Current Events in June 2015

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    Children's exposure to marijuana up 147% in recent years

    More liberal attitudes towards the drug are having consequences for children's health

    The debate over the legalization of marijuana has continued to rage on as states begin to adopt more lenient legislation on the matter. Proponents point out that there are numerous economic and health benefits that come along with legalizing the drug, but there are bound to be negative consequences as well.

    One study shows that the chances of young children swallowing, breathing in, or otherwise being exposed to marijuana has increased dramatically as policies shift in its favor.

    The numbers that have been uncovered by the study are truly staggering. From 2006 to 2013, exposure to marijuana for children five years of age or younger has risen 147.5% across the U.S. This number is small potatoes when compared to states that legalized marijuana for medical purposes. In these states, the rate increased almost 610% in the same time period.

    States that legalized marijuana from 2000 to 2013 have had child exposure rates increase steadily. There is roughly a 16% increase each year, and there is always a more dramatic jump in the year that marijuana was legalized in each state.

    But it is not just states that legalize marijuana that have to worry. Even states that had not legalized marijuana by 2013 saw a rise of 63% in marijuana exposure in young children from 2000 to 2013.

    But why exactly is this exposure to young children occurring? Henry Spiller, who co-authored the study and is the director of the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children’s, explains why children may be attracted to the drug.

    "The high percentage of ingestions may be related to the popularity of marijuana brownies, cookies and other foods," he says. "Very young children explore their environments by putting items in their mouths, and foods such as brownies and cookies are attractive."

    Coma, seizures, other complications

    Exposure to marijuana has produced a range of results when it comes to children. While most instances resulted in minor clinical effects, some children suffered from coma, decreased breathing, or seizures. These more serious conditions could be due to increased amounts of THC in marijuana food products.  

    Gary Smith, who is the senior author of the study and the director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s, urges that states need to have child protection laws in place when it comes to marijuana. Although the total number of exposure cases is less than 2,000, he believes that the growing trend in states that have legalized marijuana is very telling.

    "Any state considering marijuana legalization needs to include child protections in its laws from the very beginning," Dr. Smith said. "Child safety must be part of the discussion when a state is considering legalization of marijuana," he said.

    Should be locked up

    Other researchers endorse the idea that marijuana be treated like other chemicals and medicines in a household. If marijuana products are being kept in the house, they should be kept out of sight of children. If possible, they can be locked in a cabinet to ensure that they cannot be swallowed by mistake.

    The full study was published in Clinical Pediatrics on June 8, 2015.

    The debate over the legalization of marijuana has continued to rage on as states begin to adopt more lenient legislation on the matter. Proponents point ou...

    Survey: Father’s Day spending to hit $12.7 billion

    “Experience gifts” get the lion's share of the bucks

    When it comes to spending, consumer outlays ($21.2 billion) for Mother's Day far outdistance Father's Day. Still, dad does okay.

    According to the National Retail Federation's (NRF) 2015 Father’s Day Spending Survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, spending for dad is expected to reach $12.7 billion. The survey also finds the average person will shell out $115.57 about the same as last year, with 75.4% of consumers saing they plan to celebrate Father’s Day.

    “After a less than stellar first half of the year, retailers are ready to welcome the warm weather and the millions of shoppers that come along with it and kick off the summer spending season just in time for Father’s Day,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “Spending on grilling and patio necessities, pool gear, sporting goods, apparel and other gift and seasonal merchandise could be the positive stepping stone retailers need heading into the second half of the year.”

    What does he want, what does he need?

    When it comes to gifts for dad, 4 in 10 (39.7%) will purchase apparel items such as a new dress shirt or necktie and spend a total $1.7 billion overall. Another 43.3% will spend a total of $2.6 billion for so-called “experience gifts” such as tickets to a ballgame or a special meal with the family.

    The survey also found that 1 in 5 (19.7%) shoppers will pick out new gadgets such as a tablet or smartphone, totaling $1.6 billion. Additionally, 4 in 10 (39%) gift buyers will opt to let dad pick his own gift and will get him a gift card, spending a total of $1.8 billion. Six in 10 (62.2%) consumers will thank dad with a greeting card and at an overall cost of more than $777 million.

    Loved ones will also spend on home improvement or gardening supplies ($710 million), new tools or appliances ($668 million), personal care items ($684 million), sporting goods or leisure items ($665 million) and books or CDs ($538 million).

    Where to shop

    Online shoppers plan to spend an average $157 -- more than the typical Father's Day shopper -- and nearly 4 in 10 plan to use their smartphones to research products and compare prices.

    Consumers will look all over for gifts, with most people planning to shop at department stores (36.4%), while others will shop online (29.2%) and at discount stores (25.2%); Nearly 17% will shop local at a small business.

    “After splurging on mom and graduates this year and recognizing that dad is a little more laid back when it comes to celebrations and gifts, consumers will keep spending similar to about what they spent last year on Father’s Day,” said Prosper’s Principal Analyst Pam Goodfellow. “Regardless, they’ll still find a way to make sure that dad has a special day, whether they’re taking advantage of sales and promotions or treating him to an experience he’ll never forget.”

    More than half of those surveyed are planning to buy for their father or stepfather (51.8%), while others will shop for their husband (27.6%) or son (8.9%) this Father’s Day.

    When it comes to spending, consumer outlays ($21.2 billion) for Mother's Day far outdistance Father's Day. Still, dad does okay. According to the National...

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      Santa Barbara Smokehouse recalls Cold Smoked Salmon

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Santa Barbara Smokehouse of Santa Barbara, Calif., is recalling all smoked salmon EXCLUDING Hot Smoked Salmon produced from March 1 to April 8, 2015.

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      Cold Smoked Salmon was distributed within the United States through retail stores and food wholesaler.

      The following brands are being recalled:

      • Cambridge House,
      • Coastal Harbor,
      • Harbor Point,
      • North Shore S.F. Specialty,
      • Channel Islands and
      • Santa Barbara.

      The batch range is 1015 – 3949.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at 1-805-966-9796.

      Santa Barbara Smokehouse of Santa Barbara, Calif., is recalling all smoked salmon EXCLUDING Hot Smoked Salmon produced from March 1 to April 8, 2015. The ...

      Bariatric Fusion recalls bags of Soft Chews

      The packages fail to meet child-resistant closure requirement

      Bariatric Fusion of Elma, N.Y., is recalling about 800 bags of Soft Chews Iron with Vitamin C dietary supplements.

      The packaging is not child-resistant and senior friendly as required by the Poison Prevention Packaging Act. The chews inside the package contain iron, which can cause serious injury or death to young children if multiple chews are ingested.

      No incidents or injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves all 60-count bags of cherry flavor Soft Chews Iron with Vitamin C dietary supplements. The pink re-sealable bag has an image of cherries and a leaf on the front of the package.

      “Soft Chews Iron with Vitamin C,” “Cherry flavor,” “Bariatric Fusion,” "60 Soft Chews" and “Dietary Supplement” are also on the front. Lot number 14191C2 is printed near the bottom of the back of the bags being recalled.

      The recalled product, manufactured in the U.S., was sold at Bariatric Fusion distributors, drug stores, and medical and wellness centers nationwide and online at BariatricFusion.com, BariatricChoice.com and DietDirect.com from September 2014, to February 2015, for about $23.

      Consumers should immediately place the product out of a child’s sight and reach, and return it to the place of purchase for a full refund or for free supplements in compliant packaging.

      Consumers may contact Bariatric Fusion toll-free at (866) 259-0602 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., ET, Monday through Friday.

      Bariatric Fusion of Elma, N.Y., is recalling about 800 bags of Soft Chews Iron with Vitamin C dietary supplements. The packaging is not child-resistant an...

      Want to attend college for free? Work for the right company

      Anthem is latest employer to pick up the tab

      There is an alternative to running up tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt in pursuit of a college degree. All you have to do is work for a company that will pay your college tuition for you.

      Companies routinely sweeten their benefits package to attract and retain good employees. Providing excellent health coverage is a highly prized perk. So is a college education and more companies are responding by offering partial or full tuition aid as an incentive.

      Healthcare benefits provider Anthem is the latest, just announcing a partnership with Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) to make an associate's or bachelor’s degree available at no charge to any of its eligible full-time or part-time employees.

      Competency-based curriculum

      Participating Anthem employees will work through SNHU's College for America, which specializes in working with employers to offer competency-based, online curriculum designed to help adults earn a college degree while they are holding down jobs.

      What makes this an ideal alternative for debt-averse students is you don't even have to work full-time. As long as you work 20 hours per week you can earn a degree at no cost.

      "Anthem is committed to offering its associates a robust benefits package that goes beyond salary and health benefits,” said C. Burke King, president, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield. “Our partnership with College for America has proven successful for our parent company associates who participated in the pilot program in New Hampshire and we want to build on that success by providing opportunities for education, development and career advancement to all our associates.”

      SNHU is an old private not-for-profit university with an idyllic campus setting in Manchester, N.H. But more than a decade ago SNHU embarked on an ambitious online education curriculum targeting working adults, offering credit for experience already gained in the workplace.

      “This is a tremendous win-win for Anthem and its associates,” said Paul LeBlanc, SNHU's president. “As an employer, Anthem is building talent and the skills needed for promotion in its workforce while associates earn an accredited degree that will help them get ahead in their life and career without taking on debt.”

      Other opportunities

      SNHU's College for America partners with more than 65 other U.S. employers who help their associates achieve a college degree, either through full or partial tuition reimbursement. And it isn't alone.

      Starbucks is partnering with Arizona State University's online program to cover the costs of its employees' – it calls them partners – ASU degree. Under the program the student seeks any financial aid he or she may be eligible to receive and Starbucks takes care of the rest.

      Other companies that include at least partial tuition aid to employees include AT&T, Bank of America, Best Buy, Gap, Home Depot, UPS and Verizon Wireless.

      Maybe the whole idea of what it means to go to college is changing. Living in a lavish dorm, roaming an ivy-covered campus and enjoying a college social life carries a steep price tag, and increasingly it's a price that can be avoided, along with the debt hangover that usually follows.

      Earning money while having your tuition paid by your employer might not just make economic sense, it could advance you toward your career while earning a degree.

      There is an alternative to running up tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt in pursuit of a college degree. All you have to do is work for a co...

      Congressmen want forward collision avoidance systems on big trucks

      The deaths of five nursing students in a Georgia crash bring calls for improved safety technologies

      Five Georgia Congressmen have written to federal safety regulators to urge that large trucks and buses be equipped with forward collision avoidance technology and braking systems that would help avoid rear-end accidents like the one that killed five Georgia nursing students last month.

      The five are reported to be preparing to introduce legislation that would require the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to implement the regulation.

      The nursing students were killed when a tractor trailer truck slammed into two SUVs carrying the women on Interstate 16. The SUVs were stopped in traffic from another crash two miles ahead.

      "The trucker didn't brake,” said Bob Cheely, an Atlanta attorney representing the victims' families, WSB-TV reported. “He was traveling 68 miles an hour according to the black box on the trailer. He didn't make any evasive action, and the truck was equipped with a crash avoidance system."

      4,000 fatalities

      The Congressmen said the type of mitigation system they are advocating could have prevented that crash and could also reduce the annual toll of about 130,000 crashes, 4,000 fatalities and 80,000 injuries caused by large vehicles rear-ending passenger cars and SUVs.

      They noted that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has repeatedly called for faster deployment of safety technology on both commercial and personal vehicles. 

      "We must take full advantage of technological advancements that improve sfaety and demonstrate a net benefit to society," said Reps. Henry C. "Hank" Johnson, John Lewis, Sanford D. Bishop, Jr., Earl L. "Buddy" Carter and David Scott.

      Comedian Tracy Morgan was injured and one of his writers, James "Jimmy Mack" McNair, was killed in a similar crash on the New Jersey Turnpike a year ago. In that accident, a Walmart truck plowed into Morgan's limo as it swerved to avoid slowed traffic.

      The driver in that case, Kevin Roper, has pleaded not guilty to assault and death by auto charges.  

      Widespread support

      In their letter to NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind, the Congressmen not that there is widespread support for crash-avoidance technology from the trucking industry and auto safety organizations, including the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, the Truck Safety Coalition, the Center for Auto Safety, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety and Road Safe America.

      "I encouterage NHTSA to work with safety advocates, industry and the enforcement community to ensure that the devices are effective, and that any regulations put into place are enforceable," the letter concluded. 

      Five Georgia Congressmen have written to federal safety regulators to urge that large trucks and buses be equipped with forward collision avoidance technol...

      What to do if your data has been hacked

      There are steps you can take to reduce the risk of someone running up debs in your name

      Recent data breaches at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) show that businesses keeping files on consumers' personal information are not the only entities that are vulnerable.

      In fact, last week's report (.pdf) by the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) reveals that government databases have become a target-rich environment for hackers. Through the first five months of 2015, ITRC shows 23 government or military breaches, compromising 1.33 million records.

      But by far, the largest source of compromised data has come from the health care system. The ITRC report shows medical and healthcare entities have suffered 121 data breaches so far this year, resulting in nearly 101 million compromised records.

      With those numbers – and that's just for this year – your chances of having your records among those now in the possession of criminals are pretty high. A report last year by Javelin Strategy & Research counted 13 million U.S. victims of identity theft in 2013 and found data breaches to be one of the greatest risk factors, as nearly 1 in 3 consumers who received data breach notification letters became a victim of identity fraud.

      When you're a victim

      Once an identity thief has possession of your personal information, he or she may be able to do a lot of damage. In most cases a thief could open new credit accounts in your name but not pay back borrowed money or pay for purchases. That ruins your credit.

      An increasingly popular method is filing a fake income tax return using a stolen identity, showing a large refund is due. The identity thief finds that successful since it doesn't involve the three credit reporting agencies.

      When a thief tries to take out a loan using your identity, the lender runs a check through the credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax and Trans Union. All three offer safeguards to consumers to reduce the chances of that happening.

      Fraud alert and credit freeze

      For example, Experianoffers a fraud alert and a credit freeze, both of which can be effective deterrents. When you add a fraud alert to your account, potential credit grantors must verify your identification before extending credit in your name.

      That gives you a heads up that your have been compromised. The alert stays in place for 90 days and can be renewed.

      A stronger level of protection is the credit freeze. It is designed to prevent credit, loans and services from being approved in your name without your consent. However, it could also delay or interfere with or even prohibit timely approval of legitimate credit applications in your name.

      Equifax and Trans Union offer similar services. If you believe your personal information has been compromised in a data breach – and the odds it has are increasingly high – it's worth considering asking the credit bureaus to alert you when someone tries to access your credit.

      To reduce your chances of becoming a tax fraud victim, file your federal income tax return as early as possible. That will reduce the risk of someone filing a fake return in your name.

      Recent data breaches at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) show that businesses keeping files on consumers' pe...

      Consumers bitten by mortgage relief scam to get checks

      Thousands were taken by a scheme that promised lower payments

      The checks are in the mail.

      The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which won a court action against Jackson, Crowder & Associates and Crowder Law Group, sending out 2,653 checks totaling more than $467,000.

      According to the FTC, the defendants falsely promised to modify consumers’ mortgages and substantially reduce their monthly payments, exaggerated the role an attorney would play, and pretended to be affiliated with a government agency.

      Consumers who get the checks from the FTC’s refund administrator for this matter, Gilardi & Co. LLC, should deposit or cash them within 60 days of the mailing date. Keep in mind, the FTC never requires consumers to pay money or to provide information before refund checks can be cashed. The amount of the check will vary based upon each consumer’s loss.

      If you receive a check and have questions, you may contact Gilardi & Co. at 1-888-561-9023.

      The checks are in the mail. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which won a court action against Jackson, Crowder & Associates and Crowder Law Group, send...

      Texas governor expected to sign law deregulating hair braiding

      State regulations will finally recognize that braiding and barbering aren't the same thing

      Texas Governor Greg Abbott is expected to sign House Bill 2717 into law, deregulating the practice and teaching of professional hair braiding and repeal the occupational-licensing requirements that required hair braiders to meet the same strict licensing requirements as barbers and cosmetologists.

      Texas' state House of Representatives unanimously voted to pass HB 2717 in April, after a contentious legal battle spanning three decades.

      Texas law strictly regulates barbers and cosmetologists, mainly on safety grounds: among other things, those trades require the use of sharp tools and potentially dangerous chemicals. Braiding hair requires neither, yet in 2007, when the state started regulating hairbraiders and teachers of the art, it mandated that they meet the same licensing requirements as barbers or cosmetologists.

      Dallas resident and African hairbraiding expert Isis Brantley has been braiding hair professionally for over 30 years — and the law has hassled her over it for almost that long.

      She started braiding at home in her kitchen, but was arrested when she tried opening a salon. “As soon as I opened up the shop, wow, the red tape was wrapped around my hands,” she told the Texas Tribune in April. “Seven cops came in, in front of my clients, and arrested me and took me to jail like a common criminal. The crime was braiding without a cosmetology license.”

      Wrapped in red tape

      Brantley spent years challenging the hairbraiding regulations in court, and in 2007 the state modified the requirements: henceforth, hairbraiders seeking a license would only have to show 35 hours of formal training rather than 1,500 hours, and Brantley specifically was “grandfathered in” and granted a braiding license.

      So she won the legal right to professionally braid hair, but when she tried opening a school to give others the 35 hours of instruction they'd need to to do the same, the state told her a braiding school must meet the same standards as a barber school.

      Brantley sued the state in 2013, saying that the barber regulations on her braiding school were unconstitutional and unreasonable. The non-profit Institute For Justice, which joined Brantley in filing her suit, outlined the requirements Texas set before Brantley could legally teach the art of traditional African hairbraiding:

      … Isis must spend 2,250 hours in barber school, pass four exams, and spend thousands of dollars on tuition and a fully-equipped barber college she doesn’t need, all to teach a 35-hour hairbraiding curriculum.  Tellingly, Texas will waive all these regulations if Isis goes to work for an existing barber school and teaches hairbraiding for them. 

      That “fully equipped” barber college would have to include at least 10 student workstations, each with a reclining barber chair, plus one hair-washing sink for every two workstations. None of these are required, or used in any way, for braiding hair.

      In January, a federal judge ruled that Texas' regulations on hairbraiding schools were unconstitutional and did nothing to advance public health or safety, nor meet any other legitimate government interest.

      During that trial Arif Panju, the Institute For Justice attorney who represented Brantley in her court battle, noted that the state couldn't identify a single hairbraiding school capable of meeting those strict barber-school requirements. And today, Panju called Governor Abbott's stated intention of signing HB 2717 into law this afternoon “a final victory for natural hair braiders across Texas. It also serves as recognition that occupational licensing has gone too far when 1 in 3 Texans are forced to obtain a government license to simply go to work each morning.”

      Texas Governor Greg Abbott is expected to sign House Bill 2717 into law, deregulating the practice and teaching of professional hair braiding and repeal th...

      New $25 blood test can identify every virus you've ever had

      Experimental test can “read” the infectious history written in your immune system

      According to a research article published in the latest issue of Science, a new, still-experimental blood test called VirScan can identify almost every virus you've ever been exposed to, by testing only a single drop of your blood. Better still, this test is expected to only cost $25 to perform.

      On June 5, Science published a research article discussing “Comprehensive serological profiling of human populations using a synthetic human virome.” The study's senior author is Stephen Elledge, a professor of genetics and medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

      Elledge admits that the current version of the test has some limitations – it can overlook smaller viruses, or miss past infections for which the immune response has dwindled, but the test can apparently detect signs of exposure to over 1,000 strains from 206 different species of virus — almost every virus known to infect humans.

      The study's abstract page offers a brief explanation of how this works: “In addition to causing illness, viruses leave indelible footprints behind, because infection permanently alters the immune system. Blood tests that detect antiviral antibodies can provide information about both past and present viral exposures.” But researchers “developed a blood test that identifies antibodies against all known human viruses” by “[u]sing a synthetic representation of all human viral peptides.”

      Amino acids

      Peptides are combinations of amino acids, and amino acids are what combine to make various proteins. A virus, meanwhile, is essentially just a scrap or genetic material, either DNA or RNA, wrapped in a protein shell.

      Viruses are not considered living organisms in their own right, because they cannot reproduce by themselves (or in conjunction with other members of their species). Viruses can only reproduce by invading the cells of living organisms – usually plants, animals or bacteria – and then commandeering those living cells to produce new copies of the virus.

      When you get a virus, your immune system (ideally) responds by producing special proteins called “antibodies” to fight the viral infection. But traces of those antibodies will remain even after you've beaten that virus, which means you now enjoy what's called “acquired immunity” to that virus: even if you're exposed to that particular virus again, your immune system knows how to produce the necessary antibodies and fight off the virus before you even feel sick.

      Consider the viral disease people call “the common cold” even though it's technically inaccurate to talk about the common cold, because it's not a single disease. There are over 200 different viruses that cause cold-like symptoms in people, and once you've had a particular cold virus, you then enjoy acquired immunity to it.

      Something going around

      This explains, among other things, why young children seem to catch colds all the time, whereas middle-aged and older adults rarely do: all else being equal, the older you are, the more colds you've already had and thus the more acquired immunities you've collected. It also explains the occasional mystery “Seems like everybody in my social circle caught a nasty cold — except me. I wonder why I didn't catch it?” Maybe it's because you already had that particular strain of cold virus a few years ago, and acquired immunity before your current companions did.

      (Vaccines, meanwhile, work by using dead or weakened strains of certain viruses to stimulate the immune system into producing the right strain of virus-fighting antibodies without actually suffering from the viral infection.)

      So if your doctor wants to know whether you have or had a particular viral infection, it's relatively easy to find out by looking for those virus-specific antibodies in your blood. But VirScan promises to vastly streamline this process by testing not merely for one viral antibody, but almost all of them. This not only makes it easier to determine a patient's full viral history, but will also make it easier to detect and treat certain viral infections before the patient even shows symptoms.

      For example, people with hepatitis C have a pretty good prognosis if they are treated right away — but the disease usually takes awhile to develop noticeable symptoms, and by the time that happens the infection's advanced enough to be difficult to treat.

      Better treatment options

      In addition to improving treatment options for individual patients, VirScan also promises to make it much easier for researchers to study the overall history and development of certain diseases – how do they spread, and which populations are most vulnerable. It can also further research to study whether individual viruses or the body's own immune response to them could in turn lead to other diseases, or even in the development of certain cancers.

      As Stephen Elledge said, “I'm sure there’ll be lots of applications we haven’t even dreamed of. That’s what happens when you invent technology — you can’t imagine what people will do with it. They're so clever.”

      According to a research article published in the latest issue of Science, a new, still-experimental blood test called VirScan can identify almost every vir...

      Maybe pet insurance isn't such a great idea; it all depends

      There are several factors to consider before taking out a policy on your pooch

      Having a pet costs a little bit of money. After all it’s one more mouth to feed and right behind that is veterinary care.

      Americans spend an estimated $15 million on veterinary care a year. That’s a lot of office exams. When you think of all of the strides made in modern medicine for humans the same has followed suit for your dogs and cats. It costs a great deal for all of the specialized tests and medicine.

      According to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association, pet policies have grown an average of 13% each year since 2009. Considering Americans spent $58.5 billion on their pets last year, it makes sense.

      Keep in mind ...

      Some dog breeds cost more to insure. Among the most expensive breeds to insure are Rottweilers, Great Danes and Bernese mountain dogs. It’s not because they are big and dangerous, it’s just because they are big and larger breeds are genetically predisposed to costly conditions like cancer and hip dysplasia. The least expensive to insure are Shih Tzus and poodles.

      According to Trupanion Insurance, factors other than breed that go into the cost of insuring your dog:

      • Your dog’s age at enrollment;
      • Gender;
      • Where your dog lives; and
      • Whether your dog has been spayed/neutered

      Similar to humans 

      Since human insurance is what you are most familiar with it is the easiest to use for comparison. When we get a health insurance policy there is a deductible -- you meet it and then you can start factoring the savings.

      But with pet insurance some companies work differently. The deductible applies to each condition being treated. For example, if your policy has a $250 deductible, you’ll pay the first $250 of the bill when your dog eats a box of raisins, then another $250 weeks later when your cat scratches the dog in the eye. It is best to ask about the policy and how the deductible actually works.

      Similar to other types of insurance, premiums are lower when deductibles are higher. You may find some that will reimburse just a flat amount rather than a percentage.

      Be aware those premiums can rise each year. Premiums can be linked to your pet's aging. Premiums may also differ from one state to another. 

      We humans can no longer be discriminated because of a pre-existing condition but if you’re a dog or cat you can be.  All pet insurers exclude pre-existing conditions. They might also impose a maximum limit on treatment for individual conditions or on the yearly or lifetime reimbursement for those conditions. 

      One of the important things to think about is the type of pet that you have. Is it predisposed to a certain condition? Is it vulnerable to getting sick? If the answer is no you might want to hold off on pet insurance and just put money away in the bank each month. 

      But if you know you have a breed that is susceptible to a skin condition or cancer it makes sense to protect yourself and your pet. There is a lot of emotion tied up in having a pet and if it’s just peace of mind then it might be worth your while to get a policy.

      Having a pet costs a little bit of money. After all it’s one more mouth to feed and right behind that is veterinary care. Americans spend an estimated $...

      Chevrolet Colorado, and GMC Canyon trucks with leaky brakes recalled

      The front brake calipers may leak brake fluid

      General Motors is recalling 14,838 model year 2015 Chevrolet Colorado, and GMC Canyon trucks manufactured January 6, 2014, to December 24, 2014.

      The recalled vehicles may experience the front brake calipers leaking brake fluid due to air pockets, an imperfection in the metal caliper body.

      If the vehicle experiences a brake fluid leak it can increase the stopping distance, increasing the risk of a vehicle crash.

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will inspect and replace the front-brake calipers if necessary, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin July 10, 2015.

      Owners may contact GM customer service at 1-800-222-1020 (Chevrolet), or 1-800-462-8782 (GMC). GM's number for this recall is 14888.

      General Motors is recalling 14,838 model year 2015 Chevrolet Colorado, and GMC Canyon trucks manufactured January 6, 2014, to December 24, 2014. The rec...

      Benedetti Farms recalls chicken and turkey sausage products

      The products are wrapped in hog and sheep casings not listed on the labels

      Benedetti Farms of a Sonoma, Calif., is recalling approximately 11,670 pounds of chicken and turkey sausage products.

      The products are wrapped in hog and sheep casings not listed on the labels. Hog and sheep casings may elicit allergic reactions in individuals known to be allergic to pork or sheep proteins.

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

      The following items, produced from December 14, 2014 through June 4, 2015, are being recalled:

      • 10-lb.case containing 5-lb. clipped bag packages of 1-oz. pieces of “Sierra Sausage Co. Chicken Apple Sausage.”
      • 10-lb.case containing 5-lb. clipped bag packages of 2-oz. pieces of “Sierra Sausage Co. Chicken Apple Sausage.”
      • 10-lb.case containing 2.5-lb. clipped bag packages of 3-oz. pieces of “Sierra Sausage Co. Chicken and Basil Sausage.”
      • 20-lb.case containing 4-lb. clipped bag packages of “Willie Bird Turkey Chorizo Sausage.”
      • 10-lb.case containing 2.5-lb. clipped bag packages of “Willie Bird Turkey Apple Sausage.”
      • 20-lb.case containing 4-lb. clipped bag packages of “Willie Bird Turkey Apple Sausage.”
      • 20-lb.case containing 4-lb. clipped bag packages of 4-oz. pieces of “Willie Bird Turkey Apple Sausage.”
      • 20-lb.case containing 4-lb. clipped bag packages of 1-oz. pieces of “Willie Bird Chicken Apple Sausage.”
      • 20-lb.case containing 4-lb. clipped bag packages of “Willie Bird Turkey ‘Hot’ Italian Sausage.”
      • 20-lb.case containing 4-lb. clipped bag packages of “Willie Bird Turkey Cajun Style Sausage.”
      • 10-lb.case containing 2.5-lb. clipped bag packages of “Willie Bird Turkey Basil Sausage.”
      • 20-lb.case containing 4-lb. clipped bag packages of “Willie Bird Turkey Breakfast Sausage.”
      • 20-lb.case containing 4-lb. clipped bag packages of “Willie Bird Turkey Italian Sausage.”
      • 20-lb.case containing 4-lb. clipped bag packages of “Willie Bird Turkey Basil Sausage with Sundried Tomato.”
      • 20-lb.case containing 4-lb. clipped bag packages of “Willie Bird Turkey Jalapeno and Garlic Sausage.”
      • 20-lb.case containing 4-lb. clipped bag packages of “Willie Bird Turkey Habanero and Garlic Sausage.”

      The recalled products bear the establishment number “P-18216” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and were shipped to wholesale and institutional locations in California.

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Greg Brodsky at (707) 545-3308.

      Benedetti Farms of a Sonoma, Calif., is recalling approximately 11,670 pounds of chicken and turkey sausage products. The products are wrapped in hog and ...

      Chevy Malibus with seat belt issue recalled

      Steel cables that connect the seat belts to the vehicle may be bent

      General Motors is recalling 437,045 model year 2011-2012 Chevrolet Malibus manufactured April 8, 2010, to October 11, 2012.

      The flexible steel cables that connect the seat belts to the vehicle at the outside of the driver seat and the front passenger seat may be bent from being sat on while entering the vehicle. This repeated bending may result in the cable breaking.

      If the cable breaks, the seat occupant may not be restrained properly in the event of a crash, increasing the risk of injury.

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will replace the outboard lap anchor mounting bracket and inspect the flexible steel cable, replacing it as necessary, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin July 3, 2015.

      Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020. GM's number for this recall is 15031.

      General Motors is recalling 437,045 model year 2011-2012 Chevrolet Malibus manufactured April 8, 2010, to October 11, 2012. The flexible steel cables tha...

      Mazda B-series light trucks recalled

      The air bag inflator could rupture upon deployment

      Mazda North American Operations is recalling 27,149 model year 2004-2006 Mazda B-series light trucks manufactured from April 17, 2003, through May 2, 2006.

      The recalled vehicles are equipped with a passenger side front air bag that may be susceptible to moisture intrusion which, over time, could cause the inflator to rupture upon deployment.

      In the event of a crash necessitating deployment of the passenger's frontal air bag, the inflator could rupture with metal fragments striking the vehicle occupants, potentially resulting in serious injury or death.

      Mazda will notify owners, and dealers will replace the the passenger side frontal air bag inflator, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin by the end of July 2015.

      Owners may contact Mazda at 1-800-222-5500. Mazda's number for this recall is 8315F.  

      Mazda North American Operations is recalling 27,149 model year 2004-2006 Mazda B-series light trucks manufactured from April 17, 2003, through May 2, 2006....

      Quincy Street recalls pork products

      The products may be contaminated with foreign materials

      Quincy Street, Inc., of Holland, Mich., is recalling approximately 49,308 pounds of pork sausage products.

      The products may be contaminated with foreign materials.

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

      The following pork sausage items, produced on April 22, 2015 through April 23, 2015, are being recalled:

      • 10-lb. packages containing 2-oz. pieces of “Skin On Sausage Links” with reorder number 466301.
      • 10-lb. packages containing 2-oz. pieces of “Pork Sausage Patties” with reorder number 313963.
      • 10-lb. packages containing 1.8-oz. pieces of “Skin On Sausage Links” with reorder number 505361.
      • 12-lb. packages containing 1.5-oz. pieces of fully cooked “Quincy Street Soy Patties” with item number 012010.
      • 10-lb. packages containing 1-oz. pieces of “Skin On Sausage Links” with reorder number 245852.
      • 10-lb. packages containing 1-oz. pieces of “Skin On Buffet Style Links” with reorder numbers 266876.
      • 10-lb. packages containing 1-oz. pieces of “Skin On Buffet Style Links” with reorder numbers 161100.
      • 10-lb. packages containing 0.8-oz. pieces of fully cooked “Blackstone Skin On Breakfast Links with Sage” with item number 55571.
      • 10-lb. packages containing 1.8-oz. pieces of fully cooked “Blackstone Mild Skin On Sausage Links” with item number 55545.
      • 10-lb. packages containing 0.8-oz. pieces of fully cooked “Blackstone Mild Skin On Sausage Links” with item number 55522.
      • 10-lb. packages containing 1-oz. pieces of fully cooked “Skin On Pork Sausage Links with Sage” with item number 55521.
      • 10-lb. packages containing 1-oz. pieces of fully cooked “Quincy Street Skin On Pork Sausage Links” with item number 12008.
      • 10-lb. packages containing 1.5-oz. pieces of fully cooked “Blackstone Breakfast Patties with Sage” with item number 55544.
      • 10-lb. packages containing 2-oz. pieces of fully cooked “Blackstone Breakfast Patties with Sage” with item number 55572.
      • 10-lb. packages containing 0.8-oz. pieces of fully cooked “Blackstone Skin On Pork Sausage Links with Sage” with item number 55517.
      • 10-lb. packages containing 1-oz. pieces of “Quincy Street Skin On Breakfast Links” with item number 010716.
      • 10-lb. packages containing 5.3-oz. pieces of “Quincy Street Bold n’ Spicy Sausage Patties” with item number 010749.
      • 10-lb. packages containing “Quincy Street Bold n’ Spicy Bulk Pork Sausage” with item number 010745.
      • 10-lb. packages containing 2-oz. pieces of “Quincy Street Pork Sausage Patties” with item number 010706.
      • 10-lb. packages containing 1-oz. pieces of “Quincy Street Russ’ Own Special Blend Pork Sausage Links” with item number R10702.
      • 10-lb. packages containing 1-oz. pieces of “Quincy Street Skin On Breakfast Links” with item number 010716.
      • 10-lb. packages containing 1-oz. pieces of “Quincy Street Skin On Pork Sausage Links” with item number 010702.
      • 10-lb. packages containing 1.8-oz. pieces of fully cooked “Quincy Street Skin On Pork Sausage Links” with item number 010781.
      • 10-lb. packages containing 5.3-oz. pieces of “Quincy Street Bold n’ Spicy Sausage Patties” with item number 010749.

      The recalled products bear the establishment number “EST. 18963” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and were shipped to institutions nationwide.

      Consumers with questions may contact Ron Potts at (616) 738-5303.  

      Quincy Street, Inc., of Holland, Mich., is recalling approximately 49,308 pounds of pork sausage products. The products may be contaminated with foreign m...

      Feds vow tougher scrutiny of automakers' safety efforts, may collaborate with personal-injury lawyers

      Early warning reports of suspected defects will be more tightly monitored, officials vow

      Automakers are being put on notice that they'll face much more stringent oversight from federal safety regulators following such debacles as the GM ignition switch crisis, the epidemic of exploding Takata airbags and alleged recall foot-dragging by Chrysler.

      The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) today released two reports outlining their,plans for tougher oversight and identifying shortcomings in its own efforts.

      But nothing drew more gasps than the revelation that DOT and NHTSA would be consulting with personal injury lawyers, who often find and document safety hazards long before they come to NHTSA's attention.

      In fact, lawyers who specialize in auto accidents and product liability already have their own informal but highly sophisticated,networks that share data the attorneys collect as they build evidence against automakers. In many cases, records are sealed after a trial ends in an out-of-court settlement, especially those involving huge damage awards arising from injuries caused by safety defects, so the information is never made public.

      Which truck roof pillar collapses?

      For example, every lawyer who handles such cases can tell you with great specificity what model and year pick-up truck has weak windshield pillars that often cause the roof to collapse in a roll-over accident, crushing the occupants to death. The lawyers' private networks also guide attorneys to expert witnesses who have already done much of the research needed to bring similar cases to trial.

      While lawyers would still be barred from disclosing specifics of past cases, they could lead federal investigators in the right direction.

      Sober self-examination

      “Our obligation to save lives and prevent injuries must include sober self-examination, and when we find weaknesses, we have to fix them,” NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said as the stepped-up enforcement plans were released. “These reports outline how NHTSA is already improving its systems for identifying and addressing vehicle safety defects, and offers options for building the workforce it needs to meet its obligations to the traveling public.”

      NHTSA said it will also step up its own efforts to identify defects, expanding its defects investigation office, which currently has the equivalent of 64 full-time employees, adding 380 employees longterm, a sevenfold increase.

      The reports released by Rosekind also identify instances in which the agency could have taken stronger measures, most notably in the case of the GM ignitions, which have been linked to,109 deaths,and more than 200 injuries.

      NHTSA said that GM withheld information but also conceded the agency did not push back hard enough, merely analyzing the incomplete GM responses and discounting outside theories that suggested the reason airbags did not deploy was that the faulty ignition switch had cut power to the engine -- and therefore the airbags -- prior to the crash.

      Decades lost

      NHTSA has been bitterly criticized by decades by safety advocates who say it is too cozy with automakers, too slow to identify safety defects and lax in policing the recall process to ensure that all affected vehicles are repaired promptly.

      For example, FCA US LLC -- the company formerly known as Chrysler -- is currently under scrutiny for delays in carrying out modifications to Jeep Cherokees that are allegedly prone to burst into flames in rear-end collisions. FCA executives face a July 2 hearing before NHTSA to discuss whether the company has properly handled recalls affecting more than 10 million vehicles.

      Safety advocates greeted the reports positively but cautiously, noting that increased Congressional funding was by now means assured.

      "The assessment calls for a new paradigm in funding and resources to match the dramatic increase in the number of vehicles on the road and the increasing sophisticated technology in vehicles," said Clarence M. Ditlow, executive director of the non-profit Center for Auto Safety.

      "NHTSA in the 1970's with a more adequate budget and aggressive enforcement was much like the New Paradigm in the Path Forward. But as funding decreased and secrecy increased in the 1980's and beyond, the agency became a weak enforcer and mass vehicle defects became common behind closed doors," Ditlow noted.

      "Killing drivers ... for years"

      On Capitol Hill, Sens. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said the NHTSA must resolve to prevent future tragedies like the GM ignition switch debacle.

      “We are pleased that NHTSA has acknowledged neglecting critical information that should have moved it to take action much earlier on faulty GM ignition switches that were killing drivers and passengers for years. Unfortunately, for more than a decade, NHTSA failed to address the information and evidence it had in its own database linking defective ignition switch to fatal accidents," the senators said in a joint statement.

      "It is incumbent upon Administrator Rosekind to put in place permanent measures necessary to prevent another tragedy like this from ever happening again. Those measures must include a requirement that the types of secret documents that NHTSA had access to are made public, and the enactment of our legislation that requires more information to be reported to NHTSA’s Early Warning Reporting database when auto manufacturers first become aware of incidents involving fatalities.”

      The two have introduced legislation that they say would ensure more transparency and earlier reporting of safety issues to prevent auto injuries and fatalities.

      The legislation, the Early Warning Reporting System Improvement Act, would require NHTSA make the information it receives from auto manufacturers publicly available in a searchable, user-friendly format so that consumers and independent safety experts can evaluate potential safety defects themselves.

      The trailer hitch-equipped Jeep in which Cassidy Jarmon, 4, burned to death (Photo: Center for Auto Safety)Automakers are being put on notice that th...

      Hackers swipe confidential files on 4 million federal workers

      Second major breach in a year of federal personnel records

      Hackers have gained access to confidential personnel records of more than 4 million current and retired federal employees, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) said late Thursday. It's the second major breach of federal personnel records in a year.

      "The FBI is working with our interagency partners to investigate this matter," the FBI said in a statement Thursday night. "We take all potential threats to public and private sector systems seriously and will continue to investigate and hold accountable those who pose a threat in cyberspace."

      OPM, the federal government's equivalent of a private company's Human Resources department, said it couldn't say exactly what data the hackers took but said it could be used in "spear-phishing" attacks -- emails designed to make targets think they are dealing with a legitimate request. 

      For example, a hacker might have enough information to trick a federal employee into thinking an email came from a colleague or an OPM official.

      News of the breach was not well received on Capitol Hill.

      “Today's reported breach is part of a troubling pattern by this agency in failing to secure the personal data of federal employees – the second major breach in a year," said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. "Cyberattacks present a critical threat to our national security and our economy.  We cannot afford to keep dragging our feet in addressing the escalating threats posed by hackers out to steal individuals’ personal information.”

      Chinese involvement?

      It's one of the largest hacks of government information ever and unofficial reports said the attack bore the markings of the Chinese government.

      OPM said it detected the breach in April -- while it was trying to clean up after a March 2014 hack attack -- and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said it had concluded "at the beginning of May" that sensitive data had been stolen. Why it took more than a month to inform taxpayers and federal employees of the breach wasn't explained.

      In a typically oblique statement, OPM said -- in effect -- that it had stumbled onto the attack while attempting to shore up its defenses:

      Within the last year, OPM has undertaken an aggressive effort to update its cybersecurity posture, adding numerous tools and capabilities to its networks. As a result, in April 2015, OPM became aware of the incident affecting its information technology (IT) systems and data that predated the adoption of these security controls.

      "OPM immediately implemented additional security measures to protect the sensitive information it manages," the statement concluded.

      Sen. Warner said he is currently preparing to introduce data breach legislation that would create a "comprehensive, nationwide and uniform data breach standard requiring timely consumer notification for breaches of financial data and other sensitive information," presumably one that would require businesses and government agencies to notify employees as soon as intrusions are detected.

      Warner chaired the first hearing in Congress in the aftermath of a breach of the retailer Target.  On the heels of that hearing, Sens. Warner and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) called for the private sector to cooperate in creating Information Sharing and Analysis Centers (ISACs) to share information on data breaches, something the retail and financial services industries now have pursued on a voluntary basis.

      Additionally, Sens. Warner and Kirk introduced legislation in the last Congress to strengthen consumer protections for debit cardholders by capping liability for fraud at $50, the same amount as for credit cards.  Sen. Warner currently is working on legislation to require enhanced private sector data security measures and consumer breach notification.

      What to do

      Here's the advice OPM offered to federal employees whose records may have been lost due to its inability to safeguard them:

      • Monitor financial account statements and immediately report any suspicious or unusual activity to financial institutions.
      • Request a free credit report at www.AnnualCreditReport.com
      • Review resources provided on the FTC identity theft website, www.identitytheft.gov.
      • You may place a fraud alert on your credit file to let creditors know to contact you before opening a new account in your name.  Call TransUnion at 1-800-680-7289 to place this alert.  TransUnion will then notify the other two credit bureaus on your behalf.

      Hackers have gained access to confidential personnel records of more than 4 million current and retired federal employees, the U.S. Office of Personnel Man...