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    Bipartisan bill would guarantee customers' right to criticize companies

    Consumer Review Freedom Act of 2015 would outlaw non-disparagement clauses

    Last September, after California became the first state to make it illegal for businesses to put “non-disparagement clauses” in their contracts with customers, California congressmen Eric Swalwell and Brad Sherman, both Democrats, proposed a national version of the same law, the Consumer Review Freedom Act of 2014.

    But last year's CRFA didn't pass, so yesterday Reps. Swalwell and Sherman, joined by Republican representatives Darrell Issa and Blake Farenthold, jointly proposed the Consumer Review Freedom Act of 2015.

    The bill – available in .pdf form here – would “prohibit the use of certain clauses in form contracts that restrict the ability of a consumer to communicate regarding the goods or services that were the subject of the contract.” In other words, businesses can't penalize customers who criticize or express negative opinions about those businesses.

    Though plenty of businesses have tried. Last August, for example, a New York State bed-and-breakfast called the Union Street Guest House gained unwanted media attention after the discovery of a non-disparagement clause hidden in the fine print of its customer contracts:

    If you have booked the inn for a wedding or other type of event . . . and given us a deposit of any kind . . . there will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review . . . placed on any internet site by anyone in your party.

    Couple fined

    In an even more notorious example from the previous year, the tech-toy company KlearGear ruined a Utah couple's credit rating by charging them a $3,500 “fine” over a negative online review they'd posted three years earlier. (KlearGear is still in business, though its non-disparagement clause is gone.)

    Last September, after introducing the Consumer Review Freedom Act of 2014, Congressman Swalwell mentioned KlearGear's behavior as an example of why the law was necessary, and also said “It's un-American that any consumer would be penalized for writing an honest review. I'm introducing this legislation to put a stop to this egregious behavior so people can share honest reviews without fear of litigation.”

    Scott Michaelman, an attorney for the consumers'-rights group Public Citizen, said in a press statement that Public Citizen supports the bill because non-disparagement clauses “deny consumers of the right to express negative opinions about the company”:

    Too often, a consumer shares a negative customer service experience with others, then learns that according to the fine print in the boilerplate contract, he may not criticize the business publicly, including writing an online review. Companies use these unjust terms to bully dissatisfied customers into silence.

    The Consumer Review Freedom Act would protect consumers’ right to speak out. The bill would protect individual consumers from hidden contract terms that forbid criticism. It also would help prospective customers avoid unscrupulous businesses by enabling them to learn from the experiences of their fellow consumers.

    Both versions of the Consumer Review Freedom Act – last year's and this year's – would allow customers to criticize and express negative opinions about companies they do business with, but do not apply to customers who commit actual acts of “defamation, libel, or slander, or any similar cause of action.”

    Last September, after California became the first state to make it illegal for businesses to put “non-disparagement...
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    FDA warns that human meds can be fatal to cats

    Topical pain medication creams are dangerous to small animals

    A new warning has been issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and this one is for cat owners. It's about topical analgesics that are for humans that can be fatal if your cat comes in contact with them.

    Your cat is at risk if  exposed to topical pain medications containing the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) flurbiprofen. People using these medications, should use care when applying them in a household with pets, as even very small amounts could be dangerous to these animals.

    Two households have reported that their cats became sick or died after their owners used  topical meds that contained flurbiprofen on themselves, not their cats.They had applied the lotion or the cream to their own neck or feet, hoping for relief from muscle pain and stiffness. They did not apply it directly on their pets. Nobody knows how the pets became exposed.

    The products contained the NSAID flurbiprofen and the muscle relaxer cyclobenzaprine, as well as other active ingredients, including baclofen, gabapentin, lidocaine, or prilocaine.

    Scary moments

    One household had some scary moments with two of their cats, they developed kidney failure. They were nursed back to health after having to go to their vet. Another family was not so fortunate. Their two cats lost their appetite and became very  lethargic. They started vomiting and developed melena (black, tarry, bloody stools), anemia, and had diluted urine. 

    Even though these cats went to their vet and were treated, they died. A third cat in the second household also died after the owner had stopped using the medication.  Autopsies found they had poisoning  that was consistent with NSAID toxicity.

    The FDA recommends that you take these precautions:

    • Wash your hands and your clothing keeping all residue away from your pets.
    • Keep your meds up and out of the way of your pets.
    • Ask your vet and your doctor before you apply any ointment to see if it can harm your pet just from having contact with it.
    • If you are using topical medications containing flurbiprofen and your pet becomes exposed, bathe or clean your pet as thoroughly as possible and consult a veterinarian.

    Be aware even though there has not been any warning of toxicity to dogs, they could be vulnerable as well.

    This warning is also extended to veterinarians to take note of patients that show signs that they have come in contact with household medicines that contain flurbiprofen.

    Pharmacists that fill prescriptions need to make sure they advise patients of what the adverse reactions can be to pets.

    Pet owners and veterinarians can also report any adverse effects to the FDA.

    A new warning has been issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and this one is for cat owners. It's about topical analgesics that are for humans th...
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    Five-time offender Black & Decker fined for delays in reporting lawnmower safety hazards

    Electric lawnmowers continued to operate after users turned them off

    For the fifth time, Black & Decker has been penalized for being slow to report safety hazards in its products. In the latest case, the company will pay $1.575 million for delaying reports of safety defects in its cordless electric lawnmowers.

    Prosecutors said the lawnmowers started spontaneously and continued operating even after consumers released the handles and removed the safety keys. 

    In one case, the lawnmower continued running for hours while its owner was being treated in an emergency room and after firemen had removed the blade.

    “Not for the first time, Black & Decker held back critical information from the public about the safety of one of its products,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “The Department of Justice will continue to protect the public against companies that put profits over safety.”

    The Department of Justice and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) said Black & Decker will also set up a compliance program to ensure that it acts more responsibly in the future.

    Black & Decker has previously paid four civil penalties relating to untimely reporting of defects and risks presented by other Black & Decker products. 

    “Black & Decker’s persistent inability to follow these vital product safety reporting laws calls into question their commitment to the safety of their customers,” said Chairman Elliot F. Kaye of the CPSC.  “They have a lot of work to do to earn back the public’s trust.  Companies are required to report potential product hazards and risks to CPSC on a timely basis.  That means within 24 hours, not months or years as in Black & Decker’s case.”

    Since 1998

    The complaint relates to cordless lawnmowers manufactured and sold by Black & Decker from 1995 to 2006.  According to the complaint, in as early as November 1998, Black & Decker started receiving reports about the problem, known as a continuous-run defect.  A second defect involved lawnmowers that unexpectedly started even though the handle was released and the safety key removed, referred to as a spontaneous ignition defect. 

    The United States alleged that between 1998 and 2009, Black & Decker received more than 100 complaints regarding the continuous-run or spontaneous ignition defects.  The United States further alleged that, after consulting an outside expert, the company knew in 2004 that the lawnmowers could continue to run even if a user released the handle and removed the safety key. 

    Despite knowledge of all of this information, Black & Decker failed to report to the CPSC until early 2009, even though federal law requires “immediate reporting.”

    The complaint further notes that at least two consumers informed Black & Decker that the lawnmower’s blades started unexpectedly while the consumer cleaned them, resulting in injury.  The complaint states that in one case, the lawnmower continued to run, with the handle released and without the safety key, for several hours while the consumer sought treatment in a hospital emergency room for injury to the consumer’s hand, and after fire department personnel arrived and removed the blade.

    For the fifth time, Black & Decker has been penalized for being slow to report safety hazards in its products. In the latest case, the company will pay $1....
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      Personal income, spending inch higher in March

      Initial jobless claims posted a huge weekly decline

      Consumers didn't find themselves with a lot of extra money in their pockets last month.

      The Commerce Department reports personal income increased by just $6.2 billion, or less than 0.1% in March, the smallest increase since December 2013. Disposable personal income (DPI), which is personal income less personal current taxes, was up less than 0.1% or $1.6 billion.

      Personal consumption expenditures (PCE), meanwhile, increased $53.4 billion, or 0.4%.

      The incomes increase, as meager as it was, came as wages and salaries rose $16.3 billion, made up of a $15.2 billion gain in private wages and salaries, and a rise of $1.0 billion in government wages and salaries.

      Personal spending and saving

      Personal outlays – which includes PCE, personal interest payments and personal current transfer payments -- increased $57.6 billion in March.

      Personal saving -- DPI less personal outlays -- fell to $702.6 billion in March from $758.6 billion in the month before. That took the personal saving rate -- personal saving as a percentage of disposable personal income – to 5.3% from 5.7% in February.

      The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

      Initial jobless claims

      First-time applications for state jobless benefits fell last week to their lowest level in 15 years.

      According to the Labor Department (DOL), initial claims plunged 34,000 in the week ending April 25 to a seasonally adjusted 262,000 -- the lowest level since April 15, 2000 when it was 259,000.

      The DOL says there were no special factors affecting this week's total.

      The 4-week moving average, which is less volatile and considered a more accurate picture of the labor market, was down 1,250 to 283,750.

      The full report is available on the DOL website.  

      Consumers didn't find themselves with a lot of extra money in their pockets last month. The Commerce Department reports personal income increased by just ...
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      Moms and retailers expected to do well this Mother's Day

      Spending is projected to be at a 12-year high

      Mother's Day is less than 2 weeks off and you know what that means: a spending splurge on things like jewelry, flowers, gift cards, brunch and apparel.

      According to National Retail Federation's (NRF) Mother’s Day Spending Survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, consumers will shell out an average of $172.63 on mom this year. That's nearly $10 more than last year and the highest amount in the survey’s 12-year history. Total spending is expected to reach $21.2 billion.

      “We’re encouraged by the positive shift we’ve seen in spending on discretionary and gift items from consumers so far this year, certainly boding well for retailers across all spectrums who are planning to promote Mother’s Day specials, including home improvement, jewelry, apparel and other specialty retailers as well as restaurants,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay.

      Running the gamut

      When it comes to gifts, most will pick up a greeting card for mom (80%), spending more than $786 million, and more than two-thirds (67.2%) will buy flowers, to the tune of $2.4 billion. Shoppers also plan on giving mom apparel and clothing items (35.8%), spending more than $1.9 billion, versus $1.7 billion last year.

      Families will also surprise the matriarch with a special brunch or activity ($3.8 billion), electronic items like a new smartphone or e-reader ($1.8 billion), personal services such as a spa day ($1.5 billion), housewares or gardening tools ($890 million) and books and CDs ($480 million).

      Looking for a “wow” reaction mom, 34.2% of Mother’s Day shoppers are planning to splurge on jewelry, spending a survey high of $4.3 billion for the special day.

      How we shop

      Online shoppers plan to spend an average $252 -- higher than the typical Mother's Day shopper -- and more than 4 in 10 plan to use their smartphones to research products and compare prices.

      The survey shows that 18- to 24-year-olds who own smartphones and tablets are most likely to use them to research products and compare prices for gifts (46%), and are most likely to use their tablets to purchase a gift (30.2%). But this age group won’t necessarily be the biggest spenders; 25- to 34-year-olds plan to spend the most on mom -- an average of $244.32; 18- to 24-year-olds will spend an average of $214.81.

      Many people know that a gift card could go a long way: Two in five (44.2%) will give mom a gift card, spending more than $2.2 billion.

      Most shoppers will head to department stores (33.4%), while others will shop at specialty stores (28.2%) or discount stores (24.8%). With shoppers ready to get out of the house after a long winter, fewer shoppers will be shopping online this year (25% vs. 29% last year.)

      The majority of shoppers plan to buy for their mother or stepmother (62.5%), while 23.2% will shop for their wife, 9.8% will shop for their daughter, 8.9% will shop for their sister and 7.4% plan to splurge on their grandmother.

      Mother's Day is less than 2 weeks off and you know what that means: a spending splurge on things like jewelry, flowers, gift cards, brunch and apparel. ...
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      Golden Krust Patties recalls beef and chicken products

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

      Golden Krust Patties of Bronx, N.Y., is recalling approximately 9,073,384 pounds of beef and chicken products.

      The products contain egg, an allergen not listed on the label.

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

      The following beef and chicken products, produced from January 24, 2014, through February 26, 2015, are being recalled:

      • 8-lb. cases containing 2-count packages of “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Spicy Beef Patties.”
      • 8-lb. cases containing 2-count packages of “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Mild Beef Patties.”
      • 8-lb. cases containing 2-count packages of “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Chicken Patties.”
      • 12-lb. cases containing 3-count packages of “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Spicy Beef Patties.”
      • 12-lb. cases containing 3-count packages of “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Mild Beef Patties.”
      • 12-lb. cases containing 3-count packages of “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Chicken Patties.”
      • 15-lb. cases containing “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Spicy Beef Patties.”
      • 15-lb. cases containing “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Mild Beef Patties.”
      • 15-lb. cases containing “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Chicken.”
      • 15-lb. cases containing 9-count packages of “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Hot Beef Patties.”
      • 15-lb. cases containing 9-count packages of “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Chicken Patties.”
      • 15-lb. cases containing 9-count packages of “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Mild Beef Patties.”
      • 8.5-lb cases containing 24-count packages of “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Spicy Beef Patties.”
      • 8.5-lb cases containing 24- count packages of “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Chicken.”
      • 40-lb cases containing 10-count packages of “Golden Krust Jamaican Style Spicy Beef Patties.”
      • 15-lb cases containing “Golden Krust Cheezee Beef Patty.”
      • 15-lb cases containing “Golden Krust Jerk Chicken Patty.”

      The recalled products bear the establishment number “EST. 18781 and P-18781” inside the USDA mark of inspection and have an expiration date between January 24, 2015 through February 26, 2016. They were shipped to distributors, retailers and consumers nationwide.

      Consumers with questions may contact Herma Hawthorne at (855) 565-0561.  

      Golden Krust Patties of Bronx, N.Y., is recalling approximately 9,073,384 pounds of beef and chicken products. The products contain egg, an allergen not ...
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      Pedego recalls electric bicycle batteries

      The batteries can overheat, posing a fire hazard

      Pedego Inc., of Irvine, Calif., is recalling about 5,000 lithium ion rechargeable batteries.

      The batteries can overheat, posing a fire hazard.

      The company has received 6 reports of batteries overheating and catching fire, including 1 report of property damage. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves 36-volt and 48-volt lithium ion rechargeable batteries sold separately and as original equipment with Pedego electric bikes. Recalled batteries of each voltage came in two styles.

      One style has a silver or black metal case that measures about 13 ½ inches long, 6 ½ inches wide and 2 ½ inches high, with black plastic end caps and a handle. The other style has a black or white plastic case that measures about 14 inches long, 6 ½ inches wide and 2 ½ inches high with a red indicator lamp on one end.

      The batteries have serial numbers that start with “DLG.” A label with the serial number is on one side of the metal batteries and on the underside of the plastic batteries.

      The batteries, manufactured in China, were sold at bicycle stores and electric bike retailers and online at www.pedegoelectricbikes.com from January 2010, through September 2013. The batteries were sold separately for about $600 to $900 and on electric bicycles that sold for between $2,000 and $3,000.

      Consumers should immediately remove the battery from the bike and contact Pedego for a free replacement battery.

      Consumers may contact Pedego toll-free at (888) 870-9754 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT, or by email at info@batteryrecall2015.com.

      Pedego Inc., of Irvine, Calif., is recalling about 5,000 lithium ion rechargeable batteries. The batteries can overheat, posing a fire hazard. The compan...
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      Hy-Vee recalls Summer Fresh Pasta Salad

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Hy-Vee is recalling Hy-Vee Summer Fresh Pasta Salad that is sold in its stores' kitchen department cold cases and salad bars.

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      The company says it has not received any complaints associated with this problem to date.

      The recalled product is packaged upon customer request from the kitchen cold case in 16-oz. or 32-oz. clear plastic containers with a light tan scale-produced label with the product name, weight and price affixed to the container.

      The pasta salad was available in stores in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and South Dakota between April 9, 2015, and April 27, 2015.

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should dispose of it or return it to the store for a refund.

      Consumers with questions may call Hy-Vee customer care at 1-800-772-4098.

      Hy-Vee is recalling Hy-Vee Summer Fresh Pasta Salad that is sold in its stores' kitchen department cold cases and salad bars. The product may be contamin...
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      Pediatricians find it's too easy for teens to buy supplements

      Test finds health food stores all too happy to sell dietary supplements to 15 year olds

      Teenage drug use – be they illegal substances or prescription drugs – is an ongoing concern. Now pediatricians are adding dietary supplements to their list of worries.

      The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has reviewed a series of studies that posed this question: could a fifteen-year-old call a health food store and purchase a dietary supplement, even though the label read “for adult use only.”

      Not only were the teens enlisted for the experiment able to buy the supplements, AAP says the staff in many stores helpfully recommended certain products.

      To be clear, the sales clerks were doing nothing illegal. Only one state prohibits minors from purchasing dietary supplements.

      Supplements might appear harmless but AAP recommends that both males and females under 18 avoid these body-shaping products, unregulated by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA).

      244 health food stores in 49 states

      During the experiment, testers identifying themselves as 15-year-old boys and girls called 244 health food stores in 49 states to inquire about supplements and found they could easily purchase them.

      “Teenagers dealing with negative body images are increasingly turning to over-the-counter supplements, despite recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics to avoid such products, said Dr. Ruth Milanaik, of Cohen Children's Medical Center, who helped oversee the project.

      She warned that health food store supplements are not always healthy, and health food store attendants are not always experts when selling well-known "fat burning" thermogenic products, such as Hydroxycut, and Shredzm, testosterone boosters, or products containing creatine.

      Testosterone boosters

      Many testosterone boosters carry label instructions advising the products should only be used by adults. Even so, the testing team found 41% of sales attendants told callers identifying themselves as 15-year-olds they could purchase a testosterone booster without an adult's approval.

      And despite the fact that testosterone boosters are specifically not recommended for children under age 18 unless for documented medical reasons, the study found 9.8% of sales attendants actually recommended a testosterone booster.

      Milanaik is concerned that the supplement industry may view young people as an emerging market.

      "Adolescents are being enticed by flashy advertisements and promises of quick, body-shaping results," she said. "In this body-conscious world, flashy advertising of `safe, quick and easy body shaping results' are very tempting to younger individuals trying to achieve 'the perfect body.' It is important for pediatricians, parents, coaches and mentors to stress that healthy eating habits, sleep and daily exercise should be the recipe for a healthy body."

      Milanaik also has an issue with health food stores advertising that their employees are “trained experts.” If they were, she says they would not be recommending dietary supplements for minors.

      "Health food stores need to focus not only on knowing what products to recommend, but often more importantly, what products not to recommend for customers of certain ages and conditions," said Laura Fletcher, one of the principal investigators.

      At the very least, she says sales personnel should pay attention when warnings are clearly printed on product labels.

      Teenage drug use – be they illegal substances or prescription drugs – is an ongoing concern. Now pediatricians are adding dietary supplements to their list...
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      Google introduces anti-phishing tool for Chrome browser

      Password Alert can warn you when a bogus site tries to get your password

      Google has introduced a new security tool for the Chrome browser that's intended to help keep consumers safe from phishing attacks. Those are the scams that use what look legitimate pages (like the one above) to trick consumers into revealing their passwords.

      Phishing attacks are not only very common, they're also very effective. Google says they succeed nearly 45 percent of the time and reports that nearly 2% of emails submitted to Gmail are designed to smoke out consumers' passwords.

      Called Password Alert, the free, open-source Chrome extension will show you a warning if you type your Google password into a site that isn’t a Google sign-in page. 

      "Once you’ve installed and initialized Password Alert, Chrome will remember a 'scrambled' version of your Google Account password. It only remembers this information for security purposes and doesn’t share it with anyone," Google's Drew Hintz and Justin Kosslyn said in a blog posting.

      They said that if you type your password into a site that isn't a Google sign-in page, Password Alert will show you a notice like the one below, alerting you that you’re at risk of being phished so you can update your password and protect yourself.

      The app is available in the Google Play store.

      Google has introduced a new security tool for the Chrome browser that's intended to help keep consumers safe from phishing attacks. Those are the scams tha...
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      Air fares on the rise

      Travelers in Madison, Wisconsin, were hit the hardest

      The friendly skies were a little more expensive in the final 3 months of last year.

      Figures released by the Transportation Department’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) show average the domestic air fare rose 2.0% in the fourth quarter of 2014 -- to an inflation-adjusted $393, from $385 a year earlier.

      Of the 100 busiest airports, during that period, passengers originating in Madison, Wisconsin, paid the highest average fare -- $505, while passengers originating in Sanford, Florida, paid the lowest -- $99.

      The BTS report bases average fares on domestic itinerary fares, which consist of round-trip fares, unless the customer does not purchase a return trip. In that case, the one-way fare is included. One-way trips accounted for 31% of fares calculated for the fourth quarter of 2014.

      Figuring fares

      Fares are based on the total ticket value, which consists of the price charged by the airlines plus any additional taxes and fees levied by an outside entity at the time of purchase. Fares include only the price paid at the time of the ticket purchase and do not include things like baggage fees, paid at either the airport or onboard the aircraft. Averages also do not include frequent-flyer or “zero fares,” or abnormally high reported fares.

      Fares during the fourth-quarter fares rose 10.2% from the recession-affected low of $348 in 2009 to the fourth quarter of 2011. Since 2011, fourth-quarter fares have shown little change, increasing 2.4% from 2011 to 2014.

      Historical data

      The fourth-quarter 2014 fare was down 14.4% from the average fare of $459 in 2000 -- the highest inflation-adjusted fourth quarter average fare in the 19 years since BTS began collecting air fare records in 1995. That decline took place while overall consumer prices rose 37%. Since 1995, inflation-adjusted fares have actually fallen 10.8% compared with a 55.4% increase in overall consumer prices.

      U.S. passenger airlines collected 71.2% of their total revenue from passenger fares during the third quarter of 2014, the latest period for which revenue data are available, down from 1990 when 87.6% of airline revenue was received from fares.

      Annual fares

      The average fare of $391 for the full year 2014 was up 0.6%, inflation-adjusted, from the 2013 average fare of $389 but down 16.2% from the inflation-adjusted annual high of $467 in 2000.

      Not adjusted for inflation, the $391 average fare in 2014 is the highest annual fare since BTS began collecting air fare records in 1995 -- 2.5% higher than the previous high of $382 in 2013.

      The complete report is available on the BTS website.

      The friendly skies were a little more expensive in the final 3 months of last year. Figures released by the Transportation Department’s Bureau of Transpor...
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      Economic growth slows to a crawl in first quarter

      A slowdown in consumer spending is among the factors

      The government has taken its first of 3 readings on the economy for the first quarter -- and the results are not encouraging.

      According to the "advance" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, real gross domestic product (GDP) -- the value of the production of goods and services in the U.S., adjusted for price changes -- increased at an anemic annual rate just of 0.2 percent in the first quarter. As a means of comparison, real GDP increased 2.2% in the previous 3 months.

      What increase there was primarily reflected positive contributions from personal consumption expenditures (PCE) and private inventory investment. But those were partly offset by declines in exports, nonresidential fixed investment, and state and local government spending. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, increased.

      Consumers stay home

      The slowdown comes as a result in a slackening in PCE (+1.9%, compared with +4.4% the fourth quarter), downturns in exports, in nonresidential fixed investment, and in state and local government spending, and a deceleration in residential fixed investment that were partly offset by a deceleration in imports and upturns in private inventory investment and in federal government spending.

      The first-quarter advance estimate is based on incomplete source data and are subject to further revision. The "second" estimate for the first quarter, based on more complete data, will be released next month.

      GDP inflation

      The price index for gross domestic purchases, which measures prices paid by U.S. residents, plunged 1.5% in the first quarter following a dip of 0.1% percent in the fourth. The core rate, which excludes the volatile food and energy sectors, rose 0.3%, compared with an increase of 0.7% in the previous 3 months.

      The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

      The government has taken its first of 3 readings on the economy for the first quarter -- and the results are not encouraging. According to the "advance" es...
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      A dip in mortgage applications

      Contract interest rates were mixed

      Applications for mortgages were a little lower last week.

      According to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey, the Market Composite Index -- a measure of mortgage loan application volume – was down 2.3% on a seasonally adjusted basis in the week ending April 24.

      The average loan size for purchase applications rose to a survey high of $297,000.

      The Refinance Index fell 4% from the previous week, with the refinance share of mortgage activity down to 55% of total applications -- its lowest level since September 2014.

      The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity rose to 5.7% of total applications, the FHA share was 13.7%, the VA share was 11.3%, and the USDA share of total applications was unchanged at 0.8%.

      Contract interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) rose 2 basis points -- to 3.85% from 3.83%, with points increasing to 0.35 from 0.32 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) inched down to 3.82% from 3.83%, with points rising to 0.31 from 0.22 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA edged up 1 basis point to 3.66%, with points increasing to 0.16 from 0.12 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs rose from 3.11% to 3.14%, with points increasing to 0.31 from 0.24 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs dipped to 2.88% from 2.89%, with points dropping to 0.27 from 0.29 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.

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

      Applications for mortgages were a little lower last week. According to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Application Surv...
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      Spring fix-up can be hazardous to your health

      Emergency rooms are packed on weekends with victims of home handyman mishaps

      Deciding to tackle the yard work now that the weather is breaking can be dangerous. The emergency room is filled on weekends with people getting poked in t..

      Technology may reduce distracted driving among teens

      Study finds intervention devices successfully modified dangerous behavior

      It is a sad fact that the number one cause of accidental death in teens is motor vehicle accidents. In this current age of always needing to be plugged in, it is extremely difficult for many young drivers to put down their phones. Fortunately, a recent study shows that other types of technology may provide the answer to keeping young drivers safe.

      The study, which was led by Dr. Beth Ebel of the University of Washington, attempted to find out if other types of technology could make driving safer for young people. She and her colleagues believe that there is not enough being done to minimize distracted driving. “Facts and figures have not done enough to change driver behavior,” she said.

      29 teens

      The research team chose 29 teens for the study and observed them for six months. Each driver was placed into one of three groups. Two of the groups had intervention measures to stop distracted driving. The third group was the control group, and had no intervention measures in place.

      The first intervention group had an in-vehicle camera system installed that was triggered by certain driving conditions, such as hard braking, fast cornering, or impacts. The video footage was made available to teens and parents so that it could be reviewed to improve driving behavior.

      The second intervention group had a device installed that blocked incoming and outgoing calls and messages when the vehicle was being operated. In addition to these measures, all three groups had a program installed on their phones so that researchers could track how much they were used while driving.

      The results of the study showed that the intervention groups had lower cell phone use and fewer high-risk driving behaviors than the control group. Out of the three groups, those with the cell blocking technology had the safest driving record.

      One of the most interesting things uncovered by the study was that the young drivers were receptive to the intervention measures. None of the participants disabled the programs that were inhibiting their phone use. This gives hope that these technologies may be practical in the real world. Both intervention methods are currently available for commercial use.

      It is a sad fact that the number one cause of accidental death in teens is motor vehicle accidents. In this current age of always needing to be plugged in,...
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      Study finds gastric bands, group weight management programs equally effective

      Both improved blood sugar levels over a year's time

      Weight loss is never easy, but it's important for overweight people with type 2 diabetes seeking to control their blood sugar levels and optimize their health.

      A small clinical trial among such patients led by Joslin Diabetes Center and Brigham and Women's Hospital researchers now has shown that two approaches -- adjustable gastric band surgery and an intensive group-based medical diabetes and weight management program -- achieved similar improvements in controlling blood sugar levels after one year.

      "We can anticipate long-term health benefits from both of these approaches, but they do require some investment of time and energy by the patient," says trial leader Allison Goldfine, M.D., head of Joslin's Section of Clinical Research and an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

      Reported in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, the SLIMM-T2D (Surgery or Lifestyle with Intensive Medical Management in Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes) trial enlisted 45 volunteers who had long-duration type 2 diabetes, struggled to manage their diabetes and had a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher.

      The study randomly divided the participants into two groups.

      One group received an adjustable gastric band procedure, which inserts a band around the upper stomach whose tightness can be adjusted.

      "With the band, you put a device around the top portion of the stomach, people get full more quickly, and that fullness signals them to stop eating," Dr. Goldfine notes. She adds that some studies suggest that over time, people with the band learn to change their behaviors to eat less even when the band is no longer fully restricted.

      The other group of participants underwent Joslin's Why WAIT (Weight Achievement and Intensive Treatment), a clinically available program built on behavioral interventions that have been proven to be effective.

      Similar results

      After one year, the two groups achieved similar lowering of blood sugar levels -- average levels of hemoglobin A1C (a standard measurement of blood sugar levels over several months) dropped by 1.2 for patients with the gastric band and by 1.0 for patients in the IMWM program. The groups also saw similar-magnitude improvements in their levels of blood sugar when fasting, another standard metric for type 2 diabetes management.

      Weight loss was similar between the two arms at three months. At one year, however, the participants given the band achieved greater average loss (30 pounds compared to 19 pounds) and were continuing to lose weight. The Why WAIT group saw greater reductions in blood pressure than the band group, but other measures of cardiovascular health were generally comparable between the two groups.

      Participants in both arms of the trial reported that their health had been improved on a number of measures and that they were enjoying better quality of life.

      Gastric bands are inserted laparoscopically, via small incisions in the belly, and clamped around the top of the stomach. Gastric bypass procedures, more invasive forms of surgery that route digestion around parts of the stomach, affect digestion metabolism more drastically than bands and typically result in greater weight loss.

      Different approaches

      A previous SLIMM-T2D study led by Joslin and reported last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association compared the use of the most common gastric bypass surgery, called Roux-en-Y, to Why WAIT treatment. In that earlier trial, participants who underwent Roux-en-Y gastric bypass lost significantly more weight and achieved better diabetes control than those in the medical treatment arm of the trial.

      In addition to these two Joslin-led trials, several other research institutions have run small studies studying various gastric procedures and medical programs. A consortium called ARMMS-T2D (Alliance of Randomized Trials of Medicine versus Metabolic Surgery in the Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes) aims to follow up on the roughly 300 patients in all these trials.

      "It's really important to have a variety of different approaches available to treat a complex medical problem like diabetes, and we need to understand the relative merits of each approach," Dr. Goldfine sums up. "There are people for whom remembering to take their medications is highly problematic, and there are people for whom the idea of surgical risk is unbearable. One size does not fit all."

      Weight loss is never easy, but it's important for overweight people with type 2 diabetes seeking to control their blood sugar levels and optimize their hea...
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      Waymouth Farms recalls raw pine nuts

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      Waymouth Farms of New Hope, Minn., is recalling raw pine nuts in various sizes.

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

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

      The following products, sold nationwide through retail stores and mail order under the Good Sense brand, are being recalled:

      Packaging/SizeUPC"Freshest if Used By" Date or Range
      4 oz. clear plastic tub30243 5079910-24-15 – 11/15/15
      11/20/15
      11/27/15 – 01/14/16
      02/6/16 – 07/21/16
      4 oz. zipper bag30243 8668007/28/15 – 04/08/16
      3 oz. zipper bag30243 8668109/29/15 – 04/02/16
      15 oz. zipper bag30243 8668707/17/15 AND 10/22/15

      The 4-oz. bags listed above may have been sold as a floor display, UPC 30243 86683 with a date range of September 5, 2015, to February 4, 2016.

      The product was also sold in a 5-lb. bulk box, UPC 30243 02860, from June 6, 2014, to March 26, 2015 using the following Julian Codes:

      Julian Code  
      1 155 141 183 141 210 14
      1 223 141 239 141 260 14
      1 281 141 282 141 317 14
      1 351 141 020 151 050 15
      1 085 15  

      This bulk product would have been sold from bulk self-service grocery bins.

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

      Consumers with questions may contact customer service at 800-527-0094 Monday through Friday, 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM, CST.

      Waymouth Farms of New Hope, Minn., is recalling raw pine nuts in various sizes. The product may be contaminated with Salmonella No illnesses have been re...
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      Corn Maiden Foods expands recall of beef and pork products

      The products contain hydrolyzed soy protein, an allergen not listed on the label

      Corn Maiden Foods of Harbor City, Calif., has added an additional item to the list of 15,600 pounds of pork products recalled earlier this month.

      The products contain hydrolyzed soy protein, an allergen not listed on the label.

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

      The following products, produced between April 9, 2014 and April 8, 2015, have been added to the original list of recalled items:

      • 20.625 lb. cases containing 60 5.5 oz. pieces of “Tamales with Pork Carnitas, Green Chile & Oregano Wrapped in Corn Husks.”
      • 9.375 lb. cases containing 60 2.5 oz. pieces of “Tamales with Pork Carnitas, Green Chile & Oregano Wrapped in Corn Husks.”

      The recalled products bear the establishment number “EST. 20949” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and were shipped to hotels, restaurants and institutional locations in California.

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Pascal Dropsy at (310) 784-0400, ext. 221.

      Corn Maiden Foods of Harbor City, Calif., has added an additional item to the list of 15,600 pounds of pork products recalled earlier this month. The pro...
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