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    What to expect from the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show

    Smarter TVs and car sound systems without CD players

    Each January the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) wows the public with the latest gadgets. The 2015 CES, which kicks off January 6, should be no exception.

    Companies will show off their latest tablets and smartphones as well as digital cameras. In recent years, even automotive companies have gotten in on the act.

    This year Hyundai is promising to unveil a new display audio system with no CD player or embedded navigation system. Instead, its high resolution 7-inch color touch-screen display has been optimized for enhanced smartphone integrations and the latest generation Blue Link system.

    Integrating smartphones

    Consumers with an iPhone will be able to use Apple CarPlay to transfer the familiar features from their iPhones to the touch-screen display. Android users will find their apps can be projected directly into the system.

    "Hyundai will offer more technology than ever before inside affordable Hyundai models, allowing owners not only to text message through voice commands and stream their favorite music apps, but also to make calls in a safer way, and navigate using phone-based, off-board navigation through the car's screen and controls," said Hyundai's Cason Grover. "As affordable car buyers are often younger, Hyundai aims to provide what they want most in their car – all the latest smartphone-enabled technologies at a lower price."

    Not to throw cold water on Hyundai's new in-car technology, many safety experts would disagree that wireless connectivity completely removes distraction while driving. We reported in October that a University of Utah study directly contradicts the idea.

    Taking exception

    “Even though your car may be configured to support social media, texting and phone calls, it doesn’t mean it is safe to do so,” said University of Utah psychology professor David Strayer. “The primary task should be driving. Things that take your attention away make you a poor driver and make the roads less safe.”

    Video games

    Meanwhile, Samsung Electronics and Sony Computer Entertainment will display the newest wrinkle in video games – the PlayStation Now game streaming service that will be available on select Samsung Smart TVs in the first half of 2015.

    The joint venture means Samsung Smart TV owners in the United States and Canada will have access to hundreds of PlayStation 3 games streamed from the cloud, with no need for consoles, downloads, or trips to the store.

    The service will launch as an app that can be accessed through Samsung’s Smart Hub. Visitors to CES 2015 will be able to try to system for themselves at the Samsung exhibit booth.

    Television

    LG Electronics (LG) said it will unveil an expanded TV lineup featuring the company’s new “webOS 2.0” Smart TV platform at CES. LG calls webOS 2.0 improves on key features found in the current generation of Smart TVs using webOS system introduced earlier this year.

    The company said it is also working with content providers like Amazon and Netflix to ensure that LG 4K ULTRA HD TV owners have access to a wide range of 4K viewing options.

    Though a TV set called “webOS TV” might sound complicated, LG says the upgraded product is designed to “make TV simple again” by addressing the growing consumer frustration with overly complex smart TVs.

    Each January the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) wows the public with the latest gadgets. The 2015 CES, which kicks off January 6, should be no exception....
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    New NY law requires childproof packaging for liquid nicotine

    The measure follows the nicotine-poisoning death of a toddler

    Liquid nicotine sold in New York must be packaged in childproof containers under terms of a new law signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo yesterday. The measure also bans the sale of liquid nicotine to those under 21 in New York City and under 18 in the rest of the state.

    New York banned the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors in 2010, but did not explicitly ban the sale of the liquid nicotine, according to a news release from the governor's office.

    "This action will help combat nicotine addiction by keeping it out of the hands of minors, as well as prevent a heartbreaking accident that can occur if a child is exposed to this potentially dangerous substance,” Cuomo said. "I am proud to sign this legislation into law and thank the sponsors for their work on this much-needed initiative.” 

    The measure follows the death of a one-year-old Fort Plain, N.Y., toddler who died after swallowing liquid nicotine. 

    Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal (D-Manhattan), who sponsored the bill, cited the boy's death as a reason why the law was needed.

    "The accidental death of the one-year-old boy from Fort Plain, N.Y. as a result of liquid nicotine poisoning, the first of its kind in the nation, makes clear the need for this kind of common-sense legislation," Rosenthal said in a statement.

    Highly toxic

    Liquid nicotine, often known as electronic liquid or e-liquid, is a composite of nicotine and other chemicals. Concentrated liquid nicotine is highly toxic, even in small doses, and if ingested, liquid nicotine may cause tremors, vomiting, seizures, and potentially, death. For infants and children, ingesting liquid nicotine is particularly lethal.

    According to a 2014 Centers for Disease Control Report, the number of calls to poison control centers involving liquid nicotine rose from one per month in September 2010 to 215 per month in February 2014. More than half of the calls (51.1%) involved children under age 5. 

    Liquid nicotine sold in New York must be packaged in childproof containers, under terms of a new law signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The measure also bans the...
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    Cigarette smoking carries high financial cost too

    U.S. taxpayers pick up the lion's share of the damages

    The health costs of cigarette smoking are well known. They start with lung cancer and heart disease.

    But smoking also imposes a stiff financial toll in the health care costs required to treat smoking related diseases. A team of researchers, including some from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), puts the cost at about $170 billion a year.

    And if you pay taxes, you're paying a significant portion of that cost. A comprehensive study of smoking related costs puts the taxpayer share of the $170 billion at 60%, since many of the people seeking treatment are on Medicare and Medicaid.

    Sixty percent of the bill

    The study found that taxpayers bear 60 percent of the cost of smoking-attributable diseases through publicly funded programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. The data comes from the 2006-2010 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey and 2004-2009 National Health Interview Survey.

    What's discouraging to health care policymakers is the fact that smoking rates are going down, but the financial costs of smoking are going up.

    Specifically, the researchers found that smoking can be blamed for $45 billion in Medicare spending each year and nearly $40 billion for Medicaid. The rest – some $24 billion – is spent on other government-sponsored insurance programs each year.

    The CDC estimates that 16 million Americans suffer from a disease caused by smoking. When you add it all up the study links smoking to 8.7% of all health care spending in the U.S. each year.

    Kills 480,000 Americans a year

    Cigarette smoking is believed to be responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the U.S., including as many as 41,000 from secondhand smoke exposure. This works out to about 1 in 5 deaths per year, or 1,300 per day.

    On average, the CDC says smokers cut 10 years off their lives, compared to non-smokers. Even at declining smoking rates, 5.6 million of Americans younger than 18 are projected to die prematurely from a smoking-related illness. That's about 1 in every 13 Americans aged 17 or younger who are alive today.

    Kicking the habit

    Many smokers, or course, would like to quit and each January make a New Year's resolution to kick the habit, only to be faced with making the same resolution the following January.

    The American Lung Association has offered 5 tips for quitting in 2015 and making it stick. They including using medication in some instances.

    “The seven FDA-approved medications, like nicotine patches or gum, really do help smokers quit,” the association says. “Many folks don’t use them correctly or don’t use them long enough, so be sure to follow the directions.”

    Statistics suggest smokers need every tool at their disposal. According to StatisticBrain.com, 70% of smokers want to quit, 40% will try to quit in the coming year and only 7% will be successful on the first try.

    The health costs of cigarette smoking are well known. They start with lung cancer and heart disease....
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      Did hackers steal customer credit cards from Chick-fil-A?

      Evidence suggests security breach dating back to early December 2013

      Add Chick-fil-A to the always-growing list of businesses whose customers' credit and debit card numbers have apparently been stolen by malware-planting hackers in a security breach.

      Security researcher Brian Krebs initially heard from unnamed “Sources at several U.S. financial institutions” that a recent spate of fraudulent charges all had one thing in common: the compromised cards had been used for payment at various Chick-fil-A locations around the country. Spokespeople for Chick-fil-A said they've received and are investigating similar reports.

      So far, details remain scanty. Krebs' financial-industry sources first started noticing fraudulent charges possibly connected to CFA early in November, though Krebs called those initial reports “spotty at best.”

      Common point of purchase

      Remember that, from the perspective of both the card-issuing financial institutions and the possibly hacked companies like Chick-fil-A who accept credit cards as payment, it can be very difficult to even discover that a security breach happened, let alone when and where.

      When card companies start collecting unusually high numbers of fraudulent-charge complaints from their cardholders, or when lists of stolen numbers and other account information are made available for sale on illegal black-market websites, usually the only way to find out where those numbers were stolen from is by looking through the payment histories of all such accounts for what's known as a “common point of purchase,” or CPP.

      That's more difficult than it sounds, especially when it's so very easy to find false positives. For example, suppose those first few fraudulent charge complaints came from customers who, in addition to Chick-fil-A, had also all used their cards at a Walmart fairly recently and used their credit cards to pay a state car-registration bill in 2014 — which of those similarities is the real common point of purchase? Plus, the banks probably don't even know how far back they must look to find the CPP: did the breach happen in the last week? The last month? Last year? Longer than that?

      So in early November, when the banks (and security researchers) first started noticing spotty reports of accounts which might have been breached at a Chick-fil-A somewhere, they had insufficient evidence to go public with any warning. But that changed just before Christmas, said Krebs, when new information came to light:

      …. one of the major credit card associations issued an alert to several financial institutions about a breach at an unnamed retailer that lasted between Dec. 2, 2013 and Sept. 30, 2014.

      One financial institution that received that alert said the bank had nearly 9,000 customer cards listed in that alert, and that the only common point-of-purchase were Chick-fil-A locations.

      “It’s crazy because 9,000 customer cards is more than the total number of cards we had impacted in the Target breach,” the banking source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

      Krebs' source also said that, while potentially compromised Chick-fil-A branches can be found all over the country, the bulk of the breach seems to have happened at Chick-fil-A branches in Georgia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia.

      "Unusual activity"

      Chick-fil-A issued a statement saying:

      “Chick-fil-A recently received reports of potential unusual activity involving payment cards used at a few of our restaurants.  We take our obligation to protect customer information seriously, and we are working with leading IT security firms, law enforcement and our payment industry contacts to determine all of the facts.”
      “We want to assure our customers we are working hard to investigate these events and will share additional facts as we are able to do so.  If the investigation reveals that a breach has occurred, customers will not be liable for any fraudulent charges to their accounts — any fraudulent charges will be the responsibility of either Chick-fil-A or the bank that issued the card.  If our customers are impacted, we will arrange for free identity protection services, including credit monitoring.”

      In the meantime, it's always a good idea to monitor your own account activity, whether you've eaten at a Chick-fil-A this past year or not.

      Add Chick-fil-A to the always-growing list of businesses whose customers' credit and debit card numbers have apparently been stolen by malware-planting hac...
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      2015 -- a good time to get yourself and your animals in shape

      Just like their owners, most dogs and cats need to eat less and exercise more

      If you have a dog or cat that's a little overweight chances are you are also. Forty percent of American adults don't participate in any leisure-time physical activity. You would think having a dog most owners would be on the thinner side since you have to walk your dog daily. Not everyone does that obviously, and not everyone eats correctly either.

      If your pet is overweight, you need to talk to your vet to see how much weight your dog or cat needs to lose. They may also test your animal to make sure there is no physical reason they are overweight. Once that is done then you can work on a regime that will get your pet healthy. Just to put things in perspective take a look at this chart for overweight cats:

      Here’s what a few extra pounds on a cat would equate to in a human

      2 pounds is similar to 28 pounds on a 140-pound woman

      3 pounds is similar to 42 pounds on a 140-pound woman

      5 pounds is similar to 70 pounds on a 140-pound woman

      8 pounds is similar to 112 pounds on a 140-pound woman

      So for the New Year how about everybody gets in shape?  Make a workout plan that you and your pets can do. Set goals just as you would do for yourself, only you don't have to go it alone now. Provide at least 30 minutes of brisk exercise every day to facilitate weight loss. Here are a few suggestions to get you and your animals in purrfect shape. 

      Change it up

      Everybody loves a good game of fetch, cat or a dog.  You might want to change it up a bit by using different types of toys. It's a great agility game for your animals and it also is good for you to run after that ball a bit.

      Hide and seek is fun. You hide treats (that are low calorie) and they have to find them. It's also a good mental workout for your animals. You get a little movement by having to hide things.

      Hit the stairs. Every high school has a football field find the stairs to the stands. You don't have to do it in record time. Just take it slow you and your dog will get the exercise and be burning calories.

      This is one you need to do in the summer -- swim at a lake or a beach. The neighbors probably don't want you doing laps in their pool but a beach or lake should work fine. Just make sure you are close by so nobody drowns in the waves. It's great for you and your dog. Your cat you might want to keep at home.

      For cats to exercise, it's really all about their environment. What kind of things do you have for them to jump and climb on? Try to add a cat condo or two to your home.

      Take a nice little stroll. Make it a goal for this year to at least take your dog on one walk a day. It gets you out of the house and off the couch, and it will give your dog the exercise it needs. Expand the walk each day just a little farther, so you both are getting the benefits. 

      Most dogs enjoy running (humans not so much unless they are already runners). Once you get the walk mastered add a little hop skip to your step and add a short run, gradually lengthen the run and before you know it, you and your dog will be doing a 5k. 

      Playdates are great for dogs. Find a friend your dog can run around with. Perhaps go to the dog park and see who your dog enjoys playing with. One step better is to get your dog or cat a friend they can play with at home. Animals love people but they really like another animal that is like themselves to understand exactly how they play.

      Getting out at the dog park is good for you also. You get the socialization as well as the large area to throw a ball or frisbee.

      How to tell

      How do you really know if your animal is overweight? You should be able to feel your pet's ribs — not a layer of fat — beneath his or her fur. If you stand looking down at your pet, you should be able to see a waistline. From the side, the underbelly should be tucked up.

      Food is love -- that's what the humans say anyway and people tend to not really overstuff their animals with their meals but treats are where they pack on the pounds. Beginning in 2015, pet food manufacturers will be required to include calorie counts on their packaging, although this regulation will not cover treats.

      Just as with humans, when animals consume fewer calories than they burn, they lose weight. It's something you both can do together and for each other.

      If you have a dog or cat that's a little overweight chances are you are also. Forty percent of American adults don't participate in any leisure-time physic...
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      A busy flying season means lots of bumps

      Being bounced around may not be pleasant but it's better than being bumped

      It's the busiest travel time of the year and if you are flying you face the possibility of being bumped from your flight.  Airlines want to make sure they make money. After all it is a business and to be sure that they don't lose money they may sometimes overbook a flight.

      What the airlines do is surmise how many people will cancel or be a no-show. How can you avoid getting bumped?

      Make sure that you get an advanced seat assignment. Even if you can't stand being in an aisle seat and it's the last one available by the restroom, take the seat. Airlines will usually bump you only if you are late and your seat has been released.

      Which means get to the airport early. Some airlines reserve some of their seats so people can check in at the airport. But with most things done online the number of seats are few and far between -- or they are literally between meaning you get stuck in the middle of a mother and her kids who have runny noses and can't sit still for a 5-hour flight. You are now the inflight entertainment.

      While your ticket may say "confirmed," if you do not have a seat assignment, you will be treated by the airline as a "standby" customer. 

      Of course the airlines also have something called volunteer bumping -- when airline employees will look for volunteers when it appears that the flight has been oversold. If you're not in a rush to arrive at your next destination, you can give your reservation back to the airline in exchange for compensation and a later flight. 

      Brett Snyder, who runs air travel assistance service Cranky Flier says voluntary bumping is "generally really good for everybody involved."

      "Airlines know there will be no-shows, by selling more seats they're able to keep fares lower because otherwise they wouldn't be able to sell those extra seats at higher fares. Then for all the people that get bumped voluntarily, they get freebies," he said.

      The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) requires each airline to give all passengers who are bumped involuntarily a written statement describing their rights and explaining how the carrier decides who gets on an oversold flight and who doesn't. The airlines will generally compensate you if they have  to bump you from a flight.  The amount depends on the price of their ticket and the length of the delay.

      You can view the DOT's rules about bumping here.

      It's the busiest travel time of the year and if you are flying you face the possibility of being bumped from your flight. Airlines want to make sure they ...
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      Pending home sales improve in November

      A year-over-year gain was posted for the third month in a row

      Slight gains in all major regions except for the Midwest helped push pending home sales up slightly in November.

      Figures released by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) show the Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI), which is based on contract signings, rose 0.8% to 104.8 last month from a slightly downwardly revised 104.0 in October. The PHSI is now 4.1% above November 2013 -- the highest year-over-year gain since August 2013. Pending home sales are above year-over-year levels for the third straight month.

      Still no breakout

      While signed contracts inched forward in November and have been fairly stable NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun says they haven't broken out even as the economy picked up steam this spring. "The consistent economic growth and steady hiring we've seen the second half of this year is giving buyers enough assurance to consider purchasing a home before year's end," he said. "With rents now rising at a seven-year high, historically low rates and moderating price growth are likely to entice more buyers to enter the market in upcoming months."

      Yun also thinks falling gas prices will likely boost consumer confidence and allow prospective buyers the opportunity to save additional money for a down payment. NAR's 2014 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers found that the median down-payment ranged from 6% for first-time buyers to 13% for repeat buyers.

      "There's still misperception out there,” he said. “that a much higher down-payment is needed, while that's not the reality,"

      Sales by region

      • The PHSI in the Northeast rose 1.4% to 89.1 in November, and is now 7.0% above a year ago.
      • In the Midwest the index dipped 0.4% to 100.0 in November, and is now 0.5% below November 2013.
      • Pending home sales in the South rose 1.3% to an index of 119.7 in November, and are 5.1% above last November.
      • The index in the West inched up 0.4% in November to 98.5, and is now 4.9% above a year ago.

      Looking ahead

      Total existing-homes sales this year are expected to be around 4.94 million, a decline of 3.0% from last year's 5.09 million, but are then expected to rise to 5.30 million in the coming year.

      The national median existing-home price for all of this year will be close to $208,000, up 5.6% from 2013, and is likely to moderate to a pace between 4 and 5% in 2015. Existing-home prices rose 11.4% in 2013.

      Initial claims

      From the government, meanwhile, word of an unexpected surge in first-time applications for state unemployment benefits.

      Initial jobless claims shot up 17,000 during the week ending December 27 to a seasonally adjusted initial claims was 298,000. The total for the previous week was revised higher by 1,000 to

      281,000.

      Economists surveyed by Briefing.com were looking to a total of 290,000. Despite the larger increase, analysts say the total reflects an economy at or near full employment.

      The 4-week moving average, which is less volatile than the weekly tally and is seen as a more accurate indicator of the labor market, rose 250 -- to 290,750.

      The full report is available on the Labor Department website.

      Slight gains in all major regions except for the Midwest helped push pending home sales up slightly in November. Figures released by the National Associat...
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      Happy Apples recalls caramel apples

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Happy Apples is recalling Happy Apple brand caramel apples with a best use by date between August 25 and November 23, 2014.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has noted 29 illnesses in 10 states linked to the outbreak and has advised consumers not to eat commercially produced, pre-packaged caramel apples until more is known.

      The recalled products were sold in single pack, 3-packs, 4-packs and 8-packs. Each has a best use by date on the front of the label. They were sold at grocery, discount and club stores -- generally in the produce section -- in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin.

      Consumers who have the products may return them to the store where purchased or dispose of them.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at 800-527-7532 Monday - Friday during normal business hours or by email at customercare@happyapples.com.

      Happy Apples is recalling of Happy Apple brand caramel apples with a best use by date between August 25 and November 23, 2014. The products may be contami...
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      Hausman Foods recalls beef and pork products

      The products contain peanuts, an allergen not listed on the label

      Hausman Foods of Corpus Christi, Texas, is recalling approximately 38,400 pounds of beef and pork products.

      The products contain peanuts, a known allergen which is not declared on the product label.

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

      • They following products were produced on various dates from September 17 - December 6, 2014:
      • 800-lb. combo corrugate boxes containing “Fully Cooked Barbacoa.”
      • 15-lb. boxes containing six 2.5 lb vacuum sealed packages of “Pork Chorizo.”

      The recalled products bear establishment number “EST. 7190” or “EST. 7190A” inside the USDA mark of inspection and were shipped to processing and foodservice establishments in Texas.

      Consumers with questions may contact Jerry Simpson at (361) 883-5521.  

      Hausman Foods of Corpus Christi, Texas, is recalling approximately 38,400 pounds of beef and pork products. The products contain peanuts, a known allergen...
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      Cadillac SRX vehicles recalled

      The driver's seat may have been built with an incorrect seat track bracket

      General Motors is recalling 3,155 model year 2015 Cadillac SRX vehicles manufactured November 11, 2014, to December 3, 2014.

      The driver's seat may have been built with an incorrect seat track bracket. Drivers' seats with this condition may not be properly attached to the seat track. The front outboard seat bracket may become disengaged during a vehicle crash, increasing the risk of personal injury.

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will inspect and replace affected seat track hook brackets, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact GM customer service at 1-800-458-8006 (Cadillac). GM's number for this recall is 14863.

      General Motors is recalling 3,155 model year 2015 Cadillac SRX vehicles manufactured November 11, 2014, to December 3, 2014. The driver's seat may have ...
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      California Snack Foods recalls Karm’l Dapples

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      California Snack Foods is recalling its own brand of caramel apples with a best use by date between August 15th and November 28th 2014.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has noted 30 illnesses in 10 states linked to the outbreak and has advised consumers not to eat commercially produced, pre-packaged caramel apples until more is known.

      The recalled products were sold in single packs and 3-packs, with each package having a best use by date on the front of the label. They were sold in the produce sections of grocery, discount and club stores, generally in Arizona, California, Nevada, Texas and Utah.

      Consumers who have the recalled product may return it to the store where purchased or dispose of it.

      Consumers with questions may the company at 800-966-5501 Monday - Friday during normal business hours or by email at info@californiasnackfoods.com

      California Snack Foods is recalling its own brand of caramel apples with a best use by date between August 15th and November 28th 2014. The product may be...
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      Volkswagen recalls vehicles with fuel rail sealing cap issues

      Fuel could leak into the engine compartment

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 37,979 model year 2014-2015 Jettas manufactured March 28, 2014, to November 24, 2014; 2014-2015 Passats manufactured April 7, 2014, to November 18, 2014; 2015 Golfs and GTIs manufactured July 1, 2014, to November 20, 2014; and 2014-2015 Beetles and Beetle Convertibles manufactured March 31, 2014, to November 27, 2014.

      A sealing cap at the fuel rail may fail, allowing fuel to leak into the engine compartment. A fuel leak, in the presence of an ignition source, can result in a vehicle fire.

      Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will replace the fuel rails with new parts, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Volkswagen customer service at 1-800-822-8987. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 24Bi.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 37,979 model year 2014-2015 Jettas manufactured March 28, 2014, to November 24, 2014; 2014-2015 Passats manufactur...
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      Farm Country Cheese House recalls Raw Milk Cheddar

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Farm Country Cheese House of Lakeview, Mich., is recalling 1136.53 pounds of Raw Milk Cheddar.

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      Raw Milk Cheddar was distributed in Michigan, specifically in the Grand Rapids metro and Detroit metro areas through retail stores and specialty shops.

      The recalled product is packaged under two different labels:

      • The first label has Farm Country Cheese House logo on the far left hand side, and the product name (Raw Milk Cheddar) written on top of the label. It is sold as an 8-oz block and has has the “Use By Date” between October 28, 2015, and December 5, 2015, on the back of the cheese. This label also has Julian dates: 14301, 14302, 14308, 14309, 14324, 14325, 14332, 14336, and 14339 in the lower right hand corner. .
      • The second label has Farm Country Cheese House logo on the far left hand side, and the product name (Raw Milk Cheddar) written in white over a light blue banner. The label will has the “Use By Date” on the back, but does not have a Julian Date. The “Use By Date” dates are between October 28, 2015, and December 5th 2015. This product is packaged in 8-oz blocks and 5-lb. loaves.

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

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at 989-352-7779, or by email at info@farmcountrycheesehouse Monday-Friday from 9:00 A.M-5:00 P.M., EST.

      Farm Country Cheese House of Lakeview, Mich., is recalling 1136.53 pounds of Raw Milk Cheddar. The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes...
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      Merb’s Candies recalls caramel apples

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Merb’s Candies is recalling of the Merb’s Candies brand Bionic Apples and Double Dipped Apples.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has noted 30 illnesses in 10 states linked to the outbreak and has advised consumers not to eat commercially produced, pre-packaged caramel apples until more is known.

      The recalled products were sold through local supermarkets (in the produce section) in the St. Louis area,and through mail orders nationwide. They are individually packaged in a clear, burgundy and gold cellophane bags and were available from September 8-November 25, 2014. No identifying lot codes were used.

      Consumers who have any product may return it to the store where purchased or dispose of it.

      Consumers with questions may contact the firm at customercare.merbscandies@gmail.com or during normal business hours Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. CST at (314) 832-7206.

      Merb’s Candies is recalling of the Merb’s Candies brand Bionic Apples and Double Dipped Apples. The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogen...
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      Dodge Dart Aeros recalled

      The Tire Pressure Monitoring System warning light may fail to illuminate

      FCA US, the former Chrysler Group, is recalling 1,056 model year 2015 Dodge Dart Aeros manufactured August 24, 2014, to October 28, 2014.

      The recalled vehicles were built with a premium instrument cluster and Lowline Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS). The TPMS warning light may not illuminate when low tire pressure is detected.

      A malfunctioning TPMS light will not notify an owner of an improperly inflated tire. An improperly inflated tire may experience a complete loss of tire pressure, increasing the risk of a vehicle crash.

      FCA will notify owners, and dealers will reconfigure the vehicles from a lowline TPMS to a highline TPMS, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin February 13, 2015.

      Owners may contact FCA customer service at 1-800-853-1403. FCA's number for this recall is P76.

      FCA US, the former Chrysler Group, is recalling 1,056 model year 2015 Dodge Dart Aeros manufactured August 24, 2014, to October 28, 2014. The recalled ve...
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      New weight-loss drug gets green light

      Saxenda joins 3 other recently-approved treatments for obesity

      Just in time for all those weight-loss New Year's resolutions, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved another new weight management treatment.

      Saxenda is an injection that, when combined with a reduced-calorie diet and physical activity, helps treat obesity. The drug is approved for use in adults with a body mass index (BMI) classifying them as obese. The drug may also be prescribed for adults with a BMI of 27 or greater who have at least one weight-related condition like hypertension, type 2 diabetes, or high cholesterol.

      There may be a large market for Saxenda since according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one-third of adults in the United States are obese.

      “Obesity is a public health concern and threatens the overall well-being of patients,” said James Smith, acting deputy director of the Division of Metabolism and Endocrinology Products in FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “Saxenda, used responsibly in combination with a healthy lifestyle that includes a reduced-calorie diet and exercise, provides an additional treatment option for chronic weight management for people who are obese or are overweight and have at least one weight-related comorbid condition.”

      Three trials

      The FDA evaluated the safety and effectiveness of Saxenda in 3 clinical trials that included approximately 4,800 obese and overweight patients with and without significant weight-related conditions.

      Results from one trial showed that patients had an average weight loss of 4.5% in a year compared to those who got placebo. In this trial, 62% of patients treated with Saxenda lost at least 5% of their body weight compared with 34% of patients treated with placebo.

      Contrave

      Saxenda joins a number of new weight loss drugs recently approved by the FDA. In September, the agency gave a green light to Contrave.

      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.

      Effectiveness

      Weight loss drugs, of course, are not for everyone who just wants to lose weight. According to the Mayo Clinic, these drugs are usually reserved for people who haven't been able to lose weight through natural means like diet and exercise, and who have health problems because of their weight.

      In other words, they aren't for people who want to lose just a few pounds for cosmetic reasons.

      Keep in mind that the drugs are just doing part of the work. The Mayo Clinic says diet and exercise are largely responsible for weight loss, with the drugs contributing to it as well. And once you stop taking the drugs and backslide on your diet, you can expect the pounds to reappear.

      Just in time for all those weight-loss New Year's resolutions, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved another new weight management treatment....
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      Financial smarts don't disappear with age

      If you were a good with money when you were young, chances are you'll remain that way

      There's a theory that as people age, their financial decision-making declines, along with physical and mental abilities. But is that really the case?

      New research from the University of California, Riverside suggests it isn't.

      First, the research team separated 2 types of intelligence; on one side of the ledger it placed “crystallized intelligence," which is gained through experience and accumulated knowledge.

      On the other side, "fluid intelligence," the ability to think logically and process new information. Past research has clearly shown that fluid intelligence decreases with old age, a phenomenon known as "cognitive decline."

      Both are important to financial decision-making, but the researchers give added weight to “crystallized intelligence.” The knowledge you have gained over a lifetime of money management, they say, more than makes up for cognitive decline, in most cases.

      Staying golden

      "The research shows that despite cognitive graying, older people's financial decision making may be more 'golden' than a slowing brain might otherwise suggest," said Ye Li, an assistant professor of management and marketing at the UC Riverside School of Business Administration, who is the lead author of the paper.

      The study may get added attention because of the fast-growing population of older Americans. One in 5 Americans is expected to be over 65 years old by 2030. And it's not just an American phenomenon – the number of people 65 and older worldwide is expected to double by 2035.

      Where the money is

      This is important because older people control vast amounts of wealth. As they age they will have to make decisions about how to manage and spend it, ensuring that they don't outlive it.

      Public policy changes in health care and retirement planning have transferred many complex decisions to individuals. While some worry that older consumers will be more likely to make costly mistakes with their money, the researchers looked at credit scores, which told a different story.

      If an older person has made sound decisions throughout their lifetime, the researchers say that prospect tends to continue in their advancing years, and can be measured through their credit scores.

      Help from pros

      This may be reassuring to some aging consumers who manage their own retirement money but the fact is, a majority of seniors with significant assets seek professional guidance.

      That's because for those who have managed to save a retirement nest egg, the challenge of managing it in retirement may be much greater than the challenge of saving. To produce income the funds need to be put to work. But investing – anything beyond bank CDs – involves risk. As people reach retirement they tend to be less tolerant of risk.

      "Generating retirement income is comparable to that of a NASA engineer trying to land a spaceship on Pluto," Eleanor Blayney, consumer advocate at the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, told us back in January. "Everything may be optimized and perfectly calculated to give the highest probability of success, but without mid-course corrections along the way, the likelihood of achieving the goal – of landing the ship or generating enough income to live on during retirement – is very low."

      That may be true, but the UC Riverside research suggests older consumers should not abdicate complete control over their finances to outside sources.

      While a qualified wealth manager may offer up sound advice, seniors who have gained a lifetime of experience building a portfolio should still have the gray matter to judge that advice, even when their hair turns gray.

      There's a theory that as people age, their financial decision-making declines, along with physical and mental abilities. But is that really the case?...
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      Binge drinking disrupts the immune system, study finds

      It's a newly discovered harmful side effect of binge drinking

      Planning your New Year's Eve celebration? You may want to pause a moment to review a new study that finds binge drinking in young, healthy adults significantly disrupts the immune system.

      In the study, led by a researcher now at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, study participants drank four or five shots of vodka, depending on their weight.

      Twenty minutes after reaching peak intoxication, their immune systems revved up. But when measured again, at two hours and five hours after peak intoxication, their immune systems had become less active than when sober. The study included eight women and seven men with a median age of 27.

      The study led by Majid Afshar, MD, illustrates a potentially harmful effect of binge drinking that is not widely recognized, unlike the falls, burns, gunshot wounds, car accidents and other traumatic injuries generally associated with heavy drinking. One-third of trauma patients have alcohol in their systems.

      In addition to increasing the risk of traumatic injuries, binge drinking impairs the body's ability to recover from such injuries. Previous studies have found, for example, that binge drinking delays wound healing, increases blood loss and makes patients more prone to pneumonia and infections from catheters. Binge drinkers also are more likely to die from traumatic injuries.

      Less awareness

      Drinkers generally understand how binge drinking alters behavior. "But there is less awareness of alcohol's harmful effects in other areas, such as the immune system," said Elizabeth Kovacs, PhD, a co-author of the study and director of Loyola's Alcohol Research Program.

      The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as drinking enough to reach or exceed a blood alcohol content of .08, the legal limit for driving.

      This typically occurs after four drinks for women or five drinks for men, consumed in two hours. One in six U.S. adults binge drinks about four times a month, and binge drinking is more common in young adults aged 18 to 34, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

      Dr. Afshar is planning a follow-up study of burn unit patients. He will compare patients who had alcohol in their system when they arrived with patients who were alcohol-free. He will measure immune system markers from each group, and compare their outcomes, including lung injury, organ failure and death.

      The study is published online ahead of print in Alcohol, an international, peer-reviewed journal.

      Planning your New Year's Eve celebration? You may want to pause a moment to review a new study that finds binge drinking in young, healthy adults significa...
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      Petition drive might overturn California's ban on plastic bags

      Paper grocery bags mostly overlooked in the shuffle

      Last autumn, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law SB 270, a statewide ban on single-use plastic shopping bags which also makes it illegal (on pain of a $5,000 fine) for certain retailers to use paper shopping bags unless they charge customers 10 cents apiece for them.

      Once the governor signed the bill into law, various business groups backed by the pro-plastic American Progressive Bag Alliance (web address: PlasticsIndustry.org/apba) almost immediately started a petition drive in hope of collecting enough signatures under California state law to hold a public referendum during the 2016 election, seeking to overturn SB 270.

      On Monday, the APBA released a statement announcing that it had collected enough signatures to hold the referendum.

      “The APBA has collected more than 800,000 signatures from California voters and will be submitting the final petitions to county registrars prior to today’s December 29th deadline. We are confident the Secretary of State’s office will verify the required 504,760 signatures to qualify the referendum for the November 2016 ballot.

      Although the APBA undoubtedly has a strong financial interest in plastic shopping bags, its statement also pointed out that:

      “SB 270 was never a bill about the environment. It was a back room deal between the grocers and union bosses to scam California consumers out of billions of dollars in bag fees without providing any public benefit. We are pleased to have reached this important milestone in the effort to repeal a terrible piece of job-killing legislation, and look forward to giving California voters a chance to make their voice heard at the ballot box in 2016.”

      Two-year reprieve

      The Sacramento Bee noted on Monday that “If enough signatures are deemed valid and the referendum does go to the 2016 ballot, the law will be suspended until the electorate weighs in. That effectively buys the plastics industry a two-year reprieve regardless of how Californians vote. Plastic bags distributed in California carry a wholesale value of about $195 million annually ….”

      This two-year suspension presumably applies also to the law mandating that stores collect a ten-cent fee for every paper grocery bag they distribute, even though the primary focus of the petition drive and publicity surrounding it has been on plastic bags and the plastics industry.

      As written, the plastic bag ban, and mandatory fee for paper bags, only apply to food and consumable purchases: grocery stores, pharmacies, liquor and convenience stores all must obey the bans. However, clothing, gift and electronics stores do not, and can use plastic or give away free paper bags without limit.

      (A cynic might even say, “The bag ban only covers necessities, like food and medicine, which poor people are just as likely as rich people to buy on a regular basis.”)

      If a repeal of SB 270 does make it onto the ballot and successfully passes in 2016, it would not apply to various city-level bag bans throughout California. The Sacremento Bee mentioned that Sacremento's own mayor is pushing for a citywide ban on plastic bags, because plastic disposable shopping bags “cause problems by clogging up our recycling equipment …. and we’re forced to use parks and other city personnel to clean up plastic bag pollution all over the city every day.”

      The mayor said nothing one way or the other about single-use paper bags, which continue to be lumped together with single-use plastic bags in a currently debated new California law which the plastics industry, among other groups, may yet succeed in overturning.

      Last autumn, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law SB 270, a statewide ban on single-use plastic shopping bags which also makes it illegal (on pa...
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      OneStopParking the latest paid-parking vendor to get hacked

      Pay-to-park customers at extra risk of data theft

      If you pay to park your car then you need to be extra-cautious when checking your credit card statements for fraudulent charges. Security expert Brian Krebs reported today that hackers managed to steal customer credit-card data from OneStopParking.com earlier this month – apparently, the same hackers behind the earlier and far more massive security breaches at Target and Home Depot.

      The theft of customer information from OneStopParking is the fourth parking-related customer data theft to be reported in December alone – hacks of Park'N Fly airport parking, the St. Louis Parking Company and SP+ Parking were also discovered and reported this month. Parking lots (or their payment vendors) seem to be the hot new targets in hacker circles.

      Where data security breaches are concerned, everyday consumers might find that keeping up with parking-garage or parking lot data theft might be more difficult than keeping up with retail-based thefts. After all, when the average person hears “Target (or any other retailer or restaurant) was breached during this particular time frame,” most people know whether or not they patronized that particular business – ask people whether or not they've recently visited a major chain store, and they can accurately tell you yea or nay.

      But that's generally not the case with parking companies. Most people associate parking with location rather than brand name — ask the average person about their pay-to-park habits, and you're sure to hear something like “I park in the lot on 4th Street” or “in the garage next to the mall,” not “I park in lots maintained by ParkNPay International LLC.”

      So if you do ever pay to park your vehicle, whether as a daily commuter or an occasional tourist, check to determine the name of the actual company running that paid lot or parking garage; if it's OneStopParking, Park'N Fly, SP+ Parking or the St. Louis Parking Company, your payment card information is at greater-than-usual risk of winding up in some thieving hacker's hands.

      If you pay to park your car then you need to be extra-cautious when checking your credit card statements for fraudulent charges. Security expert Brian Kreb...
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