Current Events in October 2014

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    Gift givers to spend more this holiday season, survey finds

    More than 40% of shopping is expected to be done online

    With a little more than 9 weeks to go before Christmas, the nation's retailers have visions of dollar signs dancing in their heads.

    According to the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) Holiday Consumer Spending Survey, the average person celebrating Christmas, Kwanzaa and/or Hanukkah will spend $804.42 -- up nearly 5% from last year’s $767.27.

    “Retailers have plenty of reasons to be optimistic this holiday season, and one of the most important pieces of evidence is the confidence holiday shoppers are exuding in their plans to spend on gifts for their loved ones,” said NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay. “While not completely throwing caution to the wind, Americans’ frugal spending habits will still be visible this holiday season as they continue to rely on discounts and sales and comparison shop. Consumers will put retailers to the test when it comes to the product mix and value companies can offer today’s shopper who is focused on much more than just price.”

    Increases across the board

    The survey, conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, found consumers will spend an average of $459.87 on gifts for their family up 6.5% from $432.00 last year, and $80.00 on gifts for friends, up $5 from last year. Those celebrating the holidays will also spend more on gifts for their co-workers ($26.23 vs. $24.52 in 2013), and others like their babysitter and even their pets ($30.43 vs. $26.65).

    Spending on traditional items such as decorations and food will remain flat: According to the survey, consumers will spend an average of $104.74 on food, $53.68 on decorations and $29.18 on greeting cards and $20.30 on flowers.

    One of the more popular trends in recent years -- so-called self-gifting -- will decrease this year as shoppers opt to shift their budgets towards spending on others: Nearly 57% of consumers say they plan to take advantage of sales and discounts to purchase non-gift items for themselves or others, and will spend an average of $126.68, versus $134.77 last year.

    A surge in online and mobile shopping

    Retailers are expecting more consumers to shop online for their gifts and other needs. According to the survey, 56% plan to shop online -- up from 4.5% from last year and the most in the survey’s 13-year history. Additionally, the average person plans to do 44.4% of her shopping online -- the most since NRF first asked in 2006.

    Looking for great prices and value as they shop around for holiday items, many consumers will visit discount (61.9%), department (59.7%) and grocery stores (51.2%). Others will head to clothing or accessories stores (36.7%), electronics (30.8%), drug (19.2%) and craft and fabric stores (18.8%).

    As mobile grows in use and scope, consumers this holiday season will turn to their on-the-go devices for a variety of reasons. The survey found most smartphone owners (55.7%) will use their device in some fashion, compared with 53.8% last year. Specifically, 35.8% will research products/prices -- the highest amount in the 4 years NRF has been asking. Nearly one-quarter (23.9%) will redeem coupons and 19.1% will actually purchase items -- another survey high.

    Almost two-thirds (63.2%) of tablet owners will use their device to research and purchase holiday items, the same as last year. Nearly half (47.4%) will research products and one-third (33%) will purchase items.

    Digital payments

    For the first time, NRF asked consumers about their comfort level using a smartphone or tablet to pay for merchandise at a store check-out counter. According to the survey, 27.4% said they would be somewhat or very comfortable; however, two in five (41.9%) say they are not very or not at all comfortable paying for items that way.

    Broken out by age, 41.1% of 25-34 year olds are somewhat or very comfortable using their device to pay for items at the register, versus just 14.4% of those 65+. Men are much more likely to feel comfortable with the technology (32.6% vs. 22.5% of women.)

    Pre-Halloween shopping

    Early-bird shoppers have already been out and about this year. The survey found four in 10 (40.4%) begin their holiday shopping before Halloween -- consistent with more than 10 years of survey findings. The survey also found 40.9%l begin in November, compared with 38.8% last year, and 15.5% will begin in the first two weeks of December, little-changed from last year.

    When asked why they begin shopping for the holiday season as early as September, most agree it helps them spread out their spending (61.9%). Half choose to do so to avoid holiday crowds (51.7%), and another 51.0 percent say shopping early helps them avoid the stress of last-minute shopping. Nearly 3 in 10 (29.9%) say they shop for the holiday season year-round, and more than one-quarter (27.3%) say the desire to get their hands on specific items drives them to shop early; unsurprisingly, 44.7% shop early because the deals and promotions are too good to pass up.

    Why we shop where we shop

    When it comes to why consumers chose to shop where they do during the holiday season, retailers should take heed: One-quarter of shoppers say easy-to-use mobile websites is an important factor in their decision to shop with a specific retailer. Those polled also say free shipping/shipping promotions (42.3%) are important factors. Consumers add that helpful, knowledgeable customer service (30.3%), convenient locations (47.9%), low prices (41.2%) and sales or price discounts (74.7%) also aid in their decision to shop at a particular retailer.

    As the market becomes more competitive than ever before, retailers in recent years have begun to stress quality and selection of merchandise, and shoppers are paying attention: According to the survey, 6 in 10 say quality of merchandise (60.9%) and selection of merchandise (59.4%) are important factors in their decision to shop somewhere.

    “Even with expectations for increased spending this year, smart shopping strategies will be very important to those celebrating the holidays,” said Prosper’s Principal Analyst Pam Goodfellow. “Overall, consumers feel better about where they stand compared to a year ago, and as such could find themselves stretching their dollars to give their loved ones a holiday season to remember. Retailers, however, should still expect to see high demand for sales, coupons and other promotions as shoppers focus on ‘what’s in it for them’.”

    Making a list, checking it twice

    For the eighth year in a row gift cards are the most requested items. According to the survey, 62% say they’d most like a gift card, followed by clothing (52.5%), books, CDs, DVDs or video games (43.1%), and electronics (34.6%). One-quarter (24.8%) say they’d like to receive jewelry, up from slightly from last year.

    When asked if the state of the U.S. economy would affect their holiday spending plans, 4 in 10 (41.4%) said yes, down almost 20% from last year and the lowest amount since NRF first asked in 2009. Of those who said yes, most agree they will compensate by spending less overall (75.6%). Others will shop for sales more often (49.0%), comparison shop online more often (34.4%), use coupons more often (37%), buy more practical gifts (28.4%) and use last year’s decorations (24.8%).

    With a little more than 9 weeks to go before Christmas, the nation's retailers have visions of dollar signs dancing in their heads. According to the Natio...

    A rebound for sales of existing homes

    The annual sales pace is the highest so far this year

    A blip, maybe? You could draw that conclusion.

    After posting the first drop in 5 months during August, sales of previously-owned homes got back on track in September with all major regions except for the Midwest registering gains.

    The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports total existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, rose 2.4% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.17 million.

    While that put sales at their highest pace of 2014, they are still 1.7% below the 5.26 million-unit level from a year earlier.

    Improving demand

    “Low interest rates and price gains holding steady led to September’s healthy increase, even with investor activity remaining on par with last month’s marked decline,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. “Traditional buyers are entering a less competitive market with fewer investors searching for available homes, but may also face a slight decline in choices due to the fact that inventory generally falls heading into the winter.”

    The median existing-home price for all housing types was $209,700 -- up 5.6% from September 2013, marking the 31st consecutive month of year-over-year price gains.

    Total housing inventory at the end of September dropped 1.3% to 2.30 million existing homes available for sale, representing a 5.3-month supply at the current sales pace. Despite fewer homes for sale in September, unsold inventory is still 6.0% above a year ago, when there were 2.17 million existing homes available for sale.

    Regional sales tally

    • Existing-home sales in the Northeast climbed 1.5% in September to an annual rate of 680,000, but are 1.4% below a year ago. The median price was $249,800 -- up 4.8% from a year ago.
    • In the Midwest, existing-home sales fell 5.6% to an annual level of 1.17 million, and are 4.9% below September 2013. The median price was up 4.9% from September 2013 -- to $165,100.
    • Sales of previously-owned home sales in the South increased rose 5.0% to an annual rate of 2.12 million last month, and are now 1.4% their level of a year ago. The median price in the South was $180,900 -- a year-over-year increase of 5.1%.
    • Sales in the West jumped 7.1% to an annual rate of 1.20 million in September, are still down 4.0% from a year ago. The median price in the West rose 4.0% from the same time last year -- to $294,200.

    A blip, maybe? You could draw that conclusion. After posting the first drop in 5 months during August, sales of previously-owned homes got back on track d...

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      Toyota recalls vehicles with air bag inflator issues

      The inflators performed improperly during component testing

      Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. Is conducting a supplemental safety recall of approximately 247,000 Toyota Corolla, Matrix, Sequoia, Tundra and Lexus SC vehicles produced from 2001 to 2004 and equipped with front passenger air bag inflators supplied by Takata Corporation.

      The new recall targets vehicles in consistently high absolute humidity areas, including southern Florida, along the Gulf Coast, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, U.S Virgin Islands, Guam, Saipan and American Samoa.

      Recalls for affected vehicles were also issued in April 2013, and June 2014. Separately, in cooperation with NHTSA and Takata to investigate incidents of ruptured inflators, Toyota recovered inflators from recalled vehicles from areas in South Florida for evaluation by Takata.

      Takata provided data to Toyota indicating that a number of the returned inflators performed improperly during component testing. The cause of the potential for ruptured inflators and the influence of high absolute humidity are under investigation.

      To date, Toyota has received no reports of injuries or fatalities related to this condition.

      Al known owners of the affected Toyota and Lexus vehicles will be notified by first class mail to return their vehicles to a Toyota or Lexus dealer.

      The dealer will replace the front passenger air bag inflator with a newly manufactured one. If a replacement part is not available at the time of vehicle service, the dealer will follow procedures to temporarily disable the front passenger air bag assembly.

      In addition, the dealer will install a glove box hang tag informing occupants that the front passenger seat should not be occupied until the inflator assembly is replaced and the airbag is fully functional.

      Consumers may call Lexus Customer Service at 1-800-255-3987 or Toyota Customer Service at 1-800-331-4331 for more information.

      Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. Is conducting a supplemental safety recall of approximately 247,000 Toyota Corolla, Matrix, Sequoia, Tundra and Lexus SC vehicle...

      Ford recalls Mustangs

      The safety belt buckle tension sensor could malfunction

      Ford is recalling 53 2015 Ford Mustangs built from Aug. 18, 2014 to Oct. 2, 2014. Fifty of the vehicles are in the U.S. and federalized territories, and 3 are in Canada.

      The safety belt buckle tension sensor, included in the assembly, may not have been calibrated at the supplier and could result in misclassification of the front passenger seat occupant.

      This issue may lead to improper passenger airbag deployment for the occupant, which could increase the risk of injury in a crash.

      Ford says it is not aware of any accidents or injuries related to this condition.

      Dealers will replace the passenger safety belt buckle assembly at no cost to the customer.

      Ford is recalling 53 2015 Ford Mustangs built from Aug. 18, 2014 to Oct. 2, 2014. Fifty of the vehicles are in the U.S. and federalized territories, and 3 ...

      Doctors try to calm Ebola fears

      One says there could be as many as 100 U.S. cases

      Last week's grilling of federal health officials at the hands of Congress may say a lot about rising public concern and frustration over the arrival of the deadly Ebola virus on American shores.

      While Republican lawmakers might be expected to take political shots at the Obama Administration over its handling of the Ebola outbreak, it's worth noting two prominent Democrats on the ballot next month – Wendy Davis of Texas and Kay Hagan of North Carolina – have broken with the White House and called for a temporary ban on flights from the 3 affected West African countries.

      Is the growing fear that Ebola could become a deadly epidemic in the U.S. justified? The medical community, for the most part, continues to insist it is not.

      Before the first case turned up in Dallas Ira Longini, professor of biostatistics at the University of Florida, released a study predicting a 20% chance of “isolated cases” of Ebola showing up in the U.S.

      Limited outbreak

      Now that the first cases have appeared, Longini is sticking to his prediction that there will be a very limited outbreak in the U.S. He also is not in favor of restricting travel.

      “Very far down on the list is the control of movement of people, which on the surface looks like it's important, but it's so difficult to carry out,” he said. “I don't think that that's going to have a big impact on the spread of the epidemic.”

      So far, Longini is one of the few experts willing to put a number on Americans eventually stricken with the disease. Based on containment methods available in the U.S., he said he believes the U.S. will see fewer than 100 cases of Ebola. The number of U.S. cases, he says, depends largely on the number of African cases.

      “Unless the epidemic continues to be completely out of control and more countries are affected and it gets much larger, I wouldn't expect to see more than a handful of cases in the U.S,” he said.

      We've been here before

      Howard Markel, a doctor and medical historian at the University of Michigan, says there have been epidemics throughout history and most have been accompanied by fear. He cautions Americans against over-reacting.

      “You should pay attention, certainly, but, at this point there’s no need to get into the frenzy about Ebola in the United States,” he said.” We all need to take a breath and do a reality check.”

      The reality, he says, is that Ebola is hard to catch and easy to kill. It's also a reality, he says, that most of the cases to date have been in people who live or worked in West Africa.

      “While there may continue to be transmissions to health care workers here in this country, the risk to most of us is quite small,” he said.

      In fact, the two Americans who contracted Ebola without visiting Africa are nurses who were part of the Dallas team that treated Thomas Eric Duncan, who died of Ebola after visiting West Africa. David Weber, professor of medicine, pediatrics, and epidemiology at the University of North Carolina Schools of Medicine and Public Health, warns that health care workers are particularly vulnerable, despite the strictest precautions.

      "In Africa, more than 300 healthcare workers have acquired Ebola,” he said. “More than 200 of those have died."

      Weber says the emphasis now should be on training health care workers to deal with Ebola, so that more are not infected while treating patients. The training needs to be completed now, he says, before there are patients.

      Last week's grilling of federal health officials at the hands of Congress may say a lot about rising public concern and frustration over the arrival of the...

      Apple Pay is available today

      But how many customers and merchants will accept it?

      Today, Apple finally rolled out its long-promised mobile wallet – officially known as Apple Pay.

      When Apple released the iPhone 6 and iWatch last month, most of the buzz focused not on the gadgets themselves, but a feature made standard on both: 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.”

      Of course, for Apple Pay to prove as successful as Apple wants, two different things must happen: large numbers of customers must want to use Apple Pay when making purchases – and large numbers of merchants must be willing to accept Apple Pay. From Apple's perspective, that second hurdle might prove harder to overcome than the first.

      The Wall Street Journal noted on Monday that “Many retailers — including the nation’s largest, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. — aren’t part of Apple’s network. Only a minority have machines capable of reading the near-field communication radio signal that makes Apple Pay work. And only Apple’s newest phones, the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, include the technology.”

      Too early to say

      It's far too early yet to predict whether Apple's mobile wallet will prove to be the Next Big Thing, or fizzle out.

      Even the business media is divided: on Oct. 17, Bloomberg Businessweek reporter Kyle Stock wrote an article explaining “Why retailers will love the Apple Pay era” (short version: for the same reason most retailers already accept credit cards despite the swipe fees they must pay, and most casinos require gamblers to buy chips rather than bet cash – because the common psychological phenomenon known as “decoupling” ensures that most people, regardless of how intelligent they otherwise are, simply do not view betting a $20 casino chip or putting a $20 charge on a credit card as being identical to spending $20 in actual cash, even though such actions have identical results where your net worth is concerned).

      So one Businessweek analyst thinks Apple Pay will be a rousing success with retailers for the same reason they adopted other consumer “decoupling” technologies, such as credit card payments.

      Then, today, another Businessweek analyst, Joshua Brustein, explained that “Apple Pay is too anonymous for some retailers” who are “are less than thrilled about Apple’s anonymous infrastructure.”

      Useful data

      Short version of why: thanks to credit cards and other longstanding non-cash payment options, retailers already have ways to take advantage of consumer decoupling, with the added bonus that accepting credit or debit card payments enables these retailers to collect lots of potentially useful marketing data about you and your buying habits. Apple Pay, by contrast, “won’t collect information about what people buy — and it’s designed to ensure no one else can, either.”

      So from a merchant's perspective, Apple Pay might arguably be merely a less-useful version of an already-existing payment system, with the added downside that the merchant can't even take advantage of this less-useful system without first spending money to acquire the equipment for it.

      Indeed, in mid-September, Walmart, Best Buy and other major retailers were quick to announce that they would not be accepting Apple Pay (though other major companies, including CVS, Walgreens, McDonald's, Bloomingdale's, Macy's and Whole Foods, said the opposite). Many of the merchants forgoing the Apple Pay options said it's because they are working with a retailer-owned group called the Merchant Customer Exchange to develop a competing mobile payment option called CurrentC, expected to be released next year.

      Unlike Apple Pay, the downloadable CurrentC app will be usable on any Android or iPhone, not just the newest Apple products, and it will not require merchants to invest in specialized checkout scanners the way Apple Pay does.

      One thing does seem certain: the era of widespread mobile payment options is almost here. The only question is which option will be the first to dominate the market: Apple Pay, CurrentC or something which hasn't even been developed yet?

      Today, Apple finally rolled out its long-promised mobile wallet – officially known as Apple Pay....

      Airbnb for dogs? It's as close as your keyboard

      Online pet-sitting services bring pets and sitters together

      We have become a society that shares. We share a family plan with our cellphone, if you need a ride there is always Uber and we share our lives on Facebook.

      Now there is a service where you can share your dog. Actually it's a pet sitter but you get the idea. It's an alternative to having to put your dog in a kennel while you go away on vacation.

      If you are traveling for Thanksgiving and grandma says, "Please leave the dog at home, your cousin Lenny can eat the table scraps," you need to think about where your dog can stay and be safe.

      Check out one of the fastest-growing solutions -- Rover.com. It's really pretty ingenious. Here's how it works.

      Find a match
      You first get to pick your sitter; you go to the search button and automatically a list pops up with prospective pet sitters. Each has a picture and a profile and a price. All are vying for your pal to stay with them. It's a complete profile actually more descriptive than any Internet dating site I have seen. (I have been single for a long time).

      Go and meet them
      You obviously want to know where your pet will be staying so you do a meet and greet at the sitter's house. You pay with Visa, Mastercard or PayPal. You can also sign up for other services -- extra walks , a bath. You two work out the details.

      Peace of mind
      Every pet that enrolls is covered by insurance. Vet bills are covered up to $25,000 per claim, after a $250 deductible.

      A picture says a thousand words ... or barks
      You also get picture updates just to make sure your pet is adjusting to his new digs.

      The company definitely expresses a dog culture as they have a "Rovercam" in the office so you can see their employees who have brought their dogs to work daily.

      Rover has about 30 employees in their downtown Seattle office, handing about sitters across the U.S. The company was started by venture capitalist Greg Gottesman at a Startup Weekend event in Seattle in 2011 and investors in the startup include Petco, Madrona Venture Group and Crunchfund.

      We have become a society that shares. We share a family plan with our cellphone, if you need a ride there is always Uber and we share our lives on Facebook...

      Are consumers relying too much on YouTube?

      British survey finds 7% would try to rewire their house with YouTube's help

      If you need to learn how to do something, chances are you can find more than one video on YouTube to walk you through it.

      The Google-owned video service has nearly 3 million instructional videos – some from professional sources and some from amateurs. And therein lies the problem, say the professionals.

      If the amateur is knowledgeable, experienced and knows what they are doing, chances are their instructional video will be very helpful. But if they are not, you could get into trouble by following its advice.

      The problem is knowing the difference – and there is no way to really know until you follow their advice.

      Lots of do-it-yourselfers in the UK

      In the UK, Electrical Safety First, an electricity safety non-profit education group, conducted a survey to ask people if they would use a YouTube video to perform a home improvement project themselves. It found more than half said they would.

      In the area of electrical do-it-yourself jobs, the survey found that 39% of homeowners would consult YouTube to rewire a small appliance while 34% would use a YouTube tutorial to rewire a light fixture. Incredibly it found 7% said they would try to rewire an entire house with YouTube's assistance.

      All of this worries Electrical Safety First, which says the availability of online instructions may be putting people at risk. For example, fitting a new bathroom or rewiring a house are complicated tasks that should be carried out by qualified, licensed experts.

      1 in 16 cause significant damage

      The group claims that 1 in 16 people have caused significant damage to their property or have had to pay for costly repairs because of botched DIY after following advice found online.

      “The Internet is a fantastic resource and the new generation of YouTube DIYers shows just how much we have come to rely on it,” said Emma Apter, spokeswoman for Electrical Safety First. “But there’s only so much online videos and tips can tell you and not everyone will have the knowledge or experience to carry out more complicated tasks. Ask yourself: ‘If I have to Google this, should I really be doing it?’ If in doubt, get a professional in – it could save you a lot of time and money in the long run.”

      Health misinformation?

      Consumers might run into the same problem if they rely too much on YouTube for information about their health. Researcher writing in the October issue of Emergency Medicine Australiasia investigated the accuracy of YouTube videos on CPR, checking them against the 2010 CPR guidelines.

      It concluded that the majority of YouTube video clips purporting to be about CPR are not relevant educational material. Of those that are focused on teaching CPR, only a small minority optimally meet the 2010 guidelines, the study found.

      That's not to say there isn't reliable, relevant information on the Internet. The trouble is finding it.

      Medical researchers at Johns Hopkins say you will get better results if you restrict your search. Instead of searching the topic on YouTube, start your search at a reputable health data site – such as Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library.

      If you need to learn how to do something, chances are you can find more than one video on YouTube to walk you through it....

      What's really in that dog food?

      Mislabeling is prevalent, a European study finds

      Our pets are no different then we are when it comes to eating -- what goes in the mouth and down the little esophagus is pretty important. This occurred to me when I noticed that one of my dogs has become wider than I think she should be.

      Just like humans it crept up on us like weeds after a rainfall. One day I saw her waddling around and decided right then and there -- no more dog cookies we are moving in the carrot direction.

      There are numerous choices when it comes to food for furry friends. Everybody has a bone to pick about which is the best but in the end, it's always about the ingredients. The first few ingredients on the label tell you what you and your dog are about to embark upon. This assumes, of course, that the label is accurate.

      Someone did a recent study of just this question. It's is called "Identification of Meat Species in Pet Foods Using a Real-time Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) Assay." It means what's in the bag and how did it get there? What the study found is that there's a possibility the ingredients in pet food could be mislabeled.

      “Although regulations exist for pet foods, increases in international trade and globalization of the food supply have amplified the potential for food fraud to occur,” said Rosalee Hellberg, Ph.D., who co-authored the study.

      Ground horsemeat

      In Europe they are using ground horsemeat for human consumption and Hellberg is worried we are going to see it coming into our pet food as well as human food in the U.S. Horsemeat was not found in any of the products they tested, however.

      Not so comforting is the fact that 40% of the foods that were tested were mislabeled -- 13 were dog food and 7 were cat food. Pork got the raw end of the deal as it was the most undeclared ingredient; 16 that were tested were mystery meat -- yep just like the school cafeteria. They weren't on the product label.

      Chicken was the most common meat found in pet food. Pork, beef, turkey and lamb followed goose brought up the rear. 

      More studies are needed to see how much of a problem mislabeling actually is and at what point it happens, Hellberg said.

      Our pets are no different then we are when it comes to eating -- what goes in the mouth and down the little esophagus is pretty important. This occurred to...

      Congress urged to ban "virtual brothels"

      Attorneys general say children being bought and sold on Backpage.com, other sites

      Attorneys General from around the country are urging Congress to pass legislation that would help prevent children from being trafficked on the Internet.

      The letter, co-sponsored by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller and signed by 53 state and territorial attorneys general, asks the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to approve the Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation Act.

      The SAVE Act, Senate Bill 2536, would provide more oversight of websites that offer “adult services,” such as Backpage.com.

      “The facts about online child sex trafficking are as shocking as they are heartbreaking,” Ferguson said. “It’s within Congress’ power to take a huge step toward ending that. I join with my fellow attorneys general in urging them to do the right thing.”

      In just one week this June, police arrested 281 alleged sex traffickers and rescued 168 children from prostitution in a nationwide FBI crackdown against people who offered child victims for sale on “escort” and other “adult services” websites.

      Backpage suit

      Tomorrow, the state Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether a lawsuit against Backpage.com by three victims of child sex trafficking can go forward. The children argue the site effectively helps promote the victimization of children. Ferguson filed an amicus brief in support of the children last month.

      Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world, generating about $150 billion each year. There are numerous cases nationally of children being used in prostitution as young as 12. The FBI estimates that nearly 300,000 American youths are at risk of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation.

      The use of the “adult services sections” on websites such as Backpage.com has created virtual brothels where children are bought and sold using euphemistic labels such as “escorts,” Ferguson said. The SAVE Act would require these websites that are enabling trafficking through their very business model to take steps to verify the identity of individuals posting advertisements and the age of those who appear in them.

      Attorneys General from around the country are urging Congress to pass legislation that would help prevent children from being trafficked on the Internet....

      Cold sore virus increases Alzheimer's risk

      The theory is that a weakened immune system allows the herpes virus to reach the brain

      A cold sore is about as annoying as minor annoyances get. But it may be more than annoying. A new study finds that infection wih the herpes simplex virus increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease.

      "Our results clearly show that there is a link between infections of herpes simplex virus and the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. This also means that we have new opportunities to develop treatment forms to stop the disease," said Hugo Lövheim, a professor at Umeå University and one of the authors of the study, published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia.

      In recent years research has increasingly indicated that there is a possible connection between infection with a common herpes virus, herpes simplex virus type 1, and Alzheimer's disease. A majority of the population carries this virus.

      After the first infection the body carries the virus throughout your lifetime, and it can reactivate now and then and cause mouth ulcers. The hypothesis which links the herpes virus and Alzheimer's disease is based on the notion that a weakened immune system among the elderly creates opportunities for the virus to spread further to the brain, starting the process which results in Alzheimer's disease.

      Lövheim and a colleague, Fredrik Elgh, have confirmed this link in two large epidemiological studies.

      In one study, the researchers show that a reactivated herpes infection doubled the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. This study had 3,432 participants who were followed for 11.3 years on average.

      In another study, 360 people with Alzheimer's disease were examined and compared to 360 others who had not developed dementia. The samples were taken on average 9.6 years before diagnosis. This study showed an approximately doubled risk of developing Alzheimer's disease if the person was a carrier of the herpes virus.

      "Something which makes this hypothesis very interesting is that now herpes infection can in principle be treated with antiviral agents. Therefore within a few years we hope to be able to start studies in which we will also try treating patients to prevent the development of Alzheimer's disease," said Lövheim.

      A cold sore is about as annoying as minor annoyances get. But it may be more than annoying. A new study finds that infection wih the herpes simplex virus i...

      Growing up inside -- a plant's story

      Outside -- and inside -- conditions change in the fall

      It's fall and that can be scary if you are a gardner. Yes, freezing can kill everything in one fast frost if you aren't prepared. What about what's going on inside your house though? How do you prepare for that?

      Plants thrive indoors in the spring and summer but in winter they tend to dry out and die.

      Part of the problem is that indoor humidity levels drop considerably when you fire up your heaters. Dry air can be a killer to houseplants, especially if you have some that are tropical (most are, by the way). Tropical plants need humidity to thrive.

      Here are some way to help keep your plants green and growing, adding a touch of spring and summer to your cold surroundings over the fall and winter months.

      Wipe them down
      Just like your pores nothing good comes out of them if they are clogged. Accumulated dust on the leaves clogs the pores making it hard for plants to breathe. Just wipe them down with a damp cloth as part of a routine.

      Mist
      Water plays a crucial role so get a spray bottle and mist them. Ideally 3 times a day but once will work. It's no wonder people talk to their plants -- it's a lot of contact. Remember these plants need humidity so if you have some type of water feature in your home (like a waterfall) that you can place them by it will help you cut back on having to constantly mist them.

      Let it shine
      Sun is crucial to plants' well-being.The angle of the sun changes a great deal in fall and winter. Those plants that were basking for a few months are probably living in the shadows now. Move plants that require bright light to a new location and let it shine down on them. Also it's a good idea to turn them every couple of weeks so they get light on all sides evenly.

      No fertilizing
      The growth process slows in the winter so just wait until spring.

      The killer
      Even though you need to mist them and wipe them down you don't want to soak them. Over-watering is the number one killer of household plants. Because they grow slower you don't even need to water them as much as you do in the warmer months. You may find that you can cut back on the frequency of your watering schedule by half or even two-thirds.

      Be nice -- nobody likes cold water thrown on them. Use water that's slightly tepid, rather than cold,

      It's fall and that can be scary if you are a gardner. Yes, freezing can kill everything in one fast frost if you aren't prepared. What about what's going o...

      Online recipe service promises to save time and cut stress

      GatheredTable.com cooks up the menu and orders the groceries

      Dinner -- it's what's on every mother's mind by about 3:00 PM at the latest everyday. Leave it to one busy mom and former Starbucks executive, Mary Egan,who managed to figure out an algorithm that can handle it for her according to her preferences.

      She created something called GatheredTable.com. In its beta phase, customers surveyed said that they saved more than two hours a week and that GatheredTable reduced stress by over 50 per cent.

      GatheredTable is everything you need all in one little online experience or on your iPhone. Here is how it works:

      You sign up and set your preferences: Do you want a vegan menu or a Kosher meal, or maybe low sodium? How many people you are going to be feeding? It produces a recipe with enough ingredients that if someone is a little extra hungry there will be enough.

      The website or the app will then create a customized menu for you based on your requests. They will even create recipes based on your palate. You also can use your old standby recipes. Recipes that you know will get your finicky 6-year-old to eat.

      The website will then generate a smart grocery list that automatically updates (and reflects what's in your pantry and staples you replenish each week). You can edit or adjust it at anytime. 

      Next here is the best part -- while you are driving to soccer practice or you are staying late at the office and someone else is doing the soccer thing. Your grocery list is being delivered right to your home. Hopefully a third person is there to answer the door and bring the groceries in.

      GatheredTable just launched its first partnership with grocery-delivery service Peapod. Peapod – an Ahold USA company – is the country’s leading Internet grocer, serving 24 U.S. markets throughout Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Washington, D.C. and Wisconsin. By the first quarter of 2015, GatheredTable says it will offer integrated delivery in 20 of the top 25 metropolitan areas in the United States.

      GatheredTable will let you try it free for 6 months -- after that it's $10 a month. Also they have partnered with the Edible Schoolyards Project, to which they donate 1% of their profits.

      Dinner -- it's what's on every mother's mind by about 3:00 PM at the latest everyday. Leave it to one busy mom and former Starbucks executive, Mary Egan,wh...

      Oasis Brands recalls Lacteos Santa Martha products

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Oasis Brands of Miami, Florida, is recalling select lots of various Lacteos Santa Martha products with Best by dates of 07/01/14 through 12/31/14

      The products have the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      The recalled products were distributed in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina from April 1 through October 14, 2014, to distributors and retail stores.

      The products can be identified by the batch ID code (best used by date) sticker on the label of the plastic bag of 07/01/14 through 12/31/14.

      The following products are being recalled:

      • Queso Seco Centroamericano (Dry White Cheese) 1Lb UPC 876593 001874
      • Queso Seco Olanchano (Dry Cheese) 1Lb UPC 635349 000840
      • Queso Seco Hondureno (Dry Cheese) 12oz UPC 876593 001690
      • Quesito Casero (Fresh Curd) 12oz UPC 635349 000406
      • My Queso (Latin Flavor Cheese) 1Lb UPC 635349 000406
      • Queso Cuzcatlan (Salvadorean Flavor Cheese) 1Lb UPC 635349 000406
      • Queso para Freir (Cheese for Frying) 12oz UPC 635349 000758
      • Queso Fresco (Fresh Cheese) 12oz UPC 635349 000703
      • Cuajada en Hoja Queso Casero Hecho a Mano (Fresh Curd) 12oz UPC 635349 000895
      • Crema Centroamericana (Soft Blend Dairy Spread) 1Lb UPC 876593 001898
      • Mantequilla Hondurena (Honduran Style Cream) 1Lb UPC 635349 000772
      • Crema Nica (Grade A Cultured Cream) 1Lb UPC 635349 000468
      • HonduCrema Olanchana (Olanchana Style Soft Blend Dairy Spread) 1Lb UPC 635349 000598
      • Crema Guatemalteca (Guatemalan Style Cream) 1Lb UPC 635349 000819
      • Crema GuateLinda (Guatemalan Style Cream) 1Lb UPC 635349 000390
      • Crema Cuzcatlan (Salvadorean Style Cream) 1Lb UPC 635349 000444

      Consumers who have purchased the recalled products are urged to return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at (305) 599-0225 Monday thru Friday 9:00 am - 4:30 pm EST.

      Oasis Brands of Miami, Florida, is recalling select lots of various Lacteos Santa Martha products with Best by dates of 07/01/14 through 12/31/14 The prod...

      Acura TLX AWD vehicles recalled

      Tire failure may result from overloading

      American Honda Motor Company is recalling 189 model year 2015 Acura TLX AWD vehicles manufactured August 26, 2014, to September 20, 2014.

      The affected vehicles may have incorrect values for the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) and Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR) front and rear printed on the safety certification label. If the vehicle is loaded to the specifications listed on the label, tire failure may result, increasing the risk of a crash.

      Honda will notify owners, and dealers will install a corrected certification label, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on October 21, 2014.

      Owners may contact Honda customer service at 1-800-382-2238. Honda's number for this recall is JK6.

      American Honda Motor Company is recalling 189 model year 2015 Acura TLX AWD vehicles manufactured August 26, 2014, to September 20, 2014. The affected ve...

      E&B’s Natural Way recalls lamb products

      The products were not presented for USDA-FSIS import inspection

      E&B’s Natural Way of Frederick, Md., is recalling approximately 27,948 pounds of raw lamb products because they were not presented for USDA-FSIS import inspection.

      Without the benefit of full inspection, a possibility of adverse health consequences exists.

      The lamb products were packaged on October 21, 2013, September 2, 20, 21 and 22, 2014. The following products are subject to recall:

      • Lamb Packs
      • Lamb Bone-In Legs
      • Lamb Boneless Legs
      • Lamb Saddles
      • Lamb Racks
      • Lamb Loins
      • Lamb Shoulders
      • Lamb Shanks
      • Lamb Trim
      • Lamb for Stew

      The products bear the establishment number “IS A022 EFTA” and include a label indicating “Product of Iceland.” These products were shipped to retail establishments in Washington and Oregon where they would have been repackaged.

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Blair Gordon at (301) 471-5615.

      E&B’s Natural Way of Frederick, Md., is recalling approximately 27,948 pounds of raw lamb products because they were not presented for USDA-FSIS import ins...

      Infectious disease threatens dogs; three die in Chicago

      The disease is spread through the urine of infected animals

      Infectious diseases are on everyone's mind right now -- and even dogs aren't safe. A disease that can be deadly for dogs (and humans) is making its way through the northwest suburbs of Chicago lately. Its called Leptospirosis.

      Without treatment, Leptospirosis can lead to kidney damage, meningitis, liver failure, respiratory distress, and even death, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which says that both humans and animals can transmit the disease, even if they themselves are not made ill by it.

      In the Buffalo Grove area of suburban Chicago, three dogs have already died from it. According to Dr. Kerri Marshall, Chief Veterinary Officer of Trupanion, a company that provides pet health insurance, the disease is transmitted through urine.

      "Dogs can pick it up by sniffing, drinking or stepping in a wild animal's urine like a raccoon, rat or a opossum. They then can go to a dog park and lick a healthy dog and transmit it to them just by licking them which is usually how it happens," she said. "Cattle get it a lot when wild animals urinate in streams and then the cattle drink from it."

      This seems to be the time of year that it is most prevalent because it's getting colder and animals are out and about looking for food. If your dog is kept outside and you have wild critters running around your pup is at risk. The infection can take anywhere from 4-12 days to show up.

      Some things to look for:

      • lethargy;
      • frequent urination;
      • not urinating;
      • vomiting;
      • lack of appetite; and 
      • fever.

      "Get to the vet at once -- this is something that acts quickly and affects the kidneys. 80-90% will get sick from this," Marshall said. "It can be prevented with a vaccine. It is usually given when your puppy gets its first shots. It is so important to get the population vaccinated for it." 

      The disease is expensive to treat. A single case can cost $9,000 or more. One recent case Marshall mentioned was $12,000.

      Most cases  are treated with antibiotics, but if they have to do dialysis or kidney repair, the expense climbs rapidly.

      Infectious diseases are on everyone's mind right now -- and even dogs aren't safe. A disease that can be deadly for dogs (and humans) is making its way thr...