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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 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. 

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

    Here'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.

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

    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

    © 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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      NY indicts fraudster who allegedly preyed on immigrants

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

      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.

      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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      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, 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.

      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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      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 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.

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

      The company had previously issued a stop-delivery order

      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.

      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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      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 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.

      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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      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 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.

      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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      Aereo: Where does it go from here?

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

      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

      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.

      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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      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).

      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.”  

      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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      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 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?" 

      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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      Students beware: make sure your school has regional accreditation

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

      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.

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

      "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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      Chimps prefer silence to most kinds of Western music

      Strong, predictable rhythms are perceived as threatening

      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. 

      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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      Whole Foods to pay $800,000 for pricing violations

      Southern California cities say the trendy supermarkets overcharged customers

      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.

      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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      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 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.

      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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      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 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.

      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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      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 (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

      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.

      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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