Current Events in July 2015

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    Athlete-athlete collisions are leading cause of concussions for high school soccer players

    Practicing proper techniques for heading the ball and avoiding unnecessary collisions are key to avoiding injury

    Soccer has been growing in popularity in the U.S. for many years. Hundreds of thousands of school-aged athletes participate at varying levels of competition across the nation. Unfortunately, the increasingly physical nature of the sport has led to a high number of concussions.

    Many of these concussions can be attributed to the high volume of players that the nation produces. From 1969 to 2014, the number of schools that offered a soccer program increased from 2,217 to 11,718. Boy players increased from roughly 49,593 to 417,419 in the same time span; there were no girls playing soccer in 1969, but that number had increased to 375,564 in 2014. The sheer increase in numbers would naturally lead to more injuries, including concussions.

    Athlete-athlete contact

    It would be easy to leave it at that, but researchers believe that there are other factors that contribute to the high concussion rate. R. Down Comstock, of the Colorado School of Public Health, and other researchers examined concussion data from 2005 through 2013, which comprised over three million athlete exposures (school-sanctioned soccer practices and competitions).

    They found that instances of player-on-player contact were among the highest causes of concussions. For boys, 68.8 percent of all concussions resulted from player contact. This number decreased to 51.3 percent for girls, though that number is still very high.

    Researchers were also able to focus on what players were doing when they were sustaining these concussions. Unlike other sports, soccer requires a player to actually use their head to strike the ball. This impact, along with collisions that occurred between players who contested for the same ball in the air, contributed to the largest number of concussions (78.1 percent for boys and 61.9 percent for girls).

    Proper technique is key

    Even though the researchers were able to determine why concussions were so widespread, it does not mean that they are likely to decrease. Soccer, especially in the U.S., is becoming more and more physical as time goes on. Even if leagues were to ban heading the ball, the numbers would not likely decline.

    “We postulate that banning heading from soccer will have limited effectiveness as a primary prevention mechanism (i.e. in preventing concussion injuries) unless such a ban is combined with concurrent efforts to reduce athlete-athlete contact throughout the game,” the researchers said.

    For now, the most important thing that players and coaches can do is practice and teach proper technique when heading or contesting the ball. Players should be sure to avoid heading the ball on unsafe areas of the head (usually right on top of the skull). Using one’s arms to secure an area (without pushing out) can also reduce dangerous athlete-athlete collisions.

    The full study has been published in JAMA Pediatrics.  

    Soccer has been growing in popularity in the U.S. for many years. Hundreds of thousands of school-aged athletes participate at varying levels of competitio...

    It's on! Walmart responds to Amazon's Prime Day

    Retailers clash over who can offer best mid-summer savings

    By declaring Wednesday, July 15 “Prime Day,” Amazon.com has unleashed the competitive juices of American capitalism.

    Walmart, America's largest retailer, isn't taking the challenge lying down. While Amazon is promising huge one-day savings for members of Amazon Prime, Walmart is having a sale of its own. And in a dig at its online rival, Walmart says you don't have to pay a membership fee to save money.

    “We’ve heard some retailers are charging $100 to get access to a sale,” Ferbando Madeira, president and CEO of Walmart, wrote in a blog. “But the idea of asking customers to pay extra in order to save money just doesn’t add up for us.”

    Slew of discounts

    With the holiday shopping season still months away, Wamart said it will lower the purchase threshold for free shipping and promises to unveil a slew of discounts on Wednesday, when Amazon hopes to reap a bonanza in sales.

    Earlier this month Amazon announced Prime Day as a challenge to Black Friday, the official start to the holiday shopping season – a day famous for dramatic mark-downs at retail stores. On Wednesday, new and existing Prime members will have access to a series of Black Friday style bargains, with new deals posted as often as every 10 minutes.

    Amazon says Prime Members can shop thousands of Lightning Deals, 7 popular Deals of the Day and receive unlimited fast, free shipping. The promotion may not just be about moving merchandise, but also signing up prime members.

    It costs $99 a year to be a Prime member but you get free second-day shipping on purchases and access to video content, as well as the ability to borrow Kindle ebooks at no charge.

    Black Friday challenge

    As we reported earlier, Amazon's challenge to Black Friday promotions caught the attention of a Black Friday deal site, BestBlackFriday.com. The folks at Jones-Dengler Marketing, which operates the website, responded to Amazon by issuing a challenge of their own.

    “Since Amazon is claiming Prime Day will surpass Black Friday in items and prices, we issued them a challenge,” BestBlackFriday.com's Phil Dengler said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “We listed the prices for the most popular items in their sale, and across other retailers, on Black Friday 2014 and dared them to go lower.”

    All of this, no doubt, is good for consumers who don't want to wait until the holidays to find good deals. But it goes without saying it's pretty good for Amazon too. Every time a rival challenges Prime Day, it simply calls more attention to Amazon's Christmas-in-July promotion.

    By declaring Wednesday, July 15 “Prime Day,” Amazon.com has unleashed the competitive juices of American capitalism.Walmart, America's largest retailer...

    Corinthian Colleges debt collection suspended until November

    The feds backed this company for years. Who will ultimately foot the bills for it?

    Good news for former students of Corinthian Colleges, the now-defunct chain of for-profit schools that operated under the names Everest, WyoTech and Heald: as a result of court documents filed last Friday, the Department of Education will temporarily halt collection efforts against students in default, until at least November 6.

    Corinthian declared bankruptcy in May after years of trouble with state and federal-level legal authorities. To offer a small sampling of those troubles: in Corinthian's last year of operation, the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sued the company for predatory lending (ultimately resulting in a collective $480 million in debt relief for former students); the Department of Education levied tens of millions of dollars in fines against it after an investigation “confirmed cases” that the company misrepresented the schools' job placement rates to current and prospective students; and the attorneys general of multiple states went so far as to urge the feds to relieve all Corinthian student debt on the grounds that Corinthian misled students about pretty much everything: the quality of its educational programs, transferability of credits, likelihood of job placement afterwards, the availability of internships … pretty much everything a student needs to consider before choosing a school.

    Federally financed scam

    Under ordinary circumstances, suspending Corinthian-related student debt would be a no-brainer: the company was essentially running a scam, with students as the victims. But the federal government has so far been reluctant to offer a broad-sweeping debt amnesty, because that would leave the feds on the hook for the money: like most for-profit schools, Corinthian was almost entirely dependent on federally backed student aid (especially student loans that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy) for its operating costs and profit margins.

    That's probably why, as the Huffington Post noted earlier this month, Education Secretary Arne Duncan is “'thrilled' to close Corinthian Colleges, not so ready to help its former students.”

    Indeed, during Corinthian's final year of operation, even as various state and federal agencies suspended aid or levied fines against the company, the Department of Education bent over backwards to try keeping the company afloat. In June 2014, for example, when the DoE temporarily suspended all federal aid for Corinthian students, Corinthian initially protested that the action could put it out of business (possibly the only 100% truthful statement the company ever made about its operations). But Corinthian was able to hang on a few months longer, after reaching a “memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Department of Education that maintains uninterrupted daily operations at its schools.”

    The federal government spent years financing a harmful scam, and thus far the victims of that scam are still left holding the bag. Who will pick it up after this November remains to be seen.

    Good news for former students of Corinthian Colleges, the now-defunct chain of for-profit schools that operated under the names Everest, WyoTech and Heald:...

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      Online tools to take some guesswork out of homebuying

      Online listing site teams with airbnb to let consumers "try before they buy"

      Airbnb is a lodging app for travelers, but in a partnership with real estate site Reator.com, it's moving into the real estate marketing space with a promotion called “Try Before You Buy.”

      The idea is to allow a prospective buyer to check out a neighborhood before making the huge commitment of buying a home there. Spending a night or two in the environment you're considering as a home might give you a whole new perspective.

      It's always been possible to check into a hotel for that purpose, but hotels are usually in commercial areas, whereas airbnb rentals are normally in residential neighborhoods.

      Try Before You Buy

      Now, when you click on a listing on Realtor.com, you are given a Try Before You Buy option, just above the map. For example, let's say you were interested in this condo in the West Hollywood neighborhood of Los Angeles.

      Among the three airbnb Try Before You Buy offerings is this Hollywood Hills guest suite for $145 a night. According to the listing, the room is in a house in the heart of the Hollywood Hills, 5 minutes from the Sunset Strip, 10 minutes from shopping on Rodeo Drive, 15 minutes from the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the Dolby Theater, and 20 minutes from Universal Studios.

      Other tools

      Realtor.com says its just one of the ways prospective buyers can carry out neighborhood reconnaissance, helping to make good buying decisions and avoiding bad ones. For example, the site suggests doing a little cyber-sleuthing, consulting websites like City-Data, which collects and analyzes data from a wide variety of sources to create detailed profiles of U.S. cities. You'll find information about everything from crime rates to weather patterns.

      Homefacts includes similar information, but goes further by listing neighborhood statistics such as median home price, homes for sale, and foreclosures.

      If you are concerned about potential crime in a neighborhood, check out My Local Crime. By typing in an address, you get a map showing reported crimes in the vicinity.

      AreaVibes is another site that can help you narrow down a search. Just type a ZIP code or city and adjust metrics that are important to you – amenities, crime, cost of living, and housing prices, for example. You'll then get a list of neighborhoods that match your “livability” needs.

      Not sure what you should be looking for? Realtor.com suggests scoping out potential neighborhoods, taking note of the number of homes for sale, the overall appearance, and proximity to shopping or business areas. In urban areas, parking and public transit may also be important considerations.

      Airbnb is a lodging app for travelers, but in a partnership with real estate site Reator.com, it's moving into the real estate marketing space with a promo...

      Why flying will never be as comfortable as it is now

      Airlines have a new way to cram even more people aboard flights

      The future, when we are teleported great distances or fly around like the Jetsons, cannot get here soon enough.

      But until that time comes we must all rely on commercial airlines, and the evidence suggests that isn't going to become any more pleasant than it is right now. The latest evidence comes in the form of a patent application filed by a French aircraft equipment manufacturer.

      Zodiac Seats France has devised a way to cram even more passengers aboard a commercial aircraft. Drawings submitted with its patent application (PDF) show the reconfigured cabin, with the middle seat in each row facing backward. The company says that will allow current planes to hold additional passengers.

      “Described are seating arrangement with at least one row having at least one forward-facing seat and at least one aft-facing seat,” the company said in its filing. “The at least one forward-facing seat and the at least one aft-facing seat are arranged adjacent to one another so that a shoulder space on one side of the at least one forward-facing seat overlaps with the adjacent shoulder space of the at least one aft-facing seat.”

      Getting to know the person next to you

      In other words, you'll get to know the person sitting next to you on a flight a little better than you ordinarily might.

      Just because such a thing is being patented does not necessarily mean that airlines will implement it, but it is hard to believe that at least some won't. Airlines have rarely overlooked any possible means to add more passengers to planes without having to increase flights.

      Restrooms are another area airlines have targeted for cost-cutting. While on-board facilities are vital to passenger comfort, they do not make a dime for an airline.

      Marketwatch recently reported that Boeing is shrinking the size of restrooms on the 777-300ER jetliner. Doing so might reduce comfort for the 400 passengers but it will allow airlines to add 14 seats – whose occupants will have to compete for the smaller lavatories.

      Airbus is reportedly planning to install smaller restrooms on its A320 to make more space for luggage.

      Avoiding additional flights

      Airlines clawed their way back to profitability after the 2008 financial crisis by adding fees for everything from checked bags to blankets and pillows. Now that the economy is recovering and demand for air travel is increasing, airlines are searching for ways to accommodate the demand without adding flights.

      There is little thought, apparently, to raising fares because travel experts seem to agree that travelers are entirely too focused on price when they select a flight. Consumers want to pay as little as possible to fly, and are apparently willing to sacrifice comfort to save a few dollars.

      The airlines may be about to put that theory to the test.

      Photo © kasto - FotoliaThe future, when we are teleported great distances or fly around like the Jetsons, cannot get here soon enough.But until t...

      Some crayons harbor asbestos and can pose a danger

      Researchers have found that many crayons have asbestos in them, which could lead to a litany of medical problems for those who are exposed to them

      Crayons: they make the color of the rainbow and you can make anything you want with them. They are the secret element in making a child’s world come to life, but a new study commissioned by the Environmental Working Group says some crayons may contain asbestos. Most crayon boxes say that the product is non-toxic, but this study indicates they could pose a serious risk to small children.

      The researchers found that asbestos could be released into the air while the crayon products are being used. Sonya Lunder, EWG's lead researcher on the study, cautions parents to be careful about what they expose their children to. “The lesson here is that parents can’t just read labels and choose safer products by looking at the labels themselves,” she said.

      Members of the Office of Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OHSHA) and Richard Lemen, the Ex-U.S. Assistant Surgeon General, echo this sentiment from Lunder. They explain that exposure to asbestos, however brief or small, is potentially dangerous.

      Harmful but not banned

      So what exactly is asbestos and how can it be so harmful? Well, asbestos is made of long, thin mineral fibers that are too small to be seen by the naked eye. If they are inhaled by humans, it can lead to scarring and inflammation of the lungs, breathing impairment, lung cancer, and malignant mesothelioma (which is a cancer of the lining of the lungs and abdominal cavity).

      These terrible medical problems have led to asbestos being banned for many uses around the world. Now that it has been found in crayons, many people are panicking that it may already have affected their loved ones. It was discovered in 2000 that three out of eight crayon brands contained asbestos, according to a Seattle Post Intelligencer study. Although crayon companies are not required to keep asbestos out of its products, families everywhere are calling for its removal.

      “Asbestos in toys poses an unacceptable risk to children, today as it did in 2000 and 2007, the last time tests found the deadly substance in these children’s products,” says Dr. Phillip Landrigan, who is a professor of pediatrics and preventive medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. 

      Crayons: they make the color of the rainbow and you can make anything you want with them. They are the secret element in making a child’s world come to lif...

      SkyWest Airlines facing $1.2 million in FAA penalties

      The carrier allegedly operated aircraft not in compliance with federal regulations

      The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is proposing penalties totaling $1.23 million against SkyWest Airlines for 2 separate cases of regulation violations.

      In the first, in which the penalty is $911,000, the St. George, Utah-based carrier allegedly operated 2 aircraft that were not in compliance with federal aviation regulations. According to the agency, SkyWest failed to inspect the cargo door skins on two Bombardier CL-600 jets at required intervals. The inspections were required by an Airworthiness Directive (AD) issued in 2006 after cracks were discovered in the aluminum cargo door skin of a CL-600 during fatigue testing.

      The FAA determined that regular inspections of that type of aircraft for similar cracking could help prevent a situation in which a cracked skin could lead to an accident or unsafe condition. SkyWest is said to have operated the aircraft on a total of 15,969 flights when the inspections were overdue.

      Alleged landing gear violations

      The FAA is also proposing a penalty of $320,000 on grounds that SkyWest failed to inspect certain main landing gear components on four Bombardier CL-600 jets at required intervals for wear that could lead to an unsafe condition or failure of a component. SkyWest allegedly operated the aircraft on more than 6,700 flights when the inspections were overdue.

      “Safety is our top priority,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “We expect operators to comply fully with all FAA regulations and directives.”

      SkyWest has 30 days from receipt of the FAA’s enforcement letters to respond.

      The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is proposing penalties totaling $1.23 million against SkyWest Airlines for 2 separate cases of regulation violati...

      Carnivore Meat Company recalls raw pet treats

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Carnivore Meat Company is recalling select products and lots of Carnivore Vital Essentials pet foods.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      The company says it has received no reports of human illness as a result of these products.

      The following products are being recalled:

      • Vital Essentials Frozen Beef Tripe Patties, UPC 33211 00809, Lot # 10930, Best by date 20160210
      • Vital Essentials Frozen Beef Tripe Nibblets, UPC 33211 00904, Lot # 10719, Best by date 12022015

      The "Best By" date code and lot # are located on the back of the package. The recalled products were distributed in Washington, California, Texas, Georgia, Illinois, Colorado, New Mexico, Florida, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Ohio and Vermont.

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should call 920-370-6542 Monday-Friday 9:00AM-4:00PM (CST) for assistance in obtaining replacement or a full refund. Open packages should be disposed of in a covered trash receptacle.

      Consumers with questions may call the company at 920-370-6542 Monday - Friday 9:00AM - 4:00PM (CST).

      Carnivore Meat Company is recalling select products and lots of Carnivore Vital Essentials pet foods. The products may be contaminated with Listeria monoc...

      Maya Overseas Foods recalls Cashew Split

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Maya Overseas Foods of Maspeth, N.Y,, is recalling approximately 8000 lbs. of Cashew Split.

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      The recalled product was distributed between February 18, 2015, and March 20, 2015 to retailers and restaurants in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Florida, in 7-oz. (UPC 020843230389), 14-oz. (UPC 020843230716), 28-oz. (UPC 020843230327) and 5-lb. (UPC 020843230303) clear plastic pouches. It was also sold in bulk 50-lbs. tins.

      Customers who purchased Maya brand Cashew Split should not to consume it, but return it to the place of purchase for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at 718-894-5145, Monday - Friday, 9 am - 5 pm (ET).

      Maya Overseas Foods of Maspeth, N.Y,, is recalling approximately 8000 lbs. of Cashew Split. The product may be contaminated with Salmonella. No illnesses...

      Dodge Challengers with air bag issue recalled

      The front air bag inflator could rupture

      Chrysler (FCA US) is recalling 88,346 model year 2008-2010 Dodge Challengers manufactured September 19, 2007, to October 29, 2010.

      The dual-stage driver front air bag that may be susceptible to moisture intrusion which, over time, could cause the inflator to rupture. In the event of a crash necessitating deployment of the driver's front air bag, the inflator could rupture with metal fragments striking the driver or other occupants resulting in serious injury or death.

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will replace the driver's front air bag inflator, free of charge. Parts to remedy the vehicles are not currently available. Interim notices will be mailed to owners beginning August 14, 2015. Owners will be sent a second notice when remedy parts become available.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is R37.

      Chrysler (FCA US) is recalling 88,346 model year 2008-2010 Dodge Challengers manufactured September 19, 2007, to October 29, 2010. The dual-stage driver ...

      Gourmet Culinary Solutions recalls turkey sausage product

      The product may contain pieces of a conveyor belt inside the packaging

      Gourmet Culinary Solutions of Statham, Ga., is recalling approximately 495 pounds of turkey sausage product that is part of a frozen entree that also contains French toast sticks and peaches.

      The product may contain pieces of a conveyor belt inside the packaging.

      There are no reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of this product.

      The following product, produced May 14, 2015, is being recalled:

      • 8.25-oz. compartment trays of “Golden Gourmet French Toast Sticks with Turkey Patty & Peaches” with “Use by Date: 11/14/16.”

      The package bears establishment number “P-21200” inside the USDA mark of inspection. Individual entrees were distributed to older adults in Georgia as part of the Meals on Wheels program.

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Brian Zulaica at (770) 725-4620.

      Gourmet Culinary Solutions of Statham, Ga., is recalling approximately 495 pounds of turkey sausage product that is part of a frozen entree that also conta...

      GM recalls vehicles with power liftgate option

      The power liftgate struts may prematurely wear and the open liftgate may suddenly fall

      General Motors is recalling 686,287 model year 2008-2012 Buick Enclaves manufactured January 3, 2007, to February 29, 2012; 2009-2012 Chevrolet Traverses manufactured July 6, 2008, to February 29, 2012; 2007-2012 GMC Acadias manufactured September 15, 2006, to February 29, 2012; and 2007-2010 Saturn Outlooks manufactured August 17, 2006, to March 18, 2010.

      The vehicles, equipped with the power liftgate option, have gas struts that hold the power liftgate up when open. These struts may prematurely wear and the open liftgate may suddenly fall. If the open liftgate unexpectedly falls, it may strike a person, producing a risk of injury.

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will update the software for the power liftgate actuator motor control unit so that the motor will prevent the rapid closing of the lift gate, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Buick customer service at 1-800-521-7300, Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020, GMC customer service at 1-800-462-8782, and Saturn customer service at 1-800-553-6000. GM's number for this recall is 15240.

      General Motors is recalling 686,287 model year 2008-2012 Buick Enclaves manufactured January 3, 2007, to February 29, 2012; 2009-2012 Chevrolet Traverses m...

      Gasoline prices surging in California

      Analyst predicts pump prices could quickly rise by up to 50 cents a gallon

      Gasoline prices always tend to be higher on the West Coast, but motorists in California are almost dizzy because of how prices have jumped in the last couple of days.

      The Energy Information Administration (EIA) report on Wednesday showed almost no gasoline was imported into California in the previous week. With refineries in the state already operating under maintenance schedules and trying to meet growing demand, the market immediately reacted to the growing shortfall.

      “In the next 48 hours prices in California are expected to jump 25 to 50 cents a gallon,” Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at Gas Buddy, told ConsumerAffairs. “In some cases we're already seeing people on social media reporting gas stations raising prices 80 cents in one day.”

      The price escalation began Wednesday when the implications of the numbers became clear. Refineries increased shipments to California weeks ago because prices were rising.

      When the gasoline market became saturated, the wholesale price began to fall and suppliers started looking elsewhere. As a result California got shortchanged.

      42 million barrel shortfall

      “Because there were no imports into California, gasoline inventories on the West Coast declined by 42 million barrels in one week,” DeHaan said. “That's a huge drop and it put California's supply of gasoline below what I would consider a healthy level.”

      Wholesale prices went through the roof in the moments and hours after the EIA report became public; on Thursday they surged even more. DeHaan says there could even be temporary shortages.

      “It's becoming very hard to find gasoline in California and don't be surprised if some stations there decide not to fill their tanks,” he said.

      That's because these sky-high prices won't last. Because of the current shortage, shipments will likely surge in the next few days, bringing the wholesale price back to earth. If a station has paid the current high price for fuel, it will be stuck with overpriced product when competitors are selling it for much less. If stations can wait a few days, the price might be much less.

      Game of roulette

      “It's a game of roulette,” DeHaan said. “If prices go up a buck a gallon, they'll eventually come back down by that amount.”

      With market forces in play, California will go from having virtually no imported gasoline to being flooded with the stuff.

      “You now have refineries throughout the globe trying to secure tankers to send gasoline to California because of the absolute insanity and the lofty prices they can lock in,” DeHaan said.

      And that will continue the vicious circle. A huge influx of supply will bring down prices. In the meantime, however, consumers will feel some pain at the pump.

      “This market isn't going to see any relief for at least a couple of weeks,” DeHaan said.

      In the meantime, DeHaan says the refineries that are producing gasoline in California “are making a windfall.”

      California and other West Coast drivers may be particularly irked that their fuel prices are surging at a time when crude oil prices are falling even more, but the excess supply of petroleum isn't helping because the refineries first have to turn it into gasoline. At the present time, they lack the capacity to do that, DeHaan says.

      Gasoline prices always tend to be higher on the West Coast, but motorists in California are almost dizzy because of how prices have jumped in the last coup...

      Takata to air bag victims: drop dead

      Tells senator a victims' fund is "not currently required"

      At least 8 deaths and scores of injuries have been attributed to faulty inflators in Takata airbags, prompting the recall of millions of vehicles worldwide.

      The company has apologized numerous times but it seemed logical to Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) that the company set up a fund to compensate victims and their families. Blumenthal aired that opinion during a meeting of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

      Blumenthal says he got a response from Takata in the form of a letter (PDF) and he is not pleased.

      Deeply disappointed

      “I am astonished and deeply disappointed by Takata's refusal to establish a victim’s compensation fund – even after 100 injuries and eight deaths attributed to its defective airbags, numbers almost certain to rise,” Blumenthal said in a statement. “Takata is apparently unwilling to acknowledge its responsibility for these tragic deaths and injuries, or do justice for victims and their loved ones.”

      Blumenthal, formerly Connecticut's consumer-friendly attorney general, said he would press Takata to reconsider what he calls a “callous misjudgment and do right by the innocent victims of its harm.”

      In a letter to Blumenthal, Takata Executive Vice President Kevin Kennedy once again expressed regret for the deaths and injuries. But the reason for declining the suggestion to compensate victims now appears to be grounded in a policy of providing compensation only when forced to do so.

      “Not currently required”

      “As you may know, Takata has already resolved a number of claims involving airbag ruptures, and we intend to continue to discuss settlement of claims in appropriate cases going forward,” Kennedy wrote. “At the present time, given the limited number of claims filed and the MDL procedures in place that permit the efficient coordination of related claims, Takata believes that a national compensation fund is not currently required.”

      Kennedy did say the company would give Blumethal's suggestion further study and would let him know if its thinking changed.

      Takata only agreed to a recall in May under vigorous prodding from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The agreement between Takata and NHTSA came after Takata at first denied the airbags were defective and at one point even questioned NHTSA's authority to order a recall.  

      At least 8 deaths and scores of injuries have been attributed to faulty inflators in Takata airbags, prompting the recall of millions of vehicles worldwide...

      OPM director out as feds admit hackers stole data on 22 million holders of security clearances

      If you, your roommate or your spouse applied for a clearance since 2000, your data is probably compromised

      Office of Personnel Management Director Katherine Archuleta quit today amid widespread criticism of her office’s handling of a massive data breach that exposed the personal records of more than 22 million people. 

      Members of Congress had been calling for Archuleta's resignation since June, when the OPM, which handles security clearances for government employees and contractors, admitted that for the second time in a year, hackers had managed to breach their own security and steal data on up to four million current or former holders of security clearances.

      Those four million people in June were presumably in addition to the five million federal employees whose data had been compromised when hackers breached the OPM the previous July.

      But in a statement released yesterday, the OPM admitted that the extent of the breach was vastly greater than originally believed:

      The team has now concluded with high confidence that sensitive information, including the Social Security Numbers (SSNs) of 21.5 million individuals, was stolen from the background investigation databases.  This includes 19.7 million individuals that applied for a background investigation, and 1.8 million non-applicants, predominantly spouses or co-habitants of applicants.  As noted above, some records also include findings from interviews conducted by background investigators and approximately 1.1 million include fingerprints.  

      That innocuous statement about “findings from interviews” presumably includes a lot of blackmail-worthy information, though no further details have been provided. OPM says that the data of anyone who applied for a security clearance since 2000 (or the spouse or roommate of any such person) is probably at risk. Even pre-2000 data is not guaranteed safe, though it's far less likely that the hackers have it.

      Possible connections to China

      Security investigators familiar with the case say the evidence suggests the hackers had backing from the Chinese government – though China's government has consistently denied having any role in the attacks, and pointed out that hacking is illegal under Chinese law.

      The OPM hackers aren't the only ones suspected of having Chinese connections. The same hackers are also believed to be behind:

      • last November's breach of the United States Postal Service database (800,000 USPS employees' records compromised, and possibly information about USPS customers as well);

      • last February's breach of Anthem health insurance company (80 million current and former customers compromised, many of whom work for the federal government or various defense contractors);

      • last March's breach of Premera Blue Cross (11 million records compromised); and

      • last May's breach of CareFirst Blue Cross/Blue Shield (“only” 1.1 million that time, but they're mostly residents of D.C. or its suburbs which, like the Anthem breach, means a large percentage of them probably worked for the federal government in some capacity).

      Credit and identity monitoring services

      On Thursday, when the OPM announced the newly discovered extent of the breach, it also said it would provide credit and identity monitoring services for affected individuals. The OPM also established what it calls an “online incident resource center” as a clearinghouse for information about the breach, and said that “We will begin to notify people affected by the background investigation incident in the coming weeks. At that time, you will be auto-enrolled in some services and will need to take action to enroll in others.”

      In fine print at the bottom of the page, the OPM also said that you can email cybersecurity@opm.gov with any questions, or call 866-740-7153 for an “automated message on the incidents.” As of press time, that automated message doesn't offer any information you can't find more readily on the OPM's “incident resource center” – if you want generalized information about the breach information, clicking this link is a better bet than calling the number.

      Archuleta (OPM Photo) Office of Personnel Management Director Katherine Archuleta quit today amid widespread criticism of her office’s handling of a m...

      European Union accuses MasterCard of gouging tourists

      The card giant's "artificially high" interbank fees are being investigated

      The European Union's quibbles with Google are well-known and now it's taking on another symbol of American domination -- MasterCard. EU regulators say the credit card giant overcharges travelers for their purchases.

      The EU for two years has been conducting an antitrust investigation into whether MasterCard stifles competition by charging "arrtificially high" interbank fees that stifle competition (and tourism) by driving up the total cost of purchases made by tourists.

      The fees are not paid directly by tourists but are passed on to retailers, who in turn build them into the prices paid by consumers, even those who pay with cash.

      "We currently suspect MasterCard is artificially raising the costs of card payments, which would harm consumers and retailers in the EU," said competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager, according to Courthouse News Service. "We have concerns both in relation to the rules MasterCard applies to cross-border transactions within the EU, as well as the fees charged to retailers for receiving payments made with cards issued outside Europe. MasterCard now has an opportunity to respond to our charges."

      MasterCard said it is "working with the European Commission on the issue" and promised to release a formal response soon.

      The European Union's quibbles with Google are well-known and now it's taking on another symbol of American domination -- MasterCard. EU regulators say the...

      Initial jobless claims shoot upward

      It’s the highest total since early this year

      More workers were standing in line to file first-time applications for state jobless benefits last week than at any time since February.

      The Labor Department (DOL) reports initial unemployment claims totaled a seasonally adjusted 297,000 in the week ending July 4, an increase of 15,000 from the previous week.

      While the government says there were no special factors affecting the claims level, the Independence Day holiday did fall within the week.

      The 4-week moving average, which is less volatile than the weekly figure and considered a more accurate gauge of the labor market, rose 4,500 -- to 279,500.


      The complete report is available on the DOL website.

      More workers were standing in line to file first-time applications for state jobless benefits last week than at any time since February. The Labor Departm...