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Mercedes scraps Drive Pilot ad after safety advocates object

Advocates assail feds for 'rushing full speed ahead' to promote autonomous cars without safeguards

Mercedes-Benz has agreed to pull a TV commercial for the "Drive Pilot" feature on its redesigned 2017 E-class cars after safety advocates said the ad could...

PhotoMercedes-Benz has agreed to pull a TV commercial for the "Drive Pilot" feature on its redesigned 2017 E-class cars after safety advocates said the ad could mislead consumers into thinking the feature was a fully autonomous driving system. The advocates also assailed federal safety regulators for "rushing full speed ahead" to put self-driving cars on the road without adequate safeguards. 

The optional drive-assist feature includes advanced adaptive cruise control and automated steering that allows the sedan to follow traffic and stay in its lane at speeds of up to 130 mph.

Mercedes said late Thursday that it would take the ad out of rotation, saying it did "not want any potential confusion in the marketplace to detract from the giant step forward in vehicle safety the 2017 E class represents.”

The Mercedes decision followed a letter to FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez from safety advocates who said the sedan did not meet the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s definition of a fully or partially self-driving car.

Yet the E-class is “marketed in a way that a reasonable consumer would believe it does,” the advocates said, adding the commercial could give “a false sense of security in the ability of the car to operate autonomously,” said the letter from officials of Consumer Reports, the Center for Auto Safety, the Consumer Federation of America, and by former NHTSA administrator Joan Claybrook.

Tesla drops camera supplier

Automated driving systems have been under scrutiny in recent weeks after a series of accidents blamed at least partly on the systems. In the most serious, the driver of a Tesla was killed when his car, while operating on Autopilot, crashed into the side of a tractor trailer truck on May 7.

Tesla now says it will stop using cameras manufactured by Mobileye, the company that made the camera used in the fatal Tesla crash. Both companies acknowledged the split and each gave the impression it had made the decision. Mobileye implied it had not had any input into how Tesla was using the camera.

“I think in a partnership, we need to be there on all aspects of how the technology is being used, and not simply providing technology and not being in control of how it is being used,” Mobileye CTO Amnon Shashua said in an earnings call with investment analysts, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

What's the rush?

The auto safety advocates also berated National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) Administrator Mark Rosekind in a letter, saying he was "inexcusably ... rushing full speed ahead" to promote the deployment of self-driving robot car technology instead of developing adequate safety standards "crucial to ensuring imperfect technologies do not kill people by being introduced into vehicles before the technology matures."

The letter was in response to Rosekind's recent assertion that NHTSA cannot "stand idly by while we wait for the perfect" before self-driving robot car technologies are deployed.

"This is a false dichotomy," the advocates wrote. "The question is not whether autonomous technology must be perfect before it hits the road, but whether safety regulators should allow demonstrably dangerous technology with no minimum safety performance standards in place, to be deployed on American highways."

The letter charged that Tesla’s Autopilot "could not tell the difference between a white truck and a bright sky or between a big truck and a high mounted road sign." It said Tesla "apparently knew of the defect, yet still released autopilot in beta mode and turned its customers into human guinea pigs."

The safety advocates charged that Rosekind and his colleagues at NHTSA "have become giddy advocates of selfdriving cars, instead of sober safety regulators tasked with ensuring that new systems don’t kill people. Instead of seeking a recall of Tesla’s flawed technology, you inexcusably are rushing full speed ahead."

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Access to drugs and alcohol in adolescence leads to continued abuse

Study shows white men are particularly susceptible

It’s no secret that children often form habits that they observe in their parents. Whether it’s a certain way of talking, how they express their emotions, ...

PhotoIt’s no secret that children often form habits that they observe in their parents. Whether it’s a certain way of talking, how they express their emotions, or cleanliness habits, you can usually draw some parallels between generations.

Now, a new study suggests that habits aren’t the only things that young people can pick up from their parents. Researchers have found that children living in households with quick access to drugs and alcohol are more likely to abuse those same substances later in life, regardless of whether or not their parents abused them.

“While there have been many studies linking alcohol and drug use by parents to substance use among youths, there is limited research on how the availability of alcohol and drugs in the home may influence patterns of use among offspring in the future,” said Cliff Broman, leader of the study and professor of sociology at Michigan State University.

“These findings provide evidence that the availability of illegal drugs and alcohol in the home while growing up is a critical factor in the later use of substances.”

Pattern of abuse

Broman came to his conclusions after analyzing data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The report followed roughly 15,000 adolescents over the course of 13 years. Data was collected in three different waves during the course of the study – when the average age of participants was 16, 22, and 29, respectively.

The data showed that participants who had access to drugs and alcohol in their youth were much more likely to start using those same substances at an early age. For those same individuals, drug and alcohol use was also higher at age 22 and 29.

The data showed that men were more likely to engage in substance abuse behavior if drugs and alcohol were available in adolescence. As a result, more men than women engaged in those same behaviors at age 22 and 29.

The findings also showed the race and ethnicity were a factor for the study; whites were much more likely to use drugs and alcohol when compared to black, Hispanic, or Asian participants, although the latter groups generally had more access to these substances during adolescence.

The full study has been published in the Journal of Child & Adolescent Substance Abuse.

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Zipcar settles damage charge policy with New York

Members complained they were charged before being informed of damage

Zipcar, one of the larger car-sharing membership companies, has settled charges with the state of New York after consumers complained about its damage resp...

PhotoZipcar, one of the larger car-sharing membership companies, has settled charges with the state of New York after consumers complained about its damage responsibility.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman charged Zipcar routinely hit members' credit cards for minor damage before notifying the consumers or giving them an opportunity to dispute it. Schneiderman says such a policy runs afoul of New York law.

“Consumers should never learn that they have been accused of damaging a rental car when they see a surprise charge on their credit card statement,” Schneiderman said.

Under law, Schneiderman says New Yorkers can dispute damage fees before any penalties are assessed.

Like any car rental operation, Zipcar’s membership contracts provide that consumers are responsible for any damage while the car is in their possession. But unlike a traditional car rental agency, Zipcar vehicles are not stored in a central location when not in use. In fact, they are parked in public areas – on the street or in a parking garage, where nicks and scratches can occur when no one is using the vehicle.

Failed to inform consumers

Schneiderman charged that Zipcar failed to inform consumers about car damages and the amount of their liability before placing a charge on their credit cards. Instead, he said Zipcar investigated to determine which Zipcar member had reserved the car at the time of the damage. When it determined the member it felt was responsible, it charged the consumer's credit card before he or she had a right to dispute it.

The state said its investigation showed that 5,000 New Yorkers received these surprise charges. In one case, it said Zipcar placed a charge of $750 for scratches on one member's card before notifying the consumer of the damage.

In a settlement with the attorney general's office, Zipcar has agreed to refund the damage charges for consumers who said they were not responsible. The company has also agreed to change its policy to comply with New York law.

Common issue

Extra charges for minor scrapes are very common in the rental car industry, providing companies with an additional revenue stream. As we noted back in 2011, rental car companies have become more aggressive in pursuing damage claims.

Not only do they charge the consumer for the cost of the repair, but also for the loss-of-use while the repair is being made.

To counter this, photograph the car for all four sides when you pick it up and time-stamp the photo. Then pay for the rental with a credit card that provides rental car damage coverage. You can find which card offers the best coverage here.

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How to protect yourself when traveling abroad

The strong dollar makes travel cheap, but terrorism makes it scary

Can you protect yourself while traveling abroad? The strength of our dollar makes travel appealing, but the terrorist attacks abroad are terrifying. Do you...

PhotoCan you protect yourself while traveling abroad? The strength of our dollar makes travel appealing, but the terrorist attacks abroad are terrifying. Do you stay home in fear for your safety or proceed with your travel plans? It’s a tough choice to make, but it is yours alone.

The State Department provides guidelines for those who choose to travel abroad. Here are their suggestions:

As you begin your vacation planning, research the visa requirements, local laws, customs, and medical care for each country in your itinerary.

Allow plenty of time to apply for a new passport or renew an old one. Passports must be valid for at least six months after you return home, and must have two or more blank pages (if not, some countries may not allow entry). Check the passports of all your traveling partners; adult passports are valid for ten years, but children are valid for only five years.

Check out the State Department’s Travel Warnings or Travel Alerts, as well as the websites for the U.S. embassy or consulate for countries you plan to visit for the latest security risks/issues.

Use the State Department’s link Learn About Your Destination for a wealth of information about the countries in your itinerary, along with all the contact information U.S. citizens might need for assistance.

Print out the details for the nearest U.S. embassy or U.S. consulate in countries you plan to visit and carry this with you.

Emergency help

The State Department provides help (sometimes limited) for emergencies 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, overseas and in Washington, (888-407-4747 or 202-501-4444). Keep these numbers handy and pass them on to family and friends should anyone need to locate you in case of an emergency.

Learn the vaccine recommendations and health concerns/precautions for your trip by looking at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) websites.

Be savvy in handling your money. Alert your bank and credit card companies of your travel plans and check ahead for exchange rates.  

Pack your medications in their original prescription containers. Either bring copies of your prescriptions or ask your doctor for a letter detailing the medications you are taking. Read about your destination, as some countries have strict laws when it comes to medications, even those that are over-the-counter.  

Keep copies

Photocopy all of your travel documents in case of emergency, loss, or theft. Give one set of documents to a relative or trusted friend at home and store another set separately from your original documents.

Enroll in the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). It’s a free service that allows U.S. citizens to enroll their trip. Once registered, the Embassy can communicate information about safety concerns, contact you in case of an emergency (natural disaster, civil unrest, or family), as well as help family and friends reach you in an emergency.

Check your U.S. health coverage to verify whether you have coverage for overseas. Social Security and Medicare do not provide coverage outside of the United States. The State Department warns that foreign hospitals and doctors often require payment in cash, and emergency medical evacuation can cost up to $100,000. If your U.S. health care plan does not cover you overseas, consider buying supplemental insurance to cover medical costs and emergency evacuation. You can learn more at Your Health Abroad.

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Exposure to secondhand marijuana smoke could have long-term health consequences

Blood vessels exposed to marijuana smoke are impaired three times longer when compared to tobacco

For a while now, one of the main arguments behind the marijuana legalization movement has been that marijuana isn’t really that bad for you – especially wh...

PhotoFor a while now, one of the main arguments behind the marijuana legalization movement has been that marijuana isn’t really that bad for you – especially when compared to cigarette smoking. However, a new study has called that supposition into question.

Researchers working with the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association have found that secondhand smoke from marijuana may actually be worse than secondhand tobacco smoke in some respects.

In a study involving mice, they found that blood vessels exposed to secondhand marijuana smoke for one minute took three times longer to recover function than those exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke.

Long-term health consequences

The findings showed that this short-term exposure led to arteries carrying blood less efficiently for at least 90 minutes, compared to only 30 minutes for tobacco smoke. While these effects only lasted temporarily, the researchers say that it could negatively affect health over time.

“These temporary problems can turn into long-term problems if exposures occur often enough and may increase the chances of developing hardened and clogged arteries,” said senior author Dr. Matthew Springer.

The researchers also ruled out that third-party substances, like nicotine, THC, or specific rolling papers, caused the loss of blood vessel function. When tested, the burning of marijuana plant material was enough to cause the effect to occur.

First form of evidence

The researchers hope that their work will help unify medical approaches relating to secondhand smoke, regardless of the source it comes from.

“There is widespread belief that, unlike tobacco smoke, marijuana smoke is benign. We in public health have been telling the public to avoid secondhand tobacco smoke for years, but we don’t tell them to avoid secondhand marijuana smoke, because until now we haven’t had evidence that it can be harmful,” said Springer.

The full study has been published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

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What can parents do to prepare kids for school?

Six tips for phasing out the summer sleep schedule

If preparation is the key to success, kids who gradually transition from their summer sleep schedule may be setting themselves up for a string of good repo...

PhotoIf preparation is the key to success, kids who gradually transition from their summer sleep schedule may be setting themselves up for a string of good report cards.

Late bedtimes and lazy days are part of summer’s charm, but having either come to a screeching halt the night before the first day of school may be the recipe for a sleepy first day.

Gradually implementing schedule changes ahead of time may help kids and adolescents start school off on the right foot, says Michael K. Scullin, Ph.D., director of Baylor University’s Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory and assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience in the College of Arts and Sciences.

In light of the fact that research shows a link between varied schedules and decreased quality of cognition, Scullin suggests parents begin making children’s sleep schedules more school-friendly ahead of time.

Making the shift

What can parents do to help kids get a better night's sleep? Scullin says it’s all about creating the right atmosphere.

  • Start the transition early. Burning the midnight oil may be okay during summer vacation, but continuing to stay up late during the nights leading up to the first day of school may not be ideal. To help ensure kids are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on their first day of school, parents should start imposing schedule changes a few days early.
  • Keep bedrooms dark. There's a time and a place for kids’ phones, tablets, and laptops, but the bedroom isn’t one of them. In addition to not allowing kids to crawl into bed with their devices, Scullin recommends investing in blackout curtains to keep bright lights outside from disturbing kids’ slumber.
  • Keep rooms quiet. Street noise, a snoring sibling, or even a particularly loud flock of birds may get in the way of an uninterrupted night’s sleep. To keep out external noise, parents may want to purchase earplugs for their kids.
  • Banish pets. They may be adorable partners in crime during the day, but at night, kids and pets should be separated. Whether they’re bed hogs or noisy dreamers, pets that sleep in a child’s bed may be to blame for disturbing kids’ rest. Scullin suggests setting pets up with a bed of their own and allowing kids to sleep solo.
  • Cut caffeine and reduce late night snacking. Parents of Starbucks-addicted teens may want to consider putting an end to caffeine consumption by late afternoon. Additionally, parents should avoid letting kids eat a heavy meal late in the day. Close to bedtime, Scullin recommends opting for foods that are high in fiber and low in saturated fats.
  • Sort out anxiety through writing. Kicking off a new school year may be exciting for some but a nightmare for others. If your child is grappling with school-related anxiety, consider having them keep a journal. Listing out worries is a great way to help kids work through their fears -- and a mind at peace is a mind that will be able to fall asleep easily and sleep soundly.
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Miami Zika outbreak blamed on mosquitoes

It's the first time in the U.S. that the disease has likely been spread by mosquitoes

Health officials say a localized Zika outbreak appears to have been caused by mosquitoes. If so, they would be the first cases of mosquito-to-human transmi...

PhotoHealth officials say a localized Zika outbreak appears to have been caused by mosquitoes. If so, they would be the first cases of mosquito-to-human transmission in the continental United States.

Health officials believe that four people in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties were likely infected with Zika after being bitten by mosquitoes carrying the virus. 

Investigators say the three women and a man hadn’t traveled to areas affected by Zika and had not had sex with someone infected with Zika. So, being bitten by an infected mosquito seems the only possible explanation for their illness.

The Florida Health Department believes that active transmission of the Zika virus is occurring in one small area just north of downtown Miami and about one square mile in size. Health officials say that while no mosquitoes trapped in that area have tested positive for the Zika virus, they think that the four sick people probably were bitten there.

Health investigators are going door-to-door in the area collecting urine samples to determine if others have been infected.

Blood donations halted

Blood donations in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties have been halted until donation centers are able to test each unit of donated blood for Zika. 

Health officials have also recommended that counties that are close to Miami-Dade and Broward do the same. Additionally, blood donation centers just outside of that region of Florida are being asked to not accept blood from people who have been in Miami-Dade or Broward Counties in the past month. 

Miami-Dade County includes the city of Miami. Broward is just north of Miami and includes Hollywood, Ft. Lauderdale, and Pompano Beach

Causes birth defects

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed that the Zika virus causes microcephaly, a severe birth defect in which an infant is born with an abnormally small head and underdeveloped brain.

Pregnant women and their partners are being urged to take steps to avoid the Zika virus, which is spread both by mosquitoes and sexual transmission.

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Gas prices falling farther, faster than in typical summers

Refineries are increasing supplies while oil prices fall

Heading into August, motorists will enjoy prices at the pump that are, on average, about 55 cents a gallon cheaper than a year ago. It should make that tri...

PhotoHeading into August, motorists will enjoy prices at the pump that are, on average, about 55 cents a gallon cheaper than a year ago. It should make that trip to the beach a little less expensive.

According to AAA, abundant fuel supplies across the U.S., coupled with falling crude oil prices, caused prices to fall in 47 states last week, led by big declines in the Midwest. However, Gasbuddy senior analyst Patrick DeHaan tweeted today that prices appear to be rising in Ohio and Michigan.

And while California's gasoline prices remain among the most expensive in the nation, motorists there are paying $1 a gallon less than they were a year ago.

The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey puts the national average price of self-serve regular at $2.19 a gallon, down four cents from a week ago. The national average price of diesel fuel is $2.32 a gallon, down two cents in the last week.

Hawaii most expensive, South Carolina cheapest

The most expensive gasoline is now found in Hawaii, with a statewide average price of $2.78 a gallon. California is next, at $2.75 and then Washington and Alaska, in a tie at $2.63.

The cheapest place to fill-up is South Carolina, where the statewide average has plunged to $1.84 a gallon. It's $1.90 in Alabama and $1.92 in Tennessee.

According to AAA, more than one-third of gas stations in the U.S. have gasoline priced at $2 a gallon or less. Last month at this time, only 7% of stations had dropped their prices to that level.

The AAA analysis predicts fuel prices will remain low for the rest of the summer. In the fall, when refineries switch back to winter grade gasoline, prices normally head even lower. There is nothing on the horizon that would alter that pattern.

Swimming in crude oil

Normally, the summer months are marked by a huge uptick in demand. But U.S. stockpiles of crude oil are at their highest level for this time of year in 86 years. The U.S. may be producing less oil, but refineries have been busy converting the surplus stockpiles into gasoline.

The American Petroleum Institute last week reported June fuel deliveries for June were up 3% over 2015, reaching the highest level in nine years.

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Homeownership hits 50-year low

Rising rents and tighter inventory are big factors

Since the housing bubble burst, fewer Americans have been buying homes.First it was because it was so much harder to qualify for a mortgage and so many...

PhotoSince the housing bubble burst, fewer Americans have been buying homes.

First it was because it was so much harder to qualify for a mortgage and so many people were out of work. Then it was because there were fewer homes for sale.

Now, the U.S. Census Bureau reports homeownership in the U.S. is at its lowest level since 1965, when the median priced U.S. home was $21,000.

The Census Bureau tracks the percentage, not the actual number. In the second quarter of this year, the ownership rate dropped to 62.9%, the same rate as 51 years ago when the government started keeping records.

Millennials continue to rent

Ralph McLaughlin, chief economist at real estate site Trulia, told CNBC the steady decline in homeownership is primarily due to Millennials continuing to rent, either by choice or inability to buy.

"Certainly low inventory and affordability isn't helping their efforts to own, but moving out of their parents' basement and into a rental unit is also a good sign for the housing market," he told the business news channel.

The census figures also show a tighter rental housing market as people who either can't buy a home or don't want to, compete for apartments and rental property. That competition has driven rents higher in the last seven years, making it even harder for some renters to save for a down payment.

Rapidly rising rents

In a separate report, real estate marketplace Zillow reports rents are rising fastest for the least expensive rental housing. That's due in large part to a growing shortage of cheaper housing as developers focus more on luxury apartments that command higher rents.

Zillow said it looked at median rents in 15 large metros in the U.S. and found the median rent for the least expensive third of apartments was growing faster than the market as a whole. California is a good example, with the rent for the cheapest rental properties in Sacramento rising 33% in the last year, while the national median rent rose 7%.

Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Svenja Gudell sees a growing divide in the U.S. rental market.

“Very high demand at the low end of the market is being met with more supply at the high end, an imbalance that will only contribute to growing affordability concerns for all renters,” Gudell said. “We're simply not building enough at the bottom and middle of the rental market to keep up with demand.”

It all creates a housing conundrum. Not only is it getting more expensive to rent an apartment, those who are paying those high rents are finding it hard to save for a down payment. And even with a down payment, would-be homeowners are finding fewer homes on the market, meaning the homeownership rate may stay low for years to come.

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Economy continues to limp along

Growth in the second three months of the year picked up from the first-quarter

An advance look at how the economy was doing in the second quarter shows improvement over the first three months of t...

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Model year 2016 Cruze vehicles

The headlights may be improperly aimed during service

General Motors is recalling 32,913 model year 2016 Cruze vehicles manufactured November 5, 2015, to May 26, 2016. The headlight assemblies are not ...

PhotoGeneral Motors is recalling 32,913 model year 2016 Cruze vehicles manufactured November 5, 2015, to May 26, 2016.

 

The headlight assemblies are not marked with a three-digit identifier code used to properly aim the headlights. As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 108, "Lamps, Reflective Devices, and Assoc. Equipment."

 

Without the identification code, the headlights may be improperly aimed during service, reducing nighttime visibility and increasing the risk of a crash.

 

What to do

 

GM will mail owners instructions and adhesive labels, with the correct code, to install on their headlight assemblies. Owners may also bring the vehicle to a GM dealership for any assistance with applying the label, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

 

Owners may contact Chevrolet Customer Service Department at 1-800-222-1020. GM's number for this recall is 50190.

 

 

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Integrated Food Service expands sandwich recall

The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

Integrated Food Service (IFS) is expanding the scope of its earlier recall of certain ready-to-eat sandwiches that may be contaminated with Listeria monocy...

PhotoIntegrated Food Service (IFS) is expanding the scope of its earlier recall of certain ready-to-eat sandwiches that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

 

No illnesses have been reported to date.

 

The expanded recall includes products produced between May 18 and June 16, 2016. The products were distributed to foodservice distributors and schools in California, Michigan, North Carolina, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Washington.

 

No retail products are affected by this recall..

 

What to do

 

Any school district that believes it may have recalled products in frozen storage should contact the IFS recall coordinator at (800) 560-9999 between 8AM – 5PM (PT) Monday through Friday, or by email at recall@integratedfoodservice.com.

 

 

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Combi recalls Coccoro Convertible Child Restraints

Improper installation may increase the risk of injury

Combi USA is recalling 39,395 Coccoro Convertible Child Restraints, model number 8220, manufactured January 1, 2009, to June 29, 2016. When the car...

PhotoCombi USA is recalling 39,395 Coccoro Convertible Child Restraints, model number 8220, manufactured January 1, 2009, to June 29, 2016.

 

When the car seat is installed in a forward facing position and secured with only the vehicle’s lap belt, excessive force may be transmitted to the seat occupant in the event of a crash, increasing the risk of injury. As such, these child seats fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 213, "Child Restraint Systems."

 

In the event of a crash, the seat occupant is at an increased risk of injury.

 

This recall does not affect the use of the Coccoro child restraint when it is installed in a rearward-facing position.

 

What to do

 

Combi will notify owners, and provide them with a cover to be added to the bottom of the seat, free of charge. The recall was expected to begin in July 2016.

 

Owners may contact Combi customer service at 1-888-232-3294, or by going to http://registration.combiusa.com/recall. Combi's number for this recall is 610.  

 

 

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PT Farm recalls beef products

The products may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H

PT Farm of North Haverhill, N.H, is recalling approximately 8,800 pounds of raw beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. Fourte...

PhotoPT Farm of North Haverhill, N.H, is recalling approximately 8,800 pounds of raw beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.

 

Fourteen cases of illness have been reported.

 

The The following raw, intact and non-intact beef product items (ground beef, ground beef patties and other sub-primal cuts), produced between June 6 – 16, 2016, are being recalled:

  • Various weights and various sizes of raw intact and raw non-intact “Chestnut Farms” beef products packed in cardboard boxes.
  • Various weights and various sizes of raw intact and raw non-intact “PT Farm” beef products packed in cardboard boxes.
  • Various weights and various sizes of raw intact and raw non-intact “Miles Smith Farm” beef products packed in cardboard boxes.
  • Various weights and various sizes of raw intact and raw non-intact “Robie Farm” beef products packed in cardboard boxes.

The recalled products, bearing establishment number “M8868” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to retail locations and for institutional use in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont.

 

What to do

 

Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but throw them away or return them to the place of purchase.

 

Consumers with questions may contact Peter L. Roy at (603) 787-9199.

 

 

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Debt collectors face tighter regulation by feds

Rules would shift burden of proof from consumer to collector

There are an estimated 6,000 debt collection firms in the U.S., making it a huge industry. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), it...

PhotoThere are an estimated 6,000 debt collection firms in the U.S., making it a huge industry. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), it affects around 70 million consumers who have some debt in collection.

Some of this debt is legitimate, some is not. Currently the burden of proof to show which is which falls on the consumers. Under proposals outlined by the CFPB, much of the burden would shift to the debt collection industry.

“Today we are considering proposals that would drastically overhaul the debt collection market,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “This is about bringing better accuracy and accountability to a market that desperately needs it.”

Under the proposed rules, debt collectors would be required to limit their communications, clearly disclose the details of the debt, and make it easier for consumers to dispute the debt. When a consumer disputes a debt, a debt collector would not be able to continue collection efforts without providing sufficient evidence that the debt is real.

Sea change for the industry

If enacted, these proposals could bring about a sea change in the industry. Some of the biggest problems occur when a debt collector purchases an old debt from a bank or credit card company. Because the debt is old and has changed hands, the paper trail may be thin or missing.

Nonetheless, there have been instances where debt collectors have hammered away at consumers, even hauling them to court, over debts they insist are not legitimate. A case in point occurred in May 2015, when Portfolio Recovery Associates LLC, one of the largest buyers of written-off debt in the U.S., tried to collect a $1,000 credit card debt from Maria Guadalupe Mejia, who insisted the debt wasn’t hers.

The jury decided the evidence showing the debt was not hers was so clear and overwhelming, it not only dismissed the case but awarded Mejia an $83 million judgment. In its blog, the CFPB says debt collection complaints outnumber all other types it receives.

250,000 debt collection complaints

“We have handled about 250,000 debt collection complaints since 2011 and have handled about 85,000 in 2015 alone,” the agency said. “We have ordered creditors and debt collectors to refund hundreds of millions of dollars through our enforcement actions against unlawful debt collection practices since 2011.”

Among complaints about debt collection, CFPB says the majority concern continued attempts to collect a debt that the consumer said was not owed, either because it wasn't their debt or had already been repaid or discharged in bankruptcy.

CFPB says consumers sometimes pay a debt that isn't theirs just to get rid of the debt collector. Other times, consumers spend time and money to dispute the debt. The proposed CFPB rules would shift the burden of proof from the consumer to the debt collector.

In the meantime, CFPB says that if you're having trouble with debt collection, you can submit a complaint to the CFPB online or call (855) 411-CFPB (2372).

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Chipotle hopes burgers will help revive its business

The chain hopes to move past problems it had with last year's E. coli outbreak

It wasn’t too long ago that Chipotle was facing backlash from consumers over its connection to E. coli. The company even went so far as to launch a rewards...

PhotoIt wasn’t too long ago that Chipotle was facing backlash from consumers over its connection to E. coli. The company even went so far as to launch a rewards program to win customers back to the brand. Now, after a few months of recovery, the chain has announced that it will be opening up a new burger restaurant chain.

The first of the chain, which will bear the name “Tasty Made,” is set to open in the fall in Lancaster, Ohio. Chipotle founder and CEO Steve Ells hopes that the new establishment will hearken back to the original burger joints that flourished in the U.S.

“Early fast food burger restaurants generally had focused menus. We think there’s great strength in that original fast food model and wanted to create a restaurant built around that. Making only burgers, fries and shakes with really great ingredients, we think we can appeal to peoples’ timeless love of burgers, but in a way that is consistent with our long-term vision,” he said.

Ells goes on to say that that long-term vision is to bring quality ingredients back to the fore. “Chipotle has been focused on a long-term vision to change the way people think about and eat fast food. At the heart of that is our commitment to great quality ingredients and classic cooking techniques – traits that are absolutely necessary to make the best tasting food, and that can be applied to a number of kinds of cuisine,” he said.

From an economics perspective, Chipotle’s new venture into the burger business may be an attempt to recover from the losses it suffered due to its connection with E. coli outbreaks in 14 states. Share prices of the company have dropped significantly over the last year. 

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Lawsuit says United baggage policies put passengers at risk

Unaccompanied luggage heightens the risk of terrorist bombings, the suit alleges

A class action lawsuit charges that United Airlines often sends passengers' baggage on alternative flights to leave room for profitable last-minute express...

PhotoA class action lawsuit charges that United Airlines often sends passengers' baggage on alternative flights to leave room for profitable last-minute express cargo. It alleges that the practice puts passengers and crew at risk of terrorist bombings.

The suit cites the 1988 downing of a Pan Am 747 over Lockerbie, Scotland, as an example of how a bomb in unaccompanied luggage can bring down an airplane.

Plaintiff Kathleen Watson says she became aware of the practice when her luggage did not show up in Honolulu after she and her husband flew from Seattle, Courthouse News Service reported. It turned out the bags were on another flight that arrived a short time later.

Watson says a baggage supervisor said that that United Airlines has a policy of placing passenger bags on the next available flight so as to leave space for air cargo. The flight with the Watsons' bags had been scheduled to leave before the Watsons' flight did but was delayed.

"Everybody does it"

The supervisor insisted the practice is not illegal and gestured toward the Delta and American baggage carousels — where people were waiting for bags on similarly delayed flights — saying, "Everyone does it," the Watsons say in their complaint. 

After the Lockerbie bombing, restrictions were put in place that prevent loading unaccompanied luggage, but no such restrictions apply to domestic flights.

The suit alleges the practice shows a "wanton disregard" for passenger safety.

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Health insurance coverage may predict smoking and drinking habits for women, study finds

Researchers say prenatal visits should address smoking and drinking habits for pregnant women

Having health insurance coverage makes good sense from an economic and medical standpoint, but can it be a predictor of how much you smoke or drink? A new ...

PhotoHaving health insurance coverage makes good sense from an economic and medical standpoint, but can it be a predictor of how much you smoke or drink? A new study conducted at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health shows that it can.

Researchers at the school have found an association between trends in alcohol and tobacco consumption and health insurance coverage for women at reproductive age. The research may be especially important because it reveals serious implications for pregnant women.

“Prenatal substance use is a major public health concern, and poses significant threats to maternal and child health. The widespread availability of health insurance through the Affordable Care Act may serve as a universal prevention intervention to help reduce prenatal substance abuse,” said lead author Dr. Qiana L. Brown.

Health insurance predictor

The study analyzed nearly 100,000 women between the ages of 12 and 44 who participated in the U.S. National Survey of Drug Use and Health between 2010 and 2014. Out of all the participants, 3% were pregnant when they took the survey.

After controlling for a variety of factors, including race, age, income, and education, the researchers found that health insurance coverage often predicted which substances women tended to use. The findings showed that 22% of all participants with health insurance coverage had reported tobacco use in the past 30 days. That number jumped to 33% for women who did not have insurance.

In a contrasting trend, the researchers found that 50% of insured women had reported alcohol use in the past 39 days, but that number was slightly lower for uninsured women – at 47%.

Troubling trends

When analyzing data for pregnant women, the findings revealed more troubling trends. The researchers found that alcohol and tobacco use were most pervasive during the first trimester of pregnancy, regardless of insurance status – at 19% and 22%, respectively.

The researchers point out that abusing these substances during the first trimester can have a serious impact on the development of a growing fetus. They believe that prenatal visits could be the best way to curb these unhealthy behaviors.

“Prenatal visits may present a good opportunity for screening and brief intervention regarding tobacco and particularly alcohol use,” said Dr. Deborah Hasin. “Particularly for alcohol, evidence indicates that screening and brief advice can be surprisingly effective for medical patients whose drinking is greater than advisable levels but who are not alcohol dependent.”

And, like a study we reported on recently, the researchers say that smoking habits in pregnant women are alarmingly high. “There is the need for greater health provider attention to smoking among pregnant women. Our results suggest missed opportunities for tobacco prevention in prenatal visits,” said Dr. Silvia Martins.

The full study has been published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

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Why Baby Boomers need a hepatitis C test

Michigan doctors devise plan to increase screening

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that all Baby Boomers in the U.S. get screened for hepatitis C.Hepatitis C is a co...

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Feds seek help to reduce fatal accidents at railroad crossings

Accidents often involve parents and children, nearly all are preventable

In theory, trains and cars should never collide. Railroad crossings are well-marked and nearly all crossings in populous areas are equipped with flashing l...

PhotoIn theory, trains and cars should never collide. Railroad crossings are well-marked and nearly all crossings in populous areas are equipped with flashing lights, bells, and crossing gates that give drivers plenty of warning that a train is approaching.

But it doesn't always work out that way, and Federal Railroad Administrator Sarah Feinberg is asking for help from railroads, drivers, Congress, and the high-tech companies that provide GPS and other real-time navigation information.

“Over the last six weeks, there have been three significant, tragic railroad crossing incidents. Each took the lives of parents and young children," Feinberg said in a prepared statement yesterday. "In San Leandro, California, a mother and her 3-year-old child were killed. In Colorado, a mother, a father and three of their four young children were killed on the way to church. And just this weekend in Arkansas, a mother, her son and two other children were killed."

“These heartbreaking events are in addition to the other 87 people killed and 236 people injured this year at railroad crossings," Feinberg said.

Google has already committed to include audio and visual alerts in its navigation programs to alert drivers to upcoming crossings. It has not said when the process will be complete.

Feinberg said in June that she has also talked with Apple, TomTom, and MapQuest about integrating warnings into navigation apps, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“Google was the first to say that they would go ahead and integrate the data. But we have had great conversations with other companies,” Feinberg said, according to the Times. “No one has told us that they are uninterested.”

It's not expected that the navigation apps will be able to warn that a train is actually approaching, only to caution drivers that they are nearing a crossing.

In some accidents, drivers get caught in back-ups after driving onto the tracks and are trapped when a train approaches, a vexing situation that experts have said calls for better driver education and perhaps signals that would give more warning when a train is in the area.

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Paleo diet protects against cancer? South African find raises questions

Scientists have found a cancerous foot bone dated at about 1.7 million years

Think the paleo diet protects you from cancer? It might, but researchers in South Africa say they have found a cancerous foot bone that's about 1.7 million...

PhotoThink the paleo diet protects you from cancer? It might, but researchers in South Africa say they have found a cancerous foot bone that's about 1.7 million years old.

Although the exact species could not be determined, scientists say the bone was from a hominin -- a bipedal human relative -- who presumably ate a diet that could be described as paleo, consisting mostly of meat, fish, fruit and vegetables, or whatever else could be chased down or plucked from the ground.

The discovery is said to be the most ancient evidence of cancer yet found and pushes the oldest known incidence back from modern times into deep prehistory. The oldest previously demonstrated possible hominin tumor was found in the rib of a Neanderthal and dated to around 120,000 years old.

"Modern medicine tends to assume that cancers and tumors in humans are diseases caused by modern lifestyles and environments. Our studies show the origins of these diseases occurred in our ancient relatives millions of years before modern industrial societies existed," said Edward Odes, a doctoral candidate at the University of the Witwatersrand's Evolutionary Studies Institute.

Would have been painful

The cancer in a foot bone, a metatarsal, was identified as an osteosarcoma, an aggressive form of cancer which usually affects younger individuals in modern humans, and, if untreated typically results in early death.

"Due to its preservation, we don't know whether the single cancerous foot bone belongs to an adult or child, nor whether the cancer caused the death of this individual, but we can tell this would have affected the individuals' ability to walk or run," says Dr. Bernhard Zipfel, a Wits scientist and an expert on the foot and locomotion of early human relatives. "In short, it would have been painful."

The findings were published in the South African Journal of Science.

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Fertility tracking wearable may succeed where apps don't

Wearing the device at night lets women know their five most fertile days

While trying to conceive, many women prefer not to leave timing up to chance alone. That’s where fertility apps and websites come in. However, a recent...

PhotoWhile trying to conceive, many women prefer not to leave timing up to chance alone. That’s where fertility apps and websites come in.

However, a recent study found that many websites and apps do not accurately predict a woman’s fertile window. Of 53 fertility calculators tested, only four were able to pinpoint a woman’s “precise fertile days.”

Now, wearable tech may be stepping in to provide women with a new way to increase their odds of becoming pregnant.

Five fertile days

Ovulation predictor kits can get expensive and temperature charting can be tedious -- but with the Ava bracelet, women only need to wear the device at night.

Throughout the night, sensors on the wearable measure three million data points that help predict the rise in reproductive hormones, including breathing rate, heart rate, sleep quality, and temperature.

After syncing the wearable to the Ava app in the morning, the device gives women a real-time update on their fertility. In a recent study, the bracelet was found to detect an average of 5.3 fertile days per cycle with 89% accuracy.

First-of-its-kind device

The Ava bracelet can significantly decrease the time it takes to get pregnant, says Ava Science CEO and co-founder Lea von Bidder.

"Even if you're tracking your periods to try to optimize your timing for conception, only about 30 percent of women have fertile windows that fall entirely within the time that clinical guidelines predict," von Bidder said in a statement. "That's why an accurate, reliable way to detect the full fertile window is such a breakthrough.

Adds von Bidder, “Ava can cut the time it takes to get pregnant in half."

The product, which retails for $199, is now available on the company’s website.

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Consumers encountering fewer credit card fees

However, choosing the wrong prepaid card can be costly

Oil prices aren't the only thing going down. A new report from CreditCards.com found fewer credit cards are charging foreign transaction fees – a significa...

PhotoOil prices aren't the only thing going down. A new report from CreditCards.com found fewer credit cards are charging foreign transaction fees – a significant cost savings for consumers who travel outside the U.S.

According to the report, 77 credit cards levied the fee last year but this year only 61 do.

When you add up all the fees charged by the 100 credit cards, the report says the total number is 593, down from 613 a year ago.

"Many card issuers are eliminating foreign transaction fees in an effort to win business from high-spending international travelers," said Matt Schulz, CreditCards.com's senior industry analyst.

$3 for every $100 spent

The typical foreign transaction fee is 3%, adding $3 to every $100 charge. Schultz says getting rid of the fee is a smart way for credit card companies to become the go-to card in travelers' wallets.

The report also looked at the credit cards with the most and fewest potential fees. In the most category, First Premier Bank Credit Card and First Premier Bank Secured MasterCard top the list at 12 each.

Close behind are Club Carlson Business Rewards Visa and Credit One Visa Platinum with 11 each.

On the other hand, Pentagon Federal Credit Union Promise Visa Card has no fees and seven cards have only two. The report says the average credit card has six different fees, with the late fee and cash advance fee being the most common.

"The trend toward fewer credit card fees is a great thing for consumers," Schulz said. "It's such a crazy-competitive time in the credit card business and lower fees are just another way that Americans are reaping the benefits."

Prepaid card fees

Prepaid cards, while technically not credit cards, also carry a lot of fees. A new report by CardHub.com finds selecting the wrong card can cost consumers more than $300 a year.

Among the report's findings, prepaid cards offered by big national banks tend to be 82% less expensive to use than those issued by smaller banks. The report also found that nearly half of prepaid cards lack the necessary features to make them suitable for the average consumer.

“Perhaps surprisingly, prepaid cards charge far fewer fees than their first cousin, checking accounts,” the authors write.

The report found the best prepaid card to use as an alternative to a checking account is American Express Serve, followed by Bluebird and the Green Dot Gold Card.

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Job site now gives applicants a peek at the competition

CareerBuilder offers tool showing how you stack up

It's one thing to know about a job opening. It's quite another to know if you have real shot at it.Employment site CareerBuilder.com has made a tweak t...

PhotoIt's one thing to know about a job opening. It's quite another to know if you have real shot at it.

Employment site CareerBuilder.com has made a tweak to its job listings, giving job applicants insight into how they stack up against other applicants. From now on, applicants will be able to see the qualifications other applicants possess – experience, education, and accomplishments.

It's called the Job Competition Snapshot, and it's now available to all job seekers at no charge. It's designed to help applicants understand why they might not have gotten a response to their application.

“Our Job Competition Snapshot provides more transparency into the likelihood of being called by an employer based on how you stack up against other candidates,” said Matt Ferguson, CEO for CareerBuilder.

Should you apply or not?

Ferguson says the tool can help job seekers determine whether they should apply for a particular job, or instead focus their efforts on positions where they have a better chance. On the other hand, he says it may also make some applicants feel like they have a better chance because of how they will stand up to the competition.

The Snapshot protects the privacy of all applicants but aggregates information they provide. When you apply for a position, you will be able to see:

  • The number of candidates who have applied
  • The average years of experience of the applicants
  • The average level of education they have

If, after viewing that information, you decide you have a good chance, you will be able to access more in-depth insights from a hiring status report, called Hire Insider.

That report will tell you how many applications have been reviewed so far, the number of applicants who currently have jobs, the top college majors of applicants, the states where they live, and their current salaries.

Information stays current

“The information is automatically updated as other candidates apply, so job seekers can continually assess the competitive landscape in real time,” Ferguson said.

In its advice to job seekers, competing online employment site Monster.com says it is important to research the company before submitting an application for a position.

“Whether you know anything about the business will come through in your cover letter and interview, so do your homework and find out what you can,” it advises.

It's also important to have a well-written, compelling resume that is relevant to the position being offered. These days, having a strong online presence is important, with prospective employers searching for reasons for both hiring and passing on an applicant.

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Porsche takes top spot in J.D. Power APEAL study for 12th year

Driver-assist technology increasingly important on consumers' wish lists

Consumers are looking for driver-assist technologies like blind spot monitoring and low-speed collision avoidance, but power, speed, and sex appeal still p...

PhotoConsumers are looking for driver-assist technologies like blind spot monitoring and low-speed collision avoidance, but power, speed, and sex appeal still play a role as well, which may be why, for the 12th straight year, Porsche ranks No. 1 in the J.D. Power Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, released yesterday.

Porsche ranks highest overall with a score of 877 index points. BMW ranks second with 859, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz rank third in a tie at 852, and Land Rover, Lexus, and Lincoln rank fifth in a tie at 843. Volkswagen (809) ranks highest among non-premium brands, followed by MINI (808), Kia (807), Ford (803), Ram (803), and GMC (802).

Overall APEAL scores are higher among the 41% of owners whose vehicles have blind spot monitoring than among those whose vehicles do not have this technology (821 vs. 787, respectively). Similarly, APEAL scores are higher among the 30% of owners whose vehicles have collision avoidance technology than among those whose vehicles do not have this technology (828 vs. 790, respectively).

Comfortable and confident

“Technology-enabled safety features help drivers feel more comfortable and confident while driving their vehicles,” said Renee Stephens, vice president of U.S. automotive quality at J.D. Power. “These features are also ‘gateway technologies’ to autonomous driving capabilities, so the continued level of consumer interest in them will be a critical metric to watch as the industry evolves toward including more automation  in new vehicles.”

“The key to successful models is to launch with very high appeal and limit the decline that often comes in subsequent years,” said Stephens. “As automakers continue to add more content, including advanced technologies, to their vehicles, one key way to maintain appeal is to design technology that is easily upgradable and intuitive. Intuitive designs never go out of style."

About the study

The industry benchmark study, now in its 21st year, measures owners’ emotional attachment and level of excitement across 77 attributes, ranging from the power they feel when they step on the gas to the sense of comfort and luxury they feel when climbing into the driver’s seat.

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Meijer recalls fresh salad and sandwich products

The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

Meijer is recalling select fresh salad and sandwich products that may be contaminated with Salmonella. The company says no illnesses have been repo...

PhotoMeijer is recalling select fresh salad and sandwich products that may be contaminated with Salmonella.

 

The company says no illnesses have been reported

 

The following Markets of Meijer Salads and Sandwiches, sold in Meijer stores from July 20 – 25, 2016, are being recalled:

UPCUPC Description
0-41250-16058-8MEIJER MACARONI SALAD 1 LB.
0-41250-16060-1MEIJER MACARONI SALAD 3 LB.
0-41250-16074-8MEIJER POTATO SALAD AMISH 1 LB
0-41250-16076-2MEIJER POTATO SALAD AMISH 3 LB
2-17306-00000-3MARKETS OF MEIJER SALAD SEASHELL MACARONI
7-08820-52935-9MARKETS OF MEIJER SANDWICH TUNA SALAD WEDGE CK 7 OZ EA
7-08820-54345-4MARKETS OF MEIJER SANDWICH EGG SALAD 8 OZ EA
7-08820-62022-3MEIJER EGG SALAD SPREAD 12 OZ
7-08820-62033-9MEIJER CHICKEN SALAD SPREAD 12 OZ.
 

 

What to do

 

Customers should stop using the product and either dispose of it or return it to the customer service desk at any Meijer store for a full refund.

 

Consumers with questions may contact Meijer at (800) 543-3704.

 

 

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Ranch Foods Direct Recalls non-intact beef products

The products may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7

Ranch Foods Direct of Colorado Springs, Colo., is recalling approximately 2,606 pounds of non-intact beef products. The products may be contaminate...

PhotoRanch Foods Direct of Colorado Springs, Colo., is recalling approximately 2,606 pounds of non-intact beef products.

 

The products may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.

 

One illness possibly associated with consumption of the products has been reported.

 

The following items, produced on June 6, 7, and 8, 2016, are being recalled:

  • Packages containing “Callicrate Beef Ground Beef: Beef 4-1 Ground Beef Patties 15# case.”
  • Packages containing “Callicrate Beef Ground Beef: Beef 4-1 Ground Beef Patties 5# box.”
  • Packages containing “Callicrate Beef Ground Beef: Beef 3-1 Ground Beef Patties 5# box.”
  • Packages containing “Callicrate Beef Ground Beef: Beef 2-1 Ground Beef Patties 15# case.”
  • 1-lb. packages containing “Callicrate Beef Ground Beef: Beef Ground Beef 85% 1#.”
  • 1-lb. packages containing “Callicrate Beef Ground Beef: Beef Ground Beef 80% 1#.”
  • 1-lb. packages containing “Callicrate Beef Ground Beef: Beef Ground Beef Sirloin 90% 1#.”
  • Packages containing “Callicrate Beef Ground Beef: Beef Ground Beef 85/15 1# x 20 Bundle.”
  • Packages containing “Callicrate WAGYU Beef Ground Beef: WAGYU Ground Beef 1#.”
  • 1-lb. packages containing “Beef Stew Meat Tenderized.”
  • Packages containing “Ranch Foods Direct Ground Beef 85/15.”
  • Packages containing “Ranch Foods Direct Ground Beef 80/20.”
  • Packages containing “Ranch Foods Direct Ground Chuck.”
  • Packages containing “Ranch Foods Direct 80% Lean 20% Fat 3/1 Patties NET WT. 15#.”
  • Packages containing “Ranch Foods Direct 80% Lean 20% Fat 2/1 Patties 7 OZ NET WT. 15#.”
  • Packages containing “Ranch Foods Direct 80% Lean 20% Fat 3/1 Patties NET WT. 5.0#.”
  • Packages containing “Ranch Foods Direct 80% Lean 20% Fat 4/1 Patties NET WT. 15#.”
  • Packages containing “Ranch Foods Direct 80% Lean 20% Fat 2/1 Patties NET WT. 15#.”
  • Packages containing “Ranch Foods Direct 80% Lean 20% Fat 6/1 Patties NET WT. 15#.”
  • Packages containing “Ranch Foods Direct Ground Beef (73/27).”
  • Packages containing “Ranch Foods Direct Ground Tenderloin.”
  • Products identified as “Cowpool D 1/4.”
  • Products identified as “Cowpool A 1/8.”
  • Packages containing “Chef’s Bundle: 4-Skirt Steak, 6- NY Strips, 6-Top Sirloin, 3-Chuck Roast, 2-Cube Steak, 15-Ground Beef 80% Lean 20% Fat.”
  • Packages containing “Colorado Bundle: 4-Skirts Steaks, 4-Chuck Eye Steaks, 4-Top Sirloin, 2-Chuck Roast, 15-Ground Beef 80% Lean 20% Fat.”

The recalled products, bearing establishment number “EST. 27316” inside the USDA mark of inspection and “PACKED ON” dates of June 6, 7, and 8, 2016, were shipped to wholesale and retail locations in Colorado.

 

What to do

 

Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but throw them away or return them to the place of purchase.

 

Consumers with questions regarding the recall may contact Dave Anderson at (719) 574-0750 x 241.

 

 

 

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Robocall strike force seeks solution to pesky calls and texts

At FCC's urging, AT&T agrees to lead industry effort to block automated calls

Considering all of its blather about customer service, the telecommunications industry has been rather reluctant to do anything about robocalls, perhaps th...

PhotoConsidering all of its blather about customer service, the telecommunications industry has been rather reluctant to do anything about robocalls, perhaps the most hated of modern annoyances.

But after prodding from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), AT&T has agreed to lead an effort to limit the calls using technology that will use a "Do Not Originate" list identifying suspicious calls originated outside the United States.

AT&T had been arguing that it didn't have the legal authority to block robocalls, even though the FCC last year had clearly said the industry had its permission to do just that.

Last week, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler decided to try again, writing to AT&T and other major carriers urging them to "offer call-blocking services to their customers now -- at no cost."

Task force

A few days later, AT&T said in a blog post that AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson would head up an industry task force to "accelerate the development and adoption of new tools and solutions to abate the proliferation of robocalls and to make recommendations to the FCC on the role government can play in this battle."

In other words, don't look for anything to happen right away. Wheeler, however, took it as a sign that things may at last be starting to move.

“I applaud AT&T for committing to make robocall-blocking technology available to its customers, as I requested in a letter to the company last week," Wheeler said in a statement and said he hoped to see recommendations in 60 days.

"Since giving consumers meaningful control over the calls and texts they receive will require collective action by the industry, I am gratified that AT&T will lead an industry strike force to develop an action plan for providing consumers with robust robocall-blocking solutions. ... I strongly urge industry participants to join the effort and to produce conclusions within 60 days.”

Wheeler also wrote to "intermediary carriers," the companies that connect robocallers to the consumer's phone company, reminding them of their responsibility to help facilitate the offering of blocking technologies.

Last summer, the FCC made clear that there are no legal obstacles to carriers offering consumers robocall-blocking services, the agency noted, adding that some IP and mobile phone networks are already doing just that. 

"The Commission is committed to doing everything it can to further empower consumers to control unwanted calls and texts," the FCC said.

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Why homebuyers have to act quickly

Zillow reports inventory of available homes is down 38% from 2011

The couple had looked at five houses for sale and really liked one. But they told their real estate agent they would like to keep looking.“If there's a...

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The biggest threat facing retirees

It isn't having insufficient savings -- it's having too much debt.

Retirement is a huge adjustment in life, but surveys have shown that many Americans are entering that phase of life with a significant amount of debt.W...

PhotoRetirement is a huge adjustment in life, but surveys have shown that many Americans are entering that phase of life with a significant amount of debt.

While retirement planners usually focus on how much someone has saved for retirement, some aging experts worry more about how much debt retirees have accumulated

The Washington Post recently reported that consumers carrying mortgage debt into retirement amounts to a ticking time bomb, with the percentage of people carrying a mortgage into retirement rising from 22% in 2001 to 30% in 2011.

But data shows retirees are also burdened with other kinds of debt, in particular credit card debt. The National Council on Aging (NCOA) recently surveyed aging network professionals on their clients’ debt, with 72 professionals taking part in the survey.

Medical debt is the biggest worry

According to the survey, these professionals most frequently encounter clients struggling with unmanageable medical, credit card, mortgage, and utility debt or missed payments. More than half said medical debt was the biggest impediment to financial security.

“Household borrowing in the United States has increased exponentially in the past few decades, while real compensation has remained stagnant, the report's authors wrote. “Senior households have been far from immune to this alarming trend.”

Goverment statistics show that the share of senior households with any debt rose from 44.4% in 1989 to 61.3% in 2013.

Increasingly, senior households are carrying a lot more credit card debt than in the past. The NCOA report shows balances have risen since 1981. The median credit card balance in a household headed by someone age 60 or older hit $3,000 in 2007, at the start of the Great Recession.

Credit card debt

Credit card debt is now the second largest financial concern for seniors, right behind medical bills and just ahead of paying the utility bill.

According to New Retirement, people nearing retirement should make it a priority to pay off credit card debt before they stop working. It even suggests tapping into savings to pay off debt, the rationale being that the interest on the debt far outweighs anything the savings can earn.

Perhaps the fastest way to pay down credit card debt is to roll the high interest balance onto a card that offers a lengthy introductory period of 0% interest. We recently reviewed two cards – Citi Simplicity and Citi Diamond Preferred – that are good choices.

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Airline baggage fees must be refunded if bags are delayed, according to new law

Consumers will receive the refund if their baggage does not arrive within 12 hours of the intended arrival time

It’s not an uncommon story – your flight touches down at its final destination, but your baggage didn’t make it in time for the connecting flight. It’s a m...

PhotoIt’s not an uncommon story – your flight touches down at its final destination, but your baggage didn’t make it in time for the connecting flight. It’s a major source of frustration for frequent fliers, who pay good money to make sure their belongings arrive in a timely fashion.

In order to address this problem -- at least partially -- a new law has been passed this month that requires airlines to refund baggage fees if bags are delayed, according to an Atlanta Journal Constitution report. The law is intended to make getting a refund easier for consumers, who otherwise may need to jump through hoops for remuneration.

U.S. Senator John Thune remarked that “passengers won’t have to spend a ton of time tracking down a refund when the airline doesn’t deliver.”

Consumers should be especially happy about this law considering the amount of money they spend to check their bags. U.S. airlines made a combined $900 million off of baggage fees in the first quarter of 2016; American Airlines led the way with $262.5 million in baggage fees, with Delta in second place at $197.7 million.

The new regulation stipulates that airlines “promptly provide to a passenger an automated refund for any ancillary fees paid by the passenger for checked baggage” if it doesn’t arrive within 12 hours of its intended arrival time. International flights will have slightly more leeway with a 15-hour timeframe.

Passengers looking to take advantage of the new rule will only need to notify the airline of any lost or delayed baggage, a change from having to fill out online rebate forms that may only give a travel voucher. The U.S. Secretary of Transportation has been asked to officially issue the new regulation within a year.

The refund requirement is part of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2016.

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Smell test may reveal early Alzheimer's disease

Could be used to identify patients who need advanced testing

Researchers have stumbled across a simple, low-tech way to alert health care professionals that someone may be on the road to Alzheimer's disease.They ...

PhotoResearchers have stumbled across a simple, low-tech way to alert health care professionals that someone may be on the road to Alzheimer's disease.

They say a test in which the subject sniffs different odors and aromas, and tries to identify them, can provide clues to their cognitive ability. An inability in detecting and identifying these smells, they say, may predict a cognitive decline and an early stage of Alzheimer's.

Two studies, conducted at Columbia University Medical Center and New York-Presbyterian, utilized the University of Pennsylvania Smell Identification Test (UPSIT). The test utilizes a series of scratch-and-sniff tests, with a wide range of smells, including coffee and chocolate.

“Our research showed that odor identification impairment, and to a lesser degree, entorhinal cortical thickness, were predictors of the transition to dementia,” said Seonjoo Lee, presenting author.

Lee says the findings are sufficient enough to support odor identification as an early predictor of cognitive decline. Currently, physicians are only able to detect Alzheimer's in its later stages, after significant brain damage has occurred.

People who later develop Alzheimer's often complain early on that food doesn't taste as good. Scientists say that is because the sense of taste is heavily dependent on a sense of smell. The circuits connecting the ability to smell to the brain are often interrupted in the early stages of Alzheimer's.

Patients who do poorly on the smell test may be recommended for further testing, with sophisticated and expensive procedures that are normally not used as a matter of course. In other words, an inexpensive screening test like UPSIT may identify higher-risk patients in need of the advanced testing.

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Two studies raise new e-cigarette concerns

Researchers say emissions can be inconsistent and labels are often inaccurate

A study by researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has found that emissions from e-cigarettes are not consistent, affected ...

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Cats take the blame but windows the real villains in bird deaths

A continent full of suburban homes creates a lot of bird-window collisions

Cats are frequently vilified as ruthless mass murderers who prey on the bird population. While it's true that most cats harbor the desire for an occasional...

PhotoCats are frequently vilified as ruthless mass murderers who prey on the bird population. While it's true that most cats harbor the desire for an occasional free-range feast, a new study finds that millions of suburban homes across North America snuff out hundreds of millions of birds per year.

More specifically, it's the windows in those suburban homes, especially those that have backyard bird feeders and lots of foliage and trees for birds to roost in and rest on.

Some homeowners may protest that skyscrapers are the real threat, but a new study in The Condor: Ornithological Applications finds that because there are so many more homes than high-rise buildings, they're the cause of most fatal bird-window collisions, confirming an earlier landmark study conducted by Scott Loss of Oklahoma State University in 2014. 

"Although each typical residential dwelling only causes one or a few bird-window collisions per year, the enormous number of these buildings means we are killing far more birds in our collective backyards than are dying at large office buildings and skyscrapers," Loss found. 

Collision data

In the latest study, Justine Kummer of the University of Alberta worked with homeowners who collected and contributed more than 34,000 days' worth of collision data. They found that a bird feeder, the home's location (urban or rural), and the height of the yard's vegetation were the most important predictors of collisions.

Homeowners participating in the study agreed to walk the perimeters of their houses daily and report evidence of bird-window collisions.

"Conducting a citizen science project had a number of challenges," says Kummer. "Unlike some other projects, I didn't spend my time collecting data; I spent it trying to recruit homeowners and educate the public about the issue."

What to do

So what's a bird-loving homeowner to do?

You probably don't want to remove your bird feeder or cut down the trees and shrubs around your house. Instead, Kummer suggests simple solutions like applying highly visible tape or film to your windows. 

You might also want to take down that bird feeder.

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Subscription box service changing the way parents shop for kids

Rockets of Awesome caters to kids' clothing needs and style whims

There's a subscription box service for every need, it seems. From food and wine to beauty products and pet supplies, consumers can choose from a variety of...

PhotoThere's a subscription box service for every need, it seems. From food and wine to beauty products and pet supplies, consumers can choose from a variety of items to have shipped to their door each month.

Subscription box services like StitchFix and Warby Parker -- which offer shoppers the luxury of being able to try on a selection of clothing or eyewear right at home -- have been highly successful in recent years.

It’s clear to see that adult consumers would rather spend their time elsewhere rather than roaming the halls of a crowded shopping mall, and the same most definitely holds true for kids.

Now, a new subscription box service may take some of the fuss out of shopping with kids. 

Caters to kids' style

Rockets of Awesome is a kids clothing subscription service that promises a painless shopping experience. Instead of dressing rooms and shopping mall heel-dragging, kids can simply try on 11 items of clothing and one fun accessory right at home.

One box, filled with items ranging in price from $12 to $36, is sent to parents’ homes four times a year (one box per season). Any items of clothing that aren’t quite right can be sent back for free.

Increasing the probability that the items in the box will suit a kid’s style preferences can be accomplished in just a few keystrokes. An online questionairre has parents answer questions about their children’s style preferences, including likes and dislikes and favorite colors.

Comfortable and cool

After Rockets of Awesome gets a feel for a kid's style, needs, and preferences, a personal shopper selects items from the company's own apparel selection (all items are designed and produced by the company, which keeps costs low).

"All the clothes are super stylish," founder Rachel Blumenthal tells TechCrunch. "But they're also super comfy. The pants are lined with a t-shirt material to make them soft, and the sweatshirts are extra cozy and stretchy."

Comfort is key when it comes to kids clothing, she notes -- but clothing that is both comfortable and put-together looking is the sweet spot. Blumenthal believes Rockets of Awesome has perfected the happy, wearable medium. 

The site is now live and ready to accomodate back-to-school shopping needs. It offers boys and girls clothing in sizes 2 through 14.

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Why it pays to regularly check your credit score

Survey finds the more you check your score, the higher it is

You probably know why you should check your credit report once a year. Doing so alerts you to any negative information in it, including whether someone has...

PhotoYou probably know why you should check your credit report once a year. Doing so alerts you to any negative information in it, including whether someone has stolen your identity and opened credit in your name.

You are entitled to a free download of your credit reports from all three credit reporting agencies once a year. You can access them by going to www.annualcreditreport.com.

But it also turns out that checking your credit score on a regular basis can pay off – but for different reasons.

A survey by Discover found that checking your credit score regularly is associated with good credit behavior. In other words, checking your credit score tends to result in a higher credit score.

FICO Score

When people talk about a credit score, they usually refer to the FICO score maintained by Fair Isaac. That's the score most lenders use to judge a consumer's creditworthiness.

Accessing your FICO score usually carries a fee. However, a number of financial organizations and websites offer free credit scores that are based on the same financial information used to calculate the FICO score. It isn't your FICO credit score, but it's probably pretty close.

The Discover survey found that 73% of consumers who checked their credit score at least seven times in a year said that practice improved their credit behavior. They paid their bills on time, paid down debt, and maintained low credit card balances.

Of the consumers who checked their score just a single time in a year, only 44% felt like they were taking the right steps to improve their credit.

Checking leads to rising score

That result was borne out in the data. Those who checked their score on a regular basis actually saw their scores rise. The more a consumer checked his or her score, the more that score improved.

“Checking your credit score is one of the simplest things that anyone can do to get on the path to understanding their credit health,” said Julie Loeger, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Discover. “But checking is just the first step.”

Discover offers free access to consumers' FICO score, as well as a personalized scorecard to help stay on top of the factors influencing scores. Even non-Discover customers can check their score by going to www.Discover.com/creditscorecard.

Why is a credit score so important? If you plan to buy a car, purchase a home, or just apply for a credit card, you need a credit score that is as high as possible. But the survey found that many consumers don't have a good grasp on how a credit score impacts their lives.

Millennials in the survey suggested having a more personal connection to their credit, compared to other generational groups. Forty-six percent of millennials connect their credit standing with their self-worth, more than any other age demographic.

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Pending home sales up modestly in June

Supply and affordability held the market back

Falling supplies and higher prices put a lid on pending home sales in June.According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), it's Pending Home S...

PhotoFalling supplies and higher prices put a lid on pending home sales in June.

According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), it's Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI) barely budged, but did creep up 0.2% from May to 110.8. That puts the index 1.0% higher than it was a year ago and at its second highest reading over the past 12 months. Nonetheless, the PHSI is down considerably from this year's peak level of 115.0 in April.

"With only the Northeast region having an adequate supply of homes for sale, the reoccurring dilemma of strained supply causing a run-up in home prices continues to play out in several markets, leading to the last two months reflecting a slight, early summer cool-down after a very active spring," said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun.

"Unfortunately for prospective buyers trying to take advantage of exceptionally low mortgage rates, housing inventory at the end of last month was down almost 6% percent from a year ago, and home prices are showing little evidence of slowing to a healthier pace that more closely mirrors wage and income growth."

Yun said until inventory conditions markedly improve, far too many prospective buyers are likely to run into situations of either being priced out of the market or outbid on the very few properties available for sale.

Sales by region

  • In the Northeast, the PHSI rose 3.2% to 96.0, and is now 1.7% higher than it was a year go
  • The index inched up 0.8% in the Midwest to 108.9, and is up 1.6% from June 2015.
  • Pending home sales in the South slipped 0.6% to an index reading of 125.9 in June but show a year-over-year gain of 1.8%.
  • In the West, the index dropped 1.3% to 101.3, and is now 1.8% below a year ago.
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Mortgage applications drop for a second straight week

Contract interest rates continued their upward spiral

Mortgage applications plunged 11.2% in the week ending July 22, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey.It ...

PhotoMortgage applications plunged 11.2% in the week ending July 22, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey.

It was even worse for the Refinance Index, which was down 15% from the previous week, taking the refinance share of mortgage activity to 61.1% of total applications from 64.2% a week earlier.

The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity fell to 4.7% of total applications, the FHA share moved to 10.1% from 9.9%, the VA share was 11.9%, and the USDA share of total applications rose to 0.6% from 0.5% the week prior.

Contract interest rates

  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) rose four basis points -- from 3.65% to 3.69% -- with points unchanged at 0.36 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) inched up to 3.67% from 3.66%, with points unchanged at 0.32 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA moved to 3.56% from 3.53%, with points increasing to 0.35 from 0.30 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs was to 2.94% a gain of four basis points, with points increasing to 0.32 from 0.31 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs shot up from 2.86% to 2.96%, with points increasing to 0.30 from 0.29 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

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

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Improved small overlap rating earns Hyundai Elantra IIHS TOP SAFETY PICK+

The rating applies only to vehicles built after March

Across-the-board good ratings for crashworthiness -- including in the challenging small overlap test -- have earned the redesigned Hyundai Elantra the top ...

PhotoAcross-the-board good ratings for crashworthiness -- including in the challenging small overlap test -- have earned the redesigned Hyundai Elantra the top award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)

The redesigned 2017 Elantra also has an available front crash prevention system that earned a superior rating.

The small vehicle's good small overlap rating is an improvement over the previous generation, which rated acceptable. The earlier model's structure did not fare well in the test. Maximum intrusion into the occupant space was nine inches. In the new Elantra, it's only 2 inches.

The good rating applies only to 2017 Elantras built after March, when additional modifications were made. Those changes included strengthening the junction between the door sill and the hinge pillar and modifying the frontal airbag.

The Elantra's optional front crash prevention system avoided a collision in the Institute's 12 mph track test. In the 25 mph test, the car's impact speed was cut by an average of 22 mph. The system also includes a forward collision warning component that meets National Highway Traffic Safety Administration criteria.

To qualify for TOP SAFETY PICK+, a vehicle must earn good ratings in the small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraint tests. It also must have an available front crash prevention system that earns an advanced or superior rating.

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Consumer confidence shows little change in July

Cautious optimism is the watchword this election year

Not much movement during July in the way consumers see the economy.According to The Conference Board, its Consumer Confidence Index was relatively unch...

PhotoNot much movement during July in the way consumers see the economy.

According to The Conference Board, its Consumer Confidence Index was relatively unchanged this month after increasing in June. The Index now stands at 97.3, virtually the same as the 97.4 it registered the month before.

The Present Situation Index rose to 118.3, and the Expectations Index dipped to 83.3 from 84.6.

“Consumers were slightly more positive about current business and labor market conditions, suggesting the economy will continue to expand at a moderate pace,” said Conference Board Director of Economic Indicators Lynn Franco. “Expectations regarding business and labor market conditions, as well as personal income prospects, declined slightly as consumers remain cautiously optimistic about growth in the near-term.”

How they see it

Consumers’ assessment of present-day conditions improved slightly during the month, with those who see business conditions as “good” increasing from 26.8% to 28.1%. At the same time, though, those who said conditions are “bad” also rose, from 18.3% to 19.0%.

There wasn't much change in the way that consumers looked at the labor market. Those who think jobs are “plentiful” slipped from 23.2% to 23.0%, while those who believe they're hard “hard to get” also dropped -- from 23.7% to 22.3%.

The view of the short-term outlook was slightly less favorable in July. The percentage of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months fell from 16.6% to 15.9%; those who say business conditions will get worse rose to 12.3% from 11.2% in June.

Consumers’ outlook for the labor market was a touch more favorable than last month. The proportion expecting more jobs in the months ahead was virtually unchanged at 14.0%, while those anticipating fewer jobs fell 0.7% -- to 17.0%.

The percentage of consumers expecting their incomes to rise fell from 18.2% to 16.6%; however the proportion expecting to earn less also declined -- from 11.3% to 10.8%.

The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey is conducted for The Conference Board by Nielsen around what consumers buy and watch. The cutoff date for the preliminary results was July 14.

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House of Smoke recalls Wild Boar Brotwurst products

The products' nitrite levels exceed the regulatory limit

House of Smoke of Ft. Lupton, Colo., is recalling approximately 4,692 pounds of Wild Boar Brotwurst products. The products' nitrite levels exceed t...

PhotoHouse of Smoke of Ft. Lupton, Colo., is recalling approximately 4,692 pounds of Wild Boar Brotwurst products.

 

The products' nitrite levels exceed the regulatory limit.

 

There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

 

The recalled items, produced and packed from April 27, 2015, to July 12, 2016, have the following lot numbers: 517240, 515160, 517160, 518070, 514080, 511380, 518090, 517001, 513211, 512221, 614110, 616210, 614050, 618150, 616060, 613160, 617070, and 612170, and bear establishment number “EST. 6273” inside the USDA mark of inspection.

 

What to do

 

Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but throw them away or return them to the place of purchase.

 

Consumers with questions about the recall may contact James Barsness at (303) 857-2750.

 

 

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Unrepaired auto recalls a major threat, report warns

J.D. Power counts millions of unrepaired vehicles on U.S. highways

Not a week goes by, it seems, without a couple of auto recalls. According to government data analyzed by J.D. Power, 437 million vehicles were subject to a...

PhotoNot a week goes by, it seems, without a couple of auto recalls. According to government data analyzed by J.D. Power, 437 million vehicles were subject to a recall in the last 20 years, with a record 51 million recalled in 2015 alone.

That can create a safety problem if those issues aren't addressed, and the J.D. Power analysis suggests many are not. It says there are 45 million vehicles on the road that were subject to recall between 2013 and 2015 that still have not been repaired.

The report's authors say this creates major challenges for everyone – carmakers, dealers, and consumers.

"The steady surge in recalls, combined with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) stated goal of 100% recall completion rates have made the number of un-remedied recalls still on the road a critical statistic for automakers and dealers," said Renee Stephens, vice president of U.S. automotive at J.D. Power.

Stephens suggests the industry needs to better understand how to communicate with vehicle owners to improve recall completion rates.

Significant findings

A few facts stand out in the research. Unrepaired recall issues are more common in older cars. The recall repair rate in 2013 to 2017 models is 73%. For 2003 to 2007 models it's just 44%.

Work vans have the highest recall completion rate, at 86%. Full-size SUVs have the worst, at 33%.

The size of the recall also seems to make a difference. If the recall affected one million or more vehicles, the repair rate was only 49%. If fewer than 10,000 vehicles were in the recall, the completion rate is much higher – 67%.

Issues affecting the powertrain, electrical and braking systems get the most attention from owners. Alarmingly, recalls concerning airbags have only a 47% repair rate.

Airbags most ignored

In the last two years millions of vehicles have been recalled because the Takata airbags in them have a defect, causing them to spray metal shrapnel through the cabin when the airbags deploy. There have been at least 10 known fatalities caused by this issue, some of which occurred in vehicles that had been recalled but not repaired.

"By better understanding the specific factors driving recall compliance among vehicle owners, manufacturers and dealers can better tailor their communications and manage the recall process much more efficiently," said Stephens.

Stephens says improving recall compliance is a major need for the auto industry, saying it will ultimately help reduce the number of un-remedied vehicles still on the road.

Last year Carfax issued a similar report, noting that the number of unrepaired recalls surged 10-fold from 2013 to 2015.

Manufacturers generally notify owners of record by mail when a vehicle is recalled, Consumers should remain alert for letters from a carmaker and not automatically assume it is junk mail. It could well contain life-saving informtion.

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Survey: housing market still suffers from 2008 hangover

Economic worries now 'the new normal'

The housing market appears healthy. Despite tight inventories, sales keep rising and so do prices. The market appears to have come a long way since the dep...

PhotoThe housing market appears healthy. Despite tight inventories, sales keep rising and so do prices. The market appears to have come a long way since the depths of the 2008 financial crisis, when homes prices imploded.

But a new survey suggests the market is still suffering a hangover. The ValueInsured Modern Homebuyer Survey found there is still some nervousness influencing home buying decisions today, a condition it declares as “the new normal.” In particular, it affects Millennials.

When faced with a decision whether to buy or upgrade a home, 63% of consumers and 72% of Millennials say that the 2008 financial crisis has been a source or worry and affected their decision. From now on, the survey authors wrote, this is likely to be a consistent concern.

Here are some of the sources of concern:

  • Nearly 59% of consumers as a whole, and 68% of Millennials, say global economic events, such as the Brexit, worry them.
  • About 63% of Americans and 70% of Millennials say the U.S. economy is worrisome.
  • Nearly half of Americans and 61% of Millennials says concern about national security is causing them to think twice before buying a home.
  • More than half of Americans and 71% of Millennials say worries about job security, or the difficulty in getting a new one, could make them hesitate.

Roots of concerns

For those who may have forgotten, the housing boom sent home sales surging and prices skyrocketing in the early 2000s. To make it possible for more people to purchase a home, lenders didn't always ask a lot of questions.

Buyers with little or no credit were offered subprime loans that began with low “teaser” rates that adjusted to much higher rates later on. Because the interest rates on subprime loans were much higher than prime loans, subprime mortgages were “securitized” and sold on Wall Street.

When these loans began charging higher rates, many subprime borrowers were forced into foreclosure. That set off a collapse in the market for subprime mortgage securities, a crisis that nearly brought down the financial system.

All of that pulled the rug out from under home prices, and as prices fell, more people ended up in foreclosure. That, the survey concludes, is the cause of “the new normal” in housing.

Bright spots

That said, the survey did find a few bright spots. The housing recovery to date has been real. Beyond that, it found that confidence in the market, while not robust, is trending higher.

The ValueInsured Housing Confidence Index measure was 68.7 points in June, up 1.7 points from March.

 

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What millennials are doing to prepare for homeownership

Thoughtful preparation is keeping the dream of homeownership alive

Homeownership may be somewhat more elusive to millennials than members of previous generations. Delayed marriage and the crushing weight of debt has made t...

PhotoHomeownership may be somewhat more elusive to millennials than members of previous generations. Delayed marriage and the crushing weight of debt has made the dangling carrot of homeownership a bit more difficult to attain.

But millennials aren’t resigning themselves to a lifetime of renting. Rather, they’re chasing the dream of homeownership with intention and devotion -- and it’s paying off. Millennials are now the largest generation in the housing market.

According to new research from TD Bank, nearly two-thirds of the generation are being conservative with their cash in order to come up with the money for a down payment (which, for 74% of millennials, is still the biggest hurdle to owning a home).

In addition to cash savings, low-down payment mortgage programs and well laid-out priorities are opening doors for the 63% of millennials who plan to purchase their first home in the next two years. 

From dream to reality

Millennials are getting their financial ducks in a row in an effort to achieve the American dream of homeownership. Their top three priorities: saving for a down payment, paying off debt, and having a steady job.

Once these goals are accomplished, 65% say they will have a partner or spouse as a co-signer. Additionally, 33% say they would like to pay off their mortgages sooner rather than later. One-third (33%) are planning on paying off their loan over a 15-year period.

"It's encouraging to see millennials thoughtfully prepare to enter the housing market," Scott Haymore, Head of Pricing and Secondary Markets at TD Bank, said in a statement. “With today's affordability programs, owning a home doesn't have to be a dream, it can be a reality."

But while the dream of homeownership may be crystallizing, the reality of what happens once you’re a homeowner may not be as clear to millennials.

Saving for repairs

Repairs and unexpected costs crop up regularly for homeowners, but many millennials aren’t budgeting for these expenses. Haymore says this could be why many millennials have difficulty coming up with a realistic monthly mortgage payment.

"The costs of running a household can be a shock to new home owners," Haymore said. "Monthly expenses for utilities, homeowner's association fees, cable and internet, can add up quickly.”

Nearly half of millennials racked up close to $5,000 in unexpected costs during the mortgage process, according to TD’s survey. But careful budgeting can help mitigate the risk of facing savings-annihilating expenses.

Haymore recommends factoring in the cost of utilities, HOA fees and other expenses at the very beginning of the mortgage process. Doing so can give borrowers a clearer picture of their overall budget and help them determine a realistic monthly mortgage payment.

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JetBlue orders new airplanes, looks at trans-Atlantic routes

The discount carrier also plans to expand its transcontinental Mint service

Is JetBlue gearing up to enter the trans-Atlantic market? That's the speculation today, after the discount carrier ordered 30 additional Airbus A321 aircra...

PhotoIs JetBlue gearing up to enter the trans-Atlantic market? That's the speculation today, after the discount carrier ordered 30 additional Airbus A321 aircraft that can be configured with its premium Mint service, now being used on transcontinental flights.

The additional aircraft can also be configured with an extended-range option that would enable them to fly from the East Coast to Europe. Trans-Atlantic routes are already under increasing competitive pressure from Norwegian Air Shuttle, Canada's WestJet Airlines, and Iceland’s WOW Air.

JetBlue was stung last year when it lost the bidding for Virgin Airlines to Alaska Airlines. Virgin flies mostly cross-country routes in the U.S. and has acquired a reputation for upscale service but New York-based JetBlue has its eye on that market as well and has used Mint to skim off high-margin first-class fares from traditional carriers.

Premium travel

“Mint has surpassed our expectations on every customer and financial measure,” said Robin Hayes, president and CEO, JetBlue. “Mint won over customers in a big way and has transformed the performance of our transcontinental franchise. We have only scratched the surface on what Mint can do to disrupt the valuable coast-to-coast market.”

With lie-flat seats, upgraded meals and other amenities, JetBlue says Mint has "made premium travel more accessible and opened a new market untapped by other carriers."

In a news release, JetBlue makes clear it intends to expand Mint service beyond the NY-LA/SF routes.

"Transcontinental markets outside of New York and Los Angeles are prime for similar disruption. For example, only five percent of transcontinental flights over 1,800 miles consistently offer regularly scheduled lie-flat seats.

 

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New clothing contains technology that protects wearers from bugs

Nobitech's athletic wear may ease bug-related worries

With Zika concerns, the act of stepping outside may not be as carefree as it once was. Whether you’re walking the dog or enjoying time on the patio, stayin...

PhotoWith Zika concerns, the act of stepping outside may not be as carefree as it once was. Whether you’re walking the dog or enjoying time on the patio, staying off mosquitoes’ radar is important.

Bug repellent may do its best to thwart harmful insects, but its pungent aroma is often hard to bear. For those who find strong sprays offputting, there’s a new bug-deterring game in town.

Nobitech has created a first-of-its-kind line of athletic apparel that uses Skintex technology to ward off mosquitos, ticks, fleas, chiggers, ants, and flies.

Sporting a tee shirt, jacket or pair of pants by the company can help prevent an afternoon outdoors from resulting in bug bites -- or worse, a potentially dangerous disease such as west nile, zika, or lyme disease.

Slow release repellent 

The insect-repelling duds are made from fabric that uses Skintex MRIII technology -- an EPA-approved apparel treatment designed to protect wearers from mosquitoes via microencapsulation technology.

Inside the capsules is a slow release synthetic repellent that is non-toxic to humans but quite the opposite to bugs.

Nobitech says its line of defense against crawling and flying insects is as comfortable as it is effective. In addition to keeping insect-borne diseases and bothersome bites at bay, the clothing may offer an alternative to the hassle of reapplying bug spray.

The clothing, which hit the market July 2016, ranges in price from $25 to $65. It retains its bug repelling properties for 25 washings. 

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The pace of home price increases slows in May

Portland, Seattle and Denver led the way

Home prices rose in May, but not at the clip we saw the month before. The S&P; CoreLogic Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price NSA Index, which cov...

PhotoHome prices rose in May, but not at the clip we saw the month before.

 

The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price NSA Index, which covers all nine U.S. census divisions, was up 5.0% in May from the same month a year earlier. Within that measure, the 10-City Composite rose 4.4%% increase, down 0.3% from the gain posted the previous month, and the 20-City Composite reported a year-over-year gain of 5.2%, down from 5.4% in April.

 

The highest year-over-year gains among the 20 cities over each of the last four months were recorded in Portland, Seattle and Denver. In May, Portland led the way with a 12.5% year-over-year price increase, followed by Seattle at 10.7%, and Denver with a 9.5% increase. Eight cities reported greater price increases in the year ending May 2016 versus the year ending April 2016.

 

“Home prices continue to appreciate across the country,” said David M. Blitzer, managing director and chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “Overall, housing is doing quite well. In addition to strong prices, sales of existing homes reached the highest monthly level since

2007 as construction of new homes showed continuing gains.

Month-over-month

 

The National Index posted a month-over-month gain of 0.2% in May, with the 10-City Composite down 0.8%, and the 20-City Composite posting a 0.1% decline in May. Twelve cities saw prices rise, two cities were unchanged, and six cities saw prices fall.

 

Regional patterns seen in home prices are shifting. Blitzer notes that over the last year, the Pacific Northwest has been quite strong while prices in the previously strong spots of San Diego, San Francisco and Los Angeles saw more modest increases.

 

“The two hottest areas during the housing boom were Florida and the Southwest,” he said, adding that Miami and Tampa have recovered in the last few months while Las Vegas and Phoenix remain weak. “When home prices began to recover,” Blitzer added, “New York and Washington saw steady price growth; now both are among the weakest areas in the country.”

 

 

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Why the future of car-sharing may be limited

Researchers say tax policies will discourage the concept

Zipcar's D.C. locationsCar-sharing was supposed to be one of those disruptive trends that turned the auto industry upside down, while ushering in oth...

Photo
Zipcar's D.C. locations

Car-sharing was supposed to be one of those disruptive trends that turned the auto industry upside down, while ushering in other, more positive societal changes. However, new research from DePaul University sees trouble on the horizon for the concept.

Researchers say the taxes imposed on rental car transactions may force ride-sharing into the slow lane. They point to steep rental car taxes that were originally aimed at out-of-town tourists and business travelers as stopping some local drivers from sharing a vehicle.

Their study documents the taxes and their effects across the U.S. In nearly every municipality, individual consumers who want to share a car are faced with steep taxes.

Unintended consequences

“The tax burden facing people who car share is a case of unintended consequences," said Joseph Schwieterman, lead researcher and director of the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University. “No one expected that these taxes, which were added years ago to car rentals, would suddenly apply to thousands of people who merely want to use a car for a quick neighborhood trip."

When municipalities impose taxes on rental cars, they do so with the understanding their constituents won't pay them. It's almost always paid by out of towners, or business executives with expense accounts. It's similar to placing a tax on hotel rooms. The local governments get money without taxing the local citizens.

The study also found the average tax rates on car rentals rose from 15.6% in 2011 to 17% in 2016, making the burden higher than those on hotel rooms and airline tickets. Ironically, ride sharing services like Lyft and Uber aren't taxed as rental cars and thus face a much lower retail tax.

Each use is taxed

The tax is especially onerous for car sharing because it is imposed every time one of the individual consumers uses the car. The DuPaul researchers calculate that rental car taxation policies can add several dollars to even a short trip. This, they say, is bound to slow the growth of a trend that many believed would bring significant benefits to communities.

The study concludes the way around this unintended roadblock is for municipalities to address their rental car taxes, to create a more level playing field for car-sharing. As an example, they suggest a dramatic reduction in the tax on using a shared vehicles fewer than eight hours.

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New home sales rebound in June

Home prices were higher as well

Following a slump in May, sales of new single-family houses shot higher in June. Figures released by the Commerce Department show sales came in at ...

PhotoFollowing a slump in May, sales of new single-family houses shot higher in June.

 

Figures released by the Commerce Department show sales came in at an annual rate of 592,000 last month, 3.5% above the revised May rate of 572,000. It's also 25.4% higher than the same month a year earlier.

Prices and inventory

 

The median sales price of a new house sold in June 2016 was $306,700 -- up $17,900 from May and $17,500 from the year before. The median is the point at which half the houses sold for more and half for less.

 

The average sales price was $358,200, a month-over-month gain of $6,800 and $28,900 above June 2015.

 

The seasonally adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of June was 244,000, representing a 4.9-months supply at the current sales rate.

 

The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

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Volkswagen recalls CC, Golf R, Tiguan and e-Golf vehicles

The rear child door locks may disengage, allowing a child to open a rear door

Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 5,658 2016 CC vehicles manufactured January 12, 2016, to February 3, 2016; Golf R and Tiguan vehicles manufactured...

PhotoVolkswagen Group of America is recalling 5,658 2016 CC vehicles manufactured January 12, 2016, to February 3, 2016; Golf R and Tiguan vehicles manufactured November 25, 2015, to January 28, 2016; and e-Golf vehicles manufactured November 25, 2015, to January 11, 2016.

 

Vibrations, such as those created by opening and closing a vehicle door, may cause the rear child door locks to disengage, allowing a child to open a rear door while inside the vehicle.

 

An unrestrained child who unexpectedly opens a door may fall from the vehicle increasing the risk of injury.

 

What to do

 

Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will inspect, and if necessary, replace the child lock(s), free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

 

Owners may contact Volkswagen customer service at 1-800-893-5298. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 58C9.

 

 

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Tomorrow is here -- 7-Eleven delivers donuts by drone to Reno customer

Coffee and a Slurpee were also included in the first-ever fast-food drone delivery

"Firsts" aren't usually very significant aside from being, well, first. Alexander Graham Bell merely asked Watson to come and give him a hand. Orville and ...

Photo"Firsts" aren't usually very significant aside from being, well, first. Alexander Graham Bell merely asked Watson to come and give him a hand. Orville and Wilbur didn't get very far. The first email, sent by Ray Tomlinson to himself in 1971, was just random letters.

So perhaps it's fitting that the first retail delivery by drone to a customer's home consisted of coffee, donuts, a chicken sandwich, candy, and a Slurpee. Yep, that's right -- 7-Eleven got the jump on Amazon, Google, and other high-tech giants to become the first to deliver an order to a customer.

While it may sound like a small thing, or even a publicity stunt, it actually amounted to a lot more than a quick trip to the corner store. 

“This delivery required special flight planning, risk analysis, and detailed flight procedures ensuring residential safety and privacy were equally integrated,” said Chris Walach, Director of Operations for the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems (NIAS), which worked with Flirtey, the technology and packaging provider that developed key elements of the system.

Flying chicken

Nor was it a small thing to a Reno resident identified only as Michael, who received the shipment. 

“My wife and I both work and have three small children ages 7, 6 and 1. The convenience of having access to instant, 24/7 drone delivery is priceless,” said Michael in a prepared statement. “It’s amazing that a flying robot just delivered us food and drinks in a matter of minutes.”

In fact, said Flirtey CEO Mat Sweeny, the whole affair was nothing less than a giant leap forward.

"Flirtey’s historic drone deliveries to date have been stepping stones to store-to-home drone delivery, and today is a giant leap toward a not-too-distant future where we are delivering you convenience on demand,” Sweeny said.

Even Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval got in on the action.

“I congratulate Nevada-based company Flirtey on making history yet again – this time by collaborating with the world’s largest convenience retailer to complete the first store-to-home drone delivery in Reno, Nevada," said Sandoval.

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Businesses warned about Pokemon Go security risk

Security expert calls it a 'nightmare' for corporate networks

Sometimes it can be risky mixing business and pleasure. The International Association of Information Technology Asset Managers (IAITAM) is warning business...

PhotoSometimes it can be risky mixing business and pleasure. The International Association of Information Technology Asset Managers (IAITAM) is warning businesses such a risk could occur if employees download the insanely popular Pokemon Go app on company-owned devices.

The association has recommended corporations prohibit the installation and use of Pokemon Go on any devices used for business purposes. The group says that includes "bring your own device" (BYOD) phones/tablets with direct access to sensitive corporate information and accounts.

AITAM CEO Dr. Barbara Rembiesa goes so far as to call the new augmented reality game a “nightmare” for firms trying to keep their email and cloud-based information secure.

“Even with the enormous popularity of this gaming app, there are just too many questions and too many risks involved for responsible corporations to allow the game to be used on corporate-owned or BYOD devices,” Rembiesa said. “We already have real security concerns and expect them to become much more severe in the coming weeks.”

She said to be safe, organizations must keep the app off any device the connects to the organization's network. Here are her concerns:

Data breaches

Rembiesa says the original user agreements for the game allowed Niantic to access each user's entire Google profile, including his or her history, past searches, and anything else associated with a Google Login ID.

That is no longer the case in current versions, but Rembiesa says this meets the definition of a data breach for corporate-owned devices. It's also not clear to what extent data breaches took place before the change and what happened to the accessed information.

Risky knockoffs

Rembiesa says she has seen reports that some versions of the app that are on non-official download sites may include malware. The illicit software may allow cyber-criminals to take control of an infected phone or tablet.

Rembiesa worries that unsophisticated users might not be aware of the risks inherent in downloading from any third party provider, especially if the device is used on a corporate network. She says Proofpoint, an online security provider, has already reported knockoff Android copies of Pokémon Go in the wild containing a remote controlled tool (RAT) called DroidJack.

Encouraging bad behavior

Making an exception and allowing the use of a game app on a corporate-owned device sets a bad precedent, Rembiesa argues. She says employees need to understand the importance of sticking with approved software.

Despite its popularity, she says Pokemon Go must be considered a "rogue download," which is “any software program downloaded onto a device that circumvents the typical purchasing and installation channels of the organization.”

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Verizon acquiring Yahoo business assets for $4.8 billion

Yahoo content will be added to AOL's

In the late 1990s, when few internet users had even heard of Google, Yahoo was the search engine of choice. Since then it has positioned itself more as a c...

PhotoIn the late 1990s, when few internet users had even heard of Google, Yahoo was the search engine of choice. Since then it has positioned itself more as a content provider and struggled to remain relevant.

Its long expected acquisition by another company is finally taking place, as Verizon announced over the weekend it will purchase Yahoo's operating business for $4.83 billion. The purchase will give Verizon access to more than one billion users for its mobile platform.

For Yahoo, it's the end of a long search for a suitor. For Verizon, it's part of a strategy to combine the company's mobile platform with a steady stream of content.

Linking Yahoo and AOL

“Just over a year ago we acquired AOL to enhance our strategy of providing a cross-screen connection for consumers, creators and advertisers,”said Verizon Chairman and CEO Lowell McAdam. “The acquisition of Yahoo will put Verizon in a highly competitive position as a top global mobile media company, and help accelerate our revenue stream in digital advertising.”

Verizon said Yahoo will be integrated with AOL and both units will operate under a Verizon executive. Yahoo's core Asian assets – primarily its huge stake in Chinese online retailer Alibaba – are not included in the sale. Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer said the decoupling will create value for Yahoo shareholders.

“This transaction also sets up a great opportunity for Yahoo to build further distribution and accelerate our work in mobile, video, native advertising and social,” Meyer said.

Verizon says the addition of Yahoo to AOL creates a powerful combination of content and distribution. Combined, the company will have more than 25 brands under one corporate roof. Yahoo will add information content in finance, news, and sports, as well as an email platform with 225 million active users.

Verizon said it expects the deal to close in early 2017, pending approval by regulatory agencies and Yahoo's board of directors.

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Private airport security program promises to cut airport clutter

For $179 a year, a biometric scan takes you directly to the security checkpoint

An expedited security program called Clear promises to cut waiting times at some airports and sports stadiums, assuming you're willing to spend $179 annual...

PhotoAn expedited security program called Clear promises to cut waiting times at some airports and sports stadiums, assuming you're willing to spend $179 annually. 

Clear has been around since 2010 but has lately been adding major airports to its list of venues and says it will be at 14 by the end of July. It is rolling out in the Washington, D.C., area at Dulles and National and also at Seattle-Tacoma this week. 

The company's website is long on superlatives but a bit short on nitty-gritty details, but it basically eliminates the long lines travelers face before they even get to security. You know, the line that leads up to the point where someone looks at your ID and boarding pass and directs you to the line that leads to the security checkpoint.

"Seamless experience"

Clear's promotional material describes the process as using a "biometric secure identity platform that strengthens security and redefines the consumer experience. ... This platform uses biometric information and data analytics to identify individuals, allowing a seamless experience anywhere secure transactions are required."

In other words, it uses an iris and fingerprint scan to verify your identity. You show your boarding pass -- no ID required -- and go directly to the security checkpoint.

"What Clear has done is not different from what ATMs have done or what E-ZPass has done," Clear CEO Caryn Seidman-Becker said in a recent CBS News story

Critics say the company is making money off the need for security and adding another layer of elitism to travel. Frequent business travelers, however, say it's a godsend when meetings run long or plans change at the last minute.

Most frequent travelers probably have already enrolled in TSA PreCheck, which costs $85 for five years. To get the full benefit of Clear, you'll want to hang onto PreCheck as well to avoid reverting to the tiresome shoes-off, laptops-out routine.  

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Lack of sleep in childhood could take a toll on emotions in adulthood

Sleep shortage could increase risk of depression and anxiety later in life, study finds

Adequate amounts of slumber can keep kids feeling chipper throughout the day and aid in the healthy development of their minds and bodies. Good sleep habit...

PhotoAdequate amounts of slumber can keep kids feeling chipper throughout the day and aid in the healthy development of their minds and bodies. Good sleep habits may even fight against emotional problems in adulthood, researchers say.

Kids who regularly miss out on a good night’s sleep may be more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, or other types or emotional disorders as adults, a new study from the University of Houston suggests.

Lead author Candice Alfano, a clinical psychologist and associate professor of psychology at the University of Houston, calls healthy sleep “critical for children’s psychological well-being” and says continued inadequate sleep during childhood may have repercussions later in life.

More negative emotions

To study the effects of sleep deprivation on children's emotional state, Alfano and her team temporarily restricted sleep in 50 children.

Kids who didn’t clock the requisite forty winks experienced more negative emotions. What’s more, sleep deprived kids found less enjoyment in things that would normally be considered positive.

Childhood, researchers say, is the golden window of time when sleep and emotion regulatory systems are developing. It's a critical window of opportunity for sleep interventions, says Alfano.

"Parents, therefore, need to think about sleep as an essential component of overall health in the same way they do nutrition, dental hygiene and physical activity," Albano told the Daily Mail, adding that parents should watch for signs of inadequate sleep, which may include trouble waking up in the morning or sleepiness during the day.

How much sleep?

Exactly how much sleep should your child be getting? As we've reported, it depends on his or her age.

New sleep guidelines backed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggest that kids should be getting the following amount of sleep in each age bracket:

  • Infants 4 to 12 months: 12 to 16 hours of sleep every 24 hours (including naps).
  • Children 1 to 2 years: 11 to 14 hours of sleep every 24 hours (including naps).
  • Children 3 to 5 years: 10 to 13 hours of sleep every 24 hours (including naps).
  • Children 6 to 12 years:  9 to 12 hours of sleep every 24 hours.
  • Teens 13 to 18 years: 8 to 10 hours of sleep every 24 hours.
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Why even new cars might not be trouble-free on the road

AAA reports roadside service calls surged in 2015

Cars and trucks are getting better. Automakers have invested mightily in improving vehicle quality, so that most new cars on the road today are very reliab...

Cars and trucks are getting better. Automakers have invested mightily in improving vehicle quality, so that most new cars on the road today are very reliable. With minimal maintenance, they are practically trouble-free.

So it might come as a surprise that AAA reports it answered a record 32 million roadside assistance calls last year.

A closer examination of the data, however, reveals the distress calls were not always related to vehicle performance. Instead, AAA says it addressed more battery, tire, and key-related issues than ever before.

More problems with newer cars

Oddly, cars and trucks fewer than five years old seemed to have a higher proportion of tire and key-related issues than older vehicles. The takeaway, says AAA, is that the recent trend of eliminating the spare tire and moving to electronic keyless ignitions may have unintended consequences.

“Vehicles today are advanced more than ever, yet are still vulnerable to breakdowns,” said Cliff Ruud, AAA’s managing director of Automotive Solutions.

He said the new tires, with sleek, low profiles, are highly vulnerable to damage. The problem with electronic keyless ignitions, he says, is they can drain battery life.

Out of gas

Even with warning lights and alarms, he says a half million motorists ran out of gas last year.

AAA cautions that owners of newer cars may be vulnerable in the event of a flat tire. To reduce weight, automakers have begun to eliminate spare tires and replace them with tire inflator kits. But Ruud says these kits won't fix all flats.

PhotoAAA says it has also documented cases where keyless ignition systems have drained batteries or resulted in the driver locking himself out of the vehicle while the engine is running.

When AAA is summoned to assist the driver of an older car, many times it's the case of a dead battery. Often times the motorist has never replaced the battery, driving it beyond its normal three-to-five-year lifespan.

So despite all the high-tech improvements in cars in recent years, AAA recommends drivers check to make sure they have a spare tire, take extra care of smart keys and key fobs, and keep up with the age of the car's battery. After three years, the battery should get regular testing and be replaced if it is still being used long after its lifespan.

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Southwest Airlines hoping for a better week

Airline said things are returning to normal after its computer glitch

After computer outages caused cascading problems, cancelling hundreds of flights late last week, Southwest Airlines reports things got back to normal over...

PhotoAfter computer outages caused cascading problems, cancelling hundreds of flights late last week, Southwest Airlines reports things got back to normal over the weekend -- at least, close to normal.

In a notice to consumers posted on social media Saturday, the airline noted that “things are getting better and our cautious optimism is starting to become tangible as the operation stabilizes.”

The computer glitch which occurred last Wednesday resulted in a backlog of flights that stranded Southwest passengers all over the country. It took a while for the schedule to get back to normal because flight crews had to be rearranged and rested, according to federal safety regulations. By Sunday, Southwest was still cancelling flights, but not as many.

Keith, of Littleton, Colo., posted a review on ConsumerAffairs, saying he understands that computer problems can happen. But he said he was disappointed that Southwest couldn't get his wife back home after her flight was cancelled.

Stranded passengers had few options

“When she reached the head of the line at SAN, the SWA agent told her her only options were to fly standby until a seat became available,” Keith wrote. “All SWA flights back to Denver are sold out through tomorrow, so her chances are slim and none to get home. Asked what her options were, the agent said SWA would refund her ticket.”

In a sign that the computer issues were fading as a problem, the airline said the biggest concern over the weekend was weather, and how it might affect schedules.

Southwest once again apologized to customers and thanked employees for their extra work. The company said it was impressed with how customers and employees were able to cooperate to resolve issues.

“The last four days have tested patience and heightened emotions,” the airline said. “Through it all, we have seen remarkable examples of people banding together to help each other. Our customers need to be commended for keeping as positive an attitude as could be expected during such an unprecedented event at Southwest Airlines.”

The problem

The computer crash meant passengers weren't able to check in for flights and gate agents had to manually issue boarding passes. That process delayed departures and caused flights to be cancelled.

On Wednesday alone, nearly 700 flights were cancelled and many more were delayed. Southwest personnel utilized back-up procedures to get passengers and checked luggage on board their flights.

“Make no mistake, Southwest created this problem,” the airline said in a statement. “We own that, and there is no victory lap to be had for a situation that has bred disappointment and shaken the trust customers have in Southwest Airlines.”

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Teen summer employment roars back

Hiring in June was the strongest in three years

Teens looking for work in June found it.Outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which tracks employment, reports employment among 16- to...

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Kapowsin Meats recalls whole hogs for barbeque

The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

Kapowsin Meats of Graham, Wash, is recalling approximately 11,658 pounds of varying weights of boxed/bagged whole hogs for barbeque The product may...

PhotoKapowsin Meats of Graham, Wash, is recalling approximately 11,658 pounds of varying weights of boxed/bagged whole hogs for barbeque

 

The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

 

Three Salmonella I 4,[5],12:i:- case-patients have been identified with illness onset dates ranging from July 5 – 7, 2016.

 

The whole roaster hogs, produced between June 13, 2016, and July 15, 2016, bear establishment number “EST. 1628M” inside the USDA mark of inspection. They were shipped to various individuals, retail locations, institutions and distributors in Washington.

 

What to do

 

Customers who purchased these products should not consume them, but throw them away or return them to the place of purchase.

 

Consumers with questions regarding the recall may contact John Anderson at (253) 847-1777.

 

 

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General Motors recalls vehicles with defective electronic park lock levers

The electronic park lock lever may allow the ignition key to be removed without the transmission being in PARK

General Motors is recalling model year 2016-2017 Buick Veranos and 2016 Chevrolet Malibus whose electronic park lock lever may allow the ignition key to be...

PhotoGeneral Motors is recalling model year 2016-2017 Buick Veranos and 2016 Chevrolet Malibus whose electronic park lock lever may allow the ignition key to be removed without the transmission being in PARK.

 

Additionally, 2013 Buick Encores, 2011 Buick Regals, 2013-2014 Buick Veranos, 2011-2016 Chevrolet Cruzes, 2010-2013 Chevrolet Equinoxs 2013-2015 Chevrolet Malibus, and 2011-2013 GMC Terrain vehicles may have been serviced with similar defective replacement electronic park lock levers. As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 114, "Theft Protection and Rollaway Prevention."

 

If the key is removed without the transmission in PARK, the vehicle may roll away as occupants are exiting, increasing the risk of injury.

 

What to do

 

GM will notify owners, and dealers will inspect and if necessary replace the key cylinder lock housing, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

 

Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020, Buiick 1-800-521-7300, and GMC 1-800-462-8782. GM's numbers for this recall are 50490 and 50491.

 

 

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Your priest is in prison in the Philippines? Don't send money just yet

The latest variation of the Grandmother Scam targets religious congregants

Not too long ago, the "Grandmother Scam" was all the rage. Seniors would get an email or a telephone call, supposedl...

Photo
Photo © Photographee.eu - Fotolia

Not too long ago, the "Grandmother Scam" was all the rage. Seniors would get an email or a telephone call, supposedly from a grandchild, stating that the grandchild was in jail in a foreign country on a trumped-up charge and needed a few thousand dollars to buy his or her freedom.

Old scams, of course, never die. They just change their skin slightly, and the latest version of this one involves the clergy. We had heard about this latest version but had not seen it in the wild until a few days ago when this popped up in the inbox, complete with a very explicit warning from Google:

Photo"Those poor saps. Haven't they heard that everybody knows about this scam already?" I remarked to a co-worker.

But there's always someone who didn't get the word. Sure enough. Today we checked with the Msgr. Jim whose email had been hijacked and he reported ruefully that one of his parishoners had called him a few days ago, wanting to know if he had escaped from his Filipino captors.

The parishoner had fallen for the appeal and, wanting to help his favorite priest, had responded to the email and, assured by the scammer that it was for real, had wired several thousand dollars as instructed.

The money, of course, is gone and cannot be recovered. 

Tip-offs to watch for

Photo
The return address is at Hotmail. The original was from AOL.

While the parishoner's generosity and willingness to help are commendable, there were several tip-offs that the email was perhaps not what it seemed:

  • Most obviously, Msgr. Jim had not said in any of his recent homilies that he was preparing to fly halfway around the world. This is something most people would mention, at least in passing. 
  • A Roman Catholic priest is never far from a colleague. Msgr. Jim could have called or emailed the nearest RC church for help.
  • Equally likely, Msgr. Jim could and probably would have called or emailed the office at his large East Coast parish for help.
  • The email opens with a generic "Good morning" greeting. Normally, when asking someone for a loan, you'd address them by name.
  • Most telling of all, the email came from an AOL.com address but hit the return button and the return address is at Hotmail.com. Does Msgr. Jim have nearly identical email addresses at different carriers? Not likely.  
  • And finally, for anyone using Gmail, the big red warning is pretty conspicuous. Anyone who doesn't use Gmail probably should as it has the tightest security and best spam filters available in a free account. 

Generosity and a willingness to help are admirable traits, but it's wise to be a little cautious. It was Ronald Reagan who frequently quoted the Russian proverb, "Trust but verify." Good advice for anyone in any sphere.

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Study finds that giving up on smoking doesn't necessarily lead to drinking more

The findings go against commonly-held beliefs about smokers trying to quit

There is a commonly held belief which states that giving up one vice leads to indulging more in the others. For example, one might believe that someone who...

PhotoThere is a commonly held belief which states that giving up one vice leads to indulging more in the others. For example, one might believe that someone who is trying to quit smoking is likely to drink more to compensate. However, new research shows that this may not necessarily be the case.

In fact, a new study conducted at University College London shows that the exact opposite may be true. When analyzing the drinking habits of participants who were trying to quit smoking, the researchers actually reported lower levels of alcohol consumption.

“These results go against the commonly held view that people who stop smoking tend to drink more to compensate. It’s possible that they are heeding advice to try to avoid alcohol because of its link to relapse,” said lead author Jamie Brown.

Light drinkers

The study utilized nearly 6,300 participants who had reported smoking between March 2014 and September 2015 in the UK. Of those participants, 144 additionally reported that they had begun an attempt to quit smoking in the week leading up to the survey.

Participants completed a questionnaire called the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test, which was then cross-checked by researchers across all adults in England. The drinking habits of participants were scored as either “light” or “heavy” based on the answers they gave.

The researchers found that participants who were attempting to quit smoking were more likely to be classified as “light drinkers” compared to other participants who were not attempting to quit. While the findings will need to be confirmed by future research, it does provide some evidence that those looking to quit smoking may not necessarily face increased risk of alcohol abuse.

The full study has been published in the journal BMC Public Health

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Women with ADHD more likely to have physical and mental problems, study finds

The high rates may be attributable to financial stress

Having attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can come with many inherent obstacles. The inability to focus on tasks, impulsivity, and restlessnes...

PhotoHaving attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can come with many inherent obstacles. The inability to focus on tasks, impulsivity, and restlessness are hallmarks of the condition, but are there other health consequences that fly under the radar?

According to a recent study, ADHD can be especially dangerous to women because it usually indicates a greater risk of mental illness and other physical health problems. The statistics that the researchers found indicate that the disorder could be much more serious than previously thought.

"[The] rates are much higher than among women without ADHD, ranging from more than four times the odds of suicidal thoughts and generalized anxiety disorders to more than twice the odds of major depressive disorder and substance abuse,” said Esme Fuller-Thomson, chair of the University of Toronto Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social work.

Higher rates

The researchers came to their conclusions after examining data on nearly 4,000 Canadian women between the ages of 20 and 39. Of the sample, 107 women had been diagnosed with ADHD. After conducting their analysis, the researchers found that factors for mental and physical illness were much higher for this subset of women.

“The prevalence of mental illness among women with ADHD was disturbingly high with 46% having considered suicide, 36% having generalized anxiety disorder, 31% having major depressive disorder and 39% having substance abuse problems at some point in their life,” said Fuller-Thomson.

Additionally, the findings showed that 28% of women diagnosed with ADHD had restrictions to their physical activity, a sharp contrast to the 9% of women without ADHD who reported the same thing. Other disorders, such as insomnia, were also more common in women diagnosed with ADHD.

“We were surprised at the high levels of physical health problems that the women were experiencing,” admitted Danielle A. Lewis, co-author of the study.

Financial stress

Despite the statistical findings, the researchers do not yet understand why women with ADHD are so much more susceptible to mental and physical problems, though they do point out that financial stress could play a factor.

The study found that 37% of the women who were diagnosed with ADHD in the sample had trouble meeting basic expenses, compared to 13% of women without ADHD.

Fuller-Thomson and her colleagues hope that their findings will make healthcare providers more conscientious when treating female patients with ADHD.

“Many people think of ADHD as primarily a boys’ disorder which has little relevance for girls and women. Our findings suggest, to the contrary, that a large portion of women with ADHD are struggling with mental illness, physical health concerns and poverty,” said Fuller-Thomson.

The full study has been published in the journal Child: Care, Health and Development.

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Runners may experience a boost in brain power, study finds

Why treadmill enthusiasts might have extra neurons in their brains

Lacing up your running shoes to hit the trails or treadmill may have benefits beyond the physical, scientists say. Running could actually make you smarter....

PhotoLacing up your running shoes to hit the trails or treadmill may have benefits beyond the physical, scientists say. Running could actually make you smarter.

This finding comes by way of a new study from the National Institute of Health (NIH), which proved that runners’ bodies create a protein which can help create extra neurons in the brain.

To examine the effects of aerobic exercise on the brain, N.I.H. researchers first studied mice, then monkeys and people. If you’ve ever noticed that you feel sharper after a run, this study’s finding might explain why.

Improved mental performance

The researchers isolated mice’s muscle cells and covered them in a peptide that caused their cell metabolism to believe that aerobic exercise was taking place. After their “workout,” the researchers noticed that a protein called Cathepsin B (CTSB) showed up in their blood.

Previous studies have not found a link between CTSB (the protein that helps sore muscles recover) and increased brain activity, the New York Times notes. However, upon adding CTSB to other living neurons in petri dishes, researchers found that “those brain cells started making more proteins related to neurogenesis” (a phenomenon that could make you smarter).

The team followed up its study of mice with a trial on human volunteers and monkeys. As was the case with mice, Cathepsin B appeared in the bloodstreams of participants post-exercise.

More exercise, more CTSB

Tests designed to study runners’ memory and thinking revealed an undeniable link between CTSB and running. Volunteers showed increased mental performance after their run -- and the more often they hit the treadmill, the higher their test scores soared.

At the end of four months, participants who exercised intensely on a treadmill for an hour or more each day, three times a week, had the highest levels of Cathepsin B in their bloodstreams.

“In humans, changes in CTSB levels correlated with fitness and hippocampus-dependent memory function,” the study’s authors said in a paper. “Our findings suggest CTSB as a mediator of effects of exercise on cognition.”

The study has been published in Cell Metabolism.

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Verizon reportedly monitoring unlimited data plans

Excessive users run the risk of being disconnected

Remember the early days of smartphones, when cellular providers competed for customers with “unlimited” data plans?Who knew that everyone in the world ...

PhotoRemember the early days of smartphones, when cellular providers competed for customers with “unlimited” data plans?

Who knew that everyone in the world would soon be watching movies and listening to hours of music on their phones? Most of those providers dropped those pure unlimited data plans like they were on fire. However, Verizon Wireless grandfathered some out of contract users who continue to enjoy unlimited data, in one form or another.

Now, an industry publication reports Verizon Wireless has served notice that it will take steps to limit “unlimited” data that it finds to be excessive. Droid Life quotes unnamed sources as saying accounts found using “an extraordinary amount of data” each month are at risk of being disconnected.

The publication says it has learned the carrier is currently preparing a new plan for these high data users, who are reportedly being informed they will have to consider other plan options in order to remain with the carrier. It will almost certainly mean giving up their month-to-month status and enrolling in a new plan.

In a statement to Droid Life, Verizon defined excessive data users as using more data each month than allowed in Verizon's top tier data plan – 100 gigabytes (GB).

“While the 100 GB plan is designed to be shared across multiple users, each line receiving notification to move to the new Verizon Plan is using well in excess of that on a single device,” the statement said.

Unlimited data, sort of

There are still unlimited data plans, but most come with some sort of qualifier. According to NerdWallet, all of them cap high speed data usage at around 23 GB a month.

“If you hit that threshold, your connection might be 'deprioritized,' that is, slowed considerably,” the publication advises. “Even if you buy an unlimited plan, you should still connect to wi-fi when you can to conserve your data.”

That said, NerdWallet rates Sprint's Unlimited Data Plan has the best, saying it costs less than buying a little extra data from other carriers. It says AT&T and T-Mobile also offer unlimited plans, but they cost more.

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FAA finds 'minor' issues in review of Allegiant Air

The deficiencies were not 'systemic,' the agency said after its periodic audit of the carrier

Allegiant Air says a Federal Aviation Administration audit of its operations has turned up several "minor" issues. The findings were "minor with non-regula...

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How to choose a pregnancy-safe sunscreen

What to look for and which harmful ingredients to avoid

The dog days of summer might have been uncomfortable prior to having baby on board, but now your swollen feet and higher-than-normal body temperature may b...

PhotoThe dog days of summer might have been uncomfortable prior to having baby on board, but now your swollen feet and higher-than-normal body temperature may be making matters even worse.

Your skin may also be feeling some sun-related woes. Higher estrogen levels can cause skin to become more susceptible to wrinkles, spots, and sunburns. The increase in melanin can also cause existing freckles and moles to darken.

Staying out of the sun can help, but it isn’t always an option. Whether you’re on a babymoon or at the beach, it’s important to protect your skin with the right sunscreen.

Pregnancy-safe sunscreens

Protecting your skin is important, but protecting the health of the little life inside you is even more important. To keep chemicals and additives from entering into your bloodstream and affecting the health of your baby, the Huffington Post recommends choosing a natural sunscreen.

In addition, pregnant women should make sure their sunscreen checks all of the following boxes.

  • Mineral or physical sunscreen. Avoid chemical sunscreens, which may contain ingredients such as oxybenzone. Not only has oxybenzone been linked to low birth weight, any chemical ending in “-benzone” can interfere with your natural hormones.
  • Does it have non-nano particles? Allowing nanoparticles to seep into your skin may cause cell damage, experts say. Stay on the safe side by looking for non-nano particles.
  • Avoid vitamin A. Vitamin A (also known as retinol, retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, or retinyl linoleate) may speed the development of skin tumors and lesions.
  • Lotion, not a spray-on sunscreen. You’re more likely to breathe in spray-on sunscreen, and in doing so, you may inhale small particles of potentially carcinogenic ingredients such as titanium dioxide.
  • Avoid sunscreen containing bug repellent. Slathering on safe, natural sunscreen every few hours is good for your skin and your baby, but frequently reapplying bug repellent isn't. 

Mamas-to-be will also want to make sure they stay well hydrated and out of the sun during peak hours (10 am to 2 pm). 

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Scientists explain why Alzheimer's disease always gets worse

The damaging protein hops from neuron to neuron, researchers say

Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center have identified a way they say Alzheimer's disease can spread through the brain.Their study, publishe...

PhotoResearchers at Columbia University Medical Center have identified a way they say Alzheimer's disease can spread through the brain.

Their study, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, says the toxic protein tau jumps from one neuron to another. They say their discovery helps explain why just one area of the brain is affected when Alzheimer's begins, but that much of the brain is damaged in the disease's later stages.

They say it also explains why Alzheimer's always gets progressively worse, never better. Significantly, however, that could change.

“By learning how tau spreads, we may be able to stop it from jumping from neuron to neuron,” said Karen Duff, professor in the department of pathology and cell biology.

Limiting the damage

If doctors were successful in doing so, she says they might be able to stop or limit the progression of the disease.

This isn't the first time researchers have suggested that Alzheimer’s can spread through the brain. The idea first gained traction among medical scientists earlier in the decade when it was found tau moved from neuron to neuron through the brains of mice.

The latest study found that tau travels within the brain, moving from neuron to neuron. That allows it to affect other parts of the brain. Duff says that has important clinical implications.

Important implications

“When tau is released into the extracellular space, it would be much easier to target the protein with therapeutic agents, such as antibodies, than if it had remained in the neuron,” she said.

The new study is just the latest in an area that is receiving intense focus as the large Baby Boom generation enters old age. Health policymakers are concerned about the huge toll on the healthcare system if Alzheimer's cases multiply as predicted.

In one of the most promising recent developments, scientists at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging and UCLA found they could reverse memory loss.

It was an extremely small study, but the researchers say they are excited because it could hold significant potential. The therapy uses existing drugs, along with a strict program of dietary changes, brain stimulation, physical exercise, and sleep optimization.

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The 1980s are officially over: VCR production has ended

The last hold out manufacturer has thrown in the towel

In the era of digital video streaming, the news that the last company to make video cassette recorders (VCR) will no longer do so might might come as a sur...

PhotoIn the era of digital video streaming, the news that the last company to make video cassette recorders (VCR) will no longer do so might might come as a surprise. But the surprise is that these machines were still being made at all.

Japanese electronics maker Funai, the last manufacturer to make and sell VCRs, has announced it's just too much trouble to keep making the machines. The company told the Japanese news agency Nikkei that it has experienced difficulty in locating and acquiring parts.

The fact that almost no one was buying these machines undoubtedly had something to do with the decision as well.

Exciting early days

Those old enough to remember early VCRs can recall an exciting era when it was suddenly possible to watch a fairly recent movie at home, at a time of the viewer's choosing. It required a VCR and a trip to a nearby retail store where the movies were rented.

Early video stores usually had movies along two opposing walls. On one wall were movies in the Sony Betamax format. On the other were movies in the RCA VHS format.

Consumers were either Beta or VHS. But because Sony did not license its technology to other manufacturers and RCA did, it wasn't long before the sheer size of the VHS community overwhelmed Beta, and by the end of the 1980s it was hard to find movies in that format.

Just last year, Sony announced it had ended production of Beta video cassettes for the few consumers still using Beta video cameras and VCRs. Funai's announcement that it is ending VCR production pretty much draws the curtain on a technology revolution that began in the late 1970s and became a market force the following decade.

Computer revolution

What followed was the computer revolution, as consumers began to buy “home computers,” even though there were few uses for them beyond games. Every manufacturer used a different, proprietary platform, so most computers were not compatible with one another.

Then the internet came along and consumers and businesses suddenly found new uses for computers. As bandwidth increased, the internet became a way to watch video. When smartphones appeared, consumers found they could watch movies wirelessly, no matter where they were.

In that short span of technology history, the VCR went from exciting, cutting edge technology to something collecting dust in the back of the closet.

Will the VCR be missed? Probably not. It's hard to imagine that video on analog tape will ever gain a throwback following the way vinyl records have. From now on, the only VCRs will be found on eBay and at yard sales, and quite possibly someday, a museum.

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Consumers deeper in debt despite efforts to avoid it

Research shows Great Recession affected consumers' attitudes about money

The Great Depression had a huge impact on the generation that came of age in the 1930s and fought World War II.They were careful with their money and s...

PhotoThe Great Depression had a huge impact on the generation that came of age in the 1930s and fought World War II.

They were careful with their money and saved for the future. They ended up raising their children, the Baby Boomers, in an era of prosperity.

In some respects, the Great Recession, accented by the financial crisis of 2008, has had a similar effect on today's young consumers. A report by the market research firm Packaged Facts finds today's consumers are frugal and cautious with money, usually out of necessity.

The authors conclude that the recession reshaped how consumers approach money, and in particular, debt. They don't take on debt unless they have to. At least, that's what they told the researchers.

The report found that 72% of consumers describe themselves as more conservative when it comes to debt, and attribute that trait to the recession that ended seven years ago. Remarkably, that feeling was expressed in large numbers across all demographic segments.

"What we are seeing is that most consumers view their financial situation with uncertainty, a perception that likely affects how they plan for and execute financial decisions,” said David Sprinkle, research director at Packaged Facts.

Conflicting data

That could explain why the economy has limped along with anemic growth since the recovery began. Yet there are a few things it doesn't explain.

Consumers don't seem to be reluctant to go into debt to purchase a new car. Month after month, new car sales have set records, with transaction prices averaging just under $34,000.

Credit card debt has also surged. In a recent report, the credit card comparison site CardHub warned that in the second half of last year, consumers went on the biggest credit card binge in the history of its annual review. It said total credit card debt rose by $71 billion in 2015.

There was one fact that was particularly worrying. In the last three months of the year, consumers charged more on their plastic than in all of 2014.

If Packaged Facts is correct that consumers are trying to avoid debt in the post-recession era, the numbers suggest that they are having difficulty doing so.

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Leading Economic Index rebounds in June

The expansion was the second in three months

Following a slight (-0.2%) decline in May, The Conference Board's Leading Economic Index® (LEI) rose 0.3% in June. The index was up 0.5% in April.“Impr...

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Cycling Sports Group recalls commuter bicycles

The bicycle’s fork axle can crack, posing a fall hazard

Cycling Sports Group of Wilton, Conn., is recalling about 3,500 Cannondale commuter bicycles in the U.S. and Canada. The bicycle’s fork axle can cr...

PhotoCycling Sports Group of Wilton, Conn., is recalling about 3,500 Cannondale commuter bicycles in the U.S. and Canada.

 

The bicycle’s fork axle can crack, posing a fall hazard.

 

The firm has received 30 reports of the bicycle’s fork axle cracking, including one fall that resulted in a concussion and bruising.

 

This recall involves 2010-2012 Cannondale Bad Boy and Bad Girl commuter bicycles. They were sold in black. Only bicycles with date codes beginning with P, Q and RB through RL are included in this recall. The date code is located on the bottom of the bicycle fork.

 

The frame is matte black. A Cannondale decal can be found on the downtube.

 

The bicycles, manufactured in Taiwan, were sold at authorized Cannondale dealers nationwide from June 2010, through December 2014, for between $1,000 and $1,800.

 

What to do

 

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled bicycles and take them to the nearest authorized Cannondale dealer for a free repair. Cannondale dealers will replace the fork free of charge.

 

Consumers may contact Cannondale at 800-726-2453 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, by email at custserve@cyclingsportsgroup.com or online at www.cannondale.com and click on Safety Notices and Recalls at the bottom right-hand corner of the main page for more information.

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Agave Dream recalls cappuccino ice cream

The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

Agave Dream of Palos Verdes Peninsula, Calif., is recalling 389 cases of cappuccino ice cream that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. ...

PhotoAgave Dream of Palos Verdes Peninsula, Calif., is recalling 389 cases of cappuccino ice cream that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

 

No illnesses have been reported to date.

 

The recalled product, packed in a brown paper pint-size container with “Agave Dream” printed on the front of the carton with a Best By date of 07/04/17 and UPC 899349002048, was distributed through retail stores across the U.S.

 

What to do

 

Customers who purchased the recalled product should return it to the place of purchase for a full refund.

 

Consumers with questions may contact the company at 866-993-4438 Monday – Saturday, 9am – 5pm (PST) or by email at agavedream@sbcglobal.net.

 

 

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Mazda recalls B-Series trucks

The airbag inflators may rupture due to propellant degradation

Mazda North American Operations (Mazda) is recalling 3,734 model year 2007-2009 B-Series trucks manufactured June 6, 2006, to January 22, 2009, originally...

PhotoMazda North American Operations (Mazda) is recalling 3,734 model year 2007-2009 B-Series trucks manufactured June 6, 2006, to January 22, 2009, originally sold, or ever registered, in Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands (Saipan), and the U.S. Virgin Islands, or "Zone A."

 

Additionally, unless included in "Zone A" above, Mazda is recalling certain model year 2007-2008 B-Series trucks manufactured February 21, 2006, to April 28, 2008, originally sold, or ever registered, in Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia, or "Zone B."

 

The vehicles are equipped with certain airbag inflators assembled as part of the passenger front airbag modules, and used as original equipment or replacement equipment. In the event of a crash necessitating deployment of the front airbags, these inflators may rupture due to propellant degradation occurring after long-term exposure to absolute humidity and temperature cycling.

 

An inflator rupture may result in metal fragments striking the vehicle occupants resulting in serious injury or death.

 

What to do

 

Mazda will notify owners, and dealers will replace the passenger frontal air bag inflator, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin August 16, 2016.

 

Owners may contact Mazda customer service at 1-800-222-5500. Mazda's number for this recall is 9616F.

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Southwest cancels hundreds of flights after computer glitch

Delays and cancellations began Wednesday and stretched into early Thursday

Sometimes computer problems are pretty simple, like when the dog steps on your power strip and turns it off. But no matter what the cause may be, technolog...

PhotoSometimes computer problems are pretty simple, like when the dog steps on your power strip and turns it off. But no matter what the cause may be, technology glitches can take a heavy toll, as Southwest Airlines passengers were reminded Wednesday when unexplained problems hit the discount carrier's network.

Customers were unable to check in for flights and gate agents had to manually issue boarding passes while the system was offline, causing many flights to be delayed and, in many cases, canceled.

"As a result of the technical issues we canceled nearly 700 flights Wednesday and hundreds more were delayed. Employees worked around issues with primary systems and utilized back-up procedures to get as many customers and checked luggage to their intended destinations as we worked to fix the system," Southwest said in a statement late Wednesday.

Not all consumers were satisfied with the airline's efforts. "Rather than offer all delayed travelers the usual compensation, they are in fact offering flights that later get canceled as well (bogus flights). Computer glitch or not, what they are doing is wrong. You don't promise to rebook and than cancel that flight as well," Michael of Midvale, Utah, said in a ConsumerAffairs review.

"A simple one-hour flight turned into delays due to their systems failing, a 40-minute wait sitting on the flight line and another hour wait for bags," said Joshua of Cameron, N.C. 

220 Thursday flights

The carrier said that most systems were back online Thursday morning, but at least 220 Thursday flights were canceled and delays continued to ripple through the system.

"We are focused on getting customers and their luggage safely to their travel destinations and apologize to our customers whose travel plans are impacted," Southwest said. It advised consumers who are booked to travel to check flight status information on Southwest.com and plan to arrive to the airport early, as long lines may occur. It said flexible rebooking accommodation will be available through Sunday. 

"It's never too early to say thank you and to extend our apologies and we want to share those sentiments both with our hard-working employees and our loyal and understanding customers," Southwest concluded.

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Healthy fats and brisk walking can slash diabetes risk, researchers say

How moderate-intensity exercise and polyunsaturated fats are helping pre-diabetic patients

Insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes are on the rise in the U.S., but researchers may have uncovered a new way to keep the disease at bay. According ...

PhotoInsulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes are on the rise in the U.S., but researchers may have uncovered a new way to keep the disease at bay.

According to the results of a large study, published recently in PLOS Medicine, healthy fats may be the key to lowered blood sugar levels and increased insulin resistance.

Substituting as few as 100 calories worth of carbohydrates for 100 calories worth of healthy fats, such as nuts, seeds, and vegetable oil, can help cut the risk of type 2 diabetes by an estimated 20 percent, the researchers claim.

The study’s co-leader, Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, Dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston, says the message is simple: “Don’t fear the healthy fats.”

“Our findings support preventing and treating these diseases by eating more fat-rich foods like walnuts, sunflower seeds, soybeans, flaxseed, fish and other vegetable oils and spreads, in place of refined grains, starches, sugars and animal fats,” Mozaffarian said in a release.

But diet changes aren't the only way to combat type 2 diabetes. When it comes to keeping glucose levels under control, a little moderate exercise may have a big impact. 

Brisk walking

New research from Duke Health has revealed that it’s moderate, not high intensity, exercise that is most effective at controlling metabolism in people at risk for diabetes.

In the study, individuals with pre-diabetes were randomly placed into groups and tracked over six months. Some participants adopted diet and exercise changes while others made changes only to their exercise regime.

In the exercise-only group, it was discovered that moderate-intensity exercise (where participants walked briskly 11.5 miles each week) produced a 7 percent improvement in glucose tolerance on average.

In contrast, participants who walked vigorously for the same amount each week had only a 2 percent average improvement.

One lifestyle change

While high intensity exercise may burn more glucose, moderate-intensity exercise helps burn fat in the muscles (where glucose is stored after a meal). The researchers explain that this can help block glucose uptake by the muscles.

Lead author, Dr. William Kraus -- professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology at Duke University School of Medicine, says this new finding could benefit pre-diabetic patients who may have a hard time comitting to more than one lifestyle change.

“When faced with the decision of trying to do weight loss, diet, and exercise versus exercise alone, the study indicates you can achieve nearly 80 percent of the effect of doing all three with just a high amount of moderate-intensity exercise,” Kraus said.

“I was heartened by the fact that I found out that I can give patients one message and they can get nearly the same effect as when required to exercise, diet and lose weight all at the same time.”

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Gasoline prices at 12-year low for July

Plentiful supplies and low oil prices giving motorists a windfall

July is dead center in the summer driving season. Whether it's a quick trip to the beach or an extended road trip, it's when many families pack up and hit ...

PhotoJuly is dead center in the summer driving season. Whether it's a quick trip to the beach or an extended road trip, it's when many families pack up and hit the road.

As such, gasoline demand normally rises in July, and so do gasoline prices. But this is not a normal July.

Even though prices have risen off their early-winter lows, they are well below seasonal norms and are headed still lower, at a time they usually peak. The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of self-serve regular is $2.18 a gallon, its lowest level in July since 2004 and 55 cents less than a year ago.

Falling prices are attributed to abundant supplies in most areas of the country and soft crude oil costs.

Prices lowest in South Carolina

In areas of the southeast and southwest, gasoline prices are well below the $2 a gallon mark. In South Carolina, the state-wide average price is $1.86 a gallon. Tennessee, Alabama, and Missouri have an average price of $1.95 a gallon.

The western states remain the most expensive for gasoline, with California leading the way at an average pump price of $2.83. But there's a silver lining; last year, western gasoline prices were a lot higher.

California drivers are saving more than $1 per gallon on average compared to a year ago. Gasoline in Alaska is 82 cents cheaper. In Nevada, it costs 71 cents a gallon less to fill up.

Low prices for a while longer

Refineries are running more smoothly this summer, which has helped prices remain cheaper than a year ago. If those conditions remain, AAA predicts gasoline prices will stay relatively low for the rest of the summer.

The price of oil helps. Right now U.S. oil stockpiles are up about 13% year-over-year, while supplies of gasoline have increased to 240 million barrels, despite increased driving. The Department of Energy says that's the largest gasoline supply ever recorded in July.

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Feds sue to block healthcare mergers

Justice Department says deals could hurt consumers

The U.S. Justice Department has announced it has gone to court to block the proposed merger of Anthem and Cigna, arguing that combining the two giant healt...

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Amazon, Wells Fargo offering discounted student loans

It's Amazon's first entry into the student loan business

Amazon and Wells Fargo are offering interest rate discounts to Amazon Prime Student customers who apply for private student loans from Wells Fargo. It's Am...

PhotoAmazon and Wells Fargo are offering interest rate discounts to Amazon Prime Student customers who apply for private student loans from Wells Fargo. It's Amazon's first entry into the student loan business. Wells Fargo is the largest student lender among commercial banks.

The discount will be offered both to students looking for loans to attend college and those who want to refinance existing loans.

The 0.50 percent interest rate discount can be added to a 0.25 percent interest rate reduction for enrolling in an automatic monthly loan repayment plan from Wells Fargo and any interest rate discount tied to a Wells Fargo global promotion.

Amazon Prime Student, offered since 2010, sells for $49 per year and gives college students unlimited free two-day shipping on more than 30 million items, special offers, and promotions created just for students. It also includes unlimited streaming of tens of thousands of movies and TV shows with Prime Video.

Private lending growing again

“We are focused on innovation and meeting our customers where they are – and increasingly that is in the digital space,” said John Rasmussen, Wells Fargo’s head of Personal Lending Group. “This is a tremendous opportunity to bring together two great brands."

The companies said neither is compensating the other during the multi-year agreement.

Private student lending has been growing recently, after falling off sharply during the recession. Sallie Mae, Wells Fargo, and Discover wrote $6.46 billion in student loans between July 2015 and March 2016, up 7% from the same period a year earlier, the Wall Street Journal reported.

For more information on Prime student loans, see www.wellsfargo.com/amazon

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How to lose weight eating what you want

“Mindful eating” emerges as alternative to dieting

Helping people try to lose weight is big business. Americans spend close to $60 billion a year on weight loss products, according to the Bharat Book Bureau...

PhotoHelping people try to lose weight is big business. Americans spend close to $60 billion a year on weight loss products, according to the Bharat Book Bureau, a business data firm. That includes everything from diet soda to special meal plans.

While obesity statistics show that a lot of us really need to shed some pounds, there's a growing belief in diet circles that it's not so much what you eat, but how you eat it.

“You can eat anything you want, as long as you do it mindfully,” said Lynn Rossy, a health psychologist for the Total Rewards Program at the University of Missouri system.

Mindfulness

The key word there is “mindfully.” Mindfulness, which has its roots in Buddhist teachings, is a philosophy that has taken hold in many areas of life, so it isn't surprising that it's being harnessed to help people lose or control weight.

Mindfulness is based on living in the moment, being totally aware of your experience. It is being used to help people reduce stress and and focus on what they are doing, to make them happier and more productive. So, how does that translate to eating?

“Mindful eating means choosing food that will satisfy you and nourish your body as well as being aware of physical hunger and satiety cues,” Rossy said. “Food should be pleasurable to your taste buds and to your body.”

It's an abrupt departure from restricting calories by eating foods you might not particularly like but that are low in calories. Rossy says the mindfulness-based eating solution teaches people how to use their own internal signals to guide how, when, what, and why they eat. More importantly, she says you should eat food you like, just not as much of it.

Key elements

That's easier to do, she says, when you are slowly savoring each bite and enjoying it. As a result, she says people are more satisfied and less likely to overeat. Here are the key elements:

  • Do a breathing exercise and decide if you are really hungry
  • Assess your food and decide if you really want to eat it
  • Eat slowly and be aware of signals your body might send suggesting you are full
  • Chew thoroughly
  • Savor what you are eating

“Diets do not work in the long term because they do not help people access their own internal wisdom about how to eat,” Rossy said. “Taking a mindful approach to eating also helps people discover desires that can be ignored through eating for emotional reasons—desires for creativity, movement, connection, meaningful work and spirituality.”

It may be no coincidence that Fortune Magazine reports the diet industry is losing ground, even as the obesity rate rises. It conducted a survey last year that found many more consumers say they are trying to eat healthier than say they are on a diet.

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Is it easier to save money when you pay with cash?

Research shows consumers think about a purchase more when they pay with cash

Consumers who have bank accounts have gotten used to paying for everything with a debit or credit card. People might carry some cash, but they rarely spend...

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Three straight gains for the government's house price tracker

Jobless claims edge lower in mid-July

Photo (c) fiore26 - FotoliaAnother rise, albeit a small one, for the price of housing in May.The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) reports it...

Photo
Photo (c) fiore26 - Fotolia

Another rise, albeit a small one, for the price of housing in May.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) reports its House Price Index (HPI) rose 0.2%, marking the third consecutive monthly advance. At the same time, the April increase was revised higher -- from 0.2% to 0.3%.

On a year-over-year basis, prices were up 5.6% from May 2015.

For the nine census divisions, seasonally adjusted monthly price changes from April to May ranged from -1.3% in the New England division to +1.2% in the Mountain division. The 12-month changes were all positive -- ranging from +3.4% in the Middle Atlantic division to +8.5% in the Mountain division.

The monthly HPI is calculated using home sales price information from mortgages sold to, or guaranteed by, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The complete report is available on the FHFA website.

Photo
Photo (c) Marzky Ragsac Jr. - Fotolia

Jobless claims

Also from the government, word that first-time applications for state unemployment benefits remained below 300,000 for a 72nd consecutive week, the longest streak since 1973.

The Department of Labor (DOL) reports initial jobless claims were down by 1,000 in the week ending July 16, to a seasonally-adjusted 253,000 -- down from the previous week's unrevised level.

The four-week moving average, considered by many economists to be a more accurate gauge of the labor market, fell by 1,250 from the previous week's unrevised figure to 257,750.

The full report may be found on the DOL website.

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Sales of existing homes up again in June

First-time buyers hit the market in a big way

Consumers looking to buy their first homes helped lift sales of previously-owned houses for the fourth straight month in June.The National Association ...

PhotoConsumers looking to buy their first homes helped lift sales of previously-owned houses for the fourth straight month in June.

The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) reports total existing-home sales -- completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums, and co-ops -- rose 1.1% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.57 million.

Last month's gain put sales 3.0% ahead of the June 2015 rate, and keeps them at their highest annual pace since February 2007.

The share of first-time buyers was 33% in June, up 3.0% from May and a year ago, and is the highest since July 2012. Through the first six months of the year, first-time buyers have represented an average of 31% of buyers; they represented 30% of buyers in all of 2015.

"Existing sales rose again last month as more traditional buyers and fewer investors were able to close on a home despite many competitive areas with unrelenting supply and demand imbalances," said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. "Sustained job growth as well as this year's descent in mortgage rates is undoubtedly driving the appetite for home purchases."

Prices and inventory

The median existing-home price for all housing types was $247,700 last month -- up 4.8% from June 2015. That marks the 52nd consecutive month of year-over-year gains and surpasses May's peak median sales price of $238,900.

Total housing inventory was down 0.9% at the end of the month to 2.12 million existing homes available for sale, and is now 5.8% lower than a year ago (2.25 million). Unsold inventory is at a 4.6-month supply at the current sales pace.

"Looking ahead, it's unclear if this current sales pace can further accelerate as record high stock prices, near-record low mortgage rates and solid job gains face off against a dearth of homes available for sale and lofty home prices that keep advancing," Yun cautioned.

Sales regionally

  • Existing-home sales in the Northeast declined 1.3% in June to an annual rate of 760,000, but are 5.6% above a year ago. The median price was up 1.4% from June, 2015 at $284,800.
  • In the Midwest, sales jumped 3.8% to an annual rate of 1.35 million, and are up 4.7% on a year-over-year basis. The median price was $199,900 -- up 5.7% from a year ago.
  • Sales in the South were unchanged from May at an annual rate of 2.26 million, and are 3.2% higher than they were at the same time last year. The median prices rose 5.5% to $217,400.
  • The West saw sales move up 1.7% to an annual rate of 1.20 million in June; however, they're down 0.8% from June of last year. The median price shot up 7.2% -- to $350,800.
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Bar-S Foods recalls chicken and pork hot dog and corn dog products

The products may be adulterated with Listeria monocytogenes

Bar-S Foods Company of Altus, Okla., is recalling approximately 372,684 pounds of chicken and pork hot dog and corn dog products. The products may ...

PhotoBar-S Foods Company of Altus, Okla., is recalling approximately 372,684 pounds of chicken and pork hot dog and corn dog products.

 

The products may be adulterated with Listeria monocytogenes.

 

There have been no confirmed reports of illnesses or adverse reactions.

 

The following ready-to-eat, chicken and pork hot dog and corn dog items, produced July10 – 13, 2016, are being recalled:

  • 16-oz/1-lb. packages of “BAR-S Classic BUN LENGTH Franks MADE WITH CHICKEN, PORK ADDED” with “Use By” date of 10/11/2016 and case code 209.
  • 12-oz. packages of “BAR-S CLASSIC Franks MADE WITH CHICKEN, PORK ADDED” with package code 6338, “Use By” date of 10/10/2016 and case code 6405.
  • 24-oz./1.5-lb. cartons of “SIGNATURE Pick 5 CORNDOGS – 8 Honey Batter Dipped Franks On A Stick” with a “Use By” date of 4/6/2017 and case code 6071.
  • 42.72-oz./2.67-lb. cartons of “BAR-S CLASSIC CORN DOGS – 16 Honey Batter Dipped Franks On A Stick” with “Use By” dates of 4/7/2017 and 4/8/2017 and case code 6396.
  • 48-oz./3-lb. cartons of “BAR-S CLASSIC CORN DOGS – 16 Honey Batter Dipped Franks On A Stick” with package code 14054, “Use By” dates of 4/6/2017 and 4/9/2017, and case code 14038.

The recalled products, bearing establishment number “EST. P-81A” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to retail locations nationwide.

 

What to do

 

Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but throw them away or return them to the place of purchase.

 

Consumers with questions regarding the recall may call the Bar-S Foods consumer hotline at 1-888-965-6134.

 

 

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Model year 2009-2010 Chevrolet Impalas recalled

A failure to recognize that the passenger seat is occupied may disable the air bag

General Motors is recalling 289,254 model year 2009-2010 Chevrolet Impalas manufactured April 25, 2008 through February 16, 2010. The front passeng...

PhotoGeneral Motors is recalling 289,254 model year 2009-2010 Chevrolet Impalas manufactured April 25, 2008 through February 16, 2010.

 

The front passenger seat frame may contact and damage the wires of the passenger presence sensor module.

 

If the wires are damaged, the passenger presence sensory system may fail to recognize that the passenger seat is occupied, disabling the air bag. Damage may also cause the air bag fuse to short resulting in a loss of all air bags and seat belt pretensions. Both conditions increase the risk of injury during a crash.

 

What to do

 

GM will notify owners, and dealers will double wrap the wires with anti-abrasion tape and replace damaged wires as necessary, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

 

Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-521-7300. GM's recall campaign number is 36110.

 

 

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Automated technologies make cars safer and save drivers money, study shows

Research shows that automated technologies can save drivers billions every year

Recently, there has been some pushback by consumer advocacy groups that say self-driving cars aren’t ready to hit the open road. After several accidents, o...

PhotoRecently, there has been some pushback by consumer advocacy groups that say self-driving cars aren’t ready to hit the open road. After several accidents, one of which took the life of a passenger in Florida, it would make sense if U.S. drivers are hesitant when it comes to the new technology.

However, a new study shows that other automated vehicle technologies are not only saving consumers money in the long run, they’re making roads safer. Researchers from Carnegie Mellon College of Engineering believe that continuing to implement these devices is a step in the right direction.

“While there is much discussion about driverless vehicles, we have demonstrated that even with partial automation there are financial and safety benefits,” said Chris T. Hendrickson, director of the Carnegie Mellon Traffic21 Institute.

Avoiding accidents

Hendrickson and his colleagues came to their conclusion after analyzing data on crash-avoidance for light-duty U.S. vehicles.

They found that automated vehicle technologies, like forward crash prevention systems, blind-spot monitoring, and lane departure warnings, would be relevant in 24% of all crashes in the U.S.

With these statistics, the researchers posit that these technologies could help reduce the severity of 1.3 million crashes per year, as well as over 10,000 accidents that would otherwise be fatal.

Cost-efficient

But while the safety benefits may be indisputable, are the systems cost effective enough to be worth it? To find out, the researchers contrasted the cost of implementing the technologies against the potential cost of the accidents that would occur without them.

After creating different scenarios that measured crash avoidance, the researchers found that implementing the technologies was much more cost-effective. In the first scenario, assuming a perfect world where the technologies helped avoid all accidents, the amount saved by consumers totaled $202 billion, or around $861 per car.

In the second, more conservative scenario -- where the number of accidents was reduced only if they correlated with forward collisions, blind spot accidents, and crashes caused by lane departures – consumers still came out ahead. The researchers estimated an annual savings of $4 billion, or $20 per car.

Advancing technology

While the researchers admit that $20 doesn’t seem like a lot, they believe that advancements in technology will only allow cars to become safer and earn more savings as time passes.

“If you bought a car right now with these safety systems at the current prices offered by auto manufacturers, both you and society would have a positive economic benefit. We are seeing that partial automation is accomplishing crash and crash severity reductions, and we expect to improve. This study creates a framework for regulatory action encouraging early deployment of partial automation technologies,” said Hendrickson.

The full study has been published in the journal Accident Analysis & Prevention

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Audit suggests Takata will face more scrutiny

Investigators find evidence company engineers engaged in "selective editing"

Volkswagen is not the only automotive company dealing with a scandal. Takata Corp., a Japanese maker of airbags, has been dealing with dangerous defects in...

PhotoVolkswagen is not the only automotive company dealing with a scandal. Takata Corp., a Japanese maker of airbags, has been dealing with dangerous defects in its product, and the way it has handled it, for years now.

To make matters worse, there is a growing belief that the company was not as forthcoming about the problem as it should have been.

The Washington Post reports an audit commissioned by the company and Honda, its biggest customer, found Takata personnel manipulated results of the air-bag inflator tests it passed along to Honda. Engineers allegedly removed some of the test results to make performance appear in-line with standards.

One of the auditors is Brian O'Neill, former president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). O'Neill is quoted by the Post as saying he and fellow investigators found evidence of “selective editing,” to make the overall presentation appear better.

'Prettier, shortened version'

“We found evidence that the report that went to Honda was a shorter version of the original version, and it was a prettier shortened version,” O'Neill told the Post.

The latest revelation fits with a U.S. Senate investigation into defective Takata airbags, reported in February, that found what investigators said was widespread manipulation of airbag inflator test data by Takata employees, with some occurring after the recalls began.

A defect in the inflator made some Takata air-bags lethal. When deployed, defective inflators sent metal debris flying through the vehicle's cabin with deadly force.

Fender-bender fatality

In April, a Houston teenager became the tenth U.S. fatality from a defective Takata airbag. The airbag deployed in the Honda Civic driven by 17-year old Huma Hanif when she rear-ended the car in front of her, a mishap that should have been no more than a fender-bender.

“She wasn’t speeding. The car had only moderate damage,” Sheriff's Office Danny Beckworth told The New York Times after the accident. “It’s a crash that we work with every day that everybody walks away from.”

The Honda had been subject to a recall to repair the airbag, but the teen's family said they had not seen a recall notice. Honda said it had mailed a notice to the car's original owner, a member of the girl's extended family.

In May, Takata recalled another 35 to 40 million airbags, on the top of 28.8 million already recalled, in a process expected to last well into 2019. The recalled units were made with ammonium nitrate propellant but without a chemical drying agent. That allows moisture to, over time, degrade and become prone to explode.

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Survey shows half of U.S. physicians ration certain treatments

In many cases, treatments are rationed regardless of whether or not they would be beneficial to the patient

Many of us trust that our doctor has our best interests in mind when advising treatments, but are they leaving certain options off the table?A national...

PhotoMany of us trust that our doctor has our best interests in mind when advising treatments, but are they leaving certain options off the table?

A national survey has found that more than half of U.S. physicians withhold medical interventions from patients due to cost implications – even if the intervention would have benefitted the patient. This included practices like prescribing certain types of medication, ordering certain tests or scans, or repeating a lab test.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic found that this “rationing behavior” is particularly prevalent among physicians with a solo practice – perhaps because they may not be equipped with the necessary resources to follow through with certain medical interventions.

“Solo practitioners have fewer resources to deal with the paperwork and other barriers; it may be easier not to make the effort in the first place when they know that their efforts will likely be in vain or will not be compensated,” said study leader Robert Sheeler.

Rationing treatments

The study sheds some light on the difficulties faced by doctors who have to be careful about how they manage and utilize resources. The initial survey was sent out to doctors in 2012; it asked them to self-rate their own rationing behavior and to clarify which factors contribute to that behavior.

When the results came back, the researchers found that 53.1% of all respondents said they engaged in some sort of rationing behavior in the previous six months. Out of all the rationed interventions, magnetic resonance imaging scans (MRIs) were rationed the most often, with 48.3% of doctors admitting to doing so.

Additionally, the researchers found that coming from a certain background or having a certain political stance affected physician behavior. Doctors who were described as more “liberal” were less likely to ration treatments. Surgical and procedural specialists were also less likely to ration treatments when compared to primary care physicians.

Understanding rationing behaviors

Sheeler and his colleagues believe that rationing treatments in solo practices can be explained by what he calls “rationing by proxy,” wherein doctors act as representatives for insurance companies.

“Physicians become rationing agents of insurance companies because of the paperwork burden and excessive hoops of prior authorizations or excessive out-of-pocket costs that are set up by payers and pharmacy benefit managers,” he says.

Further, he says that understanding why doctors choose to ration treatments is an important first step towards addressing the topic as a whole.

The full study has been published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine

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Genie Bra, Total Pillow marketers fined, ordered to clean up their sales practices

"Buy One, Get One" offers weren't what they seemed, New York charged

Ordering products advertised on late-night TV and cable can be tricky. Take Total Pillow. For awhile, it was offering a "Buy One, Get One" offer that seeme...

PhotoOrdering products advertised on late-night TV and cable can be tricky. Take Total Pillow. For awhile, it was offering a "Buy One, Get One" offer that seemed to say the customer would get two pillows for the price of one.

But it didn't always turn out that way.

One customer responded to a “Buy One, Get One” ad for Total Pillow, advertised for $19.99, plus shipping and handling, but was charged $91.73 after placing an order online. Another customer responded to a $19.99 “Buy 3, get 3” Genie Bra advertisement and ended up being charged $101.83, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman charged.

Schneiderman today announced settlements with Tristar Products, Inc., a firm headquartered in Fairfield, New Jersey, and Product Trend, LLC , headquartered in Williston, Vermont.  The agreements require the direct marketers to make significant reforms to their advertising, ordering processes and customer service practices. 

Bras & blenders

The marketers sell their products directly to consumers, typically through television and online advertising. Tristar’s products include Genie Bra; blenders and juicers, as well as a variety of exercise equipment, such as the Ab Coaster and Cardio Twister. Product Trend’s products include Total Pillow, Wonderhanger, and Furniture Fix. 

“These agreements insure that consumers will not be hit with charges they did not authorize and will not be frustrated with long hold times or unresponsive customer service when they seek assistance,” Schneiderman said. “The settlements also bring much needed reforms to two major players in the direct marketing industry and insure that consumers will have a clear understanding of the charges before they place an order.”

Tristar will pay a penalty of $700,000 and Product Trend $175,000.

The Attorney General’s Consumer Frauds Bureau launched a probe into the industry after receiving complaints from consumers.

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New luxury cars not immune from the Takata airbag curse

Senate report finds the bags in Mercedes-Benz and Ferrari cars

When you think of Takata airbags, you may think they're mostly found in older, cheaper cars. That's not necessarily true, according to new findings release...

PhotoWhen you think of Takata airbags, you may think they're mostly found in older, cheaper cars. That's not necessarily true, according to new findings released today by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee. 

Nelson said the non-desiccated ammonium-nitrate inflators that have been linked to at least 10 deaths and more than 100 injuries in the U.S. can also be found in some Mercedes-Benz and Ferrari cars as well as Daimler vans.

“New vehicles with defective airbags cover pretty much the whole spectrum, from low-priced cars to the highest-end models,” said Nelson. “They also underscore the failure of certain automakers and regulators to level with people about the true extent of the problem and to have the cars fixed before they’re sold.”

New but recalled

The new findings update a report Nelson released last month that found Fiat Chrysler, Mitsubishi, Toyota, and Volkswagen are selling new vehicles subject to the future recall.  

To date, seven out of 17 automakers Nelson contacted have admitted to equipping new vehicles with defective Takata airbags.  Tesla remains the only automaker that has not provided a written response.

While the automakers are legally allowed to sell the defective new vehicles, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has ordered all of them to be recalled by the end of 2018.

The specific models identified today that contain defective inflators are:

Daimler Vans

  • 2016 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter

Ferrari

  • 2016 Ferrari FF
  • 2016 Ferrari California T
  • 2017 Ferrari California T
  • 2016 Ferrari 488 GTB/488 Spider
  • 2017 Ferrari 488 GTB/488 Spider
  • 2016 Ferrari F12/F12tdf
  • 2017 Ferrari F12/F12tdf
  • 2017 Ferrari GTC4 Lusso

Mercedes-Benz

  • 2016 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe/Convertible
  • 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe/Convertible
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In households with autistic children, the whole family benefits from having a dog

And Fido doesn't have to be a trained assistance dog to reduce stress levels

Being a parent to a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) presents a unique -- and often stressful -- set of challenges. But researchers have disco...

PhotoBeing a parent to a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) presents a unique -- and often stressful -- set of challenges.

But researchers have discovered that having a four-legged family member may help offset some of this anxiety and stress.

The results of a long-term study by the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) showed that pet dogs can be invaluable sources of stress reduction in homes with children on the Autism spectrum.

Previous studies have found that animal-assisted therapy can positively impact the lives of children with autism. But upon honing in on the effects of dogs on families with children on the autism spectrum, this study found that a dog doesn’t have to be specially trained in order to helpful.

Improved family function

The whole family unit can experience improved function as a result of having a dog, says lead researcher Daniel Mills, Professor of Veterinary Behavioral Medicine in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln.

“We found a significant, positive relationship between parenting stress of the child’s main caregiver and their attachment to the family dog,” Mills said in a statement. “This highlights the importance of the bond between the carer and their dog in the benefits they gain.”

Compared to households without dogs, researchers noticed a reduction in dysfunctional parent-child interactions in households with a dog. And the stress-shrinking effects of a dog seem to stand the test of time.

When researchers checked in with families two and a half years later, they found that stress levels continued to decline steadily, years after the dog was first acquired. The same reductions were not seen in households without dogs.

The study was published in the American Journal of Veterinary Behavior.

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Five fun apps for runners seeking motivation

Why not run from zombies, explore new trails, or donate to charity on your next run?

From exercise and endorphins to the ever-coveted runner’s high, there is a lot to be gained from running. But while running has been called the most ac...

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Twitter adds verification option to more accounts

Until now, verification has been limited mostly to celebrities and other big names

Back in the day, it was considered clever to say that on the internet no one knows you're a dog. Sadly, it's still true that just about anyone can imperson...

PhotoBack in the day, it was considered clever to say that on the internet no one knows you're a dog. Sadly, it's still true that just about anyone can impersonate just about anyone else and get by with it. This has enabled thousands of successful scams, crimes, and outright tragedies.

There's still no universal solution, but Twitter is now offering to verify your identity so that everyone will know you're who you say you are. It has always done this for certain celebrities and public figures, placing a blue check mark next to their name, but it is now opening it up to others.

Details are available on Twitter's site. Among other things, you'll need to provide your birth date, phone number, a headshot, and a scan of your driver's license or other photo ID.

Note that Twitter isn't promising to verify everyone who applies. You'll need to have a good reason, and you may need to provide quite a bit more information than the scant details mentioned above. But aside from celebrities, it's easy to see why financial advisors, journalists, government officials, and healthcare providers -- among others -- might want to add a layer of credibility to their tweets.

For now at least, having that little blue check mark next to your name is a little like having a vanity license plate or phone number. With more than 310 million Twitter users, only 187,000 or so are verified.

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Dollar Shave Club to become part of Unilever

Acquisition could give company a weapon against rival Procter and Gamble

Doubt that there is big money in razors? Don't tell Unilever. The multi-national personal care products giant is writing a check for $1 billion to acquire ...

PhotoDoubt that there is big money in razors? Don't tell Unilever. The multi-national personal care products giant is writing a check for $1 billion to acquire Dollar Shave Club.

Dollar Shave Club was founded just four years ago, but since then has become a disruptive force in male grooming. It currently has 3.2 million members who receive new blades, delivered to their door, each month.

In 2015, the company produced $152 million in revenue, and Unilever says it is on track to exceed $200 million in 2016.

Target Gillette

Why would Unilever pay $1 billion for a privately held company with just $152 million in revenue? It's a question being posed on Wall Street. Some analysts point out that the acquisition gives Unilever a powerful weapon against rival Procter and Gamble, which owns Gillette.

CNBC also reports that Dollar Shave Club has collected data on more than 10 million U.S. consumers, and that alone might have made it an attractive acquisition target.

From its launch in 2012, Dollar Shave Club has tried to differentiate itself from Gillette on price. Members can get a fresh blades shipped to their home each month for between $1 and $9.

Innovative and disruptive

“Dollar Shave Club is an innovative and disruptive male grooming brand with incredibly deep connections to its diverse and highly engaged consumers,” said Kees Kruythoff, President of Unilever North America. “In addition to its unique consumer and data insights, Dollar Shave Club is the category leader in its direct-to-consumer space.”

He said the company plans to maximize its global scale to support Dollar Shave Club make even deeper inroads in the shaving space.

“Dollar Shave Club couldn’t be happier to have the world’s most innovative and progressive consumer-product company in our corner,” said Michael Dubin, founder and CEO of Dollar Shave Club. Unilever says Dubin will continue in his present capacity.

Assuming the proposed deal gets over all its regulatory hurdles, Unilever says it should close in the third quarter.

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What your browser “fingerprints” say about you

Australian researcher warns that they can lead to significant privacy breaches

At a crime scene, detectives are able to lift fingerprints that are not visible to the naked eye. But those fingerprints tell a lot about who was at the sc...

PhotoAt a crime scene, detectives are able to lift fingerprints that are not visible to the naked eye. But those fingerprints tell a lot about who was at the scene.

It's a very similar situation when you visit a website. You can't see it, but your web browser may leave unique fingerprints everywhere you go, revealing who you are and what you're doing.

Security experts warn that these fingerprints can be monitored, tracked, and identified by companies that want to sell you something and hackers who want to steal from you.

"Fingerprinting on computers is invisible to most people but there are companies out there who are already using these techniques to learn more information about individuals, about their interests and their habits," said Lachlan Kang, an Australian computer science doctoral student at the University of Adelaide.

So what?

So what, you ask? Kang answers that in its most benign form, it might mean you get a barrage of ads, based on the sites you visit.

You might already have noticed that. If you search for a particular item on Amazon.com, for example, you may see adds for that item pop up on every website you visit after that.

At worst, though, Kang says this cyber sleuthing could be used to spy on you.

"Computer users generally are growing in awareness of privacy issues, but currently there's little that can be done to counter fingerprinting,” Kang said. “This is because fingerprints build up in between the websites you're visiting – your browsing history and personal information can be pooled in the gaps between those websites. Simply clearing your browsing history won't make any difference to this, because the information is already out there."

Working on a defense

Kang's goal is to build a defense against third parties that are following your fingerprint trail. He hopes to develop a software that acts in a similar way to anti-virus, allowing users who have installed it to block outsiders from seeing their browser fingerprints without their consent.

Kang is currently enlisting volunteers who would agree to allow him to analyze their digital fingerprints. He says he has about 25% of the number he needs.

In the meantime, if you'd like to get more information, or view your own browserprint, check this out.

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Mortgage applications post first decline in three weeks

Contract interest rates were on the rise

After advancing for two straight weeks, mortgage applications have taken a step back.The Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Mortgage Applications Su...

PhotoAfter advancing for two straight weeks, mortgage applications have taken a step back.

The Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey shows applications dipped 1.3% in the week ending July 15, 2016. The Refinance Index was also lower -- down 1% -- as the refinance share of mortgage activity rose to 64.2% of total applications from 64.0% the previous week.

The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity fell to 5.1% of total applications, the FHA share slipped to 9.9% from 10.0% the week before, the VA share was 11.2%, and the USDA share of total applications dropped to 0.5% from 0.6% a week earlier.

Contract interest rates

  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) rose five basis points -- to 3.65% from 3.60%, with points unchanged at 0.36 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) moved from 3.61% to 3.66%, with points unchanged at 0.32 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA was unchanged at 3.53%, with points decreasing to 0.30 from 0.32 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 15-year fixed-rate mortgages inched up two basis points to 2.90%, with points decreasing to 0.31 from 0.34 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs jumped to 2.86% from 2.7%, with points increasing to 0.29 from 0.25 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

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

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ConAgra Foods expands recall of frozen chicken and beef products

The products may be contaminated with extraneous materials

ConAgra Foods of Russellville, Ark., is expanding its earlier recall of frozen chicken and beef entrée products by 191,791 pounds for a total of approximat...

PhotoConAgra Foods of Russellville, Ark., is expanding its earlier recall of frozen chicken and beef entrée products by 191,791 pounds for a total of approximately 195,597 pounds.

 

The products may be contaminated with extraneous materials, specifically curled, malleable and shiny metal fragments ranging in size between 2 and 9 millimeters (mm) in diameter. The fragments may be embedded in the sauce contained within the frozen entrée products.

 

There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions or injuries due to consumption of these products.

 

The following items, produced between May 31, 2016, and June 22, 2016, are being recalled:

  • 22-oz. plastic bagged meal packages of “P.F. Chang’s Home Menu Signature Spicy Chicken” with “Use By” date of 6/08/17 and case code 5006616500.
  • 22-oz. plastic bagged meal packages of “P.F. Chang’s Home Menu Mongolian Style Beef” with “Use By” date of 6/17/17 and case code 5006617400.
  • 22-oz. plastic bagged meal packages of “P.F. Chang’s Home Menu Mongolian Style Beef” with “Use By” date of 6/1/17 and case code 5006615800.
  • 22-oz. plastic bagged meal packages of “P.F. Chang’s Home Menu Beef with Broccoli” with “Use By” date of 6/4/17 and case code 5006616100.
  • 22-oz. plastic bagged meal packages of “P.F. Chang’s Home Menu Sweet & Sour Chicken” with “Use By” date of 6/3/17 and case code 5006616000.
  • 22-oz. plastic bagged meal packages of “P.F. Chang’s Home Menu General Chang’s Chicken” with “Use By” date of 6/3/17 and case code 5006616000.
  • 22-oz. plastic bagged meal packages of “P.F. Chang’s Home Menu Garlic Chicken with Dan Dan Noodles” with “Use By” date of 6/8/17 and case code 5006616500.
  • 22-oz. plastic bagged meal packages of “P.F. Chang’s Home Menu Grilled Chicken Teriyaki with Lo Mein Noodles” with “Use By” date of 6/10/17 and case code 5006616700.
  • 22-oz. plastic bagged meal packages of “P.F. Chang’s Home Menu Signature Spicy Chicken” with “Use By” date of 5/26/17 and case code 5006615200.

The recalled products bear establishment number “EST. 233” or “EST. P-115” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and were shipped to distributors and retail locations nationwide.

 

What to do

 

Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but throw them away or return them to the place of purchase.

 

Consumers with questions about the recall may call 1-800-252-0634.  

 

 

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Three states sue VW for environmental damages from diesel exhaust

Clean air groups irate that even after being "fixed," the diesels still won't meet clean air regs

Volkswagen may never emerge from the lingering cloud of fumes created by its use of deceptive devices that made its TDI "clean diesels" appear to be operat...

PhotoVolkswagen may never emerge from the lingering cloud of fumes created by its use of deceptive devices that made its TDI "clean diesels" appear to be operating within clean air limits when in fact they normally emitted up to 40 times as much pollution as U.S. law allows.

Clean-air groups say that even after they are "fixed," many of the VW diesels will still not meet emission requirements. 

“For reasons they didn’t state, they’re allowing fixed vehicles to not be fixed, but to allow vehicles to emit twice as much pollution as they otherwise would allow,” said Daniel Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign, Bloomberg reported.

VW recently agreed to a $15.3 billion settlement with regulators and consumers in June, but now New York, Massachusetts, and Maryland have filed new lawsuits seeking compensation for the environmental damage caused by the diesel engines.

“The allegations against Volkswagen, Audi, and Porsche reveal a culture of deeply-rooted corporate arrogance, combined with a conscious disregard for the rule of law and the protection of public health and the environment,” New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said. “These suits should serve as a siren in every corporate board room, that if any company engages in this type of calculated and systematic illegality, we will bring the full force of the law — and seek the stiffest possible sanctions — to protect our citizens.”

Destroyed evidence, lied about it

The states' suits allege that VW employees destroyed incriminating evidence after they were tipped off to the U.S. investigation and then repeatedly lied about it.

The cover-up followed a study by researchers at West Virginia University that alerted authorities in this country that the diesel cars emitted much more nitrogen oxides (NOx) when driven on the road than they did when undergoing emissions testing on test equipment.

VW tried to cover up the problem through sham recalls that the company knew wouldn’t meet the required standards and then only confessed to the defeat devices “when they knew the regulators had the goods on them,” according to Schneiderman’s statement.

Won't meet standards

While some of the oldest and dirtiest VWs will be bought back from their owners and destroyed, others will be modified to run cleaner, although under the terms of the $15 billion settlement, they still won't fully meet U.S. emission standards.

VW is paying millons of dollars into an environmental fund as partial payment for environmental damage, amounting to a tacit admission that many of the cars will still be polluting the air.

The California Air Resources Board estimates that the "fixed" VW diesels will have their emissions cut by as much as 90 percent. But since the cars now emit as much as 40 times the permitted amounts of NOx, even a 90 percent reduction won't bring them into compliance.

California will allow many of the cars to remain on the road, however, recognizing that the owners aren't be blame. 

“Volkswagen knowingly broke the law and lied about it, not the vehicle owners,” said David Clegern, a spokesman for the Air Resources Board, according to Bloomberg. “Therefore, owners are being given as much flexibility as possible in how they choose to handle their individual vehicles.”

There is, however, still no approved plan to retrofit the cars with improved emission systems. VW and the various federal and state agencies are still negotiating what form that final solution will take.

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How do you know if you have the Zika virus?

Symptoms are mild or non-existent, but it is dangerous nonetheless

Summer is here, and so are the mosquitoes. How many of them are carrying the Zika virus?That's hard to tell. The Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mos...

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Why you should avoid mixing alcohol with energy drinks

Study shows it can increase desire for more alcohol

In the dog days of summer, it is important to stay hydrated. But what you drink is important. Replenishing your bodily fluids with water is best.The Am...

PhotoIn the dog days of summer, it is important to stay hydrated. But what you drink is important. Replenishing your bodily fluids with water is best.

The American Heart Association notes that sources of water also include foods, such as fruits and vegetables which contain a high percentage of water. Sports drinks with electrolytes may help with high intensity, vigorous exercise in very hot weather, though they tend to be high in added sugars and calories.

In hot weather, or after strenuous exercise, sugary drinks, alcohol, and energy drinks are not recommended.

The energy drinks now available for purchase no longer contain alcohol, but they were popular items before 2010. Even though these beverages are off the market, health officials worry that consumers are making their own, combining alcohol with the energy drinks that are currently available.

Reduce feeling of intoxication

Doctors at the Mayo Clinic say this practice can lead to problems. They say energy drinks will reduce the feeling of intoxication, meaning people drinking the beverages are prone to drinking too much.

To test this theory, researchers for the Research Society on Alcoholism selected 26 adults to participate in six double-blind sessions that involved drinking alcohol and energy drinks, alone and in combinations.

Over the course of the study, the subjects received one of six possible combinations:

  • Vodka mixed with a decaffeinated soft drink
  • Vodka mixed into a medium energy drink
  • Vodka mixed into a large energy drink
  • A decaffeinated soft drink
  • A medium energy drink
  • A large energy drink.

The findings

After consuming the beverages, each participant was checked for the concentration of alcohol in their breath and their desire to consume more alcohol.

Those who just drank alcohol wanted more alcohol, which was expected. But those who drank the alcohol-energy drink combination expressed an even greater desire for more alcohol.

The study provides laboratory evidence that mixing alcohol with energy drinks could lead someone to consume more alcohol than they would ordinarily.

The Mayo doctors say that for most people, an occasional energy drink is fine, but consumers should avoid spiking it with alcohol.

The Heart Association suggests avoiding energy drinks or beverages with caffeine during hot weather or exercise, noting that caffeine acts as a diuretic and causes you to lose more fluids.  

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California Obamacare premiums increasing 13.2% next year

The rate hike is three times bigger than increases over the last two years

California's health exchange has been one of the biggest and most successful state Obamacare programs. But today, Covered California, as it's known, announ...

PhotoCalifornia's health exchange has been one of the biggest and most successful state Obamacare programs. But today, Covered California, as it's known, announced an average statewide premium increase of 13.2 percent for 2017, setting off a round of criticism and defensive responses.

“These outrageous premium hikes are the consequence of California’s failure to adopt health insurance premium regulation like the majority of the states and the disappearance of federal subsidies for insurance companies to even out bumps in the road ,” said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, which sponsored an unusccessful rate regulation initiative in 2014.

Insurance companies said the rate hikes -- more than three times the increases of the last two years -- were the result of factors beyond their control. 

“In 2017, Covered California prices are influenced by higher spending on medical care, particularly skyrocketing prices on specialty drugs, and the sunset of two federal programs," said California Association of Health Plans President & CEO Charles Bacchi.

“California’s health exchange opened up access to health care for millions, with 11 health plans in Covered California competing over price and quality and in most of the regions of the state," Bacchi said.

“Some rate increases are necessary to cover the cost of care as more and more Californians use medical services that have become increasingly expensive each year. As prices for hospitals, doctors, specialty drugs and other services keep climbing, we cannot lose focus on our goal of affordability,” he said.

"Regulation is the hammer"

But Consumer Watchdog, a nonprofit based in Santa Monica, said the increases could have been avoided if the rate regulation initiative had passed.

“When three health insurance companies control 90% of the market there is no bargaining with them absent a hammer. Rate regulation is the hammer," Court said. "California consumers cannot continue to pay more for very limited doctors and hospital networks. Rate regulation needs to move to the top of the legislature’s list.”

The ballot initiative failed to pass in a record-low turnout election, but it garnered 41% of the vote despite a $57 million insurance company campaign against it, Court noted.

The federal programs that are being phased out were intended to help stabilize the market during the first few years of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

How much more individual consumers will have to pay depends on whether they are eligible for taxpayer-supported subsidies and whether they choose to switch to lower-cost plans that may have higher deductibles and co-pays.  

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Researchers develop first widely protective vaccine for chlamydia

The treatment could help millions of people worldwide

A study conducted at McMaster University may prove to be the first step towards effectively preventing chlamydia, a sexually transmitted infection (STI) th...

PhotoA study conducted at McMaster University may prove to be the first step towards effectively preventing chlamydia, a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that affects more than 100 million people around the world.

Researchers at the university have produced the very first widely protective vaccine against the most common strain of the infection, called Chlamydia trachomatis. Those who have the infection are known to suffer from upper genital tract infections, pelvic inflammatory disease, and infertility. If proven to be effective, the vaccine could prevent all of these issues, in addition to Trachoma, an eye infection that is the leading cause of preventable blindness in the world.

“Vaccination would be the best way to prevent a chlamydia infection, and this study has identified important new antigens which could be used as part of a vaccine to prevent or eliminate the damaging reproductive consequences of untreated infections,” said Dr. David Bulir, co-author of the study.

Improving vaccine efforts

The researchers began working towards a vaccine by studying a chlamydial antigen called BD584. They observed that this particular antigen worked amazingly well at counteracting C. trachomatis.

Under laboratory settings, they found that BD584 was able to prevent chlamydial shedding – a symptom of chlamydia -- 95% of the time. Additionally, it was able to prevent hydrosalpinx – another symptom which involves the fallopian tubes being blocked by fluids – 87.5% of the time.

These results could not have come at a better time, since the scientific community had struggled with vaccine efforts in recent years. “Vaccine development efforts in the past three decades have been unproductive and there is no vaccine approved for humans,” said Bulir.

Worldwide solution

In addition to preventing strains of C. trachomatis, the researchers say that their new vaccine could be integral to preventing trachoma – the leading cause of preventable blindness in the world. This is especially important for resource-poor nations that would otherwise have no answer to this health crisis.

“The vaccine would be administered through the nose. This is easy and painless and does not require trained health professionals to administer, and that makes it an inexpensive solution for developing nations,” said Steven Liang, co-author and PhD student at McMaster.

The researchers plan to keep working with their vaccine to see if its effectiveness can be extended to other strains of chlamydia.

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Refund checks going to consumers hoodwinked by bogus auto warranties

My Car Solutions claimed to be affiliated with manufacturers and dealers

Checks totaling more than $4 million are being mailed to nearly 6,000 consumers who were bombarded with illegal robocalls and tricked into paying thousands...

PhotoChecks totaling more than $4 million are being mailed to nearly 6,000 consumers who were bombarded with illegal robocalls and tricked into paying thousands of dollars for "extended auto warranties" that turned out to be bogus.

The Federal Trade Commission’s June 2010 complaint alleged that the defendants, doing business under the name My Car Solutions, conned people into paying thousands of dollars by leading them to believe that the company was affiliated with auto dealers and manufacturers, when in fact it was not.

Rust Consulting, Inc., the refund administrator, began mailing refund checks today. The checks must be cashed within 60 days or they will become void. The checks are going to everyone who was listed as a customer of My Car Solutions. No one will have to pay any money or provide any additional information to receive the refund -- and there will not be any telephone calls being made to recipients.

If you have questions, call 1-877-703-3427.

After extensive legal efforts, the FTC recovered the entire $4,255,209 judgment entered against the defendants, Fereidoun “Fred” Khalilian and his company, The Dolce Group Worldwide, LLC.

The final court order bans the defendants from telemarketing or helping others to telemarket. It also prohibits them from making any misrepresentations or omissions when selling any goods or services.

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New study increases understanding of chronic fatigue syndrome

Researchers find that even minor physical strain can lead to symptom flares

After a long day, it’s common for many people to arrive at home feeling completely exhausted. But while most of us are able to shake these feelings with a ...

PhotoAfter a long day, it’s common for many people to arrive at home feeling completely exhausted. But while most of us are able to shake these feelings with a little rest, there are some people out there who aren’t so fortunate.

Those who have chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) regularly suffer from extreme fatigue that is not alleviated by rest. This type of exhaustion can last for a long time, and it can be compounded by muscle pain, headaches, flu-like symptoms, and memory problems – issues that make it extremely difficult to go about everyday activities.

Symptoms of CFS can flare up at seemingly random times, and medical experts have yet to figure out the underlying reasons. However, researchers have conducted a study that suggests that the issue originates in the muscles and nerves after experiencing some sort of physical strain.

Symptom flares

Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine set out to see if CFS symptoms truly were worse after some sort of physical exercise or strain. They utilized 80 participants -- 60 of them had been diagnosed with CFS and 20 did not have it.

Participants were asked to undergo 15 minutes of either a passive supine straight leg raise, which consists of an individual lifting their legs up into the air while lying down flat, or a sham leg raise, which mimics this motion but does not cause any body strain.

During this process, participants were asked to report levels of fatigue, body pain, lightheadedness, and other CFS symptoms every five minutes. After this first session, participants were asked to come back 24 hours later and report on these same factors.

Extending understanding of CFS

The results of the study showed that all participants who took part in the “true strain” exercise reported greater levels of lightheadedness and higher overall combined scores for all factors than those who took part in the sham exercise. Additionally, participants who had CFS reported greater severity of symptoms 24 hours after the first session.

While the results may seem understandable, or even obvious, the researchers say that their results shed light on how everyday body strain might induce feelings of fatigue in those with CFS.

“These findings have practical implications for understanding why exercise and the activities of daily living might be capable of provoking CFS symptoms. If simply holding up the leg of someone with CFS to a degree that produces a mild to moderate strain is capable of provoking their symptoms, prolonged or excessive muscle strain beyond the usual range of motion that occurs during daily activities might also produce symptom flares,” said Dr. Kevin Fontaine, co-author of the study’s paper.

Dr. Peter Rowe, lead author of the study and director of Johns Hopkins Children’s Center Chronic Fatigue Clinic, agrees with the assessment and further states that the findings indicate “that increased mechanical sensitivity may be a contributor to the provocation of symptoms in [CFS].”

The full study has been published in the journal PLOS ONE

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Online obituary sites collected unauthorized charitable donations

Legacy.com and Tributes settle Vermont charges, agree to reform their practices

It's not just undertakers and florists who profit from death. Local newspapers and online sites have found a steady stream of revenue in the obituary busin...

PhotoIt's not just undertakers and florists who profit from death. Local newspapers and online sites have found a steady stream of revenue in the obituary business and now routinely gouge families to run even the simplest death announcement.

Finding a profitable business model frequently results in looking for ways to milk more revenue out of each transaction, and that's what Vermont says online obit sites have been up to lately. 

Legacy.com and Tributes have agreed to pay more than $30,000 to settle charges by Vermont that they ran a scheme to solicit unauthorized donations to nonprofits in lieu of flowers.

“We are pleased to end this practice, which has cost Vermonters unnecessary fees at a time of vulnerability. This is a good outcome for Vermont donors and nonprofits alike.” Attorney General William H. Sorrell said.

According to Sorrell, the sites directed mourners wanting to donate to nonprofits like the American Cancer Society to Givalike, a third-party website that collected the money, deducted its cut, and sent the remainder to the charity.

Didn't get consent

The problem with this is that, in Vermont and many other states, it is illegal to solicit donations for a charity without first getting the charity's consent. Additionally, the state charged that in some instances, neither the deceased nor the immediate family had asked for donations to be solicited for a charity.

The sites also failed to register as paid fundraisers in Vermont and failed to follow the state's laws regarding charitable solicitations.

Under the terms of the settlement, Legacy.com and Tributes agreed not to allow software in the obituary of any Vermonter, or in any obituary where a Vermont nonprofit is listed without disclosing that a third-party’s website will be used and disclosing all fees. 

As part of the settlement, both Legacy.com and Tributes will pay the state for penalties and attorneys’ costs and fees totaling more than $30,000.

Sorrell's office is still investigating the three California-based principals of Givalike, which is no longer in business.

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Prenatal vitamins: are they worth it?

Some doctors say expensive prenatal vitamins may not be all they're cracked up to be

Prenatal vitamins have long been considered a crucial element to a healthy pregnancy. But are they really necessary?When it comes to preventing heart d...

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Chick-fil-A feels push-back over menu change

Die hard customers unhappy about disappearance of Spicy Chicken Biscuit

Chick-fil-A has a devoted, some might say fanatical, following. The fast food chain has won praise from consumers in recent years due to both its service a...

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Mixed results for new home construction in June

The same holds true for building permits

It's truly a good-news-bad news situation for the home construction industry.The Commerce Department reports builders broke ground on privately-owned h...

PhotoIt's truly a good-news-bad news situation for the home construction industry.

The Commerce Department reports builders broke ground on privately-owned homes in June at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,189,000. While that's 4.8% above the May figure, it's down 2.0% from the same period a year earlier.

Construction of single-family houses rose 4.4% from May to a rate of 778,000 and 13.4% from June 2015. The rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 392,000, up 1.6% for the month, but suffered a year-over-year plunge of 23.6%.

Building permits

Building permits, an indicator of what developers are planning in the months ahead, were issued at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,153,000 -- up 1.5% from May, but down 13.6% on a year-over-year basis.

Authorizations for future construction of single-family homes were at a rate of 738,000 in June, a gain of 1.0% from May and 5.1% from a year earlier.

Permits for units in buildings with five units or more posted a month-over-month advance of 1.9% to 384,000, but plunged 35.8% from June 2015.

The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

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Mercedes-Benz recalls vehicles with seat belt issue

The right rear seatbelt anchor bolt may be incorrectly installed

Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 423 model year 2015 ML250, ML350, ML350 4Matic, ML400 4Matic, ML63 AMG; and 2016 GLE450 AMG 4Matic vehicles manufact...

PhotoMercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 423 model year 2015 ML250, ML350, ML350 4Matic, ML400 4Matic, ML63 AMG; and 2016 GLE450 AMG 4Matic vehicles manufactured from April 27, 2015, through May 19, 2015.

 

The recalled vehicles may have had the right rear seatbelt anchor bolt incorrectly installed.

 

In the event of a vehicle crash, the right rear seatbelt anchor bolt could fail to secure the passenger, increasing their risk of injury.

 

What to do

 

MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will inspect and, if necessary, correct the installation of the right rear seat belt anchor bolt, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in July 2016.

 

Owners may contact MBUSA customer service at 1-800-367-6372.

 

 

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White House funds 5G effort despite health advocates' objections

The ultra-high-speed broadband technology poses unknown risks, critics say

The White House is throwing $400 million into an effort that's supposed to speed development of the Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G wireless technology, a ...

PhotoThe White House is throwing $400 million into an effort that's supposed to speed development of the Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G wireless technology, a move some health advocates say is premature and unwise.

The federal dollars will be flowing into something called the Advanced Wireless Research Initiative, which is supposed to test and ultimately implement new 5G wireless networking and IoT technologies in the U.S.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last week voted to adopt new rules that open up the 24 GHz spectrum for so-called 5G (5th generation) high-speed broadband. When fully deployed, 5G will make the internet about 100 times faster and supposedly enable widespread development of "connected" cars and appliances.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler calls U.S. leadership in 5G "a national priority."

"High-speed, high-capacity, low-latency wireless networks will define our future," Wheeler said at Friday's announcement of the funding for the initiative. 

More towers

Because of the extremely high 24 GHz frequencies, the waves emitted by transponders are extremely short and don't travel very far, meaning that there will need to be many more -- though smaller -- cell towers than today.  

Not everyone thinks this is a good idea. Richard H. Conrad, a biochemist and consultant, says the White House and FCC are putting the cart before the horse -- deploying new technology without first ensuring that it is safe.

"I am a biochemist with a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins and know without a doubt, from the findings of thousands of research papers published by scientists with independent research funding, that there are many harmful biological effects of non-thermal levels of EMF that are relevant to humans," Conrad said in an open letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

Conrad contends that boosters of wireless technology have argued, in effect, that critics must prove the technology is unsafe by showing exactly how it causes harm.

"This is a myth; no one yet knows how smoking causes cancer, or the actual mechanism behind gravity," Conrad said. "Honest and independent research into health effects of 5G is absolutely necessary before actual deployment, and is therefore desirable before 5G system designs and standards have progressed very far."

"Increased productivity"

In a statement, The White House compares the IoT effort to historic breakthroughs achieved by Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, George Washington Carver, and Samuel Morse.

"This effort will help spur innovation in many ways, from pushing the frontiers of tele-medicine through robot-assisted remote surgeries, to testing of autonomous vehicles that talk to each other to keep us safe, to the roll-out of smart manufacturing equipment in factories, to providing more connectivity for more people," administration officials Jason Furman and R. David Edelman said in a blog posting.

"Each one of these innovations has the potential to support increased productivity growth that can put more money in the pocket of American families," said Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, and Edelman, Special Assistant to the President for Economic and Technology Policy.

Like the FCC's Wheeler, Furman and Edelman have no training in biological sciences, a sticking point for Conrad.

"Wheeler is a businessman, lobbyist and politician with no training in biological or medical sciences, no understanding of biochemistry or biophysics, no biological research experience, and he listens to advice on biological safety only from scientists who have been bought by industry and tell him what he wants to hear," Conrad said in an email to ConsumerAffairs.

"Wheeler is relying on myths and 'tobacco science' to sweep real science under the carpet, the enormous body of science that shows harmful effects of even low levels of pulsed microwave, yes, non-ionizing, radiation," Conrad said.

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Obama administration lets automakers off the 54.5 mpg hook

Low gas prices encourage consumers to buy more trucks and SUVs, feds lament

U.S. regulators are backing off their 54.5 mile per gallon fuel economy target for the 2025 model year. It's not that car manufacturers can't hit the targe...

PhotoU.S. regulators are backing off their 54.5 mile per gallon fuel economy target for the 2025 model year. It's not that car manufacturers can't hit the target but rather that consumers keep buying SUVs and pick-up trucks that pull down the average fuel economy figures.

In a joint report, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Highway Traffic Safety Adminitration (NHTSA), and California Air Resources Board (CARB) said automakers are adopting new technology "at unprecedented rates." But, unfortunately, at the rate consumers keep buying bigger vehicles, manufacturers likely won't be able to reach the "corporate average fuel economy" -- or CAFE -- targets by 2025. 

Some consumer advocates say the feds are letting automakers off the hook too easily. After all, who is it that advertises all those big tough trucks and hulking SUVs?

“The question remains as to what vehicles automakers are heavily promoting.  Many of the high profit trucks and SUVs happen to get lower MPG ratings than less profitable smaller vehicles," said Jack Gillis, director of public affairs for the Consumer Federation of America. 

"We are calling upon the EPA and NHTSA to ask the automakers about their promotion efforts and compare the fuel efficiency ratings of heavily promoted vs. less promoted vehicles. The industry spends about $15 billion on advertising which has a great deal of influence on what consumers actually buy,” Gillis said.

Mark Cooper, director of research for CFA, said the organization's most recent survey finds that more than four out of five consumers said gas mileage will be an important consideration the next time they shop for a vehicle.

“Staying the course on fuel economy standards is what American drivers want -- whether it’s a pick-up, SUV or hybrid, they want vehicles that go farther on a gallon of gas," Cooper said. "Even in a year when gas prices are low, consumers understand that buying a fuel-efficient vehicle saves money and, most importantly, protects them from inevitable gas price spikes.”

Stay the course

Consumers Union also said automakers have shown they can meet the tougher mileage standards. 

“Car technologies improve every year. Robust fuel economy standards help to ensure that advances also are deployed to improve fuel economy and help consumers keep transportation costs down.” said Shannon Baker–Branstetter, energy policy counsel for ConsumersUnion.

“[T]he federal government should stay the course on improving fuel economy standards for model years 2022-2025. The data show that improving fuel economy puts money in the pockets of consumers even in times of low gas prices,” said Baker-Branstetter.

Could be, but government officials say the 54.5 mpg goal is off the table. They put most of the blame on lower gas prices, which have kept demand SUVs and pickups higher than expected.

On a conference call with reporters, senior Obama administration officials said the 54.5 mpg goal was never a mandate but more of an estimate of where the industry could be by the 2025 model year -- based on an assumption that 67 percent of hte market would be cars and 33 percent would be SUVs and trucks.

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Study shows many community-dwelling seniors use prescriptions improperly

Over half of all seniors misuse or underuse their medications

As we age, the number of medical issues that we become susceptible to tends to increase. As a result, seniors often have to take several prescription medic...

PhotoAs we age, the number of medical issues that we become susceptible to tends to increase. As a result, seniors often have to take several prescription medications in order to stay healthy – but are those medications being taken properly?

Maybe not, one study proposes. New research suggests that the majority of seniors who live independently do not take their prescriptions properly. The findings show that this can go both ways: some seniors take too many prescriptions at once, while still more underuse their prescriptions, which can put them at serious risk.

“Taking too many medications or unsafe medications are known to cause adverse health outcomes; however, we have shown that not taking essential, beneficial medications is more frequent and can be strongly associated with negative outcomes,” said researcher Maarten Wauters.

Misuse and underuse

The study analyzed 503 community-dwelling seniors over the age of 80 for a period of 18 months. Over that time period, researchers monitored prescription drug habits, including the number of medications taken and any incidents of misuse.

After 18 months, Wauters and his colleagues found that 58% of the participants took five or more chronic medications on a daily basis. They note that taking this number of medications, without careful and proper administration, could be dangerous since seniors are more sensitive to prescriptions than younger people.

“Prescribing medications to older persons should be done after careful thought, balancing the benefits and risk of every medication at regular intervals,” said Wauters.

Additionally, the researchers found that 56% of patients misused their prescription medications, while 67% underused them. When all was said and done, only 17% of participants were not affected by any kind of misuse or underuse.

Expert opinions

The researchers point out that having a dedicated clinical pharmacologist for senior communities could go a long way towards curbing abuse and improving health outcomes.

“Clinical pharmacologists can help prescribers to clearly assess misuse and underuse of medications in full knowledge of the patient, their comorbidities, and their medications. They can help to build electronic systems for constant monitoring of the quality of prescribing, using evidence-based criteria of potentially inappropriate prescribing,” said Wauters.

The full study has been published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology

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Red meat linked to kidney failure

A study shows that eating too much red meat can lead to chronic kidney disease and end-stage renal failure

The medical community has been warning the public about the dangers of red meat for some time now. Over the past few years, studies have linked its consump...

PhotoThe medical community has been warning the public about the dangers of red meat for some time now. Over the past few years, studies have linked its consumption to higher risk of cancer and diabetes, but now a new study shows that it can negatively impact the kidneys as well.

Specifically, the researchers believe that red meat consumption is leading to chronic kidney disease (CKD) and end-stage renal disease (ESRD). Both diseases are extremely serious and require either dialysis or kidney transplant in order to be treated.

Increased risk

In their study, researchers analyzed data on over 63,000 Chinese adults living in Singapore to see what impact red meat had on their kidney function. The majority of red meat consumed by participants was pork, but other sources of protein like poultry, fish, shellfish, eggs, dairy products, soy, and legumes were included in the analysis.

After an average follow-up time of 15.5 years, the researchers examined health outcomes and found an association between red meat consumption and kidney problems. Those who consumed the highest amount of red meat (top 25%) had a 40% increased risk of developing ESRD compared to those who consumed the lowest amount (bottom 25%).

However, the researchers found that there was no association between kidney disease and other forms of protein like poultry, fish, eggs, or dairy products. In fact, they found that products like soy and legumes were slightly beneficial in terms of kidney health.

Healthy substitutions

In order to combat problems like CKD and ESRD, the researchers suggest substituting one serving of red meat with another form of protein from time to time. Doing so, they say, could reduce the risk of developing ESRD by as much as 62%.

“We embarked on our study to see what advice should be given to CKD patients or to the general population about their kidney health regarding types or sources of protein intake. Our findings suggest that these individuals can maintain protein intake but consider switching to plant-based sources; however, if they still choose to eat meat, fish/shellfish and poultry are better alternatives to red meat,” said lead researcher Dr. Woon-Puay Koh.

The full study has been published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology

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Four ways to save on back to school shopping

Where to find cheap (or even free) clothing in your area

The swimming pools are still crowded and school buses are still dormant, but back to school shopping has already begun.As retailers roll out their back...

PhotoThe swimming pools are still crowded and school buses are still dormant, but back to school shopping has already begun.

As retailers roll out their back to school merchandise, many shoppers may be thinking about how to save on this big annual expenditure.

Fortunately, a few clever savings tricks can help parents keep back to school costs down. With these earth-friendly savings tips, even parents of fashionistas can emerge from back to school shopping with their budget unscathed.

Consignment sales

Last year, the National Retail Federation reported that parents planned to spend over $350 on clothing and shoes. Given the rate at which kids grow and discard old trends, spending this much isn’t exactly practical.

But stocking kids’ closets with fresh new looks doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Consignment stores offer gently used clothing from an array of designers at a fraction of the price.

For the best deals on clothing and sporting equipment, look for group consignment sales in your area. A national directory of consignment sales can be found here.

To reward kids for their wallet and earth-friendly apparel choices, some parents choose to allow their kids to pick out one or two must-have pieces throughout the school year.

Reusable bags

Purchasing a supply of washable, reusable lunch containers may be more of an investment up front, but it’ll save you money in the long run.

Washable sandwich bags, such as those from Lunchskins, are a more planet-friendly option than plastic bags. Parents can also buy bento-box inspired lunch containers, such as these, which often make the perfect vehicle for a healthy, home-packed lunch.

Clothing swap party

Are there other moms in your area who are up against the task of back-to-school shopping on a budget? If so, why not organize a clothing swap party where items can be exchanged for free?

Once a time, date, and venue are agreed upon, participants simply show up with their children’s clean, gently used garments. To keep things even, decide ahead of time how many articles of clothing swappers should show up with and leave with.

Spread out purchases

If you have lots of kids, it may be smart to buy a few things over a period of time rather than knocking out the entire shopping list at once. Slow and steady may win the race, in this case.

Tossing a few back-to-school related items into your cart each time you’re at the grocery store, for instance, may leave you in a much more financially comfortable place come September.

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The most affordable weekends for summer travel

When to take that end-of-summer trip and which ten cities have the cheapest lodging

Looking to cash in those unused vacation days for one last summer trip with the family? If so, chances are you’d like to get the most bang for your buck. ...

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Why more consumers are struggling financially

Study shows level of financial literacy is in decline

The economy is doing a little better over the last year or two, but millions of consumers haven't noticed. They still struggle to make ends meet, according...

PhotoThe economy is doing a little better over the last year or two, but millions of consumers haven't noticed. They still struggle to make ends meet, according to the 2016 study of financial capability by the FINRA Foundation.

The study found women, Millennials, African-Americans, Hispanics, and those without a high school education are falling behind the most. The research also found that medical costs are a major source of debt.

Slightly more than one in five consumers have medical bills they can't pay and women are more likely than men to postpone seeking medical attention because of costs.

Less education equals less money

Education is a big factor determining basic economic security. Nearly half of consumers with a high school diploma or less could not come up with $2,000 in 30 days to meet an emergency expense. Only 18% of those with a college degree are in the same situation.

Age comes into play as well, as 29% percent of Millennials with a mortgage have been late with a mortgage payment, compared with only 7% for those 55 and older.

The study also found Hispanics and African-Americans are the mostly likely to turn to high-cost forms of borrowing, like pawn shops and payday loans, compared to whites -- 39% for African-Americans, 34% for Hispanics, and 21% for whites.

Decreasing financial literacy

But perhaps most distressing, the study found that American consumers' knowledge of financial matters is getting worse. Just 37% of the consumers in the survey were considered to have a high level of financial literacy. To achieve that status, they had to answer four or more questions on a five-question quiz correctly. In 2012, 39% could do it and in 2009, 42% were able to.

On a positive note, those saying they could make it through the month meeting all their expenses jumped from 36%, in the wake of the financial crisis, to 46% last year.

“This research underscores the critical need for innovative strategies to equip consumers with the tools and education required to effectively manage their financial lives,” said FINRA Foundation Chairman Richard Ketchum.

Where will these strategies come from? Ketchum says he hopes policymakers, researchers, and advocates will use the data in the study to improve efforts towards helping those populations that are struggling most.

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Car loan terms continue to get longer

But consumers appear to be getting out of them sooner

As new car prices have risen, consumers have used longer payment periods to keep their monthly payments manageable. But that doesn't mean that they are kee...

PhotoAs new car prices have risen, consumers have used longer payment periods to keep their monthly payments manageable. But that doesn't mean that they are keeping their loans – or their vehicles – longer.

TransUnion, the credit reporting agency, has completed a study that found the average term for new car loans rose from 62 months to 67 months from 2010 to 2015. But that's just the average.

Auto lenders now routinely make loans for six and seven years. After all, today's vehicles are better than they were a decade ago and studies have shown consumers drive their cars longer.

Yet the TransUnion study found that as loan terms got longer, the length of time a consumer continues to pay on the loan has gotten shorter. There could be several reasons for that.

Trading in before it's paid off

It's possible some consumers simply refinanced their auto loans at lower rates. But they could also have sold, or traded-in their vehicle before they finished paying for it. It is also possible that some vehicles were repossessed after the consumer defaulted on the loan.

TransUnion’s study found that car loan terms extending from 73 to 84 months have more than doubled between 2010 and 2015. In fact, 25% of all car loans in the third quarter of last year were for six to seven years, compared to just 10% five years earlier.

The danger of a long loan term is the slower pace at which the consumer gains equity. Vehicles lose value over time, meaning the consumer could be halfway through a seven year loan term and owe significantly more than the vehicle is worth.

Bad risk

“Consumers who cannot afford the monthly payment on a shorter term for the same loan are riskier, and we see this manifested in the higher delinquency rates for 72- and 84-month loans,” said Jason Laky, senior vice president and automotive business leader for TransUnion.

Even with smaller monthly payments, TransUnion found that consumers with longer loans are more likely to be 60 days or more delinquent on their car payments than consumers with shorter term loans.

While the 60 month, or five-year loan term has become something of an industry standard recently, personal finance experts still recommend a four year, or 48-month loan term.

They recommend the 20-4-10 rule to determine whether a new vehicle is affordable. If a consumer cannot make a 20% down payment, finance the vehicle for four years, and have the monthly payment not to exceed 10% of monthly income, then the vehicle is not affordable.

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A slip in builder confidence

Shortages of lots and labor may be factors

Builder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family homes stayed positive in July, even though there was a bit of slippage.The National Ass...

PhotoBuilder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family homes stayed positive in July, even though there was a bit of slippage.

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) edged down one point during the month -- to a reading of 60.

“The economic fundamentals are in place for continued slow, steady growth in the housing market,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “Job creation is solid, mortgage rates are at historic lows and household formations are rising. These factors should help to bring more buyers into the market as the year progresses.”

The HMI

The HMI, which is derived from a monthly survey, gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next six months as “good,” “fair,” or “poor.” The survey also asks builders to rate traffic of prospective buyers as “high to very high,” “average” or “low to very low.” Scores for each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.

All three HMI components edged lower in July. The components measuring current sales expectations and buyer traffic each fell one point to 63 and 45, respectively. The index measuring sales expectations in the next six months dipped three-points to 66.

The three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores held steady. The Northeast, Midwest, and South were unchanged at 39, 57, and 61, respectively. The West edged one point higher to 69.

“For the past six months, builder confidence has remained in a relatively narrow positive range that is consistent with the ongoing gradual housing recovery that is underway,” said NAHB Chairman Ed Brady. “However, we are still hearing reports from our members of scattered softness in some markets, due largely to regulatory constraints and shortages of lots and labor.”

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Airline complaints post sharp year-over-year decline in May

However, it was not a good month for tarmac delays

Complaints about airline service were waaaay down in May from the same month a year earlier.The Department of Transportation (DOT) says it received jus...

PhotoComplaints about airline service were waaaay down in May from the same month a year earlier.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) says it received just 1,134 complaints from consumers, a drop of 24.0% from May 2015, but up just 1.07% from April 2016.

That's not the only good news. The carriers canceled a minuscule 0.5% of their scheduled domestic flights during the month, the third lowest on record. In May 2015, the cancellation rate was 1.1%, and in April 2016, it was 0.9 percent rate in April 2016.

Airlines posted an on-time arrival rate of 83.4% a year-over-year increase of 2.9%, but down 1.1% from from the April 2016 mark.

Where the industry really fell down was in getting planes off the ground on time. The carriers reported nine tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights and four tarmac delays of more than four hours on international flights. All are being investigated by the DOT.

The monthly report also includes data on chronically delayed flights, including their causes, mishandled baggage reports, data on oversales, and information about the total number of animals that died, were injured, or lost during air transport.

The complete report is available on the DOT website.

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Mercedes-Benz recalls GLE450 AMG 4Matic Coupes

The engine may shut-down while the vehicle is braking

Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 5,826 model year 2016 GLE450 AMG 4Matic Coupes manufactured December 10, 2014, to June 6, 2016. An error wit...

PhotoMercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 5,826 model year 2016 GLE450 AMG 4Matic Coupes manufactured December 10, 2014, to June 6, 2016.

 

An error within the engine control unit (ECU) software may allow the engine to shut-down while the vehicle is braking, possibly confusing the driver into thinking the shut-down was planned due to the ECO start/stop function.

 

If the engine shuts down unintentionally, there may be an increased risk of a crash.

 

What to do

 

MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will update the ECU software, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in July 2016.

 

Owners may contact MBUSA customer service at 1-800-367-6372.

 

 

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Nissan recalls model year 2016 Sentras

The vehicle may not start or the engine may stall

Nissan North America is recalling 1,522 model year 2016 Sentras manufactured April 11, 2016, through April 26, 2016. The engine room harness may ha...

PhotoNissan North America is recalling 1,522 model year 2016 Sentras manufactured April 11, 2016, through April 26, 2016.

 

The engine room harness may have a terminal pin too large to maintain a connection with the Engine Control Unit (ECU).

 

If the engine room harness loses connection to the ECU, the vehicle may not start or the engine may stall, increasing the risk of a crash.

 

What to do

 

Nissan will notify owners, and dealers will replace the terminal pin on the engine room harness, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin by August 26, 2016.

 

Owners may contact Nissan customer service at 1-800-647-7261.

 

 

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Consumer groups try to put the brakes on self-driving cars

'Consumers should never be guinea pigs for beta programs'

Consumer organizations are trying to rein in what they see as premature attempts to put self-driving cars on the nation's highways. Consumer Reports magazi...

PhotoConsumer organizations are trying to rein in what they see as premature attempts to put self-driving cars on the nation's highways. Consumer Reports magazine, a part of nonprofit Consumers Union, wants Tesla to disable its Autopilot feature, and a coalition of consumer groups wants President Obama to put the brakes on his administration's "undue haste" to put self-driving cars on the road.

Consumer Reports says the Autopilot driving-assist system should be turned off until Tesla updates it to confirm that the driver's hands remain on the steering wheel at all times. 

Tesla should also change the name of the Autopilot feature because it promotes a potentially dangerous assumption that the Model S is capable of driving on its own, Consumer Reports said. The auto company is under intense scrutiny for how it deployed and marketed the Autopilot system after a series of crashes, including a fatal crash involving a Tesla and a tractor-trailer in Florida.

“By marketing their feature as ‘Autopilot,’ Tesla gives consumers a false sense of security,” said Laura MacCleery, Vice President of Consumer Policy and Mobilization for Consumer Reports. “In the long run, advanced active safety technologies in vehicles could make our roads safer. But today, we’re deeply concerned that consumers are being sold a pile of promises about unproven technology."

"‘Autopilot’ can't actually drive the car, yet it allows consumers to have their hands off the steering wheel for minutes at a time. Tesla should disable automatic steering in its cars until it updates the program to verify that the driver’s hands are kept on the wheel,” MacCleery said in a prepared statement.

"Victim to hype"

Meanwhile, Consumer Watchdog and other consumer groups think the Obama administration is just a little bit too eager to let self-driving cars loose on the nation's roads.

“The error in rushing autonomous vehicle technology into cars and onto public highways without enforceable safety rules was underscored by the recent tragic fatal crash of a Tesla Model S in Florida while autopilot was engaged,” the coalition said in a letter to Obama

The letter to Obama was signed by Joan Claybrook, President Emeritus of Public Citizen and Former NHTSA Administrator; Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety; Rosemary Shahan, president of Consumers for Auto Safety and Reliability; and John M. Simpson, Privacy Project Director for Consumer Watchdog.

The letter said safety officials in the administration "have apparently fallen victim to the hype of the developers of self-driving cars at the expense of public safety” and said self-driving technology should be parked "until adequate Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards covering autonomous technologies are implemented through a public rulemaking process.”

Instead, the letter said, the administration’s policies on automated technologies have been “developed in the shadows.”

It noted that, without any public notice, “NHTSA granted Google the right to consider the robot the ‘driver’ in its autonomous vehicles" and also "announced an agreement with 20 automakers on voluntary standards for automatic emergency braking that were substantially lower than the findings of NHTSA’s own scientists."

"The rules of the road for automated technologies that would dramatically alter transportation in this country should be developed thoughtfully, in the light of day and with the highest level of transparency and public participation," the letter argued.

"Speculation by media"

Consumer Reports contacted Tesla about its concerns, and the company sent this response via email:

“Tesla is constantly introducing enhancements, proven over millions of miles of internal testing, to ensure that drivers supported by Autopilot remain safer than those operating without assistance. We will continue to develop, validate, and release those enhancements as the technology grows. While we appreciate well-meaning advice from any individual or group, we make our decisions on the basis of real-world data, not speculation by media.”

Tesla also defended the safety record of the system, writing that “130 million miles have been driven on Autopilot, with one confirmed fatality.”

MacCleery said automakers must commit immediately to name automated features with descriptive, not exaggerated, titles, noting that these companies should roll out new features only when they are certain they are safe.

“Consumers should never be guinea pigs for vehicle safety ‘beta’ programs,” she said.

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Restaurant and hotel reviews – are they believable?

Online reviews can help you find new spots and keep you up to date on old favorites

How do you choose a restaurant or hotel? Many of us rely on our prior experience or those of friends and family; if a...

Photo
Photo (c) Andrey Popov - Fotolia

How do you choose a restaurant or hotel? Many of us rely on our prior experience or those of friends and family; if a restaurant or hotel met expectations before, shouldn’t they again?

Even so, it still pays to check out every restaurant and hotel, as ownership and management changes can impact quality and service. That’s what happened to me when booking a dinner reservation at a five-star restaurant where I had had wonderful dining experiences. I was surprised that the quality was no longer the same and learned belatedly that the restaurant had changed hands.

Since that experience, I do a better job in evaluating and choosing restaurants and hotels. Even so, I recently dined at a restaurant that did not live up to its reviews. The restaurant was ranked No. 1 out of 141 restaurants with over 200 reviews. It was also on a list of five recommended restaurants by our tour guide.

The “best hamburger in town” was so-so and the “amazing fries” were so over-salted I couldn’t eat them. When we received our check it arrived with five of the most professionally produced business cards citing all the social media and review sites and a request to “like” the restaurant. Clearly, this restaurant had loyal fans, but No. 1? Not in my book.

How to check for reviews

A good place to start is the restaurant and hotel website. Look at photos, peruse menus, assess their online reviews, and then search several of the websites that rank and review restaurants and hotels. Here are three credible websites to use; all include reviews, contact information, and websites.

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TripAdvisor Hotel Listings

TripAdvisor

TripAdvisor, an online site and an app, boasts over 200 million unbiased traveler reviews. It allows you to search for restaurants and hotels by location or use the “near me” function, ranking the top restaurants and hotels as well as those who achieve a “Certificate of Excellence,” a citation from TripAdvisor for accommodations, attractions, and restaurants that consistently earn great reviews from travelers.

You can make reservations for restaurants that use OpenTable and book hotel rooms in partnership with Bookings.com. Both OpenTable and Bookings.com are owned by Priceline.com.

OpenTable

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Yelp restaurant reviews

OpenTable, an online site and an app, enables users to book reservations at over 31,000 restaurants worldwide (not every restaurant uses OpenTable). The site posts reviews from diners, and its website states that it gets 750,000 restaurant reviews each month.

To search, just add the date, a time, and a location, restaurant, or cuisine. You’ll generate a list of possible restaurants; anything appealing, just click on the reviews and start reading. Restaurant information and menus are accessible.

Yelp

Yelp, an online site and app, is a review site for all local businesses, including restaurants. It draws a monthly average of over 90 million unique visitors for the online site and the app with “yelpers” (Yelp users) writing over 102 million reviews.

Just indicate what you would like the site to find (restaurant, bar, coffee, type of food, or hotel) and what it is near and start searching. The site allows a number of filters, such as price, Wi-Fi, outdoor seating, and open now, to help narrow your restaurant search. You can make restaurant reservations.

It’s very easy to get hung up and lost reading online reviews. And, who do you believe? Realize that no restaurant or hotel can please everyone and some reviewers consistently find fault. You’ll need to weed through the commentary and ultimately, make your own informed decision.   

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Prevalence of sleep disorders high among U.S. veterans, study finds

Sleep apnea and insomnia were the most prevalent disorders

One thing that many Americans take pride in is our collective appreciation of our servicemen and servicewomen. But when their duty has come to an end, are ...

PhotoOne thing that many Americans take pride in is our collective appreciation of our servicemen and servicewomen. But when their duty has come to an end, are things going well at home? Maybe not as far as sleep goes, a new study suggests.

Researchers surveyed nearly 10 million U.S. veterans and, after adjusting for age, found that the prevalence of sleeping disorders have risen dramatically since the turn of the century. While only 1% of respondents reported sleeping problems in 2000, that number rose to 6% by 2010. Findings indicate that outcomes were even worse for veterans with PTSD.

“Veterans with PTSD had a very high sleep disorder prevalence of 16 percent, the highest among the various health conditions or other population characteristics that we examined,” said Dr. James Burch, senior author and principal investigator of the study.

High incidence rates

Out of all the sleeping disorders considered, the researchers found that sleep apnea was the most common among U.S. veterans at 47%. Sleep apnea is characterized by breathing abnormalities while sleeping. Most commonly, it results in some kind of obstruction in the upper airway that causes poorer sleep quality.

The next worse ailment was insomnia, which affected 26% of those surveyed who had a sleeping disorder. It is characterized by difficulty or inability to fall asleep or maintain sleep, and can cause poor sleep satisfaction and daytime impairment.

The researchers note that other chronic illnesses or disease increased the likelihood of having a sleeping disorder.

PTSD connection

While the study does seem to indicate that there is a growing problem with sleep-related disorders amongst veterans, the researchers say that it does not necessarily prove a correlation with PTSD. Other studies have begun to show a connection, though.

“Because of the way this study was designed, this does not prove that PTSD caused the increase in sleep disorder diagnoses. However, we recently completed a follow-up study, soon to be submitted for publication, that examined the issue in detail. In that study, a pre-existing history of PTSD was associated with an increased odds of sleep disorder onset,” said Burch.

The full study has been published in the journal Sleep

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Sweepstakes scammers cheated consumers out of $9 million

Elderly victims were told they had to send a "refundable insurance fee" to collect their winnings

The calls to elderly consumers seemed almost too good to be true. They sounded official and the Caller ID said they came from the 202 area code -- Washingt...

PhotoThe calls to elderly consumers seemed almost too good to be true. They sounded official and the Caller ID said they came from the 202 area code -- Washington, D.C. Best of all, they said the consumers had won it big in an international sweepstakes and could collect their winnings as soon as they sent a "refundable insurance fee."

Of course, it was a scam. The calls actually came from a call center in Costa Rica and there were no sweepstakes winnings.

Though crude and obvious, the scheme paid off for its perpetrators from 2007 through 2012. They collected an estimated $9 million from hundreds of U.S. citizens.

But the scammers' luck finally ran out and the three alleged masterminds of the plot pleaded guilty this week to various counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and international money laundering.

Guilty pleas

Entering guilty pleas before U.S. Magistrate Judge David Keesler of the Western District of North Carolina were Jeffrey Robert Bonner, 37, of Sacramento, California; Cody Trevor Burgsteiner, 33, of Houston; and Darra Lee Shephard, 57, of Calgary, Alberta. Sentencing dates have not yet been set.

The three admitted before Judge Keesler that once they had received the "insurance fee," they contacted the victims again to tell them that their prize amount had increased, due to either a clerical error or because other winners had been disqualified. The victims were then told to send additional money to pay for new purported fees, duties, and insurance to receive the larger sweepstakes prize.

They continued their attempts to collect additional money from the victims until their victim either ran out of money or wised up to the scheme.

The scammers often claimed that they were calling on behalf of a U.S. federal agency to lure victims into a false sense of security, they also admitted.

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New maternity wear may protect fetuses from EM radiation

Startup creates comfortable and affordable electromagnetic radiation screening fabric

On the heels of the FTC’s decision to approve new “5G” broadband rules, concerns over electromagnetic radiation may be even more heightened. As we repo...

PhotoOn the heels of the FCC’s decision to approve new “5G” broadband rules, concerns over electromagnetic radiation may be even more heightened.

As we reported, at least 10% of the population has already developed “electro-sensitivity." Those who suffer from the condition have an intolerance to wireless transmissions which may be marked by symptoms such as headaches, sleep disturbances, and dizziness.

Keeping the effects of radiation emitted by cell phones and other wireless technology at bay has become increasingly important to consumers -- especially those with a bun in the oven.

But soon, it may not take banishing wireless technology altogether to keep out the effects of EM radiation. Pregnant women who want to protect their fragile, growing babies from the effects of radiation may be able to do so simply by purchasing a new kind of fabric.

Flexible fabric

The innovators at Tiny Tech, a startup that began in the Virginia Commonwealth School of Engineering, believe that clothing made of electromagnetic shielding technology could be an answer to growing concerns over radiation.

In a statement, Erdem Topsakal, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, explained that fetuses and infants have thinner skills, which could make them even more vulnerable to the effects of radio waves. 

Tiny Tech protected clothing would selectively screen out EM radiation, says Topsakal, who developed the clothing with Umar Hasni, a Ph.D candidate in electrical engineering and Margaret Karles, a student in the Brandcenter’s Experience Design Program.

Screens out 99.9%

Why selectively? In short, other types of EM shielding clothing are stiff, uncomfortable, and expensive, says Topsakal. In addition, 100% reflective clothing tends to have openings around the arms and neck which allow radio waves in.

Tiny Tech’s patent-pending flexible fabric, on the other hand, would contour to an expectant mother's baby bump while screening out 99.9 percent of EM radiation waves. The clothing would also be affordable and durable.

“We will wash the garments a hundred times to make sure they are still effective,” Topsakal said. “We will also have people trying them on to make sure the clothes are comfortable.”

Prototypes are being released to pregnant women this summer. In the next year, the team hopes to see a soft launch as well as the beginning of online sales. Eventually, they would like to see their brand become as trusted as cotton.

“People will see our logo and know, ‘Oh, Tiny Tech is protecting these clothes,’” Karles said.

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First case of female-to-male Zika transmission reported

The CDC says all previous sexual transmission had been from men to their partners

For the first time, public health officials have confirmed that the Zika virus has been sexually transmitted from a woman to a man. All previous cases of s...

PhotoFor the first time, public health officials have confirmed that the Zika virus has been sexually transmitted from a woman to a man. All previous cases of sexual transmission had been from men to their sexual partners.

The case involved a woman who had visited an area witih active Zika outbreaks. She felt ill in the airport on the way home to New York City but, upon her return, had condomless sex with a male partner.

Seven days later, the male began displaying symptoms of Zika infection, which was later confirmed by lab tests.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all pregnant women should avoid sex during pregnancy if they have a sex partner who has traveled to or resides in an area with active Zika infections. That recommendation also applies to female sex partners of pregnant women.

Updating recommendations

CDC said it is currently updating recommendations for sexually active people in which the couple is not pregnant or concerned about pregnancy and for people who want to reduce personal risk of Zika infection through sex.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) yesterday urged Congress to accept the warnings of public health officials who have called for immediate action to mitigate the mosquito-borne disease that thrives in tropical climates. Rubio is concerned about the influx of foreign travelers into Brazil later this summer for the Olympics, and how people who get infected could spread the disease when they return home.

“For those of us who live in South Florida and travel through Miami International Airport, we know very well that what happens in Brazil impacts us in the U.S., especially in Florida,” said Rubio.

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The latest option in low-cost college education

University offers $3,000 a year tuition for employees of partner companies

With the cost of higher education still a hot-button issue, it pays to reconsider options for obtaining a college degree.Getting the full “college expe...

PhotoWith the cost of higher education still a hot-button issue, it pays to reconsider options for obtaining a college degree.

Getting the full “college experience,” living in a dorm, strolling an ivy-covered campus, and being in a fraternity or sorority is still going to cost you. Just ask the millions of graduates and drop outs still paying off student loans.

As we have previously observed, there are some low-cost options if you are willing to work while getting an education and enroll in an online degree program. There is no college social life to go with it, but there is no huge student loan bill at the end either. Hundreds of companies pay all or part of their employees' tuition.

Now, there is yet another option. The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) has announced a partnership with College for America at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), a private non-profit university that has moved into the online education space in the last decade.

Tuition is $3,000 a year

Under the partnership, owners and employees of NFIB member businesses may enroll at College for America and work toward a degree online at a tuition cost of $3,000 per year – making it one of the lowest tuitions for a four-year institution in the country.

"With College for America, our members can work full time and still obtain fully accredited college degrees to help them better operate and grow their small businesses," said NFIB Sr. Vice President of Marketing Mark Garzone.

College for America was set up specifically to educate students who are already in the workforce. Its degree programs focus on skills needed in the workforce. Students work at their own pace and can earn an associate's or bachelor's degree without having to schedule class time.

A boost to small business

"Small businesses often lack the resources to offer tuition assistance programs and other education benefits that larger companies are able to offer their employees," said Kris Clerkin, executive director of College for America at Southern New Hampshire University. "This partnership with NFIB will provide thousands of small businesses, which are so critical to our country's economy, with the same opportunities to build a stronger, loyal, and more talented workforce."

SNHU was founded in 1932 as a business and accounting school. Its campus is located between Manchester and Hooksett, N.H. It moved heavily into online education programs shortly after changing its name to Southern New Hampshire University in 2001.

SNHU says 70% of College for America students are earning their degree without any debt, and 21% graduate with less than $5,000 in debt.

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Additional research shows that overeating leads to more eating

High-fat diets can be especially bad for gut-to-brain communication, researchers say

Last month, we reported on a study which showed that overeating leads to even more eating. The premise of the research was that eating too much in one sitt...

PhotoLast month, we reported on a study which showed that overeating leads to even more eating. The premise of the research was that eating too much in one sitting suppresses a hormone that tells your brain that you’re full.

Now, a new study conducted by the University of Georgia, Binghamton University, and Pennsylvania State University have reached similar conclusions. Researchers found that foods that are high in fat disturb neural messages to the brain that allow you to feel full. However, they believe that manipulating microbes in the stomach may reverse the effect.

Stifled communication

The study involved examining the “gut-to-brain” neural pathways in mice, who were sustained on a high-fat diet. The researchers found that regions of the brain responsible for processing feeding behavior became inflamed when high amounts of fat were introduced.

In order to determine the cause, they began examining microbiota in the stomach to see if the diet influenced composition. After finding a connection, lead researcher Dr. Claire de La Serre and her colleagues began injecting mice with low doses of a spectrum antibiotic that was able to reverse the negative effects.

Potential impact

There is potential for the impact of this study to be great. It precisely demonstrates to what extent stomach microbiota are affected by a high-fat diet. Information gleaned from the research could allow the medical community to come up with new therapies and medications that counter trends in overeating and obesity, two major health concerns.

One additional study has already made some progress by showing that eating certain types of foods can benefit microbiota composition in the stomach. Researchers found that eating blueberries, which have high levels of anthocyanin, can help lessen inflammation and lead to more stable blood sugar levels. Additional research into other bioactive foods will almost certainly follow.

Research conducted by De la Serre et al is scheduled to be presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior (SSIB), which takes place from July 12-16.  

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Feds require Herbalife to restructure business in $200 million settlement

Hedge fund manager still attacking the business

Some consumer advocates have been critical of the direct marketing firm Herbalife over the years, claiming it puts all its efforts in signing up distributo...

PhotoThe Federal Trade Commission has reached a settlement with Herbalife, requiring it to restructure its business so that participants are rewarded more for the product they sell and not as much for recruiting new members.

It will also pay $200 million to compensate consumers. In its complaint, the FTC charged Herbalife's compensation structure was unfair because it rewarded distributors who recruited other distributors over selling product.

Some consumer advocates have been critical of the direct marketing firm Herbalife over the years, claiming the same thing. For the last couple of years, a major player on Wall Street has joined them.

Bill Ackman, head of Pershing Square Capital, has waged a relentless campaign against the company, claiming it is nothing more than a pyramid scheme.

In an email to ConsumerAffairs, Herbalife dismissed Ackman's activities as those of a short seller "hell bent on a misinformation campaign designed to destroy our company." It said the agreement with the FTC does not change the company's direct selling method.

But the billionaire hedge fund manager hasn't let up. He was interviewed by CNBC Thursday after producing and releasing 18 videos purportedly showing Herbalife distributors using aggressive tactics to recruit new distributors and making promises concerning income potential.

Herbalife is similar to other multi-level marketing companies. Instead of selling its products through a retail network of stores, it recruits individuals to sell product directly to other consumers.

Distributors can make money on the sale of products, but critics have charged the emphasis is on recruiting, since a distributor gets a small cut of whatever his or her recruited members sell.

FTC investigation

Ackman predicted Thursday that the FTC was near a settlement with Herbalife after its investigation of the company's business practices. He predicted it would not end well for the company.

"The only way this thing gets resolved in my opinion is if Herbalife makes material changes to their incentive structure to stop the incentives to recruit," Ackman said in the interview. "My guess is that is what the government is pushing for."

Once again, Herbalife said Ackman's interest in its business practices is purely financial. In advance of Ackman's appearance on the network, Herbalife issued a statement to CNBC claiming Ackman had lost hundreds of millions of dollars so far betting against the company.

“When is it time to just say he gave it a valiant try but like Borders, JC Penney, Target, he was just misinformed?" the statement asked.

A review of the ConsumerAffairs database shows 31 reviews/complaints about Herbalife so far in 2016. However, only one is a complaint about the company's business model. The other thirty are comments, both positive and negative, about Herbalife products.

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Researchers determine best smoking cessation tool for women

The best method for men is still up in the air, though

Working up the initiative to quit a habit like smoking can be difficult, and symptoms of withdrawal can make it hard to stay committed. That’s why many smo...

PhotoWorking up the initiative to quit a habit like smoking can be difficult, and symptoms of withdrawal can make it hard to stay committed. That’s why many smokers turn to smoking cessation tools to give them an extra edge.

While picking between the different treatments can be hit or miss, a new study suggests that one particular method works best – at least for women. Researchers say that varenicline, a product produced by Pfizer and sold as Chantix, had the best results when they tested various smoking cessation tools. Its effectiveness for men was less certain, though.

“Before our study, research had shown that among the choices for medications for smokers who wanted to quit, varenicline was the clear winner when it came to promoting quitting. Our study shows this is clearly the case for women. The story seems less clear among men, who showed less of a difference when taking any of the three medications,” said Philip Smith, leader of the study.

Better outcomes

Those three medications that were tested included varenicline, the nicotine patch, and bupropion, which is made by GlaxoSmithKline and sold as Wellbutrin and Zyban.

In order to come to their conclusions, researchers analyzed data on over 14,000 smokers who had taken part in 28 clinical trials. Each trial had smokers test one of the three methods to see how effective it was as a smoking cessation tool.

After receiving the results, the researchers found that women were much more likely to quit if they took varenicline. Men, on the other hand, showed no particular affinity for one product over another. Additionally, the researchers found that all three cessation methods performed better than groups who took a placebo.

While the researchers may have found that varenicline is the best product for helping consumers to quit smoking, be sure to check with your doctor before using it. The drug does have side effects that should be carefully considered.

The full study has been published in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research

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Retail sales post third consecutive monthly advance

However, the May increase was revised downward

Increases in nearly every category pushed retail sales up 0.6% in June to $457.0 billion -- the third straight monthly increase -- and 2.7% above the same ...

PhotoIncreases in nearly every category pushed retail sales up 0.6% in June to $457.0 billion -- the third straight monthly increase -- and 2.7% above the same month a year ago.

At the same time, though, the Census Bureau revised its May figures to show an advance of 0.2% instead of the 0.5% initially reported.

Sales at building material & garden equipment & supplies dealers led last months advance, rising 3.9%. Also on the increase were sales at gas stations (+1.2%), nonstore retailers (+1.1%), and miscellaneous store retailers (+0.9%). Sales at auto and parts dealers inched up 0.1%.

Sales fell at clothing & clothing accessories stores (-1.0%) and restaurants (-0.3%)

The complete June retail sales report is available on the Census Bureau website.

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Consumer prices creep higher

An increase in energy costs offset falling food prices

The cost of living rose in June for a fourth consecutive month.According to the Department of Labor (DOL), the Consumer Price Index (CPI) increased at ...

PhotoThe cost of living rose in June for a fourth consecutive month.

According to the Department of Labor (DOL), the Consumer Price Index (CPI) increased at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 0.2% largely on the strength of a jump in gasoline prices. For the last 12 months, prices are up 1.0%.

Energy prices were up 1.3% -- the fourth straight increase, although they're down 9.4% over the past year.

The big factor in the June increase was a surge of 3.3% in the cost of both gasoline and fuel oil. Meanwhile, electricity prices fell 0.5% and natural gas dipped 0.4%.

Food prices fall

The cost of food slipped 0.1% on top of a decline of 0.2% in May. Four of the six major grocery store food groups were lower: meats, poultry, fish, and eggs (-0.7%), nonalcoholic beverages (-0.7%) -- its largest decline since May 2013 -- dairy and related products (-0.3%), and fruits and vegetables (-0.1%) percent.

Over the past year, what's known as the food at home category is off 1.3%, its largest 12-month decline since February 2010.

Core inflation

The “core rate” of inflation, which strips out the volatile food and energy sectors, was up 0.2% in June. The cost of shelter led the way with a gain of 0.3%, with medical care, education, airline fares, motor vehicle insurance, and recreation also rising. On the other hand, prices for used cars and trucks, apparel, communication, and household furnishings and operations were lower.

For the 12 months ending in June, the core rate of inflation was up 1.0% -- the same increase as for the 12 months ending in May, but well below the 1.7% average annual increase over the past 10 years.

The complete June CPI report is available on the DOL website.

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FCC approves 5G broadband rules, promising faster wireless services

Some consumer groups say the commission has not adequately studied the health risks

As expected, the Federal Communications Commission today voted to adopt new wireless broadband rules that will open up...

Photo
Photo © highwaystarz - Fotolia

As expected, the Federal Communications Commission today voted to adopt new wireless broadband rules that will open up so-called "5G" networks that will move more data faster than ever before.

The vote opens frequencies above 24 GHz, a move the FCC says makes the United States "the first country in the world to make this spectrum available for next generation wireless services," but the decision is causing static among health advocates who say it disregards a growing body of evidence that wireless communications is to blame for a supposed epidemic of brain cancers.

Because the frequencies are so high, the signals don't travel as far as lower frequencies do and therefore will require many times more cell towers than current technologies. As Wheeler put it in a June 20 speech at the National Press Club: “5G build out is going to be very infrastructure intensive, requiring a massive deployment of small cells.”

Engineers say that nearly every home and lampost will be outfitted with a small "tower" -- a tiny antenna that transmits and receives signals for nearby residents and acts as a relay station for other wireless traffic.

"An epidemic"

PhotoThis is alarming to some health advocates, who say that at least 10% of the population has already developed "electro-sensitivity" -- heightened sensitivity to wireless transmissions, similar to allergies. 

“We are currently in the midst of an epidemic,” said Dafne Tachover, CEO of "We Are The Evidence," an advocacy group representing people who say they have been injured by wireless radiation.

Representatives of various activist groups descended on Washington this week to lobby Congress and regulators about the potential dangers of wireless radiation and to "convey the views of a growing number of people who would choose health over an 'Internet of Everything,'" as the California Brain Tumor Association and other groups said in a news release.

More tasks, faster

The wireless industry says 5G is safe and will make it possible for wireless devices to perform more tasks and to do so more quickly and efficiently than is now possible.

Industry trade group CTIA lists these benefits of 5G

1. 5G will be at least 10 times faster than 4G.

2. 5G will allow for more than 100 times the devices for everything from cars to homes to health monitors.

3. 5G will be five times more responsive so that there’s very little delay time.

4. If you stopped a car in 4G, it would take 4.6 feet to apply its brakes while a 5G car would start braking in 1 inch.

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Congress rouses itself, outlaws easily read GMO food labels

The industry-backed bill overrides Vermont's law and substitutes barcodes for English sentences

Congress normally dawdles around all session, doing next to nothing. Now and then, someone tries to do something and those on the other side of the aisle m...

PhotoCongress normally dawdles around all session, doing next to nothing. Now and then, someone tries to do something and those on the other side of the aisle move quickly to block it.

But now and then, Congress can really get its act together and go to work for the people who pay the bills. Taxpayers? Don't be silly. We're talking about campaign contributors.

The House today voted 306-117 -- after virtually none of the usual time-filling blather disguised as debate -- to rubber-stamp a Senate measure that overturns that pesky Vermont law that requires food manufacturers to label products that have been genetically engineered.

President Obama is expected to sign the measure, Bloomberg quoted White House spokeswoman Katie Hill as saying. 

"While there is broad consensus that foods from genetically engineered crops are safe, we appreciate the bipartisan effort to address consumers' interest in knowing more about their food, including whether it includes ingredients from genetically engineered crops," Hill said.

The bill, of course, helps consumers know "more about their food" only if they have a smartphone and access to the internet. Having them will allow them to read the bar codes that will replace the plain English labels required by the Vermont law.

$2.1 million

The industry-engineered bill -- S. 764 -- was cobbled together by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) — who have received a total of more than $2.1 million in campaign contributions this cycle from agribusiness donors. It passed the Senate 63-30 after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell fast-tracked it to avoid hearings, committee mark-ups, and so forth, simply copying and pasting the measure into another bill.

Roberts and Stabenow call it a "compromise" measure. It eliminates the Vermont requirement that genetically engineered or modified foods have English-language labels identifying them as such and instead requires the information to be included in a bar code or other electronic or digital medium when it finally takes effect, some years from now.

The party line -- adopted by both parties -- is that the bill creates a "national labeling standard," another way of saying that it prohibits states from adopting their own standards. 

Farmers first

“I’m pleased that Members of the House today sided with sound science and the American farmer,” said Sen. Roberts. “I am proud this work brought together the largest coalition of agriculture and food groups ever. Over 1,000 organizations joined me in putting the farmer and rancher first."

It was actually companies like Monsanto and Wal-Mart that provided most of the fuel that lit a fire under Roberts and his colleagues, although farm groups like the National Corn Growers Association were along for the ride.

Consumer groups denounced the measure, but with little effect.

“This bill is a travesty, an undemocratic and discriminatory bill which preempts state laws, while offering no meaningful labeling for GMOs,” said Dana Perls, senior food and technology campaigner for Friends of the Earth.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said the measure makes it virtually impossible for ordinary consumers to access information about genetically modified ingredients in their food.

“How can you have a so-called ‘mandatory GMO labeling bill’ that doesn’t require on-package labels, doesn’t cover the most common GMO products, and doesn’t mandate a single consequence for companies that don’t comply? The answer is you can’t," Merkley said. "It is a special-interest assault that takes away consumers’ right to know about GMO ingredients in their food."

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What doctors love about Pokemon Go

The app's mental and physical health benefits have physicians singing its praises

The quest to catch ‘em all has Pokemon Go users upping their activity level, and doctors are a-okay with that. Group Health physicians say the app is h...

PhotoThe quest to catch ‘em all has Pokemon Go users upping their activity level, and doctors are a-okay with that.

Group Health physicians say the app is helping users stay fit by taking boredom out of the exercise equation. This unexpected effect could be of particular benefit to kids who are prone to sedentary lifestyles, experts say.

“The ability to search and find as many as 150 exotic and powerful monsters is having a great appeal," said Dr. Jessie Fudge, a Group Health physician and specialist in Activity, Sports, and Exercise Medicine.

But in our device saturated world, kids aren’t the only ones who could use a little motivation to step outside. The augmented reality app is giving users of all ages the motivation they need to engage in some light outdoor activity.

Activity disguised as a game

"With obesity and inactivity growing epidemics with significant consequences, the need to find ways to get off the couch and away from the computer to exercise is critical,” Fudge said in a statement. “If you or your kids like video or cell phone games and are looking for walking motivation, this just might be it."

The subtle nudge to go out has positively impacted users’ mental health, as well. Pokemon Go players who suffer from depression or anxiety are getting a healthy dose of happiness as a result of getting outside and getting active.

The game is no substitute for professional treatment, of course -- but it can help. Dr. John Grohol, an expert on technology's impact on human behavior and mental health, tells Engadget the game is “a great adjunct to other kinds of treatment, such as psychotherapy and medication.”

Safety tips for players

For all its benefits, the game still has risks. The task of hunting for Pokemon in the real world carries with it the risk of distraction-related accidents and injuries.

To help you stay safe, Fudge recommends the following Pokemon Go safety tips:

  • Follow real world rules and focus on your surroundings to prevent incidents like this from happening. 

  • Never play the game while driving or on a moving vehicle, such as a bike or skateboard; walking or running is the best way to play.

  • Start slowly. If you’re not usually very active, limit your playing time for the first few days and gradually increase your distance/time with each session.
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Florida senator raises alarm over spreading Zika virus

Sen. Marco Rubio says there were 13 new cases in Florida in a single day this week

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee normally deals with matters of diplomacy, but Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who chairs one of its subcommittees, used a h...

PhotoThe Senate Foreign Relations Committee normally deals with matters of diplomacy, but Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who chairs one of its subcommittees, used a hearing to explore the threat posed by the Zika virus, particularly in his home state.

Rubio urged Congress to accept the warnings of public health officials who have called for immediate action to mitigate the mosquito-borne disease that thrives in tropical climates. Rubio is concerned about the influx of foreign travelers into Brazil later this summer for the Olympics, and how people who get infected could spread the disease when they return home.

“For those of us who live in South Florida and travel through Miami International Airport, we know very well that what happens in Brazil impacts us in the U.S., especially in Florida,” said Rubio.

Zika-related birth defect

Rubio noted that the first baby born in Florida with microcephaly, the Zika-related birth defect, was a mother who came from Haiti.

“Although the mainland of the United States may not be worried about Zika right now, there are already 1,133 cases, and they are found in 45 out of 50 states,” Rubio said.

Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), says his agency is monitoring more than 300 cases of Zika among pregnant women. He's called the virus “a silent epidemic.”

“We have made difficult decisions and redirected resources from other important public health activities to support our most critical needs,” Frieden testified at the hearing. “These redirected funds, however, are not enough to support a comprehensive Zika response, and they divert funding from other critically important public health activities.”

Funding bill stalled

Rubio joined Frieden in supporting a measure in Congress to allocate $1.1 billion to fight the virus, but the measure has become something of a political football. Though Republicans and the White House are not that far apart on the amount of spending, House Republicans have tacked on a few provisions, unrelated to Zika, that the Democrats oppose.

“This is no way to fight an epidemic,” Frieden said at the hearing.

Rubio said he is concerned at how fast the virus is spreading in Florida. He said at the beginning of the week, 13 new cases of the Zika virus were confirmed in Florida in one day, raising the total to more than 280. Rubio decried the lack of action on both sides of the aisle.

“The problem is only getting worse,” he said. “It is our duty to act now, while we can still get ahead of this disease, and before it is simply too late.”  

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Santa Monica cracks down on Airbnb rentals

An outspoken Airbnb host pays up, plans to move to Denver

Santa Monica is one of those places that sees itself as just about perfect, and it takes a dim view of any deviation from ideal behavior, like renting out...

PhotoSanta Monica is one of those places that sees itself as just about perfect, and it takes a dim view of any deviation from ideal behavior, like renting out your apartment on Airbnb.

The city council in May 2015 made it illegal to rent a home for less than 30 days, hoping to squelch the fast-spreading growth of Airbnb rentals in the idyllic beach town adjacent to Los Angeles. (You can rent a spot on your couch or spare bedroom but only if you remain in residence).

This didn't sit well with Scott Shatford, a successful Airbnb host who has said his five rental properties bring in thousands of dollars a month. Like a smalltime Donald Trump, he has shared the secrets of his success -- well, some of them anyway -- in a free e-book he distributes through his website Airdna.co, which claims to help hosts price their units "like a pro."

No deviation

But Santa Monica takes its pristine quality of life seriously and now has a full-time task force dedicated to stamping out Airbnb rentals, and it didn't take long for Shatford to fall under its steely gaze.

Shatford soon found himself charged with eight misdemeanor counts of operating a business without a license and violating the anti-Airbnb ordinance, and yesterday Deputy City Attorney Yibin Shen said Shatford had pleaded no contest in a plea deal and had agreed to pay $3,500 and to stop renting his properties. He was also placed on two years' probation. 

Shatford, 36, thinks it's all a waste of taxpayers' money. “The city came after me, to make me their little poster child and be able to promote me as their first victory. … It’s pretty silly,” he told the Los Angeles Times

The city says it hopes the Shatford case will make it clear to other Airbnb hosts that it's serious about enforcing the new law.

As for Shatford, he says he's moving to Denver, where he hopes to find a more tolerant and accepting attitudes.

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Nintendo to release mini version of classic NES console

The system will come with 30 classic games

Young children and teens of the 80s and 90s may remember spending many a day balled up on the couch playing classic video games. Whether it was with siblin...

PhotoYoung children and teens of the 80s and 90s may remember spending many a day balled up on the couch playing classic video games. Whether it was with siblings, friends, or even by yourself, the Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES, was a must-have system.

Now, gamers will have a chance to relive those nostalgic days alongside Mario and Donkey Kong with the release of the NES Classic Edition. This new take on an old system looks like a mini version of the classic console, but it comes prepackaged with 30 classic titles for fans to enjoy.

New and improved

While the new product is based on an old design, some functional updates have been given to the NES Classic Edition to make it more accessible. Consumers will be able to connect the mini-device to their TV’s via an HDMI cable instead of the old power cables.

The controllers for the console have also seen a bit of an update. While they look and function like the classic NES controllers, they can also be connected to a Wii Remote for use with Virtual Console games on the Wii and Wii U.

The system also no longer uses cartridges, so fans will no longer have to relive the memories of blowing into the bottom port to get a stubborn game to work; all 30 of the games come pre-downloaded on the device.

Bring on the nostalgia

Nintendo’s announcement of the system has been met with enthusiasm by the gaming community, who are chomping at the bit to buy one for themselves. They’ll have to wait a little while though – release of the device isn’t scheduled until November 11. It will retail for $59.99, with additional controllers available at $9.99 each.

A complete list of the available games follows:

  • Balloon Fight
  • Bubble Bobble
  • Castlevania
  • Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest
  • Donkey Kong
  • Donkey Kong Jr.
  • Double Dragon II: The Revenge
  • Dr. Mario
  • Excitebike
  • Final Fantasy
  • Galaga
  • Ghosts ’N Goblins
  • Gradius
  • Ice Climber
  • Kid Icarus
  • Kirby’s Adventure
  • Mario Bros.
  • Mega Man 2
  • Metroid
  • Ninja Gaiden
  • Pac-Man
  • Punch-Out! Featuring Mr. Dream
  • StarTropics
  • Super C
  • Super Mario Bros.
  • Super Mario Bros. 2
  • Super Mario Bros. 3
  • Tecmo Bowl
  • The Legend of Zelda
  • Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
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President and Vice President Barbie created to help girls 'Imagine the Possibilities'

The first all-female ticket is a product of Mattel's continuing brand evolution

Earlier this year, the Barbie mold was broken when Mattel added three new body shapes and seven skin tones to its doll lineup. Now, Mattel is taking their ...

PhotoEarlier this year, the Barbie mold was broken when Mattel added three new body shapes and seven skin tones to its doll lineup. Now, Mattel is taking their push for diversity and female empowerment a step further.

In an effort to drive home the fact that girls can be leaders, Mattel has joined forces with She Should Run to create President and Vice President Barbie.

While Barbie has aspired to step into the Oval Office in the past, this is the first time the doll will be accompanied by a female vice president. The brand’s first all-female ticket was created in the hope of enabling girls to use Barbie to imagine themselves in leadership roles. 

Encouraging dreams of leadership

Prior to developing the dolls, Mattel sought to understand how girls view leadership and their potential to take on empowered roles. They tapped into the findings of the Girl Scout Institute, who discovered that just 39% of girls say they want to be a leader.

The political Barbies -- and a companion video, which shows what happens when girls use Barbie to play out their dreams of leadership -- are a bid to motivate girls to explore career opportunities in fields that are traditionally male dominated. 

Imagining possibilities 

With its "You Can Be Anything" campaign, Mattel hopes to inspire girls to use Barbie to imagine everything they can become. 

"The President and Vice President dolls continue our efforts to expose girls to inspiring careers that are underrepresented by women," said Lisa McKnight, general manager and vice president of Barbie, adding that she sees the doll as a "timely and topical platform" for discussing female leadership.

President and Vice President Barbie were sent to all the women in congress, several of whom praised the “inspiring and powerful” toy running mates on Twitter.  

The dolls -- which will be available in a variety of hair colors, skin tones and facial shapes -- will be sold as a set for $24.99.

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Groups want funeral homes to post prices online

FTC urged to update its Funeral Rule for the digital age

When a family is confronted with the loss of a loved one, whether suddenly or after a lingering illness, it must make final arrangements, either for burial...

PhotoWhen a family is confronted with the loss of a loved one, whether suddenly or after a lingering illness, it must make final arrangements, either for burial or cremation. Often it's a big expense.

The Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA) and Consumer Federation of America (CFA) say funeral homes, by and large, do not provide enough pricing information online. The two groups this week called on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to amend its Funeral Rule to require important funeral price information to be posted on funeral home websites.

In issuing a joint statement, the two groups noted that this week's Prime Day allowed millions of consumers to compare prices for a huge range of products and save a lot of money.

“However, the most vulnerable consumers in the marketplace must spend thousands of dollars on a funeral and still cannot compare prices online,” the groups said in a joint statement. “Today, the Funeral Consumers Alliance and the Consumer Federation of America urged the FTC to change the Funeral Rule so consumers can make an informed decision on one of the largest purchases they will ever make.”

30 year-old rule

The Funeral rule has been in place for over 30 years and was enacted to give basic price information to consumers planning a funeral. Under the rule, consumers have a right to a general price list when they inquire about funeral arrangements.

The rule specifically gives consumers the right to choose only the goods and services they want. If state law requires the purchase of a particular item, the price list must state that. A funeral home may not refuse, or charge extra, to handle a casket purchased elsewhere.

But the groups say consumers still need the ability to price shop when planning a funeral, and they maintain under current practice that that is often hard to do. While it is true that funeral homes are required to provide price information, it usually requires a face-to-face or telephone conversation.

Antiquated disclosure rules

“The Federal Trade Commission should update antiquated disclosure rules developed in the pre-Internet 1980s,” said Josh Slocum, Executive Director of Funeral Consumers Alliance. “Almost all funeral home websites feature stories on how the funeral home has been providing caring, compassionate service since the days of the horse and buggy but nothing about how much it actually costs.”

Today, Slocum says consumers shop for everything online. The fact that consumers are often emotionally vulnerable when they go through the process of shopping for funeral services makes it even more important for price information to be easily accessible.  

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Retailers blame credit card companies for delay in chip roll-out

Claim industry has been too slow to certify the new card readers

Why are there so few chip-enabled card readers at retailers around the country? It depends on who you ask. The nation's retailers say they've done their jo...

PhotoWhy are there so few chip-enabled card readers at retailers around the country? It depends on who you ask. The nation's retailers say they've done their jobs – it's the credit card companies that have dropped the ball.

The National Retail Federation (NRF) points to a survey that found 48% of retailers have implemented the new EMV chip card system, or are expected to within weeks. A total of 86% said they expected to be EMV compliant by the end of 2016.

But the NRF said the survey also found that 57% of the retailers who had not yet implemented the new system had installed the card readers, but were waiting for certification by the credit card industry. About 60% said they had been waiting for six months or longer.

NRF says those numbers are in sharp contract to the statistics issued by the banking industry, which it says has tried to shift blame for the slow start to retailers. The survey, NRF says, found retailers are eager to begin using the chip card system since it protects them from liability connected to fraud.

Certification process

The certification process for the chip card system checks out a number of important functions to ensure the new technology is working properly. It can be a complicated process because the system must check out across multiple card platforms, including MasterCard, Visa, American Express, and Discover.

The size of the retailer can also complicate things. Big retailers with more point of sale positions take a lot more time.

Hundreds of tests may be required and the process might take two weeks or eight months. The cost to the retailer might be as little as a few hundred dollars or could run into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Visa says it's helping

Visa, meanwhile, recently announced steps it said could help speed up the implementation of the chip card technology. It said it has streamlined testing requirements, made the certification process simpler, and made commitments to improve the technology. It also said it is changing its policy to help limit exposure to counterfeit fraud liability for merchants who are not yet chip-ready.

While retailers might feel frustration at the pace, Visa maintains that progress has been “significant,” with over 300 million chip cards in the hands of consumers and 1.2 million retail locations now equipped to accept them.

But the NRF said it is disappointed the credit card industry has not provided enough personnel to make sure certification happens in a timely manner. In the meantime, it says consumers are confused as to whether they continue to swipe their cards or begin “dipping.”

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Wholesale prices post third straight monthly gain

Energy costs -- primarily gasoline -- were a major factor

A nearly 10% surge in the wholesale price of gasoline sent the Producer Price Index (PPI) for final demand higher in Ju...

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Photo (c) mybaitshop – Fotolia

A nearly 10% surge in the wholesale price of gasoline sent the Producer Price Index (PPI) for final demand higher in June for the third month in a row.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the advance of 0.5% followed increases of 0.4% in May and 0.2% in April.

Goods and services on the rise

Prices for goods one step shy of the retail level shot up 0.8% last month, the largest increase since a surge of 1.2% in May 2015. Over three-quarters of June's increase was due to energy cost, which surged 4.1%. Within that category, gasoline was up 9.9%.

Prices for meats, jet fuel, electric power, home heating oil, and cigarettes also moved higher, while the cost of chicken eggs plunged 29.9%. Prices for carbon steel scrap and residential natural gas also fell.

The cost of services rose 0.4% in June, in large part due to a 7.7% hike in prices for services related to securities brokerage and dealing. Also on the rise were prices for automotive fuels and lubricants retailing; machinery, equipment, parts, and supplies wholesaling; traveler accommodation services; airline passenger services; and health, beauty, and optical goods retailing.

In contrast, the cost of apparel, footwear, and accessories retailing, long-distance motor carrying and residential real estate loans (partial) fell.

Prices excluding the volatile foods, energy, and trade services categories rose 0.3% after a dip of 0.1% in May. For the 12 months ended in June, this “core rate” is up 0.9%.

The complete report is available on the BLS website.

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Photo (c) Marky Ragsac Jr. - Fotolia

Jobless claims

It was steady as she goes for initial jobless claims last week, with the Department of Labor (DOL) reporting that first-time applications for state jobless benefits were unchanged in the week ending July 9, at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 254,000.

That makes 71 consecutive weeks of initial claims below 300,000 -- the longest streak since 1973.

The four-week moving average dropped 5,570 from a week earlier to 259,000. This measure is consider a better gauge of the labor market as it lacks the volatility of the weekly headcount.

The full report may be found on the DOL website.  

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Simmons Prepared Foods recalls chicken products

The products may be contaminated with E. coli O121

Simmons Prepared Foods of Van Buren, Ark., is recalling approximately 5,850 pounds of frozen, heat treated, not ready-to-eat (NRTE) chicken products. ...

PhotoSimmons Prepared Foods of Van Buren, Ark., is recalling approximately 5,850 pounds of frozen, heat treated, not ready-to-eat (NRTE) chicken products.

 

The products may be contaminated with E. coli O121.

 

There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions or illnesses.

 

The following frozen, heat treated, not ready-to-eat (NRTE) chicken tenderloin items, produced on January 25, 2016, are being recalled:

  • 30-lb. net-weight case containing six, 5-lb. bags in clear film of “Simmons UNCOOKED CHICKEN TENDERLOIN FRITTERS,” with a case code 31473, packaging date code of 6025, and a Use-By date of 01/25/17.
  • 30-lb. net-weight case containing six, 5-lb. bags in clear film of “Simmons UNCOOKED CHICKEN BREAST TENDERLOIN FRITTERS,” with a case code 62331 and a packaging date of 6025.

The recalled products bear establishment number “P-5837” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and were distributed in Arkansas for institutional use.

 

What to do

 

Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them but throw them away or return them to the place of purchase.

 

Consumers with questions regarding the recall may contact Vicky Goodman at (479) 215-2296.

 

 

 

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Kroger Recalls Deluxe S'mores Ice Cream

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

The Kroger Co. is recalling its store brand of Deluxe S’mores Ice Cream. The product may contain peanuts, an allergen not listed on the label. Ther...

PhotoThe Kroger Co. is recalling its store brand of Deluxe S’mores Ice Cream.

 

The product may contain peanuts, an allergen not listed on the label. There is no safety issue for those who are not allergic to peanuts.

 

No illnesses have been reported to date.

 

The product foll wing product, sold at Kroger, Dillons, Baker’s, Gerbes, Food 4 Less, Fred Meyer, Fry’s, JayC, King Soopers, City Market, QFC, Ralphs and Smith’s names, stores in Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming, is being recalled:

ProductUPCCodesSize
Kroger Deluxe S’mores Ice Cream0001111001399Sell By May 20, 2017
Sell By: May 23, 2017
48 oz

 

What to do

Customers allergic to peanuts who purchased the recalled product should not consume it, but return it to the store for a full refund or replacement.

 

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

 

 

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Evie's Cheddar Potato Salad recalled

The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

Hearn Kirkwood is recalling Evie’s Cheddar Potato Salad. The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. There are no reported...

PhotoHearn Kirkwood is recalling Evie’s Cheddar Potato Salad.

 

The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

 

There are no reported illnesses attributed to the recalled items to date.

 

The recalled product is packaged in 6.0-oz. clear plastic containers with the name “Evie’s Cheddar Potato Macaroni Salad,” UPC code 6637511772” and “use by” dates of 04/15/16 to 06/20/16.

 

It was sold through Amazon Fresh in the locations Bellevue, Wash., area between April 8 and June 13, 2016.

 

What to do

 

Customers who purchased the recalled product should discard it and contact Amazon Fresh at (866) 380-0525 from 6:00 AM – 10:00 PM (EST) for a full refund.

 

Consumers with questions may call Hearn Kirkwood at 410-799-4444, Monday through Friday, 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM (EST).

 

 

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Kabob's Acquisition recalls not ready-to-eat meat and poultry products

The products may be adulterated with E. coli O121

Kabob's Acquisition of Lake City, Ga., is recalling approximately 44,850 pounds of raw intact and heat treated, not ready-to-eat (NRTE) meat and poultry pr...

PhotoKabob's Acquisition of Lake City, Ga., is recalling approximately 44,850 pounds of raw intact and heat treated, not ready-to-eat (NRTE) meat and poultry products that may be adulterated with E. coli O121.

 

There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

 

The following items, produced between December 8, 2015, and January 15, 2016, are being recalled:

  • Boxed plastic tray packages containing 100 pieces of “Uncooked Chicken Breast Strip Fritter with Pecan Coating” with case code 2005 and packaging date code PM16A14.
  • Boxed plastic tray packages containing 100 pieces of “Chicken Gyoza Potstickers” with case code 3625 and packaging date code PM16A13.
  • Boxed plastic tray packages containing 100 pieces of “Chicken Wonton” with case code 370 and packaging date code PM15M23.
  • Boxed plastic tray packages containing 100 pieces of “Cuban Style Frank in a Blanket” with case code 179037 and packaging date code PM15M22.
  • Boxed plastic tray packages containing 100 pieces of “Beef and Vegetables Topped with Mashed Potatoes” with case code 7055 and packaging date code PM15M16.
  • Boxed plastic tray packages containing 100 pieces of “Uncooked Mini Chicken Breast Meat and Ham Fritter with Cheese” with case code 713 and packaging date code PM15M18 or PM15M11.
  • Boxed plastic tray packages containing 100 pieces of “Beef Pastelitos” with case code 7159 and packaging date code PM16A12 or PM16A14.
  • Boxed plastic tray packages containing 100 pieces of “Beef, Cheese and Vegetables in Pastry” with case code 715 and packaging date code PM15M17 or PM15M11.
  • Boxed plastic tray packages containing 100 pieces of “Latin Inspired Chicken and Cheese in Pastry” with case code 7172 and packaging date code PM16A15.
  • Boxed plastic tray packages containing 100 pieces of “Latin-Style Chicken & Cheese Turnover” with case code 717 and packaging date code PM15M12, PM15M17, PM15M23, PM16A13, PM15M09, PM15M21or PM16A14.
  • Boxed plastic tray packages containing 100 pieces of “Beef Tenderloin, Mushroom Duxelle, and Sherry in Puff Pastry” with case code 725 and packaging date code PM15M15 or PM15M16.
  • Boxed plastic tray packages containing 200 pieces of “Beef Tenderloin, Mushroom Duxelle, and Sherry in Puff Pastry” with case code 725 and packaging date code PM15M08 or PM15M09.
  • Boxed plastic tray packages containing 200 pieces of “Petite Beef Tenderloin, Mushroom Duxelle, and Sherry in Puff Pastry” with case code 7261 and packaging date code PM15M15.
  • Boxed plastic tray packages containing 200 pieces of “Chicken Quesadilla” with case code 765 and packaging date code PM15M11.
  • Boxed plastic tray packages containing 200 pieces of “Southwest Style Burrito” with case code 784 and packaging date code PM15M09.
  • Boxed plastic tray packages containing 200 pieces of “Chicken Marsala Mushroom Tart” with case code 7273 and packaging date code PM16A14.
  • Boxed plastic tray packages containing 200 pieces of “Petite Uncooked White Chicken Meat & Mushroom Duxelle In Puff Pastry” with case code 7279 and packaging date code PM16A13.
  • Boxed plastic tray packages containing 200 pieces of “Uncooked White Chicken Meat and Mushroom Duxelle In Puff Pastry” with case code 727 and packaging date code PM16A14.
  • Boxed plastic tray packages containing 200 pieces of “Eggs, Cheese and Bacon Crescent” with case code 7893 and packaging date code PM15M17.
  • Boxed plastic tray packages containing 200 pieces of “Mini Tart with Pizza Sauce, Cheese and Sausage” with case code 7951 and packaging date code PM15M09.
  • Boxed plastic tray packages containing 100 pieces of “Uncooked Coconut Chicken” with case code 805 and packaging date code PM16A14.
  • Boxed plastic tray packages containing 100 pieces of “Uncooked Sesame Chicken” with case code 810 and packaging date code PM16A15.
  • Boxed plastic tray packages containing 200 pieces of “Pad Thai Style Springroll” with case code 8630 and packaging date code PM15M10 or PM15M11.
  • Boxed plastic tray packages containing 200 pieces of “Buffalo Style White Chicken Springroll” with case code 8639 and packaging date code PM15M10, PM15M16, PM15M18 or PM15M22.
  • Boxed plastic tray packages containing 200 pieces of “Cashew Chicken Springroll” with case code 863 and packaging date code PM15M22.
  • Boxed plastic tray packages containing 100 pieces of “Pepperoni, Cheese and Vegetables In Dough” with case code 885 and packaging date code PM16A15.
  • Boxed plastic tray packages containing 100 pieces of “Chorizo, Cheese and Beans Wrapped In Dough” with case code 886 and packaging date code PM15M11 or PM16A15.
  • Boxed plastic tray packages containing 200 pieces of “Philly Brand Cheese Steak Springroll” with case code 7280 and packaging date code PM15M09.

The recalled products bear establishment number “Est. 6640” or “P-6640” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and were shipped to hotel, restaurant, and institutional locations nationwide.

 

What to do

 

Customers who purchased these products should not consume them, but throw them away or return them to the place of purchase.

 

Consumers with questions regarding the recall may contact Jonathan Herrera at (404) 361-6283 ext. 1245.

 

 

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Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain vehicles recalled

The certification labels may have incorrect tire/rim size and cold tire pressure information

General Motors is recalling 17 model year 2016 Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain vehicles manufactured October 16, 2015. The certification labels m...

PhotoGeneral Motors is recalling 17 model year 2016 Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain vehicles manufactured October 16, 2015.

 

The certification labels may have incorrect tire/rim size and cold tire pressure information. As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 110, "Tire Selection and Rims."

 

If the information on the certification labels is incorrect, the operator may install incorrectly sized tires or rims or may improperly inflate the tires, increasing the risk of a crash.

 

What to do

 

GM will notify owners, and dealers will inspect and replace the certification label, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

 

Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1050, or GMC customer service at 1-800-462-8782. GM's number for this recall is 46600.

 

 

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Party platforms ignore highway deaths

Gun violence gets a lot of attention, though its toll is lower than vehicle violence

There are quite a few things that can kill you. Take guns, for example. They kill 33,000 people in the United States each year. Traffic accidents can kill ...

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Wearable tech customers most satisfied with Apple, Samsung

J.D. Power finds comfort and reliability score the most points with consumers

As predicted, wearable tech has been a big trend so far in 2016. At the halfway point in the the year, J.D. Power has found consumers with smartwatches are...

PhotoAs predicted, wearable tech has been a big trend so far in 2016. At the halfway point in the the year, J.D. Power has found consumers with smartwatches are happiest with the Apple product while fitness tracker wearers give Samsung the highest marks.

The parallel reports measured the overall satisfaction with smartwatches among consumers who bought one within the last 12 months, as well as those who purchased a fitness tracker within the same time frame.

Both reports probed consumers on 11 factors. For smartwatches, consumers were asked about the ease of use, comfort, battery life, phone features, price, durability, display size, appearance, reliability, apps available, and customer service.

Consumers who owned fitness band trackers were quizzed on reliability, durability, ease of use, battery life, price, variety of features, comfort, styling and appearance, display size, apps available, and customer service.

The order of the categories match the priorities listed by the two groups of consumers. Their satisfaction was calculated on a scale with 1,000 points being the maximum.

Getting competitive

Kirk Parsons, senior director and telecom, media & technology practice leader at J.D. Power, says both fitness tracking and smartwatches are becoming more competitive, with more choices for consumers.

“It is important that device manufacturers focus on offering a product that is reliable at a price that is perceived as good value based on its features,” he said. “Those that do so early in the game may improve their opportunity to increase satisfaction, customer loyalty and repurchase intention."

In the smartwatch competition, Apple scored 852, earning points for comfort, appearance, and ease of use. Samsung was not far behind, with a score of 842. It scored points for customer service, display size, and features.

Overall, customer satisfaction with smartwatches was in the middle, with a score of 847. The biggest complaint? Battery life isn't long enough.

Samsung satisfies

Among fitness trackers, Samsung led the field with a score of 859, earning points for comfort, reliability, and ease of use. Garmin was second with a score of 836, with owners praising its customer service, ease of use, durability, and reliability.

Overall, fitness trackers scored 829 on the customer satisfaction scale. Consumers who purchased them said they most often relied on online shopping websites and recommendations from family and friends in deciding which one to buy.

Consumers buy smartwatches primarily to be able to instantly access features on their smartphone by touching their wrist. Fitness trackers provide wearers with information about physical activity.

Forbes reports both categories of wearable tech represented some of the best deals during Amazon.com's second annual Prime Day sale this week, with a $219 smartwatch marked down to $159.

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The reason why your diet may not be working out

Focus on the foods you enjoy when making your plan, researchers say

What is the most important aspect of making a successful diet plan? Many people might say that it has to do with avoiding unhealthy foods and substituting ...

PhotoWhat is the most important aspect of making a successful diet plan? Many people might say that it has to do with avoiding unhealthy foods and substituting them with well-known, healthy options. However, new research shows that this line of thinking may actually lead to failure more often than not.

Instead, researchers from Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business say that consumers should focus on adding healthy foods that they actually enjoy to their diet.

“Our research shows that instead of creating rules to avoid one’s favorite treats, dieters should focus on eating healthy foods that they enjoy. . . Dieters who restrict themselves from consuming foods they love most may be setting themselves up for future failure,” said Dr. Meredith David, assistant professor at Baylor and lead author of a study on the subject.

Approach dieting differently

The study analyzed data on 542 participants who answered questions related to creating a successful diet plan. The focus of the study was to gauge participants’ level of self-control and see how that affected their choices.

When asked about diet rules that they would create, a majority of respondents said that they would add in provisions that restricted or avoided certain foods. This was especially the case amongst individuals who were considered to have low levels of self-control and low levels of success with dieting.

Additionally, low self-control individuals were more likely to think of foods that they really enjoyed when listing unhealthy foods that they should avoid. On the other hand, high self-control individuals were more likely to list foods that they liked, but ones that they could reasonably give up.

Low self-control participants were also most likely to think of foods they didn’t like when trying to create a list of healthy foods that they should eat, like Brussels sprouts. High self-control individuals were more likely to think of healthy foods that they also enjoyed eating, such as fruits like strawberries.

Focus on foods you enjoy

These findings show that consumers who have low self-control may be approaching dieting in the wrong way.

“In coming up with plans to enhance one’s health and well-being, low self-control individuals tend to set themselves up for a harder pathway to success by focusing on avoiding the very goods they find most tempting. . . Our data reveals that individuals who are generally more successful at reaching their goals tend to develop more motivating plans regarding the inclusion of healthy, well-liked items and the exclusion of unhealthy items that are not one’s favorites,” said David.

The researchers believe that more success could be achieved by dieters if they adopt plans that focus more on foods that they enjoy instead of focusing on what they will be missing out on.

“The next time you decide to go on a diet or seek to improve your health by altering your food consumption, opt for strategies that focus on including healthy foods in your diet, and focus specifically on those healthy foods that you really enjoy eating,” said David.

The full study has been published in the journal Psychology & Marketing.

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Ignition switch cases resurface to vex General Motors

Cases that had been ruled out of bounds are reinstated on appeal

Like a drunken uncle who hangs around after the party is over, Old GM continues to cause trouble for New GM. A U.S. appeals court has ruled that General Mo...

PhotoLike a drunken uncle who hangs around after the party is over, Old GM continues to cause trouble for New GM. A U.S. appeals court has ruled that General Motors must face claims stemming from its ignition-switch defect that had previously been declared out of bounds, Reuters reported.

Back in 2014, GM recalled 2.6 million vehicles to fix ignition switches that could turn off without warning. But it had earlier won a bankruptcy court ruling that protected it from some lawsuits involving cars made before "Old GM" declared bankruptcy in 2009 and was succeeded by "New GM."

The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan today reversed part of the bankruptcy court's ruling, meaning that GM may have to face some lawsuits it thought it had evaded. The court said that denying consumers the right to sue deprived them of their constitutional right to due process, since they had not known of the defect prior to GM's bankruptcy.

The ruling affects an unknown number of cases seeking compensation for deaths and injuries as well as lost vehicle value.

GM had argued it should not be held liable since it had not known of the defect prior to 2009, but the court said if the company had been "reasonably diligent," it would have known of the problem.

GM has already paid $2 billion in penalties and settlements in cases involving the switch, which has been linked to 124 deaths and 275 injuries.

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Suddenly, banks want you and are willing to pay

Banks in largest U.S. cities are paying cash bonus to open checking account

In the past few years, consumers could be forgiven if they got the impression that banks didn't want them as customers. It seems like it's been one new fee...

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Five jobs that will let you earn over $100,000 per year

Having the right credentials can put you on the fast track to living comfortably

Whether you spend your days sitting at a desk or outside on your feet, you may have dreamed of having job that allows you to rake in six figures. While pro...

PhotoWhether you spend your days sitting at a desk or outside on your feet, you may have dreamed of having job that allows you to rake in six figures. While professions like doctor and lawyer may jump to your mind first, have you ever wondered what other jobs would allow you to reach that goal?

The team at Glassdoor, a job-recruiting and analytics company, has the answer for you. They’ve compiled a list of 11 professions that make $100,000 or more per year, on average -- as well as the requirements you’ll need in order to get hired. Here, we’ll discuss the top five earning positions.

Jobs earning over $100,000

Reservoir Engineer: With a total median pay of $143,000, reservoir engineers top Glassdoor’s earnings list. Consumers who want to get in on this profession will need to have top-notch credentials, including a degree in chemical engineering and field experience. Even those who fit that bill may have trouble landing the job though; Glassdoor calculates that there are only 23 positions available on their site.

Software Architect: With the growing emergence of online technologies, it makes sense that a software engineer would rank high on the list. These professionals earn a total median pay of $139,000, but you’ll more than likely need a bachelor’s in math, software engineering, or an associated field.

Airline Pilot: You may not have realized it, but the person in the cockpit of that plane you’re seated in is being compensated pretty well. Pilots earn a total median pay of $134,000 per year, but job seekers should keep in mind that the position demands a high time commitment. Most airlines require you to have a bachelor’s degree in aviation, physics, or an associated field – though military experience can go a long way.

Dentist: Dentists earn a pretty good living, coming in at $129,968 in total median pay – but the requirements for landing the job are fairly extensive. Job seekers will need to have a four-year degree in pre-dentistry or a related scientific field. That’s just the beginning, though. Prospective candidates also need to score well on the Dental Acceptance Test given by the American Dental Association and earn a doctoral degree in dental surgery or dental medicine before they can receive their license.

Special Agent: Coming in at number five on the list, special agents make $125,000 in total median pay. The job description across the field can be a little murky, with some agents working with law enforcement to build criminal cases and others being employed by private companies. Job seekers will usually need a background in law enforcement, though a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice combined with military experience may also do the trick.

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Cats are living longer than ever, study finds

Whether you love them or simply tolerate them, cats are sticking around longer

Cat lovers, rejoice: a new study has found that cats are living longer, healthier lives. In this month’s Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, resear...

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Amazon reports record orders on Prime Day

Consumers snapped up two million toys and a million pairs of shoes

Amazon.com says Tuesday's second annual Prime Day was bigger than last year and set a record for orders worldwide.The online retailer says global order...

PhotoAmazon.com says Tuesday's second annual Prime Day was bigger than last year and set a record for orders worldwide.

The online retailer says global orders were 60% higher than last year while U.S. orders rose 50%. Amazon says it also set a record for orders for Amazon devices, including Fire TV, Fire tablets, Kindle e-readers and Alexa-enabled devices. The company did not release any sales or revenue figures.

Amazon launched the promotion for the first time in 2015, picking a day in July to serve as sort of a precursor to Black Friday. The purpose is to capture consumer holiday shopping dollars before they are spent anywhere else.

It also serves to promote Amazon Prime, since shoppers had to be members to take advantage of the deals.

Devices big sellers

The company said it sold over two and a half times more Amazon Fire TV devices Tuesday than it did on last year's Prime Day. It said the Fire TV Stick was the best-selling Amazon device.

It said Prime customers bought more than two million toys and more than a million pairs of shoes. It took orders for 90,000 TV sets and hundreds of thousands of e-readers.

In the U.S., it was also the biggest single day for sales of Amazon Echo, the retailer's voice-controlled audio system.

How good were the deals?

The holiday shopping site BestBlackFriday.com live blogged Prime Day as it unfolded, comparing the deals to the savings consumers can get on Black Friday itself. Here is some of what it found:

By selling the Kitchen Aid 6-quarter mixer for $248.99, it beat Black Friday by $151. By selling the Kindle Paperwhite for $89.99, it beat Black Friday by $10.

It sold the XBox – One 1TB Console with The Division Bundle, a $50 Amazon Gift Card, Rainbow Six Siege, the Xbox One Special Edition Dusk Shadow Wireless Controller, and Forza Horizon 2 for $299, beating Black Friday by $50.

But there were a few items where Prime Day prices were not lower. The TCL 32D2700 32-Inch 720p LED TV went for $99.99 on Prime Day, $25 more than Black Friday. It sold the Instant Pot IP-DUO60 7-in-1 Multi-Functional Pressure Cooker, 6Qt/1000W for $69.99, $20 more than JC Penney's Black Friday last year.

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Beer labels to add calorie, nutritional information

Beer Institute adopts Voluntary Disclosure Initiative

When you pick up a can of peas in the supermarket, you can check the label for nutritional information and calories. Soon you will be able to do the same w...

PhotoWhen you pick up a can of peas in the supermarket, you can check the label for nutritional information and calories. Soon you will be able to do the same with a can of beer.

The Beer Institute has unveiled a Voluntary Disclosure Initiative that will give consumers a serving facts statement. The label will also list ingredients on either the label or secondary packaging with a reference to a website where the information can be found, or through a QR code.

Anheuser-Busch, MillerCoors, HeinekenUSA, Constellation Brands Beer Division, North American Breweries, and Craft Brew Alliance have already agreed to adopt the voluntary standards. Together, they produce more than 81% of the beer sold in the U.S.

Step in the right direction

Jim McGreevy, president and CEO of the Beer Institute, says it's a step in the right direction and demonstrates the industry's commitment to transparency.

“Beer is the most popular alcohol beverage in the United States, and I look forward to brewers and importers including a serving facts statement along with disclosing all ingredients in their products,” he said.

With the serving information, McGreevy says consumers can make better decisions when selecting beer.

The Beer Institute was swayed, in part, by a recent Harris Poll that found 72% of beer drinkers think it is important to read nutritional labels when buying food and beverages.

What's on the label

According to the labeling guidelines, brewers who adopt the voluntary label will provide the following:

  • Calories
  • Carbohydrates
  • Protein
  • Fat
  • List of ingredients
  • Freshness data
  • Serving size
  • Alcohol content

The Beer Institute says the labeling information will also be helpful to restaurants as they comply with menu labeling requirements that go into effect in May 2017.

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Mortgage applications post second consecutive weekly gain

Interest rates moved lower once again

Mortgage applications rose for a second straight week, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association. The survey for the week ending July 8, whic...

PhotoMortgage applications rose for a second straight week, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association. The survey for the week ending July 8, which included an adjustment for the Fourth of July holiday shows applications jumped 7.2% from the previous week.

The Refinance Index shot up 11%, with the refinance share of mortgage activity increasing to 64.0% of total applications from 61.6% the week before.

The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity slipped to 5.2% of total applications, the FHA share was 10.0%, the VA share of total applications dropped to 12.1% from 12.8% the previous week, and the USDA share was unchanged at 0.6%.

Contract interest rates

  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) fell six basis points to 3.60% -- its lowest level since May 2013 -- from 3.66%, with points increasing to 0.36 from 0.32 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) dropped from 3.67% to 3.61%, with points increasing to 0.32 from 0.24 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA was down three basis points to 3.53%, with points increasing to 0.32 from 0.31 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs dipped to 2.88% from 2.96%, with points increasing to 0.34 from 0.32 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs fell seven basis points to 2.78%, with points decreasing to 0.25 from 0.26 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.

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

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Foreclosure inventories plunge in May

Completed foreclosures were lower as well

The inventory of foreclosed homes fell sharply during May according to the CoreLogic National Foreclosure Report.The property information provider says...

PhotoThe inventory of foreclosed homes fell sharply during May according to the CoreLogic National Foreclosure Report.

The property information provider says the number of homes at some stage of the foreclosure process was down 24.5% from the same month a year ago, while completed foreclosures fell by 6.9% year-over-year.

The decline in completed foreclosures nationwide works out to 38,000 last May from 41,000 in May 2015. That represents a drop of 67.9% from the peak of 117,813 in September 2010.

Since the financial meltdown began in September 2008, there have been approximately 6.3 million completed foreclosures nationally, and since homeownership rates peaked in the second quarter of 2004, there have been approximately 8.3 million homes lost to foreclosure.

"The foreclosure rate fell to 1% in May, which is twice the long-term average of 0.5%. However, this masks the underlying progress at the state level," said Dr. Frank Nothaft, chief economist for CoreLogic. "Twenty-nine states had foreclosure rates below the national average, and all but North Dakota experienced declines in their foreclosure rate compared to the prior year."

Mortgage delinquencies

CoreLogic also reports the number of mortgages in serious delinquency (defined as 90 days or more past due including loans in foreclosure or Real Estate Owned) declined by 21.6% from May 2015 to May 2016, with 1.1 million mortgages, or 2.8%, in this category. The May 2016 serious delinquency rate is the lowest since October 2007.

"Delinquency and foreclosure rates continue to drop as we experience the benefits of a combination of tight underwriting, job and income growth and a steady rise in home prices,” said CoreLogic President and CEO Anand Nallathambi. “We expect these factors to remain in place for the remainder of this year and for delinquency and foreclosure rates to decline even further."

Report highlights

  • On a month-over-month basis, completed foreclosures increased by 5.5% to 38,000 in May 2016 from April. As a basis of comparison, before the decline in the housing market in 2007, completed foreclosures averaged 21,000 per month nationwide between 2000 and 2006.
  • On a month-over-month basis, the foreclosure inventory was down 3.0%.
  • The five states with the highest number of completed foreclosures were Florida (63,000), Michigan (45,000), Texas (27,000), Ohio (23,000), and California (23,000).These five states account for almost half of all completed foreclosures nationally.
  • Four states and the District of Columbia had the lowest number of completed foreclosures: the District of Columbia (139), North Dakota (323), West Virginia (494), Alaska (648) and Montana (690).
  • Four states and the District of Columbia had the highest foreclosure inventory rate: New Jersey (3.6%), New York (3.2%), Hawaii (2.1%), the District of Columbia (2.0%), and Maine (1.9%).
  • The five states with the lowest foreclosure inventory rate were Alaska (0.3%), Arizona (0.3%), Colorado (0.3%), Minnesota (0.3%), and Utah (0.3%).
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ConAgra Foods recalls frozen chicken and beef products

The products may be contaminated with extraneous materials

ConAgra Foods of Russellville, Ark., is recalling approximately 3,806 pounds of frozen chicken and beef entrée products that may be contaminated with extra...

PhotoConAgra Foods of Russellville, Ark., is recalling approximately 3,806 pounds of frozen chicken and beef entrée products that may be contaminated with extraneous materials -- specifically metal.

 

The metal fragments range in size between 2 and 9 millimeters (mm) in diameter, are curled, malleable and shiny, and may be embedded in the sauce contained within the frozen entrée products.

 

There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions or injuries due to consumption of these products.

 

The following frozen chicken and beef entrée items, produced on June 13, 2016, and June 22, 2016, are being recalled:

  • 22-oz. plastic bagged meal packages of “P.F. Chang’s Home Menu Brand Signature Spicy Chicken.” with “Use By” date of 6/08/17 and case code 5006616500.
  • 22-oz. plastic bagged meal packages of “P.F. Chang’s Home Menu Brand Mongolian Style Beef.” with “Use By” date of 6/17/17 and case code 5006617400.

The recalled products bear establishment number “EST. 233” or “EST. P-115” inside the USDA mark of inspection and were shipped to distributors and retail locations in Arkansas, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont and Wisconsin.

 

What to do

 

Customers who purchased these products should not consume them, but throw them away or return them to the place of purchase.

 

Consumers with questions about the recall may call 1-800-252-0634.  

 

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Nissan recalls model year 2016 LEAF and Sentra vehicles

The wiring harness connector may disconnect from the dual-stage passenger air bag

Nissan North America is recalling 4,355 model year 2016 LEAF vehicles manufactured February 24, 2016, to March 23, 2016, and Sentras manufactured February ...

PhotoNissan North America is recalling 4,355 model year 2016 LEAF vehicles manufactured February 24, 2016, to March 23, 2016, and Sentras manufactured February 9, 2016, to March 4, 2016.

 

The wiring harness connector may disconnect from the dual-stage passenger air bag. As a result, the passenger air bag may not to deploy during a crash, increasing the risk of injury.

 

What to do

 

Nissan will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the wiring harness connector for proper engagement and, if necessary, replace the passenger air bag module and main body harness, free of charge.

 

The recall is expected to begin in late July 2016. Owners may contact Nissan customer service at 1-800-647-7261.

 

 

 

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Kawasaki USA recalls recreational off-highway vehicles

The front floor cover can be punctured by a foreign object

Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A. of Foothill Ranch, Calif., is recalling about 28,000 Mule Pro side-by-side recreational off-highway vehicles. The fro...

PhotoKawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A. of Foothill Ranch, Calif., is recalling about 28,000 Mule Pro side-by-side recreational off-highway vehicles.

 

The front floor cover can be punctured by a foreign object, posing an injury hazard to riders.

 

The company has received two reports of debris coming up from the floor cover, including one report of debris striking an operator’s leg.

 

The recall involves 2015, 2016 and 2017 model year side-by-side recreational off-highway vehicles. The recalled models are 4-wheel side-by-side seating for three to six people and automotive style controls. The vehicles come in various colors. The model name is printed on the right and left front fender. The vehicle identification number (VIN) is located on the steel frame between the right front lower A-arm mounts.

 

The following vehicles are being recalled:

 

2015

2016

2017

Model Name

Model Code

Model Name

Model Code

Model Name

Model Code

MULE PRO-FXT™

KAF820AFF/L

MULE PRO-FXT™

KAF820AGF/L

MULE PRO-FXT™

KAF820AHF/L

MULE PRO-FX™EPS

KAF820BFF/L

MULE PRO-FXT™ EPS

KAF820BGF/L

MULE PRO-FXT™ EPS

KAF820BHF/L

MULE PRO-FXT™EPS LE

KAF820CFF/L

MULE PRO-FXT™ EPS LE

KAF820CGF/L

MULE PRO-FXT™ EPS LE

KAF820CHF/L

MULE PRO-FXT™EPS Camo

KAF820DFF/L

MULE PRO-FXT™ EPS Camo

KAF820DGF/L

MULE PRO-FXT™ EPS Camo

KAF820DHF/L

 

 

MULE PRO-FXT™ Ranch Edition

KAF820JGF/L

MULE PRO-FXT™ Ranch Edition

KAF820JHF/L

 

 

MULE PRO-FX™

KAF820EGF/L

MULE PRO-FX™

KAF820EHF/L

 

 

MULE PRO-FX™ EPS

KAF820FGF/L

MULE PRO-FX™ EPS

KAF820FHF/L

 

 

MULE PRO-FX™EPS LE

KAF820GGF/L

MULE PRO-FX™EPS LE

KAF820GHF/L

 

 

MULE PRO-FX™EPS Camo

KAF820HGF/L

MULE PRO-FX™EPS Camo

KAF820HHF/L

 

 

MULE PRO-DXT™

KAF1000AGF

MULE PRO-DXT™

KAF1000AHF

 

 

MULE PRO-DXT™ EPS

KAF1000BGF

MULE PRO-DXT™ EPS

KAF1000BHF

 

 

MULE PRO-DXT™ EPS LE

KAF1000CGF

MULE PRO-DXT™ EPS LE

KAF1000CHF

 

 

MULE PRO-DX™

KAF1000DGF

MULE PRO-DX™

KAF1000DHF

 

 

MULE PRO-DX™ EPS

KAF1000EGF

MULE PRO-DX™ EPS

KAF1000EHF

 

 

MULE PRO-DX™ EPS LE

KAF1000FGF

MULE PRO-DX™ EPS LE

KAF1000FHF

 

The off-highway vehicles, manufactured in the U.S., were sold at Kawasaki dealers nationwide from July 2014 through June 2016 for between $12,000 and $16,900.

 

What to do

 

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled vehicles and contact their local authorized Kawasaki dealer to schedule a free repair.

 

Consumers may contact Kawasaki toll-free at 866-802-9381 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. (PT) Monday through Friday or online at www.kawasaki.com and click on “Recall” at the bottom of the page for more information.

 

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Sundae Shoppe Ice Cream Dipped Variety Cones recalled

The product may contain peanuts an allergen not declared on the label

Mister Cookie Face is recalling Sundae Shop Novelty Ice Cream Dipped "Variety" Cones. The product may contain peanuts an allergen not declared on t...

PhotoMister Cookie Face is recalling Sundae Shop Novelty Ice Cream Dipped "Variety" Cones.

 

The product may contain peanuts an allergen not declared on the label

 

The recalled product, with the best before date November 14, 2017, is packaged in a 32-oz. box containing eight ice cream cones, has the UPC code: 041498191962, and the plant code 34-2036 located next to the "best by" date.

 

It was distributed only through ALDI Inc.

 

What to do

 

Customers who purchased the recalled product should discard it immediately or return it to their local store for a full refund.

 

Consumers with questions may contact the company at 1-800-333-0805 x2270.

 

 

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Starbucks raising wages and prices

Consumers don't seem to exhibit much price resistance when it comes to coffee

Consumer submissionCoffee seems to be one of those treasured commodities that's not much affected by pricing. With the average Starbucks latte going ...

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Consumer submission

Coffee seems to be one of those treasured commodities that's not much affected by pricing. With the average Starbucks latte going for $3.78, according to the Fiscal Times, you can't say coffee aficionados are cheap.

Many are like an unnamed New Jersey consumer who was so thrilled by her morning cup of Joe she forgot to leave us her name. "I love the drinks.They are top of the line. ... As for the food I would consider Starbucks to be the most recommended of all the places i have visited to dine," she said, attaching a photo of what she said was her most recent concoction (right).

But the lowly latte will soon pass the magic $4 mark in many locations, as Starbucks implements price hikes averaging 30 cents or so. You might remember that, not too long ago, motorists swooned at the notion of paying $4 for a gallon of gas, but coffee -- that's another matter.

More valuable than gas

In fact, Starbucks customers like Kelley of Altamonte Springs, Fla., are willing to forgive a wide range of sins. "I truly enjoy the Starbucks experience. I'm a huge coffee fan and love your atmosphere and your employees are great however, your cups leak," she said in a recent ConsumerAffairs review.

"I mainly stop into your store in Winter Park, FL on my way to my office in the mornings. When I do stop in I'm dressed for work. Inevitably your cups leak around the lid. I've smartened up and now hold a napkin up under the lip of the lid but honestly, as much a we pay for a regular cup of Joe we shouldn't have to worry about the lid leaking on our work clothes," Kelley argued. 

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Valerie's latte (consumer submission)
Valerie of Bloomfield, N.J., is also concerned about the cups -- not their viscosity but their net content. She would like to see more liquid for her lucre (photo at right).

"I went to Starbucks to buy my favorite latte as a hot beverage using my ceramic reusable mug. The line was long but moved quickly. When I received my beverage I was surprised to see the mug only partially filled," Valerie said. "I didn't have time to ask for a replacement because I had to go to work. I didn't drink any of it until I arrived at work and by then it had shrunk to half the size of the mug."

Usual reasons

Starbucks is being pretty open about the reasons behind the price increase. Besides the usual rising costs of business -- rent, raw materials, etc. -- the ubiquitous retailer is giving its employees wage hikes of five to fifteen percent.

The company says the market for skilled baristas and other counter technicians is tight, and it doesn't want to lose any of its treasured employees.

OK. But financial analysts note that retailers around the U.S. are shivering at the thought of a federally mandated minimum wage of $10.25 by 2020 and are beginning to calculate how much they can bump up prices to get ready for it.

As usual, the minimum wage issue is fueling over-caffeinated partisan debate, with Republicans saying it will devastate mom-and-pop businesses and leave millions jobless. Democrats generally argue that it will boost the economy by putting more money in the hands of lower-paid consumers, who will turn around and spend it on the essentials of modern life.

You know, like lattes and cappuccinos.

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Debt collector calling? Here's what to do

First, know your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

Some consumers are caught off guard when a debt collector calls and may take actions or make statements that are damaging to their position. The law, after...

PhotoSome consumers are caught off guard when a debt collector calls and may take actions or make statements that are damaging to their position. The law, after all, gives consumers rights when it comes to dealing with creditors.

The law in question is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which spells out clearly what debt collectors can and can't do. That's why consumers should be familiar with the law, especially when an account is turned over for collections.

No one is arguing that consumers should try to weasel out of paying legitimate debts, but there is also no reason to allow yourself to be exploited by a debt collector who is skirting around the law.

Under the law, you do not have to talk to a debt collector, but the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says you might want to, at least once, to see if you can resolve the issue.

Stopping contact

But at any time, you can request the debt collector stop contacting you. Here's how:

Write a letter instructing the collector not to make further contact. Send a copy to the collector by certified mail and pay for a return receipt. After that, a debt collector may contact you only to tell you there will be no further contact, or to tell you the creditor plans to file a lawsuit.

Keep in mind, cutting off communication with a debt collector increases the likelihood of litigation. If the debt is illegitimate, maybe that's not a concern. Remember, cutting off contact does not make a legitimate debt go away.

If a debt collector calls about a debt that you know you do not owe, you can stop the calls by sending a letter – again by certified mail – stating you don't owe the money and asking for verification of the debt. You must send it within 30 days of receiving a validation notice. The collector may resume contact if it can prove you owe the money.

Old debt can be new again

In recent years debt collectors have purchased old debt from credit card companies for pennies on the dollar and attempted to collect it, even though in many cases the statute of limitations had expired and the credit card company had written off the debt.

The credit card site Credit.com warns consumers they should be very careful should they receive one of these debt collector calls. By saying the wrong thing – like admitting to owing the money – or making even a small payment, can start the clock again. 

Sometimes a debt collector will hound a consumer over a debt that doesn't exist, or belongs to someone else. When that happens, the consumer should consider legal action if the hounding persists.

Last year a debt collector sued a Missouri woman for a debt she insisted was not hers. When the jury heard her story, it not only dismissed the case, it awarded her $83 million from the debt collection company in punitive damages.

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New discovery could lead to improved diabetes treatments

Researchers study why some people get the disease and others don't

Oftentimes, scientists and medical experts need to look at the most minute details in order to understand the human body and the diseases that affect it. A...

PhotoOftentimes, scientists and medical experts need to look at the most minute details in order to understand the human body and the diseases that affect it. And since technology in the field is advancing all the time, they are able to do it to a greater degree.

In that vein, new research on how the body produces insulin may allow future therapies to evolve that better treat diabetes. Dr. Markus Grompe, who is best known for his work with stem cells, has found that there are at least four subtypes of insulin-producing beta cells in humans. It is the first study of its kind that has identified multiple types of such cells, and the information could mean a lot.

“Further understanding of cell characteristics could be the key to uncovering new treatment options, as well as the reason why some people are diabetic and others are not,” explained Grompe.

Identifying new cell types

Diabetes currently affects over 29 million people in the U.S. alone, and it occurs when a person’s insulin-producing beta cells are disrupted or cease to function. Without these cells doing their job, a person loses their ability to regulate their blood sugar levels, which can result in extreme fatigue, weight loss, vision ailments, pain in the extremities, and nerve damage, to name a few.

Up until this point, the medical community had thought that only one type of beta cell existed, but Grompe and his colleagues were able to isolate beta cells and classify three additional types.

Additionally, they found that there are hundreds of genes that differently express cell types, which leads to varying production of insulin in the body. The differences between these genes and cells could explain the differences between the types of diabetes and why certain people are susceptible to them.

“Some of the cells are better at releasing insulin than others, whereas others may regenerate quicker. Therefore, it is possible that people with different percentages of the subtypes are more prone to diabetes,” Grompe explains.

The next step for the researchers will be to attempt to understand how different cell subtypes are created so that they can create an approach for medical treatment. The full study has been published in the journal Nature Communications

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California settles with online charter school operator

The company agrees to pay $160 million but denies any wrongdoing

California has reached a $160 million settlement with K12 Inc., a Virginia-based for-profit charter school operator, claiming it used false advertising to ...

PhotoCalifornia has reached a $160 million settlement with K12 Inc., a Virginia-based for-profit charter school operator, claiming it used false advertising to lure parents into enrolling their children. The company denied the charges.

“K12 and its schools misled parents and the State of California by claiming taxpayer dollars for questionable student attendance, misstating student success and parent satisfaction, and loading nonprofit charities with debt," California Attorney General Kamala Harris said. As my office continues an industry-wide examination of for-profit academic institutions, this settlement ensures K12 and its schools are held accountable and make much-needed improvements.”

But K12 said Harris' statement was misleading.

“The Attorney General’s claim of  $168.5 million  ... is flat wrong,” said  Stuart Udell, K12’s Chief Executive Officer. “Despite our full cooperation throughout the process, the Office of the Attorney General  grossly mischaracterized the value of the settlement just as it did with regard to the issues it investigated."

Harris said the settlement included "debt relief" for 14 affiliated non-profit schools known as the California Virtual Academies (“CAVA Schools”) that K12 manages, but Udell denied that.

"There is no ‘debt relief’ to the CAVA schools. The balance budget credits essentially act as subsidies to protect the CAVA schools, its students and teachers against financial uncertainties. CAVA schools have not paid that money to K12 and K12 never expected to receive it given California’s funding environment,” Udell said.

Program initiatives

K12 and the CAVA schools agreed to improve, or in some cases accelerate, a number of planned and ongoing academic and business program initiatives. In addition, on a number of issues, K12 and the CAVA schools agreed to implement new policies and procedures that go well above and beyond current independent study and charter school laws and regulations, Udell said.  

It is the first settlement by the new Bureau of Children’s Justice, created by Attorney General Harris in February 2015 to enforce civil and criminal laws that protect children and pursue solutions that help ensure all children are on track to realize their full potential.  

“All children deserve, and are entitled under the law, to an equal education,” said Attorney General Harris. 

The Attorney General’s Office alleged that K12 and the CAVA Schools it operates in California misled parents to induce them to enroll their children in K12 schools by publishing misleading advertisements about students’ academic progress, parent satisfaction, their graduates’ eligibility for University of California and California State University admission, class sizes, the individualized and flexible nature of their instruction, hidden costs, and the quality of the materials provided to students.

K12 Inc. is based in Virginia and is a for-profit, publicly traded company. The 14 non-profit virtual charter schools it manages throughout California enroll approximately 13,000 K-12 students.

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The potential benefits of walking meetings

A study shows that these active meetings are accepted by workers and can have huge health benefits

Working in an office comes with certain expectations for employees. More than likely, you’ll have to dress in appropriate business-wear, deal with paperwor...

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App shows how your skin type will react to current UV levels

When it comes to your skin's health, UVLens can help keep the forecast bright

The summer sun may encourage us to spend more time outdoors, but it isn’t always kind to our skin once we’re there. Sun bathers and outdoor activity en...

PhotoThe summer sun may encourage us to spend more time outdoors, but it isn’t always kind to our skin once we’re there.

Sun bathers and outdoor activity enthusiasts who frequently step out sans sunscreen may be at risk of developing skin cancer later in life.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, one in every five Americans will get some type of skin cancer in their lifetime. Even more shocking: almost half of Americans over the age of 65 will have had at least one type of skin cancer.

We all know the sun’s rays can be harmful, but not everyone knows the answers to other sun-related questions. For instance, you may not know how vulnerable your unique skin type is or how often sunscreen should be applied at different UV levels.

But now (you guessed it), there’s an app for that.

Calculates burn risk

A new app called UVLens (free on iOS and Android) measures UV levels and tells users if they need to apply sunscreen and/or grab a hat and sunglasses before heading out.

All info is neatly displayed on a color-coded wheel, which shows the hourly UV forecast and lets you know how quickly you would burn as a result of it. Users can also see other valuable information, such as what time of day to be most diligent about covering up.

In addition to providing general UV level-based info, the app gets a little more personal. After taking a skin type assessment, you’ll learn all about the skin you’re in -- specifically, how your skin type reacts to the sun and how quickly you’re likely to burn.

UVLens also seeks to encourage healthy sun habits by educating users on what precautions to take depending on the strength of the UV rays.

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Is your connected car vulnerable to theft?

Today's tech savvy car thieves are finding easy pickings

The old method of a car thief breaking into your car and “hot wiring” the ignition to make off with it is getting pretty dated.With so many cars run by...

PhotoThe old method of a car thief breaking into your car and “hot wiring” the ignition to make off with it is getting pretty dated.

With so many cars run by onboard computers these days, car thieves have gone digital. And it's pretty effective.

The FBI's Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report shows an uptick in auto theft last year, compared with the year before. The FBI says as cars have become more sophisticated, so have car thieves.

"Vehicle theft is starting to shift because of advanced techniques introduced by the Connected Vehicle Thief," said Patrick Clancy, Vice-President of LoJack Law Enforcement, a division of the vehicle tracking and recovery company.

Stealing information too

Clancy says today's car thieves are not only using technology to steal sophisticated, connected vehicles, they are also tapping into sensitive data that might be stored in these vehicle systems.

Sometimes, they don't even have to take possession of the vehicle to get money out of it. For example, Lojack says some thieves are using ransomware to take over the car's computer system. They can disable functions like brakes or ignition, rendering the car undrivable until a ransom is paid.

Once the system is breached, thieves can steal data that might be contained in it, such as credit card details, Social Security numbers, and drivers license numbers.

Car cloning

But Lojack says technical savvy can help a car thief steal a connected car with ease. One way is with something called “car cloning.” With the right training, a thief may create and install a bogus vehicle identification number (VIN), so the stolen car doesn't appear to be stolen. Really clever thieves can use the stolen VINs to make fake new documents, hiding the fact that the car is actually stolen.

And locking a vehicle doesn't always keep a really clever thief out. Using something called a scanner box, a thief can easily break into a vehicle that utilizes key fobs.

The scanner box device allows a thief to break into the electronic system to unlock, and even start the vehicle.

Lojack says there are ways to guard against the cyber car thief, but it requires vigilance. Owners should also realize that personal data stored in the vehicle could be at risk.

When new software for your vehicle becomes available, make sure you download it. Keep up with vehicle-enabled cyberattacks, and stay alert for any security recalls or alerts.

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The positive health impact of thumb-sucking in childhood

Nail biters and thumb-suckers may develop fewer allergies, better immune systems

If the inside of your child’s mouth frequently sees a nail or thumb, you may have logged your share of hours attempting to discourage this habit. Apart...

PhotoIf the inside of your child’s mouth frequently sees a nail or thumb, you may have logged your share of hours attempting to discourage this habit.

Apart from the fact that thumb-sucking can create dental problems, kids’ fingers can be a haven for all kinds of germs and bacteria. But, as it turns out, exposure to hand-dwelling bacteria in early childhood may offer a health advantage.

A new study published in the journal Pediatrics has found that thumb-sucking and nail biting habits may help kids develop better immune systems later in life.

Fewer allergies

Researchers found that children whose parents described them as thumb-suckers and nail-biters had better immune systems and were less likely to test positive for allergies at ages 13 and 32.

More than 1,000 kids in New Zealand took part in the ongoing study, which looked at children's habits at ages 5, 7, 9, and 11. At age 13, kids were tested for common allergies including dust mites, dogs, cats, and grass. The researchers checked in on participants again when they were 32 years old.

They found that those who sucked their thumb or bit their nails during childhood were less likely to have an allergy. The likelihood of developing an allergy was even more diminished if participants engaged in both behaviors during childhood.

Hygiene hypothesis

The study’s author, Robert J. Hancox, says these findings are in line with the pacifier study -- an earlier study in which researchers found that kids whose mothers cleaned their pacifiers by sucking them were less likely to develop allergies.

Both studies support the “hygiene hypothesis," which is the idea that immune response and risk of allergies may be influenced by exposure to germs and certain microbes during early childhood.

But while kids prone to putting their hands in their mouths were less likely to develop skin allergies, the study found no impact on the risk of developing hay fever or asthma.

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Chase, Ally top consumer banking poll

MyBankTracker finds the two banks are consistent consumer favorites

Consumers' preferences in banking are always shifting, but Alex Matjanec, CEO and co-founder of MyBankTracker, says his site's quarterly banking survey sho...

PhotoConsumers' preferences in banking are always shifting, but Alex Matjanec, CEO and co-founder of MyBankTracker, says his site's quarterly banking survey shows at least one consistency.

Consumers, he says, don't want to go to physical branches and stand in line. They want everything online, quick, and seamless. In a third quarter survey, Chase emerged as the winner among national banks and Ally took honors for best online bank.

For Chase, it was its third straight win. For Ally, the fifth time it won its category.

Matjanec says Chase wins points for covering all the bases with its product offerings, appealing to people at all stages of their lives. He says it is also convenient, with more than 15,000 ATMs, and it offers an attractive rewards program.

But even though Chase is primarily a brick-and-mortar bank, Matjanec says it has also embraced technology and is a strong presence in digital banking.

“Chase has something for everyone and delivers a great all around customer experience,” he said.

Best Online Bank

MyBankTracker salutes Ally Bank for developing a one-stop online banking product in an easy to use digital format. The bank has also become a consistent consumer favorite because it offers competitive rates with minimal to no fees.

Customers may withdraw money at no charge at more than 43,000 ATMs and the bank recently introduced its own rewards credit card.

MyBankTracker also singled out Simple as the best mobile bank, crediting it with pioneering progress in that area. It says Simple offers a user-friendly design, good customer service, Apple and Android Pay, and top notch security features, such as allowing you to instantly freeze your account if you spot suspicious activity.

Simple also offers customers some helpful personal finance management features, such as Safe-to-Spend, which helps customers keep upcoming expenses in sight at all times.

Among regional mid-size banks, Capital One was declared the best in the Northeast; Huntington Bank was best in the Midwest; Woodforest National Bank the best in the South; and BBVA Compass the best in the West.

Pentagon Federal Credit Union was declared the third quarter's best credit union.

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IIHS: Most small SUV headlights rated as poor

Only a a handful received an acceptable rating

Disappointing results from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) headlight evaluations, as not one small SUV out of 21 tested earned a good r...

PhotoDisappointing results from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) headlight evaluations, as not one small SUV out of 21 tested earned a good rating. Furthermore, only four are available with acceptable-rated headlights.

There are 47 different headlight combinations available among the 21 vehicles. More than two-thirds of them are rated poor, making the group even more deficient when it comes to lighting than the midsize cars that were the first to be rated earlier this year.

Headlight performance in today’s vehicles varies widely. Government standards are based on laboratory tests which, according to IIHS, don’t accurately gauge performance in real-world driving. About half of traffic deaths occur either in the dark or around dawn or dusk.

As with midsize cars, the IIHS evaluations of small SUVs showed that a vehicle’s price tag doesn’t correspond to the quality of headlights. More modern lighting types, including high-intensity discharge (HID), LED lamps, and curve-adaptive systems, which swivel in the direction of steering, also are no guarantee of good performance.

“Manufacturers aren’t paying enough attention to the actual on-road performance of this basic equipment,” said IIHS Senior Research Engineer Matthew Brumbelow. “We’re optimistic that improvements will come quickly now that we’ve given automakers something to strive for.”

For 2017, vehicles will need good or acceptable headlights in order to qualify for the Institute’s highest award, TOP SAFETY PICK+.

While studies have pointed to advantages for advanced lighting systems, the IIHS rating system doesn’t favor one type of technology over the other. Instead, it simply measures the amount of usable light provided by low beams and high beams as vehicles travel on straightaways and curves.

Conducting the test

Engineers evaluate headlights on the IIHS Vehicle Research Center’s track after dark. A special device is used to measure how far the light is projected as the vehicle is driven on five approaches: traveling straight, a sharp left curve, a sharp right curve, a gradual left curve and a gradual right curve.

Glare from low beams for oncoming drivers is also measured in each scenario. A vehicle with excessive glare on any of the approaches can’t earn a rating higher than marginal.

The only type of technology given an explicit nod in the ratings is high-beam assist, which automatically switches between high and low beams based on the presence of other vehicles. Vehicles can earn extra credit for this feature because of its potential to increase low rates of high-beam use.

Best and worst

The best-performing headlights in the small SUV group belong to a new model, the Mazda CX-3, and are available on its Grand Touring trim. They are curve-adaptive LED lights with optional high beam assist. The low beams perform well on both right curves and fairly well on the straightaway and sharp left curve; however, they provide inadequate light on the gradual left curve. The high beams perform well on most approaches.

The other vehicles available with acceptable headlights are the Ford Escape, the Honda CR-V, and the Hyundai Tucson. None of the three are curve-adaptive, and only the Escape has high-beam assist. Still, all of them provide fair or good illumination in most scenarios.

The worst headlights among the small SUVs belong to a different Honda -- the new-for-2016 HR-V. The illumination provided by the HR-V’s halogen low beams and high beams is inadequate on all four curves and on the straightaway. The HR-V is one of 12 small SUVs that can’t be purchased with anything other than poor-rated headlights.

For those vehicles available with higher-rated headlights, consumers need to make sure they’re getting the right ones. For example, the Tucson’s acceptable headlight combination is available on the SUV’s Limited version, but the headlights on other trim levels of the Tucson earn a poor rating. Even the Limited, when equipped with curve-adaptive headlights, earns a poor rating because of excessive glare.

Seventeen of the rated SUV headlight combinations have unacceptable glare. They include all types of lights -- halogen, HID, and LED -- and none of the headlight types is more likely than the others to have excessive glare. Three of the 17 fell short of an acceptable rating on the basis of glare alone.

“Glare issues are usually a result of poorly aimed headlights,” said Brumbelow. “SUV headlights are mounted higher than car headlights, so they generally should be aimed lower. Instead, many of them are aimed higher than the car headlights we’ve tested so far.”

IIHS plans to conduct headlight tests on pickups next.

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Winter Gardens Quality Foods recalls Lemongrass Basil Chicken product

The products may be adulterated with Listeria monocytogenes

Winter Gardens Quality Foods of New Oxford, Pa., is recalling approximately 42 pounds of Lemongrass Basil Chicken entrées that may be adulterated with List...

PhotoWinter Gardens Quality Foods of New Oxford, Pa., is recalling approximately 42 pounds of Lemongrass Basil Chicken entrées that may be adulterated with Listeria monocytogenes.

 

There have been no confirmed reports of illness or adverse reactions.

 

The following ready-to-eat, Lifestyle Foods brand of Lemongrass Basil Chicken product, produced on June 13 – 14, 2016, is being recalled:

  • 8.0-oz. (227g) individually wrapped entrée packages labeled “Lifestyle Foods Lemongrass Basil Chicken Entrée – Brown Rice in a Thai Style Sauce with Grilled Chicken and Green Beans.”

The recalled product has “Enjoy By” dates of June 28, 2016, and June 29, 2016, and bears establishment number “P-9815” inside the USDA mark of inspection.

 

The recalled items were shipped to distributors in Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington D.C.

 

What to do

 

Consumers who purchased the recalled product should should not consume it, but throw it away or return it to the place of purchase.

 

Consumers with questions regarding the recall may contact Ray Lopez at (877) 647-1878.

 

 

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NTSB opens probe of Florida Tesla accident

The safety agency is lookiing for "systemic" problems with vehicle automation

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is sending five investigators to Florida to look into the May 7 fatal accident involving a Tesla that slamm...

PhotoThe National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is sending five investigators to Florida to look into the May 7 fatal accident involving a Tesla that slammed into a tractor-trailer truck while running on Autpilot.

The agency's decision to investigate the crash is seen as significant, since it normally deals only with major incidents like airplane or train accidents. While the NTSB does not have rule-making authority, its recommendations are not taken lightly and often result in new rules or regulations.

While the NTSB has generally supported the use of automation to prevent crashes, it has also warned that there is a downside to the technology, which can breed complacency and create confusion if it's not well designed.

The Florida crash may fall into both of those categories. The accident happened when the tractor-trailer truck made a left turn in front of the Tesla on a divided highway and the car slammed into it at high speed, killing the 40-year-old driver.

Tesla has said the white truck did not show up well against a brightly lit afternoon sky. There have also been reports that the driver was watching a movie on his DVD player at the time of the crash.

Regulations likely

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has also been investigating the Tesla crash as part of its review of autonomous vehicle technology.

NHTSA is expected to eventually issue rules governing the use of such technology. Any NTSB findings that grow out of the Florida investigation would be expected to be a major factor in drafting such rules. 

Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, said the NTSB's involvement was "very significant."

“And one thing in this crash I’m certain they’re going to look at is using the American public as test drivers for beta systems in vehicles. That is simply unheard of in auto safety,” Ditlow said in a Bloomberg report.

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Pokémon Go goes viral; crooks take advantage

Stick-up artists use the game to lure victims to isolated areas

It's bigger than Tinder and may soon be bigger than Twitter. It's Pokémon Go -- the smartphone gaming app that puts Pokémon characters into real-life setti...

PhotoIt's bigger than Tinder and may soon be bigger than Twitter. It's Pokémon Go -- the smartphone gaming app that puts Pokémon characters into real-life settings.

Unfortunately, it's also proving to be a handy tool for stick-up artists, according to police in O'Fallon, Mo., who say crooks are using Pokémon Go to lure consumers into isolated places where they are assaulted and robbed.

"The way we believe it was used is you can add a beacon to a pokestop to lure more players. Apparently they were using the app to locate ppl standing around in the middle of a parking lot or whatever other location they were in," O'Fallon police said in a Facebook posting.

Four suspects are in custody after police investigated a report of a hold-up early Sunday morning. 

Drop a Lure

PhotoPlayers use the game to "drop" a Lure module in a location that other players then visit over the next 30 minutes. Besides hold-ups and assaults, there have been numerous skirmishes involving homeowners angered by hordes of unwanted visitors. Also, some businesses have planted lures to bring traffic to their store.

The Pokémon Company and Niantic said they were aware of the incidents and issued a statement urging caution.

"We encourage all people playing Pokémon GO to be aware of their surroundings and to play with friends when going to new or unfamiliar places. Please remember to be safe and alert at all times," the companies said. 

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Poor sleeping habits increases risk of inflammation, study finds

The condition contributes to many medical problems, including depression

We recently reported how poor sleeping habits could lead to an increased risk of diabetes in men, but new findings suggest that there are additional conseq...

PhotoWe recently reported how poor sleeping habits could lead to an increased risk of diabetes in men, but new findings suggest that there are additional consequences that can affect everyone.

Researchers at the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at the University of California have found that getting too much or too little sleep can increase markers for inflammation, a serious health concern.

“It is important to highlight that both too much and too little sleep appears to be associated with inflammation, a process that contributes to depression as well as many medical illnesses,” said Dr. John Krystal.

Higher risk of inflammation

Experts have long suspected that poor sleeping habits contributed to medical problems with inflammation. Prior studies have, for example, found associations between sleeping disorders, such as insomnia, and increased risk of inflammatory disease. Other adverse health conditions, like hypertension and type 2 diabetes, have also been connected.

In this study, the researchers examined information on over 50,000 people who had participated in other clinical studies. In order to gauge indicators of inflammation, they looked at levels of CRP and IL-6 in the body; high levels of each of these factors would indicate high levels of inflammation.

Additionally, the researchers checked records to assess how much sleep each participant was getting. After analyzing the information, they found that participants who had regularly interrupted sleep, insomnia, or long sleep durations (over 8 hours) had higher levels of CRP and IL-6 compared to those who slept normally (7-8 hours per night).

Assessing risk

The researchers believe that their findings should change how the medical community assesses risk with sleeping disorders. One researcher, Michael Irwin, believes that these kinds of problems should be regarded as behavioral risk factors for inflammation.

Irwin also states that having targeted therapies that address sleep behavior may go a long way towards reducing risk for inflammation. “Together with diet and physical activity, sleep health represents a third component in the promotion of health-span,” he said.

The full study has been published in the journal Biological Psychiatry

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Good communication may not always predict a happy marriage

Study suggests that marital satisfaction fuels good communication

Does good communication make a happy marriage, or are satisfied couples simply more likely to communicate better? It’s a chicken-or-egg question that r...

PhotoDoes good communication make a happy marriage, or are satisfied couples simply more likely to communicate better?

It’s a chicken-or-egg question that researchers from the University of Georgia (UGA) recently attempted to crack.

In attempting to determine the specific correlation between communication and marital satisfaction, the team unearthed a more complicated relationship than previously thought.

Satisfaction leads to communication

Sitting on a couch opposite a therapist, couples might insist that poor communication is to blame for their lack of marital satisfaction. What UGA researchers discovered, however, is that satisfaction tends to lead to better communication, not the other way around.

“It’s absolutely right to say more satisfied couples do communicate more positively, as well as to say couples who communicate better on average are more satisfied,” said the study’s lead author Dr. Justin Lavner, an assistant professor in UGA’s clinical psychology program in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

But, adds Lavner of the three-year study of 400 low-income newlywed couples, it wouldn’t necessarily be safe to assume that one causes the other one.

Correlation, not causation 

The study showed no strong causal link between communication and satisfaction; neither event predicted the other. It was more common, however, for satisfaction to predict good communication.

“I think what this leaves us wondering is what are some of the other factors that matter for couples’ relationships and how these factors predict how couples do over time," Lavner said in a statement.

Previously, the link between communication and marital satisfaction had only been studied from the perspective of communication leading to satisfaction.

In addition to showing that satisfaction is usually the driving force behind good communication, the team also discovered that satisfied couples also demonstrated higher levels of positivity, lower levels of negativity, and more effectiveness.

The findings are published in the Journal of Marriage and Family.

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Are there ways to avoid jet lag?

A sleep specialist shares his secrets

With a stronger dollar in recent years, more Americans have been traveling to Europe and Asia. While that can open up new worlds and experiences, the downs...

PhotoWith a stronger dollar in recent years, more Americans have been traveling to Europe and Asia. While that can open up new worlds and experiences, the downside can be jet lag that can create discomfort the first couple of days at the destination.

David Earnest, PhD, a professor with the Texas A&M College of Medicine, is a sleep specialist who has studied jet lag extensively. He says jet lag will vary depending on the traveler's lifestyle, but there are things you can do to make it less severe.

First, he says travelers should understand that the number of time zones crossed and the direction of the flight will make a big difference. Traveling east to west isn't as difficult on the body as traveling west to east.

“You will always be hit harder by jet lag when making a four- to six-hour time jump eastbound,” Earnest said. “This is because our body clocks are trying to advance to an earlier time, which is not as easy as adjusting to a later time gap.”

Body hack your jet lag

Fortunately, Earnest says there are a few ways to “body-hack” your jet lag before your plane takes off.

The time of the flight can be important. Taking a red-eye, departing late at night local time, might be a good idea, if in fact you are able to sleep on the plane. Not everyone can, however.

Earnest strongly advises against taking a sleeping pill before boarding a red-eye. Prescription medications will still be in your bloodstream even after you arrive, leaving you with a hangover. Better, he says, to take an over-the-counter melatonin tablet because it stays in the bloodstream only half the time.

Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Wait until you arrive at your destination before drinking caffeine, which can help you stay awake.

Get on the new time before you leave

Earnest says it is also helpful to alter your schedule a few days before your departure, to more closely match the time zone to which you are headed. You can do this by adjusting sleep and meal times about an hour each day at least four or five days before travel, until you're functioning in the new time zone.

“This is often hard for us to do, and is inconvenient because it means going to bed hours earlier than normal,” Earnest said.

An easier way to head off jet lag, he says, is by starting a melatonin therapy a few days before departure. The hormone circulates in high levels during nighttime hours and it is what sends the signal to our bodies to go to sleep. Earnest says it can be used to prevent many of jet lag's worst effects, but travelers should consult with their doctor before taking any supplement.

By taking an over-the-counter melatonin supplement five days before departure at the local time that coincides with your destination’s nighttime. It will probably make you sleepy during the day, but Earnest says it's the best way to overcome severe jet lag and accelerate your adjustment to the new time zone.

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New technology may help working parents worry less

Smart monitor provides real-time updates on baby's status, location, and well being

The decision to become a parent, as author Elizabeth Stone once put it, is “to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”L...

PhotoThe decision to become a parent, as author Elizabeth Stone once put it, is “to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

Leaving your baby in someone else’s care can be an emotional hurdle. No matter how qualified or trustworthy a caregiver is, it can be hard not to become distracted at work wondering how your baby is doing.

Now, a new device may help ease parents’ worries. BabyBit is a first-of-its-kind baby monitor that gives parents updates on their child’s physical and emotional well being.

Wearable sensor

Simply snap the wearable sensor onto the child’s clothing, and the updates can begin. The sensor connects through the caregiver’s smartphone and sends parents updates on important things, such as if the baby has been crying for more than ten minutes.

Notifications also help parents stay apprised of changes in location, such as whether the baby is at the park with his caregiver or if grandma has picked him up from daycare.

And while the app seeks to offer parents as much information as possible, it also seeks to foster a good relationship between parents and caregivers.

“We felt that telling mom every time the baby cries undercuts the caregiver and creates tension,” said Brian Ostrovsky, co-founder and CEO of BabyBit. “Instead, mom sets the amount of time she wants to give the caregiver to attend to the baby and BabyBit only notifies her when that time is exceeded and she would want to get involved.”

Safety features

Parents might be wary of any device that gives information about their children, and rightfully so. But BabyBit is completely safe from hackers, according to the company.

All data is encrypted, accessible only to parents with access to the cloud data. The sensor also doesn't transfer audio or video, so no one can see or hear your baby.

And parents need not fear the inevitable moment that the wearable monitor ends up in the baby's mouth. BabyBit is durable and free of PVC, BPA, phthalate, lead, and latex. It has also been tested to ensure that it’s not a choking hazard.

If all goes according to plan, the crowdfunding campaign for BabyBit will end in July and the monitors will begin shipping to early backers this November. 

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Walmart offers free shipping for five days

Retailer tries to one-up Amazon's Prime Day

As Amazon.com ramps up for Tuesday's second annual Prime Day – a sort of Black Friday in July – Walmart has served notice it is joining the fight for the c...

PhotoAs Amazon.com ramps up for Tuesday's second annual Prime Day – a sort of Black Friday in July – Walmart has served notice it is joining the fight for the consumer's dollar.

The nation's largest retailer has announced it will provide free shipping over the next five days, along with discounts on a wide range of merchandise, in a bid to match Amazon's promotion for Prime members. It is also dropping its normal $50 minimum purchase to receive free shipping.

Prime members, in exchange for their annual membership fee, receive free two-day shipping on all Amazon purchases.

In announcing its free shipping promotion, Walmart also announced discounts on merchandise, including a 55-inch Samsung TV for $299.99, marked down from $369.99. It's selling an iPhone 5S for $149, marked down from $450, and an Acer laptop, regularly $399, is on sale for $299.

The company says these deals will last more than one day but did not say when the sale would end.

Prime Day ready to launch

Amazon, meanwhile, launches its Prime Day promotion Tuesday, featuring deals across nearly all departments and categories. The deals become available at midnight PT.

But to take advantage of the deals, consumers must be members of Amazon Prime, which carries a fee of $99 a year. However, it has been pointed out that Amazon offers a 30-day free trial of Prime, so just about anyone can take part. For its part, Amazon is counting on a large number of people trying Prime to stay with it once the trial period ends.

The holiday shopping site BestBlackFriday.com says some of Amazon's Prime Day deals last July turned out to be better than those offered on Black Friday. But the site's editor, Phil Dengler, says the best deals will probably not be offered throughout the entire day, so consumers will need to check Amazon's site periodically.

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New treatment targets lethal brain cancer

Combination treatment triggers immune response against tumors

When a patient is diagnosed with glioblastoma (GBM), a brain cancer, the prognosis is usually very poor. But researchers at UCLA say they have developed a ...

PhotoWhen a patient is diagnosed with glioblastoma (GBM), a brain cancer, the prognosis is usually very poor. But researchers at UCLA say they have developed a new immunotherapy-based treatment that could be cause for new hope.

The therapy creates an antibody blockade that stops the cancer from protecting itself from the patient's immune cells. With the defenses lowered, the immune cells recognize the cancer cells and attack them.

After a three-year study, the researchers were able to show that a vaccine, teamed with the antibody blockade of an immune cell surface receptor known as PD-1, creates a more effective immune response against GBM than the use of either treatment alone.

Effective immune response

“These findings are the first that specifically outline the mechanism by which an effective immune response can be seen in tumors located in the brain,” said Dr. Robert Prins, an associate professor in the department of neurosurgery at UCLA.

Prins says the researchers found that effective anti-tumor immunity to glioblastoma needs a path for the body's T cells to get through the shield normally protecting the cancer. He says the combination treatment is able to remind the immune system that the GBM is a foreign invader, stopping it from from recurring or growing.

GBM is currently treated with traditional means, primarily surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. The UCLA researchers say the current median survival time is 14 to 18 months.

Recent advances

The UCLA research is the latest to help the body's T cells fight against cancer, a treatment generally referred to as immunotherapy. Only a theory a couple of years ago, research in the last year has produced dramatic results.

Just 13 months ago, cancer specialists from Johns Hopkins reported the results of a clinical trial comparing standard chemotherapy with the immunotherapy drug nivolumab. People with squamous-non-small cell lung cancer who received nivolumab lived, on average, 3.2 months longer than those receiving chemotherapy.

Then in December, doctors treating former President Carter with immunotherapy announced the cancer that began in his liver and spread to his brain was completely gone after four months of treatment.

The UCLA breakthrough is different, in that it is a combination of treatments. But it is similar in that it uses the body's natural defenses to combat cancer, which appears to be emerging as an effective way to stop the dreaded disease.

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Could this be the answer to the ransomware threat?

Computer scientists create tool that limits the damage

For hackers and cybercriminals, ransomware is literally money in the bank.If a target clicks on a link in an email, designed to appear as though it is ...

PhotoFor hackers and cybercriminals, ransomware is literally money in the bank.

If a target clicks on a link in an email, designed to appear as though it is from a familiar source, the malware is unleashed on the victim's computer, encrypting every file.

The only way for the victim to regain access to these files – photos, documents, or multimedia files – is to pay the hacker a ransom in Bitcoin. The threat has grown exponentially, ensnaring individual consumers as well as businesses and organizations.

Researchers at the University of Florida (UF) now say they have developed a solution, a software tool that will stop ransomware in its tracks. They call it CryptoDrop. The researchers say it works in a very different way than antivirus software.

Limiting the damage

Instead of identifying the ransomware before it can download to a target computer, CryptoDrop springs into action a nanosecond after the process begins. As a result, only a tiny fraction of files get encrypted.

“Our system is more of an early-warning system,” said Nolen Scaife, a UF doctoral student and founding member of UF’s Florida Institute for Cybersecurity Research.

Scaife says CryptoDrop steps in to prevent the ransomware from completing its task. A victim might lose a few photographs, but that is the limit of the damage. There is no reason to pay a ransom.

The UF researchers say antivirus software has a hard time stopping ransomware because it needs to have seen the malware before in order to be effective. But hackers are constantly tweaking their ransomware bugs, making them unrecognizable.

CrytoDrop is like a security guard, always looking for signs of a ransomeware attack. When it sees the malware encrypt a file, it springs into action to stop the process from going further.

Instead of looking for a particular software profile, it is instead looking at what the software does. If hackers come up with a new malware every week, it won't matter.

Growing threat

In the last few years ransomware attacks have targeted hospitals and even police departments. In 2015 police in Tewksbury, Massachusetts, admitted that they'd had to pay an untraceable $500 Bitcoin ransom to the hackers who'd encrypted the department's computer files.

Also last year, a new form of ransomware emerged, in which hackers planted child pornography images on victims' phones until a ransom was paid.

It's gotten so bad that some companies now build ransoms into their operating budgets, expecting that sooner or later they'll have to pay up. The UF researchers, however, say that might not be necessary.

“We ran our detector against several hundred ransomware samples that were live and in those case it detected 100% of those malware samples and it did so after only a median of 10 files were encrypted,” Scaife said.

The research team says its prototype works with Windows-based systems and the researchers are now seeking a partner to put it on the market.

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GHSE recalls chicken salad product

The product contains wheat, an allergen not listed on the label

GHSE, LLC, of Green Cove Springs, Fla., is recalling approximately 5,682 pounds of salad product containing chicken. The product contains wheat, an...

PhotoGHSE, LLC, of Green Cove Springs, Fla., is recalling approximately 5,682 pounds of salad product containing chicken.

 

The product contains wheat, an allergen not listed on the label.

 

There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions.

 

The following ready-to-eat salad with chili-seasoned chicken item, produced between May 11, 2016 and June 29, 2016, is being recalled:

  • 11-oz. plastic clam shell containers with “TRADER JOSE’S MEXICALI INSPIRED SALAD WITH CHILI SEASONED CHICKEN” with “BEST BY” dates 05/18/16 – 07/03/16.

The recalled product bears establishment number “EST. P-45781” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and was shipped to retail locations in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and southern Virginia.

 

What to do

 

Customers who purchased the recalled product should not consume it, but throw it away or return it to the place of purchase.

 

Consumers with questions about the recall may call GHSE at (888) 449-9386.  

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Model year 2017 Pacifica vehicles recalled

Passengers occupying the third-row and/or second-row center seats may not be able to use seat belts

Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 3,518 model year 2017 Pacifica vehicles manufactured February 22, 2016, through April 28, 2016. The center overh...

PhotoChrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 3,518 model year 2017 Pacifica vehicles manufactured February 22, 2016, through April 28, 2016.

 

The center overhead seat belt stow clip may fracture and prevent use of the seat belt in the third-row and/or second-row center passenger seat (if so equipped).

 

If passengers occupying the third-row and/or second-row center seats cannot use a seat belt, there is an increased risk of injury in the event of a crash.

 

What to do

 

Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will replace the third-row and, if necessary, second-row center overhead seat belt stow bezel, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

 

Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is S42.

 

 

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Pacific Cycle recalls swivel wheel jogging strollers

The front wheel can become loose and detach

Pacific Cycle of Madison, Wis., is recalling about 217,600 Instep and Schwinn swivel wheel jogging strollers. The front wheel can become loose and ...

PhotoPacific Cycle of Madison, Wis., is recalling about 217,600 Instep and Schwinn swivel wheel jogging strollers.

 

The front wheel can become loose and detach, posing crash and fall hazards.

 

The firm has received 132 reports of the front wheel becoming loose or unstable, resulting in 215 injuries, including head injuries, sprains, lacerations, bumps, bruises, and abrasions.

 

This recall involves single and double occupant swivel wheel jogging strollers, which come in a variety of colors, and have a quick release mechanism for removing and re-attaching the front wheel.

 

Instep Safari, Instep Grand Safari, Instep Flight, Schwinn Turismo and Schwinn Discover Single and Double Occupant Swivel jogging strollers with the following model numbers are being recalled:

 

Instep Safari

 

Single

Instep Grand Safari

Single

Instep Safari

 

Double

Instep Grand Safari

Double

Instep Flight 

 

Single

11-AR178

11-AR182

11-AR220B

11-AR282

11-AR101AZ

11-AR179

11-AR183

11-AR224

11-AR283

 

11-AR180

11-AR184

11-AR278

11-AR284

 

11-AR181

11-AR-192

11-AR279

11-AR292

 

11-AR240B

11-AR193

11-AR280

11-AR293

 

11-AR245

 

11-AR281

 

 

11-AR250

 

11-AR290

 

 

11-AR255

 

11-AR291

 

 

11-AR700A

 

11-AR340B

 

 

111-AR750

 

11-AR345