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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.

    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.

    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. ...
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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 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.

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

      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:

      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...
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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 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. 

      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...
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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 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.

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

      Diabetes 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

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

      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...
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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 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.

      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...
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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 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.

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

      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...
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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 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.

      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...
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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 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.

      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...
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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.

      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.

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

      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...
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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 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.

      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.

      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 ...
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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 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.

      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...
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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 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.”

      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...
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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 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.

      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...
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