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New USPS program lets you see your junk mail before you get it

“Real Mail Notification” is free to end users. But will marketers think it's worth paying for?

Here's a little-known fact about the U.S. Postal Service: Since 2001 it has participated in what's called the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program,...

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Report makes argument for lifting ban on U.S. oil exports

Claims prices would drop 8 cents gallon

Consumers paying attention to the price of crude oil this spring may have wondered why gasoline prices were slow to fall while oil prices were plunging. ...

PhotoConsumers paying attention to the price of crude oil this spring may have wondered why gasoline prices were slow to fall while oil prices were plunging.

After regaining stability in May and June oil prices are falling again, with some analysts predicting they could touch $30 a barrel before the end of the year. But if they do, it doesn't necessarily follow that gasoline prices will go below $2 a gallon as many consumers would like.

For crude oil to become gasoline it has to pass through refineries, and that's where bottlenecks tend to occur. When refineries don't keep up with the demand for gasoline, for whatever reason, the price tends to go up.

But dirt cheap oil, and gasoline that's only relatively cheap, translates into fat profit margins for refineries.

Increasing profits

Major refiner Valero Energy reported a quarterly profit of $2.66 a share Thursday, blowing away the Zacks Equity Research estimate of $2.41. Zack's reports the company's profit margin on a barrel of oil rose from $9.84 to $13.71, year-over-year, a 39% increase.

It's against that backdrop that IHS Inc., a business intelligence company, has issued a report making a case for lifting the ban on U.S. oil exports. Congress enacted the ban in the 1970s, when the U.S. imported much of its oil and was suffering from periodic shortages that spiked prices.

It's a very different environment today, the report argues, pointing out that the U.S. now produces more oil than it can use. That, it says, creates inefficiencies in the supply chain, further decoupling the price of gasoline from oil prices.

The study found that the wholesale price of gasoline in the inland Chicago market continued to track those in other markets in recent years, even when when U.S. oil production grew and prices relative to international oil prices declined.

The gasoline price in that market continued to track prices in other domestic and international hubs rather than weaken with the U.S. crude price.

“This latest analysis further confirms what IHS research has consistently shown – that the fear that lifting the ban on U.S. crude exports would raise U.S. gasoline prices is unfounded,” said Kurt Barrow, IHS vice president, downstream energy.

A global commodity

Barrow says that's because U.S. gasoline is a global commodity. It's traded on the international market and international prices influence what American motorists pay.

U.S. crude oil is not an international commodity, since it can't be exported. If it could, the report claims there would be more oil available on the world market, which would bring down gasoline prices in nearly every country.

“Removing the crude export ban would actually lower U.S. gasoline prices by increasing the supply of crude on the global market that is central to determining the price of gasoline the world over,” Barrow said.

The IHS report says removing the export ban on U.S. oil would lower the retail price of gasoline by about 8 cents a gallon. It says such a move would also revive the U.S. oil industry, which has been forced to curtail production in the way of the Saudi Arabia-engineered supply glut.

Will it happen? Probably not anytime soon. Neither party has expressed much of an appetite for lifting the ban and, with an election year looming, neither is likely to propose it.

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OwnStar lets hacker hijack General Motors vehicles equipped with OnStar

Mobile app exploit allows unauthorized remote control of locks and engines

Every computer, including those in modern automobiles, is vulnerable to malware. And every Internet connection, including those involving modern automobile...

PhotoEvery computer, including those in modern automobiles, is vulnerable to malware. And every Internet connection, including those involving modern automobile computers, is hackable. Therefore, if you can remotely control a computerized device such as your car with your tablet or smartphone, a hacker potentially can do the same.

The hypothetical danger of hackers hijacking highway drivers has been known for as long as vehicles have been outfitted with wireless connections, but especially over the past year those hypotheticals have too-often become real.

Nearly all cars on the market are hackable

Last August, when security researchers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek attended that year's Black Hat USA convention in Las Vegas, they presented the results of a study listing the most and least hackable automobiles currently available on the U.S. market.

The following February, the Senate's Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee released a report showing that “Nearly 100 percent of vehicles on the market include wireless technologies that could pose vulnerabilities to hacking or privacy intrusions.”

Last week, Miller and Valasek made headlines again when they demonstrated their discovery of a software flaw affecting up to half a million late-model Fiat/Chrysler vehicles in America (and the company recalled a total of 1.4 million vehicles over it a few days later).

Specifically, Miller and Valasek showed that any hacker who knows a vehicle's IP address could seize control of it from anywhere in the U.S. — or at least, anywhere in the U.S. with a reliable cell phone signal. As proof, they remotely hijacked a Jeep Cherokee driven by a willing reporter for Wired, and cut the transmission and other controls while the reporter drove on a nearby Interstate.

OwnStar hack

Just yesterday, another security researcher named Samy Kamkar posted an online video demonstrating how easily he could remotely take control of General Motors' OnStar systems by using a device he calls OwnStar (get it?) to exploit a flaw in OnStar's mobile app, thereby unlocking the cars and starting their engines.

Granted, that's far less severe than the previous week's Fiat/Chrysler security flaw: although OwnStar let Kamkar start a vehicle's engine, he still couldn't drive it anywhere without the key - and the engines will shut down 10 minutes after starting if the vehicle hasn't moved. Still, it doesn't take too much imagination to picture reasons it's bad for a hacker to be able to secretly track a vehicle's location and unlock its doors at will.

Kamkar intends to demonstrate OwnStar next week at the DefCon security conference in Las Vegas.

The good news is that after Kamkar posted the video yesterday, General Motors responded by promptly issuing an automatic fix requiring no action from OnStar drivers. The bad news, as Kamkar soon discovered, is that the fix doesn't work to completely solve the problem and patch the vulnerability.

As of press time, the security problem still exists and is still hackable, and General Motors is working to solve it.

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Carhop customers may want to hop a little more slowly before driving off the lot

Buying an older used car is always a risky undertaking and shouldn't be done quickly

CarHop is a used-car dealer with locations all over the country, advertising low-priced cars and financing for,customers with bad credit. This may sound li...

PhotoCarHop is a used-car dealer with locations all over the country, advertising low-priced cars and financing for, customers with bad credit. This may sound like a godsend to low-income consumers who need a car to get around but it may not always turn out as planned.

Scott bought a van with a bum air-conditioner, took it back the next day and is still waiting for his refund.

Scott's not the only displeased CarHop customer.

"Nothing but problems for the past year with this car. This is my second car with CarHop coz the first one couldn't be fixed. I've had nothing but problems with this car. There are battery caps and tape holding things together under the hood," said Jeannie of North Highlands, Calif., in a ConsumerAffairs review. "When I called their corporate office one of the ladies told me that the car was going to have problems because it's an old car. My question is then why did you sell it to me? These people try to take you for your money and sell you cheap unreliable cars."

Mark of Hudson, Wis., bought a 2001 Monte Carlo and isn't much happier than Jeannie.

"The day that I drove it home, the check engine light came on. The ABS brakes didn't work, and the air bags were disabled. I called them about the check engine light, and they told me they couldn't have anyone look at it until the day after their 3-day return period," he said. "They didn't say that exactly, they just made sure it was the day after, and then they said it was not covered under their 'warranty.'"

In fairness, not everyone's unhappy. Jeff of Stanchfield, Minn., said everything went well for him: "Had a great experience. I feel our sales associate went above and beyond. We very much appreciate it."

Didn't know what she was buying

Patricia of Salem, Ore., said she bought her car "under duress."

CarHop Auto Sales and Financing July 31, 2015, 5:14 p.m.
Consumers rate CarHop Auto Sales and Financing

"The salesman picked it out for me because, well, I am 68 and have a lady brain. ... I felt trapped and when presented with the paperwork to sign the salesman's hand covered most of the legalese while his other hand pointed to the dotted line."

Oddly, Patricia said that she did not even know what car she was buying when she signed the paperwork.

"Now mind you I have not seen a car yet. This particular lot does not come out to help you, you are made to go into their building and well you are basically held captive til you agree to buy a car and get this they don't even tell you what you can qualify for."

Patricia said wound up with a 2002 Elantra that cost her $12,000. "Yes it did break down and the warranty did not cover a radiator which had to be replaced," she added.

What to do

Of course, many if not all of these problems could probably have been avoided if the consumers had followed the advice laid out by Stephanie Moore in her classic ConsumerAffairs article, "How not to buy a car."

Though it's even older than many of the cars CarHop is selling, it's as true today as ever, even if you don't get past Stephanie's 8 Thou Shalt Nots:

 

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Debit vs. credit cards to pay for a vacation

Both cards carry very different risks

The next three weeks will be prime vacation time in the U.S., when families hit the open road or head to the beach. It can be a dangerous time for consumer...

PhotoThe next three weeks will be prime vacation time in the U.S., when families hit the open road or head to the beach. It can be a dangerous time for consumers who carry big credit card balances.

It's very convenient to charge gas, meals, and lodging to a credit card, but unless there is a plan to pay for all those things when the bill arrives, that big credit card balance can get even bigger.

After conducting an online survey, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) was pleased to learn that many consumers have already gotten that message. It found a surprising number of consumers have been saving all year for that vacation and plan to pay for it with cash or a debit card.

But carrying large amounts of cash or using a debit card for everything is not without some risks.

Considerations

“It is natural to be concerned about overspending when planning a vacation,” said Bruce McClary, vice president of public relations and external affairs for the NFCC. “While using cash or a debit card is a great way to avoid going into debt, there are some additional considerations that should be made before making them the only options for travel.”

One big consideration should be security. While many banks and credit unions have improved security options for debit cards, NFCC says lost or stolen cards can give thieves access to checking and savings accounts. Who is liable and for how much often depends on when the card is reported lost or stolen. It can also vary, depending on who issued the card.

In some cases a cardholder who waits three days before reporting a missing card can face a liability of up to $500.

Then, there is the matter of how long it takes the bank to replace the stolen money. If you are vacationing with a debit card, it is best to have fast access to the card issuer’s fraud center and a very secure place to store the card.

Don't carry a bankroll

Carrying cash can be even riskier. NFCC advises small amounts are okay, but avoid carrying a bankroll to pay for everything.

Businesses often treat debit and credit cards differently. When you pay for gasoline with a debit card or to reserve a hotel room, be aware that there could be a hold placed on the card beyond the amount of the purchase.

Suppose your balance isn't quite enough to cover the hold. That could result in either overdraft fees or a rejection of the card – something you don't want when you're traveling.

The fact is, a credit card is made for paying for things while you are traveling. It's more secure and limits your liability. It's only a problem when consumers run up a bill they can't pay in full and end up padding their credit card balance.

What to do

Fortunately, there's an easy solution. Simply set aside the money you've saved for your vacation and put it in a place where it won't get spent on other things. Then, use it to pay for all your vacation spending when the bill arrives.

It will be easier to manage if you limit vacation spending to one credit card and keep a record of your spending during your trip. Think of it as if you were actually just spending cash. 

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Google resists broadening "right to be forgotten"

Advertisers group backs Google, privacy advocates not so much

Not surprisingly, Google is resisting a demand that it broaden the "right to be forgotten" by censoring search results worldwide, saying that allowing one...

PhotoNot surprisingly, Google is resisting a demand that it broaden the "right to be forgotten" by censoring search results worldwide, saying that allowing one country to censor the Web worldwide would start a "race to the bottom."

"We believe that no one country should have the authority to control what content someone in a second country can access," global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer says on Google's blog.

Privacy advocates say that an individual's right to privacy is well-established principle in American law.

"In the end, the Internet would only be as free as the world’s least free place," Fleischer writes, noting that content that is legal in one country might be illegal in another. "Thailand criminalizes some speech that is critical of its King, Turkey criminalizes some speech that is critical of Ataturk, and Russia outlaws some speech that is deemed to be 'gay propaganda.'"

Google has been struggling with the European Union since last year's court ruling that search engines must allow Europeans to request removal of links about themselves. In June, France demanded that Google remove results from all of it results pages -- even in the U.S. -- rather than simply from results pages in Europe.

In the U.S., Consumer Watchdog, a California group, filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission saying that Google's refusal to let Americans ask it to remove information about themselves was "unfair and deceptive."

"No legal basis"

Today, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) came to Google's defense. In a letter to the FTC, the group said the "terms suggested in the complaint are extraordinarily broad, vague and elusive and would create dangerous precedents adversely impacting numerous other U.S. companies in addition to Google."

The advertisers group argued that there is,"absolutely no legal basis, and in fact, it would be unconstitutional to allow the U.S. government to compel companies to give to these types of demands."

“Allowing ‘Right to Be Forgotten’ policies to be enforced in the U.S. would cause serious and undue harm to the public’s right to determine for itself what is important and relevant information,” said Dan Jaffe, ANA’s Group Executive Vice President for Government Relations. “Such a rule would force American companies to edit the past under the supervision of federal regulators. Consumer Watchdog’s costly, onerous censorship proposal runs contrary to consumers’ interests, and is certainly not constitutional in the U.S.”

Cornerstone of privacy law

"There is a lot that is incorrect in the ANA statement," said,Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) in an email to ConsumerAffairs, "But my favorite is this: 'Consumer Watchdog is clearly confusing the right to privacy with the right not to be embarrassed.'"

Said Rotenberg: "No, actually, Consumer Watchdog is describing the right to privacy set out by [former Supreme Court Justice] Louis Brandeis in the famous 1890 law review article. That right is, not surprisingly, the cornerstone of privacy law in the USA."

Rotenberg and other privacy advocates note that no one is suggesting newspapers should remove articles or not publish them in the first place.

"In Google v. Spain, the European Court of Justice ruled that the European citizens have a right to request that commercial search firms, such as Google, that gather personal information for profit should remove links to private information when asked, provided the information is no longer relevant. The Court did not say newspapers should remove articles," EPIC said in a recent posting on its website.

"The Court found that the fundamental right to privacy is greater than the economic interest of the commercial firm and, in some circumstances, the public interest in access to Information," EPIC said.

A recently leaked version of a Google transparency report found,that the vast majority of requests for delisting concern private matters of private individuals, EPIC said.

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Special class of protein could provide treatment for type 1 diabetes

Scientists have uncovered more about the nature of immune cells while making the discovery

Scientists from Uppsala University have investigated the disease thoroughly, and believe that a certain protein found in the body could provide a cure....

PhotoDiabetes comes in a variety of different forms. The most common form of the disease, type 2 diabetes, results from cells in the body not using insulin as well as they should. Type 1 diabetes (T1D), however, is much rarer, and results when the body simply can’t produce its own insulin at all. People who have this condition must take part in insulin therapy and other treatments in order to live a full and healthy life.

Scientists from Uppsala University have investigated the disease thoroughly, and believe that a certain protein found in the body could potentially provide a cure.

The protein in question is called interleukin-35 (IL-35), and it is made of immune cells. Dr. Kailash Singh, who is a PhD student at Uppsala University, began studying this immune cell when she was examining T1D in rat models. In her research, she found that immune regulatory T-cells in the models were producing pro-inflammatory destructive proteins instead of IL-35, which is an anti-inflammatory protein.

This reversal is the exact opposite of what should be happening in a normal body, and Singh believes that it may be something that is prompted by T1D.

“This suggests that the good guys (the anti-inflammatory proteins) have gone bad in early development of Type 1 diabetes and therefore our immune cells destroy the beta cell,” she said.

Crucial protein

As a result of this destructive process, Singh found that the levels of IL-35 that should have been present in the models were much lower than they should be. These low levels indicate that the protein may play a crucial role in stopping T1D.

The research team that Singh was a part of, which was led by Professor Stellan Sandler, set out to find if IL-35 could suppress or reverse T1D, even if the disease was already established. The team utilized mice who had been injected with a chemical that induced symptoms of T1D. After the symptoms had been established for two days, the researchers injected them with IL-35 to see if their blood glucose levels normalized.

Their findings show that the blood glucose levels in the mouse models stabilized after they were given the injections. In addition to this finding, the researchers were also able to test IL-35 injections against a specific model of T1D, called non-obese diabetic mouse (NOD). Even after the IL-35 treatments were stopped, diabetic symptoms did not return in any of the subjects.

Unique insights 

"To the best of our knowledge, we are the first to show that IL-35 can reverse established Type 1 diabetes in two different mouse models and that the concentration of the particular cytokine is lower in Type 1 diabetes patients than in healthy individuals. Also, we are providing an insight into a novel mechanism: how immune regulatory T cells change their fate under autoimmune conditions", said Singh.

The full study has been published in Scientific Reports

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For-profit Kaplan and Lincoln schools must pay $2.3 million to former students

Schools accused of luring students with unfair recruiting techniques and inflated job-placement rates

Two for-profit colleges in Massachusetts have agreed to pay a collective $2.3 million to hundreds of former students in order to settle allegations that th...

PhotoTwo for-profit colleges in Massachusetts have agreed to pay a collective $2.3 million to hundreds of former students in order to settle allegations that the schools used unfair recruitment tactics and inflated job numbers to convince students to enroll.

The Boston Globe reports that Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced the arrangement with Kaplan Career Institute and Lincoln Technical Institute on Thursday. Healey said “We allege these for-profit schools lured hopeful students into enrolling in their vocational programs by promising certain careers, but only left them with substantial debt. Students trying to better their lives through education are instead being left financially ruined. These settlements will provide the relief these students deserve and prevent deceptive practices that put taxpayer dollars at risk.”

Kaplan will have to pay a total of $1.375 million to eligible graduates of its medical vocational programs, possibly paying off the students' federal student debts. Lincoln will pay $850,000 to eligible graduates of its criminal justice programs in the cities of Somerville and Lowell, and must also forgive an additional $165,000 worth of private student loans.

Misrepresentation

The questionable tactics allegedly used by Kaplan and Lincoln are similar to those used by the now-defunct Corinthian Colleges chain. In April, only a few weeks before Corinthian finally closed its doors and declared bankruptcy, the Department of Education levied a $30 million fine against Corinthian-owned Heald Colleges, and also forbade Heald from enrolling any new students, after a DoE investigation “confirmed cases” that Corinthian had misrepresented the schools' job placement rates to current and prospective students.

For example, one Heald student who graduated with a degree in accounting had a food-service job at Taco Bell – which Heald listed as an “in-field” job in its job-placement statistics.

However, Kaplan and Lincoln both denied engaging in similar actions in Massachusetts. Kaplan Higher Education LLC said in a prepared statement that “its actions were compliant [with regulations] and in the best interests of students, who were well-served by the institution.” The statement went on to say that the company, which no longer operates schools in Massachusetts, agreed to the settlement only to avoid litigation costs.

Lincoln Educational Services Inc. said in its own prepared statement that the attorney general's investigation started in 2008, when the bad economy was to blame for difficulties graduates might've had in finding jobs. The statement also suggested that the job-placement standards might be too stringent, since graduates who work for temp agencies or outside their chosen field of study are not considered valid in-field placements.

For the most part, anybody wishing to pursue a two-year college degree is better off enrolling in a state community college rather than a for-profit school.

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Computer platform provides more precise facial transplant

Doctors believe system could improve results and lower costs

The first successful face transplant was carried out in 2008. In the future, doctors say this delicate surgery will be improved through the use of an innov...

PhotoThe first successful face transplant was carried out in 2008. In the future, doctors say this delicate surgery will be improved through the use of an innovative computer platform.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center worked to build a computer system that provides real-time feedback before and during facial transplant surgery, with the goal of improving face-jaw-teeth alignment between donor and recipient.

Since the first surgery seven years ago, there have been nearly 30 more, during which the surgeons had to rely of visual judgment in the jaw alignment. While these operations have been pretty amazing in and of themselves, the current methods can leave patients with some undesired residual deformities and abnormalities in function.

More successful, less costly

With the assistance of a computer, doctors may be less likely to misalign the new set of bones, jaw, and teeth. Doctors believe the new system could make these operations more successful, less costly, and more accessible to a wider selection of patients who might benefit from them.

To date, the new platform has been tested in mock surgeries performed on plastic models and human cadavers. Called the computer-assisted planning and execution (CAPE) system, the platform is first used to help plan surgery once a donor has been identified for transplantation.

The surgeons use data from CT scans to match the donor’s anatomy to the recipient’s. It syncs up form and appearance, as well as more subtle functions, like chewing and breathing.

The execution portion of the system’s name refers to the technology used during the surgery that provides the surgeon with precise measurements and angles related to ideal jaw-teeth positions. The surgical team also gets instantaneous visual feedback in the operating room.

Unprecedented visual data

“Every time the donor’s jaw-teeth segment moves during facial transplant inset, the computer recalculates its movements in comparison to the face transplant recipient, meaning the surgical team can have unprecedented visual data in achieving ideal alignment of the face, jaw and teeth,” said Chad Gordon, assistant professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

He says because the technology is so precise, a patient is much less likely to need to undergo additional corrective operations, which is the case now.

People with severe facial burns or trauma may be candidates for facial transplants, whereas in the past their only option was facial constructive surgery.

The first U.S. face transplant was done at the Cleveland Clinic in 2008, when surgeons completed a near-total face transplant for a woman with severe facial disfigurement from a gunshot wound.

According to the Clinic, the patient regained her ability to eat, smell, and open and close her eyes, as well as her ability to express emotion.

While doctors are excited about the new technology, its practical use may be years away, since it must go through a series of clinical trials. Meanwhile, the research team that developed it has applied for eight patents in connection with it.

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Inventory of homes for sale falls for fifth straight month

First-time buyers finding fewer homes to choose from

Talk about bad timing. For the first time since the financial crisis there has been a surge in first time homebuyers looking for homes. But according to re...

PhotoTalk about bad timing. For the first time since the financial crisis there has been a surge in first time homebuyers looking for homes. But according to real estate marketing site Zillow, there are fewer homes on the market.

Residential inventory fell in June for the fifth straight month, giving sellers additional leverage as the 2015 real estate season reaches its peak.

Zillow reports the biggest decline in inventory came in entry-level housing, the homes usually sought by first time buyers.

Inventory down 6.5%

The total number of homes listed for sale on Zillow in June was down 6.5% year-over-year but was up 2.1% on a monthly basis. Not surprisingly, the hot real estate markets drew the most sellers, with inventories posting double-digit increases in Austin, Atlanta, and Washington, DC.

"Historically low mortgage rates continue to keep overall ownership affordability very good by historical standards, making it a great time to buy a home, especially with rent becoming increasingly unaffordable," said Zillow Chief Economist Stan Humphries. "Finding a house is the last hurdle for many buyers who have saved a down payment and gotten pre-approved for a mortgage. But low inventory levels like those we're seeing across the country can bring the home-buying process to a screeching halt. In many markets, there just isn't a lot to choose from in terms of homes on the market."

What's behind the relatively low number of homes for sale? A couple of factors could be at work.

Fewer new homes

U.S. home building activity declined sharply in the wake of the financial crisis and has not kept pace with new household formation over the last six years. Much of the residential construction has centered on apartments, since more people were renting and fewer were buying.

For someone to decide to sell their home, a seller has to be able to buy something else. He or she may not be able to qualify for a mortgage under today's tighter underwriting standards and, because of stagnant incomes, might not be able to afford to move up.

As we reported in June, a huge segment of homeowners might want to sell their homes but can't, because they are still under water – owing more on mortgages than the homes are worth. While rising home values have returned many homeowners to positive equity, about half of those still underwater are in so deep that they may never be able to sell.

Home values are rising, but pretty slowly. The Zillow reports show U.S. home prices were up 3.3% year-over-year in June, with a median price of $180,000.

Challenges

As values continue to rise, Zillow says buyers are faced with more challenges in a tighter market, especially in hot markets like Denver, which saw the highest home value appreciation from last year, surpassing even San Jose and San Francisco.

For those priced out of the housing market or unable to qualify for a mortgage, the alternative is continuing to rent. And here the news gets worse.

Zillow reports rents are rising faster than home values, with the Zillow Rent Index rising 4.3% in the second quarter, to $1,369.

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Diabetes-sniffing dogs didn't deliver, suit charges

Consumers paid up to $15,000 but got little or nothing

Some dogs just won't hunt. And a lawsuit in Texas says that includes the supposed low-blood-sugar alert dogs sold by Drey's Alert Dogs for as much as $15,0...

Photo
Some dogs just won't hunt. And a lawsuit in Texas says that includes the supposed low-blood-sugar alert dogs sold by Drey's Alert Dogs for as much as $15,000.

The supposed nonprofit sold the dogs to consumers suffering from Type 1 diabetes with the promise that the dogs could smell the fluctuating blood sugar levels that can lead to blackouts, seizures and comas and alert their owners so they could take corrective action. 

But a lawsuit filed by Sahayonara Carachure and 11 others says her dog Hero and the others sold by Drey's don't do the job, according to Courthouse News Service.

"Hero does not alert when Ms. Carachure's glucose levels drop. He is terrified to be in public. And he has been diagnosed with a genetic disorder, patellar luxation, causing him severe pain in his knees," the suit charges. "Certified service dog trainers have told the Carachures that Hero is untrained and does not have the temperament to work as a service dog. The Carachures had no choice but to 'retire' Hero as a diabetic alert dog," according to the complaint.

No dog at all

Some of the plaintiffs got no dog at all.

Stefanie Huff says her family paid $30,000 for two diabetic alert dogs because her 7-year-old twin sons both have diabetes. They never got a dog, Huff says.

Sixteen dogs were taken into custody after police went to the Jasper, Texas, home of Roann and Timothy Pearson last July. Police said the dogs were unattended and living in unsanitary conditions. They were turned over to rescue organizations.

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Mortgage company slammed for blocking consumers’ attempts to save their homes

Residential Credit Solutions will pay $1.5 million for wrongdoing

Imagine, if you will, a company blocking consumers’ attempts to save their homes from foreclosure. You don't really have to imagine that because it's exa...

PhotoImagine, if you will, a company blocking consumers’ attempts to save their homes from foreclosure.

 

You don't really have to imagine that because it's exactly what Residential Credit Solutions is accused of doing.

 

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the mortgage servicer failed to honor modifications for loans transferred from other servicers, treated consumers as if they were in default when they weren’t, sent consumers escrow statements falsely claiming they were due a refund, and forced consumers to waive their rights in order to get a repayment plan.

 

As part of a settlement with CFPB, Residential Credit Solutions has agreed to pay $1.5 million in restitution to victims and a $100,000 civil money penalty for its illegal actions.

 

“By failing to honor loan modifications already in place, Residential Credit Solutions put consumers through more headaches but in some cases cost consumers their homes,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Residential Credit Solutions must now compensate its victims $1.5 million as a result of our action.”

 

The Fort Worth, Texas-based mortgage servicing company has about $95 million in total assets. Since 2009, approximately 75,000 borrowers have had their loans transferred to Residential Credit Solutions, which specializes in servicing delinquent loans and “credit-sensitive” residential mortgage loans, where the borrower is at high risk for default.

 

As a servicer, it is responsible for, among other things, creating and sending monthly statements to borrowers, and collecting and processing payments. For troubled borrowers, it administers short sale and foreclosure relief programs provided by the owner of the loan. These “loss mitigation” programs provide alternatives to foreclosure.

 

Serious damage

 

According to a consent order, Residential Credit Solutions engaged in illegal practices when servicing loans that it acquired from other servicers. On a number of occasions, the company failed to honor trial loan modifications that consumers had entered into with their prior servicers. Instead, it insisted that the consumer re-prove that they qualified. This effectively set consumers back as though they had not received a trial modification.

 

It also prolonged many people’s loss mitigation plans. The company put consumers in loan modification trial period purgatory and confused consumers about the status of their modifications, making it difficult for them to take appropriate action. In many cases, the company delayed or deprived borrowers of the opportunity to save or sell their homes.

 

Residential Credit Solutions’ failures as a mortgage servicer hurt homeowners. In many cases, the company deprived borrowers of the ability to make an informed choice about how to save or sell their home, caused borrowers to drop out from the loss mitigation process entirely, and drove borrowers into foreclosure. In violating the Consumer Financial Protection Act, the company has --since January 2009 -- specifically:

  • Failed to honor in-process modifications,
  • Provided incorrect information,
  • Misrepresented to consumers that they had extra money in escrow and were due a refund, and
  • Forced consumers to waive certain rights to get a payment plan

 

Enforcement Action

 

The consent order requires Residential Credit Solutions to, among other things:

  • Pay $1.5 million in redress to victims,
  • Engage in efforts to help affected borrowers preserve their home,
  • Honor prior loss mitigation agreements,
  • End all mortgage servicing violations,
  • Adhere to rigorous servicing transfer requirements,
  • Make loss mitigation applications readily available, and
  • Make a $100,000 penalty payment to the CFPB’s Civil Penalty Fund.

 

 

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Are your pets overweight because you're feeding them wrong?

Controlling portions and making an individual nutrition plan can go a long way to helping your pet slim down

You can’t really go into a grocery store anymore without seeing a magazine rack full of covers with weight loss tips on them. There is a good reason for th...

PhotoYou can’t really go into a grocery store anymore without seeing a magazine rack full of covers with weight loss tips on them. There is a good reason for this though: more than one-third (34.9% or 78.6 million) of U.S. adults are obese, and this fact may be translating to our pets; an estimated 57.9% of U.S. pet dogs and cats are overweight or obese as well.

Perhaps we, as loving pet owners, need to start thinking about what, and how much, we are feeding our animals. During this year’s American Dairy Science Association & American Society of Animal Science (ADSA-ASAS) meeting, five pet nutrition experts explained how not properly controlling portion size, or choosing wrong foods, can affect our cats and dogs.

Matching energy use with food intake

In short, they said that obesity occurs in pets when the amount of energy they use does not match how much food they are taking in. Scientists in the field of bioenergetics, which specifically deals with the correlation between food intake and energy use, have been looking into this problem in relation to pets.

Dr. Kelly Swanson, who is a professor of animal and nutritional sciences at the University of Illinois, says that the first step to getting your pet to be healthier is recognizing that they are obese. Oftentimes, owners will think that their animal is just “chubby”, and that it isn’t a big deal. However, being obese will inevitably lead your pet to a shorter lifespan.

“Lean, healthy pets not only live longer, but more importantly, have a better quality of life,” said Swanson.

Unique nutrition plans 

Making sure that your pet eats the right kinds of food can be a completely different challenge. Dr. Dennis Jewell, who is a research scientist at Hill’s Pet Nutrition, believes that owners need to change their pet’s diet to account for a variety of factors.

“Each pet has unique genetics that determine, for example, if they’re going to use more calories to maintain their body weight than other animals,” he said. “We can design feeding programs for specific pet populations – based on factors like age, size, et cetera – but feeding regimens still come down to the individual pet.”

Regardless of the diet your pet is on, there are always certain substances that will need to be incorporated. Dr. Katherine Kerr, a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Florida, believes that natural foods that provide nutrients, like fiber and protein, play an important role in health maintenance, disease prevention, and obesity in domesticated pets.

Although researchers will continue to strive to figure out the best nutrition regiment, you do not have to rely on their answers for your pet to be healthy. Doing something simple, such as laying off the dog treats after a certain time or making a more regulated feeding schedule, can go a long way towards preventing obesity in your pet. 

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Greenland Trading recalls squab products

The products, imported from France, were not presented at the U.S. point of entry for inspection

Greenland Trading of Paterson, N.J., is recalling approximately 12,672 pounds of squab (domesticated pigeon). The products, imported from France, were not...

PhotoGreenland Trading of Paterson, N.J., is recalling approximately 12,672 pounds of squab (domesticated pigeon).

 

The products, imported from France, were not presented at the U.S. point of entry for inspection. Without the benefit of full inspection, a possibility of adverse health consequences exists.

 

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

 

The following products, imported on June 21, 2014; August 16, 2014; and February 16, 2015, from a French establishment not eligible to export meat or poultry product to the U.S., are being recalled:

  • 8-lb. cardboard boxes containing 12 individually plastic wrapped squab weighing less than one pound, labeled “AL MARAAI SQUAB HALAL.”

The recalled products bear the establishment number “79.213.004 CE” on the box containing the individual packages, and were shipped to port #4601, Port Newark, New York, N.Y.

 

Consumers with questions may can contact Mohamed Mebaraz of Greenland Trading at (973) 225-0322.

 

 

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NVIDIA recalls tablet computers

The lithium-ion battery in the tablets can overheat

NVIDIA Corp., of Santa Clara, Calif., is recalling about 88,000 NVIDIA SHIELD tablet computers in the U.S. and Canada. The lithium-ion battery in the tabl...

PhotoNVIDIA Corp., of Santa Clara, Calif., is recalling about 88,000 NVIDIA SHIELD tablet computers in the U.S. and Canada.

 

The lithium-ion battery in the tablets can overheat, posing a fire hazard.

 

The company has received 4 reports of batteries overheating due to thermal runaway, including 2 reports of damage to flooring.

 

This recall involves NVIDIA SHIELD tablet computers with 8-inch touch screens. Model numbers P1761, P1761W and P1761WX and serial numbers 0410215901781 through 0425214604018 are included in this recall.

 

NVIDIA and the model and serial numbers are etched on the left side edge of the tablets. The SHIELD logo is on the back of the tablets.

 

The computers, manufactured in China, were sold at GameStop stores nationwide and online at Amazon.com, BestBuy.com, GameStop.com, NewEgg.com, TigerDirect.com and other websites from July 2014, through July 2015, for between $300 and $400.

 

Consumers should immediately stop using the tablets and contact NVIDIA for instructions on receiving a free replacement tablet.

 

Consumers may contact NVIDIA toll free at (888) 943-4196 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT Monday through Friday or online at www.nvidia.com and click on “NVIDIA Tablet Recall Program” at the bottom center of the page in green letters.

 

 

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Stork Craft recalls crib mattresses

The mattresses fail to meet the mandatory federal mattress flammability standard

Stork Craft Manufacturing USA of Las Vegas, Nev., is recalling about 18,500 foam crib mattresses. The mattresses fail to meet the mandatory federal mattre...

PhotoStork Craft Manufacturing USA of Las Vegas, Nev., is recalling about 18,500 foam crib mattresses.

 

The mattresses fail to meet the mandatory federal mattress flammability standard for open flames, posing a fire hazard.

 

No incidents or injuries have been reported.

 

This recall involves Stork Craft foam crib and crib/toddler mattresses with model numbers 06710-100 and 06710-200 and a date of manufacture between August 2014, and January 2015. The mattresses have a zippered white fabric cover and measure about 28 inches wide, 52 inches long and have a 5 inch thick foam core.

 

The model number, date of manufacture and “Stork Craft Manufacturing (USA) Inc.” are printed on white federal label attached to the white mattress cover. The mattresses’ box has a Graco logo.

 

The mattresses, manufactured in China, were sold at Walmart stores nationwide and online at Amazon.com, EChannel.com, ToysRUs.com, Walmart.com and Wayfair.com from August 2014, through April 2015, for between $38 and $50.

 

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled crib mattresses and contact Stork Craft for a free, zippered mattress barrier cover to be placed over the mattress foam core and under the white mattress cover provided with the mattress.

 

Consumers may contact Stork Craft at (800) 274-0277 Monday through Friday between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. (PT), by email at parts@storkcraft.com, or online at http://storkcraftdirect.com and click on Product Recall near the bottom of the page for more information.

 

 

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Ford recalls vehicles with parking brake issue

The parking brake may not fully engage when applied

Ford Motor Company is recalling 7,165 model year 2015 Ford Taurus, Ford Flex, and Lincoln MKS vehicles manufactured May 4, 2015, to May 23, 2015; Lincoln M...

PhotoFord Motor Company is recalling 7,165 model year 2015 Ford Taurus, Ford Flex, and Lincoln MKS vehicles manufactured May 4, 2015, to May 23, 2015; Lincoln MKT vehicles manufactured May 4, 2015, to May 21, 2015; and 2015-2016 Ford Explorer vehicles manufactured May 4, 2015, to May 23, 2015.

 

The recalled vehicles have a parking brake that may not fully engage when applied. As such, they fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 135, "Light Vehicle Brake Systems."

 

If the parking brake does not fully engage and the transmission is left in a gear other than 'Park' while on a slope, the vehicle may roll away, increasing the risk of a crash.

 

Ford will notify owners, and dealers will test the operation of the parking brake system, and if necessary, replace the parking brake control assembly, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin August 31, 2015.

 

Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 15C07.

 

 

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Doctors push to eliminate most child vaccination exemptions

Aging group urges greater vaccination effort for seniors

Most states require immunizations for children, but nearly all allow for exemptions. These range from religious and philosophical reasons to medical ones....

PhotoMost states require immunizations for children, but nearly all allow for exemptions. These range from religious and philosophical reasons to medical ones.

It's a contentious subject that rose to the surface in January when health officials blamed a new outbreak of measles on parents opting their children out of recommended vaccinations.

The controversy may pick up where it left off now that the summer meeting of the Board of Regents of the American College of Physicians (ACP) has backed elimination of all vaccination exemptions, except those for medical reasons.

'Risk to public health'

"Allowing exemptions based on non-medical reasons poses a risk both to the unvaccinated person and to public health," said Dr. Wayne J. Riley, president of ACP. "Intentionally unvaccinated individuals can pose a danger to the public, especially to individuals who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons."

The ACP Board of Regents said it supports:

  • The immunization of all children, adolescents, and adults, according to the recommendations and standards established by the U.S. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), the National Vaccine Advisory Committee (NVAC), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • State laws designed to promote all recommended immunizations.
  • States passing legislation to eliminate any existing exemptions, except for medical reasons, from their immunization laws.

"Physicians should help educate patients and parents about the risks of vaccine preventable diseases and the safety and effectiveness of vaccines,” Riley said. “Outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases have been linked to communities of unvaccinated and under-vaccinated individuals."

Riley maintains that the easier it is to receive an exemption, the higher the rate of exemptions in a particular state.

“As the number of exemptions increases, the risk of vaccine-preventable disease has been found to increase,” he said. “Exemptions from evidence-based immunization requirements should be limited to medical indications in order to protect the public's health."

That point of view faces stiff opposition from organizations that oppose mandatory vaccinations. The National Vaccine Information Center points out that medical exemptions are hard to come by.

It says that in 2014, all 50 states allowed a medical vaccine exemption; 48 states allowed a religious vaccine exemption, and 17 states allowed a philosophical, conscientious, or personal belief exemption.

Vaccines for seniors

Meanwhile, the Alliance for Aging Research has issued a report, calling for greater vaccination efforts for seniors. Although influenza, pneumococcal, tetanus, and shingles vaccines are routinely recommended for older adults, the report says they are under-utilized.

"Vaccinations are available for many of the most common and deadly infectious diseases in older Americans and can save countless lives and health care dollars," said Susan Peschin, president and CEO of the Alliance. "Unfortunately, vaccination rates in seniors fall far short of target rates recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)."

The group says vaccinations for seniors are cost-effective, covered to varying degrees by health insurance, and prevent conditions that have relatively high incidence rates and disease burdens.

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New drug inhibits body's ability to absorb fat

Researchers are hopeful that this can help reverse worldwide obesity trends

The obesity epidemic has become a global problem. Worldwide trends have gone steadily upward in the past few years; nearly 2 billion adults over the age of...

PhotoThe obesity epidemic has become a global problem. Worldwide trends have gone steadily upward in the past few years; nearly 2 billion adults over the age of 18 were classified as overweight in 2014. Of that number, nearly 600 million fell within obese ranges, according to individual body mass index scores.

In the hopes of reversing this negative trend, scientists have started developing a new set of compounds that can inhibit your body’s ability to absorb fat particles. If successful, this can be a major step toward decreasing weight gain for at-risk individuals.

The compounds that scientists are working with are known as “micelle sequestrant polymers” or MSPs. These polymers work by targeting the body’s ability to absorb fat. When in the body, the substances capture micelles, which are fat particles, and make your body unable to digest them. Since your body is not absorbing the micelles, they simply travel through your intestines and are excreted.

Researchers have already begun testing these compounds on mice, and the results have been promising. Mice who ingested the MSPs were found to have 9-10 times as many triglycerides in their feces when compared to mice who did not take them. Triglycerides are the main type of dietary fats. Finding an increased number of them in excretions means that these fats were not being absorbed by the mice; instead, they were simply passed through their bodies.

Health risks associated with obesity

Scientists hope that the use of MSPs can reverse the terrible trend of obesity that is beginning to affect people worldwide. As of 2014, about 13 percent of the world’s population was classified as obese. Rates among women are slightly higher than those among men, with each group having an obese population of 15 percent and 11 percent, respectively.

Obesity is a serious health risk, and can be a primary factor in causing many different diseases and conditions. Some of these include coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, several types of cancer, sleep apnea, metabolic syndrome, and osteoarthritis. It can also lead to stroke, reproductive problems, and a shortened lifespan.

The full study on MSPs was conducted by researchers at the University of Kansas, and has been published in the journal Biomacromolecules

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Businesses beware: Malware and invoice scam losses topped $1 billion in 18 months, and the pace is quickening

From a thief's perspective, business victims are far more lucrative than most individuals

If you pay any attention to any news stream, you'll see a near-constant flow of articles warning you about the latest scam to prey on unwary individual con...

PhotoIf you pay any attention to any news stream, you'll see a near-constant flow of articles warning you about the latest scam to prey on unwary individual consumers: advance-fee job scams, Facebook like-farming scams, jury-duty or notice-to-appear scams, IRS scams, phishing scams, and more.

With all this focus on scams targeting individual people, it's sometimes easy to overlook the scams that target businesses. But that would be a mistake. Indeed, from a scammer's perspective, a business (or non-profit) of a certain size can be easier to fool than an ordinary billpayer – mainly because businesses typically have a lot more bills to pay.

Invoice scams hurt businesses

In January, for example, we warned you about a then-new variant of the “invoice scam,” a classic form of fraud wherein the scammer sends out fake bills or invoices in hope that the victim will pay those fraudulent bills in addition to real ones. At the time, the U.S. Postal Service estimated that American businesses lose millions if not billions of dollars to such scams every year – though the exact amount is probably impossible to determine, because the scam's very nature means many of its victims have no idea they're being victimized.

At any rate, that new variant of the “fake invoice scam” might be called the “real invoice scam” — although the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (or IC3) dubbed it the “Business E-Mail Compromise.”

Here's how it works: let's say you own (or have a job handling payments for) a candy-making company. If so, there are many suppliers to whom your business makes regular payments: candy-makers need to buy massive quantities of sugar, corn syrup, chocolate liquor, and/or other raw ingredients used to make candies.

If I'm a modern invoice scammer, chances are I needn't even bother with an invoice. All I have to do is send an official-looking email to your @candymaker.com business address, while pretending to be one of your suppliers: “Hello, this is SugarCorp writing to inform you that we've recently switched banks. Please update our information in your payment database: instead of sending SugarCorp payments to account Y at bank Z, send future payments to account A at bank B.” Then I relax, have a drink, and watch the money roll in – at least until the real SugarCorp contacts your Accounts Payable department to ask why they haven't been paid.

And if my scamming self has actual hacking skills, rather than the mere ability to write a convincing-looking fake email, then so much the better: instead of waiting for one of your employees to fall for my scambait and divert payments to me, I can simply hack into the right account and make those arrangements on my own.

Huge losses worldwide

In January, the IC3 issued a report saying that from Oct. 1, 2013 through Dec. 1, 2014, it received complaints about this scam from every U.S. state and 45 other countries, totaling 1,198 American victims who lost a combined $179,800,000, and 928 non-Americans who lost a combination of non-U.S. currencies worth $35,220,000 – worldwide losses across 46 nations totaling $215 million in 14 months.

And either the pace of such scams is quickening, or vastly more victims have come forward, since that January report. Yesterday, when the Wall Street Journal ran an article about such email business fraud, it said “Companies across the globe lost more than $1 billion from October 2013 through June 2015 as a result of such schemes, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The estimates include complaints from businesses in 64 countries, though most come from U.S. firms.”

Compare that to what the FBI said in its January IC3 report: from October 2013 through last December, worldwide losses were less than a quarter-billion dollars – and only seven months later that total had more than quadrupled to over a billion dollars.

One recent victim profiled in the Journal lost $100,000 to such a scam in April, only instead of a candymaker losing money to a bogus sugar producer, it was a scrap-metal producer scammed by a fake titanium vendor. David Megdal, vice-president of a Phoenix-based scrap processing company called Mega Metals, said that the company had wired $100,000 to a German vendor (or so it thought) as payment for 40,000 pounds of titanium shavings. But sometime after Mega Metals made that April wire transfer, the real titanium vendor let the company know it still hadn't received payment.

Turns out that an unknown “third party” had managed to compromise the email account of a broker who works for Mega Metals. An inspection of the malware on the broker's computer shows that the thieves managed to steal the passwords to the broker's email, then used that access to make alterations to legitimate payment arrangements.

Bad as this loss was, it could've been much worse – $100K is a relatively small transaction for Mega Metals, which pays up to $5 million for some (legitimate) shipments. In order to avoid future repeats of this scam, the company now verifies email wire transfer instructions with a phone call to the company receiving payment – and does not call any number provided in the email itself.

Take precautions

Mega Metals has basically adopted an anti-phishing rule we've repeated here often: “Don't call me; I'll call you.”

In other words, be suspicious of any unsolicited email (or text, or phone call) you get reporting problems or changes with your accounts – even if that email does seem to be from a legitimate business, financial or government institution. If you're worried about a problem with your Netflix account, bank account, or anything else, it's okay if you contact Netflix or your bank, but be wary when Netflix or your bank allegedly contacts you.

If you're a business owner, it's fine for you to contact your suppliers about issues regarding payment arrangements – but if someone claiming to represent your supplier contacts you to request a change, you must verify this on your own rather than taking that unsolicited message at its word. You didn't call them; they called you, and in today's world that's a warning sign of a scam.

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Study finds consumer debt has grown since Great Recession

80% of consumers carry some form of debt

Debt was major factor in the collapse of the housing market and the resulting financial crisis. People paid too much for houses and, more importantly, borr...

PhotoDebt was major factor in the collapse of the housing market and the resulting financial crisis. People paid too much for houses and, more importantly, borrowed too much money – in some cases more than 100% of the purchase price.

In other cases, people who had owned their homes for years and had manageable mortgages kept borrowing against their equity as home values skyrocketed. When the bubble popped they owed all that money but had no way to pay it back. It is classic example of toxic debt.

Deleveraging – getting rid of debt – was the primary focus for both corporations and consumers in the years immediately following the Great Recession. How much progress have we made? The Pew Charitable Trusts conducted a study to find out, concluding that 80% of consumers still hold some debt.

But some debt is not necessarily a bad thing. The Pew study attempted to dig deeper, to see how consumers in general, and among specific groups, are managing that debt.

Significant concerns

The study raises some significant concerns. It found that while some households have paid down debt, others have increased their debt load since the end of the recession.

Of the 80% who have debt, a home mortgage is the most common form. A mortgage is one of the most benign forms of debt because there is always a cost associated with maintaining a residence. If you were not paying a mortgage you would be paying rent.

In many markets, rent can cost just as much, or even more, than a monthly mortgage payment. As long as the payment is affordable, mortgage debt can provide stability – since it doesn't go up every year – and helps a home owner build some equity over time.

Bad timing for GenX

The study found that Gen Xers have higher mortgage debt than other generations at similar ages, in part because of when they purchased their homes. During the run-up in housing prices before the Great Recession, Gen Xers were in their prime homebuying years.

The typical Gen Xer is in his or her mid-30s, and has more than twice the mortgage debt that Baby Boomers had at the same age. But older consumers have a troubling amount of debt themselves.

“Eight in 10 Baby Boomers hold some form of debt, and nearly half are still paying on their homes,” the authors write. “Boomers who are still paying mortgages typically owe $90,000 on their homes.”

Among the oldest Americans, those in the generation born between 1928 and 1945, 90% report being retired and, presumably, on fixed incomes. But more than half – 56 percent – of these retirees have debt.

“Because most older Americans are not eliminating debt before retirement, they may be at greater risk of financial insecurity in their golden years,” the authors conclude.

The report expresses concern for the younger generations, but says at this point the effect of debt on Millennials and GenX can't be determined. However, it does end on a hopeful note when it suggests that the right kind of debt, well-managed, can lead to greater wealth-building in the future.

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Overcharging scandal hits Whole Foods in the pocketbook

Earnings miss expectations while organic group grumbles

When Whole Foods Markets reported its latest quarterly earnings this week, it missed hitting Wall Street expectations. Traders punished the stock, with the...

PhotoWhen Whole Foods Markets reported its latest quarterly earnings this week, it missed hitting Wall Street expectations. Traders punished the stock, with the price down more than 10% in early Thursday trading.

In Wednesday's conference call, company co-CEO Walter Robb attributed the less-than-stellar showing to some recent negative publicity.

“Comps dropped sharply in week 11, after our New York City weights and measures audit received national media attention, and averaged just 0.4% for the last two weeks of the quarter,” Robb said on the call. “We have seen a slight improvement in trends fourth quarter to date; however, comps are still well below our 2.5% average for the 19 weeks prior to the negative publicity.”

'Routine overcharging'

If you'll remember, New York City's Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) in late June accused Whole Foods stores in New York City of “routinely” overcharging customers by, in effect, putting its thumb on the scale and inflating the weights of its pre-packaged products – including meats, dairy, and baked goods.

After initially denying it, Whole Foods said that some price miscalculations had taken place, but that it was inadvertent and caused by human error. It promised to improve employee training at all its stores. On the call Tuesday evening, Robb addessed the controversy in detail.

“I want to emphasize these were not systematic, but rather caused by inadvertent human error,” he said. “The audit includes errors that were favorable to customers as well. We have taken immediate steps to address these issues, including improving our training regarding in-store packing, weighing, and labeling processes; and expanding our third-party auditing process Company-wide. We've built our business on the core value of satisfying and delighting our customers; it is what our customers have grown to love and expect from us.”

Organic angst

But lately, Whole Foods hasn't been feeling love from all of its previous supporters. On Monday, the Cornucopia Institute, an organic advocacy group, once again took Whole Foods to task for its new “Responsibly Grown” labeling program. The group states that the program often promotes conventionally-grown food over certified organic.

The Institute said its researchers analyzed the criteria for winning a “Best” rating from Whole Foods and found “a number of highly disturbing agrichemicals were not on the relatively short list of toxins that Whole Foods prohibits their top-rated conventional produce suppliers from using.”

Whole Foods built its business by offering a wide assortment of organic products, working closely with organic producers and their advocacy groups. Now, the romance appears to be cooling a bit.

In fact, the Institute's principal beef with Whole Food's “Responsibly Grown” campaign is the points it gives conventional producers who engage in socially popular things, like being nice to their employees and using alternative energy.

“There is nothing wrong with farmers implementing good employment practices or putting solar panels on the roof of their barn – practices that win them points in Whole Foods’ rating scheme,” the Institute said in a statement. “But the prerequisite – the 'ante,' if you will – to get into the Whole Foods’ Responsibly Grown game should be a supplier’s certified organic status.”

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What ride-sharing drivers need to know about insurance

You may need to beef up your coverage

You've got a fairly new car and plenty of time on your hands. Why not pick up some extra cash being an Uber or Lyft driver?Before you sign up and start...

PhotoYou've got a fairly new car and plenty of time on your hands. Why not pick up some extra cash being an Uber or Lyft driver?

Before you sign up and start transporting people around town, better update your auto insurance policy. Unless you are already a commercial driver, your auto insurance policy isn't going to provide all the protection you need.

As soon as Transportation Network Companies (TNC) like Uber started rapidly growing, insurance companies expressed alarm. Non-professional drivers using personal vehicles were essentially jumping into the livery business without changing their consumer-grade auto insurance.

“Private-passenger auto (PPA) insurance is not designed, underwritten, or priced for commercial ride-sharing,” the Insurance Information Institute (III) warns on its website. “Private-passenger motorists transport themselves, family members, and friends, with average annual travel reaching about 12,000 miles per year. No money is made from these private trips.”

Not for commercial purposes

III says that if you read the fine print in your auto insurance policy, then you'll see that it probably explicitly prohibits using the vehicle for commercial purposes. When you obtained the policy, the underwriter also based the rate on the estimated number of miles driven each year. Using a vehicle for ride-sharing most likely pushes the mileage well beyond that.

State insurance commissioners have also expressed concern about the explosive growth in ride-sharing. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) notes that the major TNCs require drivers to have personal auto insurance, then the company provides additional commercial auto insurance.

NAIC says before signing up with a TNC, drivers should talk to their insurance company about what a personal auto policy would cover in an accident.

“Be aware that some providers may not insure you if you choose to conduct commercial business with your personal vehicle,” the group advises. “Others may offer to provide coverage for additional premium.”

Uber's coverage

Uber says it requires its drivers to maintain a personal auto insurance policy. In addition, it provides $1 million in commercial auto coverage on each ride-share trip with special commercial insurance specifically designed for ride-sharing.

But when a driver's app is turned off – when the driver isn't accepting riders – the personal coverage is in force. If the app is on but he or she isn't carrying a passenger, Uber's contingent liability coverage is in force.

GEICO is among the personal auto insurance providers that has adapted to the ride-sharing environment. It offers a ride-sharing policy, and says that it covers all the gaps. The policy covers the driver and vehicle whether the app is on or off.

Still, if you are considering becoming a ride-sharing driver, educating yourself on the ins and outs of insurance is a prudent first step. NAIC suggests that you ask these questions when talking to your insurance provider:

Things to ask

  • How much liability insurance does the TNC provide while I'm transporting a passenger? Is it enough?
  • Will I be charged a deductible? If so, how much?
  • Is the commercial liability insurance coverage my main source of coverage, or is it supplemental to my personal auto policy?

Also, find out what is covered by the TNC's commercial policy if you are involved in an accident in each of the following circumstances:

  • You are available for hire (logged into your ridesharing app) but not transporting a passenger.
  • You are logged into your ridesharing app and transporting a passenger.
  • You are unavailable for hire (not logged into your ridesharing app) and not transporting a passenger.

Depending on the TNC you drive for, you may need to consider buying a commercial policy that provides liability insurance as well as comprehensive, collision, medical payments, and uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. This will ensure that you are properly protected if you get into an accident while you are driving for hire.

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Economic growth snaps back

Jobless claims moved a bit higher last week

Everything you heard about economic growth during the first 3 months of the year -- forget it. As it issued the “advance” estimate of second quarter real ...

Photo
© z_amir – Fotolia

Everything you heard about economic growth during the first three months of the year -- forget it.

As it issued the “advance” estimate of second quarter real gross domestic product (GDP) -- the value of the production of goods and services in the U.S., adjusted for price changes, the Commerce Department revised its final figure for the first quarter. Instead of declining by 0.2%, GDP actually expanded 0.6%. Not a lot, but better than a decline.

Now for the current stuff: The government reports that the GDP increased at an annual rate of 2.3% in the April-June quarter. Keep in mind, though, that this estimate is based on source data that is incomplete or subject to further revision.

The stronger second-quarter showing comes from growth in personal consumption expenditures (PCE) or consumer spending, exports, state and local government spending, and residential fixed investment. Those gains were partly offset by declines in federal government spending, private inventory investment, and nonresidential fixed investment. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, increased.

GDP inflation and spending

The price index for gross domestic purchases, which measures prices paid by U.S. residents, edged lower from 1.6% in the first quarter to 1.4% in the second three months of the year. Stripping out the volatile food and energy categories, the “core” price index for gross domestic purchases shot up 1.1% after inching ahead 0.2% in the first quarter.

PCE jumped 2.9% in the second quarter, versus an an increase of 1.8% in the first. Spending on durable goods, such as cars, computers, and major appliances, rose 7.3%, compared with a minuscule gain of of 2.0% in the previous quarter. Spending on nondurable goods was up 3.6%; it rose just 0.7% from January through March. Services spending increased 2.1%, the same increase as in the first quarter.

The complete GDP report is available on the Commerce Department website.

 

Photo
© Marzky Ragsac Jr. - Fotolia

Initial claims

After falling to a 42-year low a week ago, first-time applications for state unemployment benefits have moved higher.

According to the Labor Department (DOL), initial jobless claims were up by 12,000 in the week ending July 25 to a seasonally adjusted 267,000. Analysts at Briefing.com had expected the total to come in a bit higher -- 272,000.

The 4-week moving average, which smooths out the volatility found in the weekly tabulation, was 274,750, down 3,750 from the previous week -- a level economists say suggest a labor market that is close to full employment.

The complete jobless claims report may be found on the DOL website.

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Medicare scammers banned from selling healthcare products

The scheme took money from seniors’ bank accounts

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has reached settlements with a group of scammers who falsely promised consumers new Medicare cards in order to obtain th...

PhotoThe Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has reached settlements with a group of scammers who falsely promised consumers new Medicare cards in order to obtain their bank account numbers and debit their accounts.

The settlements, resolving charges the FTC filed last year against Benjamin Todd Workman and Glenn Erikson and their companies, ban the schemers from selling healthcare-related products and services.

Empty promises

Telemarketers falsely told consumers they needed their bank account numbers to verify their identities before sending a new Medicare card, promising they would not take money from the accounts. In fact, they took several hundred dollars from each consumer’s account and provided nothing in return. In some cases, the telemarketers falsely promised to provide consumers with identity theft protection services.

Under the settlement orders, the defendants also are banned from selling identity theft protection-related products and creating or depositing remotely created checks or remotely created payment orders, which are used to make bank account debits.

They also are prohibited from billing or charging consumers without their consent, misrepresenting material facts about any product or service, violating the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and selling or otherwise benefiting from customers’ personal information.

The orders impose a judgment of more than $1.4 million, which will be suspended upon payment of $35,000 by Workman and the surrender of certain bank accounts. In each case, the full judgment will become due immediately if either defendant is found to have misrepresented his financial condition.

The defendants are Workman, Sun Bright Ventures LLC and Citadel ID Pro LLC, and Erickson and Trident Consulting Partners LLC.

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Ford F-150 crew cab pickup truck aces IIHS evaluations

But, the extended cab model struggled in the small overlap test

Call it a tale of 2 pickups. The 2015 F-150 crew cab, which Ford calls the SuperCrew, earned good ratings for occupant protection in all 5 Insurance Insti...

PhotoCall it a tale of 2 pickups.

 

The 2015 F-150 crew cab, which Ford calls the SuperCrew, earned good ratings for occupant protection in all 5 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) crashworthiness evaluations -- small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint evaluations -- and earned a 2015 TOP SAFETY PICK award.

 

However, the extended cab, or SuperCab, earned good ratings in the moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint evaluations but just a marginal rating for occupant protection in a small overlap front crash.

 

The Institute picked the F-150 to test first because it is not only the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. but also the first mass-market vehicle with an all-aluminum body.

 

“Consumers who wondered whether the aluminum-body F-150 would be as crashworthy as its steel-body predecessor can consider the question answered,” said David Zuby, IIHS chief research officer.

 

Both the crew cab and extended cab F-150 pickups are rated basic for front crash prevention when equipped with Ford’s optional forward collision warning system, which meets performance criteria set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

 

The F-150 crew cab isn’t eligible for TOP SAFETY PICK+ because it lacks an autonomous braking system. Vehicles that earn a good or acceptable rating for small overlap protection and good ratings in the moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint evaluations qualify for TOP SAFETY PICK.

 

To earn TOP SAFETY PICK+, vehicles also must have an available autobrake system that earns an advanced or superior rating.

 

Evaluating 2 models

 

For vehicles with multiple body styles, IIHS typically evaluates the one with the biggest sales. Initially, only the F-150 crew cab was on the schedule.

 

“After we tested the crew cab in the spring, questions were raised about the extended cab’s ability to match the crew cab’s good small overlap performance'” said Zuby. “We did some initial analysis and decided to test the extended cab, too,”

 

“For starters, there’s been lots of buzz around the release of the first aluminum-body pickup and how it would perform in crash tests,” Zuby says. “What’s more, even the lower-selling extended cab sales top those of many of the passenger vehicles we rate.”

 

The small overlap test

 

In the small overlap front test, each F-150 traveled at 40 mph toward a 5-foot-tall rigid barrier. Twenty-five percent of the pickup’s total width struck the barrier on the driver side, where a Hybrid III dummy representing an average-size man was positioned at the steering wheel. The test replicates what happens when the front corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or an object such as a tree or a utility pole.

 

The two versions of the F-150 had markedly different outcomes.

 

“In a small overlap front crash like this, there’s no question you’d rather be driving the crew cab than the extended cab F-150,” Zuby says.

 

The crew cab’s occupant compartment remained intact. The front-end structure crumpled in a way that spared the occupant compartment significant intrusion and preserved survival space for the driver.

Measures recorded on the test dummy indicated low risk of injuries to the dummy’s head, chest, legs and feet.

 

The front and side curtain airbags worked together to keep the dummy’s head from contacting injury-producing stiff interior structures or outside objects. The dummy’s head loaded the front airbag, which stayed in place until the dummy rebounded.

 

The extended cab is a different story. Intruding structure seriously compromised the driver’s survival space, resulting in a poor structural rating. The toepan, parking brake and brake pedal were pushed back 10-13 inches toward the dummy, and the dashboard was jammed against its lower legs.

 

Measures recorded on the dummy indicated there would be a moderate risk of injuries to the right thigh, lower left leg and left foot in a real-world crash of this severity. The steering column was pushed back nearly 8 inches and came dangerously close to the dummy’s chest. The dummy’s head barely contacted the front airbag before sliding off to the left and hitting the instrument panel.

 

“Ford added structural elements to the crew cab’s front frame to earn a good small overlap rating and a TOP SAFETY PICK award but didn’t do the same for the extended cab,” Zuby noted. “That shortchanges buyers who might pick the extended cab thinking it offers the same protection in this type of crash as the crew cab. It doesn’t.”

 

 

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Hercules recalls All Trac A/T tires

The tires may experience a tread separation

Hercules Tire & Rubber Company is recalling 90,000 All Trac A/T tires, sizes 235/70R16 106T, 235/75R15 109T XL, 245/70R16 107T, 255/70R16 111T, 265/70R16 1...

PhotoHercules Tire & Rubber Company is recalling 90,000 All Trac A/T tires, sizes 235/70R16 106T, 235/75R15 109T XL, 245/70R16 107T, 255/70R16 111T, 265/70R16 112T, 265/75R16 116T and 275/70R16 114T.

 

The affected tires may experience a tread separation which could result in sudden air loss, increasing the risk of a vehicle crash.

 

Hercules will notify owners, and dealers will replace the tires, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in August 2015.

 

Owners may contact Hercules customer service at 1-888-943-2402. Hercules number for this recall is 01-2015.

 

 

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Windows 10 automatically grants home wi-fi network access to your Outlook and Skype contacts

You have to change your network name if you want to opt out of this

Microsoft officially launched its new Windows 10 operating system last night, offering free upgrades to current Windows 7 and 8 users who make the switch w...

PhotoMicrosoft officially launched its new Windows 10 operating system last night, offering free upgrades to current Windows 7 and 8 users who make the switch within the next year.

Before the rollout, Microsoft trumpteted the various new security features that Windows 10 would offer, so it's arguably ironic that the operating system comes pre-installed with a security flaw touted as a connectivity advantage: a feature called Wi-Fi Sense which, unless you deliberately opt out of the default setting, automatically shares your Wi-Fi network password with all of your contacts in Outlook, Hotmail, and Skype. (You can also share your network password with Facebook “friends,” but that's not automatic; it requires you to opt in.)

More specifically, it doesn't actually hand out your password to your contacts; it “merely” shares an encrypted version of your password and stores it on Microsoft's servers, thus allowing anyone in your contact list to use your Wi-Fi network when they visit you at home, or merely happen to be in range of it. Or maybe when they're breaking into your house.

Opting out

Wi-Fi Sense's FAQ page claims to offer “answers to some questions you might have about Wi-Fi Sense.” Unfortunately, it does not answer the question “Where the hell did Microsoft get the idea that if I exchange an email with someone, this means I want that someone to have access to my home Wi-Fi network?”

According to Microsoft, the only way to opt out of Wi-Fi Sense is by changing the name of the network to include the phrase _optout (note the underscore symbol before the word). Microsoft offered as an example the name mynetwork_optout. However, Microsoft also says that “It can take several days for your network to be added to the opted-out list for Wi-Fi Sense. If you want to stop your network from being shared sooner than that, you can change your Wi-Fi network password. For more information about how to do that, check the documentation for your router or access point.”

Don't forget that if you change your Wi-Fi network name, you and everyone in your household will then have to re-connect your devices to the newly named network.

"Disaster waiting to happen"

Security expert Brian Krebs, who called the automatic password-sharing “a disaster waiting to happen,” noted that, although Wi-Fi Sense has been a feature on Windows Phone for quite awhile, that was “less of a concern” because Windows Phone has only a tiny share of the mobile device market, which is largely dominated by Android and Apple iOS. However, “embedding this feature in an upgrade version of Windows makes it a serious concern for much of the planet.”

If you intend an upgrade to Windows 10 but have not yet done so, make sure you change the name of your Wi-Fi network to include _optout before you make the upgrade. Krebs also recommends that “While you’re at it, consider keeping Google off your Wi-Fi network as well. It’s unclear whether the Wi-Fi Sense opt-out kludge will also let users opt-out of having their wireless network name indexed by Google, which requires the inclusion of the phrase “_nomap” in the Wi-Fi network name.”

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More evidence of Alzheimer's-diabetes link

Insulin resistance appears to be the common thread

Alzheimer’s and diabetes are two diseases that are becoming more and more widespread, even though they are very different from one another. Now however...

PhotoAlzheimer’s and diabetes are two diseases that are becoming more and more widespread, even though they are very different from one another. 

Now however, researchers think they could have a common link.

Type 2 diabetes cases are on the rise, in part because of the huge increase in obesity – a major risk factor for the condition. Alzheimer’s cases are increasing, in large part because of the huge Baby Boom generation getting older. Age is a major risk factor for that illness.

An Iowa State University study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Neurology, found a strong association between insulin resistance and memory function decline, which is a dominant symptom of Alzheimer’s disease.

In May, researchers at Washington University at St. Louis reached a similar conclusion. They found that elevated sugar levels in the blood, which is a halmark of diabetes, can increase levels of amyloid beta, which shows up in brain plaques in Alzheimer's patients.

According to Auriel Willette, a research scientist in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Iowa State, insulin resistance is common in people who are obese, pre-diabetic, or have type 2 diabetes.

Brain scans

To explore a possible link, Willette and co-author Barbara Bendlin, of the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute, closely examined brain scans in 150 late middle-aged adults. Each of them were at risk for Alzheimer’s disease, but had shown no sign of memory loss.

What the researchers were looking for was evidence that people with higher levels of insulin resistance used less blood sugar in areas of the brain most susceptible to Alzheimer’s. If that were the case, they theorized, the brain would have less energy to carry out its cognitive functions.

“If you don’t have as much fuel, you’re not going to be as adept at remembering something or doing something,” Willette said. “This is important with Alzheimer’s disease, because over the course of the disease there is a progressive decrease in the amount of blood sugar used in certain brain regions. Those regions end up using less and less.”

The area of focus was the medial temporal lobe, specifically the hippocampus. That's a region of the brain critical for learning new things and sending information to long-term memory. Willette says it's one of the most affected parts of the brain when someone develops Alzheimer's.

Huge step toward prevention

If there is a link between insulin resistance and Alzheimer’s disease, that could be a huge step toward prevention. But Willette says difficulty regulating blood sugar may impact cognitive function at any age, not just those at risk of Alzheimer's. That means young people who are obese or who are developing insulin resistance could face cognitive impairment at an early age.

The first step, however, is testing for insulin resistance in obese patients and taking corrective action through improved nutrition and moderate exercise.

“We are terrible at adjusting our behavior based on what might happen in the future,” Willette said. “That’s why people need to know that insulin resistance or related problems with metabolism can have an effect in the here and now on how they think, and it’s important to treat.”

He says even people with mild or moderate insulin resistance who don’t have type 2 diabetes might have an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease because they’re showing many of the same sorts of brain and memory relationships.

Understanding the progression of cognitive decline and how it relates to insulin resistance will take additional research. Willette says following those who are at-risk through the different stages of dementia and Alzheimer’s will offer insight as to what happens as their cognitive function declines.

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Food companies continue to provide “gluten-free” options

Creating a variety of products really helps boost profits

U.S. food companies have discovered that a guaranteed way to boost sales of a particular product is to make a gluten-free version of it. Consumers will sna...

PhotoU.S. food companies have discovered that a guaranteed way to boost sales of a particular product is to make a gluten-free version of it. Consumers will snap it up.

According to a new report from Packaged Facts, it's all part of a trend that has consumers increasingly rejecting artificial additives, long ingredients lists, and unpronounceable food ingredients.

In the latest Packaged Facts' Online Consumer Survey, 55% of the respondents favored packaged food with fewer and simpler ingredients.

As we have noted earlier, a lot more consumers are avoiding gluten than those who do so for medical reasons. For example, only about 1% of the population suffers from celiac disease. When these people eat something with gluten, it can damage internal organs.

Happy to oblige

So why do so many other consumers scrupulously avoid gluten, a simple protein found in wheat, rye and barley? Many say they “feel better” if they avoid gluten, although they consumed it for years with no complaint. Now that they want to avoid it, food manufacturers are only too happy to oblige.

The Packaged Facts data reveals that 37% of survey respondents say gluten-free/wheat-free is an important factor when they are shopping for food, and for 13% it is very important. The survey discovered that nearly a quarter of participating consumers purchased food products labeled as gluten-free in the last three months.

Fully 25% of these consumers said they did so because of the perceived superior healthfulness of gluten-free foods. This perception has been a particularly strong driver for sales of gluten-free salty snacks—especially tortilla chips.

Another check mark

"Even those who are not gluten-sensitive are attracted to gluten-free salty snacks because they seem to add another check mark to the list of perceived requirements for better-for-you salty snacks," said David Sprinkle, research director, Packaged Facts.

By product segment, salty snacks top gluten-free sales by a huge margin. Its share of the market is 61%, compared to 16% for crackers and 7% for pasta.

When you add up total gluten-free sales for food manufacturers, it represents a big boost to profits. In an October 2014 article, The Economist observed that gluten-free has now replaced vegetarianism as a food enthusiasm.

Vegetarianism's out, gluten-free is in

“The food industry is finding that there is no longer much money to be made in making meat-free products,” the article noted. “Sales of alternatives to meat have flattened in America in real terms since 2008; in Britain they have plunged by a third.”

According to Statista, the gluten-free food market in the U.S. is $1.77 billion and projected to grow to nearly $24 billion by 2020.

Needless to say, food companies love this trend. Once upon a time Coca-Cola made one soft drink – Coke. In the last 50 years it has boosted profits by turning out Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Cherry Coke, Diet Cherry Coke, and on and on. If a manufacturer can turn out a greater variety of products, then it is bound to sell more.

No one thinks the gluten-free craze is going away anytime soon. Food manufacturers hope it lasts for years.

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School-aged kids can be prone to headaches

They can be triggered by various things, but there many ways that parents can help

The beginning of the school year can bring plenty of ailments that you didn’t see in your kids when they were on summer vacation. Anxiety, along with an in...

PhotoThe beginning of the school year can bring plenty of ailments that you didn’t see in your kids when they were on summer vacation. Anxiety, along with an increased pressure to perform, can result in stomach problems, trouble sleeping, or actual sicknesses, like a cold. Researchers have recently found that headaches can also be a major problem for school-aged children.

According to Doctor Nick DeBlasio, a pediatrician at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center’s Pediatric Primary Care Clinic, about 10% of school-aged children and 15-27% of teens experience headaches from time to time.

Children get the same kind of headaches that adults do, but their symptoms might be slightly different. If you have ever had a migraine, then you know how they usually start in the morning and persist through the afternoon. Migraines in children are different in this respect because they usually start in the late afternoon. Adults usually have to endure this pain for at least four hours, but children can get through it in just 2-3 hours.

Many different triggers

As a parent, it is easy to believe that your child is faking their headache to try and get out of doing school work or chores. Do not be too quick to judge, though. Kids get headaches for a number of reasons, and they can be triggered by many different things.

When kids play outside or get involved in an activity, they can forget that they need to get a drink. They lose a great deal of their body fluids from sweating, which results in dehydration. The best thing you can do is make sure they have water readily available. Try packing a backpack with water bottles or take a cooler to the park if your kids are going to play there. If they decide to stick closer to home, then using the backyard hose can be a great way of staying hydrated.

It’s not always easy to get little ones to eat, and a lack of food can cause horrible headaches. Make sure your child eats a well-balanced diet and doesn’t consume a lot of caffeine. This drug can be found in many foods and beverages and can trigger headaches if children have too much.

Sleep is important

Getting enough sleep during the school year is a problem for many school-aged children, especially as they get older. It is optimal for middle and high school kids to get at least 10-12 hours of rest every night. If they are having a hard time sleeping at night, it will make getting through the school day much harder. Children who lack sleep often have a harder time focusing and functioning, and they will also be more prone to getting headaches.

Not many of us function well under stress, and getting headaches can be one sure sign that your child is overwhelmed. Pressure to perform at school or big changes at home can create stress, and you will find that this usually results in an increased number of headaches. Be sure that you are attentive to your child’s needs if he or she is going through a rough patch.

The beginning of the school year is a great time to get your child’s vision checked. If they are straining to see, then it can easily result in a headache. A vision test will give you the results you need in order to determine if your child’s headaches are simply the result of poor eyesight.

Getting a headache is not always triggered by an outside influencer; genetics can also be a cause. If you find yourself getting headaches often, then it’s very possible that your child is predisposed to getting them as well.

Be proactive

Most headaches that children have are not cause for alarm, but if you find that your child’s headaches have become more frequent, severe, or lead to other physical ailments such as vomiting or passing out, then it is best to see a pediatrician.

In all other cases, over-the-counter ibuprofen can be administered to ease the pain caused by headaches. Be sure to follow the directions on the box to determine what dosage is appropriate for your child. 

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Rental housing harder to find in second quarter

Apartment vacancy rate lowest since 1989

Renters continued to get squeezed in the second quarter of the year as rents rose and the number of vacant apartments available for rent declined.A rep...

PhotoRenters continued to get squeezed in the second quarter of the year as rents rose and the number of vacant apartments available for rent declined.

A report (PDF) by the U.S. Census Bureau shows the national rental unit vacancy rate dipped to 6.8% in the April to June period, marking the lowest vacancy rate since 1989. The vacancy rate was 7.1% in the first quarter.

With fewer available homes and apartments, landlords were able to charge more in rent. The median advertised monthly rent in the second quarter was $803. That's up about $50 a month since the financial crisis.

Fewer rental opportunities in cities

The Census numbers show rental inventory is tightest in metropolitan areas, suggesting there are more homes and apartments to choose from in non-urban areas. Regions of the country with the most cities also have the fewest available rentals.

The south and Midwest had the highest rental vacancy rates while things were much tighter in the northeast and west. The vacancy rate in the northeast was 5.4% and 4.9% in the west.

It's no coincidence that home prices are highest in those two regions of the country, meaning more people priced out of the real estate market have no other option than to rent their home. Wall Street economists predict the trend means current rents are set to go even higher.

Home ownership rate falls

Meanwhile, the Census report shows that as more people have moved into rentals, the home ownership rate has continued to fall.

In the second quarter, the home ownership rate dipped to 63.4%, down 0.4% from the first quarter and 1.3% from the second quarter of 2014. The downward glide in home ownership began at its all-time high of 69.1% in 2005, just before the housing bubble popped.

Rising rents and harder-to-find apartments could be combining to drive home sales higher. This week's S&P;/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices release shows Home prices continued their rise across the country over the last 12 months on both a year-over-year and month-over-month basis in May.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reported existing-home sales increased in June to their highest pace in over eight years. At the same time, the lack of inventory helped push the national median sales price to an all-time high. NAR says all major regions of the country experienced sales gains in June and have now risen above year-over-year levels for six consecutive months.

Rental crisis

Unfortunately, not everyone can afford to buy a house or qualify for a mortgage. Those consumers will pay the cost of rising rents. Real estate marketing site Zillow recently reported that rents rose faster than home values in April, suggesting a “rental crisis” may be deepening.

While home values have been up and down since the housing crash, Zillow says rents have been steadily rising. It creates something of a Catch-22 for renters.

Dr. Stan Humphries, Zillow's chief economist, says while renters are financially motivated to become homeowners, rising rents make it more difficult to save for a down payment.

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Survey finds consumers lax about washing hands after cracking eggs

Eggs are a prime source of Salmonella, making safe handling essential

You can't make an omelet without cracking eggs -- and you can't crack eggs safely unless you wash your hands with soap and water after doing so. But a new ...

PhotoYou can't make an omelet without cracking eggs -- and you can't crack eggs safely unless you wash your hands with soap and water after doing so. But a new survey finds that fewer than half of us do that. We don't cook the yolks enough, either.

The sorry state of American egg handling comes from research conducted by a team from,RTI International, Tennessee State University, and Kansas State University.

They found that only 48% of consumers wash their hands with soap and water after cracking eggs. Because hands are the primary vehicle for spreading pathogens in the kitchen, USDA and the Partnership for Food Safety recommend that consumers wash their hands before and after handling raw eggs.

Equally disturbing, more than half of participants who fry or poach eggs leave the yolks soft or runny, something discouraged by the Food and Drug Administration.

A team of researchers from RTI International, Tennessee State University, and Kansas State University have just published,the findings of their survey,of handling practices and consumption of shell eggs in U.S. homes. The study was partially funded by the Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

The survey, conducted in September 2013, also found that 13% reported rinsing or washing eggs before cooking them, another potentially unsafe practice because of the possibility of cross-contamination.

The problem with all of this, of course, is Salmonella enteriditis, commonly spread by eggs. An,estimated,64%,of outbreaks between 1998-2008 caused by,Salmonella,enteriditis were attributed to eggs.

Oh, and one other thing -- stop eating that raw cookie dough and cake batter! Fully 25% of those surveyed owned up to this dangerous practice, and only 5% said they use a food thermometer to be sure baked dishes are fully cooked.

,
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Pending home sales post first decline in 6 months

Still, pending sales are close to a 9-year high

Pending home sales, it appears, have hit a summer slump. The National Association of Realtors reports that after 5 consecutive months of increases, the Pe...

PhotoPending home sales, it appears, have hit a summer slump.

The National Association of Realtors reports that after 5 consecutive months of increases, the Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI), a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, fell 1.8% in June to 110.3 .

Even with the decline, though, they remained close to May's level, which was the highest in over 9 years, and are 8.2% above June of last year. The June reading for the PHSI is the third highest of the year, and it has now increased year-over-year for 10 consecutive months.

Strong demand a driver

Although pending sales decreased in June, the overall trend in recent months supports a solid pace of home sales this summer.

"Competition for existing houses on the market remained stiff last month, as low inventories in many markets reduced choices and pushed prices above some buyers' comfort level," said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. "The demand is there for more sales, but the determining factor will be whether or not some of these buyers decide to hold off even longer until supply improves and price growth slows."

Yun says strong price appreciation and an improving economy are finally giving some homeowners the incentive and financial capability to sell and trade up or down. "Unfortunately, because nearly all of these sellers are likely buying another home, there isn't a net increase in inventory,” he adds. “A combination of homebuilders ramping up construction and even more homeowners listing their properties on the market is needed to tame price growth and give all buyers more options."

Regional tally

  • The PHSI in the Northeast inched up 0.4% to 94.3 in June, and is now 12.0% above a year ago.

  • In the Midwest the index fell 3.0% to 108.1, but is still 5.0% above June 2014.
  • Pending home sales in the South also dropped 3.0% to a reading of 123.5, but are 7.8% above last June.
  • The index in the West was up 0.5% to 104.4, and is now 10.4% above a year ago.

Looking ahead

The national median existing-home price for all housing types in 2015 is expected to increase around 6.5% to $221,900 -- matching the record high set in 2006.

Total existing-home sales this year are forecast to increase 6.6% to around 5.27 million, roughly 25% below the peak set in 2005 (7.08 million).

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A rise in mortgage applications

Applications for refinancings were on the rise

Mortgage applications were on the rise last week, helped along by an increase in refinancings. Data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly M...

PhotoMortgage applications were on the rise last week, helped along by an increase in refinancings.

 

Data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey shows total applications inched up 0.8% in the week ending July 24.

 

The Refinance Index jumped 2%, taking the refinance share of mortgage activity to 50.6% of total applications from 50.3% a week earlier. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity slipped to 6.6% of total applications.

 

The FHA share of total applications edged down fro 14.0% to 13.7%, the VA share fell to 10.9%t from 11.3% and the USDA share was unchanged at 0.9%.

 

Contract interest rates

 

  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) fell 6 basis points -- from 4.23% to 4.17%, the lowest level since June 2015, with points increasing to 0.36 from 0.34 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) dropped to 4.12%, the lowest level since May, from 4.16%, with points increasing to 0.35 from 0.33 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA slipped 2 basis points to 3.98%, the lowest level since June, with points increasing to 0.26 from 0.17 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs declined to 3.39%, the lowest level since June, from 3.43%t, with points rising to 0.38 from 0.34 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs was down 4 basis points to 3.04%, with points decreasing to 0.37 from 0.41 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.

 

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

 

 

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Standing, as well as sitting, could be hazardous to your health

Study may be bad news for millions of retail workers

In recent years researchers have made a case that sitting for prolonged periods is harmful to your health. Some have claimed it is as dangerous as smoking....

PhotoIn recent years researchers have made a case that sitting for prolonged periods is harmful to your health. Some have claimed it is as dangerous as smoking.

But being on your feet all day might not be so healthy either. A team of international researchers conducted a small study of men and women who worked on their feet for most of each day.

The study's purpose was to determine if there were any long-term fatigue effects in the lower limbs associated with standing work. The researchers attempted to determine if there were any possible age or gender influences as well. 

“The progressive accumulation of muscle fatigue effects is assumed to lead to musculoskeletal disorders, as fatigue generated by sustained low-level exertions exhibits long-lasting effects,” the authors write. “However, these effects have received little attention in the lower limbs.”

The study had 14 men and 12 women from two different age groups simulate standing work for five hours. The five hours included several five minute seated rest breaks and a 30 minute lunch, simulating a work day in a retail environment.

Muscle fatigue

The researchers checked for muscle fatigue through electrically induced muscle twitches (which were used to measure muscle twitch force [MTF]), postural stability, and subjective evaluation of discomfort.

The results showed a significant fatigue effect after standing work that persisted beyond 30 min after the end of the workday. Subjective evaluations of discomfort indicated a significant increase in perception of fatigue immediately after the end of standing work. Age and gender didn't seem to make much difference.

The authors of the study conclude that work activities that require employees to stand for long periods of time are likely to contribute to lower-extremity and/or back disorders.

Treatment

An unrelated study by the American Society of Anesthesiologists might contain some good news for people who spend their day standing and then suffer from back and leg pain. The study shows that patients who received a novel high frequency form of spinal cord stimulation (SCS) therapy enjoyed significant and long-term relief from both chronic back and leg pain.

“Chronic back and leg pain have long been considered difficult to treat and current pain relief options such as opioids have limited effectiveness and commonly known side effects,” said lead author Dr. Leonardo Kapural, of Wake Forest University. “Given the prevalence of chronic pain, high frequency SCS is an exciting advance for our patients.”

SCS is a fairly common therapy that administers electric pulses to the spinal cord through a small device implanted under the skin. The new treatment, called HF10 therapy, uses proprietary high frequency pulses of 10,000 Hz, compared to traditional SCS which uses frequencies of 40 to 60 Hz.

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MINI Coopers with side impact performance issues recalled

The vehicles do not meet the side impact performance requirements for the rear seat passengers

BMW of North America is recalling 30,456 model year 2014-2015 MINI Cooper and MINI Cooper S Hardtop 2 Door vehicles and 2015 MINI John Cooper Works Hardtop...

PhotoBMW of North America is recalling 30,456 model year 2014-2015 MINI Cooper and MINI Cooper S Hardtop 2 Door vehicles and 2015 MINI John Cooper Works Hardtop 2 Door vehicles.

 

The vehicles do not meet the side impact performance requirements for the rear seat passengers, and thus fail to comply with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 214, "Side Impact Protection."

 

If the side impact performance requirements are not met, rear seat passengers may be at a higher risk of injury during a crash.

 

MINI will notify owners, and dealers will install additional energy absorption material between the rear interior side panels and the exterior vehicle body, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin September 12, 2015.

 

Owners may contact MINI customer service at 1-866-825-1525.  

 

 

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Arctic Cat recalls off-highway utility vehicles

Fuel can leak from the fuel fitting at the throttle body

Arctic Cat is recalling about 2,700 Arctic Cat Prowler 500 HDX off-highway utility vehicles. Fuel can leak from the fuel fitting at the throttle body, pos...

PhotoArctic Cat is recalling about 2,700 Arctic Cat Prowler 500 HDX off-highway utility vehicles.

 

Fuel can leak from the fuel fitting at the throttle body, posing a fire hazard.

 

No incidents or injuries have been reported.

 

This recall involves model year 2014 Arctic Cat Prowler 500 HDX and model year 2015 Prowler 500 HDX models. The recalled vehicles include vehicle identification numbers (VIN) from 303194 through 305166. The VIN number is located on the rear frame tube under the rear of the box.

 

The vehicles are green, red, vibrant red metallic, or emerald green metallic. “Arctic Cat” is printed on each side of the hood. Also 500 is printed on each side on the front fenders, HDX on each side of the rear cargo box, and “Arctic Cat” on the cargo box tail gate.

 

The vehicles, manufactured in the U.S., were sold at Arctic Cat dealers nationwide from August 2013, to July 2015, for between about $11,000 and $12,400.

 

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled Prowlers and contact an Arctic Cat dealer to schedule a free repair. Arctic Cat is contacting its customers directly.

 

Consumers may contact Arctic Cat at (800) 279-6851 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday.

 

 

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Kia recalls Sorentos with seat belt issue

The front passenger may not be able to fasten the seat belt

Kia Motors America is recalling 2,587 model year 2016 Kia Sorentos manufactured October 23, 2014, to December 10, 2014. The vehicles have a front passeng...

PhotoKia Motors America is recalling 2,587 model year 2016 Kia Sorentos manufactured October 23, 2014, to December 10, 2014.

 

The vehicles have a front passenger seat belt whose buckle latch assembly may prevent the front passenger from fastening the seat belt. If the front passenger seat belt cannot be latched, an occupant sitting in the front passenger seat has an increased risk of injury in the event of a crash.

 

Kia will notify owners, and dealers will replace the front passenger seat belt buckle cover, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin August 18, 2015.

 

Owners may contact Kia customer service at 1-800-333-4542. Kia's number for this recall is SC123.

 

 

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Crash test dog dummies reveal which carriers are safest

Putting safety first when purchasing a carrier is of the utmost importance

Crash tests are used throughout the automotive industry to ensure that drivers are protected if they have an accident. Although watching the crash test dum...

PhotoCrash tests are used throughout the automotive industry to ensure that drivers are protected if they have an accident. Although watching the crash test dummies get mangled up can be off-putting, it is all in the name of safety. Now, crash test dummies have been created to test the safety of pet carriers.

The Center for Pet Safety, a non-profit organization, has teamed up with Subaru of America and NASA engineers to create crash test dog dummies. Each one is designed to model the size and weight of a dog that would fit into a specific carrier. Many different carriers were tested by the researchers, but three of them came out on top in terms of safety.

The three types of carriers that performed the best during testing were the Gunner Kennels G1 Intermediate with 8’ Tie Down Straps, the PetEgo Forma Frame Jet set Carrier with ISOFIX-Latch Connection, and the Sleepypod Mobile Pet Bed with PPRS Handilock. All of the other carriers that were tested can be found here.

Safety first

The safety of a carrier is of the utmost importance for dog owners. If a crash ever occurred with your dog in the car, a good carrier could stop your pet from becoming a projectile. They could strike another passenger in the car, which could lead to multiple injuries. Researching this kind of topic is a great step toward making sure all car passengers remain safe.

“We at Subaru recognize the importance of keeping the entire family safe on the road, including our beloved pets,” said Michael McHale, who is Subaru’s director of corporate communications. “Alongside Center for Pet Safety, we are proud to help lead the charge in identifying the best crates and carriers for pet lovers everywhere, while, more importantly, making pet parents aware of the safety measures they can take and the dangers that can occur if they don’t.”

The researchers have included several tips for pet owners in their study. They state that your dog should fit properly inside the crate so that they are snug, but still have enough room for comfort. Also, pet owners should ensure that pet carriers are secured with stength-rated cargo anchor straps, not with elastic bands or bungee cords. This will ensure that the carrier will not tip over or move around while the car is in motion. 

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Privacy groups use faxes to fight cyber surveillance bill

Use circa-1984 technology to oppose Orwellian 1984-style surveillance

A coalition of privacy rights advocates and civil-liberties groups opposed to the proposed Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, or CISA, is urging Americ...

PhotoA coalition of privacy rights advocates and civil-liberties groups opposed to the proposed Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, or CISA, is urging American citizens to wage a fax campaign against it – on the theory that if the government wants to impose Orwellian 1984-style surveillance laws on America, maybe circa-1984 technology is the best way to point out the problems with this.

The “Stop Cyber Surveillance!” website at StopCyberspying.com says that “CISA is fundamentally flawed because of its aggressive spying powers, broad immunity clauses for companies, and vague definitions of key terms. Combined, they make CISA a surveillance bill in disguise. … Congress is stuck in 1984. It doesn’t seem to understand modern technology. So we’re going to communicate with it in a way it’ll understand: With faxes. Thousands and thousands of faxes.”

Cybersecurity

“Cybersecurity” is actually pretty easy to get if you want it – simply use secure encryption to encode your data, so nobody can see it without the encryption key. Indeed, until a couple years ago, “use encryption” was bog-standard personal-security advice. In October 2012, the FBI's “New E-Scams and Warnings” website published an article telling smartphone users the then-surprising news that their devices were vulnerable to malware, and advised that encryption “can be used to protect the user’s personal data in the case of loss or theft.”

But the FBI changed its mind under current director James Comey, who hates encryption so much, he's asked Congress to make it illegal.

The reason civil-liberty and privacy advocates have a problem with the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act is essentially that it has little-or-nothing to do with “cybersecurity” but mostly focuses on “information sharing” – namely, letting private companies and government actors share private information about people without any warrants or constitutional oversight.

As Stop Cyber Surveillance points out, CISA “allows companies to share nearly ANY type of information with the government, including significant amounts of personal information.” The bill would also ensure that the “NSA and FBI automatically get all shared information and can use it for any number of reasons,” not merely those limited to cybersecurity, and private companies would be shielded from any lawsuits over sharing personal information.

The digital-privacy group Fight for the Future has developed and released an online tool for Operation: Fax Big Brother, letting people send faxes to Congress over the Internet (and also says that any tweet hashtagged #faxbigbrother will also be faxed). People can also call Congress at 1-985-222-CISA.

Eliminating privacy

Fight for the Future calls CISA a “dirty deal between government and corporate giants,” which “lets much of government from the NSA to local police get your private data from your favorite websites and lets them use it without due process. The government is proposing a massive bribe—they will give corporations immunity for breaking virtually any law if they do so while providing the NSA, DHS, DEA, and local police surveillance access to everyone's data …. and on top of that, you can't use the Freedom of Information Act to find out what has been shared.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, meanwhile, pointed out another problem with the “incredibly broad immunity” CISA would grant to companies engaged in spying on behalf of the government: “because of the bill’s lack of protection for private information and the ability to launch countermeasures[,] Any company that merely does significant (but not “substantial”) harm to innocent people or machines will not be liable in court.”

From an individual's perspective, the bill would weaken their own cybersecurity while rewarding companies who violate it, all while ensuring the government has pretty much free rein to monitor your communications.

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Still single? You're probably paying more for car insurance

Consumer group's study says even widows get socked with higher rates

Saving on car insurance is no reason to get married, but new research by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) shows that getting hitched will lower you...

PhotoSaving on car insurance is no reason to get married, but new research by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) shows that getting hitched will lower your rates.

The CFA questions the fairness of this practice, arguing that it doesn't seem to have much to do with risk.

Insurers maintain that married people tend to be more responsible drivers, but the CFA says if a woman's husband dies, her rate often rises as a result. Is she suddenly a bad driver because she's a widow, the group asks?

Widow penalty

The study focused on 10 cities and 6 major insurers. The authors says four companies – GEICO, Farmers, Progressive, and Liberty – increased rates on state-mandated liability coverage for widows by an average of 20%.

The study found Nationwide sometimes increased rates for widows. The sixth company, State Farm, did not change rates because of marital status. Its price quotes were the same, regardless of whether the driver was single, separated, divorced, widowed, a domestic partner, or married.

“Hiking rates on women whose husbands die seems both unfair and inhumane,” said Stephen Brobeck, CFA’s Executive Director. “Why don’t insurers instead emphasize driving-related factors such as accidents, traffic violations, and miles driven in their pricing?”

The CFA research was conducted using quotes from insurance company websites for the minimum liability insurance coverage required by states. Everything remained the same except for marital status.

The authors said Farmers, Progressive, Nationwide, and Liberty always charged single, separated, and divorced drivers the same price. It was almost always higher than the premium it charged married consumers.

The study said GEICO’s premium quotes were always lower for married drivers, but varied unpredictably, with single, separated, and divorced drivers often being charged different prices.

Industry defense

The insurance industry for years has defended this practice, saying numbers don't lie.

“Statistics show that married drivers have fewer accidents than single drivers,” National General Insurance says on its website. “So, if you’re married you’ll probably pay lower auto insurance premiums. This particularly applies to younger drivers.”

Despite these explanations, Brobeck is unconvinced. He notes that most of the rate examples collected by his organization were for 30 year-old, safe, female drivers. When her age was boosted to 50, the price gap persisted.

“One would like to see any evidence that two 50 year-olds with the same characteristics pose considerably different insurer risks because of their marital status,” he said.

Motoring website DMV.org points out that getting married doesn't always lower your car insurance rates. If you have an excellent driving record but your spouse doesn't, your joint rate will be higher than if both parties were good drivers.

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How much pepper's in that little red and white can?

Class action suit says McCormick is misleading its customers

There's not as much pepper in those little red and white McCormick pepper cans as there used to be, the National Consumer League charges in a lawsuit.I...

PhotoThere's not as much pepper in those little red and white McCormick pepper cans as there used to be, the National Consumer League charges in a lawsuit.

In fact, the organization says there's about 25% less pepper and 20% less peppercorn in the containers, yet the price and container size remain,the same, Courthouse News Service reported.

"McCormick sold less product in the same containers and for the same unit price in a manner intended to, and with the tendency to, deceive consumers and the general public," the complaint states. "By maintaining rather than decreasing the tin and grinder sizes, McCormick perpetrates the illusion that it is providing the same amount of black pepper and peppercorn for the same price that it has traditionally charged consumers."

It's a tactic to combat rising black pepper prices, the suit charges.

The NCL says it bought a pepper tin at a Giant Foods supermarket in Washington, D.C. that was marked and priced as though it contained two ounces of pepper when it actually contained only 1.5 ounces.

"By misleading consumers in this manner, McCormick is able to offset the high cost of the commodity and growing competitive pressure while preserving its margins and market share," the lawsuit states.

In response to a similar suit filed in Minnesota, McCormick denied it was trying to deceive consumers.

"Due to an unprecedented increase in the commodity costs of black pepper in the global market, we made the decision to reduce the net weight of our black pepper products," the company said. "Our priority was to maintain the integrity and quality of our product while avoiding significant increases in the price."

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Microsoft launching Windows 10 tonight

Though when the rollout will be complete remains anybody's guess

Only a handful of hours remain until midnight Eastern time (or 9 p.m. this evening in the Pacific time zone), the start of Microsoft's official roll-out of...

PhotoOnly a handful of hours remain until midnight Eastern time (or 9 p.m. this evening in the Pacific time zone), the start of Microsoft's official roll-out of Windows 10, which is predicted to break Internet traffic records.

Actually, some current Windows 7 and 8 users have already seen version 10 pre-loaded on their computers.

Microsoft formally announced the July 29 roll-out date early last month. Current users of Windows 7 and 8 will be eligible for a free upgrade for one year after the release, while prices for everyone else will range from $110 for Windows 10 Home to $199 for the Pro version.

Also, Microsoft has said that Windows 10 would do away with its old tradition of “Patch Tuesday,” or releasing software updates (including security fixes, as necessary) every Tuesday. The obvious problem with limiting security fixes to a once-a-week schedule is that hackers and malware writers tend not to respect the scheduling needs of their intended victims, so why should security fixes adhere to a regular pattern when security threats do not?

Indeed, shortly before the Windows 10 rollout, Microsoft made a last-minute fix to patch a big problem that caused the Control Panel to crash anytime a user tried uninstalling an application.

Delayed rollout

Despite the official “midnight” rollout time, only a relative few customers will get a Windows 10 upgrade at that exact time. Some Windows 7 and 8 users have already seen early upgrades, as mentioned before, whereas others who have reserved copies of Windows 10 might not receive their actual upgrades for several days, weeks, or even months.

A Forbes contributor who spoke to Microsoft couldn't get a firm prediction regarding just when the Windows 10 rollout is expected to reach completion. A Microsoft spokesperson said “By Christmas we want to have hundreds of millions of [Windows 10] users worldwide” — but would not guarantee that everyone who's reserved a copy of Windows 10 could get the upgrade by December.

Those who do get their upgrades tomorrow will only be able to install Windows 10 on regular PCs, though Microsoft says that eventually Windows 10 will cross platforms and be available for phones, tablets, and Xbox, too.

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Businesses slow to embrace ride-sharing for travel needs

24% of surveyed companies don't pay for employees to use Uber or Lyft

Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft may be insanely popular with large segments of the consumer population, but businesses appear far from willing to ...

PhotoRide-sharing services like Uber and Lyft may be insanely popular with large segments of the consumer population, but businesses appear far from willing to allow employees to use them on company business.

The GBTA Foundation, the education and research arm of the Global Business Travel Association, has released a study showing rental cars and taxis are the most common methods of business ground transportation, accounting for a combined 60%.

Ride-sharing services actually make up 11% of ground business travel, and that number might be higher if more businesses allowed employees to use ride-sharing while on company business - but businesses haven't exactly been early adopters.

24% of businesses say no to ride-sharing

"Our research shows 1 in 4 travel buyers say their company does not allow their business travelers to use ride-sharing companies, by far the highest percentage for any form of ground transportation," said GBTA Executive Director and COO Michael McCormick. "In addition, a large number of companies still have not adopted policies around ride-sharing companies, revealing a need for education about the benefits and the risks. GBTA hopes this study is the start to closing that knowledge gap and we welcome an open and constructive dialogue on this topic."

The issue appears to be one of liability. People behind the wheel of taxis and chauffeured limousines are professional drivers who work for actual companies. Uber and Lyft drivers are not.

When business travelers rent cars they drive themselves, they are taking on the liability with the rental car company responsible for the integrity of the vehicle.

Safety

The 2015 Ground Transportation Study also identified the most important factors business travelers and travel buyers consider when choosing ground transportation. Topping the list was traveler and vehicle safety.

It was followed by availability for a timely pick-up and convenience of payment methods. Three-quarters of business travelers and 8 in 10 travel buyers agree that these factors highly important.

In short, safety of business travelers was a major issue. However, the authors say awareness of specific aspects of duty of care is not universal.

For example, only about a third of business travelers have some knowledge of all aspects such as pre-employment driver certification, driver training requirements, and regulations affecting each ground transportation method. Travel buyers have a higher level of awareness but fewer than a quarter are very familiar with all of them.

What stands out in the research is that ride-sharing, despite its popularity and explosive growth among consumers, has yet to catch on in the corporate world.

"Undoubtedly, there is significant market controversy around ride sharing and we felt it was important to have impartial research to create awareness in the industry," said David Seelinger, Chairman and CEO of EmpireCLS Worldwide Chauffeured Services.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, ride-sharing drivers using their personal vehicles should have commercial insurance coverage, like taxi companies and livery car services. If a rider sues a ride-sharing driver, it wouldn’t be covered if the driver only had a private-passenger auto policy, the organization said.

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A slide in consumer confidence

Job concerns is among the causes

After showing some improvement in June, The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index posted a decline in July. It now stands at 90.9 after rising to 99....

PhotoAfter showing some improvement in June, The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index posted a decline in July. It now stands at 90.9 after rising to 99.8 the previous month.

 

The Present Situation Index dipped moderately from 110.3 last month to 107.4, while the Expectations Index plummeted to 79.9 from 92.8 in June.

 

“Consumers continue to assess current conditions favorably, but their short-term expectations deteriorated this month,” said Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at The Conference Board. “A less optimistic outlook for the labor market, and perhaps the uncertainty and volatility in financial markets prompted by the situation in Greece and China, appears to have shaken consumers’ confidence. Overall, the Index remains at levels associated with an expanding economy and a relatively confident consumer.”

 

The consumers-eye view

 

Consumers’ assessment of current conditions was somewhat less favorable in July. Those who see business conditions as “good” fell from 26.1% to 24.2%. However, those who believe conditions are “bad” was virtually unchanged at 17.9%.

 

Consumers were slightly less positive about the job market. Those who said jobs are “plentiful” dropped to 20.7% from 21.3%, while those saying jobs are “hard to get” inched up from 26.1% to 26.7%.

 

Optimism about the short-term outlook was down sharply in July. The percentage of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next 6 months declined from 17.9% to 14.7%; those who see conditions worsening rose from 10.2% to 10.7%.

 

Consumers’ outlook for the labor market was even less optimistic. Those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead decreased from 17.1% to 13.1%, while those expecting fewer jobs jumped from 15.2% to 20.0%. The proportion of consumers expecting growth in their incomes edged down from 17.6% to 17.0%, while the proportion expecting a decline rose slightly from 10.6% to 11.2%.

 

The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey, based on a probability-design random sample, is conducted for The Conference Board by Nielsen around what consumers buy and watch. The cutoff date for the preliminary results was July 16.

 

 

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Increase in home prices continues in May

A slowdown in the rate of increase may be in the works

Home prices continued their rise across the country over the last 12 months on both a year-over-year and month-over-month basis in May, according to the S&...

PhotoHome prices continued their rise across the country over the last 12 months on both a year-over-year and month-over-month basis in May, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices.

 

Both the 10-City Composite and National indices showed slightly higher year-over-year gains while the 20-City Composite had marginally lower year-over-year gains when compared with the previous month.

 

The 10-City Composite posted a year-over-year gain of 4.7%, while the 20-City Composite was up 4.9%. The S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index, covering all 9 U.S. census divisions, recorded a 4.4% annual increase in May; the advance in April was 4.3%.

 

“As home prices continue rising, they are sending more upbeat signals than other housing market indicators,” said David M. Blitzer, Managing Director and Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “Nationally, single family home price increases have settled into a steady 4%-5% annual pace following the double-digit bubbly pattern of 2013.

 

At the same time though, Blitzer expects the rate of home price increases is more likely to slow than to accelerate over the next two years or so. “Prices are increasing about twice as fast as inflation or wages, “he notes, adding “moreover, other housing measures are less robust. Housing starts are only at about 1.2 million units annually, and only about half of total starts are single family homes. Sales of new homes are low compared to sales of existing homes.”

 

The West leads the way

 

Denver, San Francisco and Dallas reported the highest year-over-year gains among the 20 cities with price increases of 10.0%, 9.7% and 8.4%, respectively. Ten cities reported greater price increases in the year ended May 2015 over the year ended April 2015.

 

New York and Phoenix reported 6 consecutive months of increases in their year-over-year returns since November 2014. Year-over-year returns in New York increased from 1.3% last November to 3.0% in May. Phoenix climbed from 2.0% to 3.8% in the same period.

 

Month-over-month

 

Before seasonal adjustment, the National index, 10-City Composite and 20-City Composite all posted a gain of 1.1% month-over-month in May. After seasonal adjustment, the National index was unchanged; the 10-City and 20-City Composites were both down 0.2% month-over-month. All 20 cities reported increases in May before seasonal adjustment; after seasonal adjustment, 10 were down, 8 were up, and 2 were unchanged.

 

Blitzer says first time homebuyers are the weak spot in the market, providing the demand and liquidity that supports trading up by current home owners. But he adds, “Without a boost in first timers, there is less housing market activity, fewer existing homes being put on the market, and more worry about inventory.”

 

Research at the Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank argues that one should not blame millennials for the absence of first time buyers. The age distribution of first time buyers has not changed much since 2000; if anything, the median age has dropped slightly.

 

“Other research at the New York Fed points to the size of mortgage down payments as a key factor,” said Blitzer. “The difference between a 5% and 20% down payment -- particularly for people who currently rent -- has a huge impact on buyers’ willingness to buy a home. Mortgage rates are far less important to first time buyers than down payments.”  

 

 

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eBay Now shuts down, becomes eBay Then

eBay dumping apps in quest to become more "inspirational"

Last week, eBay and PayPal split up, leaving eBay to make it on its own. In its first attempt to rejigger its services, eBay says it is past-tensing eBay N...

PhotoLast week, eBay and PayPal split up, leaving eBay to make it on its own. In its first attempt to rejigger its services, eBay says it is past-tensing eBay Now, its same-day on-demand delivery service that has been around, mostly in Brooklyn, on a test basis since 2012.

"While we saw encouraging results with the eBay Now service, we always intended it as a pilot, and we are now exploring delivery and pick-up/drop-off programs that are relevant to many more of our 25 million sellers, and that cover a wider variety of inventory that consumers tell us they want. We will continue to pilot scheduled delivery in the UK," the company said in a statement on its corporate site.

The company had already retired the eBay Now app, a move that it said "significantly reduced our dependency on a separate standalone service." 

Now that it is itself a separate standalone service, eBay has a lot more simplifying to do. It outlined some of the upcoming changes, using its own brand of obscure evangelical corporatespeak.

Many "learnings"

"We are starting with a focused effort to bring the best of eBay’s features and functionality together in one easy place for our customers. We will do this by retiring some of our vertical mobile apps and migrating the functionality into our flagship eBay app," eBay uttered. "As an early leader in mobile commerce we have created significant business value and insights from these special-purpose apps. Over the years we have integrated many of the insights, learnings [sic], and functionality into our core mobile experiences."

Finally getting to the point, eBay's meandering statement advised its customers "several apps that you may have downloaded will soon go away, and the key functionality from these apps ... will be integrated into the core eBay apps."

It outlined its "sunset plans:"

1. The eBay Valet app will be shutting down in the coming weeks, with sellers advised to go to ebay.com/valet.

2. The eBay Fashion app will be decommissioned in the coming weeks;

3. The eBay Motors app will be decommissioned later this year. But fear not, eBay added: "We aim to bring the rest of the best of the Motors app magic to the core eBay apps through this transition!"

eBay said the changes are "about empowering our customers and igniting the future of commerce to help eBay become the most inspiring place to shop."

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Scientists “edit” genes to fight deadly diseases

Genetically engineered T-cells may prove effective against cancer and HIV

Recent cancer research has focused on using the body's own T-cells to fight the disease, rather than introducing outside elements, like drugs, to attack it...

PhotoRecent cancer research has focused on using the body's own T-cells to fight the disease, rather than introducing outside elements, like drugs, to attack it.

For the last few years it's been theoretically possible. Now, researchers say they are a step closer to actually doing it. The report of their research is published (PDF) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Alexander Marson, of the University of California at San Francisco, led a team of researchers that “edited” human genes, replacing components of T-cells with stronger elements that can protect the body against many chronic diseases, including diabetes and cancer.

The scientists say their results may pave the way for a completely new way of fighting – and preventing – these diseases. Instead of introducing drugs into the patient, doctors would extract and edit T-cells, putting them back into the patient's body.

Genome engineering toolkit

“We aimed to overcome long-standing challenges in genetic manipulation of primary T-cells and establish an efficient genome engineering toolkit,” the authors wrote.

T-cells, or T lymphocytes, are a type of white blood cell that plays a key role in the immune system. They are different from other lymphocytes, such as B-cells, because of the presence of a T -cell receptor on the surface of the cell.

In a disease like HIV/AIDS, the patient loses T cells and, therefore, has a weakened immune system. Researchers have been working for a number of years to find ways of genetically engineering T-cells in a patient's blood.

Strong deterrent

The theory was simple: the presence of stronger T-cells would provide a strong deterrent against invasive pathogens that cause potentially lethal disease, along with auto-immune conditions like type 1 diabetes.

As we reported in 2013, private researchers in Cambridge, England made huge strides in the area of T-cell manipulation. Researchers working for Immunocore designed a therapy using the body's T-cells to find cancer cells and destroy them.

Months earlier doctors at the University of Pennsylvania used T-cell therapy to successfully treat leukemia patients. The clinical trial participants, all of whom had advanced cancers, included ten adult patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia and two children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

At the time of the reporting, three of the first ten  patients treated with the protocol remained healthy and in full remission more than 2 years after their treatment.

Marson and his team have taken the process a step further, using Clustered, Regularly Interspaced, Short Palindromic Repeat (CRISPR) gene-editing to cut and replace pieces of DNA within the chromosomes of T-cells in a test tube. Their results convince them that the process can be used effectively to treat patients in the near future.

For example, Marson says the process could lead to developing T-cells that are immune to HIV and injecting them back into the body. While he says there is still a lot of work ahead, gene-editing could become a powerful weapon against cancer and other diseases.

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Google surrenders, won't require Google+ account anymore

Forcing Google+ sign-ups was part of an effort to overtake Facebook, Twitter

Google has conceded what everyone else already knew -- Google+ is sort of a big minus and is not going to knock Facebook and Twitter out of cyberspace. Goo...

PhotoGoogle has conceded what everyone else already knew -- Google+ is sort of a big minus and is not going to knock Facebook and Twitter out of cyberspace. Google says it will no longer require users to have a Google+ account to interact with other users.

In a Google+ post, Google+ manager Brad Horowitz announced that Google will "retire [Google+] as the mechanism by which people share and engage within other Google products." Instead, users will need only a Google email or other type of account.

When it launched "+" -- as it may affectionately be known somewhere in the universe -- four years ago, Google's hope was that it would grow into a huge social network with a billion users. While it had its pluses, including the ability to break groups into categories such as "friend," "family" and "colleague," + actually grew into a big source of frustration for many users.

"Why the f---?"

YouTubers, in particular, were miffed that after years of commenting loudly and vociferously they suddenly needed to sign up for a + account, the most famous outburst coming from YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim, who asked "Why the f— do I need a google+ account to comment on a video?”

As Horowitz tells it, the goal was to establish a "platform layer" that would tie all of Big G's services together. But many users saw it as a way for Google to muscle into social media by forcing its users to sign up for G+ whether they wanted to or not. Some critics went so far as to label it downright Microsoftian.

Horowitz says the company meant well.

“This was a well-intentioned goal, but as realized it led to some product experiences that users sometimes found confusing,” he wrote.

Horowitz said Google is rolling out the policy change "as fast as possible," starting with YouTube.

"What does this mean for Google+ the product?" he asked rhetorically, replying: "Relieved of the notion of integrating with every other product at Google, Google+ can now focus on doing what it’s already doing quite well: helping millions of users around the world connect around the interest they love."

Horowitz said it's been "incredibly gratifying" to see how well the change has been received.

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Texas consumers carrying large credit card debt

San Antonio, Dallas and Houston are in the top 5

Texas' economy may be booming, but consumers in two of its leading cities lead the nation in credit card debt.When CreditCards.com established a formul...

PhotoTexas' economy may be booming, but consumers in two of its leading cities lead the nation in credit card debt.

When CreditCards.com established a formula to determine which major U.S. cities were home to the highest credit card balances, it found San Antonio and Dallas/Fort Worth occupied the top two positions. Houston is not far behind, in fifth place.

While Texas ended up with 3 of the 5 highest debt burdens in the nation, the Northeast fared very well. The region boasted 5 of the 7 lowest debt burdens in the country.

The formula

To compile the list, the authors of the study compared the average credit card debt in the 25 largest U.S. metro areas with each area's median income. It assumed that 15% of median income would go toward credit card debt each month, instead of consumers just making the minimum payment.

Using those parameters, the study determined how long a consumer would have to make those monthly payments in order to reach a zero balance; researchers also took into account how much interest consumers would have to pay to get there. Under that formula, the average San Antonio consumer would take 16 months to pay off the balance and would spend $448 during that time in interest charges.

Here's how the 5 most-indebted metros shape up:

  1. San Antonio (16 months, $448 interest)
  2. Dallas/Fort Worth (14 months, $382 interest)
  3. Atlanta (14 months, $376 interest)
  4. Miami/Fort Lauderdale (14 months, $351 interest)
  5. Houston (13 months, $363 interest)

Lightest load

Consumers in the San Francisco area seem to be handling their credit card debt a little better. The study found it would take Bay area consumers only nine months to reach a zero balance, spending just $234 in interest.

Here are the 5 markets with the lightest credit card burden:

  1. San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose (9 months, $234 interest)
  2. Boston (10 months, $267 interest)
  3. Washington, DC (10 months, $286)
  4. Minneapolis/St. Paul (11 months, $266 interest)
  5. New York City (11 months, $293)

"It's interesting that the metro areas with the highest average credit card debt don't necessarily have the highest debt burdens when adjusted for income," said Matt Schulz, CreditCards.com's senior industry analyst. "For example, Washington, D.C. has the nation's highest average credit card debt, but since it has the highest median income in the U.S., its debt burden is lower than all but two metros."

Pay more than the minimum

Unfortunately, many consumers with significant credit card balances don't pay 15% of income but only pay the minimum due each month. Under that payment plan, getting to a zero balance takes much longer.

At the prodding of regulators, credit card companies have raised the amount of minimum payments so that a consumer paying just the minimum won't be stuck in an indefinite debt trap. Still, it is always best to pay as much as possible each month.

One method to stay on top of a credit card debt is to pay the amount of the interest – plus as much extra as possible. That way a consumer not only pays the interest each month but starts whittling down the balance.

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Volkswagen recalls Audi SQ5s

The vehicles could experience a loss of power steering assist

Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 5,625 model year 2014-2015 Audi SQ5s manufactured May 22, 2013, to April 14, 2015. The electric power steering a...

PhotoVolkswagen Group of America is recalling 5,625 model year 2014-2015 Audi SQ5s manufactured May 22, 2013, to April 14, 2015.

 

The electric power steering assist system could shut down in cold temperatures due to a steering motor sensor fault. A loss of power steering assist would require extra steering effort at lower speeds, increasing the risk of a vehicle crash.

 

Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will update the power steering control module software, free of charge. The recall was expected to begin July 28, 2015.

 

Owners may contact Audi customer service at 1-800-253-2834. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 48M1.

 

 

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Nature's Variety recalls Instinct Raw Chicken Formula for dogs

The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

Nature’s Variety is recalling its Instinct Raw Chicken Formula for dogs. The products may be contaminated with Salmonella. No illnesses have been reporte...

PhotoNature’s Variety is recalling its Instinct Raw Chicken Formula for dogs.

 

The products may be contaminated with Salmonella.

 

No illnesses have been reported to date

 

The following products are being recalled:

  • UPC# 769949611431 – Instinct Raw Chicken Formula Bites for Dogs 4 lb.; Best By 04/27/16
  • UPC# 769949611448 – Instinct Raw Chicken Formula Bites for Dogs 7 lb.; Best By 04/27/16
  • UPC# 769949611486 – Instinct Raw Chicken Formula Patties for Dogs 6 lb.; Best By 04/27/16

The “Best By” date is located on the back of the package below the seal.

 

The recalled products were sold in retail stores in the U.S. and Canada.

 

Consumers should discontinue use of the recalled product and should returning it in its original packaging or bring a proof of purchase back to their retailer for a full refund.

 

Consumers with questions may contact consumer relations at 888-519-7387 from 8 am to 7 pm (CT) 7 days a week or by email at cservice@naturesvariety.com.

 

 

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UPPAbaby recalls strollers and RumbleSeats

The strollers’ and RumbleSeats’ bumper bar can pose a choking hazard

UPPAbaby of Hingham, Mass., is recalling about 79,000 UPPAbaby 2015 CRUZ , 2015 VISTA strollers and 2015 RumbleSeats in the U.S and Canada. The strollers’...

PhotoUPPAbaby of Hingham, Mass., is recalling about 79,000 UPPAbaby 2015 CRUZ , 2015 VISTA strollers and 2015 RumbleSeats in the U.S and Canada.

 

The strollers’ and RumbleSeats’ bumper bar poses a choking hazard when a child bites the bumper bar and removes a piece of the foam covering.

 

The company has received 22 reports of children biting off a piece of the bumper bar foam. No injuries have been reported.

 

This recall involves 2015 CRUZ and 2015 VISTA strollers and 2015 RumbleSeats. The CRUZ strollers have an aluminum alloy grey or black frame with a black fabric toddler seat with a colored fabric sunshade canopy and a black basket under the seat. The UPPAbaby name and logo are printed on the side of the canopy and “CRUZ” is printed in white lettering on the handlebars of the stroller.

 

The VISTA strollers have grey or black aluminum frames, colored sunshade canopy and are made to hold one, two or up to three children. VISTA is printed in white lettering on the handlebars of the stroller and UPPAbaby is printed across the bottom diagonal rail of the stroller frame next to a black, fabric basket.

 

The RumbleSeat is a separate seat attachment that can be attached to the stroller frame. RumbleSeats have manufacture dates stamped on the bottom of the seat from September 2014 through May 2015. It comes in various colors and allows the child to ride rear facing, forward facing or reclined. All of the strollers and RumbleSeats have a foam bumper bar across the middle of the product for the child to hold.

 

The CRUZ and VISTA strollers with the following model and serial numbers are included in the recall:

 

CRZ0415018100001  through CRZ0415018100738
CRZ0415018100739through  CRZ0415018101284
CRZ0515018101285throughCRZ0515018101824
CRZ0714018100001throughCRZ0714018101441
CRZ0814018102464throughCRZ0814018102983
CRZ0814018100001throughCRZ0814018100521
CRZ0814018103764throughCRZ0814018104024
CRZ0814018103504throughCRZ0814018103763
CRZ0814018103244throughCRZ0814018103503
CRZ0914018104905throughCRZ0914018105353
CRZ0914018104617throughCRZ0914018104760
CRZ0914018104025throughCRZ0914018104184
CRZ0914018104185throughCRZ0914018104328
CRZ0914018104761throughCRZ0914018104904
CRZ0914018104329throughCRZ0914018104472
CRZ1014018106646throughCRZ1014018109347
CRZ1114018109348throughCRZ1114018112151
CRZ1114018114244throughCRZ1114018115495
CRZ1114018112242throughCRZ1114018114243
CRZ1214018115496throughCRZ1214018117465
 

The 2015 VISTA strollers have model number 0101 printed on a sticker on the lower crossbar frame. They also have the following serial number printed on a sticker with a barcode below the rear axle of the stroller frame on the left:

 

VIS0315010103097through VIS0315010103696
VIS0315010104435  through  VIS0315010105310
VIS0315010106433throughVIS0315010107416
VIS0814010100001throughVIS0814010101261
VIS0814010100001throughVIS0814010100631
VIS0914010101894throughVIS0914010102525
VIS0914010102526throughVIS0914010103155
VIS0914010103156throughVIS0914010103785
VIS1014010103786throughVIS1014010104417
VIS1014010105048throughVIS1014010105677
VIS1014010104418throughVIS1014010105047
VIS1014010112494throughVIS1014010112973
VIS1014010111598throughVIS1014010111864
VIS1014010107220throughVIS1014010111063
VIS1014010111865throughVIS1014010112133
VIS1014010111064throughVIS1014010111330
VIS1014010112134throughVIS1014010112493
VIS1014010111331throughVIS1014010111597
VIS1014010105678throughVIS1014010107219
VIS1114010112974throughVIS1114010114205
VIS1114010114206throughVIS1114010121671
VIS1114010121672throughVIS1114010124381
VIS1114010124382throughVIS1214010127183
VIS1214010127184throughVIS1214010129685

 

The strollers and RumbleSeats, manufactured in China, were sold at BuyBuy Baby and other juvenile product retailers nationwide and online at Amazon.com from December 2014, through July 2015, for about $500 for the CRUZ stroller, $860 for the VISTA stroller and $170 for the RumbleSeat.

 

Consumers should immediately remove and stop using the bumper bar on these recalled strollers and RumbleSeats and contact the firm to receive a free bumper bar cover and warning label.

 

Consumers may contact UPPAbaby customer service toll-free at (844) 540-8694 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, or by email at contact@uppababy.com.

 

 

 

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Stagefright security flaw leaves 95% of Android devices vulnerable to hackers

Android versions 2.2 and later are at risk

Early today, security researchers announced their discovery of six massive software vulnerabilities which leave up to 95% of all Google Android devices at ...

PhotoEarly today, security researchers announced their discovery of six massive software vulnerabilities which leave up to 95% of all Google Android devices at major risk of being hijacked by hackers. (The 95% number is based on the estimate that there are currently 1 billion Android phones and tablets in the world, with 950 million of them at risk — any device running version 2.2 or later is vulnerable.)

Joshua Drake from Zimperium zLabs discovered the critical flaws inside the source code for AOSP, the Android Open Source Project.

Zimperium's Z Team announced the discovery in a Monday blog post:

Built on tens of gigabytes of source code from the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), the leading smartphone operating system carries a scary code in its heart. Named Stagefright, it is a media library that processes several popular media formats. … [Drake] discovered what we believe to be the worst Android vulnerabilities discovered to date …. multiple remote code execution vulnerabilities that can be exploited using various methods, the worst of which requires no user-interaction.

No protection from hack

In other words: Stagefright leaves your Android device so vulnerable that hackers could (at least in theory) hijack your device without your knowledge and without any activity from you.

Most “beware of the hacker” news articles you read advise you to protect yourself by avoiding certain actions: do not download any unsolicited file attachments, do not click on strange links in emails or texts, do not return hang-up phone calls from numbers you don't recognize.

What makes Stagefright so scary is that there's no similar “Avoid this and you'll be safe” action: in order to seize control of your device, a hacker need only send you a file containing malicious code – and can then take control whether you respond to that sent file or not.

“These vulnerabilities are extremely dangerous because they do not require that the victim take any action to be exploited,” Drake said. “Unlike spear-phishing, where the victim needs to open a PDF file or a link sent by the attacker, this vulnerability can be triggered while you sleep. Before you wake up, the attacker will remove any signs of the device being compromised and you will continue your day as usual – with a trojaned phone.”

Complete control

If this happens, the hacker has pretty much complete control over the device, including camera and audio recording functions – which means the hackers can spy on anything in range of the device. Furthermore, Drake says, “Sophisticated attackers could also create what we call ‘elevated privileges,’ which would provide complete access to the phone’s data.”

The one bit of good news is that so far, there doesn't seem to be any evidence indicating that hackers have taken advantage of Stagefright. Drake said Zimperium has sent the necessary patch to Google.

However, given the structure of the current cell phone industry, Google itself can't really get the patch to customers who need it – the individual phone and tablet manufacturers whose devices run on Android (versions 2.2 or later) do, and as Vice's Motherboard blog noted, “it’s anyone guess when that’ll happen. Historically, some manufacturers have taken months to issue even critical patches. At times, for devices older than a year or 18 months, patches never come.”

Joshua Drake ended his Zimperium post with the suggestion that consumers “contact your device manufacturer and/or carrier to ascertain whether or not your particular device has been updated [with] the requisite patches,” and an additional plea to the makers and sellers of such devices: “If you’re part of any of the various parties that ship derivative versions of Android that might be affected, we encourage you to reach out to obtain the patches from us directly.”

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Three trends that could push gasoline prices lower

Falling oil prices, a weak Chinese economy, and a strong dollar could be great for motorists

Gasoline prices have begun to drift lower from their summer highs, with the AAA Fuel Gauge Survey showing the national average price has fallen more than 4...

PhotoGasoline prices have begun to drift lower from their summer highs, with the AAA Fuel Gauge Survey showing the national average price has fallen more than 4 cents a gallon in the last week. Three economic trends could push them even lower in the weeks ahead.

All three trends are connected to deflation – an overall trend of falling prices. First, and perhaps most important, is that the price of crude oil has begun to fall again.

Below $50 a barrel

Crude oil prices have dropped below $50 a barrel and are projected to go even lower. Lower oil prices don't always translate directly into lower prices at the pump because there is only so much gasoline that refineries can produce. But if their price remains low, then lower crude oil prices will eventually find their way into retail gas prices.

The second trend is a strengthening dollar. The consumer's buying power increases when the currency strengthens, and that means imported commodities become cheaper.

The third trend is the growing economic weakness in China. Despite the government's best efforts, the Chinese stock market has suffered a series of declines.

China factor

Unlike in the U.S., Chinese consumers by and large have invested in stocks and reaped huge profits over the last year. But with stock prices falling, many Chinese consumers aren't spending as much money as they have been. That's expected to reduce demand for all sorts of things, including energy.

When U.S. consumers suffered from skyrocketing fuel prices several years ago, it was largely blamed on the huge demand from developing economies like China. With Chinese demand slowing, the supply of fuel available to U.S. consumers is growing.

If the law of supply and demand holds up, then prices should fall.

Refinery bottlenecks have kept prices up

In the U.S., gasoline prices have been slow to fall because of the system of refineries that produce the fuel. Delivery issues can send prices skyrocketing, as they did earlier this month in California.

At the same time, when supplies are in abundance and there are no interruptions to deliveries, prices can quickly fall. Over the weekend, Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at Gas Buddy, tweeted that three gas stations in London, Ohio were selling self-serve regular for $1.78 a gallon. The statewide average in Ohio was about $2.45 a gallon.

According to AAA, the cheapest state for gasoline is South Carolina, where the statewide average is about $2.33 a gallon. The average is well over $3 a gallon on the West Coast, in California, Washington, and Oregon.

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6 things to do before you die

Looking out for your family and friends is more than a lifelong task

What to do before you die? That could turn into a pretty long list but we're actually thinking of some rather specific things you should do while alive so ...

PhotoWhat to do before you die? That could turn into a pretty long list but we're actually thinking of some rather specific things you should do while alive so that things go smoothly once you're gone -- specifically, writing a will, putting it someplace handy and telling your loved ones where it is, among a few other very simple steps.

Besides the reviews people submit to our site, we get a daily landslide of emails asking for help with various misfortunes. We really can't deal with individual situations or we wouldn't get our real work done but there are certain questions that come up year after year after year -- and a constant topic is problems resulting from death.

Maybe it's time for a Deadly Do's and Don'ts review? Broadly speaking, there are two classes of consumers when it comes to dealing with decedents: the living and the dead. Here are a few pointers for each.

This, of course, is not legal advice to you. This is general consumer information. Only a lawyer that you have retained can advise you. Every situation is different. You should never make major decisions based on something you read on the Internet, including this. 

The pre-dead

OK, no, you're not dead yet but this is what you need to do so things go smoothly when you are.

Decide what you want. You can leave your assets to anyone you want -- relatives, your old school, your church, the local animal shelter or literally anyone or anything else. Decide now. You can't do it after the funeral. 

Write a will. Discuss it with your family members so they know what's in it. Yes, you can write it yourself from one of those online kits but if you have more than a few sticks to rub together, you should have a local attorney do it for you. You only die once -- don't cheap out.

Pick an executor. This is the person who will be in charge of administering your estate after you have shuffled off. It can be anyone but should be someone you trust who lives in your state and has their wits about them, not crazy Aunt Sally from Berkeley. 

Pick a guardian, if needed. If you have minor children, disabled adult children or others for whom you are responsible, you will need to name a responsible person to be their guardian when you are no longer in the picture. 

Put your will in a safe, accessible place. This does not mean a safe deposit box. When you die, your assets will be frozen pending probate and no one will be able to open your safe deposit box. Keep the will at home, tell a few family members exactly where it is and make a few copies to keep elsewhere. Your lawyer will not want to keep the original and should not (he's not immortal, you know). It should be in your possession.

Stay in touch. You can move to Florida, Arizona or Tahiti but stay in touch with your executor and the loved ones you don't despise. If widowed, give serious consideration to not getting remarried, especially to someone who has a lot less money than you do. It is asking for trouble.

If you move out of state, consult an attorney in your new state to see if you need to revise your existing will to mesh with local laws.

The living 

It's up to you to help your loved ones make a clean exit. Here are some essential steps: 

Offer your love and support. Old people need love too, you know, and not just because there may be something in it for you. Most people don't like to think of dying so it's helpful if you can push them get their affairs in order, as the old saying goes. 

Find a good estate lawyer.  Volunteer to go along to the first appointment. By finding and vetting a reputable, experienced local attorney who handles wills, probate, etc., you can help motivate your friend or relative to take the necessary steps.

Do a little research. There is something called "probate." It is the legal process of closing out the deceased's worldly affairs and is managed by the courts. If there is no will, the court will simply divide things up however it sees fit and however local laws dictate. This may not be the way Uncle Al would have wanted it, which is why there should be a will.

If there is a will or, worse luck, several wills, the probate court will decide which one is valid and will follow its dictates.

It's easy enough to read up on probate. Laws vary from state to state but the process is pretty similar everywhere.

Remember what's what. The "estate" is all of the deceased's assets -- property, cash, stocks, bonds, cars, etc. The executor's task is to pay off outstanding debts from the estate's assets -- not from the executor's personal accounts. Don't let any bill collector tell you that you are responsible for the payments on Uncle Al's boat (unless you co-signed the note). If the estate's funds are depleted, you are not responsible for making up any deficit. Feel free to tell Bank of America it's just too damned bad. They lose, for once. 

Likewise, if there is money or other assets left over after outstanding obligations are taken care of, it must be distributed under the terms of the will. 

Don't be shy. If your mother's second husband splits with her car and money the day after the funeral, call the police. Such actions are called "unlawful conversion" -- theft, in plain English.

Be realistic

What sparked this article was an email from a consumer who wanted us and the local news media to tell "her story," which basically was that her widowed mother's second husband took off with her car, money, etc. 

This, sadly, is not really news since it happens all the time. Rather than seeking publicity in hopes of educating future victims, see the "Don't be shy" paragraph above. Action talks, talk just moves the air around.

The world at large doesn't much care what happens to any of us individually. That's where loved ones, executors, friends and family come in. As with all things consumer, the time to protect yourself is before the transaction, not after. 

A well-planned exit will be a happy ending, not just another rotten news story.

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AT&T completes DirecTV acquisition

The company is now the world's largest pay TV provider, among other things

It sort of got lost over the weekend but the long-anticipated $49 billion merger of AT&T and DirecTV was completed Friday, when the Federal Communications ...

PhotoIt sort of got lost over the weekend but the long-anticipated $49 billion merger of AT&T and DirecTV was completed Friday, when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to approve the deal. The Justice Department had signed off on the transaction earlier.

The vote followed a statement earlier in the week from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler saying the deal contained "a number of conditions that will directly benefit consumers by bringing more competition to the broadband marketplace."

No grass grew under AT&T's feet. It closed on the merger just hours after the FCC vote and heralded it as a bonanza for consumers.

“Combining DIRECTV with AT&T is all about giving customers more choices for great video entertainment integrated with mobile and high-speed Internet service,” said Randall Stephenson, AT&T chairman and CEO. “We’ll now be able to meet consumers’ future entertainment preferences, whether they want traditional TV service with premier programming, their favorite content on a mobile device, or video streamed over the Internet to any screen."

Stephenson also promised expanded high-speed broadband service to American homes.

“This transaction allows us to significantly expand our high-speed Internet service to reach millions more households, which is a perfect complement to our coast-to-coast TV and mobile coverage,” said Randall Stephenson, chairman and CEO of AT&T. “We’re now a fundamentally different company with a diversified set of capabilities and businesses that set us apart from the competition.”

Spin city

Longtime AT&T watchers will tell you that the telecom giant is uniquely talented at spinning its actions to make them appear to be in the public's best interest, a skill it acquired from the decades it spent under the thumb of state and federal regulators.

Being regulated generally means companies usually get to do whatever they set out to do as long as they couch it in high-blown terms and persuade enough supposed public interest advocates to testify on their behalf.

In this case, however, the promises may come true. The deal will give AT&T access to spectrum space now held by DirecTV which AT&T can use to expand its wireless broadband offerings. That could benefit consumers who now have either no broadband service or have only a single provider in their service area.

The FCC also attached a series of conditions that AT&T must meet over the next four years, including:

Net neutrality. AT&T agreed not to discriminate in its treatment of content providers;

Unbundled Internet service for low-income consumers. This is supposed to benefit consumers who can't afford a full service bundle; and

Fiber optic service to 12.5 million new customer locations. Much of the country still lacks super-fast fiber service.

World's largest

AT&T noted that it is now the largest pay TV provider in the U.S. and the world, providing service to more than 26 million customers in the United States and more than 191 million customers in Latin America, including Mexico and the Caribbean.

Additionally, AT&T has more than 132 million wireless subscribers and connections in the U.S. and Mexico; offers 4G LTE mobile coverage to nearly 310 million people in the U.S.; covers 57 million U.S. customer locations with high-speed Internet; and has nearly 16 million subscribers to its high-speed Internet service.

Current customers of AT&T and DIRECTV do not need to do anything as a result of the merger. Customer account information, online access and billing arrangements remain the same. The integration of AT&T and DIRECTV will occur over the coming months, the company said, adding that "in the coming weeks, AT&T will launch new integrated TV, mobile and high-speed Internet offers that give customers greater value and convenience."

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New skin cancer drug wins approval of FDA

More than half of patients who tested the drug had their tumors shrink or disappear

Novartis Pharmaceuticals' new drug Odomzo has gotten a green light from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treatment of locally advanced basal cell...

PhotoNovartis Pharmaceuticals' new drug Odomzo has gotten a green light from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treatment of locally advanced basal cell carcinoma that has recurred following surgery.

The drug, with the generic name sonidegib, will be used to treat patients who are not candidates for surgery or radiation therapy.

Basal cell carcinoma accounts for about 80% of non-melanoma skin cancers. It starts in the top layer of the skin and usually develops where skin has been regularly exposed to the sun and other forms of ultraviolet radiation.

Waxy bump

According to the Mayo Clinic, this form of skin cancer often appears as a waxy bump, though it can take other forms. It shows up most often on areas of the skin that are most exposed to the sun, such as your face and neck. The National Cancer Institute says the number of new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer appears to be increasing every year.

Locally advanced basal cell skin cancer refers to basal cancers that have not spread to other parts of the body, but can't be cured with local treatments, such as surgery and radiation.

This type of skin cancer grows slowly. The American Academy of Dermatology says it rarely spreads to other parts of the body. However, treatment is important because the cancer can grow wide and deep, destroying skin tissue and bone.

In contrast, melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. The Skin Cancer Foundation says melanoma develops when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells triggers mutations. Melanoma kills an estimated 10,000 people in the U.S. each year.

Once a day pill

In order to treat basal cell carcinoma, Novrtis has developed Odomzo as a pill that can be taken once a day. It works by inhibiting a molecular pathway, called the Hedgehog pathway, which is active in basal cell cancers. By suppressing this pathway, Odomzo may stop or reduce the growth of cancerous lesions.

“Our increasing understanding of molecular pathways involved in cancer has led to approvals of many oncology drugs in difficult-to-treat diseases for which few therapeutic options previously existed,” said Dr. Richard Pazdur, director of the Office of Hematology and Oncology Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “Thanks to a better understanding of the Hedgehog pathway, the FDA has now approved 2 drugs for the treatment of basal cell carcinoma just in the last three years.”

Erivedge, with the generic name vismodegib, was one such drug that was approved in 2012 to treat locally advanced and metastatic basal cell carcinoma.

Unfortunately, this new treatment will not be available to pregnant women. Odomzo will carry a Boxed Warning alerting healthcare professionals that the drug may cause death or severe birth defects in a developing fetus. Pregnancy status should be verified prior to the start of Odomzo treatment, and both male and female patients should be warned about these risks and advised to use effective contraception.

Odomzo won FDA appoval after a multi-center, double-blind clinical trial involving 66 patients.

Results showed that 58% of patients treated with Odomzo had their tumors shrink or disappear.

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CDC: doctors write too many antibiotic prescriptions

Small group largely responsible for over-prescribing

Over time a wide range of bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi build up a resistance to antibiotic drugs, making these powerful medicines much less effec...

PhotoOver time a wide range of bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi build up a resistance to antibiotic drugs, making these powerful medicines much less effective.

In 2012, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported a gradual increase in resistance to HIV drugs, although it did not reach critical levels. Since then, further increases in resistance to first-line treatment drugs have been reported, which might require using more expensive ones in the near future.

While a number of theories have been cited to explain this growing resistance, a study funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) points to a small group of healthcare providers. The authors says 10% of providers write an antibiotic prescription for 95% of patients who walk in with a cold, bronchitis, or other acute respiratory infection (ARI).

The study makes clear that not all providers are to blame, pointing out that 10% of providers only prescribe an antibiotic in fewer than 40% of such patient visits. The problem is the differences in medical routines of individual healthcare providers.

Different ways of practicing medicine

“We were able to see that even if Dr. A works just down the hall from Dr. B they may practice medicine very differently,” said Dr. Barbara Jones, assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Utah and clinician at the VA Salt Lake City Health Care System. “We all receive similar training, but we can practice differently. The extent of this variation has been hard to measure in the past.”

The concern is real. The more antibiotics are present in the environment, the more bacteria can become resistant to them. In recent years, doctors have been cautioned to be more judicious when prescribing antibiotics.

Doctors at the Mayo Clinic found that the problem largely stems from using antibiotics for illnesses for which they are not intended. It points out antibiotics treat bacterial infections but not viral infections.

For example, an antibiotic is an appropriate treatment for strep throat, which is caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pyogenes. It's not, however, the right treatment for most sore throats, which are caused by viruses.

The study found that the overall proportion of visits in which providers prescribed antibiotics increased by 2% during the 8-year study period. However, the high proportion of antibiotic prescribing for ARIs is not a new problem, and the study found that 68% of all visits for ARI resulted in an antibiotic prescription.

Searching for a solution

On the surface, it would seem that this problem isn't that difficult to solve. Why couldn't you just educate providers about the problem and improve their decision-making? That idea has occurred to the authors too.

“We’d like to use this research to start a conversation among providers and patients about antibiotic prescribing for ARIs, and share the approaches of providers who are prescribing antibiotics less frequently with those who may be prescribing too often,” Jones said.

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Things drivers do that drive other drivers crazy

Jackass Parking Chalk promoted to relieve parking rage

At a family gathering over the weekend, one of my cousins arrived a few hours late after driving from Lincoln, Neb. He was still seething at some of the dr...

PhotoAt a family gathering over the weekend, one of my cousins arrived a few hours late after driving from Lincoln, Neb. He was still seething at some of the drivers on I-64 who were navigating through extensive road construction.

What set my cousin off was a practice that probably irritates most drivers. There were ample signs warning that the left lane was blocked ahead and drivers should stay to the right, but dozens of cars ignored the signs and whizzed past him in the left lane, pulling in far ahead of him and slowing his, and all the other considerate drivers' progress to a crawl.

That led to a discussion about other inconsiderate driver behaviors – like drivers who realize too late that they are supposed to be in the left turn lane and partially nose their way in, with the rest of their vehicle blocking the through lane.

Left turns

Left turns tend to be a real sore spot. There were complaints voiced about drivers attempting to make a left turn onto a busy highway, causing a back-up of vehicles behind them.

Then there are drivers who cut you off, turn without signaling, and sit though half a green light because they're too busy sending a text to notice the light has changed.

There really isn't any way to deal with these drivers, which no doubt can lead to road rage incidents that can turn violent.

A couple of entrepreneurs in New Jersey had a pet peeve about people who pull into a crowded parking lot and manage to place their cars straddling two parking spaces. They say that they've developed a product that can give frustrated drivers a confrontation-free outlet.

Jackass Parking Chalk

Jackass Parking Chalk, what the entrepreneurs call "emotional expression utensils," is touted as a product and platform for frustrated drivers to take on this all-too-common social crime.

The product is a simple box of chalk that can be kept in the glove box. When a driver encounters an inconsiderate parking job, he or she can write a message on the pavement in front of the inconsiderately parked car, telling the car's driver – and the rest of the people in the parking lot – what a poor, inconsiderate job of parking it is.

The public shaming doesn't stop there. The company has a social media platform called Chalkyou.com. It is a platform for irritated parkers to upload photographs of inconsiderate parking jobs and post a rant about it if they're really ticked off.

In order to maximize awareness, the company says each photo submitted via the website is automatically hash tagged with #ChalkYou and is then shared across the Jackass Parking Chalk Social Media channels, including Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

The company cautions that users of Jackass Parking Chalk should not be offensive or use chalk somewhere that it isn't allowed. It's also probably a good idea not to use it to write a rude message if the inconsiderate parker is anywhere close by.

Otherwise, it might cause a parking rage incident that could get ugly.

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Retailers should be careful when making personalized banner ads

They may either help or severely hurt the likelihood that their products will be bought

If you’re someone who regularly browses the internet, then you’ve more than likely run across pop-up and banner ads. More often than not they advertise pro...

PhotoIf you’re someone who regularly browses the internet, then you’ve more than likely run across pop-up and banner ads. More often than not they advertise products and services that you may not even need, but they have recently evolved. By looking through your internet history, ads are now much more tuned into the things that you may be interested in as a consumer. However, researchers are finding that this can either help or severely hurt the chances of you buying what is advertised.

Alexander Bleier and Maik Eisenbeiss, who are marketing professors at Boston College and the University of Bremen respectively, say that the amount of trust that a consumer has in a particular vendor ultimately affects whether or not they will accept or reject a banner ad.

The two professors conducted a study in which they showed consumers personalized ads that were tailored by each participant’s browser history. This information included what websites each person visited, what they had previously shopped for online, and varying information on their interests and hobbies. They wanted to find the point at which consumers became uncomfortable with having their online histories reflected back at them.

Prior positive experience is important

Bleier and Eisenbeiss found that consumers were much more likely to be responsive to ads if they had a good history with the company that supported them. “For the more trusted retailer in our field study, we find banner click-through rates to increase by 27 percent,” they said.

Consumers seemed to like personal ads more than general ones, but only to a certain extent. Their negative responses were elicited by ads that made them fear for their privacy. This was especially true for companies that consumers couldn’t recognize or did not have a positive experience with beforehand. It made the ads seem much more invasive.

Bleier and Eisenbeiss stress that it is important for companies to be careful when creating personalized banner ads. If they aren’t, then consumers may flat-out refuse to buy their products and may avoid the company in the future. Their full study, entitled “The Importance of Trust for Personalized Online Advertising”, has been published in the Journal of Retailing

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Tips from the TSA on flying with your pet

Traveling with a pet can be stressful, but there are many ways that you can prepare

The summer travel season isn’t over quite yet, and you still might be looking to take some trips with your family and friends. You can’t always pick up and...

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Kroger recalls four seasonings

The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

The Kroger Co. is recalling Kroger Ground Cinnamon, Kroger Garlic Powder, Kroger Coarse Ground Black Pepper and Kroger Bac'n Buds sold in its retail stores...

PhotoThe Kroger Co. is recalling Kroger Ground Cinnamon, Kroger Garlic Powder, Kroger Coarse Ground Black Pepper and Kroger Bac'n Buds sold in its retail stores.

 

The products may be contaminated with Salmonella.

 

No illnesses have been reported to date in connection with these products.

 

Stores under the following names in the 31 states where Kroger operates are included in this recall: Kroger, Ralphs, Food 4 Less, Foods Co., Fred Meyer, Fry's, King Soopers, City Market, Smith's, Dillons, Baker's, Gerbes, Jay C, Ruler Foods, Pay Less, Owen's, and Scott's.

 

The following items are being recalled:

 

Product

UPC

Codes

Size

Kroger Ground Cinnamon

1111070034

Sell by: May 19 18PS4

18.3 oz

Kroger Garlic Powder

1111070039

Sell by: May 18 17PS4

24.7 oz

Kroger Coarse Ground 
Black Pepper

1111070041

Sell by: May 18 18PS4

Sell by: May 19 18PS4

17.1 oz

Kroger Bac'n Buds

1111070025

Sell by: May 20 18PS4

12.0 o

 

Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them and should return them to a store for a full refund or replacement.

 

Customers with questions may contact Kroger at 1-800-KROGERS.

 

 

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Briggs & Stratton recalls Simplicity riding mowers and garden tractors

The chute deflector can fail to prevent projectiles from being expelled

Briggs & Stratton of Wauwatosa, Wis., is recalling about 2,800 Simplicity riding mowers, garden tractors and mower decks. The chute deflector can fail to ...

PhotoBriggs & Stratton of Wauwatosa, Wis., is recalling about 2,800 Simplicity riding mowers, garden tractors and mower decks.

 

The chute deflector can fail to prevent projectiles from being expelled, posing a risk of injury to consumers.

 

No incidents or injuries have been reported.

 

This recall involves orange Simplicity brand zero turn riding mowers, mower deck attachments and garden tractors. Mower deck sizes range from 44 to 54 inches. The Simplicity logo is on the side of the mower or garden tractor.

 

Mowers and garden tractors with the following model and serial numbers are being recalled:

 

 Model Serial Number      Range        
 1695058 2016939034 – 2017048430
 1696445 2016943253 – 2017107153
 1696446 2016933459 – 2017114841
 1696459 2017100601 – 2017100603
 2691175 2016825203 – 2017125081
 2691176 2016869892 – 2017114891
 2691179 2016893089 – 2017100633
 2691224 2016905124 – 2017114535
 2691280 2016969131 – 2017104015
 5901269 2016868431 – 2016869752
 

The model and serial numbers are located on the frame near the front tires or on the frame rail below the seat.

 

The lawn equipment, manufactured in the U.S., was sold at Briggs & Stratton dealers nationwide from August 2014, through May 2015, for between $3,600 and $16,000.

 

Consumers should stop using the recalled products immediately and contact a Briggs & Stratton dealer to schedule a free repair.

 

Consumers may contact Briggs & Stratton at (800) 227-3798 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday.

 

 

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Polaris recalls Youth RZR recreational off-highway vehicles

The vehicle’s fuel pump can leak, posing a fire hazard

Polaris Industries of Medina, Minn., is recalling about 4,300 Polaris Youth RZR recreational off-highway vehicles. The vehicle’s fuel pump can leak, posin...

PhotoPolaris Industries of Medina, Minn., is recalling about 4,300 Polaris Youth RZR recreational off-highway vehicles.

 

The vehicle’s fuel pump can leak, posing a fire hazard.

 

No incidents or injuries have been reported.

 

This recall involves Model Year 2015 Polaris Youth RZR 170 EFI recreational off-highway vehicles with model number R15YAV17AA/AF and VINs between RF3YAV170FT000076 and RF3YAV17XFT005141. The VIN is on the left-hand front frame tube.

 

They were sold in both blue and red. The blue models have a “170 EFI” decal on the right and left side of the hood and an “RZR” decal on the right and left front fenders. The red models have a “170 EFI” decal on the right and left front fenders and a “RZR” decal on the right and left rear fenders.

 

The vehicles, manufactured in Taiwan, were sold at Polaris dealers nationwide from October 2014, through June 2015, for about $4,600.

 

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled vehicles and contact their local Polaris dealer to schedule a free repair. Polaris is contacting its customers directly and sending a recall letter to each registered owner of an affected product.

 

Consumers may contact Polaris toll-free at (888) 704-5290, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday.

 

 

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Chrysler recalls Ram trucks with air bag issue

The side impact sensor calibrations may be overly sensitive resulting in unexpected air bag deployment

Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 667,406 model year 2013-2015 Ram 1500, 2500, and 3500 trucks manufactured June 20, 2012, to January 26, 2015. The side...

PhotoChrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 667,406 model year 2013-2015 Ram 1500, 2500, and 3500 trucks manufactured June 20, 2012, to January 26, 2015.

 

The side impact sensor calibrations may be overly sensitive, and as a result, the side air bag inflatable curtains and seat air bags may deploy unexpectedly and the seat belt pre-tensioners may activate. Air bags that deploy unexpectedly increase the risk of a crash or injury.

 

Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will update the Occupant Restraint Control module calibration, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

 

Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is R23.

 

 

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Bravo Chicken pet foods recalled

The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

Bravo Pet Foods of Manchester, Conn., is recalling select lots of Bravo Chicken pet foods for dogs and cats. The products may be contaminated with Salmone...

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Brown Packing recalls veal products

The products may be contaminated with E. coli

Brown Packing Company of South Holland, Ill., is recalling an undetermined amount of beef (veal) trimmings. The products may be contaminated with E. coli...

PhotoBrown Packing Company of South Holland, Ill., is recalling an undetermined amount of beef (veal) trimmings.

 

The products may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 and non-O157 Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC).

 

There are no confirmed reports of illnesses associated with consumption of these products.

 

The following raw, boneless beef (veal) trimmings, produced from Feb. 21, 2014, through July 17, 2015, are being recalled:

  • Approx. 60-lb. boxes of “DUTCH VALLEY VEAL.”
  • Various weight generically labeled combo bins of fresh of beef veal trimmings.

The recalled products bear the establishment number “EST. 167” inside the USDA mark of inspection printed on boxes. Lot code numbers printed on product labels range from “4000” through “4313” and “5167” through “5365.”

 

The products were shipped to distributors and retail locations in Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, New Jersey and Ohio.

 

Consumers with questions regarding the recall may contact Mike Jedlicka at (708) 849-7990.

 

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Over 1 million Ram trucks recalled

An electrical short could cause driver's frontal air bag to deploy unexpectedly

Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 1,060,531 model year 2012-2014 Ram 1500, 2500, 3500, 4500, and 5500 trucks manufactured January 18, 2011, to October 7, ...

PhotoChrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 1,060,531 model year 2012-2014 Ram 1500, 2500, 3500, 4500, and 5500 trucks manufactured January 18, 2011, to October 7, 2014, and equipped with the Electronic Vehicle Information Center option.

 

The vehicles have a steering wheel wiring harness that may rub against the driver air bag module retainer spring. This abrasion could result in an electrical short that could cause driver's frontal air bag to unexpectedly deploy. Inadvertent deployment of the air bag may increase the risk of injury and the possibility of a vehicle crash.

 

Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will inspect, repair as necessary, and secure the steering wheel wiring harness. Additionally, protective caps will be added to the air bag retainer spring ends. These repairs will be done free of charge. The recall is expected to begin September 19, 2015.

 

Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is R36.

 

 

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Researchers develop new technologies in hopes of preventing rhino poaching

Cameras, GPS trackers, and heart-rate monitors will alert security teams to possible poaching activity

Rhino poaching has become more widespread in recent years, and it is pushing many species to the brink of extinction. Poachers target these animals because...

PhotoRhino poaching has become more widespread in recent years, and it is pushing many species to the brink of extinction. Poachers target these animals because of the demand for rhino horn in Asian countries; the horns have practical medical uses, but many people collect them as a status symbol to showcase their success and wealth. Luckily, a new technology that plants a camera and other technologies inside of the rhino horn may act as a strong deterrent to poachers so that rhino lives can be saved.

At the beginning of the 20th century, rhino populations were at a healthy number; there were an estimated 500,000 rhinos living throughout Africa and Asia. However, as demand for rhino horn has gone up, the worldwide population of the animals has gone down. There are currently only five species of rhino left on Earth, and all of them are classified as a “threatened species” according to the IUCN Redlist. Three out of those five species are further classified as “critically endangered”.

For a while there was an effort made by activists to create a synthetic rhino horn for those who wanted to collect them. Unfortunately, they found that it was only a matter of time before those who bought the synthetic horn would want to trade up for the real thing. After this failure, activists have decided to focus their energies on catching poachers in the act.

The Protect project

The goal of the Protect project is to provide a strong deterrent for poachers who would kill rhinos for their horns. They plan on accomplishing this by putting video cameras, GPS trackers, and heart-rate sensors inside the horns of living rhinos. The system is known as Protect RAPID (Real-time Anti-Poaching Intelligence Device).

The whle system was developed at the University of Chester by biologist Dr. Paul O’Donoghue. He created a tracker and heart rate monitor that could be implanted inside the horns of living rhinos. Along with the camera, these pieces of technology are able to transmit health and wellness information to a central control center.

If the rhino is attacked by poachers and its heart rate stops, which it would if the poachers were intent on getting the horn, then a signal would be sent to a security team that could respond to the rhino’s location. It is estimated that the team could be on-site within minutes of getting a distress signal in order to catch the poachers before they could get away. If there are difficulties with catching the offenders, then the camera footage can reveal what they looked like.  

As of right now, there aren’t many anti-poaching agencies doing this type of work. The patrol area for rhino habitats is too large, so conviction rates for poachers have been relatively low. The Protect system can go a long way toward rectifying this and keeping rhinos safe. Researchers have already completed a proof of concept study, but they are still working on refining prototypes for the new technologies. The first of these prototypes should be available within months. If they are successful, then researchers hope to create other versions of the technologies for endangered species such as tigers and elephants. A fully staffed control center is scheduled to be completed sometime in the early part of next year. 

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Recall issues to cost Fiat Chrysler up to $105 million

The company finally admits it violated the Motor Vehicle Safety Act

Fiat Chrysler has agreed to pay a $105 million fine, clean up its recall procedures and buy ...

Photo
The logo of Dangerous Jeeps, a Virginia auto safety group

Fiat Chrysler has agreed to pay a $105 million fine, clean up its recall procedures and buy back some defective vehicles. In a consent order, the company acknowledged that it had violated the Motor Vehicle Safety Act's requirements to promptly repair vehicles with safety defects, something it has stridently denied for years.

"FCA US LLC acknowledges the admissions in its Consent Order with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. We also accept the resulting consequences with renewed resolve to improve our handling of recalls and re-establish the trust our customers place in us," the company said in a prepared statement. 

The fine is the largest ever imposed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

“Today’s action holds Fiat Chrysler accountable for its past failures, pushes them to get unsafe vehicles repaired or off the roads and takes concrete steps to keep Americans safer going forward,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “This civil penalty puts manufacturers on notice that the Department will act when they do not take their obligations to repair safety defects seriously.”

The enforcement action comes after a July 2 public hearing at which NHTSA officials outlined problems with Fiat Chrysler’s execution of 23 vehicle safety recalls covering more than 11 million defective vehicles. Fiat Chrysler has since admitted to violating the Safety Act in three areas: effective and timely recall remedies, notification to vehicle owners and dealers and notifications to NHTSA.

The company, now officially called FCA US LLC, will agree to assign an independent monitor to monitor its safety and recall operations.

"What you heard here is there's a pattern that's been going on for some time, frankly," NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said after the,hearing.

NHTSA said the company has failed to complete,as many as 11 million recalls in a timely manner, sometimes because it took too long to find a remedy and other times because it took too long to make enough replacement parts available

“Fiat Chrysler’s pattern of poor performance put millions of its customers, and the driving public, at risk,” NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said. “This action will provide relief to owners of defective vehicles, will help improve recall performance throughout the auto industry, and gives Fiat Chrysler the opportunity to embrace a proactive safety culture.”

The company must pay a $70 million cash penalty – equal to the record $70 million civil penalty the agency imposed on Honda in January. In addition, Fiat Chrysler must spend at least $20 million on meeting performance requirements included in the Consent Order. Another $15 million could come due if the independent monitor discovers additional violations of the Safety Act or the Consent Order.

Cash for Jeeps?

Photo
FCA US LLC CEO Sergio Merchionne

,FCA may begin offering cash to owners of certain Jeep Cherokees to encourage them to go to their Jeep dealer to carry out a recall that is intended to make the SUVs less prone to burst into flames after rear-end collisions. Jeep owners might also get a cash bonus if they agree to trade in their recalled Jeeps.

Various Jeep Cherokee and Liberty models are covered by the recall, which followed years of controversy during which safety advocates said the Jeeps were dangerous because their fuel tank was behind the rear axle and Chrysler countered that the SUVs were statistically as safe as comparable vehicles.

At the NHTSA hearing, Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, said Chrysler had failed to notify NHTSA of the defect despite confidentially settling at least 44 lawsuits since the Jeep Grand Cherokee was introduced in 1993.

"When forced to do a recall by NHTSA in June 2013 with a dubious trailer hitch as a remedy, Fiat Chrysler failed to send an interim ... owner notification until January 2014 and a final ... until September 2014," he said, noting that two,two years after the recall started, only 5.9% of the nearly 1.5 million 1993-98 Grand Cherokees and 25% of the nearly 1 million 2002-07 Liberty’s have been remedied.

"People die when manufacturers fail to remedy recalled vehicles," Ditlow said. "On November 11, 2014, Kayla White burned to death in a rear impact in her 2003 Jeep Liberty. Kayla was 8 months pregnant and had tried to get Fiat Chrysler to install the trailer hitch before the fatal crash."

Ditlow charged that there have been at least 20 deaths in the recalled Jeeps since NHTSA recall request on June 3, 2013. A year ago, the Center for Auto Safety reported there had been at least 370 fatal fire crashes of 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees." 

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Alzheimer's conference produces cautious optimism

Researchers present results of drug and non-drug intervention

The Alzheimer's Association International Conference, an annual event held in Washington, DC, is usually marked by cautious optimism as pharmaceutical comp...

PhotoThe Alzheimer's Association International Conference, an annual event held in Washington, DC, is usually marked by cautious optimism as pharmaceutical companies and health researchers report on their latest efforts to treat the memory-robbing disease.

This year has been no exception. While there have been no breakthroughs reported, there are a number of hopeful advances.

Solanezumab

Drug company Eli Lily reported that its new drug, solanezumab, might be able to slow the onset of Alzheimer's in the early stages of the disease. According to researchers, the drug can slow down the disease by about 33%.

Solanezumab works by attacking amyloid that builds up in the brain, which is believed to be a major contributor to Alzheimer's. Eli Lily says it plans to launch a new trial of the drug early next year. That trial, it says, should yield more information about the drug's efficacy.

Nuedexta

In another development, Avanir Pharmaceuticals disclosed its findings from the dementia/Alzheimer's disease cohort of the PRISM II study, a phase IV study evaluating the safety and effectiveness of Nuedexta in treating Alzheimer's paients.

Specifically, it treats pseudobulbar affect (PBA) in patients with dementia, as well as stroke and traumatic brain injury (TBI). PBA is a condition characterized by sudden and uncontrollable outbursts of laughing and/or crying resulting from certain neurologic diseases or brain injury.

The study concluded that a patient taking Nuedexta had no loss of effectiveness if they were also taking any anti-depressants.

Non-drug intervention

Researchers also reported positive results of three new randomized controlled trials of aerobic exercise in Alzheimer's disease, vascular cognitive impairment (VCI), and mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

The results provide hope that there may soon be a way that people with dementia can prolong their independence and improve their quality of life. The researchers said they found regular physical activity can reduce the risk of cognitive decline, and maybe even reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease and other dementias.

It reflects similar findings that lifestyle changes can not only help people improve their physical health, but their mental health too.

The latest research suggests physical exercise can improve cognition while reducing symptoms in people with Alzheimer's by positively impacting the physical changes in the brain caused by the disease. Maria Carrillo, Alzheimer's Association Chief Science Officer, says this research is important because it highlights the potential value of non-drug therapies for Alzheimer's disease and other dementias.

“It reminds us that research ought to adamantly pursue combination and multi-modal approaches to Alzheimer's therapy and prevention," she said.

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Fiat Chrysler recalls vehicles to fix hackable software exploit

Researchers earlier demonstrated that affected cars could be taken over by hackers

FCA US LLA -- Chrysler, in other words -- is recalling about 1.4 million vehicles to fix a flaw in their Uconnect softeware that makes it possible for hack...

PhotoFCA US LLA -- Chrysler, in other words -- is recalling about 1.4 million vehicles to fix a flaw in their Uconnect softeware that makes it possible for hackers to remotely seize control of a car if they know its IP address.

Customers affected by the recall will receive a USB stick to upgrade their. Alternately, customers may visit http://www.driveuconnect.com/software-update/ to input their Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs) and determine if their vehicles are included in the recall.

Affected models

The recall affects models with 8.4-inch touchscreens, including: 

  • 2013-2015 MY Dodge Viper specialty vehicles

  • 2013-2015 Ram 1500, 2500 and 3500 pickups

  • 2013-2015 Ram 3500, 4500, 5500 Chassis Cabs

  • 2014-2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee and Cherokee SUVs

  • 2014-2015 Dodge Durango SUVs

  • 2015 MY Chrysler 200, Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger sedans

  • 2015 Dodge Challenger sports coupes

Flaw revealed

The flaw was revealed earlier this week when cyber-security researchers Charlie Miller of IOActive and Chris Valasek (formerly with the NSA) went public with news of the security vulnerability, which they had discovered nine months earlier.

Miller and Valasek told Chrysler of the problem, then kept quiet about it for nine months while Chrysler figured out how to fix it.

On July 16, FCA made its first (thickly veiled) public reference to the problem, when it published an eye-glazing press release headlined “FCA US LLC Releases Software Update to Improve Vehicle Electronic Security and Communications System Enhancements.”

The announcement that followed made absolutely no mention of “security flaws” or “hackable exploits” or anything negative; instead, it boasted of a new “software update” which “offers customers improved vehicle electronic security and communications system enhancements” at absolutely “no cost to customers.”

Three days after that, on July 24, FCA published another statement which said that the number of affected vehicles is actually closer to 1.4 million. That, at least, is the number of vehicles subject to the “voluntary safety recall” FCA said it is conducting in order to apply a software update, aligning with “an ongoing software distribution that insulates connected vehicles from remote manipulation, which, if unauthorized, constitutes criminal action.”

 

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IKEA offers free wall-anchoring repair kit for chests and dressers

Two children have died in tip-over incidents

IKEA North America of Conshohocken, Pa., and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) are implementing a repair program that includes a free wall anch...

PhotoIKEA North America and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) are implementing a repair program that includes a free wall anchoring kit, for their MALM 3- and 4-drawer chests and two styles of MALM 6- drawer chests, and other chests and dressers.

 

The chests and dressers can pose a tip-over hazard if not securely anchored to the wall.

 

IKEA has received reports of 2 children who died after MALM chests tipped over and fell on them.

 

Fatalities and injuries

 

In February 2014, a 2-year-old boy from West Chester, Pa., died after a MALM 6-drawer chest (48 3/8 inches high) tipped over and fatally pinned him against his bed. Then, in June 2014, a 23-month old child from Snohomish, Wash., died after he became trapped beneath a 3-drawer (30 ¾ inches high) MALM chest that tipped over. Neither chest had been secured to the wall.

 

IKEA and CPSC have also received 14 reports of tip-over incidents involving MALM chests, resulting in 4 injuries. Since 1989, IKEA is aware of 3 additional reports of deaths from tip-overs involving other models of IKEA chests and dressers.

 

A child dies every 2 weeks and a child is injured every 24 minutes in the U.S. from furniture or TVs tipping over, according to CPSC data.

 

Anchor repair kits offered

 

IKEA is offering U.S. consumers a wall anchoring repair kit free of charge for use with the MALM chests, IKEA children’s chests and dressers taller than 23 ½ inches, and IKEA adult chests and dressers taller than 29 ½ inches.

 

The kit contains replacement tip-over restraints for use by any consumer who has not secured their IKEA chest or dresser to the wall. The kit also includes complete wall anchoring hardware, instructions and warning labels to be affixed to the furniture.

 

The MALM chests that are part of the repair program were sold starting in 2002. The price of the chests range from about $80 to $200.

 

Consumers can receive a free wall anchoring kit at any IKEA retail store, or by calling (888) 966-4532.

 

CPSC and IKEA urge consumers to inspect their IKEA chests and dressers to ensure that they are securely anchored to the wall. Unanchored chests and dressers should be moved into storage or other areas where they cannot be accessed by children until the chests and dressers are properly anchored to the wall.

 

 

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Mitsubishi closing U.S. plant but will continue selling cars here

U.S. sales are up but the Russian recession has cut overall sales

2016 Mitsubishi Sport Mitsubishi says it is closing its only U.S. plant in Normal, Ill., cutting its production because of slow sales in Russia and el...

Photo
2016 Mitsubishi Sport

Mitsubishi says it is closing its only U.S. plant in Normal, Ill., cutting its production because of slow sales in Russia and elsewhere.

U.S. sales have actually been up but the company said the recession is Russia has put a big crimp in sales. Production at the plant hit nearly 222,000 vehicles in 2000 but has not rached 100,000 in any year since 2004.

Mitsubishi said it will continue to sell vehicles in the U.S.

A 17% surge in sales of the Outlander Sport and a 40% spurt in car volume drove U.S. sales up 25% to nearly 50,000 vehicles through June.

The 2016 Outlander received a first place ranking on the Cars.com list of most affordable 3-row crossovers. 

“We designed the 2016 Outlander to be an unmatched value in its segment, so it’s no surprise to us that it leads the way on the Cars.com list of most affordable 3-row crossovers,” said Don Swearingen, Mitsubishi Motors North America Executive Vice President. “From its long list of features, to available advanced safety technologies and a new eye-catching design, the seven passenger Outlander is a leader in value and reliability.”

The plant has approximately 900 hourly workers, represented by the United Auto Workers Union. Mitsubishi is the only Japanese automaker whose hourly U.S. workers are represented by the UAW. 

 

 

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LG to pay $1.8 million for failing to report dehumidifier defects

The appliance maker was charged with failure to report a defect

LG Electronics will pay a maximum $1,825,000 civil penalty, settling charges by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) staff charges that the firm k...

PhotoLG Electronics will pay a maximum $1,825,000 civil penalty, settling charges by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) staff charges that the firm knowingly failed to report to CPSC a defect and an unreasonable risk of serious injury with several models of dehumidifiers.

 

Fires caused by the defective dehumidifiers resulted in millions of dollars of property damage.

 

Defective dehumidifiers

 

Due to a defective fan, the dehumidifiers overheated, smoked, melted or caught fire, posing fire and burn hazards to consumers. Federal law required LG to report to CPSC immediately about a consumer product containing a defect that could create a substantial product hazard or presenting a risk of serious injury or death.

 

Starting in 2003, LG received dozens of reports of the dehumidifiers catching fire and causing extensive property damage to consumers’ homes. By the time the dehumidifiers were recalled in 2012, LG was aware of 107 reports of incidents, with more than $7 million in property damage and three reports of smoke inhalation.

 

LG manufactured and imported about 795,000 of the defective dehumidifiers under the Kenmore brand name. The dehumidifiers were recalled in 2012 and the recall was reannounced in July 2013.

 

Settlement terms

 

LG’s conduct occurred before August 2009, at a time when a maximum civil penalty was $1.825 million. In addition to paying a civil penalty, LG has agreed to maintain a compliance program designed to ensure compliance with the Consumer Product Safety Act. Additionally, the firm has agreed to maintain a related series of internal controls and procedures.

 

The compliance program requires written standards, policies and procedures, including those designed to ensure that information that may relate to or impact CPSC compliance is conveyed effectively to personnel responsible for CPSC compliance.

 

The compliance program also must address:

 

  • Confidential employee reporting of compliance concerns to a senior manager with authority to act;
  • Effective communication of compliance policies and procedures, including training;
  • Senior management and responsibility for, and general board oversight of, compliance; and
  • Requirements for record retention.

 

LG does not admit to CPSC staff’s charges.

 

 

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New home sales fall to lowest level in 8 months

Prices were lower as well

June was not a good month for firms hoping to sell new single-family homes. Figures released jointly by the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing an...

PhotoJune was not a good month for firms hoping to sell new single-family homes.

 

Figures released jointly by the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development show sales sank 6.8% from the revised May level of 517,000 -- to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 482,000. That's the first decrease in 3 months and the lowest rate since last November.

 

Even with this decline, the sales pace is 18.1% above the year-ago pace of of 408,000.

 

Sales in the Northeast were robust, rising 28% last month. But that was offset by declines in the West (-17.0%), Midwest (-11,1%) and South (-4.1%).

 

Prices and inventory

 

The median sales price -- the point at which the prices are higher and half are lower -- was $281,800, down $5,200 from a year ago; the average sales price was $328,700 last month, a year-over-year decline of $9,400.

 

The seasonally adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of June was 215,000, representing a supply of 5.4 months at the current sales rate -- the largest supply since November of last year.

 

The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

 

 

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Anthem buying Cigna in $54 billion deal

Aetna and Humana announced a similar deal a few weeks ago

If you've been trying to decide between a health insurance policy from Anthem or Cigna, you can stop worrying about it. Anthem is buying Cigna for $54 bill...

PhotoIf you've been trying to decide between a health insurance policy from Anthem or Cigna, you can stop worrying about it. Anthem is buying Cigna for $54 billion.,

It's the latest in a wave of consolidations that are changing the face of the American healthcare industry. Just a few weeks ago, Aetna snapped up Humana for $37 billion.

If both deals go through, there will be only three major health insurers in the United States, which may be good for the companies but doesn't do much to spur competition. On the other hand, industry watchers say companies need to scale up to operate efficiently under Obamacare.

The combination of Anthem and Cigna would be bigger than a lot of countries, with 53 million customers and revenue of about $115 billion.

If both acquisitions survive scrutiny by regulators, Aetna/Humana will be the largest American health insurer, followed by Anthem/Cigna and UnitedHealthGroup.,

"We believe that this transaction will allow us to enhance our competitive position and be better positioned to apply the insights and access of a broad network and dedicated local presence to the health care challenges of the increasingly diverse markets, membership, and communities we serve," said Joseph Swedish, President and Chief Executive Officer of Anthem in a press release.,

,

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FTC wants to learn more about lead generation

Information-rich websites may be getting rich off your information

You may not know what lead generation is, which can be part of the problem. In brief, it's one of the most lucrative forms of Internet advertising, produci...

PhotoYou may not know what lead generation is, which can be part of the problem. In brief, it's one of the most lucrative forms of Internet advertising, producing bonuses for websites that capture the identity of consumers looking for specific goods and services.

Many websites that look like news or comparison-shopping sites are, in fact, little more than giant lead generation engines.

Take insurance, for example. A site that presents itself as helping you find the best insurance policy may do little more than lure you into entering the data insurers want to know and then forwarding it to someone who hopes to sell you a policy.

The site gets a bonus -- sometimes a big one -- and you get yet one more company calling and emailing you. Chances are your information also winds up being sold to one of the Big Data companies that keep track of our every movement.

Workshop scheduled

The Federal Trade Commission wants to get a handle this and has scheduled a workshop on October 30 to peer into the corners of the lead generation business.

The workshop, “Follow the Lead: An FTC Workshop About Online Lead Generation,” will gather a variety of stakeholders, including industry representatives, consumer advocates, and government regulators, to discuss consumer protection issues raised by the practices of the lead generation industry, such as:

  • How online lead generation works and its variations, depending on the industry,
  • What types of lead generation conduct may be unlawful under the FTC Act’s prohibition against unfair or deceptive practices,
  • Best practices for entities that generate and sell consumer leads, and
  • How consumers can avoid unlawful conduct in the online marketplace.

The FTC is seeking research, recommendations for discussion topics, and requests for panelists in advance of the workshop. Please email any relevant information to,leadgen@ftc.gov(link sends e-mail),by August 25, 2015. The deadline to submit public comments about the workshop is December 20, 2015.,Comments can be submitted electronically.

The workshop, which is free and open to the public, will be at the Constitution Center, 400 7th St., SW.

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The most and least dangerous jobs

There's a big difference between a first responder and an accountant

People usually choose career paths for financial or personal fulfillment reasons. Sometimes, personal safety enters into the equation as well.What are ...

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Amendment would ban super-long trucks ... for now

Pending measure would allow trucks to have two 33-foot trailers

A new highway funding bill has been slowly creeping through Congress, its progress partly slowed by legislators tacking on a wide range of amendments, some...

PhotoA new highway funding bill has been slowly creeping through Congress, its progress partly slowed by legislators tacking on a wide range of amendments, some of them having little or nothing to do with highways.

An exception is an amendment introduced yesterday by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) introduced an amendment to ensure that if the length of trailer trucks is increased, it does not endanger U.S. drivers.

The Senate Appropriations Committee recently approved an amendment to the transportation funding bill requiring states to allow trucks with two 33-foot trailers on their highways. Current federal law permits double 28-foot trailers.

The Feinstein-Wicker amendment requires a comprehensive safety study and a formal rulemaking process with public notice and comment period before longer trucks are permitted on highways.

“With thousands of deaths a year, our highways are already dangerous enough,” Feinstein said.“Allowing trucks that are the equivalent of an eight-story building on wheels to share the road with our cars runs counter to all notions of highway safety. It’s only logical that we wait to receive all the facts before making sweeping changes to federal law.”

“I believe states are in the best position to make safety decisions about truck size,” Wicker said. “Nearly 40 states, including Mississippi, prohibit twin 33-foot trucks from operating within their jurisdictions. Initial estimates show that longer, heavier trucks could cost an additional $1.2 billion to $1.8 billion in taxpayer funding to repair highways, not to mention $1.1 billion more for bridge repair and reinforcement. Many Americans agree that Congress should not force states to comply with this top-down mandate.”

The amendment is the same one that Feinstein offered in the Appropriations Committee. As the committee considered the measure, the Department of Transportation advised that there is currently not enough data to draw firm conclusions on the safety implications of double 33-foot trailers. The department therefore recommended that no changes to truck size be considered at this time.

Those opposed to twin 33-foot trailers include Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, AAA, the Teamsters Union, several state trucking associations, the National Troopers Coalition and other law enforcement associations throughout the country.

 

 
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Sex sells? Not really, researchers say

You are probably more likely to respond to a bland, G-rated ad

Some commercials try to push the envelope in search of “edginess.” In 2014, Capital One briefly aired a commercial with spokesman Samuel L. Jackson using a...

PhotoSome commercials try to push the envelope in search of “edginess.” In 2014, Capital One briefly aired a commercial with spokesman Samuel L. Jackson using a tame swear word in his promotion of the Quicksilver Cash Back Card.

Madison Avenue has turned out other ads with sexual and violent themes. Often they disappear quickly, but not for the reason you might think.

It's not consumer backlash as much as the fact the ads just might not work.

New research from the American Psychological Association suggests G-rated ads are more effective, with the edgier ones impairing the ads' effectiveness and ultimately persuading consumers not to make a purchase.

No evidence of effectiveness

“We found almost no evidence that violent and sexual programs and ads increased advertising effectiveness,” said Brad Bushman, professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University, and a co-author on the study. “In general, we found violent and sexual programs, and ads with violent or sexual content decreased advertising effectiveness.”

The same was true for ads placed within violent content. In fact, the study determined that violence appeared to have the greatest influence, but not in a good way. Brands advertised during commercial breaks in violent media were remembered less often, evaluated less favorably, and less likely to be purchased than brands advertised in nonviolent media.

What about sexual content? The study found products and services advertised during commercial breaks in media with sexual overtones were viewed less favorably than those advertised in media with no sexual content. However, there was little difference in viewers’ brand memory or intention to buy.

Focused on the sex and violence

“It’s not that people aren’t attracted to sex and violence,” said lead author Robert Lull. “On the contrary, people have been attracted to sex and violence since evolutionary times, when attending to violent cues prevented our ancestors from being killed by enemies or predators and paying attention to sexual cues attuned our ancestors to potential reproductive opportunities.”

So why isn't it effective in attracting eyeballs to ads? It does attract eyeballs, and that may be the problem.

Violence and sex attract attention, but they attract so much of it that viewers sort of miss the commercial message. People pay more attention to the violence and the sex surrounding ads, both in programs and the ads themselves, than to the actual products being advertised. Consequently, memory, attitudes, and buying intentions all decrease, Lull said.

Back to bland

This is why consumers might start seeing a return to the bland, boring ads of the past, inserted into rather tame content. It's why a series like The Sopranos was perfect for HBO, where it ran without commercial interruption – and why neither the series nor the ads would be remotely effective if it aired with commercials.

The lesson for Madison Avenue?

“Sex and violence do not sell, and in fact they may even backfire by impairing memory, attitudes, and buying intentions for advertised products,” Bushman said. “Thus, advertisers should think twice about sponsoring violent and sexual programs, and about using violent and sexual themes in their ads.”  

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Akttive High Performance Fat Burner Gold capsules recalled

The product contains ingredients that make it an unapproved new drug

Life & More is recalling 783 bottles of Akttive High Performance Fat Burner Gold capsules weight loss supplements. The product contains Sibutramine, desm...

PhotoLife & More is recalling 783 bottles of Akttive High Performance Fat Burner Gold capsules weight loss supplements.

 

The product contains Sibutramine, desmethylsibutramine and Phenolphthalein. Sibutramine is an appetite suppressant that was withdrawn due to increased risk of seizures, heart attacks, arrhythmia and strokes. Phenolphthalein is an ingredient previously used in over-the-counter laxatives, but because of concerns of carcinogenicity, it is not approved for marketing in the United States. These undeclared ingredients make the product an unapproved new drug for which safety and efficacy have not been established.

 

No illnesses or injuries have been reported to the company to date in connection with this product.

 

The product, marketed as a dietary supplement for weight loss, is packaged in aluminum bottles containing 30 gold capsules per bottle and labeled with Lot #000185004400, UPC 859189005005, Expiration 12/17.

 

The products were distributed from January 2012, until July 2015, directly to distributors, online to consumers at www.akttive.com, and shipped to Nevada, Florida, New York, Arizona, Massachusetts, New Jersey, California, Maryland, Texas, Virginia and Michigan.

 

Life & More is notifying its distributors and customers by letter and arranging for return of all recalled products.

 

Consumers should not consume the recalled product and should return it immediately to the place of purchase.

 

Consumers with questions may contact Life & More at 01157-300-487-0534 or by e-mail at info@akttive.com , Monday through Friday from 9:00am - 5:00pm (EST).

 

 

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Husqvarna recalls lawn and garden tillers

The tiller may unintentionally move forward or backward

Husqvarna Consumer Outdoor Products of Charlotte, N.C., is recalling about 24,000 lawn and garden tillers. The tiller’s transmission shift rod and clip ca...

PhotoHusqvarna Consumer Outdoor Products of Charlotte, N.C., is recalling about 24,000 lawn and garden tillers.

 

The tiller’s transmission shift rod and clip can come into contact with the control cable during shifting and cause the tiller to unintentionally move forward or backward, posing a risk of bodily injury and/or laceration.

 

No incidents or injuries have been reported.

 

This recall involves Ariens, Husqvarna, Jonsered and Poulan Pro brand rear tine tillers used for plowing, cultivation and ridging gardens and lawns. The tillers have an engine to power the wheels and the rear tines, an operator handle with forward and reverse transmission and tilling widths ranging from 17 to 19 inches.

 

The brand name is printed on the side of the tiller. They were sold in red, orange and yellow/black colors. The following model and serial numbers are included in the recall:

 

Brand Name Model NumberSerial Number Range
 Ariens A600DRT
HusqvarnaCRT900, CRT900L, DRT900, DRT900E, DRT900H

101514MXXXXX

through

053115MXXXXX

 JonseredJ208C14, J208D14
Poulan ProPRRT900

 

The tillers, manufactured in the U.S., were sold at hardware stores, home centers and independent outdoor power equipment dealers from October 2014, through May 2015, for between $600 and $850.

 

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled tillers and return it to the nearest Husqvarna dealer for a free repair.

 

Consumers may contact Husqvarna toll free at (877) 257-6921 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, or by email at recalls@husqvarna.com.

 

 

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Teavana recalls glass pitchers

The pitchers can break or leak

Teavana of Seattle, Wash., is recalling about 56,800 Tristan glass pitchers in the U.S. and Canada. The pitchers can break or leak, posing laceration and/...

PhotoTeavana of Seattle, Wash., is recalling about 56,800 Tristan glass pitchers in the U.S. and Canada.

 

The pitchers can break or leak, posing laceration and/or burn hazards to consumers if filled with hot tea.

 

The company has received 50 reports of the glass pitchers breaking or leaking, including 3 reports of lacerations and 2 minor burns.

 

The company has received 50 reports of the glass pitchers breaking or leaking, including three reports of lacerations and two minor burns.

 

This recall involves 64-oz. Tristan glass pitchers for hot or cold tea with a glass handle, stainless steel infuser and a lid and base that are made of flexible black silicone. The pitchers measure about 12 inches tall and 4 inches in diameter. The Teavana logo is printed on the bottom. Style #30593000064 and SKU#11034874 are printed on the pitchers’ box.

 

The pitchers, manufactured in China, were sold exclusively at Teavana stores nationwide and online at www.Teavana.com from May 2012, through June 2015, for about $50.

 

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled glass pitchers and return them to a Teavana store location (except for two stores: Columbia Mall, Columbia, Maryland, and Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, Texas) or contact Teavana for a free replacement 66-oz. infusion tea pitcher plus a $25 Teavana gift card or for a Teavana gift card for the purchase price plus tax.

 

Consumers may contact Teavana toll free at (888) 665-0463 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday.

 

 

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Geography plays a role in early cancer diagnosis

A state's regulatory policies can be a matter of life and death, study finds

Whether or not someone survives cancer often depends on when the disease is diagnosed. If it is caught early then the odds are better, but a late-stage dia...

PhotoWhether or not someone survives cancer often depends on when the disease is diagnosed. If it is caught early then the odds are better, but a late-stage diagnosis is often a death sentence.

Now, a research team from Georgia State University and the University of North Carolina has determined where a patient lives can make a big difference in whether their cancer is caught early or late.

The team's study found that individual state regulations for health insurance and practitioners significantly influence when patients receive colorectal or breast cancer diagnoses, especially among people younger than the Medicare-eligible age of 65. This suggests that where a person lives is a strong predictor of whether they will receive potentially life-saving cancer screenings.

Dr. Lee Rivers Mobley, associate professor at Georgia State's School of Public Health, has spent years exploring similar issues. He was the principal author of "United States Health Policies and Late-Stage Breast and Colorectal Cancer Diagnosis: Why Such Disparities by Age?", which was recently published in Health Economics Review.

Disparities of geography

Now, he's focusing his attention on disparities that exist between different geographic regions.

"Progress has been made in the war against cancer, yet the high proportions of late-stage diagnoses remain a public health concern," the researchers wrote.

Their analysis discovered that 54% to 60% of colorectal cancer diagnoses are late-stage, meaning the disease has spread. The analysis found 24% to 36% of breast cancer cases are caught at the late stage.

The conclusion? A state's regulatory climate is "an important predictor" of late-stage colorectal and breast cancer diagnoses.

The study reached its conclusion after examining individual states' regulatory policies, matching them with their colorectal and breast cancer diagnoses. It used the United States Cancer Statistics (USCS) database and examined data that was reported between 2004 and 2009 in order to determine whether area cancer screening use or accessibility to health care providers affected odds of late-stage diagnosis.

States requiring health insurance providers to offer more screenings had fewer late stage diagnoses.

Common cancers

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. and the risk of developing it rises after age 40. Overall rates of the disease have been on the decline, largely because of endoscopic screenings and polyp removal.

However, rates have been rising since 1998 among those younger than age 50 "for whom screening is not routinely recommended," the authors said.

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women and its rates have remained steady since about 2003.

According to the Colon Cancer Alliance, 90% of those diagnosed when the cancer is found at a local stage – confined to colon or rectum – survive more than five years. Unfortunately, the association says only 40% of colon cancers are diagnosed at the early, local stage.

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Microsoft now honors Bing revenge porn takedown requests; deletes images from OneDrive and Xbox Live

Also offers new webpage to make reporting easier

Microsoft has added itself to the list of tech companies cracking down on revenge porn. In a blog post yesterday evening, Chief Online Safety Officer Jacqu...

PhotoMicrosoft has added itself to the list of tech companies cracking down on revenge porn. In a blog post yesterday evening, Chief Online Safety Officer Jacqueline Beauchere announced that in order to “help put victims back in control of their images and their privacy,” henceforth Microsoft will honor victim requests to remove links to photos and videos from Bing search results, “and remove access to the content itself when shared on OneDrive or Xbox Live.”

Microsoft also set up a new support page (Javascript required) for victims to file reports. Right now that reporting page is only available in English, but Beauchere says other languages will be added in the forthcoming weeks, and “When we remove links or content, we will do so globally.”

As the name suggests, revenge porn is a practice wherein people (usually angry ex-lovers, sometimes criminal hackers who break into strangers' devices to steal images), post identifiable nude, sexually explicit, or otherwise compromising images of victims, along with the victim's name and other identifying information, for the express purpose of humiliating the victims and damaging their personal and professional reputations.

Cracking down on revenge porn

Microsoft's announcement makes it at least the fifth major tech or social media company to crack down on revenge porn this year. Reddit and Twitter announced policy changes in February and March, respectively; Twitter updated its content boundaries to include the clause “You may not post intimate photos or videos that were taken or distributed without the subject's consent.”

A few days after Twitter made this announcement, Facebook “clarified” its policies to specifically disallow “images shared in revenge or without permissions from the people in the images.”

Then, in June, Google said that it would honor requests from victims to remove revenge-porn images from its search engine, and stop linking to any such results: “going forward, we’ll honor requests from people to remove nude or sexually explicit images shared without their consent from Google Search results. This is a narrow and limited policy, similar to how we treat removal requests for other highly sensitive personal information, such as bank account numbers and signatures, that may surface in our search results.”

And now Microsoft is doing the same for its own Bing search engine, plus deleting revenge-porn images entirely when they're shared though OneDrive or Xbox Live. But removing links or deleting files from Xbox Live is not the same thing as removing such images from the Internet altogether, as Beauchere noted in her Microsoft announcement; in that regard, “victims still need stronger protections across the Web and around the world.”

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The new workday doesn't last from 9 to 5

Technology allows us to work from anywhere, so we do

It used to be that just doctors were on call 24 hours a day. Now, it seems that we all are.Employment site CareerBuilder decided to look at how America...

PhotoIt used to be that just doctors were on call 24 hours a day. Now, it seems that we all are.

Employment site CareerBuilder decided to look at how Americans work these days. How many of us, it wondered, stick to the traditional 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule? Now that technology allows us to work from almost anywhere, the typical workday appears to be changing.

The survey targeted 1,000 full-time workers in information technology, financial services, sales, and professional and business services – industries that historically have kept more traditional work hours. Harris Poll asked the questions.

According to the results, 63% of workers in these industries believe “working 9 to 5” is an outdated concept, and a significant number have a hard time leaving the office mentally. For example, nearly 1 in 4 – 24% – check work emails during supposed “down time” with family and friends.

Is working 5 to 9 the new 9 to 5?

Today, work might mean just staying connected. Fifty percent of the workers in the targeted industries said they check or respond to work emails outside of work, and nearly 2 in 5 – 38% – say they continue to work outside of office hours.

It should be noted that very few people who took the survey complain about this new work paradigm. Sixty-two percent say they stay connected by choice because often, it works to their advantage.

“Workers want more flexibility in their schedules, and with improvements in technology that enable employees to check in at any time, from anywhere, it makes sense to allow employees to work outside the traditional nine-to-five schedule,” said Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer of CareerBuilder. “Moving away from a nine-to-five work week may not be possible for some companies yet, but if done right, allowing employees more freedom and flexibility with their schedules can improve morale, boost productivity and increase retention rates.”

I think, therefore I work

While we seem to be working longer hours, work also seems to be more loosely defined than in the past. For example, it isn't always about completing a set task – sometimes it's a thought process.

About 20% of those questioned say they think about work issues just before going to bed and 42% say work is the first thing on their mind when they wake up in the morning.

Men are more likely than women to report working outside of office hours, check or respond to work emails outside of work, and check on work activities while they are out with friends and family.

Older workers are more likely to work outside of normal business hours than younger workers.

How healthy?

There is one question that the survey does not address– how healthy is this trend? Don't we need to unplug every once in a while?

When Gallup delved into this issue last year, it found that, for the most part, workers don't see working around the clock as a burden.

It's not like they're on a factory assembly line. Instead, they are more apt to be working a problem and exchanging ideas with colleagues.

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Congress may let the mailman bring you a beer

Proposed legislation would legalize mail delivery of alcohol

UPS will bring a case of wine right to your doorstep, assuming you're 21. So will FedEx. But not the U.S. Postal Service. Since 1909, USPS has been prohibi...

PhotoUPS will bring a case of wine right to your doorstep, assuming you're 21. So will FedEx. But not the U.S. Postal Service. Since 1909, USPS has been prohibited from home deliveries of beer, wine and liquor. 

That could change, though, as Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) is reportedly planning to introduce legislation that would allow your mailperson to become your own personal bartender.

Brewbound, a trade publication, quoted Speier as saying the bill would "tear down the last vestiges of Prohibition."

Wine clubs and vintners have been shipping wine to most states for the last several years but liquor and wine deliveries haven't quite caught up. Beer wholesalers reportedly aren't crazy about Speier's idea though independent brewers expressed interest.

The measure would not override any state bans on alcohol shipments.

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Discover Bank rapped for illegal student loan servicing practices

The bank's actions will cost it $18.5 million

Discover Bank and its affiliates are under fire from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) for illegal private student loan servicing practices. ...

PhotoDiscover Bank and its affiliates are under fire from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) for illegal private student loan servicing practices.

 

According to the agency, Discover overstated the minimum amounts due on billing statements and denied consumers information they needed to obtain federal income tax benefits. The company also engaged in illegal debt collection tactics, including calling consumers early in the morning and late at night.

 

The CFPB’s order requires Discover to refund $16 million to consumers, pay a $2.5 million penalty, and improve its billing, student loan interest reporting, and collection practices.

 

“Discover created student debt stress for borrowers by inflating their bills and misleading them about important benefits,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Illegal servicing and debt collection practices add insult to injury for borrowers struggling to pay back their loans.”

 

Discover Bank's student loan affiliates -- The Student Loan Corporation and Discover Products, Inc. -- are also charged in this action. Beginning in 2010, Discover expanded its private student loan portfolio by acquiring more than 800,000 accounts from Citibank.

 

As a loan servicer, Discover is responsible for providing basic services to borrowers, including accurate periodic account statements, supplying year-end tax information, and contacting borrowers regarding overdue amounts.

 

Huge debt market

 

Student loans make up the nation’s second largest consumer debt market. Today there are more than 40 million federal and private student loan borrowers and collectively these consumers owe more than $1.2 trillion. The market is now facing an increasing number of borrowers who are struggling to stay current on their loans.

 

Earlier this year, the CFPB revealed that more than 8 million borrowers were in default on more than $110 billion in student loans, a problem that may be driven by breakdowns in student loan servicing. While private student loans are a small portion of the overall market, they are generally used by borrowers with high levels of debt who also have federal loans.

 

According to CFPB, thousands of consumers encountered problems as soon as their loans became due and Discover gave them account statements that overstated their minimum payment. Discover denied consumers information that they would have needed to obtain tax benefits and called consumers’ mobile phones at inappropriate times to contact them about their debts.

 

Charges outlined

 

Specifically, the CFPB found that the company:

  • Overstated the minimum amount due in billing statements
  • Misrepresented on its website the amount of student loan interest paid
  • Illegally called consumers early in the morning and late at night, often excessively
  • Engaged in illegal debt collection tactics

Enforcement action

 

Among the terms of the consent order, Discover must:

 

  • Return $16 million to more than 100,000 borrowers: Specifically, Discover will:
  1. Provide an account credit (or a check if the loans are no longer serviced by Discover) to the consumers who were misled about their minimum payments in an amount equal to the greater of $100 or 10 percent of the overpayment, up to $500. About 5,200 victims will get this credit;
  2. Reimburse up to $300 in tax preparation costs for consumers who amend their 2011 or 2012 tax returns to claim student loan interest deductions. For consumers who do not participate in this tax program or did not take advantage of earlier ones offered by the company, Discover will issue an account credit of $75 (or a check if their loans are no longer serviced by Discover) for each relevant tax year. About 130,000 victims will receive this relief; and
  3. Provide account credits of $92 to consumers subjected to more than 5 but fewer than 25 out-of-time collection calls and account credits of $142 to consumers subjected to more than 25 calls. About 5,000 victims will receive these credits.
  • Accurately represent the minimum periodic payment: Discover cannot misrepresent to consumers the minimum periodic payment owed, the amount of interest paid, or any other factual material concerning the servicing of their loans.
  • Send clear and accurate student loan interest and tax information to borrowers: Discover must send borrowers the IRS W-9S form that it requires them to complete to receive a form 1098 from the company, and it must clearly explain its W-9S requirement to borrowers. Discover must also accurately state the amount of student loan interest borrowers paid during the year.
  • Cease making calls to consumers before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.: Discover must contact overdue borrowers at reasonable times. This will be determined by the time zone of the consumer’s known residence or phone number, unless the consumer has expressly authorized Discover to call outside these hours.
  • Pay $2.5 million civil penalty: Discover will pay $2.5 million to the CFPB’s Civil Penalty Fund.

 

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House prices continue to edge upward

Still, the Federal Housing Finance Agency monthly House Price Index is below its peak

House prices in the U.S., as measured by the Federal Housing Finance Agency's (FHFA) monthly House Price Index (HPI) rose in May. The 0.4% advance, on a s...

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Retailers ratchet back their economic forecast

A steady increase in sales is still being projected

Looks like this year won't be quite as good for retailers as they expected. The National Retail Federation (NRF) says unexpected slow growth recorded duri...

PhotoLooks like this year won't be quite as good for retailers as they expected.

 

The National Retail Federation (NRF) says unexpected slow growth recorded during the first half of the year, similar to the industry’s experience in 2014, has prompted it to lower its retail sales forecast for 2015.

 

NRF forecasted in February that retail sales would grow 4.1 percent in 2015 over 2014, but today’s revision lowers the forecast to 3.5 percent. However, NRF expects sales will steadily increase through the remainder of the year.

 

Back in February, the retailing trade organization forecasted 4.1% growth in sales for 2015. The revision lowers it to 3.5%.

 

Federal fumbling

 

“For years consumer spending has been hampered by lackluster growth in our economy,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “Much of that blame can be shifted to Washington where too much time has been spent crafting rules and regulations that almost guarantee negative consequences for consumers and American businesses alike.” Until the government and our elected leaders “get serious about enacting policies that lift consumer confidence, create economic growth and spur investment,” he added, “we will continue this trend of solid, but not exceptional, performance in the economy.”

 

NRF calculated that sales grew 2.9% during the first half of 2015 and are expected to grow at a more positive pace of 3.7% over the next five months. The estimates include general retail sales and non-store sales, and exclude automobiles, gas stations and restaurants. Revised non-store sales are now expected to grow between 6-and-8%, still within the 7-to-10% range originally forecast.

 

“A confluence of events, including treacherous weather throughout the United States through most of the winter, issues at the West Coast ports, a stronger U.S. dollar, weak foreign growth and declines in energy sector investments all significantly and negatively impacted retail sales so far this year, and thus have changed how future sales will shape up for the rest of 2015,” said NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz. “Additionally, household spending patterns appear to have shifted purchases toward services and away from goods, though this may be transitory. Additionally, a deflationary retail environment has been especially challenging for retailers’ bottom lines.”  

 

 

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Gallup digs deep to identify gluten avoiders

Who are these people who are determined to avoid gluten?

Who are all these people who are trying to avoid gluten in their food? They may not be the usual suspects -- you know, th...

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Photo (c) AGcuesta - Fotolia

Who are all these people who are trying to avoid gluten in their food? They may not be the usual suspects -- you know, the Santa Monica yoga instructor who drives a Prius and wears bamboo clothes.

It's been generally known that about one in five Americans -- about 20% -- say they try to avoid gluten while about the same number try to avoid gluten-free foods and the rest don't think much about it either way.

In a July poll, Gallup tried to pin it down a bit more. Researchers asked 1,009 Americans about the foods they include, or avoid, in their diet as part of its annual Consumption Habits poll. "Gluten-free foods" was included in the list this year for the first time.

They found that, while demographic differences were fairly minor, one in three nonwhite Americans, compared with only 17% of whites, said they active pursue gluten-free foods. Age didn't seem to be a major factor. Nor did gender.

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More educated and wealthier Americans tend to be less likely to include gluten free-foods in their diet than Americans with no college experience and lower-income Americans, respectively, but these differences are also not large.

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Just,1%

Gluten is a former of protein that's found in,wheat, rye and barley and their derivatives. It can damage the small intestine of people with celiac disease, which is estimated to affect 1,in 100 people -- 1% in other words -- worldwide.

Obviously, 1% is a lot smaller than 20% so why are all those non-celiac sufferers avoiding gluten like the plague?

Many Americans say they simply feel better when they avoid gluten, which is often added to bread, cereal and other packaged foods to boost the protein content.,

Consumers who try to pursue a "natural" diet with an emphasis on non-processed foods say gluten is just one of the additives they try to avoid. Some of them believe that foods containing extra amounts of gluten also contain other additives that upset their gastric tract.

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More research suggests bystanders can save lives with CPR

It's another reason to learn the procedure

You're waiting at a bus stop when the person standing next to clutches his chest and keels over.What do you do? If you have been trained in CPR and adm...

PhotoYou're waiting at a bus stop when the person standing next to clutches his chest and keels over.

What do you do? If you have been trained in CPR and administer it to the poor fellow, and paramedics quickly arrive on the scene, chances are he'll be okay.

At least that's the conclusion of new research from Duke University, which studied whether CPR administered by a bystander made a difference in whether someone suffering from cardiac arrest survived. They found that it did.

“We were surprised to learn that survival increased only for those who received bystander-initiated CPR, compared with those who did not receive bystander-initiated CPR,” said lead author Carolina Malta Hansen, of the Duke Clinical Research Institute. “Also, patients who received bystander or first-responder CPR and defibrillation were more likely to survive compared to those who received CPR and defibrillation once EMS arrived. This suggests that the very earliest intervention is crucial, and is something anyone can do. It saves lives.”

Previous research

Japanese researchers reached a somewhat similar conclusion in 2013. They found that performing CPR on a heart attack victim for 38 minutes or longer can improve a patient’s chance of survival. It also improves the chances that survivors will have normal brain function, researchers said.

The common thread appears to be the importance of an immediate response. After allowing for other factors that can affect neurological outcomes, the Japanese researchers found that the odds of surviving an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest without severe brain damage dropped 5% for every 60 seconds that passed before normal blood circulation was restored.

Sudden cardiac arrest kills an estimated 200,000 people a year in the U.S., making it one of the leading causes of death. Senior author of the Duke study, Christopher Granger, says the data he and the research team examined showed that there has been more bystander-initiated CPR in recent years.

“During the past decade, there has been a focus on increasing bystander CPR,” he said. “Our findings show that survival can be improved by strengthening first-responder programs and encouraging more bystander CPR.”

Where to learn

In recent years doctors have concluded that mouth-to-mouth resuscitation is not necessary, that chest-compression CPR is more effective. There are many places to learn the technique, but YouTube is not one of them.

Researchers writing in the October 2014 issue of Emergency Medicine Australasia investigated the accuracy of YouTube videos on CPR, checking them against the 2010 CPR guidelines.

It concluded that the majority of YouTube video clips purporting to be about CPR are not relevant educational material. Of those that are focused on teaching CPR, only a small minority optimally meet the 2010 guidelines, the study found.

That's not to say there isn't reliable, relevant information on the Internet. The trouble is finding it.

You can usually trust CPR instructions from major health institutions like the Mayo Clinic. Your local branch of the Red Cross likely offers free training classes as well.

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Initial jobless claims fall to 42-year low

Leading economic indicators posted their third advance in a row

Fewer people, it would appear, lost their jobs last week. The Labor Department (DOL) reports first time applications for state jobless benefits fell by 26...

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© Marzky Ragsac Jr. - Fotolia

Fewer people, it would appear, lost their jobs last week.

 

The Labor Department (DOL) reports first time applications for state jobless benefits fell by 26,000 in the week ending July 18 to seasonally adjusted total of 255,000. That's the lowest level for initial claims since November 24, 1973, when it was 233,000.

 

DOL says there were no special factors affecting the claims level. Economists at Briefing.com., who were expecting the claims level to drop to 279,000, say the fact that there were no special factors leads them to believe that the drop will be temporary and that the level will soon be back in the 275,000 – 290,000 range.

 

The 4-week moving average, considered a better gauge of the labor market that the volatile initial claims, fell by 4,000 to 278,500.

 

The complete report is available on the DOL website.

 

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© z_amir - Fotolia

Leading economic indicators

 

From The Conference Board, word that its Leading Economic Index (LEI) rose for a third straight month, increasing by 0.6% on top of gains of 0.8% in May and 0.6% in April.

 

The upward trend in the LEI, said Ataman Ozyildirim, Director, Business Cycles and Growth Research, at The Conference Board, “seems to be gaining more momentum with another large increase in June pointing to continued strength in the economic outlook for the remainder of the year. Housing permits and the interest rate spread drove the latest gain in the LEI, while labor market indicators such as average workweek and initial claims remained unchanged.”

 

The 10 components of the LEI include:

  1. Average weekly hours, manufacturing
  2. Average weekly initial claims for unemployment insurance
  3. Manufacturers’ new orders, consumer goods and materials
  4. ISM Index of New Orders
  5. Manufacturers' new orders, nondefense capital goods excluding aircraft orders
  6. Building permits, new private housing units
  7. Stock prices, 500 common stocks
  8. Leading Credit Index
  9. Interest rate spread, 10-year Treasury bonds less federal funds
  10. Average consumer expectations for business conditions

 

 

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Robotic hotels may become standard in the not-too-distant future

The first robotic hotel has already opened in Japan and boasts a 5-star rating

Technology is creeping its way into every facet of our lives. Smart phones, smart cars, and even smart houses demonstrate how the global community is commi...

PhotoTechnology is creeping its way into every facet of our lives. Smart phones, smart cars, and even smart houses demonstrate how the global community is committed to technological advancement.

Japan is a country that has given itself over to technology, and it has now developed a hotel that is managed by robots. Though they may seem like something out of science fiction, these robotic hotels could be coming to a city near you in the not-too-distant future.

The hotel in question opened this past week and already has a five-star rating. Humanoid robots greet guests and are able to carry on conversations quite intelligently. Hotel staff, such as bellhops, are androids that perform the functions their human counterparts would see to in a normal hotel. They can carry your luggage, clean your room, and help you store your belongings in safe areas, and they don’t even require a tip.

When construction of the hotel was first announced, Huis Ten Bosch President Hideo Sawada said that he hoped the robots would be able to run 90% of the hotel eventually. He told Japan’s Nikkei News that they are fully committed to the project, and are planning on having 1,000 robotic hotels up and running all over the world.

The company is attempting to implement technology into every facet of the hotel experience. Rooms can be accessed by guests who use facial recognition software, which means their belongings are safer than in other hotels. If guests need anything, they can ask for it by using tablets that come standard with every room. Climate control is tuned specifically to each guest’s body temperature; if sensors detect that the room is too hot or cold, then radiation panels adjust the temperature back to normal.

Guests who visit the hotel should expect varying prices upon check-in. Room rates fluctuate according to demand, and in peak seasons the rooms will go to the highest bidder. This shouldn’t get too out of control though, as the hotel states that opening fees will start at $60 dollars for a single room and can go no higher than $153, for a triple room, through the bidding process. However, if you are interested in a superior or deluxe room then it will cost you a little more. 

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Dodge Journey vehicles recalled

The engine cover may detach from the engine and contact the exhaust manifold

Chrysler (FCA US) is recalling 144,416 model year 2011-2015 Dodge Journey vehicles manufactured July 19, 2010, to May 26, 2015 and equipped with 2.4L engin...

PhotoChrysler (FCA US) is recalling 144,416 model year 2011-2015 Dodge Journey vehicles manufactured July 19, 2010, to May 26, 2015 and equipped with 2.4L engines.

 

The engine cover may detach from the engine and contact the exhaust manifold, increasing the risk of a vehicle fire.

 

Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will install an improved mounting system for the engine cover, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin August 26, 2015.

 

Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is R32.

 

 

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Ronan Bistro chairs recalled

The rear metal legs can bend unexpectedly

Cost Plus Management Services of Oakland, Calif., is recalling about 9,200 Ronan Bistro chairs. The rear metal legs can bend unexpectedly and cause the ch...

PhotoCost Plus Management Services of Oakland, Calif., is recalling about 9,200 Ronan Bistro chairs.

 

The rear metal legs can bend unexpectedly and cause the chair to become unbalanced, posing a fall hazard to the user.

 

The firm has received 3 reports of bent or fractured or torn rear chair legs. No injuries have been reported.

 

This recall involves metal Ronan Bistro chairs intended for outdoor use. The chairs measure 35 inches tall, have a slatted seat, a 2 horizontal-slat back and were sold in antique white, lagoon blue and Poinciana (red).

 

SKU number 502281, 502282 or 502283 is printed on the UPC sticker attached to the sales tag at the time of purchase.

 

The chairs, manufactured in China, were sold exclusively at Cost Plus World Market and World Market stores nationwide and online at www.worldmarket.com from February 2015, through May 2015, for about $60.

 

Consumers should immediately stop using the Ronan Bistro chairs and return them to any Cost Plus World Market or World Market store for a full refund.

 

Consumers may contact Cost Plus World Market toll-free at (877) 967-5362 from 7 a.m. to midnight (ET) daily.

 

 

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How to maximize the return on your college investment

5 simple strategies to get more bang for your higher education buck

College is a lot more competitive and incredibly more expensive for the current generation than when Baby Boomers went off to change the world. Now, Boo...

PhotoCollege is a lot more competitive and incredibly more expensive for the current generation than when Baby Boomers went off to change the world.

Now, Boomers are sending their children, and in some cases grand-children, to college and are seeing the challenges first hand. Gallup Senior Research Consultant Valerie Calderon is sending her son off to college in the fall, and has spent significant time thinking about the challenges he'll face.

In an op-ed for Gallup, she offers up five strategies for soon-to-be college students:

Find a mentor: navigating freshman year can be tough, so knowing someone at the school who has been through it all and who can offer some guidance can increase your chance of success. Calderon says what a student can learn from a mentor will stay with them after they graduate and move on to a career.

Start looking for a job right away: It's not that you would actually take a job, but Calderon says talking to hiring managers early in your college careerwill help you find out what they are looking for in a candidate. By your junior year you should be competing for internships, and by senior year you should be sending out resumes.

Calderson says many hiring managers complain that college graduates lack the skills they are looking for. Getting to know what those skills are early in the process can help you be better prepared to meet expectations.

Finish what you start: A lot of students start college but leave without a degree. If you start, Calderon says you should finish. Getting a degree will open a lifetime of doors.

“You may hold many jobs over the course of your lifetime -- a recent report indicated that among baby boomers the lifetime average is 12 jobs -- and completing your degree could increase the chances of finding and crafting the job of your dreams,” she writes.

Avoid debt, pay as you go: This is a biggie. Calderson says higher education has encouraged a “borrow-as-you-go” trend when students should be paying as they go. True, people borrow because college is so expensive. But as we have pointed out in the past, working for the right company or getting your degree online from the right institution can earn a debt-free degree.

By doing this, you can avoid leaving college with a mortgage-sized debt that will limit your economic future, even if you manage to get a good job. Figuring out how you are going to pay for your education should be a major factor in selecting a school.

Find the right fit: And speaking of selecting a school, Calderon advises enrolling in the school that is right for you.

“Attend a school with opportunities for you to do what you do best every day -- one that helps you develop your knowledge, skills and strengths to their fullest potential,” she writes.

After all, college is expensive. Get the most for your money.

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Justice Department OKs AT&T-DirecTV lash-up

The FCC is expected to do the same, making it a done deal

AT&T's proposed $48 billion acquisition of DirecTV cleared two hurdles yesterday, as the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission gave ...

PhotoAT&T's proposed $48 billion acquisition of DirecTV cleared two hurdles yesterday, as the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission gave their blessings.

The Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division said it was closing its investigation into the merger and FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said ,a final order approving the transaction has been circulated to the Commission.

“After an extensive investigation, we concluded that the combination of AT&T’s land-based internet and video business with DirecTV’s satellite-based video business does not pose a significant risk to competition,” said Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer of the Antitrust Division.,

“Our investigation benefited from the Division’s close and constructive working relationship with the FCC. The commitments that the proposed FCC order includes, if adopted, will provide significant benefits to millions of subscribers.”

"Directly benefit consumers"

Wheeler said the deal contains a "number of conditions that will directly benefit consumers by bringing more competition to the broadband marketplace."

"If the conditions are approved by my colleagues, 12.5 million customer locations will have access to a competitive high-speed fiber connection. This additional build-out is about 10 times the size of AT&T’s current fiber-to-the-premise deployment, increases the entire nation’s residential fiber build by more than 40 percent, and more than triples the number of metropolitan areas AT&T has announced plans to serve," Wheeler said in a prepared statement.

Wheeler said the conditions will also comply with the FCC's Net Neutrality rules.

"AT&T will not be permitted to exclude affiliated video services and content from data caps,on its fixed broadband connections. Second, in order to bring greater transparency to interconnection practices, the company will be required to submit all completed interconnection agreements to the Commission, along with regular reports on network performance," Wheeler said.

The deal would create the country’s largest television distributor with about 26 million subscribers, surpassing Comcast, the current leader.

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Altering molecules that control motivation, pleasure, and reward can help those suffering from depression

Researchers have found that increasing cAMP levels in the brain may change our behavioral response to stressors

Overcoming depression can be a major challenge for people who experience it every day. There are currently over 120 million people who suffer from it world...

PhotoOvercoming depression can be a major challenge for people who experience it every day. There are currently over 120 million people who suffer from it worldwide, and the existing therapies and prescriptions do not work for everyone. Luckily, recent research has found that elevating the levels of a signaling molecule in the brain can alter a person’s response to stress. This discovery could provide a new approach to treating depression.

The study was conducted by researchers from the UT Southwestern Medical Center. They found that mice changed their stress-induced behaviors when cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) levels in their brains were increased. This is extremely relevant to depression because other studies have showed that depressed people often have impaired cAMP signaling in their brains. Most antidepressants work by attempting to turn this signaling system on.

“This is the first step in the development of a treatment for patients with major depressive disorder using this new strategy,” said Dr. James Bibb, who is the lead author the study and a professor of psychiatry, neurology, and neurotherapeutics at UT Southwestern.

Changing responses to stressors

The cAMP levels in the brain correlate with feelings of pleasure, motivation, and reward. They are controlled by a variety of other molecules, which include an enzyme called phosphodiesterase-4 (PDE4). By disrupting PDE4 levels in the brain, scientists found that cAMP levels were able to elevate higher within the mice, which changed their behavioral responses to different stressors.

The researchers have already developed a drug-like peptide that they hope can selectively block PDE4 function. If successful, it could provide a new way for people with depressive disorders to deal with their condition and the stressors that cause it.  

“These exciting findings could help us develop very novel treatments to reduce stress response and prevent or treat depression effectively in the future," said Dr. Madhukar Trivedi, who is the Director of the Center of Depression Research and Clinical Care. The full study has been published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

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Experian faces class-action suit over selling data to identity thieves

Plaintiffs want to force Experian to notify victims and make restitution

It's been almost two years since word first leaked out that the massive data broker Experian had, through a subsidiary known as Court Ventures, allowed a V...

PhotoIt's been almost two years since word first leaked out that the massive data broker Experian had, through a subsidiary known as Court Ventures, allowed a Vietnamese identity thief to buy access to databases containing the personal and confidential information on up to 5 out of every 6 American adults — 200 million people in all.

The identity thief in question, Hieu Minh Ngo, was sentenced last week to 13 years in prison.

Law suit cites negligence

A couple days later, on July 17, three plaintiffs filed a federal class action suit against Experian in California, alleging that the company was negligent in allowing an identity thief to buy access to its data for nearly 10 months.

Security expert Brian Krebs (who first broke word of the Experian breach in October 2013) announced the lawsuit yesterday. The 38-page suit, which is available as a .pdf here, seeks statutory damages for alleged violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, declaratory and injunctive relief, and reimbursement of the plaintiffs' court costs and litigation expenses.

The suit also claims that “Experian refuses to notify the victims of Ngo's identity fraud operation or provide them with protection even though Experian knows their identities, and its senior vice president promised Congress [that] Experian would 'make sure they're protected'.”

Therefore, the plaintiffs have asked the court to force Experian to notify all consumers who were affected by Ngo's actions. They're also pushing for Experian to provide everyone who was affected with free credit monitoring services.

Incidentally, in American English, the phrase “make a federal case” is a common idiomatic phrase used to indicate that somebody is overreacting: “Dude, he didn't intend to spill your drink! There's no need to make a federal case out of this.” But in other contexts, it's not an idiom but a straightforward description, as in “Apparently you do need to make a federal case out of it, if you want Experian to notify the victims of its own negligence.”

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Home sales, prices on the rise in June

The national median sales price is at an all-time high

Sales of previously-owned homes rose last month to their highest pace in over 8 years as the median sales price hit a record high. The National Associatio...

PhotoSales of previously-owned homes rose last month to their highest pace in over 8 years as the median sales price hit a record high.

 

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports total existing-home sales -- completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops – were up 3.2% in June to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.49 million.

 

Sales are now at their highest pace since February 2007, have increased year-over-year for 9 consecutive months and are 9.6% above a year ago (5.01 million).

 

Return of the buyers

 

"Buyers have come back in force, leading to the strongest past two months in sales since early 2007," said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. "This wave of demand is being fueled by a year-plus of steady job growth and an improving economy that's giving more households the financial wherewithal and incentive to buy."

 

Yun says June sales were also likely propelled by the spring's initial phase of rising mortgage rates, which, he said, “usually prods some prospective buyers to buy now rather than wait until later when borrowing costs could be higher."

 

Prices and inventories

 

The median existing-home price for all housing types in June was $236,400, which is 6.5% above June 2014 and surpasses the peak median sales price set in July 2006 ($230,400). June's price increase also marks the 40th consecutive month of year-over-year gains.

 

The median is the point at which half of houses sold for more and half for less.

 

Total housing inventory at the end of June inched up 0.9% to 2.30 million existing homes available for sale, and is 0.4% higher than a year ago. Unsold inventory is at a 5.0-month supply at the current sales pace, compared with 5.1 months in May.

 

"Limited inventory amidst strong demand continues to push home prices higher, leading to declining affordability for prospective buyers," said Yun. "Local officials in recent years have rightly authorized permits for new apartment construction, but more needs to be done for condominiums and single-family homes."

 

Sales and prices by region

 

  • Existing-home sales in the Northeast climbed 4.3% last month to an annual rate of 720,000, and are now 12.5% above a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $281,200 -- up 3.9% from June 2014.
  • In the Midwest, sales rose 4.7% to an annual rate of 1.33 million, a year-over-year gain of 12.7%. The median price in the Midwest was $190,000, up 7.2% from a year ago.
  • Sales in the South totaled 2.20 million, a gain of 2.3%, and are 7.3 percent above the same time last year. The median price in the South rose 7.2% from a year ago to $205,000.
  • Existing-home sales in the West rose 2.5% to an annual rate of 1.24 million in June -- 8.8% above a year ago. The median price in the West was $328,900, which is 9.9% above June 2014.

 

 

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Compulsive drinking: It may be in your genes

New research could lead to treatments

Results of a recent animal study funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism suggest that carrying a gene variant that affects the rel...

PhotoResults of a recent animal study funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism suggest that carrying a gene variant that affects the release of a specific brain protein may put one at greater risk of developing an alcohol use disorder.

 

Scientists led by Professor Dorit Ron, PhD, Endowed Chair of Cell Biology of Addiction, Department of Neurology, University of California, San Francisco, found that mice carrying the Met68BDNF gene variant, which reduces the release of brain-derived neurotrophic (BDNF) factor, would consume excessive amounts of alcohol, despite negative consequences.

 

BDNF plays a role in the survival of existing neurons and the growth of new neurons and synapses, the junctures through which cell-to-cell communication occurs. The human form of this gene variant, Met66BDNF, leads to a reduction in the normal function of BDNF in the brain and is associated with several psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia and depression.

 

In an animal study reported earlier this year, NIAAA-supported scientists found that adolescent binge drinking was linked to lower levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, and these changes persisted into adulthood.

 

“Genetic factors play a role in determining who develops alcohol problems,” said Dr. George Koob, PhD, NIAAA Director. “By understanding the genetic underpinnings of alcohol use disorder, we will be better able to develop targeted treatment and prevention strategies.”

Alcohol addiction in mice

 

In the study, published in Biological Psychiatry, researchers tested the role of BDNF in alcohol addiction by creating a “knock-in” mouse carrying Met68BDNF. In this variant, the amino acid valine (Val) is replaced by methionine (Met) in a specific position within the protein sequence of BDNF, resulting in reduced activity-dependent BDNF release.

 

These “knock-in” mice drank more alcohol, even when the alcohol was treated with bitter-tasting quinine. This suggests Met68BDNF carriers compulsively drink alcohol despite aversive consequences.

 

The effect of the genetic mutation seemed to be specific to alcohol consumption since the mice did not differ in their consumption of other fluids, or exhibit differences in levels of anxiety or compulsive behaviors

Practical application

 

Significantly, researchers were able to reverse compulsive alcohol drinking in the mice using gene delivery and pharmacology. Increasing levels of BDNF in the ventromedial portion of the prefrontal cortex, a brain region involved in compulsive drug and alcohol seeking, returned the mice to moderate levels of alcohol intake.

 

In addition, by administering a pharmaceutical compound developed to mimic the action of BDNF, researchers were also able to put a stop to compulsive drinking behaviors. This compound (LM22A-4) may have potential as a therapeutic for humans. It appears to reduce compulsive alcohol drinking without a generalized effect on motivation.

 

Alcohol use disorder affects about 16.6 million U.S. adults. Knowing whether patients carry a gene that results in decreased BDNF function could help in tailoring alcohol prevention and treatment strategies in the future.

 

 

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States urge phone companies to offer call-blocking technology to fight robo-calls

New federal rules now allow telecom companies to offer the technology

The attorneys general of 45 states are urging the five major telephone companies to offer their customers call-blocking technology to assist them in avoidi...

PhotoThe attorneys general of 45 states are urging the five major telephone companies to offer their customers call-blocking technology to assist them in avoiding unwanted robo-calls. 

Attorney General George Jepsen has joined 44 other state attorneys general in

In a letter sent to the chief executives of the carriers, the attorneys general noted that a new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rule clarification allows telecom companies to offer customers the ability to block unwanted calls.

Telephone companies previously claimed that federal law administered by the FCC prohibited them from implementing existing technologies to block robocalls.

In the letter to AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile and CenturyLink, the attorneys general said, “Every year, our offices are flooded with consumer complaints pleading for a solution to stop intrusive robocalls.  Your companies are now poised to offer your customers the help they need.  We urge you to act without delay.”
 

“Robocalls can be annoying and intrusive for those that receive them repeatedly. I am pleased to see that the FCC has made it clear that phone companies can now assist us in our fight against these calls,” said Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen. “We will continue to press these phone carriers to move quickly and inform their consumers of these options.”

Last September, 39 attorneys general called on the FCC to clarify that phone companies are legally permitted to utilize call-blocking technologies at their customers' request.  The FCC chairman endorsed the request in late May and the FCC voted to pass the rule clarification on June 18. 
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Study finds e-cigarettes may be as addictive as "real" ones

Nicotine in e-cigs is as addictive other forms of the chemical, researchers say

Electronic cigarettes or "e-cigs" have been touted as a safer tool smokers can use to wean themselves off of traditional cigarettes. But is that really tru...

PhotoElectronic cigarettes or "e-cigs" have been touted as a safer tool smokers can use to wean themselves off of traditional cigarettes. But is that really true? After all, e-cig liquid contains nicotine and emits carcinogens, just like tobaco-based cigarettes.

A research team reports in the ACS journal Chemical Research in Toxicology that much of the nicotine in e-cigarettes is the addictive form of the compound.

Although e-cigs don't burn tobacco, they heat and vaporize a liquid that contains nicotine, flavorings and other substances. 

Some experts say the nicotine content in e-cigs could lead users to become addicted to e-cigs, or that it could even serve as a gateway to conventional cigarettes and other drugs. But not all nicotine is created equal, and studies had yet to investigate what kind of nicotine was in the liquids.

Out of three forms, scientists believe "free-base" nicotine is the only one that gets absorbed by the body, making it the most addictive kind. Najat Saliba and colleagues wanted to find out which nicotine forms are in e-cigs.

The researchers tested commercial samples of liquids made for the devices and found that, by and large, the nicotine was in the most addictive form. They also determined that the concentration of nicotine varied and often didn't match the concentrations the labels claimed.

Funding for the study came from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the U.S. FDA's Center for Tobacco Products.

 

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Home sales outpacing supply

The balance of power is tipping to sellers

Home sales are rising, which is good news for the housing market. But the downside to that good news is a shrinking inventory.As homes disappear from t...

PhotoHome sales are rising, which is good news for the housing market. But the downside to that good news is a shrinking inventory.

As homes disappear from the market, there aren't additional ones to take their place. That tips the balance of power toward sellers and could frustrate the new wave of first-time buyers just starting to look.

By its accounting, online real estate marketplace Redfin says home sales jumped 11.4% year-over-year in June, leaving buyers looking at the lowest inventory of available homes on record.

Selling quickly

June was also the fastest month for home sales on record, with median days on market falling to 26, breaking the record of 27 days set in June 2013.

Even with robust buyer demand and low inventory, Redfin reports prices have not responded accordingly. Prices were up, but only by a modest 5.1% year-over-year.

Even 5.1% might be high, since Denver, Miami, Los Angeles and San Francisco are commanding premiums that pushed up the national average. All four cities posted double-digit year-over-year price increases in June.

Prices elsewhere may have been held in check by conservative appraisals, which have become the norm under tighter loan underwriting guidelines.

Local Market Insights in June

In fact, some of the hotter markets are showing signs of cooling off over the last couple of months. In San Francisco, one of the most expensive housing markets in the nation, the median sale price fell 2.8% month-over-month, to $1.07 million. But year-over-year, prices were up 16.3%.

Redfin reports new listings in San Francisco declined 10.6% from June 2014. San Francisco hasn’t seen year-over-year growth in new listings since February 2014.

Home values continued to soar in Denver, rising 14.8% year-over-year to a median of $325,000. July was the eighth consecutive month of year-over-year price growth above 10%.

Denver was still the fastest-moving market, with half of all new listings selling in 6 days or less, followed by Seattle at 9, Portland at 10, and Boston and Omaha at 11.

According to Redfin, the pricey San Jose market suffered the biggest year-over-year drop in sales on record going back to 1998, falling by 50.7% since last year. In another bad sign for the market, inventory grew by 13.5% and average days on the market surged from 13 to 33 days.

Richmond, Va., led the nation in year-over-year sales growth, with a massive increase of 35.4% over last June. Boston had the highest increase from May to June at 49.3%.

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10 comfortable new cars under $30,000

Kelley Blue Book singles out cars with the best rides and legroom

Consumers choose a car for many different reasons. Safety and fuel economy are two very good ones; price is another.But what about how comfortable it i...

PhotoConsumers choose a car for many different reasons. Safety and fuel economy are two very good ones; price is another.

But what about how comfortable it is? For the amount of time you spend behind the wheel, doesn't it make sense that you and your passengers should ride in comfort?

The car experts at Kelley Blue Book (KBB) recently put their heads together to assemble a list of what they consider the 10 most comfortable new 2015 model cars selling for under $30,000.

"Our annual 'comfy cars' list is compiled of vehicles that have a luxury feel without draining the bulk of a consumer's monthly income," said Jack R. Nerad, executive editorial director and executive market analyst for Kelley Blue Book's KBB.com. "Our choices include vehicles that offer a comfortable driving experience, a roomy interior and the modern technological conveniences of luxury cars, yet at a more wallet-friendly price point."

Budget-priced isn't what it used to be

Now $30,000 may not be your idea of a budget-priced vehicle, but the average transaction price of new cars these days hovers just under $34,000. Luxury models can cost $50,000 on up.

The Kelley staff tried to think about comfortable cars for daily commutes and extended vacation road trips when they put together the list of what the staff considers stand-out vehicles. The staff said it considered features such as a smooth drive, technology, and seat comfort.

Here's the list:

  1. Chevrolet Impala: The newly redesigned Impala boasts a smooth ride and plenty of creature comforts. KBB says you'll like the car if you're looking for a big, “comfortable 5-passenger family sedan with style, technology and value.”
  2. Volvo S60: KBB says it has one of the most accommodating interiors in its class. “Performance is eager, with responsive handling and, topping it off, there's Volvo's long-standing reputation for the latest in safety features and occupant protection.”
  3. Chrysler 300: Updated for 2015 with fresh exterior styling, upgraded technology, and advanced safety features, the Chrysler 300 is, in the KBB editors' opinion, “a tempting choice for buyers seeking a roomy and powerful sedan at a good value.”
  4. Nissan Altima: With its "Zero Gravity" front seats inspired by NASA research, the Altima is one smooth ride.
  5. Honda Accord: Still fresh off a recent revamp that blessed it with new design and more efficient powertrains, the 2015 Accord also continues to offer its something-for-everyone appeal with easy driving manners and a broad lineup that ranges from a sub-$23,000 family sedan to a premium-quality hybrid.
  6. Volkswagen Passat: The Passat wins praise for its “limousine-like rear-seat legroom, and has handling manners that are proudly German.”
  7. Toyota Camry: The interior has been freshened with new materials, designs, and technologies, and the steering, braking, and suspension have all been revised for more responsive driving manners.
  8. Subaru Outback: Combines a stylish exterior with a roomy interior.
  9. Hyundai Sonota: The all-new Sonata lures prospective buyers with more features and even a touch of luxury for less money than the competition.
  10. Honda CR-V: Attractive new styling, appealing features, and noteworthy technology, and the 2.4-liter direct-injection engine with continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) delivers more power, performance, and fuel economy than in previous models.

The vehicles on the list all have a Kelley Blue Book Fair Purchase Price that starts below $30,000 as of June 2015.

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Kitchen remodel? IKEA may not be the answer

Consumers find big box stores don't make the best home improvement contractors

We've always thought of IKEA as sort Walmart with meatballs -- a cavernous warehouse store where the prices are relatively low, with customer service to ma...

PhotoWe've always thought of IKEA as sort Walmart with meatballs -- a cavernous warehouse store where the prices are relatively low, with customer service to match.

That's perhaps OK if you're ready for it, but not everyone is. We heard recently from one consumer who is temporarily disabled and who found that IKEA is perhaps not very accommodating to those who need a little extra help: 

She's not alone. In Miami, Andy stocked up at IKEA after moving and is still trying to get things straightened out, according to a ConsumerAffairs review he filed last week:

"Short version: driving to Ikea several times for no result, spending hours on a 'hotline' without result, loose doors, no matching colours, no assembly, I am stuck paying for everything Ikea promised me a refund for and the promised compensation for their blunders was simply cancelled. That's customer 'service' a la IKEA."

Annika of Seattle would like to start over: "Man, I really wish I had read all of the reviews here first before buying an Ikea kitchen. At this point I've decided to cut my losses with the Renton IKEA."

Annika said she spent countless hours at IKEA designing a kitchen for a rental house, and it was "truly the biggest waste of time EVER."

Her advice: "Spend the extra money upfront to get it done by Home Depot if you have any kind of schedule you have to stick to."

Actually, if you browse through the Home Depot reviews, you may decide it's better to hire a licensed contractor if you're doing a kitchen remodel. Using any big box store for a home improvement project doesn't always get the job done.

 

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Many cities may force you to spend half your income in rent

Be sure to shop around and be careful where you settle down

Renting used to be the easier way to have a home without all of the expenses tied to it. Things have changed quite a bit since the renting market went thro...

PhotoRenting used to be the easier way to have a home without all of the expenses tied to it. Things have changed quite a bit since the renting market went through the roof and now monthly rent checks could take a good portion of your salary in certain areas.

The Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies has conducted a study and published some staggering facts about renting in the United States. According to a 2013 report, tenants spend more than 30% of their paychecks on housing in nearly 20.7 million renting households.

Financial advisors counsel that you should spend less than a third of your pay on housing costs, but nearly 11 million renters spend more than half of their paychecks on utilities and rent. That is a 37% increase since 2003.

Rising rent prices

Historically, cities like New York or San Francisco have always had very high rents, but many other cities are beginning to follow suit.

“The rental housing crisis is everywhere,” says Angela Boyd, Vice President of Advocacy at Enterprise Community Partners. Her organization is active in supporting affordable housing.

Rents have shot up recently in locations like Miami. Nearly 36 percent of renters spent more than half of their pay on rent and utilities in the city in 2013, which is the highest of the 100 metro areas that were examined in the study. People with a median income of $32,000 were paying an average of $1,100 in rent each month. That equates to roughly 41 percent of their total income at the end of the year.

New Orleans is another city with extremely high rents. After Hurricane Katrina, the city was forced into a period of rebuilding that has heavily influenced the economy; 35 percent of renters in the city use more than half of their pay for housing as a result.

Middle class hit hardest

Middle class families have been hit hardest by these high prices. People making $45,000-$75,000 who spent more than 50 percent of their income on housing increased by 72 percent in a 10-year period, from 2003 to 2013. People making $30,000-$45,000 have been hit even harder in the same time period, with a 69 percent increase in people paying more than half their income on housing.

The most inexpensive apartments are usually grabbed up very quickly. Apartments that cost $800 dollars or less a month may only stay on the market for a matter of days before they are picked up. Metro areas tend to have less of these kinds of listings, and more luxury housing with higher price points.

Higher rent costs make saving for a down payment on a house a real struggle. If so much of your income is devoted to your current living situation, saving up for a house of your own may be quite a long struggle. 

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Little change in demand for mortgages

Refinance activity was off

Not much movement last week in the mortgage business. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey, mortgage...

PhotoNot much movement last week in the mortgage business.

 

According to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey, mortgage applications inched up a tiny 0.1% during the week ending July 17.

 

The Refinance Index was down 1%, with the refinance share of mortgage activity slipping to to 50.3% of total applications from 50.8 % the previous week. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity dropped to 7.3% of total applications.

 

The FHA share of total applications edged up to 14.0% from 13.8% the week prior, the VA share was 11.3%, and the USDA share of total applications was unchanged at 0.9%.

 

Contract interest rates

  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) was unchanged at 4.23%, with points decreasing to 0.34 from 0.39 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) dipped 4 basis points -- to 4.16% from 4.20%, with points increasing to 0.33 from 0.28 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA slipped from 4.02% to 4.00%, with points down to 0.17 from 0.26 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs held steady at 3.43%, with points rising to 0.34 from 0.33 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs fell to 3.08% from 3.13%, with points edging down to 0.41 from 0.42 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.

 

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

 

 

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FTC: Lifelock violates earlier deceptive claims settlement

A federal court is asked to order Lifelock to make refunds to affected customers

The Federal Trade Commission is charging that Lifelock has violated a 2010 settlement in which it agreed to stop making deceptive claims about its identity...

PhotoThe Federal Trade Commission is charging that Lifelock has violated a 2010 settlement in which it agreed to stop making deceptive claims about its identity theft protection service.

The commission is asking a federal court to order Lifelock to make refunds to customers affected by the alleged violations.

“It is essential that companies live up to their obligations under orders obtained by the FTC,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “If a company continues with practices that violate orders and harm consumers, we will act.”

The 2010 settlement stemmed from previous FTC allegations that LifeLock used false claims to promote its identity theft protection services. The settlement barred the company from making any further deceptive claims; required LifeLock to take more stringent measures to safeguard the personal information it collects from customers and required LifeLock to pay $12 million for consumer refunds.

LifeLock July 22, 2015, 11:16 a.m.
Consumers rate LifeLock

The FTC charged today that in spite of these promises, from at least October 2012 through March 2014, LifeLock violated the 2010 Order by:

1) failing to establish and maintain a comprehensive information security program to protect its users’ sensitive personal data, including credit card, social security, and bank account numbers;

2) falsely advertising that it protected consumers’ sensitive data with the same high-level safeguards as financial institutions; and

3) failing to meet the 2010 order’s recordkeeping requirements.

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Osamu Corporation recalls frozen tuna products from distributors

The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

Osamu Corporation of Gardena, Calif., is recalling all of its frozen tuna (loin, saku, chunk, slice, and ground market forms) sourced from one processing p...

PhotoOsamu Corporation of Gardena, Calif., is recalling all of its frozen tuna (loin, saku, chunk, slice, and ground market forms) sourced from one processing plant in Indonesia.

 

The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

 

There have been two reports of illness associated with a single distributor in Minnesota.

 

The frozen tuna was sold in bulk packaging to distributors who further sold it to sushi restaurants, and grocery stores, which packaged sushi rolls made available for consumers to purchase and take home.

 

The products, sold at stores throughout the U.S. from May 9, 2014 to July 9, 2015 contain all sequential four digit Purchase Order Numbers (PO#) of 8563 through 8599.

 

The Purchase Order Number (PO#) is printed on each product carton box end panel.

 

Consumers concerned about whether the sushi they purchased may contain the recalled tuna product should check with the place of purchase. Customers who purchased the recalled products from their distributors should return them to the distributor for a full refund.

 

Consumers with questions may contact the company at 1-310-849-8881, Monday through Friday, 8 A.M. to 5 P.M. (PDT).

 

 

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The Natural Dog Company recalls Tremenda Sticks pet chews

The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

The Natural Dog Company of Windsor, Colo., is recalling 12-oz bags of 12-inch Tremenda Sticks pet chews. The products may be contaminated with Salmonella....

PhotoThe Natural Dog Company of Windsor, Colo., is recalling 12-oz bags of 12-inch Tremenda Sticks pet chews.

 

The products may be contaminated with Salmonella.

 

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

 

The recalled products come in a 12-oz bag without a lot number or expiration date with UPC number: 851265004957. They were sold in retail stores in California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Utah and Washington.

 

Customers who purchased this product should discontinue use of it and may return the unused portion to the place of purchase for a full refund.

 

Consumers with questions may contact the company at 1-888-424-4602 – Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm (MST).

 

 

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Osamu Corporation recalls frozen yellow fin tuna chunk meat

The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

Osamu Corporation of Gardena, Calif., is recalling frozen yellow fin tuna chunk meat (Lot #68568) sold to AFC Corporation of Rancho Dominquez, Calif., so...

PhotoOsamu Corporation of Gardena, Calif., is recalling frozen yellow fin tuna chunk meat (Lot #68568) sold to AFC Corporation of Rancho Dominquez, Calif., sourced from one processing plant in Indonesia.

 

The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

 

There have been 2 reports of illness to date associated with exposure to AFC sushi in Minnesota.

 

The recalled product was shipped to AFC from May 15-26, 2015. AFC has sushi franchises nationwide in many different grocery stores and it is sold from sushi counters.

 

Customers concerned about whether the sushi they purchased may contain the recalled tuna product should check with the store where they purchased the sushi. That store will be able to determine if it used the recalled product to prepare the sushi.

 

Customers who have purchased the recalled product should return it to the distributor for a full refund.

 

Consumers with questions may contact the company at 1-310-849-8881, Monday through Friday, 8 A.M. to 5 P.M. (PDT).

 

 

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Jet.com lifts off, promising to change online retail

Wall Street appears skeptical that it's about to dethrone Amazon

After weeks of hype, ecommerce site Jet.com went live early Tuesday, promising the lowest prices on things you buy every day, like toothpaste and shampoo....

PhotoAfter weeks of hype, ecommerce site Jet.com went live early Tuesday, promising the lowest prices on things you buy every day, like toothpaste and shampoo.

The start-up has been compared to Amazon.com and eBay, but it might be closer to an online version of Costco. Consumers pay a $50 a year membership fee to use the site. The fee is being waived for a 3-month trial period.

Jet.com founder Marc Lore says his company is “reinventing the shopping club” as it markets millions of items, at or below cost.

"We have a very simple brand promise," said Lore. "Pay just $49.99 a year and you will save on pretty much anything you want to buy online. Jet guarantees that members will save at least the cost of membership or we will refund the difference."

Pricing algorithm

PhotoJet touts a pricing algorithm that it says finds savings in real time and shows customers the items that bring down costs when bought together. For example, if you order a toaster and decide to add a set of salad bowls, the cost of the bowls might be reduced because it's being shipped with the toaster.

Lore says Jet.com members will also save by making choices that avoid costs normally baked into online retail prices.

"Our platform is engineered more like a financial trading system than a traditional e-commerce marketplace," said Lore. "Because Jet's business model is to only profit from membership fees, not from the products we sell, all cost savings are passed back to the customer."

A bit of skepticism

That business model is drawing plenty of raised eyebrows on Wall Street. When Lore appeared on CNBC Tuesday morning to promote the launch, interviewers pressed him on the economic viability of his business plan, and the fact that the company will lose money on every item it obtains from third party sources.

“So how much are you losing on every sale today and how long can this go on?” asked CNBC's Andrew Ross Sorkin.

Lore replied that the company has $180 million in the bank but would need capital infusions before it is profitable.

Part of Wall Street's skepticism no doubt is based on Amazon's experience. While Amazon dominates the market and provides what many agree is a good product, it is barely profitable after 20 years.

Millennial values

But Jet says its approach is more than about just saving money. It is staking out territory firmly grounded in Millennial values, as reflected in its humorous approach in its introductory video, featuring stand-up comedian Kumail Nanjiani.

Joinem.com

Jet isn't alone in promising to reinvent commerce in pursuit of Millennial dollars. As we reported last month, Joinem.com is an audacious start-up that plans to use social media to sell its wares.

Led by former Priceline CEO Rich Braddock, the company promises to do to online shopping what Priceline did for the travel business.

"Two billion people around the world have a need for great commercial deals," Braddock told ConsumerAffairs last month. "Everyone is going to be online but our difference is collaborative buying. We tell the customer what the lowest price on the Internet is, which just happens to be our price."

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Sunburn tattoos: a really bad idea

Temporary tattoos can have permanent consequences

Dermatologists are alarmed by a new fad that they say is jeopardizing health. It's called sunburn tattooing, and doctors say there is nothing “cool” about...

PhotoDermatologists are alarmed by a new fad that they say is jeopardizing health. It's called sunburn tattooing, and doctors say there is nothing “cool” about it.

Some people are creating temporary tattoos by using sunblock or sunscreen to either stencil or freehand designs onto their skin. Then, they bake in the sun, purposefully getting a sunburn on their skin, with the red contrasting with their protected skin.

While it isn't permanent like a real tattoo, doctors say a sunburn tattoo can cause lasting damage.

“When you get any kind of unprotected sun exposure, you are doing damage to the DNA in your skin cells,” said Dr. Michael Ioffreda, a dermatologist at Penn State University Medical Center. “Your skin has memory, so the damage accumulates over time. Eventually, your body’s repair mechanisms can’t keep up and skin cancers erupt.”

True, you may not get skin cancer – at least, maybe not for a couple of decades – but there are more imminent, unappealing side effects of unprotected sunning, dermatologists warn.

Early wrinkles

Too much sun can bring on early wrinkles. Strangely colored spots and irregular pigmentation of the skin can also occur. Ironically, people often expose themselves to the sun's rays in search of healthy looking, radiant skin. Over the long haul, that isn't what they usually get.

Some people may have some degree of natural pigmentation in their skin and are less at risk for the harmful effects of unprotected sun exposure, but doctors say even they can be harmed by too much unprotected sun.

“As dermatologists, our stance is that there is no safe level of sun exposure,” Ioffreda said. “We can’t say it’s okay to get a tan once a week because we don’t know what the threshold is.”

Tattoo artists' warning

Even a traditional tattoo parlor is joining in the warnings against sunburn tattooing. Elite Tattoo Gallery of Jacksonville, N.C., says that you can't get a real tattoo if you have sunburned skin. 

“Tattooing breaks down your epidermis, which, if you’re sunburned, is already damaged,” the company says on its website. Your body is already trying to heal your sunburned skin, so more damage will only mean trouble for a fresh tattoo.”

Ioffreda suggests everyone should be using a daily moisturizer containing sunscreen. If you're going to be spending time in the sun each day, he recommends a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.

Sunscreen should always be applied 15 to 20 minutes before sun exposure so it has time to react chemically with your skin to form a protective shield. Ioffreda says it should be reapplied every hour and a half -- unless you are sweating or in water, in which case it should be reapplied more frequently. You can also use a sunblock such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide instead.

“That’s the real white stuff that lifeguards use,” Ioffreda said. “It’s almost like putting paint on your skin but it works immediately to reflect the sun’s rays.”

Ioffreda and other dermatologists worry about this new fad because it's spreading so quickly across social media. If you have to do it, he suggests doing it with a spray-on tanner. You can get the same effect, he says, without causing damage to your skin.

Henna tattoos

Another temporary tattoo fad has triggered the concern of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The agency says temporary tattoos marketed as "henna" are applied to the skin's surface and usually last two to four weeks.

Henna is a dark coloring made from a flowering plant that grows in tropical and subtropical regions of Africa and Asia. The FDA says henna body artists are using so-called "black henna," which is potentially harmful.

It says inks marketed as "black henna" may actually be hair dye or a mix of henna with other ingredients that can cause dangerous reactions. The FDA says reactions may occur immediately after the application or even up to two or three weeks later.

Reported problems include redness, blisters, raised red weeping lesions, loss of pigmentation, increased sensitivity to sunlight, and even permanent scarring.  

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Tougher consumer protection rules for military members adopted today

The new rule closes loopholes in previous versions of the Military Lending Act

The Defense Department today closed loopholes to protect U.S. men and women in uniform from predatory lending practices, adopting the final version of the...

PhotoThe Defense Department today closed loopholes to protect U.S. men and women in uniform from predatory lending practices, adopting the final version of the Military Lending Act, which covers all forms of payday loans, vehicle title loans, refund anticipation loans, deposit advance loans, installment loans, unsecured open-end lines of credit and credit cards.  

“We’re going to keep fighting to give our troops and veterans a chance to enjoy the American freedom you helped defend,” President Barack Obama said this morning as he previewed the measure at the 116th Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

“There’s already a lot to protect our troops and families against unscrupulous predatory lenders, but some of the worst abusers -- like payday lenders -- are exploiting loopholes to trap our troops in a vicious cycle of crushing debt,” Obama said.

“It is the right thing to do,” he said of the new rule.

Photo

"Important stand"

"With this action, the department takes an important stand against companies that can prey on our men and women in uniform,” Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work said in a news release after the president’s announcement.

The new version of the MLA addresses more types of credit products, including many that a three-year study found were often problematic for servicemembers.

Research by the Department of Defense released last year found that as many as one out of every ten enlisted servicemembers continued to be targeted by high-cost credit designed to evade the Military Lending Act.  DoD estimates that the final rule will reduce involuntary separation caused by financial hardship, resulting in a savings of $14 million a year or more

“This new rule addresses a range of credit products that previously escaped the scope of the regulation, compromising the financial readiness of our troops," Work said.

Consumer advocates praised the measure. 

“For nearly a decade, high-cost lenders have exploited loopholes in critical military financial protections so they can continue lending at abusive rates far above the 36 percent rate cap established by Congress,” said Tom Feltner, director of financial services at Consumer Federation of America.  “The final rule published today will ensure that servicemembers and their families get the financial protections they deserve.”

The final rule will:

  • Apply market-wide to all high-cost credit products that target service members, including payday, auto title and installment loans that were excluded from the 2007 protections;
  • Cap interest and add-on fees at 36 percent for loans issued to service members and their dependents; and
  • Preserve service members’ access to the courts by prohibiting mandatory arbitration agreements.

“We applaud the Obama Administration and DoD for finalizing this important rule and ensuring that servicemembers and their families will no longer be put at risk by abusive lending practices,” said Feltner.

 

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Lawsuit: Seattle residents think mandatory composting belongs in the garbage

There's no means of defending yourself from accusations of wrongdoing, either

Eight Seattle residents, backed by the Pacific Legal Foundation, have jointly filed suit against the city, saying that “Seattle is violating the Washington...

PhotoEight Seattle residents, backed by the Pacific Legal Foundation, have jointly filed suit against the city, saying that “Seattle is violating the Washington Constitution’s protections for privacy and due process rights by requiring garbage collectors to snoop through people’s garbage, as part of a new ban on throwing food and food waste into the trash,” according to a statement posted by the PLF.

New composting rule

Last September, Seattle's city council voted in favor of a mandatory composting ordinance requiring residents to separate compostable (read: biodegradable) garbage from other kinds.

The Seattle Times noted that the then-new rules say that “[garbage] collectors can take a cursory look each time they dump trash into a garbage truck. If they see compostable items make up 10 percent or more of the trash, they’ll enter the violation into a computer system their trucks already carry, and will leave a ticket on the garbage bin that says to expect a $1 fine on the next garbage bill.”

The $1 fine applies to residents of single-family homes. Businesses and apartment buildings will be subject to the same 10-percent limit on biodegradable matter, but will be allowed two warnings before any fine is levied. However, their fines will be considerably higher: $50 for a third violation.

The lawsuit filed by Pacific Legal says that “The Ordinance directs garbage collectors and Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) inspectors to search both residential and business garbage cans, without suspicion or a warrant, in order to estimate whether compostable materials or recyclables make up a 'significant amount' of a garbage can’s contents.”

No defense

Furthermore, there's no way for anyone accused of breaking the 10% limit to challenge it or defend themselves: “The Ordinance offers no avenue for residents to contest a supposed infraction, contrary to the guarantee of due process in Article I, Section 3, of the Washington State Constitution.”

Washington State's constitution actually grants its residents greater privacy rights over their garbage than the U.S. constitution (as interpreted by the Supreme Court) does to most American citizens. In 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police do not need a warrant to search through people's trash bags or refuse containers once those containers have been placed outside the home for pickup. But two years later, the Washington Supreme Court ruled police in that state must adhere to a stricter standard, and obtain a warrant before searching through someone's garbage.

U.S. Supreme Court rulings are the law of the land and take precedence over any and all lower court rulings and laws enacted by local jurisdictions. However, while states cannot take away individual rights guaranteed by the Supreme Court, they can add to those rights where their own residents are concerned.

Therefore, when the U.S. Supreme Court says “Cops in America can search people's garbage without a warrant,” individual states can say “Not in our jurisdiction, they can't.”

Privacy concerns

Hence the basis of the Pacific Legal Foundation's lawsuit, filed on behalf of Richard Bonesteel and seven other plaintiffs: it violates state constitutional guarantees of privacy protection as well as due process (since there's no way residents or businesses can defend themselves against accusations of wrongdoing). The lawsuit seeks “a permanent injunction and a declaration that the snooping law is void and unenforceable because it flouts core privacy and due process guarantees,” according to the PLF.

Seattle Public Utilities, one of the defendants in the suit, said in a statement that “SPU believes the instructions we've given to our collectors upholds the Washington State Constitution and civil liberties. There is no intention of opening trash bags. Containers are only tagged if the contamination is clearly visible. The guidelines state: if you can't see, don't report it and don't tag it.”

However, PLF attorney Brian Hodges disputes the utility's claim: “The city may try to put a happy face on the program, with assurances that it’s not nosy and meddlesome, but the internal documents tell another story. Training documents call for ‘zero tolerance’ and show garbage collectors removing bags to inspect a garbage can, peering into translucent bags, and opening torn or untied bags. In short, this program calls for massive and persistent snooping on the people of Seattle. This is not just objectionable as a matter of policy, it is a flagrant assault on people’s constitutional rights.”

For the sake of argument, however, let's assume that Hodges and the PLF are mistaken and Seattle Public Utilities is completely accurate, at least regarding SPU's specific claim that “There is no intention of opening trash bags. Containers are only tagged if the contamination is clearly visible.”

That doesn't necessarily contradict Hodges' claim that “Training documents … show garbage collectors removing bags to inspect a garbage can” (because, obviously, the garbage collectors have to remove bags from their cans anyway, as part of their ordinary routine), and SPU's stated “clearly visible” standard doesn't necessarily contradict Hodges' claim that garbage collectors peer into translucent bags.

But even if you take SPU's assertion at face value — compostable items inside trash bags won't be counted toward that 10% compost limit, only items outside trash bags (but, presumably, still inside the larger garbage can or bin) — that still leaves a serious problem, especially in situations where the accused have no means to protest the charges or defend against them: how can the garbage collectors know those illicit compostables actually belong to the resident in question? Unless residents and businesses stand guard over their garbage, it would be easy for any random passerby (or a spiteful neighbor) to raise the lid of an unattended garbage bin and toss in whatever they want.

Impractical calculations

Although the PLF's lawsuit focuses on the problems the composting ordinance causes Seattle residents, it's also worth mentioning the strain it must place on Seattle garbage collectors, whose jobs now require them to solve complex geometric algorithms in their heads (whilst hauling oft-heavy bags of oft-stinky garbage through oft-crappy weather) in order to determine whether the garbage-giver has committed a composting violation.

For example: to determine 10 percent of the volume of a cylindrical garbage can you must first calculate the volume of a cylinder using the formula V=πr2h (translation: the volume of a cylinder equals pi times the radius squared times the height of the cylinder). Once you have that number, round up and lop off the last digit, shift the decimal if necessary, and that'll give you 10 percent.

However, determining 10 percent of the volume of a rectangular garbage bin requires the formula for a right rectangular prism V=whl (volume equals width times height times length, then take 10 percent off that). Actually it's more complicated than this simple formula suggests, because few wheeled garbage bins actually are perfect right rectangular prisms; most of them taper a bit and get narrower at the bottom, to make room for the wheels on the outside of the bin. And of course, these equations all assume the ten-percent rule will be enforced by volume, rather than weight.

That said, if Seattle's ordinance stands as is it doesn't really matter whether you know the proper formula to calculate your compost or not, because if you're accused of violating the ordinance you have no means of challenging the claim anyway.

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Summer has become a season when kids pack on the pounds

Making sure they stay active throughout the season is extremely important

In years gone by, summer was a season for youthful activity. Kids played outdoors all day – swimming, playing baseball and kicking the can after dinner....

PhotoIn years gone by, summer was a season for youthful activity. Kids played outdoors all day – swimming, playing baseball and kicking the can after dinner.

In short, kids got plenty of exercise during the summer – maybe more than any other time of year.

That doesn't appear to be the case today. Health officials say summer is one of the most challenging times of the year when it comes to preventing childhood obesity.

What's changed? The school year is still the way it always was. A lot of students walk to school, go to gym class, play outside at recess, and participate in after-school sports.

Even though they remain seated at their desks for long stretches of the day, they eat only during designated times. These days, school cafeterias and vending machines have been mostly purged of junk food.

Kids are healthier during the school year

Ironically, it is during the school year, when kids are more confined, that they maintain a more healthy lifestyle.

“In school, you can’t keep snacking while you’re learning history,” said Lara Dugas, a physical activity epidemiologist at Loyola University.

It's children's summer lifestyle that has undergone a change, and not for the better. During the summer months many children have relatively little structure or supervision. This is especially true in low-income households that can’t afford summer camps, says Dugas.

As a result, many children get less exercise during the summer and pass the time eating as much junk food as they want.

Fitter in June than August

“Many children finish the school year in June fitter and leaner than when they go back to school in August,” Dugas said.

This changing summer lifestyle has occurred over the last 30 years, at precisely the time childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC reported that in 2012, more than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.

Dugas says the cycle can be broken, but it will take getting kids up off the couch and outside, involved in summer camps, sports teams, and park activities.

“Such structured activities provide opportunities to benefit both their physical and cognitive development,” she said.

Summer activity tips

The American Heart Association has these tips for keeping kids physically active during the summer:

  • Encourage outdoor play that involves any kind of movement. Informal games like tag, jumping rope, or hopscotch are beneficial.
  • Introduce new games to a group of children. When kids learn the rules of a game at the same time as their peers, they're more confident and are more likely to participate.
  • Limit screen time to two hours a day.
  • Keep it fresh. Don’t get stuck in a workout rut. Try and incorporate a new exercise or game every few weeks to keep kids motivated.
  • Try to make sure kids get in 60 minutes of physical activity every day, but it doesn't have to be 60 uninterrupted minutes. Break it up into several shorter periods of play. As long as daily physical activity adds up to at least 60 minutes, it's fine.  
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Making things easier for disabled consumers

Massachusetts reportedly probes ride-sharing services track record

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the rights of the disabled by requiring public facilities to make provisions for people using wheelchair...

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MassGen takes top spot in U.S. News hospital rankings

Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins, UCLA round out the top spots

Massachusetts General Hospital takes top spot in this year's U.S. News & World Report Best Hospitals rankings, which highlight hospitals that are exception...

PhotoMassachusetts General Hospital takes top spot in this year's U.S. News & World Report Best Hospitals rankings, which highlight hospitals that are exceptional in numerous specialties. 

The Mayo Clinic was No. 2 while Johns Hopkins Hospital and UCLA Medical Center tied for third.

Designed to help patients with life-threatening or rare conditions identify hospitals that excel in treating the most difficult cases, Best Hospitals includes consumer-friendly data and information on nearly 5,000 medical centers nationwide.

University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center is No. 1 in cancer care, the Cleveland Clinic is No. 1 in cardiology & heart surgery and the Hospital for Special Surgery is No. 1 in orthopedics.

Best Hospitals features national rankings in 16 specialties. In the 2015-16 rankings, 137 U.S. hospitals performed well enough in complex care to be nationally ranked in one or more specialties. Just 15 of these qualified for a spot on the Honor Roll by ranking at or near the top in six or more specialties.

The 2015-16 Honor Roll

 

1. Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston
2. Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota
3. (tie) Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore
3. (tie) UCLA Medical Center, Los Angeles
5. Cleveland Clinic
6. Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston
7. New York-Presbyterian University Hospital of Columbia and Cornell, New York
8. UCSF Medical Center, San Francisco
9. Hospitals of the University of Pennsylvania-Penn Presbyterian, Philadelphia
10. Barnes-Jewish Hospital/Washington University, St. Louis
11. Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Chicago
12. NYU Langone Medical Center, New York
13. UPMC-University of Pittsburgh Medical Center
14. Duke University Hospital, Durham, North Carolina
15. Stanford Health-Stanford Hospital, Stanford, California

U.S. News also identified 520 Best Regional Hospitals, ranking them by state and metro area based on their performance in both complex and common care.

"Patients deserve high-quality information on hospitals," said Ben Harder, chief of health analysis at U.S. News. "We strive to provide them with the most comprehensive data available so they can make more informed decisions together with their doctor about where to undergo treatment."

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Marijuana use is on the rise for teenagers; cigarette and alcohol use remains stable or in decline

Researchers predict that marijuana use may overtake all other substance abuse cases for teens in the next few years

Substance abuse can be pervasive at all ages, but a recent study conducted by researchers at Penn State shows that marijuana use is rising amongst teenager...

PhotoSubstance abuse can be pervasive at all ages, but a recent study conducted by researchers at Penn State shows that marijuana use is rising amongst teenagers. At the same time, other controlled substances, such as alcohol and cigarettes, are either remaining stable or declining in use within the same age group.

The war against smoking has been raging on for years. Many anti-smoking campaigns have targeted teens in the hopes that stopping the habit before it starts is the best solution. “Our analysis shows that public health campaigns are working—fewer teens are smoking cigarettes,” said Stephanie Lanza, who is a professor of biobehavioral health and the scientific director of the Methodology Center at Penn State.

Marijuana trends rising

Unfortunately, Lanza and her team have discovered that teens are not simply stopping when it comes to smoking. They are just replacing cigarettes with marijuana.

The researchers collected data from surveys that were given to high school seniors over a 37-year period, from 1976 to 2013. Over 600,000 students were questioned about their use of alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana. The study used data that was originally collected by the University of Michigan for their own long-term study.

The statistical findings showed that, as of 2013, nearly 19 percent of white teens smoked cigarettes and 22 percent used marijuana. These numbers shift slightly for black teens, where only 10 percent smoke cigarettes but nearly 25 percent used marijuana. The researchers also found that teens were more likely to use marijuana if they smoked or drank excessively, and vice versa.

When compared to alcohol, though, cigarettes and marijuana still lag behind in teen use. Although these numbers have decreased since the 1970s, alcohol consumption is still more widespread amongst white teens than cigarette or marijuana use. But if abuse trends continue in this manner, then marijuana will likely begin to challenge alcohol consumption as the number one substance that teens abuse.

Decisive shift

“What will this look like in a few years?” asked Lanza when looking at graphs that showed black teens’ use of marijuana and alcohol consumption. “All signs point to these two lines crossing within the next few years. This is a decisive shift.”

Lanza and her colleagues will continue to analyze their data to see what else can be learned from it. They hope to see if the legalization of marijuana in several U.S. states will impact their figures in any significant way. The full study has been published in the Journal of Adolescent Health

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NY sues "shameful" Children's Leukemia Foundation

Organization raised millions to help sick children but pocketed the money, state charges

For years, the National Children's Leukemia Foundation (NCLF) has claimed to be a charitable operation that operated a bone marrow registry and fulfilled t...

PhotoFor years, the National Children's Leukemia Foundation (NCLF) has claimed to be a charitable operation that operated a bone marrow registry and fulfilled the last wishes of dying children, among other supposed good deeds.

But New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that his office has filed a court action to shutter NCLF and to hold its founder and officers accountable for misusing the nearly $10 million it raised from donors.

The suit says NCLF was little more than a one-man operation run by founder Zvi Shor, 64, out of the basement of his Brooklyn home. 

“Nothing is more shameful than pocketing millions of dollars donated by good-hearted people who just wanted to help children afflicted with a terminal illness,” said Schneiderman. “My office will continue to identify, investigate, and shutter so-called charities that use legitimate-sounding names to exploit the generosity of New Yorkers and betray the public’s trust."

$9.7 million

The lawsuit alleges that between 2009 and 2013, the NCLF raised $9.7 million from donors across America by:

  • Repeatedly lying about having a bone marrow registry, an umbilical cord blood banking program, and its own cancer research center; and telling donors it had filed a patent application for a new lifesaving treatment for leukemia when it had not;
  • Lying when it told potential donors that funds raised would be used to “fulfill wishes of terminally sick children,” including sending these children to Disney World, when NCLF had not done so in years;
  • Making false official filings, including annual financial filings submitted to the Attorney General’s Office, by reporting individuals as directors of the organization without their knowledge, and falsely reporting a large portion of fundraising expenses as public education about cancer;
  • Filing false audit reports, when no audits were in fact conducted.

As the petition charges, between April 2009 and March 2013, NCLF collected approximately $9.7 million in revenue from thousands of donors across the country. Of that, $8.9 million was solicited by professional fundraisers hired by Shor, who were in turn paid approximately $7.5 million – or 83% – of the money raised.

Less than 1%

Of the remaining funds, according to the organization’s filings, the organization spent less than 1% – $57,541 – of its income on direct cash assistance to leukemia patients and transferred another 5% – $655,000 – to a shell organization in Israel run by Shor’s sister, allegedly for research purposes. Over the same time period, Shor was paid a salary of nearly $600,000, and awarded himself another $600,000 in deferred compensation.

The Attorney General’s investigation found that NCLF’s president, Yehuda Gutwein, 58, who lives in Brooklyn, was president in name only. Gutwein, a certified public accountant, took over the title in May 2010, when reports surfaced that Shor, who had been president since the organizations 1991 founding, was convicted of felony bank fraud in the Eastern District of New York in 1999.

Shor’s son, Shlomo Shor, 43, also of Brooklyn, stepped in as a director and vice president, but did nothing other than sign checks and forms, as he was ordered to do by his father, Schneiderman charged.

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Colorado sues retailers targeting military families

USA Discounters was earlier sued by federal consumer protection officials

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia H. Coffman has sued a group of retailers who sell to military families, charging that they have repeatedly violated Color...

PhotoColorado Attorney General Cynthia H. Coffman has sued a group of retailers who sell to military families, charging that they have repeatedly violated Colorado's consumer lending laws.

The suit names USA Discounters, LTD, d/b/a USA Living and d/b/a Fletcher’s Jewelers.

“Our military service members are susceptible to scams particularly while serving away from home and we must take aggressive action to protect them.  We must curb the business practices of companies targeting service members and their families for illegal lending practices,” Coffman said. 

In August 2014, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) obtained more than $350,000 in refunds for servicemembers, charging that USA Discounters tricked thousands of servicemembers into paying fees for legal protections servicemembers already had and for services that the company failed to provide. 

USA Discounters operates two locations in Colorado Springs and, according to the suit, focused heavily on credit transactions with members of the military and their families, often locating its stores in close proximity to large military bases, such as Fort Carson Army Base and Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs.

Freedom Stores

This is Coffman's second major lawsuit in the last several months against retailers targeting military families.  And, as in the Freedom Stores case, USA Discounters was subject to an earlier examination that identified significant problems with its credit practices, including charging of excess fees, charging of improper late fees, failure to provide a mandatory notice of right to cure a default, and extending additional credit on closed accounts without a new or refinanced loan agreement, Coffman's office said. 

Despite its agreement to correct those deficiencies, a follow-up examination by the Attorney General in 2014 revealed that many of those violations were not corrected, Coffman added.  According to the complaint, that exam also revealed that USA Discounters was filing suit against Colorado-based service members in Virginia instead of in Colorado as required by applicable law, and was engaging in unconscionable collection practices.

The complaint filed seeks consumer restitution, a permanent injunction from filing suits against Colorado consumers in foreign jurisdictions, and penalties among other relief.

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Military lenders cautioned against illegal military allotment practices

New Defense Department rules are now in effect

Companies that sell retail goods to military servicemembers are receiving letters from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) advising them to rev...

PhotoCompanies that sell retail goods to military servicemembers are receiving letters from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) advising them to review their websites and other advertising for potentially misleading marketing and to review other practices related to payment by military allotment.

Active-duty servicemembers are not permitted to use allotments to pay for personal property such as vehicles, appliances and consumer electronics. The CFPB is concerned that companies that are still advertising repayment by way of military allotment may be violating federal consumer financial protection laws.

“Companies that are still advertising repayment via military allotment may be violating the law,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Companies should give consumers accurate and reliable information so they can make the best decisions for their own financial situations. We will continue our work protecting servicemembers and promoting a fair and transparent marketplace for all consumers.”

Better protection for service members

The military discretionary allotment system allows servicemembers to automatically direct a portion of their paycheck to financial institutions or people of their choosing. However, military personnel using the allotment system instead of other automatic payment options like ACH (Automated Clearing House) can end up losing out on certain legal protections.

To better protect servicemembers, the Department of Defense (DoD) announced changes to the allotment system last year. The updated regulations, which took effect in January, prohibit new allotments to purchase, lease or rent personal property such as vehicles, appliances and consumer electronics.

The regs do allow allotments made for the purpose of savings, insurance premiums, mortgage or rent payments, support for dependents or investments. Military retirees and DoD civilian employees were not affected by the changes.

Offering servicemembers misleading information about payment options and allowing servicemembers to pay by allotment when prohibited by DoD regulations could violate the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act’s prohibition against unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices in consumer financial products or services.

The letters advise the recipients that their advertisements may violate federal law, and that they should review their advertising and practices relating to military allotments. However, these letters are not a finding or ruling that the recipients have actually violated the law.

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Huxtable’s Kitchen recalls salad products

The products may contain nitrites, allergens not listed on the label

Huxtable’s Kitchen of Fife, Wash., is recalling approximately 778 pounds of salad products. The bacon in the products may contain nitrites, allergens not ...

PhotoHuxtable’s Kitchen of Fife, Wash., is recalling approximately 778 pounds of salad products.

 

The bacon in the products may contain nitrites, allergens not listed on the label.

 

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

 

The following products, produced on July 14 and 16, 2015, are being recalled:

  • 9.5 oz. tray containers containing “Trader Joe’s Cobb Salad” with the sell by date 7-20-15, 7-21-15 and 7-22-15.
  • 11 oz. tray containers containing “Trader Joe’s Uncured Bacon & Spinach Salad” with the sell by date 7-20-15 and 7-21-15.

The recalled products bear the establishment number “P-11079A” or “EST. 11079” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and were shipped to retail locations in Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

 

Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Andy Foster at (323) 923-2905.

 

 

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Adultery-dating website AshleyMadison hacked

Information that was supposed to have been deleted is allegedly still available

Here's some good news for divorce lawyers, though probably bad news for anyone else involved: this weekend, hackers broke into the adultery-dating website ...

PhotoHere's some good news for divorce lawyers, though probably bad news for anyone else involved: this weekend, hackers broke into the adultery-dating website “AshleyMadison” and leaked personal details about some of its clients, including credit card details.

AshleyMadison (registered motto: “Life is short. Have an affair.®”) is owned by Avid Life Media, which owns other hookup sites including “Established Men” and “Cougar Life.”

ALM chief executive Noel Biderman confirmed the hacking to security expert Brian Krebs late Sunday evening, and said the company was “working diligently and feverishly” to take down as much of that information as it could. Biderman also suggested that the hacker might be someone who has or had legitimate access to ALM's servers – in other words, a current or former employee or contractor.

Hackers demand site be taken down

The hacker or hackers behind the breach self-identify as The Impact Team. The team is threatening to release all of the information it stole from AshleyMadison unless the site is taken down. According to its own statements, The Impact Team's main complaint with AshleyMadison isn't that the website promotes or facilitates adultery, but that it allegedly lies to its clients.

Specifically, people with dating profiles on AshleyMadison are also offered the chance to pay $19 for a “full delete” function – basically scrubbing your complete profile and activity history from the site.

But according to the hacker or hackers who comprise The Impact Team, AshleyMadison's “full delete” service is a lie:

Full Delete netted ALM $1.7mm in revenue in 2014. It’s also a complete lie. Users almost always pay with credit card; their purchase details are not removed as promised, and include real name and address, which is of course the most important information the users want removed. Avid Life Media has been instructed to take Ashley Madison and Established Men offline permanently in all forms, or we will release all customer records, including profiles with all the customers’ secret sexual fantasies and matching credit card transactions, real names and addresses, and employee documents and emails. The other websites may stay online. …

ALM today released a statement saying, in part, that: “We have always had the confidentiality of our customers’ information foremost in our minds, and have had stringent security measures in place, including working with leading IT vendors from around the world. As other companies have experienced, these security measures have unfortunately not prevented this attack to our system.”

The statement did not address the question of whether any of the compromised information was supposed to have been deleted after its owner paid the $19 fee.

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When to cash out and sell your house

It isn't a move to make without a lot of careful thought

It has been six years since the housing bust, and home prices are starting to recover - though more so in some areas than others. This is prompting home-ow...

PhotoIt has been six years since the housing bust, and home prices are starting to recover - though more so in some areas than others. This is prompting home-owners to consider putting a for sale sign in their front yards. 

Sometimes it's a change in life's circumstances that starts the home-selling process. Sometimes it's activities going on around you.

Our recent story about the renewed rise of “tear downs” in Chicago neighborhoods brought an email from Rebecca, of Austin, Tex.

“We live in a small several-street little neighborhood that was formerly like a quiet accidental cul de sac with houses built in late 1970s, with large mature live oaks sitting in large lots,” she wrote. “Folks seem to be trying to buy up as many houses as possible and use as rentals. These rentals don't get much care/maintenance so we worry it may affect our property values at some point.”

Rebecca says she could sell her home and pocket a profit of $70,000 to $80,000 after owning it just three years. On the other hand, her neighborhood is close to shopping, entertainment, and other amenities that she likes.

Should she sell?

That depends on whether she has some other place she would like to go, and can afford. It doesn't sound like the presence of multiple rental homes on the street has depressed property values, so maybe she should wait and see.

Some of these homes might become owner-occupied again. Starting last year, many hedge funds that bought up distressed property and converted them to rentals started selling them. True, the buyers might turn out to be other investors but many may find their way back onto the real estate market.

The point is, Rebecca's neighborhood might take a turn for the better. But her question is a relevant one – how do you know when it's time to sell?

Lifestyle changes

One of the main reasons to sell is when your home just doesn't fit your lifestyle any longer. Maybe the 2-bedroom bungalow you purchased with your spouse as newlyweds is a bit crammed now that you have a couple of children. It might be time to look for a 3-bedroom ranch close to a good school.

By the same token, if you are a Baby Boomer couple whose oldest child has finally moved out of the basement, a 2-bedroom bungalow with a small yard might be just the way to downsize.

Another reason to sell is when all the numbers add up. When you've got plenty of equity in your home, and prices in the neighborhood have rapidly appreciated, then you can benefit greatly from putting it on the market.

Taking advantage of a hot market

There are plenty of people who bought homes in 2003 who wish they had sold them in 2006, before prices came crashing back to earth. That's not likely to happen again, but if your neighborhood has enjoyed rapid price appreciation, it may flatten out for a while. Sometimes it's better to sell when a neighborhood is hot.

Of course, you've got to live somewhere. Before selling your home think about what you can afford to buy in order to replace it. Yes, you could become a renter, but keep in mind that rents are rising faster than home prices in many markets.

Before deciding whether to sell your home, Realtor.com advises potential sellers to make sure they understand all the costs associated with the sale and the amount of money they are likely to walk away with.

A typical real estate sales commission is 6% of the sale price. Other assorted costs could end up making you lose a couple thousand more dollars on top of that, so plan accordingly.

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Take the sting out of your summer by learning to manage and avoid bugs

Bugs can be annoying, but many of them can also cause serious harm to your health

You may love summer, but you probably don’t love that it always comes with a lot of bugs. They make you itch and scratch, and if you’re allergic to some of...

PhotoYou may love summer, but you probably don’t love that it always comes with a lot of bugs. They make you itch and scratch, and if you’re allergic to some of them, then they can really impact your health. There must be some way of getting these pests to stop bugging you.

The best way to avoid bugs is to stay indoors. You’re pretty safe in your house, as long as you keep your windows and doors shut and inspect for any openings that would allow them to get in. But at some point, you’re going to need to go outside and enjoy the summer air. Wearing long sleeves and applying bug spray can definitely help keep bugs from bothering you.

If you are eating outside, be aware that many food aromas will attract insects. Try to avoid doing this unless you want some unwanted dinner guests. If you know that you are allergic to certain insects, be prepared. Carry an emergency kit with any relevant medical supplies in it so that you can treat yourself right away. For example, epinephrine kits can save your life in the case of anaphylaxis.

Dangerous insects

Most insects are harmless, but there are some that can be dangerous. Bees, wasps, hornets, and fire ants can deliver hurtful bites that can be dangerous to your health if you get too many. Mosquito bites can be itchy and annoying, but they can also transmit West Nile virus, which can make you sick. Around 2,200 cases of West Nile were reported in the U.S. in 2014, with flu-like symptoms developing in a majority of people. Less than one percent of cases are fatal, but you should still be very careful.

Ticks can cause Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever, so make sure to remove them carefully if you find one attached to you. To remove them, put two small drops of soap on a cotton swab and gently apply it to the tick. Lift the tick off carefully after you have swabbed it, and wash the affected area with soap and water. Do not throw away the tick after you have removed it. Keep it in a plastic bag so that you can identify it if a reaction occurs.

Clean your house and examine yourself

Another way that you can protect yourself is to clean your house from top to bottom. Get your carpets professionally cleaned and vacuum and wash your sheets. Make sure all of your pets are free of ticks or other pests. If you find that your pet has fleas, make sure that you deal with the problem right away. These pests can infest your whole house, and they can be very difficult to get rid of.

Check yourself and your loved ones for pests as well. Wash yourself thoroughly and make sure your children are clean too. Be very thorough; check under your arms and in any body crevices, like your belly button, behind your knees, between your legs, and around your waist area. Comb and wash your hair to make sure that no pests have latched onto any follicles.

Be sure to contact your physician if a bite makes you swell up or gives you difficulty breathing. These could be signs of a serious allergic reaction. 

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Probiotics have best health benefits when consumed from dairy products

Research shows that probiotic dairy products deliver better health benefits than supplements or other probiotic-rich food products

Probiotics have been getting a lot of attention lately for their ability to aid digestion. They come in a variety of different forms, but a recent study sh...

PhotoProbiotics have been getting a lot of attention lately for their ability to aid digestion. They come in a variety of different forms, but a recent study shows that consuming probiotics that exist in particular foods may provide the best benefits.

Probiotics are living bacteria that exist naturally in many foods. Products such as yeast, yogurt, soybeans, and certain soft cheeses all contain these good microbes. Your body naturally produces and contains probiotics as well. They aid your digestive system, and help prevent and treat stomach diseases like irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease, as well as conditions such as cramping, diarrhea, and gassiness.

Researchers from the University of California at Davis wanted to determine whether probiotic supplements or food-based probiotics were more effective after they were ingested. They gave both forms to mice who had colitis, or inflammation of the colon. After they were ingested, the researchers measured which form was more beneficial to each specimen’s overall health. The specific strain of probiotic that was being investigated was Lactobacillus casei, which is found in many products.

Probiotic dairy products give best benefits

They found that food-based probiotics were especially beneficial for the mice with colitis. In particular, dairy products seemed to boost overall health better than supplements or other probiotic-rich foods. This result may indicate that drinking probiotic milk or other dairy products may give the best overall health benefits to humans as well.

Probiotic research is ongoing, but there is still a lot to discover about these kinds of bacteria. “Remarkably, the question of whether it makes any difference to consume probiotics in dairy products rather than other foods or nutritional supplements has not been systematically or mechanistically investigated,” said Maria Marco, who helped conduct the study.

Finding out just how much probiotics affect health will be a primary point of interest for ongoing research. The full study has been published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, which is a journal produced by the American Society for Microbiology. 

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Cost of treating Baby Boomers with Alzheimer's set to surge

Alzheimer's Association to highlight promising research this week

It has long been assumed that the combination of Alzheimer's disease and an aging Baby Boom generation will spell trouble. A recent study that was submitte...

PhotoIt has long been assumed that the combination of Alzheimer's disease and an aging Baby Boom generation will spell trouble. A recent study that was submitted at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference confirms that it will be pretty bad.

The report projects that 28 million Boomers – Americans born between 1946 and 1964 – will develop Alzheimer's at some point. Researchers predict that the cost of treating them will consume nearly 25% of all Medicare spending by 2040.

The report starts with the assumption that there will be no significant advancements in Alzheimer's treatment between now and then. Today, Alzheimer's remains a slowly developing disease that robs its victims of their memory before it is ultimately fatal. There is no known cure.

$11 billion to $328 billion

If nothing is done by 2020, the projected Medicare costs of caring for Baby Boomers with Alzheimer's is projected to be $11.86 billion in 2014 dollars, making up 2.1% of total Medicare spending. By 2040, when Boomers are aged 76-94, the projected Medicare costs are expected to be $328.15 billion in 2014 dollars.

"The risk of Alzheimer's increases with age, and as baby boomers get older, the number of people developing the disease will rise to levels far beyond anything we've ever seen before," said Keith Fargo, Alzheimer's Association Director of Scientific Programs & Outreach.

It's unlikely that medical research will stand still as this disease ravages a generation. Fargo says there is a pipeline of experimental therapies that have the potential to delay the onset of Alzheimer's and perhaps even prevent the disease. Many will get an airing at the association's conference this week in Washington, DC.

Promising developments

In fact, there have been a number of developments in the area of Alzheimer's research in the last few months. One of the more promising ones was revealed in October, when researchers said a novel and complex treatment had restored memory function in 9 out of 10 participants.

The study, conducted jointly by the UCLA Mary S. Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research and the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, is the first to suggest that memory loss in patients may be reversed, and that improvement can be lasting.

The treatment consists of a 36-point therapeutic program involving comprehensive changes in diet, brain stimulation, exercise, optimization of sleep, specific drugs and vitamins, and many additional steps that affect brain chemistry.

As we reported just last week, scientists in Texas have isolated a biomarker that may help doctors predict who will get Alzheimer's, allowing for early intervention.

Financial commitment 

Fargo points to recent advances in the treatment of HIV, cancer, and heart disease, saying the same financial commitment made to battling those deadly diseases is needed to tame Alzheimer's disease.

"Alzheimer's is extremely underfunded compared to the magnitude of the problem,” Fargo said. “If we're going to change the current trajectory of the disease, we need consistent and meaningful investments in research from the federal government to ensure a more robust pipeline."  

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Starbucks plans move into low-income areas

Executives hope that the move will promote local job growth

A new expansion plan by Starbucks will see the company setting up stores in low-income areas. Starbucks will be placing 15 new stores in minority neighborh...

PhotoA new expansion plan by Starbucks will see the company setting up stores in low-income areas. Starbucks will be placing 15 new stores in minority neighborhoods, including one in Ferguson, Mo., which was an epicenter of unrest this past year. Starbucks executives are hoping that these new stores will help with job growth.

Benefitting local neighborhoods

CEO Howard Shultz has tended to prioritize programs that affect positively effect employees. He was one of the first employers to offer insurance for part-time workers, and has vowed to hire 10,000 young Americans over the next three years who aren’t currently employed or are in school.

Blair Taylor, who is the Starbucks Chief Community Officer, said that new stores can employ as many as 20-25 people from local neighborhoods. Local community organizations will also use the stores as training areas in order to teach job training classes.

““We are really thinking about what a for-profit company such as ours can do in addition to the creation of jobs, and that's where this notion of building this kind of a store in communities that have been disenfranchised — particularly some of the ones that have been the most visible over the last few years — comes into play," said Taylor.

Partnering with local businesses

Schultz came up with this idea last April while speaking in Ferguson about his company taking a stand on racism. Starbucks has partnered with a local bakery in Ferguson called “Natalie’s Cakes and More”, and plans on selling their products in its locations.

“The partnership is helping me become a stronger pillar of my community said Natalie DuBose, who owns the bakery. She plans on providing cakes for four St. Louis Starbucks starting next month.

Schultz has taken his idea of partnering with other companies very seriously. He has recruited 16 other major companies to join Starbucks in hiring a total of 10,000 youths by 2018. 

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Researchers say consumers would prefer to buy U.S. meat

Repealing country of origin label law, they say, hurts U.S. producers and consumers

American meat processors were never fully enthusiastic about the Country of Origin Labeling law (COOL), and when the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled i...

PhotoAmerican meat processors were never fully enthusiastic about the Country of Origin Labeling law (COOL), and when the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled it violated trade agreements, they were quick to advocate its repeal.

In June North American Meat Institute CEO Barry Carpenter was among those urging the U.S. Senate to repeal the law, which requires labels on fresh meat to inform consumers where the animals had been raised and slaughtered.

But repealing COOL might ultimately work against the U.S. meat industry, according to marketing researchers at the University of Arkansas.

Consumers, they say, want to know where meat came from and they would actually prefer to purchase U.S. meat.

Researchers found that consumers preferred meat from the United States when provided only with information about where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered – and not given information about country-specific meat-processing standards.

Direct and indirect effects

“The country-of-origin requirement appears to provide consumers with additional information that has both direct and indirect effects on purchase intentions,” said Scot Burton, a professor of marketing. “The requirement impacts inferred attributes, meaning that meat products from the United States are perceived to be safer, tastier and fresher than meat products from Mexico. Of course, these attributes, in turn, have positive effects on purchase decisions.”

Burton and his colleagues reviewed 3 studies to arrive at their conclusion. In 2 of the 3 studies consumers, when given a choice, preferred meat from the United States.

Congress passed COOL in the 2002 Farm Bill and expanded it in 2008. It requires U.S. retailers to provide country-of-origin labeling for most meat and poultry products.

The law also requires meat labels to identify the country where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered. The legislation had the backing of farmers and ranchers who raise the livestock but not so much the meat packers, who are responsible for applying the labeling.

COOL support from cattle country

In a blistering editorial over the weekend, the Rapid City Journal, a newspaper covering much of South Dakota's cattle country, took Congress to task for rushing to consider a repeal of COOL, or to make it a voluntary program.

“Voluntary COOL failed because big meatpackers don’t want to disclose the origins of meat,” the newspaper wrote. “In 2013, they sued the USDA claiming that COOL violated their First Amendment free speech rights by forcing them to provide COOL labels against their will. Our federal courts repeatedly rejected their claims.”

Consumer groups, who were in the forefront of lobbying efforts on behalf of COOL, are also among those urging lawmakers not to repeal it. A coalition of 283 farm, rural, consumer, manufacturer, labor, faith and environmental groups from across the U.S. issued a statement last month, calling for Congress to refrain from repealing the consumer legislation.

“If Congress repeals COOL, then the next time consumers go shopping for a steak or chicken for their families, they won’t be able to tell where that product came from,” said Chris Waldrop, Director of the Food Policy Institute at Consumer Federation of America. “That's completely unacceptable. Consumers want more information about their food, not less.”

The House of Representatives quickly approved a repeal of COOL in late May. Similar legislation is now before the U.S. Senate.

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Research fails to find link between prolonged sitting and a poor diet

Prolonged sitting may not be good for you but it doesn't mean you engage in other unhealthy behavior

It's been said that “sitting is the new smoking” – that sedentary behavior that is becoming more common in American life is taking a toll on public health,...

PhotoIt's been said that “sitting is the new smoking” – that sedentary behavior that is becoming more common in American life is taking a toll on public health, shaving years off the expected lifespan.

Previous research – and there's been plenty of it in recent years – has suggested that people who spend a lot of time sitting and watching television usually eat a less healthy diet. The question is why.

A study by American Cancer Society investigators, in collaboration with the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition and the University of Texas School of Public Health, suggests the sitting has little to do with it, instead attributing it to exposure to commercials for high calorie foods and distracted eating.

When the researchers outfitted test subjects with accelerometers – devices that measure physical activity – they were able to more precisely measure how sedentary the individual test subjects were. With that objective data, they hoped to learn if there is some kind of link between sitting around and engaging in other unhealthy behavior, like eating an unhealthy diet, drinking too much alcohol and smoking.

Conflicting results

According to many previous research, a link does in fact exist. According to the new research, it doesn't.

“While every minute of additional moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity was related to a higher Healthy Eating Index (HEI) score, eating more fruits, and consuming fewer empty calories, more minutes per day spent in sedentary time was not significantly associated with overall dietary quality (HEI) and fruit and vegetables intake,” the authors conclude.

In fact, they write that people who spend more sedentary time are significantly less likely to consume empty calories.

The researchers say almost no one has approached the question the way they have – relying on accelerometer data to objectively measured sedentary time in relation to dietary quality. Their takeaway is that maybe there should be a decoupling of sedentary behavior and dietary guidelines.

People are going to sit, they argue. They should be encouraged to get up and move around once in a while and they should also be encouraged to consume a healthy, balanced diet. But the two things don't necessarily need to be tied together.

Earlier studies

So why have so many health researchers in recent years targeted sitting as bad for your health? One of the earliest warnings came in 2011 from the American College of Cardiologists, which compared the health effects of prolonged sitting to smoking cigarettes.

The cardiologists pointed out your body doesn't burn as many calories when you are seated. Your body goes into storage mode and stops working at peak efficiency. Standing up, even if you aren't moving about, helps, they said.

It sounds like the authors of this latest study don't really disagree with that. They're just saying there is nothing inherent in a sedentary lifestyle that would cause you to consume lots of junk food.

If you're working at your desk all day, try to take frequent breaks and when you stop for lunch, have a salad every once in a while.

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FTC cracks down on Your Yellow Book

Victims received invoices for yellow pages listings they never consented to

The Federal Trade Commission announced today that it will be mailing out 3,133 checks with a combined worth of over $87,000. These checks will go to consum...

PhotoThe Federal Trade Commission announced today that it will be mailing out 3,133 checks with a combined worth of over $87,000. These checks will go to consumers who were defrauded by Your Yellow Book, a phone-directory publisher which, according to the FTC, “allegedly bilked money from small businesses, doctors’ offices, retirement homes, religious schools, and charitable organizations, by charging them for unwanted listings in an online 'yellow pages' directory.”

Such yellow-pages scammers have been operating for years. As early as 2007, ConsumerAffairs heard complaints from small business owners who received bills – or even harassment from collection agencies – for yellow pages listings they never consented to buy.

At the time, we warned you that such companies are notorious for using “activation check” schemes to ensnare people: you receive a check that, when deposited, triggers an automatic monthly payment for “advertising” costs. (In some cases, the advertising was described as being a series of Internet ads, which the business owner cannot even see.)

Activation-check scams are still around, and not just for phone-directory listings either. However, according to the FTC, Your Yellow Book operated primarily by faxing fake invoices to consumers who had no previously existing relationship with Your Yellow Book, asking the consumer to “update” or “verify” their current directory-listing information, and send payment of up to $487.

When the FTC first filed suit against Your Yellow Book last August, it said that the scam's victims included religious schools, retirement homes, doctors' offices, and various small businesses.

Beware of refund scams

The FTC has designated Gilardi & Co. LLC to be the “refund administrator” for check-distribution purposes. Customers who receive such a check should cash it within 60 days, and call Gilardi & Co. at 1-888-339-0960 with any questions.

Bear in mind that, as the FTC itself reiterated today: “The FTC never requires consumers to pay money or to provide information before refund checks can be cashed.” If you receive an email, text message, phone call or any other communication allegedly from the FTC or Gilardi requesting that you hand over money or information in order to collect your refund check, delete that message or hang up on the caller, because it's just another piece of scam bait.

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National Taxpayer Advocate: It was generally a successful tax filing season

It was the best of years; it was the worst of years

In her statutorily mandated mid-year report to Congress, National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson says the IRS ran a generally successful filing season un...

PhotoIn her statutorily mandated mid-year report to Congress, National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson says the IRS ran a generally successful filing season under difficult circumstances.

“With funding down about 17% on an inflation-adjusted basis since FY 2010, and with the IRS having had to implement large portions of the [ACA] (Obamacare) and the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) this year without any supplemental funding, sharp declines in taxpayer service were inevitable,” she wrote.

Olson likened the 2015 filing season to “A Tale of Two Cities” saying, “For the majority of taxpayers who filed their returns and did not require IRS assistance, the filing season was generally successful. For the segment of taxpayers who required help from the IRS, the filing season was by far the worst in memory.”

Highlights and lowlights

According to the report:

  • The IRS processed 126.1 million individual tax returns compared with 125.6 million last year, and issued 91.8 million refunds (versus 94.8 million last year. The average refund amount was $2,711; it was $2,686 last year.
  • The IRS answered only 37% of taxpayer calls routed to customer service representatives overall, and the hold time for taxpayers who got through averaged 23 minutes. That represents a sharp drop-off from the 2014 filing season, when the IRS answered 71% of its calls and hold times averaged about 14 minutes.
  • The IRS answered only 39% of calls from taxpayers seeking assistance from the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) on the National Taxpayer Advocate (NTA) Toll-Free hotline, and hold times averaged 19 minutes. TAS serves as the IRS’s “safety net” for taxpayers who are experiencing a financial or systemic hardship as a result of IRS action or inaction.
  • Only 17% of calls were answered from taxpayers who called after being notified that their tax returns had been blocked by the Taxpayer Protection Program (TPP) on suspicion of identity theft, and the hold times averaged about 28 minutes. In 3 consecutive weeks during the filing season, the IRS answered fewer than 10% of these calls.
  • The tax agency answered only 45% of calls from practitioners who called the IRS on the Practitioner Priority Service line, and hold times averaged 45 minutes.
  • The number of “courtesy disconnects” received by taxpayers calling the IRS skyrocketed from about 544,000 in 2014 to about 8.8 million this filing season -- an increase of more than 1,500%. The term “courtesy disconnect” is used when the IRS essentially hangs up on a taxpayer because its switchboard is overloaded and cannot handle additional calls.
  • The decline in telephone performance can be attributed largely to three factors: The number of taxpayer calls routed to telephone assistors increased by 41%, the number of calls answered by telephone assistors decreased by 26%, and the average call duration increased by 10%.
  • The IRS sharply restricted the availability of paper copies of forms and publications, imposing burden on taxpayers without Internet access or online literacy. The IRS’s own Taxpayer Assistance Centers (TACs) and its Tax Form Outlet Partners such as libraries and post offices did not receive forms until February 28, almost halfway through the filing season. Once a TAC ran out of forms or publications, it could not order more.

Olson says the decline in taxpayer service imposes increased compliance burdens on taxpayers and may lead to erosion in taxpayer trust. “For a tax system that relies on voluntary self-assessment by its taxpayers, none of this bodes well,” she wrote. “In fact, there is a real risk that the inability of taxpayers to obtain assistance from the government, and their consequent frustration, will lead to less voluntary compliance and more enforced compliance.”

Affordable Care Act impact

The report says the most significant new challenge the IRS faced during the 2015 filing season was the processing of tax returns reflecting two central provisions of the ACA -- the Premium Tax Credit (PTC) and the Individual Shared Responsibility Payment (ISRP).

Overall, the report credits the IRS with doing a commendable job implementing those provisions, including by developing or updating information technology systems, issuing guidance, and working with other federal agencies.

The report says there were some significant glitches that occurred during the filing season, but most were not attributable to IRS error. The most significant was the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ issuance of erroneous Forms 1095-A, Health Insurance Marketplace Statement, to about 800,000 individuals who had purchased health insurance from the federal Exchange.

The Treasury Department addressed the mistake by issuing taxpayer-favorable guidance informing taxpayers who had already filed returns based on the incorrect information that they did not need to file amended returns and pledging that the IRS would not pursue the collection of any additional tax based on the updated information in the corrected forms.

The IRS answered about 68% of taxpayer telephone calls on ACA issues that were routed to telephone assistors, which far exceeded the overall average on its customer service lines of about 37%.

The report says a primary ACA focus for TAS during the upcoming year will be to train its Case Advocates to better assist taxpayers requiring assistance, notably on ACA collection activities and the Employer Shared Responsibility Payment provision.

TAS will also continue to participate on internal IRS working groups to present a taxpayer perspective on ACA issues and raise concerns it identifies through its casework and other sources.

 

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Olympus recalls digital point-and-shoot camera

An improperly installed part poses an electric shock risk

Olympus America of Center Valley, Pa., is recalling about 1,200 Olympus VG 170 digital cameras An improperly installed part can touch the camera’s circuit...

PhotoOlympus America of Center Valley, Pa., is recalling about 1,200 Olympus VG 170 digital cameras

 

An improperly installed part can touch the camera’s circuit board, posing an electric shock risk to the user.

 

There are no reported incidents of injury in the U.S.

 

The recall involves the Olympus VG-170 Digital Point-and-Shoot Cameras. The VG-170 measures about 4 x 2.5 x 1 inches, weighs 5.1 ounces and comes in white, black or red. “VG 170” is printed on the top of the camera, on the side opposite the shutter button.

 

“Olympus” is printed on the upper right hand corner of the front of the camera,“5 X Wide” is printed on lower left hand corner of the front of the camera. The camera has a 3-inch digital LCD screen on the back.

 

The cameras, manufactured in China, were sold at HHGregg Appliance stores and online at www.hhgregg.com from September 2013, to December 2014, for about $120.

 

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled digital camera and contact Olympus for a free inspection and repair.

 

Consumers may contact Olympus at (800) 622-6372 from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday.

 

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Bexco recalls DaVinci brand cribs

A baby can become trapped in the crib

Bexco Enterprises of Montebello, Calif., is recalling about 11,700 DaVinci cribs in the U.S and Canada. A metal bracket that connects the mattress support...

PhotoBexco Enterprises of Montebello, Calif., is recalling about 11,700 DaVinci cribs in the U.S and Canada.

A metal bracket that connects the mattress support to the crib can break, creating an uneven sleeping surface or a gap. If this occurs, a baby can become trapped in the crib, fall or suffer lacerations from the broken metal bracket.

The firm has received 10 reports of the mattress support brackets detaching. No injuries have been reported.

The recall includes DaVinci brand full-size cribs including the Reagan crib (model #M2801), the Emily crib, (model #M4791), the Jamie crib (model #M7301), and the Jenny Lind crib (model #M7391) manufactured from May 2012 through December 2012.

The model number, serial number and manufacture date are printed on a label affixed to the bottom right hand side panel of the crib.

Cribs included in the recall have serial numbers that begin with “N00,” followed by one of the following numbers:

 

Model Number and Name Serial Number (N00 + number below) 
 M2801 Reagan 4959/ 5035/ 5109
 M4791 Emily 4648/ 4669/ 4962
 M7301 Jamie 4954/ 5029
 M7391 Jenny Lind 4954/ 4620/ 4669/ 4758/ 4934/ 4994/ 5041/ 4648

 

The cribs, manufactured in China, were sold at Target and juvenile products stores nationwide and online at Amazon.com from May 2012, to December 2013, for between $150 and $250.

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled cribs and contact Bexco for a free replacement mattress support which includes replacement brackets. In the meantime, parents are urged to find an alternate, safe sleeping environment for the child, such as a bassinet, play yard or toddler bed depending on the child’s age.

Consumers may contact Bexco toll-free at (888) 673-6652 from 8:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. (PT) Monday through Friday. 

 

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Boeing: Lithium batteries an "unacceptable fire hazard" in cargo holds

The warning is expected to be heeded by most of the world's airlines

It's lithium ion batteries that power the iPhones, iPads and other iStuff that have come to be regarded as the essentials of l...

Photo
Photo © jpgon - Fotolia

It's lithium ion batteries that power the iPhones, iPads and other iStuff that have come to be regarded as the essentials of life. Only problem is, they tend to catch fire, leading Boeing Co. to warn airlines that loading up their planes' cargo compartments with bulk battery shipments pose unacceptable fire hazards.

There've been plenty of cases of individual phones and other devices catching fire, both on the grund and in the air. Just one blazing phone is a problem; think what a blazing pallet of burning batteries could do.

That, says the Wall Street Journal, is what led Boeing to issue a formal warning to its customers, urging them to stop accepting large shipments of lithium batteries until safer packaging and fire protection efforts can be worked out.

Let them take a slow boat from China, Boeing advised, though not in so many words.

Nothing new

It's hardly a new problem. There have been many case over the years of cell phones igniting in people's pockets, on airplanes and in other inconvenient locations.

Photo
Thomas Forqueran's vintage Ford truck post-fire (Submitted photo)

Last August, an airplane was evacuated in Tel Aviv after an iPhone 5 caught fire and filled the cabin with smoke. Last July, a smartphone caught fire under a 13-year-old girl's pillow in Dallas. And way back in 2008, a laptop computer caught fire in a vintage pickup truck in Nevada, destroying the truck, a Remington rifle and setting off two boxes of ammunition.

Boeing has reportedly been giving the no-big-battery-cartons advice to airlines who asked but has now issued a formal warning to all of the world's carriers, who are expected to comply. Airlines that disregard the warning would be on shaky legal ground in the event of a disaster attributed to flaming batteries.

Feds pondering

Boeing at least beat the U.S. government, which has been considering rules limited lithium batteries in carry-on luggage since 2007. In March 2007, the Department of Transportation said there had been five fires in airplane passenger cabins or cargo holds since 2005, a period of only two years.

Photo
This smartphone caught fire in a Dallas girl's bed (Fox 4 photo)

Lithium metal batteries were banned from the cargo holds of U.S. airliners in 2004 but lithium ion batteries -- which are much more common -- are still good to go.

Lithium metal batteries are nonrechargeable while the lithium ion type is the one we're all familiar with -- requiring frequent plug-ins to keep the juices flowing.

The problem is that other things can get the juices flowing as well. Both types of batteries contain chemical-infused metals that get very hot very quickly if they come into contact with each other due to a short circuit or leaking seal. The result is a fast-spreading, very hot fire that is very difficult to extinguish.

While a single battery catching fire in a phone or laptop may start a small fire, a battery catching fire in a shipment of thousands of batteries could start a blaze that would quickly become catastrophic. 

Many airlines have already stopped accepting battery shipments and Boening's warning may push the recalcitrants to act as well. While Boeing's warning doesn't have the force of law, airlines nearly always comply with formal warnings from manufacturers, so Boeing may have accomplished what governments so far have not gotten around to.

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Finding a brick and mortar bank may be getting harder

Banks are closing branches because they don't think they need them

Bank of America's (BOA) announcement this week that it would close some more of its branches underscores a new reality for the banking industry -- consumer...

PhotoBank of America's (BOA) announcement this week that it would close some more of its branches underscores a new reality for the banking industry -- consumers are doing more of their banking business online.

During a conference call to discuss the company's second quarter earnings report, BOA CEO Brian Moynihan mentioned the bank had closed nearly 20% of its branches in the last 5 years, dropping the number from 6,100 to about 4,800. He said more closures would follow, without attaching a number.

BOA is not alone in cutting its overhead. In June Fifth Third Bank announced plans to close 100 branches, the largest branch closing in the bank's history.

Part of an ongoing trend

It's been going on for some time. SNL Financial reports U.S. banks closed a net 1,487 branch locations in 2013, the most since the research firm began collecting the data in 2002.

Industry analysts agree the reason has nothing to do with declining business. In fact, business for banks has never been better. It's just that banks are convinced they no longer need branches because “everyone” is adopting mobile banking.

While mobile banking no doubt is growing by leaps and bounds, this trend will work against consumers who like to conduct their banking business with a human being.

Transformation to smart banking

Bank of America  July 17, 2015, 11:51 a.m.
Consumers rate Bank of America

Traditional branch-based banking practices are undergoing transformation into smart banking, according to Frost & Sullivan, a research firm.

“Banks are now focusing on integration of futuristic technologies and applications to explore new opportunities for higher customer engagement and improving customer experience,” the company said in a recent report, which focused on technology and application innovations that are enabling the transformation.

Each bank's smart or mobile banking system is different but most offer similar functions. BOA's mobile banking lets customers deposit checks from a mobile device, check account balances and send money to just about anyone.

Changing with the customers

During this week's conference call Moynihan said the bank would save money by closing branches but that isn't the only motivation. They're doing it, he said, because customer behavior is changing. The number of BOA's mobile customers has more than doubled in 4 years to 17 million. The company says 13% of the check's deposited in the bank are coming in by mobile.

If you have fewer branches you need fewer employees. BOA has been steadily cutting staff. Although the bank is beefing up its corps of financial advisors, it has cut more than 70,000 jobs since 2011.

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Self-driving Google car gets rear-ended; minor injuries reported

It took Google 16 days to get around to mentioning it

Google may be applying the "right to be forgotten" to its own activities. The company revealed in a blog post yesterday that one of its self-driving cars w...

PhotoGoogle may be applying the "right to be forgotten" to its own activities. The company revealed in a blog post yesterday that one of its self-driving cars was rear-ended in an accident that sent three employees and the driver of the other car to the hospital for check-ups.

The accident happened July 1 and Google gave no reason why it took 16 days for it to get around to mentioning it.

Of course, one could argue that Google is not obligated to reveal details of its internal operations, but since it is using public roads for its experimental commutes and trying to persuade regulators and the public that autonomous cars will be safe, cover-ups aren't exactly helpful.

The accident happened with one of Google's Lexus RX450h prototypes was rear-ended by another car in Mountain View, Calif., where Google autonomous cars ply the streets regularly.

The Googlemobile had a green light but the cars in front of it had slowed down to avoid getting stuck in the intersection in an upcoming light change, according to a blog account by Chris Urmson, director of Google's self-driving project. 

Whiplash

The three Google employees in the car and the long occupant of the car that plowed into it all complained about neck pain and were checked out and then released from a local hospital.

Google says it's the first injury accident in a self-driving car. It's the 14th accident overall involving Google's fleet of self-driving cars. In 11 of those incidents, the Google car was rear-ended.

Google displayed its usual self-assurance in describing the incident.

"Our self-driving cars are being hit surprisingly often by other drivers who are distracted and not paying attention to the road," wrote Chris Urmson, director of Google's self-driving car project, in the blog post. "The clear theme is human error and inattention" in those incidents.

Proponents of self-driving cars, as well as some scientists, say there will likely be fewer accidents when computers replace humans at the controls. We'll see.

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Customer card data compromised at CVSphoto

Pharmacy chain takes down photo website and replaces it with a warning

The pharmacy chain CVS took down its CVS Photo website today and replaced it with a warning that “customer credit card information collected by the indepen...

PhotoThe pharmacy chain CVS took down its CVS Photo website today and replaced it with a warning that “customer credit card information collected by the independent vendor who manages and hosts CVSPhoto.com may have been compromised.”

The company is shutting down access to online and mobile photo services “as a precaution” while the investigation goes on.

Security expert Brian Krebs, who first called attention to the breach this morning, also noted that Walmart Canada discovered a similar breach in its online photo site last week.

The announcement on CVSphoto.com says that “Customer registrations related to online photo processing and CVSPhoto.com are completely separate from CVS.com and our pharmacies,” and that transactions in-store or at CVS.com don't appear to be affected.

The company promises to offer updates as more information becomes available, and in the meantime, anyone seeking more information is invited to call 1-800-SHOP-CVS.

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Senate committee rejects rental of recalled cars

Instead, it adopts a bill that outlaws such rentals

A Senate committee has rejected a,measure that would have allowed car dealers and rental companies to rent,recalled cars to consumers. Instead, the committ...

PhotoA Senate committee has rejected a measure that would have allowed car dealers and rental companies to rent,recalled cars to consumers. Instead, the committee adopted a provision that expressly forbids such rentals.

"We are now one step closer to permanently keeping recalled rental cars off the road, and I commend Senator (Claire) McCaskill (D-Mo.) and others on the committee for moving this legislation forward," said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

Boxer's bill -- the Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act -- was adopted unanimously by the committee, rejecting a measure that car-rental industry sources said was backed largely by car dealers, who frequently rent cars to customers whose vehicles are being serviced.

Boxer's bill is named for two sisters who were killed near Santa Cruz, Calif., in their rented Chrysler PT Cruiser. The car had been recalled for a power steering hose defect that had not been repaired.

Boxer first introduced her bill in 2011. The Senate Commerce Committee yesterday adopted it as part of the DRIVE Act, which incorporates numerous transportation programs.

Backed by car rental companies

The Houck bill was endorsed by all the major rental car companies -- who say they already withhold recalled cars until repairs are made -- as well as,the American Car Rental Association, Honda,and General Motors, Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, and a broad coalition of auto safety, labor and consumer groups.

The National Automobile Dealers Association and affiliated groups were seen as leading opposition to the measure.

NADA President Peter Welch testified in 2013 that Boxer's bill was "overly broad,in that it regulates auto dealerships that operate small rental or loaner fleets in the same manner as multi-national rental car giants."

"Unlike large rental car companies that maintain a wide array of vehicle makes and models in their fleets, many dealers only maintain a single vehicle model in their loaner pools," Welch said, saying the Boxer bill "could cause an economic hardship for small dealers if a part necessary to fix a dealer’s only loaner vehicle model is unavailable."

Welch also said that some safety recalls are really not for high-priority defects.

Committee chairman Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) had been backing the,NADA-backed measure, which would have allowed dealers and car rental companies to rent recalled cars as long as consumers signed a waiver in advance.

Thune did not respond to a request for comment but Frederick Hill, communications director for Thune's committee, said the measure was intended to be "pro-consumer."

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UCLA Health System reports data breach, millions affected

Two months late, the 4.5 million affected patients are finally notified

UCLA Health is the latest healthcare organization to be hit by a data breach. The Los Angeles hospital and healthcare network says it discovered on May 5 t...

PhotoUCLA Health is the latest healthcare organization to be hit by a data breach. The Los Angeles hospital and healthcare network says it discovered on May 5 that hackers had penetrated the parts of the UCLA Health system that contain personal information, like name, address, date of birth, social security number, medical record number, Medicare or health plan ID number, and some medical information (e.g., medical condition, medications, procedures, and test results).

UCLA said it notified the FBI but didn't say why it took it took more than two months to notify the 4.5 million patients whose records may have been accessed.

"We take our responsibility to protect personal information entrusted to us very seriously," UCLA said as it said the attacks may have started as early as September 2014.

Attorney General is concerned

California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris said the breach may pose a risk of sensitive information being compromised, including Social Security numbers (SSNs), separate health insurance IDs, diagnosis and treatment records, and payment information. Medical identity theft can affect both the victim’s finances and medical records.

Potentially impacted individuals should closely watch the Explanation of Benefits statements they receive from their health insurer. If the statement includes a service or product you did not receive, contact the insurer and ask for details. For more information, see First Aid for Medical Identity Theft.

Steps for Responding to Social Security Number Breach:

1. PLACE A FRAUD ALERT. Contact the three major credit bureaus and place a 90 day “fraud alert.” This helps protect you against the possibility of an identity thief opening new credit accounts in your name. When a merchant checks the credit history of someone applying for credit, the merchant gets an “alert” that there may be fraud on the account.

Experian       1-888-397-3742

Equifax         1-800-525-6285

TransUnion  1-800-680-7289

You will reach an automated telephone system. You will also be sent instructions on how to get a free copy of your report from each of the credit bureaus. Order the reports.

2. REVIEW YOUR CREDIT REPORTS. Look through each one carefully. Look for accounts you do not recognize, especially accounts opened since December 2014, when the Anthem breach occurred. Follow the instructions in the report for disputing any questionable information.

3. CONSIDER A SECURITY FREEZE. Placing a security freeze on your credit files offers longer-term protection. For information on how to do this, see “How to Freeze Your Credit Files” at www.oag.ca.gov/privacy/ info-sheets.

4. BE WARY OF PHISHING ATTEMPTS. If you get an email or call from someone claiming to be from Anthem and asking for your personal information, do not provide it. Scammers often take advantage of breaches by offering to help and actually seeking to steal your information. Check with Anthem through the phone number you usually use or one from the phone book, if you want to confirm that such a contact is legitimate.

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Senators introduce legislation to crack down on phone scams

Right now, caller ID is too easy for scam artists to fool

Even though there are plenty of email and Internet-based scams out there, plenty of scam artists still use old-fashioned telephones to ensnare their victim...

PhotoEven though there are plenty of email and Internet-based scams out there, plenty of scam artists still use old-fashioned telephones to ensnare their victims.

In fact, one particular type of (usually) phone-operated scam is called the “grandma scam” or “grandparent scam” because its stereotypical victim is an elderly person tricked into sending money to a con artist. The victim is often called by someone pretending to be a beloved grandchild who is in trouble. 

One reason it's so difficult to crack down on phone scammers is that current technology arguably gives them an advantage over their victims. For example, spoofing tools make it very easy for scammers to send fake identifying information to a victim's caller ID.

Granted, spoofing caller ID for the specific purpose of committing fraud has been illegal since the 2010 Truth in Caller ID Act, but that doesn't help victims who have been defrauded and don't know how to identify the scammer.

So this week, Democratic Senators Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Bill Nelson of Florida introduced a new piece of legislation called the Phone Scam Prevention Act. 

According to a press release by Klobuchar's office, the new law would build on the Truth in Caller ID Act by “requiring the FCC to detail where consumers can access technology to combat scams, establish a plan to develop caller ID authentication standards, and extend the prohibition on caller ID spoofing to include calls from abroad and text messaging services.”

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Philadelphia woman sues Comcast, alleging 9 months of robocalls for paid-off bill

Total damages could reach $900,000 under federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act

The lawsuit, available in .pdf form here, alleges that “Beginning in late September 2014, and continuing through June 2015, Defendant.....

PhotoIt's only been a bit more than a week since a Manhattan federal judge ruled that Time-Warner Cable must pay $229,500 in damages to a Texas woman who received 153 automated calls on her cell phone in less than a year, even after she told Time-Warner they were calling the wrong person. (Indeed, TWC made 74 of those calls after the woman had already filed a lawsuit asking them to stop.)

Now, Philadelphia resident Kia Elder has filed a similar complaint against Comcast. The lawsuit, available in .pdf form here, alleges that “Beginning in late September 2014, and continuing through June 2015, Defendant [Comcast] repeatedly called Plaintiff [Elder] on her cellular phone …. us[ing] an automatic telephone dialing system and automated and/or pre-recorded messages.”

In late September, the lawsuit says, Elder spoke with a human Comcast representative, who told her the company was calling to collect a $527 bill. But Elder had actually paid the debt in 2011, and said so. Despite this, Comcast continued robocalling her: “From late September 2014, Defendant placed cellular calls to Plaintiff an average of once or twice each day. Calls continued at least through June 18, 2015.”

Like the suit against Time-Warner Cable, Elder's suit against Comcast is based on the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act (a law intended to reign in abusive telemarketing practices, including robocalls), and asks for damages of $1,500 per call. The TCPA establishes a fine structure of $500 per call, with triple damages awarded for knowing or willful violations. Since Elder told Comcast last September that she'd paid off her debt three years earlier and did not consent to receive any more calls about the matter, she's seeking triple damages for every robocall Comcast made afterward.

If she's awarded the full $1,500 for every call she alleges Comcast made, the total damages could exceed $900,000.

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No raise lately? You aren't alone

Compensation data firm says wages were stagnant in the second quarter

In its monthly employment report, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides a snapshot of what people who have non-farm jobs are earning, and whether i...

PhotoIn its monthly employment report, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides a snapshot of what people who have non-farm jobs are earning, and whether it's going up or down.

In the June report, released July 2, BLS reported that average hourly earnings were stagnant, remaining unchanged for the month. Over the previous 12 months, BLS says wages went up by 2%.

If you didn't see any of that meager increase in your pay, it might be explained by the latest report from a private compensation data firm. They found wages were not only stagnant, but actually lost ground in the second quarter of the year.

PayScale, Inc., which tracks compensation trends, reports that national wages in the second quarter of 2015 dropped 0.5%. The PayScale Index predicts wage growth will remain low in the current quarter, rising just 0.2% and 0.4% on an annual basis.

PayScale breaks down wages across a number of different industries and in several different cities. After all, some regions of the country, and some professions, do better than others. At least, that's normally the case.

Getting worse

“Unlike previous quarters where we observed some bright spots in wage growth for a subset of industries, metros or jobs, wages in Q2 2015 were stagnant, if not down, across the board,” said Katie Bardaro, lead economist at PayScale.

If that weren't bad enough, the report finds real wages are down more than 8% when compared to 2006, the last year before the Great Recession. While the economy may have recovered from that event, wages haven't.

“This means today’s worker is able to buy less goods and services with their paycheck due to a combination of lackluster wage growth and increasing inflation,” Bardaro said. “And, unfortunately, our wage growth forecast doesn’t offer much optimism for the immediate future.”

Has STEM peaked?

Another trouble spot has emerged in STEM professions – jobs in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. There has been a huge emphasis in education recently to encourage more students to pursue these in-demand professions.

But the PayScale Index found the pay for previously hot-performing STEM jobs fell for the second quarter in a row. Wages declined by 0.4% in IT, by 0.1% in engineering, and by 1.1% in science and biotech.

However, IT and engineering jobs are still near the top of the list for wage growth since 2006 at 10.3% and 10.8% respectively, but with most of that growth in previous years.

Ironically, the arts, entertainment, and recreation industry – not known for lavish salaries, experienced the largest annual wage growth in the second quarter at 1.5%. Wages in this industry are largely tied to consumer demand, PayScale said.

People working in the construction industry did better in the second quarter too, with wages growing by 1.4%. People working in real estate saw their paychecks grow by 1.2%

In terms of geography, paychecks grew the most in Tampa, Seattle, and Minneapolis. They suffered the biggest declines in New York, Washington, DC, and Boston.

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Vending machine scam victimized hundreds

Two salesmen sentenced to prison, fined millions

Two salesmen have been sentenced to prison for their part in a vending machine scam -- and we are not talking about a machine that takes your dollar but do...

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Obese individuals face huge odds in returning to normal weight

British researchers conclude current weight loss programs aren't working

Common sense would tell you that it would be hard to attain a normal weight once you are obese. Researchers at King's College in London have figured out ju...

PhotoCommon sense would tell you that it would be hard to attain a normal weight once you are obese. Researchers at King's College in London have figured out just how hard.

For an obese man, the odds of getting back a normal body weight is 1 in 210. Obese women face slightly better odds – 1 in 124.

The study, written up in the American Journal of Public Health, suggests current weight management programs that focus on dieting and exercise are not effective in tackling obesity at the population level.

First, it might help to understand what is obese and what is normal body weight. The terms are defined by each individual's body mass index (BMI) score. BMI is a measure of body fat that is based on a person's height and weight.

BMI calculator

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) provides this BMI calculator to help you find where you fit. You enter your weight and height using either standard or metric measures and the calculator gives you a number, which is your BMI.

A BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered normal body weight. If your BMI is 25 to 29.9, it classifies you as overweight. A BMI of 30 or higher puts you in the obese category.

The Kings College researchers wanted to find out how likely it was for someone who was obese to lose enough weight to return to normal weight. They tracked the weight of 278,982 participants – 129,194 men and 149,788 women – using electronic health records from 2004 to 2014.

The study measured the probability of obese patients attaining normal weight or a 5% reduction in body weight through diet and exercise, excluding patients who received bariatric surgery.

Temporary results

The chance obese patients could achieve a 5% weight loss within a year was 1 in 12 for men and 1 in 10 for women. But for those who were able to lose 5% of their body weight, 53% regained the weight within 2 years and 78% had regained the weight within 5 years.

Out of the nearly 300,000 subjects, only 1,283 men and 2,245 women with a BMI of 30-35 reached their normal body weight, equivalent to an annual probability of 1 in 210 for men and 1 in 124 for women.

The study concludes that current obesity treatments aren't working for the majority of obese patients.

“Once an adult becomes obese, it is very unlikely that they will return to a healthy body weight,” said Dr. Alison Fildes, the study's first author. “New approaches are urgently needed to deal with this issue.”

Fildes says obesity treatments should focus on preventing overweight and obese patients from gaining more weight, while also helping those that do lose weight to keep it off. More importantly, she says, there needs to be more emphasis on preventing weight gain in the first place.

Bariatric surgery

According to NIH, bariatric surgery currently is recommended for people categorized as severely obese – with a BMI greater than 40.The surgery restricts food intake, which promotes weight loss and reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes. It has been shown to be effective, though like any surgery, there are risks associated with it.

There are also benefits from going from Obese to simply overweight. The Mayo Clinic points out that even modest weight loss can improve or prevent the health problems associated with obesity.  

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The economy: Consumer prices and new home construction on the rise in June

Higher gasoline and food costs pushed the CPI higher

The cost of living moved moderately higher in June, with gasoline, food and shelter prices all contributing to the increase. According to the Bureau of La...

Photo
© mybaitshop – Fotolia

The cost of living moved moderately higher in June, with gasoline, food and shelter prices all contributing to the increase.

 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose a seasonally adjusted 0.3% last month and over the last 12 months is up a miniscule 0.1%.

 

Food and energy

 

Food prices, which were unchanged in April and May, rose 0.3% last month. The food at home category -- things you buy at a grocery store -- jumped 0.4% after declining in each of the 3 previous months. Over three-fourths of that increase came in the price of eggs, which rose 18.3% -- the largest increase since August 1973. Also posting gains were for meats, poultry, fish, and eggs (+1.4%), and cereal and bakery products (+0.5%). In contrast, prices for dairy and related products fell for the sixth consecutive month (-0.6%), and the fruits and as did the cost of vegetables (-0.4%. Food at home costs are up 1.0% over the last 12 months.

 

Energy prices were up 1.7% following a surge of 4.3% in May, due largely to an advance of 3.4% in gasoline costs. Electricity prices rose 0.2%, and natural gas prices advanced 0.3% -- the first increase since December. Fuel oil was the only major energy component index to decline, falling 1.9%.

 

Core inflation

 

The core rate of inflation -- all items excluding the volatile food and energy categories -- rose 0.2% in June. The cost of shelter, which rose 0.3%, accounted for over two-thirds of the increase. Other increases include prices for recreation, airline fares, personal care, tobacco, and new vehicles. Those advances more than offset declines in the prices of medical care, household furnishings and operations, used cars and trucks, and apparel. The core rate of inflation is up 1.8% over the past 12 months.

 

The complete CPI report is available on the Labor Department website.

 

Photo
© alisonhancock – Fotolia

Housing starts

 

A surge in new-home construction in June recovered nearly all the losses suffered a month earlier.

 

The Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development report privately-owned housing shot up 9.8% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,174,000 -- 26.6% above the same month a year ago.

 

Construction of single-family housing was up 0,9% to an annual rate of 685,000, while the rate for units in buildings with 5 units or more was 476,000 -- up 116,000 from May.

 

Building permits

 

The outlook for construction in the months ahead improved as well.

 

Privately-owned housing units authorized by building permits were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,343,000 in June -- 7.4% from May.

 

Permits for single-family construction rose 0.9% to a rate of 687,000; authorizations of units in buildings with 5 units or more were at a rate of 621,000 -- a gain of 86,000 from May.

 

Stifel Fixed Income Chief Economist Lindsey Piegza says the housing market continues to take steps in the right direction. But, she adds, "growth remains far from robust; as we have seen in the recent decline in retail sales, consumers continue to struggle to afford purchases -- particularly large ticket items -- amid stagnant income growth. Still, with the threat of rising rates on the near horizon, some homeowners are jumping in to lock in low rates."

 

The full report on housing construction is available on the Commerce Department website.

 

 

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Sausage Factory recalls sausage products

Some packages may not bear the USDA mark of inspection

The Sausage Factory of Carson City, Nev., is recalling approximately 5,960 pounds of sausage products. Although produced under USDA inspection, some packa...

PhotoThe Sausage Factory of Carson City, Nev., is recalling approximately 5,960 pounds of sausage products.

 

Although produced under USDA inspection, some packages may not bear the USDA mark of inspection.

 

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

 

The following sausage items, produced between March 30 and June 12, 2015, are being recalled:

  • 10-lb. packages containing “The Sausage Factory Banger 5 oz” and bearing case code 10025, batch #22318.
  • 10-lb. packages containing “The Sausage Factory Bockwurst 2 oz” and bearing case code 10049, batch #22286.
  • 10-lb. packages containing “The Sausage Factory Bockwurst 4-1” and bearing case code 10048, batch #22286.
  • 10-lb. packages containing “The Sausage Factory Knockwurst 4-1” and bearing case code 10062, batch #22308.
  • 10-lb. packages containing “The Sausage Factory Andouille 4-1” and bearing case code 10044, batch #22224.
  • 10-lb. packages containing “The Sausage Factory Pulled Pork” and bearing case code 12152, batch #22164.
  • 50-lb. packages containing “The Sausage Factory Pulled Pork” and bearing case code 12153, batch #22164.
  • 10-lb. packages containing “The Sausage Factory Sweet Italian Rope” and bearing case code 12156LV, batch #22216.
  • 10-lb. packages containing “The Sausage Factory Banger 13-1” and bearing case code 12235, batch #22238.
  • 10-lb. packages containing “The Sausage Factory Della’s Pork Sausage” and bearing case code 12581, batch #22130.
  • 10-lb. packages containing “The Sausage Factory 8” Old Fashioned Frank” and bearing case code 11254, batch #22337 and #22388.
  • 10-lb. packages containing “The Sausage Factory 7” Old Fashioned Frank” and bearing case code 10080, batch #22337 and #22388.
  • 10-lb. packages containing “The Sausage Factory 6” 8-1 Hot Dog” and bearing case code 10085, batch #22388.

The recalled products, which should bear the establishment number “EST. 6236” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to distribution locations in California and Nevada.

 

Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Karla Bell at (775) 882-8110.  

 

 

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Pedal axle extenders recalled

The extenders can break and the rider can lose control

Specialized Bicycle Components of Morgan Hill, Calif., is recalling about 6,680 pedal axle extenders in the U.S. and Canada. The extenders can break and t...

PhotoSpecialized Bicycle Components of Morgan Hill, Calif., is recalling about 6,680 pedal axle extenders in the U.S. and Canada.

 

The extenders can break and the rider can lose control and fall.

 

There have been 10 reports of the pedal extenders breaking, including 2 reports of minor injuries, involving scrapes and bruises.

 

This recall involves Specialized Body Geometry Pedal Axle Extenders that are used to extend the outward reach of the pedals. They are sold in pairs and mount directly into the bicycle crank arms. Pedal extenders are made of stainless steel and fit a 9/16 inch pedal thread. They are labeled with an “L” and an “R.”

 

The extenders, manufactured in Taiwan, were sold at authorized Specialized retailers and online at www.specialized.com from January 2009, to June 2015, for about $40.

 

Consumers should stop using the recalled pedal extenders immediately and return them to an authorized Specialized retailer for a full refund.

 

Consumers may contact Specialized at (800) 722-4423 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. (PT) Monday through Friday.

 

 

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Ferrari recalls vehicles with air bag issue

The driver side air bag module may have been improperly assembled

Ferrari North America is recalling 814 model year 2015 Ferrari 458 Italia, 458 Spider, 458 Speciale, 458 Speciale A, California T, FF, F12 Berlinetta, and ...

PhotoFerrari North America is recalling 814 model year 2015 Ferrari 458 Italia, 458 Spider, 458 Speciale, 458 Speciale A, California T, FF, F12 Berlinetta, and LaFerrari vehicles manufactured December 19, 2014, to April 29, 2015.

 

The vehicles may be equipped with a driver side air bag module that was improperly assembled, which can cause the air bag to deploy in a rotated orientation. In the event of a crash, the deployment of the driver's air bag in a rotated orientation increases the risk of injury.

 

Ferrari will notify owners, and dealers will replace the front Driver's Side Air Bag Module, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on July 30, 2015.

 

Owners may contact Ferrari customer service at 1-866-551-2828. Ferrari's number for this recall is 57.

 

 

 

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Aspen Foods recalls frozen, raw, stuffed & breaded chicken products

The products may be contaminated with Salmonella Enteritidis

Aspen Foods of Chicago, Ill., is recalling approximately 1,978,680 pounds of frozen, raw, stuffed and breaded chicken products. The products may be contam...

PhotoAspen Foods of Chicago, Ill., is recalling approximately 1,978,680 pounds of frozen, raw, stuffed and breaded chicken products.

 

The products may be contaminated with Salmonella Enteritidis.

 

Working in conjunction with Minnesota State Departments of Health and Agriculture, the federal Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has determined that there is a link between the recalled products and this illness cluster.

 

Based on epidemiological evidence and traceback investigations, 3 case-patients have been identified in Minnesota with illness onset dates ranging from May 9, 2015, to June 8, 2015.

 

The recalled items were produced between April 15, 2015, and July 10, 2015 with “best if used by” dates between July 14, 2016, and October 10, 2016. The products bear the establishment number “P-1358” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and were shipped to retail stores and food service locations nationwide.

 

To view a full list of recalled products, please click here(XLS)

 

Consumers with questions may contact the company at (844) 277-6802.

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What your phone says about your state of mind

Researchers say they can gauge your depression by your smartphone use

You can put on a brave face for family and friends, but your phone knows. It can tell when you're depressed, according to researchers at Northwestern Medic...

PhotoYou can put on a brave face for family and friends, but your phone knows. It can tell when you're depressed, according to researchers at Northwestern Medicine.

By tracking the number of minutes you use your phone, the researchers claim they can get a clue about your emotional well-being. If you're a normal, well-adjusted person, you use your phone about 17 minutes a day. If you're depressed, you're on it 68 minutes a day on average.

The researchers also get a clue from tracking your phone's location. For example, if you spend most of your time in just a few locations, researchers say it increases the likelihood you're depressed. The same holds true for irregular schedules, where an individual leaves the house and goes to work at different times each day.

87% accuracy

Unlikely you say? Well, the Northwestern researchers put their theory to the test. Based on the phone sensor data which was collected, they said they could identify people with depressive symptoms with 87% accuracy.

"The significance of this is we can detect if a person has depressive symptoms and the severity of those symptoms without asking them any questions," said senior author David Mohr. "We now have an objective measure of behavior related to depression. And we're detecting it passively. Phones can provide data unobtrusively and with no effort on the part of the user."

It's important, says Mohr, because it could ultimately help doctors monitor people at risk of depression and enable health care providers to intervene more quickly.

The smart phone data was actually more accurate in detecting depression than asking people about how sad they were feeling on a scale of 1 to 10. Lead author Sohrob Saeb says that when you ask people that question, their answers are unreliable and not very precise. Their phone, on the other hand, doesn't lie.

Loss of motivation

"The data showing depressed people tended not to go many places reflects the loss of motivation seen in depression," said Mohr, who is a clinical psychologist and professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern. "When people are depressed, they tend to withdraw and don't have the motivation or energy to go out and do things."

The phone data doesn't tell doctors what subjects were doing with their devices. Mohr suspects people who spent the most time on them were either surfing the web or playing games, rather than talking to friends.

"People are likely, when on their phones, to avoid thinking about things that are troubling, painful feelings or difficult relationships," he said. "It's an avoidance behavior we see in depression."

To arrive at the team's conclusions, Saeb analyzed the GPS locations and phone usage for 28 individuals, average age 29, over two weeks. The sensor tracked GPS locations every five minutes.

Half the participants had been diagnosed with some level of depression – half had not. Saeb developed algorithms using the GPS and phone usage data collected from the phone, and correlated the results of those GPS and phone usage algorithms with the subjects' depression test results. The results matched up in 87% of cases.

Though privacy issues would need to be addressed, the findings may one day be used to monitor people who are at risk of depression and offer them interventions if the sensor detected depression. It could also be used to deliver the information to their clinicians.

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Amazon records “record sales” on Prime Day

Says sales beat its best Black Friday ever

It might have been dismissed as a marketing gimmick, wrapped in a lot of hype, but when the cash register receipts were recorded, Amazon.com says Wednesday...

PhotoIt might have been dismissed as a marketing gimmick, wrapped in a lot of hype, but when the cash register receipts were recorded, Amazon.com says Wednesday's Prime Day sales shattered records, exceeding even its best Black Friday ever.

The achievement is a bit more impressive because consumers had to be members of Amazon Prime to take part. While it costs $99 a year to be a Prime member, Amazon allowed anyone to sign up for a 30-day free trial membership and take part in the sale.

Amazon said consumers did in droves, with more new members trying Prime worldwide than any single day in Amazon history. When all was said and done, the company reported members ordered 34.4 million items across Prime-eligible countries, breaking all Black Friday records with 398 items ordered per second.

Beat Black Friday by 18%

“Worldwide order growth increased 266% over the same day last year and 18% more than Black Friday 2014 – all in an event exclusively available to Prime members,” said Greg Greeley, Vice President, Amazon Prime.

July 15 was selected since it was Amazon's anniversary. Greeley said the company went into the promotion expecting it would be a one-off thing. But after getting the attention of rival Walmart and setting sales records, Greeley said Prime Day will likely become an annual event.

Among the milestones set during the promotion, Prime Members ordered tens of thousands of Fire TV Sticks in one hour, making it the fastest-selling deal on an Amazon device ever. Fire tablet sales exceeded sales on Black Friday last year.

The company sold 47,000 television sets in a single day, a 1300% increase over July 15 last year. It sold 51,000 Bose headphones, compared to the 8 it sold the previous Wednesday.

Dissent

In the midst of Amazon's victory lap, there are a few voices of dissent. CBS Moneywatch interviewed a number of consumers who said they were disappointed at what was on sale and the depth of the discounts.

“I was frustrated to see that only a certain amount of users could claim each deal," Doug Messer, a Prime member from Westchester, N.Y., told CBS. "We found a TV we wanted and when we went to claim it, we were added to a waitlist. Not really a deal if only a certain percentage of visitors can take advantage of it."

On Twitter, a consumer named Thomas Nguyen said he tried to buy a selfie stick but was number 293 on the wait list.

“Not sure if this is the low point in my life or not,” he Tweeted.

Walmart, which took up the Amazon challenge by launching price “rollbacks” of its own, has released no sales figures from yesterday. Instead, it is still offering digs at its online rival, proclaiming on its website “No 1-day sales here! Just savings every day.”

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Cars, credit cards, U.S. national security: everything is hackable now

Maybe try securing the vault BEFORE storing all your valuables in it?

Here are two unavoidable facts of modern life: every computerized device is vulnerable to malware, and anything connected to the Internet can be hacked. In...

PhotoHere are two unavoidable facts of modern life: every computerized device is vulnerable to malware, and anything connected to the Internet can be hacked. In other words, any “smart” device (read: anything computerized and connected) is vulnerable -- including smartphones, smart TVs, smart thermostats, smart cameras, smart home security systems and smart cars.

Indeed, the vehicle hacking problem is bad enough that researchers already rate new cars not only according to their fuel efficiency or safety records, but also by how easily hackers might gain control of their key systems, including steering and brakes.

In February, Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee released a committee report titled Tracking & Hacking: Security & Privacy Gaps Put American Drivers at Risk.

To produce the report, Markey's office asked 19 different vehicle manufacturers about their cars' vulnerabilities, and 16 of them responded.

The results were dismal: “The responses from the automobile manufacturers show a vehicle fleet that has fully adopted wireless technologies like Bluetooth and even wireless Internet access, but has not addressed the real possibilities of hacker infiltration into vehicle systems. The report also details the widespread collection of driver and vehicle information, without privacy protections for how that information is shared and used.”

In other words, “unauthorized” access by hackers isn't the only problem with those vehicles; there's also the huge amount of information made available to “authorized” agents of the manufacturers. Or, in the dry language of senatorial press releases: “Additional concerns came from the rise of navigation and other features that record and send location or driving history information.”

Almost all new vehicles are hackable

If consumers are worried about privacy or hacking-security matters, can they vote with their wallets, and buy vehicles without such vulnerabilities? Probably not: as of mid-2015, nearly 100% of new vehicles on the market are hackable – and over 50% transmit data. Where do you travel and when, how fast do you drive and where do you stop along the way … of course your car “knows” these things about you already, and there's a good chance the car's manufacturer and/or any sufficiently motivated hacker knows this too.

Earlier this week, we warned you about a common privacy-protection mistake made by rental-car drivers: if you connect your phone or other smart device with the car's systems, whoever rents the car after you can potentially find your personal information, unless you remember to delete it all.

Health records in jeopardy

And of course, automobiles and their related systems aren't the only modern necessities designed to be hackable – a long-running but only recently discovered security breach at the federal Office of Personnel Management (which handles the hugely important national-security task of vetting security clearance holders) put the personal (and often blackmail-worthy) information of over 22 million current and former clearance-holders into the hands of hackers believed to have Chinese government backing (though China's government has consistently denied this).

Those hackers are also believed to be responsible for the four major medical-themed hackings discovered in the past year: last August's hacking of a for-profit hospital network, and the health-insurance hackings that hit Anthem, Premera Blue Cross, and CareFirst Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

In late May, Larry Ponemon, of the Ponemon Institute, and Rick Kam, of ID Experts, wrote an op-ed going so far as to suggest that these “escalating cyberattacks threaten U.S. healthcare systems. … Imagine a hostile nation-state with your psychiatric records. Or an organized crime ring with your child’s medical file. Or a disgruntled employee with your medical insurance information.”

Indeed, if you're an American, the four medical hackings uncovered this past year mean there's already a 1 in 3 chance your health records have been hacked – and remember that Anthem, Premera, and CareFirst almost certainly are not the only health-insurance providers to have been hacked, merely the only ones to have discovered and admitted it thus far. And of course, it's not just medical records at risk; Internet-connected “smart” medical devices can be hacked, too.

Perhaps none of this is surprising. After all, the Internet (formerly known as the “information superhighway”) was originally designed for research scientists at different universities to share data with each other – in other words, making it easier to share information in a high-trust environment.

The problem is that this same tool is now regularly used in low-trust environments to handle everything from personal finance to national security, even though that tool still isn't remotely secure (evidence: the near-constant stream of “major hacking” stories you see if you pay any attention to the news).

Encrypting your files

There is one fairly easy way to make the Internet more secure: use encryption to encode your files so that decoding them is impossible without the encryption key. Until 2012, the FBI recommended that all Americans use encryption to keep the data on their mobile devices safe from hackers; but when James Comey took over as FBI director the following year the Bureau changed its tune. Comey thinks that encryption will only benefit criminals, and has gone so far as to ask Congress to make it illegal.

An old adage says that installing belated security measures is like “locking the barn door after the horse is already stolen.” But for today's insecure-Internet era, maybe the cliché needs a little updating:

“Locking the barn door? That might be a good idea. Maybe we can assign a Task Force to study the matter during the next fiscal quarter. But first, we need to focus on replacing all those missing horses. And while we're at it, why not store even more of our valuables in the horse barn? Sure would be a shame to waste all that newly vacant stable space, after all.”

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Honda's long airbag nightmare may not be over

The company says it used some of the ARC airbags now being investigated

For Honda, the long airbag nightmare just keeps getting worse. The Japanese automaker has already recalled 20 million cars made with Takata airbags, blamed...

PhotoFor Honda, the long airbag nightmare just keeps getting worse. The Japanese automaker has already recalled 20 million cars made with Takata airbags, blamed for killing at least eight people, and now the company says it used inflators made by ARC Automotive Corp.

The National Highway Traffic Safeway Administration (NHTSA) said earlier this week that it was opening an investigation into a couple of recent accidents involving ARC airbags.

Honda said it used ARC inflators from 2000 to 2001 and is checking how many vehicles are involved and whether there is a need to recall them. ARC Automotive, based in Knoxville, Tenn., said it is cooperating with investigators.

“This shows the difficulty of making safe inflators,” said Takeshi Miyao, an analyst at researcher Carnorama in Tokyo, according to a report in Automotive News. “The authorities and the industry have also become more sensitive about the matter of airbag safety due to the Takata issue.” 

Not many complaints but ...

Honda July 16, 2015, 6:09 p.m.
Consumers rate Honda

NHTSA's Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) said Tuesday that it received a complaint back in 2009 involving a driver's side airbag in a 2002 Chrysler Town and Country minivan. The inflator reportedly ruptured, spraying bits of metal into the cabin. ODI found no other incidents at that time.

Then last month, Korean automaker KIA notified ODI that it was a target of a lawsuit claiming that the inflator in the driver's side airbag in a 2004 Optima had ruptured. ODI said it went back to the 2009 report and found the inflators in the airbags in both the Town and Country and the Optima were manufactured by ARC Automotive.

The inflator in both airbags was a hybrid design that relies on two different sources of energy. The inflator fills the air bag cushion by releasing an inert gas stored in the inflator at high pressure. This gas mixture is augmented by an ammonium nitrate based propellant.

“Preliminary analysis indicates that the exhaust path for the inflation gas mixture may have been blocked by an object of indeterminate origin,” ODI said in a document filing. “This blockage appears to have caused high internal pressure and subsequent rupture of the inflator assembly.”

Has your airbag been recalled?

All the publicity surrounding the Takata airbag recall has many consumers worried about whether they may be driving around with an explosive device in their dashboard that's just waiting to spray them with metal fragments.

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Center for Auto Safety recall list (.pdf)

After all, many recalled cars are never taken in to dealers and used car owners, in particular, can't be sure their car is up to snuff.

What can you do?

To check specifically on airbags, see the Center for Auto Safety's website. It has a 45-page .pdf list of U.S. airbag recalls arranged by auto manufacturer.

You can check for all types of recalls by typing your VIN number into NHTSA's Recall Look-Up form.

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Predicting who will get Alzheimer's disease

Researchers say they are getting better at it

There is no conclusive test that can predict who will develop Alzheimer's disease as they age. However, it is information doctors would like to know, since...

PhotoThere is no conclusive test that can predict who will develop Alzheimer's disease as they age. However, it is information doctors would like to know, since it would allow earlier treatment and, perhaps, a delay in the onset of the fatal condition.

Researchers in the field are constantly looking for biomarkers that could offer a more complete picture of who is most at risk. They think they may have identified one in amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI).

Researchers at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas have noticed that people with aMCI appear to be at twice the risk of developing Azheimer's disease when compared to others in their age group.

In findings published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, researchers identify a specific variation in brain waves of people with aMCI. Specifically, they think a delayed neural activity in aMCI patients that shows up in a word-finding task may indicate an early dysfunction that points to the progression of Alzheimer's disease.

One of the main symptoms of Alzheimer's disease is the inability to retain new memories about recent conversations, events, or upcoming appointments.

Specific type of impairment

While mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is the recognized clinical state between healthy aging and Alzheimer's disease, aMCI is a specific type of impairment marked by deficits in episodic memory.

"This is a promising start at looking at a group of MCI patients. The long-term goal is whether this can be applied to individual patients one day," said study principal investigator John Hart.

If the method proves reliable, it could provide a more affordable and non-invasive alternative to other available methods, such as MRI or a spinal tap, to measure neural responses.

Examining spinal fluid

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have been studying brain scans and looking for biomarkers that could help with earlier diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. In this study, scientists have found that changes in the spinal fluid during middle age may help doctors identify people at risk of developing Alzheimer's disease later in life.

"It's too early to use these biomarkers to definitively predict whether individual patients will develop Alzheimer's disease, but we're working toward that goal," said senior author Anne Fagan, PhD, a professor of neurology. "One day, we hope to use such measures to identify and treat people years before memory loss and other cognitive problems become apparent."

Early lifestyle changes can help

While there is currently no cure for Alzheimer's disease, the Alzheimer's Association recently released research suggesting lifestyle changes in middle age can reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

"The research on cognitive decline is still evolving," said Angela Geiger, who is the chief strategy officer of the Alzheimer's Association. "But there are actions people can take.”

For example, certain healthy behaviors known to combat cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes may also reduce the risk of cognitive decline. These healthy behaviors include staying mentally active, engaging in regular physical activity, and eating a heart-healthy diet that benefits your body and your brain.

“There is also some evidence people may benefit from staying socially engaged with friends, family and the community," she said.

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Selling your house? Don't forget to disclose where the bones are buried

States have very different disclosure laws that you need to follow

If you’re looking to sell your house, you can expect to be filling out a lot of disclosure forms in the near future depending on where you live. Each state...

PhotoIf you’re looking to sell your house, you can expect to be filling out a lot of disclosure forms in the near future depending on where you live. Each state can have very strict standards when it comes to gathering information about a house that is going onto the market.

For example, there are a number of different forms that the California Association of Realtors wants you to fill out. The questions are diverse, and ask about a variety of different topics. Some of these include if you have had any claims on your homeowners insurance in the last five years; if you have painted any room of the house in the last 12 months; if you have neighboring dogs that bark incessantly; and if any livestock or wildlife, including insects or other pests, frequent your back yard.

Another form will want to know if you have made any alterations to the house. Any remodeling that you have done must be documented- including replacements to windows and doors, additions that you’ve added, or patch jobs that you’ve had to perform while living there.

California is an earthquake state, so you must explain any damages that may have been caused by natural disasters. These can include flooding, damage sustained due to hail, fires, and many others. All of this information goes down on the “Natural Hazard Disclosure Statement”.

Research and be prepared

Each state has its own regulations, so always research what you will have to disclose when buying or selling a house. These disclosure rules can often border on the ridiculous; in New York, sellers have to provide buyers with a full list of defects, including intangible ones such as hauntings.

Has anyone ever been murdered in your house? You may need to disclose that.

Sellers are often burdened with having to identify problems that they may not even be aware of. If your house is sold and some problem is discovered after the fact, you may be brought to court and forced to compensate the buyer for something that you didn’t even know about.

Buying a home may be one of the biggest steps you take in your life, and selling it may be even bigger one. It can create a tremendous amount of anxiety due to all of the state and real estate disclosure laws that you have to follow. Be prepared and research what you have to do in order to make a smooth transition. 

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Bed bug reports are costly for hotels

When consumers find bed bugs and tell the world, it hurts

Once banished to oblivion, bed bugs have been making quite a comeback in the U.S. since 2004. When you ask the Centers for Disease Control and Preventio...

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A commonly used drug could be used to treat arthritis

Initial findings show that lithium chloride helps slow degrading cartilage

Aches and pains are bound to develop in each of us as we age, but some people have a harder time with them than others. Arthritis can be agonizing for thos...

PhotoAches and pains are bound to develop in each of us as we age, but some people have a harder time with them than others. Arthritis can be agonizing for those who have to endure it, but recent research conducted at Queen Mary University of London has found that a common mental health drug may help prevent this condition.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis out there. It affects millions of people around the world, and occurs when the protective cartilage on the ends of your bones degrade, often resulting in intense pain and lack of mobility. This process usually happens over a long period of time, which is why osteoarthritis is seen mostly in people who are 40 or older.

There are currently no guaranteed treatments for osteoarthritis, but researchers have found that lithium chloride, which has been used to treat patients with mental health problems, can actually prevent the degradation of these at-risk cartilage areas.

Slowing arthritic development

Scientists from Queen Mary University and the University of Otago in New Zealand collaborated in order to see how beneficial the compound could be. They took cartilage samples from cows and exposed them to inflammatory molecules in order to simulate arthritic progression. After treating these areas with lithium chloride, they noticed that the cartilage was not degrading as quickly.

There has been a lot of controversy over lithium’s effect on the body, so further testing will be required before humans will be able to utilize it. Figuring out a safe dosage will be important for researchers to focus on going forward.

“Osteoarthritis has a devastating impact on the lives of many people in the UK and it’s vital that we look for novel ways to prevent it…While we’re still at an early stage in researching lithium’s effects on cartilage and its suitability as a treatment, the possibility that an already widely available pharmaceutical could slow its progress is a significant step forward,” said Professor Martin Knight, who co-authored the study.

The full study has been published in the Journal of Orthopaedic Research.  

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Builder confidence on the rise

It's at the highest level in more than 9 years

You could be seeing a lot more new home construction in the months ahead. Builder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family hit a level of 6...

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(c) Kurhan - Fotolia

You could be seeing a lot more new home construction in the months ahead.

Builder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family hit a level of 60 in July, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI). At the same time, June's reading was revised upward 1 point to 60 as well. The HMI hasn't seen that level since November 2005.

“This month’s reading is in line with recent data showing stronger sales in both the new and existing home markets as well as continued job growth,” said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “However, builders still face a number of challenges, including shortages of lots and labor.”

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.” It 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.

How things look

Two of the 3 HMI components posted gains in July. The component gauging current sales conditions rose 1 point to 66 and the index charting sales expectations in the next 6 months increased two points to 71. Meanwhile, the component measuring buyer traffic dropped a single point to 43.

Looking at the three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, the West and Northeast each rose 3 points to 60 and 47, respectively. The South and Midwest posted respective 1-point gains to 61 and 55.

“The fact that builder confidence has returned to levels not seen since 2005 shows that housing continues to improve at a steady pace,” said NAHB Chairman Tom Woods, a home builder from Blue Springs, Mo. “As we head into the second half of 2015, we should expect a continued recovery of the housing market.”

 

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© Marzky Ragsac Jr. - Fotolia

Initial jobless claims

In a separate report, the government says first-time applications for state unemployment benefits fell sharply last week.

Figures released by the Labor Department (DOL) show initial jobless claims plunged by 15,000 in the week ending July 11 to seasonally adjusted 281,000. The previous week's level was revised down by 1,000.

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

The 4-week moving average, which is considered a more accurate gauge of the labor market than the volatile weekly tally, rose 3,250 – to 282,500.

The complete report is available on the DOL website.

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Scientist: Monotonous diets contribute to disease, obesity

A healthy diet is one that includes many different types of food

It has often been said that “you are what you eat.” Mark Heiman, vice president and chief scientific officer at MicroBiome Therapeutics, believes that whol...

PhotoIt has often been said that “you are what you eat.” Mark Heiman, vice president and chief scientific officer at MicroBiome Therapeutics, believes that wholeheartedly.

In a speech given at the Institute of Food Technologists in Chicago, Heiman advanced a simple theory about the proliferation of chronic disease and obesity, not just in the developed world but in developing nations, which have little or no access to fast food and high-calorie snacks.

Heiman believes that evolving diets over the last 50 years, with people eating fewer types of food on a regular basis, is playing havoc with our gastrointestinal (GI) systems. He calls it a loss of “dietary diversity.”

Ecosystem of the GI tract

Heiman said diet is the principal regulator of the GI microbiome, the ecosystem of the human GI tract. The microbiome is a sophisticated and delicate combination of nutrients that ultimately creates new signaling molecules that allow it to communicate with a person's metabolic and GI regulatory system.

To operate properly, Heiman says the microbiome needs a diverse diet. Over the years, he says humans have narrowed that diversity considerably.

For example, about 75 percent of the world's population eats just 5 animal species and 12 plant species. Of those 12, rice, maize, and wheat contribute 60% of all the calories, he said.

"Like any ecosystem, the one that is most diverse in species is the one that is going to be the healthiest," Heiman said. "In almost every disease state that has been studied so far, the microbiome has lost diversity. There are just a few species that seem to dominate."

But what does that have to do with the obesity epidemic and the explosive growth of type 2 diabetes? Maybe a lot.

Testing the theory

Heiman says people with prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes have a different microbiome makeup than people without those health conditions. To test his theory he created a formulation of inulin, beta glucan, and antioxidants called NM504, and tested it among a group of 30 individuals.

Half of the group received the formulation twice a day. The remainder received a placebo. Heiman says the difference in the 2 groups was stark.

The group getting NM504 saw a shift in the makeup of their microbiome and, consequently, health benefits that included improved glucose control, increased satiety, and relief from constipation. The other group didn't.

With the growth in population, food producers naturally emphasize food that can be grown efficiently and economically – providing more bang for the buck. In the process, some foods common in the past fall out of favor and fall out of diets.

Heirloom foods

Heiman says he is studying these so-called “heirloom” foods and whether returning them to our diets would make any difference. He developed a substance he calls MT303, derived from whole soybean pods, which hardly anyone, anywhere eats these days.

But maybe we should. Heiman says when he tested the compound on obese mice, the rodents benefited by being protected from colon inflammation and decreasing their weight gain.

Actually, Heiman isn't recommending anyone add soybean pods to their diets. He just wants you to think more about what you eat day in and day out.

"How can we get more diversity into our diets?” he asks.

For one, avoid fad diets that require you to eliminate certain kinds of food from your diet. They may provide some short term results, but over the long haul, the more diversity in your diet, he says, the better.

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General Motors recalls Chevrolet Cruzes and Volts

The tie rod could separate from the steering gear

General Motors is recalling 10 model year 2014-2015 Chevrolet Cruzes manufactured November 8, 2013, to March 12, 2015, and 2015 Chevrolet Volts manufacture...

PhotoGeneral Motors is recalling 10 model year 2014-2015 Chevrolet Cruzes manufactured November 8, 2013, to March 12, 2015, and 2015 Chevrolet Volts manufactured April 11, 2014.

 

The inner tie rod may not be tightened to specification, allowing the tie rod to separate from the steering gear. This could result in the loss of steering, increasing the risk of a crash.

 

GM will notify owners, and dealers will replace the steering gear assembly, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in July 2015.

 

Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020. GM's number for this recall is 15386.

 

 

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Murry’s recalls chicken product

The product tested positive for Staphylococcal enterotoxin

Murry’s, Inc., of Lebanon, Pa., is recalling approximately 20,232 pounds of gluten-free breaded chicken nugget product. The product tested positive for S...

PhotoMurry’s, Inc., of Lebanon, Pa., is recalling approximately 20,232 pounds of gluten-free breaded chicken nugget product.

 

The product tested positive for Staphylococcal enterotoxin.

 

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

 

The following product, bearing establishment number “P-516” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and shipped to an establishment for distribution nationwide, is being recalled:

  • 12-oz. boxes of “Bell & Evans Gluten Free Breaded Chicken Breast Nuggets” with a “Best By” date of March 25, 2016.

Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Murry’s customer service, at (800) 638-0215.

 

 

 

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Honda Pilots recalled

The third row seatbelt may be trapped between the rear seat and the rear sideliner

Honda is recalling 1,358 model year 2016 Pilots manufactured May 4, 2015, to June 5, 2015. Due to an assembly issue, the third row seatbelt may be trappe...

PhotoHonda is recalling 1,358 model year 2016 Pilots manufactured May 4, 2015, to June 5, 2015.

 

Due to an assembly issue, the third row seatbelt may be trapped between the rear seat and the rear sideliner. If the seatbelt is trapped, the occupants may not be restrained properly, increasing the risk of injury.

 

Honda will notify owners, and dealers will inspect and repair the rear third row seat belt, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on August 6, 2015.

 

Owners may contact Honda customer service at 1-310-783-2000. Honda's number for this recall is JS7.

 

 

 

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Nissan recalls Versa Sedans, Cubes and Jukes

The engine start/stop button may stick

Nissan North America is recalling 14,595 model year 2014 Versa Sedan vehicles manufactured July 16, 2013, to January 29, 2014; 2013-2014 Cube vehicles manu...

PhotoNissan North America is recalling 14,595 model year 2014 Versa Sedan vehicles manufactured July 16, 2013, to January 29, 2014; 2013-2014 Cube vehicles manufactured July 3, 2013, to October 21, 2013; and 2013-2014 Juke vehicles manufactured July 3, 2013, to October 22, 2013.

 

When exposed to hot temperatures, the engine start/stop button may stick inside the button housing. If the engine start/stop button gets stuck in the housing, road vibrations may cause the engine to shut off unexpectedly while the vehicle is being driven, increasing the risk of a crash.

 

Nissan will notify owners, and dealers will modify the start/stop switch housing, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin by late-August 2015.

 

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

 

 

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Chevrolet Sparks and Sonics recalled

The warning chimes may not function properly

General Motors is recalling 45,785 model year 2014-2015 Chevrolet Sparks manufactured April 30, 2014, to May 20, 2015, and 2015 Chevrolet Sonics manufactur...

PhotoGeneral Motors is recalling 45,785 model year 2014-2015 Chevrolet Sparks manufactured April 30, 2014, to May 20, 2015, and 2015 Chevrolet Sonics manufactured June 18, 2014, to June 10, 2015.

 

In the recalled vehicles, equipped with the base radio and OnStar, the radio may lock up due to a software issue, causing the display to go blank and all audio functions to cease. Because of this, there may be no warning chimes such as the reminder to buckle the seat belt and the key being left in ignition when the driver goes to exit the vehicle.

 

Without audible indicators, the driver may leave the key in the ignition, increasing the risk of theft. If a driver or front passenger does not buckle his seat belt, there would be no chime to remind him to do so. Failure to buckle up increases the risk of injury in a crash.

 

GM will notify owners, and dealers will update the radio software, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

 

Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020. GM's number for this recall is 15504.

 

 

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Amazon vs. Walmart: stakes are bigger than just a day of sales

Retailers may be trying to win consumers over for the long haul

Amazon and Walmart are going at it today in a battle of high-profile sales, trying to win over consumers who don't normally go on a shopping spree in the m...

PhotoAmazon and Walmart are going at it today in a battle of high-profile sales, trying to win over consumers who don't normally go on a shopping spree in the middle of July.

When Amazon announced its Prime Day for July 15, it boasted that its one-day deals for its Prime members would beat those offered on Black Friday, the traditional start to the holiday shopping season.

BestBlackFriday.com, operated by Jones-Dengler Marketing, threw down a challenge of its own, listing some of last year's Black Friday specials and challenging Amazon to beat those prices. After viewing the Prime Day deals at midnight, BestBlackFriday.com's Philip Dengler had to admit, Amazon did what it said it would do.

“To our surprise, they are beating Black Friday 2014 prices on some of the most sought-after items,” Dengler told ComsumerAffairs in an email.

Side-by-side comparison

Dengler and his associates reached that conclusion after doing a side-by-side comparison of last year's Black Friday deals and Amazon's Prime Day prices.

“While Black Friday wins in a few areas, Prime Day is winning where it counts,” Dengler said. “They have the lowest price on the very popular 32" and 40" televisions.”

Dengler said Amazon is also winning on the Kindle Fire 7, Kindle Fire 7 Kids Version, Crucial MX100 Drives, VTech Kidizoom Smartwatch, Bose SoundTrue Headphones On-Ear Style and many other items.

“Judging by the information available to us now, we think Amazon was right in their Prime Day comparison to Black Friday,” Dengler said.

Walmart's response

These prices, of course, are only available to consumers who have paid $99 a year to be Prime members, a point Walmart has made in its none-too-subtle promotion of its own sale. Visitors to Walmart.com are greeted with a bold banner declaring “thousands of new rollbacks, no upfront fees!”

Why would these two retail giants be duking it out in the dead of summer with seemingly little at stake? As we reported yesterday, consumers were sitting on their wallets last month, resulting in disappointing retail sales.

Amazon's motivation probably lies in a desire to boost Prime memberships. Walmart's response may be driven by a determination not to let its rival get out in front on anything. Both are taking the opportunity to try to win over consumers who do most of their shopping online.

Increasing e-service quality

"Increased e-service quality is associated with increased customer satisfaction, which then leads to higher repurchase intentions," said Vikas Mittal, professor of marketing at Rice University. "In other words, increasing e-service quality enhances customer satisfaction and the likelihood of customer repurchase. If Amazon and Wal-Mart want to keep their customers coming back, they must focus on increasing satisfaction via e-service quality."

Mittal and an international team of colleagues have completed a study of what makes up e-service quality. Price is only one part of it.

Their analysis identified four core dimensions of e-service quality: website design, fulfilment, customer service and security/privacy. Together, these four dimensions strongly impact overall e-service quality, the authors conclude. And they should be there 365 days a years – even when the sale prices aren't.

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Updated ransomware threats: TeslaCrypt 2.0, child-pornography blackmail and fake-cop warnings

Ransomware attacks increase in frequency and intensity

Earlier this year, the California-based cybersecurity firm Bromium issued a warning about a then-new strain of ransomware called TeslaCrypt, which primaril...

PhotoEarlier this year, the California-based cybersecurity firm Bromium issued a warning about a then-new strain of ransomware called TeslaCrypt, which primarily focused on attacking game files and game platforms including Minecraft, World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, Diablo, several ES sports titles, and many more (though after encrypting a victim's game files, it would then spread to encrypt Word documents, Excel files, PowerPoint presentations and various image files, too).

Now TeslaCrypt is back, after the research firm Kaspersky warned about the updated TeslaCrypt 2.0, which has been refined, strengthened, and also disguised as an older form of ransomware called CryptoWall.

As its name suggests, ransomware is a type of malware that lets attackers hold a victim's device and/or files for ransom, by encrypting the files and refusing to decrypt them unless the victim pays money (usually via Bitcoin or wire transfer, both of which are untraceable).

Form of extortion

Like all cybersecurity threats, ransomware appears in many forms. In January, investigators in Tennessee discovered a particularly nasty variant: after taking control of a victim's smartphone, the hackers would then plant child pornography on the device and refuse to remove the images or otherwise relinquish control unless the victim paid $500. The phones' owners cannot delete the pictures, and they're usually afraid to contact police for fear they'll be arrested for possession of illegal images.

A teenager in Washington State apparently fell victim to child-pornographic malware last month. The Renton Reporter's police blotter from July 12 said that:

A 16-year-old boy viewed pornography on his phone discovered it was infected with “ransomware” when he tried to free up space.

He and his mother went to the Police Department on June 17 to report the ransomware, which was activated when he attempted to delete a URL.

An officer scrolled through the screens on the phone, noticing sexually explicit photographs of people, some of whom looked younger than 18.... With permission, the officer tried to remove the ransomware but the fix didn’t work.

The boy told the officer he didn’t download any photos. Because of the boy’s age, the officer placed the phone into evidence so the boy wouldn’t get into trouble for possessing pornography. The boy said OK.

In Texas, the Austin Police Department issued a July 15 warning about another ransomware strain, this one snaring victims by initially pretending to be messages from law enforcement agencies: “Forms of ransomware which impersonate law enforcement agencies have been on the rise. These forms of the malware typically show a notification page from either a federal law enforcement agency or from the victim’s local law enforcement agency informing the user that they have committed illegal activity online and have been given a fine.”

Back up your files

Ransomware is another form of malware and is spread like any other kind: through spammy emails or text messages, virus-riddled file attachments, and similar techniques. Even if you have the bad luck to be infected, it generally won’t be a problem if you have backup copies of all your files; rather than pay the ransom, you can wipe your device clean and use your un-infected backup files to restore it.

If you don't already have backup copies of all your important files – not just on your home computer, but also your tablet, smartphone, and anything else holding important data you don't want to lose – you should make copies right away, and keep them on a dedicated thumb drive, flash drive, or burn copies onto a disc.

In addition to these physical media storage options, you also have the option of hiring a backup service — though that brings the usual risks that come with entrusting your data to anyone other than yourself.

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Consumers enjoying lowest summer gas prices since 2009

So far, refineries are keeping up with demand -- except in California

Don't mention this to consumers in California, but the U.S. is enjoying the lowest summer gasoline prices in years.While Los Angeles area motorists are...

PhotoDon't mention this to consumers in California, but the U.S. is enjoying the lowest summer gasoline prices in years.

While Los Angeles area motorists are paying well over $4 a gallon for gas this week, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports that the average retail price for gasoline this summer – April through September – is expected to be $2.67 a gallon, a dime less than the current national average.

The prediction is based on EIA's Short-Term Energy Outlook and the $2.67 figure is the lowest since 2009.

California's woes are the result of inefficiencies in the supply chain. For example, the state received no imports of gasoline in early July, leading to acute shortages in the state.

Ample supplies outside California

EIA's report suggests supplies are holding up well elsewhere, in spite of increased consumption. EIA expects travel and gasoline consumption to be higher this summer compared to last year. Motor gasoline consumption is expected to increase by 194,000 barrels per day, up 2.1% from last summer, reflecting a number of positive factors.

Not only are prices at the pump substantially lower, EIA says consumers have higher real disposable income, more employment opportunities, and growing consumer confidence. The lower fuel prices, the agency says, are largely the result of the projected 41% year-over-year decline in the average price of North Sea Brent crude oil, the U.S.'s main source of imported oil.

EIA arrives at its predictions by measuring the product supplied, which reflects refinery and blender output, inventory change, and net imports, as a proxy for consumption. Net refinery output is expected to increase by 208,000 barrels per day, staying slightly above growth in consumption.

The main inventories of gasoline and gasoline blending components began the summer season 10.7 million barrels above the previous 5-year average and should end the season 3.7 million barrels above the previous 5-year average.

Consumers drew 8.4 million barrels on inventories last summer. This summer, that should grow to 14.3 million. Supplies should remain fairly tight but not enough to affect retail prices.

California inquiry

California motorists may soon get some relief from high prices, but no doubt are getting tired of the constant price roller coaster. According to AAA, the California Energy Commission is now investigating what's behind the volatility.

California refineries are putting out plenty of gasoline but the state still has to import fuel from other areas to meet its needs. As AAA observes, suppliers often operate in “just-in-time” gasoline inventories, with supply delivered only as demand requires it. It limits storage costs but can lead to significant spikes in price when supply and demand are out of balance.

“Upward pressure is likely to remain on prices in the region until supply issues are resolved,” AAA said.

Lingering supply issues in the Midwest have mostly been resolved and motorists are reaping the benefits. AAA says the average retail price of a gallon of regular gas has fallen 12 cents in Indiana and 11 cents in Michigan.

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Today's adolescents are less likely to classify themselves as overweight or obese

Making sure that teens are clear about their weight status is the first step to getting healthier.

Recognizing that you are overweight is usually the first step to getting healthier. Unfortunately, this admission is not always the easiest to make. A new ...

PhotoRecognizing that you are overweight is usually the first step to getting healthier. Unfortunately, this admission is not always the easiest to make. A new study shows that adolescents have a particularly hard time recognizing that they have a weight problem.

The study, which was conducted by researchers at Georgia Southern University, was based on findings from two separate surveys. One survey was given over roughly six years, from 1988 to 1994. The second survey was given over five years, from 2007 to 2012. All participants from both studies were between the ages of 12 and 16 and were classified as obese, overweight, or normal weight through their body mass index (BMI) scores.

The surveys attempted to gauge how each era’s young people viewed their own weight. After adjusting for certain variables, such as age, race, sex, and socio-economic standing, the researchers found that the more recent generation was 29% less likely to classify themselves as overweight or obese.

Peer pressure and social comparison

So what do these numbers mean? Well, the researchers believe that self-perception has changed over the last 20 years, and there are a couple of ways that this could have affected the survey results.  

“In the wake of the obesity pandemic, the media, weight loss industries, and medical communities have encouraged adolescents to maintain slender frames. Facing harsher messages, more and more overweight and obese adolescents may be increasingly reluctant to admit that they are overweight,” said Dr. Jian Zhang, who led the study.

This seems to make some sense. With the amount of pressure that adolescents face to “fit in”, along with the media and peers venerating people who are thin, many teens may not be willing to admit that they don’t belong.

To offer a completely contrary explanation, many overweight or obese teens may not feel that they should be classified as such because of who their friends and family are. This is explained by the “Social Comparison Theory”. In short, the theory suggests that people compare their weight with those around them, rather than with any actual number or scale. As such, a teen who has a lot of friends or family members who are overweight may feel that they are perfectly normal for being overweight too.

Adopting healthy behaviors

Regardless of the cause, the researchers believe that it is extremely important for adolescents to be clearly informed about their own weight status. By being aware of how healthy they are (in terms of weight), adolescents can begin to make choices that will help them adapt healthier behaviors. This, in turn, will help reduce obesity numbers in adolescents and contribute to healthier living.

"Becoming conscious of one's excess weight is the precursor to adopting behavioral changes necessary for appropriate weight control. The declining tendency of correctly perceiving overweight status presents a vast challenge to obesity prevention among adolescents, making the overweight and obese adolescents less motivated to actively engage in effective weight loss behaviors,” said Dr. Zhang

The full study has been published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine

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Computer hacking forum Darkode dismantled

U.S. and 20 other countries charge defendants in computer fraud conspiracy

The term "rogues gallery" can refer to Superman's enemies, a police collection of mugshots or an out-of-the way spot where pickpockets and other criminals ...

PhotoThe term "rogues gallery" can refer to Superman's enemies, a police collection of mugshots or an out-of-the way spot where pickpockets and other criminals gather.

It could also refer to computer hacking forums like Darkode, a worldwide forum where hackers and other cyber-criminals convened to buy, sell, trade and share information, ideas, and hacking tools.

“Of the roughly 800 criminal internet forums worldwide, Darkode represented one of the gravest threats to the integrity of data on computers in the United States and around the world and was the most sophisticated English-speaking forum for criminal computer hackers in the world,” said U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton of the Western District of Pennsylvania.

Worldwide takedown

Darkode has now been dismantled in a worldwide bust involving law enforcement agencies from the U.S. and 20 other countries. Criminal charges have been filed against 12 individuals associated with the forum.

“Hackers and those who profit from stolen information use underground Internet forums to evade law enforcement and target innocent people around the world,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell.  “This operation is a great example of what international law enforcement can accomplish when we work closely together to neutralize a global cybercrime marketplace.”

“Through this operation, we have dismantled a cyber hornets’ nest of criminal hackers which was believed by many, including the hackers themselves, to be impenetrable.”

“This is a milestone in our efforts to shut down criminals’ ability to buy, sell, and trade malware, botnets and personally identifiable information used to steal from U.S. citizens and individuals around the world,” said Deputy FBI Director Mark F. Giuliano.  “Cyber criminals should not have a safe haven to shop for the tools of their trade and Operation Shrouded Horizon shows we will do all we can to disrupt their unlawful activities.”

Initiation ritual

Before becoming a member of Darkode, prospective members were allegedly vetted through a process in which an existing member invited a prospective member to the forum for the purpose of presenting the skills or products that he or she could bring to the group. 

Darkode members allegedly used each other’s skills and products to infect computers and electronic devices of victims around the world with malware and, thereby gain access to, and control over, those devices.   

The charges announced today are part of a coordinated effort by a coalition of law enforcement authorities from 20 nations to charge, arrest or search 70 Darkode members and associates around the world.

 

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Algae, quinoa, and pulses are great alternative sources of protein

Each food comes in a variety of different forms and can provide consumers with a healthy food alternative

Protein is an essential part of every person’s diet. While most of us get this vital nutrient through eating meat, vegetarians and vegans have to acquire i...

PhotoProtein is an essential part of every person’s diet. While most of us get this vital nutrient through eating meat, vegetarians and vegans have to acquire it through alternative methods. Many food experts are now saying that algae, quinoa, and pulses are the next best available sources of protein.

Choosing to eat algae, quinoa, and pulses over other forms of protein comes with several advantages. Eating these foods cuts down significantly on food waste, which is a big problem when it comes to eating meat or other foods that spoil quickly. Their preparation allows them to be much less processed as well, which contributes to the overall health of those who eat them.

Great variety of options

Algae is becoming a preferred protein source for vegans, since it has a greatly reduced carbon footprint and provides comparable protein to other vegan favorites, such as rice or soy. The total composition of algae consists of 63% protein, 15% fiber, 11% lipids, 4% carbohydrates, 4% micronutrients, and 3% moisture. These numbers indicate that algae is a food that is rich in nutrients and very healthy.

Some consumers may be cautious to eat algae, but food scientist Beata Klamczynska explains that people are slowly beginning to recognize how good it can be. “Are consumers ready for algae as an ingredient? Yes, they are ready and excited about algae…The more they learn, the more excited they get. Just a little education eliminates any doubts….There are thousands of algae strains to choose from for a variety of products,” she said.

Like algae, quinoa and pulses also exist in many different forms. There are currently over 1,400 quinoa products on the market, all of which are rich in protein. “Pulses” is just a general term that encompasses legumes, beans, chickpeas, and lentils, and the number of these products is also large. According to Anusha Samaranayaka, who is a scientist at POS Bio-Sciences, pulses are known to be high in protein, vegetarian, gluten-free, non-allergenic, non-GMO, and sustainable.

Supplementing any of these different foods into your diet is a great way to increase your protein intake. A presentation on these three foods was recently shown at IFT15, which is hosted by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) in Chicago. 

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Parents see college costs becoming “unaffordable”

New York Fed report explores possible link between student loans and higher tuition

For most college students, parents are a major partner. They help shape college choices, career paths, and are likely to help foot the education bill. So w...

PhotoFor most college students, parents are a major partner. They help shape college choices, career paths, and are likely to help foot the education bill. So what parents have to say about the process matters.

A survey of parents by HSBC finds that parents are growing more pessimistic about higher education. Nearly three quarters of those surveyed – 71% – now believe higher education is unaffordable for the majority of Americans.

At the same time, almost two thirds – 60% – consider a college degree to be essential in enabling their children to achieve important lifetime goals.

No doubt skyrocketing tuition costs have fueled parental pessimism. The cost of a college education has risen many times faster than the rate of inflation over the last few decades.

Some critics of higher education have blamed the increased availability of student loans and financial aid, and a new report from the New York Federal Reserve Bank lends some ammunition to that argument.

Higher tuition and loan demand

“When students fund their education through loans, changes in student borrowing and tuition are interlinked,” the report concludes. “Higher tuition costs raise loan demand, but loan supply also affects equilibrium tuition costs—for example, by relaxing students’ funding constraints.”

The authors said they found colleges and universities more exposed to changes in the subsidized federal loan program increased their tuition disproportionately around these policy changes, with a sizable pass-through effect on tuition of about 65%.

“We also find that Pell Grant aid and the unsubsidized federal loan program have pass-through effects on tuition, although these are economically and statistically not as strong,” they wrote.

The analysis found that the subsidized loan effect on tuition is most pronounced for expensive, private institutions that “are somewhat, but not among the most, selective.”

Housing bubble parallels

The Fed report explores an interesting parallel between the rising cost of college tuition and the rapid increase in home prices during the housing bubble. It examines the argument that one big reason home prices escalated so quickly is because so many consumers had access to so much credit they were able to bid up prices beyond what was justified.

While noting there is little empirical evidence linking credit availability and rising tuition, the report notes that the two events occurred at about the same time.

“Yearly student loan originations grew from $53 billion to $120 billion between 2001 and 2012, with about 90% of originations in recent years occurring through federal student aid programs,” the authors write. “Against this backdrop of increased borrowing, average sticker tuition rose 46% in constant 2012 dollars between 2001 and 2012, from $6,950 to $10,200, resembling the twin house price and mortgage balance booms.”

Parents, meanwhile, are squeezed between daunting costs and the desire to see their children succeed. The HSBC survey suggests they will continue to go into debt to reach that goal. And the debt may spread across two generations.

Sixty-five percent of parents with children under the age of 5 expect that their children will personally contribute toward their own tuition, and 59% admit their child will need to take on debt in order to do that. Around 3 in 10 – 29% -- of parents surveyed whose children are yet to begin their college education anticipate that grandparents will also share the financial burden.  

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Wellness programs effective at uncovering chronic conditions

Many people learn they have diabetes or high blood pressure through screenings at work

Corporate wellness programs are usually valued for keeping people healthy. The idea being, if someone stays in good shape, sees a doctor regularly, and eat...

PhotoCorporate wellness programs are usually valued for keeping people healthy. The idea being, if someone stays in good shape, sees a doctor regularly, and eats a nutritious diet, they are sick less often and spend less on health care.

But a survey by HealthMine has uncovered another benefit. It found that 28% of the people in the survey had been diagnosed with a chronic condition in the last two years. Nearly half – 46% – discovered their chronic illness through a wellness program.

Chronic conditions are not at all uncommon. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they affect nearly half of all Americans. When it comes to healthcare spending, $3 out of every $4 is spent on patients with at least one chronic disease.

Chronic diseases

Conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure are examples of chronic diseases. The problem with these ailments is that many who suffer from them are completely unaware they have them.

For example, one third of people with diabetes have not been diagnosed, according to the CDC. Other cases of chronic disease are diagnosed, but not well controlled.

HealthMine says 34% of adults with hypertension treat but do not control their condition. Another 11% are aware of their high blood pressure but don't get any treatment for it.

Regular screenings

Participants in a wellness program often get regular screenings and have their vital signs checked on a regular basis. This can uncover a problem before it progresses and gets worse.

The HealthMine survey suggests consumers like the idea of these screenings. In fact, 74% of respondents said they would participate in vision screenings; 73% would complete a blood pressure screening; and 69% want a cholesterol screening.

Consumers have also expressed interest in knowing their health risk. Some large insurers have already begun to incorporate genetic testing into their wellness programs, even though regulations are still being drafted to cover privacy and other protections.

Saves money

More companies, large and small, have embraced wellness programs as a way to promote the overall welfare of the work force as well as a way to cut costs. The Harvard Business Review profiled the case of Johnson & Johnson, which credits its wellness plan with reducing the percentage of employees who smoke by more than two-thirds and reducing the number who have high blood pressure or who are physically inactive by more than half.

That all benefited the bottom line, as the company credits its wellness program with $250 million in health care cost savings over a 10-year period.

"Plan sponsors can and do utilize wellness programs to beat the numbers – one member at a time," said Bryce Williams, president and CEO of Healthmine. "To succeed, wellness programs must enable people to learn their key health facts, and connect individuals to their personal clinical data anytime, anywhere.”  

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Mortgage applications on the decline

Contract interest rates were mixed

In calculations that included and adjustment for the Independence Day holiday, mortgage applications decreased 1.9% percent in the week ending July 10, acc...

PhotoIn calculations that included an adjustment for the Independence Day holiday, mortgage applications decreased 1.9% percent in the week ending July 10, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey.

 

At the same time, the Refinance Index was up 4%, raising the refinance share of mortgage activity to 50.8% of total applications from 48.0% the previous week. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity rose to 7.4%.

 

The FHA share of total applications inched up to 13.8% from 13.7%, the VA share was unchanged at 10.8%, as was the USDA share at 0.9%.

 

Contract interest rates

 

  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) was unchanged at 4.23%, with points increasing to 0.39 from 0.37 (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) edged up 2 basis points -- from 4.18% to 4.20%, with points decreasing to 0.28 from 0.30 (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 rose to 4.02% from 4.01%, with points increasing to 0.26 from 0.18 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs was up 2 basis points to 3.43%, with points increasing to 0.33 from 0.31 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs jumped to 3.13% from 3.03%, with points increasing to 0.42 from 0.37 (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.

 

 

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Producer prices continue to rise

It's the second straight gain in wholesale inflation

Producer prices for final demand (PPI), the cost of goods and services one step shy of the consumer level, were up in June for the second month in a row. ...

PhotoProducer prices for final demand (PPI), the cost of goods and services one step shy of the consumer level, were up in June for the second month in a row.

 

Led primarily by surging energy costs, the PPI rose 0.3% last month on top of the May increase of 0.5%, according to the Labor Department (DOL).

 

Almost two-thirds of the June increase is the result of a 0.7% increase in the cost of goods. Services prices rose 0.3%

 

Goods and services

 

The 0.7% gain in the cost of goods was the result of a 2.4% surge in energy prices. Within that category, the cost of gasoline was up 4.3%. Food prices were up 0.6%, with the cost of eggs higher, and fresh and dry vegetables lower.

 

Thirty percent of the 0.3% gain in services costs last month can be attributed to prices for loan services, which climbed 2.4%. Prices for machinery and equipment wholesaling, fuels and lubricants retailing, truck transportation of freight, deposit services and portfolio management also advanced. Margins for food and alcohol wholesaling were down 3.7%.

 

The core PPI, which excludes the volatile food, energy and trade services categories,rose 0.3% in June after edging down 0.1% the month before. For the 12 months ended in June, core PPI was up 0.7%

 

The complete PPI report is available on the DOL website.  

 

 

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Subaru recalls Impreza 4-Door and Station Wagon vehicless

The front passenger air bag may not deploy in some circumstances

Subaru of America is recalling 32,400 2012 model year Subaru Impreza 4-Door and Station Wagon vehicles (except WRX/STI models) manufactured April 21, 2011,...

PhotoSubaru of America is recalling 32,400 2012 model year Subaru Impreza 4-Door and Station Wagon vehicles (except WRX/STI models) manufactured April 21, 2011, to February 16, 2012.

 

The Occupant Detection System (ODS) may deactivate if a front seat passenger operates a device that is plugged into the power outlet such as a music player or cell phone, or touches a metal part of the vehicle such as the forward/rearward seat adjuster lever.

 

If the ODS deactivates, the front passenger air bag will be turned off and the front passenger air bag will not deploy in the event of a crash, increasing the risk of injury to the seat occupant.

 

Subaru will notify owners, and dealers will replace the Occupant Control Unit with a modified one, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

 

Owners may contact Subaru customer service at 1-800-782-2783. Subaru's number for this recall is WQT-55.

 

 

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Acura MDX and MDX AWD vehicles recalled

The vehicle could lose its air conditioning compressor clutch

Honda is recalling 106,439 model year 2014-2015 Acura MDX and MDX AWD vehicles manufactured April 23,2013, to December 16, 2014. The vehicles' air condit...

PhotoHonda is recalling 106,439 model year 2014-2015 Acura MDX and MDX AWD vehicles manufactured April 23,2013, to December 16, 2014.

 

The vehicles' air conditioning compressor clutch drive bolts may not have received the proper anti-corrosion coating. If a bolt was not coated, it may corrode and break, allowing the compressor clutch plate may separate from the vehicle, possibly becoming a road hazard.

 

Honda will notify owners, and dealers will replace the air conditioning compressor clutch drive bolt and install a new clutch plate if necessary, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin July 31, 2015.

 

Owners may contact Acura client relations at 1-800-382-2238. Honda's number for this recall is JQ7.

 

 

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Toyota recalls Prius v hybrids

The vehicles have a software glitch

Toyota Motor Sales USA is recalling approximately 109,000 Model Year 2012-2014 Prius v hybrid. The software settings for the motor/generator control ECU ...

PhotoToyota Motor Sales USA is recalling approximately 109,000 Model Year 2012-2014 Prius v hybrid.

 

The software settings for the motor/generator control ECU and hybrid control ECU could result in overheating in certain transistors, potentially causing them to become damaged. If this happens, various warning lights will illuminate and the vehicle can enter a failsafe mode. In rare circumstances, the hybrid system might shut down while the vehicle is being driven, resulting in the loss of power and the vehicle coming to a stop.

 

Owners of the recalled vehicles will be notified by mail.

 

Toyota dealers will update the software for both the motor/generator control ECU and hybrid control ECU.

 

Owners may contact Toyota customer service at 1-800-331-4331.  

 

 

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Feds begin probe of second airbag manufacturer

Investigators looking into two incidents similar to Takata's rupturing inflators

Hot on the heels of recalls of millions of cars equipped with Takata airbags, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has begun a...

PhotoHot on the heels of recalls of millions of cars equipped with Takata airbags, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has begun an investigation of another brand of airbag component that may have a similar defect.

NHTSA's Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) reports it received a complaint back in 2009 involving a driver's side airbag in a 2002 Chrysler Town and Country minivan. The inflator reportedly ruptured, spraying bits of metal into the cabin.

ODI said it searched for similar incidents but found none. Fast forward to last month, as recalls of cars equipped with Takata airbags piled up.

KIA target of suit

In June, Korean automaker KIA notified ODI that it was a target of a lawsuit claiming that the inflator in the driver's side airbag in a 2004 Optima had ruptured. ODI said it went back to the 2009 report and found the inflators in the airbags in both the Town and Country and the Optima were manufactured by ARC Automotive.

The inflator in both airbags was a hybrid design that relies on two different sources of energy. The inflator fills the air bag cushion by releasing an inert gas stored in the inflator at high pressure. This gas mixture is augmented by an ammonium nitrate based propellant.

“Preliminary analysis indicates that the exhaust path for the inflation gas mixture may have been blocked by an object of indeterminate origin,” ODI said in a document filing. “This blockage appears to have caused high internal pressure and subsequent rupture of the inflator assembly.”

Only two reports

ODI said that as far as it knows, the two incidents – one in Ohio and one in New Mexico – are the only ones to have been reported. It also says the root cause of the rupture is not known.

ODI said it is opening the investigation to collect the facts and learn if there is a widespread flaw in inflators. It says there are approximately 420,000 2002 Chrysler Town and Country vehicles on the road and 70,000 2004 KIA Optimas.

Japanese manufacturer Takata has recalled more than 40 million vehicles in the U.S.