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    Judge tosses case against couple who gave pet sitter a bad Yelp review

    Non-disparagement clause can't be used to silence consumers, court finds

    A Texas court has dismissed a $1 million lawsuit that a Dallas pet-sitting company filed against a couple who said the pet-sitters had overfed their goldfish.

    It all began when fish owners Michelle and Robert Duchouquette returned home to Dallas after a brief vacation and found that the water in their fish bowl was cloudy, suggesting that their fish had been overfed by Prestigious Pets, the pet-sitting company. They posted a review on Yelp, complaining they had been unable to talk directly to the pet-sitter and gave the company a one-star rating.

    Prestigious Pets sued, claiming the negative review was libelous and claimed that it breached a nondisparagement clause in its customer agreement.

    It is thought to be the first court case in which a court has held a nondisparagement clause in a consumer contract to be unenforceable, said Paul Alan Levy, the Public Citizen attorney who represented the Douchouquettes, along with local counsel.

    “Seeking to silence negative criticism, the owners of Prestigious Pets may well have put their whole company on the line,” Levy said. “Not only did the company lose business when customers were disgusted over the non-disparagement lawsuit, it now is responsible to pay attorney fees and sanctions. This case should serve as a warning to other companies.”

    Michelle Duchouquette said she was gratified by the ruling.  

    "It took lots of hours and many smart minds spending too much time talking about Gordy the betta fish," she said. "Thank goodness they did not lose sight of the real issue: the threats posed by non-disparagement clauses to our right to free speech.”

    A Texas court has dismissed a $1 million lawsuit that a Dallas pet-sitting company filed against a couple who said the pet-sitters had overfed their goldfi...
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    Researchers work towards blood test to check for Alzheimer's disease

    Having such a test could help with early detection and prevention efforts

    New research conducted at Cardiff University could allow for earlier detection of Alzheimer’s disease, a crucial step towards mitigating the damaging effects that it has on people later in life.

    Using nearly 300 participants, researchers used blood tests to distinguish certain biomarkers which could predict whether or not someone would develop the disease in the near future.

    “Our research proves that it is possible to predict whether or not an individual with mild memory problems is likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease over the next few years,” said Paul Morgan, Director of Cardiff University’s Systems Immunity Research Institute.  

    “We hope to build on this in order to develop a simple blood test that can predict the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease in older people with mild, and possibly innocent, memory impairment.”

    Influential findings

    In order to distinguish the biomarkers, Morgan and his colleagues took blood samples from participants who had mild memory problems and analyzed them for protein content. After a year, the researchers re-assessed each participant.

    They found that nearly a quarter of all participants went on to develop Alzheimer’s. Interestingly, those who went on to develop the disease had three proteins in their blood that differed dramatically at the initial screening from those who remained healthy. This evidence could provide some insight into how these immune system proteins contribute to inflammation and Alzheimer’s as a whole.

    Morgan believes that these findings could greatly influence how health officials handle Alzheimer’s where he lives in the United Kingdom.

    “Alzheimer’s disease affects around 520,000 people in the UK and this number is continually growing as the population ages. As such it is important that we find new ways to diagnose the disease early, giving us a chance to investigate and instigate new treatments before irreversible damage is done,” he said.

    The full study has been published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

    New research conducted at Cardiff University could allow for earlier detection of Alzheimer’s disease, a crucial step towards mitigating the damaging effec...
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    Simple ideas for integrating smart technology into your home

    Five budget-friendly ways to get your home working for you

    Smart home devices can turn your home into a welcoming and accommodating respite from the outside world. And turning your abode into a smart home may not be as difficult as you think.

    Figuring out which rooms might benefit from smart home technology is the first step to transforming your space into one that works for you. All you’ll need to do is go room-to-room and think about the tasks you tend to forget.

    Do busy mornings leave you with little time to fire up the coffee maker? Does coming home late at night leave you scrambling to find your light switches? Asking yourself questions like these can help you pinpoint exactly where smart devices could help improve your life.

    Ideas for every room

    Contrary to popular belief, not all smart home technology is expensive or requires a complicated installation process. These simple, budget-friendly ideas can take your home from ordinary to accommodating in no time.

    • Motorized drapes. Swapping out your pull shades for motorized drapes can make life easier and help you manage your energy consumption. With smartphone controlled drapes, you’ll be able adjust the lighting and privacy in your room at the touch of a button.
    • Smart lightbulbs. Energy-efficient, smartphone-controlled lightbulbs can help you save both time and money. Philips Hue lightbulbs, for example, sync to your Wi-Fi router via the Hue Bridge enabling you to control your lighting from your phone. Benefits of installing connected lighting include: the ability to switch off lights automatically after you leave, dimming options, and the ability to make it look like you're home when you're not.  
    • Coffee maker. Smart coffee makers can work with your smartphone to make your morning caffeination routine a bit easier. Instead of groggily measuring out water and grounds, let a smart coffee maker take on the challenge of prepping your morning cup of joe.
    • Outlet adapters. Plugging a smart outlet adapter into the wall can eliminate the struggle of feeling around for light switches or remotes in the dark. Smart outlets can be controlled from your smartphone, so you can effortlessly turn on your lights or TV before walking in the door.
    • Remote garage door access. If you often forget whether or not you closed the garage door, why not install a smart garage door opener? In addition to letting you know if your garage door is currently open or closed, garage door remotes by companies such as Chamberlain allow you to control the door from anywhere.
    Smart home devices can turn your home into a welcoming and accommodating respite from the outside world. And turning your abode into a smart home may not b...
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      Caffeine helps fight memory loss, study finds

      Researchers confirm that caffeine blocks a brain receptor that affects memory problems

      Having that first cup of coffee in the morning can be a great way to start your day, but could it also help keep your memory sharp as you age? One recent study shows that maybe it can.

      A multinational collaboration -- including researchers from France, Germany, and the United States – has found that caffeine can combat the effects of age-related memory impairment. This could point to another way to slow the decline of memory function in older consumers and those affected by cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s.

      The researchers have confirmed that a certain receptor in the brain, called adenosine A2AR, is linked to memory impairments related to age. Following up on previous research, they were able to manipulate this receptor to induce a sort of “early aging” that led to the release of hormones related to stress and memory loss.

      “This is part of a larger study initiated 4 years ago in which we identified the role of this receptor in stress, but we did not know whether its activation would be sufficient to trigger all the changes. We now found that by altering the amount of this receptor alone in neurons from hippocampus and cortex – memory related areas – is sufficient to induce a profile that we designate as ‘early-aging’ combining the memory loss and an increase in stress hormones in plasma (cortisol),” said Luisa Lopes, coordinator of the study.

      Potential therapeutic target

      In order to prevent the onset of early aging, the researchers tested a caffeine analogue on animal models. They found that caffeine blocked the receptor from acting properly, which in turn normalized the memory- and stress-related deficits that were created beforehand.

      The researchers believe that their work could allow medical professionals a means of treating memory-related problems in older people and those affected cognitive disorders. Additionally, it has opened the door for further research on the causes of memory dysfunction.

      “In elderly people, we know there is an increase of stress hormones that have an impact on memory. Our work supports the view that the precognitive effects of A2AR antagonists, namely caffeine, observed in Alzheimer’s and age-related cognitive impairments may rely on this ability to counteract the loss of stress controlling mechanisms that occurs upon aging,” said researcher director David Blum.

      “This is important not only to understand the fundamental changes that occur upon aging, but it also identifies the dysfunctions of the adenosine A2AR receptor as a key player in triggering these changes. And a very appealing therapeutic target,” added Lopes.

      The full study has been published in Scientific Reports.

      Having that first cup of coffee in the morning can be a great way to start your day, but could it also help keep your memory sharp as you age? One recent s...
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      Mortgage applications halt two-week skid

      Contract interest rates were up slightly

      Mortgage applications moved higher last week, ending two straight weeks of declines.

      The Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey shows an increase of 2.8% in the week ending August 26 in it's Market Composite Index, which measures mortgage loan application volume.

      The Refinance Index shot up 4.0% from the previous week, taking the refinance share of mortgage activity to 63.5% of total applications from 62.4% a week earlier.

      The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity dipped to 4.5% of total applications, the FHA share increased to 9.7% from 8.9% the previous week, the VA share rose to 12.5% from 12.4%, and the USDA share of total applications 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) was unchanged at 3.67%, with points decreasing to 0.33 from 0.34 (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) inched up one basis point from 3.62% to 3.63%, with points decreasing to 0.27 from 0.35 (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 increased to 3.54% from 3.53%, with points increasing to 0.36 from 0.34 (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 up one basis point to 2.96%, with points decreasing to 0.31 from 0.38 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs jumped to 2.90% from 2.84%, with points decreasing to 0.24 from 0.37 (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.

      Mortgage applications moved higher last week, ending two straight weeks of declines.The Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Mortgage Applications Sur...
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      Dazzling Toys recalls chicken toys

      The toys contain small eggs and the chicken can break into small plastic pieces

      Dazzling Toys of Monroe, N.Y., is recalling about 800 egg laying chicken toys.

      The toys contain small eggs and the chicken can break into small plastic pieces, both posing a choking hazard to children.

      No incidents or injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves the Bump and Go Action Egg Laying Chickens with lights, music and bump and go action. The battery-powered plastic toy was sold in two styles: a yellow chicken with an orange head and wings and a multi-colored (yellow, green and orange) chicken.

      The chicken toy includes three white plastic eggs that are placed into the back of the chicken, and then released from the bottom. The yellow-colored chicken measures 7 inches wide by 6 inches tall by 7 inches deep. The multi-colored chicken measures 7 inches wide by 5 inches tall by 4 inches deep. The eggs for both toys are one inch wide by one inch tall by one inch deep.

      The toys, manufactured in China, were sold online at www.amazon.com and www.ebay.com from February 2016, through July 2016, for about $12.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled toys and contact the firm for a full refund. Dazzling Toys is contacting consumers who purchased the recalled toys.

      Consumers may contact Dazzling Toys toll-free at 844-222-2812 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, by email at recall.dazzlingtoys@gmail.com or online at www.dazzlingtoys.com for more information.

      Dazzling Toys of Monroe, N.Y., is recalling about 800 egg laying chicken toys. The toys contain small eggs and the chicken can break into small pla...
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      Researchers believe tablets could be the key to diagnosing autism in children

      How a child moves when playing a game on a tablet may show whether or not they have autism

      The number of children who have an autism spectrum disorder seems to be growing all the time. Statistics show that one out every 160 children in North America and Europe suffer from the condition, but many can go undiagnosed for years.

      However, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Strathclyde and start-up company Harimata has identified a novel way to diagnose autism early so that these children can get the help they need. The key, the researchers say, is to have children play games on a tablet.

      “We have shown that children with autism can be identified by their gameplay patterns on an iPad. . . This is potentially a major breakthrough for early identification of autism, because no stressful and expensive tests by clinicians are needed. Early detection is important as this can allow parents and children to gain access to a range of services support,” said researcher Dr. Jonathan Delafield-Butt.

      A better test

      The researchers began the study after recognizing that current standards at diagnosing autism were not ideal.

      “Early assessment of autism allows timely therapeutic intervention, but professional diagnosis of the disorder is difficult and time-consuming,” said Anna Anzulewicz, Director of Research at Harimata.

      “Our aim was to develop a test that would be intuitive, fast, fun and engaging for the children. iPad-based games seemed to be perfect, and they are embedded with powerful sensors, which allow for the precise measurement of the children’s play dynamics.”

      Movement factor is key

      To test the diagnostic effectiveness of tablets, researchers examined 37 children with autism between the ages of three and six. Each child was asked to play a game on a smart tablet computer equipped with a touch sensitive screen and motion sensors. The researchers found that they could determine whether or not a child had autism based on the way in which they moved to interact with the game.

      “This study is the first step toward a validated instrument. Interestingly, our study goes further in elucidating the origins of autism, because it turns out that movement is the most important differentiator in the gameplay data,” said Delafield-Butt.

      “In other words, it is not social, emotional, or cognitive aspects of the gameplay that identify autism. Rather, the key difference is in the way children with autism move their hands as they touch, swipe, and gesture with the iPad during the game. This unexpected finding adds new impetus to a growing scientific understanding that movement is fundamentally disrupted in autism, and may underpin the disorder,” he concluded.

      Serious-game assessment

      The study could be monumental in providing medical professionals with a non-intrusive, easy way to test whether or not a child has autism at an early age. But while the new method looks promising, the researchers say that more work will be needed to validate their findings.

      “This new ‘serious-game’ assessment offers a cheaper, faster, fun way of testing for autism. But work is needed to confirm this finding, and to test for its limitations,” said Delafield-Butt.

      The full study has been published in Scientific Reports.

      The number of children who have an autism spectrum disorder seems to be growing all the time. Statistics show that one out every 160 children in North Amer...
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      Children with food allergies more at risk of developing other conditions

      Researchers have connected certain food allergies with higher incidence rates of eczema, asthma, and allergic rhinitis

      The life of a child with food allergies is a cautious one. Extra measures need to be taken to make sure they aren’t put at risk of a dangerous reaction, but new research shows that the health difficulties with this condition go beyond even that.

      Researchers at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) have found that children with food allergies are also more likely to develop eczema, asthma, and allergic rhinitis. Children with allergies with certain foods are even more likely than others to develop some these conditions.

      “Of the major food allergens, allergy to peanut, milk and egg significantly predisposed children to asthma and allergic rhinitis,” said Dr. David M. Hill, lead researcher of the study.

      Connecting conditions

      Although food allergies are very prevalent in young children in the U.S., Hill points out that eczema, asthma, and allergic rhinitis are even more pervasive, and that something needs to be done about them.

      “Eczema, asthma and allergic rhinitis are among the most common childhood medical conditions in the U.S. Disease rates for these conditions seem to be changing, prompting a need for more information and surveillance,” he said.

      The researchers found the connection between food allergies and the aforementioned conditions after examining records for over one million urban and suburban children included in the CHOP Care Network between 2001 and 2015. After dividing the records into two cohorts and analyzing them, they found that having a food allergy coincided with much higher incidences of eczema, asthma, and allergic rhinitis.

      “For patients with an established diagnosis of food allergy, 35 percent went on to develop asthma; and patients with multiple food allergies were at increased risk of developing asthma as compared to those with a single food allergy. Similarly, 35 percent of patients with food allergy went on to develop allergic rhinitis,” said senior author Dr. Jonathan Spergel.

      Landmark study

      The study is importnat because it is the first to examine connections between food allergies and related conditions at this scale. Previously, smaller studies had been conducted that investigated a connection between food allergies and asthma, but they were limited in scope.

      “Using provider-based diagnosis data provided important information often lacking in existing studies. We found different disease rates than previously reported, and our research provides key data to shape future efforts aimed at prevention, diagnosis and management of these common pediatric conditions,” said Spergel.

      The full study has been published in BMC Pediatrics.

      The life of a child with food allergies is a cautious one. Extra measures need to be taken to make sure they aren’t put at risk of a dangerous reaction, bu...
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      Banks increasingly coming under cyberattack

      Four in 10 consumers say their accounts have been compromised

      Banks and other financial institutions spend billions of dollars on information and data security, mainly because they are such lucrative targets for cybercriminals.

      Yet despite this spending and proactive defense, more than one-third of consumers say their personal bank accounts have been compromised. Almost 80% of financial institutions admit hackers have penetrated their defenses within the last two years.

      These facts turned up in a new study by KMPG, which says banks can turn this negative into a positive.

      "Financial institutions have a real opportunity to solidify trust with their customers by demonstrating that security is a strategic imperative, and that they are taking every possible precaution to protect consumers," said KMPG's Jitendra Sharma. "Consumers have a lot of options in this environment, so companies must get it right as the battle for customers is fierce."

      Holding banks to a high standard

      Indeed, consumers hold banks to a high standard. The survey showed that 37% said they would switch banks if their current financial institution did not cover their losses from a cyberattack. Nearly as many would leave if the bank didn't get out in front of the incident and acknowledge it in a timely manner.

      In spite of the high-frequency attacks, the survey found the financial sector is the most proactive when it comes to defending against cyberattacks. About two-thirds of the financial sector executives polled for the study said their companies had invested in data security in the past year.

      Not even the Federal Reserve has been exempt from cyberattack. A CNN report in June said the Fed has been under “constant” cyber-attack since at least 2011. The network listed at least 50 reported incidents it labeled as “unauthorized access” or “information disclosure.”

      How consumers can help

      The American Bankers Association (ABA), meanwhile, says there are steps consumers can take to make their banking transactions more secure. Its most basic tip is to create highly complicated and random passwords, avoiding pet names and other predictable combinations.

      It says consumers should also monitor their accounts on a regular basis. Don't just do it when the monthly statement arrives.

      Also, make sure computers and mobile devices are protected from viruses and malware. Don't give out your personal financial information in response to an unsolicited email, no matter how official it may seem. The ABA says your bank will never contact you by email asking for your password, PIN, or account information.  

      Banks and other financial institutions spend billions of dollars on information and data security, mainly because they are such lucrative targets for cyber...
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      RushCard introduces new mobile app

      Cardholders can easily freeze their account if the card is lost or stolen

      RushCard, a popular prepaid money card, is introducing a new. free mobile app it says will provide new safety features, while enhancing the card's functionality.

      It is available on both the Android and iOS platforms.

      One of the safety features allows the user to freeze activity if the card is lost or stolen. By engaging “Pause Protection,” a user can temporarily stop purchases on the card.

      Another feature is “One Touch Access,” which allows cardholders to access their accounts on a mobile device by using a fingerprint instead of a password or PIN.

      The app also includes a pharmacy benefit e-card, which gives cardholders discounts on prescription drugs at Walmart.

      "We are dedicated to providing safe, simple and affordable products to our customers to help them achieve their personal and financial goals," said Ron Hynes, CEO of RushCard.

      Popular alternative to bank accounts

      Founded in 2003 by hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons, RushCard is billed as a solution to the millions of "unbanked" consumers, those who for one reason or another do not have a traditional bank account with checking and debit card privileges.

      The card is an inexpensive service that allows consumers to have their paychecks and benefits payments direct-deposited to their cards, allowing them to make purchases immediately and get cash from ATMs. It has generally recorded high satisfaction scores from consumers. Simmons says the new app is simply a way to make the card easier to use.

      "From the early days of prepaid, RushCard helped shape this industry and continues to provide innovative products that are easy to use, convenient to access and help provide financial opportunity to our customers," he said.

      RushCard customers can get directions for downloading the “Make Moves” app here.

      RushCard, a popular prepaid money card, is introducing a new. free mobile app it says will provide new safety features, while enhancing the card's function...
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      Truck loaded with Takata airbag inflators explodes

      One killed, four injured in the accident near a Takata warehouse in Texas last week

      A truck loaded with Takata airbag inflators and propellants exploded in Texas last week, destroying a home and two cars, killing one person, and injuring four others. The volatile airbags have been at the center of the largest series of auto recalls in history and have been blamed for at least 14 deaths worldwide.

      Authorities said the truck accident occurred last Monday, Aug. 22, near Eagle Pass, Texas, where Takata has a warehouse that stores inflators that are manufactured across the border at its plant in Monclova, Mexico. 

      Killed in the explosion was Lucila Robles, whose home was destroyed in the incident. Robles’ remains were found Tuesday and identified on Wednesday after her niece, a dentist, compared the remains with dental records, the Eagle Pass News Gram reported.

      Robles' home was leveled by the blast, leaving only charred remains of her car as evidence of the disaster, local reports said.

      The inflators use propellants containing ammonium nitrate, a volatile chemical compound that are said to be highly sensitive to heat and humidity. The weather in Eagle Pass was in the 90s last week with humidity readings around 80%, the National Weather Service reported.  

      Millions of cars with Takata airbags have been recalled, some more than once. To check whether your car is among them, jot down your VIN number (which you can find on the left side of your windshield) and go to SaferCar.gov/vin/.

      "Strict safety procedures"

      The News Gram said Takata employees were stationed at the local library last week to advise residents who had found any of the combustable containers to report their location, so that the potentially lethal items could be picked up safely. "Takata immediately deployed personnel to the site and has been working closely with the subcontractor and the appropriate authorities to investigate this incident," the company said in a statement.

      “Takata has strict safety procedures relating to the transportation of its products that meet or exceed all regulatory requirements,” the company said. “Our thoughts are with the family of the woman who died as a result of this accident, and with the four people injured.”

      More than 100 million vehicles worldwide have been slated for recall to replace Takata inflators.

      A truck loaded with Takata airbag inflators and propellants exploded in Texas ...
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      Vaping among teens may not be that problematic, researchers suggest

      One study finds that most teens vape for the flavorings and not nicotine

      Recent trends among teens seem to favor vaping with e-cigarettes, with many high- and middle school students saying that they’ve tried it. While many fear that this habit could lead to nicotine and smoking dependence, a new study suggests that the problem may not be that worrisome.

      Researchers have found that many teens that vape don’t do so for the nicotine; instead, many teens say that the flavors offered by e-cigarette products are the drawing point. This throws into question the supposition that teens are vaping nicotine in the first place and that there is a “nicotine epidemic” amongst this age group.

      Vaping for flavor

      The researchers came to their conclusions after analyzing the results of the 2015 Monitoring the Future Survey, wherein teens were asked about their vaping experiences. The survey was a nationally representative study of 8th, 10th, and 12th grade students.

      Out of 15,000 students who took part in the survey, nearly 4,000 admitted to having vaped at some point. Narrowing the numbers further, the researchers found that 1,701 had done so at least once, 1,085 had done it up to five times, and 616 had done it at least half a dozen times.

      When asked what they had vaped most recently, two-thirds of respondents gave the answer “just flavoring.” Vaping nicotine came in second by a large margin, with only 13% of 8th graders, 20% of 10th graders, and 22% of 12th graders giving that answer. Vaping marijuana was even less pervasive, with only 14% of 12th graders, and 6% and 7% of 8th and 10th graders giving that answer, respectively.

      Targeted interventions

      These findings indicate that vaping nicotine is not nearly as big of a problem as many experts have stated in the past. This is good news, say the researchers, because interventions to stop vaping can be modified to be more specific and effective.  

      “Because many US youth who use vaporisers do not vape nicotine, they are candidates for primary interventions, which are particularly strategic to combat nicotine use, because they take place before the need to address nicotine’s addictive properties,” they said.

      Additionally, the researchers say that designating e-cigarettes as Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) may be unfair since most teens do not use them for that purpose, although they do say that vaporiser use does increase tobacco and nicotine prevalence.

      The full study has been published in Tobacco Control

      Recent trends among teens seem to favor vaping with e-cigarettes, with many high- and middle school students saying that they’ve tried it. While many fear ...
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      iPads prove to be as effective as sedatives for keeping kids calm before surgery

      Parents and kids are both less anxious when iPads are present prior to surgery requiring anesthesia

      Apple’s tablets aren’t just for catching up on Curious George or playing a few rounds of Angry Birds. For kids, iPads may serve as a powerful calming agent prior to undergoing surgery.  

      New research presented at this year’s World Congress of Anaesthesiologists (WCA) shows that iPads are as effective as sedatives in lowering kids’ pre-surgery anxiety.

      When kids had to be separated from their parents before surgery, the use of iPads was found to increase the quality of anesthesia induction. Better still, parents were less stressed and more satisfied with the anesthesia when iPads were involved.

      Better anesthesia results

      The primary goal of the study was to compare the anxiety levels of children given midazolam (a sedative commonly administered before anesthesia) with children who played games on an iPad before surgery.

      Psychologists were brought on board to help assess participants at several nerve-wracking stages: upon arriving at the hospital, when separated from their parents, during induction, and in the post-anaesthesia care unit. Parents’ anxiety and satisfaction with anesthesia was also measured.

      Parents and nurses alike noted that anesthesia was more effective to children who used an iPad prior to surgery. Lead author Dr. Dominique Chassard said that midazolam can help dull children’s parental separation anxiety, but agreed that iPads can greatly reduce stress and increase parental satisfaction with anaesthesia.

      Advantages

      "Use of iPads or other tablet devices is a non-pharmacologic tool which can reduce perioperative stress without any sedative effect in paediatric ambulatory surgery," said Chassard.

      The familiarity of an iPad can help calm kids’ nerves in a scary situation, but it also boasts another advantage: no side effects.

      Unlike midazolam -- which may cause headaches, drowsiness, nausea, or even hardening of the skin at the injection area, according to Everyday Health -- the iPad has no lingering after-effects.

      A paper on the study will be published later this year. 

      Apple’s tablets aren’t just for catching up on Curious George or playing a few rounds of Angry Birds. For kids, iPads may serve as a powerful calming agent...
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      Feds want speed limiters on big trucks

      Physically restricting speeds would save lives and fuel, the plan's backers say

      Speed limits are one thing; speed limiters are something else -- and it's speed limiters that U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx would like to see on heavy trucks.

      Foxx thinks big trucks should be equipped with devices that would physically restrain them from going faster than a predetermined speed.

      “There are significant safety benefits to this proposed rulemaking ,” Foxx said. “In addition to saving lives, the projected fuel and emissions savings make this proposal a win for safety, energy conservation, and our environment.” 

      Foxx said capping truck speeds would reduce the 1,115 fatal crashes involving heavy trucks that occur each year and save $1 billion in fuel costs.

      "Basic physics"

      The proposal Foxx and colleagues unveiled Friday discusses the benefits of setting the maximum speed at 60, 65, and 68 miles per hour. It would apply to trucks, buses, and other vehicles with a gross weight of more than 26,000 pounds.

      “This is basic physics,” said Mark Rosekind, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “Even small increases in speed have large effects on the force of impact. Setting the speed limit on heavy vehicles makes sense for safety and the environment.”

      The rule would apply to new trucks, not the ones currently on the road, because of the difficulty and expense involved in retrofitting existing trucks.

      The proposal has been floating around various agencies and departments since 2006, when the nonprofit group Roadsafe America filed a petition requesting it. The American Trucking Association later endorsed the plan.  

      The proposal is now open for comments from citizens. You can submit your comment here.

      Speed limits are one thing; speed limiters are something else -- and it's speed limiters that U.S. Transportation S...
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      Why parents are afraid to leave their kids alone

      It's judgment, not danger, that parents fear most

      Gone are the days of allowing kids to walk to the store on their own or spend the day adventuring with friends. These days, parents don’t feel comfortable leaving children alone for even a short period of time.

      You might think safety has something to do with the shift, but evidence suggests that American children are safer than ever. So why are parents keeping their kids on such a tight leash? 

      Social scientists at the University of California, Irvine say it's because leaving kids alone on purpose often comes with a fair amount of judgment from others.

      Socially unacceptable

      Researchers say parents’ fears of leaving children alone have become amplified in recent decades, to the point that leaving kids alone has become socially unacceptable.  

      “Without realizing it, we have consistently increased our estimates of the amount of danger facing children left alone in order to better justify or rationalize the moral disapproval we feel toward parents who violate this relatively new social norm,” said lead author Ashley Thomas, cognitive sciences graduate student.

      This moral disapproval came to the surface when participants were asked, in a survey, to rate the risk of leaving children alone in five different scenarios. When children were left alone on purpose, they were perceived to be in greater danger than when their parents left them alone involuntarily.

      Separating judgment from risk

      This finding was surprising to researchers, who argue that leaving a child alone on purpose is much safer than leaving a child alone by accident because "parents can take steps to make the situation safer, like giving the child a phone or reviewing safety rules.” 

      The fact that people think the opposite, says co-author Barbara Sarnecka, suggests that they “morally disapprove of parents who leave their children alone, and that disapproval inflates their estimate of the risk."

      Sarnecka says these findings could be important to lawmakers and enforcers, as they show that moral judgments may often cloud a person’s assessment of risk to a child.

      "At a minimum, these findings should caution those who make and enforce the law to distinguish evidence-based and rational assessments of risk to children from intuitive moral judgments about parents -- and to avoid investing the latter with the force of law."

      The full study has been published online in the journal Collabra.

      Gone are the days of allowing kids to walk to the store on their own or spend the day adventuring with friends. These days, parents don’t feel comfortable ...
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      The extra risks of using smokeless tobacco products

      Researchers find bacteria that cause infection and illness

      It’s no secret that tobacco products of all kinds come with certain health risks – most notably cancer. But researchers have found additional dangers associated with smokeless tobacco products, which include substances ranging from chewing tobacco to dissolvable pills and gums.

      They say that these tobacco delivery methods also carry bacteria that can cause infection and lead to illness. And, as with most kinds of bacteria or pathogens, prolonged exposure increases the risk to the person using these products.

      “Some species have been identified as causative agents in spice-related outbreaks of diarrhea and vomiting. Additionally, they produce a mild toxin which, in large quantities could cause illness,” said Steven Foley, coauthor of the study.

      Health risks

      The researchers found several bacteria that could be a cause for concern among consumers. Bacteria from the Bacillus species are known to cause the intestinal discomfort described above by Foley, but other bacteria from the Stapphylococcus species could be even more troubling.

      These bacteria, which include Stapphylococcus epidermidis and Staphylococcus hominus, could turn nitrates found in the body into nitrities, which could lead to potentially carcinogenic formations.

      Part of the reason that these bacteria are able to pose so much danger to people is due to the way in which smokeless tobacco products are consumed. Those using the products tend to hold them in their mouth for long periods of time so that the nicotine can enter the bloodstream. This increases the amount of time that consumers are exposed to bacteria.

      The practice is especially dangerous to those who have developed gingivitis or other oral health issues, which can be common for smokeless tobacco users. Researchers say that some of the bacteria present in these products can easily enter the bloodstream in these consumers and cause dangerous heart valve infections.

      Informing policy decisions

      Up to this point, not much data had been collected on the microbial threats present in smokeless tobacco products. The researchers hope that their work will help the U.S. Food and Drug Administration form policies around the production and distribution of these substances so that consumers can avoid some of the dangerous health risks.

      The full study has been published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

      It’s no secret that tobacco products of all kinds come with certain health risks – most notably cancer. But researchers have found additional dangers assoc...
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      Which retailer has the best gift card?

      Sephora wins the top spot in the RSR Research survey, Starbucks is second

      Consumers obviously like to give and receive gift cards. It allows the recipient to get what he or she wants and isn't nearly as tacky as cash.

      In fact, giving a gift card from a particular retailer allows the giver to personalize it a bit, choosing a retailer the recipient happens to like.

      But beyond personal preferences of retailers, which retailer does the best job with its gift card program? That's a question RSR Research asks each year in its annual study of best gift card practices.

      The survey ranks the digital gifting experiences of 100 of the nation’s top retailers, restaurants, and – for the first time this year – airlines. The retailers are judged on how well they utilize the mobile platform, and include omni-channel payments, bulk buying, and the ability to purchase cards with credit card loyalty program points.

      Sephora is number one

      Earning the top spot this year is Sephora, which racked up 55 out of a possible 66 points. Starbucks was second with 50.5 points, followed by The Home Depot (46.5 points), Dunkin' Donuts (44.5 points), and Amazon (43 points).

      “Sephora is honored to be ranked top once again in the RSR Benchmark study,” said Lisa Kueffel, vice president of client experience at Sephora. “Gift cards are a key element of our digital strategy focused on delivering excellent omni-channel experiences to our clients. Working in partnership with CashStar has helped us to grow our program and achieve our goals.”

      CashStar President and CEO Ben Kaplan says a number of its clients are represented in the upper ranks of the survey.

      “We are pleased to see that merchants are investing more in digital gifting and striving to improve the experiences they provide to consumers,” he said.

      The survey authors note that Sephora got high marks for scoring well in the top three criteria: discoverability, purchase experience, and recipient experience.

      Importance of digital gift cards

      This year, 81 of the 100 merchants in the judging offered digital gift cards. RSR said it updates its criteria each year to focus on capabilities that set retailers apart. These criteria evolve each year so it keeps retailers on their toes.

      “Consumers are increasingly engaging with retailers through digital channels first, creating a demand for the retailer to be where the customer is,” said Nikki Baird, managing partner at RSR Research.

      That, she says, requires retailers to be able to handle all the things a customer wants from them in the digital space, and that includes gift cards.

      “We’ve learned over the years just how complex digital gifting is on the desktop. This year leaders excelled at mobile,” Baird said. “However, too many of those evaluated are continuing to struggle with mobile optimization of their programs.”

      Gift cards continue to be a bigger part of the holiday shopping season, as well as becoming the go-to gift for grandparents who have a hard time keeping up with grandchildren's evolving tastes.

      Gift cards now account for more than $100 billion in sales each year. About 93% of consumers either give or send one.

      Consumers obviously like to give and receive gift cards. It allows the recipient to get what he or she wants and isn't nearly as tacky as cash.In fact,...
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      New car sales post a slight decline in August

      Consumers might find the best deals at GM dealers

      New car sales have helped power the U.S. economy in recent years, but the sales pace is definitely slowing.

      With a string of record sales months, demand for new vehicles appears to be on the decline. A forecast from J.D. Power estimates new car sales will be down in August by 6.5% from August 2015 – a significant drop.

      John Humphrey, senior vice president of the global automotive practice at J.D. Power, said until earlier this year, new vehicle sales had grown every month since September 2010. This year, sales have gone down in each of the last four months.

      “Softening retail sales amid low interest rates, relatively cheap gas and automakers pushing more aggressive incentives may be an indicator that further growth in this cycle will be difficult,” Humphrey said. “There is opportunity for some catch-up in the all-important Labor Day selling period, but as momentum slows, the industry will need to be cautious to balance volume and margin, as incentives are close to record levels."

      Smaller decline seen

      Edmunds.com also forecasts a sales drop, but not as much of one. It predicts sales actually rose slightly in August over July, but will end up being slightly lower than August 2015.

      "The summer isn't delivering explosive sales like we saw last year, but the industry is still on pace to set an annual sales record," says Edmunds.com Executive Director of Industry Analysis Jessica Caldwell.

      She says carmakers have stayed disciplined about managing their inventories and don't feel the added pressure to provide big incentives in order to make sales. But with declining sales, consumers should find plenty of good deals.

      Readjusting market

      Kelley Blue Book (KBB) also sees a modest sales decline for August. The automotive valuation service is projecting a 2% year-over-year drop in sales. Even so, Tim Fleming, analyst for Kelley Blue Book, says the market remains healthy – it's just readjusting.

      “The mix of sales is divided, with demand for utility vehicles continuing to grow at the same time that car sales are falling,” he said. “As we reach the peak of the market, Kelley Blue Book will keep an eye on a few key factors, including increased fleet penetration in 2016 combined with flat retail demand, rising incentive spend [sic] from automakers, and used car prices, which have yet to respond to the growing supply of off-lease vehicles.”

      Any changes in the direction of these factors, he says, could speed up a decline in new-car sales.

      For consumers, the report suggests where they might find the best deals. KBB reports GM sales will likely be down for a fifth straight month, meaning dealers might be more likely to make deals. On the other hand, Hyundai and Kia are gaining market share, suggesting those dealers might be a bit less likely to offer generous incentives.

      New car sales have helped power the U.S. economy in recent years, but the sales pace is definitely slowing.With a string of record sales months, demand...
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      California orders ITT to stop accepting new students

      The action follows the feds' decision to shut off the flow of federal funds to ITT

      California has ordered ITT to stop enrolling new students. The order came Friday, just one day after the U.S. Department of Education banned ITT from enrolling new students using federal financial aid funds in certain locations. It also vowed to increase its financial oversight of the chain of for-profit schools.

      “The federal action raises grave concerns about the continued financial viability of ITT,” said Joanne Wenzel, chief of the state Department of Consumer Affairs Bureau for Private Postsecond Education (BPPE). “We took today’s action in the interest of protecting potential students who are considering enrolling in ITT.”

      The order becomes effective Sept. 1 and affects all 15 ITT locations in California.

      BPPE said it will file an accusation on the charges and allegations set forth in the emergency order within 10 days. The accusation will seek to revoke ITT’s approval to operate in California.

      Students who have questions or need additional information can call BPPE toll-free at (888) 370-7589 or visit the bureau’s website.

      The U.S. Department of Education said it took the action after ITT's accrediting agency found that the institution was not in compliance with accrediting criteria and was unlikely to be able to correct its deficiencies.

      “Our responsibility is first and foremost to protect students and taxpayers,” said Education Secretary John B. King Jr. in a statement. “Looking at all of the risk factors, it’s clear that we need increased financial protection and that it simply would not be responsible or in the best interest of students to allow ITT to continue enrolling new students who rely on federal student aid funds.”

      California has ordered ITT to stop enrolling new students. The order came Friday, just one day after the U.S. Department of Education banned ITT from enrol...
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      New drone rules in effect for commercial flights

      Commercial and government drones can now operate with a certified remote pilot

      New rules for commercial and government drone flights go into effect today (Monday), setting the stage for what's expected to be rapid deployment of unmanned flights operated by certified "remote pilots."

      The new rules, which were adopted earlier this year, apply to drones under 55 pounds that are being operated for non-hobbyist purposes. Previous rules allow hobbyists to operate drones, but under tighter restrictions.

      “We are part of a new era in aviation, and the potential for unmanned aircraft will make it safer and easier to do certain jobs, gather information, and deploy disaster relief,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “We look forward to working with the aviation community to support innovation, while maintaining our standards as the safest and most complex airspace in the world.”

      According to industry estimates, the rule could generate more than $82 billion for the U.S. economy and create more than 100,000 new jobs over the next 10 years.

      “Monday is a big day. I’ve consistently urged the FAA to move forward with regulations to make safe operation of unmanned aircraft in U.S. airspace a reality, and implementation of this new rule is a major step forward," said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.). "This will allow many small businesses ... to more cheaply, safely and efficiently harness some of the enormous potential promised by this technology.”

      Commercial drones are currently being used in industries as diverse as real estate, agriculture, insurance, energy, and cinematography. The new drone rule makes it less onerous for companies to use drones to advance their business, as they will no longer need to be granted an exemption from the FAA in order to operate a UAS (unmanned aircraft system) lawfully under federal guidelines.

      What to do

      Want to be a commercial drone pilot?

      You will need a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating, or be directly supervised by someone with such a certificate.

      To qualify for the certificate, you must either pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center or have an existing non-student Part 61 pilot certificate.

      The Transportation Security Administration will conduct a security background check of all remote pilot applications prior to issuing a certificate.

      More information is available on the FAA website.

      New rules for commercial and government drone flights go into effect today (Monday), setting the stage for what's expected to be rapid deployment of unmann...
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      Personal income and spending continue their rise in July

      Consumers were also able to fatten their savings accounts

      Following increases the previous month, both personal income and spending were higher in July.

      Incomes jumped 0.4%, or $71.6 billion, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), with disposable personal income (DPI) -- what's left after Uncle Sam takes his cut -- up $60.1 billion, or 0.4%.

      The increase in personal income last month came largely from advances in wages and salaries and personal current transfer receipts.

      Spending and saving head higher

      Personal consumption expenditures (PCE), or consumer spending, rose 0.3% or $42.0 billion, reflecting increases in spending for new cars and services that were partially offset by a dip in spending for nondurable goods.

      Excluding food and energy, the PCE price index increased 0.1% in July.

      Personal saving totaled $794.7 billion in July, pushing the personal saving rate -- personal saving as a percentage of disposable personal income -- up 0.3% from June to 5.7%.

      The complete report is available on the BEA website.

      Following increases the previous month, both personal income and spending were higher in July.Incomes jumped 0.4%, or $71.6 billion, according to the B...
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      Toyota recalls RAV4 and Lexus HS250h vehicles

      The rear tie rod could fail and cause a loss of vehicle control, increasing the risk of a crash

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 337,449 model year 2006-2011 Toyota RAV4 vehicles manufactured October 31, 2005, to September 7, 2010, and 2010 Lexus HS250h vehicles manufactured July 6, 2009, to August 26, 2010.

      The vehicles have rear suspension arms (rear tie rods) with adjusting lock nuts that may have been improperly tightened after servicing. As a result of being loose, the arm may have thread damage and may rust, possibly leading to the failure of the arm and an abrupt change in the vehicle's alignment.

      Failure of the rear tie rod could cause a loss of vehicle control, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Toyota will notify owners and dealers will replace both rear suspension arms and encapsulate the locknuts, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin September 30, 2016.

      Owners may contact Toyota customer service at 1-800-331-4331. Toyota's numbers for this recall are G0V for Toyota vehicles and GLK for Lexus vehicles.

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 337,449 model year 2006-2011 Toyota RAV4 vehicles manufactured October 31, 2005, to September 7, 2010...
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      Bots roam the internet, threatening businesses and consumers

      These machines are making dating scams even more dangerous

      You're expecting a package from Amazon, or from one of the package delivery services. An email pops into your inbox about a problem, and there's a link where you can get more information.

      Only the email is not from any legitimate company. It's a scammer posing as the legitimate company.

      While it's a big problem for consumers, it's a huge problem for the companies that are being impersonated. Their brand can suffer as a result.

      MarkMonitor is in the brand protection business, on the lookout for cases where a client's brand has been misappropriated, for any reason.

      “We are basically monitoring across multiple digital channels – websites, marketplaces, social media, mobile apps and emails,” Akino Chikada, MarkMonitor's Senior Brand Protection Manager, told ConsumerAffairs. “We're scanning through the entire internet looking for any potential online abuse of that brand.”

      It's a never-ending job because scammers keep getting more technologically powerful. The latest wrinkle is the deployment of bots – web robots – to seek out and engage victims, meaning one scammer can become a million times more effective.

      “As we know there is a significant number of bots driving internet traffic,” Chikada said. “A recent report found humans account for about 51% of traffic. The rest is driven by bots.”

      Whole new dating game

      And these bots have added a whole new dimension to the online dating scam. A decade ago, this scam consisted of an individual scammer seeking out and engaging a potential victim, building trust, then swindling him or her out of thousands of dollars. It was a labor-intensive and time-consuming enterprise.

      Today, bots do the work, engaging males on Tinder, pretending to be females. Chikada says it's easy to program these bots to engage in dialog.

      “They can remember user details like names, age, location, so it's easy to start engaging a victim,” she said. “They're definitely a lot smarter and more sophisticated.”

      Tinder's popularity makes it a target-rich environment. Scammers are using bots to persuade victims to send them money, and also download malware.

      How to spot a bot

      How can you tell if the “person” you are engaging with on Tinder is actually a machine? If you pay close attention, you can do it.

      Bots tend to type faster than the average human and yet they don't make as many typos. Also, responses can be generic and not always specific to what you have said.

      The big tip off? Chikada says they will eventually ask you to do something for them, and it either requires clicking on a link or giving them your credit card information.

      And finally, if the “person” is really attractive, you just might be conversing with a machine.

      You're expecting a package from Amazon, or from one of the package delivery services. An email pops into your inbox about a problem, and there's a link whe...
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      Second quarter economic growth remains sluggish

      Corporate profits took a hit

      The U.S. economy continued to plod along in the second quarter.

      The Commerce Department's second look at real gross domestic product -- the value of the goods and services produced by the nation’s economy -- put expansion at an annual rate of 1.1%. While that's down 0.1% from the “advance” estimate released last month, it is a bit of an improvement from the first-quarter growth rate of 0.8%.

      This latest economic snapshot is based on more complete source data than were available earlier, the general picture of growth remains the same.

      The changes

      What growth there was came from contributions from personal consumption expenditures (PCE), or consumer spending, and exports. These were partly offset by drops in private inventory investment, residential fixed investment, state and local government spending and nonresidential fixed investment. Imports -- a subtraction in the calculation of GDP -- increased

      The PCE price index increased 2.0%, compared with an increase of 0.3% in the first three months of the year. Excluding volatile food and energy prices, the “core” PCE price index was up 1.8%, versus an of 2.1% in the previous quarter.

      Corporate profits

      Profits from current production plunged $24.1 billion in the second quarter, after rising $66.0 billion in the first quarter.

      Profits of domestic financial corporations rose $7.2 billion in the second quarter, while profits of domestic nonfinancial corporations fell $58.2 billion.

      The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

      The U.S. economy continued to plod along in the second quarter.The Commerce Department's second look at real gross domestic product -- the value of the...
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      Mars Retail Group recalls M&M’S-branded jewelry

      The jewelry can contain high levels of lead.

      Mars Retail Group of Mount Arlington, N.J., is recalling about 52,400 pieces of M&M’S®-branded jewelry.

      The jewelry can contain high levels of lead, which is toxic if ingested by young children and can cause adverse health issues.

      No injuries or incidents have been reported in connection with these products.

      This recall involves all M&M-branded jewelry, including some children’s jewelry. Recalled items include earrings, rings, bracelets and necklaces sold between May 2015, and July 2016. Jewelry items included in the recall have the M&M’S logo “M” as a charm or other feature.

      The jewelry, manufactured in China and Vietnam, was sold at M&M’S® World Stores in New York; Orlando, Fla.; Las Vegas; and Henderson, Nev., from May 2015, to June 2016, for between $6 and $18.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled jewelry, place the items out of the reach of children, and contact M&M’S World or visit an M&M’S World store to return the jewelry for a full refund.

      Consumers may contact M&M’S World at 866-915-5058 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday or online at www.mmsworld.com and click on the “Product Safety & Recalls” link at the bottom of the page for more information.

      Mars Retail Group of Mount Arlington, N.J., is recalling about 52,400 pieces of M&M;’S®-branded jewelry. The jewelry can contain high levels of lea...
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      Model year 2015 RAM 2500 and 5500 trucks and cab chassis recalled

      The vehicles may have a reduced response to steering input

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 64 model year 2015 RAM 2500 trucks, and RAM 3500 trucks and cab chassis.

      The vehicles may have inadequate welds securing the front track bar frame brackets, possibly resulting in the bracket components separating from the frame.

      If the bracket components separate from the frame, the vehicle may have a reduced response to steering input, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will weld on a new track bar frame bracket or replace the frame of the vehicle, 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 S58.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 64 model year 2015 RAM 2500 trucks, and RAM 3500 trucks and cab chassis. The vehicles may have inadequate welds ...
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      J.D. North America recalls All Power portable generators

      The fuel tank can leak, posing explosion, fire and burn hazards

      J.D. North America Corp., of Charlotte, N.C., is recalling about 12,300 All Power portable gasoline generators sold in the U.S. and Mexico.

      The fuel tank can leak, posing explosion, fire and burn hazards.

      The firm has received 21 reports of fuel leakage. No injuries or property damage have been reported.

      This recall involves All Power portable gasoline generators with model numbers APGG6000 and APGG7500. The black and red generators have a black fuel tank on top of the units.

      Model APGG6000 generators are rated at 6,000 watts and have UPC code 8 4676600055 3 and serial number JD29014S18035 through JD29014U020742. Model APGG7500 generators are rated at 7,500 watts and have UPC code 8 4676600056 0 and serial number JD42014S16027 through JD42014T210606.

      The model number is located on both sides of the unit. The UPC code and serial number can be found on a silver plate on the upper right hand-side of the back side panel.

      The generators, manufactured in China, were sold at Big Sandy Superstores, Family Farm & Home, Inc., Home Owners Bargain Outlet, Mills Fleet Farm Corp., Nexcom West Coast and other stores nationwide and online at Bluestem.com, BrandsmartUSA.com, HomeDepot.com, hoboonline.com, jbtoolsales.com and other online retailers from March 2014, through May 2016, for between $510 and $725.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled generators and contact J.D. North America to schedule a free replacement fuel tank, including installation.

      Consumers may contact J.D. North America toll-free at (844) 287-4655 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday, by email at apggrecall@jdna.com, or online at www.allpoweramerica.com and click on the APGG Recall link for more information.

      J.D. North America Corp., of Charlotte, N.C., is recalling about 12,300 All Power portable gasoline generators sold in the U.S. and Mexico. The fue...
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      Why the workforce is likely to get older

      Two thirds of Baby Boomers don't plan to retire

      There are several take-aways from the latest Transamerica Center for Retirement Study (TCRS), including the fact that Baby Boomer workers aren't going anywhere.

      If you're a Gen-Xer waiting for your Baby Boomer boss to retire so you can move up, you might have a long wait.

      “Baby Boomers are the generation that has re-written societal rules at every stage of their life,” said Catherine Collinson, president of TCRS. “Now, Baby Boomer workers are redefining retirement by planning to work until an older age than [the] previous two generations.”

      Collinson cites numbers which show that 66% of Boomers are either already working past age 65, or plan to. And it's not entirely because their work is their life. Most who plan to keep working indefinitely say they need the income or the health benefits.

      Counting on Social Security

      Many Boomers – 34% in fact – are counting on Social Security to be their primary source of income once they do retire – hence the large number who plan to keep working. Eighty-seven percent expect Social Security to at least be a part of their income once they stop working.

      But at this point, Boomers may be better off financially than the two younger generations in the work force. One-third say they expect to get income from a traditional pension plan while 78% say they have retirement accounts they can draw on. Even so, there are still plenty of Boomers who haven't saved enough for a comfortable retirement.

      Collinson says she is actually encouraged by Boomers' plans to keep working, calling it a common sense solution. That said, she encourages older workers to be proactive about staying employable and keeping current with industry standards and technology. They should also understand that the decision to work or not may not be up to them in all cases.

      Better have a Plan B

      “As part of their retirement planning, Baby Boomers should create a Plan B if retirement happens unexpectedly due to job loss, health issues, or other intervening circumstances,” she advises.

      It could turn out that Gex X takes a similar approach to retirement when the future rolls around. The study has found that, while Gex X workers started saving for retirement around age 28, many have already taken loans or early withdrawals to pay debts or meet unexpected expenses.

      The estimated median household retirement savings for Gen X employees is $69,000, a little over half the total for Boomers. Just 12% of Gen X workers said they are very confident they will be able to enjoy a comfortable retirement.

      There are several take-aways from the latest Transamerica Center for Retirement Study (TCRS), including the fact that Baby Boomer workers aren't going anyw...
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      Preparing the family dog for the kids' return to school

      How to keep your dog from engaging in unwanted behaviors when home alone

      The summer months are often held in high regard by dogs who live in households with children. Having the kids home means more time to play outside, more family vacations, and more household activity in general.

      Active dogs, especially, may relish summer days spent keeping up with the kids. Whether they’re helping the kids man a lemonade stand or supervising a sleepover, the family dog has a lot to do during the summer.

      That’s why it can sometimes come as a shock to dogs when the kids return to school. When active summer days are replaced by days spent home alone, dogs may begin to engage in unwanted behaviors such as chewing, excessive barking, or soiling in the house.

      But pet parents can keep back-to-school blues at bay by introducing a new routine to a dog’s life prior to the start of the new school year.

      Tips for keeping dogs happy

      "Dogs are happiest when they have a routine, so the change from summer to school-year schedule can be hard on them," says Traci Simo of Canine Company. "Not only are the kids gone all day for school and afternoon activities, but when they come home, they're too busy with homework to spend time with the family pet."

      To prepare your dog for the kids’ return to school, Simo recommends reintroducing alone time. Leaving dogs home alone for short periods of time before the first day of school can help dogs gear up for a slightly less active Fall and Winter.

      Additionally, pet owners can take the following steps to ensure that dogs don't wreak havoc on the house while the family is away. 

      • Exercise dogs thoroughly. Adequate amounts of exercise can often be the difference between a happy dog or a dog who gets into trouble. Hitting dogs’ exercise quota for the day can often be as simple as a walk in the morning or an active round of fetch when the kids get home. Families can also enlist the help of a pet sitter who can come by and give the dog some midday exercise.
      • Use treat-dispensing balls. Mentally stimulating toys, such as treat-dispensing balls, can help keep your dog occupied for hours during the school day.
      • Brush up on obedience. Just as kids may have enjoyed a summer without homework, dogs may also have enjoyed a more unstructured summer. But training is an important part of keeping a dog’s behavior from getting out of hand. For this reason, pet owners should consider taking a training refresher.
      The summer months are often held in high regard by dogs who live in households with children. Having the kids home means more time to play outside, more fa...
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      Dorel Juvenile recalls Safety 1st strollers

      The stroller tray folding mechanism can partially disengage on one side

      Dorel Juvenile of Columbus, Ind., is recalling about 25,800 Step and Go Travel Systems sold under the Safety 1st brand in the U.S. and Canada.

      The stroller tray folding mechanism can partially disengage on one side when used with an infant car seat attached to the stroller, posing a fall hazard.

      The firm has received 30 reports of the front stroller tray that supports the infant car seat disengaging on one side. No injuries are reported.

      This recall involves Step and Go Travel Systems sold under the Safety 1st brand and manufactured by Dorel Juvenile. The stroller has a step-to-open design that opens by stepping on the pedal. It was sold in a variety of colors along with the OnBoard 35 infant car seat.

      Safety 1st is imprinted on the front of the stroller tray. Model number TR314 is printed on a white label on the back of the stroller seat.

      The strollers, manufactured in China, were sold at Babies R Us and other retailers nationwide and online at amazon.com, babiesrus.com and Walmart.com from May 2015, through, June 2016 for between $250 and $300.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled strollers with the infant car seat and contact Safety 1st for a free repair kit.

      Consumers may contact Safety 1st toll-free at 866-762-3036 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, by email at stepandgo@djgusa.com or online at www.safety1st.com and click on “Safety Notices” for more information.

      Dorel Juvenile of Columbus, Ind., is recalling about 25,800 Step and Go Travel Systems sold under the Safety 1st brand in the U.S. and Canada. The ...
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      Hillary Clinton calls for EpiPen price cuts

      "No apparent justification" for 400% price hike for life-saving auto-injector

      Hillary Clinton has joined the chorus calling on Mylan Pharmaceutical NV to reduce the price of the EpiPen, the epinephrine auto-injector used by those with severe allergies to counter attacks of anaphylactic shock.

      “Millions of Americans with severe allergies rely on their EpiPens.  When an allergic reaction leads to anaphylactic shock, a shot of epinephrine can literally be the difference between life and death," Clinton said in an emailed statement. "But now, just as parents are about to send kids with severe food and insect allergies back to school, the EpiPen's manufacturer is hiking its price to an all-time high."

      There was no immediate response from the Trump campaign.  

      Clinton's statement follows the disclosure that the CEO of Mylan Pharmaceutical NV, Heather Bresch, is the daughter of Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat who already has a shaky relationship with Clinton. 

      Noting that Mylan has raised the cost of EpiPens from $57 in 2007 to about $600 today, Clinton called the increases "outrageous."

      Profits ahead of patients

      "[I]t's just the latest troubling example of a company taking advantage of its consumers. I believe that our pharmaceutical and biotech industries can be an incredible source of American innovation, giving us revolutionary treatments for debilitating diseases. But it's wrong when drug companies put profits ahead of patients, raising prices without justifying the value behind them," she said.

      Clinton said she has proposed a plan to reduce exorbitant drug price hikes. She said the plan would require drug companies "to explain significant price increases, and prove that any additional costs are linked to additional patient benefits and better value."

      "Since there is no apparent justification in this case, I am calling on Mylan to immediately reduce the price of EpiPens," she added.

      GOP candidate Trump's Healthcare Reform Plan does not directly address the cost of pharmaceutical products.

      Clinton's plan to rollback drug price increases calls for:

      • Elimination of tax deductions for direct-to-consumer drug advertising;
      • Requiring drug companies that benefit from taxpayer-funded research to invest significant amounts of their profits in research;
      • Capping monthly and annual out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs for patients with chronic or serious health conditions;
      • Increasing competition for prescription drugs and restricting "pay for delay" tactics that reduce competition for generics;
      • Demand higher rebates for prescription drugs in Medicare; and
      • Allow medicare to negotiate drug and biologic prices. 

      The complete Clinton plan for lower prescription drug costs is available online

      Hillary Clinton has joined the chorus calling on Mylan Pharmaceutical NV to reduce the price of the EpiPen, the epinephrine auto-injector used by those wit...
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      Standing desks help children avoid obesity and perform better in school

      The key, researchers believe, is encouraging movement during class time

      A number of studies have been published recently which show that sitting for prolonged periods can be bad for your health, leading to weight gain and obesity. When you consider how long our children sit down in class when they’re at school, it starts to make sense why childhood obesity rates are so high in the U.S.

      Many experts have suggested that schools could benefit from standing desks -- tall working areas that would get students out of their chairs. A new study validates these assertions, showing that standing desks could provide both academic and health benefits to the children that use them.

      “Research around the world has shown that standing desks are positive for the teachers in terms of classroom management and student engagement, as well as positive for children for their health, cognitive functioning and academic achievement. It’s literally a win-win, and now we have hard data that shows it is beneficial for weight control,” said Dr. Mark Benden, one of the authors of the study.

      Healthier outcomes

      The “hard data” that the researchers gathered came from experiments conducted in 24 classrooms across three elementary schools in College Station, Texas. At each school, four classrooms were outfitted with stand-biased desks -- which allowed students to either sit on a high stool or stand – and four were left as standard, controlled classrooms.

      Participating students were followed over the course of two school years to see if the stand-biased desks had any effect on their weight or academic achievement. At the end of the trial period, the researchers found that students with stand-biased desks had a 3% drop in BMI compared to students who gained the typical 2% in BMI due to aging.

      Students who only spent one year with a stand-biased desk also benefitted from the experience, showing a lower mean BMI than students who never used them at all. Researchers attribute these results to encouraging active movement during class time.

      “Classrooms with stand-biased desks are part of what we call an Activity Permissive Learning Environment (APLE), which means that teachers don’t tell children to ‘sit down,’ or ‘sit still’ during class. Instead, these types of desks encourage the students to move instead of being forced to sit in poorly fitting, hard plastic chairs for six or seven hours of the day,” said Benden.

      "Sit less, move more"

      Benden and his colleagues had conducted previous studies showing that standing can allow a person to burn 15% more calories when compared to those who sit down. The results of this study seem to corroborate those findings, which could help keep our children healthy in the long run.

      “Sit less, move more. That’s our message,” concluded Brenden. The full study has been published in the American Journal of Public Health

      A stand-biased desk similar to those used in many classrooms (Staff photo)A number of studies have been published recently which show that sitting fo...
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      Fewer homes for sale leads to fewer sales in July

      Available homes for sale well below a five month supply

      The number of existing homes sold in July fell for the first month since November 2015. It's not that fewer people wanted to buy homes. There were just fewer homes to buy.

      The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports home sales fell in comparison to both June sales and July 2015. Notably, the month-to-month drop was 3.2%.

      The homes that were on the market brought higher prices. The median sale price rose 5.3% year-over-year, to $244,100.

      “The primary culprit behind the decline in July is the lack of homes on the market,” said realtor.com chief economist Jonathan Smoke in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “We simply can’t see growth in sales without having enough homes to sell.”

      Good for sellers, not buyers

      Smoke notes that this declining inventory over the last few months has led to higher prices for sellers, but made it more difficult for buyers to find a home that hits their needs.

      Lawrence Yun, NAR's chief economist, agrees with that assessment, adding that declining inventories have reduced buyer traffic, even with historically low interest rates.

      “With new condo construction barely budging and currently making up only a small sliver of multi-family construction, sales suffered last month as condo buyers faced even stiffer supply constraints than those looking to purchase a single-family home,” Yun said.

      Inventory down 5.8%

      Total housing inventory was nearly flat from June, but it's down 5.8% from a year ago. According to NAR stats, it has declined year-over-year for 14 straight months. Unsold inventory remains at under five months supply.

      What's behind the declining inventory? Two things.

      First, millions of homeowners are still underwater, owing more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. These homeowners are stuck since they can't sell without taking a loss. In normal times, many likely would sell their homes and move up.

      Fewer new homes

      The second factor is bigger. Since the housing crash, home builders are putting up about half the number of homes each year as they did during the real estate boom. Combined with fewer existing homes coming on the market, it has put a serious crimp in supply.

      Tuesday's pleasantly surprising report of a surge in home building activity provides hope for the future, but Smoke concedes the short term may have some additional pain.

      Adding up the limited supply of houses for sale, a potential for higher mortgage rates on the horizon, and dampened consumer confidence, he says he's less optimistic about rising sales in the next few months.

      The number of existing homes sold in July fell for the first month since November 2015. It's not that fewer people wanted to buy homes. There were just few...
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      Here's another Craigslist scam to watch out for

      This one could cost you your car

      Craigslist provides a convenient way to buy and sell things, but it has also been used as a tool by scammers. Here's something else to look out for.

      Let's suppose you want to sell your car, so you put an ad on Craigslist, and maybe other online sales platforms, and wait for someone to make an offer.

      Someone does, incredibly meeting your asking price with no quibbling. He produces a cashier's check and you turn over the car and sign over the title. That was easy, you think.

      But when you go to the bank to deposit the check, you discover it is counterfeit. You have no money and your car is gone.

      New Jersey case

      Something like that not only can happen, it has happened. New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino and the Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor (OIFP) have announced two people from New Jersey and a Florida man have been arrested on charges of stealing cars advertised on Craigslist, paying for them with bogus checks.

      It turns out 13 others were indicted for their alleged roles in the scheme that was the brought down by a multi-jurisdictional investigation dubbed “Operation Title Flip.” The defendants are accused of using fake checks to purchase 10 vehicles, valued at $248,650, and selling them to dealerships for a $107,250 profit.

      The alleged scheme was fairly sophisticated. Porrino says the defendants hired intermediaries to pose as buyers interested in the advertised vehicles. After inspecting them, the intermediaries presented fake IDs and counterfeit Bank of America cashier's checks.

      Beware of after-hours transactions

      The transactions always occurred in the late afternoon so the seller would not have time to deposit the check until the next day. It bought the schemers extra time to cover their tracks.

      It is very difficult to protect yourself in such a situation. Insisting on a cashier's check won't help if the check isn't real. By the time the seller realized he or she had been scammed, the “buyer” had transferred the title.

      Regardless of how you advertise a vehicle or other expensive item, a private sale has become increasingly risky. When selling a car, using a consignment service can reduce much of the risk. Most consigners also offer financing, making a vehicle sell faster. We wrote about the process last year.

      For its part, Craigslist has extensive advice to consumers on avoiding scams. You can check it out here.

      Craigslist provides a convenient way to buy and sell things, but it has also been used as a tool by scammers. Here's something else to look out for.Let...
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      Internet of Things -- a little person on your shoulder

      Contextual advertising will be with you wherever you go as the IoT is deployed

      You hear a lot of people talking about how great life will be when cars drive themselves and the Internet of Things is fully deployed. But while many of us dismiss this chatter as background noise, one industry is paying close attention and champing at the bit to get started.

      Yes, of course, it's the advertising industry. After all, when cars drive themselves, you'll have more time to look at the ads that will be popping up on strategically located screens. Your refrigerator will automatically order almond milk, egg whites, and fat-free butter while it tries to get you to try a new kind of genetically engineered hot dog.

      Right at the moment, the advertising trades are obsessing over self-driving taxis and dreaming of the contextual ad possibilities they present.

      Taxis already have ads, you say? Yes, they do but for the most part, the ads are simply being played back from a storage device in the cab -- they're not determined by who you are, where you live, where you are going, and all those other factors that go into the ads you see on the internet everyday, courtesy of Google and other contextual ad mavens.

      “What will be different when true automated taxi fleets hit the streets is that they will be backed with a much more sophisticated ad network that integrates with identity, wallet and itinerary to name a few,” David Hewitt, global mobility lead at SapientNitro, told the IoT Daily.

      Talk to your wearables

      “Through voice, we won't have to worry about tapping screens and we will be able to continue the conversation after stepping out of the vehicle.”

      When he says "continue the conversation," Hewitt is talking about another buzzword currently making the rounds -- "wearables."

      "Wearables" refers to things like the iWatch, Google Glass, and, for all we know, prewashed denims. They'll soon be part of the IoT, muttering to us constantly about whether we'd like to order a latte from the Starbucks two blocks away, whether we should stop into Target and get an umbrella because it is about to rain, and whether we should renew our Xanax prescription.

      The dream goal of marketers is to know everything about you, including what you are doing this very minute and what you are about to do in the next few minutes, since each moment of our lives represents a buying opportunity.

       Or as Hewitt put it in his interview with the Daily: 

      “Not too far into the future the ads will be contextually presented and may also be served up as bite-sized services instead of just targeted display advertising.”

      If everything works out as planned, it will be just like having a little person on your shoulder, constantly nagging you to do all the things your favorite brands want you to do.

      Where's that Xanax?

      You hear a lot of people talking about how great life will be when cars drive themselves and the Internet of Things is fully deployed. But while many of us...
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      How baggage fees improved airline performance

      Researchers claim they help airlines leave the gate on time

      The nation's airlines have gone from economic basket cases to profitable enterprises since the end of the Great Recession, thanks in large part to baggage fees.

      Airlines, with the notable exception of Southwest, now charge extra to check a bag. Consumers hate it, but there's an interesting study that suggests this move not only helped airlines' bottom line, it has helped them leave the gate on time.

      Here's how: because passengers hate paying these fees, they avoid checking bags if possible and instead drag as much carry-on luggage as they can on board. While that may be annoying to fellow passengers, Mazhar Arikan, a University of Kansas business school professor, notes it reduces the time needed for ground crews to stow checked luggage aboard the aircraft.

      "Because passengers changed their behavior, less weight went into the plane below the cabin," he said. "This offset any changes in carry-on luggage, and it helped airlines improve their on-time departure performance. The below-the-cabin effect dominates the above-the-cabin effect."

      Up to four minutes earlier

      Arikan and his fellow researchers found airlines improved their median departure time between 3.3 to 4.2 minutes. Departure delays declined 1.3 to two minutes. The deciding factor, the researchers found was whether an airline charged for the first or second checked bag.

      The changes even spilled over to Southwest, which does not charge for the first two checked bags. The researchers suggest that's because baggage fees in general have created a cultural shift – passengers are now geared toward less checked luggage and more carry-on bags, regardless of what airline they are flying.

      Lost opportunity costs

      That said, the research shows Southwest's performance did not improve as much as its fee-charging rivals, hurting one of the carrier's historical competitive advantages. Arikan goes so far as to argue Southwest's “Bags Fly Free” policy is actually costing the carrier in lost opportunity, since he says the airline could be offering more flights each day.

      All in all, Arikan says it's a unique way of looking at the whole issue of checked bag fees. Previous research, he notes, has focused solely on the economic effects of the checked bag fees.

      The researchers contend the time fluctuations are significant because departure times and mitigating delays are critical indicators of performance. They can also affect the number of flights airlines can offer and their image among potential customers.

      The nation's airlines have gone from economic basket cases to profitable enterprises since the end of the Great Recession, thanks in large part to baggage...
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      Mortgage applications post second consecutive decline

      Contract interest rates were on the rise

      Another drop for mortgage applications.

      The weekly survey conducted by the Mortgage Bankers Association shows applications were down 2.1% in the week ending August 19.

      The Refinance Index was down 3.0%, dropping the refinance share of mortgage activity to 62.4% of total applications from 62.6% the previous week.

      The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity was unchanged at 4.6% of total applications; the FHA share dipped to 8.9% from 9.6% a week earlier; the VA share of total applications fell to 12.4% from 13.2%; and the USDA share of total applications held steady 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) rose three basis points -- to 3.67% from 3.64%. Points increased to 0.34 from 0.31 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans, and the effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) came in at 3.62% from 3.60% the week before, with points increasing to 0.35 from 0.28 (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 up four basis points to 3.53%, with points increasing to 0.34 from 0.28 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs jumped from 2.90% to 2.95%, with points increasing to 0.38 from 0.32 (including the origination fee) for 80 % loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs slipped one basis point to 2.84%, with points increasing to 0.37 from 0.17 (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.

      Another drop for mortgage applications. The weekly survey conducted by the Mortgage Bankers Association shows applications were down 2.1% in the week en...
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      ALEX Toys recalls infant building play sets

      Small parts of the plastic toy building sets can detach, posing a choking hazard

      ALEX Toys of new Jersey is recalling about 91,000 ALEX Jr. Baby Builder, First Pops and First Snaps.

      Small parts of the plastic toy building sets can detach, posing a choking hazard to young children.

      There have been 22 reports of the ends of small parts detaching from the building sets. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves three ALEX Jr. branded sets of infant building toys: the Baby Builder, model 1982, First Pops, model 1981P and the First Snaps, model 1981S produced prior to November 2010.

      The sets include an assortment of plastic shapes in bright colors. The pieces are designed to be pulled, pushed, snapped and twisted and come in stackable plastic jars. They were sold in sets of 14 and 26 pieces.

      The recalled First Snaps sets’ containers have the following batch codes, on a sticker above the UPC code on the container:

      P000 2073

      P000 1713

      P000 1330

      P000 0954

      P000 2107

      P000 1628

      P000 1009

      P000 00814

      P000 1948

      P000 1536

      P000 1098

      P000 1677

      P000 1427

      P000 0983

      The toy sets, manufactured in China, were sold at Barnes & Noble and Land of Nod and online at www.Zulily.com. The Baby Builders were sold from December 2009, through June 2016, for about $28; First Pops ere sold from March 2009, through June 2016, for about $18, and First Snaps were sold from March 2009, through October 2010, for about $18.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately take the recalled building sets away from children and contact ALEX for a prepaid shipping envelope to return the product(s). ALEX will send consumers a full refund upon receipt of returned sets.

      Consumers may Contact ALEX toll-free at 844-310-6691 anytime or online at www.alexbrands.com and click on the “Recall Information” link beneath the carousel for more information.

      ALEX Toys of new Jersey is recalling about 91,000 ALEX Jr. Baby Builder, First Pops and First Snaps. Small parts of the plastic toy building sets c...
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      Lawmakers demand EpiPen price rollbacks, patient groups silent

      Sky-high price of allergy first-aid tool leads to calls for FTC, Congressional action

      Federal and state lawmakers are calling on the manufacturer of EpiPens to roll back price increases that have raised the cost of the life-saving emergency allergy treatment beyond the reach of many families, but some patient advocacy groups are strangely silent. 

      U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said in a letter to the CEO of Mylan Pharmaceutical, Heather Bresch, that he was "shocked and dismayed" to learn that the price of EpiPens has risen by several hundred percent since 2009 "even though [the product] has not been improved upon in any obvious or significant way."

      Blumenthal pointedly noted that he was a supporter of legislation signed by President Obama in 2013, which encourages states to adopt laws requiring schools to have epinephrine auto-injectors on hand to deal with emergencies.

      The EpiPen contains about $1 worth of epinephrine, but it costs $600 or more for a package of two in the United States, nearly a 1,000% increase over the $57 the EpiPen went for in 2007. 

      Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), the Ranking Member of the Antitrust Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called on the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold a hearing to investigate the increase.

      "This outrageous increase in the price of EpiPens is occurring at the same time that Mylan Pharmaceutical is exploiting a monopoly market advantage that has fallen into its lap,” said Klobuchar. “Patients all over the U.S. rely on these products, including my own daughter. Not only should the Judiciary Committee hold a hearing, the Federal Trade Commission should investigate these price increases immediately."

      Klobuchar said the FTC should also "report to Congress on why these outrageous price increases have become common and propose solutions that will better protect consumers within 90 days."

      Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) also expressed concern and asked Mylan to explain the price hikes. 

      Price-gouging

      Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) submitted a letter to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform requesting a hearing on the EpiPen price increases.

      "Thousands of Americans rely on EpiPens in a given year, and perhaps no time is more important in the purchasing of these devices than the beginning of a new school year,” said Meng. “The free market can be a wonderful engine for good in our society, and it has certainly led to the production of countless medical innovations. We must be vigilant, however, to not cross the line of price-gouging, especially when a product has been around for a generation and is incredibly cheap to produce."

      State legislators are also demanding action. In New Jersey, Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Woodbridge, the chairman of the Senate Health Committee, said he would allocate part of a hearing scheduled for next month on discussions over the cost increase.

      Mylan has not responded directly to critics, instead issuing a prepared statement that does not address the pricing issue: “Mylan has worked tirelessly over the past years advocating for increased anaphylaxis awareness, preparedness and access to treatment for those living with potentially life-threatening allergies.”

      Patient groups silent

      Oddly, while news outlets and politicians have responded to the concerns of patients, patient advocacy groups have not had much to say.

      A New York public relations firm sent a cheery news release last week on behalf of the Allergy & Asthma Network entitled "Why patients don't have to worry about the EpiPen price increase."

      It took a day to pry loose the promised information, which turned out to be identical to what the group had posted on its Facebook page:

      Allergy & Asthma Network is concerned about the rising costs of epinephrine auto injectors. We are committed to working in the following three ways:

      1. Directly with Mylan. We have asked them to assist families with large out of pocket expenses and high deductible health plans with a new program. 

      2. Directly with government and commercial insurance plans to get epinephrine on preventive drug lists. This would ensure epinephrine is no longer subject to deductibles or copays and reduce the cost burden for families.

      3. Directly with families to navigate the complex healthcare system. Choose a health plan fully understanding what is and is not covered. Beware of high deductible plans as they can result in significant out of pocket expenses throughout the year. Take advantage of savings programs like my Epi savings card to reduce your financial burden. 

      How about the American Lung Association? We found nothing on their site about the issue, and an email asking if the group was taking a position was not immediately answered.

      The Lung Association and other groups were similarly silent a few years ago when asthma patients complained bitterly about the drastic increase in the cost of their inhalers after CFC-powered inhalers were replaced by new models that did not harm the ozone layer. Patients were basically told the new inhalers were more environmentally friendly and they would just have to learn to live, or die, with them.   

      "Stranglehold on pricing"

      One group willing to speak out was Consumer Watchdog, which called the price increases "yet another example of the stranglehold on pricing that drug companies have."

      "This is medication that is mandatory for a lot of people, it’s life-saving, it’s not something you can do without and for that reason, Mylan has been able to jack up the price at will," said Carmen Balber, the group's executive director.

      Balber's group is backing Proposition 61 in California, which would prevent state agencies from paying more for a drug than the price paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Balber called it a "step toward bulk pricing that would move toward cheaper drugs for everyone."

      The Los Angeles Times recently reported that drug companies had so far spent more than $65 million to defeat the measure. 

      "Hiking the price of a life-saving medical device like the EpiPen by 500 percent is the worst form of corporate greed," said David Plunkett, staff attorney for the Food Safety Program at the Center for Science In the Public Interest. "Unlabeled allergens in food were the number one reason behind recalls issued by FDA and FSIS in 2015.  Every three minutes a food allergy reaction sends someone to the ER, and all Mylan could see in these facts is an opportunity for profits."

      First responders affected

      In his letter, Blumenthal demanded that Mylan lower the price of the EpiPen to "an affordable, accessible level," saying the skyrocketing price has not only affected families but has also exhausted the budgets of schools and first responders.

      "My office has heard from first responders on this issue, with one emergency medical services (EMS) supplier offering 'lists of EMS representatives who can show you that EpiPen prices are destroying their EMS budgets,'” he said. "In fact, first responders in other states have turned to directly injecting epinephrine using syringes, a method that is far less safe but increasingly necessary. Along with ambulances, schools in Connecticut are also required to stock epinephrine auto-injectors. The costs that Mylan’s price increases have waged not only on individual families, but on each taxpayer in Connecticut, is unacceptable."

      Blumenthal noted that he had supported Congressional legislation requiring epinephrine in schools and was currently supporting a bill that would require epinephrine inectors on commercial aircraft.

      "However, I am concerned that your company has failed to recognize that affordability in health care is key to ensuring accessibility," he said. "When families, schools, and first responders struggle to purchase your product, any effort to mandate its availability becomes an expensive burden that they are forced to bear."

      No substitute for first aid

      When a severe allergic reaction strikes, there is no substitute for having an epinephrine auto-injector on hand, as Sarah Denny, a physician at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, learned a few years ago.

      Dr. Denny’s son, Liam, 18 months old at the time, had an anaphylactic reaction to soy milk in 2008. Previous testing confirmed he was allergic to dairy, egg, peanuts, and tree nuts, but Liam drank soy milk for months before his anaphylactic reaction.

      After drinking a cup of soy milk as he had done regularly for months, Liam immediately started coughing, vomiting, developed hives all over his body and slipped into unconsciousness after a few minutes. Dr. Denny’s husband, also a physician, administered Liam’s epinephrine auto injector then immediately called 911, according to an account provided by the hospital. 

      “Thankfully, in the 10-minute ride in the ambulance to Nationwide Children’s Hospital, the epinephrine started to work and by the time we got to the Emergency Department he was sitting up on my lap, waving to the nurses,” recalled Dr. Denny. “Had we not had an epinephrine auto injector at home, I don’t know that we would have been so lucky.”

      Federal and state lawmakers are calling on the manufacturer of EpiPens to roll back price increases that have raised the cost of the life-saving emergency ...
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      What's behind the rising traffic death toll?

      Cars are safer but drivers aren't

      New cars are packed with airbags and other safety features. So why is the highway death toll still climbing?

      The National Safety Council's preliminary estimates show deaths from car crashes were up a startling 9% in the first half of the year, compared to the first half of 2015. The death toll is a staggering 18% higher than the first six months of 2014.

      According to the Council, some 19,100 people died on U.S. roads since January and 2.2 million were injured. The total cost is somewhere in the neighborhood of $205 billion.

      The question is why? It may turn out to have little to do with vehicle safety and a lot more to do with numbers.

      Coincides with low gas prices

      It's telling that the increase in highway deaths began in 2014, because that's when gasoline prices began to fall sharply. As prices fell and stayed low, more people drove cars and they drove them more miles. With more cars on the road, the likelihood some would run into each other rose.

      While many factors could have contributed to the rise in fatalities, the Council notes a stronger economy and lower unemployment rates are at the core of the trend. It says the average gasoline price in the first half of the year was 16% lower than the year before, resulting in a more than 3% increase in the number of miles motorists drove.

      Fatal complacency

      "Our complacency is killing us," said Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. "One hundred deaths every day should outrage us. Americans should demand change to prioritize safety actions and protect ourselves from one of the leading causes of preventable death."

      And that means focusing more on some of the other factors that no doubt contribute to highway deaths. Drinking and driving seems to be on the decline but distracted driving isn't. As we recently reported, drivers have gone from texting behind the wheel to actually engaging apps.

      The Council says drivers should never use a cell phone, even if it is in hands-free mode.

      Drowsy driving has also emerged as a contributing factor, and it isn't just long-haul truck drivers who are most likely to nod off. People who travel for business may be tempted to drive longer than their physical stamina allows, just to make the next appointment.

      Hersman says drivers should get plenty of sleep and take plenty of breaks during a long trip to remain alert.

      New cars are packed with airbags and other safety features. So why is the highway death toll still climbing?The National Safety Council's preliminary e...
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      Why you should know the risk factors and symptoms of a stroke

      Researchers say that educating the pubic may improve health outcomes

      One of the first steps in preventing a disease is knowing more about it. While scientists and researchers devote their lives to learning more about conditions like cancer or heart disease, the average U.S. citizen may not know much about a leading cause of death in this country – stroke.

       A report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year shows that 130,000 U.S. consumers die from stroke each year, or about one out of every 20 deaths. Unfortunately, not knowing more about this fatal condition can make it even more dangerous.

      In a recent study, over half of all patients who had suffered a stroke failed to recognize symptoms as they developed. Researchers believe that educating the general public about strokes may help improve overall health outcomes.

      Stroke risk factors

      The American Heart Association and American Stroke Association define stroke as a disease that affects arteries that carry blood and oxygen to the brain. When these arteries burst, rupture, or become blocked, the brain doesn’t get the resources it needs. This can result in brain cell death, as well as a range of short- and long-term issues, such as paralysis, vision problems, behavioral changes, memory loss, and speech problems.

      According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), there are several risk factors associated with stroke. While consumers cannot control some of them – such as age, race, or family history – others can be managed. These include factors like blood pressure, cigarette smoking, heart disease, diabetes, cholesterol imbalance, and obesity.

      Symptoms to look out for

      But how do you know when you are experiencing a stroke? It’s a problem that many people struggle with. One recent study found that 58.7% of patients in a trial group did not think they were having a stroke when it happened to them.

      NINDS states that there are several warning signs that consumers can observe to know if something is wrong. They include:

      • Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body;
      • Sudden confusion, or trouble talking or understanding speech;
      • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes;
      • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, or loss of balance or coordination; and
      • sudden severe headache with no known cause.

      Consumers can remember some of these symptoms by remembering the acronym FAST, which stands for Face, Arm, Speech, and Time. However, researchers from the aforementioned study say that many patients in their trial group displayed eye-related symptoms. They suggest that a small modification could help patients identify a greater range of stroke symptoms.

      “FASTER – Face, Arm, Speech, Time, Eyes, React – may be a better acronym,” said Professor Ashok Handa, senior author of the study.

      The full study has been published in the British Journal of Surgery.

      One of the first steps in preventing a disease is knowing more about it. While scientists and researchers devote their lives to learning more about conditi...
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      A new warning about subprime credit cards

      NerdWallet study says they can be predatory

      As we have pointed out here numerous times, there is a big difference between credit cards. In addition to the types of rewards and incentives they offer, they are targeted to different types of consumers.

      Cards for people with excellent credit tend to have the best rewards and lowest fees. Cards for people with subprime credit pretty much reside on the opposite end of that scale.

      A new report from personal finance site NerdWallet suggests something else: subprime credit cards – just like their cousin, the subprime mortgage – can be predatory.

      For the report, the authors looked at both internal and external data to identify the problems with these products and some possible solutions. Here are some of the key take-aways:

      First, the subprime credit card market is huge. If you have a low credit score, around 600 or below, the credit card in your wallet is likely a subprime card. Some 48 million consumers fall into that category.

      These consumers get the worst credit terms, if they can get credit at all. They may also pay higher insurance rates and can find their housing and job options limited.

      Industry can be predatory

      Next, the subprime credit industry can be predatory. We saw evidence of that during the housing bubble, when these borrowers got loans with low teaser rates that adjusted to double-digit levels after a couple of years. It was a contributing factor to the foreclosure crisis.

      The NerdWallet study says subprime credit cards have more complex agreements and fee structures than prime cards, yet they target a less-educated market. These cards are also more expensive.

      “Consumers with subprime credit are spending hundreds of dollars more in fees alone by opting for a credit card from a subprime specialist issuer,” the authors write.

      What to do

      For people with subprime credit, the best solution is to improve their credit score. If you have a subprime credit card, pay down the balance as much as possible before using it again. If possible, make only charges that you can pay in full at the end of the billing cycle.

      The best solution, the authors suggest, is putting the subprime card in a desk drawer and replacing it with a secured credit card. The credit limit is determined by the amount of money you deposit to secure it. But NerdWallet says you'll save, on average, $125 each year in fees.

      Finally, pay the bill on time every month. In fact, pay all of your bills on time every month, since that is the quickest route to an improved credit score.

      As we have pointed out here numerous times, there is a big difference between credit cards. In addition to the types of rewards and incentives they offer,...
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      Low gas prices painting automakers into a corner

      Having more SUVs on the road pulls down their fleet fuel economy rating

      Up until 2014, it appeared automakers were on cruise control as they worked their way toward meeting the government's mandated fuel economy standards, known as CAFE.

      But in late 2014, fuel prices began to rapidly decline and have stayed low ever since. As a result, consumer automotive preferences suddenly changed.

      Up until then, there was demand for small, fuel efficient four-cylinders, hybrids, and even electric cars. But consumers turned away from those vehicles in favor of trucks and SUVs.

      Skewing the average

      That's proved to be a problem for automakers, since the CAFE targets are based on the average fuel economy of a manufacturer's fleet. If there are more trucks and SUVs in the fleet, the average fuel economy goes down.

      Automakers asked federal regulators to take that into consideration, but last week the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) jointly finalized standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles that pretty much stick to previous targets, when there were more fuel efficient vehicles on the road. Those standards begin to take effect in 2018.

      EPA says the industry can still meet the targets because it possesses the technology to make trucks even more fuel efficient.

      “The final standards are expected to lower CO2 emissions by approximately 1.1 billion metric tons, save vehicle owners fuel costs of about $170 billion, and reduce oil consumption by up to two billion barrels over the lifetime of the vehicles sold under the program,” the agency said in a release.

      The government doesn't care'

      “It’s clear the government understands the fuel-efficiency challenge automakers will face because of shifting consumer preference toward trucks and SUVs,” said Kelly Blue Book senior analyst Karl Brauer, in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “It’s also clear the government doesn’t care.”

      Brauer says automakers may have erred in doing such a good job in meeting the CAFE standards every time the government raised them.

      “So good in fact that the EPA isn’t going to cut them any slack on the rising standards going forward,” he said. “No good deed…”

      Environmentalists have applauded the regulators' stand. But a report by American Action Forum predicts the costs of meeting the new standards could exceed $245 billion.

      Up until 2014, it appeared automakers were on cruise control as they worked their way toward meeting the government's mandated fuel economy standards, know...
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      Consumers face stiff challenges to saving

      Mounting debt and shrinking paychecks among the biggest

      Americans want to save money, and are trying to save money. But a new survey from the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. (CFP Board) shows consumers are having a hard time putting money away, even though they are increasingly optimistic about the future.

      The challenges may sound familiar. Mounting credit card bills, staggering student loan debt, payments on a new car that may stretch six or seven years into the future, and the day-to-day needs of a growing family.

      "CFP Board Consumer Advocate Eleanor Blayney says the U.S. economy has come a long way since the depths of the recession, but most Americans, regardless of income brackets, are just finding it hard to save for the future.

      Debt plus stagnant incomes

      "An inability to start saving early, debt and stagnant incomes are just a few of the factors driving Americans' financial anxiety," she said.

      The survey found nearly half of consumers in the survey said they don't always have enough money after paying the bills. Contributing to that situation, 35% said their household has seen a significant loss of income.

      About 34% point to existing debt as the chief reason they are unable to put money away on a consistent basis. But in spite of all that, just over half – 51% – said they are able to regularly save on a monthly basis.

      The survey includes a segmentation analysis that divides people into four groups, based on their ability to save and their feelings about money.

      Types of savers

      There are “Concerned Strivers,” who have relatively high incomes but still struggle to make ends meet. Even so, about half are able to save money on a regular basis.

      The “Confident Savers” place a major priority on setting aside for the future. In fact, they began saving for retirement around age 25.

      “Tentative Savers” are older and have relatively high incomes, but still worry about their ability to set money aside. Nearly two-thirds think they might not be saving enough for retirement.

      The last group is the “Stretched Worriers.” As the label implies, these consumers are most likely to be anxious about their financial futures. For this group, staying current on bills is a bigger priority than saving.

      Americans want to save money, and are trying to save money. But a new survey from the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. (CFP Board) show...
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      The surge in new home sales continues

      Housing prices were mixed

      Sales of new single-family houses rose in July for a second consecutive month.

      The Commerce Department reports sales shot up 12.4% from the revised seasonally adjusted annual rate of 582,000 in June to a rate of 654,000 last month. The sharp advance also put the July rate 31.3% above the year-ago rate of 498,000.

      Pricing and inventory

      New-home prices, on the other hand, were mixed. The median sales price of new houses sold in July was $294,600, down $15,900 from June and a decline of $1,400 from July 2015. The median is the point at which half the houses sold for more and half for less.

      The average sales price was $355,800, a gain of $2,300 from the month before and a year-over year advance of $13,900.

      The seasonally adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of July was 233,000, which translates into a supply of 4.3 months at the current sales rate.

      The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

      Sales of new single-family houses rose in July for a second consecutive month.The Commerce Department reports sales shot up 12.4% from the revised seas...
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      BMW recalls model year 2016-2017 MINI Clubman vehicles

      The side curtain airbags for front seat occupants may not deploy in the intended positions

      BMW of North America is recalling 7,810 model year 2016-2017 MINI Clubman vehicles manufactured August 19, 2015, through July 14, 2016.

      The side curtain airbags for the front seat occupants may not deploy in the intended positions in the event of a crash. As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 226, "Ejection Mitigation."

      If a side curtain airbag does not inflate as intended in the event of a crash, there is an increased risk of injury to the front seat occupants.

      What to do

      BMW will notify owners, and dealers will modify the driver and passenger side curtain air bag covers, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin September 12, 2016.

      Owners may contact BMW customer service at 1-800-525-7417 or email BMW at CustomerRelations@bmwusa.com.

      BMW of North America is recalling 7,810 model year 2016-2017 MINI Clubman vehicles manufactured August 19, 2015, through July 14, 2016. The side cu...
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      Why frequent lung cancer screenings are important to your health

      An initial negative screening is not a sure sign that everything is fine

      A new study from the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa underlines the importance of screening for lung cancer – a disease that is a leading cause of death for both men and women. The researchers say that although treatment of the disease is complicated, proper screening allows healthcare professionals the ability to diagnose and treat it at its earliest stages.

      The study found that patients who initially tested negative for lung cancer but later went on to develop it one or two years later tended to develop a more aggressive and lethal form of the disease. As a result, patients who initially have negative test results may actually end up with worse health outcomes, so frequent screenings should not be avoided.

      “Our findings suggest that individuals who originally present with negative screens and develop lung cancer 12 or 24 months later develop faster growing, more aggressive cancers that arose from a lung environment previously lacking abnormalities,” said Dr. Matthew B. Schabath.

      Importance of frequent screenings

      One of the major factors that the researchers discuss in the study is the need for consumers to have high-quality lung cancer screenings on a frequent basis. According to the National Lung Screening Trial, lung cancer screening using low-dose helical computed tomography (LDCT) reduced cancer deaths by 20% when compared to standard X-ray screens.

      Using information from this trial, the researchers attempted to see how patient outcomes differed from their initial screening to their 12- and 24-month LDCT screenings. They found that, although LDCT screens are responsible for a reduction in cancer deaths, an initial negative screening was not always a sure sign of prolonged health.

      Patients who initially tested negative but later tested positive at the 12- and 24-month screenings were found to have lower survival and higher mortality rates than patients who initially received a positive screening for a cancer abnormality that later manifested into lung cancer.

      So what’s the takeaway? The findings show that consumers should not put off lung cancer screenings because of an initial negative test result. By having frequent screenings, doctors stand a better chance of catching an abnormality early and starting treatment.

      Smokers at high risk

      Another caveat of the study discusses how smoking affects the frequency of screenings. Current guidelines suggest that consumers between the ages of 55 and 74 get regular LDCT screenings if they ever smoked at least one pack of cigarettes per day for 30 years or more. This is also advised for previously heavy smokers who may have quit within the last 15 years.

      The researchers point out that although an individual may have stopped smoking years ago, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t at an increased risk of developing lung cancer.

      “Although tobacco cessation is one of the most important ways to reduce your risk of lung cancer, screening is a proven method to detect lung cancer earlier when it is easier to treat. Moreover, screening is not a one-time event. For it to be effective, high-risk individuals need to be screened on regular yearly intervals,” said Schabath.

      The full study has been published in PLOS ONE.

      A new study from the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa underlines the importance of screening for lung cancer – a disease that is a leading cause of death for...
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      Why home prices may continue to rise

      Because there simply are not enough of them for sale

      Month after month it seems to be the same story. Home prices go up, even if sales for the month are flat, or even lower.

      It's a trend that has been in place since the housing recovery began, and it has begun to affect affordability.

      The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index (HOI) released last week found that 62% of new and existing homes sold between the beginning of April and the end of June were affordable to families earning the median income of $65,700. That's down from 65% in the first quarter.

      Nationally, the median home price increased $17,000, from $223,000 in the first quarter to $240,000 in the second quarter. Interest rates are below 4%, but that's not what's driving the dramatic price rise.

      During the housing bubble, prices rose because almost anyone could qualify for a mortgage. The demand for housing sent prices skyrocketing to unsustainable levels.

      Not enough homes for sale

      Demand is also responsible for rising prices today, but for very different reasons than a decade ago. There simply are not enough homes for sale. Fewer existing homes and fewer new homes.

      Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for realtor.com, says new home construction has failed to keep up with demand since the recovery. He doesn't expect to see that changing soon.

      “Single-family is continuing to show gains, but the gains in permits are weaker than the gains in starts,” Smoke said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “Builders are starting what they already permitted earlier this year but are not bullish about demand this fall and winter.”

      New homes typically cost more than existing homes and housing experts say construction costs have gone up since the housing crash. For that reason, builders have largely focused on multi-family units and luxury single-family homes.

      Smoke says the seasonally adjusted rate of permitting in July was not statistically significant. On a year-to-date basis, permits are up in every region but the Northeast.

      Shrinking inventory

      At the same time, there are fewer existing homes for sale. In its June existing home sales report, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) noted that inventory levels continue to decline. Total housing inventory at the end of the month was 2.12 million homes, nearly 6% fewer than a year ago. Inventory was at a 4.6-month supply, down form 4.7 months in May.

      With supply and demand out of balance, the result is fewer renters can afford to buy. Those who can afford it may have difficulty finding a house they like.

      Month after month it seems to be the same story. Home prices go up, even if sales for the month are flat, or even lower.It's a trend that has been in p...
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      Child safety hazards you may have overlooked

      Tips for preventing household accidents

      Many young children are adept at finding trouble around the house. There’s often no predicting where kids’ curiosity will lead them, but parents can try to make sure their home is safe at every turn.

      But even if you’ve padded sharp corners and installed childproof locks on the kitchen cabinets, your home may still be unsafe for kids. Parents overlook a number of hidden household hazards, experts say.

      Windows and window coverings may pose an especially big risk to children. In fact, corded window coverings are among the top five hidden hazards in American homes, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

      Kids may become entangled in window covering cords, but parents and caregivers can prevent accidents like this from happening by making one important change.

      Go cordless

      In homes with young children, safety advocates say cordless window coverings (or those with inaccessible cords) are the way to go.

      Instead of using window blinds and corded shades, the Window Covering Safety Council recommends using cordless products. (Bonus points if they come with a Best for Kids label certification.)

      In addition to preventing accidental entanglement by swapping corded window coverings for cordless coverings, parents may also want to address the following child safety hazards.

      Other hidden hazards

      Accidents are bound to happen in homes with toddlers and young children, but not every potential accident will be as innocuous as spilled juice. To keep kids safe, parents should watch out for the following hazards.

      • Plants. Certain common plants may be dangerous if ingested. Plants that should be kept off limits to kids include: Lily of the Valley, Hydrangea, Rhododendron, Poinsettia, Purple Nightshade, Mountain Laurel, Mistletoe, and Water Hemlock.
      • Vehicles. Even on a temperate day, a parked car isn’t a safe place for kids to play. Temperatures inside a vehicle can rise 30 to 40 degrees in an hour, according to WebMD. Parents should keep vehicles locked and keys hidden from children.
      • Open windows. Letting a cool breeze circulate throughout your home may be pleasant, but having the windows open can be dangerous in homes with children. Opening windows from the top instead of the bottom can help prevent falling accidents. Additionally, parents can install window guards and stoppers.
      • Non-anchored furniture. Unsecured furniture and TVs also made the CPSC’s list of top five hidden hazards in the home. To prevent tip-over accidents, parents should anchor tall, heavy furniture that is capable of tipping.
      • Hot playground equipment. When your backyard playset isn't in use, the sun may be beating down on its slides, swings, and other equipment. Before letting kids play, parents should check equipment to make sure it won’t cause burns.  
      Many young children are adept at finding trouble around the house. There’s often no predicting where kids’ curiosity will lead them, but parents can try to...
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      Revised fees proposed for taxpayers using installment plan

      Some are rising, others remain the same

      If you're a taxpayer who uses the installment plan to settle up with Uncle Sam, you need to know that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is proposing a revised schedule of user fees that would take effect on Jan. 1, 2017.

      Federal agencies are required to charge a user fee to recover the cost of providing certain services to the public that confer a special benefit to the recipient. While some installment agreement fees will go up, the IRS will continue providing reduced-fee or no-cost services to low-income taxpayers.

      Changes on the way

      The revised installment agreement fees of up to $225 would be higher for some taxpayers than those currently in effect, which can be up to $120. However, under this revision, any affected taxpayer could qualify for a reduced fee by making a request online using the Online Payment Agreement application on IRS.gov.

      Additionally, there would be no change to the current $43 rate that applies to the approximately one in three taxpayer requests that qualify under low-income guidelines. These guidelines, which change with family size, would qualify a family of four with total income of around $60,000 or less to pay the lower fee.

      Also, for the first time, any taxpayer regardless of income would qualify for a new low $31 rate by requesting an installment agreement online and choosing to pay what is owed through direct debit.

      The top rate of $225 applies to taxpayers who enter into an installment agreement in person, over the phone, by mail, or by filing Form 9465 with the IRS. However, a taxpayer who establishes an agreement in this manner can substantially cut the fee to just $107 by choosing to make monthly payments by direct debit from their bank account.

      Alternatively, a taxpayer who chooses to set up an installment agreement using the agency’s Online Payment Agreement application will pay a fee of $149. Similarly, this amount can be cut to just $31 by also choosing direct debit.

      Proposed fees

      Here is the proposed schedule of user fees:

        Regular installment agreement$225
        Regular direct debit installment agreement$107
        Online payment agreement $149
        Direct debit online payment agreement$31
        Restructured or reinstated installment agreement  $89
        Low-income rate$43
      If you're a taxpayer who uses the installment plan to settle up with Uncle Sam, you need to know that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is proposing a rev...
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      Chrysler recalls Jeep Renegades with factory-installed trailer hitch package

      The trailer hitch assembly may separate from the vehicle

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 8,561 model year 2015-2016 Jeep Renegades manufactured August 25, 2014, to June 25, 2016, equipped with a factory-installed optional trailer hitch package.

      The trailer hitch assembly may have been attached with only a single fastener per side, not three per side as required.

      Without the proper number of fasteners, the trailer hitch assembly may separate from the vehicle, and any towed vehicle may no longer be properly connected, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will install two additional fasteners per side, 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 S62.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 8,561 model year 2015-2016 Jeep Renegades manufactured August 25, 2014, to June 25, 2016, equipped with a factory-instal...
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      Model year 2013 Elantras recalled

      The brake light switch plunger can remain extended when the brake pedal is released

      Hyundai Motor America is recalling 64,500 model year 2013 Elantras manufactured December 1, 2012, to April 30, 2013.

      The brake pedal stopper pad can deteriorate allowing the brake light switch plunger to remain extended when the brake pedal is released.

      If the brake light switch plunger does not retract as it should when the brake pedal is not being pressed, the brake lights may stay illuminated preventing accurate communication to following vehicles that the vehicle is slowing or stopping.

      Additionally, if the brake switch plunger is not retracted, then the transmission can be shifted out of PARK without depressing the brake pedal. Either condition increases the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Hyundai will notify owners, and dealers will replace the brake pedal stopper pad with an improved part, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on September 30, 2016.

      Owners may contact Hyundai customer service at 1-855-371-9460. Hyundai's number for this recall is 146.

      Hyundai Motor America is recalling 64,500 model year 2013 Elantras manufactured December 1, 2012, to April 30, 2013. The brake pedal stopper pad ca...
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      Researchers identify four risk factors linked to preterm births

      Controlling for these factors can help expecting mothers avoid a dangerous situation

      One of the natural things that most couples do when they’re having a baby is to make a timetable for when the birth is expected to happen. Unfortunately, life usually has a plan of its own, and babies can sometimes come sooner than expected.

      According to the March of Dimes Perinatal Data Center, the preterm birth rate in the U.S. was 9.6% last year. The risks associated with these kinds of births include cognitive disabilities, visual and hearing impairments, and poor overall health; some experts have even gone so far as to link preterm births with behavioral and emotional problems.

      However, a new study has found that up to a quarter of all preterm births in the U.S. may be avoidable. The researchers say that a large number of preterm births come down to only a few factors that parents have control over.

      “The highest risks for premature birth were in women who were underweight, had poor weight gain during pregnancy, or short periods of time between pregnancies. However, excessive weight gain in obese women also increased risk,” said Emily DeFranco, physician-researcher at the Center for Prevention of Preterm Birth at Cincinnati Children’s.

      Risk factors

      DeFranco and her colleagues came to their conclusions after analyzing birth records for the state of Ohio between the years of 2006 and 2011. These statistics included information on over 400,000 live, non-multiple births.

      The researchers found that the four aforementioned risk factors were present in 90% of all preterm cases in the Ohio samples. Weight issues were a particular problem with these women, as only 90% of them began their pregnancy at an ideal weight and only 32% achieved the recommended weight during their pregnancy.

      Ohio is not the only state that is plagued by preterm births, though. A study conducted by March of Dimes shows several states had much higher preterm birth rates. The worst offenders include Alabama (11.7%), Louisiana (12.3%), and Mississippi (12.9%). The states with the lowest preterm birth rates were Washington (8.1%), Idaho (8.1%), Vermont (7.9%), and Oregon (7.7%).

      Lowering preterm birth rates

      DeFranco believes that the best way to lower preterm birth rates is to make sure women are educated and informed about optimal pregnancy conditions.

      “Attention should be paid to educational interventions on the importance of birth spacing, achieving an optimal pre-pregnancy weight, and ensuring adequate nutrition and weight gain during pregnancy,” she said.

      “Improvements in these modifiable risk factors could have significant influence on premature birth and infant mortality worldwide.”

      The full study has been published in Maternal and Child Health Journal

      One of the natural things that most couples do when they’re having a baby is to make a timetable for when the birth is expected to happen. Unfortunately, l...
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      Oil prices keep trying to push higher

      What's that going to mean for gasoline prices?

      Motorists are still enjoying relatively low gasoline prices, but they should keep a wary eye on the price of oil. This week it has marched consistently higher, with Brent crude now topping $50 a barrel.

      That's significant because the main reason gas prices are so low is the over-abundance of crude oil. For the last two years, Saudi Arabia has been trying to put U.S. shale oil producers out of business, and it has been fairly successful. The result has been a huge oversupply of oil and falling prices.

      But the latest data from the Department of Energy shows the glut of oil is getting smaller and the market has responded by bidding up the price of crude oil, expecting it will go even higher once OPEC goes back to normal production.

      Bull market for oil

      According to Business Insider, oil is about to re-enter a bull market phase, which could be bad news for consumers. In a bull market, the smart money bets a commodity will go higher, and the inflow of cash usually guarantees that result.

      One only has to look back to 2008, when the U.S. was already in a recession, but traders were convinced oil prices would keep going up – and they did, topping out well over $100 a barrel in July of that year.

      The Business Insider report cites four reasons why it thinks oil prices will keep going up; a weak dollar, a strong likelihood OPEC will trim production; falling U.S. stockpiles; and hedge funds now sense a change in direction.

      That last one could be huge. Once hedge funds start buying oil futures, look out. Prices could quickly escalate.

      Gas prices react

      Already, gasoline prices have started to react. The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of self-serve regular is $2.14 a gallon, up a penny from the day before and up two cents from seven days ago.

      Still, that price is six cents lower than a month ago and – providing some perspective – 51 cents lower than a year ago. So even a sharp move higher in oil prices shouldn't drive gasoline prices to a level where drivers feel pain.

      In 2008, the national average price at the pump topped out at more than $4 gallon. That's not likely to happen again for one simple reason. The U.S. oil industry, which has basically gone into hibernation the last two years, can quickly spring to life should oil prices reach the level where it is profitable for them to do so.

      Fortunately for consumers, that price isn't much higher than the current price of oil.

      Motorists are still enjoying relatively low gasoline prices, but they should keep a wary eye on the price of oil. This week it has marched consistently hig...
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      Eddie Bauer reports data breach

      It's the second retail intrusion report this week

      If you recently used a debit or credit card at Eddie Bauer, your card information could be compromised.

      The company reports its point of sale systems at its stores were infected with malware, giving hackers access to payment card data. If you used a card to make an online purchase at eddiebauer.com, no worries – the online portal was not affected.

      According to the investigation, in-store payments between January 2 and July 17 may have been compromised. “May have been,” because the company says not all cardholder transactions during this time were affected. The problem is, there is no way to know which ones were and which ones weren't.

      “The security of our customers’ information is a top priority for Eddie Bauer,” said CEO Mike Egeck, Chief Executive Officer of Eddie Bauer.

      Egeck says Eddie Bauer has already beefed up its cyber-security and no customers will be responsible for any fraudulent charges to their accounts.

      Getting to be a common occurrence

      This is just the latest in a string of data breaches in which hackers have targeted large retail operations. Security experts say these targets are more attractive than individual consumers because the payoff is potentially much greater.

      In recent years, major retailers like Michael's, Target, and TJ Maxx have been victims of point of sale data intrusions. Earlier this week, a major hotel chain announced it had become a victim.

      On Monday, HEI Hotels & Resorts, which operates Hyatt, Sheraton, Marriott, and Westin hotels, revealed that hackers had penetrated the company's point-of-sale systems. Consumers who used a card at the bar or to pay for a room may have been compromised, the company said.

      HEI reported malware in its system at 20 hotels across the country and says that data collection may have started as early as March, 2015.

      What do you do now?

      Eddie Bauer says not all transactions at its stores were affected, but it is still offering identity protection services to everyone who used a card to make a purchase during the period of the breach. The company said it has contracted with Kroll to provide free service for 12 months.

      Additionally, consumers who used a debit or credit card at Eddie Bauer during the affected period should notify their card issuer and ask for a new card.

      It is also a good idea to go back and review account statements beginning in January to look for unauthorized charges that might have been overlooked.

      If you recently used a debit or credit card at Eddie Bauer, your card information could be compromised.The company reports its point of sale systems at...
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      The good and bad news about underwater homeowners

      Negative equity down sharply since the housing collapse, but still pretty high

      It's not as bad as it was, but it's still not very good.

      That's the bottom line of Zillow's latest report on negative equity in residential real estate, the percentage of homeowners who still owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth.

      Nationally, 13.7% of urban homeowners are underwater, compared to 11.2% of homeowners in the suburbs.

      The numbers, of course, present something of a “glass is half full/empty” scenario. While the percentage is double digits five years after the housing market began its recovery, it is down sharply from the nearly one-third of homeowners who found themselves underwater on their mortgages immediately after the housing market crash.

      At that time, real estate values plunged because so many homes financed with subprime mortgages had gone into foreclosure. Home values had inflated to unrealistic proportions because almost anyone could qualify for some kind of mortgage, increasing demand for homes beyond anything sustainable.

      Bad timing

      People who purchased homes in 2006 or 2007, when prices reached their peak, were the most likely to find themselves owning tens of thousands of dollars more on their homes than they could sell them for. Not only could they not sell their homes, they could not refinance them either. That led to many foreclosures when homeowners who purchased homes with low “teaser” interest rates could not refinance to a lower rate and more affordable payment.

      Now, eight years after the housing market collapsed and five years after it started to recover, the Zillow Negative Equity Report finds a remarkable parity between urban and suburban property. That's largely due to the fact that home prices recovered sharply in cities because younger home buyers prefer an urban setting.

      But Zillow found some metro areas where the spread between urban and suburban negative equity rates is significant. Cleveland and Detroit have the biggest difference – 13.6 and 10.8 percentage points, respectively. In these metros, urban home values aren't reflecting the national trend and are trailing behind the overall region's recovery.

      Nearly everyone was affected

      "At its worst, negative equity touched all kinds of homeowners in all kinds of markets," said Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Svenja Gudell. "The type of community a given home was in – urban or suburban – mattered little.”

      That's not the case now. In some cities, new residents have flocked to the urban core, renovating properties and revitalizing neighborhoods. It's these developments, says Gudell, that has helped to raise urban home values.

      The overall rise in home prices over the last five years has also helped shrink the negative equity rate from crisis levels. And for the first time since then, Zillow notes, none of the largest housing markets in the nation have negative equity rates over 20%.

      It's not as bad as it was, but it's still not very good.That's the bottom line of Zillow's latest report on negative equity in residential real estate,...
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      Are smartphones in cars just too distracting?

      Drivers are now more likely to be accessing apps than texting

      For years now safety experts have preached to drivers about the dangers of texting behind the wheel. And though people still do it, many are getting the message. Fewer admit to doing it than in the past.

      But the danger isn't going away, and it appears to be tied directly to the smartphone. Drivers – especially young drivers – aren't texting as much because they are too busy using apps while they drive.

      A survey released this month by Liberty Mutual Insurance and Students against Destructive Driving (SADD) found just 27% of teen drivers report texting behind the wheel but 68% admit to using an app, usually reading or posting to social media.

      Needless to say, the experts stress, that's not just as bad – it's worse. But teen drivers overwhelmingly don't see it that way. Eighty percent of the teens in the study insist that using an app while driving is not distracting.

      Not a distraction, teens say

      “Teens as a whole are saying all the right things, but implicitly believe that using their phone while driving is safe and not a stressor or distraction behind the wheel,” said Dr. Gene Beresin, senior advisor on adolescent psychiatry with SADD.

      Teens aren't the only offenders. Plenty of adults of all ages have been caught texting or posting to Snapchat behind the wheel. A Pennsylvania TV station aired a photo supplied by a viewer that appears to show a woman steering with one foot while she uses both hands to access her smartphone.

      Newly-passed state laws against texting while driving appear to have had little impact, even though insurance companies will raise your rates should you be ticketed for an infraction.

      The SADD study suggests many teens consider navigation and music apps on their phones as “utilities,” lessening the perception of dangers of accessing them while driving. Vehicle Bluetooth systems that provide hands-free access for smartphone apps through the vehicle's infotainment system may have fostered what some believe to be a false sense of security.

      AAA study

      A 2013 study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found even hands-free devices are dangerous, because the mental workload and distractions can slow reaction. Drivers scan the road less and miss visual cues, potentially resulting in not seeing items right in front of them, including stop signs and pedestrians.

      It is in this light that automakers are speeding up efforts to produce self-driving cars. While some safety advocates worry these autonomous vehicles will be inherently dangerous, there are plenty of others who think they will make the roads safer, because the people who would ordinarily be driving them are in the back seat, updating their Facebook profiles.

      In the meantime, insurance companies make clear that it isn't just texting that is the problem. It's the device itself, and all the things a driver may be tempted to do with it. Dr. William Horrey, a research scientist at Libery Mutual, says it's not the apps that pose the danger. It's how people interact with them.

      For years now safety experts have preached to drivers about the dangers of texting behind the wheel. And though people still do it, many are getting the me...
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      Study shows U.S. consumers are saving more for retirement

      Younger demographics are leading this financially-conscious movement

      About a year ago, a survey showed that U.S. consumers were becoming less inclined to save for retirement because they didn’t want to sacrifice their current quality of life. While they considered tools like a 401(k) plan to be integral towards future security, many just weren’t willing to commit to it.

      Now, a new study conducted by Bankrate.com shows a reversing trend; it says that more American workers are saving for retirement. Experts say that this could be a positive sign for a growing economy.

      “More working Americans are saving more for retirement and fewer aren’t saving at all,” said Greg McBride, Bankrate.com’s Chief Financial Analyst. “Both readings are indicative of an improving economy, where people are earning more and saving more.”

      Gen Xers and Millennials lead the way

      The results of the study show that 21% of working Americans are now saving more for retirement than they were a year ago, the strongest improvement in five years. Additionally, fewer people are completely forgoing the saving process; only 5% of survey respondents admitted that they hadn’t saved anything this year or last year, the lowest result in the history of the study.

      So which generations are leading the way in this new financially-conscious movement? Experts say that consumers belonging to Generation X (age 34-54) are saving the most, followed by Millennials (age 18-25). Members of the Silent Generation (age 71+) are saving the least, followed by younger Baby Boomers (ae 52-61).

      McBride says that members of the Silent Generation may be less inclined to save because they are reaching the phase of life where they will be entering retirement; however, not saving can still be very problematic for this group and Baby Boomers.

      “Younger Baby Boomers saving less for retirement than last year is troubling because they’re more likely in their peak earning years and should be utilizing higher catch-up contribution limits to get on track for retirement. Those in the Silent Generation that are saving less may be a function of earning less as they phase into retirement,” he said. 

      About a year ago, a survey showed that U.S. consumers were becoming less inclined to save for retirement because they didn’t want to sacrifice their curren...
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      Autism friendly initiatives making shopping less stressful for kids

      Low lights and no music are helping retailers create a sensory-friendly experience

      For children with autism, the chaos of back-to-school shopping is felt on a different level. Busy department stores can be overwhelming with their bright lights, music, and hordes of people.

      For this reason, JC Penney decided to host a special shopping event for families of children with autism and special needs. In the interest of making back-to-school shopping a more sensory friendly experience, the retailer dimmed the lights and cut the music for two hours.

      “We’re in about 50 percent lighting,” General Manager Jay Tollett told CW33. Beyond reducing brightness and turning off the music, employees were asked to wear neutral colors and no perfume on August 14.

      Autism-friendly service

      In addition to coming clad in neutrals, employees were trained to provide autism-friendly customer service as part of a collaboration with the Dallas Independent School District.

      The shopping event was met with appreciation from parents like Lacinetta Coxon, a mother of two autistic daughters. Coxon said she felt understood and included rather than “on the outskirts.”

      Employees were just as happy to provide the experience, said Tollett, who hopes to make the event an annual tradition at more locations.

      Other initiatives 

      JC Penney isn’t the first retailer to roll out a welcome mat to families of children with autism. In Glasgow, an entire shopping mall has taken steps to become more autism friendly. In 2014, 61 Toys R Us locations in England became autism friendly for a day.

      One Walmart-owned store in England introduced a "quiet hour" every Saturday morning to make shopping less stressful for kids with autism and disablities. 

      "When we open our doors, you will be able to hear a pin drop," store manager Simon Lea told the Manchester Evening News. "We have a lot of disabled customers and we want to make the shop better for them."

      A shopping mall in Holyoke, Massachussettes has also introduced a sensory-friendly shopping experience, complete with sensory-friendly time with Santa near the holidays.

      For children with autism, the chaos of back-to-school shopping is felt on a different level. Busy department stores can be overwhelming with their bright l...
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      Scientists discover potential target for treating Huntington's disease

      Using a process that allows harmful proteins to be removed is the key

      Neurodegenerative diseases have always been a problem for the scientific and medical communities because of how difficult they are to treat. Some diseases, like Huntington’s, currently have no treatment options that can stop or slow its progression.

      But a potential new treatment for the disease may be on the horizon thanks to scientists at the Gladstone Institutes. Researchers there have found that using a process called phosphorylation can help prevent symptoms of Huntington’s disease by changing a key protein to be less toxic and damaging.

      Reducing symptoms

      Being able to change this one protein could make all the difference for those suffering from Huntington’s disease. Up to this point, the disease was caused by a faulty gene that forced the “Huntingtin protein” to fold up incorrectly. This folded protein causes a lot of damage to surrounding cells, and it is not a problem that our bodies can deal with on their own.

      However, using phosphorylation allows the protein to be changed so that the body can dispose of it more easily. Researchers tested the process in mice models with positive results.

      “I was shocked at the profound effect phosphorylation had on the Huntington’s model mice. They showed few signs of the motor dysfunction, depression, or anxiety that are characteristic of the disease. In most of our tests, they were virtually indistinguishable from healthy mice,” said first author Dr. Ian Kratter.

      Treating other diseases

      The researchers believe that this process could also be potentially beneficial for treating other neurodegenerative diseases.

      “Phosphorylation helps control how proteins fold and the systems in cells that clear proteins. This is exciting because a lot of work we’ve done points to these protein removal pathways as being important not only for Huntington’s disease, but also for other neurodegenerative disorders. Understanding how phosphorylation links to these pathways could help treat several different brain diseases,” said senior investigator Steve Finkbeiner.

      The researchers are currently working towards finding a way to mimic the effects of phosphorylation so that it can be used in drug form. The full study has been published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

      Neurodegenerative diseases have always been a problem for the scientific and medical communities because of how difficult they are to treat. Some diseases,...
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      Sprint joins Southwest, Delta in bad backup derby

      9-1-1 service fails throughout the Washington, D.C., area

      Everyone tries to be on their best behavior in Washington, hoping Congress won't get annoyed and crush them. Too bad no one told Sprint about that before it joined Southwest and Delta airlines in staging a spectacular display of poor redundancy.

      It all started Tuesday when the Fairfax County (Va.) Police Department issued a warning that some cell phone calls weren't getting through to its 9-1-1 center. Then it narrowed it down a bit more, pinpointing Sprint as the carrier that was having problems.

      As the day wore on, the problem spread to D.C. and on into Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and the tristate peninsula known locally as the Eastern Shore. Sprint chimed in and said that some landline calls were also going nowhere.

      What could it have been?

      Like the Southwest and Delta failures, the Sprint debacle started small and then quickly got out of hand when backups didn't work as expected and small failures cascaded into big ones.

      Sprint said a fire in D.C. caused problems at Sprint's data center in Reston, Va. How a fire across the street from Sprint's switch in D.C. caused issues 20 miles away wasn't quite clear, but apparently, emergency Sprint generators in D.C. didn't kick in as they were supposed to and, as so often happens, one thing led to another.

      Things were apparently back on track Wednesday morning. As far as is known, no one was harmed because of the outage, but it was another reminder that the systems consumers count on to be there when they need them don't always come through. 

      And by the way, emergency responders for years have insisted on referring to the nationwide emergency number as "9-1-1" -- with dashes -- on the theory that if we call it "nine-eleven," panicked callers may look in vain for the "11" button on their keypad. 

      Could be, but in the age of texting, do we really expect anyone to text "9," then "-," then "1," then "-" and so on?

      Just asking.

      Everyone tries to be on their best behavior in Washington, hoping Congress won't get annoyed and crush them. Too bad no one told Sprint about that before i...
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      Google offers how-to-vote information

      No, it's not telling you which candidate to vote for

      We ask Google for information, instructions, and directions everyday, so why not ask it how to vote? No, not which candidate to vote for, but how to register, when and where to go to the polls, and other information that's specific to our locality.

      After all, the United States may be the world's greatest democracy, but it is also the world's greatest patchwork of local laws and customs and few things differ more from one place to another than local registration and voting procedures.

      Google is riding to the rescue with what it calls an in-depth search result when consumers use the search term "how to vote." You may have to specify which state you're in but, let's be honest, Google pretty much knows everything about you, so it will most likely get it right even without your input.

      Here's what Google coughed up when we asked it how to vote in hotly contested Virginia:

      Google isn't the only company to think of doing this, of course, but it is by far the largest and most far-reaching. Google's special search does seem to downplay one vital piece of information -- whether you're already registered to vote, although it does provide accurate information on how to register, although it provides an obscure link under the heading "More voting info." The link will take you to your state voter registration site.

      Whether you are already registered is something you can also find out at Vote.org, which has an "Am I Registered to Vote" search function that will take you to your state registrar. We tried that out as well and found that, sure enough, it had our voter info, including precinct number, polling place, and hours of operation.

      Will Google's efforts make a difference this year? No one can really say. Experts already disagree on whether to expect a record turn-out this year. Since both candidates have sky-high unlikeability ratings, you can argue it either way.

      Some say that since both candidates are roundly despised by a significant slice of the popular, turn-out will be low. Others say it will be high, for just the same reason, theorizing that those who really, truly, vehemently dislike one candidate may be highly motivated to go vote for the other one. 

      Who's right? We'll know in a few months.  

      We ask Google for information, instructions, and directions everyday, so why not ask it how to vote? No, not which candidate to vote for, but how to regist...
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      Student loan borrowers are paying for free services

      Consumer groups urge for a federal crackdown on the debt relief industry

      Back during the foreclosure crisis, debt relief companies took to the cable TV airwaves to promise consumers help getting out from under debt – for a fee.

      The foreclosure crisis is now pretty much history, so the pitch now is to help students get out from under crushing student loan debt – for a fee.

      Student Debt Crisis, a consumer advocacy group, warns consumers to ignore these pitches while pushing the U.S. Department of Education to crack down on them.

      According to the group, student loan borrowers are the targets of aggressive marketing by companies that promise debt relief. The group says clients of these firms pay on average $600 for debt relief services.

      But according to Student Debt Crisis, these same services are free. It's calling on the Department of Education and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to issue cease and desist letters to these companies, establish policies that educate borrowers and protect them from scams, and use available enforcement tools to shut down companies that are found guilty of misleading borrowers and violating federal law.

      'Rein in these private companies'

      “It is time for the federal government to rein in these private companies that take advantage of thousands of distressed student loan borrowers across the country,” the group said in a blog posting. “Companies that advertise student debt relief, forgiveness, and consolidation services that are completely free of charge need to be closely monitored and shutdown if found guilty of misrepresenting themselves or violating federal consumer protection laws.”

      The Department of Education is already on record warning student loan borrowers not to pay for free services. In a recent blog posting, the department cautioned consumers paying back student loans not to fall for pitches that sound too good to be true. As examples, it pointed to internet ads claiming President Obama could easily forgive student loan debts.

      The government agency says that, while it is true there are some programs available to assist student loan borrowers, there is no fee for applying.

      Want to find out more? Here's the link for information about a legitimate way to reduce your debt. Here's the link to information about how to reduce payments.

      And it bears repeating – there is absolutely no charge for accessing these programs.

      Back during the foreclosure crisis, debt relief companies took to the cable TV airwaves to promise consumers help getting out from under debt – for a fee....
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      Delta reveals new suites for business class passengers

      Each suite comes with a fully reclining seat and divider for privacy

      Recently, airlines have been trying to think up new ways to squeeze more passengers on flights. Back in March, United Airlines said it would be adding one additional seat to every row in coach on some of its planes. Moves like this have irked many consumers who think that there isn’t enough room to go around on flights already.

      Now, in a surprising reversal, Delta Air Lines has announced that it will be providing “suites” to passengers who want to pay for more privacy. The company says that its new Airbus A350 jets will have 32 of these new spaces located in business class.

      Each suite comes equipped with a host of amenities, including a full-height door, sliding privacy dividers, customizable ambient lighting, personal stowage spaces, an 18-inch entertainment monitor, universal power outlets, and a high-powered USB port.

      Customers looking to sleep through the flight are also in luck. The seats located in these suites will be able to fully recline, making a sort of makeshift bed.

      “Delta constantly listens to customers and responds with products that deliver what they want. After setting the standard with the introduction of full flat-bed seats with direct aisle access in 2008, Delta is again elevating the international business class experience,” said Delta Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Tim Mapes.

      The new Delta One suites are scheduled to debut in the fall of 2017.

      Recently, airlines have been trying to think up new ways to squeeze more passengers on flights. Back in March, United Airlines said it would be adding one ...
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      Mortgage applications down again

      Contract interest rates were generally lower

      Mortgage applications have fallen for the fourth time in five weeks.

      The Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey shows applications were off 4.0% during the week ending August 12. The Refinance Index was down 4% as well, while the refinance share of mortgage activity inched up to 62.6% of total applications from 62.4% a week earlier

      The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity came to 4.6% of total applications; the FHA share of total applications was 9.6%; the VA share of total applications rose to 13.2% from 13.0% a week earlier; and the USDA share of total applications 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) inched one basis point lower -- to 3.64% from 3.65%, with points decreasing to 0.31 from 0.34 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) fell from 3.64% to 3.60%, with points decreasing to 0.28 from 0.31 (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 3.49%, with points decreasing to 0.28 from 0.33 (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 2.90% from 2.93%, with points decreasing to 0.32 from 0.34 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs rose four basis points to 2.85%, with points decreasing to 0.17 from 0.32 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.

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

      Mortgage applications have fallen for the fourth time in five weeks.The Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey shows applic...
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      Housing markets continue to regain their footing

      The upward trajectory is expected to continue

      It hasn't been quick and it hasn't been easy, but the housing market is moving steadily toward what has traditionally been considered “normal.”

      According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/First American Leading Markets Index (LMI), markets in 146 of the approximately 340 metro areas across the U.S. returned to or exceeded their last normal levels of economic and housing activity in the second quarter. This marks a year-over-year net gain of 66 markets.

      The index’s nationwide score is now up to .97, which means that based on current permit, price, and employment data, the nationwide average is running at 97% of normal economic and housing activity. Additionally, 91% of markets have shown an improvement year over year.

      “This gradual uptick is in line with NAHB’s forecast for a slow but steady recovery of the housing market,” said NAHB Chairman Ed Brady. “With a strengthening economy, solid job growth and low mortgage interest rates, the market should continue on an upward trajectory throughout the rest of the year.”

      Measurable progress

      Baton Rouge, La., again tops the list of major metros on the LMI, with a score of 1.61 -- or 61% better than its last normal market level. Other major metros at the head of the list include Austin, Texas; Honolulu; and San Jose, Calif. Rounding out the top 10 are Houston; Provo, Utah; Spokane, Wash.; Nashville, Tenn.; Los Angeles; and Oklahoma City.

      Among smaller metros, both Odessa and Midland, Texas, have LMI scores of 2.0 or better, meaning that their markets are now at double their strength prior to the recession. Also at the top of that group are Manhattan, Kan.; Walla Walla, Wash.; and Grand Forks, N.D.

      The LMI examines metro areas to identify those that are now approaching and exceeding their previous normal levels of economic and housing activity. Approximately 340 metro areas are scored by taking their average permit, price, and employment levels for the past 12 months and dividing each by their annual average over the last period of normal growth.

      For single-family permits and home prices, 2000-2003 is used as the last normal period, and for employment, 2007 is the base comparison. The three components are then averaged to provide an overall score for each market; a national score is calculated based on national measures of the three metrics.

      An index value above one indicates that a market has advanced beyond its previous normal level of economic activity.

      “Among the LMI components, house prices are making the most far-reaching progress, with almost 97% of markets having returned to or exceeded their last normal levels. Meanwhile, 78 metros have reached or exceeded normal employment activity,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “Single-family permits have edged up to 50% of normal activity, but remain the sluggish element of the index.”

      It hasn't been quick and it hasn't been easy, but the housing market is moving steadily toward what has traditionally been considered “normal.”Accordin...
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      Google loses a round in Gmail wiretap case

      A class action suit charges that Google wrongfully intercepts emails to inject ads

      It has come to seem pretty ordinary that California-based Google scans your Gmail before delivering it, then inserts advertisements that seem to correspond to the subject being discussed.

      But a class action lawsuit argues that the action is not only unordinary but is a violation of the California Wiretap Act, which prohibits interceptions except when they are part of the "ordinary course of business." 

      U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh handed a round to the plaintiffs last Friday, rejecting Google's claim that the practice is an ordinary part of how emails are delivered, Courthouse News Service reports.

      In a 38-page ruling, Koh said intercepting emails to inject ads into them is not necessary or intrinsic to the email process and is done only so that Google can use the data it intercepts to display ads.

      Too early

      Google had moved for dismissal of plaintiff Daniel Matera's suit, arguing that it could not provide free email service without the targeted ads. But Judge Koh said it was too early to introduce the argument that intercepting email is part of the ordinary course of business, as Google had contended.

      Matera's suit argues that Google is intercepting consumers' mail for commercial purpose, in violation of the state's Wiretap Act.

      Matera has claimed that he is not a Google customer and thus does not benefit from Google's free email service. Nevertheless, he said, his emails to and from Google customers have been intercepted. He also argues that Google sells some of the data it intercepts.

      Similar cases are pending, including one filed by a group of universities who say that Google wrongfully mines students' data.

      It has come to seem pretty ordinary that California-based Google scans your Gmail before delivering it, then inserts advertisements that seem to correspond...
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      Honda is introducing a Civic hatchback for 2017

      New 5-door model will only come with a turbo engine

      The Honda Civic is already one of the best selling cars in America. Valued for it's quality, features, and resale value, Kelley Blue Book declared the 2016 Civic the winner of its Overall Best Buy Award.

      New for 2017, Honda is introducing a Civic Hatchback, a styling throwback to the 1960s and 70s. The new model offers Euro-inspired styling and five-door versatility. It will also serve as the basis for the new Civic Type-R launching in the U.S. in 2017.

      Jeff Conrad, senior vice president and general manager of the Honda Division of American Honda Motor Co., Inc., says the Civic Hatchback was introduced first in Europe and sold well.

      "Now, we're bringing this sporty, stylish and versatile Civic Hatchback to North America, as we amp up the performance of our incredible Civic lineup with each new Civic model," Conrad said.

      The Civic Hatchback will come in LX, Sport, EX, EX-L, and Sport Touring trims. Engine features, however, are limited. In the U.S. market, the hatchback is powered by a 1.5-liter DOHC direct-injected turbocharged in-line 4-cylinder with peak output of 174 horsepower and 162 lb.-ft. of torque in LX, EX and EX-L trims. The Sport and Sport Touring trims will offer 180 horsepower and 162 lb.-ft. of torque, featuring a high-flow center-mounted exhaust.

      Options on the turbo engine

      The turbocharged engine will have some options. It comes with either a CVT in all trims or a performance-inspired 6-speed manual transmission in the LX, Sport, and EX trims. It's expected the hatchback will achieve EPA fuel economy ratings of 31/40/34 mpg (city/highway/combined) for CVT-equipped models, based on the newer, more stringent model year 2017 EPA ratings requirements.

      Most trims will offer the Honda Sensing suite of driver-assisting technologies, including a collision avoiding braking system, forward collision warning, and systems to alert you when you veer out of your lane.

      Pleasing design

      The Civic Hatchback is based on the 10th generation Civic design that has won the praise of automotive experts, as well as drivers. Car and Driver, already a Civic fan, opined that the hatchback builds on an already pleasing design and makes it better.

      Other features include Honda Display Audio with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, on the EX and above trims. Heated front seats and heated side mirrors, power driver and front-passenger seats, and remote engine start will also be available.

      While some Hondas are made in the U.S., the Civic Hatchback will strictly be an import, but not from Japan. The Civic Hatchback will be produced at Honda's Swindon, UK plant.  

      The Honda Civic is already one of the best selling cars in America. Valued for it's quality, features, and resale value, Kelley Blue Book declared the 2016...
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      New home construction on the rise in July

      Building permit applications, though, were lower

      Construction of new homes in July built on the gains posted in June, although developers' plans for housing in the months ahead slipped a bit.

      The Commerce Department reports ground was broken for privately-owned houses at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,211,000, up 2.1% from the revised June total of 1,186,000 and 5.6% above the rate posted a year earlier.

      Starts on single-family homes were up 0.5% in July at a rate of 770,000 and a year-over-year advance of 1.3%. The July rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 433,000 -- a gain of 8.3% and up 15.2% from July of last year.

      Building permits

      Housing units authorized by building permits dipped 0.1% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,152,000, but is 0.9% above July 2015.

      Permits for single-family homes fell 3.7% to a rate of 711,000, but a 2.7% gain from the year before. Authorizations for units in buildings with five units or more were at a rate of 411,000, a month-over-month rise of 6.5% but down 1.7% from a year earlier.

      The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

      Construction of new homes in July built on the gains posted in June, although developers' plans for housing in the months ahead slipped a bit.The Comme...
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      Housing affordability slips in second quarter

      Higher prices are getting the blame

      Rising home prices outweighed falling mortgage rates when it came to housing affordability in the second quarter of the year.

      The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index (HOI) found that 62% of new and existing homes sold between the beginning of April and the end of June were affordable to families earning the U.S. median income of $65,700. In the first quarter it was 65%.

      The national median home price increased from $223,000 in the first quarter to $240,000 in the second quarter. At the same time, average mortgage rates dipped from 4.05% to 3.88%.

      “Though we have seen a modest drop in affordability in the second quarter, the HOI is still fairly high by historical standards,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “Rising employment, favorable mortgage rates and increasing household formations will keep the housing market on a gradual, upward path during the rest of the year.”

      Most and least affordable

      For the third consecutive quarter, Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio-Pa., was rated the nation’s most affordable major housing market, with 91.1% of all new and existing homes sold in the second quarter affordable to families earning the area’s median income of $53,900.

      Rounding out the top five affordable major housing markets in respective order were Scranton-Wilkes-Barre-Hazleton, Pa.; Syracuse, N.Y.; Harrisburg-Carlisle, Pa.; and Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, Ind.

      Meanwhile, Kokomo, Ind., claimed the title of most affordable small housing market in the second quarter of 2016. There, 98.2% of homes sold during the second quarter were affordable to families earning the median income of $60,900.

      Smaller markets joining Kokomo at the top of the list included Cumberland, Md.-W.Va.; Fairbanks, Alaska; Davenport-Moline-Rock Island, Iowa-Ill; and Monroe, Mich.

      For the 15th quarter in a row, San Francisco-Redwood City-South San Francisco, Calif., was the nation’s least affordable major housing market. Just 8.5% of homes sold there were affordable to families earning the area’s median income of $104,700.

      Other major metros at the bottom of the affordability chart were located in California. In descending order, they included Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale; Anaheim-Santa Ana-Irvine; San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara; and San Rafael.

      California also claimed the five least affordable small housing markets. At the very bottom of the affordability chart was Santa Cruz-Watsonville, where 14.7% of all new and existing homes sold were affordable to families earning the area’s median income of $85,100.

      Other small markets at the lowest end of the affordability scale included Salinas; Napa; San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande; and Santa Maria-Santa Barbara.

      “Firm job growth, historically low interest rates and healthy price appreciation in many markets are all positive signs that the housing recovery continues to move forward,” said NAHB Chairman Ed Brady. “At the same time, regulatory hurdles and rising costs for buildable lots and skilled labor continue to put upward pressure on the cost of building a home.”

      Rising home prices outweighed falling mortgage rates when it came to housing affordability in the second quarter of the year.The National Association o...
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      BMW recalls M5 sedans, M6 coupes, M6 convertibles and M6 Gran Coupes

      The vehicles' driveshaft may fracture and fail, causing a loss of propulsion

      BMW of North America is recalling 956 model year 2015 BMW M5 sedans manufactured September 4, 2014, through December 4, 2014; 2015 M6 coupes manufactured September 3, 2014, through December 3, 2014; 2015 M6 convertibles manufactured September 8, 2014, through December 4, 2014; and 2015 M6 Gran Coupes manufactured September3, 2014, through December 4, 2014.

      The vehicles have a driveshaft that may have been inadequately welded during manufacturing. This could cause the driveshaft to fracture and fail, resulting in a loss of drive to the rear wheels and a loss of propulsion. Additionally, if the car is turned off and exited without the parking brake applied, it may roll. Either condition increases the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      BMW will notify owners, and dealers will inspect and replace the driveshaft, as necessary, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on September 6, 2016.

      Owners may contact BMW customer service at 1-800-525-7417.

      BMW of North America is recalling 956 model year 2015 BMW M5 sedans manufactured September 4, 2014, through December 4, 2014; 2015 M6 coupes manufactured S...
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      AARP: Unless Congress acts, Social Security cuts are coming

      Law requires 25% benefit cuts when program runs out of cash

      Millennials and Gen-Xers take note: your anticipated Social Security payments when you retire might be significantly less than you think.

      AARP New York has released an analysis of the Social Security Trustees' annual report and concluded that millions of workers – 10.4 million in New York alone – will see their benefits cut by 25% unless Congress and the President take action to prevent it.

      Fewer current retirees would be affected since the cuts would not take place until 2034. But AARP New York says younger workers need to understand the stakes. This is not a hypothetical situation – the cuts are mandated by law.

      Out of money in 2034

      Here's why: when the Social Security Trust Fund is exhausted – currently projected for 2034 – automatic, across the board cuts in benefits take effect. The only way to prevent that from happening is for Congress to extend the life of the Trust Fund. It could do that by slowly reducing benefits now or by increasing the amount of Social Security and Medicare taxes that are collected.

      In its analysis, AARP New York estimates the average retiree household in New York would see its income go down by $4,200 a year. An additional 197,800 seniors would fall below the poverty line, an increase of 63%.

      To put it in perspective, the report's authors note that New Yorkers spend an average of $6,900 a year on groceries and $4,700 a year on utility bills. Losing $4,200 a year in income, they say, will have a major impact.

      Putting it on the front burner

      Beth Finkel, State Director of AARP in New York, says the current election cycle is an ideal time to address this issue.

      "Voters deserve to know how the candidates' plans will affect families, what those plans will cost and how they'll get it done,” Finkel said.

      The situation is actually worse than it seems. The Social Security Trust Fund shows a surplus on its books, but there is no money – it's made up of IOUs Congress has written since 1983, when it raised the Social Security withholding tax to build up a surplus – but spent the money on other things.

      Now, Social Security payments are being made out of the government's general operating budget with no “surplus” to offset them.

      Finkel says Congress and the President need to figure out now what is going to happen in 2034.

      "Doing nothing is not an option,” she said.” The question is how long will our leaders wait to act. The presidential candidates need to show they can lead on this issue and give voters real answers on how they will update Social Security for future generations."

      Millennials and Gen-Xers take note: your anticipated Social Security payments when you retire might be significantly less than you think.AARP New York ...
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      Making a backup plan may lead to failure, researchers say

      A study shows that people tend to put less effort into a task if they make a backup plan

      There are several advantages that come with being prepared and having a backup plan. Those who take the time to consider alternatives are often less anxious about the future and more ready to make changes if something unfortunate does happen.

      However, two researchers, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Pennsylvania, respectively, say that there are drawbacks to making a backup plan. Their study shows that those who make them are more likely to put less effort into a given task and fail at achieving a goal.

      Less effort

      Jihae Shin and Katherine L. Milkman conducted this study after the former admitted that she had reservations when it came to making backup plans. “I was talking with Katy about how sometimes I was hesitant to make a backup plan, because somehow I thought it might hurt my chances of success in my primary goal. Katy thought it was an interesting idea and we decided to test it,” said Shin.

      The pair devised a series of experiments to see if the notion held any water. Participants in the study were asked to complete a sentence-unscrambling task with the promise that they could earn a free snack or a chance to leave the study early if they completed it.

      Shin and Milkman asked some of the study groups to come up with other ways that they could get free food or make up the lost time later if they failed. After completing the task, the researchers found that those who were asked to make backup plans did worse on the assigned task and had lower levels of desire when it came to succeeding.

      Knowing when to make a plan

      Shin and Milkman admit that having a backup plan can be beneficial in many ways, but they say that taking time to make one also comes at a cost in some cases.

      They conclude by saying that knowing when to make a backup plan can make all the difference when it comes to succeeding at a given task. If a certain task cannot be influenced by effort, they say that making a backup plan can be a good idea; however, tasks that require more effort should be focused on instead of relying on a failsafe.

      “You might want to wait until you have done everything you can to achieve your primary goal first,” said Shin.

      The full study has been published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes

      There are several advantages that come with being prepared and having a backup plan. Those who take the time to consider alternatives are often less anxiou...
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      Best and worst cities for retirement

      WalletHub breaks it down over 31 key metrics

      Increasingly, retirees are not moving out of their homes once their working days are behind them. But for those who do plan to relocate, what are the most retirement-friendly cities, and which should be avoided?

      Personal finance site WalletHub looked at that question and came up with a list of the best and worst cities for retirement, based on a set of important criteria. The criteria included the cost of living, but also the percentage of the population over age 65.

      Measured against 31 key metrics, the analysts picked Orlando as the top city for retirement. It was number seven in affordability, number six in activities for seniors, and eleventh in health care. Its biggest drawback was “quality of life,” where it comes in at 73 out of 150.

      Not surprisingly, the top four retirement destinations are in the sunny south. Tampa is second, largely by virtue of its affordability. Scottsdale, Ariz., is third – not so much because of its affordability but for its quality of life. Miami is fourth by virtue of its ranking of second in the activities category.

      Surprising Sioux Falls

      The real surprise might be number five – Sioux Falls, S.D. --  where it can get pretty chilly during the winter. Sioux Falls earns its ranking by being rated number one when it comes to health care.

      Las Vegas, Coral Gables, Fla., Atlanta, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles round out the top 10.

      At the bottom of the list of places to retire is Providence, R.I. It's one of the least affordable spots on the list – 145 out of 150 – and third from the bottom when it comes to health care. Worcester, Mass., Newark, N.J., and Chula Vista, Calif., are also cities to avoid in retirement, according to the report.

      What's important to you?

      Of course, different criteria are more important to some people than others. For example, great health care might trump activities and affordability might be more important than quality of life.

      If affordability is most important, you might take a look at Laredo, Tex., which has the lowest adjusted cost of living on the list. Brownsville, Tex., Jackson, Miss., and Memphis are also very affordable cities.

      If you plan to get a part time job in retirement, Anchorage, Alaska has the highest percentage of people 65 and over in the workforce. Want someplace a little warmer? Plano, Tex., just outside Dallas, is second in that category.

      If stretching your budget in retirement is a top priority, check out these destinations where your money will go farther.

      Increasingly, retirees are not moving out of their homes once their working days are behind them. But for those who do plan to relocate, what are the most ...
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      Low cost of living drawing jobs to the Midwest

      Companies like the fact that housing costs are much lower

      Homes tend to be more expensive on the east and west coasts because that's where the good jobs are.

      Sure, you can find housing bargains in the Midwest, but there haven't been as many good paying jobs in that region. Until lately.

      Real Estate marketplace Zillow surveyed housing experts who tend to agree that migration to both coasts is reaching a tipping point, making housing in those markets less affordable. They say much lower home prices in the nation's interior are now attracting new and better jobs.

      The survey asked the experts if they expected the population trend, that has drawn people to coastal regions, would reverse in the future. More than half replied that this reversal has already begun.

      A majority said the growth of employment opportunities in Midwestern cities is the big draw. At the moment, the fact that housing costs are much lower is just a bonus.

      Shift in preferences among workers

      "Since the Recession, employment has boomed in relatively expensive coastal areas, often attributed to a shift in preferences among workers – especially Millennials – but also facilitated by soft labor markets that have resulted in a plentiful supply of available workers," said Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Svenja Gudell.

      Gudell suggests businesses are looking at the Midwest as fertile ground for expansion because the cost of living is lower. An employee's paycheck goes farther, especially when it comes to housing costs.

      "For some businesses, this will mean relocating away from expensive coastal areas to more affordable interior communities. Sooner or later workers will follow the jobs, providing an impulse to local housing markets," Gudell said.

      What happens when Midwestern cities see rapid growth? Will those affordable home prices surge? The experts queried in the survey expect prices will rise, but at an orderly pace.

      Nationwide, home prices are expected to rise an average 4.5% this year. The experts in the survey see smaller gains in 2017, as the market begins to cool a bit.

      Homes tend to be more expensive on the east and west coasts because that's where the good jobs are.Sure, you can find housing bargains in the Midwest, ...
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      Tegol recalls Outlaw Slim-G Series motorcycle helmets

      The helmets may not adequately protect the wearer's head in the event of an impact

      Tegol, Inc. is recalling 5,292 Outlaw Slim-G Series motorcycle helmets, part number GLD-12-510-511, in all sizes, manufactured March 30, 2013, to June 5, 2013.

      The helmets may not adequately protect the wearer's head in the event of an impact, and an object may penetrate the helmet. Additionally, these helmets may not be labeled properly. As such, they fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 218, "Motorcycle Helmets."

      Helmets that do properly protect the wearer's head can increase the risk of injury to the wearer in the event of a crash. Missing labeling information reduces the user's possibility of identifying the helmet in the event of a safety recall.

      What to do

      The remedy for this recall is still under development. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Tegol customer service at 1-714-496-9988.

      Tegol, Inc. is recalling 5,292 Outlaw Slim-G Series motorcycle helmets, part number GLD-12-510-511, in all sizes, manufactured March 30, 2013, to June 5, 2...
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      Researchers claim they can hack most Volkswagens

      Easy to assemble electronic device allegedly controls remote keyless entry systems

      Researchers who are well-acquainted with Volkswagen have published a paper alleging that hackers are able to access the remote keyless entry system of virtually every Volkswagon produced since 1995.

      A report in Wired Magazine says a team of researchers at the UK's University of Birmingham, led by Flavio Garcia, is the same group that last year reported hackers could start thousands of VWs without a key.

      If true, this is not good news for the beleaguered automaker, trying mightily to overcome the negative force field it finds itself in after the diesel emission cheating scandal, which broke 11 months ago.

      Wired reports the researchers, joined by colleagues from the German firm Kasper & Oswald, laid out two distinct vulnerabilities at the Usenix security conference in Austin this week. The researchers say nearly 100 million cars may be vulnerable.

      Beyond VW and Audi, Wired says millions of other cars from other manufacturers, including Ford, may have the same vulnerability.

      Not a new worry

      There apparently have been concerns for some time about the security of remote keyless entry systems. Theoretically, the hack isn't that difficult.

      Earlier this year automotive website Edmunds.com reported that car thieves were using some kind of electronic device to gain entry to locked vehicles.

      “Some electronic security experts believe that the criminals may be exploiting the convenience of keyless-entry systems, which are designed to detect and authenticate the smart key inside a car owner's pocket as he or she pulls on the door handle,” Edmunds reported. “They say that if the thieves can amplify the car's signal it can be fooled into using the owner's key to open the doors, even if that key actually is on a nightstand or the kitchen table inside the house.”

      Not that difficult

      The crime is new enough, however, that there really aren't any statistics to suggest how big a threat it is. But as thieves learn more about it, the ability to pull it off is apparently not that difficult.

      Road and Track reports a “good guy hacker” was able to assemble a device that can hack many older vintage keyless entry systems for about $30. In his case, the device was able to track, unlock, and remote start a vehicle by intercepting signals from the OnStar smartphone app.

      The fact that this vulnerability appears to affect so many older models could be problematic, since we recently reported that these are the prime targets for thieves. The National Insurance Crime Bureau reports the 1996 Honda Accord was last year's most-stolen vehicle. Thieves usually target older cars because their parts are in demand.

      Researchers who are well-acquainted with Volkswagen have published a paper alleging that hackers are able to access the remote keyless entry system of virt...
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      A diet to keep your memory sharp

      Australian researchers say the Mediterranean diet slows cognitive decline

      Most of use go on a diet to lose weight or to improve our physical condition. But researchers in Australia have concluded that the Mediterranean diet is not only good for you physically, but mentally as well.

      Writing in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition, lead author Roy Hardman from Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne and his colleagues say the diet appears to slow cognitive decline.

      The Mediterranean diet includes a lot of plant foods, like leafy greens, fresh fruit and vegetables, cereals, beans, seeds, nuts, and legumes. There is less dairy and red meat, and olive oil is the preferred source of fat.

      "The most surprising result was that the positive effects were found in countries around the whole world,” Hardman said. “So regardless of being located outside of what is considered the Mediterranean region, the positive cognitive effects of a higher adherence to a MedDiet were similar in all evaluated papers."

      Heart healthy too

      For the most part, doctors recommend the Mediterranean diet for its positive effects on the heart.

      “Research has shown that the traditional Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease,” the Mayo Clinic reports on its website. “The diet has been associated with a lower level of oxidized low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol — the "bad" cholesterol that's more likely to build up deposits in your arteries.”

      And in line with this latest research from Australia, the Mayo Clinic staff notes that the Mediterranean diet has also been associated with a lower incidence of Alzheimer's disease.

      The Australian study found the diet improves attention, memory and use of language. In terms of memory, it found notable improves in delayed recognition, working memory, and executive function.

      What is it about the Mediterranean diet?

      The question is why. What is it about the Mediterranean diet that supports better cognitive function? The authors suggest several things, including a reduction in inflammation, improved vitamin and mineral imbalances, maintaining a healthy weight, and improving polyphenols in the blood.

      If you are interested in trying the Mediterranean diet, it is always advisable to discuss any changes in eating patterns with your doctor. Assuming he or she agrees it might be beneficial for you, here are some Mediterranean diet recipes to get you started.

      Most of use go on a diet to lose weight or to improve our physical condition. But researchers in Australia have concluded that the Mediterranean diet is no...
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      Honda recalls model year 2016 Civic 2-Door vehicles

      The side marker light may not function

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 11,846 model year 2016 Civic 2-Door vehicles manufactured February 23, 2016, through May 20, 2016.

      The affected vehicles may have a damaged LED side marker light circuit board inside the taillight assembly, making the marker light inoperable. As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 108, "Lamps, Reflective Devices, and Assoc. Equipment."

      If a side marker light does not function, vehicle visibility can be decreased to other drivers, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Honda will notify owners, and dealers will inspect both the taillight assemblies, replacing them as necessary, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in August 2016.

      Owners may contact Honda customer service at 1-888-234-2138. Honda's number for this recall is KB8.

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 11,846 model year 2016 Civic 2-Door vehicles manufactured February 23, 2016, through May 20, 2016. The affect...
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      Toyota changes remedy for RAV4 and Lexus HS 250h recalls

      Dealers will replace both rear suspension arm assemblies

      Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. is changing the remedy for approximately 337,000 model year 2006 - 2011 Toyota RAV4 and 2010 Lexus HS 250h vehicles recalled in 2013.

      Dealers will replace -- at no cost to customers -- both rear suspension arm assemblies with new ones. They will also apply an epoxy to prevent future arm adjustment during vehicle service.

      In the earlier action, if the nuts for adjusting rear wheel alignment were improperly tightened when an alignment was performed, rust could form on suspension arm threads. If this occurs, and if the condition is not identified and remedied during servicing or repair under the existing remedy procedure, the threads can wear over time, causing the arm to separate, which could result in a loss of vehicle control.

      What to do

      Toyota will notify all known owners of the involved vehicles by first class mail.

      Owners with questions may contact Toyota customer service at 1-800-331-4331 or Lexus customer service at 1-800-255-3987.

      Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. is changing the remedy for approximately 337,000 model year 2006 - 2011 Toyota RAV4 and 2010 Lexus HS 250h vehicles recalled in ...
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      Southwest technical outage could cost it up to $84 million

      Tech problems with Delta also have consumers riled up

      Last month, Southwest Airlines experienced a technological glitch that led to havoc in terminals across the country. The airliner ended up canceling 2,300 flights, with many unhappy air travelers being stranded away from home.

      Delta Airlines, meanwhile, continues to suffer the slings and arrows of outraged travelers over its tech meltdown earlier this week. 

      Now, the Dallas Morning News reports that Southwest’s tech outage could cost it millions of dollars. All told, estimates place the losses between $54 million and $82 million.

      Millions in losses

      The estimate was calculated using information from Southwest about its unit revenues and the amount of money it spent in reparations to travelers at the time of the outage. On Wednesday, the company told investors that the tech outage would lead to a 0.5% drop in unit revenues for the third quarter. Additionally, it said that the cost per seat mile would be going up between one and two percent.

      While the percentages were not translated to a specific dollar amount, experts have estimated that the lost revenue from refunded tickets, missed bookings, and canceled flights would come out to around $25.7 million.

      However, the losses extend far beyond that amount. The outage required the company to spend more money on staff overtime, transportation, and accommodations for stranded travelers as well. Experts put those costs between $28 million and $57 million, which means the company could stand to lose as much as $82 million when all is said and done.

      Sympathizers shouldn’t feel too bad for Southwest, though. Despite last month’s loss of revenue, the company still stands to make many times more than that over the course of the year. Last year, Southwest raked in $20 billion in annual revenue.

      Delta technical outage draws heat

      Southwest isn't alone. Delta Airlines experienced an outage at its Atlanta headquarters this past week that led to over a thousand canceled and delayed flights. The effects of the outage spilled over into subsequent days, with hundreds of flights being canceled after the error was corrected.

      Consumer advocacy groups Travelers United and FlyersRights have voiced their displeasure in an open letter to Delta CEO Ed Bastien, saying that the blame for travelers’ suffering should be placed squarely on the airline.

      “Your airline should realize that these cancellations and delays are the fault of Delta Air Lines alone. Passengers should not be punished for Delta’s incompetence,” the letter states. “Families have missed weddings, organized tours and cruises. Businessman have missed meetings. And, many others have been faced with financial repercussions because of Delta’s technology failure.”

      The groups call on Delta to make reparations to travelers, including full refunds or free and flexible rescheduled flights.

      “Passengers wishing to travel on the airline shouldn’t be restricted by arbitrary time constraints and should be allowed to rebook on their timetable – not Delta’s. Delta should not hide behind pages of legalese. Full compensation or free, flexible rebooking for missed flights and ruined travel plans is what’s fair and right,” the groups said.

      Last month, Southwest Airlines experienced a technological glitch that led to havoc in terminals across the country. The airliner ended up canceling 2,300 ...
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      Soak in the sunshine during the day to look at your phone before bed

      Researchers say that exposure to sunlight during the day can mitigate blue light effects that cause sleeping problems

      A number of studies in recent years have shown that looking at a phone or tablet screen before bed causes sleeping problems. Many experts have even gone so far as to suggest banning electronic devices from the bedroom to ensure a better night’s sleep.

      However, a new study shows that consumers may be able to look at screens before bed without consequence. The catch? All you have to do is get out and enjoy the sunshine during the day.

      “Our main finding was that following daytime bright light exposure, evening use of a self-luminous tablet for two hours did not affect sleep in young healthy students,” said Frida Rångtell, first author of the study and at PhD student in the Department of Neuroscience at Uppsala University.

      Mitigating blue light exposure

      Researchers used 14 male and female participants to see how devices that emitted blue light affected sleep if used during evening hours. Each person was exposed to 6.5 hours of bright light during the daytime and then asked to read a novel on either a tablet or in book format at night. After a week of maintaining this schedule, participants switched roles and sleeping results were recorded.

      After analyzing results at the end of the trial period, the researchers found that reading from a tablet had no negative effect on sleep quality.

      “Our results suggest that light exposure during the day, e.g. by means of outdoor activities or light interventions in offices, may help combat sleep disturbances associated with evening blue light stimulation,” said senior author Christian Benedict.

      Sleep disturbances still possible

      The researchers caution, however, that sleep can still be disrupted by device use depending on what it is used for. For example, checking work email or tending to social media could have negative effects beyond exposure to blue light.

      “It must however be kept in mind that utilizing electronic devices for the sake of checking your work e-mails or social network accounts before snoozing may lead to sleep disturbances as a result of emotional arousal,” said Benedict.

      The full study has been published in the journal Sleep Medicine.

      A number of studies in recent years have shown that looking at a phone or tablet screen before bed causes sleeping problems. Many experts have even gone so...
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      Simply seeing and touching the earth may lengthen your life

      Being surrounded by greenery helps women live longer, study finds

      Many studies have proven that a little time in nature is good for the soul. But could nature actually help those of a certain gender live longer?

      According to a recent study, this may be true. Researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that American women who live in homes surrounded by vegetation live longer than women who aren’t as immersed in greenery.  

      To conduct the study, researchers used data from 108,630 women enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study across the United States. Satellite images helped researchers collect information on the amount of vegetation surrounding women's homes.

      They found that gardens, trees, and greenery in general may do much more than combat the effects of climate change. 

      Reduced stress

      Women whose homes were surrounded by the most greenery had a 12% lower overall mortality rate compared to those who lived in the least green areas. What’s more, women who lived in green areas had a 34% lower rate of respiratory-related deaths.

      Another testament to the health benefits of nature? Within the study's eight-year period, women who lived around vegetation had a 13% lower rate of cancer deaths.

      In addition to the fact that greenery may cut down on the negative effects of air pollution, noise, and extreme heat, researchers believe that the effect of greenery on mortality may have something to do with stress levels.

      The increased opportunities for physical activity and social interaction may cause stress levels to drop, therefore leading to a happy mind. Nearly 30% of mother nature’s health benefits can be chalked up to improved mental health, the study’s authors said.

      What is 'earthing'?

      Simply being surrounded by greenery may be beneficial, but touching the earth might be even better. A new trend called 'earthing' is centered around the idea of making contact with the earth -- and it, too, may offer health benefits. 

      Advocates for the trend argue that touching the earth in some way -- while walking barefoot on the grass, lying against a tree, or sitting on the beach, for instance -- can improve immune response and generally keep you feeling good. One study even confirmed these findings. 

      Can't get outside for a little hands-on time with nature? There are products that may help. Companies such as Earthing.com sell earthing pads that may offer consumers the same energy charge they might feel while physically touching the earth. 

      Many studies have proven that a little time in nature is good for the soul. But could nature actually help those of a certain gender live longer?Accord...
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      'Just below' pricing effective at snagging consumers

      Consumers need to be aware they are being manipulated

      Whether it's a house listed at $299,999 or a product sold on TV for “three easy payments of $19.95,” marketers have long resorted to “just below” pricing – setting the price just below a round number.

      They've done it because they think it's effective. Just ask yourself how many times you bragged to a friend that you filled your gas tank for $1.99 a gallon, when in fact it was $1.99.9 a gallon – $2, for all practical purposes.

      Turns out there is research to show this “just below” pricing actually works pretty well. Eli Beracha of Florida International University, who conducted the study with Michael J. Seiler, of The College of William & Mary, said that using this method means sellers can ask more for something without driving away buyers.

      Their study looked at 1,000 buyers in Virginia who were considering 370,000 listings. The research team focused on the impact of pricing homes in round numbers as opposed to a price that was just below that number.

      “On average, buyers are more attracted to a house priced at $199,000 than to a house priced at $200,000 and it appears that ‘just below’ pricing works out favorably for sellers in terms of their bottom line,” Beracha said.

      Buyers end up paying more

      In fact, the researchers maintain that dropping the price as little as $1 consistently yields a higher selling price. They say it can result in a buyer paying as much as $6,000 more on a $200,000 property.

      “We tested the age-old debate concerning the best technique to price a home when listing it for sale,” Seiler said. “We find that using a price just below a round number works best, particularly in connection to the left-most digit in the price. So, $199,999 works better than $200,000.”

      There is still some debate in the real estate industry about the effectiveness of this pricing, but sellers might want to take the research into consideration when putting their homes on the market.

      Of course, buyers – not just of homes but of all products – should probably keep it in mind as well. When something is priced at $49.99, it's really $50. A home priced at $199,000 is really $200,000.

      And any sale at a “just under” price will always be “just over” after you pay sales taxes, shipping, and other assorted fees that are always associated with any sale these days.

      Whether it's a house listed at $299,999 or a product sold on TV for “three easy payments of $19.95,” marketers have long resorted to “just below” pricing –...
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      Online gaming leads to better academic performance, study finds

      However, use of social media leads to worse performance

      It’s a rare sight these days to see a teenager without a phone or laptop nearby. Popular online activities like video games or tending to social media can take up a lot of free time, but how do they affect teens’ academic performance?

      A study conducted at RMIT University in Australia has provided some polarizing answers. Researchers say that students who play video games tend to perform better in math and science. However, those who use social media tend to perform worse in those same areas, as well as in reading.

      Practicing similar skills

      The researchers came to their conclusions after analyzing data on over 12,000 Australian teens. This included information on math, reading, and science performance, as well as each participant’s online activities. Results indicated that teens who played video games were more likely to have better math and science scores, possibly because both fields require similar skills to those used when playing games.

      “Students who play online games almost every day score 15 points above the average in maths and 17 points above the average in science,” said principal investigator Alberto Posso. “When you play online games you’re solving puzzles to move to the next level and that involves using some of the general knowledge and skills in maths, reading and science that you’ve been taught during the day.”

      However, the researchers found that teens who often used social media were worse off in the classroom. They posit that teens who use it often may be using it to escape from studying, which is counteractive to the learning process.

      “Students who are regularly on social media are, of course, losing time that could be spent on study – but it may also indicate that they are struggling with maths, reading and science and are going online to socialize instead,” said Posso.

      Social media as a tool

      While the results are telling, Posso and his colleagues admit that a multitude of other factors influence academic performance for teens. For example, those who need to repeat a grade level or who regularly skip classes are bound to suffer academically, regardless of their preferred online activities.

      However, Posso does say that teens who have trouble connecting to academic material could be helped by teachers who use social media as a tool.

      “Teachers might want to look at blending the use of Facebook into their classes as a way of helping those students engage,” he said.

      The full study has been published in the International Journal of Communication.

      It’s a rare sight these days to see a teenager without a phone or laptop nearby. Popular online activities like video games or tending to social media can ...
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      Number of homes in foreclosure drops sharply in June

      Completed foreclosures were down as well

      The nation continues to crawl out of the hole created by the previous decade's housing meltdown.

      Property information provider CoreLogic reports the foreclosure inventory plunged 25.9% in June from the same time last year, while completed foreclosures were down 4.9%. The number of completed foreclosures as of this past June (38,000) represents a decline of 67.5% from the peak (117,835) in September 2010.

      Since the bottom fell out in September 2008, there have been approximately 6.3 million completed foreclosures nationally, with approximately 8.4 million homes lost to foreclosure since homeownership rates peaked in the second quarter of 2004.

      Roughly 375,000, or 1.0%, of all homes with a mortgage were in some stage of the foreclosure process in June, putting the foreclosure inventory rate at the lowest point for any month since August 2007.

      Serious delinquencies

      In addition, the number of mortgages in serious delinquency -- 90 days or more past due including loans in foreclosure or REO -- posted a year-over-year decline of 21.3% in June, for a rate of 2.8%, the lowest in nearly nine years.

      “Mortgage loan performance depends on the economic health of local markets, with varied differences even within a state,” said CoreLogic Chief Economist Dr. Frank Nothaft. “Within Texas, the serious delinquency rate in the Dallas metropolitan area has fallen by 0.5% from a year earlier, as home prices and employment have continued to rise. The rate in the Midland area, on the other hand, has jumped 0.5%, reflecting the weakness in oil production and job loss over the past year.”

      Report highlights

      • On a month-over-month basis, completed foreclosures rose 5.1% to 38,000 in June 2016 from a year earlier. 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 3.6%.
      • The five states with the highest number of completed foreclosures in the 12 months ending in June were Florida (60,000), Michigan (47,000), Texas (27,000), Ohio (23,000), and California (22,000). These five states account for almost 40% of all completed foreclosures nationally.
      • Four states and the District of Columbia had the lowest number of completed foreclosures: The District of Columbia (179), North Dakota (321), West Virginia (487), Alaska (639), and Montana (675).
      • Four states and the District of Columbia had the highest foreclosure inventory rate: New Jersey (3.4%), New York (3.1%), the District of Columbia (2%), Hawaii (2%), and Maine (1.9%).
      • The five states with the lowest foreclosure inventory rate were Colorado (0.3%), Michigan (0.3%), Minnesota (0.3%), Nebraska (0.3%), and Utah (0.3%).
      The nation continues to crawl out of the hole created by the previous decade's housing meltdown.Property information provider CoreLogic reports the for...
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      A bounce-back for mortgage applications

      Contract interest rates have reversed course

      Mortgage applications have turned higher after posting three straight weekly declines.

      The Mortgage Bankers Association reports applications jumped 7.1% during the week ending August 5.

      The Refinance Index shot up 10%, with the Government Refinance index surging 27% and the Conventional Refinance Index rising 6%. That pushed the refinance share of mortgage activity to 62.4% of total applications from 60.7% the week before.

      The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity held steady at 4.7% of total applications, the FHA share rose to 10.0% from 9.4%, the VA share of total applications increased to 13.0% from 12.1%, while the USDA share of total applications inched down to 0.6% from 0.7% 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) dipped two basis points -- from 3.67% to 3.65% -- with points increasing to 0.34 from 0.30 (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) slipped to 3.64% from 3.65%, with points increasing to 0.31 from 0.24 (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 down two basis points to 3.52%, with points increasing to 0.33 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 FRMs was unchanged at 2.93%, with points decreasing to 0.34 from 0.36 (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 nine basis points to 2.81%, 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 survey covers over 75% of all U.S. retail residential mortgage applications.

      Mortgage applications have turned higher after posting three straight weekly declines.The Mortgage Bankers Association reports applications jumped 7.1%...
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      Brown Jordan Services recalls swivel patio chairs

      The base of the chair can break during normal use, posing a fall hazard

      Brown Jordan Services of St. Augustine, Fla., is recalling about 271,000 swivel dining and lounge chairs sold in the U.S. and Canada.

      The base of the chair can break during normal use, posing a fall hazard.

      The firm has received 410 reports of the swivel chairs breaking, including 16 reports of injuries -- primarily bruises and abrasions resulting from falls.

      This recall involves Hampton Bay Fall River swivel dining and lounge chairs. The chairs are made of steel with a round swivel base and arm rests, red or green cushion, or are prepared for a custom slipcover with white liner fabric covering the cushions.

      Chairs were sold in either sets of two or as part of patio sets, which included accompanying patio tables.

      The chairs, manufactured in China, were sold exclusively at Home Depot nationwide and online at homedepot.com from October 2012, through January 2015, for about $200 for a set of two chairs to $550 for a 7-piece patio set.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the chairs and contact Brown Jordan Services for a free repair kit.

      Consumers may contact Brown Jordan Services toll-free at 855-899-2127 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday or online at www.bjsoutdoor.com can click on “Customer Care” and then “Recall Information” for more information.

      Brown Jordan Services of St. Augustine, Fla., is recalling about 271,000 swivel dining and lounge chairs sold in the U.S. and Canada. The base of t...
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      Delta's system is back up but more flights are cancelled

      The company is compensating passengers experiencing delayed and cancelled flights with a $200 travel voucher

      The power outage that took down Delta Airlines' entire computer system Monday, forcing the cancellation of about 1,000 flights, has been repaired.

      But the airline said the residual effect has spilled over to Tuesday and will force cancellation of another 250 flights.

      "We were able to bring our systems back on line and resume flights within a few hours yesterday but we are still operating in recovery mode,” said Dave Holtz, Senior Vice President – Operations and Customer Center. “We are sorry for what many of our customers have experienced over the past 24 hours, including those who remain at airports and continue waiting for their flights. We are doing everything we can to return our operation to normal reliability, but we do expect additional delays and cancellations.”

      Important to check schedules

      Delta said customers traveling Tuesday should check the status of their flight at delta.com or the Fly Delta App. If they need to, passengers can rebook their flights online.

      Additionally, Delta's travel waiver has been extended to Tuesday's travelers. The airline is also handing out $200 travel vouchers to all customers who experienced cancelled flights or a delay of greater than three hours due to the outage. The vouchers are available for travel on all Delta and Delta Connection-operated flights.

      You'll find details here.

      Check out our earlier coverage of Delta's computer system failure and flight cancellations here.

      The power outage that took down Delta Airlines' entire computer system Monday, forcing the cancellation of about 1,000 flights, has been repaired.But t...
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      Thirty minutes of reading per day can add years to your life, study finds

      Kale and cardio aren't the only ways to lengthen your lifespan

      Time spent with your nose in a book isn’t wasted. In fact, bookworms may be adding years to their lives.

      Researchers from Yale University recently divided a sample of 3,500 people into three groups: non-readers, those who read for three and half hours each week, and those who spent even more time reading each week.

      At the end of 12 years, the team followed up with participants (who were all over the age of 50). In addition to discovering that book readers were typically college educated women with high incomes, researchers found that readers lived up to two years longer than non-readers.

      30 minutes a day

      Individuals in the second group (moderate readers who logged around three hours reading each week) lowered their risk of dying by 17 percent. And the likelihood decreased the more avid the reader.

      Voracious readers who spent more than three and a half hours per week buried in a book were 23% less likely to die compared to those who didn’t read.

      But as it turns out, not just any reading material will do. Newspapers and magazines were somewhat beneficial in lengthening a person’s lifespan, but books tacked on the most time (an average of 23 extra months).

      “People who report as little as a half-hour a day of book reading had a significant survival advantage over those who did not read,” senior author, Becca R. Levy, a professor of epidemiology at Yale, told the New York Times. “And the survival advantage remained after adjusting for wealth, education, cognitive ability, and many other variables.”

      The study was published recently in the journal Social Science & Medicine.

      Time spent with your nose in a book isn’t wasted. In fact, bookworms may be adding years to their lives.Researchers from Yale University recently divid...
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      Here's where it costs the most to rent a car this summer

      Survey shows Philadelphia is the costliest market, Orlando the cheapest

      The fee for renting a car is a lot like the price of an airline ticket. It can change depending on the time of year and the destination.

      And it turns out that the cost of renting a car in Philadelphia this summer is the highest in the U.S., according to a breakdown by CheapCarRental.Net. The company based its findings on a survey of 50 major U.S. destinations for the current month.

      In Philadelphia, the average cost to rent a car is $83 a day. Seattle and Boston were close behind, at $81 and $80 respectively.

      Meanwhile, of the 50 markets in the survey, you pay the least for a rental car in Orlando – $26 a day. In fact, Florida destinations seem to have the best deals on car rentals. The survey found Miami, Tampa, and Ft. Lauderdale all rent cars for around $30 a day.

      10 most expensive places to rent a car

      1. Philadelphia $83
      2. Seattle $81
      3. Boston $80
      4. Chicago $73
      5. Detroit $71
      6. Portland $69
      7. Cincinnati $67
      8. Indianapolis $61
      9. Denver $61
      10. Cleveland $60

      10 cheapest places to rent a car

      1. Charlotte $43
      2. Phoenix $42
      3. Honolulu $42
      4. Las Vegas $41
      5. Los Angeles $41
      6. San Diego $40
      7. Ft. Lauderdale $32
      8. Tampa $30
      9. Miami $28
      10. Orlando $26

      Reasons for disparity

      Why would there be disparity in rental car costs when you are often renting from the same company? Sometimes it is higher taxes. Some municipalities may impose special sales taxes on rental cars that can boost the price. And if both the state and local municipality have these taxes, they can quickly add up.

      Cars rented at airports also tend to cost more. If most of a city's car rental agencies are located at the airport, that can push the city-wide average higher.

      Wired Magazine recently analyzed rental car receipts and found things like a “convention center charge” and a “facility charge.”

      Finally, supply and demand can have a lot to do with it. Florida destinations are popular and rental car companies probably have plenty of cars on hand at all times to meet demand. Meanwhile, if car rental agencies in Philadelphia expect an increase in demand during any given month, they are less likely to offer special incentives and more likely to charge the full rate.

      The fee for renting a car is a lot like the price of an airline ticket. It can change depending on the time of year and the destination.And it turns ou...
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      John Deere recalls lawn and garden tractors

      The reverse implement option (RIO) system can fail, posing a laceration hazard

      Deere & Company of Moline, Ill., is recalling about 5,500 lawn and garden tractors in the U.S. and Canada.

      The reverse implement option (RIO) system can fail, posing a laceration hazard to bystanders. RIO is a safety system that shuts off power to the mower blades when the machine is placed into reverse.

      No incidents or injuries are reported.

      This recall involves John Deere models X710, X730, X734, X738, and X739 lawn and garden tractors with serial numbers beginning with 1M0X. A complete list of serial numbers included in this recall is available on the firm’s website.

      The lawn and garden tractors have “John Deere” printed on the side and are green and yellow with yellow rims. The model number is on both sides of the engine hood. The serial number is located on the right side, below the foot rest.

      The tractors, manufactured in the U.S., were sold at John Deere independent dealers nationwide from December 2015, through July 2016, for between $8,800 and $11,700.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using these recalled tractors and contact a John Deere dealer for a free repair. John Deere is contacting all registered owners of the recalled lawn and garden tractors directly.

      Consumers may contact Deere & Company at 800-537-8233 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. (ET) or online at www.deere.com and click on “Recall Information” on the drop-down menu under “Services & Support” for more information.

      Deere & Company of Moline, Ill., is recalling about 5,500 lawn and garden tractors in the U.S. and Canada. The reverse implement option (RIO) syste...
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      Walmart takes aim at Amazon, acquiring Jet.com

      Retailer believes the move will bolster its ecommerce position

      Walmart has announced it is acquiring online retailer Jet.com for $3.3 billion in cash and stock. The company says the acquisition will build on its ecommerce presence and add new capabilities.

      Walmart is the nation's largest retailer, but increasingly that title has appeared threatened by Amazon.com, which has made huge inroads in the last five years. When Amazon had its second annual Prime Day sale last month, Walmart ramped up its promotional efforts to counter it.

      Doug McMillon, Walmart's president and CEO, says the deal will improve his company's competitive position.

      “We believe the acquisition of Jet accelerates our progress across these priorities,” he said. “Walmart.com will grow faster, the seamless shopping experience we’re pursuing will happen quicker, and we’ll enable the Jet brand to be even more successful in a shorter period of time.”

      Weapon against Amazon

      The acquisition of Jet not only removes an ecommerce competitor from the marketplace; Walmart will likely use it to bolster its defenses against the Amazon onslaught.

      Jet.com was co-founded by Marc Lore, who sold his previous company – Diapers.com – to Amazon in 2010. Jet.com officially launched last year, promising consumers lower prices in exchange for longer delivery times. In short, Jet.com was aimed at Walmart.com as much as it was at Amazon.

      “We started Jet with the vision of creating a new shopping experience,” Lore said. “Today, I couldn’t be more excited that we will be joining with Walmart to help fuel the realization of that vision.”

      New ideas and expertise

      For its part, Walmart said it is counting on the acquisition to bring new ideas and expertise to the nation's largest retailer. It says it has been impressed with Jet.com's ability to quickly scale up, reaching $1 billion in run-rate Gross Merchandise Value (GMV) and offering 12 million items in its first year.

      Although it is being acquired, Jet.com will maintain its own brand. The company says it expects Jet.com will create new synergy in the ecommerce space, allowing Walmart to leverage new technology solutions to develop new product offerings to save both time and money.

      The deal is subject to regulatory approval, but Walmart did not offer guidance as to when that might occur.

      Walmart has announced it is acquiring online retailer Jet.com for $3.3 billion in cash and stock. The company says the acquisition will build on its ecomme...
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      Delta computer outage throws schedules up in the air

      Flights are resuming after 451 cancelations and thousands of delays

      Air travelers are starting the week with a complication that could affect timely arrivals at their destinations.

      Delta Airlines experienced a computer outage at its Atlanta headquarters early Monday morning, and as a result its computerized check-in kiosks were disabled at airports around the world. Passengers attempting to use them were instructed to see a Delta ticket agent for a boarding pass.

      At midday, Delta said flights had resumed but said 451 flights had been canceled and many others delayed. It is expected to take days for the carrier's flight schedule to return to normal. 

      Delta CEO Ed Bastian apologized to customers and said that airline employees are working "all hands on deck" to bring flight schedule back to normal. "While systems are improving and flights are resuming, delays and cancellations continue," Delta said in a statement.

      It's the second major airline to experience a meltdown because of computer problems in recent weeks. Southwest canceled thousands of flights last month because of what was said to be a failed router at its Dallas Love Field headquarters, leaving consumer groups to question how well the airlines have thought through the concept of redundancy.

      Problem "of Delta's making"

      "It is hard for Travelers United to understand how a major airline does not have a backup system for their worldwide reservations network. One of the first things anyone working with computers learns is to backup data," said Charles Leocha of Travelers United, an advocacy group for travelers.

      Unfortunately, said Leocha, passengers' options are limited.

      "When Delta cancels a flight, passengers are entitled to a full refund. However, passengers in the middle of a trip are at the mercy of the airlines and its ability to move them to to other airlines and its capacity to handle passengers on future flights," he said. 

      Delta said it was waiving change and cancellation fees ranging from $200 to $500 and said that affected flights must be reissued on or before August 12, 2016 (Friday). Also, rebooked travel must begin no later than Friday.

      If Delta flights from the European Union to the US are delayed for more than three hours, passengers are eligible for €600 (about $660) in compensation.

      "Travelers United urges Delta to allow passengers up to a year from the date of cancellation to use their airline ticket funds. Forcing passengers to change their dates of travel and upend their lives because of a Delta mishap is unreasonable," Leocha said. "This is a problem completely of Delta’s making, not the fault of passengers. Remedies should recognize Delta’s culpability and not restrict consumer rights or force them pay additional airfare or fees."

      In a statement Monday morning, Delta warned passengers that “large-scale cancellations” are expected throughout the day.

      “All flights enroute are operating normally,” the statement said. “We are aware that flight status systems, including airport screens, are incorrectly showing flights on time. We apologize to customers who are affected by this issue, and our teams are working to resolve the problem as quickly as possible.”

      Hand-written boarding passes

      Not only are there long lines at Delta ticket counters, the computer glitch means that boarding passes are being written out by hand. That makes it difficult to board planes on time, which the airline expects will result in delays and flight cancellations.

      That, of course, can be expected to impact passengers on other airlines if they are connecting with a Delta flight to get to their destinations.

      Delta has issued a waiver for consumers traveling on the airline from August 8 through August 12.

      If your flight is canceled or significantly delayed, you will be able to get a refund. Even if your flight is not canceled, you may make a one-time change to your ticket without fee if you are scheduled to travel over the next five days.

      Delta passengers can get the latest information from the airline here.

      Air travelers are starting the week with a complication that could affect timely arrivals at their destinations.Delta Airlines experienced a computer o...
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      How to counter the negative effects of prolonged sitting

      Staying active is the best way, but fidgeting and toe-tapping provide some protection

      Inactivity and sedentary behaviors are leading to health problems for U.S. consumers. The risk of cardiovascular disease increases when blood flow to the legs is reduced – something that naturally happens with long periods of sitting.

      While getting up and staying active is the best way to reverse the effects of long-term sitting, a new study from the University of Missouri shows that tapping your feet and fidgeting may be a good way to increase blood flow – not only to your legs, but to your entire body.

      “Many of us sit for hours at a time, whether it’s binge watching our favorite TV show or working at a computer. We wanted to know whether a small amount of leg fidgeting could prevent a decline in leg vascular function caused by prolonged sitting,” said lead author Dr. Jaume Padilla.

      “While we expected fidgeting to increase blood flow to the lower limbs, we were quite surprised to find this would be sufficient to prevent a decline in arterial function.”

      Fidgeting health benefits

      The researchers came to their conclusions after observing the effects of fidgeting on vascular function in 11 healthy men and women. Each participant was asked sit for three hours under special conditions; while they were charged with keeping one leg still, they were asked to tap the foot of the other leg for one minute every five minutes.

      After the three-hour period, the researchers measured blood flow to the popliteal artery in each leg for every participant. They found that the “active” leg for each participant had a significantly higher blood flow, indicating that fidgeting improves vascular function.

      Stay active

      The study is the first to show that fidgeting can have protective benefits for vascular health. However, the researchers stress that the best way to counter the effects of sitting is to get up and stay active.

      “You should attempt to break up sitting time as much as possible by standing or walking. But if you’re stuck in a situation in which walking just isn’t an option, fidgeting can be a good alternative. Any movement is better than no movement,” said Padilla.

      The full study has been published in the American Journal of Physiology Heart and Circulatory Physiology

      Inactivity and sedentary behaviors are leading to health problems for U.S. consumers. The risk of cardiovascular disease increases when blood flow to the l...
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      Bright future seen in 55+ housing market

      Builders say demand is steady

      While demand continues to be strong in the single-family 55+ housing market, production isn't as robust as it could be.

      According to the National Association of Home Builders' (NAHB) 55+ Housing Market Index (HMI), builder confidence in the market was up a point to57 in the second quarter. That's the ninth consecutive quarter with a reading above 50. An index number above 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.

      “Builders and developers for the 55+ housing sector continue to report steady demand,” said Jim Chapman, chairman of NAHB's 55+ Housing Industry Council. “However, there are many places around the country facing labor and lot shortages, which are hindering production.”

      A closer look

      There are separate 55+ HMIs for two segments of the 55+ housing market: single-family homes and multifamily condominiums. Each measures builder sentiment based on a survey that asks if current sales, prospective buyer traffic, and anticipated six-month sales for that market are good, fair, or poor (high, average, or low for traffic).

      One of the three index components of the 55+ single-family HMI -- traffic of prospective buyers -- increased four points to 42. Present sales held steady at 61, while expected sales for the next six months dropped two points to 69.

      The 55+ multifamily condo HMI dipped one point to 47. The index component for expected sales for the next six months rose three points to 54, while present sales remained even at 49. Traffic of prospective buyers fell seven points to 38.

      Three of the four indexes tracking production and demand of 55+ multifamily rentals decreased in the fourth quarter. Present production fell nine points to 51 -- from a record-high reading in the previous quarter -- while current and future demand for existing units both dipped one point to 68 and 67, respectively; expected future production rose three points to 56.

      “Much like the overall housing market, this quarter’s 55+ HMI results show that this segment continues its gradual, steady recovery,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “A solid labor market, combined with historically low mortgage rates, are enabling 55+ consumers to be able to sell their homes at a favorable price and buy or rent a home in a 55+ community.”

      While demand continues to be strong in the single-family 55+ housing market, production isn't as robust as it could be.According to the National Associ...
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      Grassfields Cheese recalls cheese products

      The products may be contaminated with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC)

      Grassfields Cheese is recalling approximately 20,000 pounds of organic cheeses due to possible contamination with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), a bacteria that can cause serious illness in humans.

      The potential for contamination was identified during an ongoing investigation of seven cases of human illnesses occurring between March and July 2016 caused by a same type of STEC.

      This recall involves all types and sizes of organic cheeses manufactured by the firm from December 1, 2015, through June 1, 2016, including: Gouda, Onion ‘n Garlic, Country Dill, Leyden, Edam, Lamont Cheddar, Chili Cheese, Fait Fras, Polkton Corners and Crofters.

      The cheeses -- wheels, half wheels and wedges of various sizes -- were sold from the firm’s retail store in Coopersville, Mich., to wholesale and retail customers, and to consumers nationwide via online sales at http://www.grassfieldscheese.com/.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should return them to the place of purchase.

      Consumers with questions may contact Grassfields Cheese at 616-997-8251 Monday - Friday, 8am - 5pm (EST) or by email at Grassfieldscheese@gmail.com

      Grassfields Cheese is recalling approximately 20,000 pounds of organic cheeses due to possible contamination with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), a b...
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      Mercedes-Benz C300 and C400 vehicles recalled

      Mis-aimed headlamps may not properly illuminated the road

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 9,137 model year 2015 C300 and C400 vehicles manufactured from June 18, 2014, through September 5, 2014.

      The affected vehicles were assembled with horizontal adjustment mechanisms that allow the owner to change the horizontal adjustment used during the manufacturing process, instead of the proper sealing caps. They, thus, fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard number 108, "Lamps, Reflective Devices, and Associated Equipment."

      If the original horizontal adjustment is used to alter the low beam aim, the mis-aimed headlamp may not properly illuminated the road or cause increased glare to oncoming drivers, which increases the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Mercedes-Benz will notify owners, and dealers will replace the horizontal adjustment mechanisms on the headlamps with sealing caps on the affected vehicles.

      The recall began May 23, 2016. Owners may contact Mercedes at 1-800-367-6372.

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 9,137 model year 2015 C300 and C400 vehicles manufactured from June 18, 2014, through September 5, 2014. The...
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      Cinmar recalls World Magnetic Travel Maps

      If two or more magnets are swallowed, they can link together causing intestinal obstructions

      Cinmar LLC of West Chester, Ohio, is recalling about 4,500 travel maps with magnets.

      If two or more magnets are swallowed, they can link together inside the intestines and clamp onto body tissues, causing intestinal obstructions, perforations, sepsis and death. Internal injury from magnets can pose serious lifelong health effects.

      No incidents or injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves World Magnetic Travel Maps with a burlwood frame. The world maps measure 54 inches wide and 36 inches tall and come with 50 magnetic markers. The maps affected by this recall have item number 145684 printed on the packaging.

      The maps, manufactured in China, were sold exclusively at Frontgate retail and outlet stores and online at www.frontgate.com from October 2015, through March 2016, for about $225.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the magnetic markers that came with the product, keep them out of reach of children and dispose of them or recycle them. Cinmar is contacting consumers who purchased the products directly and will provide instructions on how to receive replacement magnets.

      Consumers may contact Cinmar toll-free at 888-263-9850 from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday or online at www.frontgate.com and click on “Safety Recall Notices” at the bottom of the page for more information.

      Cinmar LLC of West Chester, Ohio, is recalling about 4,500 travel maps with magnets.   If two or more magnets are swallowed, they can link together i...
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      VW diesel owners should get more money, Consumer Reports argues

      The magazine also wants owners who opt for a fix to be able to reconsider their decision

      Consumer Reports magazine thinks owners of Volkswagen diesels aren't getting enough compensation for the damage done to their car's resale value by VW's deceptive emissions strategies.

      The non-profit magazine also says VW owners who agree to have their cars modified to meet emission regulations should have the right to reconsider if they're unhappy with the result. Many owners have expressed fears that their cars won't run as well after they've been brought into compliance with air quality standards.

      The magazine made the comments in a filing with the federal court that has tentatively approved a settlement that would offer repairs or buybacks to owners of 475,000 VW, Audi and Porsche diesels.

      VW has agreed to spend more than $10 billion to buy back or repair the 2.0-liter TDI diesels that emit up to 40 times the legally allowable levels of pollution.

      Tough penalties needed

      Consumer Reports said it generally supports the settlement but urged federal and state lawmakers to "assess tough civil penalties and any appropriate criminal penalties against the company in order to hold it fully accountable."

      The public comment period for the settlement ends today. U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer has scheduled an Oct. 18 hearing at which he is expected to grant final approval.

      However, VW still faces fines for violating clean air laws and must still adopt a plan for 85,000 3.0-liter diesel vehicles. It also faces civil suits filed by the states of New York, Maryland, and Massachusetts, as well as an ongoing criminal investigation by the U.S. Justice Department.

      In addition, Volkswagen must still contend with repercussions from the emissions scandal in European and Asian markets. South Korea earlier this week suspended sales of 80 VW, Audi, and Bentley models, shutting down sales in one of Volkswagen's hottest markets. 

      Consumer Reports magazine thinks owners of Volkswagen diesels aren't getting enough compensation for the damage done to their car's resale value by VW's de...
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      Apple to launch bug bounty program in September

      The company will pay out substantial rewards to those who find flaws in their products

      Increasingly, technology producers and companies are using outside resources to test for security weaknesses in their products. Now it seems that the trend has extended to Apple, which plans to launch a bug bounty program in September.

      Initially, white- and gray-hat hackers will only be able to participate if they’re invited by the company. However, individuals may be able to work their way into this elite group if they find a particularly interesting bug or flaw.

      Successfully collecting a bounty could be quite lucrative for participants or the charities they choose to donate to. Apple has declared that it will match any donation made by participants on a 1:1 basis.

      According to an Apple Insider report, the company is willing to pay out:

      • $200,000 for bugs connected to secure boot firmware components;
      • $100,000 for extraction of confidential material protected by Secure Enclave Processor;
      • $50,000 for execution of arbitrary code with kernel privileges;
      • $50,000 for unauthorized access to iCloud account data on Apple servers;
      • and $25,000 for access from a sandboxed process to user data outside of that sandbox.

      The tech company hopes that incentivizing the discovery of potential threats will decrease the likelihood that a flaw is exploited on millions of consumer devices. Expansion of the types of bug categories that will be incentivized will be addressed at a later date. 

      Increasingly, technology producers and companies are using outside resources to test for security weaknesses in their products. Now it seems that the trend...
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      Amazon unveils its first branded cargo plane

      The retail giant plans to have a fleet of 40 cargo planes

      Amazon's plans for drone delivery have gotten a lot of attention, but the big draw in Seattle today is Amazon One -- a Boeing 767-300 cargo plane that is the first of a planned fleet of 40.

      Amazon currently has 11 dedicated airplanes moving merchandise around the world, but Amazon One is the first one to be painted in the company's own livery. The giant airplane is on display today at Seafair, Seattle's annual air show. 

      “Creating an air transportation network is expanding our capacity to ensure great delivery speeds for our Prime members for years to come,” said Dave Clark, Amazon’s senior vice president of worldwide operations. “I cannot imagine a better way to celebrate the inaugural flight than in our hometown at Seafair alongside Amazon employees and Seattle residents.”

      Amazon's distribution operation includes 125 fulfillment centers and more than 20 sorting centers where the compny uses algorithms, robotics, machine learning, and other wizardry to increase delivery speeds, the company said.

      Amazon One is one of 40 airplanes that Amazon has agreed to lease through air cargo partners Atlas Air and ATSG. In an ode to its Prime members, Amazon’s first airplane in its dedicated fleet features a tail number made up of a Prime number.

      Amazon's plans for drone delivery have gotten a lot of attention, but the big draw in Seattle today is Amazon One -- a Boeing 767-300 cargo plane that is t...
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      Researchers make progress in fight against HIV

      Using killer T cells may allow doctors to completely rid patients of persistent diseases

      Scientists are always striving to come up with new ways to cure the diseases that plague society. And now, it looks like they are one step closer to achieving that goal for human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV.

      Researchers at the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute have found that killer T cells, which we detailed in an earlier report, are able to find hidden infected cells in body tissue and eliminate them. This ability, they say, could go a long way towards ridding the body completely of the virus, a more permanent solution than methods that are currently used.

      “The potential of this discovery is huge. It helps us to understand how we may be able to treat diseases that affect the immune system itself, such as HIV or B cell lymphoma,” said Dr. Axel Kallies, one of the lead researchers of the study.

      More potent treatment

      In addition to HIV, this discovery has the potential to address a range of different diseases and infections that hide and protect themselves when the body undergoes normal treatment. They are able to do this by going to “hiding spots” in the body, otherwise known as B cell follicles. However, while normal treatments may not be able to reach them, killer T cells are much more thorough.

      “We’ve shown for the first time that there are specialized killer T cells that can migrate into a part of the lymphoid tissue and control hidden infection,” said Dr. Di Yu.

      “We could potentially transfer these specialized super potent killer T cells into patients, or we could treat patients with proteins that can drag these specialized killer T-cells into the right spots, specifically to the hot spots where HIV can hide on antiviral treatment,” added co-author Professor Sharon Lewin.

      The researchers hope that they can proceed to human trials within the next five years, though they admit that more testing of the killer T cells will be necessary to measure their potency.

      The full study has been published in the journal Nature Immunology

      Scientists are always striving to come up with new ways to cure the diseases that plague society. And now, it looks like they are one step closer to achiev...
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      Soda sales continue to lose ground to water

      Market research finds consumers are favoring water as a way to promote health

      Consumers are on a health kick, and you can see the evidence in sales figures for sugar-sweetened beverages like soda.

      In a new report, market research firm Packaged Facts found consumers are becoming more sensitive to the calories in food and beverages. As a result, soda sales are flattening out while bottled water sales continue to rise.

      "The healthy lifestyle mantra to 'eat less sugar, drink less soda' has taken root and bottled water is benefiting from the trickledown effect of this increased sugar and soda avoidance," said David Sprinkle, research director at Packaged Facts.

      What about diet sodas?

      An astute consumer might point out here that soda manufacturers also produce diet versions of their popular beverages, containing no calories. So why wouldn't someone who is trying to avoid calories and be more healthy simply switch to a diet drink?

      They have in large measure, but the Packaged Facts report has stumbled onto another trend. Consumers seem to consider water healthier, and are not only using it to replace beverages, but also food.

      The Packaged Facts data reveal that 75% of consumers who are trying to cut calories are using water to replace food. Older consumers, especially, are more likely to adopt this approach.

      Nutritionists, however, favor the approach of eating foods that have a high water content because they tend to contain fewer calories. According to the Mayo Clinic, grapefruit is about 90% water. A half a grapefruit clocks in at just 37 calories.

      Carrots, too, are high in water content and low in calories. The Mayo Clinic staff says a medium carrot only has about 25 calories.

      Safety concerns

      But losing weight isn't the only thing driving bottled water sales. The Packaged Facts report also found that a growing number of consumers worry about the purity of the water coming out of their taps. The recent lead contamination of the Flint, Mich., water supply has driven home this concern.

      Still, bottled water has a long way to go before making serious inroads in soda sales. The report's authors note that manufacturers are serving two markets of consumers – those who want to be healthy and those who don't seem to care very much about healthy habits.

      The report notes that currently, beverage manufacturers make a lot more money on their sugar-sweetened, high calories products than they do on their healthy, low-calorie ones.

      Consumers are on a health kick, and you can see the evidence in sales figures for sugar-sweetened beverages like soda.In a new report, market research ...
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      Nissan recalls Infiniti M35 Hybrids

      A system overheat condition may cause the hybrid powertrain control module to shut off the engine

      Nissan North America is recalling 1,140 model year 2012-2013 Infiniti M35 Hybrids manufactured March 23, 2010, to September 9, 2013.

      A system overheat condition may cause the hybrid powertrain control module to shut off the engine, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Nissan will notify owners, and dealers will reprogram the hybrid control module, automatic transmission control unit, and inverter software, free of charge.

      The recall will begin by September 6, 2016. Owners may contact Nissan customer service at 1-800-647-7261.

      Nissan North America is recalling 1,140 model year 2012-2013 Infiniti M35 Hybrids manufactured March 23, 2010, to September 9, 2013. A system overh...
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      Here's a suitcase that weighs itself

      A built-in scale is designed to eliminate surprises at the airport

      Most airlines not only charge you a fee to check a bag, they often place limits on how much the bag and its contents weigh. Bags exceeding the limits cost even more.

      For example, at United Airlines, checked bags in coach on a domestic flight must weigh no more than 50 pounds. Passengers in business and first class can pack up to 70 pounds. Either way, it is helpful to know just what your bag weighs before arriving in the check-in line.

      For that reason Hammacher Schlemmer, a retailer famous for selling unusual products, has introduced what it calls a “self-weighing” suitcase.

      The suitcase is 26 inches long with hard-shell construction. It comes with a built in digital scale, which is activated when you pick it up by the handle. It retails for $199.95.

      The bag itself weighs 10.5 pounds and the company said it is constructed of sturdy ABS that will hold up, no matter how many baggage claims it goes through. According to the company website, the self-weighing bag comes with a lifetime guarantee.

      Will convert pounds to kilograms

      Inside, the suitcase is lined with soft polyester and has a built-in divider with a transparent pocket for separate storage of toiletries or shoes. It comes with what the company calls “a TSA friendly three-digit lock,” 12-inch extending pull handle, and 360 degree rotating wheels. Its scale will even convert pounds to kilograms for international travel.

      "We are always looking for innovative ways to improve the travel experience for our customers," said Fred Berns, Hammacher Schlemmer's general manager. "Our Self Weighing Suitcase helps alleviate airport anxiety by eliminating the guesswork of luggage weight and avoiding the stress of surprise fees at the ticket counter."

      According AirfareWatchdog.com, overweight bags can be costly. It says both American Airlines and United charge $100 for a bag weighing between 51 and 70 pounds and $200 if the bag weighs 71 to 100 pounds.

      Most airlines not only charge you a fee to check a bag, they often place limits on how much the bag and its contents weigh. Bags exceeding the limits cost ...
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      Fertility apps present privacy issues women may not have considered

      The apps may be helpful but they could also reveal more than users expect

      There are apps that will track just about everything, including women's menstrual cycles. The goal is to get more precise fertility information, but an unwanted side effect could be leakage of very personal information.

      Consumer Reports recently took a careful look at Glow, one of the more popular fertility apps, and found that security was not what it might be. In fact, the magazine said, anyone who knew a user's email address could potentially access that person's data and find such information as the last time they had sex, what kind of sex it was, how many drinks they'd had, and other information most people wouldn't knowingly disclose to the world, not to mention to stalkers and abusive spouses and exes.

      Glow was quick to fix the problem after Consumer Reports pointed it out, but the episode illustrated the risks users of similar apps face, the Washington Post reported

      Glow has said that it has helped more than 150,000 couples conceive and claims that women who carefully track their ovulation cycles in the app were 40 percent more likely to become pregnant than more casual users.

      Gray zone

      The magazine, published by non-profit Consumers Union, noted that Glow and similar apps fall into a regulatory gray zone -- many of them are not covered by HIPAA, the federal health privacy law that protects information shared with healthcare providers.

      While the Glow vulnerabilities have been addressed, health and privacy advocates are concerned about the thousands of other apps and forums that women are using to reveal highly personal information without fully considering the possible consequences. 

      Besides the risk of any individual's data being revealed, there is also the question of how data gathered by the apps are treated in the aggregate. Is the data used for medical research, marketing research, or for behaviorally targeted advertising? Is it sold to third-party "big data" bundlers? Some apps' privacy policies may have answered these questions, but others may consist of indecipherable legalese.

      While medicines and medical devices undergo stringent testing before being approved for use on patients, there are no such restrictions on apps and online tools. 

      Women who ask their doctors for advice are likely to find that the doctor knows no more than the patient about the vulnerabilities of any specific app, which means that it is once again buyer -- or perhaps user -- beware. 

      There are apps that will track just about everything, including women's menstrual cycles. The goal is to get more precise fertility information, but an unw...
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      Are energy drinks a source of heart trouble?

      New research says doctors should take a closer look

      Americans love their caffeine. Whether it's in coffee, soft drinks, chocolate, or energy drinks, we seem to need a caffeine buzz to get through the day.

      But does all that caffeine cause heart problems? According to the American Heart Association, the jury is still out.

      “Many studies have been done to see if there's a direct link between caffeine, coffee drinking and coronary heart disease,” the association reports on its website. “The results are conflicting. This may be due to the way the studies were done and confounding dietary factors. However, moderate coffee drinking (1–2 cups per day) doesn't seem to be harmful.”

      But how about energy drinks, which also contain caffeine and are consumed with the expressed purpose of gaining a physical or mental boost?

      Case study

      A case report in the Journal of Addiction Medicine concludes the high levels of caffeine in energy drinks “may lead to cardiac complications.” The report focused on a 28-year old man treated in the emergency room for heart arrhythmias. The man, who also suffered from obesity, said he routinely drank two Monster energy drinks per day containing a total of 320 milligrams of caffeine. He also drank alcohol on a daily basis.

      Until 2010, many energy drinks also contained alcohol, but that combination was outlawed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But how about energy drinks consumed without alcohol? Is the caffeine content alone enough to cause heart problems?

      An international study last year concluded that consumption of energy drinks by otherwise healthy young people could aggravate underlying heart issues. It found these beverages' high amounts of caffeine and sugar could cause young people to develop dangerous heart arrhythmias.

      Treatment resolved the issue

      In the case of the 28-year old patient in the case report, researchers say medication resolved the atrial fibrillation after 48 hours. A one-year follow-up showed no signs of the arrhythmia.

      "We believe that energy drink consumption played a key role," the authors write.

      They stress that the 160 mg caffeine content of a Monster energy drink is about four times higher than in a caffeinated soft drink. However, it should be pointed out that heavy coffee consumption might include even higher levels of caffeine. But the researchers suggest the possibility that other ingredients in energy drinks might heighten caffeine's effects.

      They conclude more research is this area is needed and that, in the meantime, health care providers should question patients about energy drink consumption when they treat them for heart problems.

      Americans love their caffeine. Whether it's in coffee, soft drinks, chocolate, or energy drinks, we seem to need a caffeine buzz to get through the day....
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      How to save your first $100,000

      There are no shortcuts, but there is a road map

      You've heard it said, “it takes money to make money.” Ever wondered how rich people got that first $100,000?

      It was the hardest money they ever earned, according to a report by GoBankingRates.com. That's because money grows faster when the returns are “compounded,” or reinvested. Put $10 in a savings account and $1,000 in a savings account and see which one grows faster over time.

      Having large amounts of cash on hand also allows you to make more lucrative investments that provide generous returns. So getting on the road to wealth means earning that first $100,000. The report says there really are no shortcuts, but it offers a road map.

      Time is on your side

      First, start young. There is nothing like time to help you build wealth. You need a job that covers your basic living expenses and still provides money for saving. And savings should be considered a “basic living expense.”

      Next, put your savings on autopilot. If you have to make a decision each month about whether, or how much to save, there will be months you simply won't save anything.

      Use direct deposit to move a set amount of money from your checking account to your savings or investment account every month. If you find that some months you can save even more, you can add it manually. But saving without thinking about it is the surest way to set aside funds each month.

      Take advantage of retirement savings accounts, especially ones in which an employer matches employee contributions. If you are setting up an individual retirement account, consider a Roth IRA over a Traditional IRA. Your contributions won't be tax deductible but you won't have to pay taxes on withdrawals, and your contributions over the years will grow tax-free.

      Prioritize debt

      Take a look at your debt and prioritize ways of paying it down. These days many households carry multiple credit card balances, which cut into the ability to save. Pay off higher interest balances first.

      Be frugal. It sounds easy but it's a lot like going on a diet. You have to get used to getting by on less. However, after cutting out unnecessary spending you may find you can adjust to it just fine.

      Finally, look for ways to generate additional income. If you have a job that covers the bills and provides a little for savings, a part-time business, perhaps based on a hobby or special skill you have, might generate money that could go directly into savings, putting you on the road to building real wealth a little faster.

      If you have questions or want a more detailed plan, you should seek out a qualified and impartial financial advisor.

      You've heard it said, “it takes money to make money.” Ever wondered how rich people got that first $100,000?It was the hardest money they ever earned, ...
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      Conagra expands recall of Watts Brothers organic vegetable products

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      ConAgra Foods is expanding its earlier recall of Watts Brothers Farms Organic Mixed Vegetables, Organic Super Sweet Corn (Yellow/Gold), and Organic Peas.

      The products maybe contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      There have been no confirmed illnesses to date.

      The following products distributed in the U.S. and sold at Costco, are being recalled:

      UPCProduct NameNet WeightBest Before DatePackage Code
      6.81241E+11Watts Brothers Farms Organic Mixed Vegetables5 lbsNewly added dates
      Best Before 01/08/176180 01 08 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 01/09/176180 01 09 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 02/02/176180 02 02 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 02/11/176180 02 11 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 02/27/176180 02 27 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 03/04/176180 03 04 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 03/05/176180 03 05 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 03/23/176180 03 23 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 06/29/176180 06 29 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 06/30/176180 06 30 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 07/23/176180 07 23 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 07/24/176180 07 24 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 08/10/176180 08 10 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 08/31/176180 08 31 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 09/04/176180 09 04 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 09/23/176180 09 23 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 09/24/176180 09 24 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 09/25/176180 09 25 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 10/01/176180 10 01 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 10/02/176180 10 02 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 10/14/176180 10 14 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 12/09/176180 12 09 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 12/10/176180 12 10 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 01/13/186180 01 13 18 HH:MM
      Best Before 01/15/186180 01 15 18 HH:MM
      Best Before 02/03/186180 02 03 18 HH:MM
      Previously reported dates
      Best Before 09/30/166180 09 30 16 HH:MM
      Best Before 10/01/166180 10 01 16 HH:MM
      Best Before 10/16/166180 10 16 16 HH:MM
      Best Before 12/03/166180 12 03 16 HH:MM
      Best Before 12/11/166180 12 11 16 HH:MM
      Best Before 12/12/166180 12 12 16 HH:MM
      Best Before 12/16/166180 12 16 16 HH:MM
      Best Before 12/17/166180 12 17 16 HH:MM
      Best Before 01/20/176180 01 20 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 01/21/176180 01 21 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 02/03/176180 02 03 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 02/12/176180 02 12 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 02/26/176180 02 26 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 03/31/176180 03 31 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 04/17/176180 04 17 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 04/24/176180 04 24 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 04/25/176180 04 25 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 05/08/176180 05 08 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 05/12/176180 05 12 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 05/26/176180 05 26 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 05/27/176180 05 27 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 08/07/176180 08 07 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 08/27/176180 08 27 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 08/28/176180 08 28 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 09/01/176180 09 01 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 10/22/176180 10 22 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 10/23/176180 10 23 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 10/24/176180 10 24 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 10/25/176180 10 25 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 10/26/176180 10 26 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 01/14/186180 01 14 18 HH:MM
      Best Before 01/23/186180 01 23 18 HH:MM
      Best Before 01/24/186180 01 24 18 HH:MM
      Best Before 02/02/186180 02 02 18 HH:MM
      Best Before 02/09/186180 02 09 18 HH:MM
      Best Before 02/10/186180 02 10 18 HH:MM
      Best Before 02/26/186180 02 26 18 HH:MM
      Best Before 03/12/186180 03 12 18 HH:MM
      Best Before 03/30/186180 03 30 18 HH:MM
      Best Before 03/31/186180 03 31 18 HH:MM
      Best Before 04/05/186180 04 05 18 HH:MM
      Best Before 04/06/186180 04 06 18 HH:MM
      Best Before 04/13/186180 04 13 18 HH:MM
      Best Before 04/22/186180 04 22 18 HH:MM
      6.81E+11Watts Brothers Farms Organic Super Sweet Corn(Yellow/Gold)5 lbsNewly added dates
      Best Before 08/07/176180 08 07 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 09/01/176180 09 01 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 09/02/176180 09 02 17 HH:MM

      Previously reported dates

      Best Before 03/18/17

      6180 03 18 17 HH:MM

      Best Before 04/09/17

      6180 04 09 17 HH:MM

      Best Before 04/13/17

      6180 04 13 17 HH:MM

      Best Before 04/14/17

      6180 04 14 17 HH:MM

      Best Before 04/29/17

      6180 04 29 17 HH:MM

      Best Before 05/18/17

      6180 05 18 17 HH:MM

      Best Before 05/19/17

      6180 05 19 17 HH:MM

      Best Before 05/28/17

      6180 05 28 17 HH:MM

      Best Before 06/12/176180 06 12 17 HH:MM
      6.81E+11Watts Brothers Farms Organic Peas5 lbsNewly added dates
      Best Before 10/23/166180 10 23 16 HH:MM
      Best Before 10/24/166180 10 24 16 HH:MM
      Best Before 10/30/166180 10 30 16 HH:MM
      Best Before 05/18/176180 05 18 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 05/27/176180 05 27 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 05/28/176180 05 28 17 HH:MM
      Previously reported dates
      Best Before 11/23/166180 11 23 16 HH:MM
      Best Before 11/24/166180 11 24 16 HH:MM
      Best Before 11/25/166180 11 25 16 HH:MM
      Best Before 11/26/166180 11 26 16 HH:MM
      Best Before 12/01/166180 12 01 16 HH:MM
      Best Before 04/24/176180 04 24 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 10/21/176180 10 21 17 HH:MM
      Best Before 01/22/186180 01 22 16 HH:MM
      Best Before 01/23/186180 01 23 16 HH:MM
      Best Before 01/24/186180 01 24 16 HH:MM

      The Best Before Date and Package Code is located on the back of the package above the zipper. The HH:MM portion of the Package Code indicates the time product was made and varies by package. Please refer to the attached photographs for examples.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should discard them or return them to the store where purchased.

      Consumers with questions may call the firm's consumer affairs hotline at (800) 881-3989, from 9 am – 7 pm (CDT) Monday through Friday.

      ConAgra Foods is expanding its earlier recall of Watts Brothers Farms Organic Mixed Vegetables, Organic Super Sweet Corn (Yellow/Gold), and Organic Peas....
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      Comcast objects to FCC proposal to restrict 'pay-for-privacy' broadband pricing

      ISPs want consumers to pay extra to avoid being tracked for advertising purposes

      Comcast is objecting to proposed rules that would outlaw the growing practice of charging broadband subscribers who don't agree to watch behaviorally targeted ads.

      The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is considering a rule that would do just that, but rather than protecting consumers, Comcast says it "would harm consumers by, among other things, depriving them of lower-priced offerings."

      In a filing with the FCC, Comcast argues that, "a bargained-for exchange of information for service is a perfectly acceptable and widely used model throughout the U.S. economy, including the Internet ecosystem" and says it is "consistent with decades of legal precedent and policy goals related to consumer protection and privacy."

      But FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler notes some crucial distinctions in the case of broadband advertising. In a July 11 letter to Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), Wheeler observed that: "A consumer, once connected to broadband service, cannot simply avoid the network in the same manner as a consumer can instantaneously (and without penalty) switch search engines, surf among competing websites, and select among diverse applications."

      Wheeler said consumers wanting to switch services would face charges including: "(1) early termination fees; (2) installation fees; (3) activation fees; and (4) the cost of new or replacement equipment (if owned equipment is not compatible with the new service)."

      Wheeler noted that even if the consumer could afford those costs, many cities lack a competing broadband provider. 

      "Devastating impact"

      Privacy groups beg to differ. The non-profit advocacy organization Free Press says widespread adoption of the practice would have a "devastating impact on our most vulnerable populations."

      "It could mean that only people with the necessary financial means could protect their privacy and prevent their ISPs from sharing their personal information with predatory online marketers," said Sandra Fulton, Free Press' government relations manager, in a blog posting.  

      "Under pay-for-privacy models, consumers who are unable to pay the higher broadband cost will likely see their ISPs share their data with shadowy online data brokers who use this information to tailor marketing messages," Fulton said. "While unregulated and unaccountable data brokers are a threat to everyone’s privacy, they’re notorious for targeting low-income communities, people of color and other vulnerable demographics."

      Senators object

      Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) are supporting the FCC's proposed rule. In a letter to the FCC, the senators said, "Every click a consumer makes online paints a detailed picture of their personal and professional lives, and this sensitive information should be protected by strong privacy standards." 

      "Not only is a pay-for-privacy standard counter to our nation's core principle that all Americans have a fundamental right to privacy, but it also may disproportionately harm low-income customers, the elderly, and other vulnerable populations," the senators wrote.

      Comcast is objecting to proposed rules that would outlaw the growing practice of charging broadband subscribers who don't agree to watch behaviorally targe...
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      Spirit flips its rewards program in August -- gives more points for less spending

      It's intended to tweak major carriers who now award points based on spending, not miles

      Major airlines have been fiddling with their rewards programs, changing them to award points based on spending rather than miles. Budget carrier Spirit Airlines is taking a different tack in August -- awarding more miles to those who spend less.

      “We want to fly in the face of changing loyalty programs and reward customers for saving money, not spending it,” Bobby Schroeter, Spirit’s vice president of consumer marketing, said. It's called the “Save More, Get More” promotion.

      Throughout August, Free Spirit members will earn 1,000 bonus miles for flights in which the base fare is $75 or less. Spirit will award 500 bonus miles for flights that cost between $76 and $125. The ultra-low-cost carrier will award 125 bonus miles to those who purchase tickets that cost between $126 and $150.

      The bonuses are increased to 2,500 miles, 1000 miles and 500 miles, respectively, for members of Spirit’s $9 Fare Club.

      The bonus miles will be awarded on top of the normal Free Spirit miles that members earn for a flight. Free Spirit members are awarded one mile for every two miles that they fly, while elite members are awarded on a mile-for-mile basis.

      Interested participants can visit here to register for the campaign and book a flight.

      Major airlines have been fiddling with their rewards programs, changing them to award points based on spending rather than miles. Budget carrier Spirit Air...
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      How much are you really saving at the gas pump?

      Gasbuddy survey finds consumers could be pocketing a lot more

      Gasoline prices are lower for this time of year than they have been in recent memory. Consumers should be pocketing significant savings.

      But are they? Gas price website GasBuddy surveyed consumers' fuel-purchasing habits and has concluded that consumers may be saving, but they are actually paying more than they should.

      The biggest threats to consumers, the site claims, are procrastination, craving convenience, and being creatures of habit.

      How can following long-established habits hurt? Gasbuddy found that an overwhelming majority of consumers – 76% – go to the same station to fill up on a regular basis. They do so because they believe it has the lowest price, but often it doesn't, and they don't bother to find out.

      Smart shopping

      “Make sure you’re shopping smart and checking that your go-to fill-up spot is, in fact, the cheapest,” said Vera Gibbons, senior consumer analyst at GasBuddy. “You never know when a nearby station is running a promotion or may have changed its pricing strategy, so always double-check.”

      Another money wasting habit is waiting until the gas gauge hits empty before filling up again. If you wait until you're running on fumes, price become less important. You just want to get some fuel in your tank, regardless of what it costs.

      “According to our research, most people can save around 20 to 30 cents per gallon by shopping around for the cheapest station within a city. In some cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle and Washington, D.C., the savings could be upwards of 70 cents per gallon,” Gibbons said.

      But who takes the time to do that when the gas gauge needle is hovering over “E?”

      Why didn't the motorist cross the road?

      Other consumers are overpaying for fuel because they refuse to cross the road. The survey found 40% of respondents choose a gas station based on location, while 14% admit to choosing a station depending on how easy it is to get into.

      Convenience also enters into the money-wasting equation when a station offers a cash discount but the consumer pays with plastic. Admittedly, it's a pain to go inside the station and pre-pay with cash for the gas. But those who do so might save up to 15 cents a gallon, Gibbons says.

      “Paying with cash might be less convenient for those who only carry cards, but it’s a simple way to save some extra money,” she said.

      Even so, the survey found 86% of consumers buy gasoline with a credit or debit card.

      With gas prices historically low, some consumers are paying a little more for a premium grade of gasoline. Twelve percent of consumers in the survey admitted to doing that.

      That's a big money-waster, Gibbons says. Unless a manufacturer specifically requires premium fuel, 87 octane will work just fine.

      Gasoline prices are lower for this time of year than they have been in recent memory. Consumers should be pocketing significant savings.But are they? G...
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      Employment on the rise in July

      The gains came in the non-manufacturing sector

      Although July was a better month for employment than June, the pace of new job creation continues at a less than robust pace.

      According to the July ADP National Employment Report, private sector employment increased by 179,000 jobs from June to July -- 3,000 more jobs than were created in June.

      The report, produced by the ADP Research Institute in collaboration with Moody's Analytics, measures the change in total nonfarm private employment each month on a seasonally-adjusted basis.

      "This month's employment number falls short of the 12-month average primarily because of slowing in small business hiring," said Ahu Yildirmaz, vice president and head of the ADP Research Institute. "As the labor market continues to tighten, small businesses may increasingly face challenges when it comes to offering wages that can compete with larger businesses."

      Strength in services

      Service-providing employment added 185,000 jobs last month, with professional/business services contributing 59,000. Trade/transportation/utilities increased by 27,000 jobs and financial activities added 11,000.

      Goods-producing employment lost 6,000 jobs in July, following June losses of 28,000, with the construction industry down 6,000. Manufacturing rebounded, gaining 4,000 jobs after losing 15,000 a month earlier.

      Payrolls for businesses with 49 or fewer employees increased by 61,000 jobs in July, while employment at companies with 50-499 employees rose by 68,000. Large companies -- those with 500 or more employees -- hired 50,000 new workers; firms with 500-999 employees added 16,000, and companies with more than 1,000 employees put another 33,000 people on the payroll.

      "This month's employment number falls short of the 12-month average primarily because of slowing in small business hiring," said Ahu Yildirmaz, vice president and head of the ADP Research Institute. "As the labor market continues to tighten, small businesses may increasingly face challenges when it comes to offering wages that can compete with larger businesses."

      Although July was a better month for employment than June, the pace of new job creation continues at a less than robust pace.According to the July ADP ...
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      Another drop -- the third straight -- for mortgage applications

      Contract interest rates are working their way higher

      For the third time in as many weeks, applications for mortgages were on the decline.

      The Mortgage Bankers Association reports applications were down 3.5% in the week ending July 29.

      The Refinance Index fell 4%, sending the refinance share of mortgage activity from 61.1% to 60.7%. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share was unchanged at 4.7%, the FHA share fell to 9.4% from 10.1%, the VA share rose to 12.1%, and the USDA share of total applications increased to 0.7% from 0.6% the week before.

      Contract interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) slipped two basis points -- from 3.69% to 3.67% -- with points decreasing to 0.30 from 0.36 (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) dipped to 3.65% from 3.67%, with points decreasing to 0.24 from 0.32 (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 dropped two basis points to 3.54%, with points decreasing to 0.32 from 0.35 (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 went to 2.93% from 2.94%, with points increasing to 0.36 from 0.32 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate was unchanged from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs fell six basis points to 2.90%, with points decreasing to 0.24 from 0.30 (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.

      For the third time in as many weeks, applications for mortgages were on the decline.The Mortgage Bankers Association reports applications were down 3.5...
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      Hampton Creek recalls baking mixes containing Native Forest Coconut Milk Powder

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Hampton Creek is recalling baking mixes that contain the Native Forest Coconut Milk Powder.

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      There have been no reports of any health issues.

      The following products, sold nationwide, are being recalled:

      White Cake Mix
      UPC Code: 854829006886
      Weight: 20 OZ
      Sell By Date: 5/25/2017
      Packaging Type: Cardboard Box
      Cinnamon Roll Cake Mix
      UPC Code: 854829006442
      Weight: 26.9 OZ
      Sell By Date: 5/28/2017
      Packaging Type: Cardboard Box
      Chocolate Chunk Muffin Mix
      UPC Code: 854829006565
      Weight: 20.8 OZ
      Sell By Date: 6/6/2017
      Packaging Type: Cardboard Box
      Yellow Cake Mix
      UPC Code: 854829006428
      Weight: 20 OZ
      Sell By Date: 6/2/2017, 7/13/2017
      Packaging Type: Cardboard Box
      Blueberry Muffin Mix
      UPC Code: 854829006855
      Weight: 23.3OZ
      Sell By Date: 6/4/2017
      Packaging Type: Cardboard Box
      Devil’s Food Cake Mix
      UPC Code: 854829006435
      Weight: 20 OZ
      Sell by date: 6/7/2017
      Packaging Type: Cardboard Box

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but discard it or return it to the retailer for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at (844) 423-6637, Monday – Friday from 9:00 – 6pm (PST) or by email at wecare@hamptoncreek.com.”

      Hampton Creek is recalling baking mixes that contain the Native Forest Coconut Milk Powder. The product may be contaminated with Salmonella. ...
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      Excessive drinking increases risk of respiratory infection, study finds

      Findings show that increased drinking correlates with lower levels of nitric oxide in the lungs

      A new study from Loyola Medicine and Loyola University Chicago shows that drinking excessive amounts of alcohol is not only bad for your liver – it can also have a severe impact on your lungs.

      Researchers have found that those who drink alcohol have less nitric oxide in their lungs than those who do not. This is important because nitric oxide helps protect these vital organs from harmful bacteria that often cause infection.

      Dr. Majid Afshar, lead author of the study, confirms the finding, saying that “alcohol appears to disrupt the healthy balance in the lung.” He and his colleagues believe that their findings could be important to those who abuse alcohol and those who are affected by asthma, since altered levels of nitric oxide could create complications with medication.

      Increased risk of infection

      The researchers came to their conclusions after studying over 12,000 adults who participated in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Examination Survey between 2007 and 2012. Those included in the study were asked about their level of alcohol consumption and were given physical examinations that measured levels of nitric oxide in their lungs.

      Out of all the participants, the researchers found that 26.9% could be classified as excessive drinkers, defined as an individual who had more than one drink per day on average for women and two drinks per day for men. After controlling for several variables, the test results showed that these individuals exhaled lower levels of nitric oxide than those who did not drink. This correlation was proven to be pervasive; the more that participants reported drinking, the lower their levels of nitric oxide were.

      These findings indicate that the likelihood of respiratory infections is much higher for those who drink excessively. Asthma patients need to be especially cautious, the researchers say. Measuring nitric oxide levels for these individuals is extremely common in order to see how well certain medications are working. Afshar and his colleagues believe that consuming alcohol may invalidate or obscure those results, which could lead to improper dosage recommendations.

      The full study has been published the journal Chest

      A new study from Loyola Medicine and Loyola University Chicago shows that drinking excessive amounts of alcohol is not only bad for your liver – it can als...
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      Development of anti-HIV medication could be huge for mothers and infants

      Researchers say the current medication is able to prevent new infections in women

      The effects of HIV are continuing to be felt on a global scale. Health officials say that young women are especially susceptible to the infection, which is bad news for their future offspring; recent statistics show that 45% of HIV-infected women will transmit the virus to their young, usually via breastfeeding. Those numbers become worrying when you consider that 1.5 million women with HIV will become pregnant this year.

      In order to counteract this dangerous epidemic, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have been hard at work creating a new HIV medication. Its clinical name is 4’-Ethynyl-2-fluoro-2’deoxyadenosine, or EFdA.

      Early pre-clinical trials using animal models have yielded some positive results, and those working on the project believe that EFdA could prevent vaginal and oral transmission of HIV, a potentially huge development for the medical community.

      “We discovered that EFdA can prevent vaginal transmission of HIV, which would prevent new infections in women. In addition, we were also able to show that EFda can prevent oral transmission of HIV which would prevent infants who are born to mothers already living with HIV from acquiring the virus during breastfeeding,” said lead author Dr. Martina Kovarova.

      Potentially huge impact

      Kovarova and her colleagues began testing EFdA on mouse models under two different trials. For both cases, a daily dose of the medication was able to prevent HIV from developing, despite multiple exposures to high doses of the infection.

      The researchers say that these results are very encouraging. The next phase of testing will attempt to find correct doses of EFdA to see if it can be made more effective. In particular, Kovarova says that she and her team will try to find how long the medication can stay effective so that less frequent doses need to be taken.

      The development of EFdA could have a huge global impact, especially in underdeveloped nations without much access to modern medicine.

      “The majority of new HIV infections in women and children occur in developing countries with limited resources. The availability of an anti-HIV drug that is potent enough to be used as a preventative agent in both women and infants has the potential to make a significant impact on the global HIV epidemic,” said senior author Dr. Angela Wahl.

      The full study has been published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy.

      The effects of HIV are continuing to be felt on a global scale. Health officials say that young women are especially susceptible to the infection, which is...
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      Southwest Airlines pilots demand ouster of CEO

      The pilots blame CEO Gary Kelly for the July 20 tech meltdown that grounded thousands of flights

      Southwest Airlines pilots are calling for the resignation of CEO Gary Kelly, blaming him for the tech meltdown that left the airline in shambles for days last month. The pilots were joined by the mechanics of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association.

      “As tenured employees and frontline leaders of this company, we can no longer sit idly by and watch poor decision after poor decision deeply affect our customers and Southwest Airlines," Capt. Jon Weaks, president of the Southwest Airline Pilots Association, said in a prepared statement after the union's board voted 20-0 to approve a no-confidence vote in Kelly.

      Weaks said Kelly and Chief Operating Officer Mike Van de Ven have a "misguided focus on cost control" that has caused "years of operational deficiencies, unprecedented labor strife, and continued culture erosion at the company."

      "We believe that a change is needed for the best interests of Southwest Airlines and the loyal customers we serve," the union said and urged the Southwest board to replace both top executives.

      A lone router

      Kelly maintains that the July 20th outage was caused by the failure of a lone router at the airline's Love Field data center in Dallas. 

      The router, like the thousands of others in the data center, had a backup system in place. But Kelly said the "unique" way the router failed, what he described as a "partial failure," didn't signal the backup that it was needed, allowing a singular disruption to metastasize into a crisis, the Dallas Morning News reported.

      Kelly compared it to a once-in-a-thousand-years flood. "In 45 years, we've never had a challenge like this one," Kelly said.

      But Weaks said that under Kelly's management, "there has been an inability to prioritize the expenditure of record-breaking revenues toward investments in critically outdated IT infrastructure and flight operations" and said those "decisions have directly lead to the operational failure at Midway Airport in January 2014, chaotic crew scheduling during the summers and holidays of 2014-2016, and our most recent 'meltdown' related to technological infrastructure this past month."

      The glitch caused the cancellation of 2,300 flights, stranding hundreds of thousands of consumers and costing Southwest tens of millions of dollars. 

      Southwest Airlines pilots are calling for the resignation of CEO Gary Kelly, blaming him for the tech meltdown that left the airline in shambles for days l...
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      Why Wall Street hates the airlines' more consumer-friendly policies

      Giving consumers a break seen as bad for business

      Oil prices have been low for a couple of years now, and among the beneficiaries have been the nation's airlines.

      With lower fuel costs, airlines have added capacity, gotten more competitive on fares, and brought back a few creature comforts. But while consumers might approve of the changes, Wall Street investors certainly don't.

      In the Bizarro World of Wall Street, just about everything that is good for consumers – low gasoline prices, for example – is seen as bad for business. As far as Wall Street is concerned, companies that can extract the highest profit margins from consumers are to be valued. Companies that give consumers a break are to be avoided, since it is assumed they will be less profitable.

      Airline stocks getting pounded

      Currently, investors are punishing airlines. When airlines imposed baggage fees – and fees for just about everything else – and cut capacity, Wall Street cheered. Less competition meant airlines could charge more. Again, bad for consumers but good for business.

      TheStreet.com reports investors are currently punishing Southwest Airlines over its refusal to impose baggage fees; it's the only major airline that doesn't charge for checking a bag. The airline has thus far also refused to trim its capacity, which would allow it to charge more for tickets.

      The airline recently said it expects revenue per available seat mile to go down a bit in the current quarter.

      Lower profits at American

      American Airlines, meanwhile, is also suffering from lower profits. But Fortune Magazine points out many airlines are slashing fares as an offensive move, to keep smaller discount carriers from making inroads during a period of rock bottom fuel costs.

      Still, Wall Street doesn't like it one bit.

      “All told, the Big Four––American, Delta, United Continental, and Southwest—have shed almost $30 billion in market cap since March, a full 25% of their value,” Fortune reports. “That’s big change from just a few years ago when airlines stocks were soaring.”

      The business publication concludes that airlines are destined to return to their more competitive past, with smaller profit margins and lower stock prices. It might not be good for investors, but it might work out just fine for consumers.  

      Oil prices have been low for a couple of years now, and among the beneficiaries have been the nation's airlines.With lower fuel costs, airlines have ad...
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      Average new car sold for over $34,000 in July

      Kelley Blue Book says traditional five-year monthly payment now averages $550

      New cars keep going up in price. And if consumers keep paying the price, that probably won't end anytime soon.

      The average transaction price (ATP) in July was $34,264, according to Kelley Blue Book (KBB). That's up 2.5% from July 2015 and a 0.2% rise from June.

      “Low interest rates, longer loan terms and increased leasing are helping consumers afford their monthly payments, which would be upwards of $550 per month on a traditional 60-month term,” said Tim Fleming, analyst for Kelley Blue Book.

      In fact, leasing is a major enabler of ever-higher prices. Edmunds.com just reported there were more auto leases in the first half of 2016 than the first half of any year in history.

      Fiat Chrysler buyers faced biggest increases

      Consumers buying Fiat Chrysler models last month paid the biggest increases. The report shows the average Fiat Chrysler model sold for $35,153, a year-over-year increase of 3.8%.

      General Motors models carried the second-highest price increases, rising to $39,104, an increase of 3.3%. Toyota and Ford both raised prices by 2.2%. Toyota benefited from strong price support for the Tacoma truck, which raised its ATP 12% year-over-year.

      Even Volkswagon, still recovering from the diesel emissions scandal, was able to wring out a price increase, with the ATP rising 1% from last July.

      The KBB numbers show trucks, vans, sports cars, and high-end luxury cars were able to raise prices the most. Van prices were up 7.5%, sports car prices were up 7.3%, truck prices gained 7.1%, and luxury car prices were up 7%.

      Nissan loses ground

      Where might consumers find a bargain? If last month's sales figures are any indication, it might be at a local Nissan dealer.

      Nissan was the only carmaker to report a lower year-over-year ATP, which was down 1%. However, the Infinity rose 4% on a higher mix of SUV sales. Titan XD pickup prices also surged in July, but sales volume wasn't enough to move the needle.

      Though peaking new car sales have been forecast for months now, Fisher says he's not sure how much more prices can rise without greatly impacting sales.

      “As the price gap to late-model used cars increases, more shoppers may turn to the pre-owned market for their next vehicle, which could mark a big departure from the new-car sales growth the industry has seen during the past five years,” he said.

      New cars keep going up in price. And if consumers keep paying the price, that probably won't end anytime soon.The average transaction price (ATP) in Ju...
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      Home prices post solid gains in June

      The same month saw rises in both personal income and spending

      Home prices moved higher in June on both an annual and a month-over-month basis.

      The CoreLogic Home Price Index (HPI) shows prices nationwide -- including distressed sales -- rose 5.7% year-over-year and 1.1% compared with May 2016.

      “Mortgage rates dipped in June to their lowest level in more than three years, supporting home purchases,” said CoreLogic Chief Economist Dr. Frank Nothaft. “Local markets with strong economic growth have generally had stronger home-price growth. Among large metropolitan areas, Denver had the lowest unemployment rate and the strongest home-price appreciation.”

      The CoreLogic HPI Forecast projects home prices will increase by 5.3% on a year-over-year basis from June 2016 to June 2017, and on a month-over-month basis by 0.6% from June 2016 to July 2016.

      "Home prices continue to increase across the country, especially in the lower price ranges and in a number of metro areas," said Anand Nallathambi, president and CEO of CoreLogic. "We see prices continuing to increase at a healthy rate over the next year.”

      Personal income and spending

      From the government, word that consumers were earning more and spending it in June.

      The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) reports personal income inched ahead 0.2% or $29.3 billion, with disposable personal income (DPI) -- what you have left after taxes -- up $24.6 billion or 0.2%.

      Personal consumption expenditures (PCE) rose $53.0 billion (0.4%).

      Earning, spending and saving

      June's increase in personal income came mainly from increases in private wages, salaries, and nonfarm proprietors’ income. These were partly offset by declines in personal dividend income and personal interest income.

      The increase in spending primarily reflected increases in outlays for electricity and gas, healthcare services, and other nondurable goods that were partly offset by a drop in spending for new motor vehicles.

      Personal saving was $732.0 billion in June, putting the personal saving rate -- personal saving as a percentage of disposable personal income -- at 5.3%, the same as May.

      The complete report is available on the BEA website.

      Home prices moved higher in June on both an annual and a month-over-month basis.The CoreLogic Home Price Index (HPI...
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      McDonald's gets rare praise from Consumers Union

      Consumer organization says chain delivered on antibiotic-free promise ahead of schedule

      It's not often that Consumers Union praises a fast food company, but the policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports says McDonald's deserves a pat on the back for meeting its pledge to stop selling chicken that had been given medically important antibiotics.

      In fact, the group says the fast food company met its commitment sooner than it had promised.

      In praising McDonald's, Consumers Union called on Yum Brands to take the same step, demanding that meat and poultry suppliers limit or discontinue antibiotics use. It says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned that too much use of antibiotics makes the drugs less effective against bacteria.

      'Reckless overuse'

      “The reckless overuse of these critical medications on healthy livestock is contributing to our antibiotics resistance crisis,” said Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives for Consumers Union.

      She said McDonald’s has proven that it’s possible to eliminate antibiotic use on a large scale without affecting supply.

      “We urge Kentucky Fried Chicken and other fast food restaurants to follow McDonald’s lead and make the same commitment to public health,” she said.

      McDonald’s is several months ahead of schedule. When it announced it would phase out antibiotics in its chicken, it promised to do so by March 2017. Chik-fil-A, which sells more chicken than any fast food chain, says it will stop sales of poultry raised on antibiotics by 2019.

      Animals given 80% of U.S. antibiotics

      Consumers Union says about 80% of all the antibiotics used in the U.S. are not consumed by humans but by animals. The drugs are used to make the animals grow faster, and also to help keep them free of disease. When humans consume the meat, they're getting some of the antibiotics.

      The CDC is leading efforts to reduce the use of antibiotics, both by prescription and in livestock. The health agency says at least two million people a year in the U.S. become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. Of those, it says at some 23,000 people die.

      It's not often that Consumers Union praises a fast food company, but the policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports says McDonald's deserves a pat on...
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      How eating healthy fats boosts brain health

      Consuming the right kinds of fats is the key

      Studies have shown that eating too much in one sitting can lead to a habit of overeating. The idea is that eating too much shuts down a hormonal pathway that lets your brain know that you’re full. We recently reported on one study that showed that eating foods high in fat content caused inflammation in the brain that contributed to this problem.

      However, a new study shows that denouncing all fats may not necessarily be right either. Although the researchers admit that overeating is problematic, they say that consumers should include some “good” fats in their diet.

      “These days, great attention is dedicated to the influence of the diet on people’s wellbeing. Although the effects of high fat diet on metabolism have been widely studied, little is known about the effects on the brain,” said professors Marianna Crispino and Maria Pina Mollica from the University of Naples Federico II.

      Unsaturated fats

      The researchers say that much of the negative news about fatty diets revolves around saturated fats. These are the types of fats that you would find in products like butter, lard, and fried foods. The researchers say that foods with unsaturated fats are actually good for you.

      “The difference was very clear and we were amazed to establish the impact of a fatty diet onto the brain. Our results suggest that being more aware about the type of fat consumed with the diet may reduce the risk of obesity and prevent several metabolic diseases,” said Crispino.

      Some foods that have high levels of unsaturated fats include nuts like almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, and flax seeds. Other foods like avocados, peanut butter, salmon, and sardines also have high levels. If all those options don't seem appealing, try cooking with vegetable oils as an alternative.

      The full study has been published in Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience.

      Studies have shown that eating too much in one sitting can lead to a habit of overeating. The idea is that eating too much shuts down a hormonal pathway th...
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      Blue Bell Creameries faces fine over Listeria outbreak

      $850,000 fine reduced to $175,000 if company avoids future problems

      The Texas Department of State Health Services has completed an agreement with Blue Bell Creameries that levies an $850,000 fine for last year's Listeria outbreak.

      However, the company only has to pay $175,000 immediately. The remainder will only be enforced if the company violates the terms of the agreement. Texas health officials said the fine was called for because Bluebell allowed adulterated product to enter the marketplace and cause illness.

      When Bluebell issued the massive recall in March 2015, it required the massive cleaning of four production plants and the layoffs of a large number of employees. The company ultimately dismissed 37% of its workforce.

      According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the contamination of Blue Bell products led to a multistate Listeria outbreak that claimed three lives and put 10 people in the hospital.

      Listeriosis is a life-threatening infection caused by eating contaminated food. People at high risk for listeriosis include pregnant women and their newborns, adults 65 and older, and people with weakened immune systems.

      Terms of the agreement

      Under the agreement with Texas, Blue Bell must notify state health officials if any tests indicate a possibility of Listeria contamination in product, ingredients, food surfaces, machinery, and other equipment in its Brenham, Texas plant.

      The company must also make sure its ice cream is completely free of pathogens before it can be sold to the public. It must also continue to give state health department inspectors complete access to its plants to take samples.

      While the fine imposed against the company might appear small, it is something out of the ordinary. Bill Marler, a lawyer who represents victims of foodborne illness, told the Dallas Morning News that food companies usually don't pay fines.

      "Any fine is very unusual. That is why any amount is significant," he told the newspaper.

      Besides Texas, Blue Bell Creameries has production facilities in Oklahoma and Alabama.

      The Texas Department of State Health Services has completed an agreement with Blue Bell Creameries that levies an $850,000 fine for last year's Listeria ou...
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      Liberty Mountain and STUBAI recall ice axes

      The knife in the axe handle can detach, posing a laceration hazard

      Liberty Mountain of Sandy, Utah, and STUBAI ZMV GmbH, of Austria, are recalling about 20 STUBAI Tour Lite Telescope ice axes.

      The knife in the axe handle can detach, posing a laceration or impact hazard to the user or bystanders.

      No incidents or injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves the STUBAI Tour Lite Telescope ice axe. The red and black axe ranges about 20 to 35 inches long with an aluminum head that is 9 inches long and 1 inch wide. “STUBAI” is printed on the top side of the axe above the black gripper. The axe weighs about one pound and can be adjusted from about 23 to 37 inches.

      The batch number is printed on the head and on the top of the shaft on the axe. The batch numbers included in this recall are: 865 on the head and 870 on the shaft.

      The ice axes, manufactured in Austria, were sold at Hansen Mountaineering, International Rocky Trade, Mount Hunt Supplies and online at www.campsaver.com and from June 2015, through June 2016, for about $200.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled ice axe and contact Liberty Mountan or STUBAI for instructions on receiving a free replacement axe.

      Consumers may contact Liberty Mountain at 800-366-2666 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, or online at http://www.libertymountain.com or http://www.stubai-sports.com/ for more information.

      Liberty Mountain of Sandy, Utah, and STUBAI ZMV GmbH, of Austria, are recalling about 20 STUBAI Tour Lite Telescope ice axes. The knife in the axe ...
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      Model year 2017 Audi Q7s recalled

      The front air bags may deploy with more force than required in certain crashes

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 14,535 model year 2017 Audi Q7s manufactured August 30, 2015, to May 8, 2016.

      Due to a software issue within the air bag control module, the front air bags may deploy with more force than required in certain crashes. As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 208, "Occupant Crash Protection."

      Air bags that deploy with excessive force may increase the risk of injury.

      What to do

      Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will update the air bag control module software, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Audi customer service at 1-800-253-2834. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 69O3.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 14,535 model year 2017 Audi Q7s manufactured August 30, 2015, to May 8, 2016. Due to a software issue with...
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