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    Aspen Foods recalls chicken steak products

    The products contain wheat and soy, allergens not listed on the label

    The Aspen Foods division of Koch Foods of Chicago, Ill., is recalling approximately 1,140 pounds of chicken steak products.

    The products contain wheat and soy, allergens not declared on the product label.

    The problem was discovered after the firm received consumer complaints indicating that the Lemon Pepper flavored ChicNSteakes boxes actually contain Chicken Teriyaki flavored ChicNSteakes. Teriyaki ChicNSteakes contain soy and wheat allergens, which are not in the Lemon Pepper flavored ChicNSteakes.

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

    The following ChicNSteakes items, produced on December 13, 2014, are being recalled:

    • 2-lb. selling unit boxes containing vacuum-packages of “Market Day Teriyaki Flavored ChicNSteakes.” in boxes labeled “Market Day Lemon Pepper ChicNSteakes.”

    The recalled products bear the establishment number “P-1358” inside the USDA mark of inspection. The inner package and the selling unit boxes will have a Julian Date of “3464” and the outer box will have a pack date of 12/13/14.

    The items produced were shipped to locations in Illinois for further distribution.

    Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Mike Fields at (847) 384-5940.

    The Aspen Foods division of Koch Foods of Chicago, Ill., is recalling approximately 1,140 pounds of chicken steak products. The products contain wheat and...
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    Freeland Foods recalls Spicy Seed

    The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

    Freeland Foods of San Jose, Calif., is recalling Go Raw Organic Spicy Seed Mix.

    The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

    No illnesses have been reported to date associated with the consumption of this product

    Based upon a random sampling, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency ("CFIA") has determined that the Go Raw Brand Organic Spicy Seed Mix, UPC number 8 59888 00040 0, lot number "Enjoy before May 12, 2015 R2," sold in 1-lb. (454 g) re-sealable plastic bags sold by Ecomax, tested positive for Salmonella.

    Consumers who have purchased this product should destroy it or return it to the place of purchase for a full refund.

    The recalled product was marketed through distributors, retailers and direct customers across the U.S. and Canada.

    Consumer with questions or concerns may contact the company at 1-877-456-8729 between 9AM – 3PM Monday – Friday or by email at returns@goraw.com.

    Freeland Foods of San Jose, Calif., is recalling Go Raw Organic Spicy Seed Mix. The product may be contaminated with Salmonella. No illnesses have been r...
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      Feds report growing oil supply

      Last week's surge was the largest in 14 years

      Forget about oil prices going back up anytime in the near future. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports U.S. petroleum stockpiles surged last week by the largest amount in 14 years.

      Oil storage facilities are filled to the brim and companies had to scramble to find places to store the extra 10 million barrels of oil U.S. produced and imported. Total stockpiles reached nearly 397 million barrels, the EIA weekly status report said.

      The news sent oil prices plunging once again on world markets, with cheaper U.S. crude approaching $45 a barrel. With so much supply engulfing demand, there is little to propel oil prices higher for the foreseeable future, analysts say.

      More important, commodities traders have drastically reduced their positions in the oil market over the last six months, no longer competing with end users of oil – a practice that contributed to oil's lofty heights over the last decade.

      More gasoline too

      The EIA report also shows gasoline stockpiles rose during the week ending January 16, rising .04% from the week before. That increase should continue to place downward pressure on prices at the pump.

      As a result, the national average price of self-serve regular continues to drift toward $2 a gallon. At an average $2.04 a gallon, the price is now $1.24 cheaper than at this time a year ago, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Survey.

      Gasoline prices are now at the lowest level since April 2009 and AAA predicts the national average will fall below $2 a gallon before the end of the month. Some drivers are already paying well below $2 a gallon.

      Show Me low prices

      For example, the cheapest fuel in the U.S. can be found in Missouri, with an average of $1.76 a gallon. It's followed by Oklahoma, at $1.80 and Kansas at $1.81.

      Hawaii's gasoline prices, influenced more by taxes and transportation costs than oil prices, are the only U.S. gasoline prices to remain above $3 a gallon at this point. Alaska is the next most-expensive state, at $2.82 a gallon and New York, at $2.50.

      In fact, those 3 states are the only ones where the average price remains above $2.50 a gallon.

      If history is any guide consumers could see a 30 to 50 cent increase in prices this spring, as refineries reduce capacity for maintenance and switch over to summer grade gasoline. But AAA sees little likelihood the increase will be lasting.

      “These sustained lower prices would be a result of projected shifts in the balance between global oil supply and demand,” AAA said.

      And of course, this shift was all started when OPEC decided not to react to rising supplies by cutting production. Instead, it continues to pressure U.S. producers to do the cutting.

      Until one side blinks, motorists should continue to enjoy lower prices at the pump.

      Forget about oil prices going back up anytime in the near future. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports U.S. petroleum stockpiles surged...
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      Texas debt collector sued by feds

      The agency allegedly illegally threatened consumers

      A Texas debt collector faces charges that it used illegal tactics by threatening consumers with false claims of lawsuits and garnishment.

      “When it comes to debt collection, people have rights,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection. “It’s illegal to harass people, or to make false threats about wage garnishment or lawsuits. Unfortunately, these unscrupulous debt collectors systematically lied to the people they called.”

      The FTC’s complaint charges Commercial Recovery Systems, Inc. (CRS), its president, Timothy Ford, and its former vice president, David Devany, with violating the FTC Act and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by using deceptive methods to collect debts.

      CRS has been collecting consumer debts nationwide since 1994. The company collects third-party debt, including credit card and auto loan debt. The company’s representatives contact consumers via telephone and mail.

      “The defendants in this case are alleged to have lied to consumers in violation of the law,” said DOJ’s Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division, Joyce R. Branda. “We will enforce these laws and stop those who would use deception to extract money from American consumers.”

      A Texas debt collector faces charges that it used illegal tactics by threatening consumers with false claims of lawsuits and garnishment....
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      A strong finish for sales of existing homes

      Nonetheless, 2014 was not a strong year

      Sales of previously-owned homes rebounded last month from their November slump.

      The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports existing-home sales -- completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops -- rose 2.4% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.04 million in December. The increase put sales above an annual pace of 5 million for the sixth time in 7 months and 3.5% above the December 2013 level.

      That news was tempered, though, by the fact that for all of 2014, there were 4.93 million sales -- down 3.1% decline from the 2013 total of 5.09 million. In a more positive year-over-year comparison, the national median existing-home price was $208,500 -- the highest since 2007 ($219,000) and a 5.8% increase from 2013 ($197,100). That marks the 34th consecutive month of year-over-year price gains. The median is the point at which half the prices are higher and half are lower.

      A second half pickup

      Sales picked up in December to close a 2014 that got off to a sluggish start but showed encouraging signs of activity the second half of the year. “Home sales improved over the summer once inventory increased, prices moderated and economic growth accelerated,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. “Sales were measurably better in the second half -- up 8% compared to the first 6 months of the year.”

      Yun says it's not all sunshine and blue skies in the immediate future, though. “A drop in housing supply in December raises some affordability concerns in the months ahead as minimal selection and the potential for faster price appreciation could offset the demand from buyers encouraged by a stronger economy and sub-4% interest rates,” he noted, adding, “Housing costs -- both rents and home prices -- continue to outpace wages and are burdensome for potential buyers trying to save for a down payment while looking for available homes in their price range.”

      Regional breakdown

      • December existing-home sales in the Northeast declined 2.9% to an annual rate of 660,000, but are 3.1% above a year ago. The median price was $246,600 -- 3.2% above a year ago.
      • In the Midwest, sales fell 3.5% to an annual level of 1.09 million, and are now 2.7% below December 2013. The median price rose 5.3% from a year ago -- to $159,100.
      • Existing-home sales in the South climbed 3.8% to an annual rate of 2.17 million, and are 7.4% above December 2013. The median price was $184,100, a year-over-year advance of 6.6%.
      • Sales in the West shot up 9.8% to an annual rate of 1.12 million, and are 2.8% from a year ago. The median price was $299,600, which is 5.6% above December 2013.
      Sales of previously-owned homes rebound last month from their November slump. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports existing-home sales -- co...
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      Nissan recalls Pathfinders, Rogues and Infiniti QX60s

      The front wheel hub assembly fasteners may not have been properly torqued

      Nissan North America is recalling 893 model year 2014-2015 Nissan Pathfinder and Infiniti QX60 vehicles manufactured August 14, 2014, to November 5, 2014, and 2014-2015 Nissan Rogue vehicles manufactured August 12, 2014, to November 15, 2014.

      During the assembly process, the front wheel hub assembly fasteners may not have been properly torqued. The under-torqued fasteners may result in a brake caliper separating from the wheel assembly causing a reduction in braking performance or reduced steering control. These conditions increase the risk of a crash.

      Nissan will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the vehicles and tighten any loose bolts to the proper specification, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin February 25, 2015.

      Owners may contact Nissan customer service at 1-800-647-7261.

      Nissan North America is recalling 893 model year 2014-2015 Nissan Pathfinder and Infiniti QX60 vehicles manufactured August 14, 2014, to November 5, 2014, ...
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      6 weight-loss programs that can help you keep your New Year's resolution

      Some can help you establish good long-term habits; others provide a quick fix

      There's no shortage of advice on how to lose weight. You could take up triathlons, switch to a raw or paleo diet or begin counting calories and keeping track of every morsel that passes your lips.

      Some of these might work for some people, some for others. But which one will work for you? And for how long? That's the 64-pound question. The answer, of course, is whichever program helps you eat fewer calories than you burn. The hard part is finding a program that does that and that you can follow from now until forever.

      The best place to start is with your doctor, who may already be nagging you about your weight, your cholesterol reading, your blood pressure and your impending metabolic disease. You need to be sure you don't have a condition that requires a special diet before you embark on a major change in your eating habits.

      Unfortunately, when it comes to helping patients lose weight, many physicians don't do much beyond nagging. If you're lucky, yours may outline a regimen, refer you to a dietitian nutritionist or recommend a local program. If not, you'll be on your own.

      Experts will tell you that the best way to proceed is to find a dietitian nutritionist who can build a diet specifically suited to you and who will help you stick to that diet. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has an online directory that will help you find someone in your city. What you want is a "registered dietitian nutritionist." This is a certified healthcare specialist, not just someone who decided to hang up a shingle. (The term "nutritionist" is not as rigorously defined). 

      But if you're like most of us, you'll probably not go that far. Going the do-it-yourself route may work if you're willing and able to do a lot of research, put together a reasonable plaln and stick to it. But just as most of us call a plumber rather than trying to fix the water heater ourselves, most consumers turn to commercial weight-loss plans. 

      While there's no shortage of commercial plans, it can be confusing trying to wade through all of them. One good place to start is the ConsumerAffairs Weight Loss Buyers Guide, which reviews several major brands. It's also worth checking out the ConsumerAffairs Weight Loss News Section, a compilation of news stories by our sleek and slender news staff. 

      Here's a quick look at some of the better-known plans.

      Nutrisystem

      You might call Nutrisystem the Amazon of the weight-loss business -- it's huge and has lots of cardboard boxes. It uses those cardboard boxes to send you the meals that fit the profile you've worked out with online and telephone consultants. You order the meals you want off a customized menu and they show up at your door on a regular basis. Selections are also available at Walmart, Amazon and other retailers.

      The advantage of this is that it takes the guesswork out of sticking to your diet and, not coincidentally, relieves you of that burdensome question, "What's for dinner?"

      There are those who will argue that the freshest local food is the healthiest and this may be true but it's also true that people who have jobs, children and other responsibilities don't always have time to go to the farmer's market each day and to then spend an hour peeling the carrots and potatoes. There are also many people who simply don't like to cook and aren't very good at it. Nutrisystem is ideal for them. Open the box, pop the ingredients into the microwave and dinner is served.

      Does it work? Many who have tried it say it does. A few years ago, reporter Joe Enoch volunteered to try it, and spent the next 28 days eating Nutrisystem meals.

      "I dove head first into this diet, only breaking from it once, and briefly, to celebrate at a birthday party which I helped plan. In total, I lost 13 pounds. In a 28-day period, that's fantastic and it has felt great having people ask me if I've lost weight," Enoch reported at the end of the 28 days.

      A large guy with a previously big appetite, Joe said he was hungry during the first few days but quickly adapted to eating the smaller, more frequent portions that Nutrisystem supplied. There was also an unexpected plus:

      "Because of all the fruits, vegetables and healthy carbs, I often had more energy than I did when I was consuming nearly double the calories. Occasionally I would feel drained, particularly the day after a really long run, but my counselor said I could add a few more calories to compensate," he said.

      While Joe was somewhat cautious in his conclusions, consumers posting reviews on ConsumerAffairs were more enthusiastic.

      "Nutrisystem Jumpstart 5 day box at Walmart is fantastic!" said Kathleen of Noble, OK. "This changed my life! It is fantastic and I have lost 45 pounds and have a goal to lose 16 more.  I am 52 and past menopause and YES this works for me like nothing else and believe me I have tried every diet out there!"

      Even occasional users give Nutrisystem a thumbs-up.

      "Every year for the Christian season of Lent I do the Nutrisystem program and every year I lose 20-30 lbs. It’s a great thing to do every year," said Steven of Pleasant Valley, NY.

      Weight Watchers

      Weight Watchers has been around for what seems like forever and has a large band of loyal followers. It once relied on support groups and face-to-face counseling to help dieters stay on course. Those options are still available but online and mobile app support has displaced a lot of facetime.

      No matter what means you use to access the program, it revolves around the "PointsPlus budget," a calorie-counting plan that is customized for you based on your weight, height, gender and age. You can prepare your own food or eat out, use your own recipes or follow Weight Watchers' suggestions but to get results, you need to follow the daily budget.

      Unlike some weight-loss plans, Weight Watchers counts some calories differently from others. For example, both a cookie and an apple might contain 95 calories. But Weight Watchers assigns two points to the cookie, none to the apple. That's based on the principle that all calories are not created equal -- and that fruit and vegetables are healthier than cakes and cookies.

      The good thing about Weight Watchers is that it's flexible -- you can eat pretty much whatever you want. But not much of it. Most experts agree that it works, but you have to pay attention and follow the guidelines.

      The most common complaint about Weight Watchers isn't related to the weight-loss program but rather to the monthly fees.

      "I canceled my account with Weight Watchers over a month ago, and they still took out my payment," said Tiki of Clayon, N.C., in a typical review. I will never again trust them with my bank account information. Luckily, I paid through Paypal and I plan to appeal it. They make their cancellation process so confusing that when you think you have cancelled, you really haven't."

      Jenny Craig

      Another grand old name of the weight-loss business, Jenny Craig combines elements of both Nutrisystem and Weight Watchers -- it sells you the food a la Nutrisystem and provides counseling, much like Weight Watchers. Experts and consumers alike agree that it works but some complain about the cost and others find fault with at least some of the food.

      Jenny Craig relieves you of the task of planning meals and tracking your food intake. Its counselors work with you to draw up a weekly meal plan, so you know in advance what to eat for lunch Thursday. And every other day.

      Actually, you not only meet with the consultant to plan your week's menus, you also pick up the food during the meeting. The menus cover a broad range of tastes, everything from Mexican to continental cuisine.

      Like other effective plans, Jenny Craig lets you eat all day long -- up to six times a day if you want. The portions -- no surprise -- are small but eating smaller meals frequently is a recognized way to minimize hunger and avoid taking on huge caloric loads at a single sitting.

      Many of the comments we hear center around the food and the cost of the program.

      "I lost 70 pounds using Jenny Craig," said Joyce of Forney, Texas, in a ConsumerAffairs review. "The plan worked for me and I loved the vitamins and the food."

      But Joyce said that, like many Jenny Craig clients, she also worked for the company as a counselor for awhile and "hated" that experience because of the pressure to sign new clients.

      A recent study by researchers in Singapore supported Joyce's views. It found that Jenny Craig produced the greatest weight loss but was also the most expensive of the programs studied.

      Herbalife

      Herbalife is a multi-level marketing company that, among other things, sells meals and shakes that can help you lose weight. It's popular among athletes, new moms and, in general, a younger and more active crowd than some of the other programs out there.

      Herbalife basically offers more of an "off-the-shelf" program, minus the counselors and extensive menu planning, with meal replacement shakes, energy bars and nutritional supplements.

      You can order online or from a distributor. Like most multi-level ventures, Herbalife is always eager to sign up new distributors, so it's important to stay focused. If you're looking to lose weight, concentrate on that. Getting into a new line of work can come later.

      Just ask Maurice of Washington, D.C.

      "I had phenomenal success with the weight-loss program. If taken according to directions, the product really works! I cannot say the same for the business program that Herbalife offers. I was told that if I would sign up for the business program, I would be able to buy the product at a discount. That was true, but before long, I was being pressured to invest large sums of money and to create a down line of distributors," Maurice said in a ConsumerAffairs review.

      In short, he lost weight but also lost money trying to sell the products.

      Medifast

      Medifast has had its ups and downs. Originally developed to be used under a doctor's supervision, it now offers a variety of meal replacement programs you can use at home. It cites scientific studies to support its claims but it has also run afoul of government agencies a few times.

      In 2012, the Federal Trade Commission fined Medifast $3.7 million after finding it had made unsupported claims about its products.

      Some consumers have also reported that they have experienced allergic reactions to the large amounts of soy in the Medifast products.

      "I used the products successfully for roughly 10 months and lost 43 pounds. However, I developed a serious allergy to soy and began menopause a bit sooner than was expected with some adverse symptoms," said Kim of Long Beach, Calif., in a ConsumerAffairs review.

      Consumers prone to allergies may want to talk to their allergist before starting Medifast or, for that matter, any diet with a heavy soy content.

      Right Size

      Lose 18 pounds in 12 weeks? That's what Right Size claims on its website: "Even if you have only a few minutes to eat, you’ll have enough time to shake up one of our smoothies. Simply replace your current breakfast and lunch with our easy-to-make smoothies and you can expect to lose up to 18 lbs. in 12 weeks.*"

      The asterisk leads to a footnote that says: "*Results not typical. Weight loss was achieved by replacing two meals a day with RightSize Smoothies while following a reduced-calorie diet."

      As with many weight-loss programs, many of the comments we've received have to do with cost.

      "I subscribed to Right Size Smoothies for Monthly delivery. I really loved the stuff but had one huge complaint," said Deborah of Fountain Inn, S.C., in a ConsumerAffairs review. "I subscribed at their website, the price was $10.00, not bad, but to my surprise it cost $20.00 shipping and handling. Total was $30.00."

      In summary: they're high-protein shakes. As part of a balanced, portion-controlled diet, they can probably help you lose weight but watch out for those shipping charges.

      And then what?

      There's not much doubt that any of these programs can help you lose weight during the time you're following them. But eventually, you'll need to extricate yourself, if for no other reason than that the programs are expensive and even the best of them get boring after awhile.

      The big advantage of the more traditional plans, like Nutrisystem and Weight Watchers is that, unlike the two-shakes-a-day plans, they can help you learn good eating habits and adjust your appetite to match the reduced calories demanded by a modern, mostly sedentary lifestyle.

      Lean meat, fresh or frozen vegetables, fruits, nuts, bread and pasta will keep you going a long time. A diet program like those we've looked at can get you started. After you've learned how much better you look and feel minus those extra pounds, maybe you'll even be motivated to find that dietitian we talked about earlier.

      If you think of weight loss the way we think about fitness, the commercial diet plans are like a personal trainer. You put in some intensive road work, pump some iron and so forth until you reach your personal best, then take it from there with a maintance plan your trainer helps you work out before you go your separate ways.

      As with most things in life, there's no one solution to the problem of weight gain. But there are lots of good partial solutions that, when combined, can get you where you want to go. 

      There's no shortage of advice on how to lose weight. You could take up triathlons, switch to a raw or paleo diet or begin counting calories and keep track...
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      Two foods that may improve blood pressure readings

      Blueberries and beet juice both appear to have medicinal effects

      Doctors aren't completely sure what can lower your blood pressure but they know of a lot of thing that can raise it – being overweight, consuming too much sodium and not getting enough exercise.

      Scientists now say they have additional data suggesting two foods can help lower blood pressure – one that you might like eating, the other perhaps not so much.

      Researchers at Florida State University say just one cup of blueberries each day could be important in reducing blood pressure and reducing arterial stiffness.

      Perhaps not quite as appetizing is beet juice. But British scientists say drinking a cup of it each day has been shown to significantly lower blood pressure among patients with high blood pressure.

      Blueberries or beet juice?

      Probably for most consumers, the blueberry option is preferable.

      “Our findings suggest that regular consumption of blueberries could potentially delay the progression of prehypertension to hypertension, therefore reducing cardiovascular disease risk,” said Sarah A. Johnson, assistant director of the Center for Advancing Exercise and Nutrition Research on Aging (CAENRA) and postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Nutrition, Food and Exercise Sciences at Florida State University (FSU).

      The team of FSU nutrition and exercise scientists published their findings in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

      Postmenopausal women

      Johnson started her project because of her interest in functional foods — foods that have a positive impact on health beyond basic nutrition. She found that many of these foods can prevent and reverse negative health outcomes, especially for postmenopausal women.

      “Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States,” she said. “Once women go through menopause, this puts them at an even greater risk for it. Our findings suggest that the addition of a single food, blueberries, to the diet may mitigate the negative cardiovascular effects that often occur as a result of menopause.”

      In her study participants who received blueberry powder – the equivalent of a cup of blueberries a day – experienced a 5% decrease in systolic blood pressure. They saw an even greater decrease in diastolic pressure.

      Previous studies

      Previous studies on blueberries have shown positive effects on cardiovascular risk factors including blood pressure, but they all included large amounts of blueberry powder consumption, anywhere from 50 grams to 250 grams. In the case of 250 grams, that would translate to more than 11 cups of fresh blueberries, which may not be realistic for people to consume on a regular basis.

      Scientists at Queen Mary University of London say a daily 250ml glass of beet juice also contributes to a significant drop in blood pressure. They say beet's high content of inorganic nitrate is what provides the medicinal effect.

      While previous studies have suggested blueberries have a positive effect on blood pressure, the researchers says this is the first to indicate dietary nitrate supplementation from beet juice has a similar effect.

      Doctors aren't completely sure what can lower your blood pressure but they know of a lot of thing that can raise it – being overweight, consuming too much ...
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      Microsoft offers glimpses of upcoming Windows 10

      Free upgrade from Windows 7 and 8.1 — but only in the first year

      Yesterday Microsoft unveiled a first look at some products it has coming down the pike, including the new Windows 10 operating system slated to launch sometime later this year.

      Arguably the day's biggest surprise was the announcement that Windows 10 will be a free upgrade to anybody who already has Windows 7 or 8.1, provided they make the switch within the first year of Windows 10's release. (What the price will be otherwise has not yet been announced.)

      Windows 10 will do away with Internet Explorer, and replace it with a stripped-down browser called “Spartan,” similar to Firefox and Chrome. It's also supposed to be better for PC gamers, who will be able to stream Xbox One games to any device in their home, rather than be limited to the gaming console.

      Indeed, Microsoft's making quite a big deal out of Windows 10's ability to work across multiple devices; when Phil Savage live-blogged the briefing for PCGamer.com, he snarkily summarized it as “For the most part, it's just a series of people saying 'devices' in different degrees of sincerity and urgency.”

      The latest Apple software already offers this capability in Yosemite, the latest version of its OS X. Apple also offers free upgrades when it issues new versions of its operating system.

      Other promised Windows features include voice assistant “Cortana,” Microsoft's answer to Siri.

      Possibly the most exciting promised innovation (if it doesn't prove to be simply a piece of vaporware) is the HoloLens, a headset promising the wearer a holographic 3-d virtual reality experience.

      Neither a price nor a release date for the HoloLens has been announced yet, but it's supposedy going to be ready in time for the launch of Windows 10.

      Yesterday Microsoft unveiled a first look at some products it has coming down the pike, including the new Windows 10 operating system slated to launch some...
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      Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase fined $24 million for mortgage kickbacks

      The banks will also pay $11 million in redress to customers

      Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase are facing $24 million in fines and more than $11 million in redress payments to customers for their part in a mortgage kickback scheme.

      The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Maryland Attorney General charged that the banks and Genuine Title, a defunct title company, ran an illegal marketing-services-kickback scheme. The Bureau and Maryland also took action against former Wells Fargo employee Todd Cohen and his wife, Elaine Oliphant Cohen, for their involvement.

      Genuine Title gave the banks’ loan officers cash, marketing materials, and consumer information in exchange for business referrals.

      The proposed consent orders, filed in federal court, would require $24 million in civil penalties from Wells Fargo, $600,000 in civil penalties from JPMorgan Chase, and $11.1 million in redress to consumers whose loans were involved in this scheme. Cohen and Oliphant Cohen also will pay a $30,000 penalty.

      “Today we took action against two of the nation’s largest banks, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase, for illegal mortgage kickbacks,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “These banks allowed their loan officers to focus on their own illegal financial gain rather than on treating consumers fairly. Our action today to address these practices should serve as a warning for all those in the mortgage market.”

      Quid pro quo

      “Homeowners were steered toward this title company, not because they were the best or most affordable, but because they were providing kickbacks to loan officers who referred consumers to them,” said Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh. “This type of quid pro quo arrangement is illegal, and it’s unfair to other businesses that play by the rules.”

      Genuine Title was a Maryland-based title company that offered real-estate-closing services from 2005 until it went out of business in April 2014. As part of the marketing-services-kickback scheme, Genuine Title offered loan officers valuable services to increase the amount of loan business generated. Genuine Title conducted this scheme at several financial institutions. The services the company offered included purchasing, analyzing, and providing data on consumers and creating letters with the banks’ logos that the company had printed, folded, stuffed into envelopes, and mailed.

      In return, the banks’ loan officers would increase Genuine Title’s profits by referring homebuyers to the company for closing services. This scheme was especially profitable for the loan officers, who generally are paid by commission.

      The Bureau’s investigation identified more than 100 Wells Fargo loan officers in at least 18 branches, largely in Maryland and Virginia, who participated in this scheme. The Bureau alleges that these loan officers referred thousands of loans to Genuine Title over the course of the scheme.

      The CFPB also found that loan officers at JPMorgan Chase participated in the marketing-services-kickback scheme with Genuine Title. The Bureau alleges that at least six Chase loan officers in three different branches in Maryland, Virginia, and New York were involved. These officers referred settlement business to Genuine Title on almost 200 loans.

      Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase are facing $24 million in fines and more than $11 million in redress payments to customers for their part in a mortgage kick...
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      House prices up in November

      Values remain below the 2007 housing boom peak

      The price of homes across the U.S. rose during November.

      Tthe Federal Housing Finance Agency's (FHFA) monthly House Price Index (HPI) shows prices were up 0.8% on a seasonally adjusted basis, while the previously reported 0.6% advance in October was revised downward to show a gain of 0.4%.

      Regional changes

      For the nine census divisions, seasonally adjusted monthly price changes from October 2014 to November 2014 ranged from -0.9% in the New England division to +1.8% in the East South Central division.

      The 12-month changes were all positive, ranging from +1.6% in the New England division to +7.5% in the Pacific division.

      The FHFA HPI is calculated using home sales price information from mortgages sold to or guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

      From November 2013 to November 2014, house prices were up 5.3%, although the index is 4.5% below its April 2007 peak and is roughly the same as the October 2005 index level.

      The complete report is available on the FHFA website.

      The price of homes across the U.S. rose during November. Tthe Federal Housing Finance Agency's (FHFA) monthly House Price Index (HPI) shows prices were up...
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      A retreat for first-time jobless claims

      Still, the level remains above 300k

      Initial jobless claims fell last week after a surprise increase the previous week.

      The Labor Department (DOL) reports applications for state unemployment benefits were down 10,000 during the week ending January 17 to seasonally adjusted 307,000. The previous weeks increase, reported at the time as 19,000 was even worse. The figure was revised upward to show an advance of 20,000 -- to 317 thousand.

      DOL says there were no special factors affecting the initial claims increase.

      The 4-week moving average, which is considered a more accurate gauge of the labor market as it lacks the volatility of the initial claims calculation, rose 6,500 to 306,500.

      The complete report is available on the DOL website.

      Initial jobless claims fell last week after a surprise increase the previous week. The Labor Department (DOL) reports applications for state unemployment ...
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      Holiday Foods recalls beef, chicken and pork products

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

      Holiday Foods of Hollywood, Fla., is recalling approximately 1,819 pounds of beef, chicken and pork products.

      The products may contain peanuts, an allergen which is not declared on the product label.

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

      The following products are being recalled:

      • 5 corrugated brown packages with case code YX43242; weighing 4.4-lbs each; and containing 100 pieces of “Peruvian Brand Marinated Beef for Brochett on a Specialty Bamboo Skewer 4801804”
      • 50 corrugated brown packages with case code YX42172; weighing 5-lbs each; and containing 100 pieces of “Chicken Taquitos: Chicken Breast w/Rib Meat, Salsa and Cheese Wrapped in a Tortilla 4801273”
      • 55 corrugated brown packages with case codes YX43023 and YX43423; weighing 4.4-lbs each; and containing 100 pieces of “Mango Chutney Chicken Samosa 4802693”
      • 232 corrugated brown packages with case codes YX43283, YX42753 and YX42613; weighing 5.625-lbs each; and containing 100 pieces of “Beef (Tenderloin & Short Rib) and Manchego Cheese Empanada 4802622”

      The products bear the establishment number “EST. 18074” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and were produced between August 5 and December 8, 2014. They were shipped to wholesale distributors in Illinois, Indiana, Florida, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Texas.

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Holiday Foods at (877) 301-6691 between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. (CST) Monday through Friday.  

      Holiday Foods of Hollywood, Fla., is recalling approximately 1,819 pounds of beef, chicken and pork products. The products may contain peanuts, an, which ...
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      House of Bricks Realty recalls pork product

      The product was not presented at the U.S. point of entry for inspection

      House of Bricks Realty of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., is recalling approximately 130 pounds of French pork rillette.

      The product was not presented at the U.S. point of entry for inspection, presenting the possibility that adverse health consequences exist.

      There are no reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of this product.

      The following product is subject to recall:

      • 3.2-oz jars of “Les Trois Petits Cochons Rillettes De Pork” in French and “The Three Little Pigs Pork Rillettes” in English with BBY 04/2018/101 15:37 656” and “FR29 225 001CE” printed on the gold lid.

      The cases contain 12 jars each and bear the French establishment number “29.225.001” and “P L J” ” 155” and Enjoy by 04/11/18. The product was shipped to distributors for further sale to consumers.

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Tracy Blaine at (570) 823-9778 ext. 133.

      House of Bricks Realty of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., is recalling approximately 130 pounds of French pork rillette. The product was not presented at the U.S. poin...
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      La-Z-Boy recalls Silver Luxury Lift Chair control wands

      The wand that controls the chair’s movements can overheat

      La-Z-Boy of Monroe, Mich., is recalling about 4,000 La-Z-Boy control wands sold with Silver Luxury Lift Chairs

      The wand that controls the chair’s movements can overheat, posing a burn hazard.

      The company has received 3 reports of the control wands on floor samples becoming warm. No injuries have been reported.

      The recalled control wands were sold with the La-Z-Boy Silver Luxury Lift model chairs only. These electric wands allow the user to control the movement of the chair, i.e. to recline it and or to make entering or exiting the chair easier.

      The rectangular-shaped black plastic wands have a large round circle on the top of the wand with two circle-shaped graphics that read “LIFT” and “RECLINE” and the La-Z-Boy logo printed in white lettering at the bottom of the wand.

      The words “La-Z-Boy,” “REV: 0” and S/N number 37205143800005310 are printed on a label on the back of the wand. The Silver Luxury Lift model chairs were sold in a variety of sizes, colors and fabrics including leather.

      The wands, manufactured in China, were sold at La-Z-Boy Furniture Galleries stores and independent furniture stores nationwide from August 2014, through November 2014, with the Silver Luxury Lift Chair for between $900 and $1700.

      Consumers should unplug the chair from the wall outlet and contact the local dealer from whom they purchased the chair, who will schedule a time for a service technician to install a free replacement control wand.

      Consumers may contact La-Z-Boy toll-free at (855) 592-9087 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday.

      La-Z-Boy of Monroe, Mich., is recalling about 4,000 La-Z-Boy control wands sold with Silver Luxury Lift Chairs The wand that controls the chair’s movement...
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