 models, 3 are actually compliant with 2020 standards (Mitsubishi Mirage, Nissan Rogue, and Toyota Highlander).

Overall, in 2014, Mazda, Subaru, and Honda stand out as having the highest percentage of models compliant with 2014 standards among manufacturers with multiple vehicle models (Figure 3). Eighty percent of Mazda models, 52 percent of Subaru models, and 51 percent of Honda models met the 2014 requirements.

“Meeting consumer demand, ensuring market success, increasing America’s energy independence and protecting the environment are all coming together with the 2025 fuel economy standards,” said Gillis.

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Is ice water safe for your dog?

As in so many things, moderation is the key

There is an article floating all over the internet and has dog owners frozen on what to do. It's actually been circulating since 2007 It’s titled, &l...

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There is an article floating all over the Internet that has dog owners frozen on what to do. It's actually been circulating since 2007. It’s titled, “No Ice Water for Dogs Please Read ASAP.”

The article discusses a close call where the owner gave the show dog ice water and the dog nearly died because the cold water caused him to bloat. Bloating is a life threatening situation where the stomach will actually flip and it gets bigger and bigger and bigger, which can cause numerous problems.

Veterinary experts have dismissed the claims in the message as false. Bloat is a real condition and can certainly be very dangerous to dogs. But, there is no credible evidence to support the claim that ice water can cause the condition.

However, if your dog is super thirsty and drinks the ice water fast, it can lead to bloat. It's not the ice cubes causing the problem it's the fast pace of inhaling the water that causes bloat.

Moderation is key

So what about those ice cubes -- are they good for your dog? Well, yes, they can be in moderation. If you give a dog an ice cube they will chew it like food and that can be good for tarter on their teeth. Like anything, moderation is the key. An older dog or a puppy can crack its teeth on ice so you have to be careful -- give an older dog or puppy or even a smaller dog crushed ice.

It's so important in the summer months to keep your dog hydrated. Water is a staple for your pups and there is nothing better then cold water on a hot summer day. Just be careful they don't gulp it down too fast.

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The smartphone: turning the world upside down

These small devices have had a hugely disruptive impact

Let's go back in time, to a more primitive time, when life was simpler. Like 2007.In 2007 you could still buy a house for no money down. The economy was ...

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Photo credit: Apple
Let's go back in time, to a more primitive time, when life was simpler. Like 2007.

In 2007 you could still buy a house for no money down. The economy was headed toward the Great Recession but hadn't quite arrived.

And consumers carried “flip” cell phones that made voice calls and sent and received crude text messages.

In late June 2007 Apple's Steve Jobs introduced the first iPhone, setting in motion a disruptive force that since then has turned the world upside down.

Not just hype

“Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything,” said the late Apple co-founder as he introduced the first iPhone.

This wasn't simply marketing hype. This actually turned out to be true. In 2007 almost no one carried what today we think of as a smartphone. Five years later nearly everyone did.

In 2007 Motorola, Blackberry, Nokia and Palm all made phones that had built-in keyboards and allowed users to send and receive data, technically falling into the category of smartphone. All were mostly mobile email devices, favored by business users.

The iPhone, and the Android devices that followed, went beyond email and allowed users to easily access the Internet through simple, easy-to-use apps. The devices also contained video and still cameras and could download and store hours of music.

Here today, gone tomorrow

In introducing the iPhone, Apple essentially made its iPod music player obsolete. But that was not the extent of the smartphone's disruption.

In 2006 the Flip camera appeared on the scene. It was a small, point-and-shoot video camera that didn't use tape, but digital files that could be transferred to a computer.

It was easy to carry, easy to use and proved to be such a popular product that tech giant Cisco Systems bought the company in 2009 for $590 million. But by 2010 smartphones all had video cameras with higher resolution, better optics – and didn't require you to carry a separate device.

In one of the fastest flame-outs in business history, Cisco pulled the plug on the Flip camera, just two years after buying the company.

In 2007 GPS navigational systems were popular after-market additions to cars. The devices sat on dashboards, providing turn-by-turn directions.

By 2010 consumers with smartphones didn't need to buy these separate navigational devices since they came as a standard app on their smartphone.

For decades if you wanted to save money, you went through the newspaper and clipped coupons. When coupon sites began springing up on the Internet, consumers found it easier to save.

With smartphones, a growing number of “daily deal” sites began offering coupons sent to consumers' mobile devices. Some even tapped into the users GPS and sent coupons for businesses near the user's current location.

Making Uber possible

These apps have had a disruptive impact of existing businesses, but perhaps none more disruptive than Uber. Uber is an app that matches people who need rides with drivers.

By downloading the Uber app and loading credit card information, consumers may summon a ride with the touch of a button. No actual money changes hands, the fare is charged to the user's credit card on file.

The taxi industry has geared up to fight the spread of Uber, which continues to expand into cities around the world. Though it has no physical assets, the company was recently valued at $18 billion.

Bionic pancreas

While the smartphone's disruptive effects have caused their share of economic pain, the device has also been at the center of purely positive developments. A medical engineer in Boston, whose teen-aged son has type 1 diabetes has developed a “bionic pancreas.”

At the heart of the device, which monitors blood sugar levels and delivers insulin as needed, is an iPhone app. The developers hope to win FDA approval and begin making the device available next year.

The growth of smartphones in the U.S. has been explosive. According to an October 2013 study smartphone penetration had reached 74% of mobile phone users. It was a rise from 58% from a year earlier.

But perhaps more impressive that the growth of smartphones in such a short period of time is the radical change these devices have produced.

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Do social media sites move the merchandise? Consumers say no

Gallup finds even Millennials aren't much influenced by Facebook, et al

Ads, ads, ads (Source: Facebook)Companies large and small are spending billions to advertise on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and so forth, producing lots...

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Ads, ads, ads (Source: Facebook)

Companies large and small are spending billions to advertise on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and so forth, producing lots of ads that break up the stream of cute kitten photos and news from the folks back home, or wherever.

Are they getting their money's worth?

A new study suggests they may not be, although Facebook disputed the findings. "The only thing this poll shows is that self-reported behavioral data is unreliable," Facebook said.

Gallup found that a clear majority of Americans say social media have no effect at all on their purchasing decisions -- with 62% saying the sites do not have any influence on their decisions to purchase products.

Only 5% say social media have "a great deal of influence" on their purchasing decisions, while another 30% say these channels have "some influence."

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These data, from Gallup's new State of the American Consumer report, are based on Americans' self-reported estimates of how much social media campaigns affect their purchasing decisions. While social media may have more influence than some Americans realize or will admit, these data show that relatively few consumers consciously take into account what they learn from social media when making purchases, Gallup said.

Even among American consumers who "like" or follow a company on Facebook or Twitter, 34% say that social media have no influence at all on their buying decisions, while 53% say they have some influence.

What works

So what does influence buying decisions?

Gallup says consumers are much more likely to turn to friends, in-store displays, television commercials, and even mail catalogs and magazines than to consult a company-sponsored Facebook page or Twitter feed.

Also, Gallup said that consumers who engage with brands often do so when they are already attached to a product or service. Companies that engage their customers -- by providing exceptional service and a pleasurable in-store experience -- will, in turn, drive those customers to interact with them on social media. Simply promoting products and services on Facebook or Twitter is unlikely to lead to sales.

Even Millennials -- a generation that many companies regard as a key social media audience -- tend to say that social media marketing is not much of a factor in their decision-making, with about half saying social media have at least some influence on their buying decisions (50%), the other half saying social media have no influence at all.

Facebook responds

A Facebook spokesman said the results were flawed because they relied on self-reported behavioral.

"For decades, studies that look at people’s actual, real-world behavior have shown that ads on all mediums, including social media, affect the things people buy."

In a prepared statement, Facebook said advertisers demand proof before shelling out huge sums for advertising.

"The most successful marketers in the world don’t just take our word for it when it comes to ad effectiveness, they’ve asked us to prove that our ads work. And we have. Those marketers hold us to a very high standard; we look at actual changes in attitudes and behaviors using experimental design — the same approach used in medical trials," the company said.

Study details

These results are based on a Gallup Panel Web and mail study of 18,525 U.S. adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Dec. 12, 2012, to Jan. 22, 2013. All surveys were completed in English.

The Gallup Panel is a probability-based longitudinal panel of U.S. adults who are selected using random-digit-dial (RDD) telephone interviews that cover landline and cellphone telephone numbers. Address-based sampling methods are also used to recruit panel members. The Gallup Panel is not an opt-in panel, and members are not given incentives for participating. The sample for this study was weighted to be demographically representative of the U.S. adult population, using 2012 Current Population Survey figures.

For results based on this sample, the margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point at the 95% confidence level. Margins of error are higher for subsamples.

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Truvia sweetener kills the sugar craving. Also bugs

It kills fruit flies. More study needed to find if it works on bed bugs, roaches, termites, etc.

Photo source: Truvia.comTruvia is one of the many new sweeteners popular among people trying to lose weight and keep their metabolisms in balance. It's m...

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Sales of existing homes rise in May amid improving inventory levels

Gains were registered in all regions of the country

Sales of previously owned homes posted a solid gain during May as price increases moderated, thanks to gains in inventories. Figures released by the Natio...

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© Brian Jackson - Fotolia.com

Sales of previously owned homes posted a solid gain during May as price increases moderated, thanks to gains in inventories.

Figures released by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) show total existing-home sales -- completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops -- rose 4.9% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.89 million.

While that's the highest monthly rise since August 2011, sales remain 5.0% below the 5.15 million-unit level in May 2013.

A second-quarter rebound

Current sales activity is bouncing back after the lackluster first quarter. “Home buyers are benefiting from slower price growth due to the much-needed, rising inventory levels seen since the beginning of the year,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. “Moreover, sales were helped by the improving job market and the temporary but slight decline in mortgage rates.”

Total housing inventory at the end of May was up 2.2% to 2.28 million existing homes available for sale. That translates to a 5.6-month supply at the current sales pace, down a touch from April. However, unsold inventory is 6.0% higher than a year ago, when there were 2.15 million existing homes available for sale.

Pricing gains

The median existing-home price for all housing types in May was $213,400 -- 5.1% above May 2013. The median is the point at which half the prices are higher and half are lower.

“Rising inventory bodes well for slower price growth and greater affordability, but the amount of homes for sale is still modestly below a balanced market,” Yun pointed out, adding that new home construction is still needed to keep prices and housing supply healthy in the long run.

Earlier this month, NAR reported new home construction activity is currently insufficient in most of the U.S., and some states could face persistent housing shortages and affordability issues unless housing starts increase to match up with local job creation.

Across the board gains

  • Existing-home sales in the Northeast rose 3.3% to an annual rate of 620,000 in May, but are 3.1% below a year ago. The median price was $256,700 -- down 0.9% from May 2013.
  • In the Midwest, existing-home sales shot up 8.7% to an annual rate of 1.13 million, but remain 7.4% below the same time last year. The median price there was $165,900 -- up 4.0% from a year ago.
  • Sales of existing homes in the South increased 5.7% to an annual level of 2.05 million last month, but are down 0.5% from the same time last year. The median price was up 4.4% from a year earlier -- to $184,800.
  • Existing-home sales in the West rose 0.9% to an annual rate of 1.09 million, and are 11.4% below a year ago. The median price was $297,500 -- 8.4% above May 2013.
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FTC stops scammers from preying on Spanish-speaking consumers

Unwanted or defective products were sent out and refunds were denied

An operation that swindled Spanish-speaking consumers across the country by routinely sending unordered or defective products has been stopped in its track...

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© kentoh - Fotolia.com

An operation that swindled Spanish-speaking consumers across the country by routinely sending unordered or defective products has been stopped in its tracks.

At the request of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a federal judge has temporarily frozen the assets of and halted the operations of the outfit that sent such items as a phony weight-loss belt, and then made it difficult, impossible, or costly for consumers to obtain relief.

The FTC seeks to put a permanent halt to the illegal practices and make the defendants return victims’ money.

“The defendants tricked consumers into purchasing unwanted goods, and then left them holding the bag,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. The announcement, she sayd, “should serve as notice to other would-be scammers that the FTC will take action against such conduct.”

Bogus services and products offered

The complaint filed by the FTC says the defendants -- Hispanic Global Way, Hispanic Network Connections, and several other companies run by Maria Elizabeth Vera, Rafael Martin Hernandez, Roberto Carrasco Macedo, and Maria Gisella Carrasco -- used TV ads to offer English-language courses, cell phones, ladies’ garments, exercise equipment, and the “Molding Motion 5” belt, with no mention of refund and exchange policies.

Consumers, the agency said, often received incomplete orders, the wrong or defective products, products of the wrong size or color, and products that did not perform as advertised, the complaint alleges.

Regarding the purported weight-loss belt, the defendants’ advertising allegedly indicated that consumers could expect rapid and substantial weight-loss regardless of diet and exercise habits, with no reasonable basis to substantiate such claims.

No relief

When consumers called to complain, the defendants routinely placed them on hold for long periods, disconnected them, or otherwise ignored or insulted them, the complaint alleged. If consumers persisted, sales representatives said they could not return or exchange defective products or products the consumers never ordered, or that consumers would have to pay additional fees, ranging from $20 to $299, to do so. The most persistent consumers received promises of refunds or exchanges that never materialized.

The defendants are charged with refusing to provide refunds for, or imposing substantial fees to exchange, unwanted or unusable products; misrepresenting that consumers could return products, even after use, for refunds at no additional cost; and making false, unsubstantiated claims about the weight-loss belt, in violation of the FTC Act.

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Kraft Foods recalls Velveeta Original Pasteurized Recipe Cheese Product

The product was shipped to Walmart stores in the Midwest

Kraft Foods Group is recalling 260 cases of Velveeta Original Pasteurized Recipe Cheese Product. The product does not contain appropriate levels of sorbic...

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Photo source: Kraft Foods

Kraft Foods Group is recalling 260 cases of Velveeta Original Pasteurized Recipe Cheese Product.

The product does not contain appropriate levels of sorbic acid, a preservative ingredient, and the . affected product could spoil and/or lead to food borne illness.

The single recalled batch of product was shipped to three Walmart distribution centers and may have been redistributed to stores in up to 12 Midwest states: Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

The product was not shipped outside the U.S.

The following specific batch of product is being recalled:

Product Size

Name of Product

Units /

Case

Case Code Date/Time Range

Case UPC Code

Consumer Package Code Date/Time Range

Consumer Package

UPC Code

32 OZ(2 LB)

VELVEETA ORIGINAL PASTEURIZED RECIPE CHEESE PRODUCT

12

17 DEC 2014

10:54 – 14:35 ONLY

10021000611611

17 DEC 2014

09:34 – 13:15 ONLY

021000611614

Consumers can find the case code date on the side of the package. No other Kraft or Velveeta products are affected.

Consumers who purchased any of these products should not eat them, but return them to the store where purchased for an exchange or full refund.

Consumers may contact Kraft Foods Consumer Relations at 1-800-310-3704 between 9 am and 6 pm (ET).

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Researchers find challenges to regulating e-cigarettes

Marketers stepping up use of social media

E-cigarette manufacturers are free to use just about any medium they want to market their products. Unlike tobacco cigarettes, e-cigarette commercials may ...

 

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© teraskarina - Fotolia.com

E-cigarette manufacturers are free to use just about any medium they want to market their products. Unlike tobacco cigarettes, e-cigarette commercials may be broadcast on radio and TV and displayed online.

 

But the marketing medium of choice, it appears, is social media. A study in Tobacco Control may have implications for future Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations on the marketing of e-cigarettes and related products, according to researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).

“There’s this whole wild west of social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – and the FDA has no way to track what’s happening in those platforms,” said Jidong Huang, senior research scientist at UIC’s Institute for Health Research and Policy and lead author of the study.

The researchers collected tweets and metadata that mentioned e-cigarettes during a two month period in 2012. They captured more than 70,000 tweets related to the cigarette substitutes.

Most of the 70,000 tweets, it turns out, were commercials for brands of e-cigarettes. Only 10% were “organic,” or legitimate consumer opinions.

Links to products

The researchers found that 94% of the commercial tweets included a website link while only 11% of the organic tweets did.

E-cigarettes deliver nicotine in water vapor, often accompanied by flavorings, and simulate the physical act of smoking. Many of the users are former smokers and people trying to quit, who say e-cigarettes keep them from using the real thing.

Public health advocates worry that e-cigarettes will hook young people, who don't currently smoke, on nicotine. The FDA is in the process of drawing up regulations that will bar sales to minors.

The UIC researchers say that of the commercial tweets they monitored, only 11% mentioned quitting smoking. More than one-third directed viewers to a place where they could download coupons or get discounts to purchase e-cigarette products.

Twitter is the second-largest search engine after Google and that gives the UIC researchers pause.

“If kids or youth search for ‘vaping pen’ or ‘e-cig’ on Twitter, they will get links to commercial sites where they can purchase these items,” said Huang.

Unlike Facebook and some other platforms where one can set privacy controls, all information on Twitter is accessible to anyone.

Jury still out

So far the jury is out on whether e-cigarettes are a good way to help people stop smoking, as the industry claims, or a gateway to eventual tobacco use, as the industry's public health critics claim.

Previous research has shown rapid growth in both use and awareness of e-cigarettes among adults and young people in the last couple of years. However, there is limited evidence that can settle the argument about the product's merits or threat.

“We know very little about what these products are made of and what kind of chemicals are in the e-juice,” Huang said.

In an unrelated study, researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine also conclude the FDA will have its hands full trying to draw up and implement e-cigarette regulations.

The study found that an average 10 new e-cigarette brands entered the Internet marketplace every month from 2012 to 2014. At present online consumers can choose from 466 e-cigarette brands.

Advice for the FDA

The researchers urged the FDA to tread carefully in drawing up regulations, warning against unintended consequences. Overly-stringent regulations, they say, would likely favor brands with strong financial backing and most of these would be owned by tobacco companies.

“Obviously, tobacco companies would be more concerned with protecting cigarette market share than smaller e-cigarette companies,” said lead author Shu-Hong Zhu.

In other words, put too many regulations in place and you run the risk of changing only the market share of different e-cigarette brands rather than reducing the prevalence of smoking.

The most important goal in e-cigarette regulation, says Zhu, is to reduce the number of people smoking cigarettes.

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Chinese firm faces $35 million fine for selling signal-jammers

The fine will be the largest in the FCC's history

A Chinese firm that sells signal-jamming devices in the United States faces fines and penalties of nearly $35 million, the Federal Trade Commission said. T...

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Photo source: aiswa.com

A Chinese firm that sells signal-jamming devices in the United States faces fines and penalties of nearly $35 million, the Federal Communications Commission said. The fine will be the largest in the FCC's history.

The FCC said in a statement it will fine C.T.S. Technology Co. for each of the 285 models of signal jamming devices it has been selling in the United States for more than 2 years, Courthouse News Service reported. 

The illegal jammers have become popular in churches, theaters, schools and other venues where cell phones frequently interrupt the proceedings.

"Signal jammers present a direct danger to public safety, potentially blocking the communications of first responders," FCC acting chief of enforcement Travis LeBlanc said in the statement. "Operating a jammer is also illegal, and consumers who do so face significant civil and criminal penalties."

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Source: aiswa.com

The company's site -- aiswa.com -- promotes the inexpensive jammers for us in "jails, churches, meeting rooms and cars." 

One model, which sells for $70, has three 2-watt transmitters covering a wide range of cell phone frequencies and is said to be capable of jamming all types of transmissions, including GSM, CDMA and DCS. 

"C.T.S. operates a website that markets consumer electronics to individuals in the United States, where it allegedly misled U.S. consumers by falsely claiming that certain signal jammers were approved by the FCC. In fact, the use of such devices by U.S. consumers is illegal under any circumstance," the FTC said in a prepared statement.

It alleged that C.T.S. also sold 10 high-powered signal jammers to undercover FCC personnel.

FCC rules prohibit purposely interfering with licensed radio communications and also prohibit operating unlicensed transmitting devices. 

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Supply shortages and legal Catch-22s still plague legal marijuana markets

Even legal medical use can lead to punitive legal consequences

Future historians will surely look back on this time as the beginning of the end of American marijuana prohibition (1937-20??).With the benefits of hinds...

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© Peter Kim - Fotolia.com
Future historians will surely look back on this time as the beginning of the end of American marijuana prohibition (1937-20??).

With the benefits of hindsight and an outsider's perspective, they'll be able to draw straightforward timelines discussing, for example, exactly when the federal government rescinded its last criminal laws against marijuana, and even include such milestones as “First sale of stock shares in a publicly traded marijuana company.”

But here in June 2014, it's too soon to predict when any of those things will happen. And many Americans, especially those whose paychecks and livelihoods come from organizations with names like “Drug Enforcement Administration” or “National Institute on Drug Abuse,” keep their focus on predicting the real or perceived downsides of making marijuana the legal equivalent of alcohol, where adult possession and use are concerned.

Locked down

On June 19, for example, Bloomberg news gave a detailed summary of the then-current status quo, headlined “Pot scientists brace for marijuana abuse as laws ease.”

And those “laws,” at the time of writing, were briefly summarized at the federal level:

The only marijuana available for research in the U.S. is locked down by federal regulators who are more focused on studies to keep people off the drug than helping researchers learn how it might be beneficial.

Marijuana is a trend that “will peak like tobacco then people will see their error,” said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which serves as the gatekeeper for U.S. Marijuana research through its oversight of a pot farm that grows the only plants that can be used in clinical trials.... Volkow said that long-term pot use, as well as some experimenting, can lead to addiction. About 4.3 million people ages 12 and older abused the drug or had marijuana dependence in 2012, about the same as in 2002, according to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

“I’m open to the data, that’s why we do research,” she said in an interview. “But based on what I’ve seen, I predict that it’s going to be negative and we’re going to be in a position of trying to deal with the consequences.”

It's not certain if “marijuana abuse” is being defined as “the excessive use of marijuana, to the point where it harms or interferes with the user's daily life,” or merely “any use not required for medical reasons.”

As of June 2014, marijuana is legal for medical use in 22 states, and for purely recreational use in two.

Yet the U.S. federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug — which means that, according to the law, it has absolutely no medicinal or therapeutic use whatsoever (although “Marinol,” synthetic marijuana produced by a pharmaceutical company in pill form, is legal and does have medicinal value, provided you get a doctor's prescription first).

Supply shortage

Even in Colorado and Washington, the two states with legal recreational marijuana, there's nothing remotely close to a free and open market yet. Indeed, Washington's on the verge of a legally imposed supply shortage. Reason magazine's July 2014 issue discussed “Washington's legal marijuana mess,” wherein marijuana is regulated by a state Liquor Control Board (LCB) seemingly opposed to the very market it's supposed to regulate:

Washington's regulators are deliberately engineering a shortage. Keen to prevent diversion of newly legal marijuana to other states, which might trigger a federal crackdown, the LCB is imposing a cap on production and strictly limiting the number of retailers. The amount of marijuana cultivation allowed by the state is calculated to supply just 25 percent of the market, while the number of retail licenses will be much smaller than the number of existing medical marijuana suppliers. Seattle, which has about 200 dispensaries (including delivery services), has been allotted just 21 state-licensed pot stores.

Colorado has had “supply” problems since the beginning of the year; throughout the month of January, media headlines ranged from the straightforward “Colorado Pot Supply: Marijuana businesses fear shortage” (Time.com, Jan. 8) to the more tongue-in-cheek “Bummer: the great Colorado weed shortage of 2014” (The Daily Beast, Jan. 11).

It's easy to see why marijuana retailers would have supply problems alcohol retailers do not: among other things, maintaining inventory of a consumable product is tricky when that product remains thoroughly illegal on the federal level and in 28 states.

Child custody

Supply and demand aren't the only problems generated by the contradictory nature of current marijuana laws. The Associated Press reported another new legal trend on June 16: “Marijuana laws complicate child custody, abuse cases.”

In Colorado, for example, a man lost custody of his children after he got a medical-marijuana prescription. Such anecdotes are not unusual in medical-marijuana states, again because the law can't decide the exact status of marijuana (let alone those who use it): Useful medication? Recreational intoxicant which responsible adults can enjoy without harm? Or a Schedule 1 narcotic so nasty, any use of it automatically makes you an unfit parent?

Or an unfit employee — despite marijuana's legal status, Colorado employers who require drug tests of their employees can still fire or refuse to hire marijuana users, even those who only use it under a doctor's care.

So even if you are among the growing number of Americans who can, at least in some circumstances, legally acquire and use marijuana, you still might want to err on the side of caution and continue to think of marijuana use as a “legal” rather than “consumer” issue — because so many levels of authority in your life still think that way, and it's far too early for historians to say when that stopped being the American status quo.

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Oxytocin - Love Potion #9 for dogs?

The hormone may help promote inter-species affection

Do you ever sit on the couch and watch a good movie and just wish that your dog would move a little closer and snuggle up? Seems like every time you wiggle...

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© vmorfield - Fotolia.com
Do you ever sit on the couch and watch a good movie and just wish that your dog would move a little closer and snuggle up? Seems like every time you wiggle closer he moves away. Well, you might want to try a little nasal spray on him.

When scientists in Japan gave dogs a quick whiff of an oxytocin nasal spray, the pooches became more affectionate toward their owners. Oxytocin is a chemical and it carries the title of the "love hormone."

In humans it's naturally released from our pituitary gland, located at the base of our brains. It's released during special moments like snuggling or the good ole orgasm.

The new findings suggest that it might also help maintain non-romantic relationships between different species. It could come in handy on walks in the park where your dog might see a rabbit and want to go after it. One spray of oxytocin and that natural instinct may be lessened.

Any mammal

The co -author of the spray study, Miho Nagasawa, said "As far as we know, there are no studies on cats, but we believe that oxytocin is a hormonal mechanism that facilitates the maintenance of close social bonds not only in dogs or cats, but also in any mammal species since the oxytocin system is very ancient and has similar functions in a wide number of taxa."

Sixteen dogs of different breeds participated in the study, which examined how they behaved before being sprayed and after. Doggy disposition toward both other dogs and their human companions was monitored. According to the lead author of the study, Teresa Romero, after the dogs were sprayed they were more affectionate to their owners than during the controls.

The spray was found to promote natural secretion of oxytocin in the brains of the dogs. A high degree of heart rate variability was also observed. The spray will be a valuable tool for dog training and perhaps taming the family dog and cat so they can snuggle up together on the couch!

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How high is high blood pressure?

Growing research suggests it can be higher than current guidelines

All of a sudden, the medical community is second guessing the recent low benchmarks for “safe” blood pressure. In short, some are suggesting &l...

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© Phase4Photography - Fotolia.com

All of a sudden, the medical community is second guessing the recent low benchmarks for “safe” blood pressure. In short, some are suggesting “the lower the better” approach might not be the right one after all.

The latest questions appear in a study published in the online edition of JAMA Internal Medicine. Researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center report that lowering systolic blood pressure below 120 does not appear to provide additional benefit for patients.

Systolic pressure is the top number in a standard blood pressure reading such as 120/80.

“Frequently we treat patients’ blood pressure to the lowest it will go, thinking that is what’s best,” said Carlos J. Rodriguez, M.D., associate professor of public health sciences at Wake Forest Baptist and lead author of the study.

Lower not necessarily better

But the researchers found that pushing blood pressures to the lowest levels possible didn't provide any benefit to patients with risk of dangerous events like heart attack, heart failure and stroke.

“This calls into question the notion that lower is better,” Rodriquez said.

Previous studies had claimed a progressive rise in heart disease risk as systolic blood pressure (SBP) rose above 115. According to the Mayo Clinic, normal blood pressure is below 120/80, which is often difficult to achieve without medication.

However, that's a relatively recent change. Until 2003 most doctors considered 120/80 an ideal blood pressure and a systolic reading up to 140 to be satisfactory.

But a report that year from the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure warned that blood pressure needed to be lower. It said systolic pressure as low as 120 might be risky. For millions of patients, that meant taking medication.

Drug industry influence?

It has to be asked what role the pharmaceutical companies might have played in developing these new standards. A 2005 investigation by The Seattle Times alleged 9 of the 11 authors of the new guidelines had drug company ties.

A new panel on hypertension issued new guidelines last December, suggesting patients over 60 were fine with a blood pressure reading of 150/90. Blood pressure goals were also eased for adults with diabetes and kidney disease.

In March researchers at Duke University ran an analysis and determined that an estimated 5.8 million adults no longer needed blood pressure medicine under the new guidelines.

Controversial

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

Based on their study, the Duke researchers estimated the proportion of U.S. adults in need of hypertension treatment would decrease from 40.6% under the old guidelines to 31.7% under the new recommendations, resulting in a pretty big hit for drug companies.

More bad news for drug companies

The new Wake Forest study is likely to be seen as more bad news in the pharmaceutical industry. It found that among people with high blood pressure, once SBP is below 140, lowering it below 120 did not reduce heart risks.

“Our study found that the optimal blood pressure range for people with hypertension is 120-139, which significantly reduces the risk of stroke, heart attack or heart failure,” Rodriguez said. “These findings suggest that you don’t need to go lower than that to have the benefits.”

If you are currently taking medication for high blood pressure, you should continue to do so. Never make changes in your medication based on news stories. However, you should discuss these new guidelines with your healthcare provider for advice about whether you need to stay on the medication.

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Anti-theft "kill" switches coming to Google and MIcrosoft devices

Good news for consumers, bad news for thieves

Good news for Android and Nokia phone users (at least, those intending the buy the next UPGRADE): Google and Microsoft, which make the phones' respective o...

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© tonda55 - Fotolia.com
Good news for Android and Nokia phone users (at least, those intending the buy the next upgrade): Google and Microsoft, which make the phones' operating systems, plan to put kill switch options on all upcoming releases.

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced the policy changes in a  June 19 press release.

The announcement was concurrent with the release of a study showing the unsurprising conclusion that kill switches do indeed deter thieves. Apple started introducing kill switches on its products last autumn, and results have been extremely encouraging:

In New York City, theft of iPhones fell significantly after the release of Apple’s Activation Lock on September 18, 2013 …. In the first five months of 2014, robberies and grand larcenies involving Apple products dropped 19% and 29%, respectively, compared to the same time period from 2013. The decrease in Apple thefts far surpassed the citywide decrease in all robberies (-10%) and all grand larcenies (-18%). Perhaps most tellingly, robberies and grand larcenies from a person involving a Samsung smartphone, which did not have a kill switch during much of this time, increased by over 40%. (Encouragingly, Samsung introduced a kill switch solution in April of 2014 on their Verizon Wireless devices, the impact of which will likely be seen in future statistics.)

Statistics from San Francisco and London show similar outcomes ….

Last February, a proposed “Smartphone Theft Prevention Act” requiring kill switches went before Congress. The bill was introduced on Valentine's Day, although as of June 20, govtrack.us gave it a “1% chance of being enacted” prognosis.

Such a bill may not be necessary anyway, if more companies offer kill switches in response to consumer demand.

As the name suggests, a kill switch is an option that lets you remotely disable, or “kill,” your phone should a thief steal it. (Sometimes, it's referred to as “bricking” —i.e., transforming your phone from a communications device into nothing more than a high-tech brick.

However, if you do get a smartphone (from any carrier) with a kill switch option, remember that it'll do nothing to help you unless you actually activate it first. It's like any other security measure; after all, even the best and strongest lock in the world won't keep thieves out if you forget to close your door.

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Do not track? Ad industry says: “Do not want”

Who in the world could've seen that coming?

The award for least-surprising headline of the week goes to MediaPost, which reported on June 19 that “Ad industry urges web standards group to abandon do-...

PhotoThe award for least-surprising headline of the week goes to MediaPost, which reported on June 19 that “Ad industry urges web standards group to abandon do-not-track effort.”

The ad industry is certainly being proactive here; so far, the do-not-track effort looks to be kind of a bust.

As its name suggests, the “Do not track” project seeks to give users the option to go online without having every website they visit “tracked.” So far, only a handful of companies have agreed to offer and honor Do Not Track options to their visitors, and only two of them — Pinterest and Twitter — are companies recognizable to and patronized by ordinary people (as opposed to IT or advertising professionals).

Indeed, most companies go out of their way to not offer it. At the end of April, for example, Yahoo updated its privacy policies to say that henceforth, “web browser Do Not Track settings will no longer be enabled on Yahoo.”

Not that Yahoo is  unique; Google Chrome's page about “Do Not Track” (last updated in 2012) says “At this time, most web services, including Google's, do not alter their behavior or change their services upon receiving Do Not Track requests.”

Despite this, as MediaPost reported:

The ad trade group Digital Advertising Alliance is urging the World Wide Web Consortium to pull the plug on its tracking-protection initiative, which aims to implement the do-not-track requests that users can send through their browsers.

“By wading into this public-policy matter, the W3C not only duplicates efforts undertaken by legitimate policymakers but also strays far beyond its expertise and mission,” DAA executive director Lou Mastria wrote to the W3C on Wednesday. He added that the DAA wants the Internet standards organization “to abandon this effort and to return to its mission of developing consensus around specifications for web technologies.”

Apparently, the ad industry is also worried that some web users might be tricked into inadvertently being not-tracked when they actually want to be tracked, or something:

Microsoft, for one, now turns on the do-not-track signal automatically for some Internet Explorer users.

The ad industry says that do-not-track signals set by default don't reflect a user's preference to avoid tracking across Web sites. But the industry also says there's no good way to distinguish between a signal set by a user and one set by a developer.

“There’s no mechanism for anyone in the digital media ecosystem to trust any DNT signal they receive,” industry consultant Alan Chapell said in a post to the [W3] group. “As a result, the entire framework is open to question. In any other group, this issue would result in a full stop until the questions are addressed.”

So, Reader: if you're afraid that Microsoft or some other nefarious entity is secretly not-tracking you when you really wish they would, take courage from knowing that ad trade groups like the Digital Advertising Alliance have your back.

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FTC reaches settlement with misleading “plastic lumber” company

You can't say your products are made of “recycled content” unless they really are

When you buy products claiming to be “earth-friendly” because they're made of “recycled content” or similarly environmentally consc...

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Outdoor benches on the American Plastic Lumber site
When you buy products claiming to be “earth-friendly” because they're made of “recycled content” or similarly environmentally conscious labels, there's always the chance that company is less eco-conscious than it's letting on.

The Federal Trade Commission announced this week that, “for the second time this year,” it settled charges against the American Plastic Lumber company (APL), a seller of trash cans, picnic tables, speed bumps and other heavy outdoor-use products.

Under the settlement terms, the company “is prohibited from making misleading statements about the amount of post-consumer recycled plastic content in its products or other environmental benefit claims and must have competent and reliable evidence to support any such claims.”

The FTC says that for at least two years, from June 2011 through 2013, APL's marketing and advertising materials gave consumers the impression that their products were “made virtually all out of post-consumer recycled content such as milk jugs and detergent bottles.”

In reality, the FTC said, the average APL product contained less than 79 percent recycled plastic, and:

about eight percent of APL’s products contained no post-consumer recycled content at all, and nearly seven percent of the products were made with only 15 percent post-consumer content. These deceptive and unsubstantiated claims, the complaint concludes, violate Section 5 of the FTC Act, which prohibits deceptive acts or practices in commerce.

Reliable evidence

The settlement prohibits APL from making any claims about their products' environmental benefits unless those claims are true, and can be “substantiated by competent and reliable evidence” and determined by “experts in the relevant scientific field.” APL also must prove that the products it says are made from recycled plastics are, in fact, made from recycled plastics.

The settlement against APL was the FTC's second such this year; in February the FTC made a similar settlement with N.E.W. Plastics.

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Side effect of cancer: financial toxicity

Treatment can be ruinously expensive, aggravated by inability to work

For cancer patients, new tool predicts financial painCancer care has a new side effect. Along with the distress that comes with a cancer diagnosis and th...

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© Christian Delbert - Fotolia.com

Having cancer is bad enough but the financial toxicity that accompanies it can be so devastating that it interferes with recovery.

In the July issue of Cancer, a team of University of Chicago cancer specialists describe a tool they have developed called COST (COmprehensive Score for financial Toxicity).

It consists of 11 questions, assembled and refined from conversations with more than 150 patients with advanced cancer and it is intended to measure a patient's risk for, and ability to tolerate, financial stress. 

"Few physicians discuss this increasingly significant side effect with their patients," said study author Jonas de Souza, MD, a head-and-neck cancer specialist at the University of Chicago Medicine. "Physicians aren't trained to do this. It makes them, as well as patients, feel uncomfortable."

"We believe that a thoughtful, concise tool that could help predict a patient's risk for financial toxicity might open the lines of communication. This gives us a way to launch that discussion," de Souza said.

The timing is right. The cost of health care in the United States is rising faster than the gross domestic product. The cost of cancer care is rising faster than the cost of health care, and the cost of new cancer drugs is rising faster than the cost of overall cancer care.

Job loss

It's not just the cost of treatment but the fear of job loss that torments patients. A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 30 percent of cancer survivors are not able to return to work, or have decreased ability to work. Annual medical expenditures increase by more than $4,000 for males who have had cancer and by nearly $3,300 for females.

"We need better ways to find out which patients are most at risk," de Souza said. "Then we can help them get financial assistance. If patients know what to expect, they may want their physicians to consider less costly medications."

The COST questionnaire consists of 11 entries that are short and easy to understand. For example, item 2 states: "My out-of-pocket medical expenses are more than I thought they would be." Item 7, more optimistic, states: "I am able to meet my monthly expenses."

For each question, patients choose from five potential responses: not at all, a little bit, somewhat, quite a bit, or very much.

Learning how a patient responds may help caregivers determine who is likely to need education, financial counseling, or referral to a support network. The quiz may also predict who is likely to have problems and will require interventions.

Interestingly, the study found that income did not correlate closely with financial toxicity: "People with less education seemed to have more financial distress, but variations in income did not make much difference," de Souza said. 

The researchers are now conducting a larger study to validate these findings and correlate the newly developed scale with quality of life and anxiety in cancer patients.

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Mortgage rates slip a bit

But they're still higher than they were a year ago

Average fixed mortgage rates did a turnaround this week and moved a bit lower according to 2 leading of rate-trackers. According to Freddie Mac's Primary...

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© aihumnoi - Fotolia.com

Average fixed mortgage rates did a turnaround this week and moved a bit lower according to 2 leading of rate-trackers.

According to Freddie Mac's Primary Mortgage Market Survey, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) fell 3 basis points -- from 4.20% to 4.17% -- with an average 0.6 point for the week ending June 19. A year ago at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 3.93%.

The 15-year FRM slipped to 3.30% -- with an average 0.5 point -- from last week's 3.31%. It averaged 3.04% a year earlier.

Five-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) averaged 3.00%, down 5 basis points from last week, with an average 0.4 point. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 2.79%.

The 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM rose from 2.40% to 2.41% with an average 0.4 point. At the same time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 2.57%.

Bankrate

Meanwhile, Bankrate.com's weekly national survey has the benchmark 30-year FRM dipping 1 basis point -- to 4.33%, with has an average of 0.35 discount and origination points.

The average 15-year fixed mortgage rate inched up -- from 3.43% to 3.44%, (average points: 0.19),

while the larger jumbo 30-year FRM slid to 4.38 percent.

Adjustable rate mortgages were mostly higher, with the 3-year ARM rising to 3.27% and the 7-year ARM drifting higher to 3.63%.

At the end of last year, the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate stood at 4.69%. A $200,000 loan would have carried a monthly payment of $1,036.07. After drifting lower for much of the first five months of of this year, the average rate is now 4.33%, putting the monthly payment for the same size loan at $993.27. Anyone with the patience to wait would have saved nearly $43 per month.

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GM recalls Chevy Sonics

The transmission turbine shaft may fracture

General Motors is recalling 21,567 model year 2012 Chevrolet Sonic vehicles manufactured March 1, 2012, to June 29, 2012, and equipped with a 6-speed auto...

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Photo source: Chevrolet.com

General Motors is recalling 21,567 model year 2012 Chevrolet Sonic vehicles manufactured March 1, 2012, to June 29, 2012, and equipped with a 6-speed automatic transmission and 1.8L four cylinder engine.

The transmission turbine shaft may fracture. Should that happen during vehicle operation in first or second gear, the vehicle will not upshift to the third through sixth gears, limiting the vehicle's speed.

If the fracture occurs during operation in third through sixth gear, the vehicle will coast until it slows enough to downshift to first or second gear, increasing the risk of a crash.

GM will notify owners, and dealers will replace the transmission turbine shaft, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020. GM's number for this recall is 14234.

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GM recalls Buick LaCrosse vehicles

The vehicle's door-open chime may not function

General Motors is recalling 14,765 model year 2014 Buick LaCrosse vehicles manufactured April 30, 2013, to September 1, 2013. A wiring splice in the driv...

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Photo source: Buick.com

General Motors is recalling 14,765 model year 2014 Buick LaCrosse vehicles manufactured April 30, 2013, to September 1, 2013.

A wiring splice in the driver's door in the affected vehicles may corrode and break, resulting in the absence of an audible chime to notify the driver if the door is opened while the key is in the ignition.

Additionally, the Retained Accessory Power (RAP) module may stay active for ten minutes allowing the operation of the passenger windows, rear windows, and sunroof.

Without an audible indicator, the driver may not be aware that the door is open while the key is in the ignition, increasing the risk of a vehicle rollaway. If the passenger windows, rear windows, and sunroof can function when the vehicle is turned off and the driver is not in the vehicle, there is an increased risk of injury if an unsupervised occupant operates the power closures.

GM will notify owners and dealers will inspect the driver door window motor harness, and replace the electrical splice, as necessary, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

Owners may contact Buick customer service at 1-800-521-7300. General Motors number for this recall is 14235.

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Bellisio Foods recalls Chicken Pad Thai product

The product contains soy, an allergen not listed on the label

Bellisio Food of Jackson, Ohio, is recalling approximately 12,180 pounds of a Thai Kitchen Chicken Pad Thai frozen entree product. The product contains so...

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Photo source: USDA

Bellisio Food of Jackson, Ohio, is recalling approximately 12,180 pounds of a Thai Kitchen Chicken Pad Thai frozen entree product.

The product contains soy protein isolate, a known allergen, which is not declared on the product label.

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

The following product is subject to recall:

  • 10-oz. packages, 8 per case of Thai Kitchen Chicken Pad Thai frozen entree with “SELL BY SEP 30 15” date and case code “xxxx09841078” or with “SELL BY OCT 17 15” date and case code “xxxx11541078”

The product was produced on April 8, and April 25, 2014, and bears the establishment number “P-18297” inside the USDA mark of inspection. It was distributed to retail stores nationwide.

Consumers with questions about the recall may call contact 1-800-967-8424.  

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Inflation's rise hitting consumers where it hurts

Food, energy and child care bills take their toll

Government inflation-watchers are finally figuring out what consumers have known for a while. The cost of living is starting to take off.The Labor Depart...

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© tab62 - Fotolia.com

Government inflation-watchers are finally figuring out what consumers have known for a while. The cost of living is starting to take off.

The Labor Department this week reported the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 0.4% in May on a seasonally-adjusted basis. The inflation rate, projected over a 12-month period, was 2.1%.

But drill deeper into the report and you'll learn that food prices at the supermarket are in the forefront of the inflation charge. According to the data the index for food prepared at home rose 0.7%

It cost even more to drive a car and keep the lights on. Because of more expensive gasoline and electricity, the energy index rose 0.9%.

Shut-off notices

In fact, electricity costs have risen so sharply in recent months that nearly 1 million Consolidated Edison customers in the Northeast have faced the threat of having their home energy shut off this year while dealing with some of the nation's highest bills, according to AARP.

How bad is it? In 2005, 722,635 Con Ed customers received shut-off notices from January through April. In 2009, during the Great Recession, the number surged to 840,886.

But instead of getting better, it has continued to get worse. In the first four months of this year, following an especially cold winter, AARP reports 937,973 NYC residents have received "final termination” notices.

“Across the state, the data tells a similar story: New Yorkers are struggling, and falling behind in their utility bills by a whopping $740 million - the highest in at least the last decade,” said Beth Finkel, State Director for AARP in New York State.

What's behind the rate hikes?

Just a couple of years ago cheap, abundant natural gas caused electric utility costs to fall. So what happened?

Energy experts interviewed by The Los Angeles Times recently blame the phase-out of coal and nuclear plants and difficulty in moving natural gas to where it's needed. Natural gas prices have also risen in the last year. The experts say the surge in utility costs is likely permanent.

AARP sees the rise in energy costs as especially hard on seniors. The organization points to a recent survey showing that, for New Yorkers 50 and older, it was harder to pay the electric bill this winter than the mortgage.

"Many customers are on payment plans, paying off prior arrears from bills they could not afford," said Gerald Norlander, Executive Director of New York's Public Utility Law Project(PULP), which compiled the report with AARP. "When new bills jump due to the volatile prices favored by the utility-regulating Public Service Commission, customers fall behind again and miss the due date for their current bill, plus the installment payment on old arrears.”

At that point the utility is allowed to demand all past due amounts, demand late fees, and shut service off as a collection measure.

“This creates impossible situations, hardships and often hazardous conditions when less safe forms of energy are used,” Norlander said.

Child care costs

For younger consumers, child care is another growing cost. In a recent study by Care.com, 75% of U.S. families said they were overwhelmed by the cost of child care.

The study, conducted last month, concluded that families are misinformed about the cost of child care, what's included and what savings options are available to them.

According to the survey, 52% aren't aware they're eligible for child care tax breaks. A nearly equal number of families fail to budget for child care costs.

The survey found average weekly rates for a nanny ranging from $472-$504 depending upon the number of children cared for.

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GE Capital ordered to pay $225 million for deceptive credit card practices

The company also allegedly discriminated against borrowers because of their national origin

GE Capital Retail Bank, now known as Synchrony Bank, is being ordered to provide an estimated $225 million in relief to consumers harmed by illegal and dis...

PhotoGE Capital Retail Bank, now known as Synchrony Bank, is being ordered to provide an estimated $225 million in relief to consumers harmed by illegal and discriminatory credit card practices.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) said GE Capital must refund $56 million to approximately 638,000 consumers who were subjected to deceptive marketing practices.

GE Capital must also provide an additional $169 million to about 108,000 borrowers excluded from debt relief offers because of their national origin.

It's the federal government’s largest credit card discrimination settlement in history.

“Today’s action will provide $225 million in relief to GE Capital credit card customers who were harmed by deceptive marketing or discrimination,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “We will continue to take action against marketing tactics that trick consumers into buying credit card products they do not want or cannot use. Consumers also deserve to be treated fairly no matter where they live or what language they speak."

GE Capital, which changed its name to Synchrony Bank on June 2, provides store-branded credit cards that are sold to consumers by merchants and retailers across the country.

Deceptive marketing

GE Capital (formerly GE Money Bank) June 19, 2014, 6:06 p.m.
Consumers rate GE Capital (formerly GE Money Bank)

CFPB examiners identified several deceptive marketing practices used by GE Capital to promote its credit card add-on products. GE Capital offered five different debt cancellation add-on products: “Card Security,” “Account Security,” “Account Security Plus,” “Debt Security,” and “Debt Security Plus.”

GE promoted these products as providing debt cancellation of a certain percent of the consumer’s balance in the event of certain hardships like involuntary unemployment or disability. But the Bureau found that GE Capital’s telemarketers routinely misrepresented these products to consumers, primarily by understating or omitting information about the program's fees.

Discriminatory credit practices

GE Capital had two different promotions that allowed credit card customers with delinquent accounts to settle their balances by paying off a specific portion of their debt but did not extend these offers to any customer who indicated that they preferred to communicate in Spanish or had a mailing address in Puerto Rico, even if the customer met the promotion’s qualifications.

This meant that Hispanic populations were unfairly denied the opportunity to benefit from these promotions. Such discrimination is in direct violation of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA).

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Picking a college that doesn't judge you

It can remove some stress from the admissions process

The graduation season is wrapping up with the high school class of 2014 getting ready to head to college in the fall. Meanwhile, the class of 2015 is getti...

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© Chee-Onn Leong - Fotolia.com

The graduation season is wrapping up with the high school class of 2014 getting ready to head to college in the fall. Meanwhile, the class of 2015 is getting serious about picking a college – or rather, being picked.

Besides the very real concern of paying for an increasingly expensive education, prospective students must worry about being accepted at the school of their choice. It wasn't always so.

In the 1960s and 1970s there was a move toward what was called “open admissions.” It was a policy found mostly at state-supported colleges and universities and said if you had a high school diploma or GED, you were in.

Perhaps in a case of “ivy-envy,” most state-supported schools now set minimum academic standards that must be met, as well as activities and character traits that go into considering whether a student will be allowed to spend thousands of dollars to attend.

Nerve racking

That can make the next few months a nerve-racking time for students waiting to hear where they will be in the fall of 2015. It can be especially tough for a student who only began to hit her academic stride late in her high school career.

A spotty high school transcript will likely mean rejection letter after rejection letter. Unless, of course, the student chooses to attend a college with an open admissions policy.

Nearly all community colleges have such a policy. If you have a high school diploma or equivalent, they generally will give you a chance. But some four-year colleges still have open admissions policies too.

“There are some advantages to considering admission at an open-enrollment school,” write the editors at College Parent Central. “For some students who had difficulty in high school and do not have the grades appropriate for a more selective admission, an open-enrollment institution is an opportunity to prove that they can successfully undertake college-level work.”

Advantages

In fact, for some students stressed out from the admissions pressures at other schools, applying to an open-enrollment college provides a much-needed safety valve. And there are other potential benefits.

The application process is usually a lot more streamlined and, best of all, the tuition is likely to be less. And while colleges often tout their selective admissions process as promoting diversity, students at open-enrollment schools may in fact be exposed to a wider range of students than those who attend a college with a narrower academic niche.

The New York Timesreported in 2012 on changes to the student body after City University of New York dropped its open admissions policy in 2001. Average SAT scores are up but African-American and Hispanic representation among the freshman class has declined.

You still have to apply to get into an open-enrollment college since there might not be enough slots available. And even though you aren't required to submit SAT or ACT test scores, most schools will require you to take a series of placement tests to measure your competency.

But once in, you can't relax. To stay in you have to maintain good academic progress and keep your grades in good standing.

Be selective

Remember, even though these schools are not selective, you should be. Included among open-enrollment schools are for-profit colleges. They tend to be the most expensive and in most cases, their value may be suspect.

CollegeCalc is a website that can help you find an open-enrollment school. Most likely you'll want to look for one in your home state to take advantage of in-state tuition.

California, for example, has 133 open-enrollment colleges – the bulk of them 2-year community colleges. However, some 2-year schools offer limited bachelor's degrees. Colorado Mountain College, for example, is a 2-year institution that currently offers two bachelor's degree programs.

It may be totally unrelated but it seems college costs really began to escalate when state universities dropped their long-standing open admissions policies and began competing for the “best” students.

To compete, they built plus residence halls, elaborate dining facilities and hired the best professors. All of that cost money.

At the risk of severely dating myself I will mention that in the early 1970s my in-state tuition at a state university with open admissions was $147 a semester. Considering the rate of inflation, that translates into into $860 in today's dollars.

But $860 a semester today would be an unheard-of bargain at any college or university. The current in-state tuition at my alma mater is not $860, but $5,280 per semester.

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T-Mobile offers free "test drive," launches free music streaming service

The No. 4 carrier continues to shake up the smartphone market

Photo source: T-MobileOne of the most annoying consumer experiences is switching to a new cell phone network, only to find that it has poor to non-exis...

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Photo source: T-Mobile

One of the most annoying consumer experiences is switching to a new cell phone network, only to find that it has poor to non-existent coverage in your neighborhood or workplace.

T-Mobile has figured out how to turn that into a marketing advantage, by offering a free 7-day "test drive" of its network on iPhone 5s. The program, in partnership with Apple, kicks off on June 23.

T-Mobile cites research showing that nearly half (46%) of wireless customers say they’ve signed up with a carrier and then wanted to leave, and 1 in 10 have actually left within the first 30 days of making a switch. 

“The way this industry forces Americans to buy wireless is completely, utterly broken.  I’m here to tell you there’s a better way,” declared John Legere, T-Mobile CEO and President. “While the carriers ask you to buy blind, the Un-carrier gives you transparency.  Our network kicks ass, and now people can experience for themselves what a data-strong network can do with T-Mobile Test Drive.”

After the 7-day test, T-Mobile says you can drop the iPhone off at a T-Mobile store and owe nothing. Starting Monday, June 23, consumers can sign up at  www.t-mobile.com/testdrive

After the seven days, you’ll need to drop off the phone at a T-Mobile store, but you won’t have to put any money down for the test.

Rhapsody unRadio 

T-Mobile is also putting its own stamp on the streaming music market, with "unRadio," a new service produced with Rhapsody

UnRadio supplies streaming music from a catalog of more than 20 million songs, ad-free and, T-Mobile says, free of data plan charges to Simple Choice customers on its 4G LTE network.

In addition, unRadio will be available at a discounted price of $4 per month for other T-Mobile customers. 
 
“This new music streaming service is so unlike traditional Internet radio, there was only one possible name for it – unRadio,” said Mike Sievert, Chief Marketing Officer for T-Mobile. “We wanted to do something over the top for our customers, so we teamed up with our friends across town at Rhapsody to do what the Un-carrier does so well – turning convention on its head to benefit our customers.”

Rhapsody unRadio will be available initially for iOS and Android and on the Web.  

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A hypoallergenic pet is nothing to sneeze at

Unfortunately, they really don't exist, but there are ways to reduce allergy problems

You really want to get a pet and you have heard that there are some dog and cat breeds that might be hypoallergenic. So whats the best breed?Stuffed animal...

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© Gino Santa Maria - Fotolia.com
You really want to get a pet and you have heard that there are some dog and cat breeds that might be hypoallergenic. So whats the best breed?

Stuffed animals make the best hypoallergenic pet. I'm not talking about the kind you hunt -- I'm talking about the kind you buy at the toy store. The reason being there is no pet that is 100% hypoallergenic.

A bald cat -- you have seen the pictures -- the hairless dog, these are not really 100% allergen-free.

In fact, the hypoallergenic pet is one of the biggest myths around, according to Dr. Nabeel Farooqui, an allergist at The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center. All pets can cause allergy issues in some humans.

They have issues

Dander in pet fur can be an issue but other proteins cause allergic reactions as well.

Do you love those wet sloppy kisses? How about accidents in the house? Cat got your tongue? I hope not because If you are in contact with saliva and urine the proteins in both of those can cause allergic reactions.

It's not all doom and gloom for cat lovers though -- there is a cat allergy cure on the horizon. In March The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology reported on a vaccine that had no serious side effects and reduced the skin reaction by 40% with just one injection. I know you are itching to get your hands on it, but be patient. It still requires more testing.

So maybe you already own a pet and know the risks or want to get a pet despite the allergic reaction. Here are some tips that might at least lighten some of the symptoms.

  • Start by washing them. That means often. Keep your pet as clean as possible.
  • Use a HEPA air filter and vacuum bags to clean the air and filter out irritants a regular vacuum cleaner does not catch.
  • Let them run around a great deal outside, since that reduces shedding inside.

Good luck, and have fun with your pet!

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The microbead era is almost over

First U.S. state bans microbeads this month; national ban proposed this week

It looks like the short-lived era of the plastic “microbead” used in exfoliating skin products is almost over.This month, Illinois became the...

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Photo credit: Etsy

It looks like the short-lived era of the plastic “microbead” used in exfoliating skin products is almost over.

This month, Illinois became the first state in the U.S. to ban the use of microbeads in cosmetic items. Four other states currently have similar bills before their legislatures — New York, Minnesota, Ohio and California.

And on June 18, Congressman Frank Pallone (D-New Jersey) introduced a piece of legislation which, if passed, would ban microbeads throughout the United States.

The opposition to microbeads stems from the fact that they're notoriously harmful to the environment. They're non-biodegradeable, which means they never break down. They're small enough to slip through filters at wastewater-treatment plants, so they ultimately end up going back into public water supplies, or in lakes and oceans. There, they absorb or become coated with toxins, are ingested by fish and other animals, and thus play a role in concentrating toxins and introducing them into the food chain.

When legislators attempt to ban currently legal products or practices, the companies who make or sell those products usually protest, arguing that such a ban would prove too harmful to their business model or bottom line.

Yet for the most part, that has not been the case with microbeads. Even before any U.S. states had proposed microbead bans, many cosmetic companies including Unilever, Johnson and Johnson, L'Oreal and Colgate/Palmolive had already said they intended to phase microbeads out of their products.

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Report: Audi ready to roll if demand for electric cars picks up

The success of the Tesla isn't going unnoticed by other automakers

Automakers around the world are keeping a wary eye on the market for electric cars, with Audi the latest reported to be drawing up blueprints for electric ...

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2015 Audi R8 (Photo credit: Audi USA)
Automakers around the world are keeping a wary eye on the market for electric cars, with Audi the latest reported to be drawing up blueprints for electric sedans and SUVs.

U.S. Consumers have been slow to adapt to battery-powered cars because of their expense and limited range. But the sporty Tesla, although expensive, has been winning fans with its excellent performance and relatively long range.

The Chevrolet Volt has been a slow seller although it has won critical praise for its extended range on-board gas generator and relatively peppy performance. 

Now, with BMW soon to roll out its new "i" electric series and Hyundai delivering hydrogen-powered electric cars in California, there are signs that consumer interest may be picking up as well, leading carmakers to dig out the electric-car plans that may have been stashed in the lower drawer the last few years. 

Audi is the latest carmaker to dust off its plans, according to a Reuters report today. The Volkswagen unit is about to launch its first all-electric car, a battery-powered version of its R8 supercar, due to hit European dealerships in 2015.

The electric R8 is said to have a range of about 280 miles, close to the 311 claimed by Tesla's Model S.

Reuters said Audi also has plans in the works for high-performance electric sedans and SUVs.

Audi and other German automakers have long produced extensive lines of diesel-powered cars but have been slow to get charged up about electric vehicles.  

Diesel cars haven't taken off in the U.S., largely because of the high price of diesel fuel and its relative scarcity at service stations. 

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Electric Hogs? Harley-Davidson takes 22 electric bikes on the road

The bikes are said to offer blistering acceleration and a distinctive sound

The Electra Glide it's not. That storied Harley Hog  Harley-Davidson Inc. (HOG) is considering a green hog. It wants to know what you think about th...

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The first electric Hog (Photo source: Harley-Davidson)
The Electra Glide it's not. That Harley Hog, despite its name, was gas-powered. But Harley-Davidson will be hitting the road with 22 electric bikes next week, touring the country to get consumer reaction.   

The tour – kicking off with a journey down Route 66 – will visit more than 30 Harley-Davidson dealerships by the end of the year. In 2015, the "Project LiveWire Experience" will continue in the U.S. and expand into Canada and Europe.

“America at its best has always been about reinvention,” said Matt Levatich, President and Chief Operating Officer, Harley-Davidson Motor Company. “And, like America, Harley-Davidson has reinvented itself many times in our history, with customers leading us every step of the way. Project LiveWire is another exciting, customer-led moment in our history.”

For those who can't imagine a Harley without the traditional earth-shattering roar, company officials say the electric bike offers a "visceral riding experience" with tire-shredding acceleration and an unmistakable new sound.

“The sound is a distinct part of the thrill,” said marketing executive Mark-Hans Richer. “Think fighter jet on an aircraft carrier. Project LiveWire’s unique sound was designed to differentiate it from internal combustion and other electric motorcycles on the market.”

As driving enthusiasts are learning with the Tesla and other electric cars, gas-powered engines don't have a monopoly on speed and performance.

“We offer a no-excuses riding experience in everything we do and we are led by what our customers tell us matters most,” said Richer. “Because electric vehicle technology is evolving rapidly, we are excited to learn more from riders through the Project LiveWire Experience to fully understand the definition of success in this market as the technology continues to evolve.”

No one is promising the prototype bikes will ever see production. Harley execs say that will depend to a large extent on how they're received by consumers on the upcoming tour.

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Sunscreen in children prevents melanoma in adulthood, study finds

Skin cells divide faster in childhood, researchers note

Study offers evidence that sunscreen use in childhood prevents melanoma in adultsSAN ANTONIO, June 19, 2014 – Research conducted at the Texas Biome...

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Researchers at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute say they have "unequivocally" shown that the incidence of malignant melanoma in adulthood can be dramatically reduced by the consistent use of sunscreen in infancy and childhood. 

According to senior author John L. VandeBerg, Ph.D., the research was driven by the fact that, despite the increasing use of sunscreen in recent decades, the incidence of malignant melanoma, the most aggressive form of skin cancer, continues to increase dramatically.

The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 75,000 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in the U.S. this year.

"While sunscreen is highly effective in preventing sunburn, this paradox has led some to question whether sunscreen is effective in preventing melanoma caused by ultraviolet (UV) light," VandeBerg said. "It has been suggested that sunscreen enables people to receive more UV exposure without becoming sunburned, and that increased exposure to UV light has led to an increasing incidence of melanoma."

The question has been unresolved until now, partly because there have been no conclusive experiments using mammals. But VandeBerg said his team's experiments on the gray short-tailed opossum found that applying over-the-counter facial lotion containing SPF15 sunscreen led to a 10-fold reduction in pre-melanotic lesions (known to progress to melanoma), in comparison to infant opossums receiving lotion that did not contain sunscreen.

Cells divide more rapidly

This difference in the development of lesions occurred even when low doses of UV light were applied – so low that they caused no sunburn or even reddening of the skin in the opossums that did not receive sunscreen.

The pre-melanotic lesions did not appear until the infants had become adolescents (equivalent to early teenagers in humans), and prior experiments established that the pre-melanocytic lesions in opossums do not progress to melanomas until the animals are well into adulthood, as typically occurs in humans.

"Based on these results, we speculate that the reason it is particularly important that sunscreens be used consistently in childhood, and especially in infancy, is because skin cells during growth are dividing much more rapidly than in adulthood, and it is during cell division that the cells are most susceptible to UV-induced damage," said VandeBerg.

"Evidence that supports this hypothesis is that melanoma is not induced in adult opossums when their shaved skin is irradiated by UV light in the absence of sunscreen," he added.

The study is published in the latest issue of the scientific journal Pigment Cell and Melanoma.

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Improvement see in weekly jobless claims filings

Analysts see a better labor market

The number of would-be workers filing first-time applications for unemployment benefits dipped last week. Government figures show the number of initial fi...

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The number of would-be workers filing first-time applications for unemployment benefits dipped last week.

Government figures show the number of initial filings was down by 6,000 in week ending June 14 -- to a seasonally 312,000. That's slightly better than the 313,00 in the consensus of economists surveyed by Briefing.com.

Analysts note that over the past several weeks, the initial claims level has fallen from a range of 320,000 – 330,000 to a range of 310,000 – 320,000. That, they say, implies an acceleration in payroll growth and an overall improvement in labor market conditions.

The 4-week moving average, which is less volatile than the weekly figure and considered a more accurate gauge of the labor market, fell 3,750 from the week before -- to 311,750.  

The complete report may befound on the Labor Department website.

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Buick Encores and Chevrolet Sparks recalled

The air bag may not deploy

General Motors is recalling 61 model year 2013 Buick Encore vehicles manufactured April 10, 2013, to May 8, 2013, and Chevrolet Spark vehicles manufacture...

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Photo source: Buick.com

General Motors is recalling 61 model year 2013 Buick Encore vehicles manufactured April 10, 2013, to May 8, 2013, and Chevrolet Spark vehicles manufactured December 30, 2012, to March 1, 2013.

An improper weld on the passenger side front air bag inflator in the affected vehicles may result in the air bag not deploying, increasing the risk of injury to the front passenger.

GM will notify owners, and dealers will replace the passenger side front air bag free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

Owners may contact GM customer service at 1-800-521-7300 (Buick) or 1-800-222-1020 (Chevrolet). GM's number for this recall is 14211.

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GM recalls Silverados, Sierras, Tahoes and Suburbans

There may be no audible open-door or seat belt warnings

General Motors is recalling 57,512 model year 2014-2015 Chevrolet Silverados and GMC Sierras, and 2015 Chevrolet Tahoes and Suburbans equipped with a base ...

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Photo source: Chevrolet.com

General Motors is recalling 57,512 model year 2014-2015 Chevrolet Silverados and GMC Sierras, and 2015 Chevrolet Tahoes and Suburbans equipped with a base radio and an internal amplifier.

The radios in the affected vehicles may become inoperative and -- as a result -- there would be no audible chime to notify the driver if the door is opened with the key in the ignition or no audible seat belt warning indicating the seat belts were not buckled.

Without an audible indicator, the driver may not be aware that the driver's door is open while the key is in the ignition, increasing the risk of a vehicle rollaway. Additionally, there would be no reminder that the driver's or front seat passenger's seat belt is not buckled, which could increase the risk of injury in a crash.

GM will notify owners, and dealers will update the radio software, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

Chevrolet owners may contact GM's customer service at 1-800-222-1020. GMC owners may contact GM's customer service at 1-800-462-8782. GM's number for this recall is 14315.

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Brooks Furniture recalls glider rockers

The spindles in the glider base can separate while rocking

Brooks Furniture of Tazewell, Tenn., is recalling about 350 Brooks Furniture glider rockers. The spindles in the glider base can separate while rocking, p...

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Photo source: CPSC

Brooks Furniture of Tazewell, Tenn., is recalling about 350 Brooks Furniture glider rockers.

The spindles in the glider base can separate while rocking, posing a fall hazard to the user.

The firm has received 29 reports of the chair’s spindles separating or loosening on the base of the glider rockers. No injuries have been reported.

The recall includes two styles of Brooks Furniture glider rockers: 1529P and 1529V-LM. The 1529P glider rocker has a maple wood frame with blue fabric upholstery. The 1529V-LM glider rocker has a maple wood frame with beige vinyl upholstery and a locking mechanism to disengage the glider.

Both recalled chairs have the style number and manufacture date between 1/1/2011 and 12/31/2012 printed under the chair’s seat. Brooks Furniture is printed on a label attached to the seat cushions.

The rockers, manufactured in the U.S., were sold exclusively through Kaplan Early Learning Co. nationwide from October 2011, to December 2012, for about $390 to $540 depending on style.

Consumers should stop using the glider rocker and contact Brooks Furniture to receive a free replacement base.

Consumers may contact Brooks Furniture at (800) 427-6657 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. ET Monday through Thursday, Friday from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. ET.

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Nokia recalls tablet travel chargers

Exposed internal components could pose an electrocution hazard

Nokia of Sunnyvale, Calif., is recalling about 500 travel charger kits for Nokia Lumia 2520 tablets. The plastic cover on the charger’s exchangeable plugs...

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Photo source: CPSC

Nokia of Sunnyvale, Calif., is recalling about 500 travel charger kits for Nokia Lumia 2520 tablets.

The plastic cover on the charger’s exchangeable plugs can come loose and separate, exposing internal components that pose an electrocution hazard if touched while the plug remains in a live socket.

No incidents or injuries have been reported.

The recall includes the travel charger kit sold separately for the Nokia Lumia 2520 tablet, also called the AC-300 charger accessory kit. The kit includes four different plugs for use in electrical outlets in the U.S., U.K., EU and Australia.

The black plastic chargers measure about 2.75 inches high by 2.3 inches wide. U.S. chargers that were sold with the Nokia Lumia 2520 tablet are not included in the recall.

The chargers, manufactured in China, were sold at AT&T and Verizon Wireless authorized dealers and retailers nationwide and online at att.com and Verizon.com from January 2014, to May 2014, for about $50.

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled chargers and contact Nokia for instructions on receiving a full refund from Verizon Wireless or a credit from AT&T for the travel chargers and both will provide a free replacement U.S.-only charger for their Nokia Lumia 2520 tablet.

Consumers may contact Nokia toll-free at (888)665- 4228 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET Monday through Friday.

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Vita Food Products recalls Classic Premium Sliced Smoked Atlantic Salmon

The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

Vita Food Products of Chicago, Ill., is recalling 1,878 pounds of Vita Classic Premium Sliced Smoked Atlantic Salmon. The product may be contaminated with...

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Photo source: FDA

Vita Food Products of Chicago, Ill., is recalling 1,878 pounds of Vita Classic Premium Sliced Smoked Atlantic Salmon.

The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

No confirmed illnesses or complaints have been reported to date.

The product was sent to Hannaford stores in New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire, H-E-B stores in Texas, and Publix stores in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina beginning on April 7, 2014.

The packages are vacuum sealed, black in color and bear the Vita logo centered at the bottom. Product from this lot can be identified by a SELL BY AUG 17 2014 date and lot number 00764B, which can be found on the right side on the front of the package. The 4-oz size of this product is the only size subject to this recall.

Consumers who purchased the product with a sell by date and lot number above may request a refund by mailing the product label or a copy of the receipt to Vita Food Products, Inc., Attn: Customer Service, 2222 West Lake Street. Chicago, Illinois 60612.

Consumers may call the company at (800) 989-VITA Monday through Friday, 8:00 am – 5:00 pm (CT).

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Amazon introduces the Fire -- its first smartphone

Want to buy something? Just point and click

With news coverage befitting a space launch in the 1970s, Amazon today launched its first smartphone, dubbed the Fire Phone. It features a 4.7-inch screen,...

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Photo credit: BusinessWire

With news coverage befitting a space launch in the 1970s, Amazon today launched its first smartphone, dubbed the Fire. It features a 4.7-inch screen, a 13-megapixel camera and unlimited photo storage in the cloud.

And yes, as rumored, it produces 3D images that are sort of like holograms.

But in some very important ways, the Fire is less like a phone and more like the bar code wand the cashier at Best Buy points at the goodies you plop down at check-out time.

Firefly

At the launch event in Seattle, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said the Fire can recognize more than 100 million items -- everything from books and DVDs to the title of a song you're listening to.

“Fire Phone puts everything you love about Amazon in the palm of your hand — instant access to Amazon’s vast content ecosystem and exclusive features like the Mayday button, ASAP, Second Screen, X-Ray, free unlimited photo storage, and more,” said Bezos. “The Firefly button lets you identify printed web and email addresses, phone numbers, QR and bar codes, artwork, and over 100 million items, including songs, movies, TV shows, and products — and take action in seconds.

Needless to say, it takes just a quick press of a virtual button to order or find out more information about whatever it is you've just identified. Amazon calls this feature "Firefly" and obviously is hoping it directs even more e-commerce its way.

Want to restock your larder? Just roam around the kitchen and point at the items you want to replenish. Firefly does the rest. 

Still digesting

Wall Street analysts are still digesting this feature, which comes as something of a bolt from the blue. Like the Kindle, it turns a communications device into a self-contained personal shopper that buys from only one source -- Amazon.

Of course, you can also use the phone to stream movies and TV shows, listen to music, read books or access just about anything else from Amazon Prime and other online libraries. Amazon Prime charges $99 yearly and includes free two-day shipping as well as access to a growing library of video, music and e-books.

But not only with Fire help you gorge on the virtual and physical products that catch your eye, it will also help you keep track of your caloric intake.

Bezos said you can simply use Firefly to point at food and get its nutritional specifications. 

Ships July 25 ... maybe

Fire ships on July 25 and is available exclusively on AT&T. Starting today, customers can pre-order Fire at www.amazon.com/Fire-Phonewww.att.com and in AT&T retail locations nationwide. Fire with 32GB is available for $199 with a two-year contract or with 64GB for$299 with a two-year contract.

The Fire may turn out to be a big seller but contrary to the publicists' boasts that the device is available for orders today, we didn't find that to be the case.

The pre-order page on the Amazon site was not working when we tried it repeatedly. And AT&T was fairly clueless when we tried to add a Fire to our AT&T family plan.

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Facebook's Slingshot makes responding to messages mandatory

You know it's there but can't see it unless you send one yourself

Facebook's new Slingshot mobile app, just released today, is supposed to rival Snapchat, which is why Slingshot imitates Snapchat's impermanence: whatever ...

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Source: Facebook

Facebook's new Slingshot mobile app, just released today, is supposed to rival Snapchat, which is why Slingshot imitates Snapchat's impermanence: whatever messages you send via Snapchat will disappear a few seconds after they're seen, making it more like an ordinary, low-tech, non-recorded conversation.

Presumably, anything you send via Slingshot will soon vanish too. But Slingshot offers an odd new wrinkle: forced reciprocity. In Slingshot, if someone sends you a video or photo, you know it's there but are not allowed to see it until you send one of your own.

Slingshot's developers explained their rationale in their blog post announcing the release:

With Slingshot, we wanted to build something where everybody is a creator and nobody is just a spectator. When everyone participates, there’s less pressure, more creativity and even the little things in life can turn into awesome shared experiences. …

To get started on Slingshot, shoot a photo or video. It can be what you’re up to, who you’re with or a quick selfie. Add some text and color, then sling it to a bunch of friends. Here’s the deal: friends won’t be able to see your shot until they sling something back to you. They can then reply with a reaction—or simply swipe your shot away. 

If any Slingshot developers are reading this, here's a free profit-building tip: you'd get millions of eager customers signing on to your service in nanoseconds, if you tweak your software enough that the whole forced-reciprocity thing applies not to video messages from friends, but email messages from spammers — you can't see any spam unless you send the spammers a message first.

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Missouri retailers sold bogus engine products, state charges

"Bargain" brands turned out to be anything but, prosecutors say

AG Koster sues retailers for selling deceptive automobile engine productsSt. Louis, Mo. – Attorney General Chris Koster today announced that...

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Photo credit: Petroleum Quality Institute of America
Missouri's attorney general is suing five St. Louis retailers for selling motor oil, transmission fluid and antifreeze that didn't measure up -- in more ways than one.

Attorney General Chris Koster said the products -- which came from Rock Bottom Wholesale of St. Louis -- didn't contain the advertised quantity and often did not meet quality standards, meaning that motorists who relied on them could suffer serious engine damage.

"People who rely on their car to get to work or to take their kids to school should not have to face catastrophic engine failure because they tried to save money," said Koster. "Missouri consumers deserve engine products that live up to the representations made on the bottle."

Koster is not Rock Bottom's only headache. In October 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent Rock Bottom a letter warning that smokeless tobacco products the company was offering for sale were misbranded because they did not contain any of the required federal health warnings. 

Also in 2013, Michigan ordered retailers to stop selling Bullseye brand motor oils, saying that a statewide investigation found Bullseye lubricants consistently contained less product than the label represents.

Rock Bottom holds an "A" rating from the Better Business Bureau, however.

41 brands

Koster's office joined the Missouri Department of Agriculture's Division of Weights and Measures in a crackdown on the allegedly mislabeled and fake products.  

Beginning in December, 2013, state inspectors discovered that St. Louis-area retailers were selling 41 different brands of motor oil, transmission fluid, and antifreeze products that did not contain the volume or quality of the contents advertised on their label.

Testing overseen by the Division of Weights and Measures found products seized from Rock Bottom Wholesale had a variety of problems, including:

  • Motor oil that was un-labeled used oil and contained metallic sediment, motor oil that fell below minimum viscosity standards, and, in one case, a product that did not even contain oil at all. 

  • Antifreeze products that contained medical-waste methanol – a corrosive with a boiling point below normal engine temperature – or, in one case, wiper fluid and green dye.

  • Products advertised at a specific volume, such as one-quart, that were under-volume.  One automatic-transmission fluid product, sold under the name Bullseye Type A, was labeled as one-quart, but was actually only .77 quarts.

Each of the 17 retailers and two wholesalers visited by state inspectors in March was ordered to stop selling the 41 suspect products. In a May re-inspection, inspectors found five retailers were still selling products in violation of the stop-sale order.

In lawsuits filed in St. Louis City and County, Koster alleges the five retailers knowingly sold fraudulent products to consumers that could damage their cars:

  • Unique Mark, 9641 St. Charles Rock Road;

  • Shell, 4903 Goodfellow Blvd.;

  • Phillips 66, 5003 Goodfellow Blvd.;

  • Kenny’s Discount, 5477 N. Kingshighway; and

  • Quality Market, 2708 N. Florissant Ave.

 "Our investigation remains ongoing, particularly into the source of these products," said Koster. "While we have removed deceptive products from these 17 stores, consumers should be aware that inspectors continue to check for these damaging products in other stores throughout the state."

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Patent Office cancels Washington Redskins trademarks

The team has turned aside complaints its name is racist and demeaning to Native Americans

Source: WikipediaBack in the day, consumers organized boycotts on behalf of embattled minorities, environmental issues and so forth.The boycott of th...

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Source: Wikipedia

Back in the day, consumers organized boycotts on behalf of embattled minorities, environmental issues and so forth.

The boycott of the Montgomery, Ala., city bus system helped get the civil rights movement rolling, and the grape boycott gave farm workers a leg up.

But consumer boycotts have lost a lot of steam since then. Take the Washington Redskins. For years, fans, non-fans and assorted do-gooders have earnestly and, later, angrily called on the National Football League team to change its name. Attempts to organize boycotts haven't made it out of the end zone. 

Just a few weeks ago, the United Church of Christ's Mid-Atlantic Conference announced a boycott of the team and called on other churches in the D.C. area to do the same. The answer, so far, has been a resounding silence.

Billionaire team owner Dan Snyder has angrily refused, saying he would "never" change the name and claiming that Native Americans don't find the term "redskins" offensive.

The term, of course, refers to the body parts of Native Americans that were collected by federal troops during the Indian Wars that raged for more than a century during the settlement of the American West.

Native Americans may have had a derogatory term for the scalps they sometimes collected from white people but, if so, it's not in common usage and certainly isn't used in interstate commerce. 

The PTO speaks

Amidst all the back-and-forth, five Native Americans filed a petition with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office asking that the team's trademarks be vacated on the grounds that they are "disparaging."

The PTO agreed and has canceled the team's 6 trademarks.

"We decide, based on the evidence properly before us, that these registrations must be cancelled because they were disparaging to Native Americans at the respective times they were registered, in violation of Section 2(a)  of the Trademark Act of 1946, 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a)."

Most likely, we haven't heard the last of this. The PTO issued a similar ruling back in 1992 and it was reversed after the Redskins' lawyers appealed.

Some Redskins fans took to social media claiming the PTO ruling infringed Snyder's free speech rights. However, the ruling means only that the federal government no longer grants ownership of the term "Redskins" to the team.

Theoretically, the team could continue to use the name without trademark protection but it would then be unable to claim royalties from the sale of sweatshirts, caps, beer mugs and other spoils of war.

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SunTrust settles mortgage charges with feds, states

The settlement will cost the bank close to $1 billion

SunTrust Mortgage would provide $500 million in loss-mitigation relief to underwater borrowers, pay $40 million to approximately 48,000 consumers who lost...

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© Veniamin Bibikov - Fotolia.com

SunTrust Mortgage would provide $500 million in loss-mitigation relief to underwater borrowers, pay $40 million to approximately 48,000 consumers who lost their homes to foreclosure and $10 million to the federal government under a proposed court order filed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and attorneys general in 49 states and the District of Columbia

The order addresses what are termed “systemic mortgage servicing misconduct," including robo-signing and illegal foreclosure practices.

In a parallel mortgage lending filing announced by DOJ, SunTrust must also pay a $418 million penalty.

“Deceptive and illegal mortgage servicing practices have pushed families into foreclosure and devastated communities across the nation,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. The action, he said, “will help homeowners and consumers harmed by SunTrust’s unlawful foreclosure practices.”

SunTrust is a mortgage lender and servicer headquartered in Richmond, Va., and is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Atlanta-based SunTrust Banks, Inc.

As a mortgage servicer, it is responsible for collecting payments from the mortgage borrower on behalf of the owner of the loan. It handles customer service, collections, loan modifications, and foreclosures.

Loads of evidence

The CFPB, DOJ, HUD, and state attorneys general say they uncovered substantial evidence that SunTrust was engaged in systemic mortgage servicing misconduct. According to the complaint filed in the federal district court in the District of Columbia, the company’s illegal practices put thousands of people at risk of losing their homes. Specifically, the complaint alleges that SunTrust:

  • failed to promptly and accurately apply payments made by borrowers, and charged unauthorized fees for default-related services.
  • failed to provide accurate information about loan modification and other loss-mitigation services, failed to properly process borrowers’ applications and calculate their eligibility for loan modifications, and provided false or misleading reasons for denying loan modifications.
  • provided false or misleading information to consumers about the status of foreclosure proceedings where the borrower was in good faith actively pursuing a loss mitigation alternative also offered by SunTrust. The company also robo-signed foreclosure documents, including preparing and filing affidavits whose signers had not actually reviewed any information to verify the claims.

J. of Atlanta, Ga., is fed up with the treatment he says he received at the hands of SunTrust.

“The SunTrust Mortgage 'loan modification' process is a joke,” he writes in a ConsumerAffairs post. “Complete incompetence across the board. Bottom line is this: SunTrust doesn't give a ** about anything but getting their money.” He claims the loan modification department and the foreclosure department “are two separate departments and the left hand has no idea what the right hand is doing and vice versa.”

Enforcement action

The proposed court order, filed in federal district court in the District of Columbia, would require SunTrust to correct its practices and provide relief to harmed consumers. Under the terms of the order, SunTrust must:

  • provide more than $500 million in loss mitigation relief to consumers, including reducing the principal on mortgages for borrowers who are at risk of default and reducing mortgage interest rates for homeowners who are current but underwater on their mortgages. If SunTrust fails to meet this requirement, it must pay a cash penalty equal to at least 125 percent of the shortfall.
  • refund $40 million to consumers whose loans it serviced who lost their homes to foreclosure between Jan. 1, 2008, to Dec. 31, 2013. All consumers who submit valid claims will receive an equal share of the $40 million. Borrowers who receive payments will not have to release any claims and will be free to seek additional relief in the courts. Eligible consumers can expect to hear from the settlement administrator about potential payments later this year.
  • pay $10 million to cover losses it caused to the Federal Housing Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Rural Housing Service.
  • establish additional homeowner protections, including protections for consumers in bankruptcy. Like other servicers, SunTrust is subject to the CFPB’s new mortgage servicing rules that took effect on January 10, 2014.

The agreement only covers SunTrust’s violations before the new rules took effect, and does not prevent the CFPB from pursuing civil enforcement actions against SunTrust for violations of these rules.

The settlement administrator will be in touch with eligible consumers who lost their homes to foreclosure between Jan. 1, 2008 and Dec. 31, 2013.  

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P.F. Chang's security breach: from mid-September through last week

If you've eaten at Chang's in the last nine months, your security may be at risk

Last week, when word first came out about the security breach at P. F. Chang's, the company confirmed that hackers had successfully stolen customers' credi...

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Photo via Wikipedia
Last week, when word first came out about the security breach at P. F. Chang's, the company confirmed that hackers had successfully stolen customers' credit and debit card data, but the time and extent of the breach was not known.

Chang's still has not come forth with more details, but according to security blogger Brian Krebs, new information from various card-issuing banks suggests that the breach started on or around Sept. 18, 2013, and continued through until June 11, the day after the U.S. Secret Service first told Chang's about the breach.

It's still not known exactly how many customers were affected, but Krebs said:

Assuming the breach affected all 211 P.F. Chang’s locations in the United States (a safe assumption since P.F. Chang’s recently switched to manual “knucklebuster” carbon-copy card imprinters at all locations), the nine-month breach is likely to have impacted more than 7 million cards.

If you have eaten at a P. F. Chang's and paid via debit or credit card anytime between last September and last week, be warned: there's a high risk your information is currently in the hands of whoever hacked into Chang's. Keep a sharper-than-usual eye on your accounts, and it might be a good idea to just go ahead and get new numbers on those accounts now, rather than wait to see if some hacker uses them to profit at your expense.

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Mortgage applications fall sharply as interest rates rise

Tight inventory is cited as a factor

Mortgage applications are yo-yoing again, falling during the week of June 13, following an increase the week before. Data from the Mortgage Bankers Associ...

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© emiliezhang -Fotolia.com

Mortgage applications are yo-yoing again, falling during the week of June 13, following an increase the week before.

Data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey show applications plunged 9.2% during the week, and that the Refinance Index was down 13%.

The latter decline pushed the refinance share of mortgage activity down 2% -- to 52% of total applications. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity was unchanged at 8% of total applications.

“Interest rates increased relative to the previous week, as incoming economic data continues to suggest a pickup in the pace of growth,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s Chief Economist. “Although the average rate for the week was up only a few basis points, the increase was matched by a large drop in refinance volume, and purchase application volume also declined.

Fratantoni adds that some lenders continue to report that they have pre-approved borrowers who have been unable to find a property given the tight inventory in certain markets.

Contract interest rates

  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) rose to 4.36% from 4.34%, with points increasing to 0.24 from 0.16 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) was up 5 basis points -- from 4.27% to 4.32% -- with points decreasing to 0.09 from 0.12 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA increased to 4.07% from 4.06%, with points dropping to -0.39 from -0.03 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs rose 7 basis points -- to 3.50%, with points decreasing to 0.16 from 0.22 (including the origination fee) for 80$ LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs moved up to 3.20% from 3.18%, with points falling to 0.27 from 0.35 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate was unchanged from last week.

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

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Corvettes with air bag and seat belt issues recalled

The air bags may not deploy and the seat belt pretensioners may not activate

General Motors is recalling 33 model year 2014 Chevrolet Corvette vehicles manufactured April 23, 2014, to April 25, 2014. The Sensing and Diagnostic Mod...

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Photo source - Chevrolet.com

General Motors is recalling 33 model year 2014 Chevrolet Corvette vehicles manufactured April 23, 2014, to April 25, 2014.

The Sensing and Diagnostic Module (SDM) in the affected vehicles may experience an internal short circuit, resulting in the deactivation of the air bags and seat belt pretensioners. If the SDM short circuits, the air bags may not deploy and the seat belt pretensioners may not activate in the event of a crash, increasing the risk of occupant injury.

GM will notify owners, and dealers will replace the SDM, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

Owners may contact General Motors customer service at 1-800-222-1020. GM's number for this recall is 14219.

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GM recalls variety of vehicles with driver-side air bag issues

The air bag may not deploy in some instances

General Motors is recalling 31,520 model year 2012 Buick Verano vehicles manufactured December 2, 2011 to July, 16, 2012; Chevrolet Cruze vehicles manufact...

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© Dmitry Vereshchagin - Fotolia.com
General Motors is recalling 31,520 model year 2012 Buick Verano vehicles manufactured December 2, 2011 to July, 16, 2012; Chevrolet Cruze vehicles manufactured December 7, 2011 to July 25, 2012; Chevrolet Sonic vehicles manufactured December 5, 2011 to August 2, 2012; and Chevrolet Camaro vehicles manufactured December 1, 2011 to June 11, 2012.

The driver side frontal air bag has a shorting bar which may intermittently contact the air bag terminals.

If the bar and terminals are contacting each other at the time of a crash necessitating deployment of the driver's frontal air bag, that air bag will not deploy, increasing the driver's risk of injury.

GM will notify owners, and dealers will replace the steering wheel air bag coil, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

Chevrolet owners may contact GM at 1-800-222-1020. Buick owners may contact GM at 1-800-521-7300.  

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Once forbidden, Cuba beckons U.S. travelers

The embargo still stands but there are ways to visit the island

Before 1961 Cuba was a favorite American vacation spot in the Caribbean, with white sandy beaches and a rich Latin culture. The Cuban Revolution and the Co...

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© imagesef - Fotolia.com
Before 1961 Cuba was a favorite American vacation spot in the Caribbean, with white sandy beaches and a rich Latin culture. The Cuban Revolution and the Cold War put an end to that.

Not long after Fidel Castro came to power the United States imposed an economic embargo on the island nation, just a short flight from Miami. Not only were goods and services blocked from passing back and forth, so were people.

But in recent years, both Cuba and the U.S. have quietly moved to ease travel restrictions. Today, it's possible for just about any American citizen who wants to travel to Cuba to do so. But what you can do once you get there can be limited.

Trips now common

According to The New York Times nearly a half million Americans now make the trip to Cuba each year, with the blessing of the U.S. government. But the government has very strict rules covering the itinerary.

Americans with a close relative living in Cuba have the most travel leeway. While other travelers need specific travel licenses from the Treasury Department, Americans who have proved a familial relationship with someone on the island can travel on a general license. Once there they can do pretty much as they please – even go to the beach.

Not so for other travelers. But if you work for or belong to a church or religious organization represented in Cuba, and can document that you are traveling to engage in religious activities, you can get permission to go.

By the same token, if your employment or academic involvement requires you to travel to Cuba for research, you may receive a license for travel. But the travel has to be all work and no play.

Educational trips

For everyone else there is a category of travel known as “people-to-people” tours, a legal loophole to the travel ban. To meet the legal guidelines these trips must be purely educational in nature and no, you won't be hitting the beach.

These tours connect American travelers to “everyday” Cuban people – artisans, entrepreneurs and ordinary Cuban citizens. You might visit Ernest Hemingway's home.

The closest you'll get to the beach is the Bay of Pigs, where U.S.-back Cuban exiles tried to invade the country in 1961.

Since people-to-people tours provide the only way for almost anyone to visit Cuba, they are enjoying explosive growth. A number of travel agencies now specialize in these trips.

Licensed providers

International Expeditions (IE) is one such travel company offering licensed people-to-people tours to Cuba. Its brochure promises an “unfiltered” view of the Island.

“While traversing the countryside and sipping coffee in small cafés, IE guests encounter working-class locals eager to share, learn and ensure lives and options are transformed,” the company says.

YMT Vacations is another provider of people-to-people travel packages packages to Cuba. It recently announced its 2015 departure dates.

“We are excited to announce the 2015 departure dates for our best-selling Cuba program which features a myriad of people-to-people experiences,” said company president Jerre Fuqua. “Over the past 2 years, YMT has been pleased to be among the select group of tour operators licensed to offer travel to Cuba.”

Fugua says since launching in 2012, YMT has taken nearly 2,000 travelers to Cuba. The company says it will offer weekly departure dates beginning in January 2015.

Tour costs vary. YMT says its 8-day Cuban tour starts at $1999 per person and includes hotel accommodations in Havana and Cayo Santa Maria.

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GPS tracking: What does the law allow?

Despite a Supreme Court ruling, the question remains hard to answer

“Technology keeps changing faster than the law can evolve to handle it.”That's been a truism for over a generation now, especially in the fie...

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Senator grills Dr. Oz over weight loss claims

Popular host denied any connection to deceptive weight loss products

Last month the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed charges against several individuals and the companies they control for unsupported advertising claims a...

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Last month the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed charges against several individuals and the companies they control for unsupported advertising claims about a green coffee extract product they marketed for $50 a bottle.

The controversy also swept up a popular TV doctor, with the result that Dr. Mehmet Oz, host of The Dr. Oz Show, made a rather uncomfortable appearance before a Senate Committee Tuesday, looking into deceptive claims about natural remedies and weight loss products.

Oz has no financial stake in the companies in question or in any other firms producing or marketing green coffee extract. However, his passionate endorsement of the product on a 2012 program, seen in the clip below, was used by a number of different marketers to promote these products.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), chair of the Senate Consumer Protection subcommittee, who called the hearing, sternly took Oz to task, especially when he said he believed the extract was, in fact, helpful.

False hope

“The scientific community is almost monolithic against you in terms of the efficacy of the three products that you call miracles,” she said. “When you call a product a miracle, and it's something you can buy, and it's something that gives people false hope, I don't understand why you need to go there.”

Oz admitted that he sometimes went overboard with “flowery” language about some products on his show, but attributed it to “being passionate.” He hinted, without directly saying it, that passion was often required due to the nature of a daytime TV talk show.

“My job on the show is to be a cheerleader for the audience,” Oz told McCaskill. “When they don't think they have hope, when they don't think they can make it happen, I want to look everywhere, including alternative traditions, for any evidence that might be supportive of them.”

Defending his “passion” about green coffee extract, Oz said that, with the amount of information he has about it, he is still comfortable telling people that if they can buy a reputable version of it, it can help.

“But I don't sell it and it's not for long-term use,” he said.

3 suggestions

As for cleaning up the wild west of deceptive Internet advertising for bogus natural remedies and weight loss products, Oz offered three suggestions:

  • Private sector should create and maintain a list of celebrities who have actually endorsed a product or have a financial stake in a product. The list would serve as a quick reference for web sites and ad networks to check claims before accepting ads.
  • Set up whistle blower program to encourage employees of companies making and marketing these products to report illegal behavior.
  • Establish a private sector funded bounty system, enlisting private citizens to monitor and expose scams.

While Oz appeared to charm other members of the Senate panel, McCaskill was unrelenting.

“No one is telling you not to use passion, but passion in connection with the words 'miracle pill' and 'weight loss' is a recipe for disaster in this environment, for people who are looking for an easy fix.” McCaskill said.

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Pet therapy gains acceptance in the medical world

It's not just dogs -- horses and other animals are proving useful

© bucaniere - Fotolia.comTake two pills, pet your dog and call me in the morning. What kind of prescription is that? It's not advice from Dr. Doolit...

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© bucaniere - Fotolia.com

Take two pills, pet your dog and call me in the morning. What kind of prescription is that? It's not advice from Dr. Doolittle, but it could be advice from one of the top physicians in the country because Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) seems to be getting the OK from the medical world.

A 2011 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Health Center for Health Statistics revealed that almost 60% of hospice care providers that provide complementary and alternative therapies offer pet therapy to patients. Animal therapy is the idea that animals can help humans cope with or recover from certain medical conditions.

Dr. Boris Levinson first introduced AAT back in the 1960's. He was treating a 9-year-old boy who was very difficult to reach but when Dr. Levinson let his dog Jingles in the room with him, the boy opened up.

With Jingles -- dubbed his "co-therapist" by Dr. Levinson -- he found he was able to gain the boy's trust, something that past therapists had failed to do.

Experts scoffed

In the early 60's the American Psychological Association was not overwhelmed with evidence that this therapy actually worked and scoffed at the idea.

A survey conducted by Levinson 10 years later found that of 319 psychologists, 16% used companion animals in their therapy sessions, indicating that people were warming to the idea of AAT.

It's not just dogs that are finding their way into therapy. An Ohio State University study earlier this year found that horses can be helpful in treating Alzheimer's patients. 

The study tested people with dementia and found that horses seemed to elevate moods which correlated to fewer incidents of negative behavior.

Could AAT replace drug treatment? A 2009 study from Layola University in Chicago found that adults who used AAT -- in the form of canine therapy -- while recovering from total joint-replacement surgery required 50% less pain medication.

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AT&T gets exclusive on Amazon's new smartphone, reports say

The new phone is rumored to have a 3-D capability

Photo via YouTubeThere's a lot of buzz developing around tomorrow's release of Amazon's first-ever smartphone, including reports that AT&T will be ...

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Photo via YouTube

There's a lot of buzz developing around tomorrow's release of Amazon's first-ever smartphone, including reports that AT&T will be the exclusive carrier for the new phone.

The Wall Street Journal reports today that AT&T will have a lock on the phone, at least initially. It is already the carrier that providers wireless service to Kindle tablets and e-readers.

The phone -- rumored to be called the Kindle Phone -- will be unveiled tomorrow (Wednesday) in Seattle but it has already been displayed to developers around the country, leading to early reports about what may turn out to be its most distinguishing feature -- a three-dimensional display that works without special glasses.

The Journal says the phone uses retina-tracking technology in four front-facing cameras that makes some images appear to be 3-D, sort of like a hologram.

The link-up could help AT&T pick up new subscribers, possibly giving it a boost at a time when major carriers are locked in a battle to steal customers from each other, having signed up just about everyone who's old enough to use a smartphone.

The Amazon phone faces a tough marketing challenge. Apple and Samsung are well-entrenched with more than 60% of the market. But analysts note that even if Amazon's phone doesn't set the world on fire, it will give Amazon a direct line to its customers.  

Amazon obviously hopes the device ties it even more tightly to its customer base by providing a home screen that displays whatever Amazon in its wisdom thinks each customer is likely to be looking for at any given moment -- anything from toothpaste to music to streaming video.

“Imagine a home screen of all Amazon apps -- that’s kind of what they are looking for,” said Carl Howe, an analyst at Boston-based Yankee Group, Bloomberg News reported.

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Researchers: Food marketing creates a false sense of health

Watch out for foods using buzzwords like "gluten-free" and "whole grain"

Photo via University of HoustonSome cynics say you should watch out for foods that claims to be healthful. And now some researchers are saying the same...

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Photo via University of Houston

Some cynics say you should watch out for foods that claims to be healthful. And now some researchers are saying the same thing. 

The use of health-related buzzwords like “antioxidant,” “gluten-free” and “whole grain” lull consumers into thinking packaged food products labeled with those words are healthier than they actually are, according to a new research study conducted by scholars at the University of Houston (UH).

That “false sense of health,” as well as a failure to understand the information presented in nutrition facts panels on packaged food, may be contributing to the obesity epidemic in the United States, said Temple Northup, an assistant professor at the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication at UH.

“Saying Cherry 7-Up contains antioxidants is misleading. Food marketers are exploiting consumer desires to be healthy by marketing products as nutritious when, in fact, they’re not,” said Northup. 

A study conducted by Northrup's team examined the degree to which consumers link marketing terms on food packaging with good health. It found that consumers tend to view food products labeled with health-related euphemisms as healthier than those without them. The research also showed that the nutrition facts panels printed on food packaging as required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration do little to counteract that buzzword marketing.

“Words like organic, antioxidant, natural and gluten-free imply some sort of healthy benefit,” Northup said. “When people stop to think about it, there’s nothing healthy about Antioxidant Cherry 7-Up – it’s mostly filled with high fructose syrup or sugar. But its name is giving you this clue that there is some sort of health benefit to something that is not healthy at all.”

“Food marketers say there are nutritional labels, so people can find out what’s healthy and what’s not,” he said. “Findings from this research study indicate people aren’t very good at reading nutritional labels even in situations where they are choosing between salmon and Spam. Approximately 20 percent picked Spam as the healthier option over salmon,” said Northup.

Northup hopes the results of this study will contribute to an increased dialogue on how food is marketed, guide development of specific media literacy and help people understand the effects of how food is marketed to consumers.

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Report: "responsible consumption" and big brands don't mix

Are major companies leaving profits on the table?

It's difficult to talk about what consumers" want because that one word covers countless individuals who all want different things...

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It's difficult to talk about what “consumers” want because that one word covers countless individuals who all want different things: this one wants low prices more than anything else, that one wants high quality, someone else makes a point to “Buy American” whenever possible.

There's also what's called the “responsible consumption” market, for consumers who want to be “socially responsible”: these are the items touted as being “organic,” “Earth-friendly,” “fair trade” or otherwise sensitive to various issues.

According to a study by the Boston Consulting Group, there are definite growth opportunities in the responsible consumption market:

Goods labeled organic, natural, ecological, and fair trade are no longer a niche in the food, personal-care, and household products sectors. These goods have entered mainstream retailers and become a large part of the market, with a broad base of consumers now purchasing them. In an otherwise stagnant industry, these “responsible consumption” (RC) products represent a major area of profitable growth.

Small niches

But so far, according to the BCG study, the bulk of that growth is happening in small niche businesses, as most of the major-brand companies ignore this new business opportunity:

Most of this growth, however, is going not to A brands—the major product brands—but to specialty brands and to both specialty and conventional retailers. Most A-brand manufacturers, in fact, have weak or nonexistent offerings in this area. Continued inaction may cost A brands one-third of their current consumers over the next few years.

So if you're a socially conscious consumer who wishes the market had more offerings in line with your preferences, the future looks bright for you. But if you're a stockholder in those A-brand companies, you might want to diversify your portfolio a bit.

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Proposed bicameral bill would ban Internet "fast lanes"

The legislative battle over net neutrality continues

On June 17, Democrats in Congress and the Senate put forward a proposed piece of legislation which, if successful, would ban so-called “fast lanes&rd...

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On June 17, Democrats in Congress and the Senate have put forward a proposed piece of legislation which, if successful, would ban so-called “fast lanes” on the Internet.

In May, the FCC issued a rather confusing report claiming to support net neutrality, the idea that Internet providers must treat all content equally, so that viewers can see all websites at the same speed, rather than enjoy quick access to the websites of wealthy companies willing to pay fast lane fees while suffering slow, clunky service everywhere else.

Yet the FCC confusingly -- at least to some -- spoke in favor of net neutrality while simultaneously allowing ISP to offer “fast lanes” to companies willing to pay extra.

In response, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Representative Doris Matsui of California proposed the Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act which, if passed, would ban ISPs from offering paid fast-lane services.

The Washington Post, which reported on the proposal Tuesday morning before it was actually introduced, noted:

Leahy and Matsui's proposed ban on fast lanes would apply only to the connections between consumers and their ISPs — the part of the Internet governed by the FCC's proposed net neutrality rules. The FCC's current proposal tacitly allows for the creation of a tiered Internet for content companies, though the commission has asked the public whether it should ban the practice as "commercially unreasonable."

Whether a bill proposed by two Democrats will get enough Republican and Democratic votes to actually pass into law remains to be seen.

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Online supermarkets, drugstores agree to New York demand for unit pricing

Walmart, Costco, CVS, Walgreens agree but Amazon refuses

© Mariusz Prusaczyk - Fotolia.comNew York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has wrested an agreement from several major retailers to brin...

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© Mariusz Prusaczyk - Fotolia.com

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has wrested an agreement from several major retailers to bring unit pricing information to online supermarkets and drugstores nationwide. 

Within nine months, unit pricing will be available on the websites and mobile apps of Walmart, Costco, Walgreens, FreshDirect, CVS and Drugstore.com. Amazon refused to participate. 

‎Although Amazon displays unit pricing on some of its pages, it does not provide the information uniformly across its platforms. Furthermore, its subsidiaries do not currently display unit pricing.

Unfortunately for consumers, Amazon refused to agree to provide the information. The company claims it will extend unit pricing to its subsidiary Quidsi, which operates online stores like Soap.com, but refused to commit to that in a written agreement.

It also would not agree to extend unit pricing to pages where that information is absent, nor would it commit to continue providing unit pricing information to consumers in the future, Schneiderman's office said.

Robust protections

“As the internet becomes the shopping mall of the 21st century, we need to ensure that consumers have the same robust protections online that they do in brick-and-mortar stores,” said Schneiderman. “Making New York more affordable for the middle class includes empowering consumers to spend their money wisely. I commend these retailers for recognizing the need for transparency and promoting openness online."

Unit pricing benefits consumers by allowing them to quickly compare prices of different items regardless of quantity, manufacturer, packaging size or discounts. For example, a single product category, such as breakfast cereal, can feature a wide array of sizes and packaging combinations from a variety of competing brands.

The unit price combines those factors and gives the price per ounce, generally displayed next to the retail price, allowing consumers to make better and faster choices.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have some type of unit pricing requirement. New York law requires that large retail stores clearly display the price per unit of measurement for most types of food, cleaning and paper products, toiletries, pet food and over-the-counter medications.

Prior to this initiative, unit pricing information online was rare. Among large retailers, full availability of unit pricing was limited to online grocer Peapod.

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A pullback in new home construction

The decline in May follows two strong months of advances

After posting impressive gains in April and March, new home construction fell 6.5% in May. Figures released jointly by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Dep...

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After posting impressive gains in April and March, new home construction fell 6.5% in May.

Figures released jointly by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development put privately-owned housing starts at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,001,000. Despite the May decline, the rate of construction is 9.4% above the year ago level.

Single-family housing starts in May were down 5.9% at a rate of 625,000, while the rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 366,000.

Building permits

Authorization by building permits of privately-owned housing units fell 6.4% from April -- to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 991,000. However, the rate for single family units were up 3.7% at 619,000. Authorizations of units in buildings with five units or more were at a rate of 347,000 in May.

The full report on new home construction is available on the Census Bureau website.

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Lexus GS 350s recalled

The vehicle may begin braking without the driver's input

Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 10,462 model year 2013 Lexus GS 350 vehicles manufactured June 8, 2012, through December 26, 2012. ...

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Photo credit: Lexus

Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 10,462 model year 2013 Lexus GS 350 vehicles manufactured June 8, 2012, through December 26, 2012.

In the affected vehicles, the switch that senses the amount of pressure that the driver is applying to the brake pedal may fail. If the switch fails, the vehicle may begin braking without the driver's input, and without illuminating the brake lights, increasing the risk of a crash.

Toyota will notify owners, and dealers will replace the brake pedal support assembly which includes the brake pedal load sensing switch, free of charge.

Parts for the remedy are not currently available. Toyota will send owners an interim notification letter in late June 2014 to advise owners of the recall, and will mail owners a second letter when remedy parts are available.

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

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New concerns about 'drowsy driving'

Tracy Morgan accident focuses attention on the problem

This month's tragic accident involving a vehicle carrying comedian Tracy Morgan and several others has focused new attention on an old problem; drowsy driv...

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© starsstudio - Fotolia.com
This month's tragic accident involving a vehicle carrying comedian Tracy Morgan and several others has focused new attention on an old problem; drowsy driving.

Morgan was critically injured and fellow comedian James McNair was killed when a Walmart tractor-trailer truck slammed into their limousine. The truck driver, it was later learned, had been without sleep for more than 24 hours.

The accident occurred on the New Jersey Turnpike in the early hours of June 7, in a state that has long taken a tough stand against drowsy driving. New Jersey was the first state to prohibit drowsy driving in 2003 with the passage of “Maggie’s Law.”

The law is based on the fact that being sleepy behind the wheel poses a danger because of impaired judgment, slower reaction time, impaired coordination and increased aggressiveness.

Felony charges

The truck driver in the Morgan accident has been charged with vehicular homicide and four counts of assault by auto.

The New Jersey law applies to all drivers but the trucking industry has its own set of rules that govern how much rest drivers must get, just as aviation regulations limit a pilot's time in the cockpit.

The high-profile New Jersey accident occurred amidst debate in Congress over changes to established hours-of-service rules for truck drivers. American Trucking Associations President and CEO Bill Graves says the proposed rule changes do not really address how much sleep truck drivers have to get.

“The hours-of-service rules – whether they are the current regulations, the pre-2013 rules, or the rules with changes we hope to see as a result of Congressional action – only place limits on driving and on-duty time and require that between work periods drivers take a minimum of 10 consecutive hours off-duty,” Graves said in a statement. They do not dictate what drivers do during that off-duty period. No rule can address what a driver does in his or her off-duty time.”

Current regulations

The current rule, put in place a year ago, requires truck drivers to take a half-hour break after being on duty for 8 hours and to take at least 34 consecutive hours off between work weeks. Those 34 hours must also contain two consecutive off periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m.

Graves says the industry supports changes to the current restrictions on use of the hours-of-service restart provision, which he says alters driver sleep patterns and puts more trucks on the road during more risky daylight hours.

He says fatigue is a factor in only 10% of truck crashes. But experts says it can be an important safety issue, not just for truck drivers but for anyone behind the wheel without adequate sleep.

Fatigue factor

“When you are sleep-deprived for more than 24 hours, you need stronger sensory stimulation to maintain alertness,” said Xue Ming, a sleep medicine doctor at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark.

Impairment might be hard to notice in some cases. Sensory input such as light, noise and touch keeps people alert. In a vehicle alone, late at night, there is less stimulation.

All to often, Ming says, the brain will drift into a full sleep state or a micro sleep, which can last from a fraction of a second up to 30 seconds.

“In this state, the person feels like he is awake – he might even still have his eyes open – but he is actually asleep,” she said.

As you might expect drivers are most prone to dozing off from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., when their circadian rhythm – which regulates periods of sleepiness and wakefulness – declines.

Staying alert

Ming says there are several ways to remain alert when a driver starts to fade out. Take a 20-minute nap, down two cups of coffee or similar caffeinated beverage, brighten the dashboard or purchase a visor light box that simulates morning light for the passenger side, since light boosts alertness.

“But, if you are feeling really tired,” Ming says, “the best thing to do is park your car and call a cab.”

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GM recalls 3.16 million cars to replace ignition keys

The company will modify "slotted" keys to leave only a small hole

2004 Buick Regal (Photo credit: GM)General Motors is recalling another 3.16 million cars because of ignition switch problems. The company says it will ...

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2004 Buick Regal (Photo credit: GM)

It's been more than four months after GM began recalling 2.6 million small cars to fix ignition switches that the company says have been involved at least 54 crashes and 13 death

General Motors is recalling another 3.16 million cars because of ignition switch problems. The company says it will "rework or replace" the ignition keys on 2000 to 2014 model year cars in the U.S. because the ignition switch may inadvertently move out of the “run” position if the key is carrying extra weight and experiences some jarring event.

GM said the use of a key with a hole, rather than a slotted key, addresses the concern of unintended key rotation due to a jarring road event, such as striking a pothole or crossing railroad tracks. 

Only one of the models included in the U.S. recall of 3,160,725 cars is still in production – the previous generation Chevrolet Impala, which is sold to daily rental fleets as the Impala Limited. The total North America population – U.S., Canada, Mexico and exports – is 3,360,555.

The safety recall follows a review of ignition issues following the recall in February of 2.6 million Chevrolet Cobalts and other small cars. GM is aware of eight crashes and six injuries related to this recall.

If the ignition switch moves out of the “run” position, there is an effect on power steering and power braking. In addition, the timing of the key movement out of the “run” position, relative to the activation of the sensing algorithm of the crash event, may result in the air bags not deploying.

The cars being recalled are the:

Buick Lacrosse                          MY 2005-2009                  

Chevrolet Impala                      MY 2006-2014                                      

Cadillac Deville                         MY 2000–2005

Cadillac DTS                             MY 2004–2011

Buick Lucerne                           MY 2006–2011

Buick Regal LS & GS                  MY 2004–2005

Chevy Monte Carlo                    MY 2006–2008

No extra weight

GM said that in these vehicles, the ignition switch may be unable to handle extra weight hanging on a slotted key. GM will add an insert to the ignition keys of the recalled vehicles to close the slot and leave a 4x6-millimeter hole through which the key ring could be attached.

In vehicles where the key cover has been worn, new keys with holes instead of slots will be provided free of charge.

Rework of the keys – adding key inserts – at GM dealerships is expected to begin in the next few weeks. Until the rework or replacement is completed, owners of the recalled cars are urged to remove additional weight from their key chains and drive with only the ignition key.

5 more recalls

In addition to the ignition key recall, GM also announced U.S. recalls for 165,770 vehicles in these five actions:

  • 68,887 model year 2013-14 Cadillac ATS and 21,863 model year 2014 Cadillac CTS sedans. In certain vehicles with automatic transmissions, the shift cable may not be fully secured to the shifter bracket or transmission bracket. If the shift cable comes out of the brackets, the driver may not be able to shift the transmission in or out of gear. GM is unaware of any crashes or injuries related to this condition.
  • 57,192 2015 Chevrolet Silverado 2500/3500 HD and 2015 GMC Sierra 2500/3500 GMC Sierra HD to inspect for proper attachment of power steering hose clamps to the power steering pump. If the vehicle is driven with the clamp unattached, the hose may disconnect from the pump or gear, causing a rapid loss of power steering fluid. This will result in loss of power steering assist and Hydro Boost powered brakes without warning. The vehicle would revert to manual brakes and manual steering. GM knows of no crashes or injuries from the condition. Dealers are to inspect power steering hose clamps in two locations to ensure they are properly attached.
  • 16,932 model year 2011 Cadillac CTS sedans with AWD. On some vehicles, a gasket leak where the constant velocity joint meets the rear propeller shaft may cause the rear propeller shaft to separate or become loose, making contact with the vehicle floor above and causing the rollover sensor to deploy the roof rail air bags. GM is aware of 15 unintended deployments, but injury data is unclear.
  • 712 model year 2014 Chevrolet Corvettes with optional Competition Sport Seats, because an unbelted child and door trim may block the passenger seat side air bag vent in a deployment. Dealers will replace the current air bag with a redesigned version. GM is unaware of any crashes or injuries related to this condition, but advises customers to not allow small children in the front seat until the vehicle is serviced.
  • 184 model year 2014-15 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra full-size pickups with vinyl floors and accessory all-weather floor mats purchased new with the vehicle. The mats can slip under the driver’s feet because the vinyl floors have no attachments to secure them in place. Customers are advised take the floor mats to their dealer for a full refund. GM is unaware of any crashes or injuries related to the mats.

GM expects to take a charge of up to approximately $700 million in the second quarter for the cost of recall-related repairs announced in the quarter. This amount includes a previously disclosed $400 million charge for recalls announced May 15 and May 20.

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Hearing scheduled on tainted pet treats from China

Ohio's Sen. Sherrod Brown has worked to remove tainted jerky treats from retailers' shelves

Following the deaths of 1,000 dogs linked to tainted pet treats from China, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) will chair a hearing of the Congressional-Execut...

PhotoThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently estimated that more than 1,000 dogs have died in circumstances that involved pet treats from China. But the agency said it still hadn't pinned down the exact cause of the deaths and illnesses.

That may well be but pet owners and their advocates have been demanding action, and tomorrow (Tuesday), U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) will chair a hearing of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) to examine the safety of its meat processing.

The hearing, entitled “Pet Treats and Processed Chicken from China: Concerns for American Consumers and Pets,” will ask if China’s food safety regulation is effective. Brown has repeatedly urged the FDA to take quick action to protect consumers and pet owners following an increase in tainted pet treats from China connected to animal deaths and illnesses.

Recently, major pet stores have announced that they would stop selling dog and cat treats made in China following the animal deaths linked to Chinese food products. Food safety advocates have expressed alarm at new rules that could allow chickens raised in the United States to be shipped to China for processing before being returned to and sold in the U.S. 

Researchers are also exploring the connection between the domestic outbreak of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus in China.

These developments highlight concerns over the effectiveness of China’s food safety regulation, the effectiveness of U.S. government regulation of imported foods from China, and the overall safety of such foods, according to a Brown staffer.

There's also the question of whether current labels are adequate in helping American consumers tell when food products contains ingredients from China.

The CECC is a bipartisan commission made up of Senators, House Members, and senior Administration officials. The Commission was created by Congress in October 2000 with the legislative mandate to monitor human rights and the development of the rule of law in China.

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The MacBook Pro takes the lead in the Perfect Laptop Derby

The MacBook "disappears," doing its user's bidding without calling attention to itself

A little over a year ago, I updated the never-ending search for the perfect laptop, settling on the Google Chromebook Pixel, awed by its technical superior...

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The MacBook Pro with its small sidekick, the Mintbox. (Staff photo)

A little over a year ago, I updated the never-ending search for the perfect laptop, settling on the Google Chromebook Pixel, awed by its almost perfect cloning of the MacBook look and feel and willing to settle for the limitations of a Web-based operating system.

A couple of other laptops got kicked to the curb because of various shortcomings, but I noted that the MacBook Pro had not been tested for the simple reason that everyone who has one seems to love it, so who am I to doubt the wisdom of the crowd?

But time passes and experience sometimes trumps initial impressions. After 6 months or so with the Chromebook, I grew impatient with the limitations of the cloud-driven operating system and the resulting lack of an adequate image manipulation program and the inability to run multiple browsers, among other things.

The work I do is very similar to what millions of other content slaves and knowledge workers (pick your term) do each day. It requires sifting through many information sources more or less simultaneously, preferably in different browsers, while quickly collecting and editing graphics and photos and assembling all the parts into stories.  It's hard to do all of this on a Chromebook and, in fairness, it's not really made for that.

The Chromebook is perfect, if you ask me, for students, casual web browsers and business users whose usage consists mostly of email and simple documents. Some would argue that any high-end machine running Windows 8 would be the answer but my experience with Windows 8 leads me to avoid it whenever possible. Tablets are also quite adequate for those whose Web usage involves mostly social and entertainment applications.

But for the millions of people who rely on laptops for daily use in business and professional environments, laptops remain an essential tool.

Give it a try

So, a few months ago, I decided to give the MacBook a try, not having used a Mac on a daily basis for several years. I went to the Apple online outlet and, being a cheapskate, ordered a reconditioned MacBook Pro Retina for about $1,200 (roughly the same price as a comparably equipped Chromebook Pixel).

A day or so later, I got an email saying the item I had ordered was not in stock. But instead of canceling my order, Apple informed me it was substituting a new MacBook (with a faster processor) for the agreed-upon price -- the first time in decades anyone has offered me a better deal than I had agreed to.

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The thing showed up a day or two later. It initially booted up into some kind of disability-related program apparently intended for visually impaired users. I called tech support and got a human on the line within a few minutes, who apologized for the error, which he said had been popping up lately.

A few keystrokes got me booted into the normal interface and things went swimmingly from there, as expected. What wasn't expected was that the tech support guy called me the next day to follow up and make sure things were still working properly -- marking the second "first" associated with this purchase. When's the last time Microsoft called you to make sure everything was working properly?

Once the interface issue was squared away, I loaded Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and several open source programs, logged into my Google cloud accounts and was happily writing and editing away in no time. 

Apple products sometimes suffer from excessively high consumer expectations but except for a few issues, I'd have to say the MacBook has done what its fans say it does -- it disappears. After a few hours, the thing becomes transparent, simply helping you get your work done without constantly calling attention to itself, as Windows insists on doing. 

The keyboard is excellent, the trackpad intuitive, the Retina screen comparable to the Pixel, the polished metal case a thing of beauty and, thanks be to Steve Jobs, there is no fan noise. Battery life is excellent; I routinely get five hours or more of use with lots of windows open. Viruses are not a problem.

A few quibbles

PhotoHaving said all that, there are a couple of oddities. The machine in question has 8 gigs of memory but still runs out of memory and has to be restarted every day or two. This might seem normal to Windows users but to a dedicated Linux user it seems odd. I don't remember every running out of memory doing normal workaday tasks in similarly-outfitted Linux boxes.  

More perplexing is what I would call slow I/O functions -- meaning it takes forever for the thing to digest a large image, something that happens instantaneously in my various Linux machines. Edit a large photo, for example, and you'd better be prepared to wait several seconds for it to be saved on the MacBook's solid-state drive. 

Apple machines have always felt a big sluggish to me, so this actually comes as no surprise and is not really an issue except to those with a perceived need for speed. 

PhotoI should throw in some specs. The MacBook is running a 3 gHz Intel Core i7 -- a very fast processor. My Linux Mintbox -- a miniature desktop the size of a wifi router -- has a 1.80 gHz Intel Core i5 and a physical hard drive instead of the much faster SSID drive found in the MacBook. And yet, the Mintbox saves images so quickly the action is indetectable. In fairness, the Mintbox has 16 GB of memory, the MacBook only 8, which could help explain the slow transfer speed under some circumstances.

More is more 

Conclusion: The MacBook Pro delivers a nearly-perfect marraige of software and hardware, enabling it to do just about everything most consumers want without undue commotion.

I continue to use Google Docs, Gmail and other Google cloud programs but the ability to store files locally and the flexibility of being able to install and run programs on the local drive tips the scale away from the Chromebook and towards the MacBook.

Students and casual users could probably buy one of the less expensive Chromebooks for $300 and be quite content, not to mention $1,000 richer. There are also Windows machines that sell for around $600 that are suitable for those willing to put up with a little extra aggravation. 

Those who need an ultra-fast, ultra-small desktop might want to look at the Linux-driven Mintbox. It takes up very little space yet does everything the typical desktop does, except it's faster, more secure and more reliable thanks to its Linux operating system. The Mintbox goes for about $600. A memory upgrade to 8 or 16 GB will make it blazing fast. Oh, and like the MacBook, the Mintbox has no fan (its case is a heat sink) so it is amazingly quiet and energy-efficient.  

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All of the products mentioned and linked to in this review were purchased at retail, with no promotional considerations requested or received. 

 

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Little but destructive, the tiny Chihuahua tops the charts in average household damage

Bigger dogs often cause less havoc and destruction than their smaller cousins

© Lux2008 - Fotolia.comDon't let size fool you -- a chihuahua has an appetite for destruction similar to a sumo wrestler in training. According to...

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© Lux2008 - Fotolia.com

Don't let size fool you -- a chihuahua has an appetite for destruction similar to a sumo wrestler in training. According to a new study done by the financial comparison site Payingtoomuch.com, over its lifetime the little dog that you can dress up, can down over $1,100 worth of non-dog food items.

They can dig up flower beds, carpets, chew a sofa and ruin your favorite designer shoes.

A mighty dog doesn't have to weigh 90 plus pounds to be known as Ivan the Terrible. The wiener dog or Dachshund comes in a swift second to the chihuahua.

The study, taken from a sample of 2,000 dog owners, found that the Dalmatian, Bulldog, Great Dane, Husky, Beagle, Pointer and German Shepard round out the top 10 most destructive dogs.

Bigger may be better

Bigger might just be better in this case as Staffordshire Bull Terriers which are sometimes seen as fierce may be the most cost-efficient in terms of damage control. Their lifetime destruction bills average about $241. They were followed by West Highland Terriers at a mere $247. Third place went to Yorkies followed by Spaniels and coming from behind those skinny little whippets.

You might be surprised to learn that the Rottweiler's bite doesn't translate to destructive bills and neither does the disorganized and life-of-the-party Sheepdog. Both of these breeds fall in to the lower end of the damage control scale.

Here is where the real destruction comes. Pet owners become less affectionate when those big bills arrive either from destroying their own property or a neighbors. One in five admit to having regretted getting a pet and one in ten consider giving them away. This is how pets become homeless and eventually euthanized in a shelter or, worse, just left to roam on a street.

When deciding on a pet it's important to realize they come with all kinds of costs just like children. When you have a baby you never think some day they may want tennis shoes that cost $150. When you get a pet you never think as a puppy they may eat those $150 tennis shoes you just bought for your kid!

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Hackers threaten public release of European Domino's customer data

Demand ransom from Domino's; company says it won't pay

When hackers break into corporate databases to steal customer information, their usual motivation is to use the stolen data to commit acts of identity thef...

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Photo credit: Wikipedia

When hackers break into corporate databases to steal customer information, their usual motivation is to use the stolen data to commit acts of identity theft with the customers' compromised identities.

But the European hackers who have allegedly broken into Domino's Pizza databases in Europe have a different motivation: holding the stolen information for “ransom.” Unless Domino's pays them 30,000 Euros (about $40,000), the hackers say they'll release all of the customer information they stole, everything from names and addresses to password and favorite toppings.

The alleged hacker group, called Rex Mundi, annouunced its alleged theft in a post to dpaste.de:

Dear friends and foes,

Earlier this week, we hacked our way into the servers of Domino's Pizza France and Belgium, who happen to share the same vulnerable database. And boy, did we find some juicy stuff in there! We downloaded over 592,000 customer records (including passwords) from French customers and over 58,000 records from Belgian ones. That's over six hundred thousand records, which include the customers' full names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, passwords and delivery instructions. (Oh, and their favorite pizza topping as well, because why not).

We immediately sent various emails to both Domino's Pizza France and Belgium. We also used the contact forms on their websites to let them know of this vulnerability and to offer them not to release this data in exchange for 30,000 Euros.

So far, Domino's Pizza has not replied to our demands. We would also like to point out that both of their websites are still up and vulnerable.

Domino's Pizza has until Monday at 8PM CET to pay us. If they do not do so, we will post the entirety of the data in our possession on the Internet.

The letter went on to list some “sample data” from the French and Belgian Domino's websites, including the names, addresses, contact information and passwords of three people from each.

Rex Mundi also posted on Twitter: "Reminder to all @dominos_pizzafr customers: if the company doesn't start paying us, we will release your data tonight."

But a Dutch newspaper quoted Domino's executive Andre ten Wolde as saying that the ransom demand would not be paid. Ten Wolde also stressed that no credit card data had been compromised.

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Capital One will change way it uses ChexSystems database

Consumers have complained its data has been used to deny them bank accounts

ChexSystems has long been a partner of the financial services industry, collecting information about consumers' financial habits and supplying it to banks....

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Eric Schneiderman (Photo via YouTube)
ChexSystems has long been a partner of the financial services industry, collecting information about consumers' financial habits and supplying it to banks.

Banks have relied on the information to identify people accused of fraudulent activity at one institution, so they can be prevented from carrying it out at another. But consumers have complained that the database uses go far beyond that.

“I went to a local bank to open up a savings account (I want to give the bank money and not get any interest, which is a totally different topic) and I was told I was not qualified for unknown reasons,” John, a reader from New York, posted at ConsumerAffairs. “I then went to my own personal bank where I have been banking over 10 years and told I was declined due to Chexsystems.”

Faulty facts

John and some other consumers posting similar reports insist the ChexSystems information about them was incorrect. Others had said they had bounced checks in the past but had always paid the money back, along with overdraft fees.

It got the attention of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who has reached agreement with a major bank – Capital One – to change the way it uses ChexSystems.

Schneiderman says the result will be that more consumers will be able to open Capital One bank accounts.

“No one - least of all struggling New Yorkers - should be forced to rely on high-cost alternatives to banks just because they bounced a check or were a victim of identity theft,” Schneiderman said. “Equal access is the least we can do to ensure that all New Yorkers have access to widely used services such as our nation's banking system. I commend Capital One for stepping up and working with us to help eliminate an unnecessary barrier to opening a checking or savings account. I would hope other banks will step up and join us to do the same.”

Banking gate keeper

ChexSystems is a database that many large banks use to make judgments about consumers who apply to open accounts. Schneiderman says consumers who get a red flag from ChexSystems are generally lumped into those who present a credit or fraud risk and their account applications are rejected.

As a result they may be forced to join the growing ranks of the “unbanked” – consumers who don't have a bank account and often rely on prepaid money cards and other financial devices that are sometimes more expensive and less convenient.

Under the agreement, Capital One will continue to screen applicants using ChexSystems but will only check for past problems. It will not try to predict whether the applying customers are a current risk.

The bank will also increase its support for a New York City agency that offers financial education and counseling to low-income residents of New York. Specifically, Capital One will provide funds for the agency to help rejected applicants improve their financial education.

New business model

Not long ago banks competed hard for new customers, promoting all of their financial services. Older folks might remember when banks offered toasters and dinnerware to new customers.

But changes in the banking industry since 2008 have meant a growing number of consumers can't get a bank account because, frankly, banks want only the most profitable customers now. Schneiderman cites statistics showing the New York State average for unbanked households is 9.8%, higher than the national average of 7.7%.

Of counties in New York with more than 100,000 households, the study ranks the Bronx as the second most unbanked county in the country and Brooklyn as eighth.

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Cooking with raw chicken? Don't wash it first

Paradox: washing raw meat makes cross-contamination far more likely

Everyone with even the most rudimentary knowledge of food safety knows: raw meat needs to be handled and cooked carefully, in case of possible bacterial co...

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© Joe Gough - Fotolia.com
Everyone with even the most rudimentary knowledge of food safety knows: raw meat needs to be handled and cooked carefully, in case of possible bacterial contamination, and raw chicken requires careful handling even by raw-meat-handling standards.

You also know to guard against the possibility of cross-contamination: don't slice raw vegetables on the same cutting board you use to slice raw chicken, wash your hands and utensils carefully after they come in contact with raw chicken, and so forth.

Cross-contamination from raw chicken is a bigger threat than many people might realize, with the potential to contaminate areas of your kitchen that never even made direct contact with any poultry. Luckily, that particular threat is fairly easy to avoid: if you're cooking with raw chicken, don't wash it first.

On June 16, the United Kingdom's Food Standard Agency put out a news update urging people who wash raw chicken before cooking to stop doing so:

We have issued a call for people to stop washing raw chicken to reduce the risk of contracting campylobacter, a potentially dangerous form of food poisoning. The call comes as new figures show that 44% of people always wash chicken before cooking it – a practice that can spread campylobacter bacteria onto hands, work surfaces, clothing and cooking equipment through the splashing of water droplets.

Campylobacter is the most common form of food poisoning in the UK, affecting an estimated 280,000 people a year.

But is it also a problem in America? The Centers for Disease Control say yes:

Campylobacter is one of the most common causes of diarrheal illness in the United States. Most cases occur as isolated, sporadic events, not as part of recognized outbreaks. … about 14 cases are diagnosed each year for each 100,000 persons in the population. Many more cases go undiagnosed or unreported, and campylobacteriosis is estimated to affect over 1.3 million persons every year. Campylobacteriosis occurs much more frequently in the summer …. Although Campylobacter infection does not commonly cause death, it has been estimated that approximately 76 persons with Campylobacter infections die each year.

Campylobacter can also lead to reactive arthritis and a serious nervous-system disorder called Guillain-Barré syndrome. Britain's FSA warning against washing raw chicken included the cautionary anecdote of Ann Edwards, a 67-year-old Englishwoman who caught camplylobacter in 1997 and eventually developed Guillain-Barré syndrome, leaving her partially paralyzed from the chest down.

Not the first

The FSA's anti-wash warning is not the first, however. Last August, NPR's food blog ran a story saying “Julia Child was wrong: don't wash your raw chicken” and spoke to Drexel University food researcher Jennifer Quinlan, who said “There's no reason, from a scientific point of view, to think you're making it any safer ... in fact, you're making it less safe.”

Studies have shown that when you rinse raw meat, bacteria can fly up to three feet away, due to the spattering of water droplets too small to even see.

So there's one bit of good news for harried cooks here: if you're preparing chicken and the recipe calls for you to wash the raw bird before you start preparing it, skipping that step is not a lazy shortcut, but the healthy and responsible thing to do.

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Not much creative thinking in political tweets, study finds

Researchers say they're disappointed at the slavish blitz of retweeting and lack of original thought

Twitter iconThere's an old news business phrase that's used to denigrate articles that are little more than collections of excerpts from previous stori...

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Twitter icon

There's an old news business phrase that's used to denigrate articles that are little more than collections of excerpts from previous stories. They're called "gluepot" stories -- meaning they are basically a cut-and-paste product.

Although they didn't use that term that's what a group of scientists at Cornell University and elsewhere found when they studied more than 290 million "tweets" emitted during the 2012 presidential nominating conventions and debates.

Instead of original observations and illuminating insights based on personal experience, they found little creative thinking, and a slavish blitz of retweeting "elites" like @billmaher and @seanhannity.

Eyes on the stars

"Frankly, we're rather disappointed," said Cornell University's Drew Margolin. "Social media has so much potential to improve the diversity of voices and quality of exchanges in political discussion by giving individuals the technological capability to compete with the mass media in disseminating information, setting agendas and framing conversation."

Instead, says the Cornell assistant professor of communication, "during live media events when the largest number of people are paying attention, people move away from this deliberative potential by replacing existing interpersonal social dynamics with increased collective attention to existing 'stars.'"

Those stars would be Twitter users like the liberal comedian Bill Maher, the most retweeted in three of the four candidate debates, and Sean Hannity, the conservative media personality who popularly opined, "Middle class crushed last 4 years" during the third debate.

Most study subjects were so mesmerized by erudite elites they forgot to think for themselves, the researchers lamented. The social media tide of public discourse did not rise far in the 2012 campaign, the social scientists agreed, but a few stars' fortunes did.

In defense of the retweeting masses, the authors wrote: "The uncertainty of live events may predispose users to seek information from authorities and their expert sensemaking processes rather than from their peers."

Not that there's anything wrong with that … or is there?

"Combined with our findings about concentrated attention to elite voices and diminished use of interpersonal communication," the researchers wrote, "these factors could combine to create ideal conditions for rumor persistence, belief polarization and the dissemination of misinformation that can – intentionally or unintentionally – undermine deliberation."

The complete report is published in PLoS ONE, an online academic journal. 

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Builder confidence heads higher in June

There’s still a lot of caution, though

As summer approaches, builder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family homes is on the rise. The National Association of Home Builders/Well...

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© Sergey Nivens - Fotolia.com

As summer approaches, builder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family homes is on the rise.

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) jumped 4 points in June to a level of 49 -- just 1 point shy of the threshold for what is considered good building conditions.

“After several months of little fluctuation, a 4-point uptick in builder sentiment is a welcome sign and shows some renewed confidence in the industry,” said NAHB Chairman Kevin Kelly, a home builder and developer from Wilmington, Del. “However, builders are facing strong headwinds, including the limited availability of labor.”

NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe points out, though, that consumers are still hesitant, and are waiting for clear signals of full-fledged economic recovery before making a home purchase. “Builders,” he said, “are reacting accordingly, and are moving cautiously in adding inventory.”

The survey

The HMI, which is derived from a monthly survey that NAHB has been conducting for 30 years, gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next six months as “good,” “fair” or “poor.”

The survey asks builders to rate traffic of prospective buyers as “high to very high,” “average” or “low to very low.” Scores for each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.

Across the board gains

All three index components posted gains in June. Most notably, the component gauging current sales conditions increased 6 points to 54. The component gauging sales expectations in the next 6 months rose 3 points to 59 and the component measuring buyer traffic increased by 3 to 36.

Looking at the three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, the South and Northeast each edged up 1 point to 49 and 34, respectively, while the West held steady at 47. The Midwest fell a single point to 46.

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Fish Family Farm recalls milk products and cream

The products may be contaminated with peanuts and tree nuts (pistachios)

Fish Family Farm of Bolton, Conn., is recalling milk products and cream because they may be adulterated with peanut and tree nut (pistachio) allergens....

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Photo source: FDA

Fish Family Farm of Bolton, Conn., is recalling milk products and cream because they may be adulterated with peanut and tree nut (pistachio) allergens.

No complaints or illnesses have been reported.

The products were distributed at Fish Family Farm’s retail store in Bolton and at retail stores in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

The following Fish Family Farm dairy products with a sell by date of 6/23/14 are subject to the recall:

  • GRADE A WHOLE MILK Pasteurized and Homogenized in a glass half-gallon container
  • GRADE A 2% Reduced Fat Milk Pasteurized and Homogenized in a glass half-gallon container
  • GRADE A FAT FREE SKIM MILK Pasteurized and Homogenized in a glass half-gallon container
  • CHOCOLATE MILK GRADE A PASTEURIZED HOMOGENIZED in a glass half-gallon container
  • GRADE A PASTEURIZED HEAVY CREAM in glass pints, quarts, half-gallons

The following Shadow Valley Farms dairy products with a sell by date of 6/23/14 are subject to the recall:

  • WHOLE GRADE A PASTEURIZED HOMOGENIZED MILK in a glass half-gallon container
  • 2% GRADE A PASTEURIZED HOMOGENIZED MILK in a glass half-gallon container
  • FAT FREE GRADE A PASTEURIZED HOMOGENIZED MILK in a glass half-gallon container
  • CHOCOLATE MILK GRADE A, PASTEURIZED, HOMOGENIZED in a glass half-gallon container

In each case, the product name is on the container lid and the sell by date is on the top of the bottle.

No other lots or products are affected.

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

Consumers with questions may contact the company at 1-860-646-9745.

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Smith's Country Cheese recalls waxed Gouda wheels

Smith's Country Cheese recalls waxed Gouda wheels The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

Smith's Country Cheese of Winchendon, Mass., is recalling 21 wheels of Waxed Gouda. The cheese has the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocyto...

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Photo source: FDA
Smith's Country Cheese of Winchendon, Mass., is recalling 21 wheels of Waxed Gouda.

The cheese has the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

No illnesses have been reported to date.

The product was distributed in Massachusetts by wholesale distributors and further sold to retail stores.

The wheels are coated in red wax and wrapped in Saran Wrap with various weights of whole wheels at 10 lbs and half wheels at 5 lbs. The wheels may have been cut and packaged at retail level for consumer size units. Labels on the front read “Smith's Farmstead Gouda” for whole wheels and “Mountain Gouda” for half wheels. The back of the wheel has a weight label with the Julian date “4037” in the lower right hand corner.

Consumers who have purchased recalled product are urged not to consume it, but to return it to Smith's Country Cheese at 20 Otter River Road, Winchendon, Mass., for a full refund.

Consumers with questions may contact Smith's Country Cheese at 1-800-700-9974 Monday through Friday between 9:00 am to 5:00 pm EST.

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New acne treatments show promise

But they all require a prescription. Over-the-counter meds haven't changed much

It has been the scourge of teenagers for generations. But acne, the red pimples on the face and neck, can afflict adults as well, especially pregnant women...

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© Ocskay Bence - Fotolia.com

It has been the scourge of teenagers for generations. But acne, the red pimples on the face and neck, can afflict adults as well, especially pregnant women.

While the affliction is as old as man, there are some new developments when it comes to treatment.

“While over-the-counter (OTC) products are pretty much the same as they have been for years – just different concentrations of benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid in various forms such as cleansers, gels and creams – the prescription world has really changed in the past 10 years or so,” said Sarah Taylor, M.D., a dermatologist at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. “We’re much better equipped to deal with all different types of acne.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, prescription topical acne medications include Avita, Retin-A, Differin, Taxorac amd Avage. All are products derived from Vitamin A. They are designed to promote cell turnover and prevent hair follicles from getting clogged up.

Side effects

There may be side effects, however. Some topical treatments may cause stinging, burning, redness or peeling. Your doctor may recommend ways to reduce these side effects.

Generally, a doctor may not prescribe an acne medication unless you have a severe case. In that case, you're stuck with OTC remedies which, as Taylor notes, haven't changed much over the years.

“Over-the-counter products can work in many cases,” said William Huang, M.D., another Wake Forest Baptist dermatologist. “But no matter what the TV ads may say, they take time, usually six to eight weeks. You’re not going to have that overnight, here today-gone tomorrow phenomenon.”

Teen angst

For a teenager with a big date or other social event coming up quickly, that can be frustrating.

“Acne can cause them a lot of stress and affect their emotional well-being so they want something that works right away, but we don’t have anything like that,” Huang said.

When selecting an OTC acne medication, be sure to check the ingredients. Dermatologists at the American Academy of Dermatology say products with acetone should also contain alcohol. Acetone alone, they say, is mostly ineffective.

Most common acne products contain benzoyl peroxide. It's among the oldest of active ingredients in acne medication and dermatologists say it is often effective, but that dry skin can be a side effect.

Another old ingredient, sulfur, is also effective though no one knows why. Be warned – its oder can be unpleasant.

You may see herbal, organic and natural OTC acne products. Dermatologists say there have been few clinical trials and their effectiveness is mostly unknown.

What's responsible for it?

Acne breaks out when the skin’s pores get clogged up. Pores of the skin each open to a hair follicle containing a gland that produces oil called sebum, which helps keep skin soft.

When the glands start producing too much oil the pores can become blocked. When that happens, dirt, bacteria and dead skin cells start to build up, forming the whiteheads, blackheads, pimples and other lesions commonly referred to as zits.

Why this happens isn't exactly known. Hormonal changes could have something to do with it, since these changes are associated with the excess production of oil. Heredity may also be a factor.

Researchers over the years have debunked a number of myths about acne. Pimples, they say, are not caused by dirty skin or by eating chocolate, pizza or greasy foods.

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Consumer-driven health plans expected to grow

Proliferation of high-deductible policies may be a driver

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as ObamaCare, brought many changes to the health care market last year. Even bigger changes may be ahead.Health...

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© eteimaging - Fotolia.com
The Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as ObamaCare, brought many changes to the health care market last year. Even bigger changes may be ahead.

HealthCare.com, not to be confused with the government health insurance site HealthCare.gov, is a private technology company that assists consumers in the health insurance marketplace. Itpredicts that the upcoming “open enrollment” period, when consumers can buy insurance in the ACA marketplace, will be even more active than the first one, which ended in March.

"We expect between 12-16 million people will purchase plans during the next Open Enrollment period which starts on November 15, 2014 and ends on February 15, 2015," said Jeff Smedsrud, CEO of HealthCare.com. "This surge in activity will demand that both private companies and federal and state marketplaces become more efficient in serving new buyers of ObamaCare."

The types of policies consumers purchase may also be changing. The lowest-priced coverage under ObamaCare typically carries a very high deductible, meaning the consumers must pay the first $5,000 or more of initial expenses before benefits kick in.

That often comes as a surprise to some consumers who assume that ACA policies cover all expenses. That may open the door for an expansion of what are known as consumer-directed health plans (CDHP).

15% growth

According to the American Association of Preferred Provider Organizations (AAPPO), CDHPs grew by 15% last year.

A CDHP allows a consumer to use a tax-deferred health savings account or health reimbursement account to pay for routine, inexpensive medical care. The inexpensive but high deductible comprehensive health insurance policy is there to cover major health expenses.

As health insurance premiums have skyrocketed, many businesses have moved to CDHPs, funding the health savings accounts but saving money by switching to high deductible health care policies.

These plans grew from 39 million in 2012 to 45 million in 2013, according to an AAPPO analysis of the Mercer National Survey of Employer Sponsored Health Plans.

"As major changes to the health system loomed last year, employers continued to look to consumer-directed health plans to offer the affordability, flexibility and stability to ensure their workforces get the care they need," said Karen Greenrose, AAPPO President and CEO.

Mixed reception

Historically CDHPs have been popular with some consumers but not so much with others. If you had health coverage with a little or no deductible, there wasn't much of an advantage. But those types of policies are either disappearing or getting a lot more expensive.

The AAPPO survey found that 23% of all employers offered CDHPs last year, a 1% gain from 2012. The larger the employer the more likely it was to offer a CDHP. Of companies employing 500 or more people, 39% offered CDHPs in 2013 – up from 36% the year before.

Thirty-five percent of all employers say they expect to offer CDHPs in 2016, with 64% of large employers expecting to offer them.

From a health policy standpoint, the growth of CDHPs can either be seen as a positive or negative. Those favoring these plans argue they will reduce the number of uninsured while encouraging consumers to shop carefully for routine health services.

Critics, on the other hand, say CDHPs mostly shift health care costs to employees. The also say these plans are favored by healthy consumers, since they have less need of services. Someone with a chronic illness, for example, might quickly exhaust the money in the health savings account.

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Phone bill crammer agrees to $10 million penalty

Consumers were charged $9.99 a month for "love tips," other bogus services

The operators of a massive mobile cramming scheme have agreed to surrender more than $10 million in assets to settle Federal Trade Commission charges, incl...

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© ekostsov - Fotolia.com
A massive mobile cramming scheme that cost consumers millions of dollars is also going to cost its founders and operators millions of dollars in cash, cars, houses, jewelry and other assets.

The Federal Trade Commission alleged that Lin Miao a number of accomplices pitched text message services offering “love tips,” “fun facts,” and celebrity gossip alerts, but placed charges for these services – typically $9.99 a month – on consumers’ bills without their permission -- a practice known as mobile cramming.

They also allegedly used deceptive websites designed to collect consumers’ mobile phone numbers that would then be billed for the services.

The charges appeared on consumers’ phone bills under confusing names such as “77050IQ12CALL8663611606” and “25184USBFIQMIG” and in many instances, consumers did not notice the variations in the amount of their bills from month to month. When consumers did notice the charges and attempted to seek refunds, the process was often highly cumbersome, with some promised refunds from the defendants never arriving, or consumers receiving only partial refunds from their phone company.

Assets forfeited 

To settle the charges, Miao and associates have agreed to surrender more than $10 million in assets, including the contents of numerous bank accounts; real estate in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills and Chicago; and a number of cars and pieces of jewelry.

“Cramming unauthorized charges on consumers’ phone bills is unlawful, and this settlement shows the FTC is committed to making sure that anyone who does it won’t be able to keep their ill-gotten gains,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Consumers have the right to know what they are being charged.”

Under the terms of the settlement, Lin Miao and the corporate defendants will be permanently banned from placing any charges on consumers’ phone bills, making any misrepresentations to consumers about a product or service or a consumers’ obligation to pay, and will also be prohibited from charging consumers for a product or service without their express consent.

The settlement includes a monetary judgment of more than $150 million, which is partially suspended based on Miao’s inability to pay the full amount after he turns over nearly all of his and the companies’ assets.

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Hackers steal customer credit, debit card data from P. F. Chang's restaurants

Extent and duration of breach not yet known

If you've eaten at a P. F. Chang's restaurant and paid with credit or debit card, be warned...

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Photo via Wikipedia
If you've eaten at a P. F. Chang's restaurant and paid with credit or debit card, be warned: hackers have breached the database of at least some restaurants in the chain, and your confidential financial data might be at risk.

On June 12, P.F. Chang's posted a “Security compromise update” on its security page, starting with a statement by CEO Rick Frederico:

On Tuesday, June 10, P.F. Chang's learned of a security compromise that involves credit and debit card data reportedly stolen from some of our restaurants. Immediately, we initiated an investigation with the United States Secret Service and a team of third-party forensics experts to understand the nature and scope of the incident, and while the investigation is still ongoing, we have concluded that data has been compromised.

The statement goes on to say that Chang's has installed a manual credit card imprinting system in all restaurants in the continental U.S., so customers who still want to pay with credit or debit cards rather than cash can do so, if they wish.

Who told whom?

That bit about Chang's learning of the security compromise and initiating an investigation with the Secret Service might give the impression that Chang's discovered the breach and then contacted the Secret Service people. Actually it was the opposite, as explained in the nine question-and-answer combos listed after Frederico's statement:

2. WHEN DID P.F. Chang's DISCOVER THIS INCIDENT?

The United States Secret Services alerted P.F. Chang's to this incident on June 10, 2014.

.…

4. WHAT INFORMATION WAS EXPOSED?

According to the United States Secret Service, credit card and debit card numbers that have been used at P.F. Chang's are involved.

Sometimes, when security breaches like this are discovered, they're limited to a specific time frame — it started on this date and ended on that date, so the damage is limited to customers who patronized the business within that range. Unfortunately, no such time limits have been determined for the Chang's breach yet:

8. HOW DO I KNOW IF MY CARD WAS INVOLVED OR SHOULD BE CANCELLED?

Because we are still in the preliminary stages of our investigation, we do not yet know which credit or debit cards may be involved. P.F. Chang's has notified the credit card companies and is working with them to identify the affected cards. We encourage you to monitor your accounts and to report any suspected fraudulent activity to your card company.

How far back into the past does this go—should you worry if you ate at a Chang's last month? Last year? A couple years back? That's not known at this point.

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Priceline buying OpenTable

The online travel giant expands into a new field

Source: OpenTable.comPriceline is buying OpenTable, the restaurant reservation service. It extends Priceline Group Inc.'s tentacles into a new travel-r...

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Source: OpenTable.com

Priceline is buying OpenTable, the restaurant reservation service. It extends Priceline Group Inc.'s tentacles into a new travel-related field, following the recent acquisition of Paris-based reservation service Lafourchette by TripAdvisor. 

Priceline owns a portfolio of travel-related sites, including Booking.com and Kayak.com.

Priceline June 13, 2014, 3:37 p.m.
Consumers rate Priceline

"OpenTable is a great match for The Priceline Group.  They provide us with a natural extension into restaurant marketing services and a wonderful and highly-valued booking experience for our global customers," said Darren Huston, President & CEO of The Priceline Group. 

With more than 15 million diners seated per month across more than 31,000 restaurants, OpenTable, introduced in 2008, claims to be the world's leading provider of online restaurant reservations.  

Priceline Group claims the title of the world's leading accommodation booking platform.  Every night, an average of more than 1 million guests stay in accommodations booked through one of the Priceline Group brands.

"The Priceline Group is a leader in e-commerce innovation with global expertise in online marketing and digital customer conversion across devices, and they have an exceptional track record of customer service in dozens of languages around the world," said Matt Roberts, CEO of OpenTable. 

OpenTable will continue to be headquartered in San Francisco, CA and will operate as an independent business led by its current management team within The Priceline Group.

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Mortgage rates rise following jobs report

Both Freddie Mac and Bankrate are reporting increases

The cost of financing a home was up during the week ending June 12 -- the second straight increase. Freddie Mac reports the rate for the 30-year fixed rate...

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© aihumnoi - Fotolia.com

The cost of financing a home was up during the week ending June 12 -- the second straight increase.

Freddie Mac reports the rate for the 30-year fixed rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 4.20%, with an average 0.6 point, up 6 basis points from the previous week’s 4.14%. A year ago at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 3.98%.

The rate for the 15-year FRM rose to 3.31% from 3,23%, with an average 0.5 point. It averaged 3.10% at this time last year.

The 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 3.05%, with an average 0.4 point, up 8 basis points from a week ago.The same week in 2013, the 5-year ARM averaged 2.79%.

The rate for the 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.40% this week with an average 0.4 point, unchanged from last week. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 2.58%.

Freddie Mac Vice President and Chief Economist Frank Nothaft says the increase was due to recent economic news, including the increase in 10-year Treasury yields. He also points out that the economy added 217,000 jobs in May, following a 282,000 surge in April and a 203,000 increase in March. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate in May held steady at 6.3 percent."

Bankrate

Mortgage rates as charted by Bankrate, also posted gains this week.

According to Bankrate.com's weekly national survey, the benchmark 30-year FRM moved up to 4.34%, with an average of 0.34 discount and origination points.

The average 15-year FRM inched up to 3.43%, while the larger jumbo 30-year FRM rose to 4.41 percent. ARMs were also higher this week, with the 5-year ARM rising to 3.37%, the 7-year ARM jumping to 3.58%.    

The benefits of waiting

As 2013 came to a close, the average 30-year FRM was 4.69%. At that time, a $200,000 loan would have carried a monthly payment of $1,036.07.

After drifting lower for much of the first five months of 2014, the average rate is now 4.32%, and the monthly payment for the same size loan would be $994.45 -- a savings of nearly $42 per month for anyone that waited.

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Keep your pet safe in the summer heat

Cold water, sunscreen and plenty of fresh air and shade are the keys to a healthy summer

Don't sweat it, there are ways to keep your pet safe in the summer heat.It's bikini season and you know what that means...Your dog can easily over heat....

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© vladimirfloyd - Fotolia.com
Don't sweat it, there are ways to keep your pet safe in the summer heat.

It's bikini season and you know what that means -- your dog can easily overheat. The summer months, as wonderful as they are, can pose some real dangers for your pets. Heatstroke can be deadly. Here are some signs to look for:

  • Excessive Panting
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Drooling
  • High fever
  • Dark red gums
  • Rapid heartbeat and
  • Unresponsiveness to commands and surroundings.

If you think your dog may have heatstroke, head straight to your vet's office it could save his life.

On the rocks

Popsicles don't come in liver flavor so the next best thing is fresh, ice-cold water -- it's really a staple that your pets must have. You may have to refill your dog's bowl many times in very hot weather and add ice cubes to cool him off.

When you're hot, sticking your face in front of a fan feels so good, but dogs -- not so much. Dogs sweat through their paws and don't cool off the same way humans do. Keep them in a shady area and avoid a doghouse as the heat can become trapped inside and make it worse for them.

One of the most dangerous things you can ever do is leave your dog in a car -- in a car period, not just with the windows rolled up. The car is like an oven and the temperature just keeps rising. The car can heat up to 120 degrees on a hot day and leaving the air conditioning on with the dog inside is not much safer. He could drive off.

Skin cancer is not just for humans, your dog can get it too. Apply doggie sunscreen if you are going on a play date or for a long extended walk in the sun. It's best to take walks in the early morning and the evening.

All in all it's a great time of year to enjoy the outdoors and have fun with your dog. Just like anything, don't overdo it and use common sense.

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GM recalls Cameros with ignition issues

Three other unrelated recalls were also announced

General Motors is recalling all current generation Chevrolet Camaros because a driver’s knee can bump the key FOB and cause the key to inadvertently move o...

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© General Motors

General Motors is recalling all current generation Chevrolet Camaros because a driver’s knee can bump the key FOB and cause the key to inadvertently move out of the “run” position, with a corresponding reduction or loss of power.

The issue, which may primarily affect drivers sitting close to the steering column, was discovered by GM during internal testing following the ignition switch recall earlier this year.

There are 464,712 Camaros from the 2010-2014 model years in the U.S. included in the recall. Including Canada, Mexico and exports, the total recall population is 511,528.

“Discovering and acting on this issue quickly is an example of the new norm for product safety at GM,” said Jeff Boyer, vice president of GM Global Safety.

The Camaro ignition system meets all GM engineering specifications, the automaker stated,  and “is unrelated to the ignition system used in Chevrolet Cobalts and other small cars included in the ignition switch recall.”

GM says it is aware of three crashes that resulted in four minor injuries that it believes may be attributed to this condition.

The company will change the Camaro key to a standard design from one in which the key is concealed in the FOB and is opened by pushing a button. The change will make the ignition key and FOB independent of each other, so that inadvertent contact with the FOB won’t move the key from the “run” position.

Other recalls

Separately, GM has announced two safety recalls and one non-compliance recall involving a total of 65,121 cars in the U.S. Including Canada, Mexico and exports, the total recall population is 69,839.

In all cases, customers will receive letters from GM letting them know when they can bring their vehicles into a dealership, where the recall repairs will be performed free of charge and courtesy transportation would be provided as needed.

Saab 9-3 convertibles

28,789 Saab 9-3 convertibles from the 2004-2011 model years are being recalled for an automatic tensioning system cable in the driver’s side front seat belt retractor that could break. If the cable were to break, seat belt webbing spooled out by the driver would not retract.

The convertibles and sedans were investigated at the same time, but the convertible parts were not identical to the sedan parts. GM has since learned of customer complaints to the NHTSA for the convertibles.

Dealers will replace the driver’s side retractor in the recalled vehicles. In addition, GM has issued a special coverage, so that if the same repair is required to the passenger side retractor it will be covered for the life of the vehicle. GM also extended the special coverage for passenger side belt retractors on the 2004 Saab 9-3 sedan from the original 10-year coverage to the life of the vehicle, like the convertibles. GM is unaware of any crashes, injuries or fatalities due to this condition.

Chevy Sonic

GM is recalling 21,567 Chevrolet Sonic 2012 model year compacts equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission and a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine for a condition in which the transmission turbine shaft may fracture as a result of a supplier quality issue. If this were to occur in first or second gear, the vehicle could not upshift into third through sixth gears.

the turbine shift fractured while in one of the higher gears, the vehicle would coast until it was moving slow enough to downshift into first or second gear. In both instances, a malfunction indicator lamp may illuminate. If driven in this condition for a long period of time, all forward gears may become inoperable. The engine would continue to run and all power accessories would function.

Dealers will replace the transmission turbine shaft. GM is unaware of any crashes, injuries or fatalities related to this condition.

Buick LaCrosse

The final recall involves 14,765 model year 2014 Buick LaCrosse sedans because a wiring splice in the driver’s door may corrode and break. That may communicate incorrect information to circuits that control the door chime and allow passenger windows, rear windows and the sunroof to function when the vehicle is turned off and the driver is not in the vehicle.  In addition, a chime will not sound when the driver’s door is opened if the key is in the ignition.

Dealers will inspect the driver door window motor harness and, if necessary, replace an electrical splice. GM is unaware of any thefts, crashes, injuries or fatalities related to this condition.

 

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Honda recalls Fit vehicles

The passenger side driveshaft may break

American Honda Motor Co., is recalling 1,038 model year 2013 Honda Fit vehicles manufactured May 24, 2013, through July 5, 2013, and equipped with a manual...

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Photo source: Honda.com

American Honda Motor Co., is recalling 1,038 model year 2013 Honda Fit vehicles manufactured May 24, 2013, through July 5, 2013, and equipped with a manual transmission.

The passenger side driveshaft may break while driving due to an improper heat treatment application during manufacturing.

If the driveshaft fractures and separates while driving, the vehicle would lose power and coast to a stop. If a vehicle with a fractured driveshaft is parked without the parking brake applied, the vehicle could move unexpectedly. Either condition increases the risk of a crash.

Honda will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the passenger side driveshaft and replace it if necessary, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on June 15, 2014.

Owners may contact Honda customer service at 1-800-999-1009. Honda's number for this recall is JE4.

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Judge orders halt to import and sale of hazardous children’s products

High lead levels and choking hazards are among the alleged violations

Four California companies and six individuals have been ordered to stop importing, selling and distributing children’s products containing hazardous levels...

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Photo source: CPSC

Four California companies and six individuals have been ordered to stop importing, selling and distributing children’s products containing hazardous levels of lead and phthalates and small parts.

The injunction handed down by a federal district judge affects the following companies and individuals:

  • Toys Distribution Inc., dba TDI International, of Los Angeles and its owners Loan Tuyet Thai and Lan My Lam, and manager Paul Phuong;
  • S & J Merchandise Inc., of El Monte, Calif. and its owner Cuc T. Thai and manager Tom Liu;
  • BLJ Apparel Inc., of El Monte, Calif., and its owner Luan Luu; and
  • All Season Sales Inc., of Montebello, Calif. and its owner Tom Liu.  

The owners and managers were sued as company officials and in their individual capacity.

Laws violations charged

The federal government alleged that the firms and the individuals share significant business and/or personal ties and violated the Consumer Product Safety Act and the Federal Hazardous Substances Act by knowingly importing hazardous children’s products into the United States.

TDI and S & J Merchandise imported children’s toys with illegal lead and phthalate levels and small parts.  BLJ Apparel imported children’s products and toys with illegal levels of lead and small parts and infant rattles that could cause choking or suffocation. All Season Sales imported children’s toys with illegal lead content.  

“CPSC and our federal law enforcement partners are committed to keeping dangerous toys out of the marketplace all year long,” said Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Acting Chairman Robert Adler. “Manufacturers, importers and retailers need to know that CPSC and the U.S. Justice Department are actively enforcing the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, a law that has strengthened the nation’s product safety net.”

Testing of products

CPSC collected and tested dozens of samples of the four firms’ children’s products and toys as they attempted to enter the Port of Los Angeles/Long Beach between 2008 and 2013.

The agency issued repeated Notices of Non-Compliance to the firms and their officers, notifying them that their products violated federal standards.

One of the cases resulted in a joint recall. CPSC and TDI International announced a recall of 150 “high speed” pull back toy cars in January 2009 due to excessive levels of lead in the surface paint, a violation of the federal lead paint standard. Most of the other products stopped at import were not distributed to consumers. 

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La Finquita Cheese recalls Fresh Farmers Cheese

The cheese may contain peanuts and pistachios, allergens not listed on the label

La Finquita of Stamford, Conn., is recalling one lot of La Finquita Quesito Fresco Campesino Fresh Farmer’s Cheese. The product may contain peanuts and tr...

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Photo source: FDA

La Finquita of Stamford, Conn., is recalling one lot of La Finquita Quesito Fresco Campesino Fresh Farmer’s Cheese.

The product may contain peanuts and tree nuts (pistachios), allergens not included on the label’s list of ingredients.

No complaints or associated illnesses have been reported.

The product was distributed through retail stores in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York.

The product, labeled as La Finquita Quesito Fresco Campesino / Fresh Farmer’s Cheese, is packaged in a 14.11-oz. plastic container, UPC Code: 0 94922 76809 4, with sell by date 06/28/14.

No other products are affected by this recall.

Consumers should not consume these products, but destroy them or return them to place of purchase for a refund.

Consumers with questions may contact the company at (203)561-8140 / (203)561-3929. 

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Toyota recalls nearly 1 million vehicles with airbag issues

The airbag inflator could rupture with metal fragments striking the passenger

Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing is recalling 844,277 model year 2002-2004 Toyota Sequoia and Lexus SC and 2003-2004 Toyota Corolla, Corolla Matr...

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© Dmitry Vereshchagin - Fotolia.com

Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing is recalling 844,277 model year 2002-2004 Toyota Sequoia and Lexus SC and 2003-2004 Toyota Corolla, Corolla Matrix, Tundra, and Pontiac Vibe vehicles.

A safety defect in the passenger side frontal air bag inflator may produce excessive internal pressure causing the inflator to rupture upon deployment of the air bag.

This recall addresses both the passenger side frontal air bags that were originally installed in the vehicles, as well as replacement air bags that may have been installed as replacement service parts. A replacement air bag may have been installed, as one example, if a vehicle had been in a crash necessitating the replacement of the passenger side frontal air bag.

In the event of a crash necessitating deployment of the passenger's frontal air bag, the inflator could rupture with metal fragments striking and potentially seriously injuring the passenger seat occupant or other occupants.

This recall supersedes one in which some vehicles were inspected and received a replacement inflator, while others were inspected but did not have their inflator replaced. All owners of vehicles that did not get an inflator replacement, or owners that do not know if they got an inflator replacement, should contact their Toyota or Lexus dealer.

Toyota will notify owners of affected Toyota and Lexus vehicles and General Motors will notify owners of affected Pontiac Vibe vehicles. Toyota, Lexus, and GM dealers will replace the passenger side air bag inflator, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

Owners may contact Toyota customer service at 1-800-331-4331. Pontiac Vibe owners may contact GM at 1-800-521-7300.

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Fruitland American Meat recalls ribeye and carcass products

The dorsal root ganglia may not have been completely removed

Fruitland American Meat of Jackson, Mo., is recalling approximately 4,012 pounds of fresh beef products. The dorsal root ganglia may not have been complet...

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© ilposeidone - Fotolia.com

Fruitland American Meat of Jackson, Mo., is recalling approximately 4,012 pounds of fresh beef products.

The dorsal root ganglia may not have been completely removed, which is not compliant with federal regulations that require their removal in cattle 30 months of age and older.

Dorsal root ganglia, branches of the nervous system located in the vertebral column, are considered specified risk materials (SRMs), are tissues that may contain the infective agent in cattle infected with Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), as well as materials that are closely associated with these potentially infective tissues. Therefore, SRMs are prohibited from use as human food to minimize potential human exposure to the BSE agent.

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

The products subject to recall include:

  • 40-lb. cases containing two, roughly 20-lb. cryovac packages of bone-in “Rain Crow Ranch Ribeye” bearing the establishment number “EST. 2316” inside the USDA mark of inspection with the following production dates: 9/5/13, 9/10/13, 9/11/13, 9/26/13, 10/2/13, 10/3/2013, 11/8/13, 11/22/13, 12/17/13, 12/26/13, 12/27/13,1/16/14, 1/17/14, 1/23/14, 1/31/14, 2/13/14, 2/14/14, 2/21/14, 2/28/14, 3/8/14, 3/20/14, 4/4/14 or 4/25/14 printed on the box.
  • Quartered beef carcasses stamped with the USDA mark of inspection and establishment number “EST. 2316.”   

The products were produced and packaged on various dates between September 2013, and April 2014. The bone-in ribeye roasts were the source material of concern.

The bone-in ribeye roasts were distributed to a restaurant in New York, N.Y., and a Whole Foods distribution center in Connecticut which services its stores in New England.

The quartered carcasses were distributed to an establishment in Missouri for further processing and distribution, and to a restaurant in Kansas City, Mo. All products would have been processed into smaller cuts with no identifying consumer packaging.

Consumers with questions about the recall may contact company sales manager James Fortner at 573-243-3107. 

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Don't fall for utility bill scams

Some are old, some are new but they all attack your wallet

Maybe it's because summer is on the way, with rising air conditioning costs, or last winter's frigid weather, but the tried-and-true utility bill scam appe...

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Senate defeats measure to allow college loan refinancing

Financing through tax hike appears to be stumbling block

The Democratically-controlled U.S. Senate has turned aside fellow Democrat Sen. Elizabeth Warren's proposal to allow consumers with high-interest student l...

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Source: www.warren.senate.gov
The Democratically-controlled U.S. Senate has turned aside a proposal by fellow Democrat Sen. Elizabeth Warren's that would have allowed consumers with high-interest student loans to refinance them at today's lower rates.

The reason? The measure needed 60 votes to move forward and the balloting broke cleanly along party lines, with Republicans opposing the measure.

President Obama, who this week signed an executive order capping payments on government student loans, had voiced support for the Massachusetts Democrat's bill. It didn't matter – it failed on a vote of 56-38, 4 short of what it needed.

The key stumbling block, most agree, is the way Warren proposed to pay for the measure. Since there is a cost to the government in lost interest revenue in allowing high-interest student loans to be renegotiated, there has to be an offsetting source of revenue.

Warren proposed implementing the so-called “Buffet Rule,” a minimum tax to be applied to high-income taxpayers. That's a non-starter for Republicans.

Election year issue?

That prompted Jon Healey, editorial writer for the Los Angeles Times, to speculate Warren included that provision as a poison pill, knowing it would cause GOP senators to vote against the measure.

“You have to wonder whether Warren sees student loan debt as a problem to be solved or a campaign issue to be seized,” he writes.

That was certainly the take offered up by the GOP leadership in the wake of the vote. Warren, meanwhile, dismissed those claims and vowed to keep pushing for ways to allow graduates to relieve some of the pressure of their student loan debt.

Not backing off

Warren says the legislation, which she introduced in May, would allow many of the 40 million borrowers with student loan debt to refinance. Similar legislation has been introduced in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives, where no action is expected.

In her speech introducing the proposal, Warren called student loan debt “an emergency” and said it threatens the stability of the U.S. economy. Total student loan debt is now estimated at $1.2 trillion.

Costs

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that about half of the outstanding loan volume for federal student loans and loan guarantees – some $460 billion -- would be refinanced under the bill.

Because of the lower interest rates on the refinanced loans, the CBO says the federal government would receive less interest income over the life of the new loans, which would make those loans and loan guarantees more costly for the federal government.

So to pay for the refinancing plan, CBO estimates Congress would increase direct spending for federal loans that are currently outstanding by $55.6 billion in 2015.  

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Nursing homes for elderly dogs?

Elederly Japanese dogs have it made -- gyms, swimming pools, 24-hour care

Are you worried that when you can't walk and diapers replace your sexy underwear your kids will put you in a nursing home?...

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Ford restates mileage estimates for several models

Company apologizes, said it found the discrepancies in an internal audit

For the second time in less than a year, Ford Motor Co. is lowering its fuel economy estimates for key models, including several hybrid cars, in response t...

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2014 C-Max Hybrid (Photo source: Ford)
Ford is reducing fuel economy ratings for several models, including hybrids, responding to pressure from the EPA. It's the second time in less than a year that Ford has had to dial back its mileage estimates.

“Ford is absolutely committed to delivering top fuel economy and accurate information,” said Alan Mulally, Ford president and CEO. “We apologize to our customers and will provide goodwill payments to affected owners. We also are taking steps to improve our processes and prevent issues like this from happening again.”

When Ford downgraded the C-Max mileage last August, it sent customers a $550 check to help make up for the shortfall in economy. The goodwill payments this year are shown in the chart below. 

The models affected this time around are the Ford Fusion, both hybrid and plug-in hybrid; the C-Max hatchback, both hybrid and plug-in; and the Lincoln MKZ hybrid.

Most of the changes are relatively minor, ranging from 1 to 5 miles per gallon but city and highway values for the MKZ hybrid will be cut by 7 mpg.

Ford reviewed its entire line up to determine the vehicles that required further testing and revised the fuel economy ratings for the affected vehicles, the company said in a statement. No other label adjustments are planned.

Last summer, Ford cut the C-Max hybrid ratings 8.5% to 43 mpg combined city and highway.

Ford apologizes

"This is our error. When we see an issue, we address it,” said Raj Nair, Ford group vice president, Global Product Development. “That is why we notified EPA and lowered the fuel economy ratings for these vehicles.”

Ford has communicated to its dealers that new fuel economy labels will be available in approximately six days and that dealers may continue selling the vehicles until the new labels are received. 

Ford estimates that approximately 200,000 of the affected vehicles have been sold or leased to customers in the United States. Affected Ford and Lincoln owners and lessees in the United States will receive a goodwill payment for the estimated average fuel cost of the difference between the two fuel economy labels, as shown in the table below.

Customers with questions can contact the Ford Customer Relationship Center at 1-866-436-7332 or visit: www.ford.com/mpglabel  and www.lincoln.com/mpglabel.

Models specified 

U.S. EPA-Estimated Fuel Economy Label Ratings and Goodwill Payments*

Model Year

Vehicle

Powertrain

Revised

(City, Highway, Combined)

Previous

(City, Highway, Combined)

Lease Customers

 Purchase
Customers

2014

Fiesta

1.0L GTDI M/T

31 / 43 / 36

32  / 45 /  37

$125

$200

1.6L A/T

27 / 37 / 31

29  / 39 /  32

$150

$250

1.6L SFE A/T

28 / 38 / 32

30  / 41 /  34

$275

$450

1.6L M/T

28 / 36 / 31

27  / 38 /  31

Combined MPG not affected

Combined MPG not affected

2013-14

C-MAX

Hybrid

42  / 37 / 40

45  / 40 /  43

$300

$475

Fusion

Hybrid

44 / 41 / 42

47  / 47 /  47

$450

$775

MKZ

Hybrid

38 / 37 / 38

45  / 45 /  45

$625

$1,050

Model Year

Vehicle

Powertrain

Revised**

(Charge Sustaining, Charge Depleting, EV Range)

Previous**

(Charge Sustaining, Charge Depleting, EV Range)

Lease Customers

 Purchase
Customers

2013-14

C-MAX Energi

Plug-in Hybrid

38 mpg  / 88 MPGe+ /

19 mi EV range

43 mpg / 100 MPGe+  /

21 mi EV range

$475

$775

Fusion Energi

Plug-in Hybrid

38 mpg  / 88 MPGe+  /

19 mi EV range

43 mpg  / 100 MPGe+ /

21 mi EV range

$525

$850

*Bolded figures in the above chart represent the values used to determine the customer goodwill payment.

** Combined numbers only.  Revised EPA-estimated ratings: 40 city, 36 highway MPG; 95 city, 81 highway MPGe. Charge depleting range is 20 mi.  Previous EPA-estimated ratings: 44 city, 41 highway MPG; 108 city, 92 hwy MPGe. Previous charge depleting range was 21.   

+MPGe is the EPA equivalent measure of gasoline fuel efficiency for electric mode operation.

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Facebook delivers your Web-browsing habits to advertisers

Promises users more control but stops honoring "do-not-track" requests

Facebook will be providing even more information about your Web-browsing habits to advertisers as part of its drive to milk more money out of the data it a...

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Photo source: Facebook
Facebook will be providing even more information about your Web-browsing habits to advertisers as part of its drive to milk more money out of the data it already shares about you.

The company is announcing the plans today in a chirpy press release headlined "Making ads better and giving people more control over what they see." 

Oh, and by the way, Facebook said it will no longer honor "do-not-track" settings. So much for "giving people more control."

Nothing personal, of course. After all, with 1.28 billion users, it's not as though Facebook or its advertisers really has time to get up close and personal with each of us.

That doesn't mean, though, that advertisers aren't salivating for -- and, in fact, demanding -- even more information about consumers' habits. Facebook has been bending over backwards to oblige and is always looking for new ways to deliver oodles of information about you.

Like this?

Take those little "Like" buttons you see everywhere. Clicking one of those helps Facebook keep track of where you are, where you've been and, perhaps, where you're going. Now it will be supplying more of that data to advertisers.

The party line, of course, is that this will help advertisers deliver ads that will be an even more enrichening experience for consumers. Or at least to deliver more of them.

To hear Facebook tell it, this is just what consumers have been asking for.

"Let’s say that you’re thinking about buying a new TV, and you start researching TVs on the web and in mobile apps," the company said in its press release. "We may show you ads for deals on a TV to help you get the best price or other brands to consider. And because we think you’re interested in electronics, we may show you ads for other electronics in the future, like speakers or a game console to go with your new TV." 

As for those pesky "do-not-track" settings, Facebook says it will stop honoring them "because currently there is no industry consensus," although its competitors Twitter and Pinterest do honor the settings. Google and Yahoo don't.

Opt out

Instead, Facebook says users can opt out of ads based on their Web usage by using the Digital Advertising Alliance opt out. For mobile users, iOS and Android provide controls that will block ads based on tracking. For now, anyway.

Facebook says a new "ad preferences" tool accessible from every ad "explains why you’re seeing a specific ad and lets you add and remove interests that we use to show you ads."

The controls won't block all ads based on surveillance of your browsing, only those that fall into a specific topic.

"So if you’re not interested in electronics, you can remove electronics from your ad interests," Facebook gushed.

Privacy pundits

Needless to say, privacy advocates are not pleased. 

"Facebook is continuing on a campaign to push the data envelope, raising troubling privacy and consumer-protection concerns," Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, told the Wall Street Journal.

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Starbucks offers wireless charging for smartphones

"Powermat Spots" on tables and counters eliminate hunting for an outlet

Photo source: StarbucksPeople stop in at Starbucks to recharge. That's getting a bit easier with the addition of wireless smartphone recharging areas, ...

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Photo source: Starbucks

People stop in at Starbucks to recharge. That's getting a bit easier with the addition of wireless smartphone recharging areas, rolling out currently in the San Francisco area and expanding to major national markets in 2015. 

Rollouts to smaller cities are "planned over time," the company said. 

The charging areas will be powered by Duracell Powermat, which recharges compatible smartphones and other small electornics devices wirelessly.

How many smartphones are compatible? Good question.

Exact figures aren't available but Bloomberg News says "very few" phones have cordless charging technology built in. Apple sells cases that will make an iPhone Powermat-compatible. AT&T, Sprint and Verizon all sell phones that are compatible with different types of wireless charging.

Nice idea

Starbucks, of course, wants customers to show up more often and linger longer, which is why it's always tinkering with its menu, redecorating stores and, in perhaps its most influential innovation, adding free wi-fi years ago.

Starbucks will be the biggest rollout of Powermat, so that may in itself be enough to incentivize phone manufacturers to start building the technology into their devices. 

“Rather than hunting around for an available power outlet, [customers] can seamlessly charge their device while enjoying their favorite food or beverage offering right in our stores,” said Adam Brotman, chief digital officer at Starbucks. “We were pleased with the customer response to the pilot tests, and we’re now expanding this offering nationally to provide our customers a quality and reliable experience as they use our stores as their respite, their office away from home or as a gathering place with their friends and family.”

Stores will be equipped with "Powermat Spots" -- designated areas on tables and counters where customers can place their compatible device and charge wirelessly. Select Starbucks stores in Boston and San Jose offer Powermat today and the broader rollout can be tracked at www.powermat.com/locations.

“Powermat Spots in Starbucks are the result of almost a decade of scientific research spanning material sciences, magnetic induction and mesh networking,” said Ran Poliakine, CEO of Powermat Technologies. “The two-pronged power-plug dates back to the era of the horse drawn carriage, so that today’s announcement marks the first meaningful upgrade to the way we access power in well over a century.”

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IRS adopts "Taxpayer Bill of Rights"

The document will be highlighted on the agency website and in Publication 1

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has announced adopted what it calls a "Taxpayer Bill of Rights" that it says “will become a cornerstone document to prov...

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Photo source: IRS

The Internal Revenue Service(IRS) has announced adopted what it calls a "Taxpayer Bill of Rights" that it says “will become a cornerstone document to provide the nation's taxpayers with a better understanding of their rights.”

According to the tax agency, the document takes the “multiple existing rights embedded in the tax code” and groups them into 10 broad categories, making them more visible and easier for taxpayers to find on its website.

In addition, Publication 1, "Your Rights as a Taxpayer," has been updated and will be sent to millions of taxpayers this year when they receive IRS notices on issues ranging from audits to collection. They will also be publicly visible in all IRS facilities for taxpayers and employees to see.

Extensive discussions

The IRS released the “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” following extensive discussions with the Taxpayer Advocate Service, an independent office inside the IRS that represents the interests of U.S. taxpayers

“Congress has passed multiple pieces of legislation with the title of ‘Taxpayer Bill of Rights,’” said National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson. “However, taxpayer surveys conducted by my office have found that most taxpayers do not believe they have rights before the IRS and even fewer can name their rights. I believe the list of core taxpayer rights the IRS is announcing today will help taxpayers better understand their rights in dealing with the tax system.”

Enumerating the “Rights”

The tax code includes numerous taxpayer rights, but they are scattered throughout the code, making it difficult for people to track and understand. Similar to the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights, the “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” contains 10 provisions. They are:

1. The Right to Be Informed

2. The Right to Quality Service

3. The Right to Pay No More than the Correct Amount of Tax

4. The Right to Challenge the IRS’s Position and Be Heard

5. The Right to Appeal an IRS Decision in an Independent Frum

6. The Right to Finality

7. The Right to Privacy

8. The Right to Confidentiality

9. The Right to Retain Representation

10. The Right to a Fair and Just Tax System

The “rights” have been incorporated into a redesigned version of Publication 1, a document that is routinely included in IRS correspondence with taxpayers. The publication initially will be available in English and Spanish, and updated versions will soon be available in Chinese, Korean, Russian and Vietnamese.

The IRS has also created a special section of IRS.gov to highlight the 10 “rights.” The web site will continue to be updated with information as it becomes available, and taxpayers will be able to easily find the “Bill of Rights” from the front page..

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More settlements in "$1,000 gift card" scams

This time it's two scammers who sent millions of unwanted text messages

Two affiliate-marketing scammers and their company have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they sent millions of unwanted text messages...

PhotoTwo affiliate-marketing scammers and their company have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they sent millions of unwanted text messages to consumers across the U.S. with false promises of $1,000 gift cards to retailers like Best Buy, Target and Walmart.

Scott A. Dalrymple of Pennsylvania and Robert Jerrold Wence of Texas, who operated a company called Advert Marketing, Inc., will be permanently banned from sending unwanted or unsolicited commercial text messages or assisting others in doing so.

The settlement contains a monetary judgment for $4.2 million, which is partially suspended due to the defendants’ inability to pay. Under the terms of the settlement, Dalrymple and Wence will be required to pay $15,000 each to the Commission, and will be required to destroy any consumer data they may have collected while conducting the text message spam operation.

In addition, the two will also be prohibited from misrepresenting to consumers whether a product is “free,” whether they have won a prize or been selected for a gift, or other behavior related to the nature of the scam.

Dalrymple, Wence and Advert Marketing were among the defendants named in the FTC’s 2013 enforcement sweep against text message spammers and affiliate marketers who used false promises of free gift cards to draw consumers into websites that asked them to provide credit card information to sign up for trial offers.

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FTC: Payment processor helped bilk consumers out of nearly $10 million

IRN Payment Systems collected payments for Innovative Wealth Builders

Independent Wealth Builders logoA payment processing company that helped conduct a credit card interest rate reduction scam that bilked tens of th...

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Independent Wealth Builders logo

A payment processing company that helped conduct a credit card interest rate reduction scam that bilked tens of thousands of consumers out of a total of nearly $10 million has agreed to give up $1.1 million to settle Federal Trade Commission charges.

The FTC had alleged that Independant Resources Network Corp., doing business as IRN Payment Systems (IRN), violated the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) through its involvement in a credit card interest rate reduction scam that bilked tens of thousands of consumers out of a total of nearly $10 million.

IRN agreed to a settlement of $3.48 million, which is suspended upon payment of $400,000. IRN also released any claim to approximately $700,000 in reserve funds that the court previously ordered it to turn over under the asset freeze provisions of a preliminary injunction order that was entered before IRN was named as a defendant in the case.

Wealth builders

In January 2013, the FTC filed a complaint to stop a telemarketing scam operated by Innovative Wealth Builders, Inc. (IWB), which it said falsely promised consumers that they could reduce the interest rates on their credit cards and save them thousands of dollars on their debts. For most of the time that IWB operated its scam, IRN was its exclusive payment processor.

In June 2013, the FTC sued IRN in an amended complaint alleging that IRN facilitated IWB’s scheme when IRN knew, or consciously avoided knowing, key facts about the illegal conduct of IWB’s telemarketing scam in violation of the TSR, and chose to continue profiting from processing IWB’s credit card transactions.

Payment processors enable merchants to charge consumers’ credit cards for products and services, and in exchange are paid for each payment transaction the merchant processes.

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Retail sales inch higher in May

The increase, while below forecasts, was the fourth in a row

For the fourth time in as many months, retail sales posted a gain during May. Figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau show sales last month were up a s...

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© Monkey Business - Fotolia.com

For the fourth time in as many months, retail sales posted a gain during May.

Figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau show sales last month were up a seasonally adjusted 0.3% -- to $437.6 billion, and a gain of 4.3% over May of 2013. In addition, The April figure was revised higher to show and advance of 0.5% instead of the 0.1% initially reported.

Still, some economists were disappointed with the showing. The consensus esimate of analysts surveyed by Briefing.com was for an advance of 0.7%.

Sterne Agee Chief Economist Lindsey Piegza says aside from auto and gasoline sales, which rose 1.4% and 0.4%, respectively, “consumers weren't doing much spending in May.”  

She points out that forecasts for 4% GDP predicated on a resurgence in consumption thanks to pent-up demand from the start of the year, “appear to be slowly losing favor as the consumer continues to lose momentum.”

The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

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© Marzky Ragsac Jr. - Fotolia.com
Jobless claims

First-time applications for state unemployment benefits moved higher in the week ending June 7, climbing by 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 317,000.

The government says there were no special circumstances involved, which analysts say suggests the claims number will continue to be stuck in the range that suggests monthly job creation of about 200,000.

They add that unless we get below 300,000 on a weekly basis, payroll increases are unlikely to get to the 300,000 range necessary to support strong economic expansion.

The 4-week moving average, which is not as volatile as the weekly number and, therefore, considered a more accurate reading of the job market, rose 4,750 -- to 315,250.

The full report can be found on the Labor Department website. 

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Double Camel, Lionshead Specialty recall tubeless trailer tires

The tires may fail under prolonged use

Double Camel, in cooperation with Lionshead Specialty Tire & Wheel LLC (Lionshead), is recalling 1,440 Vail Sport ST LH 99 tubeless trailer tires, size 225...

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© Iamnee - Fotolia.com

Double Camel, in cooperation with Lionshead Specialty Tire & Wheel LLC (Lionshead), is recalling 1,440 Vail Sport ST LH 99 tubeless trailer tires, size 225/75D15, load range D, DOT code 69, manufactured from July 14, 2013, through July 27, 2013 (and a sidewall date code 2813 or 2913).

On May 7, 2014, Double Camel increased the recall to include an additional 38,129 Vail Sport ST LH 99 tires encompassing build dates from November 20, 2011, through September 21, 2013 (dates codes 4711 through 3713). The total population of the tires being recalled is now 39,569.

The original population of tires may fail under prolonged use and may become unseated from the rims and the additional population of tires may be more susceptible to failure due to road hazards.

Tire damage from road hazards, failure from prolonged use or unseating of the tire from the rim increases the risk of a crash.

Lionshead will notify owners, and dealers will replace the tires with compliant ones. The recall of the initial population of tires began in February 2014. The recall for the expanded population of tires is expected to begin in June 2014.

Customers may contact Lionshead at 1-574-533-6169.

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More signs the economy may be slowing

Recent grads just can't make it on their own

Here are two stories that generally point to the same thing; the economy, which has been lousy for years now, just isn't getting any better.A study of re...

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© Andrey Kuzmin - Fotolia.com
Here are two stories that generally point to the same thing; the economy, which has been lousy for years now, just isn't getting any better.

A study of recent college graduates, ages 23 to 26, has found that even though they had full-time jobs, they were still receiving regular support from Mom and Dad.

Must be that crushing student loan debt. No, 60% of those in the survey had no student loan debt.

What's holding them back?

Why then, do they need financial support? The study from the National Endowment for Financial Education, Arizona Pathways to Life Success and the Citi Foundation provides a couple of clues.

"Our data clearly showed that many young adults today may not be earning enough to make it on their own, even when working fulltime," the authors write.

While the jobs may be there for college graduates they may not pay all that much. More importantly to young employees, they may also not provide much in the way of benefits. In many cases, that's where Mom and Dad step in.

But are recent graduates struggling financially because they lack the financial literacy to properly manage their money? As we reported back in January, the evidence suggests the opposite is true.

The second PNC Financial Independence Survey found not only are young people doing a pretty good job of managing their money, but the younger members of the Millennial generation – those 20 to 24 in particular -- are doing the best.

New jobs just not that good

So perhaps those 217,000 new jobs the economy is creating each month are a bit lacking in salary and benefits. Maybe we need a lot more of them to propel the economy forward. The second of our two stories leans in that direction.

In its latest Briefing Report, real estate investment firm Transwestern suggests the economy isn't growing nearly as fast as most economists had predicted and an economic stall may be occuring. It points to the bond market as Exhibit A.

When conditions are improving investors find productive places for their money, other than putting it in bonds. When that happens, bond issuers have to sweeten the deal by raising interest rates.

When the Labor Department reported the jobs numbers earlier this month, it was taken as positive economic news and bond rates were expected to rise. Instead, they fell.

Transwestern sees it as a classic “flight to quality,” with investors seeking the safe haven of U.S. bonds in the event the economy slows. In other words, the people with money may be one step ahead of the economists.

The report authors conclude the prediction of a U.S. economic growth rate of 3% in 2014 is “unduly optimistic.” Rather, they see 2% much more likely.

A stalling economy puts pressure on business – especially small businesses, which tend to employ a lot of young people.  

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What's in that beer you're drinking? Are brewers hiding something?

Food blogger wants brewers to list ingredients on each bottle and can

Vani Hari (Photo: FoodBabe.com)What's in that beer you're drinking? Yeah, we know -- hops, barley and so forth but what's really in it. That's what Van...

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Vani Hari (Photo: FoodBabe.com)

What's in that beer you're drinking? Yeah, we know -- hops, barley and so forth but what else is in it? That's what Vani Hari would like to know.

Ms. Hari, who calls herself "Food Babe," says that she herself isn't much of a beer drinker but her husband is, which caused her to wonder just what's in all those bottles and cans of beer that slide down Americans' gullets every day.

A partial answer, she notes, is that there are many ingredients that are allowed in beer -- things like "high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, stabilizers that are linked to intestinal inflammation, artificial colors, ingredients found in airplane deicing liquid, genetically modified ingredients, even fish swim bladders."

How can you tell what exactly is in that beer that's clenched in your right fist? Anheuser-Busch said it provides information about the ingredients of its brands at www.tapintoyourbeer.com.

“Our brewmasters take great pride in making our beers to the highest standards of quality and consistency, using pure, fresh, natural ingredients.  For example, our flagship Budweiser and Bud Light brands are made with the best barley malt, rice, hops, yeast, and pure water," an Anheuser-Busch company spokesman said in an email. "Both brands use American-grown rice, and the USDA has declared that no genetically modified rice varieties are grown orsold in the United States.  Moreover, these flagship brands use none of the other additives you mention."

Feds set standards

Soda cans and bottles list the ingredients and amounts right on the label, but beer doesn't. That's because it doesn't have to -- beer is regulated by the Treasury Department, not the Food and Drug Administration or Agriculture Department, which regulate most food products. 

Anheuser-Busch said its beers "adhere to federal and state brewing and labeling standards. Our beer ingredients all meet TTB (Treasury Department's Tax and Trade Bureau) and FDA standards for food safety."

But Hari has started a petition asking Anheuser-Busch and Millers Coors to brew up a pint of courage and start listing the ingredients, even though they're not required to do so by law.

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Source: FoodBabe.com

"We know more about what’s in a bottle of Windex and Coca Cola than we do about one of the world’s most popular drinks – BEER!" as Ms. Hari sees it.

She's picking up support from such prominent food safety advocates as Michael F. Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

"Thirty years ago the Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned and then sued the government to get ingredients listed on labels of alcoholic beverages," Jacobson said. "But the government largely slammed the door on that idea -- requiring only allergens like sulfites and Yellow 5 to be labeled. I hope that Vani Hari's petition will persuade the two biggest brewers -- and other companies -- to do voluntarily what the government has failed to require them to do.

Jacobson agreed with Ms. Hari that consumers at the very least have a right to know if a specific beer contains ingredients that might be harmful.

"Ingredients like propylene glycol alginate, Red 40, caramel coloring, and others should certainly be listed on labels in case consumers are concerned about allergens or simply troubled by beers that contain a raft of additives," he said.

 

 

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United changes frequent flyer program, based on dollars spent rather than miles flown

Also: “Airline company social-media comment-poster” must be a truly awful job

This is a bad time to be a frequent flyer in America, not only because of the TSA but because the value of “frequent flyer” status itself keeps eroding. ...

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Photo via Wikipedia

This is a bad time to be a frequent flyer in America, not only because of the Transportation Security Administration and other post-9/11 indignitiesinflicted upon innocent fliers, but because the value of “frequent flyer” status itself keeps eroding. This week, United Airlines made itself the latest anecdote in support of that theory.

In February, Delta Air Lines changed its SkyMiles frequent flyer program, henceforth awarding points based on dollars spent rather than miles flown. At the time, Delta announced on its Facebook page that the change “will make Award redemption easier and better reward your loyalty,” though many irate SkyMiles customers responded with posts detailing how Delta's changes leave them much worse off than they were before.

In April, the Supreme Court ruled in a 9-0 decision that airline companies (Northwest Airlines, in that specific case) have the right to kick customers out of their frequent flyer programs if the customers complain “too much,” with the airlines deciding how much is too much. (The Supreme Court decision was actually based on the legal distinction between contracts and covenants: a frequent flyer agreement is only a covenant.)

And this week, United Airlines decided to imitate its competitor Delta, and change its frequent flyer program to reward miles based on dollars paid rather than miles flown.

United's Mileage Plus Updates website discusses “The 2015 Mileage Plus Program” and says:

As of March 1, 2015, the award miles you earn on most United and United Express® tickets will be based on your ticket price (that is, base fare plus carrier-imposed surcharges) instead of the distance you fly, so members will be rewarded for their travel spending on United. And when you have Premier® status, you’ll earn even more.

In its press announcement, United spelled it out a bit more precisely, saying:

"Beginning March 1, 2015, members will earn award miles based on the price of their ticket – specifically the base fare and carrier-imposed surcharges – and their MileagePlus status. Members will earn five miles for every dollar spent, while those with MileagePlus Premier status will earn the following on their base fare and carrier surcharges:

Status level on day of departure on or after March 1, 2015

Award miles per dollar

Premier Silver

7

Premier Gold

8

Premier Platinum

9

Premier 1K

11

The new earning structure will apply to MileagePlus members worldwide for most tickets for travel on United and United Express flights, and most United-issued tickets for flights on the company's airline partners – tickets with numbers that begin with "016." Members may earn up to 75,000 award miles per ticket."

Facebook announcement

As with Delta three months before, United announced the change to its customers through its Facebook page. On June 10, United posted this:

We're changing the way you'll earn MileagePlus award miles on flights beginning March 1, 2015. Details and answers to frequently asked questions are available on mileageplusupdates.com.

Also as with Delta, many angry customers on Facebook responded with detailed complaints, and some luckless employee of the airline had to try winning those customers back.

For example: the very first comment on United's Facebook announcement was made by someone named Alex (and at presstime, with that comment only slightly more than 24 hours old, it had already collected 85 “likes”):

Have been a massive united fan, 1K for several years in the last, club credit card holder etc. There have been small changes in the last that were slightly bad but this is horrendous. Time to explore my options.... Looks like 2014 is my last united year.

The United employee responded (with 0 “likes” as of presstime):

Alex, we hope you'll take the time to read about all of the changes that are going to occur and make the decision to stick with us. Thanks for your post

Alex's prompt reply (with 35 “likes”):“Appreciate the reply united... But the problem is I have read it and it only be benefits those buying high value biz class tickets …. that is a small sub seg of your consumers....”

Another customer, “Jered,” was more specific:

This is really disappointing. By my read, flight earning has been devalued by about 50%. I could understand this _or_ the devaluation of international redemption options that happened in February, but together you've reduced the value of United points to me by 75%!

A simple example: BOS-SFO. This is 5,416 PQM round trip. After the 1/1/2014 changes, to get the corresponding now necessary PQD, I need a ticket that costs at least $542.

That $542 ticket that keeps me at 1K status (assuming I fly enough, which I do) used to earn me 5,416+100% = 10,832 RDM. With your new chart, it earns me 5,962.

Why are you doing this? This drives more point earning to credit card partners, which largely don't have United loyalty -- I can transfer my Chase points to a dozen different programs.

Sarcastic suggestions

United responded, “Jered, you will still earn PQM based on the distance of your flights,” which led to dozens of derisive comments, such as “Yes Jered, you don't really need those "extra" 5,000 miles do you?”

“Mark” offered a sarcastic suggestion of United executives' rationale:

right, no one needs the miles, they were just a little extra perk that allowed you to bring your family along on trips. who could possibly need that? …. I can image the conversation in the backroom - "just where do you think the line is? You know, where we tick them off so much they actually go somewhere else? Let's play with that a little. We don't really need people flying in Economy anyway. Let's focus on the people from large companies that always fly business class and actually have no idea what the flight actually costs? In fact, why don't we re-configure to 70% business and 30% economy? We can sell that 30% to the clueless and desperate. We will be rolling in the dough! (outrageous laughter ensues)"

Many cynical commenters predicted that even switching from United to an airline with a better frequent flyer program wouldn't necessarily work: after all, how likely is it that Delta and United will be the only two airlines who impose such changes?

For that matter, the Washington Post's Wonkblog seems to agree; it reported the changes to United's policy under the headline “The slow demise of the frequent flyer program,” and ended with the suggestion that anyone who's been hoarding frequent flyer miles should consider using them soon, in case future program changes leave them less valuable than they are now.

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Consumers get more comfortable with debt in 2014

Car loans lasting longer, credit card pay-downs going more slowly

Sales of new cars are booming in the U.S., which is good for manufacturers and dealers. It's also pretty good for lenders, at least for now.As they flood...

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© rmag - Fotolia.com
Sales of new cars are booming in the U.S., which is good for manufacturers and dealers. It's also pretty good for lenders, at least for now.

As they flood new car showrooms consumers are taking on longer-term debt to pay for their new rides. According to Experian Automotive, the three-year car note is pretty much a thing of the past.

The credit agency now says the average automotive loan term in the first quarter of the year reached 66 months for the first time.

But five years is just the average. The company's analysis shows loans of 73 to 84 months – that's six to seven years – accounted for nearly 25% of all new vehicle loans originated during the quarter, up 27.6% since the same period in 2013.

Pricier cars

Loans are lasting longer because the price of the cars consumers are buying is rising. The Experian Automotive analysis found the average monthly new vehicle payment reached a record high $474 in the first quarter, rising from $459 in the first quarter of 2013.

"As the cost of purchasing a new vehicle continues to rise, consumers clearly are stretching the loan term to help lower monthly payments, keeping them at a manageable level," said Melinda Zabritski, Experian Automotive's senior director of automotive credit.

Zabritski says stretching out the payment is both good and bad. On the positive side it allows for a lower, more affordable monthly payment. But there is a downside.

"Consumers can find themselves paying more in interest or being upside-down on their loan if they seek to trade their vehicle in early,” she said. “It is definitely a choice that consumers will want to weigh carefully before making a final purchasing decision."

Leases gain ground

Perhaps because new cars cost more and lengthy loan terms are still expensive, more car buyers are going the leasing route. According to Experian Automotive's figures, auto leasing was at an all-time high in the first quarter.

Leases accounted for 30.2% of all financed vehicles, compared to 27.5% in the first quarter of last year. Even when you consider the cars purchased for cash, a staggering 1 in 4, or 25.6%, were leased in in the first 3 months of this year, compared to 22.9% a year ago.

It was also easier to finance a car in the first quarter of the year. For new vehicle loans the average credit score was 714, down 17 points from the same period a year ago.

"Over the last several quarters, leasing has come back as a very desirable option for consumers," Zabritski said. "Whether they are interested in getting the latest and greatest models or simply do not want to commit to a long-term purchase, consumers are leasing new vehicles in greater numbers than ever before.”

Credit card debt

Taken by itself, the Experian report may not tell you a lot about consumers' level of comfort with debt. But an analysis of credit card balances suggests consumers are reverting to their old, pre-recession habits of carrying more of a debt load.

A study by CardHub, a financial website, looked at how much consumers paid on their credit card balances in the first quarter of the year. The numbers show they paid off about $32.5 billion in credit card balances during the period.

While it appears to be an encouraging development, the study shows that's actually 1% less than they paid in the first quarter of last year.

“Consumers historically pay off a lot of credit card debt during the first quarter of the year – with tax refunds, annual salary bonuses, and New Year’s Resolutions fueling their efforts,” the authors write. “But last year’s first quarter pay down was 4% smaller than in 2012, and we ended 2013 having incurred 6% more debt overall.”

As a result, CardHub projects that U.S. consumers will end 2014 with a $41.9 billion net increase in credit card debt. That's 8% more than consumers accumulated last year and a 14% increase compared to 2012.  

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Amazon next up to launch streaming music service

Reports say it will be included as part of Amazon Prime

Amazon is set to launch its own streaming music offering Thursday, according to sources.Chasing Apple’s recent $3 billion deal to acquire Beats Mus...

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Source: Amazon.com

You would think that scientists had just discovered a way to stream music over the Internet. After ignoring it for years, the giants of the online world are falling over each other to launch their version of Pandora, which by most reckonings is the oldest legitimate (meaning, legal) music streamer.

Spotify came along a few years later and offered a more customizable experience than Pandora, which remains by far the largest. 

In recent weeks, Apple has bought Dr. Dre's Beats, which not long before had bought MOG, and Google is said to be in talks to buy Songza, which we're told programs music to suit your mood, time of day and what you happen to be doing -- or, at least what you say you're doing.

Now, reports say Amazon will follow suit, launching a streaming music service for its Amazon Prime members tomorrow.

Prime, which costs $99 a year, already offers a streaming video service, free two-day shipping on many items, a Kindle lending library and probably some other things everyone's forgotten about. Most of the competing music services cost about $10 a month.

Amazon already has a pretty good cloud player that will strum the music you buy from Amazon and songs you've uploaded from CDs. Its streaming service will be somewhat truncated, with a somewhat smaller library than Spotify, according to a report in the New York Post

Sony and Warner Music are already on board, the Post said, while Universal Music hasn't yet inked a deal.

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Feds revise fish guidelines for pregnant, nursing women

It took a lawsuit to get the FDA to finally revise its guidelines

© uwimages - Fotolia.comLike lots of things, seafood is good for you, except when it's not. Generally speaking, seafood is healthful because it cont...

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© uwimages - Fotolia.com

Like lots of things, seafood is good for you, except when it's not. Generally speaking, seafood is healthful because it contains omega-3 fatty acids but it can also contain mercury and other potentially harmful pollutants.

Doctors have long advised pregnant and nursing women to avoid seafoods that are high in mercury and now the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency are updating their recommendations, but only after being sued into action by food safety advocates.

The latest draft of the agencies' recommendations advise pregnant and breastfeeding women, those who might become pregnant, and young children to eat at least eight ounces and up to 12 ounces (two to three servings) per week of a variety of fish that are lower in mercury to support fetal growth and development.

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Source: FDA

The latest guidance is the result of a lawsuit filed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and the Mercury Policy Project (MPP) after the FDA failed for more than two years to resond to a petition asking that the FDA require more information on ingredients on seafood labels and in store signage.

After two and a half years, CSPI and MPP filed a lawsuit asking for a deadline on just when the FDA might get around to doing something.

In May, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said the agency would finally update its guidance for pregnant women and children but had no intention of requiring labels or store signage, Food Safety News reported. 

Before issuing a final version of its guidance, the agencies will consider public comments and go through some of the other rituals that precede such actions, including a series of focus groups and seeking advice from the FDA’s Risk Communication Advisory Committee and conduct a series of focus groups.

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Study finds link to why statins raise diabetes risk

The cholesterol-lowering drugs are among the most commonly prescribed

© russell witherington - Fotolia.comStatins -- the drugs that lower cholesterol -- have no doubt saved many lives by preventing heart attacks. But...

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© russell witherington - Fotolia.com

Statins -- the drugs that lower cholesterol -- have no doubt saved many lives by preventing heart attacks. But they can also have a devastating side effect, raising the risk of diabetes in some users.

Now, Canadian researchers at McMaster University say they have found one of the pathways that link statins to diabetes, a key tool in developing the next generation of statins.

"Statins are among the most prescribed drugs in the world, and have been fantastic at reducing cardiovascular events," said McMasters researcher Jonathan Schertzer. "But the side effects of statins can be far worse than not being able to eat grapefruit. Recently, an increased risk of diabetes has been added to the warning label for statin use. This was perplexing to us because if you are improving your metabolic profile with statins you should actually be decreasing the incidence of diabetes with these drugs, yet, the opposite happened."

Immune response

Schertzer's group investigated further.

"We found that statins activated a very specific immune response, which stopped insulin from doing its job properly. So we connected the dots and found that combining statins with another drug on top of it, Glyburide, suppressed this side effect."

He says the finding has the potential to develop new targets for this immune pathway that do not interfere with the benefits of statins.

Schertzer emphasized that statins are important and widely prescribed drugs and understanding how they promote adverse effects may lead to necessary improvements in this drug class, which has the potential to affect a large segment of the population.

"With the new federal warning label on the risk of diabetes with statin usage, people are heavily debating its pros and cons. We think this is the wrong conversation to have. Statins are a great drug for many people. What we really should be talking about is how to make them better and we are beginning to understand the basic biology of statins so we can do just that."

The research is published in the medical journal Diabetes and was supported by funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Canadian Diabetes Association.

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A rebound in mortgage applications

Refinancings shoot higher as well

After posting 2 straight declines, mortgage applications bounced back with a surge of 10.3% in the week ending June 6. The Mortgage Bankers Association (...

PhotoAfter posting 2 straight declines, mortgage applications bounced back with a surge of 10.3% in the week ending June 6.

The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), in releasing its weekly mortgage applications survey, said the previous week’s results included an adjustment for the Memorial Day holiday.

The Refinance Index surged 11%, pushing the refinance share of mortgage activity up 1% -- to 54% 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) rose 8 basis points -- to 4.34% from 4.26% -- with points increasing to 0.16 from 0.13 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) increased from 4.22% to 4.27%, with points increasing to 0.12 from 0.11 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate was higher.
  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA was up 7 basis points to 4.06% from 3.99%, with points increasing to -0.03 from -0.46 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate rose from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs jumped to to 3.43% from 3.39%, with points increasing to 0.22 from 0.07 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs rose 7 basis points to 3.18%, with points increasing to 0.35 from 0.05 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

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

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Airlines improve on-time performance in April

Carriers also did better with cancellations and tarmac delays

Airline passengers had a little less to grouse about during April. According to the Transportation Department’s (DOT) Air Travel Consumer Report, the nati...

PhotoAirline passengers had a little less to grouse about during April.

According to the Transportation Department’s (DOT) Air Travel Consumer Report, the nation’s largest airlines posted an on-time arrival rate of 79.6% in April compared with the 77.3% rate posted in April 2013 and the 77.6% rate the month before.

In addition, carriers canceled just 1.1% of their scheduled domestic flights that month. The rate a year earlier was 1.8% and 1.9% in March 2014.

There was even more good news when it came to delays. In April, airlines reported no tarmac delays of more than 3 hours on domestic flights and just 1 tarmac delay of more than 4 hours on an international flight.

The report also includes data on chronically delayed flights and their causes, mishandled baggage reports, airline service complaints, and incidents involving the loss, death, or injury of pets traveling by air.

The complete Air Travel Consumer Report is available on the DOT website.

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Cinmar settles defective step ladders case

The company will pay a $3.1 million civil penalty

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has agreed to accept a payment of a $3.1 civil penalty by Cinmar LLC, of West Chester, Ohio, to settle ...

PhotoThe U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has agreed to accept a payment of a $3.1 civil penalty by Cinmar LLC, of West Chester, Ohio, to settle charges that the company knowingly failed to report to a defect with its foldaway two-and three-step ladders.

CPSC staff charged the company knowingly failed to report immediately -- as required by law -- that the steps of the step ladders, made of mahogany wood and designed for use in walk-in closets, could break unexpectedly, posing a fall hazard to consumers.

The ladders were sold nationwide between November 2005, and July 2010, for $90 to $150.

Delayed reporting

According to CPSC, Cinmar did not file its full report with the agency until July 29, 2010. By that time, more than 1,200 consumers had returned their ladders to Cinmar, most citing breakage, and others citing cosmetic problems.

Additionally, by that time, Cinmar had received notice of at least two dozen injuries, one requiring surgery and another necessitating hospitalization. On January 20, 2011, Cinmar and CPSC announced the recall of 38,000 wooden step ladders.

Federal law requires manufacturers, distributors, and retailers to report to CPSC immediately (within 24 hours) after obtaining information reasonably supporting the conclusion that a product contains a defect which could create a substantial product hazard, creates an unreasonable risk of serious injury or death, or fails to comply with any consumer product safety rule or any other rule, regulation, standard, or ban enforced by CPSC.

Compliance program ordered

In addition to paying a monetary penalty, Cinmar has agreed to implement and maintain a compliance program designed to ensure compliance with the safety statutes and regulations enforced by CPSC. Cinmar has also agreed to maintain and enforce a system of internal controls and procedures designed to ensure that:

  • information required to be disclosed by the firm to the commission is recorded,processed and reported, in accordance with applicable law;
  • all reporting made to CPSC is timely, truthful, complete and accurate; and
  • prompt disclosure is made to Cinmar management of any significant deficiencies or material weaknesses in the design or operation of such internal controls that are reasonably likely to adversely affect, in any material respect, the company’s ability to record, process and report to the Commission.

Cinmar further agreed to provide written documentation of such improvements, processes and controls, upon request of CPSC staff; to cooperate fully and truthfully with CPSC staff; and to make available all information, materials and personnel deemed necessary by staff to evaluate the company’s compliance with the terms of the agreement.

In agreeing to the settlement, Cinmar neither admits nor denies CPSC staff’s charges.

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Weil-McLain recalls Ultra series boilers

A cap on the boiler’s manifold can crack and release gas into the home

Weil-McLain of Michigan City, Ind.,is recalling about 8,340 Ultra models 80, 105, 155 and 230 MBH Ultra series boilers in the U.S. and Canada. A cap on th...

PhotoWeil-McLain of Michigan City, Ind.,is recalling about 8,340 Ultra models 80, 105, 155 and 230 MBH Ultra series boilers in the U.S. and Canada.

A cap on the boiler’s manifold can crack and release gas into the home, posing a risk of fire and explosion.

The company has received 11 reports of manifold caps cracking. No fires or injuries have been reported.

This recall involves Weil-McLain Ultra models 80, 105, 155 and 230 MBH gas-fired boilers used for space heating. The boilers have a serial number range between CP 6557046 and CP 6955985. Model and serial numbers are located on a bar-coded label affixed to the lower right side of the boiler, behind the removable front panel.

The boilers have a Weil-McLain logo plate affixed to the front, a pewter/flat black cover and are either freestanding or wall-mounted.

The boilers, manufactured in the U.S., were distributed by plumbing and heating wholesale distributors, plumbers and contractors nationwide from June 2012, through March 2014, for about $4,200 to $6,200.

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled boilers, turn off the gas supply to the boilers and contact Weil-McLain to schedule a free inspection and repair.

Consumers may contact Weil-McLain toll-free at (888) 770-7139 from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. CT Monday through Friday.

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Summer vacation: time for scammers to crawl out of the woodwork

Beware these summer-specific versions of year-round scams

You might look forward to taking a few days off work, but the thieves, fraudsters and con artists of the world have no intention of doing so....

PhotoIt's the start of summer vacation season, and although you might be looking forward to taking a few days off work, the thieves, fraudsters and con artists of the world have no intention of doing so.

Fortunately, most of the “protect yourself from summer scams” rules you see out there refer merely to summer-specific variations of common scams you know to guard against already.

On June 9, for example, the Better Business Bureau released a list of the “Top Five Summer Scams.” Number one on the list is “Vacation scams,” covering everything from fake timeshare rentals to bogus resort vacations.

The BBB had this to say:

Fake travel agents and websites use too-good-to-be-true deals only to take your money. … Make sure the offer is legitimate by checking with BBB at bbb.org. If BBB does not have a BBB Business Review on the company, dig deeper by conducting a Google search of the company’s phone number, address or website to see if consumers have reported any issues.

Those particular scams — wherein the scammer collects money for a timeshare, resort trip, or other good or service he doesn't actually have for sale — are basically the same as the infamous rental or home-selling scam: the thief copies photos and listings from legitimate real-estate (or vacation, resort or timeshare) websites, uses the photos to put up fake advertisements, and fools victims into paying for rentals they have no chance of ever getting.

Many of the rental-scam-protection rules also apply to vacation scams: don't trust anyone who demands payment in cash, via wire transfer or prepaid money card, or any other untraceable method of payment. But other rental-scam protection rules, like “always meet the landlord face-to-face,” clearly aren't practical when booking time in a vacation resort hundreds or thousands of miles from home.

Moving rip-offs

The Better Business Bureau also warns that summer is peak season for “moving scams,” mainly because warm weather is when most people move to new homes anyway.

In addition to researching possible moving companies, to see if there are complaints about them registered with the Better Business Bureau and on consumer-reviews websites like this, the BBB also advises: “Be careful with price quotes over the phone and online estimates, as they might not be binding.  Also, remember that the lowest estimate can sometimes be an unrealistic, low-ball offer, which may cost you more in the end.”

In other words, never trust an oral price quote; get everything in writing before you agree to let a moving company take possession of all your material goods.

Concert tickets

The BBB's third summer scam involves fraudulent sales of concert tickets — again, because summer is when the most concerts happen, anyway. This too is similar to fake rental or fake resort scams — the fraudster gets money for something he doesn't actually have to sell.

However, the rental-scam protection rules do apply in full to concert scams. As the BBB said:

“Oftentimes, phony sellers trick consumers into wiring money with no intention of sending real tickets. Most concert venues allow ticket holders to print tickets from personal computers, which gives scammers the opportunity to sell the same ticket repeatedly to unsuspecting consumers. Be wary of sellers who offer a sad tale as to why they cannot use the tickets, only accept cash, want the money wired or transferred through a prepaid account, and/or pressure you to act quickly.”

Warm weather also brings out the door-to-door salesmen, which is why door-to-door scams occupy the fourth spot on the BBB's summer-scam list. The Bureau says “Many door-to-door salesmen offer deals for everything from driveway paving and air conditioning repair to security systems. Before saying yes, get all promises in writing, including start and finish dates. Never sign a contract that has an open-ended completion date or blank spaces.”

It's also worth remembering a certain anti-scam rule we've promoted here many times: where businesses are concerned, expect them to obey the rule “Don't call me, I'll call you.”

For example, if you think there's a problem with your driveway pavement or home air-conditioning system, by all means do some research and find a reputable repair person to hire. But if people come to you out of the blue, offering to repair your driveway, fix your AC, improve the quality of your tapwater or anything else — ignore them as you would ignore any business that violates the “Don't call me; I'll call you” rule.

Summer jobs

The fifth and final summer scam listed by the BBB is the employment scam, because of all those extra people seeking summer jobs. The BBB's anti-scam rules apply to those seeking employment at any time of the year, not just a summer job: “Be wary of employers who require fees for training and background checks.” (The whole point of getting a job is that your boss is supposed to give you money, not the other way around.)

On the same day the BBB released its list of summer scam warnings, Fox Business News warned its readers of more vacation-specific scams. Some of those warnings were similar to the BBB's — watch out for scammy timeshare offers — and other were, again, vacation-specific versions of standard scam warnings. You know, for example, to be on guard against identity theft anytime you use your credit or debit card; this rule is especially important on vacation, when you're constantly handing your card over to restaurant staff, hotel personnel and other strangers.

Other types of scam are more specific to hotels and motels: for example, somebody slides a pizza delivery menu underneath your door, you call and use your credit card number to order a pizza — and it never arrives, but your credit card information is now in the hands of an identity thief.

Fox also reminded readers to be wary of connecting their electronic devices to publicly available wi-fi, since it's easy for thieves to intercept and steal information that way,. Some thieves will even set up public wi-fi networks specifically to entice people to use them and make their computers vulnerable.

Personal electronics

That said: where your smartphone, laptop, tablet and other important personal electronics are concerned, you might very well want to invest in an additional layer of security: buy a cheap, old-gen phone, tablet, laptop or whatever, solely for use on vacations.

I personally own two computers: a modern, powerful “work laptop” which never leaves my home, and an older netbook I use just-for-fun, including vacations. (One of these days, when I upgrade to a new work computer, my current work laptop will be downgraded to “just-for-fun.”) There are three reasons you should avoid bringing your truly important electronics with you on vacation. Reasons one and two are “they might get stolen” and “you don't always know if you can trust whichever wireless connections you find on your travels.”

Reason three involves various post-9/11 changes to the American legal landscape: in an end-of-2013 court decision, a federal judge ruled that the U.S. Border Patrol has the right to confiscate and/or search any laptops, smartphones or other electronics without a warrant.

In addition to the ruling's obvious anti-privacy implications, there's also the concern that even if you're completely innocent and “have nothing to hide,” you still might go a couple of weeks without being able to use your own electronic devices, so don't take any electronics on vacation that you require to do your job when you get back.

And always remember: you view your vacation as a chance to relax and take it easy, but scammers think it as an opportunity to line their pockets at your expense. Don't let them get away with it.

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British Airways mixes up Grenada with Granada

A D.C. couple was headed for Spain but wound up in the Caribbean

Grenada, Granada, let's call the whole thing off.Think spelling isn't important? Consider this: A federal judge has granted a Washington, D.C., co...

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Photo via Wikipedia
Think spelling isn't important? Consider this: A
 federal judge has granted a Washington, D.C., couple permission to sue British Airways in a lawsuit stemming from a spelling error made by a BA booking agent.

The couple wanted to take a vacation in Granada, Spain, but the airline sent them to Grenada in the Caribbean instead. They did eventually make it back home safely, but their planned Spanish vacation was ruined, Courthouse News Service reported.

British Airways June 10, 2014, 5:08 p.m.
Consumers rate British Airways

Edward Gamson and Lowell Canaday had planned to leave home and visit Granada, in Spain, changing planes in London. 

Incidentally, if you're in America and want to visit Spain or anyplace else in Europe, flying to London to catch a connecting flight to your final destination makes perfect sense, and is actually a fairly common travel itinerary.

However, if you live in America and want to visit any island in the Caribbean Sea (which, roughly speaking, refers to the part of the western Atlantic between Central America, southern Mexico and Cuba), then flying across the ocean first to catch a connecting flight out of London is completely insane. And if you're an airline booking agent, you're presumably supposed to know that.

You might wonder why Gamson and Canaday didn't figure it out for themselves, though Gamson told Courthouse News that their tickets didn't list their flight duration, country or airport code, so they had no way of knowing they were headed to Grenada rather than Granada until they saw the in-flight maps.

A common error?

Even worse, Gamson says, such errors are apparently common at British Airways; supposedly, a ground crew member who heard about their plight exclaimed, “Not another one of these! We had another one of these happen last week.”

The recent court decision in their favor hinges on the proper interpretation of the Montreal Conventions covering international travel laws; basically, British Airways tried avoiding responsibility due to the conventions' rules regarding “the carriage of passengers;” but U.S. District Judge James Boasberg ruled that the provision doesn't apply to Gamson and Canaday's complaint, which involves not their carriage but their booking.

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AeroMexico's customer service can get a little bumpy

Consumers don't get far with their complaints when things go awry

There's never a shortage of complaints about airlines but in most cases, consumers at least get a civil, if somewhat robotic, response when they try to get...

PhotoThere's never a shortage of complaints about airlines but in most cases, consumers at least get a civil, if somewhat robotic, response when they try to get satisfaction from the carrier.

That's often not the case with AeroMexico. Take the case of Joan of East Northport, N.Y. She and her family purchased 5 round-trip tickets from New York to Cancun, departing May 21 and returning May 28.

So far, so good. But hours before they were to leave, AeroMexico informed them they had been bumped from their return flight and had instead been put on a flight leaving one day earlier, May 27.

"So we were losing [one vacation day] and $1,000 in hotel and all-inclusive fees we had paid," Joan said in a posting to ConsumerAffairs. "AeroMexico customer service was nasty when we tried to talk to them. They hung up on us numerous times and have no supervisors working."

Upoon arriving in Mexico, Joan tried to get assigned seats for their return trip, only to be told the flight was overbooked "but if we paid thousands of dollars we could get our original flight on May 28th."

Bumped and forlorn

Ed of Cranston, R.I., flew Delta to Mexico City en route to Puerto Vallarta. Upon arriving in Mexico City, AeroMexico said the flight to Puerto Vallarta was oversold; if he volunteered to be bumped, AeroMexico said he would get vouchers good for a round trip anywhere AeroMexico flew.

"Since that time we have been told that the vouchers can only be used from Mexico City to Puerto Vallarta. It is impossible to call their customer service department without endless transfers and being cut off," Ed said. "Not only was I misinformed originally but there is no way to get satisfaction afterwards."

Vicki of Corona, Calif., had never visited Mexico before and after a recent experience with AeroMexico, she says she'll never do so again.

A traveling companion collapsed and had to be med-evaced to the U.S. Vicki and her husband needed to cut short their stay in Mexico to return to the U.S. to be with their friend but didn't get much help from AeroMexico when they tried to change their return flight.

"They asked us for hospital records which we provided them the next day. We have received conflicting statements regarding the refund. We did receive an email stating we would be penalized $150 per ticket. When my husband called back today to process the refund he was told they would instead keep $200," Vicki said.

Vicki's husband asked to speak to a supervisor and was told the supervisor did not speak English.

"He told the rep this would not be a problem as he spoke fluent Spanish. The supervisor was immediately unavailable and he was told she would be for some time," she said. "He was also told the email he received would not be honored. ... Their customer service is appalling and their representatives are not consistent in what they say or trustworthy. Their policies seem to change daily and depending on whom you speak with."

Passengers with complaints about airline flights that begin or terminate in the United States can submit their grievances to the U.S. Transportation Department using an online form

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Woman charged with manslaughter sues GM over recall

Innocent driver prosecuted for death GM later confirmed was caused by faulty ignition

Among the many sleazy revelations to have come out about General Motors in the wake of its ongoing recall scandal is that GM executives knew about problems...

PhotoAmong the many revelations to have come out about General Motors in the wake of its ongoing recall scandal is that GM executives knew about problems with its ignition switches as early as 2004 and did nothing, even as people died in fatal accidents caused by those faulty switches.

One of those fatal accidents involved Texas residents Candice Anderson and her boyfriend Mikale Erickson, who in 2004 were 21 and 25 years old, respectively. Anderson drove a Saturn Ion (one of the many models GM later recalled due to the faulty ignition switches).

One night, while driving the Saturn with Erickson next to her in the front seat, Anderson's car drove off the road while she rounded a curve. Anderson suffered serious injuries, and Erickson died.

Even worse, Anderson was indicted and prosecuted on felony charges, after the accident was blamed on criminally bad driving rather than defective ignition switches shutting down the car's steering and other vital electronic systems.

But on June 10, Reuters reported that both Candice Anderson and the family of Mikale Erickson filed suit against General Motors this week, accusing the company of fraud and seeking to re-open previous settlements made with the company.

100% of the blame

The lawsuits were filed in Texas on June 9. Attorney Robert Hilliard, representing Anderson and the Ericksons, released a statement saying “GM placed 100 percent of the blame [for Erickson's death] on a 21-year-old innocent girl and ended up paying $75,000 to settle the entire case.”

After the accident, Candice Anderson was charged with manslaughter, and pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide in her boyfriend's death. Only late last month did she learn that Erickson's was one of 13 fatalities which GM confirmed were caused by the faulty ignition switches.

Mikale's mother Rhonda has since said that, since Anderson was not responsible for the death of her son, her criminal record should be cleared.

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Another third-party energy provider story with an unhappy ending

Reader's tale of contract dispute sounds sadly typical of the genre

In the past few months, unregulated or third-party energy providers have received a lot of negative attention from legislators and regulators...

PhotoIn the past few months, unregulated or third-party energy providers have received not only a lot of bad press, but a lot of negative attention from legislators and government regulators, all based on complaints which boil down to poor customer service: confusing or hard-to-break contracts, hidden and unjustified rate increases, and more.

Last week, for example, authorities in New Jersey filed a lawsuit against various unregulated energy providers in the state, alleging that the companies defrauded customers through misrepresentation of their actual billing rates and practices.

Early in May, legislators in Connecticut passed a bill to protect state residents from similar practices, and a couple weeks later, in Illinois, the Citizens Utility Board released a scathing report about the state's unregulated or “third-party energy suppliers,” prompted by a 115% jump in consumer complaints and describing “some of northern Illinois’ worst deals in a market that is much more treacherous for power shoppers than it was just a year ago.”

Not that southern Illinois is immune to such problems. Here's a complaint we just got today from “Denzil,” a Jerseyville resident who recently stopped getting power from Constellation (formerly known as MXEnergy):

I got tired of the high charges that they let my electric provider charge me. So I changed suppliers. Immediately I get a letter from Constellation saying I owe them $150 for an early termination fee even though my contract has expired with them. They have lied to me from the beginning. The rates continue to raise. It seems as though this is one of those companies when they get in trouble with the govt. they just change their name and keep going with their same tactics. They have many many complaints to the BBB, but they don't seem to care. I have called them and they are very rude and told me if I'm not happy with the service to call my power company.

Bad advice, unsurprisingly: if you have a complaint about your utility provider — whether your local regulated utility or a third-party provider (if any exist in your area) — the people to call are your state utility regulators. The federal government's Consumer Action Handbook maintains this list (in .pdf form) of the names and contact information for utility regulators in all U.S. states and territories, including toll-free numbers for in-state calls.

As an Illinois resident, Denxil should contact the Consumer Affairs department of the Illinois Commerce Commission, either by calling 1-800-524-0795 (in Illinois only) or getting other options from the Commerce Commision website.

Hopefully, he still has a copy of his original contract showing the agreed-upon termination date, to settle the disputed early termination fee (and because saving the contract, and reading it carefully before you sign, should be standard operating procedure anytime you do anything involving a contract, anyway).

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Diabetes is on the rise in the U.S. -- and a lot of people don't know they have it

And more people are in danger of developing the disease

A growing number of people in the U.S. have diabetes -- and a lot of them don;t know it. According to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control...

PhotoA growing number of people in the U.S. have diabetes -- and a lot of them don't know it.

According to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 29 million people in this country diabetes 3 million more than the CDC estimated in 2010. The scary thing is that 25% of those who have it don't know.

Another 86 million adults in the U.S. -- that's more than one -- have predicates, where their blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as type 2 diabetes. Without weight loss and moderate physical activity, 15-to-30% of them will develop type 2 diabetes within 5 years.

Alarming development

“These new numbers are alarming and underscore the need for an increased focus on reducing the burden of diabetes in our country,” said Ann Al bright, Ph.D., R.D., director of CDC’s Division of Diabetes Translation. “Diabetes is costly in both human and economic terms. It’s urgent that we take swift action to effectively treat and prevent this serious disease.”

According to the National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2014 (based on health data from 2012):

  • 29 million people in the United States (9.3%) have diabetes.
  • 1.7 million people aged 20 years or older were newly diagnosed with diabetes in 2012.
  • Non-Hispanic black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaska Native adults are about twice as likely to have diagnosed diabetes as non-Hispanic white adults.
  • 208,000 people younger than 20 years have been diagnosed with diabetes (type 1 or type 2).
  • 86 million adults aged 20 years and older have predicates.
  • The percentage of U.S. adults with predicates is similar for non-Hispanic whites (35%), non-Hispanic blacks (39%) and Hispanics (38%).

Danger lurks

Diabetes is a serious disease that can be managed through physical activity, diet, and appropriate use of insulin and oral medications to lower blood sugar levels. Another important part of diabetes management is reducing other cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and tobacco use.

People with diabetes are at increased risk of serious health complications including vision loss, heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, amputation of toes, feet or legs, and premature death.

In 2012, diabetes and its related complications accounted for $245 billion in total medical costs and lost work and wages. This figure was $174 billion in 2007.

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Fiat awards 86 Alfa Romeo dealerships in U.S., Canada

The iconic Italian brand hasn't been sold in the U.S. for 16 years

It's been 16 years since you could buy a new Alfa Romeo in the United States. Many devotees of the iconic Italian marque had just about given up but Chrysl...

PhotoIt's been 16 years since you could buy a new Alfa Romeo in the United States. Many devotees of the iconic Italian marque had just about given up but Chrysler Group says an initial batch of 86 dealers have been awarded Alfa Romeo franchises in the United States and Canada.

In the U.S., 82 Alfa Romeo dealers are located in 33 states, with California, Texas, and Florida having the largest concentration of dealerships. There are four Alfa Romeo dealers in Canada. 
 
These 86 dealers will be the first to sell the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C coupe and limited-edition 4C Launch Edition when the Alfa returns to the North American market this year.

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A 1970s vintage Alfa Romeo spider (staff photo)

“This group of dealers represents the first phase in the Alfa Romeo dealer network selection process,” said Peter Grady, Vice President of Network Development, Chrysler Group LLC. “Each Alfa Romeo dealer will have a unique staff dedicated to the brand’s premium market clientele."

Grady said he expects the Alfa Romeo dealer network ultimately will exceed 300 franchises in North America.
 
Additional Alfa Romeo franchises will be awarded this year. Initially, each franchise will receive the Alfa Romeo 4C Launch Edition.
 
Here are the dealers by state that have been awarded an Alfa Romeo franchise in the U.S., followed by the four dealers in Canada:
 
Alabama
FIAT of Huntsville, dba Alfa Romeo of Huntsville, Huntsville, Ala.
 
Arkansas
Landers FIAT, dba Landers Alfa Romeo, Benton, Ark.
FIAT of Fayetteville, dba Alfa Romeo of Fayetteville, Fayetteville, Ark.
 
Arizona
Larry H. Miller FIAT Tucson, dba Larry H. Miller Alfa Romeo Tucson, Tucson, Ariz.
FIAT of Scottsdale, dba Alfa Romeo of Scottsdale, Scottsdale, Ariz.
 
California
FIAT of Burlingame, dba Alfa Romeo of Burlingame, Burlingame, Calif.
FIAT of Bakersfield, dba Alfa Romeo of Bakersfield, Bakersfield, Calif.
McKevitt FIAT, dba McKevitt Alfa Romeo, Berkeley, Calif.
Premier FIAT of Fremont, dba Premier Alfa Romeo of Fremont, Newark, Calif.
Orange Coast FIAT, dba Orange Coast Alfa Romeo, Costa Mesa, Calif.
Santa Monica FIAT, dba Santa Monica Alfa Romeo, Santa Monica, Calif.
FIAT of Los Angeles, dba Alfa Romeo of Los Angeles, Los Angeles, Calif.
Kearny Mesa FIAT, dba Kearny Mesa Alfa Romeo, San Diego, Calif.
Walter’s FIAT, dba Walter’s Alfa Romeo, Riverside, Calif.
Mossy FIAT, dba Mossy Alfa Romeo, National City, Calif.
FIAT of San Francisco (San Francisco Motors), dba Alfa Romeo of San Francisco, San Francisco, Calif.
Maserati of Walnut Creek, dba Alfa Romeo of Walnut Creek, Walnut Creek, Calif.
 
Colorado
AutoNation FIAT North Denver, dba AutoNation Alfa Romeo North Denver, Northglenn, Colo.
 
Connecticut
FIAT of Fairfield County, dba Alfa Romeo of Fairfield County, Stamford, Conn.
 
Florida
Rick Case FIAT, dba Rick Case Alfa Romeo, Davie, Fla.
FIAT of North Miami, dba Alfa Romeo of North Miami, North Miami, Fla.
FIAT of Melbourne, dba Alfa Romeo of Melbourne, Melbourne, Fla.
FIAT of Pensacola, dba Alfa Romeo of Pensacola, Pensacola, Fla.
Sunset FIAT of Sarasota, dba Sunset Alfa Romeo of Sarasota, Sarasota, Fla.
FIAT of Winter Haven, dba Alfa Romeo of Winter Haven, Winter Haven, Fla.
FIAT of Orange Park, dba Alfa Romeo of Orange Park, Jacksonville, Fla.
Greenway FIAT of East Orlando, dba Greenway Alfa Romeo of East Orlando, East Orlando, Fla.
Fields FIAT, dba Fields Alfa Romeo, Orlando, Fla.
 
Georgia
FIAT of Savannah, dba Alfa Romeo of Savannah, Savannah, Ga.
 
Iowa
D&D FIAT, dba D&D Alfa Romeo, Davenport, Iowa
Billion FIAT, dba Billion Alfa Romeo, Clive, Iowa
 
Illinois
FIAT of Chicago, dba Alfa Romeo of Chicago, Chicago, Ill.
Bettenhausen FIAT of Tinley Park, dba Bettenhausen Alfa Romeo of Tinley Park, Tinley Park, Ill.
FIAT of Metro East, dba Alfa Romeo of Metro East, Fairview Heights, Ill.
 
Indiana
FIAT of Glenbrook, dba Alfa Romeo of Glenbrook, Fort Wayne, Ind.
Expressway FIAT of Evansville, dba Expressway Alfa Romeo of Evansville, Evansville, Ind.
 
Kentucky
Jake Sweeney FIAT, dba Jake Sweeney Alfa Romeo, Florence, Ky.
 
Louisiana
Landers FIAT, dba Landers Alfa Romeo, Shreveport, La.
 
Maryland
Heritage FIAT, dba Heritage Alfa Romeo, Owings Mills, Md.
Criswell Maserati, dba Criswell Alfa Romeo, Germantown, Md.
 
Michigan
Suburban FIAT, dba Suburban Alfa Romeo, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Fox FIAT, dba Fox Alfa Romeo, Traverse City, Mich.
Golling FIAT, dba Golling Alfa Romeo, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
FIAT of Lakeside, dba Alfa Romeo of Lakeside, Macomb, Mich.
Zeigler FIAT of Grandville, dba Zeigler Alfa Romeo of Grandville, Grandville, Mich.
 
Minnesota
FIAT of Bloomington, dba Alfa Romeo of Bloomington, Bloomington, Minn.
 
Missouri
Northtowne FIAT of Kansas City, dba Northtowne Alfa Romeo of Kansas City, Kansas City, Mo.
 
North Carolina
Hendrick FIAT of Cary, dba Hendrick Alfa Romeo of Cary, Cary, N.C.
 
Nebraska
FIAT of Omaha, dba Alfa Romeo of Omaha, Omaha, Neb.
 
New Jersey
FIAT of Maple Shade, dba Alfa Romeo of Maple Shade, Maple Shade, N.J.
Fullerton FIAT, dba Fullerton Alfa Romeo, Somerville, N.J.
 
Nevada
FIAT of Las Vegas, dba Alfa Romeo of Las Vegas, Las Vegas, Nev.
Findlay FIAT, dba Findlay Alfa Romeo, Henderson, Nev.
 
New York
FIAT of Larchmont, dba Alfa Romeo of Larchmont, Larchmont, N.Y.
 
Ohio
Bob & Chuck Eddy FIAT, dba Bob & Chuck Eddy Alfa Romeo, Youngstown, Ohio
Yark FIAT, dba Yark Alfa Romeo, Toledo, Ohio
Bob-Boyd FIAT, dba Bob-Boyd Alfa Romeo, Columbus, Ohio
Bob Ross FIAT, dba Bob Ross Alfa Romeo, Centerville, Ohio
 
Oklahoma
FIAT of Edmond, dba Alfa Romeo of Edmond, Edmond, Okla.
 
Pennsylvania
Baierl FIAT, dba Baierl Alfa Romeo, Wexford, Pa.
 
South Carolina
Benson FIAT, dba Benson Alfa Romeo, Greer, S.C.
 
Tennessee
Harper FIAT, dba Harper Alfa Romeo, Knoxville, Tenn.
 
Texas
FIAT of Austin, dba Alfa Romeo of Austin, Austin, Texas
Holt FIAT of Fort Worth, dba Holt Alfa Romeo of Fort Worth, Fort Worth, Texas
Northside FIAT, dba Northside Alfa Romeo, Spring, Texas
Randall Noe FIAT, dba Randall Noe Alfa Romeo, Tyler, Texas
Allen Samuels FIAT, dba Allen Samuels Alfa Romeo, Waco, Texas
FIAT of Corpus Christi, dba Alfa Romeo of Corpus Christi, Corpus Christi, Texas
Helfman FIAT, dba Helfman Alfa Romeo, Houston, Texas
Brown FIAT, dba Brown Alfa Romeo, Laredo, Texas
FIAT of McKinney, dba Alfa Romeo of McKinney, McKinney, Texas
Cavender FIAT, dba Cavender Alfa Romeo, Selma, Texas
 
Virginia
Safford FIAT of Tysons Corner, dba Safford Alfa Romeo of Tysons Corner, Vienna, Va.
Safford FIAT of Fredericksburg, dba Safford Alfa Romeo of Fredericksburg, Fredericksburg, Va.
FIAT of Alexandria, dba Alfa Romeo of Alexandria, Alexandria, Va.
Pomoco FIAT of Newport News, dba Pomoco Alfa Romeo of Newport News, Newport News, Va.
 
Vermont
Berlin City FIAT, dba Berlin City Alfa Romeo, Williston, Vt.
 
Washington
FIAT of Tacoma, dba Alfa Romeo of Tacoma, Tacoma, Wash.
Barton FIAT, dba Barton Alfa Romeo, Spokane, Wash.
 
Wisconsin
Bergstrom Maserati, dba Bergstrom Alfa Romeo, Appleton, Wis.
 
West Virginia
Urse FIAT of Morgantown, dba Urse Alfa Romeo of Morgantown, Morgantown, W. Va.
Moses FIAT of St. Albans, dba Moses Alfa Romeo of St. Albans, St. Albans, W. Va.
 
Canada
FIAT of Vancouver, dba Alfa Romeo of Vancouver, Vancouver, B.C.
Maranello FIAT, dba Maranello Alfa Romeo, Vaughan, Ont.
LaSalle FIAT, dba LaSalle Alfa Romeo, LaSalle, Quebec
JD FIAT, dba JD Alfa Romeo, Boischatel, Quebec

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Pennsylvania builder settles false advertising charges

Heritage Homes claimed consumers could buy homes with no down payment or closing costs

Heritage Homes adA Pennsylvania-based home builder that offers home financing has settled Federal Trade Commission charges that it deceived consumers b...

Photo
Heritage Homes ad

A Pennsylvania-based home builder that offers home financing has settled Federal Trade Commission charges that it deceived consumers by advertising low-cost mortgages while hiding fees and not disclosing vital information about the true cost of the mortgages.

“These defendants tricked consumers into believing they’d found an affordable mortgage with very favorable terms,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “The FTC is committed to holding mortgage advertisers accountable.”

Using the catch phrase "Zip, Zero, Nada," Heritage Homes Group claimed in ads on websites, and in newspapers, flyers, and direct mail, that consumers could finance their homes without a down payment or closing costs. In fact, they were required to pay a “good faith deposit,” settlement costs, and an annual fee, according to the complaint.

The defendants’ ads also touted specific monthly payment amounts, such as $1,198 per month, but they failed to disclose that to get such a low monthly payment, consumers would have to obtain financing through the USDA Rural Development Loan Program, which requires them to meet specific credit and income criteria. The defendants also failed to make adequate disclosures about the annual percentage rates consumers would pay for the mortgages.

The complaint alleges that the operation violated the Federal Trade Commission Act; the Mortgage Acts and Practices Advertising Rule (or “MAP” Rule) and Regulation N; and the Truth in Lending Act and Regulation Z.

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Scott recalls Speedster bicycles

The steerer tube in the front fork can break

Scott USA of Ketchum, Idaho, is recalling about 2,000 2014 Scott Speedster 30 and 40, and Contessa Speedster 25 and 35 road bicycles. The steerer tube in ...

PhotoScott USA of Ketchum, Idaho, is recalling about 2,000 2014 Scott Speedster 30 and 40, and Contessa Speedster 25 and 35 road bicycles.

The steerer tube in the front fork can break, posing a fall hazard.

The company has received one report of a fork breaking. No injuries have been reported.

This recall involves model year 2014 Scott men’s and women’s road bicycles, models Speedster 30, Speedster 40, Contessa Speedster 25 and Contessa Speedster 35. The bikes have the brand name “SCOTT” and the model name “Speedster” on the frame. They were sold in black and white with blue, green, purple or teal accents.

The following serial number ranges are included in the recall: AS30500001–AS30504930, AS30700001–AS30704651, AS30900001–AS30903278, AS31100001–AS31103744 and AS40101604–AS40105463.

The serial number is printed on a white sticker and embossed on the underside of the bicycle frame near the pedals.

The bicycles, manufactured in Cambodia, were sold at authorized Scott dealers nationwide at retail and online from about August 2013, through May 2014, for between $1,000 and $1,300.

Consumers should immediately stop riding the bicycle and take it to an authorized Scott dealer. Consumers with a recalled bicycle will receive a free replacement fork and have it installed at no cost.

Consumers may contact Scott USA toll-free at (888) 607-8365 ext. 2012 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. CT Monday through Friday, or by email at recall@scott-sports.com.

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Hot Mama’s Foods recalls egg white salad with chives

The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

Hot Mama’s Foods is recalling 304 containers (approximately 114 pounds) of Trader Joe’s Egg White Salad with Chives packaged in 6-ounce plastic containers ...

PhotoHot Mama’s Foods is recalling 304 containers (approximately 114 pounds) of Trader Joe’s Egg White Salad with Chives packaged in 6-ounce plastic containers .

The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

No illnesses have been reported.

The recalled product was distributed to Trader Joe’s grocery stores in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio and Wisconsin.

The recall applies to product in a 6-ounce, plastic container with UPC # 00666695 and a SELL BY Date of JUN 10, 2014, stamped on the edge of the lid.

Consumers who have purchased the recalled product are urged not to eat it, but to dispose of it or return it to the place of purchase for a full refund.

Consumers with any questions may call toll free (877) 877-907-7508 from 8:00A.M. to 8:00P.M. CDT, 7 days a week.

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Fiat 500e Battery Electric Vehicles recalled

Coolant could leak into areas of the high voltage circuitry

Chrysler Group is recalling 4,141 model year 2013-2014 Fiat 500e Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV) vehicles manufactured September 24, 2012, through April 4,...

PhotoChrysler Group is recalling 4,141 model year 2013-2014 Fiat 500e Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV) manufactured September 24, 2012, through April 4, 2014.

The affected vehicles have cooling plates for the Power Inverter Module (PIM) that may leak coolant into areas of the high voltage circuitry, resulting a short circuit that could cause the related service fuse to blow.

If the service fuse blows, the vehicle would have a loss of propulsion while driving, increasing the risk of a crash.

Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will replace the PIM, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in June 2014.

Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is P23.

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White House offers repayment help for some student loans

Nearly 5 million borrowers will qualify for interest-rate caps

President Obama has signed an executive order that could provide some relief for young consumers struggling under heavy federal student loan debt.Obama's...

PhotoPresident Obama has signed an executive order that could provide some relief for young consumers struggling under heavy federal student loan debt.

Obama's order, signed today, directs the Secretary of Education to draw up new regulations that would allow an additional nearly 5 million federal direct student loan borrowers the opportunity to cap their student loan payments at 10% of their income.

It won't affect students with private loans.

The Presidential action also outlines a series of new executive actions aimed at supporting federal student loan borrowers, especially vulnerable borrowers who may be at greater risk of defaulting on their loans.

The White House says before contacting their loan servicer to discuss repayment plans, borrowers can use this Repayment Estimator to get an early look at which plans they may be eligible for and see estimates of monthly and overall payments.

Proposed legislation

There is growing concern about the toll rising student loan debt is taking on the economy. Last month Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced legislation to allow those with all types of outstanding student loan debt to refinance at the lower interest rates currently offered to new borrowers.

Student loan debt is the second highest form of consumer debt, now at a staggering $1.2 trillion, and Warren says it is weighing on the economy - stopping young people and families from buying homes, buying cars and starting businesses.

In addition to trying to alleviate the student loan debt burden, government and public policy organizations are focusing on the reasons behind the huge growth in debt. The Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) says it has found multiple reasons, including a big increase in the number of people going to college and the fact that tuitions are rising.

Role of for-profit colleges

But it also points to the role of for-profit colleges, which depend in large part on students getting access to federal loans and grants. CRL says for-profit schools collected $32 billion in federal loans and Pell grants from 2009 to 2010. It says for-profit colleges absorb around 25% of federal student aid.

“Nearly half of borrowers who default on federal student loans in the first few years of repayment attended for-profit colleges, even though these institutions only enroll 12% of all students,” CRL says on its website. “Many for-profit colleges are also known to engage in deceptive tactics to enroll students.”

Lawsuits

A suit filed in 2011 accuses Education Management Corporation, which operates a number of Art Institutes in the U.S. and is 41% owned by the investment bank Goldman Sachs, of fraudulently collecting $11 billion in federal aid.

The suit, filed by the U.S. Justice Department and several states, is similar to ones filed by whistle blowers formerly employed at various Art Institutes. Among the whistle blower claims – that school officials consistently paid recruiters by how many students they enrolled, in violation of federal law.

No resolution yet

At last report the litigation is pending. Education Management was back in court last year in an attempt to dismiss a suit by Jason Sobek, a former associate director of admissions who claims the company made false claims about its eligibility to receive federal aid. The motion to dismiss the suit was denied.

Education Management isn't the only for-profit education company having to defend itself in court. In February the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) sued ITT Educational Services, Inc., accusing it of predatory student lending.

The CFPB claims that ITT exploited its students and encouraged them to take out high-cost private student loans with a high probability of ending in default. The CFPB is seeking restitution for victims, a civil fine, and an injunction against the company.  

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Don't celebrate the improved job market just yet

Pace of hiring is unlikely to give the economy a needed boost

Last week's report by the Labor Department that the economy added 217,000 new jobs in May was celebrated in some circles as a milestone in an improving eco...

PhotoLast week's report by the Labor Department that the economy added 217,000 new jobs in May was celebrated in some circles as a milestone in an improving economy. As of May the economy had finally replaced all the jobs lost in the Great Recession.

But the flip side of that is this stark reminder: that gets the economy back to 2007 employment levels. That means everyone who has entered the workforce over the last six and a half years can't find a job.

Not all economists, it turns out, are celebrating.

“Employment is finally higher than before the recession, but don't cheer too loudly,” said Steven C. Kyle, an expert in macroeconomics and government policy and an economics professor at Cornell’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management. “Though we continue to register gains we have yet to catch up with population growth. That's why unemployment is still at 6.3 percent and labor-force participation is distinctly lower than in 2008.

Millions of people have simply dropped out of the labor force since 2007. A record number of people are now on disability. While a lot of people have started their own businesses – a hopeful trend – many others have simply given up looking for a job and moved back in with their parents.

Change from the past

Kyle says this is markedly different than what has happened after past recessions.

“Rather than having a ‘bounceback’ as is often the case after a recession, we continue to have more of a ‘trudgeback’ – a long, slow slog which someday will result in unemployment rates that are truly worth a cheer,” he said.

Kyle believes Congress is missing an opportunity to spur the economy by appropriating funds to rebuild aging infrastructure, a move that would create construction jobs. He says the fact that interest rates are near historic lows make it an opportune time to do it.

“Somehow, waiting for interest rates to rise before investing in infrastructure makes more sense to Congress than doing it now,” Kyle said. “That makes no sense to most economists, who would never wait for higher interest rates to, say, refinance their own houses. But then neither would Congressmen. What are they thinking about?”

Disconnect

Indeed there seems to be a growing disconnect between decision makers and ordinary consumers who, even if they have a job are struggling to make ends meet. Our story last week about the growing economic pressures on consumers brought a number of poignant responses from readers.

Denise, a single mom, wrote that as far as her life is concerned, the recession never ended.

“I pay over 50% of my income to rent alone,” she wrote in a comment on our story. “As a single mom of just 1, it makes it really difficult to afford anything 'extra,' after just paying basic living expenses. Daycare bankrupts me and continues to do so every time my child is off from school for the summer - just so I can work.”

Thomas, another reader, commented that he is one of the millions of Americans caught between stagnant wages and rising prices.

“I cannot afford to buy anything new,” Thomas wrote. “It is a struggle – I am still paying for winter heat. If I save by getting the bill reduced the power company raises the rates because they are not making enough money to pay dividends to stock holders. Cannot afford gas to drive and no money to spend if I get there. Everyone acts like this is a surprise. It's been going this way for years.”

Businesses doing fine with fewer people

This may be an over simplification, but one reason so many people find themselves on the margin is a structural change in the economy since 2008. When the financial crisis hit large businesses were quick to adapt to the dramatic drop in demand.

They downsized and became profitable again with fewer people. That's one reason Wall Street has done so well in the last four years – corporations are profitable.

The people who used to work for them, unfortunately, are not. And whether Wall Street likes it or not, the economy needs consumers with money, and who aren't afraid to spend it, to keep moving higher.

In that light the Los Angeles Times adds some sobering perspective to May's seemingly rosy jobs report. Since January 2008, the economy has added 2.86 temporary jobs, a 16% increase. Manufacturing jobs have declined by 11.7% while construction jobs are down by 20%.

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Walmart's four-card limit: consolidate your gift cards!

It's listed in the Terms and Conditions, but not very easy to find

If you have a collection of Walmart gift cards you wish to combine to pay for a single large purchase, remember: you might need to consolidate them first, ...

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Google eyes Songza as its answer to Apple's Beats

Songza streams music tailored to your mood, activity and time of day

There's a lot of froth around streaming music services lately, what with Spotify, Pandora, Beats and others too numerous to curate all competing for not ju...

PhotoThere's a lot of froth around streaming music services lately, what with Spotify, Pandora, Beats and others too numerous to curate all competing for not just your time but also your $10 or so per month.

Apple, you'll recall, is paying $3 billion to acquire Beats Electronics, which includes the streaming service that until recently was known as MOG. Not wanting to be left behind, Google is now said to be pawing the ground around Songza, a music streamer that keys its selections to what you're doing at the moment, according to a New York Post report.

We checked it out late this morning and found that with Songza, we could choose music for working in an office, enjoying the morning, and keeping calm and mellow, among others -- all of these being, presumably, mutually exclusive. 

This, we're told, is a notch above the way the other guys do it. They basically build playlists around a few of your favorite artists. This works OK initially, although over time it can result in some fairly esoteric selections. 

Songza, which claims about 5.5 million users, is the only music streamer that tailors its selections to what you're doing, as far as we know. Since Google, along with the NSA, presumably already knows what you're doing, what could be more natural than for it to sweep up Songza as an addition to its Google Play Music All Access, which apparently was created on the day the brand-name manager called in sick?

Where is Amazon?

Google and Apple are, of course, bitter enemies these days, having being close compatriots just a few years ago. Both, presumably, would see Amazon as a looming threat to just about all of their businesses. And it just so happens that Amazon already owns a piece of Songza, which could add some intrigue to what would otherwise be a ho-hum Monday morning business story.

Amazon doesn't currently have a streaming music service but it does sell CDs, DVDs and vinyl recordings and it operates an online music player that will play all the music you buy from Amazon as well as CDs that you upload.

It wouldn't be much of a stretch to imagine Amazon becoming an active player if a Songza bidding battle breaks out.

And about that name -- Songza? Yes, it does have a faintly Italianate ring and yes, the company is based in Long Island City, N.Y., long known as the slice of Queens where taxis go to sleep, but beyond that, we're not speculating.  

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Scientists getting better understanding of ADHD

Physician cautions against over-medication of very young patients

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is now one of the most common childhood disorders and can continue into adulthood. Symptoms include difficu...

PhotoAttention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is now one of the most common childhood disorders and can continue into adulthood. Symptoms include difficulty staying focused and paying attention, difficulty controlling behavior, and over-activity.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) the disorder can vary, causing some with it to be impulsive while others are mostly inattentive. Doctors are not sure what causes ADHD, although many studies suggest that genes play a large role.

A new study by neuroscientists at the Mayo Clinic in Florida and at Aarhus University in Denmark believe a contributing factor is a miswiring of neurons in the brain's reward system.

In their research they found a receptor system that ensures the brain neurons are wired correctly. They also found that cutting that system causes damage that results in typical ADHD symptoms.

Brain miswiring

“A number of studies have reported that ADHD patients commonly exhibit miswiring in this brain area, accompanied by altered dopaminergic function,” said Dr. Anders Nykjaer, the study's lead investigator. “We may now have an explanation as to why ADHD risk genes have been linked to regulation of neuronal growth.”

Nykjaer and his team say they are working on a therapy that prevents damage to this key brain circuit. It could be a big step since NIH says currently available treatments focus on symptoms and improving functioning. Treatments include medication, various types of psychotherapy, education or training, or a combination of treatments.

Other studies over the years have suggested other causes. Some researchers have found a link between smoking and alcohol use during pregnancy.

Others have linked the disorder to brain injuries. Some have even linked the severity of ADHD symptoms to refined sugar, though NIH notes more research discounts that theory than supports it.

Over-medication concerns

When it comes to treating ADHD with drugs, some doctors are very concerned when the patient is a very young child. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 10,000 U.S. toddlers receive medication for ADHD symptoms.

"It does not surprise me that some children are being given medicine as the easy way out but that doesn't mean it's the right way to do it," said Dr. Max Wiznitzer, a pediatric neurologist at University Hospitals in Cleveland, Ohio.

But Wiznitzer doesn't rule out drug therapy either. He says the drugs Ritalin and Adderall have proven effective, but in patients who are at least 3 years-old.

"It's almost unheard of to give ADHD medication to a 2-year-old," Wiznitzer said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued no guidelines for ADHD in children under the age of 4 but Wiznitzer says the Preschool ADHM Treatment Study, funded by the U.S. government, looked at ADHD in children as young as 4.

Last resort

He says, while medication for toddlers shouldn't be ruled out, it should only be a last resort. And that means making certain that the symptoms are really stemming from the disorder and not something else.

“We've made sure they (the patients) do have ADHD features, that their behavior is occurring in multiple settings, that it's not due to poor parenting, it's not due to poor teaching, it's not some other medical condition," Wiznitzer said.

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Depression in seniors linked to Alzheimer's risk

Researchers find depression leads to build up of beta-amyloid, an Alzheimer's marker

Depression is rather common among seniors and so, unfortunately, is Alzheimer's disease. And now researchers say they have found a link between the two.I...

PhotoDepression is rather common among seniors and so, unfortunately, is Alzheimer's disease. And now researchers say they have found a link between the two.

In fact, they say, late-life depression could become a major risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s faster than those who aren't depressed, according to research unveiled at the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging’s 2014 Annual Meeting.

Depression has been previously proven to have its own neurodegenerative effects on the brain, but researchers say they have now found an undeniable connection between beta-amyloid in depressed elderly patients with cognitive deficits and advancement to Alzheimer’s disease. They were able to demonstrate this using molecular imaging data from a global dementia imaging database.

“Our results clearly indicate that mild cognitively impaired subjects with depressive symptoms suffer from elevated amyloid levels when compared with non-depressed individuals,” said the study’s principal scientist, Axel Rominger, MD, from the department of nuclear medicine at the University of Munich in Germany. “The combination of elevated amyloid levels and coexisting depressive symptoms constitute a patient population with a high risk for faster progression to Alzheimer’s disease.”

The finding could help patients make necessary lifestyle changes in an attempt to head off the deadly disease. 

“Therapeutic options for Alzheimer’s disease are still limited and therefore the identification and understanding of contributing risk factors that influence the disease are crucial in ongoing research as they offer the possibilities for future medical intervention,” said co-author and fellow researcher Matthias Brendel. 

Study details

The study involved 371 patients with mild cognitive impairment who underwent PET imaging with the radiotracer F-18 florbetapir and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) chosen retrospectively from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) database, which includes data from at least 55 research centers across the U.S. and Canada now readily available to more than 2,500 researchers worldwide.

Results showed that mild cognitive impaired patients with depressive symptoms had higher amyloid deposition than non-depressed controls as indicated by the binding of the radiotracer to amyloid particularly in the frontal cortex and the anterior and posterior cingulate gyrus of the brain, both involved in mood disorders such as depression.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most prevalent form of dementia. It is estimated that 44.4 million people are living with dementia worldwide. This number is expected to increase to approximately 75.6 million in 2030 and 135.5 million in 2050, according to 2013 data from the Alzheimer’s Disease International.

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Never download an unsolicited file: the latest postal scam illustrates why

Better Business Bureau warns of an old scam making a new appearance

“Never open an unsolicited file or download an unsolicited attachment.”In the world of online security, that statement is the equivalent of &...

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A legitimate USPS shipping message
“Never open an unsolicited file or download an unsolicited attachment.”

In the world of online security, that statement is the equivalent of “Look both ways before going out into traffic” — sounds self-evident, yet it needs to be repeated because rarely a day goes by without someone ignoring (or forgetting) that advice and coming to a bad end as a result.

Consider the latest scam alert issued by the Better Business Bureau: somebody is sending out emails made to look like “shipping notifications” from the U.S. Postal Service.

Supposedly, they were unable to deliver a package to you, so you should download the attached “confirmation form” and take it to your nearest post office.

Of course, if you click on the link to download the form, you'll actually infect your computer with a nasty virus. The BBB ended its scam alert with five pieces of advice, all of which we've discussed during previous anti-scam pieces:

Don't believe what you see. Scammers make emails appear to come from a reputable source. Just because it looks like an "@usps.com" address does not mean it's safe.

Be wary of unexpected emails that contain links or attachments. As always, do not click on links or open the files in unfamiliar emails.

Beware of pop-ups. Some pop-ups are designed to look like they've originated from your computer. If you see a pop-up that looks like an anti-virus software but warns of a problem that needs to be fixed with an extreme level of urgency, it may be a scam.

Watch for poor grammar and spelling. Scam emails often are riddled with typos.

Immediate action is necessary. Scam emails try to get you to act before you think by creating a sense of urgency. Don't fall for it.  

Be original

Another important rule to remember is this: seek out your own contact information. When you get such an email, even if you clearly recognize typos and other indications of possible scamminess, you might not be able to blithely dismiss it as a fraud.

After all (the nagging worrywart part of your mind might argue), the post office's losing a package or not delivering it to a clearly labeled address happens all the time. As for the no-typos rule — well, it's always possible that someone with poor writing skills nonetheless got stuck with email duty today, right?

So if you can't bring yourself to ignore that potentially scammy warning message, you don't have to. Go ahead and ask the post office if they have a package for you — but do this independently, after having done your own research to find a phone number or email address or some other legitimate USPS contact information.

The seek-your-own-information rule applies to every other threatening email, phone call or other message you might get: this letter, allegedly from the IRS, says you owe extra taxes? Then ignore the “contact information” in that letter, and find the IRS' phone number yourself.

That email, allegedly from Netflix, warns of massive problems with your Netflix account? Ignore the phone number and email address it offers you, and look for the Netflix customer-service information yourself.

And never trust anyone who deliberately tries pushing your panic button or otherwise demands “immediate action” as the BBB warned about — legitimate authorities collecting legitimate debts have no need to do that.

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Final rule set for infant formula protections

The rule sets federally enforceable requirements for the safety and quality

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is putting the finishing touches on a rule that sets standards for manufacturers of infant formula. In light of com...

PhotoThe Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is putting the finishing touches on a rule that sets standards for manufacturers of infant formula.

In light of comments received after the interim rule published last February, the final rule provides some modifications and clarifications, and sets a date of September 8, 2014, for manufacturer compliance.

Formula standards

Under the final rule, standards include:

  • Current good manufacturing practices specifically designed for infant formula -- including required testing for the harmful pathogens (disease-causing bacteria) Salmonella and Cronobacter.
  • A requirement that manufacturers demonstrate that the infant formulas they produce support normal physical growth.
  • A requirement that infant formulas be tested for nutrient content in the final product stage, before entering the market, and at the end of the products’ shelf life.

“FDA sets high quality standards for the safety and nutritional quality of infant formulas during this critical time of development,” says Stephen Ostroff, M.D., FDA’s acting chief scientist.

The final rule applies only to infant formulas intended for use by healthy infants without unusual medical or dietary problems. The agency notes that many companies now manufacturing infant formula for the U.S. market have been producing safe products and have voluntarily applied many of the current good manufacturing practices and quality control procedures included in the final rule.

But this rule will set in place federally enforceable requirements for the safety and quality of infant formula.

FDA does not approve infant formulas before they can be marketed. However, all formulas marketed in the U.S. must meet federal nutrient requirements, which are not changed by the new rule. Infant formula manufacturers are required to register with FDA and provide the agency with a notification prior to marketing a new formula.

FDA conducts yearly inspections of all facilities that manufacture infant formula and collects and analyzes product samples. FDA also inspects new facilities. If FDA determines that an infant formula presents a risk to human health, the manufacturer of the formula must conduct a recall.

Products on the market

While breastfeeding is strongly recommended and many mothers hope to breastfeed their infants, most infants in the U.S. rely on infant formula for some portion of their nutrition. An estimated 1 million infants in the United States are fed formula from birth, and by the time they are 3 months old, about 2.7 million rely on formula for at least part of their nutrition.

Infant formula comes in three forms:

  • Powder -- the least expensive of the infant formulas. It must be mixed with water before feeding.
  • Liquid concentrate -- must be mixed with an equal amount of water.
  • Ready-to-feed -- the most expensive form of formula that requires no mixing.

The protein source varies among different types of infant formula.

FDA’s nutrient specifications for infant formulas are set at levels to meet the nutritional needs of infants. In addition, formula manufacturers set nutrient levels that are generally above the FDA minimum requirements. Thus, babies fed infant formulas do not need additional nutrients unless they are fed a low-iron formula.

The infant formulas currently available in the United States are either “iron-fortified”—with approximately 12 milligrams of iron per liter—or “low iron”—with approximately 2 milligrams of iron per liter. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that formula-fed infants receive an iron-fortified formula as a way of reducing the prevalence of iron-deficiency anemia.

Safety issues

Here are some simple steps caregivers can take to make sure their formula is safe:

  • Formula preparation. In most cases, it’s safe to mix formula using ordinary cold tap water that’s boiled for one minute and cooled. Formula made with hot water needs to be cooled quickly to body temperature -- about 98 degrees Fahrenheit -- if it is to be fed to the baby immediately. If the formula is not being fed immediately, refrigerate it right away and keep refrigerated until feeding.
  • Bottles and nipples. The Mayo Clinic says you may want to consider sterilizing bottles and nipples before first use. After that, you can clean them in the dishwasher or wash them by hand with soapy water.
  • Water. Use the exact amount of water recommended on the label.
  • Formula warming. This isn’t necessary for proper nutrition. The best way to warm a bottle of formula is by placing the bottle in a pot of water and heating it on the stove until warm (at body temperature). Never use microwave ovens for heating infant formulas. Microwaving may cause the bottle to remain cool while hot spots develop in the formula. Overheated formula can cause serious burns to the baby.
  • “Use by” date. This is the date after which a package or container of infant formula should not be fed to infants. It indicates that the manufacturer guarantees the nutrient content and the general acceptability of the quality of the formula up to that date. FDA regulations require this date to be specified on each container of infant formula.
  • Storage. Manufacturers must include instructions on infant formula packaging for its handling before and after the container is opened. They must also include information on the storage and disposal of prepared formula.
  • Freezing formula. This is not recommended, as it may cause a separation of the product’s components.
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FTC: Brainstrong deceptively claimed it could improve memory

CVS, Walmart, Walgreens, Rite Aid all sold the drug despite the deceptive advertising

With millions of Americans already suffering from Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia and millions more approach...

Photo
Source: Brainstrong's website

With millions of Americans already suffering from Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia and millions more approaching the age when they are most vulnerable, does it seem likely that a $30 nutritional supplement would do what some of the world's best scientists have been unable to do?

Of course not but that didn't stop i-Health, Inc. and Martek Biosciences Corporation from advertising that their BrainStrong Adult dietary supplement could improve adult memory and prevent cognitive decline.

The Federal Trade Commission charged that the advertising was deceptive and that the marketers falsely claimed they had clinical proof that BrainStrong Adult improves adult memory.

“Supplement marketers must ensure that adequate scientific proof supports their specific advertising claims,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “When the results of a scientific study don’t match the hype, consumers are likely to be misled.”

$1 a day

Since at least March 2011, i-Health and Martek have sold BrainStrong Adult for about $30 for a 30-day supply at major retail stores, including CVS Pharmacy, Walmart, Walgreens, and Rite Aid; and online through drugstore.com and Amazon.com. They advertised the product – which contains the Omega-3 fatty acid DHA – on television, on Twitter, and at www.brainstrongdha.com.

In the television ad, a woman forgets why she walked into a room. Through a voice over, her dog tells the audience she is there to find her sunglasses, which are sitting on top of her head. Another voice over then asks, “Need a memory boost? Introducing BrainStrong…Clinically shown to improve adult memory.”

The FTC's proposed administrative settlement covers any dietary supplement, food, or drug promoted to prevent cognitive decline or improve memory, or containing DHA. It bars the companies from claiming that any such product prevents cognitive decline or improves memory in adults unless the claim is truthful and supported by human clinical testing.

The settlement also prohibits claims about the health benefits, performance, safety, or effectiveness of these products unless the claims are backed up by competent and reliable scientific evidence.

Finally, the companies cannot claim they have clinical proof to support their claims when they do not.

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Ford recalls Taurus vehicles

The license plate lamp assembly may experience a short circui

Ford Motor Company is recalling 183,425 model year 2010-2014 Taurus vehicles manufactured November 24, 2008, through February 28, 2014. The vehicles wer...

PhotoFord Motor Company is recalling 183,425 model year 2010-2014 Taurus vehicles manufactured November 24, 2008, through February 28, 2014.

The vehicles were originally sold in or are currently registered in Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia.

When used in areas that use road salt, the license plate lamp assembly may experience an electro-chemical reaction and corrosion as a result of water intrusion. This corrosion may result in a short circuit, increasing the risk of a fire.

Ford will notify owners, and dealers will replace the license plate lamp assemblies, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on July 25, 2014.

The company Ford will also notify owners in non-corrosion states, and -- at the customer's request -- dealers will replace the license plate lamp assembly.

Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-800-392-3673. Ford's number for this recall is 14S08.

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GreenSmoothieGirl recalls organic sprouted chia seed powder products

The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

GreenSmoothieGirl is recalling two products containing organic sprouted chia powder. The products may be contaminated with Salmonella The company says the...

PhotoGreenSmoothieGirl is recalling two products containing organic sprouted chia powder.

The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

The company says there are no reports of illness to date.

The affected products include:

  • GreenSmoothieGirl Sprouted Ground TriOmega Superfood, 16-oz, UPC 853811005036 with lot number AC030141, Exp. 1/2016 (Silver Ziplock Pouch)
  • GreenSmoothieGirl Sprouted Ground TriOmega Superfood, 16-oz, no UPC, with lot number BIO13TOP300, Exp. 10/2015 (Gold Ziplock Pouch)

The the recalled products lot numbers were distributed in retail stores in Utah, Oregon and Montana, and directly to consumers throughout the U.S. via GreenSmoothieGirl.com.

Consumers with unopened or partially used packages are should to discontinue any use of the product and return it to the place of purchase.

Consumers with questions or who purchased directly from GreenSmoothieGirl should contact the company at 435-625-1596 or by email at gsgchiarecall2014@gmail.com

http://www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/ucm400143.htm?source=govdelivery&utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery

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Chrysler recalls Dodge Durangos and Jeep Cherokees

The vehicles have cruise control issues

Chrysler Group is recalling 6,120 model year 2014 Dodge Durango vehicles manufactured January 16, 2014 to April 8, 2014, Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles manuf...

PhotoChrysler Group is recalling 6,120 model year 2014 Dodge Durango vehicles manufactured January 16, 2014 to April 8, 2014, Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles manufactured January 16, 2014, to April 8, 2014; Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT vehicles manufactured February 3, 2014, to April 8, 2014; and Jeep Cherokee vehicles manufactured March 6, 2014, to April 17, 2014.

When the adaptive cruise control is engaged and the driver presses the accelerator pedal to increase the vehicle's speed more than the cruise control system would on its own, the vehicle may continue to accelerate briefly after the accelerator pedal is released.

The unintended continued acceleration may increase the risk of a crash.

Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will re-flash the Driver Assistance System Module (DASM), free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in June 2014.

Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is P31.

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Navitas Naturals expands recall of Organic Sprouted Chia Powder products

The a broader date range of products is now included

Navitas Naturals is expanding its earlier recall of products containing Organic Sprouted Chia Powder to include additional expiration dates. The products ...

PhotoNavitas Naturals is expanding its earlier recall of products containing Organic Sprouted Chia Powder to include additional expiration dates.

The products may be contaminated with Salmonella.

Navitas Naturals says it is not aware of any reported illnesses associated with the products.

The company says the moved comes after one of our suppliers, Health Matters America, expanded its recall of Chia products.

The affected products were distributed nationally and include:

  • Navitas Naturals Organic Sprouted Chia Powder, 8oz, UPC 858847000369 all best by dates up to and including 11/22/2015
  • Navitas Naturals Omega Blend Sprouted Smoothie Mix, 8oz, UPC 858847000314 all best by dates up to and including 11/05/2015
  • Williams-Sonoma Omega 3 Smoothie Mixer, 8 oz, SKU 506436 all best by dates up to and including OC 2015

No other Navitas Naturals products are affected by this recall.

Consumers who have purchased any of these products should not eat them, but dispose of them or return them to the store where they were originally purchased.

Consumers with questions or who would like product replacements or refunds may call 888-886-3879.

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Kirkland Signature coarse ground malabar pepper recalled

The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

Olde Thompson of Oxnard, Calif., is recalling Kirkland Signature Coarse Ground Malabar Pepper packed in 12.7-oz plastic jars. The product may be contamina...

PhotoOlde Thompson of Oxnard, Calif., is recalling Kirkland Signature Coarse Ground Malabar Pepper packed in 12.7-oz plastic jars.

The product may be contaminated with Salmonella. 

The recalled product is identified and distributed as follows:

  • Kirkland Signature Coarse Ground Malabar Pepper 12.7 -oz Plastic Jars UPC code: 096619164998

The recall affects 5,153 cases of Kirkland Signature Coarse Ground Malabar Pepper 12.7-oz plastic pars with a Best Before date of 03/2017 and Lot #: OT 065099, OT 065169, OT 065254, OT 065255, OT 065256, and OT 065284 located below the back label.

The recalled product was sold exclusively at Costco Wholesale Club nationwide between April 4, 2014, and June 4, 2014.

Customers who have the recalled product sould not consume it, but dispose of it along with the container.

Consumers with questions may contact Olde Thompson Customer Care at 1-844-568-5555 between 8:30AM and 8:00PM CST.

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Is there a way to predict Alzheimer's disease?

With enough warning patients may be able to delay the onset of the disease

Estimates vary but the National Institute on Aging believes as many as 5.1 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease. This irreversible, progressive brain...

PhotoEstimates vary but the National Institute on Aging believes as many as 5.1 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease. This irreversible, progressive brain disease slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and eventually even the ability to carry out the simplest tasks.

As the Baby Boom generation enters old age there is concern that the number of people with this cognitive disease could surge, severely taxing the health care system.

While recent research has been promising, a cure is not on the horizon. However, an early warning system may be.

Neurologist Dr. David Geldmacher leads the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) memory disorders program. He sees Alzheimer's patients on a daily basis. When he talks with the patients' caregivers, he says he invariably gets the question, “can this happen to me?”

Does it run in the family?

“It is very common for family members of a patient receiving a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or other form of dementia to wonder about their own risk,” said Geldmacher.

Because of the persistent question Geldmacher began looking into ways to possibly predict whether someone will be affected by Alzheimer's disease or some other cognitive impairment. He's begun to prepare a personalized dementia risk assessment for people concerned about their risk for developing memory problems as they age.

As part of the assessment he compiles a family history and provides an in-depth memory history for the patient, cognitive testing and a baseline MRI scan. The results all go into risk predictor models.

From that, Geldmacher believes it will be possible to quantify the risk factors for Alzheimer's disease, as well as identify risk factors that, once reduced, can lessen the chances of developing the disease.

He says existing research has already established that negating one or more risk factors can reduce a patient's overall risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease.

Reducing the risk

“Our goal is to understand what risk factors are present in each individual and create a plan that best helps them reduce their risk and make appropriate plans for the future,” Geldmacher said.

Ideally, subjects would undergo the assessment when they are in their 50s and 60s and before they display any symptoms. The results should provide a risk prediction covering the next 20 years.

Not only that, Geldmacher believes that knowing the risks will allow – and motivate – people to take steps that can minimize the risk of serious memory loss.

The UAB clinic is currently setting up the assessment program. Participants will get two clinical visits with Geldmacher and his staff. The first will be to compile histories and conduct testing.

The second will be to go over a customized treatment plan, with instructions on how to access resources to achieve lifestyle changes and where to find supportive educational materials.

The two-visit assessment and treatment will cost about $1,000, which includes the MRI scan.

“It’s really for those who are worried about their cognitive health but do not currently have major memory issues,” Geldmacher said.

Blood test

UAB is not the only institution working on a treatment to predict Alzheimer's disease. Earlier this year researchers at Georgetown University Medical School said a simple blood test can predict with 90% accuracy whether someone will develop Alzheimer's.

If an analysis of the blood shows low levels of 10 specific blood fats, it's highly likely the patient will display dementia symptoms in the future.

"We do not know why all 10 of those lipids are lower in individuals who are predisposed to go on to cognitive impairment," said study author Dr. Howard Federoff.

But again, researchers believe having an early warning of impending Alzheimer's can help a patient make the lifestyle changes that can significantly delay its onset.

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Virginia orders Uber, Lyft to shut down but Uber remains defiant

State orders companies to cease and desist until properly licensed

Virgina, a state known for harsh and swift law enforcement, has ordered Uber and Lyft to shut down after warning the car-sharing services earlier this year...

PhotoVirgina, a state known for harsh and swift law enforcement, has ordered Uber and Lyft to shut down after warning the car-sharing services earlier this year that they were operating illegally, the latest challenge to the smartphone-driven services that have upset the taxi industry, disabled consumers and regulators.

“I am once again making clear that Uber must cease and desist operating in Virginia until it obtains proper authority,” state DMV commissioner Richard D. Holcomb said in a letter to the companies.

The state earlier fined the companies $35,000 for not having the proper permits, and Holcomb said his department has been warning Uber and Lyft for more than six months that they must comply with state laws.

Uber, unimpressed, issued a defiant statement. 

"We wanted to write to let you know that Uber will operate as usual, and we plan to continue full-speed ahead with our commitment to providing Virginians access to safe, affordable and reliable rides," said Zuhairah Washington, General Manager, Uber DC, and Rachel Holt, Uber Regional General Manager, East Coast, in an email.

"We are surprised and disappointed by the DMV’s actions, given that Uber has been working with the Virginia government for months to modernize regulations that will put consumer safety first. Virginia should be standing for innovation, consumer choice and job growth," they said, vowing to defy Holcomb's order. 

Winners & losers

Photo
Matthew Mitchell (GMU photo)

Like many other battles involving peer-to-peer services -- most notably Airbnb -- the interests of consumers may not always be easily identified.

Economist Matthew Mitchell of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., has been closely following the battle between regulators and ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft for several years. This is his asssessment of the winners and losers:

  • Winner: Local taxi monopolies. Cab companies have long benefited from regulations that restrict entry and from regulators who see it as their job to preserve these firms’ profits. The traditional model has been challenged in the last few years by Uber and Lyft, and depending on how long the decision lasts, Cab companies are going to be able to reclaim some of the customers they have lost. 
  • Losers: Uber and Lyft -- and the multitudes of drivers who work with them -- will clearly be harmed. This is why they are not likely to take this lying down.  
  • Losers: Customers. Uber and Lyft have been quite successful because they offer an innovative and convenient service and customers have flocked to them for that. Their customer ratings systems provided a degree of quality control that taxi regulators were never able to achieve. 

Mitchell notes that these peer-to-peer platforms have tangled with municipal regulators in cities across the country where taxi lobbies are powerful. It is rare, however, for state regulators to take this sort of action.

Not recommended

Holcomb's department has been promoting a "Know Your Ride" database that lists transportation providers licensed by the state. Not surprisingly, it doesn't include Uber or Lyft.

"When you hire a ride, you are placing your safety in the hands of that driver," Holcomb said in a prepared statement. "I urge the citizens of Virginia to protect their families by using only companies that appear on DMV's website as licensed transportation services. If it's not on the list, it's not recommended."

But Uber, in its response to Holcomb, said it already meets or exceeds the DMV's requirements.

"Uber has set the standard for consumer safety in the Commonwealth. All uberX rides in Virginia are insured up to $1,000,000, nearly 300% more than the $350,000 required of for-hire drivers by the Virginia DMV. While the Virginia DMV does not require that all for-hire drivers pass background checks, all drivers on the Uber platform pass rigorous background checks at the county, state and federal level before they are ever allowed access to the technology. Our commitment to safety far exceeds the requirements set by the Virginia DMV - making their actions puzzling," the company said.

Uber and Lyft face challenges in a number of states. In Maryland, which borders Virginia, Uber is currently appealing an order that it must file an application to become a for-hire carrier.

The app-based companies are getting a slightly warmer reception in Washington, D.C., where the city council is considering legislation that would allow them to operate if they follow certain regulations.

In what may emerge as one of the most serious challenges, a lawsuit charges the companies deny service to disabled consumers and are not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Licensed taxis and bus companies are required to provide wheelchair-accessible vehicles when requested under terms of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) but three Texas plaintiffs say Uber and Lyft simply ignore the requirement, providing their drivers with no training and allowing them to deny services to disabled travelers.

The lawsuit is regarded as significant because it could result in a ruling that could be applicable nationwide.  

 

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How your credit history affects your car insurance rates

Not all insurance companies use the data the same way

If you're paying more for car insurance and have had no accident or tickets, maybe you should check your credit score. In all but a handful of states, your...

PhotoIf you're paying more for car insurance and have had no accident or tickets, maybe you should check your credit score. In all but a handful of states, your credit history is part of the formula used to set your rate.

According to esurance, a web-based insurance provider, the practice stems from a 2003 study by researchers at the University of Texas. They found that consumers with lower credit scores tended to be involved in more car insurance losses and higher claims – meaning they were a greater risk.

A 2007 study by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) found pretty much the same thing, drawing a strong reaction from a number of consumer groups. They cited other studies that found tying insurance rates to credit scores tends to discriminates against low income and minority consumers because of the racial and economic disparities inherent in scoring.

3 states ban it

If you think that linking credit histories to insurance rates doesn't seem fair, the state legislatures in California, Hawaii, and Massachusetts agree. They have passed laws preventing insurance companies from using credit scores – or “credit-based insurance scores,” as esurance calls them – as part of the rate formula.

Some insurance companies weight this credit data more heavily than others, so a consumer with a spotty credit record would want to avoid companies that place a lot of stock in credit history and go with one where it seems to matter less.

The financial website WalletHub.com said it obtained quotes from five of the largest car insurance providers for two hypothetical consumers – one with good credit and one with no credit history. What did it find?

Among the five insurance companies Allstate appeared to rely most on credit history. The study found a 116% swing in premiums between the good credit/no credit consumers.

At the other end of the scale, State Farm appeared to rely least on credit history. The difference was still significant, but was only 45%.

The differential differs state to state. In the average state the study found a 65% differential in the cost of car insurance premiums for a person with an excellent credit score and a person with no credit history.

Transparency

Some insurance companies are more upfront about their use of credit data in setting rates. Progressive, for example, was found to be the most transparent, scoring a perfect 10 in that category. Liberty Mutual was the lowest-scoring provider, logging a rating of 4.5.

Back to esurance's point that companies don't use your credit score but use the data to create their own insurance credit score. That's technically true and may explain why there appears to be such a variation of rates in the WalletHub study.