Current Events in October 2014

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    New car sales surge again in September

    Truck sales were up 19%, as lower gas prices spur sales

    The fast-selling 2015 Nissan Frontier (Photo credit: Nissan USA)

    September was another strong month for U.S. car sales, with General Motors (GM) turning in an exceptionally strong performance. Among manufacturers, GM logged the most September sales, followed by Ford and Toyota, according to Kelley Blue Book(KBB).

    In a possible sign that the economy continues to recover, full-sized pick-ups also had another strong month. Mid-sized cars led September sales with 14.2% of the market but pick-ups were a close second, at 13.9%. Truck sales were up 19% year over year.

    “The market continues to embrace trucks and SUVs at every price point, with premium brands also benefiting from a combination of fresh product and readily available credit,” said Karl Brauer, a senior analyst at KBB.

    And it wasn't just full-sized pick-ups driving off the lot. Sales of compact trucks also put in a strong showing.

    Riding the wave

    “Nissan Frontier is riding that wave, said Michelle Krebs, senior analyst, AutoTrader.com. “The upward trend of small trucks may be due to an overall strengthening of the overall truck market – the last quarter of the year always is the strongest for trucks – and the anticipation of new entries from General Motors – the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon.”

    Brauer notes that September's sales are all the more impressive because Labor Day Weekend sales counted in August this year. GM's solid September was helped by Chevrolet's 12.4% market share.

    However, Chevy was second to Ford, which claimed 13.9% of the market last month. Toyota was third at 11.4%.

    Honda and Nissan round out the top 5 with 8.5% and 7.7% respectively.

    Economic tailwinds

    Mark Strand, an analyst for AutoTrader.com, says the new car market is benefiting from some economic tailwinds.

    “We see a slowly improving economy with stability in the job market, and consumer confidence moving upward to the highest levels since the last recession,” he said. “Additionally, gas prices have been stable for an extended period and actually have been declining since the summer, all of which makes consumers feel better in general and particularly about driving a larger vehicle.”

    Gasoline prices may be spurring the economy in areas other than auto sales. The national average price of self serve regular has fallen to $3.30 a gallon, according to AAA's Fuel Gauge Survey, and is actually below $3 in some states. While the national average is down sharply from last month it is roughly in line with prices a year ago.

    Strand says another factor helping consumers purchase new vehicles is cheap financing – and the greater availability of subprime financing, which some may see as potentially problematic.

    While sales continue to rise, consumers continue to spend more on new cars. KBB reports the average transaction price for a new vehicle in September was $32,500. That's up $56 from August and $133 from September 2013.

    September was another strong month for U.S. car sales, with General Motors (GM) turning in an exceptionally strong performance. Among manufacturers, GM log...

    New Jersey fines Extreme Energy Solutions $1.1 million

    The company claims to make devices that reduce auto emissions

    A New Jersey company that claims to make devices that reduce pollution from cars has been fined $1.1 million on securities violations. The New Jersey Bureau of Securities ordered Extreme Energy Solutions, Inc. (EES), saying it had fraudulently sold unregistered stock and misled investors. 

    “The Bureau of Securities chief found that (company CEO Samuel) Burlum misled investors with a series of lies about his company’s current and future prospects for success,” Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman said. “This $1.1 million civil penalty will serve as a deterrent and a clear reminder that we are watching, and that investors must also do their homework before investing.”

    EES sells and installs a device called the SMART Emissions Reducer, formerly known as the InterCharger, which supposedly reduces automobile emissions and increases motor fuel efficiency.

    According to the findings of Bureau of Securities Chief Laura H. Posner, Burlum reached prospective investors in part through his membership in a group called the Global Information Network, currently an Illinois-based organization that describes itself as a “unique success club” whose members help each other achieve wealth, gain financial freedom, experience dynamic health, and reach high levels of overall emotional well-being.

    “Burlum’s scheme bears all the signs of affinity fraud, in which an individual gains the trust of a group based on a shared background or interest – in this case, the Global Information Network – and takes advantage of its members,” Posner said. “No matter who offers you an investment opportunity, it is vitally important to contact the Bureau of Securities and learn whether the seller and the security itself are registered. This is especially true for any offers like those at issue here that seem too good to be true.”

    A New Jersey company that claims to make devices that reduce pollution from cars has been fined $1.1 million on securities violations. The New Jersey Burea...

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      Feds stop Medicare scam that took millions from seniors

      Criminals said they were providing a new Medicare card or updating client information

      A federal court has halted a telemarketing scheme that tricked senior citizens by pretending to be part of Medicare, and took millions of dollars from consumers’ bank accounts without their consent. The Federal Trade Commission seeks to permanently end the operation and return victims’ money.

      According to a complaint filed by the FTC, the defendants called consumers – including many whose numbers were listed on the National Do Not Call Registry – and said they were providing a new Medicare card or information about Medicare benefits.

      The defendants allegedly misrepresented that they were working on behalf of Medicare, and said they needed to verify consumers’ identities using personal information that included their bank account numbers.

      They allegedly assured consumers that the information would not be used to debit their bank accounts, and that there was no charge for the new Medicare card or information about Medicare benefits.

      However, within a few weeks, consumers learned their bank accounts had been debited either $399 or $448 via remotely created checks (RCCs), the complaint alleges. Despite these charges, consumers did not receive any kind of product or service from the defendants. In some instances, the defendants debited the accounts of consumers they had not even contacted.

      The defendants are Sun Bright Ventures LLC, Citadel ID Pro LLC, and Benjamin Todd Workman. The FTC named Trident Consulting Partners LLC and Glenn Erickson as relief defendants who profited from the scheme.

      A federal court has halted a telemarketing scheme that tricked senior citizens by pretending to be part of Medicare, and took millions of dollars from cons...

      Utah establishing itself as the Extreme Pumpkin Capital

      Growing gigantic pumpkins is a growing obsession these days

      It's being billed as the Extreme Gardening Super Bowl. Where they grow pumpkins at 10 times the size of what you might see on someone's door step. These pumpkins are so big you could almost make a house out of them. OK maybe not that big, but weighing in at 1,731 pounds -- that is a lot of pumpkin pie!

      Gigantic pumpkin gardening is a growing obsession for many families and Utah seems to be the capital of states that are growing them big! Matt McConkie was pretty happy as he broke the state record at the Utah Giant Pumpkin Grower's weigh-off at Thanksgiving Point. That 1,731 pound pumpkin was a record so far this year.

      Forty-five heavyweights from Utah and Idaho competed and were ranked the biggest in 2014. An enthusiastic crowd cheered as scales revealed each official weight. After 25 years of competitions, Utah is now being recognized as a top growing area, with more monsters hitting the scales than anywhere else.

      Strategic breeding

      Since the 1980s, giant pumpkins have tripled in size, thanks to strategic breeding and a new crop of hard-core growers with time on their hands and dirt under their fingernails. Also, advances in soil science and technology have helped growers. Thomas Andres, a squash expert at the New York Botanical Garden, has predicted that the first 2,000-pound pumpkin will appear in 2014.

      Most of the country’s best growers will be at the Ohio Valley Giant Pumpkin Growers Weigh-Off which takes place October 11.The Ohio Valley contest is one of more than 80 competitions in the “Great Pumpkin Belt,” which stretches across North America from Washington State to Nova Scotia. The area is prime for raising pumpkins with 90 to 120 frost-free summer days, and temps cold enough in winter to keep plant diseases and pests in check.

      The weigh-offs are pretty friendly, but let's not forget this is a science with growers meticulously graphing their pumpkins’ growth curves and sharing success and failure with their peers.

      According to the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth website there are all kinds of awards in this competition, from Rookie of the Year to Grower of the Year and even a 4,000 Pounder Club.

      The prize is a patch that can be sewn onto the grower's jacket. Kinda like when you were a kid and you could swim a certain distance and you got a patch on your bathing suit. I guess it's not the prize but more the accomplishment.

      Prize money starts at $100 but goes up to $1,000 with some companies matching prize money and then you can win in multiple categories. There are lots of ways to win and get patches and cool jackets.

      The question is how big do you think they can get?

      “Nobody knows what the limit is going to be,” says Andres, of the New York Botanical Garden. In fact, mechanical engineer David Hu and colleagues at the Georgia Institute of Technology have been investigating pumpkin growth. A world-record strawberry or tomato weighs about ten times the average, they found. By contrast, giant pumpkins weigh 100 times the average.

      It's being billed as the Extreme Gardening Super Bowl. Where they grow pumpkins at 10 times the size of what you might see on someone's door step. These pu...

      Vigil Beef Jerky recalls products produced without the benefit of inspection

      There have been no reports of illness

      Vigil Beef Jerky of Albuquerque, N.M., is recalling approximately 48 pounds of beef jerky products because they were shipped with the mark of inspection when they were produced under a retail exemption.

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

      The products subject to recall include:

      • 1-oz. bags of “VIGIL’S BEEF JERKY CO. ORIGINAL BEEF JERKY” with package code “8121421210” and packaging date of “8/12/14”
      • 3-oz. bags of “VIGIL’S BEEF JERKY CO. TERIYAKI BEEF JERKY” with package code “8271427410” and packing date “8/27/14”
      • 1-oz., 3-oz., and 6-oz. bags of “VIGIL’S BEEF JERKY CO. JALAPENO BEEF JERKY” with package code “09021425110” and packaging date “9/2/14”
      • 1-oz., 3-oz., and 6-oz. of “VIGIL’S BEEF JERKY CO. ORIGINAL BEEF JERKY” with package code “09031411110” and packaging code “9/3/14”

      All products bear the establishment number "EST. 34272" inside the USDA mark of inspection, and were sold in retail establishments in New Mexico.

      Consumers with questions may contact the Jeremy Peck at Jeremy@vigilsbeefjerky.com or at (505) 328-4490.

      Vigil Beef Jerky of Albuquerque, N.M., is recalling approximately 48 pounds of beef jerky products because they were shipped with the mark of inspection wh...

      Chevrolet Sonics with air bag issue recalled

      The driver's frontal air bag may not deploy properly

      General Motors is recalling 304 model year 2014 Chevrolet Sonic vehicles manufactured July 28, 2014, to August 1, 2014.

      Due to a loss of electrical connection in the steering column, in the event of a severe crash, the driver's frontal air bag deployment may be limited to the first-stage deployment only instead of the intended first-stage and second-stage deployments. If only the first-stage of the driver's frontal air bag deploys without the additional second-stage, the driver has an increased risk of injury during a crash.

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will test the terminals in the IP harness clock spring coil connector and replace any loose terminals, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020. GM's number for this recall is 14537.

      General Motors is recalling 304 model year 2014 Chevrolet Sonic vehicles manufactured July 28, 2014, to August 1, 2014. Due to a loss of electrical conne...

      GM recalls Cadillac SRX and Saab 9-4X vehicles

      The vehicle could sway or wander at highway speeds

      General Motors is recalling 290,241 model year 2010-2015 Cadillac SRX vehicles manufactured April 14, 2009, to September 1, 2014, and 2011-2012 Saab 9-4X vehicles manufactured February 1, 2011, to September 13, 2011.

      The jam nut in the rear suspension toe adjuster link may not be torqued to the proper specification. A loose toe adjuster link can cause the vehicle to sway or wander at highway speeds and may lead to thread damage and eventual failure. Failure of the toe adjuster link could cause a loss of vehicle control, increasing the risk of a crash.

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the torque of the left and right rear toe link adjuster lock nuts, and replace the parts if there is evidence of damage or a loose link, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in early November 2014 and remedy parts -- if needed -- are expected to be available around the middle of November 2014.

      Owners may contact Cadillac customer service at 1-800-458-8006 or Saab customer service at 1-800-955-9007. GM's number for this recall is 14457.

      General Motors is recalling 290,241 model year 2010-2015 Cadillac SRX vehicles manufactured April 14, 2009, to September 1, 2014, and 2011-2012 Saab 9-4X v...

      Olson Meat recalls pork blood product

      The product was produced without the benefit of federal inspection

      Olson Meat of Orland, Calif., is recalling approximately 160 pounds of pork blood product that was produced without the benefit of federal inspection and outside regular inspection hours.

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

      The following product is subject to recall:

      • 1 gallon jugs of “OLSON MEAT COMPANY, INC., PORK BLOOD WITH VINEGAR”

      Jugs and cases contain a generic label with safe handling instructions (keep refrigerated or frozen) affixed to the handle of the jug and bear the establishment number “EST. 21799” inside the USDA mark of inspection. The products were produced Sept.9 and were shipped frozen on Sept. 10 to a single retailer in Hawaii.

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Grant Wyler at (530) 865-4641.

      Olson Meat of Orland, Calif., is recalling approximately 160 pounds of pork blood product that was produced without the benefit of federal inspection and o...

      Toys R Us recalls children’s sandals

      The butterfly wings on the children’s sandals can rip and detach

      Toys R Us of Wayne, N.J., is recalling about 19,000 pair of Koala children’s sandals with butterfly wings.

      The butterfly wings on the children’s sandals can rip and detach, posing a choking hazard to young children.

      The company has received a report from a consumer who found a piece of the shoe’s butterfly wings in a child’s mouth. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves Koala Baby girl’s plastic sandals with butterfly wings attached to the toes with rhinestones and hard or soft cork-type soles. Sandal colors include white or combination pink, gold and blue. They were sold in baby sizes 0 to 3 and girl’s sizes 2 to 10. “Koala Baby” and the size are printed on the soles.

      White soft-soled sandals have model number GNL 43633BR and item number 795267 printed on a tag sewn into the sandal’s ankle strap. White hard-soled sandals have model number GNL 43706BR and item number 795313. Combination pink, gold and blue soft-soled sandals have model number GNL 43634BR and item number 795275. Combination pink, gold and blue hard-soled sandals have GNM 41761BR and item number 845795.

      The sandals, manufactured in China, were sold at Toys R Us and Babies R Us stores nationwide and online at toysrus.com and babiesrus.com from February 2014, through September 2014, for about $13.

      Consumers should immediately take the recalled sandals away from young children and return the sandals to any Toys R Us or Babies R Us for a full refund.

      Consumers may contact Toys R Us at (800) 869-7787 anytime.

      Toys R Us of Wayne, N.J., is recalling about 19,000 pair of Koala children’s sandals with butterfly wings. The butterfly wings on the children’s sandals ca...

      76 million households compromised in Chase hacking

      Customers' money is safe, the bank says, insisting hackers didn't get detailed information

      No one has yet managed to get the goods on every living human but the hackers who made their way into JPMorgan Chase over the summer made a good start. The bank says about 76 million households -- two-thirds of the U.S. total -- could be affected.

      The hackers got log-in information, names, emails and addresses but supposedly did not get such vital information as Social Security numbers, passwords and account numbers. 

      The breach was first disclosed in August but the scope is just becoming clear as federal law enforcements agencies continue to investigate.

      Chase says it hasn't seen an unusual amount of fraud and insists that customers' money is safe. In a statement, it noted that customers will not be liable for unauthorized transactions as long as they notify the bank when they're discovered. It's not necessary to change passwords, the bank said.

      They're sorry

      "We are very sorry that this happened and for any uncertainty this may cause you," the bank said in a statement to customers. "As always, we recommend you use care with your accounts and information," advice critics might say Chase should heed more rigorously.

      Consumers rate Chase Bank
      Chase provides simple answers to rudimentary questions in an FAQ about the attack.  

      The biggest threat now is phishing attacks in which criminals may try to get Chase customers to turn over the information that wasn't stolen so it can be combined with the information that was -- especially passwords and account numbers.

      JPMorgan has about 65 million customers but potential damage is not limited to the bank's customers. Non-customers who used ATM machines or conducted other transactions through Chase.com and JPMorgan.com could also be affected.

      With mid-term elections looking, Congress is likely to react to the incursion. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) was among the first to issue a thundering denunciation.

      “The data breach at JPMorgan Chase is yet another example of how Americans’ most sensitive personal information is in danger,” Markey said, calling for legislation that would protect against such attacks, which are already illegal under numerous federal, state and local laws.

      No one has yet managed to get the goods on every living human but the hackers who made their way into JPMorgan Chase over the summer made a good start. The...

      Lincoln MKS, BMW 5 get poor ratings in safety test, Infiniti Q70 earns top score

      The results run the gamut from good to poor in small front overlap tests

      Of the 3 luxury autos that were recently put through the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) small overlap front test for the first time, only 1 -- the Infiniti Q70 -- achieved a good rating and qualified for the 2014 IIHS "Top Safety Pick+" award.

      The Lincoln MKS earned a poor rating, and the BMW 5 series earned a marginal. In fact, the MKS and 5 series are the worst performers out of 7 large luxury cars tested so far for small overlap protection.

      The Q70

      In the test of the Q70, the driver space was maintained reasonably well, and the dummy's movement was properly controlled. The dummy's head hit the front airbag, which stayed in place, and the side curtain airbag provided sufficient coverage to protect the head from side structure and intruding objects. Measures taken from the dummy showed low risk of any significant injuries in a crash of this severity.

      The good small overlap rating applies to the 2014-15 Q70 and the 2013 Infiniti M, as the car was previously called. Good ratings in the Institute's four other crashworthiness evaluations and an available front crash prevention system, helped the Q70 qualify for the 2014 IIHS Top Safety Pick+ award.

      Lincoln MKS disappoints

      The performance of the Lincoln MKS in the small overlap test couldn't have been more different. The driver space was severely limited after the crash, with the structure pushing in as much as 12 inches. The steering column moved 5 inches inward and 6 inches to the right. The dummy's head barely contacted the front airbag before sliding off the left side and hitting the instrument panel. Injury measures from the dummy showed that left hip injuries would be likely and left knee and lower leg injuries would be possible. The vehicle's poor rating applies to 2009-15 models.

      BMW 5 so-so

      The BMW 5 series performed somewhat better, earning a marginal rating. Like the MKS, the 5 series also saw as much as 12 inches of intrusion. However, there was considerably less intrusion in the upper interior. The dummy's movement was well controlled, with both the front and side airbags doing their jobs. Injury measures indicated that left leg injuries would be likely. The marginal rating applies to 2011-15 models.

      In the small overlap evaluation, 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.

      A good or acceptable small overlap rating is a requirement for Top Safety Pick, along with good ratings in the Institute's moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests. To qualify for Top Safety Pick+, a vehicle must also earn a basic, advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention.

      The Q70 is the fourth model from Nissan/Infiniti to earn either Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ for 2014. It is the fifth large luxury car to qualify for the 2014 Top Safety Pick+ award. The others are the Hyundai Genesis, Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan, Volvo S80 and Acura RLX.

      "The five manufacturers that have already achieved the Top Safety Pick+ designation for their cars are offering consumers state-of-the-art safety," said IIHS President Adrian Lund. "Meanwhile, Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Lexus and Lincoln are playing catch-up in the large luxury category."

      Of the 3 luxury autos that were recently put through the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) small overlap front test for the first time, only ...

      Marriott blocked customers' personal wi-fi to sell its own Internet access

      Company to pay $600,000 in FCC fines; $0 in customer refunds

      Marriott has been fined $600,000 for violating the Communications Act of 1934 (section 333 of which forbids “willful or malicious interference” with radio communications signals), the Federal Communications Commission announced.

      What did Marriott do wrong?

      By the company's own admission, its employees at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville deliberately disabled customers' personal mobile wi-fi hotspots, so that anyone wishing to connect to the Internet would have to pay to use Marriott's network — and exhibitors at the conference facility say Marriott charged them anywhere from $250 to $1,000 per device for that connection.

      In addition to paying the fine, Marriott agreed to stop blocking personal wi-fi networks, and must submit a compliance plan and agree to FCC inspections every three months.

      There was no mention of Marriott having to refund any actual convention-goers or hotel guests who paid up to $1,000 for use of Marriott's connection after their own wi-fi ability was illegally disabled.

      Marriott has been fined $600,000 for violating the Communications Act of 1934 (section 333 of which forbids “willful or malicious interference” with radio ...

      Produce ratings coming to Whole Foods

      "Every product we sell has a story," Whole Foods explains

      Whole Foods is introducing what it bills as a marketing innovation on Oct. 15: a “Responsibly Grown” rating system in which produce for sale will be rated either “good,” “better” or “best.”

      According to co-CEO John Mackey, the labeling system will satisfy people's “hunger for more transparency.... We have the technology to make that transparency come alive. Every product we sell has a story attached to it. People want it and we try to give it to them.”

      How will Whole Foods determine where produce ranks on the good through best spectrum? The short answer is: it's complicated.

      The long answer is both complicated and vague. According to Food Business News):

      The labeling system is based on an index to measure the performance of products relevant to such sustainable topics as pest management, farmworker welfare, pollinator protection, water conservation and protection, soil health, ecosystems, biodiversity, waste, recycling and packaging, energy and climate. … The ratings also will reward suppliers for certification by a number of leading social and environmental standards including:  Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, Protected Harvest, and Demeter Biodynamic certification.

      The rating system is not the only produce-based innovation Whole Foods is currently experimenting with. The Austin, Texas-based retailer is also planing to lower some of its produce prices — but only in its Austin-area stores.

      This lower-price “pilot program” might be expanded to other stores in the chain, if proven successful.

      Whole Foods is introducing what it bills as a marketing innovation on Oct. 15: a “Responsibly Grown” rating system in which produce for sale will be rated ...

      The blow-by-blow guide to leaf blowers

      They're noisy but they get the job done

      There is nothing like diving into a big pile of leaves on a crisp fall day, it's actually one of my favorite memories as a child. As an adult you want to blow those leaves around and get them off your grass and walkways.

      The way most people do that is with a leaf blower. The beauty of a leaf blower is it has a few uses that go beyond what you may think.

      The blowers are also useful for removing grass clippings, blowing dirt off farm or construction equipment and removing garbage or debris from parking lots and sidewalks. Leaf blowers can even remove light, fluffy snow under relatively calm conditions.

      OK, so a leaf blower is a good investment, one that will make your life easier. So, what kind to buy?

      There are a few types. Electric blowers are usually a little lighter and for smaller areas. Sometimes they call these lighter models sweepers. You will find the electric blowers a little quieter as well. Some have cords and some are cordless. Be familiar with power cord safety.

      Gas blowers give you a little more mobility and are for larger jobs. Gas blowers have a manual pull-start. Some models will crank with an optional, powered device that you purchase separately, eliminating the need for using the pull-cord.

      The gas blower comes with a couple of options -- the back pack which is the look similar to Ghost Busters, suitable for prolonged use and large areas. Then there are the walk-behind blowers -- gas-powered, wheeled models suited for heavy, extended use or commercial applications.

      Some of these convert to vacuums. But don't think about lugging it into the house to give a few rooms a once over. It's full of gas remember? The vacuums will collect light landscape debris like small twigs or leaves in an attached bag. Blowers that convert to vacuum/mulchers not only vacuum up these debris, but also mulch them. These vacuum/mulchers grind up the debris, reducing multiple bags to a single bag, creating mulch for use around the yard or simplifying disposal.

      What to look for

      Some features you may want to look for:

      • dBA (decibels) measures noise level. The lower the number, the quieter the blower will be. They have a reputation for being very loud.
      • Know your speeds. Speed settings allow you to control the airflow and movement of debris. Some blowers have variable speed controls, while others have fixed settings.
      • Run time converts to how long a cordless blower can run before you have to recharge the battery.
      • Know about your engine cycle there are 2 different types: 2-cycle engines operate on a gasoline/oil mixture while 4-cycle engines eliminate the need for mixing oil and gas.

      Before you decide to blow a few bucks on a leaf blower check and make sure they are legal in your area. Some communities have banned blowers entirely; others restrict their use to certain times or disallow blowers above a certain decibel level.

      There is nothing like diving into a big pile of leaves on a crisp fall day, it's actually one of my favorite memories as a child. As an adult you want to b...

      Would you buy a car from Warren Buffett?

      The American business guru scoops up the nation's largest privately-owned car dealer group

      Warren Buffet probably doesn't fit your image of a car salesman, which is a good thing. But he's making a big bet on the car business by buying the nation's largest privately-owned dealer group, the Van Tuyl Group.

      The deal is part of a trend towards consolidation in the car retail business. After the financial meltdown and the bankruptcy of GM and Chrysler, automakers began culling the herds, eliminating smaller and less profitable dealerships and deep-sixing some of their less successful brands, like Pontiac and Plymouth.

      Now there are fewer dealerships but they tend to be larger and more profitable. The trend is also running against family-owned businesses. They're being bought out by Auto Nation, Lithia and other large publicly-traded groups. 

      Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway already owns financial service companies that could provide loans to car buyers, not to mention its Geico insurance company. 

      Van Tuyl, based in Phoenix, is ranked No. 5 among U.S. dealership groups. It owns dealerships in 78 cities.

      The company will become Berkshire Hathaway Automotive and will be based in Dallas, Berkshire Hathaway said in a press release.  It will continue to be led by Larry Van Tuyl, who will become chairman, and Jeff Rachor, who will become CEO.

      ”The Van Tuyl Group fits perfectly into Berkshire Hathaway from both a financial and cultural viewpoint. Larry Van Tuyl along with his father, Cecil, spent decades building outstanding dealerships operated by local partners," Buffett said. "The Van Tuyl Group enjoys excellent relations with the major auto manufacturers and delivers unusually high volumes at its 78 locations. This is just the beginning for Berkshire Hathaway Automotive.”

      Warren Buffet probably doesn't fit your image of a car salesman, which is probably a good thing. But he's making a big bet on the car business by buying th...

      Reinventing the wheel(chair)

      Redesigned chair designed to enhance safety and mobility

      While some things are the objects of constant innovation, others are not. Once invented, they don't change much over the years.

      Then someone comes along and wonders why, and the next thing you know something like the wheelchair, developed in England around 1760, gets a complete update.

      Will Ferniany, CEO at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Health System, decided the wheelchair was no longer adequate for the needs of hospitals and nursing facilities. Wheelchairs, he said, no longer meet the the needs of modern health care.

      “We were commissioned by Dr. Ferniany at UAB to create an alternative to the conventional wheelchair,” said Lloyd Cooper, designer for Movi Medical, a company created to design, build and market the new chair. “Every hospital around the world uses a conventional wheelchair that was developed as a self-propelled mobility device, and was never intended to be used in hospital applications.”

      The Movi looks like a chair on wheels, but that's where its resemblance to a wheelchair ends.

      Room for improvement

      Let's start with the traditional wheelchair and its perceived shortcomings. The big rear wheels are designed so users can move themselves. But in a hospital patients are nearly always pushed by staff.

      Doctors say the swinging, removable footrest is a nightmare — hard to use, easy to lose and not very comfortable.

      The sling seat stretches over time and ergonomically, is not designed to be comfortable. Getting into or out of a conventional wheelchair is difficult for people who are sick, old or recovering from a medical procedure.

      “A wheelchair is one of the most compromised seating environments imaginable,” said Cooper. “It should be the reverse. Those who need a chair need the very best chair.”

      High-tech chair

      The Movi chair is actually a lift chair with a battery-powered motor. It can also pivot on its axis to raise or lower a patient up to 20 degrees.

      The footrests are also completely different. When the chair is raised, the footrest sits flat on the floor. Not only is it easier to get in and out of the chair it minimizes the risk of a fall.

      The video below, produced by UAB, shows a Movi in action and how it compares to a traditional wheelchair.

      Injuries

      “We’ve become more aware in recent years of the number of injuries to nurses and patient care technicians, as well as family members, from lifting patients,” said Cynthia Brown, M.D., director of the UAB Division of Gerontology, Geriatrics and Palliative Care. “We see back injuries and shoulder injuries, and have found that a whole segment of our workforce is at risk as they attempt to mobilize patients.”

      The Movi may have uses outside the hospital. It certainly will find its way into nursing facilities and may also replace wheelchairs for some whose mobility is permanently limited.

      “Ask any older adult and they will tell you they want to remain independent,” Brown said. “They want to be able to do things for themselves. In many respects, we owe it to them to keep them as functional as possible so they can maintain their independence even after a hospital stay.”

      1.6 million wheelchairs in use

      Currently about 1.6 million Americans who live outside institutions use wheelchairs, according to data collected by the University of California at San Francisco. Of all the people with disabilities people in wheelchairs experience some of the highest levels of activity limitation and among the lowest levels of employment.

      Brown also sees some therapeutic benefits to the new chair, since she says it will make it easier for patients to get out of bed and move around.

      “We now know that prolonged bed rest contributes to pressure ulcers and deep-vein thrombosis, as well as contributing to functional decline,” she said. “There are all sorts of bad outcomes from encouraging people to stay in bed.”

      While some things are the objects of constant innovation, others are not. Once invented, they don't change much over the years. Then someone comes along a...

      Leukemia treatments keep advancing

      Researchers are improving patients' odds with more targeted treatments

      More than 300,000 Americans are living with leukemia, according to the Leukemia Research Foundation. This blood cancer is diagnosed in the U.S. 143 times a day. Of those cases, 66 will be fatal, the foundation says.

      Until after World War II leukemia was almost never cured, but recent research has developed treatments that have vastly improved the odds for patients.

      According to the Mayo Clinic, the fact that there are different types of leukemia has made treatment complex. But recent developments continue to provide hope for patients with this kind of cancer.

      Life-saving difference

      Researchers at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital report that when they adjust treatment based on early response to chemotherapy it makes "a life-saving difference" to young patients with an acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a subtype that is among the hardest to cure.

      The researchers published their findings in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

      The treatment, pioneered at St. Jude, monitors and adjusts the intensity of treatment based on the percentage of leukemic cells in the patient's bone marrow at days 19 and 42 of the chemotherapy treatment.

      Using this approach, doctors say patients in the study had high rates of long-term and cancer-free survival regardless of the subtype of leukemia they had.

      The results may be good news for children and adolescents with Philadelphia chromosome-like ALL – also called Ph-like ALL - a subtype that until now was associated with a poor prognosis. Ph-like ALL accounts for as much as 15% of the most common pediatric cancer.

      “This study shows that by measuring minimal residual disease and using the results to guide treatment intensity, patients with Ph-like ALL can enjoy the same high rates of survival as other patients,” said the study’s corresponding author Ching Hon-Pui, M.D., chair of the St. Jude Department of Oncology.

      Hopeful developments

      There have other hopeful developments in leukemia treatment in recent years and a few high profile success stories. In September 2012 Chuck Pagano, head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, was diagnosed with leukemia.

      After several weeks of intensive chemotherapy treatments, Pagano's cancer was declared in remission and he was back with the team by the end of December, in time for the playoffs. Since then he has remained cancer-free.

      Pagano's treatment consisted of induction chemotherapy, in which the cancer cells are obliterated – but so are most of the healthy bone marrow cells. Patients are hospitalized for several weeks until their bodies can producing healthy marrow cells.

      That's one of the problems of leukemia – and most cancer – treatments. It's difficult to kill the cancer cells without killing healthy cells.

      Re-engineering T cells

      Difficult, but not impossible. Ongoing research at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School is harnessing a cancer patient's T cells, re-engineering them, and directing them to attack cancer cells.

      In a mouse model of human ovarian cancer, these T cells persisted at high numbers in the blood, accumulated in tumors, and “showed potent anti-cancer activity against human tumors.” The researchers say they believe this approach can enhance the use of T cells to fight cancer in the body, since fewer healthy cells are lost.

      More than 300,000 Americans are living with leukemia, according to the Leukemia Research Foundation. This blood cancer is diagnosed in the U.S. 143 times a...