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    New special interest group aims to steer self-driving regulations towards complete autonomy

    A human at the wheel -- who needs it? Industry group wants autonomous cars to be driver-free

    The standing joke in Washington is that if there's something called, say, Americans for Clean Water, it's probably a front group for industries that pollute the water.

    So it's not too surprising that a new group called the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets is made up of Ford, Volvo, Google, Uber, and Lyft, all eager to get driverless cars rolling down the nation's highways and byways.

    The companies say they want "to work with lawmakers, regulators, and the public to realize the safety and societal benefits of self-driving vehicles."

    Heading this supposed safety-first group is none other than David Strickland, former head of the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). He is perhaps best known for helping cut the secret deal between the NHTSA and Chrysler that recalled millions of fire-prone Jeep Cherokees blamed for nearly 300 deaths, a recall derided by critics as one of the most ineffective ever.

    "This is the recall that Chrysler never wanted to do and will never do right. As far as Fiat-Chrysler is concerned Jeeps can continue to crash and burn until they are all off the road," Center for Auto Safety director Clarence Ditlow said recently in a letter to Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and current NHTSA head Mark Rosekind.

    Strickland, you may recall, "retired" from the NHTSA a short time after the deal was worked out in a meeting room at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport in 2014, following Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood out of "public service" and into the lucrative world of log-rolling and public affairs.  

    Cut off California 

    The goal of the coalition, it says, is to have a single set of federal rules covering self-driving cars. In other words, it wants to short-circuit a California rule that would require driverless cars to, at the very least, have a brake pedal and steering wheel so that a human being could take over in the event the self-driving system goes whacko. 

    California also requires that a licensed driver be in the car while it is rolling down the road, a provision tat Uber and Lyft are thought to despise. 

    "The best path for this innovation is to have one clear set of federal standards and the coalition will work with policymakers to find the right solutions that will facilitate the deployment of self-driving vehicles," said Strickland.

    Strickland joined the D.C. legal powerhouse Venable, which public records indicate had billed Chrysler $1.1 million for lobbying services in recent years. Federal law requires most top executive branch officials to wait two years before they can lobby their old agency, a measure that then-Sen. Barack Obama called "the most sweeping ethics reform since Watergate" when it was enacted during the Bush Administration.

    The NHTSA, meanwhile, is expected to release its self-driving recommendations to states, policymakers, and companies in July, presumably with prodding from Strickland's group. 

    The standing joke in Washington is that if there's something called, say, Americans for Clean Water, it's probably a front gr...
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    Concerns over the connection between concussions and long-term health problems continue to grow

    Studies continue to show the link between concussions, brain injury and disease, and high impact sports

    The link between concussions and high-impact sports like football is becoming, leading to growing concerns at the professional level, not only over the health of players currently in the game but also for those who have already retired.

    In a recent study from Boston University (BU), researchers examined the brains of deceased NFL players and found that 90 out of 94 (95.7%) of them showed signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE is a progressive degenerative brain disease that is most commonly found in individuals who have sustained multiple concussions and other types of brain trauma.

    According to the CTE Center at BU, these repetitive trauma incidents can wear away brain tissue and cause a protein called tau to build up in the brain, a substance that has been linked to dementia symptoms in Alzheimer’s patients. These changes may take effect months, or even years, after injuries have been sustained, but they have been associated with issues such as memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, and progressive dementia.

    Serious issue at all levels

    Detractors may point out that these trauma incidents are bound to happen at the professional level since these athletes compete and practice on a consistent basis over the course of many years. However, studies show that changes in the brain can happen over much shorter periods of time and at much lower levels of competition.

    A study published in 2014, which was presented at the 82nd Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, found that it took as little as one year of playing high school football for brain changes to be observable.

    For the study, 45 high school football players were given an MRI before the start of their season and after it was over. During the season, researchers utilized the Head Impact Telemetry System (HITS) to record the total number of impacts and the risk weighted cumulative exposure (RWE) for each player.

    After examining all of the data, researchers noted that there were measurable brain changes that indicated signs of mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI). Perhaps the most prominent finding of the study was that these brain changes were evident despite other clinical findings or reported concussions.

    Repeated findings

    While one study does not prove a causal link, this research added to the growing amount of literature that seeks to connect brain injury and illness with high contact sports. A more recent study published in the Journal of Neurotrauma attempts to do the same thing.

    Using a similar methodology to the previous study, researchers from the UT Southwestern Medical Center collected data from high school football players who wore specially designed helmets that recorded impacts from practice and games. Players were also given multiple MRIs and took additional cognitive tests to measure changes before and after the football season.

    While members of the research team admit that their results would need to be validated by further study, their conclusions are strikingly similar to the previously mentioned study.

    “Our findings add to a growing body of literature demonstrating that a single season of contact sports can result in brain changes regardless of clinical findings or concussion diagnosis,” said Dr. Joseph Maldjian, senior author of the study.

    Taking crucial steps

    While the results may seem repetitive or contrived to some, the researchers recognize that these tests and studies may be a crucial step towards fixing a major problem.

    “Studies like this are important to understand how and where long-term damage might be occurring, so that we can then take the necessary steps to prevent it,” said Dr. Elizabeth Davenport, first author of the study.

    The link between concussions and high-impact sports like football is becoming, leading to growing concerns at the professional level, not only over the hea...
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      Childhood obesity rates continue to climb, study finds

      Researchers say that severe obesity, in particular, is on the rise

      Despite signs that healthier eating habits have been emerging amongst millennials in recent years, it seems that obesity rates are still very high. That’s the takeaway from a new study conducted by researchers at the Duke Clinical Research Institute.

      Most alarmingly, the researchers have found that childhood obesity rates are increasing, a conclusion that contrasts with other reports that state the opposite.

      “Despite some other recent reports, we found no indication of a decline in obesity prevalence in the United States in any group of children aged 2 through 19. . . This is particularly true with severe obesity, which remains high, especially among adolescents,” said Dr. Asheley Skinner, associate professor at Duke and lead author of the study.

      Severe obesity on the rise

      Dr. Skinner and her colleagues came to their conclusions after analyzing data from the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES), a compilation of U.S. statistical data that covers decades of information. The researchers found that roughly a third (33.4%) of children between the ages of two and 19 were classified as “overweight” for the 2013-2014 reporting period. From that number, 17.4% were classified as obese.

      These numbers closely mirror findings from the last reporting period between 2011 and 2012, but Skinner notes that one disheartening increase was in the number of children classified as being “severely obese.”

      Someone with severe obesity is classified as having a body mass index (BMI) number of 35 or higher. For the 2012-2014 reporting period, 6.3% of overweight children fell into this category – which is also designated as class II obesity. Another 2.4% of children fell under class III obesity, which is a designation for those who have a BMI of 40 or higher.

      “An estimated 4.5 million children and adolescents have severe obesity and they will require new and intensive efforts to steer them toward a healthier course. . . Studies have repeatedly shown that obesity in childhood is associated with worse health and shortened lifespans as adults,” said Skinner.

      Time for improvement

      Skinner and her team admit that there are limitations to their study, but assert that using data from the NHANES is a more accurate gauge of obesity rates than the metrics that other studies have used to show that obesity rates have declined.

      The researchers want to make it clear that their work is not meant to put people into despair about the state of childhood obesity. Instead, it should serve as a jumping-off point for future improvement.

      “We don’t want the findings to cause people to become frustrated and disheartened. . . This is really a health problem that will require changes across the board – food policy, access to health care, school curriculums that include physical education, community and local resources in parks and sidewalks. A lot of things put together can work,” said Skinner.

      The full study will be published in the journal Obesityon April 26. 

      Despite signs that healthier eating habits have been emerging amongst millennials in recent years, it seems that obesity rates are still very high. That’s ...
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      Two infant formula makers accused of falsely labeling products 'organic'

      Formulas by the Honest Co. and Earth's Best contain violations of USDA organic standards

      New mothers are often highly concerned with what goes into their child's body, and buying organic products can be one way to help assuage that concern. But some companies’ baby and toddler-focused products may not be as organic as their labels claim.

      Two infant formula makers are being accused of falsely labeling products as “organic.” The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) has filed suit against the Hain Celestial Group (owner of the Earth’s Best formula brand) and The Honest Co.

      The companies are accused of labeling certain “organic” products that contain ingredients prohibited under the Organic Food Production Act of 1990 (OPPA).

      Violates USDA standards

      Eleven substances not deemed organic by federal law were found in The Honest Co.’s Premium Infant Formula. Over half of the 48 ingredients in Hain Celestial’s Earth’s Best Organic Infant Formula violate USDA Organic Standards. Non-organic ingredients were also found in other Earth’s Best products (including Organic Infant Formula, Organic Soy Infant Formula, Organic Sensitivity Infant Formula, and Organic Toddler Formula).

      The OCA’s international director, Ronnie Cummins, says it’s an especially fitting time to call out the violation of USDA organic standards, as leaders of the organic industry are meeting this week at the Spring National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to discuss organic standards.

      “No one is more concerned about food labels and ingredients than new mothers responsible for feeding infants whose immune systems and brain development are so underdeveloped and vulnerable,” Cummins said in a statement, adding that mothers rely on truthful labeling.

      The consumer advocacy group says the goal of the lawsuit is to force the two companies to either comply with USDA organic standards or stop calling their products “organic.”

      Approved methods

      What is and isn’t “organic” has been a contentious issue lately. According to the USDA, the labeling term should indicate that the food has been produced through approved methods.

      The agency states that cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that “promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity” should apply to a product before it’s labeled organic.

      New mothers are often highly concerned with what goes into their child's body, and buying organic products can be one way to help assuage that concern. But...
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      Why it's really hard to gauge where oil prices are going

      It's not just supply and demand -- financial markets are also playing a big role

      Motorists have been enjoying reasonably-priced gasoline for over a year now and probably don't care about, or pay much attention to, the daily fluctuations in the price of oil.

      But that price, and whether its long-term trend is up or down, will have a lot to do with whether a fill-up becomes a painful experience once again.

      Lately, oil prices have been moving higher, well off their recent lows but a far cry from the $100 a barrel producers routinely got just a couple of years ago. After bottoming at around $27 per barrel, oil is now back above $40, even though there is plenty of oil to turn into motor fuel.

      But why would the price of oil go up when, from all indications, there is more supply than refiners know what to do with? Because the oil futures market is setting the price, and investors have been betting lately that two things will happen in the future – demand will increase and producers will pump less oil.

      Betting on oil

      If that happens, the supply and demand ratio will be more in balance and oil will sell for a higher price. Since markets are future oriented, big money is pouring into oil-related investments ahead of time, betting those assets will quickly rise in price.

      But the movement of that money, and the momentum it carries, can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. More traders buying oil futures will bid up the price. As the price rises, more investors become convinced that the price will rise even more, so more money chases oil, resulting in still higher prices.

      In 2008 oil traders bid the price of oil to over $120 a barrel, only to see it crash a few months later during the financial crisis. Unfortunately, consumers who need gasoline are whipsawed by this kind of market price action.

      Reality intrudes

      While the momentum on Wall Street appears to be building – and make no mistake, Wall Street wants higher priced oil – reality seems ready to intrude. The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that a proprietary industry report shows oil stockpiles at the main U.S. terminal at Cushing, Okla., is growing, not shrinking as many believed. That caused an immediate drop in oil prices.

      But consumers in many parts of the country are seeing sharp increases at the gas pump, largely because the gasoline market has been following oil prices higher. The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of self-serve regular is up just three cents a gallon in the last week.

      But the statewide average is up six cents a gallon in Illinois and nine cents a gallon in neighboring Indiana.

      What's clear, however, is that the world has plenty of oil at the moment to meet its needs. How much, exactly, is hard to know because there are so many different sources and not all are transparent.

      Gasoline prices are still low by recent standards but remain hostage to a turbulent oil market. Supply and demand should keep them that way for some time to come, but there are plenty of market forces that will do their best to keep them going higher.

      Motorists have been enjoying reasonably-priced gasoline for over a year now and probably don't care about, or pay much attention to, the daily fluctuations...
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      Goldman Sachs moves into online savings accounts

      Investment maker acquires consumer banking operation from GE Capital

      Goldman Sachs is a banking name closely associated with Wall Street, not Main Street. As an investment banker, its primary business has long been trades, investing, and facilitating deals.

      But the venerable institution is suddenly moving in a new direction, offering a savings account that requires as little as $1 to open.

      Actually, it isn't Golden Sachs, itself, that is going after consumer deposits. It's the online deposit platform of GE Capital Bank (GECB) that it has recently acquired. But the parent company makes clear that it is eager to get into consumer banking.

      “We are committed to providing our new online deposit customers the high level of service they have come to expect,” said Esta Stecher, CEO of GS Bank.

      $16 billion in deposits

      Goldman Sachs closed on the acquisition, including taking over about $16 billion in customer deposits after clearing federal regulatory hurdles, as well as winning approval from the New York State Department of Financial Services and the Utah Department of Financial Institutions.

      “This transaction increases the funding diversification and strengthens the liquidity profile of Goldman Sachs and GS Bank,” Robin Vince, Treasurer of The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., said in a release. “We are pleased to add the capability for accepting online deposits, a strategic priority for the firm and for GS Bank.”

      The online savings account currently pays 1.05% APY on deposits. While there is no minimum deposit to open the account, there are limits on how much customers may deposit.

      Interest compounded daily

      Interest on deposits is compounded daily and paid monthly. Depositors may access funds multiple ways but are limited to six withdrawals per statement cycle. Money can be accessed online, by phone or by wire.

      Deposits can be made the same way or with the old school method of mailing a check.

      GS Bank is chartered in New York and is a wholly-owned, direct subsidiary of The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. Like a traditional bank, its deposits are FDIC insured up to $250,000.

      Goldman Sachs is a banking name closely associated with Wall Street, not Main Street. As an investment banker, its primary business has long been trades, i...
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      Half of all new car models meet or exceed fuel efficiency targets, analysis finds

      Mazda won fuel-sipping honors with every one of its models meeting or exceeding federal standards

      Automakers are doing their part to meet tougher fuel efficiency standards, with more than half of new vehicles meeting or exceeding federal targets, according to an analysis by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA).

      “Fuel efficiency increasingly comes standard with new cars, trucks, and SUVs” said the CFA's Jack Gillis. “Even if you’re in the market for a large pickup or SUV, you’d have to go out of your way to find a true gas guzzler.”

      Mazda took fuel sipping honors this year, with every Mazda model meeting or beating the fuel efficiency target for its vehicle class, a first-ever achievement for an automaker that relies on internal combustion engines. In previous years, only the electric carmaker Tesla offered a full line-up of models that were all above the standard.

      CFA analyzed 1,094 models of cars, SUVs, and light trucks and found 56 percent meet national mileage standards, making 2016 the third year in a row that more than half of all models meet or beat the national standards.

      Mileage ratings are averaged across all models from a single manufacturer, so while some cars and trucks may exceed the standards, others that achieve better results will help the carmaker meet the standards on an average basis.

      13% get more than 30 mpg

      CFA found that highly efficient models achieving more than 30 mpg in on-road tests continue to proliferate, making up 13.4% of available models this year, up from 11.7% last year. In 2008, only 1% of vehicle models achieved 30 mpg or more.

      The CFA says this is good news for consumers, citing a survey conducted in March that found broad support for greater fuel efficiency. The survey by ORC International found that despite current low gas prices, 81% of consumers said gas mileage will be an important consideration next time they go shopping for a new car. The same percentage said they support federal fuel economy standards.  

      “It’s no surprise that fuel efficiency is still a top priority as consumers have had a long history with volatile gas prices,” said Gillis

      Automakers are doing their part to meet tougher fuel efficiency standards, with more than half of new vehicles meeting or exceeding federal targets, accord...
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      Consumer confidence dips in April

      Expectations for the months ahead have soured

      Expectations for the economy in the months ahead have dimmed, sending The Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index lower in April.

      After posting a modest increase in March, the Index dipped 1.9 to 94.2. While the Present Situation Index rose from 114.9 to 116.4, the Expectations Index dropped from 83.6 to 79.3 in April.

      “Consumers’ assessment of current conditions improved, suggesting no slowing in economic growth,” noted Lynn Franco, director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board. “However, their expectations regarding the short-term have moderated, suggesting they do not foresee any pickup in momentum.”

      The current situation

      Consumers’ appraisal of current conditions improved somewhat, with those who think business conditions are “good” dipping from 24.9% to 23.2%. At the same time, those who see business conditions as “bad” declined as well -- from 19.2% to 18.1%.

      Their appraisal of the labor market was mixed as well. Those who believe jobs are “plentiful” fell from 25.4% to 24.1%, while those saying jobs are “hard to get” also dropped from 25.2% to 22.7%.

      Looking ahead

      Consumers were less optimistic about the short-term outlook in April than they were last month. The percentage of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months decreased from 14.7% to 13.4%, while those expecting them to worsen rose to 11.0% from 9.5%.

      The outlook for the labor market was also less favorable. Those who anticipate more jobs in the months ahead slipped from 13.0% to 12.2%, while those who think there will be fewer jobs edged up from 16.3% to 17.2%.

      The proportion of consumers expecting their incomes to increase dropped 1.0% to 15.9%; those expecting to see their incomes go down also declined -- from 12.3% to 11.2%.

      The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey, based on a probability-design random sample, is conducted for The Conference Board by Nielsen, a provider of information and analytics around what consumers buy and watch. The cutoff date for the preliminary results was April 14.

      Expectations for the economy in the months ahead have dimmed, sending The Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index lower in April.After posting a m...
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      Home prices rise in February -- but at a slower rate

      Thirteen of 20 cities saw a slower pace of appreciation

      Home values across the U.S. posted year-over-year and month-over-month gains in February.

      However, the S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index (HPI) shows the rate of increase was slowing.

      Year-over-Year

      The National HPI, covering all nine U.S. census divisions, recorded a 5.3% annual gain in February, the same as in January. The slowdowns came in the 10-City Composite, which was up 4.6%, compared with January's advance of 5.0% from the same month in 2015.

      Additionally, the 20-City Composite’s year-over-year gain was 5.4%, versus 5.7% the month before. Among those 20 cities, Portland (+11.9%), Seattle (+11.0%), and Denver (+9.7%) posted the biggest year-over-year gains. Seven cities reported greater price increases in the year ending February 2016 than in the year ending January 2016.

      ”Home prices continue to rise twice as fast as inflation, but the pace is easing off in the most recent numbers,” said David M. Blitzer, managing director and chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices.

      “The year-over-year figures for the 10-City and 20-City Composites both slowed and 13 of the 20 cities saw slower year-over-year numbers compared to last month.”

      Month-over-month

      Before seasonal adjustment, the National HPI posted a gain of 0.2% month-over-month in February, with the 10-City up just 0.1% and the 20-City Composite posting a 0.2% increase. After seasonal adjustment, the National HPI recorded a 0.4% month-over-month increase.

      The 10-City Composite was up 0.6% and the 20-City Composite reported a 0.7% month-over-month increase. Fourteen of 20 cities reported increases in February before seasonal adjustment; after seasonal adjustment, only 10 cities increased for the month.

      “The slower growth rate is evident in the monthly seasonally adjusted numbers,” Blitzer noted, pointing out that six cities, "experienced smaller monthly gains in February compared to January, when no city saw growth." Among the six were Seattle, Portland OR, and San Diego, all of which were very strong last time.

      Home values across the U.S. posted year-over-year and month-over-month gains in February. However, the S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index (...
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      CRF Frozen Foods recalls frozen vegetables

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      CRF Frozen Foods of Pasco, Wash., is recalling fifteen frozen vegetable items.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      The following items, sold in plastic bags and marked with Use By Dates located on the back of the package, are being recalled:

      LabelSizeItemUPCUse By Date
      True Goodness By Meijer10 oz.Organic Petite Green Peas71373343099911/26/2017
      True Goodness By Meijer10 oz.Organic White Sweet Corn71373343098211/21/2017
      Wellsley Farms Organic4 lb.Organic Mixed Veg88867001013610/25/2017
      Wellsley Farms Organic4 lb.Organic Green Peas8886700099702/10/2018
      Wellsley Farms Organic4 lb.Organic Green Peas8886700099702/15/2018
      Wellsley Farms Organic4 lb.Organic Green Peas8886700099703/17/2018
      Organic By Nature - Canada2.5 kg.Organic Green Peas84635800061910/22/2017
      Organic By Nature - Canada2.5 kg.Organic Green Peas84635800061912/3/2017
      Organic By Nature - Canada2.5 kg.Organic Green Peas8463580006193/16/2018
      Organic By Nature4 lb.Organic Green Peas84635800069510/25/2017
      Organic By Nature5 lb.Organic Green Peas8463580006332/15/2018
      Organic By Nature5 lb.Organic Veg Medley w/ Shelled Edamame8463580006572/11/2018
      Organic By Nature4 lb.Organic White Supersweet Corn84635800070111/19/2017
      Organic By Nature5 lb.Organic White Supersweet Corn8463580006409/13/2017
      Schwan's16 oz.Organic SS Yellow & White Cut Corn0072180604332B5320

      The recalled products were distributed to retailers and distribution centers between September 13, 2015, and March 16, 2016, in the following states:  

      • Alabama
      • Arizona
      • California
      • Colorado
      • Connecticut
      • Delaware
      • Florida
      • Georgia
      • Idaho,
      • Illinois
      • Indiana
      • Louisiana,
      • Maryland
      • Massachusetts
      • Michigan
      • Minnesota
      • Missouri
      • Montana
      • Nevada
      • New Hampshire
      • New Jersey
      • New York
      • North Carolina
      • Ohio
      • Oregon
      • Pennsylvania
      • Rhode island
      • South Carolina
      • Tennessee
      • Utah
      • Vermont
      • Virginia
      • Washington
      • West Virginia
      • Wisconsin
      • The Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

      They may be redistributed in other states nationwide

      What to do

      Customers who purchased these products should not consume them, but return them to the store where purchased for a refund, or simply discard them.

      Consumers with questions may call 844-551-5595 Monday through Friday, 8:00 am to 5:00 pm (PST).

      CRF Frozen Foods of Pasco, Wash., is recalling fifteen frozen vegetable items. The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes ...
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      Lawsuit challenges Volvo's claim that its T8 SUV will go all day without gas

      In fact, the lead plaintiff says, he could go only 8 to 10 miles on a single charge

      Volvo claims its T8 SUV plug-in hybrid will "enable you to commute daily without using any gas" when operated in electric-only mode. "Travel at speeds of up to 75 mph and fully charge in about four hours," the Volvo website promises.

      But a class action suit charges that the claims are false. Volvo owner Xavier Laurens says he "has become a victim of a classic bait and switch."

      Laurens thought he would be able to drive 25 miles before switching over to gas. But after he waited eight months for the Volvo to arrive, he found he could only get 8 to 10 miles on the battery before he had to switch to gas -- a "far cry" from driving all day, according to his lawsuit.

      Laurens says he paid $18,300 more for the T8 than for an otherwise identical all-gas vehicle, thinking he would save money on gas by using the electric motor most of the time. But he claims the only way he could even come close to achieving Volvo's claims was to drive 40 miles per hour on the freeway with all the car's safety systems disabled.

      Reduced capacity

      "As a result of this reduced electric battery capacity, Plaintiff is unable to complete his daily commute or everyday tasks without using the gasoline engine, which prevents plaintiff from obtaining the cost saving effects of foregoing gasoline for local trips and the environmental benefits of operating solely on electricity," the 19-page lawsuit states, according to Courthouse News Service.

      The proposed class includes anyone who bought or leased a 2016 Volvo XC90 TD8. 

      Volvo claims its T8 SUV plug-in hybrid will "enable you to commute daily without using any gas" when operated in electric-only mode. "Travel at speeds of u...
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      There are big differences between rewards credit cards

      Choose the one that best rewards your spending patterns

      There are many rewards credit cards to choose from, and some rewards are better than others. But do you know how much better some are?

      The personal finance website CardHub.com recently calculated what cardholders stand to get over a two year period, then did a side-by-side comparison. Over that two year period, the study found an $800 difference between the best and worst rewards.

      According to the authors, Capital One offers the best credit card rewards program, with a score 49% higher than last place finisher TD Bank. The difference between the two programs is $812 over two years.

      Capital One offers two Quicksilver rewards cards – the Quicksilver Card for excellent credit and the Quicksilver One Card for just average credit.

      The Quicksilver Card for excellent credit provides unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase. In addition, there is a one-time $100 bonus if you spend $500 on purchases within the first three months.

      The Quicksilver One Card is almost as rewarding. It has the same unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase but lacks the $100 bonus. It also charges a $39 annual fee while there is no fee with the Quicksilver Card.

      By way of comparison, the TD Bank Visa Credit Card pays a $100 bonus when you spend $500 in the first 90 days. It also pays 2% on purchases from local delis, fast food restaurants, and coffee shops, as well as casual restaurants and fine dining, plus 1% on all other eligible purchases.

      Most rewarding for travel

      How you use your rewards can also make a difference in the benefits. For example, the study found using Capital One rewards for travel produced 54% more value than using the points for merchandise.

      Ease of use for rewards is sometimes a major factor. The study found Discover has the most consumer-friendly redemption policies; Fifth Third Bank has the most restrictive policies.

      The authors offer some advice for choosing a rewards card. They say to start with identifying where you tend to spend the most money and to find a card that rewards that particular activity. For example, if you rarely eat out, don't choose a card that weights its rewards toward restaurant spending.

      Consider a card's earning potential, but don't overlook the redemption value. Both are important. Look for a nice balance between the two.

      If you are not particularly detailed-oriented, choose a card with the fewest hassles. If you are undecided about which rewards suit you best, go with cash back. It's usually hard to beat cash.

      Finally, don't overlook annual fees. Choosing a card with no annual fee will put you ahead. Paying an annual fee will cut into any rewards you might gain.

      There are many rewards credit cards to choose from, and some rewards are better than others. But do you know how much better some are?The personal fina...
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      Consumers caught between saving and credit card debt

      Survey finds increase in both savings and credit card balances

      The latest financial literacy survey by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) and BECU credit union has two main take-aways – consumers are trying to save more and are carrying larger credit card balances.

      Those two things are ultimately in conflict, and, sooner or later, one has to give way to the other.

      The online survey of 1,600 adults by the Harris Poll found 26% of consumers say they are trying to save more money this year, a slight improvement over the year before. In all, 69% said they are setting aside money each month in a non-retirement account. That's the same level as in 2013.

      Those savings, however, are at risk from too much credit card debt. A little over 10% of the consumers in the survey said they roll over $2,500 in credit card debt each month. That's up 3% from the year before.

      “Personal savings is the foundation for a stable financial future,” said Susan C. Keating, president and CEO of the NFCC.

      But Keating notes that that foundation gets weaker when debt becomes unmanageable and balances are maintained for months and years on end.

      Benson Porter, President and CEO of BECU, says he's encouraged by the slight uptick in U.S. savings rates but says the persistent credit card debt is troubling and a sign that there is more work to do.

      According to the Federal Reserve's latest G.19 report on consumer credit, revolving debt – which includes credit card debt – rose sharply in the fourth quarter of last year and posted a $3 billion increase in February.

      The latest financial literacy survey by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) and BECU credit union has two main take-aways – consumers are ...
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      Feds have safety concerns about Boeing 787 GE engines

      New jet recently forced to land with only one working engine

      The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued an airworthiness directive (AD) for the Boeing 787-8 and 787-9 airliners powered by General Electric (GE) GEnx-1B engines.

      The agency said it is taking the step to “reduce the likelihood of engine damage due to fan ice shedding.”

      The AD revealed that a Boeing 787 Dreamliner reported a recent in-flight incident in which an engine fan blade rub event caused an engine to shut down while the plane cruised at 20,000 feet. The nature of the power loss did not allow the flight crew to restart the engine.

      The plane has only two engines, but the flight crew was able to land safely, using the single working engine.

      Urgency of the issue

      “The urgency of this issue stems from the safety concern over continued safe flight and landing for airplanes that are powered by two GEnx-1B PIP2 engines operating in a similar environment to the event airplane,” the FAA said.

      The agency said it is concerned that both GEnx-1B PIP2 engines could suffer damage at the same time, essentially turning the jumbo jet into a glider. The potential for this to happen, the FAA said, classifies the problem as “an urgent safety issue.”

      There are 43 Boeing 787s in service in the U.S. The FAA directive does not cover international airlines, but it is common practice for them to follow directives from the American flight agency.

      Newest jetliner

      The Dreamliner is the latest Boeing jetliner; it is built with lightweight materials to give it greater range and fuel efficiency. The plane received final certification in August 2011 and entered service with its first commercial customer, All Nippon Airways, in October of that year.

      The Boeing 787 launch has not exactly been a smooth one. In January of 2013, the FAA grounded Dreamliners operating in the U.S. while it investigated problems with its lithium-ion batteries.

      Two incidents involving 787s operating in Japan released flammable electrolytes, resulting in heat damage and smoke. The FAA warned that these conditions could result in damage to critical systems, such as fire in the electrical compartment.

      In the case of the latest AD, the FAA has not ruled out that some 787s could be grounded. However, Boeing says it is working with GE to resolve the issue.

      The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued an airworthiness directive (AD) for the Boeing 787-8 and 787-9 airliners powered by General Electric (...
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      New home sales edge lower in March

      The decline was largely the result of a sales plunge in the West

      Sales of new single-family houses fell in March due mainly to a slump in the West, but the news wasn't all bad.

      While sales dipped 1.5% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 511,000, the Commerce Department revised its February figures to show an annual sales rate of 519,000 -- 7.000 more than it initially reported. And, even with the decline, the March sales pace was 5.4% above March 2015.

      Despite the March sales slip, the National Association of Home Builders isn't concerned. According to Chief Economist Robert Diet, "We expect the sales pace to rise through 2016, given ongoing low mortgage interest rates and healthy job creation."

      Price and inventory

      The median sales price -- the point at which half the homes are sold for more and half for less -- was $288,000, a drop of $9,400 from February and a year-over-year decline of $5,400.

      The average sales price was $356,200, up $14,100 from the previous month and a gain of $3,500 from March 2015.

      There were 246,000 new houses for sale at the end of last month, representing a supply of 5.8 months at the current sales rate.

      Regional sales

      • The only sales decline in March came in the West, but it was a big one -- a drop of 23.6% from February and a year-over-year slump of 20.7%.
      • Sales in the Northeast were unchanged from February but up 30.0% from March 2015.
      • In the South, sales posted a 5.0% monthly gain and advanced 15.4% from the same month last year.
      • In the Midwest, sales jumped 18.5% on a month-over-month basis and rose 10.3% from the previous year.

      The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

      Sales of new single-family houses fell in March due mainly to a slump in the West, but the news wasn't all bad.While sales dipped 1.5% to a seasonally ...
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      Toyota recalls model year 2016 Siennas

      Incorrect front seat belt height adjusters may have been installed

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 234 model year 2016 Toyota Siennas manufactured February 15, 2016, to February 19, 2016.

      Incorrect front seat belt height adjusters may have been installed that may contact the B-pillar and tear or separate during a crash.

      Failure and detachment of seat belt height adjuster would result in the occupant not being properly restrained in a crash, increasing the risk of injury.

      What to do

      Toyota will notify owners, and dealers will replace the front seat belt height adjusters, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin April 30, 2016.

      Owners may contact Toyota customer service at 1-800-331-4331. Toyota's number for this recall is G0H.

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 234 model year 2016 Toyota Siennas manufactured February 15, 2016, to February 19, 2016.   Inco...
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