Current Events in July 2015

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    Ohlins front forks for Motocross bikes recalled

    The front fork can break or detach, posing a crash hazard

    The front fork can break or detach, posing a crash hazard.

    No incidents or injuries have been reported.

    This recall involves Ohlins  RXF 48 mm front bike forks for motocross bikes. The fork legs are yellow with a large white “O” and a small “TTX” on the front. The fork legs measure about 37 inches long.

    The following product and batch numbers are included in this recall and stamped on the silver-colored front fork bottom piece:

    Product Number

    Batch Number

    FGKT 1586

    309632 

    FGHO 1596

    309640

    FGKT 1596

    309628

    FGKT 1596

    138461

    The bike forks, manufactured in Sweden, were sold at off-road bike stores nationwide from November 2014, through May 2015, for about $3,500.

    Ohlins USA of Hendersonville, N.C., is recalling about 50 Ohlins RXF 48 front forks for motocross bikes.

    Consumers should stop using motocross bikes with these front forks immediately and contact  Ohlins for free replacement and installation of a new cartridge kit in the fork.

    Consumers may contact Ohlins USA at (800) 336-9029 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday.

    The front fork can break or detach, posing a crash hazard. No incidents or injuries have been reported. This recall involves Ohlins RXF 48 mm front bike f...

    Apple Watch sales drop by as much as 90%

    Still a bestseller by smartwatch standards, but that's not saying much

    Is the Apple Watch destined to be the next big iFlop? According to a report by California-based market researchers Slice Intelligence, Apple Watch sales have dropped 90% in the United States since the watches first went on sale in April.

    These are unofficial estimates, as Apple generally doesn't release its sales figures. Slice based its estimates on e-receipts from shoppers who have allowed access to their inboxes for such data.

    Slice's most recent report is very different from what it said in mid-June, when it told Reuters that it estimated Apple had sold about 2.79 million watches since April — and that Apple likely stood to make even higher profits off the sale of watchbands and other accessories.

    Stagnant sales

    Apple sold an estimated 1.5 million watches during the first week it was available, according to Slice – about 200,000 per day. But now, Slice estimates Apple is selling fewer than 20,000 watches per day in the U.S. sometimes less than 10,000.

    Apple itself has not commented on the report, but some Apple fans are taking umbrage on the company's behalf. Apple Insider said that “Widely publicized study data reported by clickbait sites as evidence that Apple Watch sales have 'plunged' and 'are tanking' actually shows something completely different: that Apple has launched the most successful smartwatch product by a vast margin.”

    Apple Insider didn't specify which “clickbait” sites were saying such things, but tech-news sites reporting the plunging-sale statistics did nonetheless point out that even if the 90% drop is true, the Apple Watch still remains the best-selling smartwatch to date.

    Daily Tech, for example, said “Indeed, the Apple Watch is a blockbuster -- but in smartwatch terms. Last year all Android OEMs combined only summed up to roughly 720,000 sales of Android Wear smartwatches. When the Apple Watch went on sale on April 10 via a preorder, it quickly racked up 1.5 million orders, in a week doubling Android's entire sales total for the last year.”

    Successful, but in small terms

    So even pessimists agree Apple Watch is a smashing success by smartwatch standards; it's just that in tech-company-sales terms, circa mid-2015, “the best seller on the smartwatch market” is kind of like being “the most maturely behaved student in preschool” — impressive in some contexts, but not necessarily a standard which a 39-year-old adult (or 39-year-old best-selling multinational tech company) should brag about surpassing.

    Of course, even if the Apple Watch does prove a failure, that doesn't necessarily say anything about the current or future market for wearable tech devices; it could simply mean there's not much of a market for a wearable device that's completely useless on its own, but works only as an accessory to another expensive device (in this case, an iPhone 6).

    Is the Apple Watch destined to be the next big iFlop? According to a report by California-based market researchers Slice Intelligence, Apple Watch sales ha...

    More public venues to consider selfie-stick bans

    Others will follow Disney's lead, expert predicts

    The selfie phenomenon, which involves taking a self portrait with your smartphone camera, has spawned a product – the selfie stick.

    The monopole allows a camera user to grip the device and hold it a further distance from his or her body, allowing for a more natural photograph. As annoying as some people think selfies are, these people tend to view selfie sticks with even more contempt.

    Disney made news recently when it imposed a ban on selfie sticks at all its theme parks, apparently because their use posed risks to users and other guests. Eric Olson, assistant professor of event management at Iowa State University and former Disney employee, said Disney at first planned to only prohibit selfie sticks on specific thrill rides and attractions, but it has since announced a park-wide ban.

    Quite a few incidents

    “I was recently talking with some of my colleagues at Disney and there have been quite a few incidents where guests were pulling the selfie sticks out on attractions and rides,” Olson said. “I think a lot of families, as well as the cast and employees will be thankful for the decision. I do know attractions were being stopped if a guest pulled one out on a ride or attraction to take a photo. So it really caused an inconvenience for all guests.”

    Olson said he and many consumers will be pleased with the ban. Not only that, he predicts that other theme parks and public venues will follow Disney's lead and ban the selfie stick.

    But the popularity of the selfie stick suggests that there will be plenty of people who are not happy with the theme park's new policy. Olson says Disney is taking steps to communicate the change through its website, at its hotels, and at park entrances.

    It's not a big deal, he says. The ban on selfie sticks is no different than the list of other items, such as coolers and lawn chairs, you can't bring into the park. Olson expects the response to be similar to a decision Disney made during his time there, to only allow smoking in designated areas.

    “Initially, there was a little uproar, but I think it was just a matter of communicating the policy change and now it’s not an issue,” Olson said. “Initially, some guests will be upset, but long-term, as with any policy change, guests will accept it.”

    Idea catching on

    Olson thinks keeping selfie sticks out of public venues is a good idea and one that is catching on. On his recent rip to China he noticed the Shanghai Museum does not allow visitors to use selfie sticks either.

    As for why everyone seems to feel the need to visually document their every move, Olson defers to his Iowa State colleague, Zlatan Krizan, an associate professor of psychology.

    “The modern culture of self-promotion certainly fuels such use of selfies, with social media sites providing a sort of a competitive race to whose life is more interesting,” Krizan said.

    But isn't that just a wee bit nascissistic? Krizan says it might indicate some narcissism, but that the standards for how we self-present have shifted, so that most selfie behavior is now considered normal.

    “Taking a selfie, while flexing or wearing underwear, is more debatable,” he said.

    Use of selfie sticks may not be as dangerous as using a chain saw, but plenty of users have mishaps. Time magazine reports a family in Massachusetts got pulled into a rip tide and nearly drowned this week while recording a video with a selfie stick.

    Time, by the way, listed the selfie stick on its list of “25 Best Inventions of 2014.”

    The selfie phenomenon, which involves taking a self portrait with your smartphone camera, has spawned a product – the selfie stick. The monopole allows ...

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      Green buildings are good for the environment, but also for those that use them

      Researchers have reported that there are several health benefits to living or working in these structures

      Entire industries and companies have gotten on the “green” bandwagon by supporting technologies that minimize impact on the environment. In the past 10 years, we have seen the emergence of green buildings, which help the environment by using less energy and water.

      Researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health have conducted an analysis of these structures to see just how good they are for the people who live and work in them as well.

      Green buildings have begun flourishing around the world. According to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a group that certifies green building standards, over 69,000 green buildings have been certified in 150 countries.

      Remarkable health benefits

      Although we know that they have a greatly reduced environmental impact, the amount that they benefit the people that use them is remarkable. "Overall, the initial scientific evidence indicates better indoor environmental quality in green buildings versus non-green buildings, with direct benefits to human health for occupants of those buildings,” said Dr. Joseph Allen, who led the Harvard research team.

      The researchers reported that people who live or work in green buildings are generally more satisfied with environmental conditions. The air quality is superior when compared to other buildings, and they do not require as much maintenance due to stricter guidelines that are followed during construction.

      These benefits translate into better physical and mental health for occupants. Professionals who work in green buildings report that they are more productive and more likely to stay employed at the company using the space.

      Green buildings that are used as hospitals also provide many benefits to patients and staff. Research shows that fewer patients die in these hospitals, the quality of care is higher, and there are fewer blood stream infections that occur, possibly due to superior interior conditions.

      Dr. Allen and his team are continuing to gather data on green buildings to fully explore their health benefits. They hope to implement sensors in some buildings in order to gather more objective data on how they affect occupants’ health. Their full study has been published in the journal Current Environmental Health Reports

      Entire industries and companies have gotten on the “green” bandwagon by supporting technologies that minimize impact on the environment. In the past 10 yea...

      Palm Springs starts testing marijuana next week to ensure purity, potency

      The California resort city is thought to be the first in the country to provide protection for marijuana consumers

      Now that marijuana is sort of legal in some cities and states, there's growing pressure on local regulators to make sure the stuff that's being sold is safe and that its potency is clearly indicated on the packaging.

      Trying to stay ahead of the curve, the desert resort city of Palm Springs, California, next week begins testing the marijuana sold in local dispensaries, according to local media reports.

      The tests will be conducted by SC Labs of Santa Cruz, Calif., which already tests about 8,000 samples per month for 200 dispensaries in California. 

      “People who are taking any type of drug need to know the amount of active ingredients,” said Josh Wurzer, president of SC Labs, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel. “When you take a (marijuana) brownie, let’s say you don’t know if there’s 10 milligrams or 100 milligrams in it. Your day or the next couple of days are ruined.”

      Safety concerns

      Palm Springs officials say they're concerned mainly with ensuring that the products sold by local dispensaries are safe.

      “Right now, we’re just taking baby steps,” said Jay Thompson, Palm Springs chief of staff who’s coordinating the pilot program. “Hopefully, as we get down the line, we can develop standards, but right now we’re just doing it for patient safety and for patient information.”

      There are no state regulations covering marijuana in California and the federal government still regards it as illegal so for the time being, it's up to cities to oversee the quality of the local weed. Wurzer testing is necessary if marijuana is to grow out of its current cottage-industry status.

      “For everyone involved, it would just be easier if there were set rules,” he said, according to the Sentinel. “Vague rules allowed the industry to innovate and find itself. Now is the time that we know what we’re getting into and what we need for rules and regulation.”

      Now that marijuana is sort of legal in some cities and states, there's growing pressure on local regulators to make sure the stuff that's being sold is saf...

      Study: Older drivers involved in 14 million accidents in last 12 months

      On the road, old drivers and young drivers don't mix

      If you want to start an argument at Thanksgiving dinner, suggest that older drivers might not be the safest out there. Seniors usually take offense at such a suggestion – perhaps rightly so.

      But a survey by Caring.com, a seniors-oriented webstite, shows that nearly 14 million drivers between the ages of 18-64 were involved in a "road incident" with a driver over age 65 in the last 12 months. Millennials – drivers between the ages of 18 and 29 – were most likely to be involved in a senior mishap.

      The survey turned up a few surprises. Despite seniors' reputation for diminishing driving skills, all age groups but one ranked them ahead of drunk drivers, teenagers, and drivers distracted by their cell phones.

      The one group that believes elderly drivers are more of a threat than drunk drivers is older drivers themselves – those 65 and older. Even so, the whole subject of driving can be a sensitive topic for older Americans, says Andy Cohen, CEO of Caring.com.

      Sensitive subject

      "Driving is often associated with independence and freedom, which is why many senior citizens are reluctant to give up their car keys," Cohen said.

      Because of that, families are not likely to talk to older family members about becoming passengers. According to a past Caring.com survey conducted with the National Safety Council, 40% of Americans would prefer to discuss selling a home or making funeral arrangements.

      Yet the new survey shows many older drivers are waiting for someone to start the conversation. Nearly a third of 65-plus drivers said they would prefer a family member determine whether they should still have a drivers license.

      "No one wants to be the one to take away Mom or Dad's keys, but sometimes it can be crucial for their safety," said Cohen. "Plus, many seniors would actually prefer to hear it from a family member than from a police officer on the road. There are numerous online resources that people can use to make the conversation go as smoothly as possible."

      As we reported last year, researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine are training police officers in ways to recognize warning signs of impaired driving skills and to take appropriate action. They also urge doctors to think more about their patients’ ability to drive safely as they age.

      In fact, doctors are being trained to assess their patients for age-related driving impairments – such as issues with vision, loss of mobility, fragility, and dementia.

      What to do

      If you are concerned about an older family member's safety behind the wheel, here are a couple of ideas for broaching the subject:

      Make a first-hand observation: Take a ride with your parent and observe their driving. If it really is unsafe, then you have an example to cite and your case carries more credibility.

      Be prepared: Before suggesting your parent surrender their car keys, look into alternate transportation solutions and be prepared to discuss options. Remember what driving represents – freedom.

      When you were a teenager, earning your driver's license was a major milestone in your life. Having access to a car gave you freedom and independence. For your parents, handing over the keys is also a major milestone – the reverse of what you felt at 16.

      If you want to start an argument at Thanksgiving dinner, suggest that older drivers might not be the safest out there. Seniors usually take offense at such...

      Just how financially solvent is your state?

      Analysis shows none are in great shape

      The Greek financial crisis has focused attention on sovereign debt and the fact that it's not just businesses that can go bankrupt – so can governments.

      Bringing it closer to home, the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico is also struggling under an unsustainable debt load. It owes $73 billion in debt it says it can't pay.

      Bringing it even closer is the state of Illinois, where lawmakers have been unable to pass a budget. The state's governor and legislature are at odds over how to address growing shortfalls.

      It is against that backdrop that Eileen Norcross of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University has analyzed the finances of each U.S. state, ranking its financial health based on long-term or short term debt.

      Why should you care?

      Why should you care what kind of financial shape your state is in? For one thing, a state struggling financially will likely be looking for ways to reduce services and might be more open to raising taxes.

      Beyond that, if you are a current or retired state employee, your pension could be on the table at debt-reduction time.

      And at an extreme, if you have invested in a state's municipal bonds to get a tax advantage, you want to be confident it won't one day pull what Greece is doing – telling its bond-holders, “sorry, we're not paying you back.”

      First, let's look at pensions. Notably, Norcross says nearly all states have unfunded pension liabilities – meaning the money coming in, and expected to come in, doesn't match up with the money it has promised to pay current and future retirees.

      These imbalances are large when measured against state personal income, suggesting potential trouble down the road. Norcross says another financial crisis could mean serious trouble for many states that are otherwise fiscally stable.

      Natural resources help

      For the ranking, Norcross analyzed each state's audited financial reports, looking for revenues, expenditures, cash, assets, liabilities, and debt. Not surprisingly she found states rich in natural resources, such as oil and natural gas, are in the best shape financially. The 10 strongest states are:

      1. Alaska
      2. North Dakota
      3. South Dakota
      4. Nebraska
      5. Florida
      6. Wyoming
      7. Ohio
      8. Tennessee
      9. Oklahoma
      10. Montana

      These states are fiscally healthy relative to other states because they have significant amounts of cash on hand and relatively low short-term debt obligations, but Norcross says each state faces substantial long-term challenges with its pension and health care benefits systems.

      Weakest states

      The 10 states in the worst financial shape include those with large populations and a large number of services, as well as traditionally poor states:

      41. Pennsylvania

      42. Maine

      43. West Virginia

      44. California

      45. Kentucky

      46. New York

      47. Connecticut

      48. Massachusetts

      49. New Jersey

      50. Illinois

      The good news, Norcross says, is that most states have just about recovered from the Great Recession. The bad news? There are troubling signs that many states are still ignoring the risks on their books, mainly in underfunded pensions and health care benefits.

      The Greek financial crisis has focused attention on sovereign debt and the fact that it's not just businesses that can go bankrupt – so can governments....

      Arthur Schuman recalls grated Parmesan cheese

      The product may contain egg, an allergen not listed on the label

      Arthur Schuman Inc. of Fairfield, N.J., is recalling 30,200 lbs. of Bella Rosa Grated Parmesan Cheese.

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

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      The recalled product (UPC 088231410041) was sold exclusively through BJ's Wholesale Clubs in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Ohio.

      The product is packaged in 1.25- lb. PET jars with "sell by" dates (July 13, 2015, August 17, 2015, and September 10, 2015) printed on the side of the jar just below the lid.

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should return it to any BJ's Wholesale Club store for full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact Arthur Schuman directly at 973-787-8840, Monday – Friday 8am - 5pm (EST).

      Arthur Schuman Inc. of Fairfield, N.J., is recalling 30,200 lbs. of Bella Rosa Grated Parmesan Cheese. The product may contain egg, an allergen not listed ...

      Continental recalls ContiProContact tires

      The tires may experience tread separation

      Continental is recalling approximately 3,800 Continental ContiProContact P205/65 R15 95T XL passenger vehicle tires produced in February 2015 and sold in the replacement market only.

      The tires may experience tread separation.

      Continental says it has not received any reports of accidents or injuries resulting from this condition.

      The recalled tires can be identified with the Department of Transportation (DOT) code VY UR 471B 0615. Only the production DOT week 0615 is affected.

      The company is in communication with its tire distributors and dealers to identify consumers who purchased these tires.

      Owners will be notified and informed about the details of the voluntary safety recall program.

      ​Continental is recalling approximately 3,800 Continental ContiProContact P205/65 R15 95T XL passenger vehicle tires produced in February 2015 and sold in ...

      Researchers report progress toward universal flu vaccine

      Success would mean a big drop in flu cases each year

      Every year health officials roll the dice when they assemble the annual flu vaccine. The vaccine is engineered to protect against the strains of flu most likely to hit the U.S.

      If they guess wrong, the flu vaccine ends up being much less effective. Wouldn't it be better if there could be some sort of all-purpose, universal flu vaccine?

      Scientists at Rockefeller University thought so, and went about trying to harness a previously unknown mechanism within the immune system to create vaccines that would protect against this constantly-mutating virus.

      “While the conventional flu vaccine protects only against specific strains, usually 3 of them, our experiments show that by including modified antibodies within the vaccine it may be possible to elicit broad protection against many strains simultaneously,” the authors wrote. “We believe these results may represent a preliminary step toward a universal flu vaccine, one that is effective against a broad range of the flu viruses.”

      Last year's vaccine

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) studies the effectiveness of each year's vaccine to guard against the flu. Overall estimates for each season range from a low of 10% to a high of 60%. Last year's effectiveness was closer to the bottom – 23%.

      The Rockefeller University researchers' work revolved around chemical modifications to antibodies to make them more potent against the flu virus. A successful vaccine that proves effective against more strains of the flu would not only result in fewer illnesses, but fewer deaths too.

      The flu kills thousands of people in the U.S. every year. These victims, usually elderly, may have been vaccinated, but the predominant strain that infected them happened to be one not covered in the vaccine.

      Difficult task

      Vaccine makers' task is more difficult because flu strains can be so diverse and new ones are constantly emerging.

      Types A and B cause seasonal flu epidemics. Influenza A viruses are further broken down into subtypes based in part on their surface proteins, which include hemagglutinin, the “H” in H1N1, for example. The subtypes are further divided into strains.

      Today, when vaccine makers assemble a flu vaccine, they create a formula that targets 3 or 4 viral strains, along with a few influenza B strains. They base their selections on public health experts’ predictions for the coming flu season. When they're wrong, millions of people who get the shots may also get the flu.

      Because of that, researchers everywhere have sought a universal flu vaccine. Have the Rockefeller University researchers found it? They say the early results are encouraging.

      “The new mechanism we have uncovered...could potentially be harnessed to reduce the tremendous morbidity and mortality caused by seasonal influenza virus infections,” said Taia Wang, a member of the research team. “We are now looking into applying this strategy toward improving existing vaccines; ideally, this would result in a vaccine that provides life long immunity against flu infections.”

      Every year health officials roll the dice when they assemble the annual flu vaccine. The vaccine is engineered to protect against the strains of flu most l...

      United Airlines flights resume after being grounded

      FAA cited an "automation issue" in its ground stop order

      United Airlines flights were getting back into the skies Wednesday morning after being grounded for a few hours because of what the Federal Aviation Administration called an "automation issue."

      The airline requested the action, reports said. It resulted in hundreds of flights being delayed or canceled worldwide. A United spokesman said a "connectivity issue" was to blame.

      United has been struggling to complete the integration of Continental after the carriers merger last year. 

      The Federal Aviation Administration has ordered all United Airlines flights grounded worldwide because of what the FAA called an "automation issue."The...

      Chase slapped for selling zombie debt, illegally robo-signing court documents

      The bogus debt sales led to collection efforts against consumers

      JPMorgan Chase faces more than $200 million in penalties and refund payments for selling "zombie debts" and illegally robo-signing court documents as a result of enforcement actions by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and 47 states.

      Chase allegedly sold bogus debts to third-party debt buyers -- accounts that were inaccurate, settled, discharged in bankruptcy, not owed, or otherwise not collectible. Many of the debt buyers then began hounding consumers in an attempt to collect the non-existent debts.

      “Chase sold bad credit card debt and robo-signed documents in violation of law,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Today we are ordering Chase to permanently halt collections on more than 528,000 accounts and overhaul its debt-sales practices. We will continue to be vigilant in taking action against deceptive debt sales and collections practices that exploit consumers.”

      The order requires Chase to document and confirm debts before selling them to debt buyers or filing collections lawsuits. Chase must also prohibit debt buyers from reselling debt and is barred from selling certain debts. Chase is ordered to permanently stop all attempts to collect, enforce in court, or sell more than 528,000 consumers’ accounts.

      Chase will pay at least $50 million in consumer refunds, $136 million in penalties and payments to the CFPB and states, and a $30 million penalty to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) in a related action.

      The CFPB found that Chase violated the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act’s prohibitions against unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts and practices. Chase sold faulty and false debts to third-party collectors, including accounts with unlawfully obtained judgments, inaccurate balances, and paid-off balances.

      Chase also sold debts that were owed by deceased borrowers. Chase also filed misleading debt-collections lawsuits against consumers using robo-signed and illegally sworn statements to obtain false or inaccurate judgments for unverified debts.

      JPMorgan Chase faces more than $200 million in penalties and refund payments for selling "zombie debts" and illegally robo-signing court documents as a res...

      IRS offers summertime tax tips

      The tips cover a broad range of topics

      Nothing better to do this summer?

      The IRS is offering tax tips to help you get a jump start on this year’s taxes. The agency says more than 660,000 subscribers already receive them.

      Starting July 1, the IRS began offering its Summertime Tax Tip series which include useful information in English and Spanish. Subscribers receive a new Tip via email three times a week during July and August, and a Tax Tip each weekday during the tax filing season.

      Special Edition Tax Tips on important tax topics are issued throughout the year.

      Range of topics

      IRS Tax Tips are plain language messages that are easy to understand and cover a wide range of topics. They often include links to helpful IRS.gov references, IRS YouTube videos and podcasts.

      Topics include:

      • Ten things to know about identity theft and your taxes

      • Visit IRS.gov this Summer

      • Don't fall for phone scams from IRS posers

      • Tax Tips about hobbies that earn income

      • Tips on the tax effects of divorce or separation

      • Back-to-school tips for students and parents paying college expenses

      You can sign up to receive IRS Tax Tips automatically each day via email through a free service on www.irs.gov. From the Subscriptions link on the top right of the IRS website, choose “IRS Tax Tips” on the drop-down menu, and then click on “Subscribe.” Click on “more” to subscribe to the IRS Tax Tips in Spanish.

      Nothing better to do this summer? The IRS is offering tax tips to help you get a jump start on this year’s taxes. The agency says more than 660,000 subscri...

      Virgin America deploys upgraded in-flight WiFi system

      New hybrid system to provide seamless, high-speed coverage on long flights

      Comedian Louis C.K. does a funny bit about a guy on an airplane upset about the quality of the on-board Internet service, not the least bit impressed that such a thing is even possible at 30,000 feet.

      And since the majority of passengers tend to be like that guy, Virgin America is taking steps to improve its in-flight Internet service. It is teaming with ViaSat to increase the speed of the broadband service to the airline's 10 new A320 aircraft deliveries, beginning in September.

      The Virgin America Wi-Fi will come from ViaSat-1, ViaSat's high-capacity Ka-band satellite that provides 140 gigabits-per-second Wi-Fi connectivity service.

      Speeds 8 to 10 times faster

      Virgin America says that the new technology will deliver Internet speeds that are typically 8 to 10 times faster than any other in-flight Wi-Fi system, so that travelers will experience speeds similar to what they have at home. That should provide access to more content, including streaming videos.

      The airline says it will be the first to offer an in-flight Wi-Fi service that can operate in both Ku- and Ka-band satellite networks on the same aircraft. By deploying ViaSat's new hybrid Ku/Ka-band antenna, Virgin America says it can keep travelers connected virtually anywhere they fly, ensuring guests always have the best available connection in any given location.

      "The idea behind our in-flight entertainment and connectivity offerings has always been to offer travelers more content, more interactivity, and more of the choices they have access to on the ground," said Ken Bieler, Director of Product Design and Innovation at Virgin America. "Since 2009, our guests have come to rely on and expect Wi-Fi access on every flight, and we've continued to improve our Wi-Fi product offering over the years.”

      Free – for now

      Installation will begin immediately, with the first Ka-band antenna equipped aircraft beginning service in the continental U.S. in September. During the beta period rollout the service will be offered free on the first ViaSat equipped aircraft. Pricing for the service will be disclosed next year.

      ViaSat developed and tested its Ku/Ka band switching last year. The test flights, conducted in July and August on a commercial 757-200 aircraft, demonstrated the communications with the aircraft transitioning among multiple satellite beams from six satellites and three Ku- and Ka-band networks.

      “For enroute airborne missions, seamless roaming on the best available broadband network can assure our customers continuous operation on a resilient enterprise network,” said Ken Peterman, who is the VP of ViaSat Government Systems..

      Virgin America has been beefing up its entertainment package lately. In June it announced a new beta version of its Red in-flight entertainment system. That system includes higher resolution touch screens, Android-based software that will allow for faster, real-time updates, three times more content – including full seasons of favorite television shows, more interactive maps, and videogames which include classics like Pac Man and Asteroids. All of these features are available on a surround-sound audio system.

      Comedian Louis C.K. does a funny bit about a guy on an airplane upset about the quality of the on-board Internet service, not the least bit impressed that ...

      Mortgage Applications bounce back

      Contract interest rates headed lower

      Mortgage applications have regained nearly all the ground they gave up in late June.

      Data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage applications Survey show applications increased 4.6% in the week ending July 3,  including an adjustment for the July 4th holiday.

      Applications were down 4.7% a week earlier.

      While the Refinance Index was up 3%, the refinance share of mortgage activity fell to 48.0% of total applications -- the lowest level since June 2009. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity rose to 7.1% of total applications.

      The FHA share of total applications dropped to 13.7% from 14.0% the prior week,the VA share was unchanged at 10.8% and the USDA share of total applications inched down to 0.9% from 1.0% a week earlier.

      Contract interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRM) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) dipped 3 basis points -- from 4.26% to 4.23%, with points increasing to 0.37 from 0.33 (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) fell to 4.18% from 4.21%, with points decreasing to 0.30 from 0.38 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate was down from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA decreased 3 basis points to 4.01%, with points unchanged from 0.18 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs slipped from 3.44% to 3.41%, with points steady at 0.31 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs dropped 6 basis points to 3.03%,  with points decreasing to 0.37 from 0.45 (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.

      Mortgage applications have regained nearly all the ground they gave up in late June. Data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage ap...

      A tough month for take-offs

      Airline passengers suffered through several hours of delays

      If you were in a hurry to get out of Texas by air during May, there’s a good chance you were frustrated.

      Airlines reported 14 tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights and 2 tarmac delays of more than four hours on international flights in May, according to the Department of Transportation’s (DOT)  Air Travel Consumer Report.

      Ten of the reported tarmac delays involved flights departing from Houston on May 25 during severe weather. DOT is investigating all the delays.

      Airlines operating international flights may not allow tarmac delays at U.S. airports to last longer than four hours without giving passengers an opportunity to deplane. There is a separate three-hour limit on tarmac delays involving domestic flights.

      Exceptions to the time limits for both domestic and international flights are allowed only for safety, security, or air traffic control-related reasons.

      On the other hand, the nation’s largest airlines posted an on-time arrival rate of 80.5% in May -- better than the rate of 76.9% in May 2014, but somewhat worse than the 81.8% mark a month earlier.

      Other info

      The consumer report also includes data on mishandled baggage, cancellations, chronically delayed flights, and the causes of flight delays.  

      In addition, it contains statistics on aviation service complaints filed by consumers regarding a range of issues such as flight problems, baggage, reservation and ticketing, refunds, consumer service, disability, and discrimination.

      Additionally, there are reports of incidents involving the loss, death, or injury of animals traveling by air.


      The complete report is available on the DOT website.

      If you were in a hurry to get out of Texas by air during May, there’s a good chance you were frustrated. Airlines reported 14 tarmac delays of more than t...

      Privacy group asks FTC to bring Europe's “Right to be Forgotten” to the U.S.

      Consumer Watchdog complains over Google's different policies in E.U. and U.S.

      The advocacy group Consumer Watchdog today filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, saying that Google's failure to offer U.S. users the same “right to be forgotten” enjoyed by citizens of the European Union is “unfair and deceptive.”

      John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog's Privacy Project director, wrote that “Google’s refusal to consider such requests in the United States is both unfair and deceptive, violating Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act.”

      European "Right to be Forgotten"

      Europe's “Right to be Forgotten” dates back to a May 2014 ruling from the Court of Justice of the European Union (the E.U.'s equivalent to the U.S. Supreme Court, more or less). That ruling regarded a case brought before the court in 2010, by a Spanish national named Mario Costeja González. But the start of Costeja's complaint dates back to 1998, when some of his property was auctioned off to pay back taxes. 

      In Spain as in America, property auctions for tax settlements are public information and thus count as legitimate news, so the Spanish daily newspaper La Vanguardia published legal notices of the proceedings in January and March 1998.

      In 2009, those 11-year-old notices still turned up in Google searches for Costeja's name, so Costeja asked La Vanguardia to take the stories down and also asked Google to stop linking to them, on the grounds that old stories about his debt issues were no longer relevant since his debts had been resolved.

      Google and the newspaper both refused Costeja's request, so in 2009 he took his complaints to the Spanish Data Protection Agency which, in July 2010, ordered Google to remove the links but did not order La Vanguardia to remove the stories.

      Google challenged the order, the E.U. Court of Justice agreed to hear the appeal, and in May 2014 it ruled against Google. The E.U. “right to be forgotten” essentially says that, while information does not have to be deleted from the Internet (meaning: websites like La Vanguardia can keep their archives online), search engines might have to obey requests to take down links to certain stories.

      Court of Justice rulings are legally binding throughout the European Union just as Supreme Court rulings are legally binding throughout the U.S., so Google has obeyed European law while conducting operations in Europe, and U.S. law for its business in the United States.

      Seeking similar treatment in U.S.

      But Consumer Watchdog's complaint to the FTC (which is available as a .pdf here) criticizes Google for not honoring E.U.-style takedown requests in the United States, specifically:

      …. Google’s failure to offer U.S. users the ability to request the removal of search engine links from their name to information that is inadequate, irrelevant, no longer relevant, or excessive. In Europe the ability to make this request is popularly referred to as the Right To Be Forgotten. As [FTC] Commissioner Brill has suggested it may more accurately be described as the Right Of Relevancy or the Right To Preserve Obscurity.

      Consumer Watchdog went on to explain why the “right of relevancy” is a necessary consumer-privacy protection:

      Before the Internet if someone did something foolish when they were young – and most of us probably did – there might well be a public record of what happened. Over time, as they aged, people tended to forget whatever embarrassing things someone did in their youth. They would be judged mostly based on their current circumstances, not on information no longer relevant. If someone else were highly motivated, they could go back into paper files and folders and dig up a person’s past. Usually this required effort and motivation. For a reporter, for instance, this sort of deep digging was routine with, say, candidates for public office, not for Joe Blow citizen. This reality that our youthful indiscretions and embarrassments and other matters no longer relevant slipped from the general public’s consciousness is Privacy By Obscurity. The Digital Age has ended that. Everything – all our digital footprints – are instantly available with a few clicks on a computer or taps on a mobile device.

      However, the letter goes on to point out that U.S. law already recognizes a “right of relevancy” in certain cases, such as credit reports – the Fair Credit Reporting Act requires that information about debt collections, civil lawsuits, tax liens, and similar matters becomes “obsolete” after a certain period of time (usually seven years) and must henceforth be removed from consumers' credit reports.

      "Right to be Forgotten" could be useful

      Consumer Watchdog offered examples of cases where a “right to be forgotten” might prove useful, including:

      A guidance counselor was fired in 2012 after modeling photos from 20 years prior surfaced. She was a lingerie model between the ages of 18-20, and she had disclosed her prior career when she first was hired. Despite this, when a photo was found online and shown to the principal of her school, she was fired.

      Arguably, in cases such as that – the counselor openly admitted her previous career when she was hired, which clearly caused no problems until the principal took umbrage at a photograph from half a lifetime before – what the woman needed wasn't a “right to be forgotten” so much as “protection from a hypocritical employer.”

      But Consumer Watchdog also offered examples of European link-removal requests, those honored by Google under the “right to be forgotten” and also those requests Google did not honor: “A woman in Italy requested that Google remove a decades-old article about her husband’s murder, which included her name. The page was removed from search results for her name.  A Swiss financial professional asked Google to remove more than 10 links to pages reporting on his arrest and conviction for financial crimes. Google did not remove the pages from search results.”

      Last month, Google did implement a policy change in the United States, specifically to crack down on the practice of “revenge porn” — the practice wherein people (usually angry ex-lovers) post identifiable nude or sexually explicit photos of their partners, along with the partners' names, links to their social media accounts and other identifying information, with the intention of humiliating them and/or damaging their careers.

      On June 19, Google said that henceforth, the company would honor requests from victims to remove “revenge porn” images from its search engine, and stop linking to the results. Consumer Watchdog mentioned this in its complaint to the FTC, and said “Google's approach to removals in the United States underscores the unfairness of offering the Right To Be Forgotten to Europeans, but not to Americans. As clearly demonstrated by its willingness to remove links to certain information when requested in the United States, Google could easily offer the Right To Be Forgotten or Right to Relevancy request option to Americans. It unfairly and deceptively opts not to do so. … Americans deserve the same ability to make such a privacy-protecting request and have it honored.”

      Legal differences between continents

      Of course, Americans (unlike Europeans) have First Amendment guarantees of free press and free speech, which sometimes means that laws allowable in the E.U. wouldn't pass constitutional muster in the United States (and, conversely, that certain U.S. laws might fall short of privacy protections in the E.U.).

      For example: in Europe, you won't find many websites like ConsumerAffairs or Yelp, for the simple reason that businesses can bring libel charges against anyone who speaks ill of them and have a reasonable certainty of winning, even if the criticism is accurate.

      It is true, as Consumer Watchdog pointed out, that the so-called “right to relevancy” exists regarding some forms of personal information: you generally aren't expected to repay a credit card debt if it's more than seven years old, for example, and even a declaration of bankruptcy will eventually drop off your credit report so that you'll once again be able to apply for fresh lines of credit.

      But should individuals be required to “forget” these things about other individuals, too? Here's an example Consumer Watchdog did not include in its complaint to the FTC: in 1998, a man named Mario Costeja González (remember him?) fell so far behind on his taxes, the authorities ended up auctioning off some of his real estate holdings to settle the debt — and now the European courts agree he has the right to expect everyone else to forget about it.

      If Costeja does business in the United States, he already has that right, at least in financial matters — a debt resolved in 1998 would've dropped off his credit report seven years later, and wouldn't affect his ability to get a mortgage or other loan in mid-2015.

      Now suppose that after getting that loan, he celebrates and drinks excessively at a nearby bar where he meets an attractive single woman (or man, if that is his preference). They get to talking and decide to start dating. Things start getting serious and at some point she types his name into a search engine because that's what people do nowadays when dating someone new.

      Love alone is not enough to make a happy marriage: you also must share compatible values, especially in financial matters. So, if a woman who is very prudent and careful with money starts dating a man who, as an adult, once let his affairs get in such disarray that the authorities auctioned off his property to settle tax debts, whose rights take precedence here – the man's presumed right for everyone to forget how irresponsible he once was, or the woman's presumed right to get an accurate answer to such questions as “Has my potential partner ever been spendthrifty enough to make headlines?”

      In the European Union, the man's rights take precedence here. Under current U.S. law, it's the reverse. Whether that status quo needs changing, and by how much, is shaping up to be the next big privacy-rights battleground in America.

      The advocacy group Consumer Watchdog today filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, saying that Google's failure to offer U.S. users the same “...