Current Events in June 2015

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    Mortgage applications turn back downward

    Contract interest rates continued their climb

    After rising the previous week for the first time in 8 weeks, applications for mortgages have resumed the downward trek.

    Applications were down 5.5% for the week ending June 12, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey.

    “Rising rates continue to create volatility in weekly mortgage applications activity,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s Chief Economist. “The 10-year Treasury hit 2.5% percent last week and our survey’s 30-year fixed rate of 4.22% is at its highest level since October 2014,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s Chief Economist.

    The Refinance Index dropped 7% from the previous week to the lowest level since January, pushing the refinance share of mortgage activity down to 48.5% of total applications. The FHA share of total applications slipped to 14.2% from 14.3% the week prior, the VA share of total applications was unchanged at 11.5$, and the USDA share dropped to 0.9% from 1.1% the week before.

    Contract interest rates

    • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) was up 5 basis points -- from 7.17% to 4.22%, with points increasing to 0.46 from 0.38 (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) rose to 4.18% from 4.15%, with points decreasing to 0.36 from 0.37 (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 jumped 10 basis points to 4.00%, with points increasing to 0.20 from 0.19 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs climbed to 3.43% from 3.37%, with points increasing to 0.33 from 0.32 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs rose 9 basis points to 3.15%, with points increasing to 0.52 from 0.50 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

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

    After rising the previous week for the first time in 8 weeks, applications for mortgages have resumed the downward trek. Applications were down 5.5% for f...

    Dodge Challengers with airbag issue recalled

    The driver's side air bag inflated curtain may have a loose or missing rear mounting bolt

    Chrysler (FCA US) is recalling 73 model year 2015 Dodge Challengers manufactured March 28, 2015, to April 1, 2015.

    The driver's side air bag inflated curtain (SABIC) may have a loose or missing rear mounting bolt. A loose or missing SABIC rear mounting bolt may alter the air bag inflated curtain's deployment, increasing the risk of occupant injury in the event of a side impact or roll-over crash.

    Chrysler has notified owners, and dealers will inspect and repair the vehicles, as needed, free of charge. The recall began on May 28, 2015.

    Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is R22.

    Chrysler (FCA US) is recalling 73 model year 2015 Dodge Challengers manufactured March 28, 2015, to April 1, 2015. The driver's side air bag inflated cur...

    Bunnies by the Bay recalls pull toys

    Hub caps on the wheels can break or come off the wheel

    Bunnies by the Bay of East Windsor, N.J., is recalling about 810 Bud and Skipit Wheely Cute pull toys in the U.S. and Canada.

    Hub caps on the wheels can break or come off the wheel, posing a choking hazard for young children.

    No incidents have been reported.

    Bud, an 8-inch high soft brown puppy with a blue and white pull cord, stands on red wooden wheels with blue hub caps. There is a red, blue and white soft ball at the end of the pull cord.

    Skipit, an 8-inch high cream-colored bunny with an orange and white pull cord, stands on blue wheels with orange hub caps. There is a soft cloth carrot at the end of the pull cord.

    Lot code YM5/14 is on the label sewn on the back leg of each toy. The item number for Bud Wheely Cute Toy, found on the lower right-hand corner of the original packing, is #401101. The item number for Skipit Wheely Cute Toy is #401103.

    The pull toys, manufactured in China, were sold at gift and specialty stores nationwide and online at Bunniesbythebay.com and amazon.com from February 2015, through April 2015, for about $30.

    Consumers should take the toys away from young children immediately and return the item to where it was purchased for a full refund.

    Consumers may contact Bunnies by the Bay toll-free at (866) 763-8869 between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m., ET, Monday through Friday or by email at customerservice@kidspreferred.com.

    Bunnies by the Bay of East Windsor, N.J., is recalling about 810 Bud and Skipit Wheely Cute pull toys in the U.S. and Canada. Hub caps on the wheels can b...

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      Change your password for LastPass! Hackers breached their security last week

      Company says stored passwords weren't compromised, but master passwords should be changed anyway

      If you use the LastPass password manager to store your online passwords, be warned: yesterday, in a “Security Notice” posted on the LastPass corporate blog, company CEO Joe Siegrist admitted that hackers managed to breach security, compromising the email addresses and certain security features attached to customers' accounts.

      Siegrist said that the actual passwords stored in the LastPass database were not accessed by the hackers, but customers should change their LastPass master password just in case.

      We want to notify our community that on Friday, our team discovered and blocked suspicious activity on our network. In our investigation, we have found no evidence that encrypted user vault data was taken, nor that LastPass user accounts were accessed. The investigation has shown, however, that LastPass account email addresses, password reminders, server per user salts, and authentication hashes were compromised. … we are taking additional measures to ensure that your data remains secure. We are requiring that all users who are logging in from a new device or IP address first verify their account by email, unless you have multifactor authentication enabled. As an added precaution, we will also be prompting users to update their master password.

      LastPass went on to say it will be sending emails to all of its users about the incident.

      Anytime such a mass security breach is announced, you can safely bet that scammers will try taking advantage of it, so be warned: if you do receive an email, apparently from LastPass, urging you to change your master password or anything else involving your LastPass account, do not click on any links, or open or download any file attachments, in that email. (This anti-malware rule applies not only to LastPass, but also pretty much any email from any business or organization you can think of: never click a link or download a file in an unsolicited message.)

      Instead, when you change your LastPass master password, go directly to the LastPass website, and log in. On the left side of the page, you should see a sidebar offering various menu options. Choose “Account Settings,” then “Login Credentials,” and finally “Change Master Password.”

      You should get a Password Reset form, where you'll have to type your current master password. Then type in your new password, and type it again for confirmation. You'll also be asked to type a password reminder, in case you forget your new one.

      Siegrist's security notice ended by asking and answering the frequently asked question:

      Do I need to change my master password right now? LastPass user accounts are locked down. You can only access your account from a trusted IP address or device – otherwise, verification is requested. We are confident that you are safe on your LastPass account regardless. If you’ve used a weak, dictionary-based master password (eg: robert1, mustang, 123456799, password1!), or if you used your master password as the password for other websites you need to update it.

      Again, that bit of advice applies not just to LastPass, but any important password-protected account: never use the same password across multiple accounts, to minimize the damage a hacker can do after stealing the password to one.

      If you use the LastPass password manager to store your online passwords, be warned: yesterday, in a “Security Notice” posted on the LastPass corporate blog...

      Nine consumer privacy groups walk out to protest federal facial-recognition policies

      The 16-month-long series of meetings completely broke down last week

      For over a year now, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NITA), a division of the Commerce Department, has hosted talks with tech-company trade associations as well as various consumer- and privacy-protection groups in hope of developing a set of guidelines tech companies could follow to protect consumers' privacy when the companies use facial recognition technology.

      Those efforts have gone so badly that yesterday, nine privacy and consumer groups walked out of the talks because, as they said in a joint statement, “we do not believe that the NTIA process is likely to yield a set of privacy rules that offers adequate protections for the use of facial-recognition technology.”

      Why not? As the joint statement (put out by the American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Consumer Federation of America and a half-dozen other organizations) said:

      At a base minimum, people should be able to walk down a public street without fear that companies they’ve never heard of are tracking their every movement — and identifying them by name – using facial recognition technology. Unfortunately, we have been unable to obtain agreement even with that basic, specific premise.

      Biometric data

      Facial-recognition technology, a form of biometric data collection, has concerned privacy advocates for years. In summer 2011, for example, privacy groups raised an outcry after Facebook started using facial-recognition technology to make it easier for users to “tag” (identify) people in photographs they posted.

      At that time, the FBI was already compiling (.pdf) a nationwide facial recognition service, the Next Generation Identification (or NGI) program currently estimated to hold at least 51 million photographs in its database, with more added every day.

      But the NTIA's meetings with trade groups and consumer-privacy organizations focused on the biometric data collection activities of private companies rather than government organizations. NTIA held its first meeting in February 2014 and has hosted 12 meetings to date. None of those meetings went particularly well (at least from a pro-consumer privacy perspective) but, as the Washington Post reports, the final straw landed during last Thursday's meeting:

      ...First, Alvaro Bedoya, the executive director of Georgetown University's Center on Privacy and Law, asked if companies could agree to making opt-in for facial recognition technology the default for when identifying people -- meaning that if companies wanted to use someone's face to name them, the person would have to agree to it. No companies or trade associations would commit to that, according to multiple attendees at the meeting.

      Then Justin Brookman, the director of the Center for Democracy  & Technology's consumer privacy project, asked if companies would agree to a concrete scenario: What if a company set up a camera on a public street and surreptitiously used it identify people by name? Could companies agree to opt-in consent there? Again, no companies would commit, according to several attendees....

      Joint statement

      Bedoya and Brookman were two of the nine people who signed their names to the statement (available in Dropbox as a .pdf here) issued jointly by members of nine privacy groups yesterday. The other groups include the Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Federation of America, Common Sense Media, Electronic Frontier Foundation, American Civil Liberties Union, Consumer Action and Consumer Watchdog.

      In addition to that joint statement, many of the individuals or groups involved issued statements of their own.

      Susan Grant, the Director of Consumer Protection and Privacy for the Consumer Federation of America (and a signer of yesterday's joint statement), said that “there is no point in continuing to participate in the multi-stakeholder process convened by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration …. because there is no incentive for companies to agree to anything that might constrain their current or future business practices. In the 16 months that the process has dragged on there has been no meaningful progress and it has become clear that we will be unable to reach consensus on fundamental issues such as consumer consent to be subject to facial recognition.”

      The Center for Digital Democracy, meanwhile, said that “the approach the Administration embraced to protect consumers’ rights to their personal information was flawed. It relied on the data collection and digital marketing industry to support significant new policies that would empower individuals to make decisions about how their information can be collected and used …. It never made sense to expect industry to turn away from business practices that reap billions of dollars.”

      For over a year now, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NITA), a division of the Commerce Department, has hosted talks with te...

      GM faces racketeering charges in ignition switch case

      New complaint alleges GM conspired to conceal the deadly defect

      You can add racketeering charges to the problems facing General Motors. Lawyers representing consumers who are suing GM over faulty ignition switches have added racketeering allegations to their suit, claiming the company conspired to conceal the safety defect that has been blamed for more than 100 deaths.

      The government has not brought any criminal charges against GM, although the automaker did pay a $35 million fine for not alerting the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to the defective switches quickly enough.

      GM has recalled 2.6 million vehicles equipped with ignition switches that can upexpectedly shut off the engine. That, in turn, cuts power to the airbags, power steering, brakes and other onboard equipment.

      $10 billion

      The court filing, made late Friday in New York federal court amends existing suits for personal injury, wrongful death and falling car values. It seeks more than $10 billion in damages.

      The filing claims GM conspired with a law firm and claims administrator to conceal information about the switch and argues that those actions amount to an "unlawful enterprise" as defined in the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

      A GM spokesman said the new complaint "contains no new information," the Wall Street Journal reported. "We look forward to setting the record straight in court.”

      The case against GM is what is called "multidistrict litigation." It is similar to a class action suit in that it allows plaintiffs in multiple states to sue jointly rather than each party having to file in a separate jurisdiction. 

      Separate from the ongoing litigation, GM has established a victims' compensation fund that so far has linked 100 deaths and 200 injuries to the ignition defect.

      You can add racketeering charges to the problems facing General Motors. Lawyers representing consumers who are suing GM over faulty ignition switches have ...

      Customer-card security breach at Fred's Super Dollar

      Hackers planted malware on POS systems; full extent of the breach not yet known

      Southern and Midwestern shoppers beware: it looks like Fred's Super Dollar, a discount pharmacy and general merchandise retailer, is the latest business to lose customer payment-card data after hackers planted malware on the point-of-sale (POS) systems used in checkout lanes at Fred's locations.

      Security expert Brian Krebs reports that he contacted the company last week, after “about a pattern of fraud on customer cards indicating that Fred’s was the latest victim” of malware planted on POS systems.

      Fred's Inc. responded in a formal statement on Friday, admitting that:

      Fred’s Inc. recently became aware of a potential data security incident and immediately launched an internal investigation to determine the scope of the issue. We retained Mandiant, a leading independent forensics firm, to examine our data security systems.

      We want to assure our customers that protecting their information is one of our top priorities and we are taking this potential incident very seriously. Until this investigation is completed, it will be difficult to determine with certainty the scope or nature of any potential incident, but we will continue to work vigilantly to address any potential issues that may affect our customers.

      Scope unknown

      So far, that's the only information available: Fred's had a security breach, and hired investigators to look into it. The scope of the breach has not yet been determined: how long ago did the hackers plant the malware? How long were the hackers then able to monitor any transactions on those infected POS systems? And how many Fred's locations were affected?

      Krebs' sources are “unclear” on that last bit, but said “the pattern of fraudulent charges traced back to Fred’s stores across the company’s footprint in the Midwest and south, including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas.”

      So if you are or have been a Fred's shopper in any of those states, and paid with a card rather than in cash, check your card statement extra-closely to see if you can spot any fraudulent charges.

      Southern and Midwestern shoppers beware: it looks like Fred's Super Dollar, a discount pharmacy and general merchandise retailer, is the latest business to...

      Feds ease reverse mortgage policy for non-borrowing spouse (again)

      Move is aimed at reducing foreclosures

      After an increasing number of horror stories, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has again revised a policy that will now allow reverse mortgage lenders to transfer some loans to HUD when a borrower dies but is survived by a non-borrowing spouse.

      Previously a non-borrowing widow or widower usually had to find another place to live. The policy change gives loan servicers a new option.

      It is very dangerous for a married couple to jointly own a residence, yet have only one half of the couple on the mortgage. It is especially dangerous in the case of a reverse mortgage, which has very strict guidelines.

      In early January we heard from Lorna, a New Hampshire real estate broker, who relayed the story of one of her clients -- a recent widow who was about to lose her home because her husband took out a reverse mortgage and then died shortly thereafter.

      Not old enough to be on the mortgage

      “My client at the time was not 62 so could not go on the mortgage,” Lorna told ConsumerAffairs.

      So the reverse mortgage was in her husband's name only, even though he owned the property jointly with his wife. Or at least he did at one time.

      In order to receive a reverse mortgage, both homeowners must be at least 62. Since Lorna's client was not 62 at the time her husband took out the loan, she was either never on, or was removed from, the property deed.

      “This issue has perplexed homeowners, lenders, and housing counselors for years and it is a relief to have clarity,” said Peter Bell, President of the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association.

      Previous attempts fall short

      Previous attempts to address the issue seemed to fall short of satisfying anyone. For example, an earlier policy directive required some non-borrowing spouses to pay some of the unpaid principal before being spared foreclosure. It also only applied to loans originated before August 4, 2014.

      Under the government's revised policy, lenders will be allowed to proceed with submitting claims on reverse mortgages, also known as home equity conversion mortgages (HECM) with eligible surviving non-borrowing spouses and case numbers assigned before August 4, 2014, in accordance with the terms of the mortgagee letter by:

      • Electing to assign the HECM to HUD upon the death of the last surviving borrower, where the HECM would not otherwise be assignable to FHA solely as a result of the death of the borrower. (The Mortgagee Optional Election Assignment)
      • Allowing claim payment following sale of the property by heirs or estate; or
      • Foreclosing in accordance with the terms of the mortgage, and filing an insurance claim under the FHA insurance contract as endorsed.

      In many cases HUD says lenders will be permitted assign an eligible HECMs to HUD despite the death of the last surviving borrower and regardless of the loan’s unpaid principal balance. Still, there are plenty of caveats and conditions to the new policy.

      The takeaway is this: a reverse mortgage is still not advisable unless both spouses can be parties to the loan agreement.  

      After an increasing number of horror stories, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has again revised a policy that will now allow reverse...

      Builder confidence hits 9-month high

      The increase in the Housing Market Index was broad-based

      Things are looking better for home builders than they have in a long time.

      Builder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family homes is up 5 points this month to a level of 59 on the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) /Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI). It's the highest reading since September 2014.

      “Builders are reporting more serious and committed buyers at their job sites,” said said NAHB Chairman Tom Woods,, adding that “this is reflected in recent government data showing that new-home sales and single-family construction are gaining momentum.”

      Derived from a monthly survey, the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next six months as “good,” “fair” or “poor.”

      The survey also asks builders to rate traffic of prospective buyers as “high to very high,” “average” or “low to very low.” Scores for each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.

      Across-the-board strength

      All 3 HMI components posted healthy gains in June. The component gauging current sales conditions jumped 7 points to 65, the index charting sales expectations in the next 6 months increased 6 points to 69, and the component measuring buyer traffic rose 5 points to 44.

      Looking at the 3-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, the South and Northeast each rose 3 points to 60 and 44, respectively. The West posted a 2-point gain to 57 while the Midwest dipped by one point to 54.

      “The HMI indices measuring current and future sales expectations are at their highest levels since the last quarter of 2005, indicating a growing optimism among builders that housing will continue to strengthen in the months ahead,” said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “At the same time, builders remain sensitive to consumers’ ability to buy a new home.”

      Things are looking better for home builders than they have in a long time. Builder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family homes is up 5 p...

      Food fight: organic group takes shot at Whole Foods

      Claims chain is devaluing Certified Organic label

      Just days after Whole Foods announced a new chain of lower-priced stores, the Cornucopia Institute, which advocates organic growing, has taken the popular brand to task for its “Responsibly Grown” marketing plan.

      The group charges that label has devalued the Certified Organic label while promoting conventionally grown food products.

      While devising a new labeling program that identifies fruits and vegetables as “Good,” “Better,” and “Best,” Cornucopia says Whole Foods is asking the growers to pay for participating in the retailer’s verification program.

      “Onerous and expensive”

      The group has released a letter (PDF) to Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, signed by 5 major organic producers in Pennsylvania and California. In it, the producers complain that Whole Foods' newly launched Responsibly Grown rating program is “onerous, expensive, and shifts the cost of this marketing initiative to growers.”

      Mark Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst at the Cornucopia Institute, calls the new labeling Robin Hood in reverse.

      “Although their market capitalization has taken quite a hit recently, at over $14 billion Whole Foods remains one of the wealthiest grocers in the United States,” he said. “In an effort to enhance their image, they are asking modestly scaled family farmers to pick up the tab for a program whose benefits will almost exclusively accrue to the corporation.”

      Devaluing organic label

      But the group says the biggest objection to Responsibly Grown is that it ends up devaluing in consumers' eyes the importance of the Certified Organic label.

      Under the Whole Foods program, the group says conventionally grown produce, treated with toxic agrochemicals, can be rated higher than Certified Organic produce, which is grown under strict, legally enforced compliance overseen by the USDA.

      It cites as an example photographs taken this spring at Whole Foods stores in California. Cornucopia says the photos show conventionally grown asparagus, imported from Mexico, priced at $4.99 per pound with signage identifying it as “Best.”

      At the same time, the store had locally grown, Certified Organic asparagus for $7.99 per pound, which could only muster the stores’ lowest rating, “Good.”

      Why pay more?

      “Why would a customer pay $3 more per pound for the Certified Organic asparagus when they could buy what a trusted retailer has labeled Best?” asked Kastel.

      Whole Foods introduced the Responsibly Grown ratings system last October as a tiered produce rating system that judges growing practices that impact human health and the environment.

      “The new rating system labels fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers as good, better or best to help shoppers make more informed choices in the produce and floral departments, and it prohibits some of the most hazardous neurotoxins still allowed in agriculture,” the company said in its introduction.

      But the Cornucopia Institute says it often comes down to money. Until an organic producer can pay to participate in the Responsibly Grown program, its produce is “unrated,” giving it the lower “good” rating.

      “Now the Responsibly Grown program is attempting to put some of this conventional food on a pedestal higher than organic,” Kastel said.

      Just days after Whole Foods announced a new chain of lower-priced stores, the Cornucopia Institute, which advocates organic growing, has taken the popular...

      Feds enlist tax preparation industry to help combat fraud

      Identity theft related to tax returns now the government's top consumer complaint

      The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is enlisting help from the tax preparation industry and state governments to clamp down on the growing plague of identity theft-related tax fraud.

      The current system is vulnerable to fraudsters who steal someone's Social Security number. With it he or she can file a made-up tax return, showing a refund due of several thousand dollars. Once the legitimate holder of that Social Security number gets around to filing a tax return, the IRS has already sent out a refund to the fraudster.

      The IRS says it will work with representatives of tax preparation and software firms, payroll and tax financial product processors and state tax administrators. The strategy is aimed at finding ways to differentiate a real tax return from a fake one.

      Sharing information

      The challenge, of course, is identifying ways to do that. The IRS says it will probably hinge on increased sharing of information between the tax industry and government agencies.

      "We've made tremendous progress, and we will continue these efforts,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said. Taxpayers filing their tax returns next filing season should have a safer and more secure experience."

      The parties involved have been working on a system over the last 12 weeks. Those involved say it will include important new ways to identify the person who is filing the tax return.

      For example, there could be a review of how each return is submitted, looking for the improper or repetitive use of Internet Protocol numbers, the Internet ‘address’ from which the return is originating.

      The system might also review computer device identification data tied to where the return originated and review the time required to complete a tax return, so computer mechanized fraud can be detected. The system might also be sensitive to metadata in the computer transaction that would allow the IRS to more easily isolate identity theft-related fraud.

      Other aspects of the new system, officials say, will include greater information sharing among the states, the IRS and the tax preparation industry. The industry will share aggregated information about tax return filings with the IRS to help identify fraud.

      Seamless process?

      Ideally, implementing these changes would be a seamless process, a behind-the-scenes effort that won't impact the individual taxpayer. But anytime major changes are implemented in the tax system, it has the potential to slow things down in the next tax-filing season.

      According to the IRS, many major system and process changes will be made this summer and fall with the goal of being ready for the 2016 filing season. The partners will also continue to work together to address longer-term issues facing the tax community and taxpayers.

      The IRS does not publish numbers concerning tax fraud cases but has said the issue is an increasingly serious problem. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which tracks consumer complaints, has said identity theft-related tax fraud made up just 4.8% of total consumer complaints in 2005 but had surged to 32% of the total in 2014, making it the top category of consumer complaints.

      To help taxpayers avoid falling victim to identity theft, the IRS has posted this guide on its website.

      The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is enlisting help from the tax preparation industry and state governments to clamp down on the growing plague of identit...

      It's never too late to switch careers

      Firm offers free guidance to those who want to make a change

      If you are in mid-career, it may have dawned on you by now that you'll probably have to work a lot more years than you anticipated before you can afford to retire.

      If you love your job that could actually be good news. If you hate your job, the whole idea might make you depressed.

      But that begs the question, if you hate your job, why don't you just do something else? Don't think you can? Well, plenty of other people are doing it.

      Scientific approach

      One organization is trying to make the process of job change a more scientific process, based on psychology, statistics and expert advice.

      “We’ve seen reports stating people change jobs 11 times in their lifetimes, said Joseph Schmoke, founder and CEO at University Research & Review, an education start-up founded by former college administrators and professors. “It seems then that people should get better at making career change decisions as they go from job to job. Unfortunately, that’s obviously not the case.”

      It's true that most job changes occur out of necessity. You get laid off or the company you work for goes out of business. Schmoke and his organization focus on voluntary job changes – how to pull them off and make them go smoothly.

      Surprising data

      University Research & Review started off advising clients who were thinking about going back to college, to finish a degree or get an advanced degree. But after analyzing the company’s data the firm found that a surprising percentage of users were interested in guidance about changing careers.

      For example, a 50-year-old female had worked years in a family-owned business but it had recently been sold. She did not feel comfortable with the new owners but was concerned she was too old to change careers.

      “I asked her if she was still breathing,” Schmoke said. “So we took her through our free process and advised her of careers that, based on a test we offer, suited her personality.”

      University Research & Review is still primarily focused on helping students select the right college but Schmoke says the processes of selecting schools and and vocations have things in common. As for the reason employees want to change careers, he says they tend to be shared by people of all ages.

      Reasons for switching careers

      • Career lacks in purpose and personal fulfillment;
      • Does not leave sufficient time for balance;
      • Educational and professional background does not match well;
      • The money is insufficient to properly care for self and loved ones; and
      • Consistent feelings of disrespect and dread from superiors.

      Schmoke says people need to understand that a career where you are happy and valued is not just a pipe dream. University Research & Review's college guidance is free and so is its career advice.

      If you are in mid-career, it may have dawned on you by now that you'll probably have to work a lot more years than you anticipated before you can afford to...

      What kind of floor is best for your pet?

      Vinyl may be the best solution for most pets

      Pets are becoming a staple in homes; 68 percent of U.S. households own a pet, which equates to 82.5 million homes. In those 82.5 million homes, there are 83.3 million dogs and 95.6 million cats. That translates to animal hair and little paws all over the carpet and floor.

      If you are thinking of redoing your floors or perhaps you’re buying your first home, you might wonder what the best type of flooring is if you have animals.

      It all really depends on your lifestyle. There are many things you need to consider: durability, comfort, maintenance, safety and your tolerance for when your dog or cat might have an accident. They get sick and the carpet never looks the same.

      Carpets present issues

      There is nothing better after working all day on your feet and taking your shoes off and feeling a plush carpet between your toes, but if you have any allergy issues you will have to vacuum perhaps a little more often with pets than someone who doesn’t have allergies because of the dust and the dander.  Dogs and cats are not easy on the carpet to say the least.

      If there is no way around it and carpet is a must-have in your home then the most practical way to go would be to get something made of nylon and polyester. The durability factor is one key reason. Nylon is the first choice as it is stain-resistant and much hardier. You will find polyester to be less expensive but far less durable.

      What is new is something called pet-friendly carpets. The highlight of these carpets is they have been designed to prevent pet stains from soaking through to your carpet padding as well as to reduce pet odors. No matter the carpet, upgrade to a moisture barrier pad.

      Tile can be tricky

      Tile has a couple of options, ceramic and porcelain. They are durable and stain resistant, pretty easy to clean. The negatives would be cold on your feet if you’re barefoot, but also very slippery if a dog is running around. You can really mess up their knees and the vet bills will start becoming outrageous.

      Vinyl could be a lifesaver because nowadays they make vinyl that looks like wood and it is easy to clean and extremely durable. It also won’t scratch as easily as some of the other floorings.

      Hardwood is beautiful but if it gets wet, look out -- you will be replacing floor boards. It also has a tendency to scratch easily.

      It really comes down to how much maintenance you are willing to do. Scratches will happen with pets and so will spilled bowls of water, not to mention the accidents as your pet learns to become an adult. Just consider the comfort level for yourself and your pet and how much time you want to spend mopping or vacuuming.

      Pets are becoming a staple in homes; 68 percent of U.S. households own a pet, which equates to 82.5 million homes. In those 82.5 million homes, there are 8...

      House votes to repeal country of origin labeling

      U.S. Senate and President Obama to have the final say

      It's now up to the United States Senate and President Obama to determine whether the U.S. repeals its country of origin labeling law, known as COOL. As of now, it doesn't like either will ride to the rescue of the consumer-friendly law.

      The House this week voted 300 to 131 to repeal the law that is the focus of an international trade controversy.

      The law was part of the 2002 Farm Bill and was expanded to include some non-meat food products in 2008. It requires labels to tell consumers where beef, pork, fish, lamb and chicken came from.

      Canada and Mexico objected, saying the U.S. law violates international trade agreements. Their appeal to the World Trade Organization (WTO) was upheld, allowing the two countries to impose retaliatory sanctions on U.S. exports if the law remained in place.

      Swift reaction

      The reaction on Capitol Hill was swift and fairly uniform across party lines. The threat of potential trade retaliation prompted the House Agriculture Committee to vote to repeal COOL within days of the WTO decision.

      The Country of Origin Labeling Amendments Act, which repeals COOL, passed the full House with the backing of House Agriculture Committee Chairman Rep. Michael Conaway (R-TX), who called the repeal a common sense measure.

      “Two of our top trading partners announced earlier this month their intention to seek more than $3 billion in retaliatory sanctions against U.S. exports,” Conaway said. “This would extend far beyond the agriculture industry and would hurt nearly every sector of the U.S. economy.”

      Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA), Ranking Member of the House Agriculture Committee’s Livestock and Foreign Agriculture Committee, was another yes vote, saying COOL was a law that harms U.S. beef, pork, and poultry producers, including in his state.

      “California exports billions of dollars of commodities and manufactured goods to Canada and Mexico, many of which are produced in the San Joaquin Valley,” Costa said. “The tariff retaliations will cost California more than $1 billion, inflicting a devastating blow to the state’s economic well-being.”

      Consumer groups unhappy

      Consumer groups, which originally pushed for COOL and worked for its expansion, are incensed. Chris Waldrop, a spokesman for the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), says Congress bowed to overblown threats of retaliation and repealed the pro-consumer legislation prematurely.

      “In fact, the WTO process is still ongoing, as the WTO must determine the level of retaliation, if any, Canada and Mexico are allowed to impose on the U.S.,” Waldrop said. “That process will take several more months. Even then, the 3 countries could agree on a resolution to the issue before a single sanction is applied.”

      Waldrop says U.S. consumers want more information about their food, not less. He cited a recent CFA poll that found that a large majority of Americans strongly support mandatory country of origin labeling for fresh meat.

      Meanwhile, the repeal legislation now goes to the Senate. Should the Senate also pass the repeal, it would then be up to President Obama to decide whether or not to sign it. So far, the White House hasn't commented.

      It's now up to the United States Senate and President Obama to determine whether the U.S. repeals its country of origin labeling law, known as COOL. As of...

      Net neutrality rules in effect today

      A federal appeals court panel rejected carriers' objections to new FCC rules

      A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., has cleared the way for implementation of new net neutrality rules, allowing the rules to go into effect today.

      "The Internet is the most dynamic platform for free speech ever 
      invented and our Internet economy is the envy of the world. Sustaining this platform, which keeps us innovative, fierce, and creative, should not be a choice – it should be an obligation," said Jessica Rosenworcel, a Federal Communications Commission member.

      The new rules basically treat the Internet like a public utility and prohibit carriers from blocking or delaying traffic. The rules had been challenged by the United States Telecom Association, which represents AT&T, Verizon and other carriers.

      The FCC voted 3-2 in February to enact the new rules which are intended to prevent carriers from favoring some content providers over others. Previous attempts by the FCC to enshrine the net neutrality principle were overturned by the courts and today's ruling by a three-judge appeals court panel is not likely to end the dispute.

      The telecom association has already asked the court to speed up the proceedings and further hearings are a certainty.

      The carriers are arguing that the FCC's rules are arbitrary and unnecessary. Consumer groups, however, contend that smaller content providers and future start-ups could be squished by onerous fees that might be imposed by the carriers at some future date. 

      “The news today from the D.C. Circuit Court is clear: the Internet is open for business for everyone. I applaud the court for its decision to deny industry’s requested stay of the FCC’s Open Internet order," said Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass). "Consumers, innovators, activists and entrepreneurs – anyone who counts on the Internet to connect with the world around them – will fully benefit from these essential net neutrality protections."

      A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., has cleared the way for implementation of new net neutrality rules, allowing the rules to go into effect today...

      Wholesale inflation on the rise in May

      A spike in gasoline prices was a major factor

      Following a decline the previous month, the Producer Price Index (PPI) for final demand shot up 0.5% in May. Still, according to the Labor Department (DOL), for the 12 months ended in May the PPI was down 1.1% -- the fourth straight 12-month decrease.

      It was higher prices for final demand goods (+1.3%) that drove the increase as the index for final demand services was unchanged.

      Goods and services

      Eighty percent of the broad-based advance in goods is attributable to prices for energy, which jumped 5.9%, including a 17.0% surge in the cost of gasoline. In the overall goods sector, prices for diesel fuel, chicken eggs, jet fuel, pharmaceutical preparations and motor vehicles also moved higher. The costs of residential natural gas, hay, hayseeds and oilseeds, and for primary basic organic chemicals also were lower.

      As far as services are concerned, the prices of food and alcohol retailing, apparel, jewelry, footwear, and accessories retailing; television, video, and photographic equipment and supplies retailing; inpatient care; and residential real estate services posted gains. Prices for services related to securities

      brokerage and dealing; machinery and equipment wholesaling; loan services; health, beauty and optical goods retailing; and wireless telecommunication services were lower.

      The "core" PPI, which strips out the volatile food, energy, and trade services categories, edged down 0.1% in May. For the 12 months ended in May, the core rate was up 0.6%.

      The complete report is available on the DOL website.

      Following a decline the previous month, the Producer Price Index (PPI) for final demand shot up 0.5% in May. Still, according to the Labor Department (DOL)...

      Study finds daily aspirin can block breast cancer growth

      A similar effect was previously found in other types of cancer

      Aspirin is good for a lot of things. But who would have thought a daily aspirin could block breast tumor growth? That's the finding of a lab study being published in the July 2015 issue of Laboratory Investigation.

      Previous studies have shown a similar effect on colon, gastrointestinal, prostate, and other cancers.

      The trick, says Dr. Sushanta Banerjee, research director of the Cancer Research Unit at the Kansas City, Mo. Veterans Affairs Medical Center, is to ensure conditions around cancer stem cells aren't conducive for reproduction, something aspirin seems able to do.

      "In cancer, when you treat the patient, initially the tumor will hopefully shrink," says Banerjee. "The problem comes 5 or 10 years down the road when the disease relapses."

      Cancer has stem cells, or residual cells. They can survive chemotherapy or other cancer treatment and go dormant until conditions in the body are more favorable for them to again reproduce. "When they reappear they can be very aggressive, nasty tumors," Banerjee says.

      Study details

      To test his theory that aspirin could alter the molecular signature in breast cancer cells enough that they wouldn't spread, Banerjee used both incubated cells and mouse models.

      For the cell test, breast cancer cells were placed in 96 separate plates and then incubated. Just over half the cultures were exposed to differing doses of acetylsalicylic acid, commonly known as aspirin.

      According to Banerjee, exposure to aspirin dramatically increased the rate of cell death in the test. For those cells that did not die off, many were left unable to grow.

      The second part of his study involved studying 20 mice with aggressive tumors. For 15 days, half the mice were given the human equivalent of 75 milligrams of aspirin per day, which is considered a low dose. At the end of the study period, the tumors were weighed. Mice that received aspirin had tumors that were, on average, 47 percent smaller.

      To show that aspirin could also prevent cancer, the researchers gave an additional group of mice aspirin for 10 days before exposing them to cancer cells.

      After 15 days, those mice had significantly less cancerous growth than the control group.

      "We found aspirin caused these residual cancer cells to lose their self-renewal properties," says Banerjee. "Basically, they couldn't grow or reproduce. So there are two parts here. We could give aspirin after chemotherapy to prevent relapse and keep the pressure on, which we saw was effective in both the laboratory and the mouse model, and we could use it preventatively."

      Experts suggest patients consult with a doctor before starting a daily aspirin regimen. The drug is known to thin the blood and increase the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding.

      "Of course there is a risk," says Banerjee, "but you have to weigh that against the risks of cancer. It's true this is relatively new and we don't know all the side effects yet, but this was a very low dose."

      Aspirin is good for a lot of things. But who would have thought a daily aspirin could block breast tumor growth? That's the finding of a lab study being pu...

      Accepted Alzheimer's prevention tools have their limits

      Remaining active doesn't alter biological markers, study finds

      For years doctors have advised older adults to remain physically and mentally active, to reduce the likelihood of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

      It's still good advice, researchers say, but if you have the underlying markers for the disease, there are limits to its effectiveness.

      “While a lifelong history of physical and mental activity may support better memory and thinking performance, this relationship may possibly be separate from any protection against the markers of Alzheimer’s disease in the brain,” said study author Keith A. Johnson, MD, with Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

      The study, published in the journal Neurology, followed older adults who had different levels of lifelong physical and mental activity. The most active engaged in things like bike riding, dancing, walking and gardening and mentally stimulating activities such as crosswords and reading. Make no mistake, those activities help.

      Significantly higher IQs

      The study participants took tests of their thinking and mental abilities. Results showed that participants who took part in stimulating cognitive activities had significantly higher IQ and better cognitive performance compared those who did not take part in mentally stimulating activities very often.

      But there was no relationship between frequent mental or physical activity and any of the markers of Alzheimer’s disease in the brain.

      “This suggests that sustaining a lifetime of intellectual engagement may help preserve cognitive function into old age,” said Johnson. “In addition, our findings should not discourage people from engaging in physically and mentally stimulating activities, as they have been shown in numerous studies to generally offer many brain benefits.”

      In fact, the National Institute on Aging, which partially funded the study, says scientists continue to study other non-genetic risk factors for Alzheimer's, and continue to stress the importance of both physical and mental stimulation, along with social engagement and a nutritious diet, to delay the onset of the disease.

      Other possible links

      The Institute, which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), says scientists are also investigating associations between cognitive decline and heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.

      “Understanding these relationships and testing them in clinical trials will help us understand whether reducing risk factors for these diseases may help with Alzheimer's as well,” the agency says on its website.

      The Alzheimer's Association, which also funded the Harvard study, still stresses that people can reduce their risk of cognitive decline by maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

      "The research on cognitive decline is still evolving," said Angela Geiger, chief strategy officer, Alzheimer's Association. "But there are actions people can take. Certain healthy behaviors known to combat cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes may also reduce the risk of cognitive decline.”

      And those activities, says Geiger, include staying mentally active, engaging in regular physical activity and eating a heart-healthy diet that benefits both body and brain. She says there is also some evidence people may benefit from staying socially engaged with friends, family and the community.

      For years doctors have advised older adults to remain physically and mentally active, to reduce the likelihood of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. It's ...