Browse by year
 | 

Credit cards and car loans: a tale of two debts

Credit card delinquencies are down but late auto loan payments are rising

The credit reporting agency TransUnion has issued a report that suggests consumers are doing better managing their credit cards than their car loans....

Photo
© javy - Fotolia
The credit reporting agency TransUnion has issued a report that suggests consumers are doing better managing their credit cards than their car loans.

The latest TransUnion Industry Insights Report puts the national delinquency rate for credit cards at its lowest level in 7 years, falling from 1.27% in the second quarter of 2013 to 1.16% in the second quarter of this year.

Auto loans, however, are a different story. Car loan delinquency rates jumped more than 9% in the second quarter of this year over the same period in 2013. At the same time, auto loan debt rose for the 13th straight quarter.

That last point should come as no surprise since car sales set new records month after month. These buyers aren't paying with cash.

Good news/bad news

When it comes to consumer debt, there does appear to be a good news/bad news breakdown.

"Consumers continue to have a good handle on their credit cards, with delinquencies at all-time lows across the spectrum," said Ezra Becker, vice president of research and consulting in TransUnion's financial services business unit. "We observed that delinquency rates are dropping for all age groups, and at relatively similar rates."

The news isn't quite as good when you look at credit card balances. While all age groups are doing better paying their bills on time, the two oldest age groups – 50 to 59 and 60 and older – are adding to their credit card balances. That's a time in life that consumers should be reducing their debt, not adding to it.

Overall, average credit card debt per borrower remained almost unchanged in the last year, increasing slightly from $5,226 in 2013 to $5,234 in 2014. On a quarterly basis, credit card debt was up only slightly in the second quarter from the first.

Falling behind

Consumers who borrowed money to buy cars are having a more difficult time keeping up with their payments.

Auto loan delinquency – which is defined as being 60 days or more late on a car payment – increased to 0.95% in the second quarter of 2014, up from 0.87% in the same period of 2013. Quarter to quarter, however, delinquencies were down slightly.

Since 2007, the auto loan delinquency rate has risen as high as 1.59% in the fourth quarter of 2008. Its low was 0.86%, in 2012.

While some might see the rising delinquency rate as cause for concern, given that new car sales have become one of the economy's strongest drivers, TransUnion believes the numbers are not unexpected.

Still relatively low

"Auto lending remains similar to what we have observed during the last several quarters," said Peter Turek, automotive vice president for TransUnion. "Delinquency rates remain relatively low while auto loan balances keep rising -- both metrics aided by increasing auto loan originations.”

TransUnion says there are 4 million additional auto loans than there were a year ago. If the delinquency rate is ticking higher, that suggests a larger portion of these loans are going to consumers who are having a harder time keeping up.

In an August report, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York noted that auto loan balances are rapidly rising and that much of the boom in sales can be traced to subprime borrowers. Is it a problem? The Fed appears to be on the fence.

While the greatest growth in car loans has been among what the Fed calls “riskier groups,” the bank says it still makes up a smaller percentage than before the 2008 financial crisis.

More

AT&T data throttling policy: only legacy customers cause network congestion

“Unlimited” data plan customers throttled for using less data than tiered-plan subscribers

Here's more evidence in support of the theory that communications service providers often use data throttling solely to make more money for themselves....

 

Photo
© Sergey Nivens - Fotolia

Here's more evidence in support of the theory that communications service providers often use data throttling solely to make more money for themselves.

 

Though AT&T likes to cite network congestion as an excuse for throttling certain of its mobile customers' connection speeds, its latest offer to double the data limits for new subscribers who sign up for its Mobile Share Value plan by October 31 strongly suggests that AT&T's data-throttling activities have less to do with reining in bandwidth hogs than with generating additional revenue for AT&T.

There's a longstanding debate over the issue of data throttling (or “network optimization,” as Verizon prefers to call it): deliberately slowing down, or “throttling,” someone's Internet connection, possibly to the point where streaming videos and other common activities becomes impossible until the throttling stops.

Fans of the practice (read: the companies who do it) say data throttling is necessary to prevent certain users from hogging up all the bandwidth, thus ruining smartphones and the Internet for everybody. And there's no denying that sometimes, when networks actually are congested due to heavy use, some level of throttling for the heaviest users genuinely is necessary to keep the network running.

(On a related note: that's why, when hurricanes or other natural disasters knock out utilities over a wide area, cell phone and smartphone users are asked to use text messaging rather than voice calls to keep in touch with friends and family: because text messaging uses far less bandwidth.)

Counter-arguments

Critics of the practice have a variety of counter-arguments, the most common of which is that data throttling has nothing to do with bandwidth capacity or healthy network management, but is merely a way for companies to get more money out of customers.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler is one of those critics. Last July, he sent an open letter to Verizon executives expressing concerns over their data throttling/network optimization tactics and asking several pointed questions, including this:

What is your rationale for treating customers differently based on the type of data plan to which they subscribe, rather than network architecture or technological factors? In particular, please explain your statement that, "If you're on an unlimited data plan and are concerned that you are in the top 5% of data users, you can switch to a usage-based data plan as customers on usage-based plans are not impacted."

Not that Verizon is unique in its apparent tendency to use data throttling for reasons other than legitimate network management. In January 2014, AT&T launched its then-new “Sponsored Data” program, which it said would shift “mobile data costs from the consumer to the content provider.” (In other words, websites would have to pay in order to ensure AT&T mobile visitors could access them in a timely fashion, in complete opposite of proposed “net neutrality” rules.)

At the time, TechDirt called the program “an admission that data caps have nothing to do with congestion.”

And AT&T's current “double the amount of data” promotion seems to admit the same.

"Unlimited" data

Data throttling doesn't affect all AT&T mobile customers, only those with unlimited data plans. (AT&T no longer offers unlimited plans to new customers, though it still has some old customers enrolled in what it now calls the “Legacy Unlimited Data Plan.”)

AT&T's info page about the legacy plan says that:

As a result of the AT&T network management process, customers on a 3G or 4G smartphone with an unlimited data plan who have exceeded 3 gigabytes of data in a billing period may experience reduced speeds when using data services at times and in areas that are experiencing network congestion. Customers on a 4G LTE smartphone will experience reduced speeds once their usage in a billing cycle exceeds 5 gigabytes of data. All such customers can still use unlimited data without incurring overage charges, and their speeds will be restored with the start of the next billing cycle.

In other words: even if your plan promises “unlimited” data, once you pass a certain limit your connection will be throttled. However, the very first clause in the paragraph suggests this throttling is necessary, as part of “the AT&T network management process.”

So, if you have an unlimited data plan with AT&T, your connection might be throttled after you exceed 3 GB of data in a billing period, and will definitely be throttled if you exceed 5 GB. How does that compare to AT&T's regular plans, or its current promotion for new customers who sign up by Halloween?

AT&T is offering new promotional Mobile Share Value plans that include double the amount of data offered on Mobile Share Value plans with 15GB to 50 GB of data. New and existing customers who proactively sign-up by October 31* get 30GB of data for the price of 15GB**

Throttled after 5GB

So AT&T users with unlimited data plans get throttled after using only 5GB in a billing period, whereas “ordinary” new customers get at least 15GB per billing period, but as part of this promotion can get 30GB – six times what “unlimited” data users get before they're throttled. And that's the smallest data plan; AT&T offers another with a whopping 100GB of shared data – for $375 per month.

Yet the same company that can provide up to 100 gigabytes of shared data to certain customers also claims that “network management” obligates it to throttle any unlimited data user who shares a mere 5 gigabytes of data. That's how math works at AT&T company HQ: 5GB from an “unlimited” plan causes more congestion than a 100GB limit.

More

Supermarkets hacked again: ACME, Albertson's, Jewel-Osco, Shaw's, Star and SuperValu

Take the usual security precautions if you shopped at the affected stores

In mid-August, spokesmen for the SuperValu chain of grocery and/or liquor stores announced that, due to a previously unannounced security breach, hackers h...

Photo
© xy - Fotolia

In mid-August, spokesmen for the SuperValu chain of grocery and/or liquor stores announced that, due to a previously unannounced security breach, hackers had had access to the company's customer payment-card database between June 22 and July 17, though the company did not inform anybody of this until August 14.

That security breach from last summer is not to be confused with the most recent security breach announced this week, a breach which apparently appeared shortly after Albertson's et al fixed the damage from the last security breach. On Monday, Albertson's released a statement saying:

The Company has been informed that different malware was used in this recently discovered incident than was used in the incident previously announced on August 14, 2014. The investigations into both this incident and the earlier incident are ongoing.

AB Acquisition promptly notified federal law enforcement authorities of this separate criminal incident, which apparently occurred in late August or early September 2014 …. The new malware may have captured account numbers, expiration date, other numerical information and/or the cardholder’s name.

The statement goes on to say that the problem does not affect every store in the chain, only those stores which used a particular “point of sale system,” or third-party payment processor:

Because the point of sale systems are different across AB Acquisition divisions, Albertsons stores in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, New Mexico, Texas and our two Super Saver Foods Stores in Northern Utah were not impacted by this incident. However, Albertsons stores in Southern California, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Wyoming and Southern Utah were impacted. In addition, ACME Markets in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey; Jewel-Osco stores in Iowa, Illinois and Indiana; and Shaw’s and Star Markets stores in Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Rhode Island were affected by this new incident.

If you keep up with customer-database hacking news, you've surely noticed how often the hackers succeed not by successfully attacking the company's own database, but by compromising a third-party point of sale system. Just last week, point-of-sale systems provider Signature Systems admitted that hackers cracked their security and accessed customer data from the Jimmy John's sandwich chain and at least 108 different independently owned businesses (mostly restaurants).

So far, there's no indication who made the particular point-of-sale system compromised in this most recent Albertson's security breach, but if you bought anything with a payment card at the affected stores within the past month, you'll probably need to get new cards issued again.

More

FCC blacks out Sports Blackout Rule for good

The rule made "no sense at all," FCC chair said

The Federal Communications Commission today voted unanimously to end its 40-year-old Sports Blackout Rule, a vestige of the days when many pro teams were s...

Photo
© Melinda Nagy - Fotolia.com

The Federal Communications Commission today voted unanimously to end its 40-year-old Sports Blackout Rule, a vestige of the days when many pro teams were struggling to fill stadiums and television signals were still a rare commodity.

Under the rule, whenever a sports league ordered a local broadcaster not to televise a game due to unsold tickets, the local cable, satellite, and other video distributors could not televise the game either. The National Football League, along with the National Association of Broadcasters and the NFL Players Association, strongly opposed efforts to end the rule,  arguing that to do so would jeopardize pro football on "free" TV, meaning over-the-air broadcasts.

“This is a historic day for sports fans,” said David Goodfriend, Chairman of Sports Fans Coalition. “Since 1975, the federal government has propped up the NFL’s obnoxious practice of blacking out a game from local TV if the stadium did not sell out. Today’s FCC action makes clear: if leagues want to mistreat fans, they will have to do so without Uncle Sam’s help.”

“Republicans and Democrats don’t agree on much these days, but when it comes to getting government out of the business of mistreating sports fans, we are in total agreement,” said Brad Blakeman, Sports Fans Coalition Board Member. “The era of government writing a blank check to sports leagues is over.”

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler had made no secret of his stance. “Clearly, the NFL no longer needs the government’s help to remain viable,” he said earlier this month.

“To hear the NFL describe it, you would think that putting a game on CBS, NBC or Fox was a money-losing proposition instead of a highly profitable multibillion-dollar business,” he wrote in an op-ed in USA Today. “If the league truly has the best interest of millions of American fans at heart, they could simply commit to staying on network television in perpetuity.”

"With the NFL’s incredible popularity, it’s not surprising that last year the League made $10 billion in revenue and only two games were blacked-out," he added.

“The FCC did the right thing today by removing this antiquated rule, which is no longer justified by facts or simple logic," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a longtime critic of the rule. "Even as the NFL made millions upon millions of dollars off of broadcasting rights, they continued as recently as this season to threaten fans with unnecessary blackout restrictions. Today the FCC officially threw a flag on the NFL’s anti-fan blackout policy.”

Blumenthal, along with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.) has introduced the Furthering Access and Networks for Sports (FANS) Act of 2013 – complementary legislation that would remove the NFL’s antitrust exemptions, unless the league ends its practice of requiring broadcasters to blackout games that don’t sell out.  

More to come 

The Sports Fans Coalition said it intends to keep the momentum going after today’s FCC action, specifically by pursuing the following initiatives:

1. Eliminating sports leagues’ anti-trust exemption for imposing local blackouts;

2. Enacting the FANS Act; 

3. Conditioning taxpayer funding of professional sports arenas on direct benefits for fans, including free tickets for certain categories of veterans and school children, or in the alternative eliminating such public funding altogether; and

4. Working with domestic violence prevention professionals to help make professional sports something parents can once again proudly share with their children.

“American sports fans love their home teams, love the games, and will fight to make sure that government policies uphold the best that sports have to offer,” said Goodfriend.

More

Depression sweeping the country

Americans more depressed than in decades, study finds

Americans are more depressed now than they have been in decades even though they may not be aware of it, a new study finds....

Photo
© Artem Furman - Fotolia
Americans are more depressed now than they have been in decades even though they may not be aware of it, a new study finds.

Analyzing data from 6.9 million adolescents and adults, San Diego State University professor Jean M. Twenge that Americans now report more psychosomatic symptoms of depression, such as trouble sleeping and trouble concentrating, than their counterparts in the 1980s.

"Previous studies found that more people have been treated for depression in recent years, but that could be due to more awareness and less stigma," said Twenge. "This study shows an increase in symptoms most people don't even know are connected to depression, which suggests adolescents and adults really are suffering more."

Compared to their 1980s counterparts, teens in the 2010s are 38% more likely to have trouble remembering, 74% more likely to have trouble sleeping and twice as likely to have seen a professional for mental health issues.

College students surveyed were 50% more likely to say they feel overwhelmed, and adults were more likely to say their sleep was restless, they had poor appetite and everything was an effort — all classic psychosomatic symptoms of depression.

"Despite all of these symptoms, people are not any more likely to say they are depressed when asked directly, again suggesting that the rise is not based on people being more willing to admit depression," said Twenge.

Medication helps ... a little

The study also found that the suicide rate for teens decreased, though the decline was small compared to the increase in symptoms of depression.

With the use of anti-depressant medications doubling over this time period, Twenge speculates that medication may have helped those with the most severe problems but has not reduced increases in other symptoms that, she says, can still cause significant issues.

Twenge's findings were published in the journal Social Indicators Research.

More

Childhood asthma linked to poor ventilation of gas stoves

It's important to use ventilation when cooking, study suggests

Many cooks prefer using a gas stove and gas is often cheaper than electricity but a new study finds a potentially big downside to cooking with gas -- a hig...

Photo
© masik0553 - Fotolia

Many cooks prefer using a gas stove and gas is often cheaper than electricity but a new study finds a potentially big downside to cooking with gas -- a higher rate of asthma and bronchitis in homes where gas stoves are used without adequate ventilation.

“In homes where a gas stove was used without venting, the prevalence of asthma and wheezing is higher than in homes where a gas stove was used with ventilation,” said Ellen Smit, an associate professor Oregon State University and one of the study’s authors. “Parents of all children should use ventilation while using a gas stove.”

Researchers can’t say that gas stove use without ventilation causes respiratory issues, but the new study clearly shows an association between having asthma and use of ventilation, Smit said. More study is needed to understand that relationship.

Asthma is a common chronic childhood disease and an estimated 48% of American homes have a gas stove. Gas stoves are known to affect indoor air pollution levels and researchers wanted to better understand the links between air pollution from gas stoves, parents’ behavior when operating gas stoves and respiratory issues, said Eric Coker, a doctoral student in public health and a co-author of the study.

The study showed that children who lived in homes where ventilation such as an exhaust fan was used when cooking with gas stoves were 32% less likely to have asthma than children who lived in homes where ventilation was not used. Children in homes where ventilation was used while cooking with a gas stove were 38% less likely to have bronchitis and 39% less likely to have wheezing.

The study also showed that lung function, an important biological marker of asthma, was significantly better among girls from homes that used ventilation when operating their gas stove.

Used for heating

Many people in the study also reported using their gas stoves for heating, researchers found. That was also related to poorer respiratory health in children, particularly when ventilation was not used. In homes where the gas kitchen stove was used for heating, children were 44% less likely to have asthma and 43% less likely to have bronchitis if ventilation was used.

The results did not change even when asthma risk factors such as pets or cigarette smoking inside the home were taken into account, Coker said.

The findings were published recently in the journal Environmental Health. Researchers used data from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, or NHANES, conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics from 1988-1994. Data collected for NHANES is a nationally representative sample of the U.S. population.

Even though the study relies on older data, the findings remain relevant because many people still use gas stoves for cooking, and in some cases, for heat in the winter, the researchers said.

“Lots of older homes lack exhaust or other ventilation,” Coker said. “We know this is still a problem. We don’t know if it is as prevalent as it was when the data was collected.”

“More research is definitely needed,” Coker said. “But we know using an effective ventilation system will reduce air pollution levels in a home, so we can definitely recommend that.”

More

How to unplug your energy bill

Cold weather often brings higher energy costs but there are ways to save

Hate to say it but colder weather is just around the corner and that means your energy bill will probably go up. Even if you don't have electric heat you a...

Photo
© yo camon - Fotolia

Hate to say it but colder weather is just around the corner and that means your energy bill will probably go up. Even if you don't have electric heat you are inside more so lights will be on more than usual, so this is a good time to review your energy habits. 

You may want to take a nice long hot bath to warm up as the weather turns chilly, but it's best to limit the baths and opt for the shower.

The average bath requires 30 to 50 gallons of water — a major energy drain, especially when a four-minute shower with a low-flow head only uses about 10 gallons.

An occasional bath isn't going to skyrocket your utility bills, but if it becomes a must-have, expect your energy costs to be slightly higher than the average household. Just like running your dishwasher, the cost of taking a bath all boils down to water consumption and the energy it takes to heat the water.

Dishwashing

Lets talk about that age-old debate -- hand-washing or the dishwasher. I have to tell you I always thought the dishwasher used more energy so I hand-washed. Wrong. After investigating, it's clear the dishwasher will save you on water and on your electric bill because it uses less water than hand-washing, on average. Maybe skip the heat-drying cycle to reduce electricity consumption.

So stack up the washer but wait until it is full to turn it on.

That electric oven can rack up the kilowatt hours if you are cooking in it every night but it's still cheaper then eating out. Some ways to conserve would be not to peek by opening up the oven to see if the food's done. Use your timer -- you lose about 25 degrees everytime you open the door.

You can save 20% of your oven-related energy costs by using a convection oven, which utilizes a fan to force the hot air around the oven. Not only does this mean shorter cooking times and lower temperatures, but your food will cook more evenly too. Keeping your oven sparkly clean will direct the heat at your food and not the burnt stuff caked to the bottom.

Freeze out

Your ice maker is melting your energy budget. Think twice about how much ice you really need and use. According to Energy Star, automatic ice machines work around the clock, constantly draining energy, and they can increase your refrigerator's energy use by 14% to 20%.

There should be a switch on the front of the ice maker to turn it off. Check your manual if you can't locate it. You can make ice the old-fashioned way in an ice tray or you can just use the ice maker when you know you will need cubes.

Not everyone can keep their refrigerator stuffed to the gills but it can actually help keep your energy bill down if it's filled. Every time you open the door warm air comes in, thus making the fridge work harder to stay cool. If there is a lot of space in it, it has to work a little harder to maintain the temp. 

You can also unplug appliances like a toaster or coffee maker until you need to use them. They can be draining energy for no reason. It's all about habits and how to change them; once you start working to save energy, you'll start seeing the savings.

More

Home price gains slow dramatically in July

None of the cities in the Case-Shiller survey showed improvement

Home prices were higher in July, but the rate of increase slowed significantly, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices. A leading measure o...

Photo
© teena137 - Fotolia.com

Home prices were higher in July, but the rate of increase slowed significantly, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices.

A leading measure of U.S. home prices, the indices show 19 of the 20 cities had lower annual returns in July with Las Vegas, Miami and San Francisco the only cities to report double-digit annual gains.

Cleveland’s rate was unchanged at +0.9% for the 12 months ending in July.

During the month, the 10-City and 20-City Composites increased 0.6% and the National Index was up 0.5%. Although all cities but one gained on a monthly basis, 17 saw smaller increases in July as compared with June. New York, which saw a lower gain, was the only city where prices rose over 1%. San Francisco posted its largest decline (-0.4%) since February 2012.

“The broad-based deceleration in home prices continued in the most recent data,” said David M. Blitzer, Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “However, home prices continue to rise at two to three times the rate of inflation. The slower pace of home price appreciation is consistent with most of the other housing data on housing starts and home sales. The rise in August new home sales -- which are not covered by the S&P/Case-Shiller indices – is a welcome exception to recent trends."

Las Vegas leads the way

The 10- and 20-City Composites gained 6.7% annually with prices nationally rising at a slower pace of 5.6%. Las Vegas, one of the most depressed housing markets in the recession, is still leading the cities with 12.8% year-over-year. Phoenix, the first city to see double-digit gains back in 2012, posted its lowest annual return (+5.7%) since February 2012.

“While the year-over-year figures are trending downward,” Blitzer noted, “home prices are still rising month-to-month although at a slower rate than what we are used to seeing over the past couple of years.”

The National Index rose 0.5% -- its seventh consecutive increase. At the bottom was San Francisco with its first decline this year and the only city in the red. New York tended to under perform over the past few years but it was on top for the last two months.”

Zero improvement

While all cities continue to continue to post year-over-year gains, not one managed to show improvement. San Francisco decelerated the most from an annual return of +13.2% in June to +10.3% in July. Cleveland remained steady at +0.9% year-over-year and continued to underperform the other Metropolitan Statistical Areas by a wide margin.

San Francisco declined 0.4%, but the rest of the cities saw gains ranging from 0.1% to 1.1%. Miami was the only city to show improvement -- from +0.6% in June to +0.8% in July.

Charlotte and Cleveland remained at 0.4% and 0.5%, respectively. Dallas and Denver continue to set new peaks, while Detroit remains the only city below its January 2000 value.

More

Incomes, spending on the rise in August

The personal savings rate, however, headed lower

Both personal income and spending rose in August, showing a bit of progress over July's lackluster performance. According to the Bureau of Economic Analys...

Photo
© kentoh – Fotolia.com

Both personal income and spending rose in August, showing a bit of progress over July's lackluster performance.

According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, incomes were up 0.3% last month to $47.3 billion, while personal consumption expenditures (PCE) increased $57.5 billion, or 0.5%. Personal income rose 0.2% and PCE were flat in July.

Disposable personal income (DPI) -- personal income less personal current taxes -- rose 0.3% compared with an increase of 0.2% the month before.

Wages and salaries

Private wages and salaries jumped $30.4 billion, compared with an increase of $17.4 billion in July.

Payrolls of goods-producing industries were up $6.0 billion, after inching up just $1.2 billion the previous month. Within that sector, manufacturing payrolls rose $3.6 billion, in contrast to an $0.8 billion in July.

Services-producing industries' payrolls increased $24.6 billion, compared with a July rise of $16.2 billion. Government wages and salaries increased $1.4 billion, following an increase of $1.1 billion in July.

Outlays and personal saving

Personal outlays, which include PCE, personal interest payments and personal current transfer payments, were up $60.4 billion in August, compared with an increase of $3.5 billion in July.

Personal saving -- DPI less personal outlays -- was $705.3 billion last month, compared with $730.5 billion in July. The personal saving rate -- personal saving as a percentage of disposable personal income -- was 5.4% a drop of 0.2% from July, but still better than the 4.9% rate reported at the start of the year.

The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

More

An apple a day could keep the pounds away

Granny Smith apples are especially high in "nondigestible compounds," study finds

You might not think of apples as being hard to digest and they're not. But it turns out that they contain a high percentage of nondigestible compounds that...

Photo
© kavee29 - Fotolia

You might not think of apples as being hard to digest and they're not. But it turns out that they contain a high percentage of nondigestible compounds that may be helpful in preventing disorders associated with obesity.

Scientists at Washington State University say their study finds that Granny Smith apples are particularly beneficial; they encourage the growth of friendly bacteria in the colon because of their high content of non-digestible compounds, including dietary fiber and polyphenols, and low content of available carbohydrates. 

“We know that, in general, apples are a good source of these nondigestible compounds but there are differences in varieties,” said food scientist Giuliana Noratto, the study’s lead researcher. “Results from this study will help consumers to discriminate between apple varieties that can aid in the fight against obesity.”

Despite being subjected to chewing, stomach acid and digestive enzymes, the nondigestible compounds remain intact when they reach the colon. Once there, they are fermented by bacteria in the colon, which benefits the growth of friendly bacteria in the gut.

The study showed that Granny Smith apples surpass Braeburn, Fuji, Gala, Golden Delicious, McIntosh and Red Delicious in the amount of nondigestible compounds they contain.

“The nondigestible compounds in the Granny Smith apples actually changed the proportions of fecal bacteria from obese mice to be similar to that of lean mice,” Noratto said.

The discovery could help prevent some of the disorders associated with obesity such as low-grade, chronic inflammation that can lead to diabetes.

The balance of bacterial communities in the colon of obese people is disturbed. This results in microbial byproducts that lead to inflammation and influence metabolic disorders associated with obesity, Noratto said.

“What determines the balance of bacteria in our colon is the food we consume,” she said. Re-establishing a healthy balance of bacteria in the colon stabilizes metabolic processes that influence inflammation and the sensation of feeling satisfied, or satiety.

The study appears in October’s print edition of the journal Food Chemistry.

More

Consumers feeling less confident in September

It's the first decline in five months

After posting an increase in August, the Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index slumped in September, dropping from 93.4 to 80.6. In addition, the...

Photo
© intheskies - Fotolia.com

After posting an increase in August, the Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index slumped in September, dropping from 93.4 to 80.6.

In addition, the Present Situation Index fell to 89.4 from 93.9, and the Expectations Index dropped more than 9 points -- to 83.7.

The September retreat came after 4 consecutive months of improvement.

“A less positive assessment of the current job market, most likely due to the recent softening in growth, was the sole reason for the decline in consumers’ assessment of present-day conditions,” said Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at The Conference Board. “Looking ahead, consumers were less confident about the short-term outlook for the economy and labor market, and somewhat mixed regarding their future earnings potential. All told, consumers expect economic growth to ease in the months ahead.”

Not a lot of optimism

Consumers assessed current conditions less favorably in September versus a month ago. Their view of business conditions was virtually unchanged, with those saying conditions are “good” falliung slightly from 23.5 to 23.4%; those who think business conditions are “bad” held constant at 21.3%.

Consumers’ appraisal of the job market declined more appreciably, with the proportion stating jobs are “plentiful” dropped from 17.6% to 15.1%. Those who believe jobs are “hard to get” was barely changed, at 30.1% versus 30.0 percent in August.

Consumers’ optimism about the short-term outlook declined considerably in September. The percentage of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next 6 months fell from 20.8% to 18.6%, while those expecting business conditions to worsen rose from 9.9% to 12.0%.

The outlook for the labor market likewise took a downturn. Those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead fell from 17.8% to 15.2%, while those expecting fewer jobs rose from 15.2% to 17.8%.

The proportion of consumers looking for their incomes to grow rose in September to 16.8%, from 15.5% in August. However, the proportion expecting a drop in income also rose -- to 13.4% from 11.6% a month ago.

The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey, based on a probability-design random sample, is conducted for The Conference Board by Nielsen, a leading global provider of information and analytics around what consumers buy and watch. The cutoff date for the preliminary results was September 18.

More

Bravo recalls select chicken and turkey pet foods

The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

Bravo of Manchester, Conn., is recalling select lots of Bravo Turkey and Chicken pet foods for dogs and cats. The products may be contaminated with Salmon...

Photo
Photo source: FDA

Bravo of Manchester, Conn., is recalling select lots of Bravo Turkey and Chicken pet foods for dogs and cats.

The products may be contaminated with Salmonella.

The company says it has received no reports of illness in either people or animals associated with these products to date.

The recalled product was distributed beginning on November 14, 2013, nationwide to distributors, retail stores, Internet retailers and directly to consumers. It can be identified by the batch ID code (best used by date) printed on the side of the plastic tube.

These products are being recalled because they have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella:

Raw Food Diet Bravo! Turkey Blend For Dogs And Cats

Product Number: 31-102

Size: 2 lb. (32 OZ) plastic tubes

Best used by date: 11-05-15

UPC: 829546311025

Keep Frozen

Bravo! Blends All Natural Chicken Blend diet for dogs & cats

Product Number: 21-102

Size: 2 lb. (32 OZ) plastic tubes

Best used by date: 08-11-16

UPC: 829546211028

Keep Frozen

These products are being recalled because they were manufactured in the same manufacturing facility or on the same day as products that tested positive:

Premium Turkey Formula Bravo Balance Raw Diet

Product Number: 31-405

Size: 5 lb. (80 OZ) 2.3KG plastic tubes

Best used by date: 11-05-15

UPC: 829546314057

Keep Frozen

Bravo! Blends All Natural Chicken Blend diet for dogs & cats

Product Number: 21-105

Size: 5 lb. (80 OZ) 2.3KG plastic tubes

Best used by date: 08-11-16

UPC: 829546211059

Keep Frozen

The recalled product should not be sold or fed to pets. Pet owners who have the affected product at home should dispose of this product in a safe manner.

Customers who have purchased the recalled pet food may return to the store where purchased and submit the Product Recall Claim Form available on the Bravo website for a full refund or store credit.

Consumers may call Bravo toll free (866) 922-9222 Monday through Friday 9:00 am to 5:00 pm (EST).

More

Obama orders stricter consumer protections for service members

New rules crack down on use of loopholes by lenders, cover more types of loans

New regulations being published today would limit the interest that can be charged to military service members, part of an Obama Administration effort to c...

Photo
© alex chernak - Fotolia

New regulations being published today would limit the interest that can be charged to military service members, part of an Obama Administration effort to close gaps and loopholes in a 2006 measure. President Obama announced the executive action at the American Legion's annual convention Aug. 26. 

The Military Lending Act of 2006 imposed a 36% limit on the annual percentage rate on loans to service members but it applies only to certain types of payday loans, car title and refund anticipation loans. Obama's executive order gave the Department of Defense the authority to extend the types of loans covered by the restrictions. 

In response, the Pentagon said it would apply the protections to all forms of payday loans, vehicle title loans, refund anticipation loans, deposit advance loans, installment loans, unsecured open-end lines of credit, and credit cards.

The only types of loans not covered would be mortgages and what are called "purchase-money" loans, primarily car loans. 

Protections listed

The proposed protections include:

  • A 36% interest-rate limit that covers all interest and fees associated with the loan, referred to as the Military Annual percentage Rate (MAPR). However, in the case of a credit card account, a creditor would be permitted to exclude bona fide fees that are reasonable and customary from the charges counted toward the MAPR.
  • The creditor would be responsible for providing the military borrower with additional disclosures, including a statement that he or she should seek other options than high-cost credit, to include financial counseling and assistance from the Military Aid Societies.
  • Prohibiting creditors from requiring service members to submit to arbitration, waive their rights under the Service members’ Civil Relief Act, or imposing onerous legal notice requirements as a result of taking one of these loans.

Won't curtail access

In a prepared statement, the Defense Department said the proposed regulations would not restrict service members' access to credit or penalize legitimate businesses: "Service members and their families would continue to have access to a wide variety of lending products. The proposed rule should not affect modestly priced, mainstream credit products that do not impose high application fees or participation fees."

Andrew Egeland, president of the Association of Military Banks of America, a trade association of banks the provide service to service members, agreed.

“We’re very supportive of DoD’s efforts to promulgate new rules,” Egeland said in a statement to Military Times“We all operate well within the parameters of the Military Lending Act and offer alternatives to predatory lenders."

But the American Financial Services Association, a trade group for loan companies, said the measure was unnecessary and would restrict "military families’ access to the most responsible and time-tested source of consumer credit." 

"DoD has not provided any evidence of problems with traditional installment lending," AFSA president Chris Stinebert said. "Before subjecting an entire industry to restrictive regulation, AFSA believes that more emphasis should be placed on promoting access to affordable credit for servicemembers."

Consumer support

Consumer advocates are supporting the proposal, saying it is long overdue. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau "strongly supports" the measure, executive director Richard Cordray said, noting that the bureau and other federal agencies enforce the lending provisions.

“As one of the agencies charged with enforcing the Military Lending Act, we have seen firsthand how lenders use loopholes in the rule to prey on members of the military," Cordray said. "They lurk right outside of military bases, offering loans that fall just beyond the parameters of the current rule."

Cordray said the new measures would "shut down the predatory lending to the military that has flourished through exploiting legal technicalities."

He noted that in November 2013, the Bureau took action against a payday lender, Cash America, for extending payday loans to servicemembers and their families in violation of the Military Lending Act

Clearer disclosures

Among other provisons, the new rules would provide clearer loan disclosures to borrowers, requiring a clear "non-numerical descriptive statement" of the interest rates allowed.

It would also enable lenders to verify borrowers who are covered under the MLA by checking their status in an online database. 

The new rules are being published today in the Federal Register and will be available for public comment for 60 days before going into effect. 

More

Reasons to avoid a subprime car loan

The bank might be able to disable your car if your payment is late

The housing crisis was triggered in large part by an overabundance of subprime mortgages. In short, consumers got loans for homes they couldn't afford....

Photo
© tycoon101 - Fotolia
The housing crisis was triggered in large part by an overabundance of subprime mortgages. In short, consumers got loans for homes they couldn't afford.

To make it appear they could afford it, the payments were structured so that they were very low for the first couple of years. Purchasers were assured they could refinance into a fixed-rate loan before the payments jumped to an unaffordable level.

We all know how that turned out. Most subprime borrowers couldn't get a prime loan and ended up losing their homes, starting the collapse of the housing market.

There aren't nearly as many subprime mortgage products these days but, as it turns out, the red hot new car market is rising on quite a few subprime car loans. Just as in the mortgage market, these loans usually aren't good for car buyers.

Remote control

As recently reported by The New York Times, many lenders in the subprime market are requiring borrowers to have their cars outfitted with a device that allows the bank to disable the vehicle if the payment is late, even by one day.

This technological development has not only made the repo man obsolete, the GPS component in the in-dash device allows the bank to track the vehicle and its driver, always knowing their location.

There have been numerous cases, according to the Times report, when a consumer who purchased a car with a subprime loan has gotten in their car to go to work and found the lender has disabled it.

Lenders love this technology because it makes bundling subprime auto loans into less risky, and hence more profitable, securities. The consumer will not have access to their vehicle unless and until they are current in their payments. The leverage is all with the lender.

Not surprisingly, an estimated 2 million of these devices have been installed in cars so far. This is a big reason to avoid a subprime auto loan, but it isn't the only one.

More costly

Yes, subprime loans are available to consumers with spotty credit, allowing them to get loans they might not otherwise get. But there are costs.

Since lenders believe subprime borrowers are more likely to default on their loans and pose a higher risk to lending companies or banks, they compensate for that risk by charging a higher interest rate. According to Loans.com, the processing fees and other fees associated with getting the loan are higher in the subprime loan market.

Right from the start, the lender is assuming the borrower is going to default. If they don't, the bank is ahead.

Spotting a subprime loan

How can you avoid getting stuck with a subprime loan? There are a few tell-tale signs.

For one thing, if the salesperson talks to you only in terms of the monthly payment instead of the cost of the car, it's likely the loan doesn't have a fixed interest rate. Without a fixed rate, you don't know what your payments are going to be over the life of the loan.

Ask to see a complete rundown of all the costs associated with the loan. If the fees appear excessive, it's probably a subprime loan.

It's always a good idea to check your credit report and, if possible, obtain your credit score before arriving at the dealership. When the dealer accesses your credit file, they are required to tell you what your credit score is.

If you have a good credit score you shouldn't be offered a subprime loan. If you are, don't take the dealer's word that you are a bad credit risk. Explore other financing options at a bank or credit union.

More

Study: Affordable car insurance can be hard to find in low-income areas

Consumer Federation finds even safe drivers must pay more than $500 per year in low-income neighborhoods

Car insurance is like death and taxes, at least for car owners. Every state requires car owners to have a minimum amount of liability insurance but a new s...

Photo
© il-fede - Fotolia
Car insurance is like death and taxes, at least for car owners -- it's required. Every state requires car owners to have a minimum amount of liability insurance but a new study by the Consumer Federation of America finds that affordable insurance is hard to find in low-income neighborhoods, even for safe drivers.

In 24 of 50 urban regions, there was at least one lower-income ZIP code where annual premiums charged by all of the five largest auto insurers exceeded $500. In nine of these 50 areas – Miami/Ft. Lauderdale, Detroit, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Tampa/St. Petersburg, Baltimore, Orlando, Jacksonville, Hartford, and New Orleans – prices exceeded $500 in all lower-income ZIP codes.

 In the report, CFA analyzed 81,000 premium quotes for State Farm, Allstate, Farmers, Progressive, Geico and each of their affiliates in all ZIP codes in 50 large urban regions, which include urban, suburban and adjacent rural communities.

“Our research raises important questions as to whether state-mandated auto insurance is priced fairly and is affordable for many lower-income Americans,” said Tom Feltner, CFA’s Director of Financial Services and the principal author of the report. “Drivers need a car to get to work or school. High insurance premiums act to deny these Americans economic opportunity and also help explain why so many lower income Americans drive without insurance.” 

CFA also released findings from a recent national survey by ORC International indicating that more than three-quarters of Americans (76%) believe that a “fair annual cost” for state-mandated insurance for a typical good driver with no accidents and no tickets should be less than $500, while two-fifths of Americans (40%) think that this driver should pay less than $250 per year.

Photo
Consumers' views on fair insurance prices

In previous studies, CFA has found that insurers use rating factors, such as education and occupation, that tend to disadvantage low- and moderate-income drivers.

In the latest study, CFA reviewed January 2014 data on auto insurance premiums charged to a good driver – a 30-year old, unmarried woman, with a high school education and clerical job who rents her home and has a “fair” credit-based insurance score (the middle category of a 10-category range from excellent to poor) – from Quadrant Information Services for all U.S. ZIP codes.

CFA then analyzed the data focusing on annual premiums charged by the five largest auto insurers – State Farm, Allstate, GEICO, Farmers, and Progressive (who, together write 54% of premium in the U.S. auto insurance market) – in 50 large urban regions and further broke out the prices charged in those areas’ 1,377 low- and moderate-income ZIP codes (with median household incomes below about $40,000).

Action needed

The report notes that the majority of drivers in the lowest-income ZIP codes reviewed earn less than $21,000 per year, making even a $500 policy a difficult financial burden.

CFA urged federal and state regulators to thoroughly investigate the issue and help ensure that state-required auto insurance can be afforded by lower-income Americans with good driving records.

“CFA commends the Federal Insurance Office for initiating an investigation of auto insurance affordability by lower-income Americans,” said J. Robert Hunter, CFA’s Director of Insurance and former Texas Insurance Commissioner. “We are hopeful that the FIO will gain access to data on prices quoted and charged by insurers to help determine insurance affordability,” he added.

More

Literary giants side with Hachette against Amazon

Everyday writers should not suffer as part of contract dispute

It's almost four months now since Amazon customers first noticed that bookseller Amazon and book publisher Hachette Book Group were involved in what Amazon...

Photo
Stephen King (Photo via Wikipedia)
It's almost four months now since Amazon customers first noticed that bookseller Amazon and book publisher Hachette Book Group were involved in what Amazon later admitted was a contract dispute, leaving Hachette's authors stuck in the middle as many of their books are not available for sale on the world's largest online bookseller.

In July, Amazon offered to sell e-book Kindle versions of Hachette titles with 100% of the proceeds going to the authors – which sounds generous, except that such a move would seriously hurt Hachettte, leaving it unable to recoup its costs in producing those books, let alone make any profit.

Few authors went along with Amazon's offer.

Today, the New York Times reported the latest chapter in the ongoing saga: “Literary lions unite in protest over Amazon's e-book tactics.” (And most of those lions, including Philip Roth, Stephen King and Ursula LeGuin, aren't even Hachette authors, but they're all very concerned about what they think Amazon is trying to do to the publishing market — and are urging the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate Amazon for possible monopoly tactics.)

Board members interrogated

The writers are part of a group called Authors United, which on Sept. 19 mailed a letter to 10 Amazon board members. The letter, which is also available online, first dicsusses the various ways Amazon's actions have harmed Hachette authors, and asked each board member (in bold print): “Do you as an Amazon director approve of this policy of sanctioning books?

Authors' United main complaint is not the fact that Amazon is trying to renegotiate contracts with Hachette, but the fact that, while these contract disputes are going on, Amazon is harming many Hachette authors by refusing to sell their books:

Russell Grandinetti of Amazon has stated that the company was "forced to take this step because Hachette refused to come to the table." He has also claimed that "authors are the only leverage we have." As one of the world's largest corporations, Amazon was not "forced" to do anything. …. Amazon chose to involve 2,500 Hachette authors and their books. It could end these sanctions tomorrow while continuing to negotiate. Amazon is undermining the ability of authors to support their families, pay their mortgages, and provide for their kids' college educations. We'd like to emphasize that most of us are not Hachette authors, and our concern is founded on principle, rather than self-interest.

The letter also said this:

Amazon has repeatedly tried to dismiss us as "rich" bestselling authors who are advocating higher ebook prices—a false and unfair characterization, as most of us are in fact midlist authors struggling to make a living. And we have not made any statements whatsoever on book pricing. Our point is simple: we believe it is unacceptable for Amazon to impede or block the sale of any books as a negotiating tactic.

Amazon has every right to refuse to sell consumer goods in response to a pricing disagreement with a wholesaler. But books are not mere consumer goods. Books cannot be written more cheaply, nor can authors be outsourced to another country. …. Each book is the unique, quirky creation of a lonely, intense, and often expensive struggle on the part of a single individual, a person whose living depends on his or her book finding readers. This is the process Amazon endangers when it uses its tremendous power to separate authors from their readership.

Moribund dinosaurs

But is it possible that e-publishing through Amazon is simply the wave of the future? Might old-school publishing houses like Hachette be obsolete, now that technology offers so many new publishing options for aspiring writers? Authors United addressed that concern as well:

There has been much talk on the Internet about how traditional publishers like Hachette are "dinosaurs" defending a moribund business model. There have been claims that Amazon is leading the way to a new publishing paradigm, one that pays authors higher royalties, allows anyone to publish, and cuts out the elitist gatekeepers. We agree that Amazon has spurred important innovations in publishing, including a self-publishing model that has given many new writers a voice.

But what these commentators and Amazon itself may not realize is that traditional publishing houses perform a vital role in our society. Publishers provide venture capital for ideas. They advance money to authors, giving them the time and freedom to write their books. This system is especially important for nonfiction writers, who often must travel for research. Thousands of times every year, publishers take a chance on unknown authors and advance them money solely on the basis of an idea. By assuming the risk, publishers expect—and receive—a financial return. What will Amazon replace this process with? How, in the Amazon model, will a young author get funding to pursue a promising idea? 

The New York Times reports that Amazon did not respond to its requests for comment about Authors United.

So far, though, Amazon has taken the position that its stance against Hachette is ultimately for the consumers' benefit: last July, Amazon executive Russ Granadetti gave an exclusive interview to the Wall Street Journal in which he said the fight with Hachette was “in the long-term interest of our customers.... This discussion is all about e-book pricing. The terms under which we trade will determine how good the prices are that we can offer consumers.”

More

Flagstar Bank to pay $37.5 million for violating new mortgage rules

The Michigan bank blocked consumers' attempts to save their homes, feds charge

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) today took action against Michigan-based Flagstar Bank for violating the CFPB’s new mortgage servicing rule...

PhotoThe Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) today took action against Michigan-based Flagstar Bank for violating the CFPB’s new mortgage servicing rules by illegally blocking borrowers’ attempts to save their homes.

At every step in the foreclosure relief process, Flagstar failed borrowers, the agency said, charging that the bank took excessive time to process borrowers’ applications for foreclosure relief, failed to tell borrowers when their applications were incomplete, denied loan modifications to qualified borrowers, and illegally delayed finalizing permanent loan modifications.

The CFPB is ordering Flagstar to halt its illegal activities, pay $27.5 million to victims, and pay a $10 million fine.

“Because of Flagstar’s illegal actions and unacceptable delays, struggling homeowners lost the opportunity to save their homes,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “The Bureau has been clear that mortgage servicers must follow our new servicing rules and treat homeowners fairly. Today’s action signals a new era of enforcement to protect consumers against the cost of servicer runarounds.”

Insufficient resources

Flagstar Bank Sept. 29, 2014, 7:22 p.m.
Consumers rate Flagstar Bank
The Bureau’s examinations and investigation found that from 2011 to the present, Flagstar failed to devote sufficient resources to administering loss mitigation programs for distressed homeowners.

For example, in 2011, Flagstar had 13,000 active loss mitigation applications but only assigned 25 full-time employees and a third-party vendor in India to review them. For a time, it took the staff up to nine months to review a single application.

In Flagstar’s loss mitigation call center, the average call wait time was 25 minutes and the average call abandonment rate was almost 50 percent. And Flagstar’s loss mitigation application backlog numbered well over a thousand. 

At every step in the foreclosure relief process, Flagstar failed consumers, the CFPB said.

The agency is ordering Flagstar to pay $27.5 million to the approximately 6,500 consumers whose loans were being serviced by Flagstar and who were subject to its unlawful practices. At least $20 million of this will go to the approximately 2,000 victims of foreclosure. Borrowers who receive payments will not be prevented from taking individual action on their claims.

More

"Caffeine-infused" shapewear? The feds don't buy it

Putting caffeine in lingerie doesn't help you lose weight

Caffeine is something you drink, right? Well, yes, but according to two lingerie manufacturers, it can also help you lose weight. When you wear it, not whe...

Photo
Photo source: Norm Thompson Outfitters

Caffeine is something you drink, right? Well, yes, but according to two lingerie manufacturers, it can also help you lose weight. When you wear it, not when you drink it.

Norm Thompson Outfitters, Inc., and Wacoal America, Inc., have been advertising "shapewear" undergarments that were supposedly "caffeine-infused" and therefore able to melt the pounds right off of you.

The Federal Trade Commission was not impressed by these claims and the companies have now agreed to pay $1.5 million to be used for refunds to consumers who fell for the pitch.

“Caffeine-infused shapewear is the latest ‘weight-loss’ brew concocted by marketers,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “If someone says you can lose weight by wearing the clothes they are selling, steer clear. The best approach is tried and true: diet and exercise.”

No effort needed

Specifically, the FTC alleges that the companies made claims that wearing their shapewear would eliminate or substantially reduce cellulite; reduce the wearer’s hip measurements by up to two inches and their thigh measurements by one inch; and reduce thigh and hip measurements “without any effort.”

The complaint alleges that these claims are not true or substantiated by scientific evidence, and therefore violate the FTC Act.

In the case of Norm Thompson Outfitters, the FTC says the company advertised undergarments infused with microencapsulated caffeine, retinol, and other ingredients, claiming the “shapewear” would slim and reshape the wearer’s body and reduce cellulite. The products, made with Lytess brand fabrics, were sold via mail order and on the company’s Norm Thompson Outfitters, Sahalie, Body Solutions, and Body*Belle websites.

The complaint against Wacoal America contains similar allegations. It charges that the company’s iPants supposedly slimmed the body and reduced cellulite. Specifically, the company made false and unsubstantiated claims that wearing iPants would: substantially reduce cellulite; cause a substantial reduction in the wearer’s thigh measurements; and destroy fat cells, resulting in substantial slimming.

The proposed settlement requires Norm Thompson Outfitters and Wacoal America to pay $230,000 and $1.3 million, respectively, that the FTC can use to provide refunds to consumers who bought the caffeinated shapewear.

More

Dogs that saw logs

Snoring is normal for some dogs but it can be a sign of health problems

It's one thing when your husband snores at night or on the couch when he falls asleep watching your favorite TV show, but when your fluffy little cuddly be...

Photo
© Tatiana Katsai - Fotolia

It's one thing when your husband snores at night or on the couch when he falls asleep watching your favorite TV show, but when your fluffy little cuddly best friend does it as well you find yourself worrying and wondering why.

Besides being worrying, it can be loud and annoying. Here are some reasons why that four-legged friend of yours is sawing logs.

Snoring is the sound caused by the vibrations of respiratory systems moving air during sleep. Snoring is the result of an obstruction of the airway usually produced by the uvula and soft palate.

There are some breeds that are just prone to snore because of their breed-related anatomy. Brachycephalic breeds -- the breeds with very short noses, such as English/French bulldogs, Boston terriers and pugs -- have a natural tendency to snore. But it’s a good idea to check with your veterinarian to make sure the snoring is normal and not an indication of a health issue.

A pug or Boston terrier might be born with nostrils that are squeezed almost shut. That can be corrected by a surgical procedure.

Heavy people tend to snore and so do heavy dogs. As your dog breathes in and out, obesity makes the trachea rings slam shut. Not good -- it's a sign he needs more walks and less food.

Allergies can also make it difficult for dogs to breathe properly.If your dog is allergy-prone, the exposure to dust, pollen and smoke may contribute to the late-night buzzing serenade.

Then there are dental problems. When was the last time you had your dog's teeth cleaned? Bad teeth can cause your dog to snore. A bad tooth can lead to an abscess that penetrates the nasal sinus passages. Left untreated, dental problems can become a source of infection for the whole body, which could lead to kidney failure down the road.

Do you have a gold digger? A dog thats constantly digging in the yard looking to make his fortune in gold. Not only dirt but grass and even water can get up in his nose thus obstructing his nasal passage, resulting in snoring. Extra mucus from a cold will also create snoring. For the most part, snoring caused by nasal obstructions is temporary and should stop when the passage is cleared.

What to do

So, how can you help?

  • Keep a pet diary you can show your vet to note changes in your dog’s behavior and health so he or she can look for patterns.
  • Get out the smart phone and video the snoring. Its much easier on the vet to hear it, then have you try and do your own imitation. Not everyone is as good as Rich Little. They will want to know the pattern as well as if there is any nasal discharge.
  • At home, give your dog a bed with a pillow to raise his head. Make it a round one so he can change positions.
  • Humidifiers can provide extra moisture in the air, thereby reducing snoring.
  • Change the room -- there may be allergens in the room that make it difficult to breathe.

There is nothing better than a good night's sleep. You deserve it and so does your dog. If snoring is a ongoing problem talk to your vet to get some help.

More

Apple's iPod is obsolete, but iPod anti-trust class action suits are not

Possible setback for Apple in a decade-long lawsuit

Earlier this month, Apple unveiled its latest-gen iPhone 6 and first-gen iWatch, and also officially discontinued its iPod family of MP3 players....

Photo
© bright - Fotolia

Earlier this month, Apple unveiledits latest-gen iPhone 6 and first-gen iWatch, and also officially discontinued its iPod family of MP3 players.

Though iPods were undeniably cutting-edge technology when the first one was released in 2001, by 2014 they were officially obsolete. But their legacy lives on, especially in the decade-old anti-trust class action suit Apple's faced over them.

Courthouse News reported today that last week, a federal judge denied Apple's attempt to exclude a certain expert witness chosen by the plaintiffs in that suit. (The judge also denied the plaintiffs' attempt to exclude the testimony of Apple's chosen counter-witnesses, so it's hard to say which side, if any, “won” this latest round in the legal battle.)

Apple released its first iPod player in 2001. What's the difference between an iPod and a non-Apple MP3 player? Not much, except that iPods were Apple-branded, and could only play Apple-branded MP3 files — in other words, if the iTunes store didn't offer a particular song, your iPod couldn't play it.

Disharmonious

In July 2004, the RealNetworks company put out a product called Harmony, a workaround allowing iPod owners to play any MP3 files, not just Apple-branded ones, on their devices.

On July 29, 2004, Apple released a statement suggesting RealNetworks was engaged in criminal hacking activity:

“We are stunned that RealNetworks has adopted the tactics and ethics of a hacker to break into the iPod, and we are investigating the implications of their actions under the DMCA and other laws. We strongly caution Real and their customers that when we update our iPod software from time to time it is highly likely that Real's Harmony technology will cease to work with current and future iPods.”

Sure enough, in December 2004 Apple quietly updated its iPod software so that music from RealNetworks could no longer play on iPods — which also meant many iPod owners suddenly found they couldn't listen to their own music libraries anymore.

So in early 2005, an iPod-owning Apple customer named Thomas Slattery filed a class-action suit against the company, claiming that its policy of limiting iPod owners to iTunes music violated federal anti-trust and California's state unfair-competition laws.

An amended suit filed in 2007 with different lead plaintiffs also says that Apple's actions limited iPod owners to songs from the iPod store.

Stymied

As of earlier this year, the plaintiffs intended for Stanford economist Roger Noll to offer testimony claiming two basic things: one, that the Apple software updates limiting iPods to playing iTunes music made it “more costly” for an iPod user to switch to a different brand of MP3 player, since it was so difficult to get songs that could be played on all devices. Noll also planned to testify that Apple's software “encouraged” iPod owners to only buy songs from iTunes.

As a result of these (apparently self-evident) claims, Noll further intended to testify that as a result of this effective monopoly, Apple was able to charge more for its devices, for a total of $305 million in damages to consumers.

Of course, experts hired by Apple for the defense disagree with Noll's analysis.

Apple's attorneys sought to exclude Noll's testimony, and the plaintiffs in turn sought to exclude the testimony of Apple's counter-experts, but last week, as Courthouse News reported, U.S. District Judge Yvonne Rogers denied both motions.

More

Nothing seedy about giving birds a leg up

A little hospitality pays off for bird-watchers

It's always nice to see birds enjoying your garden and fall is a great time to actually bring birds into the garden so you can help them out. It will make ...

Photo
© Lars Johansson - Fotolia

It's always nice to see birds enjoying your garden and fall is a great time to actually bring birds into the garden so you can help them out. It will make life a lot easier for them if you grow plants they can enjoy.

The type of birds you will see as it gets colder will change. Some birds migrate and others just move around and change position locally. Others just tough out the winter weather right where they are.

This fall, attract birds to your garden by giving them the four main things they need: food, water, shelter and a nesting site. Bird feeders, birdbaths and birdhouses can all play an important role.

Fall is a time to load up for birds. It's very much like an all-you-can-eat buffet. Growing seeds and fruit, and cultivating bug populations in your garden, will help your local birds get ready for the winter months. Feeding the birds in fall will also attract unique migrating species to your yard, giving you the opportunity to see birds that might not normally be found nearby.

Seed or suet

Bird feeders can be a huge help to birds in the cooler months. Many gardeners and homeowners provide supplemental food, especially during the colder months, in the form of man-made bird feeders filled with seed or suet.

Just make sure if you use your bird feeders all year that you also clean them out so you don't transfer any bird diseases.

The best foods for fall birds are full of energy-rich oil and carbohydrates that can help the birds build fat reserves as fuel for long flights. Fill your feeders with:

  • Sunflower seeds;
  • Suet;
  • Peanuts and peanut butter;
  • Cracked corn; and 
  • Hummingbird nectar (if you have hummingbirds)

You may notice your mulch is getting munched on as well. Winter mulch seems to be a favorite. There are a lot of bugs in winter mulch and birds sometimes like bugs more then seeds. Once you’ve put your garden to bed for the cooler months, add fallen leaves or straw to your garden beds to keep them warmer in the winter and add nutrients to the garden.

Birds need water in the winter too, not just in the summer when it's hot. They need to be able to safely get to the water for drinking and bathing. A filled birdbath is the easiest water source for thirsty birds. You can set up a bird bath at ground level on the south side of your house or on a fence or hedge that faces south. The ground-level bird baths stay unfrozen longer than above-ground ones.

You will see more birds if you have a shelter like trees and shrubs where they can hide and stay warm.. Tall grasses, evergreen trees and wooden birdhouses are but a few examples of nesting spaces birds prefer.

Your local birds will thank you by being present in your yard when they see how well prepared you are for them.

More

Pending home sales slip in August

The decline was broad-based

Although contract signings remain at their second-highest level over the past year, pending home sales dipped during August, with all major regions experie...

Photo
© karelnoppe - Fotolia.com

Although contract signings remain at their second-highest level over the past year, pending home sales dipped during August, with all major regions experiencing declines except for the West.

The National Association of Realtors reports its Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI) fell 1.0% to 104.7 in August from 105.8 in July, and is now 2.2% below August 2013 (107.1).

Despite the slight decline, the index -- a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings -- is above 100 for the fourth consecutive month and is at the second-highest level since last August.

First-time buyers step back

Contract signings are holding steady and fewer distressed sales and less investor activity is likely behind August’s modest decline, said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. “Fewer distressed homes at bargain prices and the acknowledgment we’re entering a rising interest rate environment likely caused hesitation among investors last month,” he said. “With investors pulling back, the market is shifting more towards traditional and first-time buyers who rely on mortgages to purchase a home.”

According to NAR’s Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, 81% of first-time buyers in 2013 who financed their purchase obtained a conventional or FHA loan. Overall, first-time homebuyers have been less prevalent from the housing recovery, representing less than a third of all buyers each month for the past two years.

Yun says first-time buyer participation should gradually improve despite tight credit conditions and the inevitable rise in rates. “The employment outlook for young adults is brightening and their incomes finally appear to be rising,” he said. “Jobs and income gains will help repay student debt and better position first-time buyers, setting the stage for improved sales growth in upcoming years.”

Regional activity

  • The PHSI in the Northeast slipped 3.0% to 86.5 in August, but is still 1.6% above a year ago.
  • In the Midwest the index fell 2.1% to 102.4 last month, and is 7.6% below August 2013.
  • The pending home sales in the South decreased 1.4% to 117.0 in August, unchanged from a year ago.
  • The index in the West rose 2.6% to 102.1 -- the fourth consecutive monthly increase -- but remains 2.6% below August 2013.

Sales, price outlook

Existing-home sales are expected to be stronger in the second half of the year behind improved inventory conditions, continuously low interest rates and slower price growth. Overall, Yun forecasts existing-homes sales to be down 3.0% this year to 4.94 million from 5.09 million sales of previously-owned homes in 2013.

The national median existing-home price is projected to grow between 5 and 6% this year and 4 and 5% next year.

More

Foster Farms recalls frozen chicken breast strips

The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

Foster Farms of Farmerville, La., is recalling approximately 39,747 pounds of frozen pre-cooked chicken products due to possible contamination with Lister...

Photo
Photo source: Foster Farms

Foster Farms of Farmerville, La., is recalling approximately 39,747 pounds of frozen pre-cooked chicken products due to possible contamination with Listeria monocytogenes.

There have been no reports of illnesses associated with consumption of the products.

Consumers should reheat ready-to-eat product until steaming hot.

The frozen chicken breast grilled strips product was produced on August 5, 2014, and shipped to retail warehouse locations in California, Texas, Utah and Washington state.

The following product is subject to recall:

  • 3.5-lb. Plastic resealable bags containing frozen “Chicken Breast Grilled Strips.”

The packaging bears the establishment number “P-33901” and a Best by Date of 08-05-15.

Consumers with questions regarding the recall may contact Teresa Lenz, Foster Farm consumer affairs manager, at (800) 338-8051.

More

Delicious Beef Jerky recalls beef jerky products

The products were incorrectly produced and shipped

Delicious Beef Jerky of Albuquerque, N.M., is recalling 8 pounds of beef jerky products. The products were marked and shipped without the benefit of inspe...

Photo
Photo source: USDA

Delicious Beef Jerky of Albuquerque, N.M., is recalling 8 pounds of beef jerky products.

The products were marked and shipped without the benefit of inspection when they were produced under a retail exemption.

There are no reports of adverse reactions or illness due to consumption of these products.

The products subject to recall are

  • 2.5-oz. and 5-oz. plastic bags of DELICIOUS BEEF JERKY Lemon Pepper Seasoned Beef Jerky with a use-by date of 0911155

The products the establishment number “EST. 34408” inside the USDA Mark of Inspection, and were sold in small retail stores in the Albuquerque, N.M., area.

Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Theodore Baca at (505) 344-9221.

More

Ford recalls nearly 1 million vehicles with air bag issue

The air bags may not function as intended in the event of a crash

Ford Motor Company is recalling approximately 850,000 2013-2014 Ford C-MAX, Fusion, Escape and Lincoln MKZ vehicles in North America for a potential issue ...

Photo
Photo source: Ford

Ford Motor Company is recalling approximately 850,000 2013-2014 Ford C-MAX, Fusion, Escape and Lincoln MKZ vehicles in North America for a potential issue with the restraints control module.

The restraints control module in the recalled vehicles may experience a short circuit, illuminating the air bag warning indicator. Depending on the location of the short circuit, the deployable restraint systems (e.g., airbags, pretensioners, side curtains) may not function as intended in the event of a crash, increasing the risk of injury.

The short circuit also may affect the function of other systems that use data from the restraints control module, including stability control. In these cases, the corresponding warning indicator lamps would also illuminate.

Ford says as of Sept. 24, 2014, it is aware of approximately 745,000 vehicles in the U.S. and federalized territories, approximately 83,000 in Canada and approximately 20,000 in Mexico.

The company says there are no reports of any accidents or injuries related to this condition.

Affected vehicles include:

  • 2013-2014 C-MAX vehicles built at Michigan Assembly Plant, Jan. 19, 2012, to Nov. 21, 2013;
  • 2013-2014 Fusion vehicles built at Hermosillo Assembly Plant, Feb. 3, 2012, to Aug. 24, 2013;
  • 2013-2014 Escape vehicles built at Louisville Assembly Plant, Oct. 5, 2011, to Nov. 1, 2013; and
  • 2013-2014 Lincoln MKZ vehicles built at Hermosillo Assembly Plant, April 25, 2012 to Sept. 30, 2013.

Dealers will replace the restraints control module at no cost to the customer.

More

Caviness Beef Packers recalls beef trimmings products

The products may be contaminated with E. coli

Caviness Beef Packers of Hereford, Texas, is recalling approximately 23,100 pounds of beef trimmings products that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7...

Photo
© mashe – Fotolia.com

Caviness Beef Packers of Hereford, Texas, is recalling approximately 23,100 pounds of beef trimmings products that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.

The following been beef trimmings products are subject to recall and were produced on August 14, 2014 and August 20, 2014:

  • Combo bins containing “Beef Trimmings, BNLS, 90 L”
  • Combo bins containing “Beef Trimmings, BNLS, 84 L”

The products bear the establishment number “EST. 675” inside the USDA mark of inspection and were shipped to fast food restaurants and retail distribution locations in Texas.

FSIS advises all consumers to safely prepare their raw meat products, including fresh and frozen, and only consume beef that has been cooked to a temperature of 145° F or 160° F for ground meat.

The only way to confirm that beef is cooked to a temperature high enough to kill harmful bacteria is to use a food thermometer that measures internal temperature.

Consumers with questions regarding the recall may contact Trevor Caviness at (806) 372-5781.

More

Consumers battling inflammation increasingly turn to diet

Medical expert says evidence is sketchy, but it can't hurt

There's the Mediterranean diet, the Paleo diet and the Atkins diet. Add to those popular regimens the anti-inflammatory diet. Only don't expect to lose wei...

Photo
© Fotolia

There's the Mediterranean diet, the Paleo diet and the Atkins diet. Add to those popular regimens the anti-inflammatory diet. Only don't expect to lose weight with it – that isn't the point.

The anti-inflammatory diet, as the name implies, is designed to reduce chronic inflammation, which is not only linked to discomfort but to some diseases. You can take medication to reduce inflammation but the most common drugs, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) -- including aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen -- may be problematic for some people at risk of heart attack and stroke.

Thin evidence

Dr. Brent Bauer, writing in a recent issue of the Mayo Clinic Health Letter, says there's not a lot of evidence that diet works directly to prevent inflammation, but it certainly can't hurt. Most of the recommended foods are the same as you would find on the Mediterranean diet. They include:

  • Lots of fruits and vegetables
  • Healthy fats, such as olive oil and canola oil
  • Eating small portions of nuts
  • Red wine, in moderation
  • Regular servings of fish
  • Reducing red meat consumption

Inflammation usually appears around joints. It can cause pain, heat, redness, and swelling. Inflammation also occurs in muscles, tendons, ligaments and bone, resulting in pain and discomfort. Surgery is rarely used to treat it.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the use of NSAID medication is still the mainstay of most treatments for inflammatory pain, despite their commonly known side effects. But consumers who seek to avoid medication altogether have embraced an anti-inflammatory diet.

Spice it up

Besides food, some spices are thought to have anti-inflammatory properties. According to NIH ginger is one of them.

During the last 25 years test after test has provided scientific support for the long-held belief that ginger contains anti-inflammatory properties.

“The original discovery of ginger's inhibitory effects on prostaglandin biosynthesis in the early 1970s has been repeatedly confirmed,” NIH notes.

Turmeric, a yellow spice found in Indian cuisine, is also thought to contain anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, it has been used for centuries to treat wounds, infections, colds, and even liver disease.

Sulfur compounds found in garlic also contain anti-inflammatory properties, according to a recent study.

Cancer link

Inflammation is not just a source of pain but something even worse. According to NIH, evidence points to a connection between inflammation and a predisposition for the development of cancer. So minimizing inflammation might also help prevent this disease.

Sales of anti-inflammatory dietary supplements have increased in recent years, but Bauer writes that consumers need to proceed carefully since supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for safety and effectiveness. But he says some limited trials suggest some might be effective in reducing inflammation in the body.

"My best advice concerning chronic inflammation is to stay tuned,” Bauer writes. “This is a huge area of interest in the medical world and there are bound to be discoveries down the road that can improve well-being and the quality of health.”

More

Mailing your groceries for 3 a.m. delivery? USPS proposes new business strategy

WIll home food delivery make up for lost First Class mail revenue?

The U.S. Postal Service has been losing money for years, primarily because the Internet and related technologies destroyed the USPS' former status as “chea...

Photo
© Tomasz Zajda - Fotolia

The U.S. Postal Service has been losing money for years, primarily because the Internet and related technologies destroyed the USPS' former status as “cheapest and most convenient method of long-distance communications between people.”

So the post office has been proposing or experimenting with ways to reduce its expenses and operating costs (such as ending Saturday mail deliveries or replacing individual home delivery with outcroppings of cluster mailboxes), but it is also hoping to find new streams of revenue to offset all the income it lost, and continues losing, after the Internet killed most of the market for personal-letter delivery and other forms of First Class mail.

Now the USPS has a new proposal, and is seeking permission from the Postal Regulatory Commission to get into the grocery-delivery business, by leaving boxes of groceries on peoples' doorsteps.

The proposal, which is in .pdf form here, sounds pretty reasonable — or possibly insane, depending how you look at it.

Reasonable-sounding part

Here's the background to the reasonable-sounding part: the post office owns a huge fleet of delivery trucks but, during a typical 24-hour period, most of that fleet is sitting idle. After all, home and business mail deliveries are mostly made during the daylight hours, so during the overnights, the unneeded trucks just sit in parking lots. Maybe the USPS could find a profitable use for those trucks during the downtime?

Here's what the post office proposes to do:

Pursuant to 39 U.S.C. 3641, the United States Postal Service hereby gives notice that it intends to conduct a test of an experimental competitive product, named Customized Delivery …. Customized Delivery is a package delivery service offering that will provide customers with delivery of groceries and other prepackaged goods, primarily during a 3 a.m. to 7 a.m. delivery window.

Might that be an unreasonably optimistic business plan? Disclaimer: in all my life I've never lived in an area – urban, suburban or semi-rural – where a box of food placed on my doorstep at 3 a.m. would likely be both present and edible by the time I woke up.

Then again: the USPS proposal calls for these deliveries to be made — not on people's doorsteps, exactly, but in “a location designated by the consumer for delivery.” Presumably, any customer interested in signing up for an overnight grocery delivery would also be interested enough to designate a safe delivery location — or, perhaps, even install a food-safe (and animal-, insect- and thief-proof) equivalent to a standard home mailbox.

The post office has already tested the Customized Delivery program in a select market, helping deliver groceries for Amazon in certain neighborhoods of San Francisco. The post office said in its proposal that it averaged 160 deliveries a day across 38 Zip codes — though how much profit the USPS made as a result wasn't mentioned.

More

Texting and driving with Google Glass -- better (and worse) than a smartphone

It's just as distracting but drivers recover faster, study finds

Texting while driving isn't good even when you're using Google Glass, as a new University of Central Florida study demonstrates. There was one twist though...

Photo
© mario beauregard - Fotolia

Texting while driving isn't good even when you're using Google Glass, as a new University of Central Florida studydemonstrates. There was one twist though -- the researchers found that texting Glass users outperformed smartphone users when regaining control of their vehicles after a traffic incident.

“Texting with either a smartphone or Glass will cause distraction and should be avoided while driving” said UCF researcher Ben Sawyer. “Glass did help drivers in our study recover more quickly than those texting on a smartphone. We hope that Glass points the way to technology that can help deliver information with minimal risk.”

The study, conducted in cooperation with the Air Force Research Laboratory, is the first scientific look at using Google Glass to text while driving.

Distracted drivers are a menace on the road, and according to the National Safety Council cell-phone use leads to at least 1.6 million crashes each year. With the emergence of Glass and competitors, several states are considering banning drivers from wearing those technologies.

“As distractive influences threaten to become more common and numerous in drivers’ lives, we find the limited benefits provided by Glass a hopeful sign of technological solutions to come,” Sawyer added.

The study

Sawyer and his team set up the experiment with 40 twentysomethings. Each drove in a car simulator with either Glass or a smartphone and was forced to react to a vehicle ahead slamming on its brakes.

Researchers compared text-messaging participants’ reactions on each device to times when they were just driving without multitasking. Those using Glass were no better at hitting their brakes in time, but after their close call returned to driving normally more quickly.

“While Glass-using drivers demonstrated some areas of improved performance in recovering from the brake event, the device did not improve their response to the event itself,” Sawyer said. “More importantly, for every measure we recorded, messaging with either device negatively impacted driving performance. Compared to those just driving, multitaskers reacted more slowly, preserved less headway during the brake event, and subsequently adopted greater following distances.”

While Glass gives drivers the option of using head movements and voice commands to view and respond to text messages, avoiding clumsy thumbs, texting with the technology still causes distraction.

Bottom line: don’t trade your smartphone in for Google Glass because you think it will make texting safer behind the wheel. It won’t, at least not for now.

More

Put your pet on an allowance

A pet savings account can help pay for vet bills, preventive care and even an occasional treat

A pet can be expensive, especially around this time of year when they want the latest Halloween costume. Oh, your pet doesn't really want to be a lobster t...

Photo
© Okssi - Fotolia
A pet can be expensive, especially around this time of year when they want the latest Halloween costume. Oh, your pet doesn't really want to be a lobster this year? Probably not. Most pets hate having to dress up and be the life of the party again. So put that money away for Bella when she really might need it.

Here are some ideas on how you can save and create a fund for your pet so if an emergency strikes or if that yearly exam pops up and you realize you have to fix your car also at the same time you can be prepared.

Let's start with the vet

Vets aren't cheap but while cost is a big concern, selecting a veterinarian involves more than just price-shopping. There are many things to think about, including office hours, how the veterinarian and staff treat you and your pet, and what type of payment options and plans they offer. Sometimes the bigger corporate vets aren't as flexible with payments.

When considering cost, be sure you have all the facts. While some veterinary medical services -- the subscription-type services that charge a fixed fee that supposedly covers just about everything -- may be offered at very low rates, remember that they also may not include all the services your pet may need.

Make sure you compare “apples to apples,” so you know that the cost estimates you’re getting are for the same services.

Preventive care

It may seem like a big headache to have to go get flea medicine or have your pet's teeth checked, but it will cost you a lot more in the long run if you have to treat flea infestation or if your animal's teeth start falling out.

Regular rabies shots are a must-have. If your pet gets bitten by a raccoon or a wild animal they have to be treated if you didn't get a rabies shot ahead of time. Not to mention the consequences if they bite someone and haven't had their shots.

The cost of preventive care usually pales in comparison to the cost of treating the disease or problem that would have been prevented.

Eating like a king

There are some dog foods that come in small bags and cost almost $19 for a little bag. That would be crazy if you are feeding a big dog. It's also a little crazy if you are feeding a small one when there are alternatives.

For one thing, some dogs can't handle high-end food and are just fine with grocery store dog food. Overfeeding can lead to obesity and other health problems, which can also drain money from your wallet.

Several online stores discount pet food when you buy in bulk. When looking for dog or cat food, make sure the meat is listed first—not meat-by-products.

Uhh ohh they need meds

If your pet needs medicines, they usually cost more when you buy them from your veterinarian. Ask for a prescription and take that prescription to your local pharmacy. If you choose to purchase your pet’s medications from an online pet pharmacy, purchase only from reputable pharmacies with a valid license in your state. You can check license status with your state pharmacy board (just Google "[your state] pharmacy board").

Never purchase prescription medications from a pharmacy that tells you that you don’t need a prescription. Don’t purchase medications from pharmacies outside the U.S., because they may be selling medications that are not FDA-approved or even expired or counterfeit meds.

Down and dirty

You can easily spend between $65.00 or more on grooming. Stop out-sourcing that. Get some dog shampoo and suds that pooch up at home. Get a cheap pair of clippers and just give them a buzz cut.

Learn how to clip their nails. It's a little scary at first -- for you and the dog -- but you can do it. If you don't want the mess at your house go to a wash-and-go place they are usually $15 or so and have all the supplies. You are saving time and maybe money.

To insure or not to insure?

There's no doubt a sick pet can cost thousands while also causing emotional grief to your family. Pet insurance may be the answer, if you get the right policy.

Depending on your pet (cat or dog), plans can range from $10 per month for limited accident coverage to $50 per month covering illnesses and accidents. Make sure you check and see if your pet’s insurance premium would be better off invested in a high interest savings account (if you can find one). And always read the fine print to understand what is covered and the size of the deductible.

My suggestion? Open a pet savings account at your bank or credit union, wherever you stash your money every month. Call it a pet allowance -- you save it for your pet and you use it with your discretion.

OK, you really want Bella to be a lobster for Halloween. Well, you saved money all year long and didn't buy the most expensive dog food, you budgeted for one toy last month not two. You have the funds, so knock yourself out and have her suffer through greeting everyone at the door.

A pet savings account is a much cheaper approach than an expensive insurance policy and should cover most of your pet problems.

More

Signature Systems hack hits Jimmy John's and 108 other companies

One hacked payment vendor compromised hundreds of businesses

By now you've surely noticed that, anytime you read the initial news story “Hackers breach this company's customer database,” there's always a followup sto...

PhotoBy now you've surely noticed that, anytime you read the initial news story “Hackers breach this company's customer database,” there's always a followup story that goes something like, “Turns out, the hacking's even worse than initial reports indicated.”

So, on Sept. 24, the Jimmy John's sandwich chain confirmed that, yes: a security breach at one of Jimmy John's third-party payment vendors compromised customer data from all Jimmy John's stores that used it, at least 216 stores out of approximately 1,900 nationwide.

At the time, Jimmy John's didn't specify who that payment vendor was, but security blogger Brian Krebs (who first discovered the Jimmy John's breach) said his sources suspected the vendor was Signature Systems, Inc., and it was their point-of-sale systems that got hacked.

That was the initial story. Today, Krebs provided the “news is even worse” followup: Signature Systems confirmed that its compromised point-of-sale systems were not only behind the Jimmy John's breach, but also compromised customer data at over 100 other independent stores or businesses.

Signature Systems released a statement saying:

We have determined that an unauthorized person gained access to a user name and password that Signature Systems used to remotely access POS systems. The unauthorized person used that access to install malware designed to capture payment card data from cards that were swiped through terminals in certain restaurants. The malware was capable of capturing the cardholder’s name, card number, expiration date, and verification code from the magnetic stripe of the card. … This incident affected 216 Jimmy John’s stores and 108 other restaurant locations.

Not too helpful

Signature also provided a complete list of affected stores and businesses. (scroll down to the bottom of the page). However, that list isn't entirely useful because it only mentions company names, without street addresses, cities or even states.

This is helpful for identifying independent restaurants with unique, one-of-a-kind names – a Google search for the entry “Di Fiores Pizzeria and Italian Restaurant” brought up exactly one hit, that of Signature System's own list, and a search for the truncated “Di Fiores Pizza” brought up only a couple of dozen hits indicating a restaurant in Neffs, Pennsylvania.

But Signature's list also mentions that a “Mario's Pizza” was affected — and the U.S. has thousands of independent pizza restaurants going by that name and scattered across all 50 states.

Which was the one that used Signature's point-of-sale system to handle its payments? Right now, without knowing at least the city and state, there's no easy way to tell, but if you're fond of dining at independent “mom-and-pop” restaurants, it wouldn't hurt to check the list in case any of the company names sound familiar.

More

The economy powers up

A third look at GDP shows more strength than previously reported

The third time is the charm when it comes to calculating economic growth for the second quarter. This latest look at expansion in the gross domestic produ...

Photo
© z_amir - Fotolia.com

The third time is the charm when it comes to calculating economic growth for the second quarter.

This latest look at expansion in the gross domestic product -- the output of goods and services produced by labor and property located in the U.S. -- shows growth at an annual rate of 4.6%.

The first two estimates put expansion at a rate of 4.0% and 4.2%, respectively. The stringer showing follows a first-quarter decline of 2.1%.

No significant change

This latest estimate is based on more complete source data than were available for the estimate issued last month. Government economists note, however, that the general picture of economic growth

remains the same although advances in nonresidential fixed investment and in exports were larger than

previously estimated.

The increase primarily reflected positive contributions from personal consumption expenditures (PCE), exports, private inventory investment, nonresidential fixed investment, state and local government spending, and residential fixed investment. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, increased.

Inflation

Prices paid by U.S. residents increased 2.0%, up 0.1% from the second estimate and 1.4% in the first quarter. The”core” rate, which excludes food and energy prices, was up 1.7% compared.

The full report is available on the Commerce Department website.

More

New safety standard for high-powered magnet sets

The magnets can pose a serious risk of harm to young children

With an eye toward protecting consumers -- especially young children, tweens, and teens – the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has approved a new...

Photo
Photo source: CPSC

With an eye toward protecting consumers -- especially young children, tweens, and teens – the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has approved a new national safety standard for high-powered magnet sets.

These sets are hazardous to young children, who have put them in their mouths and swallowed them, They also pose a serious risk to teens and tweens, who have used them to create mock lip, tongue and nose piercings.

Serious injuries possible

Hazardous magnet sets include, on average, approximately 200 magnets, although some have up to 1,700 magnets. If multiple magnets are swallowed, the magnets attract each other, pinching or trapping intestines or other digestive tissue between them. The result can be a serious injury that requires surgery and can lead to lifelong health consequences or death.

High-powered magnet sets were found to be responsible for the death of a 19-month-old girl and, according to CPSC analysis, an estimated 2,900 emergency room-treated injuries between 2009 and 2013. The agency concluded that the safety standard is necessary to address the unreasonable risk of injury or death associated with these magnet sets.

New standard

Under the new CPSC performance standard, an individual magnet from a magnet set either must be large enough that the magnet does not fit into a CPSC small parts cylinder or the power of the magnetic force must be lower than a specified measure. Certain hazardous magnet sets that were previously in the marketplace had a magnetic force that was 37 times greater than what the new performance standard permits.

The rule applies to high-powered magnet sets and to individual magnets that are marketed or intended for use as part of a magnet set. Once the safety standard becomes effective, the manufacture, importation, distribution or sale of high-powered magnet sets that are subject to the federal standard and do not comply will be illegal.

CPSC urges consumers to stop using those magnets that will not comply with the new federal standard.

More

Study: Gastric bypass surgery beats banding for long-term weight loss

The procedure is better at controlling diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol

Gastric bypass surgery has better outcomes than gastric banding for long-term weight loss, controlling type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, and lowerin...

Photo
© Jaimie Duplass - Fotolia

Gastric bypass surgery has better outcomes than gastric banding for long-term weight loss, controlling type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, and lowering cholesterol levels, according to a new study. But another study found that the surgery is not a magic wand to cure depression.

Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center reviewed nearly 30 long-term studies comparing the two types of procedures.

The review, appearing in JAMA, found that those undergoing gastric bypass operations lost more weight — an average of 66% of their excess weight, compared to 45% for those undergoing gastric banding procedures.

“We know gastric bypass brings more weight loss success and relief of commonly associated illness versus gastric band at one year after surgery. We now have the best evidence available telling us this outcome continues to be true even up to five years after surgery. We also know these procedures maintain their safety profile long-term,” said Dr. Nancy Puzziferri, Assistant Professor of Surgery and part of the bariatric surgery team at UT Southwestern.

“The review underscores the importance of thinking about durable treatments, as obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and elevated cholesterol are chronic illnesses, rather than focusing on short-term results,” Dr. Puzziferri said.

No magic wand

Yale researchers, meanwhile, found that not all obese people feel better after such surgery, even though most severely obese people experience much better spirits once they shed weight through a diet, lifestyle changes or medical intervention.

Researchers Valentina Ivezaj and Carlos Grilo of the Yale University School of Medicine, writing in Springer’s journal Obesity Surgery, advise that the levels of depression in patients be measured 6 to 12 months after surgery so that help can be provided if needed.

“The majority of patients whose mood had worsened discernibly experienced these mood changes between six and 12 months post-surgery, suggesting this may be a critical period for early detection and intervention, as needed,” explains Ivezaj.

Self-reported questionnaires were completed by 107 patients with extreme obesity before they underwent gastric bypass surgery, and then again six and 12 months after the procedure. They were asked to reflect on their levels of depression, possible eating disorders, their self-esteem and general social functioning.

120,000 annually

According to a 2011 estimate, some 120,000 bariatric procedures are performed annually in the U.S. Worldwide, gastric bypass accounts for about 47% of weight loss procedures, while gastric bands account for about 18%.

Researchers found dramatic differences between the two procedures in controlling diabetes. More than two-thirds of gastric bypass patients with Type 2 diabetes saw remission of the disease, compared to less than a third of gastric band patients.

Gastric bypass surgery also lowered hypertension better than gastric banding. Nearly half of patients (48%) with hypertension reported remission after two years with gastric bypass, compared to less than a fifth (17%) for those undergoing gastric band procedures.

Gastric bypass also improved hyperlipidemia, characterized by high levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, and lipoproteins in the blood. About 60% of gastric bypass patients reported remission in the studies, compared to about 23% of gastric band patients.

Long-term complication rates for the two procedures also favored gastric bypass, through both were relatively low — less than 3% for bypass surgery and less than 5% for banding procedures.

More

Bad Boy Buggies recalls recreational off-road vehicles

Diminished braking ability poses a crash hazard

Bad Boy Buggies of Augusta, Ga., is recalling about 4,460 Bad Boy Buggies off-road vehicles. Incorrect parking brake adjustments and improperly bled brake...

Photo
Photo source: CPSC

Bad Boy Buggies of Augusta, Ga., is recalling about 4,460 Bad Boy Buggies off-road vehicles.

Incorrect parking brake adjustments and improperly bled brake lines can diminish a consumer’s braking ability, posing a crash hazard.

No incidents or injuries have been reported.

This recall involves gas- and electric-powered, four-wheeled recreational vehicles manufactured by Bad Boy Buggies. The vehicles have bench seats for the driver and passenger, a cargo bed in the rear of the two-person model, and a rear-facing back seat in the four-person model.

The recreational vehicles were sold in black, camouflage, green and red, and have 1¾ inch tubular steel exterior frames.

The recalled off-road vehicles have serial numbers ranging from 8004970 through 8012901. Serial numbers are printed on a plate or label on the steering column. Brand and model names are printed on the side and front panels of the vehicle.

Model names included in the recall are:

  • Ambush and Ambush iS
  • Instinct
  • Recoil and Recoil iS

The vehicles, manufactured in the U.S. were sold at Bad Boy Buggies dealers nationwide from August 2012, through May 2014, for between $9,600 and $14,400.

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled vehicles and contact Bad Boy Buggies or an authorized dealer for a free repair.

Consumers may contact Bad Boy Buggies toll-free at (855) 738-3711 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday.

More

Ross Stores recalls bistro chairs

The chair’s seat can fail to attach to the frame when the chair is unfolded

Ross Procurement of Dublin, Calif., is recalling about 840 metal bistro chairs The chair’s seat can fail to attach to the frame when the chair is unfolded...

Photo
Photo source: CPSC

Ross Procurement of Dublin, Calif., is recalling about 840 metal bistro chairs

The chair’s seat can fail to attach to the frame when the chair is unfolded, causing the chair to collapse. This poses a fall hazard to consumers.

The company has received three reports of minor injuries from the chairs collapsing, including a back strain and minor bruises.

This recall involves orange metal folding bistro chairs with perforations on the seat. The chairs measure about 36 inches tall by 15 inches wide by 16 inches deep. SKU 400101018858 is found on the product hangtag.

The chairs, manufactured in China, were sold exclusively at Ross stores nationwide from February 2014, through April 2014, for about $30.

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled chairs with seats that do not attach to the frame and return them to any Ross store for a full refund.  

More

Chrysler recalls vehicles with ignition key issues

The vehicles could lose windshield defroster and wiper functions

Chrysler Group is recalling an estimated 349,442 older-model vehicles to correct conditions that may cause ignition keys to become stuck or inadvertently m...

Photo
Photo source: Jeep

Chrysler Group is recalling an estimated 349,442 older-model vehicles to correct conditions that may cause ignition keys to become stuck or inadvertently move.

The company says the keys on certain model-year 2008 vehicles produced before May 12, 2008, may not return fully to the “ON” position after rotation to the “START” position during engine-startup. Instead, they may remain between the two positions. If this occurs, windshield defroster and wiper function may be lost. Air bag function is not affected.

Less probable, Chrysler says, is the prospect that an ignition key may not fully return to the “ON” position after rotation to the “START” position and may inadvertently move through the “ON” position to “ACCESSORY” or “OFF.” If this occurs, it may result in reduced braking power and a loss of engine power, power steering, and one or more of the vehicle’s safety features including front air bags.

The automaker says it is aware of a single minor accident that was possibly related to either condition, but that it is unaware of any related injuries.

Thousands of vehicles affected

The campaign is limited to 2008 Dodge Charger sedans, Dodge Magnum station wagons, Chrysler 300 sedans, Jeep Commander and Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs.

It covers an estimated 292,224 vehicles in the U.S.; 18,976 in Canada; 4,947 in Mexico; and 33,295 outside the NAFTA region.

All affected customers will be notified when they may schedule service, which will be provided at no cost to them. In the interim, they are advised to confirm their ignition keys are set in the “ON” position (1 o’clock) after starting their vehicles. This will assure engine power and intended functionality of all systems, including front air bags.

As a supplementary precaution, Chrysler is advising customers to detach their ignition keys from key rings and other keys.

Owners with questions may call Chrysler's customer information center at 1-800-853-1403.

More

Shivvers recalls Country Clipper riding lawn mowers

The ignition module can fail to ground, resulting in overheating and melting

Shivvers Manufacturing of Corydon, Iowa is recalling about 2,011 riding lawn mowers in the U.S. and Canada. The ignition module can fail to ground, result...

Photo
Photo source: CPSC

Shivvers Manufacturing of Corydon, Iowa is recalling about 2,011 riding lawn mowers in the U.S. and Canada.

The ignition module can fail to ground, resulting in overheating and melting, posing a fire hazard.

The company has received reports of four lawn mower ignition modules overheating and melting. No injuries have been reported.

This recall involves model year 2012, 2013 and 2014 Country Clipper riding lawn mowers. The recalled mowers are equipped with 27-horsepower Kohler Command CV740 or Kohler Courage SV740 twin cylinder engines.

The Command engine is dark gray and has the name and model number on a label on the side of the engine near the air filter. The Courage engine has a black engine shroud and has the name and model number on the top of the shroud. The recalled mowers are steered by either a joystick or two steering arms.

The recalled mowers were manufactured from October 2011, to May 2014, and include the model names Challenger, Charger, Edge, Jazee, Jazee Pro and Jazee Pro DLX.

The following model years and model numbers are recalled: 

Model Year 2012

Model Year 2013

Model Year 2014

2748KOJ-SR225

2752KOJ-SR400

2752KOJ-505

2748KOJ-SR375

2752KOJ-SR500

2752KOT-505

2748KOT-SR225

2752KOT-SR400

2760KOJ-505

2752KOJ-SR225

2752KOT-SR500

2760KOJ-1035

2752KOJ-SR375

2760KOJ-SR400

2760KOJ-1505

2752KOJL-SR375

2760KOJ-SR500

2760KOT-505

2752KOT-SR225

2760KOJ-SR1030

2760KOT-1035

2752KOT-SR375

2760KOJ-SR1500

2760KOT-1505

2760KOHJ-SR375

2760KOT-SR400

 

2760KOHT-SR375

2760KOT-SR500

 

2760KOJ-SR375

2760KOT-SR1030

 

2760KOJ-SR1025

2760KOT-SR1500

 

2760KOJ-SR1220

 

 

2760KOJ-SR1220L

 

 

2760KOT-SR375

 

 

2760KOT-SR1025

 

 

2760KOT-SR1220

 

 

The mowers, manufactured in the U.S., were sold at Country Clipper lawn mower dealers nationwide from October 2011, to May 2014, for between $5,300 and $9,500.

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled lawn mowers and contact a Country Clipper dealer to schedule a free repair.

Consumers may contact Country Clipper at (800) 344-8237 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. CT Monday through Friday.

More

Jitters return to Wall Street this week

The market remains highly confident, which some see as a problem

The witches in Shakespeare's Macbeth might have been chanting “bubble, bubble toil and trouble,” because that would be an appropriate chant on Wall Street ...

Photo
© svetabl, Fotolia.com

The witches in Shakespeare's Macbeth might have been chanting “bubble, bubble toil and trouble,” because that would be an appropriate chant on Wall Street this week. A few voices are emerging from those of the cheering section to question the longevity of this bull market.

Of course, those questions have been asked on and off all year long. Stock valuations have risen with stock prices, yet the long-expected correction has not materialized. Many of the most bearish traders have thrown in the towel in recent weeks and become bulls.

And a lot of people see that as something to worry about.

There's an expression among traders that stocks tend to “climb a wall of worry.” That means prices go up when a significant number of players express worries the market is over valued and a correction is due.

Kind of like the situation several months ago, when there were plenty of bears warning of a correction. But when everyone starts singing “Happy Days Are Here Again,” look out.

Those who were in the market in early 2000, at the tail end of the dot-com boom, remember the refrain “this time it's different,” used to justify buying stock in companies with no earnings but a dot-com at the end of their name. A few months later it was clear that nothing was different.

Fed pumping

Since the 2008 financial crisis, the Federal Reserve has been buying bonds and holding down interest rates. Some critics point out that has inflated stock prices, since companies can cheaply borrow money to buy their own stock, pumping up the price.

With bonds and CDs paying next to nothing, more money has flowed into the stock market, pushing prices ever higher. As long as the Fed keeps interest rates at zero, the argument goes, stocks are destined to go higher.

But this month, there have been a few people on Wall Street waving the caution flag.

“With the sentiment number so outrageously high and with the margin debt so off the charts, we really feel this is a very risky time,” Brad Lamensdorf, manager of the Range Equity Bear Fund, told Yahoo Finance this week.

Lamensdorf said he thinks a 10% to 20% correction is in order to get the market back to where it should be. In early September billionaire investor Sam Zell told CNBC that he believes a market pullback is on the horizon.

"People have no place else to put their money, and the stock market is getting more than its share,” he told the network. “It's very likely that something has to give here."

Avoid panic

This week there were signs that a correction of some type may have already begun. The stocks of small companies have suffered a sharp decline.

The Russell 2000, a stock index made of up small companies, suffered a “death cross,” a chart event that in the past has signaled the onset of a bear market.

But if there is a sharp correction, people with retirement accounts full of mutual funds shouldn't panic. After all, unless you have an extremely short retirement time line, you're in it for the long haul.

Long-time market bull Jeremy Siegel says the market may face some rough sledding in the weeks ahead, but should continue to move higher over time. Even investors who rode out the catastrophic market decline of early 2009 were well ahead of the game by 2010.

The point is to not be shocked if the market gives up some of what it has gained this year. What should consumers with retirement accounts packed with mutual funds be doing?

It might be wise to review your retirement portfolio and discuss strategy with your financial advisor. If you are sharply higher in some of your positions, it might be prudent to take some profits. 

Remember -- buy low, sell high. Taking some profits could give you the cash you need to wade back into stocks after they've come back down to earth.

More

Bad week for Apple: bent phones followed by flawed iOS update

But Apple will replace bent phones -- if they pass a "Visual Mechanical Inspection"

If you downloaded and installed Apple's iOS 8.0.1 software update on Wednesday, whether to your iPhone, iPad or iPod, bear in mind the update proved to be ...

PhotoIf you downloaded and installed Apple's iOS 8.0.1 software update on Wednesday, whether to your iPhone, iPad or iPod, bear in mind the update proved to be so flawed, the company stopped the release a mere hour after starting it.

The Wall Street Journal initially reported that Apple yanked the update after hearing complaints from customers that the update not only interfered with their phones' ability to make calls, but disabled the TouchID sensor which allowed people to unlock their phones with their fingerprints.

Of course, iOS 8.0.1 was supposed to fix several flaws with iOS 8.0, including problems with the large phones' “reachability” (or ability to be used with only one hand), a bug that prevented users from accessing their photos, or uploading photos and videos from certain platforms, issues with various apps, and more. Instead, the intended fix only traded one set of major flaws for another.

The flawed update can no longer be downloaded and installed. However, for people who have already put iOS 8.0.1 on their iThings, it's uncertain as of press time what, if anything, Apple plans to do for them.

Bent out of shape

PhotoThis hasn't been the only embarrassment Apple's faced this week; the company received plenty of bad press after people who bought iPhone 6 Plus devices complained that the phones are flimsy enough to bend out of shape, especially when people kept the phones in their pants pockets.

However, Apple finally responded to such complaints by offering to replace any bent iPhone 6 Plus models – after Genius Bar employees subject the phones to a “Visual Mechanical Inspection” to ensure the warranty covers the damage.

So if you are plagued by such a bent iPhone 6 Plus, you might try visiting your local Apple Store to see if your bent phone passes the Visual Mechanical Inspection. Thus far, it's too early to report how those VMIs turn out for bent-phone owners.

More

Millennials cite finances as a reason to put off marriage

But is it really just a change in expectations?

U.S. marriage rates have been in decline for years. The sexual revolution obviously has a lot to do with that. Ideas about personal freedom do as well....

Photo
© Photofollies, Fotolia.com
U.S. marriage rates have been in decline for years. The sexual revolution obviously has a lot to do with that. Ideas about personal freedom do as well.

But an analysis of Census Bureau data by the Pew Research Center has found that the percentage of American adults who have never been married is at an all-time high. In 2012, 20% of adults age 25 and older had never been married. In 1960, the percentage was just 9%.

It isn't that young adults aren't getting together. They are. The shares of adults cohabiting and raising children outside of marriage have increased significantly.

It's true that since the Baby Boomers came along, every generation has marched to its own drum. But one reason for the falling marriage rate identified in the analysis is economic.

Not enough money?

“As the share of never-married adults has climbed, the economic circumstances faced by both men and women have changed considerably,” the authors write.

And not changed for the better. The number of men – particularly young men – with jobs has fallen significantly over the past few decades.

In 1960, 93% of men ages 25 to 34 were working. In 2012 the percentage was down to 82%. And among young men who are employed, wages have fallen.

Men ages 25 to 34 have seen their pay fall 20% since 1980. Over the same period, the wage gap between men and women has narrowed, and not necessarily because women are earning more.

In 2012, among workers ages 25 to 34, women’s hourly earnings were 93% those of men. In 1980, the ratio was less than 70%.

The pew researchers suggest this is by no means the only reason young people – even those who have been living together for years – are putting off tying the knot. But it is an important one.

Looking for a productive mate

A follow-up survey found that never-married women place a high premium on finding a spouse with a steady job. With recent changes in the labor market there are fewer young men “with prospects,” as they used to say.

Here's an interesting statistic that illustrates the problem; In 1960 there were 139 men, ages 25 to 34, with jobs, for every 100 women in the same age group. By 2012, the ratio had flipped – only 91 employed men per 100 women.

In other words, if all never-married young women in 2012 wanted to find a young employed man who had also never been married, 9% of them would be left out, just because there weren't enough men to go around.

When the researchers interviewed young people who said they did want to get married, financial security showed up as a significant reason why they were hesitating. But is there something more to it?

Higher expectations

Writing in Slate last year, Julia Shaw, herself a Millennial, says a lot of her peers want to wait until they've “arrived” before getting married; established in a career, big house and a nice car. She, on the other hand, says she got married at 23.

“My husband, David, was 25,” she writes. “We hadn’t arrived. I had a job; he, a job offer and a year left in law school. But we couldn’t buy a house or even replace the car when it died a few months into our marriage. We lived in a small basement apartment, furnished with secondhand Ikea. We did not have Internet (checking email required a trip to the local coffee shop) or reliable heat. Marriage wasn’t something we did after we’d grown up – it was how we have grown up and grown together.”

That's pretty much the way couples did things in the past. Whether its financial obstacles or wanting to “have it all” before they settle down, the Millennials appear to be doing marriage differently.

More

AT&T/DirecTV merger gets go-ahead from DirecTV shareholders

The deal still faces anti-trust security and consumer opposition, however

Who wouldn't want to be taken over by AT&T for $48.5 billion? Not the shareholders of DirecTV, 99% of whom have voted to approve the takeover, which would ...

PhotoWho wouldn't want to be taken over by AT&T for $48.5 billion? Not the shareholders of DirecTV, 99% of whom have voted to approve the takeover, which would strengthen AT&T's hand by giving it a nationwide TV service to add to its bundle.

What it does for consumers isn't quite as clear but AT&T has been promoting it as particularly beneficial for rural dwellers. An AT&T executive said recently that it would use DirecTV's satellite to deliver broadband speeds of 15 megabits per second or better in rural areas. 

AT&T has technology “ready to go” by late 2015 to deliver high-speed wireless Internet service that’s faster than LTE, because it is delivered via a dedicated swath of spectrum, said Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T's mobility division, at a conference earlier this month.

Although AT&T's Uverse delivers cable and broadband service, it's only available in some markets. By combining its wireless, landline and satellite capacity post-merger, the telecom giant could offer a complete package of broadband, wireless and TV service nationwide. 

Hurdles remain

The deal still requires approval by the Federal Communications Commission, the Justice Department and possibly other agencies and, although opposition has not been as strident as in the proposed Comcast-Time Warner merger, it is far from a certainty.

AT&T Uverse Sept. 25, 2014, 8:15 p.m.
Consumers rate AT&T Uverse

A group of state attorneys general was formed recently to look into the deal as well. The top state legal officers said they were also investigating the Comcast/Time Warner deal. 

Consumer groups tend to hate both deals, saying they amount to nothing more than consolidation that will limit consumer choice and drive up prices. 

“For the amount of money and debt AT&T and Comcast are collectively shelling out for their respective mega-deals, they could deploy super-fast, gigabit-fiber broadband service to every single home in America,” Free Press president Craig Aaron said recently. 

“But these companies don’t care about providing better services or even connecting more Americans. It’s about eliminating the last shred of competition in a communications sector that’s already dominated by too few players,” Aaron said.

More

Can your dog get Ebola?

Dogs can carry the disease and could spread it to humans

It's the disease that everyone is fearing most right now -- Ebola. We could be dealing with more than a million cases of Ebola by January if efforts to tac...

Photo
© Sergey Lavrentev - Fotolia

It's the disease that everyone is fearing most right now -- Ebola. We could be dealing with more than a million cases of Ebola by January if efforts to tackle the disease outbreak are not drastically escalated.

Ebola has been reported in monkeys, apes, rodents, pigs, bats, porcupines, and dogs. So how safe are our pets?

For the moment, of course, Ebola is not found in North America and the danger remains centered in West Africa. But dogs in infested areas can contract Ebola as a result of eating or coming in contact with an infected animal, likely a fruit bat or a mouse. 

Pet dogs and hunting dogs in West Africa have tested positive for the Ebola virus, but they showed no signs of being infected, said Michael San Filippo, senior media relations specialist for the American Veterinary Medical Association. The dogs did not get sick and did not die.

In other words, while dogs are able to contract Ebola, they do so asymptomatically. That means, while they can be a carrier of Ebola, they won’t present any of the symptoms and will remain unaffected by the condition.

The thing is -- dogs can carry the disease. They could technically pass it on to us. Although there are no documented cases of that happening, it's something to keep in mind, especially if the disease spreads to the U.S. or if you're traveling in countries where Ebola is found.

More

Appeals court upholds penalties against bogus mortgage assistance scheme

Consumers paid high fees for "virtually worthless" programs, court finds

A federal appeals court has upheld a lower court's decision ordering a bogus mortgage assistance and debt relief scheme to pay $5.7 million in refunds to c...

PhotoA federal appeals court has upheld a lower court's decision ordering a bogus mortgage assistance and debt relief scheme to pay $5.7 million in refunds to consumers.

“The court decision announced today is a major win for consumers nationwide,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). “It affirms that marketers can’t get away with using misleading sales pitches and then burying ‘disclaimers’ in lengthy documents given to consumers later.”

The case grew out of a complaint that the FTC filed in 2012 against E.M.A. Nationwide and several other defendants, alleging that since at least mid-2010 they operated a call center in Montreal that cold-called thousands of U.S. consumers, including those whose numbers were registered on the Do Not Call Registry, pitching programs that would supposedly help them pay, reduce, or restructure their mortgage and other debts.

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld the district court’s conclusion that the defendants’ “initial telephone conversations used to solicit consumers consisted almost entirely of material misrepresentations” that created a deceptive “overall net impression” to induce consumers to incur very high costs for virtually worthless services.

The court rejected the defendants’ argument that the district court needed to conduct additional fact-finding proceedings before determining that those misrepresentations were not offset or “cured” by fine-print disclaimers and clarifications in the contracts and other written materials that consumers received only after agreeing to enroll in the defendants’ programs.

In summarizing its ruling, the appellate court wrote, “A court need not look past the first contact with a consumer to determine the net impression from that contact, and a court may consider individual advertisements or messages to determine the net impression. Defendants cannot make considerable material misrepresentations to consumers and then bury corrections and disclaimers in subsequent communications. . . . Therefore, the district court did not err in granting summary judgment.”

A complete list of the defendants in the case can be found here

More

Picking the right pumpkin doesn't have to spook you out

There are different kinds of pumpkins -- some great for carving, others for eating or painting

You have a couple of choices when you feel like picking pumpkins. You can pick them right out of the huge box on a pallet at the grocery store or you can d...

Photo
© neirfy - Fotolia.jpg
You have a couple of choices when you feel like picking pumpkins. You can pick them right out of the huge box on a pallet at the grocery store or you can do the little fake farm around your neighborhood that turns into a Christmas tree farm the day after Thanksgiving (amazing how that happens) or you can take a trek out to a pumpkin patch and pick 'em like they did in the good ole days.

Anyway you carve it, it will still be spooky for Halloween! Of course there are some tricks and tips to get the absolutely best pumpkin wherever you go. Be advised some pumpkins are better for cooking, some for carving and some for painting. Believe it or not, some have better seeds. Hold your gourds -- we will explain.

Choosing the perfect Jack O'Lantern

Jack O'Lantern pumpkins have thick walls and a fibrous flesh that can stand up to being carved. They have hollow cavities perfect for holding candles. They were bred to be sculpted.

What to look for:

  • You want it firm and heavy for its size.
  • The coloring should be consistent throughout.
  • Turn it over on the bottom -- if it flexes or gives it's not fresh.
  • Look for mold or wrinkle cuts, soft spots that would mean it will spoil early.
  • Find a pumpkin that has a good solid stem.
  • A green stem means a freshly harvested pumpkin.
  • Put the pumpkin on a flat surface to make sure it sits well after being carved.

Finding the right painting pumpkin

Orange Smoothie, Cotton Candy and Lumina are all good varieties for painting pumpkins. They come equipped with smooth skin and shallow ribbing. These are good-eating pumpkins as well so use a non-toxic paint so you can eat them when you and your little Van Gogh are done painting.

The best pumpkin pie

We're talking about a real pumpkin pie, not one from a can. For this you want a Cinderella pumpkin.

Cinderella pumpkins are the real deal -- supposedly the ones the Pilgrims used. Their name came from Cinderella's carriage that her fairy Godmother created from a pumpkin for the magical ride to the ball.

Their flavor is good for pie or winter squash. Sugar pies are the modern baking pumpkin. If you want to bake pies and want a pumpkin instead of a squash this is your baby.

The best pumpkin seeds

You can eat the seeds from any variety of pumpkin. Some are bigger and some are smaller. Some of them have very thick hulls. The best for roasted pumpkin seeds come from the Kakai pumpkin -- these seeds are completely hullless. They are very attractive with their bright orange and green stripes.

Life span

Now that you have picked your pumpkin, you probably are wondering how long it will last. Steve Reiners, a horticulturist at Cornell University, says it depends on the state of the pumpkin and the weather.

"If the pumpkin was healthy when picked and diseases were controlled in the field, the pumpkin can last 8 to 12 weeks." He adds that Jack O'Lanterns don't fare as well: They last 5 to 10 days.

The best storage temperature for pumpkins ranges between 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit, he says. But cold weather can cut into a pumpkin's lifespan. A light frost might cause a little discoloration; the pumpkin won't fare well if temperatures drop below freezing.

If all else fails you can always go to a craft store and get one of those plastic pumpkins complete with a light bulb. The problem with that is, you miss all the fun!

More

Shellshock security flaw worse than Heartbleed

But fixing the problem is out of ordinary peoples' hands

Shellshock, a newly discovered security flaw in a type of software widely used in UNIX, Linux and Mac OS X systems, is considered even worse than last Apri...

Photo
A typical Bash screen

Shellshock, a newly discovered security flaw in a type of software widely used in UNIX, Linux and Mac OS X systems, is considered even worse than last April's “Heartbleed” security flaw, and Heartbleed was bad enough and far-reaching enough to threaten any [supposedly secure] website using OpenSSL encryption.

The list of potentially infected sites from Heartbleed included Yahoo and the FBI, and it's only a slight exaggeration to say, “As a result of Heartbleed, dang-near everybody on the Internet had to change dang-near every password they had.”

Shellshock, also called simply “the BASH bug,” is even worse. After all: “change your passwords” is something you can actually do, an active step you take to protect yourself. So far, though, it appears there's no equivalent step ordinary, everyday Internet users can take to protect themselves from Shellshock; identifying and fixing the problem is in the hands of webmasters and systems administrators.

Even worse: Heartbleed would only allow hackers to see what you were doing on or with your computer; they couldn't actually control it. Hackers exploiting the BASH bug might be able to.

BASH is an acronym for Bourne Again Shell, an open-source software system found in UNIX-type systems. Like all shells, it basically translates commands (from a server or website) into something which your computer or device can read.

The newly discovered security bug basically lets hackers take over the shell and slip in malicious bits of code.

In home-security (rather than computer-security) terms, Heartbleed was like a situation where the front door to everybody's house suddenly unlocked all at once, so everybody had to lock their doors (change their passwords) before any burglars walked in through those unlocked doors to steal things. But the BASH bug is more like a new device a burglar can use to break into a locked door.

The security flaw is bad enough that the U.S. Computer Emergency Response Team issued a security alert to “experienced users and administrators” – another subtle reminder that, while everyday Intenet users are at risk from Shellshock, there's little if anything they personally can do about it.

More

Retailers expect treats, not tricks, as consumers shop for Halloween costumes

Record numbers of consumers are seen buying costumes

Consumers gearing up to celebrate the spookiest holiday of the year have retailers anticipating more costumes than ever flying off the shelves. According...

Photo
Photo source: NRF

Consumers gearing up to celebrate the spookiest holiday of the year have retailers anticipating more costumes than ever flying off the shelves.

According to to the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) Halloween Consumer Spending Survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, more than two-thirds (67.4%) of celebrants will buy Halloween costumes for the holiday -- the most in the survey’s 11-year history.

Additionally, the average person is expected to spend $77.52 this Halloween, up almost $2.50 from last year. That means total spending on Halloween this year could hit $7.4 billion.

“As one of the fastest-growing consumer holidays, Halloween has retailers of all shapes and sizes preparing their stores and websites for the busy fall shopping season,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “There’s no question that the variety of adult, child and even pet costumes now available has driven the demand and popularity of Halloween among consumers of all ages. And, with the holiday falling on a Friday this year, we fully expect there will be a record number of consumers taking to the streets, visiting haunted houses and throwing unforgettable celebrations.”

Costumes for everyone

Party-goers are expected to splurge on spooky and fun garb to wear this year, spending $2.8 billion on costumes overall. Specifically, celebrants are projected to shell out $1.1 billion on children’s costumes, and $1.4 billion on adult costumes. And Fido and Fluffy will not be forgotten, with consumers spending $350 million on costumes for their furry friends.

Candy and greeting cards alike will be popular items this season, as consumers will spend $2.2 billion on candy this year and 35.9% of people will be sending Halloween greeting cards. With consumers planning to spend $2 billion on decorations for the frightful holiday, life-size ghosts, pumpkins and festive decor will be aplenty on lawns and doorsteps throughout the country.

Consumers will celebrate the holiday in many different ways, but topping the list of planned activities is handing out candy (71.1%), while others will decorate their homes and yards (46.7%), and dress in costume (45.8%). One-third of will be throw or attend a party (33.4%), compared with last year's30.9%.

Early shopping

Much like last year, consumers will hit the stores and the Internet early to get the first pick of costumes and candy. According to the survey, nearly one-third of celebrants (32.1%) say they will start their Halloween shopping before the first of October. And, while 43.3% kick off their shopping in the first 2 weeks of October, one-quarter (24.6%) will wait until the last minute and shop the last 2 weeks of October.

While the bulk of shoppers will look for costume inspiration online (34.2%) or in a retail store or costume shop (33%), Pinterest is a growing source of inspiration this year. The survey found 11.4% will turn to Pinterest for costume ideas, versus 9.3% last year. Young adults will drive the most Pinterest traffic: 21.2% of 18-24 year olds will turn to the popular site for ideas, as will 21.0% of 25-34 year olds.

“Social media is a great tool for consumers to find inspiration for all of their Halloween activities, including finding tips for decorating their homes and yards, looking for personal and even family costume ideas, and even finding the best deals from retailers,” said Prosper Insights Principal Analyst Pam Goodfellow. “As the popularity of Halloween continues to grow to unseen levels, there is no doubt that Americans this year will find ways to get in the spirit, looking for affordable, fun ways to celebrate with their families.”

For some consumers the U.S. economy is still top-of-mind. According to the survey, 18.8% say the state of the U.S. economy will affect their Halloween spending plans. Specifically, nearly two in five (19.7%) of those affected will utilize their creative skills and make their own costumes rather than buy a new one this Halloween.

More

Weekly jobless claims creep higher

However, the latest levels continue to suggest a rebounding job market

After falling to the lowest level since July a week earlier, first-time applications for state unemployment benefits moved higher last week. Government fi...

Photo
© Marzky Ragsac Jr. - Fotolia.com

After falling to the lowest level since July a week earlier, first-time applications for state unemployment benefits moved higher last week.

Government figures show initial jobless claims were at a seasonally adjusted total of 293,000 -- an increase of 12,000. The previous week's level was revised up by 1,000 to 281,000.

Even with the sizeable increase, the total was 7,000 below the consensus estimate of economists surveyed by Briefing.com.

The governmnt says there were no special factors affecting this week's initial claims, leading analysts to speculate that the job market is near full employment. That would suggest a sizeable payroll creation when the employment report for September is released in early October.

The 4-week moving average, which is less volatile and considered a more accurate gauge of the labor market, dipped 1,250 from the previous week -- to 298,500.

The full report is avaliable on the Labor Department website.

More

Volkswagen recalls Audi Q7s

Engine oil could leak into the brake booster

Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 1,814 model year 2013 Audi Q7 vehicles manufactured June 5, 2012, to November 29, 2012 and equipped with a 3.0L TD...

Photo
Photo source: Audi USA

Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 1,814 model year 2013 Audi Q7 vehicles manufactured June 5, 2012, to November 29, 2012 and equipped with a 3.0L TDI engine.

A check valve in the engine of the vehicles may become contaminated with plastic debris and allow engine oil to leak into the brake booster. That could cause the brake booster diaphragm to rupture resulting in a loss of power braking assist, and increasing the risk of a crash.

Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will replace a vacuum line, free of charge. Dealers will also inspect the brake booster system for oil contamination and, if oil contamination is present, additional components will be replaced, free of charge.

The recall began on September 24, 2014.

Owners may contact Audi at 1-800-253-2834. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 47L8.

More

Toyota Tundra CrewMax and Double Cab vehicles recalled

The Curtain-Shield Air Bags may not deploy properly

Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 132,624 model year 2014 Toyota Tundra CrewMax and Double Cab vehicles manufactured July 29, 2013, to ...

Photo
Photo source: Toyota

Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 132,624 model year 2014 Toyota Tundra CrewMax and Double Cab vehicles manufactured July 29, 2013, to August 22, 2014.

Due to the possible misinstallation of the upper tab of the B-pillar interior trim, the Curtain-Shield Air Bags may not deploy properly in the event of a crash, increasing the risk of occupant injury

Toyota will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the B-pillar interior trim installation and will replace it if it is not installed correctly, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on September 30, 2014.

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

More

Gold Star Smoked Fish recalls Cold Smoked Steelhead

The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

Gold Star Smoked Fish Corp., of Brooklyn, N.Y., is recalling Cold Smoked Steelhead in Vacuum Pack with blue and gold label. The product may be contaminat...

Photo
Photo source: Gold Star

Gold Star Smoked Fish Corp., of Brooklyn, N.Y., is recalling Cold Smoked Steelhead in Vacuum Pack with blue and gold label.

The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

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

The recalled product is packaged in clear plastic vacuum bag for food service distribution and has a white label with a code 244 affixed on the back of the bag. The UPC Number on the front label is 021 143140026.

It was sold in New York, New Jersey and Florida as a food service item to be weighed at point of sale.

Consumers who purchased Cold Smoked Steelhead should not consume it and should return it to the place of purchase.

Consumers with questions may contact the company at 718-522-5480.

More

Another reason to be careful with pain killers

Overdose deaths have quadrupled over the last decade

Americans take a lot of pills, one reason the pharmaceutical industry is so profitable. These drugs have gotten more powerful over the years, making them m...

Photo
© nofear4232, fotolia.com
Americans take a lot of pills, one reason the pharmaceutical industry is so profitable. These drugs have gotten more powerful over the years, making them more effective in some cases and more dangerous in others.

Prescription painkillers are so potent that users can develop an addiction if they aren't careful. Opioid-based drugs, in particular, have been abused in recent years, creating dependence and severe problems with withdrawal.

They can also kill when taken in an overdose, and federal health officials say that's been happening with alarming frequency. In a data brief the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports the age-adjusted rate for opioid-analgesic poisoning deaths nearly quadrupled from 1.4 per 100,000 in 1999 to 5.4 per 100,000 in 2011.

Drugs like hydrocodone, morphine, and oxycodone were involved in 11,693 drug-poisoning deaths in 2011, up from 2,749 deaths in 1999. The only good news in the CDC report is the overdose death rate has declined slightly since 2006.

Most common injury

More people are injured by poisoning than by any other method in the U.S. and the CDC says drugs – both illegal drugs like heroin and legal prescription drugs – are the primary source of poisoning. Drugs have accounted for 90% of poisoning deaths since 2011.

If you think the dramatic rise in overdose deaths is because teenagers are raiding their parents' medicine cabinets for a good time, you would be wrong. According to the CDC, the biggest increase in pain killer overdose deaths over the last decade was older adults, age 55 to 64.

In many cases pain killer overdose deaths resulted from taking a combination of drugs, particularly different kinds of pain drugs. The CDC says identifying populations at high risk for drug poisoning death should be the first step in putting together targeted prevention strategies.

What to do

The Mayo Clinic maintains that prescription drug abuse is not all that common among patients who are taking painkillers to treat a medical condition, a position that appears to be at odds with the CDC finding. However, if you are taking a prescribed pain killer, Mayo suggests some things you can do to avoid dependence or overdose.

  • Make sure you're getting the right medication. When you see your doctor, make sure the doctor clearly understands your condition and the signs and symptoms it's causing.
  • Stay in contact with your doctor. Make sure that the medication you're taking is working and you're taking the right dose.
  • Follow directions. It sounds overly simple but many cases of accidental overdose are because the patient wasn't using the medication the way it was prescribed.
  • Understand what you are taking. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about the effects of your medication so you know what to expect.
  • Never use another person's prescription. Everyone's different. Even if you have a similar medical condition, it may not be the right medication or dose for you.

Preventing overdose deaths among teens

Prescription pain killer abuse was widely reported among teens until recently, when heroin became plentiful and cheap. Even so, young people may be at special risk.

Any talk with kids about drugs should include the dangers of prescription drug abuse. Parents who are taking a prescription pain killer for a medical condition should keep the medication in a secure place.

Make sure you child isn't ordering prescription drugs online. Some websites sell counterfeit and dangerous drugs that may not require a prescription.  

More

Reports: Apple iPhone 6 bends in your pocket

Is this normal wear-and-tear, or something worse?

How sturdy is Apple's new iPhone 6, anyway? An ever-growing number of customers are saying that the phone has a tendency to bend from the pressure when car...

Photo
Photo via YouTube

How sturdy is Apple's new iPhone 6, anyway? An ever-growing number of customers are saying that the phone has a tendency to bend from the pressure when carried in people's pants pockets.

TechCrunch reported it yesterday, noting that every time a new Apple device is launched, looking for the first flaw in it has become a popular sport. “Unfortunately, this year we haven’t been able to come up with something entirely new. With the iPhone 6 and, more pointedly, the iPhone 6 Plus, reports suggest that the phone will bend when left in a pocket, seated, for a prolonged period of time.”

TechCrunch also noted that there were similar complaints about the iPhone 5 when it first came out.

The Washington Post picked up the story at 3:30 a.m. (Eastern time), reporting that “The new iPhone 6 bends,” and before 9:30 that morning, the Post updated its story to say that “Questions about the supposed bent iPhone 6 are now showing up on the [official] Apple users forum, without, so far, a response from Apple. The actual number of people claiming to have encountered this issue remains very limited.”

Disaster!

However limited the number might be in the official Apple forum, it's exploded on Twitter under the hashtag #bendgate. A typical complaint came from Alan Pope @popey, who also tweeted a photo to illustrate his complaint: “Disaster! Took phone out of my pocket and it's bent.”

At the same time, Apple also had its share of defenders, both on Twitter and elsewhere. “In all fairness, anyone who puts a gadget made of aluminium in their back pocket and sits down deserves for it to bend.”

Wired's Gadget Lab blog seemingly had little patience for the whole affair, pointing out that “Duh: Of course the iPhone 6 Plus can bend in your pocket.”

Meanwhile, the gadget reviewer Unbox Therapy posted a video to his YouTube channel called “The iPhone 6 bend test.”

He said, “Normally, I wouldn't do a video like this, but I woke up this morning and saw a number of reports claiming that the iPhone 6 Plus was bending inside of people's pockets.”

The bend test

So he carefully inspected his own phone, which he'd been using and carrying for the past couple of days, and “noticed a tiny little indentation toward the center of the device.” He was then able to make that small indentation grow into a full-fledged bend by applying pressure to the ends of it — that said, it's not known just how much pressure he applied, either.

Unbox Therapy also posted a “follow-up” video applying the bend test to the Samsung Galaxy, claiming that it did not bend. (Assuming this is true, there's a very simple explanation why: the Galaxy case is plastic, not metal.)

Even if the latest iPhone iteration is more likely to bend than you should reasonably expect from a device of that particular size and composition, there does appear one way for Apple users to avoid the problem: take it out of your pants pocket before you sit down, especially if you're wearing tight pants. The same holds true if you have a Galaxy or any other type of phone: maybe your device won't bend, but under enough pressure, anything can break.

One industry expert says the bending isn't all that surprising. 

"This is Apple's first device with a phablet sized screen, but it is not the first bending issues to surface on larger devices like the Galaxy S4," said David Anderson of Protect Your Bubble, a warranty provider for iPhones and other devices. "There have been many customers who have broken their screens or bent their devices by sitting on them while in their back pockets."

Anderson said there have even been previous cases of Apple's iPhone 5 and 5s having bending issues when put under a lot of stress.

"As the screens and devices get larger and thinner it will simply take less stress on their metal frames to bendm" he said. 

More

Walmart offers low-fee checking accounts nationwide

It's the giant retailer's latest move into the financial services business

For the last several years, Walmart has been edging closer and closer to the banking business, at least partly in response to the high fees that have cause...

PhotoFor the last several years, Walmart has been edging closer and closer to the banking business, at least partly in response to the high fees that have caused many low-income consumers to abandon commercial bank checking accounts.

Today, the giant retailer jumped in with both feet, announcing the nationwide rollout of GoBank, a checking account from Green Dot Bank that's available exclusively through Walmart stores.

GoBank checking accounts will offer a checking acount and linked MasterCard debit card with no monthly fees for customers using direct deposit. There will also be no overdraft fees or minimum balance fees, the companies said.

The product will be available nationwide by the end of October.

“Many so-called ‘free’ checking accounts aren’t really free because they have high overdraft fees. In fact, an independent study by Bretton Woods estimates that consumers pay approximately $218 - $314 per year for a basic checking account,” said Steve Streit, founder and CEO of Green Dot Corporation and chairman of Green Dot Bank. “GoBank is breaking down the barriers to traditional banking and brings the benefits of a FDIC-insured checking account that’s loaded with features to a large segment of Americans.”

Walmart says the checking account is part of its "checking alternatives" line-up, which includes money transfer services, money cards and Walmart-branded credit cards.

“Walmart customers want easier ways to manage their everyday finances and increasingly feel they just aren’t getting value from traditional banking because of high fees,” said Daniel Eckert, senior vice president of services for Walmart U.S. “GoBank gives our customers yet another option as to how they manage their money.”

Fees & features

Details of the GoBank account:

FeesThere are no minimum balance requirements, NSF or overdraft fees -- not even NSF fees on bad checks. With a qualifying direct deposit of $500 per month, the monthly membership cost of $8.95 is waived. GoBank also features an 42,000 free ATMs.

Money Management: Instant person-to-person payments, pay-anyone bill pay, innovative budgeting tools and more.

Access: Neither a ChexSystems score nor credit bureau rating is used as the basis for determining customer eligibility. Instead, GoBank uses proprietary underwriting techniques to allow almost any consumer who passes ID verification to open an account.

PaychecksGoBank offers early payroll direct deposit so customers can get their paycheck deposited earlier than their normal payday if their employer notifies GoBank of a deposit in advance.

Money Vault: The Money Vault is an integrated bank account, with deposits insured by the FDIC, where customers can easily put money away. In real time, they can move money into the vault for safekeeping or out of the vault to be accessed with their debit MasterCard.

“Fortune Teller” feature: “Remember that time you won the lottery? I don’t either.” This is a response a customer might see from GoBank’s “Fortune Teller,” if they try to spend beyond their budget. “Fortune Teller” crosschecks the price of an item with a customer’s planned income and expenses, and if they can’t afford it, they’ll be advised in real-time to pass on the purchase.

More

Expired items just hang around waiting to cause trouble

Lots of common everyday items may be in need of a good throwing out

We all have stuff we see every single day and don't think about because they are common household items, or they're things that just stay in their place wi...

Photo
Staff photos

We all have stuff we see every single day and don't think about because they are common household items, or they're things that just stay in their place without moving.

But many of these things need to move because they can be dangerous to your health the longer they sit. Most have an expiration date but for some reason we just don't really notice.

Here are some of the most notable:

The sponge

The dishwasher is there but it's so much easier to use the sponge and it saves a ton of electricity. Better watch that sponge though if you have had it more than a month, it's a germ collector. You can clean your sponge in the microwave but do it within a month. You should pretty well know by the smell and the touch when it's time.

The liquor cabinet

Unlike wine, once liquor is bottled it stops aging. So that 12-year-old Scotch you bought in Edinburgh 10 years ago is still just a 12-year-old bottle. The Vermouth can go, though, if it's been open for longer than three months — so store your next bottle in the fridge.

Liqueurs should be thrown out if they were opened more than a couple of years ago. To make things easier some brands, like Baileys, actually list an expiration date on the bottle. Sherries and ports are very delicate and once opened last only a few fleeting days or, at most, weeks. Anything older than two months needs to go.

Oxygen is no friend of alcohol. The less liquid left in a bottle the faster you should finish it. Take off the cap and take a whiff. If you don't like the smell it needs to head for the can, otherwise start pouring.

Cosmetics

PhotoHopefully you aren't eating your make up. It does have an expiration date though. Here are some rules of face painting. 

You can often safely store unopened cosmetics for a long time in a dark, cool place, such as a drawer or closet. However, once a product has been opened and used, oxidation begins and bacteria can spread.

Mascara can be kept for 3-6 months. It is one of the most volatile products in any beauty kit. If mascara smells or changes texture, throw it out to avoid a bacterial invasion.

Eye shadow is good for about six months (cream) to two years (powder). Although eye shadow tends to last longer than other types of makeup, you should still watch for signs of wear. Toss eye shadow when pigments change or if you notice waxy buildup.

Lipstick can last 2 years. But although lipstick can last quite a while, remember that it contains water, moisturizers and hydrators and is easily infiltrated by bacteria. When it smells like crayons, it's time to toss.

Spice of life

The shelf life of spices varies, and you never really need to worry about them going “bad” like other foods do. For example, a bottle of curry powder that’s been around a questionable amount of time probably won’t make you sick … it will just be less potent.

Lots of people use a “six-month rule” when it comes to discarding most spices. Mccormick, the spice people, really give you a long leeway with their products. To put it simply when you buy spices you get your money's worth. Ground spices last 3-4 years, whole spices, 4 years, seasoning blends 1-2 years.

Your pillow

You know, that fluffy thing you rub your head on all night. Within two years pillows used every day lose their stuffing and become thin and bumpy. Fold your pillows in half, and if they stay folded, it's time to toss. They never come back once you wash them. Time for new if it folds in two.

Pearly whites

PhotoYour toothbrush lasts longer then you may think. All that Italian sauce on your pizza and the blue cotton candy from the fair seem to keep your brush pretty busy but it has a shelf life of 3-4 months. After that it's time to toss and floss.

These are just some of the things lying around the house that may need to get the heave-ho. Look closely once you start you may find a treasure trove of expired items -- and how exciting that is because now you can go out and start to replace them!

More

For self-employed, retirement saving can be a challenge

Without a regular paycheck, it's hard to put money away

Often overlooked in the numerous discussions about the urgency of retirement saving are the potential obstacles for the self-employed....

Photo
© kraphix, fotolia.com
Often overlooked in the numerous discussions about the urgency of retirement saving are the potential obstacles for the self-employed.

People who are self-employed, either as business owners or independent contractors, don't have access to employer pensions or employer matches to retirement accounts. They're on their own when it comes to saving for retirement.

Michelle Perry Higgins, a financial advisor and Principal of California Financial Advisors in San Ramon, Calif., says that for a number of reasons, the self-employed often find it hard to save for retirement.

Unpredictable income

“A key characteristic of self-employed people, both business owners and independent contractors, is that their income is likely to be more unpredictable than that of employees,” she told ConsumerAffairs. “Business owners may have seasonable income flows or be subject to other market forces. They also tend to invest all their time and spare income in their businesses. Independent contractors may have difficulty lining up jobs consistently. Both practically and psychologically, the situation of both groups makes it difficult for them to save consistently for retirement and this is a huge problem.”

Granted, cash-flow is a major challenge for people who don't get a paycheck every two weeks. But the consensus of financial experts surveyed by U.S. News recently was that people who work for themselves should be putting way 15% to 20% of their salary for retirement.

But many self-employed might ask, “what salary?” Thomas Goodson, founder and CEO of a financial planning and wealth management firm in Santa Barbara, Calif., told the magazine that most small business owners pay themselves last, especially in the formative years of the business.

Counting their chickens

Higgins says many self-employed put off saving because they expect a windfall before they retire.

“Business owners may believe that they will be bailed out by selling their business,” she said. “The risk is that they don’t get the price they think they should get and are left with little for retirement after years of hard work.”

For business owners and independent contractors who want to get started on a retirement savings plan, the Simplified Employee Pension IRA, or SEP IRA, is a good vehicle. In fact, it is a retirement plan specifically designed for anyone with self-employment income. Contributions are tax deductible so it helps you build up savings while reducing your taxable income.

While you don't have a boss to match your contributions, your contribution is, in fact, an employer contribution. It doesn't come directly from your paycheck but from the business' gross earnings. Since you are not only the owner but an employee, the company is allowed to contribute up to 25% of your salary – up to $52,000 per participant this tax year.

Flexible

As someone who is self-employed, you are not required to contribute the same percentage of compensation every year. You can vary the percentage or even skip a year. However, if you have employees, you must contribute the same percentage of compensation for each employee who is eligible.

A SEP IRA is a retirement saving option if you are a sole proprietor, in a business partnership, own a business or you are an independent contractor earning self-employment income.

IRS Publication 560 has more information.

More

Tough little dogs who think they are big

Small dogs tend to be pampered and over-protected, which can cause problems

The saying “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog” perfectly captures the little dog syndrome. Have you ever not...

More

Customer data breach at Jimmy John's sandwich shops

Hackers had access from June 15 through Sept. 5 of this year

Jimmy John's, the nationwide chain offering “gourmet sandwiches,” confirmed today that a security breach involving one of its payment vendors compromised c...

PhotoJimmy John's, the nationwide chain offering “gourmet sandwiches,” confirmed today that a security breach involving one of its payment vendors compromised customer data at 216 different locations throughout the country (out of roughly 1,900 locations in all).

Security blogger Brian Krebs first reported the possibility of a breach in July; at the time, his sources in various financial institutions mentioned seeing a spike in fraud complaints involving cards which had been used at a Jimmy John's at some point.

Jimmy John's blames the breach on an unnamed payment vendor (which Krebs' sources suspect is actually Signature Systems, Inc.).

Whoever the vendor is, Jimmy John's said that someone stole login credentials from that vendor, and used them to remotely access point-of-sale systems to steal data between June 16 and Sept. 5 of this year.

The company issued a statement saying “Approximately 216 stores appear to have been affected by this event … Cards impacted by this event appear to be those swiped at the stores, and did not include those cards entered manually or online. The credit and debit card information at issue may include the card number and in some cases the cardholder’s name, verification code, and/or the card’s expiration date. Information entered online, such as customer address, email, and password, remains secure.”

So far, which specific stores used the breached payment vendor in question hasn't been announced, so to play it safe: if you visited any Jimmy Johns location and used a payment card between June 16 and Sept. 5, keep an extra-sharp eye on your account activity.

More

Fallout continues from Home Depot data breach

Financial consequences starting to take their toll

It's been almost six months now since hackers first managed to breach Home Depot security in April, and started stealing its customers' confidential financ...

Photo
© Jess Yu, Fotolia.com
It's been almost six months now since hackers first managed to breach Home Depot security in April, and started stealing its customers' confidential financial data.

The breach itself wasn't first discovered by independent security bloggers until Sept. 2, and not until Sept. 18 did Home Depot formally announce that yes, hackers had breached its security, and made off with 56 million debit- and credit-card numbers.

Home Depot also said that hackers did not steal anybody's personal identification numbers (PINs), which appears to be true yet might not matter since earlier reports suggested that, while the hackers didn't actually get anybody's PINs, they did get enough other data to change people's PINs without their knowledge.

Yet for all the time this security breach has existed, it appears that only now is the full financial damage starting to make itself felt.

Fraudulent transactions

The Wall Street Journal first reported yesterday that fraudulent transactions traceable to the breach were starting to surface, “rippling across fiancial institutions and, in some cases, draining cash from customer bank accounts.”

The customers who actually had money withdrawn from their accounts (as opposed to seeing fraudulent charges appear on their credit cards) presumably had this happen because the hackers were able to change their PINs by gaming the Voice Response Unit (VRU) banks use to deal with PIN changes; if you're worried your own bank account might be at risk, you might want to double-check your bank's PIN security measures against this hacking technque which security blogger Brian Krebs explained on Sept. 8.

In other news, related to the Home Depot breach, two credit unions (New York's Southern Chautauqua Federal Credit Union and Pennsylvania's First Choice Federal Credit Union) filed suit against Home Depot in Atlanta federal court last week, over financial damages the credit unions sustained as a result of Home Depot's data breach. An attorney says that the breach has already cost the financial industry “hundreds of millions” of dollars in damages.

The two credit unions are trying to have their lawsuit granted class action status. In Canada, an Ottawa man who says hackers charged $8,000 to his credit card after the breach is also suing Home Depot, and seeking similar class-action status for affected Canadians.

More

New home sales soar in August

It's the best showing in more than 6 years

After staying away for 2 straight months, home-buyers finally showed up in August. Figures released jointly by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department o...

Photo
© Brian Jackson - Fotolia

After staying away for 2 straight months, home-buyers finally showed up in August.

Figures released jointly by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development show sales of new single-family houses shot up 18% last month -- to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 504,000.

That's 33.0% above the same month last year and the first time sales have topped 500,000 since May 2008. The consensus estimate from economists surveyed by Briefing.com was for sales of 435,000 new homes.

Prices and inventory

The median sales price of new houses climbed by $20,300 from August of last year to $275,600. The median is the point at which half sold for more and half for less. The average sales price was $347,900 -- up $37,100 from the year before.

Inventories, on the other hand, moved lower. The seasonally adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of August was 203,000. That works out to a supply of 4.8 months at the current sales rate, versus 5.6 months at the end of July.

Regional sales

Sales were higher across the U.S. with the exception of the Midwest, which was flat. The West led the advance with a surge of 50%, followed by the Northeast (+29.2%) and the South (+7.8%).

The full report is available on the Commerce Department website.

More

Mortgage and debt relief scammers shut down -- for good

Consumers who were conned will collect millions

Defendants based in the U.S. and Canada who deceived consumers through a telemarketing scheme designed to sell them phony mortgage assistance and debt reli...

Photo
© John Takai - Fotolia.com

Defendants based in the U.S. and Canada who deceived consumers through a telemarketing scheme designed to sell them phony mortgage assistance and debt relief programs have been put out of business.

A ruling by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has issued a decision upholding a district court ruling that permanently bars the defendants from working in the debt relief or mortgage assistance industries, and enters judgment -- jointly and severally -- of $5,706,135.48 to be used for refunds to the injured consumers.

“The court decision,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) Bureau of Consumer Protection, “is a major win for consumers nationwide. It affirms that marketers can’t get away with using misleading sales pitches and then burying ‘disclaimers’ in lengthy documents given to consumers later.”

Cold-call scam

The FTC filed a complaint against E.M.A. Nationwide and several other defendants in 2012, alleging that since at least mid-2010 they operated a call center in Montreal that cold-called thousands of U.S. consumers -- including those whose numbers were registered on the Do Not Call Registry -- pitching programs that would supposedly help them pay, reduce, or restructure their mortgage and other debts.

Based on this conduct, the agency charged the defendants with violating the FTC Act, the Commission’s Telemarketing Sales Rule, and the Mortgage Assistance Relief Services (MARS) Rule, which prohibits mortgage foreclosure rescue and loan modification services from collecting fees until homeowners have a written offer from their lender or servicer that they deem acceptable.

Lower court had it right

The Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s conclusion that the defendants’ “initial telephone conversations used to solicit consumers consisted almost entirely of material misrepresentations” that created a deceptive “overall net impression” to induce consumers to incur very high costs for virtually worthless services.

The court rejected the defendants’ argument that the district court needed to conduct additional fact-finding proceedings before determining that those misrepresentations were not offset or “cured” by fine-print disclaimers and clarifications in the contracts and other written materials that consumers received only after agreeing to enroll in the defendants’ programs.

In summarizing its ruling, the appellate court wrote, “A court need not look past the first contact with a consumer to determine the net impression from that contact, and a court may consider individual advertisements or messages to determine the net impression. . . . Defendants cannot make considerable material misrepresentations to consumers and then bury corrections and disclaimers in subsequent communications. . . . Therefore, the district court did not err in granting summary judgment.”

More

A dip in mortgage applications

Meanwhile, some interest rates hit 4-month highs

Applications for mortgages gave back some of the previous week's nearly 8% surge. The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) reports applications decreased 4....

Photo
© emiliezhang - Fotolia.com

Applications for mortgages gave back some of the previous week's nearly 8% surge.

The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) reports applications decreased 4.1% during the week ending September 19.

The Refinance Index was down 7%, sending the refinance share of mortgage activity to 56% of total applications from 57% the previous week.

The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity rose to 8.0% 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) was up 3 basis points -- from 4.26% to 4.39%, the highest rate since May, with points increasing to 0.35 from 0.20 (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) jumped to 4.30% from 4.24%, with points increasing to 0.22 from 0.16 (including the origination fee) for 80%t LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA rose 5 basis points -- to 4.08%, the highest rate since May, with points increasing to 0.09 from 0.05 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs held steady at 3.56%, with points increasing to 0.26 from 0.25 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate was unchanged from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs inched up 1 basis point to 3.20%, with points increasing to 0.40 from 0.29 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

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

More

Survey: bullies moving from high school to the workplace

But it's not clear how new this is

For young people who feel bullied at school, graduation and emergence into the work force might appear to hold relief. But then, they might be in for a rud...

Photo
© bramgino - Fotolia.com
For young people who feel bullied at school, graduation and emergence into the work force might appear to hold relief. But then, they might be in for a rude shock.

When CareerBuilder.com, an employment website, looked into whether bullying was a problem in the workplace, the results were surprising. Bullies don't stay in high school their entire lives – they graduate and get jobs too.

“One of the most surprising takeaways from the study was that bullying impacts workers of all backgrounds regardless of race, education, income and level of authority within an organization,” said Rosemary Haefner, Vice President of Human Resources at CareerBuilder.

Haefner says the researchers discovered something else; many of the workers who said they were being bullied didn't confront their tormentor and didn't report the incidents. The solution for some was to hand in their resignation and find another job.

While 28% of workers in the survey said they felt bullied at work, 19% of those resolved the issue by leaving their job.

Expanding definition?

But is it bullying or something else? Is it possible the explosive growth in bullying is a result of expanding the definition of a bully?

Drilling deeper into the numbers suggests there might be something to that. For example, some bullying may in fact be discrimination.

In the CareerBuilder survey, minorities were more likely to report being the victim of bullies. Forty-four percent of employees with a physical disability reported encounters with bullies. For lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LBGT) workers, the total was 30%.

Female workers were significantly more likely to report bullying at work than their male counterparts, 34% to 22%. Twenty-seven percent of African American workers and 25% of Hispanic workers said they have been bullied at work compared to 24% of Caucasian males.

The victims of bullying identified in the survey don't complain of getting wedgies or other physical hazing typically thought of as bullying behavior.

Instead, they report being falsely accused of making mistakes, being the object of office gossip, being criticized or yelled at by the boss, or having credit for their work poached by a co-worker.

The boss is a jerk

Many would contend this nasty behavior in the workplace is nothing new. And that feeling grows once the researchers begin identifying who these bullies are.

It turns out they are in many cases the same people who have making life miserable for employees for generations – the boss.

Of workers who felt bullied, 45% singled out their supervisor, while 25% said the person was higher up in the organization, but not the boss. So it needs to be asked whether it's a case of bullying or a case of extremely poor management by a boss who is simply a jerk.

That said, it's clear from some of the responses that isn't always the case. One in 5 respondents said the bullying involved more than one person, suggesting that mean high school cliques have migrated to the workplace.

More mean people?

So the question needs to be asked – has the definition of bullying been expanded in recent years to include any unpleasant human contact, or have people everywhere become meaner and more insensitive?

“The definition of bullying at work will vary considerably depending on whom you talk to,” Haefner said. “It’s often a gray area, but when someone feels bullied, it typically involves a pattern of behavior where there is a gross lack of professionalism, consideration and respect.”

A lot of people in the survey reported confronting their tormentor. Nearly half – 48 percent – reported taking matters into their own hands and confronting the bully. Of these workers, 45% said it took care of the problem while 11% said it made matters worse.

Tips for handling a workplace bully

Here's how CareerBuilder suggests people who feel bullied at work should respond:

  • Keep records of all incidents of bullying, documenting places, times, what happened and who was present.
  • Consider talking to the bully, providing specific examples of how you were treated unfairly. Chances are the bully may not be aware that he/she is making you feel this way.
  • Always focus on the resolution. When sharing examples with the bully or a company authority, center the discussions around how to make the working situation better or how things could be handled differently.

Whether it's called bullying or something else, Haefner says allowing a work environment in which people feel threatened or abused is simply bad for business.

“Whether it’s through intimidation, personal insults or behavior that is more passive-aggressive, bullying can be harmful to the individual and the organization overall,” she said.

More

Petition: Jeep, Durango recall doesn't go far enough

More than 5 million vehicles may have the same problem, critic claims

An auto safety group says the recall of 189,000 Jeep Grand Cherokees and Dodge Durangos to fix a fuel pump problem doesn't go far enough and points to the ...

Photo
2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee (Photo source: NHTSA)
An auto safety group says the recall of 189,000 Jeep Grand Cherokees and Dodge Durangos to fix a fuel pump problem doesn't go far enough and points to the large number of owners' complaints to back up its assertion.

The Center for Auto Safety says the stalling problem can happen in millions of other Chrysler vehicles that use the same pump power control module; Chrysler argues that stalling is a common problem that can have many causes.

Jeep Sept. 23, 2014, 2:48 p.m.
Consumers rate Jeep
The recall, announced over the weekend, covers Jeep and Dodge models with 5.7-liter V8 engines that were built between Jan. 25, 2010 and July 20, 2011. Chrysler said it traced the stalling problem to a spring that can become deformed because of heat.

The company said in the recall notice that the defective spring is located in what is called the Totally Integrated Power Module (TIPM). In a petition filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) last month, the Center for Auto Safety formally asked NHTSA to look into power failures in Chrysler products.

The safety group's executive director, Clarence Ditlow, said the same TIPM is used in 5 million Chrysler vehicles and said all of them should be recalled. He noted that his organization has received more than 70 complaints.

A review of the NHTSA complaint database reveals hundreds of complaints about stalling and related products in Chrysler products -- many of them for models not included in the recall.

This complaint was filed with NHTSA yesterday:

THE CONTACT OWNS A 2011 JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE. THE CONTACT STATED THAT WHILE PULLING OUT OF HER DRIVEWAY, THE VEHICLE WOULD HESITATE AND STALL WITHOUT WARNING. THE VEHICLE WAS ABLE TO BE RESTARTED. THE CONTACT ALSO STATED THAT THE FAILURE RECURRED ON ANOTHER OCCASION AND WAS NOT ABLE TO RESTART. THE VEHICLE WAS TOWED TO THE DEALER. THE DEALER DIAGNOSED THAT THE FUEL PUMP RELAY HAD FAILED. HOWEVER, THE PART TO DO THE REPAIR WAS UNAVAILABLE.  

In May, Juanita of Eutaw, Ala., said in a ConsumerAffairs review that her 2014 Jeep Compass has been "in the service department constantly for stall starting and engine ticking noise when turning it off" without anyone finding a solution.

"Chrysler states that they are unable to detect the stall starting. I have 3 videos to prove it and they're stressing me out. My Jeep has gone to the dealer over 4 times for the same issue and the only thing that was replaced was a solenoid for the ticking noise when shutting off that is still there."

As we reported in July 2013, ConsumerAffairs routinely receives complaints about Jeep and other Chrysler products stalling. A Chrysler spokesman quoted in that story noted that stalling is among the more common automotive problems and finding a common cause was not always possible.  

"We are unaware of any stalling reports that can be connected to each other or to a particular model," Chrysler spokesman Eric Mayne said. "Allegations of vehicle stalling are made against all manufacturers’ vehicles and can have multiple causes unrelated to design or production."

More

Starting next week, Facebook will watch you everywhere you go

Atlas advertising platform considered an improvement for marketers

Next week, Facebook plans to start using new advertising tools that will let it know what you're doing everywhere online no matter which connected device y...

PhotoNext week, Facebook plans to start using new advertising tools that will let it know what you're doing everywhere online no matter which connected device you use, tools allowing it to “bolster its stalking activities,” according to Pando Daily.

Or, as the original announcement in the Sept. 22 Wall Street Journal said, Facebook “will unveil a new advertising platform designed to improve how marketers target and measure the advertisements they buy across the Web.”

What do those bland-sounding words actually mean? It all started back in early 2013, when Microsoft owned an ad network called Atlas, which it sold to Facebook.

The Wall Street Journal said this about Atlas, the new version of which Facebook plans to unveil next week:

It promises to help marketers understand which Facebook users have seen, interacted with or acted upon ads that appear both on Facebook's services and on third-party websites and apps.

It will also provide an automated ad-buying tool known in the industry as a "demand-side platform" or "bidder," which will offer marketers the ability to buy ads that target Facebook's members as they move around the Web.

"Integrated" activity

Facebook Sept. 23, 2014, 6:21 p.m.
Consumers rate Facebook
In other words: right now, with Facebook still operating under the pre-Atlas status quo, if you use (for example) your laptop to visit Facebook, and your smartphone for other activities including online shopping, you probably notice that any websites you visit with your laptop later appear in ads on your Facebook feed – but websites you visit with your smartphone do not, since you don't use your smartphone for Facebook anyway.

But Atlas will let Facebook (and advertisers” “integrate” your online activity across all devices: use your smartphone to look at items for sale at Niftywidgets.com, then when you visit Facebook with your laptop you'll see Niftywidget ads there, too.

As Pando Daily put it:

“the ability to track consumers across devices … fixes one of the technical problems that advertisers have bemoaned since the rise of mobile: the inability to use cookies to track people. … Being able to browse around the Web without having to worry about advertisers connecting the dots between viewing an advertisement on a smartphone and purchasing something on a laptop was just a fluke. Now this new ad network is going to be “correcting the error,” so to speak. Welcome to the modern era, where even a modicum of privacy is viewed as a technical failing that’s going to be solved by some company or another to appease the almighty advertisers.”

And, of course, Facebook users who try to avoid Atlas' all-seeing eye by, for example, signing up for the Do Not Track list are certain to be disappointed; so far, very few websites actually honor such requests, and last June the ad industry urged web-standards groups to abandon its Do Not Track efforts altogether, and focus on other technologies.

More

The spy who loved me ... was a parent

These days, technology does the job instead

The only way that parents used to keep track of their kids was by using the eyes in the back of their heads. These days, those rear-view eyes have become v...

Photo
MamaBear is one of many child-tracking apps. (Photo source: MamaBearApp.com)
The only way that parents used to keep track of their kids was by using the eyes in the back of their heads. These days, those rear-view eyes have become vestigial so we have to use technology to replace them.

Fortunately, there's a lot of it out there. You can watch your infant from your smartphone. You can even track your kids through their clothes. There are apps that do nearly everything -- apps that track your kids’ locations, allow you to block downloads, keep them from texting while driving, and limit how much data they can use and time they can spend on their phones.

CTIA-The Wireless Association has a comprehensive list of parent-friendly apps. Here are a few that caught our eye:

Babyphone This app is like virtual eyes on your baby while it is sleeping. Babyphone will call a preset phone number to notify you that your baby is awake. Set the sensitivity feature higher and it will notify you if he even moves. When there is a noise in your baby's room, the Safe Baby Monitor will call you. Free (Android, iOS)

MamaBear James Bond couldn't do it better than this. This all-in-one mobile parental control app allows you to locate a child through a smartphone, keep tabs on social media activity, and find out when your kid has been driving over the speed limit.

MamaBear's location tracking can tell you where your child is, as well as provide arrival and departure alerts from locations such as school or home. The social media monitor can be set to notify you when your child adds new contacts, uses restricted words or uploads photos or tags. Free (Android, iOS).

Alarm.com Want to make sure they came right home from school and started their home work? Get the Alarm app -- it's a little more intricate but it provides a lot of information. 

The Alarm app includes mobile monitoring -- arm/disarm the system remotely, turn light sources on/off, and watch live and recorded video through installed cameras.

Parents can get alerts about a variety of household happenings -- when the children get home from school, when someone is poking around the medicine or liquor cabinet, or when someone has changed the thermostat or left the garage door open.

A subscription is required for a specific Alarm.com home monitoring service and the app works only with certain hardware. Pricing varies, depending on the specific services you are interested in. Check the company's website for details. (iOS, iPad, Android)

Securus eZoom is a GPS tracking device that can be attached to a child's clothing, in a backpack or pocket, on a key ring or in the car. It works for both small children and older kids, as well as teen drivers. eZoom uses GPS and cellular network technologies to pinpoint its location on a map. When continuously tracking, eZoom updates its location every 30 seconds and shows a breadcrumb trail of past locations.

You will be able to find your kids any time by checking the online tracking dashboard, sending a text message or by using the free mobile apps for iPhone, Android and BlackBerry. Parents can receive email and text message alerts when kids arrive at and leave different places during the day.

Many of these apps do the same thing so it's best you research what each does and if you want one that is free or you want to pay a price. Remember those eyes in the back of the head -- though inactive in most of us -- are still there when you need them and they are free.

More

Should you get your dog a flu shot?

Dogs get the flu just like people and it can turn into pneumonia

You know the feeling -- runny nose, not very hungry, a cough and you are tired. You just feel worn-out all over. Odds are you have the flu. Your dog can ge...

Photo
© Gorilla - Fotolia.com
You know the feeling -- runny nose, not very hungry, a cough and you are tired. You just feel worn-out all over. Odds are you have the flu. Your dog can get the flu just like you, although they can't catch it from you nor can you catch it from them. They are different strains.

So the question is -- should you get your dog a flu shot? Dr. Kimberly May at the American Veterinary Medical Association, or AVMA, says it really depends how much your dog is exposed to strange dogs.

Canine influenza vaccine is classified as a lifestyle vaccine, as opposed to a core vaccine, like rabies, parvo and distemper. If you are boarding your dog, most places will not take your dog unless it has had a Bordetella vaccine and the canine infulenza vaccine falls into the same category.

When your dog is at the dog park or anywhere else in public, it can be exposed to many different things. Other dogs may be in close proximity and, well, we just don't know where some dogs have been so you might want to play it safe and inoculate.

Like kennel cough

When the flu first hits it can be confused with kennel cough.The symptoms are similar but it lasts much longer. The flu itself isn't life-threatening and requires simply supportive care to help a dog recover as quickly as possible and to feel comfortable while the symptoms still appear. Much like humans, it's rest and relaxation with fluids.

Cynda Crawford, an assistant professor of shelter medicine at the University of Florida, said a test is needed to confirm the diagnosis. The big concern with dog flu is that it could go into pneumonia -- it's the secondary infections that are of concern. Experts estimate the fatality rate at 1% to 5%.

Crawford said the real problem is that dogs haven't been previously exposed to the virus, they have no immunity. So nearly 100% of dogs exposed to dog flu catch it, and 80% will show symptoms within four days, she said.

A dog flu vaccine was approved in the spring of 2009 and is now available at veterinary offices. Edward Dubovi, PhD, director of the virology laboratory at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine is the one who first isolated the canine influenza virus. He said the vaccine won't prevent a dog from getting the virus, but it will lessen the severity and the duration of the disease.

According to the ASPCA any dog infected with the flu should be kept isolated from other dogs for 10-14 days from the onset of symptoms. Dogs are most infectious before symptoms are apparent, and can continue shedding the virus for around 10 days. This means that by the time symptoms are seen, other dogs may have already been exposed.

More

Supermarkets changing to meet evolving consumer tastes

Consumers are finding healthier products and more prepared food

Supermarkets have changed over the years, getting bigger, staying open longer and offering a wider variety of food products. But those changes have only ju...

Photo
© xy - Fotolia.com

Supermarkets have changed over the years, getting bigger, staying open longer and offering a wider variety of food products. But those changes have only just begun.

Consumers can expect even bigger changes in the years ahead, according to Mary Ellen Kuhn, executive editor of Food Technology magazine. Kuhn has identified the major trends that are now shaping grocery shopping – and will influence it in the future.

Price-driven

While there are plenty of high-end, gourmet food markets, Kuhn sees consumers who care very much about prices as being the major influence on supermarkets. Since the official end of the Great Recession, average incomes have remained stagnant and this has been deeply felt at the supermarket checkout counter.

According to Kuhn, middle and low-income shoppers account for 70% of U.S. grocery sales, and even consumers who aren't living paycheck to paycheck tend to be frugal and open to shopping in a variety of different channels in order to economize.

Another trend has influenced the kinds of food supermarkets offer. There is a new emphasis on healthy living and fresh food. Part of this stems from concerns about obesity. Part may be demographic, with Baby Boomers entering their 60s and becoming more concerned about their health.

And in bad news for restaurants, Kuhn says 92% of U.S. adults believe that eating at home is healthier than eating out.

Neighborhood markets

While the “super center” supermarket isn't an endangered species, consumers can also expect to see a growing number of smaller grocery stores. Kuhn says smaller stores should grow rapidly in the next decade, refining their offerings based on neighborhood purchasing patterns.

Walmart is already out in front on this trend, launching Walmart Neighborhood Markets in locations where a super center simply doesn't fit. Earlier this month Walmart announced it would open a Neighborhood Market in Hillsboro, Kan., next year.

It will be a 12,000 square foot facility providing all the services of a regular Walmart, but on a smaller scale.

At the other end of the scale, Supermarket Newsreports Kroger remains committed to its Marketplace concept of huge stores that sell not only food but clothing, jewelry and housewares. However, during an earnings conference call earlier this month CEO Rodney McMullen said Kroger remains open to moving toward smaller format stores in some locations.

Healthy take-out

While restaurants might fall out of favor over consumers' new health consciousness, working parents still want a quick and convenient way to put dinner on the table. But instead of ordering a pizza, Kuhn says they may be more likely to turn to a supermarket that now offers fresh prepared food.

“More than half of the households in the U.S. are composed of only one or two people, according to the latest census records, and consumers often look to stores as their sous chef,” Kuhn said. “Consumers often just want to put the finishing touches on an item and avoid the slicing, dicing, and marinating that often come with food preparation.”

To meet this growing demand more retailers are offering high-quality fare that reflects trendy culinary influences like chef-prepared entrees and salads, ethnic dishes, brunch stations, and gelato bars in stores. Supermarkets are also bundling meal components that are tasty and easy to prepare.

Grocery stores are also using digital commerce to reach out to consumers. Kuhn says there are currently more than 1,000 grocery shopping apps for the iPhone. She says digitizing supermarket ads and coupons for smartphones, computers, and tablets is is driving sales and forming deeper connections with shoppers.

More

Watch out for these iPhone6 scams

Nobody's giving free phones away over Facebook or email, either

Well, that didn't take long: Apple had barely finished formally unveiling its new iPhone6 earlier this month before various scammers started using the lure...

More

Be wary of tickets to Derek Jeter's last games

Scam artists are looking to clear the bases on this one

Just about anything can be the basis of a good scam, especially if it involves tickets. That makes Derek Jeter's final New York Yankees games prime territo...

Photo
Photo via Wikipedia
Just about anything can be the basis of a good scam, especially if it involves tickets. That makes Derek Jeter's final New York Yankees games prime territory, according to New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman.

“Unfortunately, major events tend to attract major scammers,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Consumers who are hoping to honor Jeter in person by attending his final games should take steps to protect themselves from people trying to sell counterfeit tickets and other scammers."

The future Hall of Famer and five-time world champion is set to play what will likely be his final game at Yankee Stadium on Thursday, and his final professional baseball game on Sunday in Boston and demand for tickets is high.

Historically, major sporting events and concerts have seen spikes in scams aimed at duping consumers. For example, when the Super Bowl was played in the New York City area last year, hundreds of fake tickets and tens of millions of dollars in counterfeit merchandise were seized by law enforcement officials.

When purchasing tickets secondhand, Schneiderman advises consumers to:

  • Check to see if the venue, sports team, or event has an official, verified source for buying and reselling tickets. The New York Yankees have an officially sanctioned ticket exchange that can be accessed online here.
  • Be wary of tickets that are printed at home. Even though a ticket looks authentic, it may not be. Many venues allow consumers to print tickets from their personal computers. Scammers can sell the same ticket to multiple buyers. Based on the bar code, only the first buyer to show up at the venue will get in. Counterfeiters can also reproduce bar codes – you may get into the venue, but then the real ticket holder shows up and you have to leave. When possible, seek out tickets printed by the venue.
  • Be wary of ticket prices that are too good to be true and of any high-pressure sales tactics. Ask questions of the seller to verify that the tickets are legitimate. Ask to see their proof of purchase. If the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Avoid paying for tickets by cash, wire transfer or pre-paid money transfer. If the tickets turn out to be fake, it is highly unlikely you will get your money back. If you pay by credit card or PayPal and the tickets turn out to be fake, you can dispute the charge.
  • If you buy from an online ticket broker, check out its reputation first through the Better Business Bureau and consumer complaint sites. Tickets from reputable online brokers may be expensive, but they may come with added protections. For example, some brokers will provide replacement tickets or full refunds if the tickets turn out to be fake.
More

Home prices inch higher in July

Prices have now risen for 8 straight month

Homes prices rose in July -- but not by much. According to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) monthly House Price Index (HPI), prices were up 0.1% o...

Photo
© teena137 - Fotolia.com

Homes prices rose in July -- but not by much.

According to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) monthly House Price Index (HPI), prices were up 0.1% on a seasonally adjusted basis from the previous month -- the eighth consecutive monthly house price increase.

While house prices were up 4.4% from July 2013 to July 2014, the index is 6.4% below its April 2007 peak and is roughly the same as the July 2005 index level.

The previously reported 0.4% increase in June was revised to reflect an advance of 0.3%.

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

For the 9 census divisions, seasonally adjusted monthly price changes from June 2014 to July 2014 ranged from -0.5% in the Middle Atlantic division to +0.4% in the East North Central division.  

The 12-month changes were all positive ranging from +1.6% in the Middle Atlantic division to +7.2% in the Pacific division.

The full report is available on the FHFA website.

More

Tools and campaign to increase car seat safety unveiled

We’ve got tips to help you find the right seat for your child

Not sure which car seat to use for your child? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) may have what you need. The agency is launching...

Photo
Photo source: NHTSA

Not sure which car seat to use for your child?  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) may have what you need.

The agency is launching a new Car Seat Finder Tool, adding the ability to look up car seat recalls on its mobile app, and reminding parents and caregivers to register their child's car seat through its new campaign – “Don't Delay. Register Your Car Seat Today.”

A child under the age of 13 is involved in a crash every 34 seconds and more than a third of children killed in crashes were not in car seats or wearing seat belts. NHTSA's new Car Seat Finder Tool is designed to help parents select the right car seat or booster seat for their child, while the campaign is a reminder of the importance of registering car seats to receive important safety recall notifications.

“Safety is our highest priority, and our new tool and registration campaign are two more ways we're working to protect our most vulnerable passengers -- our children,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Parents and caregivers are the first line of defense by ensuring they are selecting the right car seat, registering it, and using it correctly for every trip.”

Millions recalled

In 2014, NHTSA pushed manufacturers to recall seats with defective buckles to ensure owners received a replacement buckle at no cost. That led to the recall of more than 7.4 million car seats and yet -- on average -- only 40% of people get their car seat fixed, compared with an average of 75% for light vehicles, for which registration is required by law.

The NHTSA campaign urges caregivers to register their car seat so manufacturers know how to notify them of a recall and how to receive the free fix. The agency’s Parent Central site allows parents and caregivers to select their manufacturer or brand of car seat and directly links them to the manufacturer's registration page. In addition, the agency encourages people to utilize the updated SaferCar app which now allows users to search for car seat recalls, in addition to vehicle and tire recalls. The app also provides information on where people can go for help in installing their car seats.

“Regardless of age or the length of the trip, children should always be properly restrained in a car seat, booster or seat belt that is installed correctly and free from safety defects,” said NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman. “The first step for a parent is finding the right seat and our new Car Seat Finder Tool helps sort through the numerous options in car seats to ensure they're making the best choices for their child passengers.”

What to do

NHTSA offers parents and caregivers the following safety tips:

  • Utilize NHTSA's Car Seat Finder Tool to determine the right seat for your child based on age and size;

  • Read the instructions and labels that come with your child's car seat and read the vehicle owner's manual for important information on installing the seat in your particular vehicle;

  • Register your child's car seat with the manufacturer to ensure you receive important safety recall notifications;

  • If your child's car seat is subject to a recall, follow contact the manufacturer and follow their guidance to receive a free fix for your seat;

  • Go to your local car seat inspection station to have your seat checked by a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician;

  • Use the lower anchors and tethers for child restraint systems or seat belt to install your car seat and use the top tether to secure forward-facing car seats;

  • Be sure all children under 13 years are seated and properly restrained in the back seat; and

  • Always wear your seat belt to set a good example. Unbuckled drivers are more likely to have unrestrained children in the car.

More

Glaser Organic Farms recalls Organic Carob Powder

The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

Glaser Organic Farms has been notified by its supplier of a recall of Organic Carob Powder. The product may be contaminated with Salmonella. The following ...

Photo
Photo source: FDA

Glaser Organic Farms has been notified by its supplier of a recall of Organic Carob Powder.

The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

The following  products were distributed from May 7, 2014, thru July 23, 2014:

  • RAW CAROB POWDER 8 ounces Lot# 0507081456 I UPC Code 83291005567
  • CAROB FUDGY BROWNIE 5.5 ounces Lot# 0207211406 I UPC Code 832910002061

Consumers who have purchased the products with the above stated lot numbers and UPC are asked not to consume the product and discard it.

Consumers with questions may contact Glaser Organic Farms at 305-238-7747, Monday -Friday from 9 am-5 pm EST,or by email at raw@glaserorganicfarms.com.

 

More

General Motors recalls Cadillac XTS and Chevy Impala vehicles

The vehicle's air bags may not deploy in the event of a crash

General Motors is recalling 5 model year 2013-2014 Cadillac XTS vehicles manufactured April 11, 2013, to June 27, 2013, and 2014 Chevrolet Impala vehicles ...

Photo
Photo source: GM

General Motors is recalling 5 model year 2013-2014 Cadillac XTS vehicles manufactured April 11, 2013, to June 27, 2013, and 2014 Chevrolet Impala vehicles manufactured May 13, 2013, to November 5, 2013.

The vehicles may have left the factory with the sensing and diagnostic module (SDM) set to "manufacturing mode." In manufacturing mode, the vehicle's air bags will not deploy in the event of a crash, increasing the risk of occupant injury.

GM will notify owners, and dealers are to reprogram the SDM to the correct mode, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in September 2014.

Owners may contact Cadillac customer service at 1-800-458-8006 or Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020. GM's number for this recall is 14532. 

More

Nine fats that just might improve your health

But fats are loaded with calories and should be consumed in moderation

The diet world has been jolted recently by studies suggesting that eating fat is not such a bad thing after all. It might not lead to heart disease and it ...

Photo
© cochoncarlos - Fotolia.com
The diet world has been jolted recently by studies suggesting that eating fat is not such a bad thing after all. It might not lead to heart disease and it might not make you gain weight, researchers have argued.

But it all depends on what kind of fat you consume – and how much. Nutritionists have known for years that some kinds of fats are actually beneficial. Some are harmful.

Writing in the September issue of Food Technology magazine, Linda Milo Ohr makes the case for fatty acids and nutritional oils. They can improve memory function, help manage body weight, and contribute to heart health, eye and brain development, and even improved mood.

She singles out 9 fats that she says can enhance, not harm health.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are associated with improved brain development, memory function, eye health, can reduce chances of dementia and depression. They are also widely well-known for their heart health benefits.

Pinolenic Acid

Pinolenic acid comes from pine nut oil, which in turn comes from a specific Korean pine tree. Ohr says clinical trials have shown that it can help suppress appetite and promote a feeling of fullness.

Conjugated Linoleic Acid

Conjugated linoleic acid also helps with weight management by helping reduce body fat and increase lean body mass. It's found in many meats and dairy products.

Flaxseed Oil

Flaxseed oil is a way to load up on omega-3 fatty acids as well as omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids. They can be good for your heart and help reduce inflammation.

Hemp Oil

Hemp seed oil is another source of omega-6 and omega-3 linolenic essential fatty acids. It's also high in vitamin E.

Fish Oil

Fish oil is valued for its positive effect on cardiovascular, neurological, and cognitive health.

Canola Oil

“A study showed that a canola oil-enriched, low-glycemic-diet improved blood sugar control in type 2 diabetics, especially those with raised systolic blood pressure,” Ohr writes.

Soybean Oil

Extracted from the seed of the soybean, soybean oil is widely used as a healthy cooking oil.

Coconut Oil

Although not as much research has been done compared to olive or fish oil, coconut oil is believed to enhance energy, skin health, and dental health.

Fats that can be harmful

While adding these healthy fats to a nutritious diet might be a good thing, there are definitely fats that can have harmful effects, according to doctors at the Mayo Clinic.

Saturated fat is fat that comes mainly from animal sources of food, such as red meat, poultry and full-fat dairy products. Too much can raise total blood cholesterol levels and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, which can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. Saturated fat may also increase your risk of type 2 diabetes.

Trans fat occurs naturally in some foods but most are manufactured from oils through a food processing method called partial hydrogenation. The Mayo Clinic cites studies showing that these partially hydrogenated trans fats can increase unhealthy LDL cholesterol and lower healthy high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. This can also increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.

More

Report: Home Depot knew about security problems as far back as 2008

Company heard warnings years before hackers stole 56 million customer account numbers

Last week Home Depot officially confirmed what security experts had already suspected since Sept. 2: yes, hackers did indeed manage to steal confidential c...

PhotoLast week Home Depot officially confirmed what security experts had already suspected since Sept. 2: yes, hackers did indeed manage to steal confidential customer data from Home Depot shoppers: 56 million debit- and credit-card numbers in all, making it the largest such breach on record. Any payment card used at a Home Depot store between April and Sept. 2 of this year is potentially at risk.

The very next day, The New York Times reported that the company had repeatedly been warned of its weak, at-risk security practices as far back as 2008, yet did nothing about the news. Sources for the Times said that the company relied on outdated security software, even as some securty experts left the company after managers repeatedly dismissed their concerns.

Even when Home Depot finally started to listen and tried doing the right thing, it backfired badly: the Times also said that “in 2012, Home Depot hired a computer engineer to help oversee security at its 2,200 stores. But this year, as hacks struck other retailers, that engineer was sentenced to four years in prison for deliberately disabling computers at the company where he previously worked.”

Readers unsurprised

Home Depot  Sept. 22, 2014, 5:26 p.m.
Consumers rate Home Depot
Our own readers were, for the most part, completely unsurprised by initial reports that Home Depot's data security might not be up to snuff: on Sept. 2, when we first reported the mere unconfirmed possibility of a Home Depot data breach, the people who commented on the story were downright blasé about the prospect.

“I can believe this,” comented S. Garcia posted, while another commenter, R. Watters, went into more detail:

This is nothing new. My bank account was debited over $1600 last year for two gift cards at two Home Depot stores in Texas. Apparently, someone got a hold of my debit card number at Home Depot. My bank credited my account, but Home Depot could not have cared less. One of the managers at the [redacted] store was even upset that someone gave me his name to contact. I no longer shop at Home Depot.

T. Hostetler pointed out another problem:

If you return an item to Home Depot that you charged on a credit card and you present a receipt, they will credit your credit card account for the return without you giving them your card again. Why in the hell are they allowed to store your credit card information on their computers? Just because you bought an item from them, should not give them the right to keep your credit card information as long as they see fit!

What to do

For what it's worth, Home Depot is offering free identity-theft protection services, including credit monitoring, to any customer who used a payment card during or after April 2014.

Interested customers should call 1-800-HOMEDEPOT (800-466-3337) in the United States, or 800-668-2266 in Canada.

More

The UPS Store expands 3-d printing services

Six-store pilot program expanding to 100 locations

the UPS Store thinks 3-d printing has enough of a future that this week, it announced plans to expand a pilot program it started last year: the number of U...

PhotoThroughout most of history, the boring everyday details of life today would be considered a fantastically implausible science fiction tale: “Last night I had a realtime discussion with somebody on a completely different continent than me, then drove my personal transportation vehicle faster than a mile a minute, while carrying hundreds of pounds of cargo. The car has fireless headlights that shine brighter than the brightest full moon, and depending which dashboard buttons you press, you can make the air in the passenger compartment heat up, cool down or fill with rich music and the sound of singing.”

(Translation: “I answered some emails, then helped a friend move.”)

Still, for all the ways it's great living in The Future, you have to remember that what we call “modern times” will one day be “the olden days.” What aspects of life now will be considered hopelessly old-fashioned by-and-by?

Depending how 3-d printer technology evolves, it's possible that “Buying plastic toys, utensils and other small items” will be on the list: maybe in the future, if you need anything from a spatula to a cell phone case, you'll simply print one out on your computer.

For now, though, 3-d printers arguably remain too expensive and impractical for such commonplace everyday use – perhaps even too impractical for small-scale designers and inventors who need to make prototypes of their creations.

Pilot program

But the UPS Store thinks 3-d printing has enough of a future that this week, it announced plans to expand a pilot program it started last year: the number of UPS Store branches offering 3-d printing services will expand from six stores to 100, in 23 different states plus Washington, D.C.

The UPS Store website lists some of the possible uses of this technology: printing functional protoypes, constructing manufacturing jigs and fixtures, making architectural models and creating customized accessories (such as phone cases).

A simple object can be printed/created in four to five hours, whereas a more complex design might need 24 hours to complete. Prices also vary based on an item's complexity and size: printing an iPhone case would cost about $60, whereas a femur bone replica would cost about $325.

A full list of UPS Store locations that offer 3-d printing services is here.

More

Produce section -- fresh is best

The surest way to get the taste you're looking for is to buy produce that's in season

I've been going to grocery stores for years, decades in fact, and there still is one department that is hit-or-miss at times. That's the produce section....

Photo
© Aleksandar Mijatovic - Fotolia.com

I've been going to grocery stores for years, decades in fact, and there still is one department that is hit-or-miss at times. That's the produce section.

I never really know if my cantaloupe will be sweet or if my apples will be mushy and have that sandy texture. One thing I do know is that if you buy the things that are in season you will have a better shot at that perfect blueberry taste you're anticipating when you stick those blueberries in some yogurt.

As we head into fall from September to November, the harvest brings a variety of produce that not only tastes good in pies but also right off the vine, from squash and sweet potatoes to grapes and pears. So lets examine what's in for fall and what benefits we can derive from them.

Apples are a natural and with 7,500 varieties there is a good chance you will find a crisp sweet or even tart one that will wet your palate. Fuji apples have the highest concentration of antioxidants, phenolics, and flavonoids, while Cortland and Empire apples have the lowest.

Cranberries are at their best between October to November. That makes sense and explains why they always show up at Thanksgiving. Only 5% actually make it to the produce section (the other 95% are dried, canned, or turned into juice). Cranberries have been known to help with urinary tract infections.Eating them fresh can prevent oral diseases and slow the growth of breast, colon, prostate, and lung cancers.

No doubt about this one -- pumpkins are a huge hit and there is everything from pumpkin coffee to pumpkin soap. (Disclaimer: even though the soap smells great- don't eat it.)

Pumpkin offers a wealth of alpha- and beta-carotene, which can be converted into retinol to promote healthy vision and cell growth. Pumpkin seeds are also a good source of alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid that may help those with heart disease, high blood pressure and so forth.

I'm not sure if it's the smell when they are cooked but Brussel sprouts were never a big winner with my kids until they got older. Cabbage didn't pull them in either. I love both of them and they are part of the fall veggie line-up. Packed with vitamins A and C, cabbage and its mini-me, Brussels sprouts, boast a high concentration of cancer-fighting agents.

You can't beat beets.They are in their prime in the fall. When selecting these reddish purple gems, look for firm, smooth bulbs and bright, crisp greens. Be sure to trim these right away though, since they can leech the beets’ nutrients including betaine, a compound that may help prevent heart and liver disease, and nitrate, which may increase blood flow to the brain and potentially reduce risk of dementia.

Pomegranates have hit the health circles lately. You have probably seen the juice bottles of POM Juice. While much of the research has been inconclusive, some studies suggest the fruit’s antioxidants may reduce the risk of cardiovascular complications like heart attacks.

Don't turn your nose up at turnips and rutabagas. Just because they aren't the prettiest vegetable in the produce department doesn't mean you should push them aside. Research suggests turnips and rutabagas may help reduce the risk of prostate and lung cancers. What’s more, turnip greens are a good source of calcium, and rutabagas are packed with fiber.

Sweet potatoes come into their own in the fall, it's peak season for them. Like squash, sweet potatoes are rich in beta-carotene, which can prevent vitamin A deficiencies, promote healthy eyesight and generate retinol production [17]. Sweet potatoes are also a good source of vitamin C, and when baked in their skin can pack nearly 5 grams of fiber.

Pair up with pears. These sweet fruits fall into two major categories: European and Asian. In the U.S., the European varieties, Bosc and Bartlett, are most common, and grow on the west coast during fall. Lots of fiber in a pear which helps lower “bad” cholesterol, or LDL.

By all means you don't want to squish out squash as a fall favorite. It's really the headliner for the fall season. Summer squash are still available locally until October in some parts of the country, and winter squash takes over as summer squash heads out. This branch of the family offers acorn squash, which is rich in potassium and prevents muscles from feeling fatigued and weak, among others.

Seasonal fruit will always be sweeter in season and it will be less expensive because of the the abundance of the crop .

More

Another new drug shows promise against multiple sclerosis

Scores sharp reduction in relapse rate during clinical trial

Researchers are battling multiple sclerosis (MS) on several fronts, everything from searching for a cure to developing new treatments for managing the dise...

Photo
© sudok1 - Fotolia.com
Researchers are battling multiple sclerosis (MS) on several fronts, everything from searching for a cure to developing new treatments for managing the disease.

Just-completed Phase 2 trials of a drug called RPC1063 are providing new hope for managing the condition known as relapsing-remitting MS, which is marked by clearly defined attacks of worsening neurologic function. About 85% of the people with MS have this form.

Relapsing MS is a chronic autoimmune disorder of the central nervous system, characterized by periods of improvement and then relapses. It leads to symptoms like numbness, difficulty walking, visual loss, lack of coordination and muscle weakness. The patient recovers for a time, only to suffer the symptoms again.

Usually strikes women

The disease invariably results in progressive and permanent accumulation of disability and impairment, affecting adults during their most productive years. RMS disproportionately affects women, usually attacking around ages 29 to 30.

What has researchers excited is the result of a six month study of 258 patients. The study found that RPC1063 reduced the relapse rate in the patients by up to 53%, compared to the participants who took placebo. This experimental therapy also decreased the emergence of new brain damage seen by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) by more than 90%.

The drug appears to be very safe for humans. More than 98% of the MS patients who were taking it were able to stay on it. That's an important point since to date, available MS drugs have numerous side effects that make them hard for patients to tolerate.

RPC1063 was first discovered at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) molecular library during research at Scripps Florida’s Molecular Screening Center. Over time the compound was synthesized and further developed in the laboratories of Scripps California Professors Ed Roberts and Hugh Rosen.

High level of confidence in the drug

Rosen says the data from the trial supports his colleagues' belief that the discovery provides a new and effective way to intervene in the disease's process.

Patrick Griffin, chair of the Department of Molecular Therapeutics and director of the Translational Research Institute at Scripps Florida, calls the result “an exciting outcome.”

“We expect many other programs that Scripps Florida has been involved in will have similar potential to improve human health,” Griffin said.

Up to the FDA

How soon RPC1063 becomes available to MS patients depends largely on the regulatory process. Receptos, a San Diego biopharmaceutical company that licensed the technology from TSRI, is developing RPC1063 for approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The company said it sees a significant market opportunity for the drug if it can deliver an effective oral Relapsing MS therapy with an improved safety and tolerability profile.

There is also still one last test. The drug is currently in a Phase 3 randomized, double-blind study involving 1,200 relapsing MS patients. The trial is expected to be completed in 2017.

More

More people are renting but many overlook insurance

Renters insurance can provide coverage for personal items damaged in disasters

The number of people renting homes instead of buying continues to rise, especially in high-cost urban areas. And it just so happens those are the same area...

Photo
© charles eberson - Fotolia.com

The number of people renting homes instead of buying continues to rise, especially in high-cost urban areas. And it just so happens those are the same areas that are the most disaster-prone, according to the Insurance Information Institute, which says only 37% of renters have insurance on their belongings. 

The insurance group is quoting  a 2014 I.I.I. poll conducted by ORC International, which found that only 37% of renters have renters insurance, compared to 95% of homeowners who have a homeowners policy.

“Renters insurance provides a very important financial safety net when there is a disaster,” points out Jeanne M. Salvatore, senior vice president and chief communications officer for the I.I.I. “And, renters insurance is relatively inexpensive — the average cost of a renter’s policy is only $187 per year, or less than four dollars per week.”

Homeownership has fallen for over the past decade, according to Pew Research. And, in major cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston, renters outnumber homeowners, the U.S. Census Bureau reports. These cities are also at risk from natural disasters such as hurricanes, flooding, earthquakes and severe winter weather, as well as fire, theft and vandalism.

“Many renters are under the misperception that their landlord’s insurance policy will reimburse them if their personal property is damaged or destroyed, but that’s just not the case,” says Salvatore.

Types of coverage

The Insurance Institute provided this rundown of the types of policies available to renters:

Renters/Tenants Insurance
Renters insurance provides financial protection against damage to or loss of personal possessions due to hurricanes, fire, lightning, theft, explosion and other disasters listed in the policy. There is also coverage for water damage caused by burst pipes or a neighbor who forgets to shut off the water in the tub. Renters insurance does NOT cover flooding and earthquake, but separate policies can be purchased for these events.

Renters insurance also provides coverage for additional living expenses, in the event you are unable to live in your home due to a fire or other insured disaster. It also includes liability insurance if you, a family member (or even your pet) accidently injure someone and they sue you. 

Flood Insurance
Flood insurance is available from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and a few private insurance companies. It provides coverage for personal possessions on an actual cash value basis, generally up to about $100,000. More information is available at www.floodsmart.gov

Earthquake Coverage
Renters can purchase insurance for damage to their personal possessions due to earthquakes from private insurance companies or in California from the California Earthquake Authority. Coverage is available either in the form of an endorsement or as a separate policy. Earthquake insurance provides protection from the shaking and cracking that can destroy buildings and personal possessions.

Coverage for other kinds of damage that may result from earthquakes, such as fire and water damage due to burst gas and water pipes, is provided by a standard renters insurance policy.

Umbrella Liability
An umbrella liability policy can be a cost-effective option for increasing your level of liability protection. The policy kicks in when the limit on your renters insurance has been reached. It will also provide coverage for libel and slander.

Umbrella policies generally cost about $150 to $300 per year and will also provide additional liability protection if you own a car, boat and even a snowmobile.

Because the personal umbrella policy goes into effect after the underlying coverage is exhausted, most insurers will require specific underlying limits on your policies. For instance, you may be required to have $300,000 of liability insurance on your renters insurance policy and at least $250,000 on an auto insurance policy.

Floater for Expensive items
If you own expensive jewelry, collectibles, musical instruments or even high-end sports equipment, you may want to add a floater or endorsement to your renters policy. This would provide broader coverage for risks such as “mysterious disappearance.”

More information is available on the institute's website.

More

Gardening can bring relief to Alzheimer's patients

Spending time in the garden beats sitting in front of the TV

There is nothing better to clear your head then being in the outdoors. It's one of the reasons gardening is so popular -- and the main reason that therapis...

Photo
© captblack76 - Fotolia.com

There is nothing better to clear your head then being in the outdoors. It's one of the reasons gardening is so popular -- and the main reason that therapists are increasingly using gardening to help patients with dementia.

Horticulture therapy, as it's called, uses gardening activities in a therapeutic and rehab setting to improve the quality of life, possibly reducing costs for long-term, assisted living and dementia unit residents. The therapy has been shown to reduce pain, improve attention, lessen stress, and ease agitation, according Psychiatry Investigation, an academic journal. It may also lower the need for medication in some patients.

How to do it 

You want to make sure you create a space that is safe. You may need to build raised beds of different heights so people who are in a wheelchair can use the garden. Also remember that sometimes it is difficult for older people to bend over.

Try to make the garden as natural as possible. A fence or high walls can be perceived as closing in by some patients. It's best to cover them with shrubs or vines.

Make sure the garden is pretty easy to get to. You might have to make some signs. Pictures and words might help.

Unlocking doors and allowing people with dementia to come and go freely within the garden will encourage its use. One research study showed that propping open the doors to the garden doubled the number of times people used it independently.

Include shade areas that offer protection from the sun. Make a little place where patients can sit and relax. Be mindful of the type of plants you put in and don't use toxic plants or plants that can cause itching.

The surface should be as non-slip as possible; it's important for people who might not be so steady on their feet. Ponds and water features are wonderful but you have to be very careful how they are placed. Rails and ramps are good additions so that people with dementia can use the garden alone. After all, independence is so important when you have lost a big part of it and you are so dependent on others for many things.

Inside option

Another alternative is to plant a small garden inside, especially if you live in an area where the weather is not conducive to spending times outdoors. To be able to have a small space to see beautiful bright flowers and plants on a cold grey day will elevate everyone's spirit.

Don't worry if your garden is small or not yet filled with plants. It's better than watching TV, which is how far too many seniors spend their time in institutional settings. A garden is a great alternative and one that also gives a purpose. A garden is a pefect place to help stimulate memories with loved ones and staff. It welcomes interaction.

More

Latest iPhones are built to last, tests find

SquareTrade finds the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are tougher than previous models

Tired of hearing about the newest iPhones? Fair enough, but amidst all the hoopla over technical upgrades, consider this: warranty company SquareTrade says...

Photo
Photo source: Apple

Tired of hearing about the newest iPhones? Fair enough, but amidst all the hoopla over technical upgrades, consider this: warranty company SquareTrade says the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are tougher than their predecessors, making them better able to withstand harsher treatment

The new phones did especially well in the "grip-ability" test, meaning you're less likely to drop yours onto the subway tracks or into the toilet. The iPhone 6 also held up well when tested for drop damage, surviving falls from four feet with only minor knicks. 

The 6 Plus didn't fare quite as well in the drop test but, tests aside, if you're going to spring for a top-end phone it's probably a good idea to spend a few dollars more for a protective case.

The phones also did well when confronted with that most feared enemy of consumer electronics -- water. That's not something previous iPhones haven't always handled very well so it's a welcome change.

See more in this SquareTrade video:

More

An August dip in existing-home sales

It’s the first decline in 5 months

Sales of previously-owned homes fell in August after posting 4 consecutive monthly gains. Figures released by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) sh...

Photo
© Brian Jackson - Fotolia.com

Sales of previously-owned homes fell in August after posting 4 consecutive monthly gains.

Figures released by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) show completed transactions that include existing single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops were down 1.8% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.05 million.

While sales are at the second-highest pace of 2014, they remain 5.3% below the 5.33 million-unit level from last August, which was also the second-highest sales level of 2013.

Sales still strong

Sales activity remains stronger than earlier in the year, but fell last month as investors stepped away. "There was a marked decline in all-cash sales from investors,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. "On the positive side, first-time buyers have a better chance of purchasing a home now that bidding wars are receding and supply constraints have significantly eased in many parts of the country.”

Yun adds, "As long as solid job growth continues, wages should eventually pick up to steadily improve purchasing power and help fully release the pent-up demand for buying.”

Prices up, inventory mixed

The median existing-home price for all housing types in August was $219,800 -- 4.8% above the same period a year ago and the 30th consecutive month of year-over-year price gains. The median is the point at which half of prices are higher and half are lower.

Total housing inventory at the end of August declined 1.7% to 2.31 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 5.5-month supply at the current sales pace. However, unsold inventory is 4.5 percent higher than a year ago, when there were 2.21 million existing homes available for sale.

Regional sales picture

  • Existing-home sales in the Northeast jumped 4.7% to an annual rate of 670,000, but are 4.3% below a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $265,800, which is down 0.8% from a year ago.
  • In the Midwest, sales rose 2.5% to an annual level of 1.24 million, but remain 3.9% below August 2013. The median price was up 5.9% from a year ago -- to $173,800.
  • Sales in the South fell 4.2% to an annual rate of 2.03 million in August, and are now down 4.2 % from August of last year. The median price in the South was $186,700, a year-over-year gain of 4.7%.
  • Sales of previously-owned homes in the West slumped 5.1% to an annual rate of 1.11 million in August, which puts them 9.8% below a year ago. The median price jumped 5.4% from their level of a year ago -- to $301,900. 
More

General Motors recalls Cadillac XTS and Chevrolet Impala vehicles

The electronic parking brake piston actuation arm may not retract fully

General Motors is recalling 132,921 model year 2013-2015 Cadillac XTS vehicles manufactured February 14, 2012, to August 22, 2014, and 2014-2015 Chevrolet ...

Photo
Photo source: Cadillac

General Motors is recalling 132,921 model year 2013-2015 Cadillac XTS vehicles manufactured February 14, 2012, to August 22, 2014, and 2014-2015 Chevrolet Impala vehicles manufactured January 15, 2013, to August 22, 2014.

The electronic parking brake piston actuation arm in the recalled vehicles may not fully retract causing the brake pads to stay partially engaged. Brake pads that remain partially engaged with the rotors may cause excessive brake heat that may result in a fire.

GM will notify owners, and dealers will update the electronic parking brake software, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in September 2014.

Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020, or Cadillac customer service at 1-800-458-8006. GM's number for this recall is 14471. 

More

Dodge Durangos and Jeep Grand Cherokees recalled

The fuel pump relay inside the Totally Integrated Power Module may fail

Chrysler Group is recalling 188,723 model year 2011 Dodge Durango and Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles manufactured January 5, 2010, to July 20, 2011, and equi...

Photo
Photo source: Jeep

Chrysler Group is recalling 188,723 model year 2011 Dodge Durango and Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles manufactured January 5, 2010, to July 20, 2011, and equipped with either a 3.6L or 5.7L engine.

The fuel pump relay inside the Totally Integrated Power Module (TIPM-7) may fail, causing the vehicle to stall without warning,increasing the risk of a crash.

Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will replace the fuel pump relay with one external to the TIPM, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on October 24, 2014.

Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is P54. 

More

TBC recalls Wild Country Radial XTX Sport tires

Cords in the lower sidewall on the white sidewall side may be cracked or broken

TBC Corporation (TBC) is recalling 388 Wild Country Radial XTX Sport tires, size 265/65R18, manufactured by Cooper Tire and Rubber Company from June 1, 201...

Photo
Photo source: TBC

TBC Corporation (TBC) is recalling 388 Wild Country Radial XTX Sport tires, size 265/65R18, manufactured by Cooper Tire and Rubber Company from June 1, 2014, to June 28, 2014 (weeks 2214-2514).

The recalled tires may experience cracking or broken ply cords in the lower sidewall on the white sidewall side. Such tires may have a sudden loss of air pressure, increasing the risk of tire failure and a crash.

TBC will notify owners, and dealers will replace any affected tires, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

Owners may contact TBC customer service at 1-800-739-7698. TBC's number for this recall is 159. 

More

Honda recalls Fit vehicles

The side curtain air bags may not function properly

American Honda Motor Company is recalling 6,292 model year 2015 Honda Fit vehicles manufactured April 11, 2014, to June 9, 2014. The affected vehicles, wh...

Photo
Photo source: Honda

American Honda Motor Company is recalling 6,292 model year 2015 Honda Fit vehicles manufactured April 11, 2014, to June 9, 2014.

The affected vehicles, which are equipped with side curtain air bags, may have been assembled with an A-pillar interior cover designed for vehicles without side curtain air bags.

In the event of a crash necessitating deployment of the side curtain air bags, the incorrect A-pillar interior cover may adversely affect the performance of the side curtain air bags, increasing the risk of occupant injury.

Honda will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the A-pillar interior cover and install the correct A-pillar cover, as necessary, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on September 25, 2014.

Owners may contact Honda customer service at 1-800-999-1009. Honda's number for this recall is JF9.

More

Why Fed money-pumping hasn't helped consumers

Some economists argue it would have been better to send cash to consumers directly

The Federal Reserve announced this week more of the same. Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen said the central bank will continue the policy started by her predece...

Photo
The Federal Reserve building

The Federal Reserve announced this week more of the same. Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen said the central bank will continue the policy started by her predecessor, Ben Bernanke, of pumping money into the financial system.

“There are still too many people who want jobs but cannot find them, too many who are working part time but would prefer full-time work, and too many who are not searching for a job but would be if the labor market were stronger,” Yellen said at a Wednesday news conference.

But for the last 5 years the Fed has been purchasing trillions of dollars worth of assets – mostly mortgage-backed securities – in an effort to stimulate demand. By all accounts it has sent the stock market soaring but little of that money has found its way to consumers' pockets.

Questions

If the objective all along was to boost consumer spending, a lot of people are asking why the Fed chose this particular policy. They point out the objective and results haven't matched up very well.

In early September two economists at the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank published a report explaining why inflation is as low as it is. The report says consumers have been “hoarding” cash since the 2008 financial crisis, resulting in slower “velocity,” or movement of money through the U.S. economy.

The authors say that because the Fed increased the money supply an average 33% per year between 2008 and 2013, inflation should have been 31% per year during that time. Instead, it averaged less than 2%.

“So why did the monetary base increase not cause a proportionate increase in either the general price level or GDP?” the authors ask. “The answer lies in the private sector’s dramatic increase in their willingness to hoard money instead of spend it.”

But who, exactly, was doing the hoarding? Some of the readers commenting on the article point out things that might seem obvious to consumers.

Faulty assumption

“This is not difficult,” wrote a poster named John. “The velocity of money went down because it matters who holds the money. The inequality divide in this country has expanded uncontrollably, and the Fed has done nothing to mitigate this. They pump money into the banking system and simply assume the banks will get it out to the consumers. But the banks (nor any business) are not charities. When business is carried out, money generally rises from those who have less of it to those who have more of it.”

In other words, most of the money the Fed has pumped into the economy has remained locked up within the banking system. And because interest rates are so low, banks are less willing to lend it out because the risk-reward ratio doesn't tilt in that direction.

Could the Fed have taken different action that would have achieved better results for consumers? Writing in Foreign Affairs magazine, economists Mark Blyth and Eric Lonerga argue that it could have.

Give money to consumers

“Rather than trying to spur private-sector spending through asset purchases or interest-rate changes, central banks, such as the Fed, should hand consumers cash directly,” they write.

Taking the money spent on asset purchases through the banking system and instead putting it directly in consumers' pockets could have resulted in every U.S. household receiving more than $50,000. That much money would undoubtedly have set off massive inflation – so the overall direct payment could have been much less and still boosted consumer spending.

Cash for Clunkers

In the months immediately following the financial crisis Congress actually tried this, on a limited basis. The 2009 Cash for Clunkers program paid consumers to trade in their old cars for a new one.

While the program was criticized as gimmicky, it had the desired effect of pumping up a struggling auto industry. Since then, the auto industry has become one of the healthier sectors of the U.S. economy.

Is it too late to try this approach as a policy for long-term economic recovery? Blyth and Lonerga don't think so.

“Unless one subscribes to the view that recessions are either therapeutic or deserved, there is no reason governments should not try to end them if they can, and cash transfers are a uniquely effective way of doing so,” they write.

More

Home Depot: hackers stole 56 million debit and credit-card numbers

The latest numbers make this officially the largest such data theft on record

Home Depot this week announced the full known extent of the database breach first reported on Sept. 2: as of now, it's believed that hackers stole 56 milli...

Photo
Photo via Wikipedia
Home Depot this week announced the full known extent of the database breach first reported on Sept. 2: as of now, it's believed that hackers stole 56 million different debit- and credit-card numbers, officially making this the largest such data theft on record.

Security blogger Brian Krebs, who first broke word of the hacking after learning about it from his financial-industry sources, made two Sept. 18 blog posts updating the Home Depot saga.

First, he reported that, according to unnamed sources, Home Depot's investigation is focusing primarily on the self-service checkout machines in various stores.

If it's true that hackers “only” stole customer data from the self-checkouts, this would be good news (relatively speaking); as Krebs said: “The finding could mean thieves stole far fewer cards during the almost five-month breach than they might have otherwise. ... so far, banking sources say Visa and MasterCard have been reporting far fewer compromised cards than expected given the length of the Home Depot exposure.”

But later that afternoon he posted again, after Home Depot publicly announced that the hackers had stolen a total of 56 million debit and credit-card numbers. This officially makes it the largest such security breach on record.

Malware removed

At the same time, Home Depot said that all the malware used in the hacking has been removed, meaning customers can safely use their payment cards at Home Depot again.

Home Depot buried the 56 million number in a four-page statement which it released in .pdf form under the snappy title “The Home Depot completes malware elimination and enhanced encryption of payment data in all U.S. stores/Provides further investigation details, updates outlook.” (The article itself mentions that Canadian stores are included in this.)

Though Home Depot said that “any terminals identified with malware were taken out of service,” it didn't specify which kind of terminals. As of press time, there's no further information available regarding Brian Krebs' earlier suggestion that the problems mostly involved the self-checkout lanes.

Regardless of whether you use self-checkout or have cashiers ring up your order, Home Depot is offering free identity-theft protection services, including credit monitoring, to any customer who used a payment card in April 2014 or later.

The press release says that “Customers who wish to take advantage of these services can learn more at www.homedepot.com or by calling 1-800-HOMEDEPOT (800-466-3337). Customers in Canada can call 800-668-2266.”

More

Apple's “warrant canary” died; did Patriot Act spy activities kill it?

Despite Apple's pro-privacy headlines this week, something darkling might lurk behind the scenes

Such claims might sound like a paranoid conspiracy theory, but under modern U.S. law – specifically the Patriot Act – they are all-too-plausible. ...

Photo
Photo: Library of Congress
There's possible bad news for privacy advocates and Apple customers alike: a sharp-eyed look at Apple's two most recent Transparency Reports (more specifically, what's not in them) suggests that, despite the company's recent announcements affirming its strong commitment to protecting customers' privacy, it might have been forced to secretly spy on people under provisions of the Patriot Act.

First, a little background: Apple CEO Tim Cook made privacy-related headlines twice this week, first for giving a televised interview to PBS' Charlie Rose where, among other things, Cook said the company is not in the business of collecting or selling people's private information. He also discussed (and obliquely criticized) the U.S. government's mass, warrantless surveillance of its citizens, and other revelations exposed by former NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

“I don’t think that the country or the government’s found the right balance. I think they erred too much on the collect everything side. And I think the [U.S.] president and the [Obama] administration is committed to kind of moving that pendulum back,” Cook said to Rose.

A couple days later, Apple updated its Privacy Policy, promising more stringent protections for customers' personal data. Cook also released an open letter saying, in part, that “Finally, I want to be absolutely clear that we have never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services. We have also never allowed access to our servers. And we never will.”

Incidentally, Cook's statement in no way contradicts the suggestion “Apple has handed sensitive customer data over to the government;” it only specifies that the government wasn't able to reach in and grab such data by itself.

Gag order

Photo
Tom Cook on the Charlie Rose Show (Image via YouTube)
Cook released his letter on Sept. 17. The very next day, Gigoam.com discovered that a look at Apple's two most recent Transparency Reports (from a total of three) strongly suggests the FBI or some other branch of government is secretly forcing Apple to spy on its customers, though the company is legally forbidden to admit this since it's operating under a legal gag order.

Such claims might sound like a paranoid conspiracy theory, but under modern U.S. law – specifically the Patriot Act – they are all-too-plausible.

Apple didn't get into the habit of writing and releasing Transparency Reports until last November, when it issued its first-ever such report, including some language which BoingBoing's Cory Doctorow first identified as a potential “warrant canary.”

The phrase “warrant canary” stems from the older saying “canary in a coal mine,” which in turn alludes to a common mining practice from the old days: before going down into the mines for a day's work, miners first had to make sure no poisonous or suffocating gases had collected there overnight. So before descending into the mine themselves, they'd lower a cage holding a canary or other small bird. If the bird lived, that proved the air in the mine safe to breathe. But if the bird died, the miners knew something was wrong.

Secrets are secret

A warrant canary is a statement meant to show that an organization, such as a tech company or even a public library, has not been forced to comply with a secret (and possibly warrantless) government investigation coupled with a gag order. And should the warrant canary later disappear, that suggests the opposite.

In Apple's case, its Transparency Report from November 2013 (which is available here in .pdf form, but only covers the first half of 2013) included this potential warrant canary statement: “Apple has never received an order under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act. We would expect to challenge such an order if served on us.”

What does that mean? Section 215 says that the FBI can order any person or organization/entity to hand over “any tangible things,” provided the FBI says it is “for an authorized investigation . . . to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.”

However, as the ACLU points out in its call to reform the Patriot Act, Section 215 goes far beyond standard constitutional limits on how the government is allowed to perform investigations:

The FBI need not show probable cause, nor even reasonable grounds to believe, that the person whose records it seeks is engaged in criminal activity. 

The FBI need not have any suspicion that the subject of the investigation is a foreign power or agent of a foreign power. 

The FBI can investigate United States persons based in part on their exercise of First Amendment rights, and it can investigate non-United States persons based solely on their exercise of First Amendment rights. For example, the FBI could spy on a person because they don't like the books she reads, or because they don't like the web sites she visits. They could spy on her because she wrote a letter to the editor that criticized government policy.

Another part of Section 215 — the part that makes “warrant canaries” a necessity in modern-day America – specifies that “Those served with Section 215 orders are prohibited from disclosing the fact to anyone else. Those who are the subjects of the surveillance are never notified that their privacy has been compromised. If the government had been keeping track of what books a person had been reading, or what web sites she had been visiting, the person would never know.”

Timeline

So let's recap what we know so far: in November 2013, Apple decided to release a Transparency Report for the first time, covering all activities through end-of-June that year, and including a statement which might be interpreted as a warrant canary, especially since (as Gigoam announced on Sept. 18), the canary does not appear in Apple's next two Transparency Reports.

If you believe that the statement “Apple has never received an order under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act. We would expect to challenge such an order if served on us,” which appeared only in the first of three Transparency Reports, was indeed put there as a warrant canary, that strongly suggests a behind-the-scenes timetable something like this:

January 1 through June 30, 2013: Apple was not forced to comply with any Section 215 orders.

Sometime between July and November 2013: Apple got a Section 215 order and was forced to comply, meaning it not only had to turn over sensitive customer data to the government with no regard for warrants, probable cause or other constitutional niceties, Apple was also legally forbidden from telling anybody about this.

Early November 2013: Determined to let people know something's going on yet forbidden to outright say so, Apple released its first Transparency Report including the warrant canary, announcing it had no Section 215 orders as of June 30, 2013 — knowing full well that the canary's absence from its second Transparency Report would strongly imply that Apple did receive such an order shortly afterwards.

Missing canary

Gigoam's discovery of the warrant canary missing from Apple's latest two reports is not the only discouraging bit of Apple-related privacy news to come out this week. On Sept. 17, when Apple updated its privacy policy, it boasted that any data stored on a mobile device with the iOS8 operating system was so secure, even the police and Apple itself couldn't access it unless they know your own personal, secret password.

More specifically, Apple said, “it's not technically feasible for us to respond to government warrants for the extraction of this data from devices in their possession running iOS 8.”

Of course, “technically” can cover a lot of ground – after all, the Patriot Act including the whole need for warrant canaries is, many would argue, technically unconstitutional and therefore can't happen in America, yet current legal reality does not reflect this at all.

And so, on the same day that Gigoam.com first noted the possible death of Apple's warrant canary, Wired's Threat Level security blog found the technicality, noting that “Despite Apple's privacy pledge, cops can still pull data off a locked iPhone”:

iOS forensics expert Jonathan Zdziarski offered a word of caution for the millions of users clamoring to pre-order the iPhone 6 and upgrade to iOS 8. In many cases, he points out, the cops can still grab and offload sensitive data from your locked iPhone without Apple’s help, even in iOS 8. All they need, he says, is your powered-on phone and access to a computer you’ve previously used to move data onto and off of it.

More

Seasonal allergies in your pets

It's scratching season -- dogs and cats need allergy relief too

It's scratching season. Are your dog's legs going crazy scratching all parts of his body? How about your cat -- is it having a little trouble breathing? It...

Photo
© chiarafornasari - Fotolia.com
It's scratching season. Are your dog's legs going crazy scratching all parts of his body? How about your cat -- is it having a little trouble breathing?
It could be seasonal allergies.

Unlike humans whose allergy symptoms usually involve the respiratory tract, allergies in dogs and cats more often take the form of skin irritation or inflammation – a condition called allergic dermatitis or Atopy.

You may see them try to relieve this terrible itching sensation by rubbing on the furniture, the walls or anything that will make them feel temporarily better. Many dogs will lick a certain area until it turns raw. That's called a hot spot. You don't see it in cats very often.

Ears are also something to keep an eye on. The ear canals may be itchy and inflamed as part of a generalized allergic response, or they may grow infected with yeast or bacteria. You may see your pet scratching its ears, shaking its head and maybe you will see some hair loss around the ears. If the ear gets infected you will smell a foul odor and there will be a discharge.

What it is

Atopy is the most common form of allergy in dogs and cats. Atopy is often seasonal. If a pet is allergic to ragweed, symptoms occur in the fall. Pets who are allergic to spring tree pollen will show signs in April and May. If a pet is allergic to dust mites, the symptoms may be most dramatic in the winter, when more time is spent inside.

What to do

There are things you can do to give your pet some relief. 

Baths are wonderful -- not so much for you because they splash a lot but if you can get a medicated shampoo for itching, bathe your dog frequently. Make sure to use a grain-free (oatmeal-free) shampoo.

Foot soaks are also a great way to reduce the amount of allergens your pet tracks into the house and spreads all over the indoor environment.

Clean up

I know we don't like this part but you want your house as free from allergens as possible. Vacuum and keep the pet's bedding clean and use non-toxic soaps.

You want to make sure your pet's immune system stays healthy. Avoid unnecessary vaccinations during allergy season.

Make sure you are feeding a food that is low in grains. You want an anti- inflammatory diet. Stay away from carbohydrates as they can exacerbate the condition.

Don't administer over-the-counter meds for humans to your dog or cat. Call your vet get a prescription for an antihistamine.

More

Retirement and debt usually don't mix

But retiring with mortgage and other debt is becoming the norm

Consumers nearing retirement age are often lectured by financial planners to be saving more for the years when they aren't working. That's sound advice, bu...

Photo
© Monkey Business - Fotolia.com

Consumers nearing retirement age are often lectured by financial planners to be saving more for the years when they aren't working. That's sound advice, but it should be added that getting rid of debt before retirement is also a key step to financial security.

That's rarely as simple as it sounds. Older consumers usually have mortgages, car payments and credit card debt, just like everyone else. Sometimes they are helping their children financially.

One way to make retirement more affordable is to pay off the mortgage before you stop working. If you bought your home 30 years ago and never refinanced, that isn't a problem.

Unfortunately very few people fall into that category. More likely homeowners refinanced several times – in the early 2000s to take out equity for other things – and more recently to lower interest rates.

Mortgage debt

With the slow recovery of the housing market, not only do many aging consumers not have much equity in their home, they are also early in the mortgage term. A recent AARP study shows that in recent years an increasing number of retirees still have mortgage debt.

A study by TIAA Cref shows more seniors are going into debt – to themselves. Nearly one-third of Americans who take part in a retirement plan say they have borrowed money from their retirement account for non-retirement expenses.

But the reasons for borrowing the money is interesting. The top reason given for the loan was to pay off other debt, including mortgages.

For every retiree who is able to burn their mortgage papers there are hundreds more that will carry significant debt into their Golden Years.

Becoming the norm

According to researchers at the Michigan Retirement Research Center, older persons today may be much more likely to enter retirement age in debt compared to decades past.

The percentage of consumers near retirement age having mortgage debt has risen by over 7 percentage points, from 41% in 1992 to 48% by 2008. The level of mortgage debt has also risen. The researchers say mortgage debt for near-retirees tripled between 1992 and 2008.

TIAA Cref cites statistics from the Employee Benefit Research Institute showing that debt levels for families headed by people 75 or older more than doubled in the 3 years from 2007 to 2010, to over $27,000. But pre-retiree Boomers were carrying even more debt – more than $107,000 in 2010.

Conflicting advice

Should you pay your mortgage off early? Some financial advisors suggest it isn't always the best move, if the payments are manageable and you have a low, fixed-rate. After all, it provides a tax deduction.

But that has to be measured against the cash flow benefit of adding $1000 or more a month to your budget because you aren't making a mortgage payment. There may be additional value in paying off a mortgage if you have savings earning little to no interest, given the current low interest rates.

If debt appears to be a problem that will follow you into requirement, the TIAA Cref researchers say you might have to consider postponing retirement, especially if the income you expect to get from Social Security, pensions and savings won’t cover debt payments and other fixed expenses.

If you’re struggling with credit card debt, they suggest waiting until you have a cash management plan you can stick to before leaving work.

More

Surprising ways to cut your grocery bill

Grocery shopping is a big expense; it pays to look for savings

Although your weekly grocery bill may not seem like a major expenditure unless you have teenagers, let's say you spend $200 a week. That means you're shell...

PhotoAlthough your weekly grocery bill may not seem like a major expenditure unless you have teenagers, let's say you spend $200 a week. That means you're shelling out $10,400 a year. That's a lot more than a new TV -- which you could easily afford to buy if you cut your weekly grocery bill in half. So how can you do that?

If you were going to buy a new TV you wouldn't just plop 500 bucks down at the first store you went to. Nope, you most likely would shop around for the best price. You can easily do that with groceries too. Stores run ads and for the most part and you can look anything up online. So take a few minutes and comparison shop. Remember you spend over $10,000.00 a year on food. Thats a major purchase.

How does your cell phone camera work? Besides pictures of your cat lets put that camera to good use. Did you know that you can get cash back on your groceries just for taking a picture of your receipt?

The popular website and mobile app, Ibotta will pay you to do just that. After you sign up, be sure to browse through the cash-back offers in your area and take note the next time you go to the grocery store (the offers change every week).

For example, Ibotta will give 50 cents if you take a picture of a receipt showing that you bought a gallon of milk and $1.00 if you take a picture showing that you bought graham crackers. Kinda nifty and thrifty right?

Ad-checker

Wouldn't it be great if you could find someone that went through all the ads to find you the best price. Here it is DealsToMeals.com, run by someone called Shandra. She or her elves will go through all the ads in your city and find you the best prices. She does charge $5 for her time but, heck, that's nothing. It's a couple gallons of milk and eggs in savings. You can also do a free trial.

Whoever said size doesn't matter wasn't interested in saving money. Bigger sizes of items, which tend to offer a lower price per unit, are usually placed on the highest and lowest shelves at the grocery store. Smaller sizes, with a higher price per unit, are often given prime placement at eye level. Go up or down, avoid the center.

Its fun to go into Costco and get all the samples but, hey, you can get chips and dip at home and not have to leave your house. Costco and Sams Club cost about $50 a year. Try buying bulk items online with the app Boxed. No membership fee and they ship everything free.

Try all these little saving tricks and you just might have enough left over for that new TV. 

More

Flu vaccine should be top priority for expectant moms

Vaccination protects both the mother and her child

Only about half of all pregnant women in the U.S. get a flu shot each season, leaving thousands of moms-to-be and their babies at increased risk of serious...

Photo
© Gabriel Blaj - Fotolia.com
Only about half of all pregnant women in the U.S. get a flu shot each season, leaving thousands of moms-to-be and their babies at increased risk of serious illness.

“Getting a flu shot should be a routine part of prenatal care,” said Edward McCabe, MD, March of Dimes chief medical officer. “Health care providers should offer their pregnant patients a flu shot each year and if they don’t, then women should ask for it.”

A report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, presented today by the National Foundation for Infectious Disease, found that among those pregnant women whose health care provider offered them a flu shot had the highest vaccination rates.

All pregnant women and those planning to become pregnant should receive a flu shot because the normal changes to a pregnant woman’s immune system, heart and lungs put moms-to-be at increased risk of the harmful effects of flu infection.

Also, babies born to mothers who got their flu shot while pregnant were protected from serious illness from influenza during their first six months of life. They also had a lower risk of flu-related hospitalizations for chronic asthma, heart conditions, diabetes, a weakened immune system, and other health-related problems.

Studies that looked at thousands of pregnant women who received the seasonal flu vaccine, found that immunized moms did not have a higher risk of babies being born too soon or developing a birth defect when compared with babies born to women who did not get a vaccine. Also, researchers found that women who were vaccinated were less likely to experience a stillbirth.

More

Mortgage rates hit their highest level since May

Both Freddie Mac and Bankrate are reporting gains

The price you pay to borrow money to buy a home mortgage has jumped to the highest level in four months, according to 2 leading trackers of mortgage rates....

Photo
© aihumnoi - Fotolia.com

The price you pay to borrow money to buy a home has jumped to the highest level in four months, according to 2 leading trackers of mortgage rates.

Freddie Mac says its Primary Mortgage Market Survey shows average fixed mortgage rates made their biggest one-week gain so far this year, bringing them to their highest level since the week ending May 1.

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 4.23% with an average 0.5 point for the week ending September 18, -- up 11 basis points from 4.12% the week before. A year ago at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.50%.

The average for the 15-year FRM also was up 11 basis points -- to 3.37%t with an average 0.5 point. At this time last year, it averaged 3.54%.

5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) averaged 3.06% this week with an average 0.5 point, compared with the week before when it averaged 2.99%. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 3.11%.

The only rate to fall was the 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM, which averaged 2.43% this week with an average 0.4 point, down 2 basis points. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 2.65 %.

Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist at Freddie Mac, says the rate increase followed the increase in 10-year Treasury yields which was partially fueled by market speculation the Federal Reserve might change its interest rate guidance. “Meanwhile,” he added, “the Labor Department reported that its Consumer Price Index [PDF] (CPI) declined 0.2 percent in August reflecting declines in energy prices. Excluding food and energy, the CPI was unchanged."

Bankrate

 

Bankrate.com, meanwhile reports rates were up slightly, with the benchmark 30-year FRM moving to 4.33% -- with an average of 0.3 discount and origination points -- from 4.27% the week before.

The average 15-year FRM increased 4 basis points to 3.46%, with an average of 0.14 discount and origination points, while the larger jumbo 30-year FRM nosed higher to 4.37%.

Adjustable rate mortgages were also on the rise, with the 5-year ARM climbing to 3.35%, and the 10-year ARM increased to 3.88%.       

Mortgage rates showed very little movement over the summer months, remaining in a range of approximately one-tenth of a percentage point since mid-May. Although mortgage rates were up modestly this week -- with mortgage rates at the top end of that narrow range -- it was enough to put the benchmark 30-year FRM rate at a 3-month high.

As last year 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. Mortgage rates have moved lower thus far in 2014, and with the average rate now 4.33%, the monthly payment for the same size loan would be$993.27 -- a savings of $43 per month for anyone that waited.

More

High marks for the Volkswagen Jetta in small overlap protection

That helped the vehicle qualify for the IIHS “Top Safety Pick+” award

A structural upgrade to improve small overlap protection and the addition of an optional front crash prevention system led the 2015 Volkswagen Jetta earnin...

Photo
Photo source: IIHS

A structural upgrade to improve small overlap protection and the addition of an optional front crash prevention system led the 2015 Volkswagen Jetta earning the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's highest award -- "Top Safety Pick+."

Although the midsize sedan didn't get a full redesign, the A-pillars and door sills were strengthened for the 2015 model year. As a result, the Jetta's small overlap rating improved to good from the marginal rating of earlier models.

In the test, the driver's space was maintained well, and measures taken from the dummy in the driver seat indicated a low risk of any significant injuries in a crash of the same severity.

The side airbag deployed and had sufficient forward coverage to protect the head from striking side structure and outside objects. However, the dummy's head slid off the frontal airbag after hitting it, and the safety belt allowed the dummy's head and torso to move too far forward.

Other areas perform well

In addition to the good small overlap rating, the Jetta earns good ratings in the Institute's four other crashworthiness evaluations. An optional forward collision warning system earns the car a basic rating for front crash prevention. When equipped with the system, the Jetta qualifies for the Top Safety Pick+ award.

IIHS introduced the small overlap evaluation in 2012. In the test, which is more challenging than either the head-on crashes conducted by the government or the Institute's moderate overlap test, 25% of a vehicle's front end on the driver side strikes a rigid barrier at 40 mph. The crash replicates what happens when the front corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or an object such as a tree or a utility pole.

To qualify for Top Safety Pick, a vehicle must earn a good or acceptable rating for small overlap protection and good ratings in the Institute's moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests. Top Safety Pick+ winners must meet those same criteria and also earn a basic, advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention. 

More

Ford recalls Lincoln MKC vehicles

The windshield glass may have air bubbles

Ford Motor Company is recalling 1,139 model year 2015 Lincoln MKC vehicles manufactured August 20, 2013, to June 6, 2014. The affected vehicles may have v...

Photo
Photo source: Lincoln

Ford Motor Company is recalling 1,139 model year 2015 Lincoln MKC vehicles manufactured August 20, 2013, to June 6, 2014.

The affected vehicles may have visible air bubbles in the windshield glass. Air bubbles in the windshield could affect the driver's visibility, increasing the risk of a crash.

Ford will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the windshields for air bubbles, replacing them as necessary, free of charge. The recall began in August 2014.

Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-800-392-3673. Ford's number for this recall is 14C07. 

More

Corporal punishment is more common than you might think

At least 19 states still permit spanking and paddling in schools

When I was in 7th grade I took a spool of thread and wound it around a group of chairs in Home Economics class. It was quite fun watching people trip, unti...

More

Parents struggling to save for children's education

Survey shows many are still paying off their own college loans

Wage stagnation appears to be making another problem worse. Families are saving less money for their children's college education, increasing the likelihoo...

PhotoWage stagnation appears to be making another problem worse. Families are saving less money for their children's college education, increasing the likelihood that college loan debt will increase in the years ahead.

A survey commissioned by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. (CFP Board) finds that an increasing number of households are struggling just to meet everyday expenses. A third of parents in the survey are still repaying their own college debt.

Of those who haven't started saving, nearly 70% say that everyday living expenses eat up all of their income, leaving nothing left over for savings. 

Difficult balancing act

"As we continue to debate the value and cost of higher education, we must acknowledge the difficult balancing act many parents face when repaying their own debt and saving for their children," said Eleanor Blayney, Consumer Advocate for CFP Board. "Managing expenses from the past and present is crowding out planning and saving for the future, including children's higher education, retirement, and even essential emergency funds."

Some parents are putting money aside for their children's education, but not that much. Of those who say they are saving for college, 53% admit that it's less than $10,000 – and that's for the oldest child. With each additional child, parents are more likely to have not started saving.

But as every parent knows, $10,000 doesn't go very far in covering college costs. The College Board tracks higher education costs and currently estimates the average undergraduate tuition, fees, room and board for the 2013-2014 academic year was $18,391for public, four-year institutions for in-state students and $31,701 for out-of-state students, and $40,917 for private, nonprofit colleges and universities.

Sobering finding

One sobering finding in the survey is how escalating college costs in the last 2 decades is still having an economic impact today. Nearly half the parents in the survey reported borrowing money to pay for their own college education.

Of those parents, nearly half say they are still paying off the loans, cutting into their ability to meet current living expenses – not to mention setting aside money for their children's college.

"With tuition rates rising year after year, financing a child's higher education may very well be a more expensive investment than buying a home, and a lot harder to finance," Blayney said. "Finding the funding for college may require careful planning and several sources, especially when parents are paying down their own remaining student debt and dealing with other financial priorities."

Unrealistic

In addition to tight budgets with little room for savings, Blayney says many parents are unaware of the more effective ways to set up college savings plans that provide tax benefits. Some, she says, just aren't being realistic about where the money is going to come from.

The results of this survey seem to suggest that the next wave of college students is going to be more dependent than ever on student loans to get a college education. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) sounded the alarm more than a year ago over the rising level of student debt, which is now well over $1 trillion.

CFPB estimates 67% of undergraduate students in 2010 had taken out student loans. The agency says it is important to take out the right kind of loan so that interest payments don't eventually overwhelm the borrowers.

In this guide, CFPB explains that federal loans are almost always better than private loans because the interest rate is fixed, while for private loans it usually floats.  

More

Hipster harness may put the hip-hop back into your dog

Hip dysplasia is a common and painful ailment for dogs

It's no fun getting old -- and that applies to dogs too. Just as humans develop creaky knees and hips, dogs are prone to a condition called hip dysplasia. ...

More

Amazon updates the Kindle line-up

Latest model is thinner, faster, etc.

In a world hammered by a constant flow of new gadgets, the challenge sometimes is keeping yesterday's jaw-dropper from turning into today's yawner....

PhotoIn a world hammered by a constant flow of new gadgets, the challenge sometimes is keeping yesterday's jaw-dropper from turning into today's yawner.

This may be the situation that confronts Amazon's line of Kindle products. No, we're not talking about the Kindle Fire, the Fire Phone or any of those other devices that sound like they are something you'd use around the campfire.

We're talking about the plain old Kindle -- a rather modest, even humdrum product that was sort of revolutionary when it was introduced but that is starting to look a little shopworn now that it is into its seventh generation.

After all, it is competing for attention with watches that act like smartphones and electrocardiogram machines, with cars that are on the verge of driving themselves and with, oh, you know, all that other stuff everybody is always yammering about.

Turns reimagined

Amazon even seems to be getting a little bored with the whole idea. All it can find to say about its new Kindle Voyage is that it the "most advanced e-reader ever,"  which might be what it said about the preceding model. We're told it's faster, slimmer and smarter than its six predecessors.

Smarter how exactly? Well, it has "reimagined page turns," which appears to mean it turns the page when you're ready. You know, like the kid who sits next to the concert pianist and flips the sheet music to the next page. I hope this is true because, as a Kindle addict, I find that one has to keep his fingers nice and warm if he wants to see what's on the next page. This can get annoying on cold days or when reading a particularly steamy passage.

If nothing else, the Voyage is certainly the most expensive Kindle. It goes for $199 -- that's for wi-fi only, not 3g. If you want a power adapter -- and who doesn't? -- that's an extra $14.99. A leather cover? $59.99. A screen protector? $29.99.

In other words, it's $300.

Of course, that's still a lot cheaper than an iPad, which will set you back $499 for the most basic model but will let you watch movies, read spam and waste time on Facebook. Amazon makes a Kindle that will do that too.

The Voyage and its less expensive cousins, however, are sort of stripped down -- no video, no email, no color. Amazon spins this as a virtue, using the tag line "The best devices for reading, period." This is like Southwest Airlines saying its free-for-all seating policy is pro-choice.

However, none of this is meant to disparage the Kindle. Personally, I spend many hours daily on mine, devouring novels, newspapers and weird tracts of all kinds. It's a digital device that helps you escape the digital world, which is pretty awesome when you think about it.

Makes it disappear

Perhaps Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says it a little better: “Our mission with Kindle is to make the device disappear, so you can lose yourself in the author’s world,” as he put it in today's announcement.

“Kindle Voyage is the next big step in this mission," he continued. "With the thinnest design, highest resolution and highest contrast display, reimagined page turns, and all of the features that readers love about Kindle—books in seconds, no eyestrain or glare, readability in bright sunlight, and battery life measured in weeks, not hours—Kindle Voyage is crafted from the ground up for readers.”

Other updated models announced today for delivery after Oct. 21 include the plain vanilla Kindle, described as ideal for beginners. It's $79. That's even a version of the Kindle HD (its iPad-like tablet) designed for kids. It's made for tough handling and includes software aimed at kids. 

More

Verizon's customizable TV service could really shake things up

But could there be some industry push-back?

Consumers are probably cheering the news last week that Verizon, rather than trying to stop the revolution, is actually trying to lead it....

PhotoConsumers are probably cheering the news last week that Verizon, rather than trying to stop the revolution, is actually trying to lead it.

Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam revealed his company is preparing a 2015 roll-out of a customizable TV service delivered to digital devices. As McAdam pointed out, the channels would have to be offered a la carte because who, he asked rhetorically, wants 300 channels on their smartphone?

Who indeed? But what McAdam sees as logical – and many consumers would heartily agree – is in fact revolutionary, because that is definitely not how cable TV is packaged and sold. It would appear to open the door to changing the way television services are marketed.

If a consumer can customize their TV service on their phone, they are soon going to ask why can't they customize it in their living room.

Music industry lesson

The music industry has already been down this road. For decades artists released albums of perhaps 12 songs. Consumers might purchase the album because they liked 2 or 3 of them. To get those songs, however, they had to purchase the complete album.

Digital music services like iTunes changed all that. Individual songs can be downloaded for 99 cents. That's great for consumers but has not been so great for artists or music companies.

Just since the introduction of iTunes in 2003, music sales in the U.S. have dropped sharply. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, inflation-adjusted sales revenue fell more than $4.5 billion over a 10 year period.

At the same time, more people were buying music. They just weren't buying as much of it, for as much money. If the music industry had it to do over, it would probably try a different approach to digital.

Protecting the status quo

Content providers can be expected to be leery of any changes to the status quo, especially if these changes may systematically alter revenue models. Netflix learned this the hard way a few years ago.

In 2011 Starz Entertainment, a major supplier of feature film content, abruptly broke off contract renewal talks with Netflix, announcing it would no longer provide movies to Netflix.

The reason was not completely financial. Netflix was reportedly agreeable to terms and willing to pay a reported $300 million to continue its access to Starz's content. The loss had more to do with Netflix's business model.

“This decision is a result of our strategy to protect the premium nature of our brand by preserving the appropriate pricing and packaging of our exclusive and highly valuable content,” Starz CEO Chris Albrecht said at the time. “With our current studio rights and growing original programming presence, the network is in an excellent position to evaluate new opportunities and expand its overall business."

In other words, Starz was concerned that Netflix's $8 a month price to consumers was too cheap, threatening its other customers – cable TV networks that charge a lot more.

Netflix has been able to adapt nicely, producing original content and loading up on TV series that have fundamentally altered viewing habits, with consumers now “binge watching” an entire season of shows over a short period of time. It didn't hurt Netflix that a lot of TV series are of higher quality than the movies Hollywood turns out.

The lesson may be that it's hard to stop a revolution. The landscape has changed significantly since 2011 and content providers may now be more willing to adapt to, rather than fight, radical changes.

Verizon's new customizable TV service, which McAdam says could be rolled out in mid 2015, may be the next test.

More

Meijer pays $2 million civil penalty for selling recalled products

Sold 1,700 recalled items, mainly children's toys, between April 2010 and April 2011

If you've shopped at Meijer stores between April 2010 and April 2011, especially if you bought children's toys there, be aware that the company had to pay ...

If you've shopped at Meijer stores between April 2010 and April 2011, especially if you bought children's toys there, be aware that the company had to pay a $2 million civil penalty for selling at least 12 different consumer products after they'd already been recalled.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission announced the penalty on Sept. 17, saying that:

Staff charged that Meijer distributed recalled products through a system Meijer operated with a third party contractor.  Staff further charged that Meijer received information about products handled by the contractor, but Meijer failed to take action to prevent distribution of recalled products. … approximately 1,700 units of recalled consumer products were resold to consumers.

According to the CPSU, these are the recalled products Meijer sold during that year:

  • Discovery Kids Animated Marine and Safari Lamps, imported by Innovage LLC;
  • SlingRider Baby Slings manufactured by Infantino;
  • Hoover WindTunnel T-Series Bagless Upright Vacuum Cleaners with Cord Rewind Feature, imported by Hoover Inc;
  • Fisher-Price Trikes and Tough Trikes toddler tricycles manufactured by Fisher-Price;
  • Little People Wheelies Stand ‘n Play Rampways imported by Fisher Price;
  • Ocean Wonders Kick & Crawl Aquariums imported by Fisher-Price;
  • Bathtub Subs imported by Munchkin, Inc.;
  • Refreshing Rings Infant Teethers/Rattles imported by Sassy;
  • Touch Point Oscillating Ceramic Heater;
  • Harmony High Chair manufactured by Graco Children’s Products;
  • Random Orbit Sander manufactured by Black & Decker;
  • Box Fans manufactured by Lasko.
More

Apple says even the government can't get your private data with iOS8

But protections only apply to information on your device, not in the cloud

Apple updated its privacy policy this week and released a letter from company CEO Tim Cook, both expressing the company's overall commitment to customer pr...

PhotoApple updated its privacy policy this week and released a letter from company CEO Tim Cook, both expressing the company's overall commitment to customer privacy protection, and the iOS8's security features in particular.

Apple says its new privacy protections are so stringent, some of your stored data is thoroughly inaccessible even to Apple itself — and even if the police or other government agents have a warrant for it.

Apple updated its Privacy Policy on Sept. 17, saying that “The changes were made predominantly to cover new features in iOS 8, or to provide additional information on current use of data such as your date of birth or information you’ve provided about others (for example, when sending products or gift certificates to another person). None of these changes are retroactive.”

After several reassurances about protecting users' privacy and/or personal information, the new privacy policy also says this:

“It may be necessary − by law, legal process, litigation, and/or requests from public and governmental authorities within or outside your country of residence − for Apple to disclose your personal information. We may also disclose information about you if we determine that for purposes of national security, law enforcement, or other issues of public importance, disclosure is necessary or appropriate.”

Post-Snowden

That's pretty standard corporate-boilerplate language from any company that has your personal information (even dating back to the pre-Internet, pre-computer era): we'll keep everything we have on you private, unless we are legally ordered to do otherwise.

Yet such assurances take on a slightly different meaning in a post-Edward Snowden world, where it's old news that the National Security Agency routinely tracks Americans' whereabouts and monitors our electronic communications en masse, without warrants, probable cause or other things required by the constitution. The government has even ordered tech companies to hand over private data about its users — then made it illegal for the tech companies to admit what they were doing.

But Apple went even further in its newly updated “Privacy/Government Information Requests” page, saying:

On devices running iOS 8, your personal data such as photos, messages (including attachments), email, contacts, call history, iTunes content, notes, and reminders is placed under the protection of your passcode. Unlike our competitors, Apple cannot bypass your passcode and therefore cannot access this data. So it's not technically feasible for us to respond to government warrants for the extraction of this data from devices in their possession running iOS 8.

In addition to these assurances, written by anonymous Apple employees, Apple's CEO Tim Cook also posted a letter on Apple's Privacy page, saying:

“Finally, I want to be absolutely clear that we have never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services. We have also never allowed access to our servers. And we never will.”

(Hopefully, Cook's statement is true. If, however, it's one day discovered otherwise, remember not to judge him or other technology executives too harshly; if they're lying, it is only to comply with current American law, which makes it illegal for Apple, Yahoo or other tech companies to inform their customers if the NSA or other arms of government are collecting data on them, with or without a warrant.)

More

Now may be a good time to buy a new refrigerator

New energy standards should mean big savings in electricity usage

If you've been looking with distaste at your refrigerator, now may be the time to replace it. New rules have gone into effect that require greater energy s...

PhotoIf you've been looking with distaste at your refrigerator, now may be the time to replace it. New rules have gone into effect that require greater energy savings, which could go a long way towards making up for the cost of replacing your current model.

According to the Department of Energy (DOE), the new efficiency standards will reduce energy use by as much as 25% on new refrigerator models that are manufactured. That's enough energy savings to power a quarter of all the homes in the U.S. for one year.

It's been quite a few years since the standards were updated. The last set of regs came out in 2001 so that leaves many millions of refrigerators that are candidates for an update.

The DOE estimates these rules will save consumers $36 billion over the next 30 years, even after factoring in the higher upfront costs of buying these new refrigerators. 

Elizabeth Noll of the Natural Resources Defense Council says the new rules will save consumers $215 to $270 per year on their electricity bills, compared to 1978, when the agency began regulating refrigerators. 

Green groups say that by enacting these standards  over the next 30 years it will be as if they took 70 million cars off the road and will cut carbon emissions immensely.

More

Nonbank auto finance companies may get federal scrutiny

The CPFB says new powers would help it “root out discrimination”

The long arm of Uncle Sam may soon encompass larger nonbank auto finance companies for the first time. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has ...

Photo
© Warakorn - Fotolia.com

The long arm of Uncle Sam may soon encompass larger nonbank auto finance companies for the first time.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has issued a proposal that would give the agency oversight of these companies, which, according to CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “extend hundreds of billions of dollars in credit to American consumers, yet they have never been supervised at the federal level.” The proposal, he said, “would extend our oversight, allowing us to root out discrimination and ensure consumers are being treated fairly across this market.”

The world of auto financing

Auto loans are financed by both banks and nonbanks. Consumers can either get a loan through direct financing where they seek credit directly from a lender or through indirect financing where an auto dealer typically facilitates a loan from a third party. Banks, credit unions, and nonbank auto finance companies provide credit to consumers both directly and indirectly. Some nonbank finance companies are “captive” nonbanks, meaning finance companies owned by auto manufacturers who generally do only indirect lending.

Currently, the CFPB supervises large banks making auto loans, but not nonbank auto finance companies. It’s now proposing to extend its supervision authority to the larger participants of the nonbank auto finance market.

New powers sought

The proposed rule would generally allow the agency to supervise nonbank auto finance companies that make, acquire, or refinance 10,000 or more loans or leases in a year. It would be supervising them to ensure they are complying with federal consumer financial law. The CFPB estimates that about 38 auto finance companies would be subject to this new oversight. These companies originate around 90% of nonbank auto loans and leases, and in 2013 provided financing to approximately 6.8 million consumers.

The CFPB says it wants to make sure that auto lenders -- including auto finance companies -- are treating consumers fairly throughout the life of loan by:

  • Fairly marketing and disclosing auto financing

  • Providing accurate information to credit bureaus

  • Treating consumers fairly when collecting debts

Plan draws praise

The proposal won kudos from Chris Kukla, senior vice president at the Center for Responsible lending.

“For too long, a huge portion of the auto lending market has operated with few rules and few consumer protections,” he said. ”We are hopeful that extending oversight to the largest nonbank auto lenders will lead to increased transparency and a fairer market by bringing public scrutiny to bear on the lenders involved in abusive practices and highlighting the lenders that that act in the best interest of all consumers, especially those with blemished credit or thin credit files.”

More

Checks are in the mail to AmeriDebt scam victims

The company allegedly lied to consumers about fees, among other things

Consumers allegedly taken for a ride by a credit counseling/debt management scam run by Andris Pukke and his companies -- AmeriDebt Inc. and DebtWorks, Inc...

Photo
© John Takai - Fotolia.com

Consumers allegedly taken for a ride by a credit counseling/debt management scam run by Andris Pukke and his companies -- AmeriDebt Inc. and DebtWorks, Inc.  -- will soon be getting something in the mail.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is mailing $1,792,759 in refund checks to 60,813 consumers that the agency says were deceived about their fees, believed that AmeriDebt was a non-profit, and were falsely promised they’d be taught how to handle their credit and finances.

Craig of Kemp, Texas, is among those who turned to AmeriDebt for help.

“I was laid off work for a while, and my finances were in trouble, so I contacted AmeriDebt to help me to get them back in order,” he writes in a ConsumerAffairs post. “Within about 3-4 months, I was receiving late charges on all my credit cards, and things weren't getting taken care of in the way I was assured they would be, I tried contacting AmeriDebt on numerous occasions, and I left several messages, but to no avail. My credit was ruined because of all of this.”

The FTC previously returned about $15 million  to AmeriDebt consumers. Those affected in this latest announcement will receive checks for between $12.70 and $725.10. The amount will vary based upon the amount of each consumer’s loss, less the previous refund received.

Those who receive checks from the FTC’s refund administrator should cash them within 60 days of the mailing date. The FTC never requires consumers to pay money or to provide information before refund checks can be cashed.

Consumers with questions should call the refund administrator, Gilardi & Co., LLC, at 1-888-283-7985. 

More

Man up and ask for a flexible schedule

Study finds women are still more likely to get a raw deal when they need time off to handle parenting

You've come a long way, baby but maybe it hasn't helped you too much. Women tend to get a raw deal when it comes to asking for time off at work to handle p...

Photo
© Fotolia.com

You've come a long way, baby but maybe it hasn't helped you too much. Women tend to get a raw deal when it comes to asking for time off at work to handle parenting issues compared to men when they ask for the same thing, a new study finds. It's called flexibility bias.

Flexibility bias is a systematic prejudice in favor of full-time workers who work standard hours, on-site and against workers who work part-time or work full-time but work non-standard hours or a portion of their hours at an off-site location.

The study by Furman University sociology Prof. Christin Munsch revealed that our cultural biases often don’t fit very well with our workplace policies. 

The study looked at 646 people, aged 18-65. They were asked to read a transcript of a conversation between an employee and a human resource manager in which the employee asks to work from home two days a week or come in early and leave early three days a week. Responses were then tallied based on the gender of the employee.

It turns out that men who asked to have a flexible schedule at work due to childcare were most likely get their requests granted, such men being looked at as admirable fellows. Women who asked for the same thing were less likely to get their requests granted and were looked at as not very committed to their jobs.

Today we think of women’s responsibilities as including paid labor and working at home as a parent, but we still regard breadwinning as men’s primary responsibility and we feel grateful if men contribute in the realm of childcare or other household tasks. In an arrangement where both partners contribute equally at home and in terms of paid labor – men, but not women, would reap workplace advantages.

So how can women change this perception? Well, Gloria Steinem has been working on it for quite a while but there's still quite a ways to go, as the Furman study shows. The onus really falls back on employers and organizations as well as supervisors who need to be more objective in granting flexwork requests.

More

Some give and take in housing construction

Both housing starts and building permit applications tanked in August

The new home construction industry provided a good example last month of the old saw that “what goes up must come down.” After surging nearly 16% in in Ju...

Photo
© alisonhancock - Fotolia.com

The new home construction industry provided a good example last month of the old saw that “what goes up must come down.”

After surging nearly 16% in in July, housing starts plunged 14.4% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 956,000. Still, the construction rate is 8.0% above the same period last year.

Construction of single-family homes fell 2.4% in August to a rate of 643,000, while the rate for apartment buildings dropped to 304,000 from 423,000 in July.

Building permits

It appears the construction slump may continue for a while. The government also reports applications for building permits dropped  5.6 %, but are 5.3% above the August 2013 rate. Permits for single-family homes were down 0.8%, while permit applications for apartment construction came in at a rate of 343,000 compared with 382,000 in July.

The full report is available on the Commerce Department website.

Photo
© Marzky Ragsac Jr. - Fotolia.com
Jobless claims

Separately, the Labor Department (DOL) reports first-time applications for state unemployment benefits tumbled by 36,000 In the week ending September 13 -- to a seasonally adjusted total of 280,000, the lowest level since July. The previous week's level was revised up by 1,000 to 316,000.

DOL says there were no special factors affecting this week's filings.

Analysts at Briefing.com say the initial claims number leads them to believe that there will be an upward revision of the weak August payroll number. The say they also expect strong job gains when the September nonfarm payrolls report comes out.

The 4-week moving average, which is less volatile than the weekly figure and considered to be a more accurate gauge of the labor market, was 299,500 -- a drop of 4,750 from the previous week.

The complete report may be found on the DOL website. 

More

Builder confidence up again

It’s the fourth increase in a row

Builder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family homes rose for a fourth straight month in September. The National Association of Home Buil...

Photo
© iQoncept - Fotolia.com

Builder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family homes rose for a fourth straight month in September.

The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) Index climbed 4 points to a level of 59 -- its highest reading since November of 2005.

“Since early summer, builders in many markets across the nation have been reporting that buyer interest and traffic have picked up, which is a positive sign that the housing market is moving in the right direction,” said NAHB Chairman Kevin Kelly.

Derived from a monthly survey that NAHB has been conducting for 30 years, the Index gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next six months as “good,” “fair” or “poor.” The survey also asks builders to rate traffic of prospective buyers as “high to very high,” “average” or “low to very low.”

Scores from 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.

“While a firming job market is helping to unleash pent-up demand for new homes and contributing to a gradual, upward trend in builder confidence, we are still not seeing much activity from first-time home buyers,” said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “Other factors impeding the pace of the housing recovery include persistently tight credit conditions for consumers and rising costs for materials, lots and labor.”

Across the board gains

All three HMI components advanced in September. The indices gauging current sales conditions and traffic of prospective buyers each rose 5 points -- to 63 and 47, respectively. The index gauging expectations for future sales increased 2 points to 67.

Builder confidence also rose across every region of the country in September. Looking at the three-month moving average for each region, the Midwest registered a 5-point gain to 59, the South posted a 4-point increase to 56, the Northeast rose 3 points -- to 41, and the West was up 2 points to 58.

More

Ebola outbreak in Africa goes from bad to worse

Despite past assurances, it's clear this outbreak is very different from those in the past

There is a new urgency in the words now being used to describe the spreading Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa....

PhotoThere is a new urgency in the words now being used to describe the spreading Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa.

Last month Americans were reassured that the virus, while a terrible calamity for the people in the 5 African nations where it has appeared, poses little threat in the U.S. There have been no domestic cases reported and doctors took pains to point out that the virus is not easily spread.

To get the Ebola virus, they said, one must come in contact with the bodily fluid of an infected person. But events on the ground are making those reassuring words less assuring.

But since the end of August the virus has quickly spread in the countries where it has appeared, infecting more than 5,000 and killing more than half. At a news conference in Geneva, the World Health Organization's (WHO) Bruce Aylward warned the virus could balloon into a humanitarian catastrophe at the rate it is going.

Aylward said holding cases to the tens of thousands is now almost a best case scenario. Things will get a lot worse than that, he warns, unless the international community takes a more active role in treating and preventing the virus.

Past model useless

Dr. Thomas House, of Britain's University of Warwick Mathematics Institute, developed a model that incorporated data from past outbreaks that successfully replicated their eventual scale. But in the current outbreak, House says his model can't keep up.

"Out of all proportion and on an unprecedented scale when compared to previous outbreaks" is how House describes the current epidemic.

"If we analyze the data from past outbreaks we are able to design a model that works for the recorded cases of the virus spreading and can successfully replicate their eventual size,” House said. “The current outbreak does not fit this previous pattern and, as a result, we are not in a position to provide an accurate prediction of the current outbreak.”

Is the virus mutating?

What is making this outbreak so different and deadly? House sees a number of possibilities, including one that is chilling: a mutating virus. He says he doesn't know the reason, but does know this outbreak is different from ones that have gone before.

While health officials have taken pains to tamp down Ebola fears among the U.S. population, there is a new seriousness about it this week. This seriousness was on display in President Obama's trip to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta for a first-hand briefing, and his decision to dispatch 3,000 U.S. troops to impacted countries to help build and manage treatment facilities.

Question no one wants to ask

And Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, got everyone's attention with an Op-Ed in The New York Times in which he wrote what he contends many of his colleagues are loath to say in public – that the virus might have mutated and is being spread through the air, not just bodily fluids.

“The current Ebola virus’s hyper-evolution is unprecedented; there has been more human-to-human transmission in the past four months than most likely occurred in the last 500 to 1,000 years,” he writes. “Each new infection represents trillions of throws of the genetic dice.”

Health officials are understandably reluctant to openly discuss this possibility, House says, because they don't want to set off panic.

“But the risk is real, and until we consider it, the world will not be prepared to do what is necessary to end the epidemic,” he concludes.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the CDC has issued guidelines to U.S. health care facilities on the need to be prepared for managing patients with infectious diseases such as the Ebola virus. Just in case.

More

Feds halt payday loan scheme they say stole tens of millions from consumers

Network of web sites trapped consumers in "loans" they never asked for, then raided their bank accounts, FTC charges

Federal regulators say a web of companies conspired to get their hands on consumers' private financial data, then used that data to extract nearly $50 mill...

Photo
© Alex - Fotolia.com
Federal regulators say a web of companies conspired to get their hands on consumers' private financial data, then used that data to extract nearly $50 million from their bank accounts in payment for payday loans the consumers had never agreed to.

A U.S. district court in Missouri issued a restraining order and appointed a receiver to take over the operation.

“These defendants bought consumers’ personal information, made unauthorized payday loans, and then helped themselves to consumers’ bank accounts without their authorization,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “This egregious misuse of consumers’ financial information has caused significant injury, especially for consumers already struggling to make ends meet.”

Over one eleven-month period between 2012 and 2013, the defendants issued $28 million in payday “loans” to consumers, and, in return, extracted more than $46.5 million from their bank accounts, the FTC alleged.

Lead generators

In its complaint, the FTC alleges that Timothy Coppinger, Frampton (Ted) Rowland III, and a web of companies they owned or operated, used personal financial information bought from third-party lead generators or data brokers to make unauthorized deposits of between $200 and $300 into consumers’ bank accounts.

Often, the scheme targeted consumers who had previously submitted their personal financial information – including their bank account numbers –to a website that offered payday loans.

After depositing money into consumers’ accounts without their permission, the defendants withdrew bi-weekly recurring “finance charges” of up to $90, without any of the payments going toward reducing the loan’s principal, the FTC alleged.

The defendants then contacted the consumers by phone and email, telling them that they had agreed to, and were obligated to pay for, the “loan” they never requested and misrepresented the true costs of the purported loans. In doing so, the agency alleged, they often provided consumers with fake applications, electronic transfer authorizations, or other loan documents purporting to show the consumers had authorized the loan.

In many instances, if consumers closed their bank accounts to make the unauthorized debits stop, the defendants sold the supposed “loan” to debt buyers who then harassed consumers for payment, the FTC contends.

This case alleges that the defendants violated the FTC Act, the Truth in Lending Act (TILA), and the Electronic Funds Transfer Act (EFTA). The FTC is seeking a court order to permanently stop the defendants’ unlawful practices.

Companies named

Companies and individuals named in the complaint include:

1) CWB Services, LLC; 2) Orion Services, LLC; 3) Sand Point Capital, LLC; 4) Sandpoint, LLC; 5) Basseterre Capital, LLC (based in both Nevis and Delaware); 6) Namakan Capital, LLC; 7) Vandelier Group, LLC; 8) St. Armands Group, LLC; 9) Anasazi Group, LLC; 10) Anasazi Services, LLC; 11) Longboat Group, LLC, also doing business as (d/b/a) Cutter Group; 12) Oread Group, LLC, also d/b/a Mass Street Group; 13) Timothy A. Coppinger, individually and as a principal of one or more of the corporate defendants; and 14) Frampton T. Rowland, III, individually and as a principal of one or more of the corporate defendants.

More

Security flaw in Android Browser is a “privacy disaster”

Disable your Browser app if you have it installed

Up to half of all Android users might be at risk from a security flaw, first discovered at the end of August by software security researcher Rafay Baloch b...

PhotoUp to half of all Android users might be at risk from a security flaw, first discovered at the end of August by software security researcher Rafay Baloch but only attracting widespread notice now.

This week, the IT security firm Rapid7 called the bug “a privacy disaster” and said that one of its researchers had developed a working exploit of the security flaw — meaning that the flaw could be used to steal data.

A Sept. 15 post on the Rapid7 security blog says that the vulnerability would allow a hacker to “load javascript into any arbitrary frame or window,” and that “By malforming a javascript: URL handler with a prepended null byte, an attacker can avoid the Android Open Source Platform (AOSP) Browser's Same-Origin Policy (SOP) browser security control.”

The Same-Origin Policy in browsers is what usually prevents one website you visit from being able to access content from other sites; basically, it says that a given website can only see or control scripts originating from itself, and no other websites.

But Rapid7 says that the bug discovered in Android browsers would allow the controllers of one website you visit to see (or even control) what you're doing elsewhere on the web: “Any arbitrary website (say, one controlled by a spammer or a spy) can peek into the contents of any other web page. Imagine you went to an attacker's site while you had your webmail open in another window -- the attacker could scrape your e-mail data and see what your browser sees. Worse, he could snag a copy of your session cookie and hijack your session completely, and read and write webmail on your behalf.”

Flaw is widespread

Ars Technica estimates that roughly 40 to 50% of all Android users have the flawed browser on their devices, and that the “Android Browser is likely to be embedded in third-party products, too, and some Android users have even installed it on their Android 4.4 phones because for one reason or another they prefer it to Chrome.”

Sophos' NakedSecurity blog recommends that anyone with Browser installed on their Android device stop using it immediately. “You almost certainly can't uninstall it, because it's usually part of the operating system build itself, meaning it doesn't show up under 'Settings | Apps | Downloaded.' But if you tap on 'Browser' from the 'All apps' page, you should see a [Disable] button where you'd usually see [Uninstall].

Disabling the app will prevent you from using the flawed browser so long as it remains a security risk.

More

Medicare Open Enrollment may bring more policy changes

If you have an Advantage Plan, you can make changes starting Oct. 15

For consumers with Medicare Advantage, the 2015 open enrollment period starts October 15 and extends through December 7 2014. If you want to make changes t...

PhotoFor consumers with Medicare Advantage, the 2015 open enrollment period starts October 15 and extends through December 7, 2014. If you want to make changes to your plan, that's your window of opportunity.

Medicare Advantage is a type of Medicare health plan purchased through a private company that contracts with Medicare to provide Part A and Part B benefits. Medicare Advantage Plans include Health Maintenance Organizations, Preferred Provider Organizations, Private Fee-for-Service Plans, Special Needs Plans, and Medicare Medical Savings Account Plans.

Being enrolled in a Medicare Advantage Plan means your Medicare services are covered and paid for outside of Original Medicare. Most Medicare Advantage Plans also offer prescription drug coverage.

Shopping season

Just before open enrollment the companies that operate the various Medicare prescription drug and Advantage plans will inform you of any changes for the coming year. You can decide to stick with the plan you have or shop around for another.

What should you be on the lookout for? If you have a prescription drug plan, the premiums and co-pays you pay can change. That information should be contained in the Annual Notification of Change you will receive by the end of September.

Medicare Advantage plans themselves can also be subject to change. You might see an increase in co-pays for doctor's visits and outpatient services. There could also be an increase in out of pocket maximum payments.

Besides changes in costs, there could be changes that require you to go looking for a new health care provider if you keep your current plan.

Doctors pulling out

“In the last few years more doctors, and even some hospitals, have been dropping some of the Medicare Advantage plans that they accept,” Brandon Ritchey, an owner of Medicare Health Plans, a health insurance company in Overland Park, Kan., told ConsumerAffairs.

Ritchey's company sells Medicare Advantage policies in Kansas and Missouri and Medigap supplemental policies nationwide online.

“If you are planning to change Advantage policies it's best to work with an agent face to face,” he said. “Changing policies can be relatively simple or complicated. But you should work with someone who can explain the process and answer questions.”

Year of change?

Ritchey says Medicare recipients should be prepared for changes in their policies this year. His company advises that, due to shrinking doctor reimbursement rates, the pool of doctors who accept Medicare is also shrinking in many areas.

Early indications suggest that in many areas plans are increasing their premium and copays and some of the zero premium plans may have to begin charging a monthly premium. Living in an area with fewer Medicare eligible consumers may produce the most drastic changes, including the removal of some plans altogether.  

More

Study: Why do consumers pay more for "ethical" products?

The answer will not surprise you

Even things which seem self-evident need to be verified. In a study called “Marketplace Sentiments,” forthcoming in the December 2014 edition of the Journa...

Photo
© Web Buttons Inc - Fotolia.com
Even things which seem self-evident need to be verified. In a study called “Marketplace Sentiments,” forthcoming in the December 2014 edition of the Journal of Consumer Research, Ahir Gopaldas of Fordham University's business school wondered why certain consumers are willing to spend more money on what they deem “ethical products” (such as fair-trade coffee, or non-sweatshop clothing), and reached an unsurprising conclusion: consumers who make such purchases do so because they want to turn their “emotions” into “actions.”

The study's abstract explains:

“From outrage at corporations to excitement about innovations, marketplace sentiments are powerful forces in consumer culture that transform markets. This article develops a preliminary theory of marketplace sentiments. Defined as collectively shared emotional dispositions, sentiments can be grouped into three function-based categories: contempt for villains, concern for victims, and celebration of heroes.”

Godalpas conducted his study by analyzing the websites of dozens of different advocacy groups, and companies run according to “ethical” mission statements, and also interviewed ordinary individuals who self-identified as ethical consumers.

So how do those these function-based categories of sentiment play out?

Contempt happens when ethical consumers feel anger and disgust toward the corporations and governments they consider responsible for environmental pollution and labor exploitation. Concern stems from a concern for the victims of rampant consumerism, including workers, animals, ecosystems, and future generations. Celebration occurs when ethical consumers experience joy from making responsible choices and hope from thinking about the collective impact of their individual choices.

More

Electric cars cleaner than ever, new analysis finds

Newer EVs are cleaner than the most efficient hybrids in most parts of the country

Electric cars are getting more efficient, making them cleaner than the most efficient hybrids in most parts of the country, according to a new analysis fro...

Photo
2014 Chevrolet Spark (Photo credit: GM)

Electric cars are getting more efficient, making them cleaner than the most efficient hybrids in most parts of the country, according to a new analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

“Electric vehicles are doing more and more to fulfill their technological promise,” said Don Anair, research director for UCS’s Clean Vehicles Program. “If we want to reduce transportation pollution and oil use, a big part of the answer is to be like Bob Dylan and go electric.”

Anair said that 60% of Americans now live in regions where electric vehicles (EVs) produce fewer heat-trapping global warming emissions per mile than the most efficient hybrids. In 2012, that number was just 45%. 

Anair’s update to UCS’s 2012 report "State of Charge," finds that automakers are producing more efficient EVs. The average battery electric vehicle sold over the past year, for instance, uses 0.325 kilowatt hours of electricity per mile, a 5 percent improvement since 2011.

The improvement in efficiency means that the average EV continues to achieve lower global warming emissions than the average new conventional gasoline vehicle no matter where a U.S. driver lives, and is the best choice for reducing global warming emissions for the majority of American drivers.

“The amount of electricity you use to power a toaster oven for about 20 minutes can move a 3,000 pound electric car more than a mile,” Anair explained. “Automakers are making continued progress squeezing more range and performance out of their EVs.”

Regional differences

PhotoThe analysis finds that electric vehicle performance improved in nearly every region. Texas and Florida both jumped from a 48 miles-per-gallon equivalent to 51 mpg while Arizona and New Mexico also made gains, going from a 49-mpg equivalent to 53 mpg. Those states, along with their coastal neighbors, are now home to EVs that can beat any hybrid on the market when it comes to reducing emissions, according to UCS’s analysis.

Additionally, the Midwest grid, which covers several states in whole and some in part, went from a 39-mpg to 43 mpg equivalent, meaning EVs there are as clean as some of the best hybrids on the market.

In California, EVs achieve the equivalent of 95 mpg. By contrast, EVs in Colorado produce the same amount of emissions as a 34 mpg car, the weakest regional performance in the analysis, but still better than the average new gasoline-powered compact, which is rated at 28 mpg. Residents of New York State enjoy the best EV performance, achieving the equivalent of 112 mpg.

More

Brain surgery on George the goldfish goes swimmingly

Australian vets kept George in oxygenated water as they performed the tricky procedure

Surgeons can remove just about anything these days, even a goldfish's brain tumor. I know you are waiting for a punch line. There is none -- it really happ...

Photo
Photo via Facebook

Surgeons can remove just about anything these days, even a goldfish's brain tumor. I know you are waiting for a punch line. There is none -- it really happened. In Australia as a matter of fact. To George.

George is a ten-year-old goldfish that just wasn't acting right. Even his buddies in the bowl noticed something was wrong with George. Over the past year George had developed a large growth on his head.

The other fish started to bully him. He was having trouble sleeping and eating and just in general getting around. Try swimming with a lump as big as an extra head. It's not very easy.

But after an hour-long procedure at the Lort Smith Animal Hospital in Australia, surgeon Tristin Rich said George was off the hook. "It was quite an intricate little surgery really," he said.

The medical team took water in buckets from his pond and brought it to use during surgery. They fed George through a feeding tube in his mouth to keep his little gills wet. The biggest concern was controlling blood loss because he is such a tiny guy.

Dr. Tristan worked quickly to remove the large tumor, although the size of it meant that he had to use a gelatine sponge to control the bleeding during surgery. The size of the wound meant it was difficult to seal, so Tristan put in four sutures then sealed the rest of the wound with tissue glue. Closing him up was no easy feat because, being tiny, George doesn't have a lot of extra skin.

George's owner Joyce was impressed with the whole procedure. She said, "Just the way she was able to put the fish to sleep I think... And then stitching it up a little bit, minute little fishy stitches."

Joyce spent hundreds of dollars to have this operation done but it's her family's pet and she has enjoyed watching him swim around in the pond with his 20 other fish friends, who will hopefully take it easy on him while he recuperates.

It's not likely that George will forget all this kindness, at least short term. Goldfish's memory lasts about three months, which of course is nothing next to an elephant. They never forget anything.

George does have a Facebook page if you would like to follow his progress.

More

Yelp, TinyCo improperly collected info on children: FTC

The companies agree to pay a penalty and revise their policies

Online review site Yelp, Inc., and mobile app developer TinyCo, Inc., have agreed to settle separate Federal Trade Commission charges that they improperly ...

Photo
Image source: TinyCo.com

Online review site Yelp, Inc., and mobile app developer TinyCo, Inc., have agreed to settle separate Federal Trade Commission charges that they improperly collected children’s information in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, Rule.

Yelp will pay a $450,000 civil penalty, while TinyCo will pay $300,000.

“As people – especially children – move more of their lives onto mobile devices, it’s important that they have the same consumer protections when they’re using an app that they have when they’re on a website,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Companies should take steps as they build and test their apps to make sure that children’s information won’t be collected without a parent’s consent.”

COPPA requires that companies collecting information about children under 13 online follow a number of steps to ensure that children’s information is protected, including clearly disclosing how the information is used directly to parents and seeking verifiable parental consent before collecting any information from a child.

TinyCo said the problems occurred in its older games and said titles released since 2012 are "strictly complaint witih COPPA protections."

"We apologize to anyone affected by this issue, and want to be unequivocal in stating that TinyCo is fully committed to protecting user privacy, particularly when children are involved," the company said in a statement on its website.

Yelp

The FTC’s complaint against Yelp alleges that, from 2009 to 2013, the company collected personal information from children through the Yelp app without first notifying parents and obtaining their consent. When consumers registered for Yelp through the app on their mobile device, according to the complaint, they were asked to provide their date of birth during the registration process.

According to the complaint, several thousand registrants provided a date of birth showing they were under 13 years old, and Yelp collected information from them including, for example, their name, e-mail address, and location, as well as any information that they posted on Yelp.

The FTC’s complaint alleges that Yelp failed to follow the COPPA Rule’s requirements, even though it knew – based on registrants’ birth dates – that children were registering for Yelp through the mobile app. 

Under the terms of the settlement, Yelp must delete information it collected from consumers who stated they were 13 years of age or younger at the time they registered for the service, except in cases where the company can prove to the FTC that the consumers were actually older than 13.

The settlement will also require the company to comply with COPPA requirements in the future and submit a compliance report to the FTC in one year outlining its COPPA compliance program.

TinyCo

The FTC’s complaint against TinyCo alleges that many of the company’s popular apps, which were downloaded more than 34 million times across the major mobile app stores, targeted children.

Among the apps named in the complaint are Tiny Pets, Tiny Zoo, Tiny Monsters, Tiny Village and Mermaid Resort. The complaint alleges that the apps, through their use of themes appealing to children, brightly colored animated characters and simple language, were directed at children under 13 and thus, TinyCo was subject to the COPPA Rule.

Many of TinyCo’s apps included an optional feature that collected e-mail addresses from users, including children younger than age 13. In some of the company’s apps, by providing an e-mail address, users obtained extra in-game currency that could be used to buy items within the game or speed up gameplay. 

Under the terms of its settlement, TinyCo is required to delete the information it collected from children under 13. The settlement will also require the company to comply with COPPA requirements in the future and submit a compliance report to the FTC in one year outlining its compliance with the order.

More

Kia Soul qualifies for IIHS "Top Safety Pick"

The automaker improved small overlap front protection of 2 small cars

After previously being given a poor rating poor in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) small overlap front test, the Kia Soul now has earne...

Photo
Photo source: IIHS

After previously being given a poor rating poor in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) small overlap front test, the Kia Soul now has earned a good rating in the tough crash test, following structural improvements for the 2015 model year.

Coupled with good ratings in the Institute's four other crashworthiness evaluations, the small car  qualifies for the IIHS Top Safety Pick award.

A second small car from Kia, the Forte, also improved after the manufacturer made changes, but only to a marginal rating.

Improving the Soul

The 2013 Soul and the 2014 Forte both earned poor ratings in the small overlap test. The Soul was redesigned for the 2014 model year, but wasn't tested then because the company told IIHS it didn't believe it would perform well. The front end and occupant compartment were strengthened for 2015.

In the test of the 2015 Soul, the driver space was maintained reasonably well with a small amount of intrusion. The dummy's movement was well controlled, and its head hit the frontal airbag, which stayed in position during the crash.

Additionally, the side curtain airbag deployed and provided sufficient coverage to protect the head from contact with side structure and outside objects. All measurements recorded on the dummy indicated a low risk of any significant injuries in a crash of this severity.

Upgrades for the Forte

Like the Soul, the Forte also got significant structural upgrades to the occupant compartment. Compared with the 2014 model -- one of the worst performers of any vehicle tested by IIHS for small overlap protection -- the 2015 model fared much better, but its overall rating still is only marginal. Even with the stronger occupant compartment, the driver's space wasn't maintained well, with intrusion approaching 8 inches at the lower hinge pillar.

Also, the dummy's head slid off the frontal airbag and struck the instrument panel, as the safety belt allowed too much forward motion. The side airbag also lacked sufficient coverage to protect the head. Nevertheless, injury measures on the dummy were low.

IIHS introduced the small overlap evaluation in 2012. In the test, which is more challenging than either the head-on crashes conducted by the government or the Institute's moderate overlap test, 25% of a vehicle's front end on the driver side strikes a rigid barrier at 40 mph. The crash replicates what happens when the front corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or an object such as a tree or a utility pole.

To qualify for Top Safety Pick, a vehicle must earn a good or acceptable rating for small overlap protection and good ratings in the Institute's moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests.

 

More

Consumers catch a break on inflation

The declining cost of gasoline helped send the CPI lower last month

Nothing to see here as far as inflation is concerned. Figures released by the Labor Department (DOL) show lower energy costs -- especially for gasoline -...

Photo
© mybaitshop - Fotolia.com

Nothing to see here as far as inflation is concerned.

Figures released by the Labor Department (DOL) show lower energy  costs -- especially for gasoline -- sent the Consumer Price Index (CPI) tumbling 0.2% in August on a seasonally adjusted basis. It’s the first decline since April 2013.

Energy prices were a major factor in the dip, falling 2.6% -- more than offsetting a 0.2% increase in the cost of food.

Energy prices

The 2.6% slide in energy costs  in August -- the largest since March 2013 -- was led by a plunge of 4.1% in the cost of gasoline. Natural gas prices fell (-2.8%) as did fuel oil (-12%). Electricity was the only major energy component to rise (+0.1%).

Food costs

The 0.2% increase in food prices was more than offset by the decline in energy costs. The six major
grocery store food groups split among 3 increases and 3 declines. Meats, poultry, fish, and eggs rose 1.5 % --  the largest increase among the groups. Beef and veal rose (+4.2%) along with dairy and related products (+0.6%) and the cereals and bakery products (+0.2%). In contrast, fruit and vegetable prices were down (- 0.8%), along with nonalcoholic beverages (-0.2%).

Core inflation

The index for all items less food and energy -- the “core rate” of inflation -- was unchanged in August -- the first month since October 2010 that it did not increase. While prices for housing, new vehicles and alcoholic beverages rose, the advances were offset by declines in the cost of airline fares, recreation, household furnishings and operations, apparel, and used cars and trucks. Over the last 12 months the core rate of inflation is up 1.7%.

The full August CPI report is available on the DOL website.

More

A bounce-back for mortgage applications

Refinance applications also posted a solid gain

After falling for the first time in four weeks, applications for mortgages are back on track. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly...

Photo
© emiliezhang - Fotolia.com

After falling for the first time in four weeks, applications for mortgages are back on track.

According to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey, applications surged 7.9% during the week ending September 12.

At the same time, the Refinance Index jumped 10% from the previous week, taking the refinance share of mortgage activity up 2% from the previous week -- to 57% of total applications, the highest level since February.  

The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity increased to 7.6% of total applications.

“Application volume rebounded coming out of the Labor Day holiday, even as rates increased to their highest level in the last few months,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s Chief Economist.  “Given the volatility in activity around the long weekend, it can be helpful to look at the change over a two week span: refinance applications are down 1.4% while purchase applications are up 2.1%.  Purchase volume continues to track almost ten percent behind last year’s levels.”

Contract interest rates

  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) rose 9 basis points -- from 4.27% to 4.36%, the highest level since June 2014, with points decreasing to 0.20 from  0.25 (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 to 4.24% from 4.15%, with points decreasing to 0.16 from 0.23 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans.  The effective rate increased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA was up 6 basis points to 4.03%, with points dropping to 0.05 from 0.08 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans.  The effective rate increased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs increased to 3.56% from 3.44%, with points decreasing to 0.25 from 0.28 (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 from 3.12% to 3.19%, with points decreasing to 0.29 from 0.45 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans.  The effective rate increased from last week.

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

More

Fiat 500L vehicles recalled

The driver's knee airbag may not deploy properly

Chrysler Group is recalling 25,483 model year 2014-2015 Fiat 500L vehicles manufactured March 3, 2012, to July 25, 2014. Irregularities in the folding pro...

Photo
Photo source: Fiat

Chrysler Group is recalling 25,483 model year 2014-2015 Fiat 500L vehicles manufactured March 3, 2012, to July 25, 2014.

Irregularities in the folding process during assembly of the driver's knee airbag may result in its improper deployment.  If the knee airbag does not deploy properly during a crash, there is an increased risk of driver injury.

Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will replace the driver's knee air bag, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in September 2014.

Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is P42.

More

Continental recalls variety of motorcycle tires

The tires may experience a separation between the tread, belt, and carcass

Continental Tire the Americas is recalling 8,070 ContiAttack SM, ContiSportAttack, ContiSportAttack2, ContiRaceAttack Comp. Soft, ContiRaceAttack Comp. Med...

Photo
Photo source: Continental Tire

Continental Tire the Americas is recalling 8,070 ContiAttack SM, ContiSportAttack, ContiSportAttack2, ContiRaceAttack Comp. Soft, ContiRaceAttack Comp. Medium, ContiRaceAttack Comp. Endurance, and ContiRoadAttack 2 GTW motorcyle tires, in sizes 120/70ZR17 and 120/70R17.

The tires may experience a separation between the tread, belt, and carcass resulting in a loss of tire inflation pressure, which could increase the risk of a motorcycle crash.

Continental will notify owners, and dealers will replace the subject tires with new tires, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

Owners may contact Continental customer service at 1-800-847-3349.

More

Gel Spice recalls Fresh Finds brand Ground Black Pepper

The pepper may be contaminated with Salmonella

Gel Spice Company of Bayonne, N.J., is recalling 16,443 cases of Fresh Finds-Ground Black Pepper in 3.53-oz. plastic jars The pepper may be contaminated w...

Photo
Photo source: FDA

Gel Spice Company of Bayonne, N.J., is recalling 16,443 cases of Fresh Finds-Ground Black Pepper in 3.53-oz. plastic jars.

The pepper may be contaminated with Salmonella.

There have been no reported illnesses related to this product to date.

The product was distributed via Big Lots Stores nationwide, with the exception of Alaska and Hawaii.

There are 16,443 cases of the recalled product sold in 3.53-oz.(100 g) plastic jars with Best By Dates of 6/30/17, 7/01/17, 7/02/17, 7/22/17, and 7/23/17 with the Fresh Finds brand label with UPC Code 4 11010 98290 1 is sold exclusively at Big Lots Stores, Inc. The Best By dates are printed on the neck of the bottle above the label.

Consumers who have the recalled product should dispose of it.

For further information, consumers may call  718-702-1532 Monday-Friday from 9-5 ET. 

More

Apple CEO denies collecting data on customers

Though he might be lying, in compliance with government gag orders

Apple's CEO Tim Cook gave a rare two-part televised interview (easily available online) to Charlie Rose this week, discussing everything from the company's...

Photo
Photo via PBS

Apple's CEO Tim Cook gave a rare two-part televised interview (easily available online) to Charlie Rose this week, discussing everything fromthe company's commitment to diversity “with a capital D” to its successful growth in the Chinese consumer market.

But, arguably, the most attention is being paid to Cook's statements regarding Apple's privacy policies.

The company got some bad publicity (to put it mildly) earlier this month, when hackers managed to steal the private photos of over 100 celebrities who'd thought their images were safely stored in the iCloud (or even safely deleted, in some instances).

But Cook assured Charlie Rose that the company is committed to privacy, and most assuredly is not in the business of collecting or selling people's personal information. AppleInsider put it this way:

Among the wide-ranging topics, Cook said Apple's business is not based on gathering consumer information, as with other companies like Google, but selling products like the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.

"Our business is not based on having information about you. You're not our product," Cook said, adding, "Our product are these, and this watch, and Macs and so forth. And so we run a very different company. I think everyone has to ask, how do companies make their money? Follow the money. And if they're making money mainly by collecting gobs of personal data, I think you have a right to be worried."

Cook also discussed heavier topics, including the mass, warrantless, U.S. government surveillance of its citizens, and other revelations exposed by former NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, saying that he doesn't think the government has struck the right balance between security concerns on the one hand, and individual privacy and civil-liberty concerns on the other:

"I don’t think that the country, or the government’s found the right balance. I think they erred too much on the collect everything side. And I think the [U.S.] president and the [Obama] administration is committed to kind of moving that pendulum back.
However, you don’t want... it’s probably not right to not do anything. And so I think it’s a careful line to walk. You want to make sure you’re protecting American people. But... there’s no reason to collect information on you. But people are 99.99 percent of other people."

Gagged?

For Apple users who are not reassured by Cook's pro-privacy statements, bear in mind: it's possible that Cook and other Apple executives are legally forbidden to say anything more. Consider: last December, when news broke that the NSA allegedly has complete (secret) access to people's iPhones and any data therein, Apple executives indignantly denied all claims of helping NSA spy on its customers.

Maybe they were telling the truth — or maybe they were being forced to lie about what they were doing. That's exactly what happened to Yahoo, after all: just last week, news broke that in 2008, the government ordered Yahoo to turn over massive amounts of confidential data on its users, and if Yahoo didn't comply, the company would initially be fined $250,000 per day, with the  amount set to double every week: $500,000 per day for the second week, a million a day for the third, then two million, then four million …. why are Americans in late-2014 only now learning about a surveillance program dating back seven years? Because until last week, the government would not allow Yahoo to inform anybody about its spying-on-government-orders activities.

Not that Yahoo is the only company forced to operate under a gag order. Last May, Apple made headlines (alongside other tech companies including Facebook, Microsoft and Google), for its courtroom attempts to fight various government-imposed “gag orders” about its legally mandated spying activities.

Nothing's happened yet, though, so if Apple or other companies are collecting your data, well, they're pretty much obligated to lie to you about it, on pain of incurring the full wrath of the U.S. government. Bear in mind that on Sept. 12, a federal spy court renewed the program granting the NSA the right to collect all Americans' electronic "metadata" without any warrants.

More

Feds sue Corinthian Colleges for predatory lending

The for-profit chain of colleges could be forced to pay $500 million in restitution

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is suing for-profit Corinthian Colleges, Inc. for what it calls an illegal predatory lending scheme....

Photo
Photo via Wikipedia
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is suing for-profit Corinthian Colleges, Inc. for what it calls an illegal predatory lending scheme.

The CFPB alleges that Corinthian lured tens of thousands of students to take out private loans to cover expensive tuition costs by advertising bogus job prospects and career services. Corinthian then used illegal debt collection tactics to strong-arm students into paying back those loans while still in school.

The Bureau is seeking to halt these practices and is asking the court to grant relief to the students who collectively have taken out more than $500 million in private student loans.

Consumers rate Everest Institute
“For too many students, Corinthian has turned the American dream of higher education into an ongoing nightmare of debt and despair,” said CFPB Director Richard Corday. “We believe Corinthian lured consumers into predatory loans by lying about their future job prospects, and then used illegal debt collection tactics to strong-arm students at school. We want to put an end to these predatory practices and get relief for the students who are bearing the weight of more than half a billion dollars in Corinthian’s private student loans.”

Corinthian is one of the largest for-profit college chains in the country. It has more than 100 school campuses across the country, operating schools under the names Everest, Heald, and WyoTech. As of last March, the company had approximately 74,000 students.

In June, the U.S. Department of Education delayed Corinthian’s access to federal student aid dollars because of reports of malfeasance. Since then, Corinthian has been scaling down its operations as part of an agreement with the Department of Education. However, Corinthian continues to enroll new students.

Lured by lies

PhotoThe lawsuit charges that Corinthian schools used misleading claims to lure students, including:

· Sham job placement rates: The CFPB alleges that Corinthian’s school representatives led students to think that when they graduated they were likely to land good jobs and sufficient salaries to repay their private student loans. But the CFPB believes that Corinthian inflated the job placement rates at its schools. Based on its investigation, the CFPB alleges that this included creating fictitious employers and reporting students as being placed at those fake employers.

· One-day long “career”: According to the CFPB’s investigation, Corinthian schools told students they would have promising career options with an Everest, Heald, or WyoTech degree. But Corinthian counted a “career” as a job that merely lasted one day, with the promise of a second day.

· Pay for placement: The CFPB also alleges that the Corinthian schools further inflated advertised job placement rates by paying employers to temporarily hire graduates. The schools did not inform students about these payments or that these jobs were temporary.

· Craigslist career counseling: According to the CFPB’s investigation, the Corinthian schools promised students extensive and lasting career services that were not delivered. Students often had trouble contacting anyone in the career services office or getting any meaningful support. The limited career services included distributing generally available job postings from websites like Craigslist.

Predatory Loans

Tuition and fees for some Corinthian programs were more than five times the cost of similar programs at public colleges. In 2013, the Corinthian tuition and fees for an associate’s degree was $33,000 to $43,000. The tuition and fees for a bachelor’s degree at Corinthian cost $60,000 to $75,000.

The CFPB charges that Corinthian colleges deliberately inflated tuition prices to be higher than federal loan limits so that most students were forced to rely on additional sources of funding. The Corinthian schools then relied on deceptive statements regarding its education program to induce students into taking out its high-cost private student loans, known as “Genesis loans.”

Help for students

The CFPB is publishing a special notice for current and former Corinthian students to help them navigate their options in this time of uncertainty, including information on loan discharge options.

The CFPB estimates that there is approximately $1.2 trillion in outstanding student loan debt, with more than 7 million Americans in default on more than $100 billion in balances. Students and their families can find help on how to tackle their student debt on the CFPB's website.

More

Does your dog need a therapist?

Pet have issues too, you know

Your dog is acting a little weird. Maybe it needs therapy. This isn't just a Hollywood thing. With so many rescue dogs out there looking for homes many hav...

More

Blood pressure sending more people to the ER

Emergency visits to treat hypertension spiked 25% over 5 years

There are many reasons people go to a hospital emergency room and in recent years, spiking blood pressure has become a fairly common one....

PhotoThere are many reasons people go to a hospital emergency room and in recent years, spiking blood pressure has become a fairly common one.

Data presented at the American Heart Association's High Blood Pressure Research Scientific Sessions earlier this month showed the number of ER cases of essential hypertension, high blood pressure with no known cause, increased by 25% over a 5-year period.

That means a lot of people who suddenly discover their blood pressure is dangerously high are seeking immediate medical attention. Dr. Sourabh Aggarwal, M.D., Chief Resident in the Department of Internal Medicine at Western Michigan University School of Medicine in Kalamazoo, says there's a clear takeaway from this development.

What it shows

"This shows we are not doing a good job in controlling high blood pressure in the outpatient setting," she said. "We need better high blood pressure care in this setting."

When patients go to the ER for treatment of high blood pressure, they are less likely than in the past to be admitted. This may have to do with more effective treatments, including medications. Researchers reached their conclusion after collecting data on about 3.9 million ER visits from 2006 to 2011 in which high blood pressure was the first listed diagnosis.

The research does not show what specifically sent the people to the hospital but the American Heart Association recommends going to the ER if you have blood pressure above 180/110 mm Hg, which is considered a hypertensive crisis.

High blood pressure, often called a silent killer because it typically has no symptoms, affects 76.4 million U.S. adults. It's a major risk factor for stroke, heart attack and heart failure.

It's also on the increase, as more Americans are overweight and sedentary. While high blood pressure can have many causes, those 2 are among the most common.

Small weight gain

The American Heart Association event produced other significant new information about hypertension. Researchers said they found that gaining as little as 5 pounds can raise the blood pressure of otherwise healthy adults.

“To our knowledge, for the first time, we showed that the blood pressure increase was specifically related to increases in abdominal visceral fat, which is the fat inside the abdomen,” said Naima Covassin, Ph.D., the study’s lead author and a research fellow at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. “Our research suggests that healthy people who are more likely to gain weight in the stomach area are also more likely to have their blood pressure increased.”

The study found that test subjects who gained weight increased the systolic blood pressure by 4 points compared to test subjects who didn't gain weight. Where the weight was gained was also a factor.

People who added fat in the stomach area had the greatest increase in their blood pressure. While the small weight gain did increase blood pressure, it didn't have any effect on insulin or blood sugar levels.

“The public awareness of the adverse health effects of obesity is increasing; however, it seems most people are not aware of the risks of a few extra pounds,” Covassin said. “This is an important finding because a 5 to 7 pound weight gain may be normal for many during the holiday season, the first year of college or even while on vacation.”

And as you get older, it gets harder to shed pounds, even as few as 5. Better to avoid gaining it in the first place, if possible.

More

Does loyalty make you lucky? Some shoppers seem to think so

Consumer study discovers a loyalty-card version of the old "gamblers' fallacy"

A recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Research offers evidence for the unsurprising suggestion that the gambler's fallacy doesn't apply only...

Photo
© Gajus - Fotolia.com
A recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Research  offers evidence for the unsurprising suggestion that the gambler's fallacy doesn't apply only to gamblers: some shoppers are apparently prone to it too, although in their specific case the term “loyalty fallacy” might be a better fit.

What is the gambler's fallacy? It's also called the “Monte Carlo fallacy” or the “fallacy of the maturity of chances,” and it's the fallacy (more specifically, the misunderstanding of probability math) which makes gamblers think they're “on a roll” or “due for a payout” or something similar.

Here's the simplest example: suppose you flip a coin, and bet on whether it will come up heads or tails. Assuming it's a fair and honest coin (as opposed to some trick or weighted coin), any individual flip has a 50%, or 1 in 2, chance of coming up either heads or tails. And if you flip the coin 100 times in a row, recording heads or tails each time, you'll most likely end up with approximately 50 showings of each.

Unpredictable series

That said: it's almost certain those hundred coin flips won't result in a predictable, repeated heads/tails/heads/tails pattern. Instead, you'd see periods where the coin came up heads several times in a row, interspersed with times where tails repeated itself, and periods where heads and tails clearly appeared purely at random.

So if you're flipping this coin, or betting on its outcome, it might be tempting to think “This coin has come up heads the last five times — that means it'll probably come up heads next time, too! It's on a streak!” Or you might think the exact opposite: “It's come up heads five times in a row — that means it's due to show tails on the next flip.”

But both arguments are incorrect. Fact is (again, assuming an honest coin flipped by an honest person), that coin still has exactly a 50% chance each of coming up heads or tails, regardless of which side appeared in the last five flips.

With that in mind, consider the December 2014 edition of the Journal of Consumer Research, which published a study called “Lucky Loyalty: The Effect of Consumer Effort on Predictions of Randomly Determined Marketing Outcomes.”  

According to the abstract,

This research explores how loyal customers, those who have invested relatively high amounts of effort with a firm in the form of past purchases, respond to randomly determined marketing outcomes (e.g., winning a prize in a random drawing). Across five studies, participants exhibit a “lucky loyalty” effect, in which they believe that greater effort (e.g., dollars spent at a retailer or number of nights stayed at a hotel) results in greater likelihood of obtaining randomly determined promotional outcomes. Loyal customers report these higher subjective likelihoods for randomly determined outcomes because they feel they deserve special treatment from the firm. Theoretically, this work demonstrates that individuals appear to believe that they can earn “unearnable” outcomes through effort, even when the effort and outcome are unrelated.

Loyalty rewarded?

In other words: when a store, hotel chain or any other business holds a random contest promotion – such as “Fill out this card for a random drawing, with a winner to be picked later,” customers who routinely patronize that business think they have better-than-random odds of winning, because they deserve it as a customer-loyalty reward.

Such contests are not to be confused with actual loyalty-reward programs – if, for example, your supermarket offers you a money-off coupon for every $100 you spend at that supermarket, you do indeed “deserve” such a coupon for every $100 you spend. The study does make mention of these loyalty programs, in the context of explaining how customers who participate in such programs, where rewards are indeed passed out according to “loyalty” (as measured by how much you spend, or other factors), often become more likely to think they'll win other, random, promotions where loyalty or customer history does not actually play a role:

A variety of companies, from hotels and airlines to different types of retailers (e.g., Macy’s, CVS, Kroger), have loyalty programs that offer customers discounts and other rewards in exchange for repeat business In this research, we conceptualize loyalty as effort in the form of a customer’s past purchases with a firm, and we explore how customers who have invested more effort with a given firm (e.g., spent more money on a particular retail outlet’s credit card, stayed more nights at a particular hotel chain’s properties, etc.) respond differently to that firm’s promotions compared to consumers who have invested little or no effort with the firm. Specifically, we address differences with respect to promotions involving a random element …. customers who have been more loyal to a firm believe they are more likely to receive randomly-determined promotional outcomes from the firm (i.e., that they are “luckier”) compared to customers who have put in little to no effort with the firm in the form of past purchases ….

This attitude is not identical to the gamblers' fallacy belief that they're “on a streak” or “due” for a certain outcome, but it definitely has something in common with it: the erroneous belief that past activity has any bearing on future outcomes.

The study's authors were Rebecca Walker Reczek and Christopher A. Summers from Ohio State University, and Kelly L. Haws from Vanderbilt University. (Despite the December label on the issue, the actual study was published online on Aug. 22. It's available as a .pdf file here).

More

Gardening during a drought

It can be done but it takes planning and patience

In drought-stricken areas like California you have to wonder how can you grow backyard veggies if there are water restrictions....

Photo
© Dusan Kostic, Fotolia.com
In drought-stricken areas like California you have to wonder how can you grow backyard veggies if there are water restrictions.

The answer is simple. Just don't shower, if you do, or take shorter showers. Most of us might have to think about that but Mark Van Horn, director of the Student Farm at UC-Davis says he would rather skimp on a shower then not water his tomato plants.

He says the key is to water your backyard plots as carefully as possible. Water-smart gardens are well planned out. Before you start digging, remember that deep-rooted plants tend to need less water so try things like native beans, tomatoes, melons, squash and asparagus over things like cabbage.

Also, think about how many you will really eat. If you plant excess, you're a water waster.

Compost & mulch

You will want to add compost to your soil as well as mulch. Having your garden beds be composed of at least 2% of compost will help your soil retain a great deal more water. Mulch greatly reduces water loss from evaporation, cutting your irrigation needs by as much as 50%, so smother that soil with a layer of grass clippings, leaves, shredded bark, newspaper or straw.

Remember how your kids used to get growing pains at night? Thats where the big sprouts happen -- at night, so water in the evening. If you water in the morning or midday it will just evaporate.

Squeeze your plants as close together as possible. If you plant them closer you won't need as much water. It also creates a shade over the soil which will help prevent evaporation.

If you really are resourceful you can save the water from that shower you take once a week, or whatever, and reuse it to water your garden. It's called grey water, for obvious reasons. Also rainwater -- if it does ever rain place a few buckets outside and save it.

One type of water you should not save is roof water. It's supposedly not fit for watering edibles.

There are many more ideas on how to grow in a drought a great place for help would be your local cooperative extension to learn more.

More

Walmart overcharged New York customers for Coca-Cola products

The giant retailer has agreed to settle false advertising claims and clean up its act

Saying one thing and doing another may be common but it's illegal when it involves advertising, as Walmart stores in New York State have learned. ...

PhotoSaying one thing and doing another may be common but it's illegal when it involves advertising, as Walmart stores in New York State have learned. 

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that Walmart has agreed to settle charges that it advertised a nationwide sale of Coca-Cola soft drinks but charged customers in 117 stores across New York State more than the advertised sale price.

In a statement, Walmart apologized and said it was working to prevent similar incidents in the future. 

"We strive for accuracy, and we are further enhancing our procedures to help ensure proper promotional pricing. We apologize for any inconvenience to our customers. They can rest assured that Walmart is committed to delivering the products they need at everyday low prices," Walmart said.   

In June 2014, Walmart launched a Father’s Day sale, including advertising 12-packs of Coca-Cola products for $3.00. However, when consumers in New York State attempted to purchase the sale items, customers were routinely charged $3.50.

According to Schneiderman, in one Buffalo-area Walmart store a consumer brought the error to the attention of staff and was told that the newspaper circular was a national ad and that it did not apply in New York.

When consumers complained about being charged more than the advertised price, Walmart staff falsely told them that New York has a "Sugar Tax."

One set of rules

“There has to be one set of rules for everyone, no matter how rich or how powerful, and that is why our office must ensure that even the largest corporations cannot advertise one price and then charge a higher one to New Yorkers,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. 

Schneiderman said consumers were routinely overcharged in stores across the state. It was determined that cash registers were programmed to not recognize the advertised sale price. On June 12, 2014, the Attorney General’s Office requested that Walmart immediately adjust prices to the amount advertised and the chain complied.

More

College tax credits available for 2014 and years ahead

You may be able to save some money on your tax bill

It's only September, so filing your 2014 federal income tax return is probably way down on your list of things to think about. But, with another school ye...

Photo
© almagami - Fotolia.com

It's only September, so filing your 2014 federal income tax return is probably way down on your list of things to think about.

But, with another school year now underway it's not too early to see if you qualify for either of 2 college tax credits or any of several other education-related tax benefits.

The American opportunity tax credit and lifetime learning credit are generally available to taxpayers who pay qualifying expenses for an eligible student. Eligible students include the taxpayer and his or her spouse and dependents.

The American opportunity tax credit provides a credit for each eligible student, while the lifetime learning credit provides a maximum credit per tax return. Though a taxpayer often qualifies for both credits, he or she can only claim one of them for a particular student in a particular year. Claimed on Form 8863, these credits are available to all taxpayers -- both those who itemize their deductions on Schedule A and those who claim a standard deduction.

The right option

For those eligible -- including most undergraduate students, the American opportunity tax credit will generally yield the greater tax savings. Alternatively, the lifetime learning credit should be considered by part-time students and those attending graduate school.

Both credits are available for students enrolled in an eligible college, university or vocational school -- including both nonprofit and for-profit institutions. Neither credit can be claimed by a nonresident alien, a married person filing a separate return or someone claimed as a dependent on another person’s return.

Normally, students will receive a Form 1098-T from their institution by the end of January of the following year (Jan. 31, 2015 for calendar year 2014). This form will show information about tuition paid or billed along with other information.

However, amounts shown on this form may differ from amounts taxpayers are eligible to claim for these tax credits. Taxpayers should see the instructions to Form 8863 and Publication 970 for details on properly figuring allowable tax benefits.

American opportunity tax credit

Many of those eligible for the American opportunity tax credit qualify for the maximum annual credit of $2,500 per student. Students can claim this credit for qualified educational expenses paid during the entire tax year for a certain number of years:

  • The credit is only available for 4 tax years per eligible student.
  • The credit is available only if the student has not completed the first 4 years of post-secondary education before 2014.

Here are some more key features of the credit:

  • Qualified education expenses are amounts paid for tuition, fees and other related expenses for an eligible student. Other expenses, such as room and board, are not qualified expenses.
  • The credit equals 100% of the first $2,000 spent and 25% of the next $2,000. That means the full $2,500 credit may be available to a taxpayer who pays $4,000 or more in qualified expenses for an eligible student.
  • The full credit can only be claimed by taxpayers whose modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is $80,000 or less. For married couples filing a joint return, the limit is $160,000. The credit is phased out for taxpayers with incomes above these levels. No credit can be claimed by joint filers whose MAGI is $180,000 or more and singles, heads of household and some widows and widowers whose MAGI is $90,000 or more.
  • Forty percent of the American opportunity tax credit is refundable. This means that even people who owe no tax can get an annual payment of up to $1,000 for each eligible student.

Lifetime learning credit

The lifetime learning credit of up to $2,000 per tax return is available for both graduate and undergraduate students. Unlike the American opportunity tax credit, the limit on the lifetime learning credit applies to each tax return, rather than to each student. Also, the lifetime learning credit does not provide a benefit to people who owe no tax.

Though the half-time student requirement does not apply to the lifetime learning credit, the course of study must be either part of a post-secondary degree program or taken by the student to maintain or improve job skills. Other features of the credit include:

Tuition and fees required for enrollment or attendance qualify as do other fees required for the course. Additional expenses do not.

The credit equals 20 percent of the amount spent on eligible expenses across all students on the return. That means the full $2,000 credit is only available to a taxpayer who pays $10,000 or more in qualifying tuition and fees and has sufficient tax liability.

Income limits are lower than under the American opportunity tax credit. For 2014, the full credit can be claimed by taxpayers whose MAGI is $54,000 or less. For married couples filing a joint return, the limit is $108,000. The credit is phased out for taxpayers with incomes above these levels. No credit can be claimed by joint filers whose MAGI is $128,000 or more and singles, heads of household and some widows and widowers whose MAGI is $64,000 or more.

Taxpayer help

You can use the IRS’s Interactive Tax Assistant tool to help determine if you are eligible for these benefits. Eligible parents and students can get the benefit of these credits during the year by having less tax taken out of their paychecks. They can do this by filling out a new Form W-4, claiming additional withholding allowances, and giving it to their employer.

There are a variety of other education-related tax benefits that can help many taxpayers. They include:

  • Scholarship and fellowship grants — generally tax-free if used to pay for tuition, required enrollment fees, books and other course materials, but taxable if used for room, board, research, travel or other expenses.
  • Student loan interest deduction of up to $2,500 per year.
  • Savings bonds used to pay for college — though income limits apply, interest is usually tax-free if bonds were purchased after 1989 by a taxpayer who, at time of purchase, was at least 24 years old.
  • Qualified tuition programs, also called 529 plans, used by many families to prepay or save for a child’s college education.

Taxpayers with qualifying children who are students up to age 24 may be able to claim a dependent exemption and the earned income tax credit.

More

A bump to higher ground for consumer spending

An improving labor market may have consumers feeling more confident

In what may be a sign of better things to come, the Deloitte Consumer Spending Index (Index) picked up in August. The Index tracks consumer cash flow as an...

Photo
© intheskies - Fotolia.com

In what may be a sign of better things to come, the Deloitte Consumer Spending Index (Index) picked up in August. The Index tracks consumer cash flow as an indicator of future consumer spending.

“A notable decrease in initial unemployment insurance claims helped push the Index up,” said Deloitte Senior U.S. Economist Daniel Bachman. “An improving labor market can be a boon to consumer confidence. If these trends continue, there is a strong likelihood that we could see an acceleration of economic growth in the latter part of the year.”

The Index, which ecompasses 4 components -- tax burden, initial unemployment claims, real wages and real home prices -- increased to 3.96 this month from 3.70 last month.

“The uptick in the Index suggests optimism as retailers anticipate the all important holiday shopping season,” said Alison Paul, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP and retail and distribution sector leader. “These economic fundamentals along with lower gas prices may encourage consumers to pick up their spending in the months ahead.”

Retailers, Paul said, should take a closer look at inventory with this optimism in mind to get an early read on what’s hot -- both in store and online, in case they need to pull some last minute levers to replenish merchandise. “Retailers should also assess their cyber security levels as attackers may be especially motivated to be more aggressive during peak periods like the holiday season,” Paul continued, adding, “retailers will not only need to be vigilant about suspicious activity, but prepared to quickly address and recover from any incidents.”

Index highlights

  • Tax burden: The tax rate continues a steady hold at 11.7%, showing a marginal increase from the prior month.
  • Initial unemployment claims: Claims decreased notably to 296,000, and furthermore were down 10.5% from the same period last year.
  • Real Wages: Real hourly wages increased slightly to $8.80 and were up a slight 0.3% up from the same period last year.
  • Real median new home price: New home prices continue to fluctuate as they fell 3.% from the prior month -- to $113,000.
More

Alleged hazardous materials violations could draw FAA fines

The civil penalties range as high as $65,000

Three companies accused of violating Hazardous Materials Regulations are facing civil penalties ranging from $54,000 to $65,000. In each case, the Federa...

PhotoThree companies accused of violating Hazardous Materials Regulations are facing civil penalties ranging from $54,000 to $65,000.

In each case, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) alleges packages that were shipped were not declared to contain hazardous materials and the materials offered were not properly classed, described, packaged, marked, labeled and in proper condition for shipment under the Hazardous Materials Regulations.

The cases are as follows:

FedEx

$65,000 against FedEx Corp. of Memphis, Tenn. The FAA contends that on Jan. 10, 2014, a FedEx employee in Austin, Texas, improperly accepted a cardboard box containing two one-gallon cans of Tuffy Fast Dry F.F. Blue Paint for shipment aboard a FedEx aircraft. The shipment was destined for Fort Smith, Ark. One of the cans leaked during transit.

According to Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations, paint is considered to be a hazardous material. The FAA alleges the FedEx employee who accepted the shipment failed to inspect the package as required by regulations.

FedEx is scheduled to meet with the FAA in late October to discuss the case.

Linvin

$57,600 against Linvin, LLC, of Austin, Texas. The FAA alleges that on April 5, 2014, a Linvin employee offered an undeclared shipment containing a one-quart container of denatured alcohol and a 15.5-ounce aerosol can of dust-removing spray in checked baggage to American Airlines for transport from Chicago O’Hare International Airport to Austin Bergstrom International Airport in Texas.

Under DOT regulations, denatured alcohol is considered to be a flammable liquid and dust-removing spray is considered to be a flammable aerosol. The Transportation Security Administration discovered the hazardous material.

Linvin has requested a meeting with the FAA to discuss the case.

Allied Technology Group

$54,000 against Allied Technology Group of Rockville, Md. The FAA alleges that on Jan. 21, 2014, Allied Technology offered a fiberboard box containing a 14.5-ounce can of electrical coating to Southwest Airlines for shipment from Amarillo, Texas, to Las Vegas, Nev.

According to federal regulations, electrical coating is considered to be a flammable liquid. The shipment was discovered during baggage sorting operations at Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport.

Allied Technology has requested to meet with the FAA to discuss the case.

More

IKEA recalls children’s swings

The suspension fittings can break causing a child to fall from the swing

IKEA North America Services of Conshohocken, Pa., is recalling about 2,300 GUNGGUNG children’s swings in the U.S. and Canada. The suspension fittings can ...

Photo
Photo source: CPSC

IKEA North America Services of Conshohocken, Pa., is recalling about 2,300 GUNGGUNG children’s swings in the U.S. and Canada.

The suspension fittings can break causing a child to fall from the swing, posing a risk of serious injury.

There have been four reports worldwide including one in Germany, two in Austria and one in Canada of the suspension fittings breaking in use. In one incident a child fell and sustained a fractured leg. No incidents have been reported in the US.

This recall involves the IKEA GUNGGUNG Swing. GUNGGUNG is intended for indoor and outdoor use by children ages 3-7. It is made of green polyester fabric and hangs from a plastic suspension fitting attached to steel hooks. The full length of the suspension strap, including the sling seat, is 17 feet and the width of the seat is 0.8 feet.

A permanent label is attached to one of the suspension straps, showing age recommendation (3-7), IKEA logo, Design and Quality IKEA of Sweden, GUNGGUNG article number 302.439.74, supplier number 17915 and Made in Vietnam.

The swings, manufactured in Vietnam, were sold exclusively at IKEA stores nationwide and online at www.ikea-usa.com in August 2014 for $20.

Consumers should immediately take down the swing to prevent use by children and return it to any IKEA store for a full refund. Proof of purchase is not required to receive a full refund for the return.

Consumers may contact IKEA toll-free at (888) 966-4532 anytime.

More

Taylor Farms Pacific recalls Roma tomatoes

The tomatoes may be contaminated with Salmonella

Taylor Farms Pacific of Tracy, Calif., is recalling specific lots of “Expo Fresh” Roma tomatoes. The tomatoes may be contaminated with Salmonella. No ill...

Photo
Photo source: FDA

Taylor Farms Pacific of Tracy, Calif., is recalling specific lots of “Expo Fresh” Roma tomatoes.

The tomatoes may be contaminated with Salmonella.

No illnesses have been reported.

The tomatoes were used in the following products made by Taylor Farms Pacific for Costco and Safeway. Only the specific “use by” and “packed on” codes are affected.

Costco

Tomatoes Roma Whole 1/25# (packed on 9/5 & 9/6 only)

Shipped to Costco B2B Locations in:

  • Hawthorne, Calif.
  • Los Angeles, Calif.
  • Las Vegas, Nev.
  • Lynwood, Wash.
  • Tacoma, Wash.

Safeway

Sicilian Vegetable Salad Kit- (use by 9/20 & 9/21 only)

Shipped to:

  • Vons El Monte, Calif.
  • Safeway Warehouse, Tracy Calif.
  • Safeway Warehouse ,Tempe Ariz.

The product was sold as “Sicilian Vegetable Salad” at deli counters in Safeway, Vons and Pavilions stores in California, Nevada, and Arizona.

These products should not be eaten. Customers may return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.

Consumers with questions may contact Taylor Farms Pacific at 209-835-6300 ext 186 between 8am - 5pm PST, Monday through Friday.

More

Recent floods should make car buyers extra cautious

Consumers should expect to see more flood-damaged cars on the used car market

Earlier this month normally arid Arizona experienced record-setting rainfall, triggering flash floods and claiming at least two lives. Lately, it seems, ra...

Photo
© Lulu Berlu - Fotolia.com

Earlier this month normally arid Arizona experienced record-setting rainfall, triggering flash floodsand claiming at least two lives. Lately, it seems, rain has been falling with a vengeance.

In August, heavy rains caused widespread flooding in metro Detroit. The rising water caused extensive property damage.

At the same time over a foot of rainfall caused flooding in parts of Long Island, N.Y. The town of Islip set a new 24-hour rainfall record for the state.

When flooding occurs anywhere in the U.S., it can pose a threat to used car buyers. Because among the damage caused by the rushing flood waters are flooded cars that get dried out, cleaned up, and sold to unsuspecting buyers.

Avoiding a flooded car

With the recent rash of flooding all across the country, it would seem used car buyers face an increased risk of unknowingly buying one.

How can consumers avoid buying a car that has been salvaged from a flood? Alec Gutierrez, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book, says it starts with pulling a vehicle history report on any car or truck you are thinking about buying.

“While this is somewhat of a no-brainer, it will really only help when a previous owner has actually gone through their insurance company to report that their vehicle has been damaged in a flood,” he told ConsumerAffairs.

If you are in an area recently impacted by a flood you know you must be on guard against being stuck with a car that's been underwater. But even if your area has been high and dry for months, be aware that unscrupulous dealers can import these vehicles from hundreds of miles away.

What to look for

For that reason Gutierrez says just about any inspection of a used car should look for telltale signs. Start by checking the car's electronics – things like lights on the dash and the radio – to make sure everything is working properly.

If a car has been submerged, the water will probably leave a mark. It might have been removed from the interior but look for traces of a line in the trunk.

Look for signs of moisture in places where a detailer may have trouble reaching, like under the seats.

Finally, give it the smell test. If the car's interior or trunk area has a musty or moldy smell, it's a bad sign.

“While this isn’t a perfect method, it should help to spot the obvious indicators of previous flood damage,” Gutierrez said.

Damage

Submerging an automobile in water, even for a short time, can cause extensive damage. Water can affect electrical and computer systems, leading to serious safety issues. For example, it can make airbags and anti-lock brakes unreliable.

The sad fact is that flooded vehicles make their way out of the flooded area and onto the lots of unscrupulous dealers all the time. According to Carfax, the number of cars damaged in floods gets larger every year.

Texas leads the nation with more than 30,000 flood-damaged cars. New Jersey is second with 28,600 and Pennsylvania is third at 13,160.

Reputable dealers tend to do a pretty good job of screening flooded cars. You mostly find them in the classifieds and on lots of small, fly-by-night dealers.

It isn't against the law to sell a flood damaged car – only to hide the fact. A car that has been “totaled” by an insurance company can still be sold, but only with a “salvage” title.

More

19 death claims approved in GM ignition-switch program

Lack of documentation slowing approval of many claims

A program to compensate victims of General Motors' defective ignition switches has approved claims for 19 deaths out of about 125 death claims submitted so...

PhotoA program to compensate victims of General Motors' defective ignition switches has approved claims for 19 deaths out of about 125 death claims submitted so far.

Payment amounts have not yet been set for the accepted claims, which also include four claims of catastrophic injury, Automotive News reported.

Consumers rate Saturn Ion - Ignition Lock
GM has previously said it knew of only 13 deaths attributed to the defective switches, which caused the engine to shut down unexpectedly, leaving air bags inoperable and shutting down power assists for streering and brakes.

About 29 million cars, including many Chevrolet Cobalts and Saturn Ions, were recalled because of the problem and GM CEO Mary Barra said last week that the recall effort was "largely complete."

Recall rumblings

Many consumers, however, have said that they own one of the recalled models but have never been notified by GM or their dealer. Others say the recall was performed but their cars continue to lose power unexpectedly.

Cynthia of Oceanside, N.Y., said she had experienced numerous instances of the engine shutting down in her 2007 Saturn Ion prior to the recall and had hoped the problems would stop after the ignition switch was replaced.

"My car was repaired under the ... recall, I picked it up from the dealership yesterday evening (May 1). This morning I was driving with my kids in the car, when the same exact issue happened. All power in the car stopped, I was almost sideswiped and rear ended," Cynthia said in a ConsumerAffairs review, one of more than 500 dealing with Saturn ignition issues. "I am at the end of my rope. I fear for my life and for my children's lives."

Chevy Cobalt  Sept. 15, 2014, 4:28 p.m.
Consumers rate Chevy Cobalt
Joe of Homer Glen, Ill., is among those who have complained that, although they believe their cars were included in the recall, the repairs have not been made. 

"I did not receive a recall notice as of April and when I called the dealer they could care less," said Joe, who said he has been a GM customer since 1979. "Attempted to contact customer care and it is like dealing with the government. I guess that is expected with the bail-out. Good riddance to the General."

125 death claims 

The victim compensation effort is being overseen by attorney and victim compensation expert Kenneth Feingold, who ran a similar program for victims of the 9/11 terrorist attack.

The 19 approved claims are a small percentage of the 125 death claims submitted so far. A Feinberg aide said the process has been slowed by lack of documentation in many cases.

Lawyers have complained that documentation is often difficult to produce since many of the accidents happened years ago, before GM admitted the switches were defective. In most cases, the cars involved have been destroyed and other vital evidence may also have been lost. 

Claims are being accepted through the end of the year. GM has set aside $400 to $600 million to pay claims but has said more money will be made available if needed.

More

Yahoo plans a Gmail-style scanning scheme

Advertise new apps based on previous purchases

Once again, Yahoo has decided to “improve” its email system by taking some of the least-popular features of Google's Gmail and adopting them for itself....

Photo
Yahoo email
Once again, Yahoo has decided to “improve” its email system by taking some of the least-popular features of Google's Gmail and adopting them for itself.

Last October, you may recall, Yahoo Mail underwent a complete revision that basically turned it into a Gmail knockoff, emphasizing Gmail's most annoying (from a customer's perspective) traits: if different emails have the same subject heading, don't keep them separate; combine them all into a single unbreakable thread! And for Zod's sake, do not let customers organize individual emails into different folders as they see fit; replace that with a modern, streamlined, one-size-fits-all approach.

(The new, improved Gmail-knockoff Yahoo email was so bad, even Yahoo's own employees didn't want to use it. Yahoo executives responded by releasing an internal memo that basically insulted all the employees who were too hidebound or narrow-minded to appreciate the wonderful awesomeness of the new Gmail-knockoff Yahoo email.)

Content-scanning

But that was almost a year ago. Now Yahoo has decided to adopt another unpopular Gmail feature: content-scanning, specifically to promote various apps.

If you use Yahoo Email to buy apps, whether from Apple or Google, Yahoo knows about it already, since Apple and Google both emailed you a receipt. So it's no surprise that Yahoo intends to start scanning to contents of those app-receipt emails, and plans to suggest you make new app purchases based on previous ones.

Not that Yahoo is in any way unique; almost every website and Internet-based service funded by advertising uses targeted advertising to do it. You already see targeted ads on Amazon (“If you bought this book, you might like that book too”). Google ads (in Gmail and on blogs and websites) focus on target words and have for years.

Twitter and Facebook both advertise targeted apps, too. (Facebook's app advertising, based on previous app purchases, is presumably more lucrative than its standard keyword advertising, which pushes ads and recommended links based on words you typed with no consideration of context: if you post or “like” a statement such as “I think Congressman Dungheap is the most incompetent and awful politician in American history,” there's a strong chance Facebook's ads will suggest you “Like” Dungheap's public page or donate to Dungheap's re-election campaign.)

The fact that Yahoo is trying another way to make money off its free-to-end-user email shouldn't surprise anyone familiar with the old (by Internet standards) maxim: “If you're not paying anything, you're not the customer; you're what they're selling.”

More

Too busy to be a parent to your kids? Outsource it!

Experts-for-hire are replacing Grandma in many families

Who's watching the kids? Good question. With so many dual wage-earner families and single-parent households and everyone overwhelmed by the demands of thei...

Photo
© Hunor Kristo - Fotolia.com

Who's watching the kids? Good question. With so many dual wage-earner families and single-parent households and everyone overwhelmed by the demands of their job -- or jobs -- many parents are outsourcing child-rearing.

It's not just a babysitter anymore -- it's such things as Booty Day Camp. Nope, this is not a fitness class for toddlers, it's potty training at its finest. Registered Nurse Wendy Sweeny, a Chicago mother of 6, created the Booty Camp potty training method and program.

It's no seat-of-the-pants operation. Sweeny has been in business for over 12 years, promoting her training method that is easily implemented in personal sessions with Sweeny or in the privacy of your own home with her DVD package. She also works with kids with special needs. You can find more information on her website

Then there's babyproofing. If you have had a toddler, you know what a task this is. Well, you can now hire someone to do that as well. For a fee, a babyproofer will come to your house and recommend the changes that are needed — from covering outlets to figuring out how to make a fireplace safe. You can find a pro in your area by going to the International Association for Child Safety's website

A baby planner will help moms-to-be sort out the must-haves from the don't-needs, plus plan showers and design nurseries. The price? About $50 to $150 an hour.

Perhaps you would like to get that thumb out of your child's mouth 

Chicago-based thumb-sucking guru Shari E. Green claims she can kick your kid’s habit in two sessions. Her fee includes travel expenses from Chicago and follow-up phone consultation. Total: $4,300

And those are just the beginning. There are many more -- from teaching your child to ride a bike to taking them fishing and even how to say "please" and "thank you." 

Protecting parenthood

At first glance, you might think all this outsourcing would make parents feel guilty. But according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, conducted by University of Wisconsin researchers Amber M. Epp and Sunaina R. Velagaleti, that's not the case.

By outsourcing traditional parental duties, modern-day parents feel they are ultimately protecting parenthood, they found.

"Parents seem to be ok turning to the marketplace for help as long as they still have a pulse on how care is given so they can still have the connection as a parent  and are valued as the primary caregiver. Achieving this balance helps parents maintain their feelings of responsibility, control, and intimacy," the researchers wrote.

When you take a deeper look at it, outsourcing has been going on for a while. Neighbors used to be the go-to person when you needed help to watch your kids and they even watched your kids when you didn't ask them to.

Many families had grandparents living with them. Grandma would always know what to do when things went awry, or if you needed parenting advice or help. Grandma usually offered her advice for free, but for many of today's parents, Grandma is also a role that needs to be outsourced, as today's Grandmas may still be working or may have retired and moved to Florida.

More

Facebook users: how likely are they to fall for scams?

A new research study looks into that question

Facebook scams have been around for as long as there's been Facebook, and in more varieties than you can count....

PhotoFacebook scams have been around for as long as there's been Facebook, and in more varieties than you can count.

This website's been warning readers about it for years: “Beware of Facebook gift card scams” headlined a story we published in April 2010.

A partial listing of scam-warning articles we ran the following year include “'Reporter has stroke on TV' turns into Facebook scam” (from February 2011), “Beware the 'Your Facebook password is not safe' scam” (April), “Today's Facebook scam: Bogus Google+ invitation” (July) and “Facebook scams snare victims with freebies” (November).

Granted, you might think “Well, back in 2010 and 2011 Facebook was still relatively new, and Facebook users were all relatively inexperienced, so it's understandable some of them would fall for scams. But now, everyone knows better than to fall for it, right?”

Not at all; the number of scams (and victims who fall for them) has only grown.

If you wonder who keeps falling for these scams (some of which are more obvious than others), you're not the only one.

Suckers for scams?

Rsearchers studied the question and published the results in the latest issue of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication; though the publication's press release about it was titled “Habitual Facebook users: Suckers for social media scams?”, the actual article had the drier and more diplomatic title “Habitual Facebook use and its impact on getting deceived on social media.”

The study's abstract says:

There are a billion Facebook users worldwide with some individuals spending 8 hours each day on the platform. Limited research has, however, explored the consequences of such overuse. Even less research has examined the misuse of social media by criminals who are increasingly using social media to defraud individuals through phishing-type attacks. The current study focuses on Facebook habits and its determinants and the extent to which they ultimately influence individual susceptibility to social media phishing attacks. The results suggest that habitual Facebook use, founded on the individual frequently using Facebook, maintaining a large social network, and being deficient in their ability to regulate such behaviors, is the single biggest predictor of individual victimization in social media attacks.

In other words: not every Facebook user is likely to fall for scams, but those Facebook users who do repeatedly fall for scams tend to all share certain traits.

The study also mentions some potentially disturbing statistics:

Recently, bloggers who were scrutinizing Facebook's SEC filings prior to its initial public offering discovered that close to one in ten or approximately 100 million Facebook profile pages were duplicates or fake accounts (Cluley, 2012). Although Facebook declined to comment on the duplicate accounts, anecdotal evidence from news reports suggests that many of these accounts are being used for phishing-type attacks.

There's plenty of anecdotal evidence for that, including our own articles warning Facebook users against such practices as “like-farming” or “clickbait.”

Though the study also discusses another, more basic, Facebook scam proble: accepting “friend” requests from people you don't know. Once a scammer with a fake profile can convince you to “friend” that profile, your chances of falling for whatever clickbait or malware scam your dishonest new “friend” is promoting increases considerably.

More

Fall brings great weather for hiking -- and snakes

People can get bitten but dogs are the more frequent victims

The weather starts to cool a bit and you can't wait to start hiking with your dog again. But watch out for snakes. Snakes are most active in the spring, ea...

More

Marriott reminds guests to tip the housekeeper

Tip-the-housekeeper initiative in conjunction with women's non-profit

So you're checking out of the hotel or motel room where you've stayed for the past few days. Did you remember to leave a tip for the housekeeper?...

More

Mortgage lead generator settles FTC deception charges

Feds say claims of “free” refinancing and big savings didn't pan out

Turns out the ads that claimed consumers could refinance their mortgages for free were less than forthcoming. For that reason, an Internet-based operation...

Photo
© Michael Brown - Fotolia.com
Turns out the ads that claimed consumers could refinance their mortgages for free were less than forthcoming.

For that reason, an Internet-based operation that finds potential borrowers for mortgage refinancing lenders will pay a $500,000 civil penalty to settle Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charges that it deceived consumers.

“An ad that says you can refinance your mortgage for free is clearly deceptive if you have to pay money at some point before you sign on the dotted line,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Lead generators need to understand that federal laws governing truth in advertising apply to them as well as everybody else.”

According to the FTC , Colorado-based Intermundo Media, LLC -- using the name “Delta Prime Refinance” -- designed and distributed the deceptive refinancing ads as a part of its lead-generation service. The agency's complaint said the company ran these ads on Google, Microsoft, AOL, and Yahoo, as well as on its own websites. When consumers clicked on the ads, they were sent to a landing page where they provided contact information, which was ultimately passed on to providers of mortgage refinancing.

Claims were “deceptive”

Delta Prime Refinance made deceptive and unsupported claims in its ads that overstated how much consumers could reduce their payments if they refinanced their mortgages, how low their annual percentage rate would be, and how easy it would be for them to qualify for refinancing, according to the complaint.

Some ads falsely claimed there were no hidden fees, and that the mortgage refinancing was “free,” according to the FTC. Others claimed that fixed interest rates were available, when in fact the rates and the amount consumers spent on interest were variable.

The complaint charges Delta Prime Refinance with violating 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.

Settlement terms

Under the terms of the settlement -- in addition to paying the $500,000 civil penalty -- Intermundo Media is prohibited from:

  • misrepresenting the terms and conditions of any financial product or service, and any term or condition of a mortgage credit product;
  • disclosing, selling, or transferring the consumer data obtained through the Delta Prime Refinance lead generation service; and
  • violating the FTC Act; the MAP Rule and Regulation N; and the Truth in Lending Act and Regulation Z.
More

Chrysler is recalling 77,834 model year 2015 Chrysler 200s

A driver side door wiring harness could produce excessive heat

Chrysler Group is recalling 8 model year 2015 Chrysler 200 vehicles manufactured May 19, 2014, to June 21, 2014. The recalled vehicles may have been buil...

Photo
Photo source: Chrysler

Chrysler Group is recalling 8 model year 2015 Chrysler 200 vehicles manufactured May 19, 2014, to June 21, 2014.

The recalled vehicles may have been built with a driver side door wiring harness of an insufficient wire gauge, resulting in excessive heat which may melt the wiring insulation. The resulting electrical short, could increase the risk of a fire.

Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will replace the door wiring harness, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in September 2014.

Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is P43.

More

Toyota recalls FJ Cruisers and Tacomas

The tire placard may list tire size and/or inflation information

Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 20,000 model year 2008-2014 FJ Cruiser and Tacoma vehicles equipped with accessory wheels and tires i...

Photo
Photo source: Toyota

Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 20,000 model year 2008-2014 FJ Cruiser and Tacoma vehicles equipped with accessory wheels and tires installed by Toyota or dealers prior to the vehicle's first sale.

The affected vehicles may list incorrect spare tire size and/or cold tire inflation information on the tire placard. If the spare tire is inflated to the incorrect pressure provided on the placard, tire failure may occur while the vehicle is being driven on, increasing the risk of a crash.

Overlay stickers to correct the tire placard will either be mailed to owners of the recalled vehicles or provided to dealers for placement over the incorrect information on the placard. The recall is expected to begin in September 2014.

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

More

Jerky By Art recalls beef jerky products

The products contain wheat and anchovies, allergens not listed on the label

Jerky By Art of Albuquerque, N.M., is recalling an undetermined amount of beef jerky products. The products were produced without the benefit of inspectio...

Jerky By Art of Albuquerque, N.M., is recalling an undetermined amount of beef jerky products.

Photo
Photo source: USDA

The products were produced without the benefit of inspection, and contain wheat and anchovies, allergens not declared on the product label.

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

The products subject to recall are:

  • All vacuum-packed plastic bags of Claude’s Beef Jerky with Red Chile

The products, which contain the establishment number “EST. 34270” inside the USDA Mark of Inspection, were sold primarily over the Internet. Although packed mostly in 4-oz bags, they may also have been packed in bags of other sizes.

There are no identifying dates or codes on any packaging. Therefore, all products produced prior to September 12, 2014 are being recalled.

Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Arthur Sandoval at (505) 262-0240.

More

Interbay Food Company recalls pork sausage product

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

Interbay Food Company of Woodinville, Wash., is recalling approximately 4,820 pounds of pork Banger-style sausage products. The product contains milk, a ...

Photo
Photo source: USDA

Interbay Food Company of Woodinville, Wash., is recalling approximately 4,820 pounds of pork Banger-style sausage products.

The product contains milk, a known allergen, which is not declared on the products’ label.

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

The following products are being recalled:

  • 1-lb. (5 links per package) Refrigerated packages of “The British Pantry Ltd., British Style Bangers”
  • 1-lb. (16 links per package) Refrigerated packages of “The British Pantry Ltd., British Style Bangers”
  • 5-lb. Logs of “The British Pantry Ltd., British Style Bangers”

The products, cooked in a Redmond, Wash., restaurant and sold to the general public, were produced using bread crumbs that came from a vendor who listed wheat, soy and milk on the label. Although the label for the bangers listed wheat and soy, it did not list milk as an ingredient.

The products were produced on March 17, 2014, March 24, 2014, May 5, 2014, June 2, 2014, June 30, 2014, July 15, 2014, July 29, 2014, August 26, 2014 and September 8, 2014. The products’ package codes are also its production dates. The products bear the establishment number “Est. 6267” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and have a 6-month shelf life.

Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Robert Petschl at (206) 612-7559 or by email at rob.petschl@interbayfoods.com.

More

What's your daily calorie budget?

Not knowing makes it hard to control or lose weight

If America has two competing obsessions, it may be food and losing weight. But no matter what kind of food you eat, whether you lose or gain weight, in mos...

Photo
© paulojgon - Fotolia.com
If America has two competing obsessions, it may be food and losing weight. But no matter what kind of food you eat, whether you lose or gain weight, in most cases, comes down to how many calories you consume and burn on a daily basis.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) generally puts the average adults calorie budget at 2,000 calories. While that's a guideline, your actual calorie consumption may vary, depending on a variety of factors.

If you have a sedentary lifestyle, working at a desk 8 hours a day and going home for an evening of television watching, you might not burn 2,000 calories. If you have an active lifestyle, you might burn more.

Calculators

There are online calorie calculators, like this one from the American Cancer Society, that can help you find your calorie budget, but first you need to answer some questions.

At work do you sit in front of a computer all day or do you walk a lot? Do you have an intensely physical job, like construction worker or bicycle messenger?

What do you do when you get home at night? Are you in front of a screen or moving around, maybe going to a civic meeting or getting together with a community group several nights a week?

After finding out how many calories you burn each day, the next step is to choose food and drink that meet that amount, or if you need to lose weight, slightly less. That isn't always as easy to do.

Calorie awareness

The Department of Agriculture says you need to keep calorie awareness in mind when you decide what to eat or drink. For example, if your calorie limit is 1,800 calories per day, think about how those calories can be split up among meals, snacks, and beverages over the course of a day.

Your diet doesn't have to be rigid. If you eat a larger lunch one day, think about eating a smaller meal at dinner.

Be careful with snacks. That's where extra calories can quickly add up. A snack with 200 calories is usually a better option than another with 500 calories. Use your daily calorie limit to help you decide which foods and drinks to choose.

To learn how many calories are in the food and beverages you're consuming you usually have to rely on the nutrition label. Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health point out the nutrition labels' recommended servings are based on the 2,000 calorie limit, so if your budget is less than that, you have to adjust.

Translating the label

The key to translating nutrition labels and using them to make healthy food choices, researchers say, may be an understanding of this basic fact.

In a study, published online in Health Promotion Practice, the researchers surveyed 246 consumers eating in the Johns Hopkins Hospital cafeteria, measuring what they knew and didn't know about their calorie limits and how they impacted food choices.

At the beginning, 58% of participants didn't know about the 2,000 calorie value used to measure servings. But those who received weekly reminders, either by text or email, were twice as likely to understand the connection as those who received no weekly information.

“While daily energy needs vary, the 2,000 calorie value provides a general frame of reference that can make menu and product nutrition labels more meaningful,” said study leader Lawrence J. Cheskin. “When people know their calorie ‘budget’ for the day, they have context for making healthier meal and snack choices.”

The FDA has proposed new menu-labeling regulations that will soon require chain restaurants with 20 or more outlets to post calories on menus, menu boards, and drive-through displays. But how helpful is that really going to be, the researchers ask?

Cheskin says knowing that a triple bacon cheeseburger has 1,200 calories might not be helpful information unless you know that eating it will use more than half your allotted calories for the day.

More

New Jersey warning: Deep-discount designer websites often offer shoddy counterfeit goods

Memo to brides applies to all consumers

One of the many potential problems with online or mail-order shopping is that, obviously, you can't personally inspect the quality of an item before you bu...

Photo
Source: New Jersey Attorney General
One of the many potential problems with online or mail-order shopping is that, obviously, you can't personally inspect the quality of an item before you buy it; you must hope that the seller is honest, and not misrepresenting whatever is for sale.

That's one of the reasons sellers of shoddy and/or counterfeit goods find it easier to peddle their wares online than in brick-and-mortar stores. Another reason is that, from the perspective of a criminal hoping not to get caught, operating a hard-to-trace website, possibly from overseas, is much safer than working from a well-known, fixed location within U.S. jurisdiction.

Consider: this week, the New Jersey attorney general's office and Division of Consumer Affairs put out a press release warning consumers (specifically, brides-to-be) to “beware of websites offering poor-quality counterfeit dresses.”

No doubt, the attorney general would much prefer to announce “We've arrested and shut down all these counterfeit sellers; no need for consumers to worry.” Unfortunately, that isn't possible, so giving consuemrs the tools necessary to recognize a scam is doubly important.

When shopping for a wedding gown, consumers should be aware that what you see online may not even be close to what you get. With the arrival of the fall wedding season, the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs today reminds consumers to beware of websites that appear to offer genuine designer wedding dresses at low prices – but actually deliver poorly made counterfeits.

Last year, U.S. buyers purchased approximately 600,000 to 700,000 counterfeit dresses from overseas retailers who advertised them online, according [to] industry sources. Online consumer complaints reveal that a significant number of consumers were severely disappointed with dresses that did not match their online photos and descriptions, but instead were made with inferior fabric and sub-par workmanship.

Of course, the problem of counterfeit online merchandise isn't remotely limited to wedding gowns.

Ugg counterfeits

Last November, for example, we shared the story of a reader who found a website claiming to offer Ugg boots (and nothing but Ugg boots) for only half the regular retail price. Unsurprisingly, what she actually received was a pair of poorly made, counterfeit Ugg boots that weren't even the size or color she'd ordered.

The day after our story ran, the website went down, replaced by a legal notice saying that since it sold counterfeit Ugg products, Ugg's lawyers got a temporary court order transferring the domain name to them. Which might sound like a pro-consumer victory, except the website's actual operators were never caught or even identified, and probably opened a new website selling counterfeit Uggs within five minutes of Ugg's attorneys shutting down their previous one.

And in the near future, when the attorney general of New Jersey or some other state inevitably announces the arrest and prosecution (or at least shutdown) of various scammers in their jurisdiction, more scammers will arise to take their place. So you, as a savvy consumer, must always be on guard against these scams — and remember that when a bargain seems to good to be true, that's almost always because it is.

More

Is Verizon scheming to unbundle cable?

Telco says it's planning a "TV-like" service over the Internet

The telcos are headed for Hollywood again. Back in the 1990s, when Congress sort of deregulated telecommunications, AT&T, the Baby Bells and everybody else...

Photo
© charlesknoxphoto - Fotolia.com

The telcos are headed for Hollywood again. Back in the 1990s, when Congress sort of deregulated telecommunications, AT&T, the then-Baby Bells and everybody else who could generate a dial tone saw themselves replacing cable TV and over-the-air television.

Pasty East Coast telco executives bought gold Rolexes and headed West, setting up operations poolside at the Beverly Hilton. But things didn't quite work out as planned.

Verizon Wireless Sept. 12, 2014, 7:19 p.m.
Consumers rate Verizon Wireless

Cable, though nearly as unpopular as Congress, proved just as difficult to dislodge and cable companies even had the nerve to start offering telephone service themselves, setting off a decadelongs struggle that often seemed more like a merger contest than an epic battle for customers. It didn't help that the cable packages the telcos put together were indistiguinshable from the ones cable had lashed together earlier.   

Now that the players are merged down to a workable number -- AT&T and Verizon on the telco side, Comcast and, uh, Comcast on the cable side -- upstarts like Netflix and, for a little while, Aereo are proving disruptive, delivering movies and TV shows over the Internet. To make matters more confusing, just as the big guys have managed to get workable circuits into most American homes, consumers are abandoning not only cable TV but even their landline telephone.

What's a monopoly to do?

Well, AT&T is buying DirecTV and says it will be offering a vast menu of satellite video to urban dwellers and actual high-speed satellite broadband to rural dwellers.

Verizon, meanwhile, is plotting to offer what's being called a "TV-like service" over the Internet. Sony and Dish Network are doing the same, although the general wisdom is that they are seriously outgunned by Verizon.

AT&T Uverse Sept. 12, 2014, 7:19 p.m.
Consumers rate AT&T Uverse

Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam lifted the veil a bit this week at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference, saying the service will include "the Big 4 for sure" (meaning ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, presumably) as well as customized services from the likes of DreamWorks Animation.   

The selling point, apparently, is that the content will be at least somewhat unbundled. “No one wants to have 300 channels on your wireless. Everyone understands it will go to a la carte. The question is what does that transition look like,” McAdam said, according to Deadline.

Did he say wireless? Yes, he did. Verizon apparently sees this TV-like service as something that's delivered wirelessly to your smartphone, iPad, etc., which is thought to be how Millennials prefer to consume their content, while the old folks are hunkered down in the den fiddling with FiOS and staring at their giant-screen TVs.

Keep in mind that wireless today (unlike the bad old broadcast days) is two-way and Verizon is increasingly offering upload speeds that rival download speeds, which McAdam says will make it easy for consumers not only to assemble their own packages of downloaded content but also create and upload content they create themselves. Sort of like, you know, the Internet. 

It just could be that, soon, consumers will be able to put together their own bundles and pay only for what they want. While this is probably bad news for the hundreds of cable channels hardly anyone watches, it could turn out to be at least mildly good news for consumers.

Stay tuned.

More

Best Buy, Walmart, other retailers won't accept Apple Pay

Other mobile payment options are expected next year

The problem with introducing any new form of currency or payment system is finding buyers and sellers willing to accept it....

PhotoThe problem with introducing any new form of currency or payment system is finding buyers and sellers willing to accept it.

This week, when Apple unveiled its new iPhone6 and iWatch, one of the new features it particularly highlighted was the mobile pay option: instead of paying for things with a credit card, you could use your mobile device instead.

Problem is, how many businesses are willing to accept Apple Pay? In addition to Apple itself, the list of merchants accepting this option includes CVS, Walgreens, McDonald's, Bloomingdale's, Macy's and Whole Foods, among others. And credit-card companies and other financial institutions are happy to work with Apple Pay, too. Now, how many other merchants will climb on board?

The Wall Street Journal reports that Walmart and Best Buy will not be accepting Apple Pay. Instead, those stores are working with “a retailer-owned mobile technology group called Merchant Customer Exchange, which also counts Target Corp. among its members.” Other stores working with MCE include 7-Eleven, Southwest Airlines, Shell and the Gap.

In 2015, Merchant Customer Exchange is expected to release its own mobile-phone payment option, in the form of a downloadable app called CurrentC. Unlike Apple Pay, it will be usable on any Android or iPhone, not just the newest Apple products. Nor will it require specialized checkout scanners, as Apple Pay does.

One thing seems certain: the era of widespread mobile payment options will soon be here. The only question is, which technology company will be the first to dominate the market? 

More

GM recalls "substantially complete," Barra says

The automaker is developing a "true zero-defect mentality," its CEO promises

The recall of millions of General Motors cars with defective ignition switches is "substantially complete" to hear GM CEO Mary Barra tell it. She told repo...

Photo
GM CEO Mary Barra (file photo)
The recall of millions of General Motors cars with defective ignition switches is "substantially complete" to hear GM CEO Mary Barra tell it. She told reporters at a conference in India that the automaker is shifting its focus to "being industry leaders."

GM recalled 29 million cars, mostly Chevrolets and Saturns, because a potentially faulty ignition switch could cause the engine to shut down, cutting power to air bags, power brakes and steering.

GM says it knows of 13 deaths related to the problem but the Center for Auto Safety, a Washington, D.C., non-profit, says it has counted 22 deaths so far, most of them in Chevy Cobalts and Saturn Ions.

Barra says GM won't hesitate to recall more vehicles if it finds defects. She said the company is modeling itself on the aerospace and nuclear industries, "the industries that require a true zero-defect mentality," according to Automotive News

Lawsuit avoidance

Besides a zero-defect mentality, GM has also developed a lawsuit avoidance mentality, seeking broadened immunity from lawsuits growing out of the recalls. It faces numerous suits on behalf of killed and injured drivers and passengers as well as suits on behalf of consumers who say the value of their vehicle has been reduced by the recalls and the publicity surrounding them.

Many of the cases are being decided by the bankruptcy judge who oversaw GM's bankruptcy and government bailout in 2009, since the cars in question were largely built by "old GM" rather than today's incarnation of the company.

The company has set aside $400 million to settle claims but has said it may have to increase that to as much as $600 million. Informal estimates of lawsuits pending against the company go as high as $10 billion.

GM has set up a Web page where consumers can apply for restitution for losses resulting from the ignition issues. Claims must be submitted by Dec. 31, 2014.

More

Making sense of the latest foreclosure numbers

Activity has taken a surprising upturn

The foreclosure tsunami that began building in 2007 crashed the housing market and very nearly brought down the world's financial system....

PhotoThe foreclosure tsunami that began building in 2007 crashed the housing market and very nearly brought down the world's financial system.

Since then, the housing market has slowly regained its health while foreclosures worked their way through the system and finally began to decline.

But lately there have been signs the housing market that began to heat up in 2013 has slowed considerably this year. Now there's a report that foreclosures have begun to rise again.

Is this something to worry about? Maybe not.

Mixed news

In its monthly report for August, RealtyTrac, which markets foreclosure data, reveals foreclosure filings rose 7% from July to August. However, filings were 9% lower than August 2013.

Foreclosure filings are everything from default notices to scheduled auctions to when the bank steps in and repossess the property.

Some people think of that last step, where the homeowners actually lose their house, as real foreclosure activity. There, the numbers are not very alarming.

During August 51,192 U.S. properties were scheduled to be sold at auction. That's down 1% from July and up only 1% from August 2013. In other words, that indicator is virtually unchanged.

But an increase in foreclosure activity could be a sign of trouble in the housing market if it were caused by more people losing their jobs or other factors that made them unable to afford their house payments.

Still cleaning up the mess

That doesn't seem to be the case. Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac, says the increase is likely the result of loan servicers finally cleaning up the mess from years earlier.

“The annual increase in foreclosure auctions — the first since the robo-signing controversy rocked the foreclosure industry back in late 2010 — indicates mortgage servicers are finally adjusting to the new paradigms for proper foreclosure that have been implemented in many states, whether by legislation or litigation or both,” he said.

The settlement of charges linked to the massive “robo-signing” scandal required many servicers to make significant changes in the way they process foreclosures, and making these changes has taken years.

Market fallout

But there may be market fallout, and it might not be good for homeowners in states where the pent-up foreclosure activity has surged. Just look at what's about to happen in a handful of states.

Homes scheduled for foreclosure auction in August were up 160% in Colorado, 117% in Oregon, 81% each in New York and Connecticut, 72% in Oklahoma, 71% in New Jersey and up 25% in Illinois.

When homes go on the auction block, it is usually the loan servicer that steps in and purchases the property for the amount of the mortgage, so that the investors who purchased the mortgage get their money back.

The lender then turns around and puts the home on the market, usually at a significant discount to the market. That has a negative effect on nearby home values, since they are often based on what other homes are selling for. A couple of foreclosures in one block can bring down home values all along the street.

While the latest foreclosure numbers might not suggest foreclosures are becoming a problem again, the damage they cause isn't quite over yet.

More

AT&T promising 15 megabit wireless broadband after DirecTV merger

Dedicated spectrum will support higher speeds, the company says

Rural dwellers have been largely left out of the broadband revolution that has swept the rest of the country but AT&T says that will change when its merger...

PhotoRural dwellers have been largely left out of the broadband revolution that has swept the rest of the country but AT&T says that will change when its merger with DirecTV becomes final. It's promising broadband speeds of 15 megabits per second or better in rural areas. 

AT&T has technology “ready to go” by late 2015 to deliver high-speed wireless Internet service that’s faster than LTE, because it is delivered via a dedicated swath of spectrum, said Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T's mobility division, according to a report in Variety.

de la Vega said AT&T's technology will permit it to deliver both TV and broadband via a single dish at the customer's home. Presently, satellite TV and Internet require separate dishes and satellite Internet is regarded as agonizingly slow by most consumers.

AT&T's $67 billion takeover of DirecTV is being reviewed by the Federal Communications Commission and other regulators. Unlike the proposed Comcast-Time Warner merger it has not aroused too much opposition from traditional foes of big media mergers.

---

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story quoted de la Vega as proposing 50 mbps broadband. An examination of the conference transcript shows he actually said 15 mbps. 

More

Want to get rid of weeds? Water them!

Here's an easy, inexpensive and non-toxic way to deal with weeds

Pesky weeds, they mess up everything and grow just about anywhere. Is there an inexpensive way to get rid of them? Yes, there is and it can work just about...

Photo
© Andris T - Fotolia.com
Pesky weeds, they mess up everything and grow just about anywhere. Is there an inexpensive way to get rid of them? Yes, there is and it can work just about anywhere, although if you are in California you might want to reconsider using it because of the drought.

The main ingredient is water. Actually the only ingredient is water. It's a pretty easy solution you just boil water in a tea kettle and pour! There are variations of this -- some people use lemon and salt as well as vinegar with the water.

If you want to flavor it up with the salt, bring 2 cups of water to a boil, remove from heat and add 1 cup of salt, stirring until the salt dissolves. Any type of salt will work since all salt acts as a dehydrator to kill the weeds.

Another option is to mix 1 cup of salt with 4 cups of white vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon dish soap. Choose a dish soap that does not contain bleach, fragrance or a degreaser. Adding dish soap to the mixture helps the liquid stick to the plant instead of simply running off. Be aware that salt can cause yellowing to plants and tends to stay in the ground longer.

No splashing

There is an art to this. Slowly and carefully pour the stream of water onto the crown of the weed plant. You can make this easier and more effective by cutting off the top growth of the plant before you dowse it with the kettle water. Pour the water just above the plant so you don't splash and destroy something unintended.

Some perennials that have long taproots like dandelions may resprout from the lower root area if they weren't scalded. You can dig a hole in your lawn and remove the root if possible. Pour the kettle water right into the hole it will seep down and kill whatever it can reach. then just refill the whole put a little grass seed on it and you are good to grow!

Sometimes it may take a few tries to kill them. Just repeat the process and eventually they will disappear. Just be careful you don't spill the hot water on yourself. Make sure to wear long pants and sleeves and shoes that cover your toes.

More

Dog in pain? It's a call for help and shouldn't be ignored

Dogs seem resilient but they can't tell us when they're really hurting

Your dogs depend on you for their care and of course you want the best for them, but it can be difficult to know when they are in pain. Sometimes they may...

More

Consumers hold the line in July

The Deloitte Consumer Spending Index was generally flat

Not much movement in the Deloitte Consumer Spending Index during July. In fact, the Index was effectively unchanged in during that month and was relativel...

Photo
© intheskies - Fotolia.com

Not much movement in the Deloitte Consumer Spending Index during July. In fact, the Index was effectively unchanged in during that month and was relatively flat over the past three months. The Index tracks consumer cash flow as an indicator of future consumer spending.

“There were only small movements among the key components of the Index to drive a change in consumers’ spending plans,” said Daniel Bachman, Deloitte’s senior U.S. economist. “Home prices dipped slightly, and real wages grew at a slower pace compared with the last 12 months. On a positive note, the tax rate declined slightly. Despite some fluctuation recently, unemployment insurance claims are still hovering in the 300,000 range.”

The Index, which is made up of 4 components -- tax burden, initial unemployment claims, real wages and real home prices – fell to 3.56 from 3.74 in June.

Consumer uncertainty

Continued economic fluctuations in areas such as housing and unemployment are cited as the main reasons that consumers are still hesitant to spend robustly. “Aside from a slow economic recovery, we’ve seen other factors challenging retailers -- particularly in our just released back-to-school and back-to-college studies,” said Alison Paul, vice chairman of Deloitte, and retail and distribution sector leader.

“Consumers” she added, “are planning to shop smarter, often buying items on a just as-needed basis. As a result, the traditionally anticipated back-to-school shopping trip is not the event it once was. The convenience of 24/7 online access allows parents -- and students -- to shop any time, not just during the traditional mid- to late-summer back-to-school period.”

Given these factors, Paul says retailers need to remain sharp by making their merchandise and offers extremely attractive to finish the back-to-school season strong.

Index highlights

  • Tax burden: The tax rate continues a steady hold at 11.7%t showing a marginal decrease from prior month.
  • Initial unemployment claims: Claims rose slightly this month to 315,000, but are still down 8.3% from the same period last year.
  • Real wages: Real hourly wages dropped slightly to $8.79 this month, but remain at a higher level compared with the past 12 months.
  • Real median new home price: New home prices continue to fluctuate, falling 3.5% from the prior month to $115,000.
More

Seven gains in a row for retail sales

The August reading is the strongest since April

Retail sales rose in August for a seventh straight month. Figures from the Census Bureau show sales totaled $444.4 billion last month -- an increase of 0....

Photo
© Stuart Miles - Fotolia.com

Retail sales rose in August for a seventh straight month.

Figures from the Census Bureau show sales totaled $444.4 billion last month -- an increase of 0.6% from The previous month and up 5.0% from August of last year.

At the same time, the July showing, which had initially been reported as flat , was revised to an advance of 0.3%

If the highly volatile auto sector, where sales jumped 1.5%, is stripped out, August sales were up a more modest 0.3%.

Other winners include building materials, with a gain of 1.4%, sporting goods (+0.9%) and electronics and appliance stores (+0.7%).

Sectors that didn’t fare so well were gas stations, where sales were down 0.8% and department stores (-0.4%).

Sterne Agee Chief Economist Lindsey M. Piegza calls the August report , “a welcomed step in the right direction.”

She notes that lower energy prices have given consumers a bit more spending capacity, adding that, “continued price reprieve at the pump will help maintain a modest but positive spending pace in the third-quarter, despite minimal improvement in wage growth.”

But, Piegza concludes, “while lower prices at the pump will continue to pad consumers' pockets, in order to see a marked increase in spending -- particularly to the extent implied by the extreme ramp-up in production -- consumers will need sustained, robust income gains.”

The full August retail sales report is available on the Commerce Department website.

More

Escape and Focus vehicles recalled

The vehicles could hesitate or stall

Ford Motor Company is recalling 133,227 model year 2013-2014 Escape vehicles manufactured October 5, 2011, to April 1, 2013, and equipped with 2.0 liter en...

Photo
Photo source: Ford

Ford Motor Company is recalling 133,227 model year 2013-2014 Escape vehicles manufactured October 5, 2011, to April 1, 2013, and equipped with 2.0 liter engines; and Focus ST vehicles manufactured February 14, 2012, to October 14, 2013, and equipped with 2.0 liter engines.

Insufficient compression in the engine wiring harness splices to the Manifold Absolute Pressure (MAP) sensor may provide incorrect signals to the powertrain control module (PCM). Incorrect signals could cause the vehicle to hesitate or the engine to stall, increasing the risk of a crash.

Ford will notify owners, and dealers will replace the current crimped splices with new splices, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin September 29, 2014.

Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-800-392-3673. Ford's number for this recall is 14S17.

More

Ford recalls hybrid electric vehicles

The coolant pump for the hybrid system may fail

Ford Motor Company is recalling 70,209 model year 2005-2008 Ford Escape hybrid electric vehicles manufactured October 13, 2003, to June 20, 2008, and 2006-...

Photo
Photo source: Ford

Ford Motor Company is recalling 70,209 model year 2005-2008 Ford Escape hybrid electric vehicles manufactured October 13, 2003, to June 20, 2008, and 2006-2008 Mercury Mariner hybrid electric vehicles manufactured June 10, 2005, to June 20, 2008.

The coolant pump for the hybrid system may fail resulting in the hybrid electronics overheating. If the hybrid electronics system overheats, it may shut down the powertrain, resulting in a stall-like condition, increasing the risk of a crash.

Ford will notify owners, and dealers will inspect and replace the original Motor Electronics Coolant (MEC) Pump with an improved brushless pump, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on October 27, 2014.

Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 14S19.

More

'Uptalk' may make you fit in but could kill your career

So, our language has gotten really, like, strange?

The English language was once a fairly precise way of communicating. And it still is, in written form. But increasingly, when Americans speak it, it takes ...

Photo
© ra2 studio - Fotolia.com
The English language was once a fairly precise way of communicating. And it still is, in written form. But increasingly, when Americans speak it, it takes some rather odd twists and turns.

Perhaps none of these trends has sparked the backlash of “uptalk,” the habit of raising your voice slightly at the end of a declarative sentence, transforming it into a question.

Uptalk was a comic feature of the 1995 film “Clueless,” in which the female characters at Beverly Hills High School spoke in the Valley Girl cadence that emerged from California in the 1980s. Diane DiResta, a speech pathologist and public speaking coach and trainer based in New York, says today's widespread uptalk trend probably has much of its origins in that movie.

“I find that when something becomes popularized in the media it starts to spread,” DiResta told ConsumerAffairs. “Now, with young people, it has become peer identity.”

The language of youth

In an episode of the Simpsons, the family has gone to the beach for a week and Lisa is trying to reinvent herself so she can fit in with the cool kids. When she says something intelligent in a declarative sentence, she gets strange looks. When she repeats it in uptalk, with a few “you knows” thrown in, she gets a positive reaction.

Uptalk may be more prevalent in young women but DiResta notes it has crept into male speaking habits as well. She says young people adopt uptalk sometimes because they may think making a declarative sentence will make them seem arrogant.

“It's almost as if people are afraid to put a stake in the ground and make a commitment,” she says.

It may also have something to do with a desire to sound “cool.” Teacher and poet Taylor Mali, in the video below, calls it a “tragically hip interrogative tone.”

Not everyone uptalks

You may think you hear uptalk everywhere, but you don't.

“I always tell my audiences the one place I don't hear uptalk is in the executive suite or boardroom,” DiResta said.

Her message to young managers rising through the ranks is to break the uptalk habit if they want their careers to advance. Leadership, after all, requires a certain level of confidence.

So...

These speech abnormalities have nothing to do with intelligence or education. If you listen to NPR regularly, you'll heard PhD after PhD interviewed on its programs begin each answer to the interviewer's question with “So...”

DiResta says “so” is the new “um.” No one really knows the origin of “so” to begin sentences, but she tells her clients that these filler words, and overworked phrases like “at the end of the day,” rob the speaker of credibility. For young people, that can have dramatic results.

“I tell people, how you speak with your peers is one thing, but when you're in the workplace, uptalk and other speech affectations will work against you,” DiResta said, simply and declaratively.

More

Net neutrality outpulls "Nipplegate" as advocates flood the FCC with comments

Advocates of a "free and open Internet" seem to think regulation is the key

Net neutrality is even bigger than "nipplegate." The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reports receiving a record 1,477,301 public comments about the...

Photo
Congress to the rescue? © apinan - Fotolia.com

Net neutrality is even bigger than "nipplegate." The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reports receiving a record 1,477,301 public comments about the issue since July.

The previous record of 1.4 million comments was set back in 2004 when a supposed “wardrobe malfunction” during the halftime show at the Super Bowl led to portions of Janice Jackson’s anatomy being displayed to an estimated audience of 111 million.

Many Internet heavyweights -- and not a few lightweights -- have been hounding their users, customers and fans to contact the FCC and Congress to express support for the principle that all users should have equal and unfettered access to the Internet.

Discussions around the issue had been rather academic until video streaming caught on and companies like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon began burning up vast swaths of bandwidth sending TV shows and movies to their subscribers.

This caused ISPs like Verizon to begin putting pressure on Netflix et al to pay more.

Awesomeness at stake

Photo
Sparring contest

Corporate behemoths on the content side of the battle -- Twitter, Netflix, Reddit, Google and so forth -- managed to spin the issue so that civil libertarians and many consumers saw it as a free speech battle and took to the barricades.

Google, never shy about selling preferred placement on its search pages, issued a statement warning that the very awesomeness of the Internet was at stake. 

"If Internet access providers can block some services and cut special deals that prioritize some companies’ content over others, that would threaten the innovation that makes the Internet awesome," the search giant wrote in a message to Internet activists Wednesday. "No Internet access provider should block or degrade Internet traffic, nor should they sell ‘fast lanes’ that prioritize particular Internet services over others."

Unnoticed in all the hubbub were previous court rulings that had blocked the FCC's attempts to impose net neutrality principles on the Internet. Current FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has proposed a compromise often called "net neutality with a fast lane" but it has failed to pass the sniff test with neutrality advocates, who apparently would prefer to pass on the cost of upgrading the network to consumers.

Some technophiles have gone so far as to demand that the FCC declare the Internet a public utility and regulate it in much the same manner as telephone companies were regulated back in the Dark Ages (i.e., before the Internet came along). 

This would undoubtedly help alleviate the nation's unemployment problem by providing jobs for untold numbers of bureaucrats but how that stimulates innovation isn't always all that apparent.

A godsend for K Street

Photo
Orange is the new bandwidth hog

Truth is, Congressional action will most likely be needed to get around the legal roadblocks to enshrining net neutrality principles.

Compared to simply imposing the utility solution, throwing the matter into the arms of Congress may not immediately create a new army of regulators but it will certainly solve any shortfall in lobbying contracts on K Street, setting up a feeding frenzy that will sustain influence-peddlers for years, putting throngs of offspring through expensive colleges while financing beachfront homes and upgraded primary dwellings in McLean and Bethesda.

The downtown luncheon business will also enjoy quite a spurt.

Turning to Congress may, in fact, well set off the biggest lobbying battle since the titanic decade-long struggle that resulted in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which brought a hungry populace such wonders as 976 numbers, the ability to create your own bogus Caller IDs and, perhaps best of all, the requirement that telephone companies pass along third-party bills for such services as daily horoscopes and porn updates.

In other words, be careful what you wish for, net neutralitarans.

---

(Disclosure: The author was a public affairs executive who represented telecommunications clients during the 1990s). 

 

More

Russian hackers post 5 million stolen passwords connected to Gmail accounts

But the news isn't as bad as you think; most of those passwords are useless

The news that “5 million Gmail passwords were hacked” caused worldwide consternation when it first broke on Wednesday, but as more information comes to lig...

Photo
© Maksim Kabakou - Fotolia.com
The news that “5 million Gmail passwords were hacked” caused worldwide consternation when it first broke on Wednesday, but as more information comes to light, it appears the news isn't quite as bad as initially feared – although, by modern hacking standards, “Not as bad as initially feared” still leaves plenty of room for badness.

That said: if you have a Gmail account and worry the hacking might affect you, you probably have nothing to fear — provided your Gmail account has an exclusive password you don't use anywhere else. On the other hand, if you use the same password across multiple accounts, that's when you need to worry — and remind yourself of the well-known online safety rule “Never use the same password across multiple accounts.”

Here's a summary of the major points known so far: first of all, it appears that Gmail itself was not hacked — the hackers never actually gained access to the Gmail database and information therein.

Discussion forums

Instead, this appears more like the StubHub “hacking” discovered last July: identity thieves gained fraudulent access to over 1,000 StubHub accounts, without ever breaking into the StubHub database. The hackers had broken into and stolen passwords from various other websites, discussion forums and password-protected online places, and discovered that at least some of those stolen passwords worked in the victims' StubHub accounts, too.

It does appear that when hackers successfully steal the password to one of your accounts, they'll try plugging that password into your other accounts on the off-chance it will work. Where over 1,000 StubHub customers last summer were concerned, it did. And it might have worked for upwards of 5 million Gmail accounts, too.

Or maybe not. What actually happened? On Tuesday evening, someone in a Russian Bitcoin forum posted a list of 5 million stolen Gmail-connected passwords. The passwords apparently came not from Gmail itself, but from various registration-required sites where people used a Gmail account to register. The Western media discovered and reported that list late in the afternoon of Wednesday, Sept. 10.

Can't confirm

But there was something strange about those passwords: most of them were useless from an ID thief's perspective, because they were too old and out-of-date.

Mashable.com reported late Wednesday evening that “We can't confirm the authenticity of all the email addresses on the list, but a Mashable employee, Evan Engel, saw that his old Gmail password, which he hasn't used in years, is part of the leak.”

Engel and Mashable weren't the only ones to find outdated information on the list; plenty of people on Twitter did too. For example, Ben Ten @Ben0xA tweeted “That gmail dump looks very old folks. Can confirm a dummy account w/ password that was already changed twice. Dump has original pw.”

Here's how the hack apparently worked. Suppose that, many years ago, your Gmail password was 12345 (which, by the way, is a very weak password choice that you should never use in real life). Then you used that Gmail account to register with – well, any website requiring an email address to register: posting comments on your local newspaper's online stories, joining a discussion forum about your favorite hobby or musician, whatever.

And suppose further that when you used your Gmail address to register with that website, you ignored or did not know the “Never use the same password across multiple accounts” rule, so you used your Gmail address to register with DiscussionForum.com, using the password 12345 for both.

But over the years since then, you've had to change either your Gmail password, your DiscussionForum.com password, or maybe both.

Presumably, the hackers at some point managed to break into the DiscussionForum.com database and stole your name, Gmail address and your old 12345 forum password. They did not actually steal your Gmail password — unless you were foolish enough to use your DiscussionForum.com password as your Gmail password too.

So why did the hackers in that Russian Bitcoin forum bother stealing and posting these antique passwords anyway? Probably to show off and gain status among their fellow hackers. A senior advisor for the online security firm Sophos told Mashable that he doubted many of the posted accounts would still be valid: “There is no honor among thieves as they say, and often stunts like this are released as a sad attempt at gaining credibility among other criminals.”

More

Tech-support scammer holds woman's computer files for ransom

Remember: Microsoft will never call you, but scammers pretending to be Microsoft will

A Wisconsin woman who fell for the “Microsoft scam” last month found a relatively happy ending to her story: the scammer hasn't been identified or caught, ...

Photo
© japolia - Fotolia.com

A Wisconsin woman who fell for the “Microsoft scam” last month found a relatively happy ending to her story: the scammer hasn't been identified or caught, but a police officer with good computer skills was able to undo most of the damage he caused.

The Microsoft scam is simply a brand-specific version of the “tech support scam,” which usually works like this: the scammers contact the victim over the phone, pretending to be tech-support personnel from Microsoft or any other tech company big enough to have a customer-support staff. (If they try using email to reach you, then technically they're attempting a “phishing” scam rather than a “tech-support” scam. Regardless of the label, the scammers have the same basic goals, and you need to be wary of them all.)

The faux-Microsoft scammers will tell you they've discovered a security flaw in your computer's Microsoft operating system, but they can fix it for you, right now, provided you give them remote access to your computer.

Of course, if you go along with their suggestion, it will end badly for you. The single most important rule to protect yourself from phishing, tech-support and similar scams, is “Don't call me; I'll call you.”

Calls from the blue

In other words: if you personally notice a problem with, say, your Microsoft system or Netflix account, and want to contact Microsoft or Netflix to complain about the problem, that's fine. But if someone claiming to represent Microsoft, Netflix or any other company calls you, out of the blue, offering to fix some problem you never even knew you had — don't believe it. That's not a Microsoft staffer or Netflix security expert on the phone; that's a scammer trying to ensnare you.

Sometimes the scammers are trying to plant various forms of malware on your computer — anything from spy software that monitors your personal computer activity, to zombie software that takes over your computer and uses it to send phishing spam or malware viruses to still more people, usually without you even realizing it.

But last month, an unnamed woman in Madison, Wisconsin fell for a Microsoft scammer who essentially tried holding some of her key files for ransom.

News source Channel3000.com reported this week that a man claiming to be from Microsoft called her and asked for remote access to her laptop. Once he got it, he deleted certain files and demanded she use her credit card to pay him $200 if she wanted them back.

She did not give him her credit card information, and did call Madison police; an officer was eventually able to restore her deleted files.

But the scammer is still out there, and probably still calling potential victims. If anyone claiming to be from Microsoft calls you about a supposed problem, hang up at once, the same way you'd hang up on any so-called tech-support person who expects you to ignore the anti-scam security rule “Don't call me; I'll call you.”

More

City lights turning birds into insomniacs

It's not just sleep -- birds' mating, reproduction and musicality are being affected

If you think you have trouble sleeping try being a bird in the city. The lights from shopping centers and stadiums and homes are turning birds' internal cl...

Photo
© starush - Fotolia.com
If you think you have trouble sleeping, try being a bird in the city. The lights from shopping centers, stadiums and homes are turning birds' internal clocks cuckoo! It's really messing with a lot of different things -- their songs, mating and reproduction.

Davide Dominoni, an ecologist at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Radolfzell, Germany, investigated whether the birds’ activity patterns were merely behavioral responses to busy cities or were caused by an actual shift in the animals' body clocks. 

Dominoni and colleagues used European blackbirds, attaching radio transmitters to birds that lived in Munich and to birds that lived in the forest. Then they watched the birds for three weeks. They found that the forest birds started getting a little rowdy at dawn but city birds started 29 minutes earlier and they were active for about 6 minutes longer in the evening.

Altered state

Similar studies support the idea that city lights are altering the basic physiology of urban birds even to the point of suppressing their estrogen and testosterone, changing mating behaviors. One experiment showed that male blackbirds did not develop reproductive organs when they were exposed for two years to light at night.

An Avian sleep biologist at the Max Planck Institute who was not involved in the study commented: “You have to wonder — if these city birds are not compensating by napping during the day or sleeping more deeply at night, is sleep deprivation reducing their cognitive abilities or shortening their life spans?”

People may be in the same fix. There have been numerous studies on shift work and how it alters humans sleep patterns and deprivation of sleep. There are countless ramifications from turning your world from night to day literally.

"We don’t see a lot of people who do fine on shift work," says Sally Ibrahim, M.D., of the Cleveland Clinic’s Sleep Disorder Center. "They have trouble sleeping, trouble waking. And they’re drowsy when they’re awake."

More

Feds okay weight-management drug Contrave

The drug exhibited dramatic results in clinical testing

Contrave (naltrexone hydrochloride and bupropion hydrochloride extended-release tablets) has won approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as tr...

Photo
© Ljupco Smokovski - Fotolia.com

Contrave (naltrexone hydrochloride and bupropion hydrochloride extended-release tablets) has won approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as treatment option for chronic weight management.

The drug is approved -- along with a reduced-calorie diet and physical activity -- for use in adults with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater (obesity) or adults with a BMI of 27 or greater (overweight) who have at least one weight-related condition such as high blood pressure (hypertension), type 2 diabetes, or high cholesterol (dyslipidemia).

BMI, which measures body fat based on an individual’s weight and height, is used to define the obesity and overweight categories. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one-third of U.S. adults are obese.

“Obesity continues to be a major public health concern,” said Jean-Marc Guettier, M.D., director of the Division of Metabolism and Endocrinology Products in FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “When used as directed in combination with a healthy lifestyle that includes a reduced-calorie diet and exercise, Contrave provides another treatment option for chronic weight management for people who are obese or are overweight and have at least one weight-related health condition.”

Impressive test results

The effectiveness of Contrave was evaluated in multiple clinical trials that included approximately 4,500 obese and overweight patients with and without significant weight-related conditions treated for one year. All patients received lifestyle modification that consisted of a reduced- calorie diet and regular physical activity.

Results from a clinical trial that enrolled patients without diabetes showed that patients had an average weight loss of 4.1% over treatment with placebo (inactive pill) at one year. In this trial, 42% of patients treated with Contrave lost at least 5% of their body weight compared with 17% of patients treated with placebo.

In another clinical trial that enrolled patients with type 2 diabetes, patients had an average weight loss of 2% over treatment with placebo at one year. In this trial, 36% of patients treated with Contrave lost at least 5% of their body weight compared with 18% of patients treated with placebo.

Patients using Contrave at the maintenance dose should be evaluated after 12 weeks to determine if the treatment is working. If a patient has not lost at least 5% of baseline body weight, Contrave should be discontinued, as it is unlikely that the patient will achieve and sustain clinically meaningful weight loss with continued treatment.

Use with caution

Because it contains bupropion, Contrave has a boxed warning to alert health care professionals and patients to the increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors associated with antidepressant drugs.

The warning also notes that serious neuropsychiatric events have been reported in patients taking bupropion for smoking cessation.

Contrave can cause seizures and must not be used in patients who have seizure disorders. The risk of seizure is dose-related. The drug should be discontinued and not restarted in patients who experience a seizure while being treated with Contrave.

Contrave can also raise blood pressure and heart rate and must not be used in patients with uncontrolled high blood pressure. Blood pressure and pulse should be measured prior to starting the drug and should be monitored at regular intervals, particularly among patients with controlled high blood pressure prior to treatment.

Other products containing bupropion should not be taken along with Contrave. The drug should not be used in patients who have eating disorders (bulimia or anorexia nervosa). Contrave should also not be taken by patients who are using opioids or treatments for opioid dependence, or who are experiencing acute opiate withdrawal.

Patients undergoing an abrupt discontinuation of alcohol, benzodiazepines, barbiturates and antiepileptic drugs should not take Contrave. Women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant should not take Contrave.

The most common adverse reactions reported with Contrave include nausea, constipation, headache, vomiting, dizziness, insomnia, dry mouth, and diarrhea.

Post-marketing requirements

The FDA is requiring the following:

  • a cardiovascular outcomes trial to assess the cardiovascular risk associated with Contrave use;
  • two efficacy, safety, and clinical pharmacology studies in pediatric patients (one in patients 12 to 17 years of age, and one in patients 7 to 11 years of age);
  • a nonclinical (animal) juvenile toxicity study with a particular focus on growth and development as well as behavior, learning, and memory;
  • a study to evaluate the effect of Contrave on cardiac conduction;
  • clinical trials to evaluate dosing in patients with hepatic or renal impairment;
  • a clinical trial to evaluate the potential for interactions between Contrave and other drugs.
More

Ticks that spread Lyme disease are moving west

The westward-ho movement isn't good news for westerners

Just like the humans on whom they so often feed, deer ticks are moving west, with the hardiest pioneers now reported to have reached North Dakota. No one w...

PhotoJust like the humans on whom they so often feed, deer ticks are moving west, with the hardiest pioneers now reported to have reached North Dakota. No one would much care, perhaps, except that the mite-sized pests are the primary carrier of Lyme disease.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, there are more than 300,000 cases of Lyme disease in the U.S. each year. Last year, most Lyme disease cases reported to the CDC were concentrated heavily in the Northeast and upper Midwest, with 96 percent of cases in 13 states. In fact, the disease gets its name from the northeastern town of Lyme, Connecticut, where it was discovered.

However, a new article published in the Journal of Medical Entomology reports that the ticks that vector Lyme disease — Ixodes scapularis, also known as blacklegged ticks or deer ticks — are moving westward, and for the first time have been found in North Dakota.

Researchers sampled ticks at nine locations throughout North Dakota by trapping small mammals and then removing the attached ticks. When they found I. scapularis, they screened them for the bacteria that cause Lyme disease and two other tick-borne diseases called Anaplasmosis and Babesiosis.

I. scapularis ticks were collected in six of the nine counties surveyed, and two of the counties seemed to have established poulations because all life stages — eggs, larvae, nymphs, and adults — were present.

"This represents an expansion of the predicted range for this tick species and is of concern because of the ability of this tick species to transmit various disease-causing agents," the authors wrote. "I. scapularis and associated pathogens have become established in northeastern North Dakota."

More

High-protein diet can lower blood pressure, study finds

It may be time to revise dietary recommendations, researchers say

A new study finds that adults who consume a high-protein diet may be at a lower risk for developing high blood pressure, and researchers involved in the st...

Photo
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-09/bumc-sfh091114.php
A new study finds that adults who consume a high-protein diet may be at a lower risk for developing high blood pressure, and researchers involved in the study say the results suggest it's time to take a new look at dietary recommendations.

"These results provide no evidence to suggest that individuals concerned about the development of HBP (high blood pressure) should avoid dietary protein. Rather, protein intake may play a role in the long-term prevention of HBP," said Lynn Moore, associate professor of medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine. "This growing body of research on the vascular benefits of protein, including this study, suggest we need to revisit optimal protein intake for optimal heart health," she added.

In the latest studypublished in the American Journal of Hypertension, researchers found participants consuming the highest amount of protein (an average of 100 g protein/day) had a 40% lower risk of having high blood pressure compared to the lowest intake level.

The researchers analyzed protein intakes of healthy participants from the Framingham Offspring Study and followed them for development of high blood pressure over an 11-year period.

Overweight and normal

They found that adults who consumed more protein, whether from animal or plant sources, had statistically significantly lower systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure levels after four years of follow-up. In general, these beneficial effects were evident for both overweight and normal weight individuals.

They also found that consuming more dietary protein was associated with lower long-term risks for HBP. When the diet also was characterized by higher intakes of fiber, higher protein intakes led to 40%–60% reductions in risk of HBP.

One of three U.S. adults has hypertension and 78.6 million are clinically obese, a risk factor for the development of hypertension. Because of the strain that it puts on blood vessel walls, High blood pressure is one of the most common risk factors of stroke and an accelerator of multiple forms of heart disease, especially when paired with excess body weight.

More

Airlines improved their on-time performance in July

In addition, there were fewer flight cancellations

The chances of your flight arriving on time showed considerable improvement in July. According to the Transportation Department’s (DOT) Air Travel Consume...

Photo
© John Takai - Fotolia.com

The chances of your flight arriving on time showed considerable improvement in July.

According to the Transportation Department’s (DOT) Air Travel Consumer Report, the nation’s largest airlines posted an on-time arrival rate of 75.6% in July, compared with June's 71.8% mark and a 73.1% on-time rate in July 2013.

In addition, the carriers reported canceling 1.6% of their scheduled domestic flights in July, versus a 2.0% rate in June and 1.7% a year earlier.

As for tarmac delays, airlines reported two of them lasting more than three hours on domestic flights and no tarmac delays of more than four hours on international flights. DOT is investigating the domestic delays.

The full report, which is available on the DOT website, also includes data on tarmac delays, chronically delayed flights, and the causes of flight delays filed with the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) by the reporting carriers.

In addition, the report contains information on mishandled baggage reports filed by consumers with the carriers and consumer service, disability, and discrimination complaints received by DOT’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division.

Reports of incidents involving the loss, death, or injury of pets traveling by air, are included as well.

More

Weekly jobless claims shoot higher

The level is back where it was in the early spring

After averaging roughly 300,000 during July and August a level usually associated with full employment, first-time applications for state unemployment ben...

Photo
© Marzky Ragsac Jr. - Fotolia.com

After averaging roughly 300,000 during July and August a level usually associated with full employment, first-time applications for state unemployment benefits were up substantially last week.

Figures released by the Labor Department (DOL) show initial claims jumped 11,000 in the week ending September 6 to 315,000. The consensus estimate of economists surveyed by Briefing.com was for a total of 300,000.

Some analysts had maintained the recent drop in the weekly figure during the summer was due to poor seasonal adjustments, mostly from the motor vehicle sector, as there was no retooling shutdown. Thus, the rebound seen this past week, they say does not mean labor market conditions have actually changed.

The 4-week moving average, which strips out the weekly volatility, rose 750 to 304,000.

The full report is available on the DOL website.

More

What parents should know about Enterovirus D68

Sudden outbreak looks like a bad cold but is a lot worse

Just as kids around the country headed back to school, a dangerous respiratory virus hit the U.S., specifically targeting children....

Photo
© NOBU - Fotolia.com

Just as kids around the country headed back to school, a dangerous respiratory virus hit the U.S., specifically targeting children.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines Enterovirus D68 (EV-D68) as “one of many enteroviruses,” which have the habit of mutating quickly. EV-D68 isn't anything new – it was first identified in California in 1962.

However, doctors don't see this disease very often. The CDC says EV-D68 has been rarely reported in the U.S. over the last 4 decades.

Sudden appearance

All of a sudden there has been an outbreak, primarily affecting young children. On August 19 CDC was notified by Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., of an increase in patients examined and hospitalized with severe respiratory illness, including some admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit.

Four days later CDC got a report from the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children's Hospital of an increase in patients similar to those seen in Kansas City. EV-D68 was identified in 19 of 22 specimens from Kansas City and in 11 of 14 specimens from Chicago.

Since them, reports of the disease have come from hospitals in at least 10 states, mostly clustered in the Midwest. Many of the children diagnosed with the disease have ended up in intensive care.

Though people with the virus can get very sick, doctors say they usually don't die. However, Missouri health officials say mortality rates from previous occurrences of the disease are hard to come by.

Like a bad cold

Doctors say parents should be on the lookout for symptoms that are similar to a cold, but a lot worse. Many of those who get EV-D68 have difficulty breathing and make a wheezing sound.

How it spreads is not completely understood, in part the CDC says, because is has been so rare. Because of its respiratory nature, the virus can be found in respiratory secretions such as saliva and mucus.

“The virus likely spreads from person to person when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or touches contaminated surfaces,” the CDC says.

No vaccine

Unfortunately there are no vaccines or specific treatments for EV-D68, and clinical care is about the only treatment. The CDC says health care providers should consider EV-D68 as a possible cause of acute, unexplained severe respiratory illness; suspected clusters or outbreaks should be reported to local or state health departments.

The Missouri Department of Health reports that of the 300 children admitted to a Kansas City pediatric hospital, 15% were placed in intensive care. The Department says parents and health care professionals should take careful steps to avoid spreading the virus.

Precautions

  • Wash hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, especially after changing diapers;
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands;
  • Avoid kissing, hugging, and sharing cups or eating utensils with people who are sick;
  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs, especially if someone is sick;
  • Stay home when feeling sick, and obtain consultation from your health care provider

While many young parents tend to over react to slight changes in their child's health, doctors say erring on the side of caution might be called for in this case.

If a child has symptoms of respiratory illness, it could just be a cold, or it might not be. It's best to seek a medical opinion, especially if you live in an area where the virus is prevalent.   

More

Forget paper or plastic. Let's talk disposable or cotton

Which kind of diaper is best for baby? For you? For Mother Earth?

Anyone born before 1948 has no idea what a disposable plastic diaper feels like on their bottom. Although they might be wearing adult diapers by now so may...

Photo
© doble.d - Fotolia.com

Anyone born before 1948 has no idea what a disposable plastic diaper feels like on their bottom. Although they might be wearing adult diapers by now so maybe they do!

Johnson & Johnson created the first mass-marketed disposable diaper in the U.S. in 1948 and with that creation changed motherhood forever. Up until that time mothers used large safety pins and cotton material. Mothers had the choice of a diaper service or buying diapers and just washing them, themselves.

But with progress come trade-offs. So now young mothers have a serious question to resolve: Do I use cloth or disposable diapers? We rounded up some salient statistics to help you decide.

Time and money

Cloth diapers will cost about $300 a year — versus the $2,000 you’d spend on disposable baby diapers for the same amount of time. If you do the laundry yourself you will add about three extra loads a week, so factor in electricity and laundry soap. Still a good savings unless you get a diaper service.

As its name implies, a diaper service rents out cloth diapers, washes them, and delivers clean ones to your door for about $3,500 a year. Yes the costs are adding up and we haven't even started preschool yet!

Convenience is everything with a baby. Having cloth diapers means you don't have to run out in the middle of the night when you run out of diapers. No lugging industrial size boxes of diapers from Costco. Beware though -- lugging cloth diapers means lugging dirty diapers as well so it could mean you might not smell so great all of the time. The plus side is people might let you get ahead of them in line.

Obviously with disposable diapers you use them and then dispose of them, which is pretty convenient No lugging them along for the car ride. They hold more liquid as well so not as many changes. Disposables are full of chemical gels and if you are concerned about what's next to your baby's bottom then that might be a concern.

Environmental factors

If what your baby is wearing doesn't concern you but the environment does then don't let this info go to waste -- 20 billion diapers are thrown away every year in the United States. The production, distribution, and disposal of these diapers leaves a staggering footprint on our planet. The average disposable diaper can take 500 years to decompose and contains petroleum, plastics, perfumes, wood pulp, and dioxins. As of 1990, disposable diapers made up 1.6% of municipal waste.

About 7 in 10 Americans say they would support banning disposables.

But there's another side to it. Disposable diapers may fill up the landfill, but cloth diapers require a lot of electricity and water usage to keep them clean -- and if you use a diaper service, that's that truck -- probably diesel -- driving back and forth from your house to the diaper depot.

There have been numerous studies to compare the environmental impacts of the dueling diaper protocols, but none has been completely clear.

Its a decision that can wipe you out thinking about it.

More

FCC may end sports blackout rule

The rule "makes no sense at all," says FCC chair Tom Wheeler

Tom Wheeler thinks it’s time to sack the National Football League blackout rule. And as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, he may be just t...

Photo
© Melinda Nagy - Fotolia.com
Tom Wheeler thinks it’s time to sack the National Football League blackout rule. And as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, he may be just the guy who can do it.

Wheeler has scheduled a vote for Sept. 30 on a proposal to end the nearly 40-year-old rules, which were enacted back in 1975, prohibiting cable providers from airing a game that has been blacked out on the local television station because it was not sold out.

That's a situation that Wheeler says belongs in the era of fender skirts and buggy whips, when barely 40% of games sold out and gate receipts were the league's primary source of revenue.

"Last weekend, every single game was sold out. More significantly, pro football is now the most popular content on television," Wheeler said yesterday on his blog. "NFL games dominated last week’s ratings, and the Super Bowl has effectively become a national holiday. With the NFL’s incredible popularity, it’s not surprising that last year the League made $10 billion in revenue and only two games were blacked-out."

The NFL and major broadcasters are opposing Wheeler's proposal, arguing that it would jeopardize pro football on "free" TV, meaning over-the-air broadcasts. They say eliminating the rule would endanger stadium attendance and threaten local businesses. 

Wheeler's not buying that argument. 

“Clearly, the NFL no longer needs the government’s help to remain viable,” he said.

“To hear the NFL describe it, you would think that putting a game on CBS, NBC or Fox was a money-losing proposition instead of a highly profitable multibillion-dollar business,” he wrote in an op-ed in USA Today. “If the league truly has the best interest of millions of American fans at heart, they could simply commit to staying on network television in perpetuity.”

More

Two vehicle options that won't break the bank

Some good used cars are selling at below market price

Your car has lasted for years but, with potential repair bills looming, you've decided you have to make a change. But do you trade one clunker for another?...

Photo
Source: Honda.com

Your car has lasted for years but, with potential repair bills looming, you've decided you have to make a change. But do you trade one clunker for another?

Purchasing a new car may be out of the question. The average price on a current model car is more than $32,000. You're looking at a big down payment and a monthly payment the size of a small mortgage.

Even when money is tight there are a couple of ways to upgrade your wheels without breaking the bank. Which way works best for you -- or if either does -- will depend on your circumstances.

Cheap lease

The first option is finding a cheap lease, preferably one that doesn't require you to put any money down. This option works best if you don't have money for a down payment but you can carve out a couple hundred dollars in your monthly budget for a payment.

A cheap lease does not necessarily mean a cheap car. The way a lease works, you pay the difference between the new car price and the value of the vehicle at the end of the 3-year lease period.

That's why it's important to negotiate a competitive price for the car and what the dealer says it will be worth at the end of the lease. A car that tends to hold its value well will often produce a cheap lease.

For example, through November 3 you can lease a 2014 Honda Civic for $230 a month with no money down. Pay $2,499 up front and the monthly payment drops to $159.

Over the 36 months you'll pay the same either way -- it just depends on whether you want to pay as you go or pay upfront. The advantage is you get to drive a new car, with up-to-date technology and safety features, without the new car price.

The downside is you have to give it back in 3 years, and pay for any extra miles you put on it.

Quality used car

If leasing isn't for you, how about purchasing a late model used car? A 3-year old model is often a very good value. The initial depreciation has been paid by someone else but there's still a lot of life left in the vehicle.

But buying a late model used car will likely mean a hefty down payment and sizable monthly payment, just not as large as for a new car. So if you buy a used car, you need to make sure it will last many years before it has to be replaced.

The automotive website iSeeCars.com has done a study of models between 2 and 6 years old. To make the list, the models had to routinely give their owners more than 200,000 miles.

Durable cars selling at a discount

They also had to be a bargain. To make the list they had to be selling for at least 5% below market value.

The company found that 15-20% of all the cars making its top 10 list are priced at least 9% below market value.

“These substantial discounts are yet another indicator that, while our economy is recovering, sellers recognize that the best way to sell more cars is to offer them at a discount,” said Phong Ly, iSeeCars.com CEO.

What makes a car sell below its market value? Frankly, it's because it's not as trendy or popular as its competitors. Cars that go unloved by consumers tend to be underpriced, Ly says.

You pay for popularity

The range in the percentage of discounted cars seems to directly correlate with popularity. The vehicles on this list that are top sellers in their segment have a smaller percentage of deals, while those that are less popular with buyers have a larger percentage of discounted cars available.

Making the list of the longest-lasting vehicles are the Ford Explorer, Acura TL, Ford Taurus, Nissan Maxima, Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Chevrolet Silverado 1500, Ford F-150, Honda Civic and Honda Oddyssey.

iSeeCars.com says you'll find more good deals on a used Taurus or Maxima than you will an Acura or Honda.

50,000 miles is average

Most of the cars making the list are being sold with around 50,000 miles, but one car with exceptionally low mileage is the Toyota Camry, averaging just 39,648 miles on those cars priced at least 5% below market value.

It's also one of the most affordable cars on the list, averaging $16,303, at a savings of about 9.5% below market value.

“And with 17% of all Toyota Camry cars available for sale being priced at least 5% below market value, it should be relatively easy for consumers to find a good deal on a specific model that suits their tastes,” said Ly.

More

Post office stops delivery to Brooklyn neighborhood

Those people ought to take their business elsewhere — whoops, they can't

Earlier this week, the U.S. Postal Service announced plans to lower its prices for package and parcel (though not letter) delivery for its corporate client...

Photo
© Roman Sigaev - Fotolia.com
Earlier this week, the U.S. Postal Service announced plans to lower its prices for package and parcel (though not letter) delivery for its corporate clients, to compete with private package-delivery services such as FedEx or UPS.

Package and parcel delivery are the only areas where the post office actually has to compete for customers. Where letters and other forms of mail are concerned, the post office enjoys a near-monopoly thanks to a series of federal laws and regulations known as Private Express Statutes, which either make it completely illegal for private carriers to deliver any letters and other forms of mail, or legal only if the carriers charge prices considerably higher than what the USPS charges to deliver the same thing.

So if you're a customer who is unhappy with how the USPS handles your First Class mail, that's too bad; Private Express Statutes mean you can not take your business elsewhere because there is no “elsewhere” for you to take it to. This is particularly bad news for certain New York City residents in Brooklyn's Borough Park neighborhood.

Safety hazard

The New York Daily News reported that the postal service has stopped household delivery in parts of that neighborhood, claiming that the mail slots in the houses' front doors are a “safety hazard,” according to a letter which USPS customer-service manager L. Howard sent to people living on 46th Street.

Neither the houses nor their mail slots are new; one resident has lived at the same address with the same mail slot since the 1970s and never had home mail delivery problems until now:

Necha Altman has lived on the street for 35 years, always getting the mail through a slot near the bottom of her door. She installed new mailboxes on the wall after receiving the letter, but that wasn’t good enough for the carrier, who wanted the boxes at street level to avoid her nine steps [leading from the street to her front door].

If nothing else, Necha Altman and her neighbors will surely appreciate knowing that in the future, if anyone tries to send them packages or parcels through the U.S. mail, they can enjoy this same non-existent level of service for a slightly lower price.

More

Consumers fast losing taste for fast food

"Fast casual" brands displacing fast food

A new study finds that demographics and the core values of various age groups are combining to speed consumers' changing tastes in food, as fast-casual eat...

Photo
© Tijana - Fotolia.com
A new study finds that demographics and the core values of various age groups are combining to speed consumers' changing tastes in food, as fast-casual eateries increasingly displace fast food joints.

The 3,000-consumer study conducted by Brand Keys examined attitudes and behaviors of 1,000 consumers in each of three generational cohorts --– Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials.

"You only have to look at the same-store sales of brands like McDonald's, Burger King and Taco Bell to see the shift that's taking place," said Robert Passikoff, Brand Keys founder and president. "The declines reported by all three segments prove the loyalty shifts seen in our Brand Keys Customer Loyalty Engagement Index, with fast food brands rapidly losing loyalty and profits."

The survey conducted in the 3rd Quarter of 2014 identified the following trends influencing food choices:

Baby Boomers Want Better Service

Photo
Robert Passikoff
Baby Boomers reported an 18% decrease in fast food restaurant visitation.

"Not surprisingly this group placed an extraordinarily high value on health and living well," noted Passikoff. "They can afford, what nearly a third of the sample (32%) called, 'quality food,' something that they attribute more to the fast casual restaurants like Panera and Chipotle than they do to the traditional fast food brands."

"The survey showed that Baby Boomers also expect better service, something traditional fast food chains have fallen down on in recent years. They're not as fast as they used to be." 

Gen X Looking for Value For Dollar

Gen Xers reported an 11% decrease in visitation to fast food restaurants, – the lowest decline in the three groups examined – but with an equal increase reported in visitation to fast-casuals.

"The Gen X group is more pragmatic about their decisions about eating out, so they seem to be more vulnerable to value positioning," said Passikoff. "But they're skeptical about brands too, and are looking not for price-value but value for dollar. They feel the fast-casuals offer that too, equal to and more often better, than the fast food brands."

Nearly 50% of this cohort reported that time was important to them so 'fast" has its advantages.. "But years of experience and process-engineering pretty much guarantee you don't have wait long at a Panera either," noted Passikoff.

Millennials Not Interested In "Dollar Food"

Millennials reported a 20% decrease in visits to fast food chains. Forty-two percent (42%) reported increased visits to fast-casual restaurants in the past year. "Millennials are, perhaps, our most sophisticated segment right now," said Passikoff. "They're the toughest to reach via traditional marketing à la McDonald's et al. And, they are the toughest group with whom to build loyalty."

When asked to characterize traditional fast food brands more than half of this group (53%) called it "dollar food," a reflection of the reliance of traditional fast food brands on the 'Dollar Menu' to boost sales. "You don't build brands or loyalty on the basis of price," said Passikoff. "That only works for commodities."

Virtually all this group (89%) reported looking for fast, casual food that they deemed tastier, healthier, and more customized, than fast food.

"There's an issue with this group regarding how they see value as well. They see fast-casual restaurants as offering better, more customizable options – and they're willing to pay more for them. And while it's true that digital and mobile behavior has changed – particularly for Millennials – more mobile apps and outreach isn't "going to change how they see the brand," noted Passikoff.

Brands diluted

"It's true that consumers in all cohorts have definite expectations about eating out, but a new McWrap isn't going to do it," said Passikoff. "The traditional fast food brands have tried to be all things to all customers and failed. Longer menus have just resulted in longer waits, but more significantly, a real dilution of the brand.

"Your brand may be all over, but you can't be all things. You really do have to stand for something in the mind of the consumer. Otherwise, loyalty for fast food brands is only going to move in one direction. Down."

More

DiGiorno blunder leads to Twitter backlash

A domestic-violence-awareness campaign is not the place to promote frozen pizza

If you've ever watched a sitcom, any sitcom, you probably remember the episode where Character 1 overheard Character 2 say something completely innocuous, ...

PhotoIf you've ever watched a sitcom, any sitcom, you probably remember the episode where Character 1 overheard Character 2 say something completely innocuous, which led to a hilarious misunderstanding because, out of context, C1 became convinced that C2 was up to no good.

Or maybe you remember the episode where the exact opposite happened: Character 1 said something serious and important, which Character 2 misunderstood and treated as a joke, which led to a hilarious misunderstanding possibly followed by some important life lessons.

The moral of that sitcom episode is: if you only hear a tiny snippet of a conversation, don't make any assumptions based on that snippet alone.

Unfortunately, it appears that whoever handles Twitter marketing for DiGiorno frozen pizza never learned that lesson, which led to a not-hilarious misunderstanding this week.

You had pizza

The Baltimore Ravens fired their former running back, Ray Rice, after security video emerged of Rice punching his then-fiancee in a casino elevator. The story has inspired several national discussions about the problem of domestic violence. One of those discussions, on Twitter, involved former victims of domestic violence sharing their stories under the respective hashtags #WhyILeft or #WhyIStayed.

On Monday evening, someone at DiGiorno's corporate Twitter account presumably noticed that #WhyIStayed was trending, and decided to join in the conversation before determining exactly what is was about, by tweeting a full-color marketing photograph of a pizza alongside the words “#WhyIStayed You had pizza.”

The tweet inspired instant outrage, and only stayed up for a few minutes before DiGiorno took it down. To the company's credit, it immediately took responsibility for the blunder and tweeted: “A million apologies. Did not read what the hashtag was about before posting.” The next day, DiGiorno tweeted: “We heard from many of you, and we know we disappointed you. We understand, and we apologize to everyone for this mistake.”

As of presstime, those two apologetic tweets remain the most recent ones on the DiGiorno feed @DiGiornoPizza.

And, in all fairness, the company handled its mistake as well as anyone possibly could have: it offered a prompt, straightforward apology rather than a typical corporate PR responsibility-avoiding non-apology of the “Mistakes were made, sorry if we offended anyone” variety.

More

Illinois sues alleged vacation travel club

The suit says consumers got taken for nearly $80k

The state of Illinois is taking a Kansas-based company and two of its Chicago area sales agents to court, charging that they scammed Illinois residents out...

Photo
© kentoh - Fotolia.com

The state of Illinois is taking a Kansas-based company and two of its Chicago area sales agents to court, charging that they scammed Illinois residents out of at least $80,000 for membership in a bogus travel club that failed to deliver on its promises of vacation destinations across the globe.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed the lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court against Global Connections of Overland Park, Kan., Madmol Inc., based in Crystal Lake, Ill., and GVN Illinois, based in Tinley Park, Ill.

According to the lawsuit, the companies operate a bogus travel club called Global Discovery Vacation Program. Madigan maintains the club scams as much as $8,000 in upfront payments and $398 annual fees from consumers for membership in the program that in reality provides no discounts and -- instead -- charges consumers even more money to book vacations.

Phony checks from phony companies

The Global Discovery Vacation Program is sold through direct mail solicitations and telemarketing calls that claim recipients have won a free prize or free roundtrip airfare. Many consumers reported receiving a fake check or letter made out to them from legitimate-sounding airlines, including “US Airlines” or “American Airways.”

When consumers contacted the company to claim their free prize and airfare, they learned they first had to attend a sales presentation for the Global Discovery Vacation Program. The presentation billed the program as an exclusive club, promising consumers access to hundreds of properties across the country and around the world for a discount.

“This operation has all the makings of a scam,” Madigan said. “Any time you are offered a ‘free’ prize or a supposed award, that’s a red flag. If you receive solicitations like this, your first and only move should be to throw it in the trash.”

The suit alleges consumers who signed up for the travel club had access to few of the promised vacation properties -- if any at all. The few consumers who were able to book a vacation found substandard conditions of the vacation properties, including reports of hotels infested with cockroaches and broken appliances.

The lawsuit seeks to ban the companies from operating in Illinois, provide full restitution to affected consumers and assess penalties based on violations of the Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act.

More

Microsoft and Adobe release updates to fix "critical" security flaws in IE, Flash

Adobe to release similar updates for Reader and Acrobat next week

If you have Adobe Flash and/or Microsoft's Internet Explorer on your computer or mobile device, be warned: both companies have released security updates to...

Photo
© mrdoggs - Fotolia.com
If you have Adobe Flash and/or Microsoft's Internet Explorer on your computer or mobile device, be warned: both companies have released security updates to fix major critical flaws. If you haven't updated these systems on your devices, do so at once.

In a security bulletin published yesterday (Sept. 9), Microsoft announced that its upgrade “resolves one publicly disclosed and thirty-six privately reported vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer.”

Just how serious are these 37 vulnerabilities? Security blogger Brian Krebs pointed out that this most-recent update to Internet Explorer is “the only patch this month to earn Microsoft’s most-dire 'critical' label. A critical update wins that rating if the vulnerabilities fixed in the update could be exploited with little to no action on the part of users, save for perhaps visiting a hacked or malicious Web site with IE.”

In other words: this isn't a case where you can protect yourself by following such well-known online security rules as “Never click on an unfamiliar link” or “Don't download any file from an unknown source;” without the security fix, simply visiting a website is all it takes to make yourself vulnerable to dangerous malware.

Microsoft says the fix is necessary for all forms of Internet Explorer starting with IE6 all the way through to IE11. If your system is set up to allow automatic updating, the fix should go through automatically. However, if you do not allow automatic updates, this link will show you how to change your settings and allow them.

12 holes

As for the Adobe security update, it “only” involves plugging 12 different security holes. Adobe says any Macintosh or Windows users with Adobe Flash Player v. 15.0.0.152 should visit the Adobe Flash Player Download Center, or using the update mechanism within your own Adobe system. However, Krebs offers another option: “If you’d rather not be bothered with downloaders and software 'extras' like antivirus scanners, you’re probably best off getting the appropriate update for your operating system from this link.”

If you don't know which version of Adobe Flash you have, you can find out by checking this link.

If you use Windows, and also use anything other than Internet Explorer for web-browsing (such as Firefox, Chrome, or others), you might have to apply the Adobe patch twice: once in Windows and once in your browser.

More Adobe security patches are to be introduced at the beginning of next week: Adobe was originally going to release updates to Reader and Acrobat alongside the updates to Flash, but pushed the Reader and Acrobat update-releases back to Sept. 15, to deal with some unidentified “issues” it discovered while testing the original patches.

More

A healthy appetite is key to survival by seniors

Loss of appetite raises an elderly person's risk of dying

Most of us eat too much. But elderly people sometimes eat too little, which can have dire consequences for their survival, as a study by Australian researc...

Photo
© WONG SZE FEI - Fotolia.com
Most of us eat too much. But elderly people sometimes eat too little, which can have dire consequences for their survival, as a study by Australian researchers at Monash University has confirmed.

In fact, a simple question about appetite can provide important insights into old people’s general health that may help reduce their risk of dying, said Emeritus Professor Mark Wahlqvist in a study published in the journal Appetite.

“Appetite is generally regarded as one of the most important indicators of health,” Professor Wahlqvist said.

The urge to eat is often reduced in the elderly, with many afflicted by the “anorexia of aging.” Chewing difficulties, general deterioration or the side-effects of medication may have an adverse effect on appetite, as may psychological factors such as loneliness or depression. Family circumstances and other environmental factors may also play a role.

Risk of mortality

“Factors of this kind lead to poor appetite and related poor health,” Wahlqvist said. “We found that elderly people with fair or poor appetites had higher risks of mortality than those with good appetites.”

The study, based on data from more than 1,800 independently living Taiwanese over the age of 65, found that those who had poor appetites consumed a less diverse diet than others, with a consequently lower intake of energy, protein, vitamins and other nutrients.

Poor appetite does not directly bring about death: it’s the resulting poor diet that causes the harm.

“Knowledge of old people’s appetite therefore has considerable potential to be useful in both clinical and community settings, and should be part of an integrated approach to diet that underpins a healthy old age,” Wahlqvist said.

More

A huge drop in mortgage applications

Applications are at their lowest level in more than 13 years

Mortgage applications have fallen for the first time in 4 weeks. Data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey sh...

Photo
© emiliezhang - Fotolia.com

Mortgage applications have fallen for the first time in 4 weeks.

Data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey show applications were down 7.2% during the week ending September 5, to the lowest level since December 2000.

The weekly results include an adjustment for the Labor Day holiday.

The Refinance Index plunged 11% from the previous week, to the lowest level since November 2008, taking the refinance share of mortgage activity down 2% -- to 55% of total applications

The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity fell to 7.5% of total applications from 7.8% the previous week.

Contract interest rates

  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) posted its first increase in 4 weeks, rising 2 basis points -- from 4.25% to 4.27%, with points increasing to 0.25 from 0.24 (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) fell to 4.15% from 4.22%, with points increasing to 0.23 from 0.19 (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 dipped 2 basis points 3.97%, with points rising to 0.08 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 dropped to 3.44% from 3.48%, with points slipping to 0.28 from 0.30 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate was down from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs declined to 3.12% from 3.19%, with points unchanged at 0.45 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.

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

More

Home Depot hacking news: the thieves might be able to get your PIN, too

PINs were not stolen, but the ability to change PINs was

The news about the Home Depot customer-database hacking keeps getting worse: in addition to countless credit- and debit-card numbers, it looks like the hac...

Photo
© Jess Yu - Fotolia.com
The news about the Home Depot customer-database hacking keeps getting worse: in addition to countless credit- and debit-card numbers, it looks like the hackers are managing to get people's personal identification numbers (PIN), too.

From an identity thief's perspective, this is a huge advantage, because a stolen credit-card number generally is only useful for buying merchandise, whereas a stolen debit card and PIN is sufficient to make actual cash withdrawals.

Meanwhile, from the perspective of an ordinary Home Depot customer whose data was compromised in the breach, this is fantastically bad news because you're at greatly increased risk of being personally liable for any money fraudulently withdrawn from your account — if your bank thinks “That withdrawal was made with your PIN, and you're the only person who knows it, so it must have been you who withdrew all that money.”

Security expert Brian Krebs, who first broke word of the hacking almost a week before Home Depot formally admitted it, reported yesterday that his sources at “multiple financial institutions” have noticed a steep increase in fraudulent withdrawals from customer accounts.

Changing PINs

For what it's worth, Home Depot says that no debit-card PINs were stolen in the data breach, and they're probably correct in saying this. The problem is that, while the thieves didn't get the actual PINs, they did get enough other customer data to call various banks and change them:

Countless banks in the United States let customers change their PINs with a simple telephone call, using an automated call-in system known as a Voice Response Unit (VRU). A large number of these VRU systems allow the caller to change their PIN provided they pass three out of five security checks. One is that the system checks to see if the call is coming from a phone number on file for that customer. It also requests the following four pieces of information:

-the 3-digit code (known as a card verification value or CVV/CV2) printed on the back of the debit card;
-the card’s expiration date;
-the customer’s date of birth;
-the last four digits of the customer’s Social Security number.

But apparently, at least some thieves had had success in changing PINs without calling from the customer's actual phone number. Krebs mentioned an unidentified bank in New England that lost more than $25,000 to PIN fraud at ATMs in Canada: “In this attack, the fraudsters were calling from disposable, prepaid Magic Jack telephone numbers, and they did not have the Cv2 for each card. But they were able to supply the other three data points.”

Another bank, this one on the West Coast, lost more than $300,000 in only two hours on Monday afternoon:

the bad guys called the customer service folks at the bank and provided the last four of each cardholder’s Social Security number, date of birth, and the expiration date on the card. And, as with the bank in New England, that was enough information for the bank to reset the customer’s PIN.

The fraud manager said the scammers in this case also told the customer service people they were traveling in Italy, which made two things possible: It raised the withdrawal limits on the debit cards and allowed thieves to withdraw $300,000 in cash from Italian ATMs in the span of less than 120 minutes.

The good news is that, obviously, such frauds would be easy to stop by simply requiring all five of the authentication points before allowing a PIN reset — as many banks have already hurriedly done in the past two days.

Of course, inevitably there will come a downside; a legitimate customer who actually is visiting Italy (or some other country) will legitimately need to reset their PIN and be unable to do so since they're not calling from their regular phone, perhaps. With current limits on both technology and human nature, it probably isn't possible to create any security system that's 100% failproof, let alone a security system that never, ever keeps people “out” who should be allowed “in.”

Tokenization to the rescue?

More security changes are sure to be on the horizon, though. Credit card companies this week announced plans to adopt a process called “tokenization:” instead of every card-accepting merchant (such as Home Depot) being entrusted with the security of all their customers' credit-card data, the credit card company keeps all this information, and the merchant merely sees a “token” good only for confirming your identity with the credit card company.

But even tokenization is still a form of what's called “knowledge-based authentication” which, as the name says, is authentication requiring certain knowledge (such as your birth date, Social Security and other account numbers, and so forth).

The downside of knowledge-based authentication is obvious to anyone who's noticed the near-constant stream of recent “hackers break into database” news stories: even presumably confidential knowledge can be stolen, and the past few years have made it equally obvious that the world's financial institutions can't afford to continue relying on security systems that assume you are the only person on Earth who could possibly know your middle name, SSN and DOB.

But it doesn't look like they'll continue relying on this much longer. Krebs also spoke to security experts who said that banks are starting to move away from VRUs requiring knowledge-based authentication to VRUs with more “robust” security strategies: most likely biometric identifiers including “voice printing.”

Living fingers

On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, Barclay's Bank in the United Kingdom is taking biometric identifiers a step further: last week, Barclay's announced a new anti-fraud initiative wherein clients can access their bank accounts by sticking their fingers into a special scanner that identifies — not even a person's fingerprints, but the pattern of the veins inside the fingertip. (The scanner is only supposed to work with fingers still attached to living human bodies.

The Barclay's finger-scanners are currently limited to corporate clients, not to everyday account holders; certainly, such technology (at least for now) is far more expensive than the voice-printing and phone-testing which, according to Krebs' sources, might soon be standard security features on American payment cards.

Meanwhile, if you're an ordinary credit- or debit-card holder who's used it to buy something from any American or Canadian Home Depot store since last April, you might want to contact your bank and make doubly sure nobody can change your PIN except you.

More

Apple's iPhone6 and iWatch to offer "Apple Pay" mobile payment features

Will mobile payments one day replace credit cards for non-cash purchase options?

September is the month when Apple traditionally unveils its newest-generation iGadgets, and the offerings this time around include the iPhone6 and an iWatc...

Photo
The iWatch
September is the month when Apple traditionally unveils its newest-generation iGadgets, and the offerings this time around include the iPhone6 and an iWatch or “smartwatch” (basically a smaller iPhone worn like a wristwatch).

However, the real buzz so far does not involve the gadgets themselves, but a standard feature both offer: the ability to not only make payments with your mobile device (as opposed to a credit or debit card), but to make payments that are supposedly more secure than traditional American credit card purchases, thanks to the process of “tokenization.”

On the other hand, privacy advocates understandably have qualms about the idea of tying yet another vital aspect of daily life (buying and paying for things you need or want) to a hackable and NSA-accessible device that already has the ability to monitor everyplace you go and overhear everything you say.

Apple already included a fingerprint scanner on last September's iPhone5S. As with all such innovations, it includes equal parts increased security and increased security risk: greater security, in the sense that any thief would find stealing and copying your fingerprint much more difficult than stealing and copying your Social Security number, bank-account information or other presumably “confidential” data about you, plus the increased security risk of yet more personal information about you for a thief to find after breaking into the secure database where it's stored.

(Not to mention that if or when this happens, you can always change your bank or credit card account numbers, and even get a new Social Security number if you're willing to put some money and effort into it – but changing your fingerprint is a completely different ballgame.)

Next big thing

That said, tokenization has nothing to do with fingerprints or biometric identity. Right now, tokenization appears on track to be the Next Big Thing in electronic-payment security; earlier this week, the Americn credit card industry announced plans to introduce tokenization to fight back against the epidemic of hackers breaking into corporate databases, filching customers' “confidential” financial information, and using those to steal enormous sums of money (last year's security breach at Target alone was estimated to cost financial institutions over $200 million in losses — as of last February. The amount may have increased since then.)

Basically, current American electronic payment systems work like this: you, the shopper, have a credit or debit card with a unique account number which (in theory) is only known by you. In practice, of course, that account number is known to you, your credit card company, and every single business, financial or government entity where you used your credit card to pay for something.

Eventually, at least one of those business, financial or government entities will get hacked, the hackers get your confidential information, and then they either use it to pay for their own spending spree, or sell it to an identity thief who then does the same thing.

Tokenization is supposed to simplify matters: when you use your credit card to buy merchandise, the merchant does not get your personal account information. Instead, the merchant gets a “token” – a long and unique string of numbers – and uses that token to verify your data with the credit card company before giving you (or the identity thief posing as you) the merchandise.

With tokenization, credit card companies still must protect against the risk of hackers breaking into their database, but that is much easier than our current system, where the companies must merely put their faith in the database security of every merchant who accepts their card.

The new Apple products with their mobile payment options are expected to do essentially the same thing while bypassing the credit card companies.

The mobile payment system has this in common with credit cards: they're not strictly the equivalent of cash, which anybody can collect and spend; you can only accept credit-card payments if you have made arrangements to do so with the credit card company. The same will hold true for Apple mobile payments, with the additional wrinkle that the number of businesses currently accepting Apple is far less than those who will take MasterCard, Visa or Discover. (Of course, if you buy anything in Apple retail stores, you can defnitely use your iPhone to pay for that. CVS and Walgreens have also agreed to accept Apple mobile payments.)

Though the number of businesses accepting mobile payments in general is almost certain to increase. Apple's is not the first non-credit-card mobile payment system: Google Wallet and Softcard have already pioneered the field.

More

Four reasons gasoline prices are falling

Nationwide, the average price is down 14 cents a gallon from last year

Gasoline prices continue to drift lower in most areas of the country, an unusual experience for most drivers....

Photo
© Robert Hoetink - Fotolia.com

Gasoline prices continue to drift lower in most areas of the country, an unusual experience for most drivers.

According to AAA's Fuel Gauge Survey, the national average price of self-serve regular is around $3.43 a gallon – 14 cents lower than at this time last year. What's going on?

The biggest reason pump prices are on the decline has to do with the price of crude oil. In spite of all kinds of turmoil in the Middle East and sanctions against Russia, the price of oil has gone steadily lower over the summer.

International oil prices started with seek below $100 a barrel for the first time in more than a year. The price of U.S.-produced oil is even lower.

In addition to cheaper oil, four other major factors are combining to bring down the retail price of gasoline. We're using less, we're producing more, our money goes farther and seasonal factors are kicking in at just the right time.

Falling demand

Since the Great Recession, Americans have been using less gasoline. At first it was attributed to the weakness of the economy, but as the economy has slowly recovered, consumers still aren't using as much gasoline as before.

Reduced demand – in part because of more efficient cars and trucks – appears to be not just a response to an economic calamity but part of a long-term trend. The average fuel economy of new vehicles sold in the U.S. in August was at a record high of 25.8 mpg -- up 0.2 mpg from the value in July. Vehicle fuel economy is up 5.7 mpg since October 2007.

Thanks in large part to more efficient cars, the U.S. Energy Information Administration projects gasoline consumption will be less in 2015 than it will be this year.

Shale revolution

Meanwhile, the U.S. is swimming in oil, thanks to the shale revolution. U.S. producers continue to find and refine more oil, reducing the need to import more expensive Brent crude oil. With the U.S. buying less Brent, that creates more slack in that market – perhaps one reason Brent prices dipped below $100 this week.

With plenty of oil at its disposal, U.S. refineries are operating at about 93% capacity, maintaining about a 23-day supply of gasoline at all times. Throughout August, the U.S. had gasoline stockpiles of between 210 million and 213 million barrels.

Strong dollar

A third factor leading to lower gasoline prices – indirectly at least – is a strengthening U.S. dollar. Since oil is priced in dollars, the more valuable the currency the lower the price of the things it will buy.

While a strong dollar hurts American exports, since U.S. products will cost more in foreign markets, it helps consumers who buy imported products, like oil. The Dollar Index, meanwhile, is sitting near its highest levels of the year after a big run-up over the summer.

Lower costs

Finally, the seasonal switch from summer blend gasoline to winter blend is providing some relief at the gas pump. Producing a winter grade gasoline costs less than producing the fuel we use in summer. So the price falls.

Because of this seasonal factor, AAA expects the national price of gasoline could drop as much as another 20 cents per gallon by the end of October.

“The big crunch in summer travel is done and most of us can look forward to lower gas prices during the next few months,” said Avery Ash, AAA spokesman. “If we can get through September without any major refinery or overseas problems, we should see more gas stations drop below $3.00 per gallon this fall.”

Enjoy it while it lasts.

More

Fire sale: Amazon slashes price of Fire Phone to 99 cents

The point-and-buy phone has been, to put it mildly, a dud

This is probably not the day to ask Jeff Bezos how everything is going. It is, after all, the day that Amazon has cut the price of its Fire smartphone to 9...

PhotoThis is probably not the day to ask Jeff Bezos how everything is going. It is, after all, the day that Amazon has cut the price of its Fire smartphone to 99 cents from its original price of $199. 

Meanwhile, down the Coast a bit, Apple's latest product release -- the iPhone 6. which is, after all, an awful lot like the iPhone 5 -- is being treated with the adulation, bluster and hype once reserved for space shots and other marvels. 

When Amazon introduced the Fire Phone, it confidently expected to sell between 2 and 3 million phones by the end of this year, analysts said. To put that in perspective, that's about how many iPhones Apple sells each week. Not a really lofty goal, in other words.

Whether it has come close to hitting those numbers isn't known and Amazon's not saying. Which tells you something right there.

Wounded drone

PhotoThe Fire was supposed to set the world ablaze by making it super easy to order stuff. Just point the phone at a box of cereal, hit the button and -- whoosh -- your order would be placed and a nice fresh box of Cheerios dispatched to your domicile. 

No doubt this sounded great in the marketing meetings but it landed with something of a thud, sort of like a wounded delivery drone making a hard landing.

So will the phone sell at its new 99-cent price? Well, considering that it comes with a year of Amazon Prime, which normally costs up to $99, you could throw the phone away and still come out ahead.

The only fly in that ointment is that so many consumers -- again, no one knows quite how many -- already have Prime, which cuts down the universe of qualified prospects by a rather significant margin.  

At least Amazon was able to get prime advertising space to promote the Fire sale in Bezos' Washington Post this morning. 

More

PayPal to start accepting bitcoin

World's second-largest Internet payment network promises a "sleek experience"

Ebay's PayPal says it will begin accepting bitcoins, a major endorsement of the fledgling virtual currency system. With 152 million registered PayPal users...

Photo
© kulyk - Fotolia-com

Ebay's PayPal says it will begin accepting bitcoins, a major endorsement of the fledgling virtual currency system. With 152 million registered PayPal users and the world's biggest Web martketplace, Ebay's entry could spur wider use and acceptance of bitcoin by consumers and businesses. 

It could also make Ebay a big transactional player in such fast-growing businesses as Uber and Airbnb, which use Ebay's Braintree as their mobile payment processor. Ebay acquired Braintree last year to expand its mobile-transactions business.

PayPal Sept. 9, 2014, 4:27 p.m.
Consumers rate PayPal
Bill Ready, Braintree's CEO, announced the decision at Techcrunch’s Disrupt SF conference yesterday, Bloomberg News reported. “Over the coming months we’ll allow our merchants to accept bitcoins. On the consumer side it will be a sleek experience,” he said.

Tens of thousands of PayPal merchants used Braintree as their payment processor, potentially enabling them to accept bitcoin payments for everything from a $2 cup of coffee to an $895 pair of Paul Andrew boots at Neiman Marcus.

Dish Networks, Overstock and Expedia also accept the virtual currency, as do 63,000 smaller businesses. There are estimated to be about 5 million digital "wallets" currently in use. Although an individual could have more than one wallet, the number of wallets is generally considered to translate roughly to the approximate number of users worldwide.

Imaginary currency

Bitcoins are "imaginary" units of currency that exist in online public ledgers that are kept confidential through cryptography. Governments, which are accustomed to having exclusive rights to print money, are somewhat dismayed by the prospect of a global currency that is completely beyond their control but so far have done little to impede its growth.

It's relatively easy for consumers to set up a bitcoin account at sites such as Blockchain and Coinbase. But consumers should be aware that there are no protections similar to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and no help is available for consumers who lose their virtual funds.

Most bitcoin wallets are linked to consumers' bank accounts and it's also wise to be aware that if a consumer loses control of his virtual wallet, evil-doers could clean out the connected bank account.

There's also the little matter of volatility. Bitcoin prices have swung from more than $900 to as low as $341 this year. Today's price is $465.77. 

More

Boomer flight: another reason for cities to worry

AARP warns seniors may take their money and move somewhere else

Detroit's bankruptcy has focused attention on the financial problems many cities face. Their costs continue to rise but their tax revenue simply can't keep...

PhotoDetroit's bankruptcy has focused attention on the financial problems many cities face. Their costs continue to rise but their tax revenue simply can't keep up.

The collapse of the real estate market is one factor. Municipalities get a lot of their money from property taxes. Since the tax is based on the value of the property, it does down when the value of the property goes down.

And as every homeowner knows, the value of property has gone down over the last 5 years.

But there could be another threat to cities in the next few years that would compound those revenue problems. It has to do with demographics.

In recent years cities have enjoyed new popularity as young people have moved in, taking advantage of lower property values and a more vibrant night life. But young people, at the start of their careers, don't make and spend as much money as their parents' generation – the Baby Boomers.

Moving, and taking their money

When the Boomers retire and no longer need to live in the city or its nearby suburbs, they could move, taking their money with them. That's what could well happen in the nation's largest city, according to AARP New York.

AARP estimates that Boomers living in the state of New York would contribute $179 billion to the state's economy if they remained in New York after they retired. But in a new report, the association found 60% of Boomers are thinking about leaving the state after they stop working.

Politicians and policymakers, the group maintains, should do what they can to keep this age group from relocating.

"New York State's 50-plus are a major force both at the ballot box and in the local and state economy – but many are worried about their futures here, and finances and affordability are major factors for them," said Beth Finkel, State Director for AARP in New York State. "We are working with lawmakers to help identify solutions to New York's looming billion-dollar Baby Boomer flight problem and tackle some of the key issues of concern to the overall 50-plus population."

Longevity economy

There's a name for the money older Americans spend and that which is spent providing services for them. AARP calls it the “Longevity Economy” and in New York, it's huge.

According to AARP estimates, it's $600 billion, supporting 53% of the state's jobs, 48% of its employee compensation and 44% of all state taxes.

Why do Boomers say they plan to move after retirement? The answers are not surprising and not that different from what seniors living in other urban states might say.

Worried about housing

Forty percent say they have a concern about housing costs. Many have significant equity in homes that can be cashed out for the purchase of a less expensive home in a less-populous state.

Fifty-six percent said they are very concerned about property taxes. Taxes tend to be high in New York and other urban states. They're a lot lower in states like South Carolina, which is experienced a major of influx of Boomers from New York and the Washington, D.C., area.

Large majorities of fleeing Boomers say they are looking for improvements in health care, housing, transportation and jobs for older residents.

Many retirees, after all, want to keep working after they retire. But instead of working at the job that has paid the bills all these years, they may be looking for something a bit more fulfilling.

AARP says states have the best chance of keeping their seniors from taking their money and leaving if they make staying put more worthwhile.  

More

FCC urged to allow phone companies to block robocalls

Illinois attorney general labels robocalls "a growing problem"

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan wants the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to issue an opinion on whether phone companies can legally impleme...

Photo
© Carsten Reisinger - Fotolia.com

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan wants the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to issue an opinion on whether phone companies can legally implement call-blocking technologies to protect phone customers from “robocalls,” the maddening automated calls pushing scams and proposals of every sort imaginable.

Call-blocking technologies, such as NoMoRobo, Call Control and Telemarketing Guard, allow phone carriers to identify and block unwelcome sales calls at a customer’s request. However, some phone carriers have not implemented this technology in part due to a federal law that they believe prevents them from blocking calls on a customer’s behalf.

Despite coordinated efforts by Madigan’s office, other state attorneys general and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Madigan says Illinois residents continue to report robocalls to their homes, even when residents have placed their numbers on the FTC’s “Do Not Call” registry. The calls frequently originate from scammers in foreign countries, using technology to hide their location and identity, which makes enforcement efforts difficult.

Carriers quake

Phone carriers have expressed concern that the FCC’s legal framework prohibits them from determining which calls should be allowed to go through to a customer and which should be blocked.

Last year, in explaining the obstacles that phone carriers face in implementing call-blocking technologies, US Telecom wrote to the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance that “the FCC has concluded that call blocking is an unjust and unreasonable practice under section 201(b) of the Communications Act of 1934.”

In a letter to the FCC today, Madigan and 38 other attorneys general sought a formal opinion from the FCC on whether an exception can be made to allow companies to block illegal telemarketing calls at the request of a customer.

“Robocalls are a growing problem in Illinois and across the country,” Madigan said. “It is imperative that we use every tool available to put a stop to these annoying and unwanted calls.”

More

Digging up the dirt at work

Lots of good things can sprout in an office garden

There can be a lot of dirty work in your job. I mean REALLY dirty if you build a garden with your co-workers. Yep, it's a new trend: the office garden....

Photo
© jillchen - Fotolia.com

There can be a lot of dirty work in your job. I mean REALLY dirty if you build a garden with your co-workers. Yep, it's a new trend: the office garden.

There are a lot of jokes we could make about this: You can grow in your job. Plant a seed, see if the boss notices. But maybe it's a good idea. Companies are encouraging employees to start gardens as a way to stretch the food dollar, build teamwork and promote healthy foods and eating habits.

It's no surprise that healthcare institutions like Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare and Gundersen Health System in Wisconsin are digging in with this concept. Along with the healthcare benefit it's a great stress reliever. Just think -- when things get pretty heavy at work you can walk outside and do a little garden therapy. Pull some weeds and take a valued time-out for yourself.

How to do it

Photo
Subaru's Share the Love Garden (Photo credit: Subaru)

Find a spot. The company property would be ideal,whether on adjacent land, in containers on a deck, or even on the company roof. It that’s not possible, look into renting space from a local community garden.

Independent School Management, a private school management consulting firm in Wilmington, Delaware, put in three raised beds and a high trellis for vertical gardening on company land. They planted things that were easily picked like tomatoes, radishes and melons.

Find a leader, preferably someone who knows a little bit about gardening. Usually there is someone on staff. If not hire someone to just get you started. Maybe a local nursery. What great exposure for them to come over and get you started and then get residual business when you decide to start your own in home garden. (There's your selling point so you don't have to pay them!)

Organize the project. See if your company will furnish tools or will you have to purchase them? Will you start your own plants from seed, or purchase them? Decide who will do what and create a chore chart so everyone has a part and you build it together.

Post photos on the company website. At the Subaru of America headquarters in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, six teams of employees maintain six 13-by-20-foot garden plots in the Share the Love Garden. All the garden harvest is donated to the New Vision Homeless Day Center in Camden.

Enjoy and have fun. What a great way to bond with your fellow cubicle mates you can share recipes and food ideas.

The truth about gardening is that once you’ve taken care of a few startup costs, it really is a very inexpensive hobby that results in delicious produce.

More

Imposter fraud scheme shut down

Robocalls used in fraudulently pitch to help collect FTC refunds

Operators of an illegal robocall scheme that falsely told consumers they could get refunds from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on their behalf has been...

Photo
© kentoh - Fotolia.com

Operators of an illegal robocall scheme that falsely told consumers they could get refunds from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on their behalf have been put out of business -- for good.

According to an FTC complaint, the operators of The Cuban Exchange “spoofed” the agency's own toll-free number on consumers’ caller ID and misled more than 13,000 people into believing the operation had a connection with the FTC and could help them get refunds from the commission.

The FTC called the claims a ruse, known as “imposter fraud,” that was designed to trick consumers into providing their personal information and bank account numbers. The operation also did business as CrediSure America and MyiPad.us.

The shutdown order

A default order and final judgment entered by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York permanently bars The Cuban Exchange and its principal, Suhaylee Riviera, from making misrepresentations in connection with the marketing or sale of any goods or services.

Among other things, the order prohibits defendants from claiming an affiliation with, or endorsement by, the FTC, or claiming that they can obtain refunds from the commission on behalf of consumers.

The judgment also bars the defendants from making illegal robocalls and calling consumers whose phone numbers are on the Do Not Call Registry. Finally, it permanently shuts down the websites that were used in the scheme -- including ftcrefund.com -- and prohibits defendants from starting any new website that advertises an ability to provide government refund services.

More

Sleeping on animal fur may help protect against asthma

A study provides additional evidence that early exposure to allergens isn't necessarily bad

New research finds that babies who sleep on animal fur for the first three months of their life are less likely to develop asthma. Nobody is suggesting sti...

Photo
© gitusik - Fotolia.com
New research finds that babies who sleep on animal fur for the first three months of their life are less likely to develop asthma. Nobody is suggesting sticking the family dog in the baby's crib. But letting your kids be around the dog and other animals may just be beneficial. 

The results of the study were presented at the European Respiratory Society (ERS) International Congress in Munich, Germany, yesterday. Germs in the hide and fur prime the immune system not to trigger allergies, scientists believe.

The results go hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis" that suggests too much cleanliness early in life can increase susceptibility to allergies.

Study details

The researchers collected information on the health of the children until they reached 10 years of age. The study utilized data on a total of 2,441 children; of these, 55% slept on animal skin for the first 3 months of their lives.

They found that the risk of a number of factors connected with asthma was greatly reduced for those sleeping on animal skin. Children who had slept on animal skin were 79% less likely to have developed asthma by the age of 6 than children who had not been exposed to animal skin.

By the age of 10, the risk of developing asthma had decreased further to 41%.

Earlier studies have found that microbes in a rural setting can protect from asthma and the thinking was that animal skin might be a reservoir for various kinds of microbes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 9.3% of children and 8% of non-institutionalized adults in the U.S. have asthma. In 2010, asthma was estimated to have caused 1.8 million visits to emergency departments. These numbers are increasing every year.

More

Pharmaceutical companies sued -- charged with blocking access to cheaper AndroGel

AbbVie and Besins Healthcare allegedly teamed up to delay generics

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is hauling several major drug companies into court, charging them with illegally blocking consumer access to lower-cost...

Photo
Photo source: AndroGel

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is hauling several major drug companies into court, charging them with illegally blocking consumer access to lower-cost versions of AndroGel.

According to the agency's complaint AbbVie and its partner, Besins Healthcare, filed baseless patent infringement lawsuits against potential generic competitors to delay the introduction of lower-priced versions of the testosterone replacement drug.

Further, according to the FTC, while the lawsuits were pending, AbbVie then entered into an anticompetitive pay-for-delay settlement agreement with Teva Pharmaceuticals to further delay generic drug competition.

The commission is acting, said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez, “to stop anticompetitive conduct by AbbVie, Besins Healthcare and Teva which has forced consumers to overpay hundreds of millions for the drug AndroGel.”

The FTC wants the court to declare that the defendants’ conduct violates the FTC Act, to order the companies to disgorge their ill-gotten gains, and permanently bar them from engaging in similar anticompetitive behavior in the future.

AndroGel is a topical pharmaceutical gel product approved for testosterone replacement therapy in men with low testosterone. It has annual U.S. sales of more than $1 billion.

The charges

The FTC’s lawsuit claims:

  • AbbVie and Besins filed baseless patent infringement lawsuits against generic drug marketers Teva and Perrigo Company to delay FDA approval of a generic version of AndroGel and extend the monopoly profits for the branded version. The complaint charges AbbVie and Besins with monopolization.
  • After countersuing AbbVie and Besins and alleging that the infringement suit was baseless, Teva subsequently accepted illegal payments from AbbVie to drop its patent challenge and refrain from bringing its competing testosterone gel product to market. The complaint charges AbbVie and Teva with illegally restraining trade.

The complaint also names AbbVie’s predecessor company, Abbott Laboratories, and its wholly owned subsidiary, Unimed Pharmaceuticals, LLC, as defendants in the case.

More

BioAnue Labs ordered to halt sale of dietary supplements

The products were marketed as treatments for conditions including cancer

BioAnue Laboratories of Rochelle, Ga., and its owner/operators, Gloria and Kelly Raber, have been ordered to stop illegally marketing its products as treat...

Photo
Photo source: BioAnue Laboratories

BioAnue Laboratories of Rochelle, Ga., and its owner/operators, Gloria and Kelly Raber, have been ordered to stop illegally marketing its products as treatments for disease, and to terminate the sale of supplements until the company complies with the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) manufacturing regulations and other requirements.

The products were sold as dietary supplements but were unapproved new drugs because they were marketed as treatments for conditions including cancer, HIV/AIDS, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and diabetes, without approval from the FDA, according to the court order.

According to the FDA, the defendants did not take appropriate corrective action in response to a warning letter issued on Feb. 9, 2012, involving the marketing of the firm’s dietary supplements as unapproved new drugs.

A follow-up FDA inspection in August 2012 revealed that BioAnue was also manufacturing products that were not in compliance with FDA’s current good manufacturing practice requirements for dietary supplements.

Manufacture and distribution banned

The permanent injunction prohibits the manufacture or distribution of products until the defendants hire independent experts to assist in bringing the firm’s manufacturing practices and labeling into compliance with the law.

In his court order, federal Judge Marc T. Treadwell said the government was able to provide evidence that the defendants sold unapproved new drugs and failed to follow FDA’s current good manufacturing practice regulations for dietary supplements.

“The FDA is committed to ensuring that consumers do not become victims of false products claiming to cure diseases,” said Melinda Plaisier, associate commissioner for the FDA’s Office of Regulatory Affairs. “This firm has ignored previous FDA warnings, continued to produce and promote products with unproven claims and ignored good manufacturing practices.”

The defendants’ products include: TumoRx Cardio Clean, TumoRx Apoptosis Full Strength, TumoRx Formula CX, BioAnue Diabetic Mender, BioAnue Heart Mender, Stroke Mender, Cardiovascular Mender and Bovine Cartilage.

More

Best way to lose weight: cut fat or carbs?

Another study suggests some fat may be better than carbohydrates

Dieters can be excused for feeling confused about all the conflicting information from reputable experts about the best way to shed pounds. It's hard to kn...

Photo
© Viktorija & valerie121283 - Fotolia.com

Dieters can be excused for feeling confused about all the conflicting information from reputable experts about the best way to shed pounds. It's hard to know what to eat and what not to eat.

Recent research made news when it suggested a low-fat diet might not be all that healthy. Now research from Tulane University makes the case for cutting carbohydrates rather than fat to lose weight.

The study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, followed a group of test subjects who were divided into two groups. One consumed fewer than 40 grams of digestible carbs per day while the others consumed less than 30% of daily calories from fat.

Both diets worked

It's important to note that both groups lost weight. But after a year, the low-carb group lost an average of 7.7 pounds more than the low-fat group.

The study also found the two diets affected health in different ways. The group that ate more fat and fewer carbs experienced improvements in blood levels of certain fats that are predictors of heart disease risk.

The low-carb dieters also saw a significant improvement in so-called “good” HDL cholesterol and a decline in “bad” cholesterol.

For lead author Dr. Lydia Bazzano, the takeaway is t