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Ikea needs to put consumer safety first, consumer groups warn

The giant retailer is resisting court orders to release documents related to tip-over deaths

Ikea needs to get serious about putting consumer safety first, a coalition of consumer groups said today, following reports that Ikea has defied a court or...

PhotoIkea needs to get serious about putting consumer safety first, a coalition of consumer groups said today, following reports that Ikea has defied a court order related to the recall of 29 million dressers that followed the death of a two-year-old boy.

“Ikea sold millions of unstable dressers with a tip-over hazard that led to the deaths of at least six toddlers and continues to place countless children at risk. It resisted a recall for too long. And now it isn’t sharing internal records about these products,” said Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America, and Kids In Danger in a joint statement.

Ikea chests and dressers are linked to six children’s deaths and 36 children’s injuries, the groups noted.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Monday that Ikea, which manufactures and sells its own furniture, had defied a court order that it turn over information to the mother of a two-year-old West Chester, Pa., boy who was killed by an Ikea dresser in 2014.

On Monday, the mother's lawyers asked Judge John Younge to fine Ikea $1,000 a day until it complies with his order, the newspaper reported.

The recall came only after two years of talks between the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and Ikea.

Ikea first tried to address the tip-over threat in July 2015 by sending wall-anchoring kits to consumers, but the death of another child seven months later led to the June recall, one of the largest ever. 

"Record of pushing back"

“While Ikea has been arguing that turning over the documents would harm CPSC’s recall process, we are concerned that the company’s record of pushing back against regulator and court requests to increase safety and transparency is putting consumers at risk. We urge Ikea to improve transparency and put consumer safety first,” the groups' statement said.

“Given the massive size of this recall and the lack of any data so far about how well it is working, we urge Ikea to work to ensure that consumers effectively remove the unstable dressers from their home as soon as possible and continue to cooperate with regulators to share all safety-related records about this hazard. This information could prove critical to motivating quick action and broader participation in the recall.”

The Inquirer reported that the records at issue include photos and videos of internal Ikea testing and “items that might shed light on how widespread a threat Ikea dressers have posed.” The company could face fines or other penalties for failing to comply with the court’s order to turn over the documents.

According to the CPSC, one child dies every two weeks and one child is sent to the emergency room every 24 minutes from furniture or TVs tipping over. Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America, and Kids In Danger support the CPSC’s "Anchor It" campaign to minimize furniture and appliance tip-over hazards and urge consumers with recalled dressers to take immediate action to prevent a tragedy in their home.

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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 goldfi...

PhotoA 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.

Photo
A notice warns Yelp users

“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.”

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The fat fish review
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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 effec...

PhotoNew 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.

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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 b...

PhotoSmart 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.
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Google getting into ride-sharing with its Waze app

The new service is similar to, but cheaper than, Uber and Lyft

The roadway to success in the ride-app business is getting a little more congested. Google is reported to be expanding an experimental ride-sharing service...

PhotoThe roadway to success in the ride-app business is getting a little more congested. Google is reported to be expanding an experimental ride-sharing service it has been testing in the San Francisco area, posing a potential challenge to Uber and Lyft.

Google is using its Waze app to link up riders with drivers who are headed in the same direction -- sort of a "Going my way?" concept. Whereas Uber and Lyft are basically app-summoned taxis, Waze is trying to fill empty seats in commuters' cars, according to reports in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere.

Until now, the test has been restricted to employees of specific companies in the San Francisco region, but it will be opened to everyone in the Bay Area in September, reports say.

Waze is already well-established as the commuter's friend. It basically helps drivers avoid tie-ups and find alternative routes, using input from other users. Drivers like it, but some consumers are piqued by increased cut-through traffic on residential streets. 

Google is pricing its find-a-friend service below Uber and Lyft, at about 54 cents a mile. Google is not taking a cut of the proceeds during the shakedown period.

Peer-to-peer

In another departure from the Uber/Lyft approach, Google says it doesn't want drivers to think of themselves as professional drivers, but merely as commuters helping other commuters. Its 54 cents-per-mile price just so happens to be what the Internal Revenue Service defines as the allowable 2016 employee mileage reimbusement, so Google suggests drivers may not have to report their payments as taxable income but instead as reimbursement for gas and related expenses.

Cautionary note: check with your accountant before you try this.

The Waze experiment is unique to the U.S., but the model has been in use in Israel for the last year or so. Waze was developed in Israel and purchased by Google in 2013. 

In another departure from the Uber/Lyft model, Google will reportedly not be vetting its drivers, relying instead on reviews from consumers to weed out bad guys. Anyone with the Waze app can sign up to be a driver. 

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Study sees tax flaws in most retirement calculators

Researchers say it could cost you up to six years of savings

Despite all the advice and calculators that purport to show you how much you need to retire and when to withdraw it, retirement planning is an inexact scie...

PhotoDespite all the advice and calculators that purport to show you how much you need to retire and when to withdraw it, retirement planning is an inexact science.

It is also far from a one-size-fits-all formula. Needs will hinge on a number of different factors, including lifestyle and location.

But there may be another flaw to consider if you are using a retirement calculator in your planning. Researchers at Baylor and Texas Tech have published a study that found a number of retirement calculators don't use efficient ways to measure tax liability.

As a result, they say someone relying on one of these calculators might lose six or seven years of retirement income.

Better strategies?

"Through our research, we found there are better strategies for creating retirement income than the ones the industry is currently using," said William Meyer, CEO of Retiree, Inc., and one of the authors. "These strategies provide greater tax efficiency, creating six or more years of income. That's a game changer for a retiree."

The authors attempt to debunk the conventional wisdom around tax-efficient retirement withdrawals. They say these practices suggest an investor should withdraw funds from one account at a time moving to the next one after the previous is exhausted, starting with tax-deferred accounts and moving to tax-exempt accounts.

But the authors claim that isn't the most efficient way to withdraw money, at least when it comes to tax liability.

Progressive tax rate factor

The study contends that the most tax-efficient strategies take into account progressive tax rates. It recommends retirees think about drawing from multiple accounts at the same time, while using Roth IRA conversions. They say it takes advantage of years when the saver has lower marginal tax rates.

When funds are withdrawn from a Traditional IRA or 401(k) savings plan, the money is taxed as ordinary income, because the saver was able to deduct contributions from federal taxes. Since contributions to a Roth IRA are not tax deductible, withdrawals – including any capital gains – are not taxed.

Tax ramifications of retirement withdrawals may be one of the lesser-understood aspects of retirement planning and have made the whole subject somewhat controversial.

Tax implications

Dara Luber, senior manager of retirement at TD Ameritrade, told ConsumerAffairs back in February that retirees need to pay closer attention to the tax implications of retirement.

When you turn 65, the way you file your taxes may change. There may be certain credits and deductions you qualify for, and you will be able to take a higher standard deduction, which may be more advantageous than claiming itemized deductions. Tax planning may change, especially if you are withdrawing funds from a tax-deferred retirement account.

“You may want to take into consideration things like your required minimum distribution if you are 70 and a half, you may want to take into consideration some state tax benefits in terms of your Social Security, and how that's taxed,” Luber said.

Keep in mind certain credits or deductions you've qualified for in the past may no longer apply. You may need to consider paying estimated quarterly taxes once you hit retirement.

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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 s...

PhotoHaving 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.

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Chase, Capital One top bank brand study

Harris Poll finds consumer attitudes toward banks softening a bit

Let's acknowledge right off the bat that banks tend to draw a lot of consumer complaints.No one likes fees, and banks have added a lot of them in the l...

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Here are some deals on 2016 cars

Deals will be better on some 2016s than others

Car dealers across America will be dominating the TV airwaves this weekend with their “Labor Day Weekend Blowout” sales. Indeed, it's not a bad time to go ...

PhotoCar dealers across America will be dominating the TV airwaves this weekend with their “Labor Day Weekend Blowout” sales. Indeed, it's not a bad time to go kick some tires.

The holiday weekend coincides with the traditional end of the model year for most carmakers. They are, in fact, trying to make room for the 2017 models.

But let's be clear. They aren't exactly giving away the 2016s. Still, automotive site Edmunds.com has identified a number of 2016s where you should be able to negotiate a good deal.

What these cars all have in common is the model is about to be phased out or dramatically redesigned. Yes, that might also hurt the car's resale value, but if you are looking for a lower entry point on a new car, Edmunds says these five models are definitely worth a look.

2016 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Sedan

Bargains on luxury cars are rare, but the E-Class sedan has been redesigned for 2017. Edmunds says buyers should find this car at $7,000 to $10,000 less than it normally goes for. The model earned an A rating from Edmund's editors in 2015.

2016 Hyundai Genesis Sedan

For 2017, this car is being rebranded as the Genesis G80. Edmunds gives the Genesis a high rating, as it delivers luxury at a lower price. Now the price is even lower. Edmunds reports it has seen the car going for discounts of more than $5,000.

2016 Buick LaCrosse

The LaCrosse underwent a redesign for 2017, but dealers still have plenty of 2016 models. It's a comfortable, entry-level, full-size sedan with lots of options. Edmunds says buyers of the 2016s are seeing discounts of $6,000 or more.

2016 Cadillac SRX

Cadillac is changing the name of the SRX to XT5, making some other changes to its luxury SUV along the way. As a result, consumers may find some deals on the leftover 2016s. Edmunds says the the discount should amount to around $8,000.

2016 Subaru Impreza Sedan

Here's another redesign that creates some potential deals on the current model. But don't expect the dramatic savings you find on the above models. Subaru generally is a popular brand with less of a profit margin than competing models. That said, Edmunds says buyers should be able to get around $1,000 off the MSRP.

“Even though these vehicles are being redesigned or going away altogether, they still have the same great technology and performance that you’d find in most new cars, but at a much better value,” said Edmunds.com Senior Consumer Advice Editor Ron Montoya.

Montoya also advises consumers interested in one of these bargains to act quickly. The selection is expected to dwindle, especially after this weekend.

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Decent job growth reported for August

The services sector continues to be the powerhouse

The private sector of the U.S. economy continued to add jobs, building in August on the previous month's advance.According to the ADP National Employme...

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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 Sur...

PhotoMortgage 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.

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Snyder’s-Lance recalls Diamond of California macadamia nuts

The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

Snyder’s-Lance is recalling Diamond of California® Macadamia Nuts. The products may be contaminated with Salmonella. There have been no rep...

PhotoSnyder’s-Lance is recalling Diamond of California® Macadamia Nuts.

 

The products may be contaminated with Salmonella.

 

There have been no reported illnesses to date.

 

The following products, distributed in retail stores nationwide, are being recalled:

Product NameUPC CodeLot NumberBest Before Date
Diamond of California® Chopped Macadamia Nuts, 4oz01030034584816137D331S
16138D331S
16158D331S
16 NOV 2017
17 NOV 2017
06 DEC 2017
Diamond of California® Macadamia Halves & Pieces, 2.25oz07045074391816137D331S
16159D331S
16 NOV 2017
07 DEC 2017

 

What to do

 

Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but contact the company's consumer affairs office for a full refund.

 

Consumers may contact the company at 503-364-0399 between 8am and 5pm (PT), Monday – Friday or online at http://diamondfoods.com/contact/.

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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 pla...

PhotoDazzling 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.

 

 

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Four pointers for choosing a pain reliever

Not every OTC pain reliever will be a good match for your current health profile

Choosing an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever may seem like a simple enough task, but it may not be as simple as you think. A new survey conducted b...

PhotoChoosing an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever may seem like a simple enough task, but it may not be as simple as you think.

A new survey conducted by the U.S. Pain Foundation finds that consumers may be failing to consider important safety factors when selecting an OTC pain reliever.

Although 97% of participants surveyed said they felt confident in their ability to select an OTC pain reliever, nearly half (45%) admitted to not considering how prescription medicines may interact with their choice of pain reliever.

Consumers may also be forgetting to consider how age and pre-existing health conditions may interact with their pain reliever, preferring instead to choose a pain reliever based on how quickly it can relieve pain.

Factors to consider 

Medical professionals recommend finding a balance between your current health profile and effective pain relief.

"People with pre-existing conditions, or those that are currently taking prescription medicines, need to be especially careful when choosing an OTC medicine for pain relief," says Paul Gileno, founder of the U.S. Pain Foundation.

How might pre-existing health conditions impact your decision? If you have existing stomach or heart conditions, for example, certain NSAIDs may increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, or stomach bleeding.  

To avoid adverse health consequences like these, the U.S. Pain Foundation suggests heeding the following advice:   

  • Scrutinize the label. Even if you’ve bought a particular OTC pain reliever many times before, you should read and follow the Drug Facts label. Neither labels nor health profiles are immutable.
  • Follow dosage recommendations. In addition to sticking to the recommended dose, consumers should consider how other medicines they are currently taking may interact with the OTC pain reliever.
  • Know the active ingredient. Make a mental note of the active ingredient in your medicine and be sure not to take more than one medicine containing the same active ingredient.
  • Follow usage suggestions. Unless told to do so by a healthcare provider, consumers should avoid taking OTC pain relievers for longer than the label recommends.

For more information on choosing a pain reliever that's right for you, visit Get Relief Responsibly.

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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 Amer...

PhotoThe 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.

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Verizon promises 50% faster peak data speeds

LTE Advanced uses multiple channels to deliver more speed when it's needed

Verizon Wireless has rolled out an advertising campaign for something it calls LTE Advanced. What is this LTE and...

 

Photo
Cities with LTE Advanced service

Verizon Wireless has rolled out an advertising campaign for something it calls LTE Advanced. 

What is this LTE and where can you get one? LTE itself is like 3G, 4G, and other wireless terms. It's basically a made-up word that describes a concept rather than an actual standard. It stands for "long-term evolution" and is supposed to suggest that wireless service just keeps getting better.

In the case of LTE Advanced, Verizon says it offers 50% faster peak speeds in more than 450 U.S. cities. It uses software that combines multiple channels to increase data speeds and is usable by customers who have one of 39 updated smartphones and tablets (see list below), according to Verizon.

New devices released by major manufacturers are expected to be capable of using the upgraded service. 

“Our customers just received a major network enhancement for no additional cost,” said Tami Erwin, head of operations for Verizon’s wireless unit, in a press release. “Verizon LTE Advanced works like a turbocharger on an engine. Speed boosts kick in when you need it most, with big data use. That’s when you get the big peak boost of Verizon LTE Advanced.”

Verizon said that LTE Advanced currently uses a combination of two-and three-carrier aggregation. Customers will get typical download speeds of 5 – 12 Mbps, but two-channel carrier aggregation has shown peak download speeds of up to 225 Mbps, far exceeding the current speeds being experienced by wireless data networks nationwide. Three-channel carrier aggregation provides even greater efficiency, reaching speeds greater than 300 Mbps.

Capable devices

Current devices that are Verizon LTE Advanced-capable include:

  • Apple iPhone 6

  • Apple iPhone 6 Plus
  • Apple iPhone 6s
  • Apple iPhone 6s Plus
  • Apple iPhone 5 SE
  • Apple iPad Pro
  • Apple iPad Pro 9.7
  • Apple iPad Air 2
  • Apple iPad Mini 4
  • Asus Zenpad Z8
  • Blackberry PRIV
  • HTC 10
  • HTC Desire 626
  • HTC One M9
  • LG V10
  • LG G4
  • LG G5
  • Microsoft Surface 3
  • Motorola Nexus 6
  • Moto X
  • Moto Z Force Droid
  • Moto Z Droid
  • Motorola Droid Turbo 2
  • Motorola Droid Turbo
  • Netgear MHS AC791L
  • Novatel MiFi i6620L
  • Novatel MiFi USB620L
  • Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Plus
  • Samsung Note 5
  • Samsung Galaxy S6
  • Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge
  • Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge
  • Samsung Galaxy S7
  • Samsung Galaxy View
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab S2
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab E 8.0
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 7
  • Sony Xperia Z3v
  • Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet
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Volkswagen owners choose money over their cars

More than 210,000 diesel VW owners have chosen a buyback rather than an attempted retrofit

By a wide margin, Volkswagen owners are choosing to scrap their diesel-powered cars and take the money being offered under a settlement agreement. And in a...

PhotoBy a wide margin, Volkswagen owners are choosing to scrap their diesel-powered cars and take the money being offered under a settlement agreement. And in a separate action, VW dealers have reached a tentative settlement with the automaker.  

In a federal court filing, class action attorneys say about 210,000 out of 475,000 owners of VW's TDI "clean diesel" cars have so far opted to take part in the $15 billion settlement that is awaiting final court approval.  

That, said attorney Elizabeth Cabraser, is an unusually high "level of participation in a program whose deadline for filing claims doesn't arrive until September 2018. Only 235 have opted out of the settlement and 110 have objected to it. 

Owners of the VW and Audi models covered by the settlement have the choice of selling their cars back to Volkswagen or having them retrofitted to meet air quality standards, although there is so far no agreement on how that would be achieved. Owners would also get an extra $5,100 to $10,000, depending on the model, as compensation for their time and trouble.

The cars covered by the settlement are diesel versions of these models:

  • 2010 – 2015 Audi A3
  • 2012 – 2015 Volkswagen Beetle
  • 2012 – 2015 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible
  • 2010 – 2015 Volkswagen Golf
  • 2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen
  • 2009 – 2015 Volkswagen Jetta
  • 2009 – 2014 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen
  • 2012 – 2015 Volkswagen Passat

The Federal Trade Commission has endorsed the settlement, saying it's fair because owners would get payments that represent what their cars were worth prior to revelations that Volkswagen had fiddled with the emissions software so that cars passed clean air tests but then polluted up to 40 times the legal limit on the highway.

U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer is expected to issue a final decision on the proposed settlement Oct. 18.

Dealers ready to settle

VW dealers are also reported to have reached a proposed settlement with Volkswagen, creating a settlement fund that would be paid out over 18 months.

Volkswagen also agreed to buy back used diesel vehicles on the same terms being offered to consumers. Attorneys for the dealers say they were careful not to win special treatment for dealers as compared to consumers.

“These 652 mostly small business owners were blindsided by the diesel emissions scandal and have seen the value of their businesses plummet,” said Steve Berman, managing partner of the Hagens Berman law firm. “Our investigation has uncovered no evidence that VW dealers had any idea that VW was selling them cars that had defeat devices installed."

The proposed settlement now goes to Judge Breyer for preliminary approval in mid-September .

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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 cyber...

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Does the consumer economy encourage needless spending?

Study says consumers have too much stuff and not enough money

Drive through any American neighborhood on a weekend and you're likely to encounter at least one yard sale.At some point, consumers decide they have mo...

PhotoDrive through any American neighborhood on a weekend and you're likely to encounter at least one yard sale.

At some point, consumers decide they have more “stuff” than they need and decide to get rid of it. They might be preparing to move, or they may finally have gotten fed up with the clutter.

A new survey suggests this is actually a common problem. The study, conducted by ClearVoice Research and commissioned by OfferUp, polled 1,000 consumers and found two recurring complaints: they have too much stuff and not enough money.

For example, nearly half of those in the survey said their homes had too much clutter, caused by items they no longer use. In fact, one out of seven said there was a room in their house they couldn't use because it was filled with unused “things.”

Seventy-two percent said they needed to “declutter,” but 41% admitted they had not done so in over a year.

Too much anxiety

Collette Shine, president of the New York chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers, says it's clear people have too much stuff and it's causing them too much anxiety.

"People have a hard time decluttering for a lot of reasons - such as an underlying emotional attachment or because the process is simply too overwhelming,” she said.

At the extreme, holding onto stuff can turn into hoarding. Realty TV shows have documented the often bizarre behavior of people who live surrounded by mountains of old newspapers and magazines, empty bottles and other “stuff.”

In most cases, all this “stuff” has been purchased at one time or another. The consumer economy encourages purchasing “things,” and often these transactions are made on impulse. So it might not be surprising that consumers who think they have too much “stuff” are also feeling some financial pressure.

Financial concerns

The study found 84% of consumers expressing financial concerns. Nearly half – 46% – said it was difficult to meet basic household expenses each month. Many worry that they lack sufficient emergency savings.

"We really wanted to understand how Americans think about the things that they have in their homes and what keeps them up at night," said Nick Huzar, co-founder and CEO of OfferUp, which has been described as a mobile-only hybrid between Craigslist and eBay.

Huzar says selling unwanted things can solve two problems: it helps with decluttering and brings in a little cash.

Of course, the problem may resolve itself since the Millennial generation appears to be much less enamored with "things" and is more likely to spend money on experiences.

You can see it un GroupOn's latest advertising campaign, which emphasizes deals on experiences.

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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 function...

PhotoRushCard, 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.

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Chipotle sued for alleged wage theft

Some managers claim 'working off the clock' was common practice

Chipotle is one of those companies that has enjoyed a “halo.” It has earned points with some consumers for its commitment to organic and locally-sourced fo...

PhotoChipotle is one of those companies that has enjoyed a “halo.” It has earned points with some consumers for its commitment to organic and locally-sourced food and sustainable practices.

That halo took a hit late last year when the company had to close a number of stores while it tracked down the source of a multi-state E. coli outbreak. With that issue finally resolved, Chipotle may have another issue to contend with.

Thousands of present and former Chopotle employees are reportedly suing the company for alleged wage theft. CNN reports nearly 10,000 workers have filed forms to join a class action lawsuit, Turner vs. Chipotle, claiming they routinely had to work for no pay.

For its part, Chipotle has told the network that it has not done anything wrong and has paid all employees the wages to which they were due.

Working 'off the clock'

But CNN interviewed several former Chipotle employees who claimed they often worked “off the clock.” The complaint alleges that employees routinely punched out when their shift officially ended, then were required to stay and work until the task was completed. The suit says it normally affected the closing crew, whose members often had to stay late to clean up if customers were in the restaurant up until closing time.

Wage theft claims against fast food restaurants are not that uncommon. In May, the state of New York sued Dominoes, claiming the pizza franchise underpaid employees at 10 of its stores in the state.

“At some point, a company has to take responsibility for its actions and for its workers’ well-being,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said at the time. “We’ve found rampant wage violations at Domino’s franchise stores. And, as our suit alleges, we’ve discovered that Domino’s headquarters was intensely involved in store operations, and even caused many of these violations.” 

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Consumer confidence bounced back in August

Improvement came in income prospects and employment

The Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index is at its highest level in nearly a year.After falling slightly in July, the Index now stands at 101.1...

PhotoThe Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index is at its highest level in nearly a year.

After falling slightly in July, the Index now stands at 101.1, a gain of 4.4. The Present Situation Index rose from 118.8 to 123.0, while the Expectations Index improved to 86.4 from 82.0.

“Consumers’ assessment of both current business and labor market conditions was considerably more favorable than last month,” said Conference Board Director of Economic Indicators Lynn Franco. “Short-term expectations regarding business and employment conditions, as well as personal income prospects, also improved, suggesting the possibility of a moderate pick-up in growth in the coming months.”

Current conditions outlook

Consumers who think business conditions are “good” increased from 27.3% to 30.0%, while the proportion of those who see the opposite was unchanged at 18.4%.

Consumers’ assessment of the labor market was also more favorable. Those saying jobs are more “plentiful” increased from 23.0% to 26.0%. At the same time, however, those who believe jobs are “hard to get” also rose -- to 23.4% from 22.1%.

Looking ahead

There was more optimism regarding the short-term outlook in August. The percentage of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months increased from 15.7% to 17.3%, while those expecting business conditions to worsen dropped from 12.4% to 11.1%.

The outlook for the labor market was more favorable than in July. The proportion expecting more jobs in the months ahead rose from 13.5% to 14.2%, while those anticipating losses held steady at 17.5%.

The percentage of consumers expecting their incomes to rise went from 17.1% to 18.8%, while those expecting a decline were down marginally to 10.7% from 11.0%.

The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey, based on a probability-design random sample, is conducted for The Conference Board by Nielsen, a provider of information and analytics around what consumers buy and watch. The cutoff date for the preliminary results was August 18.

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Country Fresh recalls fresh-cut vegetable products

The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

Country Fresh of Conroe, Texas, is recalling 30,000 cases of various fresh-cut vegetable products that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes....

PhotoCountry Fresh of Conroe, Texas, is recalling 30,000 cases of various fresh-cut vegetable products that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

 

No illnesses have been confirmed to date by public health authorities.

 

The following products, bearing “BEST IF USED BY” dates between August 7, 2016, through August 19, 2016 (8/19/16), and packaged in either a clear plastic container or in Styrofoam trays overwrapped with clear plastic film, are being recalled:

DescriptionStoreDescription of PackagingUse by Date RangeStates Distributed
CFC Celery/Onion Dice 6ozBI-LOClamshell8/8/20168/15/2016SC, NC, GA, AL
CFC Creole Mix 6ozBI-LOClamshell8/8/20168/19/2016SC, NC, GA, AL
CFC Fajita Mix 6ozBI-LOClamshell8/8/20168/19/2016SC, NC, GA, AL
CFC Pico De Gallo 8ozBI-LOClamshell8/8/20168/15/2016SC, NC, GA, AL
CFC Tri-Pepper Dice 6ozBI-LOClamshell8/13/20168/19/2016SC, NC, GA, AL
CFC Yellow Onion Dice 6ozBI-LOClamshell8/8/20168/15/2016SC, NC, GA, AL
CF Diced Onion 4/3lbFresh PointClamshell8/11/20168/17/2016FL
Farmers Market  Diced Green Peppers 8ozHarris Teeter SupermarketsClamshell8/13/20168/19/2016SC, NC, VA
Farmers Market  Diced Tri-Pepper 6 ozHarris Teeter SupermarketsClamshell8/13/20168/19/2016SC, NC, VA
Farmers Market  Diced Yellow Onions 8ozHarris Teeter SupermarketsClamshell8/8/20168/15/2016SC, NC, VA
Fajita Mix 10ozHarris Teeter SupermarketsClamshell8/8/20168/19/2016SC, NC, VA
 Fajita Mix 12ozHarris Teeter SupermarketsClamshell8/8/20168/19/2016SC, NC, VA
Green Bean Sauté 10ozHarris Teeter SupermarketsClamshell8/8/20168/15/2016SC, NC, VA
Farmers Market Mirepoix 12ozHarris Teeter SupermarketsClamshell8/8/20168/15/2016SC, NC, VA
Grilling Vegetables 14ozHarris Teeter SupermarketsOverwrap8/13/20168/19/2016SC, NC, VA
Jal Ched Stuff Mushrooms 7ozHarris Teeter SupermarketsOverwrap8/8/20168/15/2016SC, NC, VA
Kabob Kit 23ozHarris Teeter SupermarketsOverwrap8/13/20168/19/2016SC, NC, VA
Stir Fry Vegetable 10ozHarris Teeter SupermarketsOverwrap8/8/20168/19/2016SC, NC, VA
SW Stuff Mushrooms 7ozHarris Teeter SupermarketsOverwrap8/8/20168/15/2016SC, NC, VA
Tri-Color Peppers 12ozHarris Teeter SupermarketsOverwrap8/13/20168/19/2016SC, NC, VA
Veggie & Fruit Kabob Kit 23ozHarris Teeter SupermarketsOverwrap8/13/20168/19/2016SC, NC, VA
Kabob Sensations Veggie Kabob 23ozPublix Supermarkets, Inc.Overwrap8/12/20168/19/2016SC, NC, FL GA, AL
Diced Yel Onion Condiment 8ozQuikTripClamshell8/8/20168/15/2016SC, NC, GA
Diced Yellow Onion 40ozQuikTripClamshell8/8/20168/15/2016SC, NC, GA
Green Pepper 40ozQuikTripClamshell8/13/20168/19/2016SC, NC, GA
Regular Pico Condiment 10ozQuikTripClamshell8/8/20168/15/2016SC, NC, GA
Sliced Green Bell Pepper 4lbQuikTripClamshell8/13/20168/19/2016SC, NC, GA
Diced Onion 16ozThe Spinx CompanyClamshell8/8/20168/15/2016SC, NC
Pico de Gallo 18ozThe Spinx CompanyClamshell8/8/20168/15/2016SC, NC
Diced Yellow Onion 8ozWal-Mart Stores Inc.Clamshell8/8/20168/17/2016MS, AL, GA, FL, SC, NC, TN, KY, VA, WV, MD
Marketside Pico de Gallo 10ozWal-Mart Stores Inc.Clamshell8/8/20168/17/2016MS, AL, GA, FL, SC, NC, TN, KY, VA, WV, MD
Marketside Spicy Pico de Gallo 10Wal-Mart Stores Inc.Clamshell8/8/20168/17/2016MS, AL, GA, FL, SC, NC, TN, KY, VA, WV, MD
Sliced Bell Peppers 7ozWal-Mart Stores Inc.Clamshell8/7/20168/19/2016MS, AL, GA, FL, SC, NC, TN, KY, VA, WV, MD
Marketside Fajita Mix 9.5ozWal-Mart Stores Inc.Overwrap8/8/20168/19/2016MS, AL, GA, FL, SC, NC, TN, KY, VA, WV, MD
Marketside Veggie Kabobs 23ozWal-Mart Stores Inc.Overwrap8/9/20168/19/2016MS, AL, GA, FL, SC, NC, TN, KY, VA, WV, MD
Portabella Griller 12.5ozWal-Mart Stores Inc.Overwrap8/7/20168/19/2016MS, AL, GA, FL, SC, NC, TN, KY, VA, WV, MD
Celery/Onion Dice 6ozWinn DixieClamshell8/9/20168/17/2016LA, MS, AL, GA, FL
Creole Mix 6ozWinn DixieClamshell8/9/20168/19/2016LA, MS, AL, GA, FL
Fajita Mix 6ozWinn DixieClamshell8/9/20168/19/2016LA, MS, AL, GA, FL
Pico De Gallo 8ozWinn DixieClamshell8/8/20168/17/2016LA, MS, AL, GA, FL
Tri-Pepper Dice 6ozWinn DixieClamshell8/9/20168/19/2016LA, MS, AL, GA, FL
Yellow Onion Dice 6ozWinn DixieClamshell8/9/20168/17/2016LA, MS, AL, GA, FL
Mush & Garlic Herb Steak 7.5ozWinn DixieOverwrap8/9/20168/17/2016LA, MS, AL, GA, FL
Stuffed Mushrooms 7ozWinn DixieOverwrap8/8/20168/17/2016LA, MS, AL, GA, FL
Tuscan Stuffed Mushrooms 8ozWinn DixieOverwrap8/8/20168/17/2016LA, MS, AL, GA, FL

 

The recalled products were shipped to retailers in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia under the Country Fresh and store brand labels described in the product listing.

 

What to do

 

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

 

Consumers with questions may contact the company at 281-453-3305, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (CDT).

 

 

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WFSP Foods recalls pork and chicken sausage product

The product contains milk, an allergen not declared on the label

WFSP Foods of Decatur, Ala., is recalling approximately 18,672 pounds of pork and chicken sausage product. The product contains milk, an allergen n...

PhotoWFSP Foods of Decatur, Ala., is recalling approximately 18,672 pounds of pork and chicken sausage product.

 

The product contains milk, an allergen not declared on the label.

 

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

 

The following ready-to-eat sausage item, produced on June 7, 2016, is being recalled:

  • 13.5-oz. packages containing “Land O’ Frost Simply Savory Bacon & Cheddar Smoked Sausage” with a “BEST BY: DEC. 04 2016” and packaging date of 06/07/16.

The recalled product bearing establishment number “EST. 45411” printed on the packaging was shipped to retail locations nationwide.

 

What to do

 

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

 

Consumers with questions about the recall may contact the Land O’ Frost consumer hotline at 1(800) 762-9865.

 

 

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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 ...

Photo
Lucila Robles' Texas home was leveled by the blast (Photo via Facebook)

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. 

Photo
Lucila Robles (Photo via Facebook)

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.

Photo
Google map shows location of the blast.

“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.

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Mylan to offer generic EpiPen at 50% discount

Company hopes move will quell last week's price hike uproar

After a week in which it played public relations damage control, Mylan has announced a move it hopes will get it out in front of the controversy over the p...

PhotoAfter a week in which it played public relations damage control, Mylan has announced a move it hopes will get it out in front of the controversy over the price of its allergy product EpiPen.

But critics weren't impressed. "Today’s announcement is just one more convoluted mechanism to avoid plain talk, admit to price gouging and just cut the price of EpiPen," said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen.

The company received a storm of protest after it announced a huge increase in the price of the injection device, which delivers a dose of epinephrine, a life-saving antidote to allergic shock. Announcing discounts for low and middle income patients last week failed to quell the uproar.

Monday, the company took additional steps. It announced it will offer a generic to EpiPen at a list price of $300 for a two-pack, amounting to a 50% discount. The generic will be identical to the name brand product.

Can be automatically substituted

More importantly, it will be classified so that pharmacists may substitute it for the name brand, without consulting with the prescribing physician.

Mylan said it expects the generic version will be available within several weeks, pending completion of labeling revisions. Upon launch, the product will be available as a two-pack carton in both 0.15 mg and 0.30 mg strengths. Mylan said it will also continue to market and distribute branded EpiPen.

Public Citizen's Weissman ssaid the announcement just made matters worse.

"Mylan’s public relations people should tell the company that its responses to the EpiPen rip-off will only further enrage the public. It’s not enough to blame insurance companies, it’s not enough to offer coupons and it’s not enough to offer an overpriced generic version of its own branded product. The company must roll back its unjustified and outrageous price increases," he said.

"The weirdness of a generic drug company offering a generic version of its own branded but off-patent product is a signal that something is wrong," he said. "Mylan knows its $600/set of EpiPens is unsustainable, but aims to continue ripping off some segment of the marketplace – both consumers who do not trust or know about the generic, and perhaps some insurers and payers constrained from buying a generic."

Weissman added that the announced $300 price for Mylan’s generic also comes in too high. "The profitable price in Canada is roughly $200 for two, and the price in France is roughly half that," he said.

Mylan CEO Heather Bresch had been under enormous pressure to roll back the price of the EpiPen, but says this move is a simpler alternative.

“Our decision to launch a generic alternative to EpiPen is an extraordinary commercial response, which required the cooperation of our partner,” she said. “However, because of the complexity and opaqueness of today's branded pharmaceutical supply chain and the increased shifting of costs to patients as a result of high deductible health plans, we determined that bypassing the brand system in this case and offering an additional alternative was the best option.”

She said generic drugs have a long, proven track record of delivering significant savings and believes the generic EpiPen can do the same.

Not a new drug

The EpiPen price hike enraged many patients because the product is not new – it's been around in one form or another for nearly 40 years. It contains a small amount of the readily-available epinephrine but the new price raised the cost of a two-pack to around $600.

While many insurance plans cover it, high deductibles made the new price prohibitively expensive for many patients. The devices are sold only in two-packs because an injection provides only temporary relief and the patient may need a second injection to make it to the emergency room.

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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 ...

PhotoRecent 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

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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...

PhotoApple’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. 

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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 S...

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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 assoc...

PhotoIt’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.

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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,...

PhotoConsumers 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.

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Big city banks offering cash incentives to open accounts

Study finds bonuses can be as much as $400

Not long ago many consumers found banks didn't want their business.In the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis, many banks unilaterally closed s...

PhotoNot long ago many consumers found banks didn't want their business.

In the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis, many banks unilaterally closed some consumers' checking accounts. It was partly responsible for a big increase in the “unbanked” population.

Things seem to be a little different now. According to a new study from Bankrate, banks in major cities are paying consumers anywhere from $50 to $400 to open a new checking account.

In a way, it's a return to a bygone era when banks offered china, tableware, and other premiums as incentives to open new accounts.

"Consumers can certainly benefit from taking advantage of a sign-up bonus," said Claes Bell, data analyst at Bankrate.com. "However, promotions come and go, so it's important for consumers to act quickly if they see an offer that's desirable."

Not all incentives will line your pockets with cash. Citibank is offering the best – $400 at its branches in New York City, Washington, DC, and San Francisco. But the sign-up bonus at BBVA Compass in Dallas is a $10 iTunes gift card.

Lots of options for DC consumers

Consumers in Washington, DC have the most options. Besides the $400 available at Citibank, they can get $300 at PNC and $200 at Sun Trust and Capital One. Of course, it's not always free money.

“Although these offers are tempting, consumers need to be mindful of the fine print,” Bell said. “Sign-up bonuses often have several conditions that must be met and include wait times before receiving any cash."

Also, requirements to earn sign-up bonuses will vary by account. To collect them you usually have to sign up for online bill payments, direct deposit, and minimum deposits. Also, some banks will charge a fee if the account is closed within twelve months.

Other than that, Bankrate says it didn't uncover any flagrant "gotchas" in the fine print. But is says consumers should be aware of the minimum balance requirements attached to many of these accounts.

Not maintaining the agreed-to balance will likely result in service charges, which could wipe out any cash bonus you receive. In that way, these checking account bonuses are similar to rewards credit cards. If you don't really need all the services required by these accounts, the bonus might not be worth it.

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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 enrol...

PhotoCalifornia 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.”

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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 unmann...

PhotoNew 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.

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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 B...

PhotoFollowing 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.

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Vee Tyre and Rubber recalls Taiga M/T tires

The sidewall of the affected tires may blister and the interliner may separate

Vee Tyre and Rubber is recalling 21 Taiga M/T tires, size LT225/75R16, manufactured January 8, 2015, to March 1, 2015. The sidewall of the affected...

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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...

PhotoToyota 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.

 

 

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If you do nothing else, update your iPhone today

Three newly found vulnerabilities could let hackers take over your phone

If you don't want to know the details, that's fine, but don't stop reading quite yet. It's very important that you update your iPhone today. Follow the lin...

PhotoIf you don't want to know the details, that's fine, but don't stop reading quite yet. It's very important that you update your iPhone today. Follow the link for instructions.

Now, the gory details: recently discovered malware is targeting three previously unknown vulnerabilities in iOS, the iPhone's operating system. The vulnerabilities could not only let hackers take over your phone, they could also track your movements and turn on your microphone.

All of this came to light earlier this month when a human rights activist in the United Arab Emirates got a suspicious text that promised new details of torture in UAE prisons. If he had followed the link in the text, it would have implanted highly dangerous malware on his phone. 

Fix prepared

Fortunately, he didn't and the vulnerability was identified by cybersecurity experts at Citizen Lab, according to an account in The Verge. It was reported to Apple, which prepared fixes for the vulnerabilities in today's release of iOS 9.3.5

To get the update, go to Settings/General/SoftwareUpdate. If you have a high-speed connection, it should take less than 10 minutes to download and install the update.

This is the first time that three vulnerabilities have been discovered in iOS at the same time, and it's a bit sobering for those who like to think their iPhones are more secure than Android phones. They probably are, but today's revelation is a reminder that, in today's world, nothing is totally secure.

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Mylan getting push back over price hike explanation

Pharmacy benefit managers reject the claim they are responsible

When Mylan Pharmaceutical CEO Heather Bresch went on CNBC Thursday to explain her company's massive price hike for the life-saving EpiPen, she suggested co...

PhotoWhen Mylan Pharmaceutical CEO Heather Bresch went on CNBC Thursday to explain her company's massive price hike for the life-saving EpiPen, she suggested costs were not entirely under her control.

She blamed a “broken” system that she claimed incentivizes higher drug prices, singling out pharmacy benefit managers for some of the blame.

On CNBC today, Mark Merritt, President of Pharmaceutical Care Management Association (PCMA), said he was surprised to hear that accusation. Pharmacy benefit managers, he said, have nothing to do with what a drug company charges. He says drug companies are in complete control of their prices.

“It's a simple thing that drug companies do at the end of a cycle, when they're going to face competition, often they raise the price of the product,” Merritt said. “Just own it and take responsibility and don't blame others who have nothing to do with it.”

'Greed on steroids'

In fact, Bresch's damage control mission has thus far failed to stem the fallout. Consumer advocate Ralph Nader has characterized the price hike as “greed on steroid.” Actress Sarah Jessica Parker has terminated her relationship with the company.

In an Instigram post, Parker said she had been involved in a Mylan effort to raise awareness of severe allergic reactions because her son has a peanut allergy. She said she was “saddened, disappointed and concerned” about the price hike.

Even Mylan's offer of 50% discounts on the EpiPen for lower and middle income patients isn't winning much praise. Critics point out that the price has risen nearly 500% since 2009, so cutting the price in half still leaves the drug prohibitively expensive.

Practically unknown last week, the EpiPen is probably as familiar a product as an iPhone after this week's publicity. It's a device that administers a small dose of epinephrine, an effective antidote to potentially fatal allergic shock.

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Feds shut off flow of funds to ITT

Federal aid accounts for more than two-thirds of the schools' revenue

ITT Technical Institute has been ordered to stop enrolling new students who receive federal aid. It's the latest effort by the Obama Administration to rein...

PhotoITT Technical Institute has been ordered to stop enrolling new students who receive federal aid. It's the latest effort by the Obama Administration to rein in for-profit colleges that critics say mislead students and leave them mired in debt with degrees that are next to useless.

Corinthian Colleges liquidated last year after the Education Department banned it from receiving federal aid after allegations similar to those students have been making about ITT.

"I worked very hard to get my degree with ITT online in Carmel, Indiana," said Karen of Dallas in a recent ConsumerAffairs review. "I cannot transfer any of my credits or find a job in Information Technology. ... My associates degree is worthless. I have loans that are $46,000.00 plus interest."

The 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.”

"Heightened oversight"

ITT has been under investigation by federal and state agencies for at least two years. In 2014, the Education Department put it under heightened financial oversight after expressing concerns about its "administrative capacity, organizational integrity, financial viability and ability to serve students."

With about 43,000 students nationwide, ITT is one of the larger remaining for-profit college chains. It gets about 68% of its revenue from students receiving federal loans and grants, so the Education Department ban makes it unlikely the school can continue to operate at its present level.

The loss of federal loans is especially damaging since private lenders have pulled back from making loans to students at for-profit schools since the recession. 

ITT will be able to continue collecting aid from its current students, but the Education Department said it was already taking steps to prepare students to transfer if ITT goes bankrupt. 

ITT operates over 130 campuses in 38 states and enrolls students in online programs nationwide. Last year, the institution reported almost $850 million in total revenue, roughly $580 million of which came from federal aid dollars. 

“When we allow institutions to participate in federal student aid programs, they are obligated to responsibly manage those funds,” said U.S. Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell. “More importantly, we trust they will act in good faith and in the best interests of students.”

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Researchers work towards using carbon dioxide as an energy source

If successful, it could mean a dramatic reduction in carbon emissions

While automakers are scrambling to win the race for autonomous vehicles, eco-conscious consumers may be more interested in developments regarding clean-bur...

PhotoWhile automakers are scrambling to win the race for autonomous vehicles, eco-conscious consumers may be more interested in developments regarding clean-burning fuels. Concerns over global warming and climate change continue to mount, and scientists are continuously working on new ways to provide energy at a lower environmental cost.

Now, a group of researchers from the University of Toronto (UoT) believe that carbon dioxide may be the answer. They theorize that using silicon could enable the energy sector to turn carbon dioxide emissions into an energy-rich fuel source. The best part, they say, is that this new energy source would generate no harmful emissions in the exchange.

Using silicon

Experts have thought of using carbon dioxide as a fuel source for some time, but up to this point they couldn’t produce a material that met the necessary qualifications, of which there are many.

“A chemistry solution to climate change requires a material that is a highly active and selective catalyst to enable the conversion of carbon dioxide to fuel. It also needs to be made of elements that are low cost, non-toxic and readily available,” said Geoffrey Ozin, a chemistry professor at UoT and head of its Solar Fuels Research Cluster.

However, silicon could potentially be a perfect element for this process; it is the seventh most abundant element in the whole universe and the second most abundant element in the earth’s crust, so finding enough of it wouldn’t be too much of a problem.

Clean-burning fuel source

Scientists believe that they could produce energy via silicon by allowing it to convert carbon dioxide with the aid of natural sunlight. In basic terms, engineers would create or harvest silicon nanocrystals that would absorb sunlight. As a result, these crystals could convert carbon emissions into carbon monoxide, which could be used as an energy source.

“Making use of the reducing power of nanostructured hydrides is a conceptually distinct and commercially interesting strategy for making fuels directly from sunlight,” said Ozin.

While researchers are currently working towards finding ways to increase the activity of the nanocrystals, enhance the scale, and boost production rates, they believe that they can eventually create a demonstration unit, which could lead to a pilot solar refinery if successful.

The full study has been published in Nature Communications

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Maytag plug-in lets you hide negative political chatter on social media

The desktop plug-in replaces political smears with something more upbeat

Maytag wants to keep your social media feed as smear-free as your refrigerator. As part of its “No Smear Campaign,” the appliance manufacturer is offering...

PhotoMaytag wants to keep your social media feed as smear-free as your refrigerator. As part of its “No Smear Campaign,” the appliance manufacturer is offering a Chrome plug-in that replaces negative political content with something a little more lighthearted.

Consumers who install the plug-in will enjoy Facebook and Twitter feeds devoid of election-centric negativity spewed by friends and acquaintances. The cleaned-up feeds are an effort to spotlight the brand’s new Fingerprint Resistant Stainless Steel kitchen appliances.

"Maytag prides itself on being a dependable American brand," said Brendan Bosch, Maytag senior brand manager. "We want Americans to be educated about the election, without being brought down and annoyed by negative smears. What better way for Maytag to lend our century-old dependability than helping rid Americans of smears online and in the kitchen?"

Hides political smears

As it turns out, many Americans have a low tolerance for negative political content on social media feeds. In a survey, Maytag found that 73% of respondents have unfollowed, blocked, or hidden someone’s posts as a result of not liking the content shared.

The plug-in enables social media users to “hide tweets that sling mud” and “block Facebook posts that smear character.”

Actress and comedian Abby Elliott is lending her voice to the brand’s smear-fighting cause. During a time in which political conversations can get particularly heated, Elliott says she's excited about the opportunity to promote positivity.

"While this election has provided some entertaining and comedic moments, we all get a little tired when surrounded by too much negativity," Elliott said in a statement. "That's why I was excited to join with Maytag to bring a little more lighthearted and 'clean' conversation to the election."

Those who install the plug-in can see when content has been blocked and may choose to unhide it, if they wish. And while Maytag may be squashing negativity, it’s not stifling consumers’ preferences.

The brand worked with University of Michigan professor and political scientist Dr. Arthur Lupia, who helped minimize candidate or party preference within the plug-in.

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Feds say all donated blood in U.S. should get Zika test

Previously, just blood from high-risk areas has been screened

There is more than one way to get the Zika virus. A mosquito carrying the disease can bite you. You can have sexual contact with someone who has the virus....

PhotoThere is more than one way to get the Zika virus. A mosquito carrying the disease can bite you. You can have sexual contact with someone who has the virus. But you can also get it from a blood transfusion, if someone with the virus has donated the blood.

For that reason, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is now recommending that all donated whole blood and its components be tested for the virus. Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, says that policy will ensure the safety of the blood supply.

This is a change from the agency's initial guidance, issued in February, that said screening was needed only in areas with active Zika virus transmission. The new guidance expands that to all states and U.S. territories.

Considering the evidence

The FDA said it took the step after considering all the available scientific evidence and consulting with other public health agencies. It said testing of donated blood in Florida and Puerto Rico has been effective in keeping the virus out of the blood supply there.

The Zika virus is not especially dangerous to the people getting it. Its symptoms are relatively mild, and similar to those of other diseases spread by mosquitoes. The danger of the Zika virus is its potential effect on the children born to women who have it.

Since early this year, scientists have linked the Zika virus to a birth defect known as microcephaly, a condition which severely affects brain development. Women who are pregnant, or may become pregnant, should therefore be extremely cautious.

That's why, the FDA says, that it is extending its blood-testing guidance to the entire U.S.

Additional precautionary measures

“As new scientific and epidemiological information regarding Zika virus has become available, it’s clear that additional precautionary measures are necessary,” said Dr. Luciana Borio, the FDA’s acting chief scientist. “We are issuing revised guidance for immediate implementation in order to help maintain the safety of the U.S. blood supply.”

While the virus is mostly spread by the Aedes mosquito, sexual contact with an infected partner can also spread it. What makes the virus particularly dangerous is that four out of five people never develop symptoms, so a partner might not know that he or she has it.

When symptoms do appear, they are usually fever, joint pain, a rash, and red, irritated eyes.

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Why Wall Street thinks high drug prices are no big deal

Publicly traded companies are expected to maximize profits, no matter what they're selling

The news cycle this week has been dominated by an obscure pharmaceutical company few consumers have heard of and a drug familiar only to people with life-t...

PhotoThe news cycle this week has been dominated by an obscure pharmaceutical company few consumers have heard of and a drug familiar only to people with life-threatening allergies.

When Mylan Phamaceutical raised the price of its EpiPen allergy antidote to $600, all hell broke loose.

The product contains about $1 worth of an actual drug which sold for $57 nine years ago. Consumers – especially parents of children with severe allergies – were outraged. Politicians joined in, castigating Mylan as greedy and heartless.

Company CEO Heather Bresch went on CNBC Thursday to defend her company, attempting to shift the blame for high prices to pharmacy benefit managers and others in the supply chain. In a damage control move, the company also offered to pick up part of the cost of the drug for some patents.

What's the big deal?

But Wall Street just shrugged. What's the big deal, traders might have asked? The company was only doing what it was supposed to do.

"If you can get away with jacking things up and gouging it then you've got to do it, because the shareholders want it," stock picking guru Jim Cramer said on CNBC.

Exactly. In the world of Wall Street, a publicly traded company is expected to maximize profits. If it doesn't, the stock price will fall and the board will replace the management team, from the CEO on down.

Business vs. consumers

When a story like the EpiPen price hike comes along, it perfectly illustrates the tension between business and consumers, whose interests nearly always go in opposite directions.

Competition is good for consumers because it gives them lower prices and more choice. Wall Street hates competition because it reduces profit margins and takes away pricing power.

A monopoly is bad for consumers because they have no choice and have to pay whatever the company with the monopoly charges. Wall Street loves a monopoly because profit margins are high and the company can charge whatever it thinks the market will bear.

It's no accident that on CNBC's popular program “Shark Tank,” the investors get most excited when an entrepreneur presents a product that is patented, so no other business can compete with it.

The conflict between business and consumer interests isn't really a problem when a company is trying to maximize profits on tires or lawn mowers. But a life-saving drug?

It may be a conversation the country is about to have.

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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 whe...

PhotoYou'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.

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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...

PhotoThe 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.

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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 lea...

PhotoMars 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.

 

 

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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 ...

PhotoChrysler (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.

 

 

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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 fue...

PhotoJ.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.

 

 

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Mylan ups aid for some EpiPen purchasers

But critics say the company's saving cards are little more than a P.R. measure

Like a quick dose of adrenaline, Mylan NV is administering increases in its financial aid program for some users of its EpiPen emergency allergy treatment,...

PhotoLike a quick dose of adrenaline, Mylan NV is administering increases in its financial aid program for some users of its EpiPen emergency allergy treatment, hoping to stave off criticism from Hillary Clinton and other political leaders.  

The $600 epinephrine auto-injectors are used to counteract the life-threatening anaphylactic shock that can result from severe allergic reactions. The price of the devices has increased from as little as $57 in 2007, when Mylan bought the EpiPen business, to more than $600 today, even though the device contains only about $1 worth of epinephrine. 

The company said it would increase eligibility standards for its patient assistance program to 400% of the poverty level, meaning that a family of four making $97,200 would have no out-of-pocket expense for the injector.

Savings card

Mylan also said it would increase the assistance on its savings card to as much as $300, up from its current $100. The result would be that many patients with commercial insurance would face little or no copay. 

But critics said the savings cards are little more than a public relations gimmick that actually help few patients. 

"These don’t actually do anything about the price itself, because the high price is still being paid by the insurer, which then ends up being reflected in increasing premiums," Harvard Medical School professor Aaron Kesselheim said in a Washington Post report. "This is not a public health solution."

Whether Mylan's actions will quell critics remains to be seen. Congressional response quieted somewhat when it was revealed that Mylan's CEO, Heather Bresch, is the daughter of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). That didn't carry much weight with Clinton, however, whose relations with Manchin have been strained because of conflicting views regarding the coal industry.

"[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," Clinton said Wednesday as she called on Mylan to roll back EpiPen prices.

Pinning blame

Mylan seemed to blame everyone but itself for the price increase.

"Patients deserve increased price transparency and affordable care, particularly as the system shifts significant costs to them," the company said in a statement. "All involved must also take steps to help meaningfully address the U.S. healthcare crisis, and we are committed to do our part to drive change in collaboration with policymakers, payors, patients and healthcare professionals."

Also weighing in on the issue was the First Lady of New York City, Chirlane McCray. In a Washington Post op-ed, she called the company's actions "unconscionable."

"Allergies run in families. How can a financially strapped family possibly manage if more than one member has a severe allergy? Where households suffer a shared affliction that threatens breathing and blood circulation, Mylan sees only dollar signs," wrote McCray, who said she and her daughter suffer from a tree nut allergy 

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Amazon Vehicles offers just about everything except vehicles

The new section sells accessories and is a warehouse of information -- cars may be next

Maybe one of these days, you'll be able to order a new car on Amazon and a drone will drop it at your house a few hours later. That may be a slight exagger...

PhotoMaybe one of these days, you'll be able to order a new car on Amazon and a drone will drop it at your house a few hours later. That may be a slight exaggeration, but you have to imagine that car dealers will not be thrilled to learn that there is something new today called Amazon Vehicles.

Why didn't they call it Amazon Autos? Partly because there is already an Amazon Automotive Store, which sells parts, accessories, and so forth and which seems destined to be merged into the new section.

Other than alliteration, there's not much missing from the new section of the Amazon site. You can't order a new car -- yet -- but you can order all kinds of parts, accessories, and supplies, and you can look up detailed specifications on just about every current model, as well as compare notes with others who have the car you're interested in.

Officially, Amazon is insisting Amazon Vehicles is just an information resource and accessories supplier.

Dealers feeling queasy?

“Our goal is to support customers during one of the most important, research-intensive purchases in their lives by helping them make informed decisions every step of the way,” said Adam Goetsch, Director of Automotive at Amazon.com. “Amazon Vehicles is a great resource for customers who are interested in car information or looking for a broad selection of parts and accessories – all enhanced by the ability to tap into the knowledge, opinions, and experiences of other car owners within the Amazon customer community.”

Dealers haven't had much to say about the development just yet, although Automotive News noted that Hyundai earlier partnered with Amazon for an on-demand test-drive program for the 2017 Elantra in Los Angeles and Orange County. 

Called "Prime Now. Drive Now," the program let Prime members book test drives last weekend and will do the same next weekend. Prime members can sign up online and have the car delivered to their home, office, or a nearby coffee shop for a one-hour test drive.

It's a bit early for dealers to begin feeling angina over the announcement, although established auto sites like Cars.com and AutoTrader.com may be feeling a little queasy about now.

Dealers still have a lock on the new-car market, thanks to state laws that prohibit manufacturers from selling directly to consumers, although Tesla has managed to get around the restrictions in a few states.

Sites like Cars.com are similar to Amazon Vehicles but also enable consumers to buy used cars directly from each other and let dealers advertise their new cars online, and it's hard to think that Amazon won't be moving into that space pretty quickly.

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Expectations you have for old age determine which age you want to live to, study finds

Those who have fewer positive associations with old age prefer to pass away at a younger age

They say that growing old is a part of life, a saying that nevertheless surprises people when they wake up to find a gray hair. But although you can’t stop...

PhotoThey say that growing old is a part of life, a saying that nevertheless surprises people when they wake up to find a gray hair. But although you can’t stop time from marching ever onwards, there are more than a few consumers out there who don’t much care for the prospect of meeting old age.

A new study shows that one out of every six young and middle-aged adults would prefer not to live past the age of 80. According to the researchers, this shocking preference may be due to preconceived notions about what life is like when you become old.

“Having rather bleak expectations of what life will be like in old age seems to undermine the desire to live up to and beyond current levels of average life expectancy. People who embrace the ‘better to die young’ attitude may underestimate their ability to cope with negative age-related life experiences as well as to find new sources of well-being in old age,” said first author Dr. Catherine Bowen.

Varied results

The study relied on data from 1,600 adults who took part in a telephone survey. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 64 years old, with the average age coming in at 42. The genders of participants were equally divided, and 33% had graduated from college.

“We were particularly interested in whether how long people want to live would be related to their expectations about what their life in old age will be like,” said Dr. Begard Skirbekk, a researcher at the Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center.

The findings of the survey suggest that consumers have varied opinions when it comes to which age they want to live to. While around 16.6% of respondents said that they would prefer to die before the age of 80, roughly one third of participants said that they would like to become an octogenarian. One quarter of participants said they wouldn’t mind living into their nineties, with the remaining respondents stating that they wanted to live past 100.

Fear of old age

The researchers say that the study results mirror expectations that respondents had about growing old. Those who had fewer positive old age expectations tended to want to pass away earlier, while those with more positive old age expectations wanted to live longer.

“For many, it seems the fear of becoming old may outweigh the fear of dying,” said Skirbekk. Woody Allen perhaps summed up this view when he said, "I'm not afraid to die. I just don't want to be there when it happens."

The full study has been published in Ageing and Society

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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 anyw...

PhotoThere 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.

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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 fa...

PhotoThe 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.
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How much does your dog cost you per year?

Large breeds can take a big bite out of consumers' wallets

Pet owners often spare no expense in caring for their beloved pets. From keeping the treat jar stocked to ensuring only the finest food graces their bowl,...

PhotoPet owners often spare no expense in caring for their beloved pets. From keeping the treat jar stocked to ensuring only the finest food graces their bowl, the day-to-day cost of owning a pet can add up.  

If you’ve ever wondered how much it costs to own a dog per year, you’re not alone. Luckily, you don’t have to break out your calculator to find out.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has crunched the numbers on dog ownership. As it turns out, the size of your pup may impact how much you spend during the first year and beyond.

Cost of the first year

If you chose to adopt one of the gentle giants of the dog world, you can expect to shell out a bit more during your first year of dog ownership.

Expenses such as spaying, neutering, training, initial medical fees, and the cost of a crate are likely to set large breed dog owners back about $1,843 during the first year.   

If your dog is on the smaller side, your expenses will be too. Small breed dog owners can expect to spend around $1,314, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

After the first year

Once you’ve made it to the other side of the first year, the cost of owning a dog drops -- but that’s not to say that it isn’t still expensive.

The ASPCA estimates that large breed dog owners (who often spend more on dog food) spend approximately $875 per year. Small breed dog owners, on the other hand, may spend roughly $580 per year on dog food and other dog-related expenses.

But keeping Fido well fed isn’t always the most expensive aspect of dog ownership. For many pet owners, emergency vet bills are the priciest part of having a furry sidekick.

Keeping dogs healthy

“Unexpected veterinary bills are the most common, and most costly, variables in dog ownership,” Kathryn Lisko, education specialist at Rover.com, told USA Today. “Healthy habits like regular exercise and teeth brushing can curb those expenses, but dog owners need to be prepared.”

How can pet owners prepare? Experts agree that preventative health care and early intervention are both key when it comes to keeping dogs healthy.

To keep unexpected vet bills from cropping up, pet parents should take their dog to get regular checkups and make sure their teeth stay clean. It’s also important to make sure fleas and ticks don’t hitch a ride on your pooch, as infestations can lead to life-threatening illnesses.  

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Workers not quite ready for the 'gig economy'

Survey finds reluctance to work as an independent contractor

There are pros and cons to working as an independent contractor instead of an employee. But a new survey suggests workers see more cons than pros.Deloi...

PhotoThere are pros and cons to working as an independent contractor instead of an employee. But a new survey suggests workers see more cons than pros.

Deloitte surveyed nearly 4,000 workers and found that 67% of those who had worked as an independent contractor would not do so again, if they could avoid it.

More than 60% of those who are classified as employees said they would avoid working as a contractor, fearing a loss of stability, compensation, and benefits.

The results are significant because, increasingly, companies prefer to hire people as independent contractors instead of employees, in a transition to the so-called “gig economy.” Deloitte says estimates indicate that the number of jobs filled by independent contractors will grow by 54 million by 2020. But companies may have to work harder to find these workers, according to Deloitte's results.

Flexibility

There are, of course, advantages to being an independent contractor and most are connected to flexibility. You can work where and when you want.

Over 40% of the people in the survey said they recognize that, but it isn't as important to them as having a paycheck every week with taxes deducted and medical and other benefits provided by an employer. The workers most leery of working as a contractor were those who most value a steady income.

"In order to achieve business goals, organizations should look to attract all talent pools," said Mike Preston, chief talent officer at Deloitte. "Organizations should start thinking about the culture they have in place and the experiences they can design for contingent workers."

Generational breakdown

There appears to be a generational breakdown at play in the numbers. Some workers value a connection to a company, if it has a desirable culture. Culture is most important for Millennials, followed by Gen-X. It's least important to Baby Boomers, who may be approaching retirement and thus are most open to working as an independent contractor.

Despite the clear preference to be on a company payroll, more than a third of respondents in the survey said they would consider working as a contractor. Women are most open to it, citing the flexibility.

Even so, the numbers show that when it comes to working independently, men are actually more likely to be working independently than women.

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Is there any way to make college cheaper?

Researchers say one attempt has backfired

It may not be a coincidence that college started to get a lot more expensive when schools began restricting who could attend, then spent millions of dollar...

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The rise in home prices continues

The pace of increases appears to be tapering off

The price of houses across the U.S. moved slightly higher in the second quarter.According to the Federal Housing Financ...

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American Foods Group recalls beef product

The product may be contaminated with specified risk materials

American Foods Group of Green Bay, Wis., is recalling approximately 7,420 pounds of beef brain product that may be contaminated with specified risk materia...

PhotoAmerican Foods Group of Green Bay, Wis., is recalling approximately 7,420 pounds of beef brain product that may be contaminated with specified risk materials.

 

There are no confirmed reports of adverse reactions or injuries due to consumption of the product.

 

The following item, produced between April 24, 2016, and August, 11, 2016, is being recalled:

  • 15-unit cases containing beef brains labeled “AMERICAN FOODS GROUP BEEF BRAINS <30” and bearing packaging code 06400.

The recalled product bears establishment number “EST. 410” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and was shipped to a distributor in California.

 

What to do

 

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

 

Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Jennifer Dibbern at (800) 829-2838.

 

 

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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 ...

PhotoDorel 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.

 

 

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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 wit...

PhotoHillary 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

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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 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...

Photo
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 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

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Google nixes big ads that obscure mobile content

Sites that use 'interstitial' ads may feel the sting, but most approve of Google's move

Google provided these examplesIn web jargon, an "interstitial" ad is one that blocks all or most of the content you're trying to look at. They're ext...

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Google provided these examples

In web jargon, an "interstitial" ad is one that blocks all or most of the content you're trying to look at. They're extremely annoying and are among the most hated type of advertising -- especially when they're on wireless sites.

It's not just consumers who are annoyed. Google is giving publishers until Jan. 10 to get rid of interstiatials or suffer the consequences, which presumably would mean reduced search rankings.

"Google's goal has always been to take their users from A to B as quickly as possible, in a way that best satisfies a user's search intent – basically, 'here is your answer,'" said Mike Dobbs, VP of SEO at the trade conference 360i, according to a report in AdAge.

Dobbs said such ads are "intrusive" and can "create a poor user experience."

Some exceptions 

In a blog post, Google said there are exceptions, including interstitials to verify people's ages, dialogues to sign into a paywall, and banners that use "a reasonable amount of screen space."

Advertising executives and marketers are generally on board with the change, especially given the growing use of ad-blockers, which strike fear and loathing into the hearts of ad execs.

However, not everyone thinks Google should be the web's standard-setter.

"Many publishers and marketers using interstitials already feel Google meddles with their consumer relationships and of course, don't like that Google is in a position to be judge, jury and executioner," said Kevin Lee, executive chairman and co-founder of Didit, a full-service digital agency that specializes in search, AdAge reported.

Others noted that Google itself serves full-page interstitial ads on its AdMob mobile app advertising network, though perhaps it won't be doing so by next January.

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Strict parenting may inadvertently hone kids' lying skills

Kids are more likely to lie if they fear punishment, study finds

If you rule the roost with an iron fist, your kids may have learned to become more skillful liars. According to a research by Victoria Talwar, a psycho...

PhotoIf you rule the roost with an iron fist, your kids may have learned to become more skillful liars.

According to a research by Victoria Talwar, a psychologist and children’s development expert at McGill University, strict parenting may lead to kids who are more likely to lie to avoid punishment.

To conduct the study, Talwar visited two very different schools in West Africa: one with strict rules and one that was more relaxed. At each school, she asked a group of students to play a game that required honesty.

The Peeping Game

Talwar had children play the “Peeping Game,” a game in which kids were asked to guess what object was making a certain sound without turning around to sneak a peek at it. Children were instructed not to look, then left alone.

Later, an adult reentered the room and asked children if they peeked. This question was posed in spite of the fact that the adult already knew the answer thanks to a hidden camera in the room.

Kids were found to be more likely to resort to lying if they feared punishment. Of the two-thirds of children who did peek at the toy, those at the strict school were more likely to lie -- and to do so “very effectively.”

Are lies co-created?

“The bottom line is that punishment does not promote truth-telling,” Talwar said. “In fact, the threat of punishment can have the reverse effect by reducing the likelihood that children will tell the truth when encouraged to do so. This is useful information for all parents of young children and for the professionals like teachers who work with them and want to encourage young children to be honest.”

Adults do play a role in kids' decision to lie, says psychotherapist Philippa Perry, who believes that lies are often co-created by parents and children. This may be because strict parents don’t allow children to be in a situation where they feel they can tell the truth, she told the Daily Mail.

“If a child lies to get out of trouble then that lie is not all down to the child, it's a co-created situation. The atmosphere has been produced whereby the child does not feel safe telling the truth." 

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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 few...

PhotoThe 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.

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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...

PhotoCraigslist 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.

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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...

PhotoYou 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?

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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...

PhotoThe 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.

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Here are the best credit cards for college students

But parents and students should agree on how they are used

With college students heading back to campus, parents may be considering whether a son or daughter should have a credit card.Having one could provide s...

PhotoWith college students heading back to campus, parents may be considering whether a son or daughter should have a credit card.

Having one could provide some peace of mind, in case of an emergency expense. On the other hand, a credit card can quickly bury a student in debt if used irresponsibly.

With responsible use, a credit card can not only be a helpful convenience, it can help a student begin building a positive credit history. The question, then, is what's the best card for a college student?

Discover It Chrome for Students

According to CreditCards.com, it's the Discover It Chrome for Students card. The card comparison site was impressed by the card's generous cash back program and perks available to students. One impressive feature is a $20 cash bonus reward when the student maintains a 3.0 grade point average.

Finishing second in the judging is the Wells Fargo Cash Back College Visa. It earned points for a low interest rate and free budgeting tools.

The BankAmericard Cash Rewards Credit Card finished third. It impressed the judges with a significant cash back reward program.

WalletHub's picks

Personal finance site WalletHub has also picked its choices for best student credit cards. Number one on its list is the Journey Student Rewards Card from Capital One. It provides 1.25% cash back on all purchases when you pay your bill on time each month, a financial incentive for students to stay on top of their account. CardHub notes that's more than what’s offered by the average cash back credit card for people with excellent credit.

As a runner-up, CardHub recommends the BankAmericard Cash Rewards for Students Card. It offers nice rewards in expense categories that are widely used by students. It gives you 3% cash back on gas and 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs for the first $2,500 in combined quarterly purchases. Everything else draws a 1% cash reward.

Responsible use

One provision of the 2009 CARD Act is new limits on how credit card companies market to college students. Prior to the legislation, students were often signed up for subprime cards at campus social events and got no guidance on the proper way to use credit.

For students obtaining a credit card, a few ground rules may be in order. There should be firm spending limits in place and agreement on how the card will be used. Charging books and supplies and trips home might be fine. Meals at bars and restaurants might not be.

Students encounter enough debt just paying for books and tuition. They shouldn't add to it by running up large credit card balances. And in that regard, there is some encouraging news.

Credit agency Equifax has reported that its survey of college students found that 70% have one or more credit cards. Of that group, 72% said they pay their balance in full each month.

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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 en...

PhotoAnother 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.

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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 c...

PhotoALEX 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:

 

P0002073

 

P0001713

P0001330

P0000954

 

P0002107

 

P0001628

P0001009

 

P00000814

P0001948

P0001536

 

P0001098

 

P0001677

 

P0001427

P0000983

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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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 ...

PhotoFederal 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.”

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Smart window material may help consumers control heat and light

A small electric charge would enable users to adjust the tint on their windows

Researchers from Austin's Cockrell School of Engineering at the University of Texas have developed a way to transform the windows in your home or business ...

PhotoResearchers from Austin's Cockrell School of Engineering at the University of Texas have developed a way to transform the windows in your home or business into smart windows.

In a release, the researchers explained that the “flexible smart window material” would be able to lighten or darken the tint of a window with a small electric charge.

Coating windows, windshields, or other glass surfaces in the material would leave users with a surface that could quickly switch from clear to tinted, which could ultimately help consumers save big on heating and cooling bills.

Low-temperature process

Scientists say this smart material differs from conventional smart glasses because it is applied to plastic, rather than glass. Furthermore, the low-temperature process yields a flexible, amorphous structure that is twice as efficient as smart materials produced under high temperatures.

Disordered amorphous structures are somewhat more difficult to study compared to the ordered crystalline materials used in other smart glasses. Nonetheless, researchers were successful in characterizing their atomic-scale structure.

"There's relatively little insight into amorphous materials and how their properties are impacted by local structure. But, we were able to characterize with enough specificity what the local arrangement of the atoms is, so that it sheds light on the differences in properties in a rational way," researcher Delia Milliron said.

The material’s application would be completed in a low-cost manner that would leave consumers with a way to block all light or just some -- but that’s in the future. While the idea for the material is there, the product is not yet in a physical form.

An article on the smart material will be published in the September issue of Nature Materials.

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New study sheds light on the nature of our immune systems

Findings will eventually be used to help the elderly stay healthier for longer

Scientists have constantly been striving to understand how and why our immune systems break down as we get older. While certain studies have shown promise...

PhotoScientists have constantly been striving to understand how and why our immune systems break down as we get older. While certain studies have shown promise in boosting immune systems for the elderly, the exact mechanism that degrades our ability to fight infection and disease has remained somewhat unknown.

That is, until now. Researchers at Oxford University and Basel University have found which genes are affected by a certain protein called Foxn1, which is largely responsible for regulating our immune systems. Declining levels of this protein inhibits production of T cells, which are essential in order for us to remain healthy.  

Understanding immunity

Researchers have found that declining levels of Foxn1 led to a sort of chain reaction when it came to the degradation of our immune systems. Everything related to this crucial system starts in the thymus, an organ where T cells are created.

As T cells develop in the thymus, they interact with thymic epithelial cells (TEC). This is a necessary interaction, since scientists have found that people without TEC are unable to produce functioning T cells; and without T cells, the immune system is severely compromised.

This is where Foxn1 comes into play; this protein is directly responsible for creating TEC in the thymus. Lowered levels of Foxn1 prevent TEC from being created, but until now researchers weren’t sure which genetic factors were controlled by Foxn1 that made this the case.

Using a range of models and analytical tools, scientists were able to discover which genes Foxn1 affected; these included genes responsible for creating and selecting specialized T cells that keep a person healthy.

Improving elderly health

The findings of the study give researchers a better idea of which genetic factors affect the immune system. Having this knowledge, they say, will eventually contribute towards helping elderly people stay healthier for longer.

“The findings from these studies . . . provide important insight into the genetic control of regular TEC function and identify new potential strategies to preserve thymus function with age, raising the prospect of a healthier old age,” explains Professor Georg Hollander of the University of Oxford’s Department of Pediatrics.

The full study has been published in the journal Nature Immunology.

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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,...

PhotoAs 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.

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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, know...

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A little exercise can counter the effects of too much sitting

But sitting in front of the TV isn't the same as working at your desk

Ever since studies found that those who spend all day sitting tend to have a higher death rate than those who move around, researchers have been trying to...

PhotoEver since studies found that those who spend all day sitting tend to have a higher death rate than those who move around, researchers have been trying to answer the question: how much moving does it take to make up for too much sitting?

The answer, according to a very large study published recently in The Lancet is: less than you might think. 

Researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 16 large studies that included more than 1 million people. Crunching the data a number of different ways, they came to the conclusion that 60 to 75 minutes of moderate physical activity was enough to eliminate the risk of death related to sitting, even for those who sit more than eight hours per day.

What kind of moderate activity? You don't have to take up gymnastics or triathalons. Things like walking to work, walking the dog, riding a stationary bike, line dancing, golf or softball, doubles tennis, or coaching sports will do it.

For those who just can't spare an hour, even 25 minutes of moderate activity was found to be somewhat protective.

TV watching is worse than working

The way energy expenditure was measured, vigorous activities count more, so less time of the most strenuous exercise is needed to be protective, said Monique Tello, MD, MPH, writing in the Harvard Health Blog

That's the good news.

The bad news, says Tello, is that the encouraging findings apply to those who sit at a desk or behind the wheel all day. They don't apply to plopping down on the couch and watching TV for hours on end.

The researchers found that TV time is associated with an even greater risk of death, and exercise is not as protective; even a full hour of activity can't make up for five hours of TV watching.

Why is TV watching so much more harmful? Researchers aren't certain, Tello said, but it may be because even though we may sit at a desk or at the wheel of a truck or bus all day, we still tend to jump up to go to meetings, check a file, or unload a shipment. 

But TV watching? It's a total blob-out for most people. Also, Tello notes that most TV watching takes place in the evening, usually after dinner, which could increase the effect on blood sugars and fat metabolism. There's also the little matter of snacking.

The takeaway message, says Tello, is that every little bit of movement helps keep arteries flexible and blood sugar under control. If all else fails, you might want to consider dragging the exercycle into the family room. 

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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) show...

PhotoAmericans 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.

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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 seas...

PhotoSales 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.

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Five Star Shellfish brand oysters recalled

The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

Five Star Shellfish is recalling its brand of large standard and mixed oysters due to possible Salmonella contamination. No reported illnesses have...

PhotoFive Star Shellfish is recalling its brand of large standard and mixed oysters due to possible Salmonella contamination.

 

No reported illnesses have been reported.

 

The following products, sold in in the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario, and possibly distributed in other provinces and territories, are being recalled:

 

Brand

Product

Size

UPC

Codes

Five Star Shellfish Inc.

Large Standard Oysters

100 count

None

Harvest Date: 13-Aug-16

Harvest Location: PEI 1Q

Five Star Shellfish Inc.

Mixed Oysters

100 count

None

Harvest Date: 13-Aug-16

Harvest Location: PEI 1Q

 

What to do

 

Customers who purchased the recalled should should not consume them, but throw them away or return them to the store where purchased.

 

Consumers with questions may call Five Star Shellfish at 902-831-2906.

 

 

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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 cu...

PhotoBMW 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.

 

 

 

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Wells Fargo to pay $4 million for illegal student loan practices

Consumers were charged illegal fees, among other violations

Wells Fargo Bank has been ordered to pay more than $4 million for illegal private student loan servicing practices that increased costs and unfairly penali...

PhotoWells Fargo Bank has been ordered to pay more than $4 million for illegal private student loan servicing practices that increased costs and unfairly penalized certain student loan borrowers.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) said it identified breakdowns throughout Wells Fargo’s servicing process, including failing to provide important payment information to consumers, charging consumers illegal fees, and failing to update inaccurate credit report information.

The CFPB’s order requires Wells Fargo to improve its consumer billing and student loan payment processing practices. The company must also provide $410,000 in relief to borrowers and pay a $3.6 million civil penalty to the CFPB.

“Wells Fargo hit borrowers with illegal fees and deprived others of critical information needed to effectively manage their student loan accounts,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Consumers should be able to rely on their servicer to process and credit payments correctly and to provide accurate and timely information and we will continue our work to improve the student loan servicing market.”

Huge debt

Student loans make up the nation’s second largest consumer debt market. Today, there are more than 40 million federal and private student loan borrowers and collectively these consumers owe roughly $1.3 trillion.

Last year, the CFPB found that more than 8 million borrowers are in default on more than $110 billion in student loans, a problem that may be driven by breakdowns in student loan servicing.

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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...

PhotoA 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.

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Crib that mimics womb could reduce risk of SIDS

The Crescent Womb 'holds your baby the way nature intended,' says its creator

Ninety-one percent of parents are still putting their babies in cribs with unsafe bedding, according to a recent study. The same study also found that 14% ...

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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 p...

PhotoMonth 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.

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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...

PhotoMany 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.  
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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 rev...

PhotoIf 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
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What causes you the most financial stress?

Survey finds 20% of consumers stressed by too much credit card debt

Money probably is not the root of all evil, but it probably is the cause of a large share of financial stress.GoBankingRates surveyed 7,000 consumers n...

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Quick, what's the biggest influence on your credit score?

TransUnion found that a lot of consumers don't know

A credit score seems like a fairly simple concept. If you have a high score, you can qualify for the best rates on loans. If you have a low score, you can'...

PhotoA credit score seems like a fairly simple concept. If you have a high score, you can qualify for the best rates on loans. If you have a low score, you can't.

But what about the things that influence a score, that move it up or down? That's where things get a little murky for a lot of consumers.

A survey by credit bureau TransUnion has documented that confusion, learning that more than half of consumers who checked their credit score in the last month wrongly believed their income, employment history, and age are factors.

They aren't, and neither are salary raises and increases in personal savings, though a large percentage of consumers in the survey believe they are.

What you don't know can hurt

Why does this matter? Because if you don't know what influences your credit score, you might not take the right action to keep pushing your score higher.

“Our survey shows that even those who monitor their credit are only skimming the surface of their credit report and often don’t understand the factors that comprise their credit score,” said John Danaher, president of TransUnion Consumer Interactive.

Here's what influences your credit score: first and foremost, its paying your bills on time. All of your bill.

Danaher says some consumers buy into the myth that as long as they pay their bills and don't fall behind, it's okay. It's not. Paying bills on time and in full each month will have a positive impact on your score. Late bill payments can stay on your report for up to seven years.

How you use credit

How you use credit is another major factor. Paying off your credit card balance every month looks better to creditors than if you carry a balance that gets bigger every month.

They also look closely on how much of your available credit you've used. If you have a $5000 credit limit but are carrying a $4,000 balance, you'll have a lower score than if the balance is just $1,000.

Finally, you need to access credit to raise your credit score. If you don't have any credit accounts, the credit agencies have no way to assess your creditworthiness. Having a mortgage, car payment, and credit card bill that you pay on time, month after month, is the best way to maintain and build your credit score.

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Feds mobilize industry for war on robocalls

FCC asks tech companies to find a way to block or limit these calls

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is preparing to wage war on robocalls and is trying to mobilize the technology industry to join the cause.T...

PhotoThe Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is preparing to wage war on robocalls and is trying to mobilize the technology industry to join the cause.

The FCC held a meeting with 30 of the industry's major players to talk about ways to hang up on these machine-generated calls, which are closely associated with scams, or products and services of dubious value.

You may be familiar with these calls. A recorded voice might congratulate you on winning a free cruise or tell you your business qualifies for a $250,000 loan. Or, the voice may claim to be calling from the IRS, warning you of impending jail time if you don't pay back taxes immediately – as in right now, over the phone, with a prepaid money card.

Biggest source of consumer complaints

The meeting was intended as a brainstorming session in hopes that Google, Apple, AT&T, and Verizon could find ways to limit or prevent these calls, which FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler calls “a scourge” and the biggest source of consumer complaints.

“They are an invasion of privacy, and this scourge is rife with fraud and identity theft,” Wheeler told the group. “The problem is that the bad guys are beating the good guys with technology right now.”

Wheeler says scammers outside the U.S. can use Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) to mislead voice networks. The bad guys have the ability to spoof a legitimate phone number that easily fools most caller ID programs.

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai pointed out that there has already been some productive accomplishments in this area. He points to a 2013 competition among developers that resulted in Nomorobo, an app that he says has already stopped more than 126 million robocalls.

“We know there is a problem,” said FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn. “We know how much consumers dislike these calls. We know the public is frustrated, because they assumed that after they registered for the Do Not Call list, this would stop. It did not, so now it is time to take some real action.”

Previous action

The FCC has already taken some action. A year ago it adopted a proposal making clear that consumers have the right to control the calls they receive on both landline and wireless phones. That move also gave providers permission to implement robocall-blocking technologies.

Wheeler says the government needs tech firms to take it from here, noting that scammers are using technology to stay well ahead of regulators.

“It’s not as if good guys [are] standing idly by,” Wheeler said. “But we need more urgency.”

The tech firms attending the meeting apparently got the message. Reuters reports most have signed on to become part of a robocall strike force that will report back to the FCC in October on what it has come up with.

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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-instal...

PhotoChrysler (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.

 

 

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Cambridge Farms recalls three brands of frozen cut corn

The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

Cambridge Farms of Lancaster, Pa., is recalling three brands of frozen cut corn that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. No illnesses ...

PhotoCambridge Farms of Lancaster, Pa., is recalling three brands of frozen cut corn that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

 

No illnesses have been reported to date.

 

The following products are being recalled:

  • Laura Lynn Frozen Cut Corn in a 16 oz. Polybag - UPC 8685401734; Code SWFF/R10312, Best by 4/11/18; Code SWFFR/10452, Best by 5/09/18; Code SWFF/R10609, Best by 6/6/18;
  • Laura Lynn Frozen Cut Corn in a 32 oz. Polybag - UPC 8685401717; Code SWFF/R 10482, Best by 5/10/18;
  • Key Food Frozen Cut Corn in a 16 oz. Polybag - UPC 7329607091; Code SWFF/R10320, Best by 4/11/18; Code SWFF/R10405, Best by 5/2/18;
  • Better Valu Frozen Cut Corn in a 14 oz. Polybag - UPC 7980124561; Code SWFF/R10308, Best by 4/11/18.

The above codes are on the back of the retail package.

 

The recalled products were sold thru retail supermarkets in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Virginia, New york, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Maryland and Florida.

 

What to do

 

Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.

 

Consumers with questions may contact the company at 1-717-945-5178 Monday through Friday, from 8:00AM to 5:00PM (EDT).

 

 

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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 ca...

PhotoHyundai 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.

 

 

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Going solo on a group tour

Being surrounded by people you barely know isn't always fun

Group travel has its advantages: someone else plans the itinerary and you get to leave the lodging, transportation, meals, and sightseeing to someone else....

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Mozilla supports FCC's open set-top box proposal

Technology companies are lined up against pay-TV and cable interests

The Mozilla Foundation, developer of the Firefox browser, has thrown its support behind the notion that consumers should not have to rent a set-top cable b...

PhotoThe Mozilla Foundation, developer of the Firefox browser, has thrown its support behind the notion that consumers should not have to rent a set-top cable box to watch TV and streaming video.

The Federal Communications Commission is weighing proposed regulations that would allow companies other than cable and satellite providers to develop boxes that can access pay-TV programs, which would make life simpler for viewers and save consumers millions of dollars in the monthly set-top box rentals they now pay to cable and satellite providers.

"We believe the proposed rules will help open a technology environment that today is very closed, with the result of improved competition, greater innovation, and streamlined interoperability, all to the benefit of consumers," Mozilla's public policy head Chris Riley wrote in a letter sent to the Federal Communications Commission this week.

The proposal is generally supported by technology companies and opposed by cable and broadcast interests, including producers who fear their property will become more vulnerable to being stolen (i.e., viewed for free).

Copyright Office stance

The U.S. Copyright Office is backing producers in opposing the proposal, saying it could nterfere with content owners' ability to license programs and to "impose reasonable conditions" on how those programs are used.

Advertisers also oppose the proposal, saying that eliminating the control cable and pay-TV providers now enjoy could make it possible for rogue elements to insert new commercials or even replace existing ones.

In the long run, the proposed rule could destroy the economic underpinnings of the entertainment business, critics say. They point to the widespread failure of daily newspapers and the havoc wrought in the music business by the introduction of technology that broke traditional distribution channels. 

Mozilla takes a dim view of that argument, saying the Copyright Office's views "take us down a dangerous road."

"At worst, the rules conflict with only the most maximalist copyright policy views, those that would stretch statutory interpretation and precedent to allow for indefinite downstream control by rightsholders, impeding the development of new technologies and harming consumers," Riley said, according to a MediaPost article. "Copyright law confers a set number of rights to rightsholders, and is not meant to convey total control.

Consumer groups generally support opening the set-top market to competition, saying that consumers now pay an average cost of $231 per year to rent boxes that basically do the same thing as a Roku or Amazon Fire TV box. 

Cable compromise

The cable industry has offered a compromise proposal, suggesting cable companies supply their subscribers with an app that would receive not only their regular cable packages but also Netflix-style streaming video that is now viewed with a Roku-style box.

The app would use open HTML5 standards, which would enable manufacturers to adopt it quickly without jumping through the hoops tht accompany proprietary technology.

"This approach would provide significant benefits to consumers," the industry officials argued in a regulatory, according to Washington Post report in June.

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Dogs value praise from their human over treats, study finds

We're much more to dogs than a means of getting food, researchers say

A dangling treat may hold your dog in rapt attention, but new research suggests that most dogs crave another reward to a higher degree.Using a combinat...

PhotoA dangling treat may hold your dog in rapt attention, but new research suggests that most dogs crave another reward to a higher degree.

Using a combination of brain-imaging data and behavioral experiments, researchers from Emory University found that many dogs prefer praise from their owner over food.

“We are trying to understand the basis of the dog-human bond and whether it's mainly about food, or about the relationship itself," said neuroscientist Gregory Berns from Emory University.

As it turns out, the relationship dogs have with their owners is of much more value to canines than Pavlov might believe.

Value of social praise

At the end of nearly 100 trials, only two of the 15 dogs studied showed a preference for food over praise from their owners. The other 13 dogs either enjoyed praise more or appeared to like both equally, Berns noted.

Dogs’ preference for praise as a reward, rather than treats, contradicts the Pavlovian idea that the owner is merely a means of acquiring food.  

Dogs are "hypersocial" with humans, says Berns, who believes these experiments could help pave the way for studies that explore dogs' ability to process and understand human language. 

Study details

To conduct the study, researchers trained the dogs to associate three objects with three outcomes. A pink toy truck meant that the dog would get a food reward, a blue toy knight meant verbal praise from the owner, and a hairbrush meant no reward.

An fMRI machine measured dogs’ neural activity during each test. While most dogs appeared to enjoy both food and owner praise equally, four dogs in the group showed a much stronger neural response for praise.

The setting of the second test was a Y-shaped maze. One path lead to a bowl of food while the other lead to the dog’s owner (facing away from the dog). The praise-preferring dogs from the first trial went to their owners 80 to 90 percent of the time.

These results suggest that praise is of great value to dogs, said Berns, adding that social reward and praise, to dogs, “may be analogous to how we humans feel when someone praises us.”

The study was published in the journal Social, Cognitive, and Affective Neuroscience.

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Stuffstr app can help you keep your unused items out of landfills

Consumers can see item-specific recommendations for where their unused stuff should go

You probably have a few items in your home that you’re not using. In fact, you probably have over $7,000 worth of unused items in your home, says John Atch...

PhotoYou probably have a few items in your home that you’re not using. In fact, you probably have over $7,000 worth of unused items in your home, says John Atcheson, CEO of an app called Stuffstr.

What if, instead of taking those items to the dump or gathering them up to take to a thrift store, you could get them into the hands of someone who could use them?

That’s the idea behind Stuffstr, an app intended to “increase the use and recirculation of the things we buy and help people reduce clutter and keep things out of landfills."

In addition to helping you declutter your home, Stuffstr can help ensure your items end up in the best possible place.

Recirculating unused stuff

"The average person throws away 70 pounds of clothing annually. It’s often easier to just throw things away,” Atcheson said, adding that we use 80% of our stuff less than once a month.

Atcheson and co-founder Steve Gutmann, who both have backgrounds in the sharing economy, want to “bridge this gap by changing people’s relationship with their stuff.”

While thrift stores such as Goodwill may be an easy way for consumers to get rid of items en masse, these stores aren't always the proper second home for certain items. The app aims to make sure your items end up somewhere where they are needed.

Movement toward circular economy

After inputting your items (either manually or by inputting emailed receipts), the app will show you where your donation should go based on what it is.

For instance, Stuffstr might tell you that your item is best suited for a manufacturer recycling program or a used electronics collection service. Or perhaps it should go to a friend or an organization such as Habitat for Humanity.

Additionally, Stuffstr will give you directions to its recommended donation spots and let you know if there are pickup options available. In the future, the Stuffstr team hopes to get retailers involved in the sustainability movement.

“Longer-term, our goal is to help retailers move toward longer-lasting products and new business models that can improve both their bottom lines and our environment,” Atcheson told SustainableBrands.

Currently, the app is only available for iOS

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Harley-Davidson joins VW in emission-cheaters corner

Harley to pay $15 million for selling "super tuners" that produce excessive emissions

Volkswagen and Harley-Davidson are both sort of iconic. VW sort of symbolizes frugality and modesty. Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kane drives a VW. Harl...

Photo
Donald Trump at this year's Rolling Thunder observance in D.C. (Photo via Facebook)

Volkswagen and Harley-Davidson are both sort of iconic. VW sort of symbolizes frugality and modesty. Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kane drives a VW. Harley motorcycles sort of symbolize wanton excess and machismo. Donald Trump would probably ride one, except for the hair issue.

And, it turns out, they are similar in another way as well: both companies have been caught fiddling with emission control devices on their products. 

The Justice Department revved up its publicity apparatus yesterday and announced that Harvey-Davidson has agreed to pay a $12 million fine and spend $3 million to help reduce air pollution.

Harley sold about 340,000 "super tuners," devices that cause motorcycles to emit more air pollution than the company certified in its application to the Environmental Protection Agency, the announcement said. 

“Given Harley-Davidson’s prominence in the industry, this is a very significant step toward our goal of stopping the sale of illegal aftermarket defeat devices that cause harmful pollution on our roads and in our communities,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden, head of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. 

“Anyone else who manufactures, sells, or installs these types of illegal products should take heed of Harley-Davidson’s corrective actions and immediately stop violating the law,” Cruden warned.

Improved performance

The tuners improve a motorcycle's performance but also increase emissions of hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides (NOx), just as the deceptive emission devices on VW diesel vehicles allowed the cars to emit more NOx than allowed.

A Harley-Davidson spokesperson said the comparison to VW was inaccurate.

"The Pro Super Tuner was not part of the motorcycle’s original equipment and was not used in certification testing or any pre-sale application at all. It was an aftermarket device used to adapt engine parameters for use with after-market equipment. And it is and was perfectly legal to use in race conditions," said Pat Sweeney, director of communication integration.

“This settlement is not an admission of liability but instead represents a good faith compromise with the EPA on areas of law we interpret differently, particularly EPA’s assertion that it is illegal for anyone to modify a certified vehicle even if it will be used solely for off-road/closed-course competition,” said Ed Moreland, Harley-Davidson’s Government Affairs Director. “For more than two decades, we have sold this product under an accepted regulatory approach that permitted the sale of competition-only parts. In our view, it is and was legal to use in race conditions in the U.S.”

 

Under the settlement, Harley-Davidson will stop selling the devices in the United States by August 23.  Harley-Davidson will also offer to buy back all such tuners in stock at Harley-Davidson dealerships across the country and destroy them. 

The problem with excessive hydrocarbon and NOx emissions is that they contribute to harmful ground-level ozone and NOx also contributes to fine particulate matter pollution, which can cause serious health effects, including increased asthma attacks and other respiratory illnesses. 

Children, the elderly, and people with pre-existing respiratory disease are particularly at risk of health effects from exposure to these pollutants. 

Besides trashing the illegal devices, Harley agreed to spend $3 million to fund a project that will help repair some of the damage the devices allegedly caused.

Wood stove menace

The project? Getting rid of wood stoves. Traditional wood stoves are popular in rural areas, especially mountainous ones, where there is plenty of renewable fuel -- namely, trees -- and not many natural gas lines. But put a lot of woodstoves in a neighborhood and the air quality quickly deteriorates.

The smoke produced from wood stoves and fireplaces contains over 100 different chemical compounds, many of which are harmful and potentially carcinogenic, according to the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services. "Wood smoke pollutants include fine particulates, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, dioxins, and furans," the department says in an advisory

Many mountain communities -- including the posh ski resort Vail, Colorado -- prohibit wood-burning stoves or have rules about when they can be used. The Harley project will fund replacing the wood-burners with cleaner-burning wood stoves.  

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Following a healthy diet during pregnancy reduces risk of ADHD and behavioral problems, study finds

Researchers say diets high in fat and sugar could be harmful to healthy development

A new study from the King’s College in London and the University of Bristol reinforces how important it is for women to follow a healthy diet while they ar...

PhotoA new study from the King’s College in London and the University of Bristol reinforces how important it is for women to follow a healthy diet while they are pregnant.

Researchers have found that pregnant women who eat foods that are high in fat and sugar content are more likely to have a child that develops attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Additionally, the researchers say that diet during pregnancy may also predict the development of conduct problems (i.e. lying and fighting) during childhood. They believe that their findings could be helpful in supporting pregnant women to make healthy choices.

“These results suggest that promoting a healthy prenatal diet may ultimately lower ADHD symptoms and conduct problems of children. This is encouraging given that nutritional and epigenetic risk factors can be altered,” said Dr. Edward Barker.

Importance of prenatal nutrition

The researchers came to their conclusions after examining the behaviors of 164 children and the diets of their mothers during pregnancy; 83 of these children displayed early-onset conduct problems and 81 had low levels of conduct problems.

Specifically, the researchers looked at how each mother’s nutritional choices affected DNA methylation of a gene called IGF2. IGF2 plays a major role in fetal brain development and is believed to be a factor in the development of ADHD.

The researchers found that mothers who had poor prenatal nutrition had higher IGF2 methylation when compared to mothers who practiced better nutritional habits. The researchers posit that eating foods that are high in sugar and fat content correlate with higher IGF2 methylation, which could lead to ADHD and future behavioral problems.

“Our finding that poor prenatal nutrition was associated with higher IGF2 methylation highlights the critical importance of a healthy diet during pregnancy,” said Barker.

Determining optimal nutrition

Barker and his colleagues believe that their findings are important, but they do not believe that their work is done yet. Next, they hope to determine which nutritional steps should be taken by expecting mothers to reduce the risk of ADHD and behavioral problems.

“We now need to examine more specific types of nutrition. For example, the types of fats such as omega 3 fatty acids, from fish, walnuts and chicken are extremely important for neural development. . . We already know that nutritional supplements for children can lead to lower ADHD and conduct problems, so it will be important for future research to examine the role of epigenetic changes in this process,” said Barker.

The full study has been published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry

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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 hig...

PhotoMotorists 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.

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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...

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Students and parents targeted in back-to-school scams

Con men are demanding payment of a non-existent tax

Have you ever heard of the “Federal Student Tax?” Well, that's because there is no such thing.But that's not stopping the con men who are working their...

PhotoHave you ever heard of the “Federal Student Tax?” Well, that's because there is no such thing.

But that's not stopping the con men who are working their back-to-school tax scams

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is warning taxpayers to be on the lookout for scammers pretending to be from the tax agency calling students and demanding that they wire money immediately to pay a fake “federal student tax.”

If the person refuses, the scammer becomes aggressive and threatens to report the student to the police to be arrested. With schools around the nation re-opening, it's important for taxpayers to be particularly aware of this scheme going after students and parents.

“Although variations of the IRS impersonation scam continue year-round, they tend to peak when scammers find prime opportunities to strike”, said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “As students and parents enter the new school year, they should remain alert to bogus calls, including those demanding fake tax payments from students.”

A variety of scams

Scammers are constantly identifying new tactics to carry out their crimes in new and unsuspecting ways. This year, the IRS has seen them use a variety of schemes to fool taxpayers into paying money or giving up personal information. Some of these include:

  • Altering the caller ID on incoming phone calls in a “spoofing” attempt to make it seem like the IRS, the local police, or another agency is calling
  • Imitating software providers to trick tax professionals
  • Demanding fake tax payments using iTunes gift cards
  • Soliciting W-2 information from payroll and human resources professionals
  • “Verifying” tax return information over the phone
  • Pretending to be from the tax preparation industry

If you receive an unexpected call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, here are some of the telltale signs to help protect yourself.

The IRS will never:

  • Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card, or wire transfer. Generally, the IRS will first mail you a bill if you owe any taxes.
  • Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
  • Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

What to do

If you get a suspicious phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money, here’s what you should do:

  • Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
  • Search the web for telephone numbers scammers leave in your voicemail asking you to call back. Some of the phone numbers may be published online and linked to criminal activity.
  • Contact TIGTA to report the call. Use their “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” web page or call 800-366-4484.
  • Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov. Be sure to add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.
  • If you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS directly at 800-829-1040.
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Researchers may have developed a safer opioid drug

The new formula is said to be less addictive and avoids most side effects

Opioid addiction has become a major health problem because these painkillers are very powerful and habit-forming.In addition to people who overdose whi...

PhotoOpioid addiction has become a major health problem because these painkillers are very powerful and habit-forming.

In addition to people who overdose while using them for recreation, millions more become addicted through legitimate use to treat pain. It has health professionals rethinking how they should treat pain in the first place.

A team of international researchers just might have a solution. The scientists say they have developed a substitute for current opioid drugs that can block pain without the dangerous side effects.

Their study, published in the online edition of the journal Nature, says the secret is building the drug from the ground up, not starting with an existing chemical compound.

The scientists, including some from California and North Carolina, used a computer to explore four trillion chemical interactions before coming up with a formula that they say blocks pain as effectively as morphine, without the side effects.

Doesn't affect breathing

Mainly, the new drug does not interfere with breathing, which is the main cause of death from overdose. They say that in experiments with mice, it did not seem to be addictive. That contention, however, will require more research to conclusively prove.

Prescription opioid overdose deaths have quadrupled since 1999, coinciding with a surge in sales of these drugs, such as OxyContin, Vicodin, and methadone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 165,000 people in the U.S. died from opioid overdose from 1999 to 2014.

“Opioid prescribing continues to fuel the epidemic,” the CDC says on its website. “Today, at least half of all U.S. opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid. In 2014, more than 14,000 people died from overdoses involving prescription opioids.”

Why opioids?

Opioid use has surged, in part, because physicians usually try to give patients as much relief from pain as possible. In the case of opioids, the drugs sometimes are just too powerful for the patient's own good.

Brian Shoichet, PhD, a professor of pharmaceutical chemistry at the University of California San Francisco’s School of Pharmacy and co-senior author on the new paper, says powerful opioids have also made new surgeries possible because doctors are able to better control the pain afterwards.

“But it’s obviously dangerous too,” he said. “People have been searching for a safer replacement for standard opioids for decades.”

Have they found it? The researchers admit it's too early to tell. But they say successful tests for addiction on rats and other larger lab animals could be the first step toward clinical trials that could bring the drug to the marketplace.

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Are you using the right credit card?

A J.D. Power study shows why you probably aren't

What's in your wallet? According to J.D. Power, it's probably the wrong credit card.The market analysis firm reports at least one in five credit card c...

PhotoWhat's in your wallet? According to J.D. Power, it's probably the wrong credit card.

The market analysis firm reports at least one in five credit card customers are not using the card that best matches their spending patterns. It's not just a matter of convenience, it could be costing them money.

For starters, many consumers carry a credit card that charges them an annual fee. Typically, cards only charge a fee if they can provide the kinds of benefits and rewards that more than offset it. In that case, it might pay to use a card with an annual fee.

But for most consumers, the payoff simply isn't there. So they could be spending $50 to $75 a year needlessly.

The J.D. Power study also found that customers using a card not synced to their needs spend less per month on their primary card, use their card for a smaller share of their total spending, and are more likely to switch cards.

Alarming

"The percentage of people carrying the wrong card is alarming, and that doesn't even include the 30% to 50% of people who have the right card, but could find a card that's an even better fit for them if they looked at other options," said Jim Miller, senior director of banking at J.D. Power.

The problem, Miller says, is when consumers are mismatched to their credit card, they're less satisfied. He says when consumers have the right card, it's better for both customers and card issuers.

The study also found that people usually pick a credit card for its rewards program. A consumer might like a particular retailer and choose a credit card that provides rewards in the form of points, redeemable for merchandise. But they might be much better off with a cash back rewards card that puts money in their pocket.

The study found that 20% of consumers who carry a rewards card would be better off with a different rewards card or a lower interest rate card without rewards. Some simply aren't spending enough to earn rewards that offset the annual fee.

Some could qualify for a card for people with excellent credit but are using a card targeting people with only fair credit. As a result, they pay much higher interest than they should.

Do you really need an airline card?

Miller notes that consumers seem to love airline travel cards that issue miles. However, he says these cards can be terrible choices unless you spend at least $500 a month. Without that spending level, he says you are unlikely to recoup the annual fee.

To make sure you have the right credit card in your wallet, think about your spending patterns. A card that pays 6% back on gasoline purchases and 3% on groceries will be a much better fit than an airline card, if you only take two or three trips a year.

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Airline consumer complaints trend downward

Tarmac delays are a different story

Either the airlines are doing a better job of keeping their customers happy, or the consumers figure it doesn't do any good to gripe.Whatever the case,...

PhotoEither the airlines are doing a better job of keeping their customers happy, or the consumers figure it doesn't do any good to gripe.

Whatever the case, consumer complaints filed with the Department of Transportation (DOT) Aviation Consumer Protection Division were down 12.2 % during the first six months of this year from the same period a year ago.

DOT says it received 8,376 consumer complaints from January to June 2016, compared with the 9,542 received during the first six months of 2015. For the month of June, there were 1,492 complaints about airline service -- down 27.1% from June 2015, but up 31.6% from May 2016.

In addition, carriers reported canceling just 1.0% of their scheduled domestic flights in June 2016, versus the 1.8% cancellation rate posted in June 2015. Airlines posted an on-time arrival rate of 78.0% in June, compared with 74.8% a year earlier.

Tarmac delays

However, the news wasn’t so good for travelers waiting to become airborne, as airlines reported five tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights in June and four delays of more than four hours on international flights.

Three of the domestic delays involved flights diverted from Denver to Colorado Springs on June 28 because of a thunderstorm in the area. All reported extended tarmac delays are investigated by DOT.

In addition to the above areas, the consumer report includes data on chronically delayed flights, the causes of flight delays, statistics on mishandled baggage reports, data on oversales, and information about the total number of animals that died, were injured, or were lost during air transport in June.

The full report is available on the DOT website.

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Sprint vs. T-Mobile: it's getting nasty

Both say they are getting rid of data plans

On the heels of AT&T; announcement that it is doing away with overage charges on its data plan, T-Mobile upped the ante Thursday, announcing it is doing aw...

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Uber launching fleet of self-driving Volvos in Pittsburgh

The companies are getting the jump on Google, Tesla, and others in the autonomous car derby

If you summon an Uber in Pittsburgh later this month, don't be surprised if the driver appears to be doing nothing. Uber is launching a fleet of self-drivi...

PhotoIf you summon an Uber in Pittsburgh later this month, don't be surprised if the driver appears to be doing nothing. Uber is launching a fleet of self-driving Volvos -- complete with a human sitting in the driver's seat, just in case he's needed.

It's the result of a collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University, home to an ambitious robotics department. With the announcement, Uber is striking a blow at Google, which has been testing self-driving cars in California but has not yet put any of them into commercial service.

Rides in the self-driving Uber Volvos will be free initially. 

Tesla and Ford are also developing self-driving cars, but Uber and CMU appear to have pulled into the fast lane. 

Dozens of sensors

The Pittsburgh Uber fleet will consist of 100 Volvo XC90 SUVs outfitted with dozens of sensors that use cameras, lasers, radar, and GPS receivers. Only a handful have been delivered so far. Eventually, Uber hopes to remove the drivers from its vehicles.

Unlike Google, Tesla, and Ford, Uber has no plans to build its own cars, according to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. It is, however, collaborating with other manufacturers and says the deal with Volvo is not exclusive.

Besides working with other passenger cars, Uber also has its eye on the freight market, according to a Bloomberg report. It's working with a company called Otto, which has developed software that enables big-rig trucks to operate autonomously. While Uber isn't thought to be interested in over-the-road trucking, it does reportedly have its eye on local deliveries of meals and other merchandise.

Likewise, Volvo plans to use what it learns from the project to speed development of its own self-driving cars.

"This alliance places Volvo at the heart of the current technological revolution in the automotive industry,” said Håkan Samuelsson, president and chief executive of Volvo Cars

Not everyone is thrilled with the pace of development. Safety advocates say that public highways shouldn't be used as proving grounds, and federal regulators are looking into a Tesla crash in Florida that killed the driver.

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Pokémon Go distractions lead to real-life consequences

Research shows that players are more likely to get into an accident by being less aware

If you’ve been living under a rock for the past month or so, you may have missed the explosive popularity of Pokémon Go. Released in July, players of the g...

PhotoIf you’ve been living under a rock for the past month or so, you may have missed the explosive popularity of Pokémon Go. Released in July, players of the game are able to catch, train, and battle Pokémon by walking around in the real world. However, many experts say that playing the game can be risky.

The problem, they say, is that players may be so absorbed by what is happening on their phone screens that they inadvertently put themselves in danger by tripping and falling or walking into traffic. One researcher says that the game’s design may be partially to blame.

“The problem with Pokémon Go, in my opinion, is that it leads to a whole new level of not only slowing down, but moving in a particular direction to chase your Pokémon,” said Conrad Earnest, a research scientist at Texas A&M University’s Exercise and Sport Nutrition Lab.

Distracted walking

The problem, Earnest says, is two-fold. First, players are more likely to engage in dangerous walking habits when using the app. His research shows that distracted walkers are more likely to slow down, take more steps, and increase the height of their steps to get over obstacles. This, he says, leads to an increased likelihood of trip-and-fall accidents.

The second problem is that players are not paying as much attention to their surroundings and tend to blindly follow the prompts of the game in order to catch a Pokémon.

“Players are more likely to cross at a time when the crosswalk signs aren’t giving a clear go. They’re more likely to cross in the middle of the street as opposed to a crosswalk. I think Pokémon Go is the potential recipe for more injuries and more pedestrian or traffic accidents,” he said.

Dangerous driving  

The dangers don’t just stop with those who choose to walk and play, though. Against the advice of the app, many players choose to play the game and drive at the same time. These distracted drivers can be extremely dangerous to those around them, something that Earnest knows all too well.

“A friend of mine was riding his unicycle in a low and slow traffic area and was crossing the street in a crosswalk. A woman in a car was chasing a Pokémon, ran a stop sign and hit him,” Earnest said – adding that his friend ended up being OK, albeit a little sore.

“The more distractions you throw in the mix when you’re trying to get from point A to point B, the greater likelihood of you running into a problem,” he concluded.

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Diabetes medication may have other health benefits, study shows

Researchers believe linagliptin may counter arterial stiffness, a major contributor to cardiovascular disease

A new study from the University of Missouri has found that a medication used to treat diabetes may also be helpful in preventing arterial stiffness – a com...

PhotoA new study from the University of Missouri has found that a medication used to treat diabetes may also be helpful in preventing arterial stiffness – a common condition for those who are obese or suffering from Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The discovery comes at an opportune time, as many experts concede that obesity is a serious epidemic in the U.S. They blame many of the health-related problems of obesity on the “western diet,” which is typically high in fat and loaded with refined sugars. The study, which tested the diabetes medication linagliptin on mice, shows promising signs for reversing arterial stiffness.

“Our previous studies showed that young female mice consuming a mostly western diet not only gained weight, but also exhibited arterial stiffening consistent with obese premenopausal women. Our current study sought to understand what effects, if any, the diabetes medication linagliptin had on preventing vascular stiffness,” said Dr. Vincent DeMarco, lead author of the study.

Vascular benefits

For the purposes of the study, several groups of mice were fed a western diet for four months. Certain groups were given doses of linagliptin, while others were not. At the end of the four-month period, researchers measured arterial stiffness in each specimen to record any changes.

The researchers found that mice that were not given linagliptin gained weight and developed a five-fold increase in arterial stiffness. Mice who were given the medication, on the other hand, showed no sign of arterial stiffness at the end of the four months.

“The mice fed a western diet without receiving linagliptin gained weight and developed aortic stiffness. However, a big surprise to us was an almost total prevention of aortic stiffening in mice that were fed the western diet along with linagliptin, even though this group gained as much weight as the other mice,” said DeMarco.

Further testing needed

The lack of aortic stiffness after being given linagliptin signals that the medication could have potentially huge benefits for consumers struggling with obesity, diabetes, or cardiovascular disease. However, the researchers admit that there is more work to be done before the general public can reap these benefits.

“Based on the results of our study, it is tempting to speculate that linagliptin could target arterial stiffness and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. However, results from clinical trials already in progress will be needed to determine what, if any, future role linagliptin could play in the management of obesity-related cardiovascular disease,” said DeMarco.

The full study has been published in Cardiovascular Diabetology

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Should glasses accompany your child back to school?

Here's how you can tell

Throughout the school year, your child’s vision will be a key player in their academic endeavors. From reading what's on the chalkboard to taking in the co...

PhotoThroughout the school year, your child’s vision will be a key player in their academic endeavors. From reading what's on the chalkboard to taking in the contents of their textbook, children’s eyes have their work cut out for them.

Nearly 80% of what children learn during their first 12 years is through their vision, according to the American Optometric Association.

For this reason, parents should make sure their child’s vision is normal and healthy before the first school bell rings. In young children, however, vision problems can be tricky to diagnose. So how can you tell if your child may need glasses?

Signs of vision problems

"Glasses may be the most important back-to-school supply many children get this year," said Eileen Gable, OD, an eye specialist at Loyola Medicine. "Vision problems in young children often go undetected and are difficult for family members to identify."

Gable recommends parents keep an eye out for the following problems, which may signal that your child could benefit from a pair of glasses.

  • Squinting. If your child has to adjust their behavior in order to see properly, vision problems may be to blame. Watch for signs of squinting, head tilting, or body position changes.
  • Losing interest quickly. Kids won't typically complain of blurry vision, but Gable says they will lose interest more quickly if visual activity is difficult. If your child loses interest quickly, it may be time for a visit to the eye doctor.
  • Changes in schoolwork or behavior. If your child’s teacher notices a change in their behavior or if kids have difficulty attaining good grades, your child may be having vision problems.

What to do

To catch visions problems as soon as they arise, Gable says it’s a good idea to have your child’s eyes examined yearly, not just at the onset of problems. 

Look for an eye doctor who has experience working with children. In addition to experience, doctors should have a way of explaining things so that kids can understand.

When kids’ vision problems are corrected, Gable says the sky's the limit.

"I love seeing the joyous sense of wonder and excitement when a child can see properly for the first time. Wearing glasses can make a student's future so much brighter."

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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,...

PhotoIt'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%.

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AT&T drops overage charges from data plans

When you go over the limit, the speed drops

One drawback to a measured data mobile plan is the added cost when you exceed your monthly allowance. Standard practice in the past has been for carriers t...

PhotoThough it was largely overshadowed by competing plans from Sprint and T-Mobile that eliminate data plans, AT&T is addressing the overage issue.

The carrier is sticking with its measured data mobile plan, but is eliminating added cost when you exceed your monthly allowance. Standard practice in the past has been for carriers to give you more high-speed data for the rest of the month, but to charge you for it.

Starting Sunday AT&T customers can choose from the AT&T Mobile Share plans that completely do away with overage charges. Instead of paying extra for additional high-speed data, a customer going over the monthly limit will see data speed reduced to a maximum of 128 kbps for the rest of the billing cycle.

The company has rolled out a revamped plan line-up, allowing customers to choose the amount of data that meets their needs. As an example, AT&T points to the current 5GB Mobile Share plan with two lines, for $100 a month.

An extra gigabyte at the same price

That plan is moving to 6GB a month at the same price. For consumers who need more data, there is a plan with 10GB at $120 a month. Neither plan would incur overage charges should the customer exceed his or her allowance.

Monthly plans for one line start at 1GB of data for $30 a month and go all the way up to 30GB for $135. The plans include rollover data, unlimited talk and text, and unlimited texting from the U.S. to 120 countries.

Customers who need even more data on a monthly basis can choose from 40GB to 100GB Mobile Share Advantage plans. Business accounts offer up to 200GB per month.

AT&T's move reflects the evolving industry trend. Verizon recently introduced “Safety Mode,” which it says addresses the overage issue, giving customers more control over their data.

Smaller rival T-Mobile eliminated overage charges two years ago and has now joined Sprint in doing away with data pans altogether.  

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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 me...

PhotoFor 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.

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General Motors recalls model year 2016 Buick Veranos

The fuel line may contact the surface of the engine

General Motors is recalling 189 model year 2016 Buick Veranos manufactured February 16, 2016, to May 12, 2016, equipped with a 2.0 liter turbocharged engin...

PhotoGeneral Motors is recalling 189 model year 2016 Buick Veranos manufactured February 16, 2016, to May 12, 2016, equipped with a 2.0 liter turbocharged engine.

 

The engine fuel line assembly may be misrouted, allowing the fuel line to contact the surface of the engine. If the fuel line contacts the engine, the fuel line may wear, resulting in a leak and increasing the risk of a fire.

 

What to do

 

GM will notify owners, and dealers will replace the fuel line assembly, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on August 18, 2016.

 

Owners may contact Buick customer service at 1-800-521-7300. GM's number for this recall is 54180.

 

 

 

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Relief efforts underway to help Louisiana flood victims

Consumers can help, but are encouraged to use care in making donations

For many, it produced flashbacks to Hurricane Katrina almost 11 years ago. Cars mostly submerged on city streets. People standing on roof tops waiting to b...

PhotoFor many, it produced flashbacks to Hurricane Katrina almost 11 years ago. Cars mostly submerged on city streets. People standing on roof tops waiting to be rescued.

Massive rains in southeast Louisiana have sent rivers over their banks, flooding wide areas of the state, with the death toll at 11 so far.

"The current flooding in Louisiana is the worst natural disaster to strike the United States since Superstorm Sandy," said Brad Kieserman, vice president, Disaster Services Operations and Logistics for the Red Cross. "The Red Cross is mounting a massive relief operation, which we anticipate will cost at least $30 million and that number may grow as we learn more about the scope and magnitude of the devastation."

How to donate

The Red Cross has set up a special online portal where consumers can make a donation. Those who want to help should donate to well known, reputable organizations and not respond to telemarketer or email solicitations from groups you've never heard of. In nearly all cases, those are scams.

This time, New Orleans has been spared the worst of the flooding. Mayor Mitch Landrieu has set up the NOLA Pay It Forward Fund, asking the city's residents to make donations to help those displaced by the flood waters.

“Within the past several days, approximately 20,000 people have been rescued from their homes due to swollen rivers from record-breaking rainfall,” Landrieu said. “Proceeds from this fund will support nonprofit organizations working tirelessly in the affected areas to provide assistance and care for residents with emergency needs.”

GoFundMe campaigns

On Tuesday GoFundMe reported that more than 2000 GoFundMe campaigns to help Louisiana had been established and had initially raised over $1.2 million. Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landy said that, while he is gratified by the response, he is working with GoFundMe to make sure all the donations go to help flood victims.

Retail businesses have also responded. U-Haul of Northern Louisiana has offered 30 days of free self-storage and U-Box container usage to people in Lafayette, La., one of the hardest hit areas. Lowes has announced it is donating $500,000 to the American Red Cross Louisiana relief effort.

The recovery costs are likely to be massive, and the economic tragedy for many homeowners is that their losses will not be covered by their homeowners insurance. Unless there is a separate flood insurance policy, most homeowner policies do not cover damage caused by flooding.

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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 curren...

PhotoAbout 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. 

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Number of stroller-related injuries still 'unacceptably high,' experts say

Here's what safety experts recommend parents do to prevent injuries

Strollers and carriers provide parents with means of getting some fresh air with their babies, but they aren’t without risks. According to a new study, abo...

PhotoStrollers and carriers provide parents with means of getting some fresh air with their babies, but they aren’t without risks. According to a new study, about two children end up in the emergency room every hour due to stroller-related injuries.

The study, published in the journal Academic Pediatrics, finds that 67% of children are injured as a result of falling from their stroller or carrier. Falls often result in bumps and bruises, but they can also cause traumatic brain injuries and concussions in 25% of cases (35% in the case of carrier-related injuries).

“The majority of injuries we saw were head injuries which is scary considering the fact that traumatic brain injuries and concussions in young children may have long term consequences on cognitive development,” Kristi Roberts, MS, MPH, study author, and research associate in the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital said in a statement.

Keeping children safe

Roberts said that although the number of injuries from strollers and carriers has decreased over the past two decades, it is still “unacceptably high.”

Most commonly, injuries occurred as a result of strollers and carriers tipping over. To prevent accidents and injuries from occurring, experts recommend taking the following precautions when using a stroller or carrier.

  • Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines. Keep kids seated and securely buckled at all times.
  • Don’t let a young sibling push the stroller. Leave the pushing to a parent or trusted adult.
  • Make sure wheels are locked. Keep strollers from rolling away when parked by making sure the wheels are locked. Safety experts also recommend using caution if strollers are near a curb and in high traffic areas without sidewalks.
  • Don’t overload your stroller. Resist the urge to hang your purse or bag on the handle of the stroller as doing so can cause it to tip over. Instead, hang bags under the stroller.
  • Get a size-appropriate model. Ensure your stroller or carrier can accommodate your child by looking at age and weight limits before purchasing it.
  • Keep carriers low. Low-to-the-ground carriers can shorten the distance of a fall, should one occur as a result of a tip-over.
  • Check for recalls. Check to see if your stroller or carrier has been recalled by visiting www.recalls.gov.
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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 i...

PhotoEveryone 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. 

PhotoAnd 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.

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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 regist...

PhotoWe 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:

PhotoGoogle 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.  

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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....

PhotoBack 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.

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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 ...

PhotoRecently, 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.

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Back-to-school shopping drags on

Only about half of shoppers have finished stocking up

Little by little, consumers are slogging through the annual task of back-to-school shopping.The National Retail Federation’s (NRF) annual survey conduc...

PhotoLittle by little, consumers are slogging through the annual task of back-to-school shopping.

The National Retail Federation’s (NRF) annual survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics finds the average family with kids in grades K-12 has completed almost half (48%) of their shopping as of early August, down a touch from last year when 50% had it all wrapped up.

“It is evident that many families are still considering price and value when shopping for their back-to-school and college needs,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “Shopping early and often is a trend we have seen from many budget-conscious consumers over the last few years. In the weeks ahead, parents will take advantage of the aggressive deals that retailers will offer as they get ready to welcome the fall season merchandise.”

K-12 shopping habits

Just 13% of families with children in grades K-12 have completed their shopping lists, while 22% haven't even started. When asked which back-to-school items they still needed to complete their shopping list, 77% of consumers said they need to buy school supplies, followed by clothing (70%) and shoes (57%).

When searching for the perfect deals, 48% of shoppers look to coupons. That's the highest in the survey’s history. Families will also take advantage of in-store promotions (39%) and advertising inserts (33%) to complete their shopping lists. Those who started shopping early said half of their purchases were influenced by coupons, sales, and/or promotions.

The survey found that 64% of supply purchases for back-to-school are influenced by school requirements, with 45% of parents buying electronics saying they were influenced by their schools.

When it comes to where consumers will finish their shopping, 53% will head to discount stores, 51% to department stores, 39% to clothing stores, and 37% to office supply stores. More will shop online this year -- 31% compared with 27% last year -- the highest in the survey’s history.

Asked what payment method they'll use most often to complete their purchases, 49% of consumers said they'll use their debit cards while 29% will use credit cards. Cash (21%) and checks (2%) will hardly be used as primary forms of payment -- reaching the lowest levels ever in survey history.

How the college crowd shops

Similar to back-to-school shoppers, college students and families with students have completed almost 48% of their shopping, versus 49% last year. According to the survey, only 15% of consumers have completed their shopping lists, down 4% from this point last year.

“When it comes to big spending events such as back-to-school and back-to-college, families are being very savvy in how they tackle their lists,” said Prosper Principal Analyst Pam Goodfellow. “Families are slowly completing their shopping this season while taking advantage of expected promotions that will continue through Labor Day, and spreading their budget as necessary.”

When asked which back-to-college items are still needed to complete their shopping lists, 61% said school supplies, followed by clothing (50%) and personal care items (33%).

College consumers will likely complete the rest of their shopping at discount stores (42%, lowest in survey history), followed by department stores (42%, highest in survey history) and online shopping (40%, also a survey high).

As is the case with K-12 shoppers, coupons and promotions are helping consumers with back-to-college purchases. Forty-two percent of college consumers say they are using coupons to complete their shopping list. Others will take advantage of in-store promotions (32%), followed by advertising inserts (29%). Half of those who have already made back-to-college purchases said they were influenced by promotions.

Debit/check cards are the most preferred method of payment for college shoppers, with 44% using them. Credit cards continue to make gains, with 36% of respondents using them to complete their purchases.

The survey, which asked 6,915 consumers about both back-to-school and back-to-college shopping plans, was conducted August 2-9 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.2 percentage points.

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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 applic...

PhotoMortgage 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.

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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.”Accordin...

PhotoIt 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.”

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Ford is doubling down on self-driving cars

Announces a major investment and expansion in Silicon Valley

Lately, the lines between the automotive world and technology have begun to blur. There are computers inside vehicles and the automakers have been as big a...

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How prepared are you to cover medical expenses in retirement?

Fidelity Investments says the average retiree needs $130,000

If you are 65 years old, or approaching that milestone, you might not think much about medical costs in retirement.After all, you're going on Medicare ...

PhotoIf you are 65 years old, or approaching that milestone, you might not think much about medical costs in retirement.

After all, you're going on Medicare and you might expect your health care costs would be lower. Well here's a wake up call – Fidelity Investments estimates the average couple will need more than a quarter of a million dollars to cover medical costs during retirement.

The breakdown, based on an analysis of the Medicare database, pegs the out-of-pocket cost at $135,000 for a woman and $125,000 for a man – the higher amount due to a woman's longer life expectancy.

One of the biggest chunks of those costs comes in the form of Medicare Part B and Part D premiums and out-of-pocket prescription drug costs, especially speciality drugs to treat chronic diseases.

For many people, the premium costs don't seem like costs because they are often deducted from the retiree's Social Security payments. However, they are out of pocket costs just the same.

What Medicare doesn't cover

According to the Fidelity breakdown, the premiums for Medicare Part B and Part D make up 36% of the typical retiree's health care costs. Since Part B covers only 80% of medical costs, the retiree either writes a check for the other 20% or obtains a supplemental policy, which carries a monthly premium.

That premium or out-of-pocket 20%, along with the uncovered medical expenses for vision and hearing, add up to 40% of a retiree's medical costs over retirement.

The uncovered cost of prescription drugs makes up 24%, and Fidelity says that's the area that has been growing the fastest. In fact, after several years of remaining stable, Fidelity's estimate of needed health care funds rose sharply this year, in part because more seniors are accessing health care services and in part due to the surging price of prescription drugs.

To help meet these medical costs, Fidelity recommends retirees consider a supplemental health policy. Premiums are generally affordable, and in many medical procedures and services, the retiree incurs no out-of-pocket expense.

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Why you should get a flu shot during pregnancy

It will protect your baby even after his or her departure from the womb

Pregnancy is a privilege, and many women treat it as such. From eating vegetables and staying hydrated to avoiding hot tubs and Hibiscus Tea, expectant mot...

PhotoPregnancy is a privilege, and many women treat it as such. From eating vegetables and staying hydrated to avoiding hot tubs and Hibiscus Tea, expectant mothers often go to great lengths to ensure the health of their growing baby.

In addition to keeping up with the pregnancy do’s, moms-to-be also have to deal with concerns that may arise prior to getting something as routine as, say, a flu shot.

So, should pregnant women get a flu shot or skip it until the bun has left the oven? It’s a question women may grapple with, but experts say pregnant women should get the flu shot -- not only for their health, but for the health of their child.

Protects babies after birth

There’s no harm in hiking up your sleeve and getting a flu shot, according to the latest research. The flu shot can reduce the risk of an expectant mother getting influenza. Additionally, it can help ward off flu-related complications such as preterm labor or pneumonia.

Having a flu shot in your system can also keep your baby from coming down with the flu for up to six months after birth. Why the prolonged effect? It has to do with the antibodies manufactured by mom and passed to the baby through the placenta.  

"It gives the baby some protection against the virus until he or she can get the vaccine directly, at 6 months old," Ashley Roman, MD, clinical assistant professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at NYU Langone Medical Center told Health.com.

Roman adds that moms shouldn’t hesitate to get a flu shot because it contains a dead (or "inactivated") virus rather than a live virus, which may harm an unborn child. 

Avoid FluMist

The CDC echoes Roman's assertion that the flu shot is perfectly safe for moms-to-be, but adds that pregnant women should avoid the flu mist. 

Unlike the shot, the FluMist nasal spray is made from live viruses which may be unsafe for a growing baby. If you will be pregnant during flu season (November through March), the best time to get a flu shot is October or November.

In addition to the flu shot, Roman recommends pregnant women (as well as caregivers who will be spending time with the baby) get a Tdap vaccine to prevent against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. 

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Study: maternal touch could help kids become better at socializing

Touching kids' backs may have a positive impact on their social brains

Previous research has shown that loving touches from a parent can help babies construct a mental picture of their body, which can help them formulate a sen...

PhotoPrevious research has shown that loving touches from a parent can help babies construct a mental picture of their body, which can help them formulate a sense of self.

Now, new research shows that a parent’s touch could also help children become better at interacting with others.

In a study, published in the August issue of Cerebral Cortex, researchers found that the frequency with which mothers touched their 5-year-old children was linked to the development of kids’ “social brains.”

Maternal touch

To reach this finding, researchers observed children as they played with their mothers, taking careful note of how often kids were touched by their moms. 

After checking in with participants two days later, researchers noticed more activity in the “social brains" of kids who had been touched more often by mom. (Social brains are to thank for our successful social interactions, as well as our empathy and interest in other people.)

"There is already a substantial literature looking at the postive effects of touch in infants," researcher Annett Shirmer, a psychologist at the University of Singapore, told the Huffington Post. "Our work adds by showing a relation specifically to the social brain ... and extending this to an older age group, suggesting that benefits exist beyond infancy."

Back touching

Touching your child’s back, specifically, might help children become even better at socializing, since the back of the body is where a majority of nerve fibers known as c-tactile afferents are located.

What’s so special about these nerves? They're where affectionate touches embark on their journey to a person’s brain, the Huffington Post explains. Caressing a child’s back may send the strongest signals to kids' brains, which could lead to an even stronger set of social skills.

C-tactile afferents respond best to slow touch and strokes. In animal studies, a number of positive hormonal effects are triggered when these nerves are activated by gentle, affectionate touch. 

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Uber, Lyft may be answer to smaller cities' transit woes

On-demand car service could replace buses in lightly populated areas

Public transit is beloved by policy wonks and generally hated by those who use it, especially in smaller cities where buses don't run very often or in citi...

PhotoPublic transit is beloved by policy wonks and generally hated by those who use it, especially in smaller cities where buses don't run very often or in cities like Washington, D.C., where older parts of the fabulously expensive Metro system have deteriorated even as the system is being built into far-out suburbs. The answer, a growing number of towns think, may lie with Uber and Lyft.

A Bloomberg report finds that a growing number of smaller cities are cutting deals with Uber and Lyft to provide rides for residents who would otherwise take the bus or, in many cases, be stranded in lightly populated outlying areas.

It costs a lot of money to run public buses and an enormous amount of money to build, maintain, and operate subway systems. Early experimenters like Pinellas Park, Fla., and Centennial, Colo., are betting it will cost a lot less to let needy citizens summon a car when they need to go somewhere.

It might sound like an expensive giveaway to private industry, but it's worth noting that local bus service is often subcontracted to private companies which, upon further investigation, frequently turn out to have undisclosed ties to local politicos.

“This is an area that has the potential to be a very significant part of Lyft’s work in the future,” Emily Castor, director of transportation policy at Lyft, told Bloomberg. “How quickly will it progress from small pilots to being institutionalized in transit agencies? I think that’s harder to predict.” 

Hefty fares

There's a lot of money at stake. In 2014, Americans spent $15 billion in fares for rides on the 850 public transit agencies that report their data to the Federal Transit Administration, Bloomberg notes. While $15 billion is a handy sum, it didn't begin to cover the $42 billion it cost to operate local transit agencies. 

The remaining $27 billion came, of course, from taxpayers. This doesn't count capital expense -- the billions spent to build rail lines, buy trains, buses, etc.

While mainline bus and train routes aren't likely to be sidelined, transit planners are increasingly looking at ride-hailing services to fill in on low-density routes that are now underserved, wildly unprofitable, or both.

Local governments already pay for taxis in certain circumstances and most of them have vans that shuttle disabled and elderly riders around. Current thinking is that some or all of those trips could be replaced by Uber and Lyft, although there would be political opposition from entrenched providers.

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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...

PhotoIt 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.

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Aetna withdrawing from most Obamacare exchanges

Company says rising costs are to blame

If you have an Aetna health insurance policy obtained through an Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchange, you may have to look for new coverage for next year. A...

PhotoIf you have an Aetna health insurance policy obtained through an Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchange, you may have to look for new coverage for next year. Aetna has announced it is ending its participation in most of the state exchanges.

Aetna Chairman and CEO Mark T. Bertolini said the company simply can't afford it any longer.

“Following a thorough business review and in light of a second-quarter pretax loss of $200 million and total pretax losses of more than $430 million since January 2014 in our individual products, we have decided to reduce our individual public exchange presence in 2017, which will limit our financial exposure moving forward,” Bertolini said.

One of 40 providers to drop out

Bertolini said the company regrets the move, noting that more than 40 other benefit providers have also stopped selling plans in one or more rating areas in the individual public exchanges in the last two years.

In April, United Health Group, the nation's largest health insurance company, announced it was withdrawing from most ACA exchanges.

When a benefits provider withdraws from an exchange, it not only limits consumers' choices, it throws the risk balance out of whack. And as the risk balance shifts, the remaining providers come under more financial pressure.

“Fifty-five percent of our individual on-exchange membership is new in 2016, and in the second quarter we saw individuals in need of high-cost care represent an even larger share of our on-exchange population,” Bertolini said. “This population dynamic, coupled with the current inadequate risk adjustment mechanism, results in substantial upward pressure on premiums and creates significant sustainability concerns.”

Premiums on the rise

Consumers with ACA policies have already seen this happen. In June the Kaiser Family Foundation issued a report projecting benchmark silver plan premiums may increase by 10% next year in 14 major metro areas.

The foundation analyzed proposed rate filings in 13 states and Washington, DC. The focus of the report centered on how premiums for silver plans, the middle of three categories, would change in 2017. Bertolini said health insurance companies have found it impossible to continue paying for benefits without the rate increases.

“The vast majority of payers have experienced continued financial stress within their individual public exchange business due to these forces, which also are reported to have contributed to the failure of 16 out of 23 co-ops,” he said.

On the positive side, he noted a recent announcement that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that is looking into ways to modify risks.

Aetna is not withdrawing from all the health care exchanges, but the reduction is dramatic nonetheless. The company will lower exchange participation form 778 counties to 242 for the 2017 plan year, maintaining its presence in Delaware, Iowa, Nebraska, and Virginia. No 2016 plans, currently in effect, are affected.

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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 Comme...

PhotoConstruction 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.

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Consumer prices hold steady in July

A sharp drop in gasoline prices gets much of the credit

For the first time in five months, the government's Consumer Price Index (CPI) has failed to rise.According to the Department of Labor (DOL), the CPI w...

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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 o...

PhotoRising 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.”

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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 S...

PhotoBMW 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.

 

 

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Model year 2016 Malibu Hybrids recalled

The vehicle's high-voltage power may be disconnected during driving

General Motors is recalling 534 model year 2016 Malibu Hybrids manufactured October 27, 2015, to June 3, 2016. The affected vehicles have a shut-of...

PhotoGeneral Motors is recalling 534 model year 2016 Malibu Hybrids manufactured October 27, 2015, to June 3, 2016.

 

The affected vehicles have a shut-off switch for the high voltage battery for use when servicing the vehicle. This manual service disconnect switch (MSD) may not be properly installed and thus may not lock into position, unexpectedly disconnecting the high-voltage power while driving, effectively stalling the vehicle and increasing the risk of a crash.

 

What to do

 

GM will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the MSD and correct the installation, as necessary, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

 

Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020. GM's number for this recall is 51230.

 

 

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Google may be looking at a low-Fiber diet

Digging trenches is expensive and slow, the advertising powerhouse is learning

A high-fiber diet is good for you, but it can also cause indigestion, as Google and its parent company, Alphabet, are learning. For years, Google has been ...

PhotoA high-fiber diet is good for you, but it can also cause indigestion, as Google and its parent company, Alphabet, are learning. For years, Google has been talking about how it is just about to lay fiber to deliver high-speed broadband in cities across America.

But like so many others before it, the advertising giant may be discovering that digging up streets and climbing poles isn't as much fun, or as profitable, as many of the alternatives. The telecom business is about 150 years old and, while transmission technologies have advanced, the basic tools of the trade are still the backhoe and a good set of spikes for scampering up poles. It's what's called capital intensive. 

While no one denies that fiber is the fastest terrestrial delivery system for broadband communications, the key word may be terrestrial. Verizon, which sort of wrote the book on broadband fiber, quit somewhere around Chapter 3. 

Verizon's FiOS is popular in the cities where it's available, just as Google Fiber is popular in Kansas City, Kans., Austin, Texas, and a few other places. But Verizon now has its eye on 5G -- wireless delivery that some of its boosters say will be as fast or even faster than fiber and a lot cheaper to deploy and operate. Other carriers have similar strategies.

Although the always secretive Alphabet isn't saying so, it's generally thought that its initial roll-outs took a lot longer and cost a lot more than it expected. Whether Alphabet has the appetite to digest an entire menu of fiber-starved cities is the question of the day. The Wall Street Journal reports today that Alphabet has told local officials in several cities that it is slowing its fiber deployment. 

Last-mile expense

All of the major telecom and cable firms have for years used various strategies to avoid the expense of running fiber to every single customer -- the dread "last-mile" expense that far exceeds the costs of building the network "backbone."

Many have adopted what is generally called "fiber-to-the-curb" strategies that run fiber into a neighborhood, then use coax or other lower-speed cable to reach individual subscribers.   

Was Google naive in thinking it could dig trenches more cheaply than AT&T? Maybe, but there are those who think its strategic goal in launching Google Fiber was to spur established players to get the lead (or copper) out and put more fiber into their networks. That strategy has actually played out in several of the cities where Google Fiber is now operating or promised, thus presenting the company with the opportunity to declare victory and withdraw. 

It's equally likely that Alphabet, which was created to bring some business discipline to the rather free-wheeling Google culture, is simply looking at options that would achieve its ultimate goal -- widely deployed high-speed broadband that delivers Google ads flawlessly -- in a more cost-effective way.

It's not the only adjustment underway in Mountain View. Like a player preparing for a new hand of Scrabble, Alphabet has been shuffling its players and priorities the last few months. Several key executives have left, including those who headed up the automated car and Nest thermostat projects. It's not surprising there would be adjustments in Fiber, thought to be its most costly new-business gamble.  

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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 ...

PhotoMillennials 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."

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California may ditch Daylight Saving Time

Enough with the sun already, a hot and drought-ridden state exclaims

It's not quite Camelot, but in California, voters get to decide just about everything through the state's initiative process. Soon they may even decide whe...

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Pet parents would choose their pet over their significant other, survey finds

What other surprising sacrifices are pet owners willing to make?

From doggy day spas to air conditioned dog houses, pets are getting the royal treatment these days. Case in point: Americans spent upwards of $60 billion o...

PhotoFrom doggy day spas to air conditioned dog houses, pets are getting the royal treatment these days. Case in point: Americans spent upwards of $60 billion on pet products last year, and that number is expected to climb by $2 billion this year.

But dropping dough isn’t the only way we show love to our favorite felines and prized pooches. A pet parent’s love can often be seen in what they would be willing to do for their dog or cat.

The website Adobo recently set out to see just how far pet owners would go for their pets. In a survey, 2,000 dog and cat owners were asked what they would sacrifice for their pet’s health and happiness. As it turns out, the better question might have been, ‘What wouldn’t a pet owner do for their pet?’

Big sacrifices

The results of the survey showed that pet parents would do just about anything for their cat or dog, even if it meant giving up a big part of their life.

Sixty-three percent of participants said they would choose their pet over a significant other. What else would pet parents be willing to give up for their pets? Here are some more interesting findings from Adobo’s infographic:

  • 89% would save their pet in a fire over a priceless family heirloom
  • 85% would starve for a day so their pet could eat
  • 78% would give up their favorite food if it meant their pet could live forever
  • 58% would rather keep their pet and live in a shack than give up their pet for their dream home
  • 54% would lose a finger so their pet could keep a limb
  • 51% would rather eat a person instead of their pet

Why we love pets

When asked to describe why they love their pets so much, participants used the words sweet, companion, comfort, and happiness. “Unconditional” also made the list of top ten terms used to describe reasons for pet love.

“He shows unconditional love. Dogs don’t judge, they just love," said one participant.

Another participant expressed similarly fond feelings for her cat, stating: “My cat gives me unconditional love, joy, and companionship every day.”

Pets are furry bundles of love and loyalty, and it’s clear from Adobo’s survey that pet parents want nothing more than to return some of that devotion.

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Political seasons can make the workplace tense

Michigan State researchers say uncivil behavior carries a real cost

Every four years, a presidential campaign seems to always bring out the conflicts, especially on social media, where people never shy away from expressing ...

PhotoEvery four years, a presidential campaign seems to always bring out the conflicts, especially on social media, where people never shy away from expressing their political leanings.

This year? Fasten your seat belts.

The New York Times reports the contest between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton even threatens marriages. In one case, it says a dentist who said he plans to vote for Trump was threatened with divorce by his physician wife, a Clinton supporter.

It's not just that people hold opposing views and values. It's the mean and often insensitive way they are expressed, says Russell Johnson and his Michigan State colleagues, who have published a study of rude and insensitive behavior – often politically inspired – in the workplace. Johnson worries about the effects of this behavior.

Mentally fatigued

"People who are recipients of incivility at work feel mentally fatigued as a result, because uncivil behaviors are somewhat ambiguous and require employees to figure out whether there was any abusive intent," said Johnson, associate professor of management at Michigan State. "This mental fatigue, in turn, led them to act uncivil toward other workers. In other words, they paid the incivility forward."

So the situation doesn't get better, it gets worse.

Johnson stresses that the researchers didn't witness openly hostile behavior, or bullying. Instead, it was more passive-aggressive in nature, with curt remarks and put-downs, of the sort viewers often see on cable TV shows, where talking heads of different political persuasions face off for some verbal jousting.

Johnson says when this sort of thing is replicated in the workplace, there are real costs. He estimates workplace incivility has doubled over the past two decades and can cost companies $14,000 per employee in lost production and work time.

Incivility spirals

One of the most intriguing aspects of the study, says Johnson, is the finding that incivility seems to feed on itself. He calls it "incivility spirals" - when acts of incivility lead to more incivility.

"When employees are mentally fatigued, it is more difficult for them to keep their negative impulses and emotions in check, which leads them to be condescending and rude to colleagues," Johnson said.

Even employees who think of themselves as agreeable and polite can succumb when subjected to ongoing uncivil behavior. Johnson says the sapping of their emotional energy leaves them unable to filter their comments.

Johnson's advice? Companies should address the issue now, providing employees with clear guidance for avoiding political commentary if it cannot be done in a civil manner.

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Hackers hit 20 hotels across the U.S., swiped credit card info

The attack affected properties owned by HEI Hotels & Resorts

You've probably never heard of HEI Hotels & Resorts, but you may have stayed at one of the Hyatt, Sheraton, Marriott, or Westin hotels the company operates...

You've probably never heard of HEI Hotels & Resorts, but you may have stayed at one of the Hyatt, Sheraton, Marriott, or Westin hotels the company operates. If so, you could be among those whose personal information has been swiped by hackers who penetrated the company's point-of-sale systems.

Even if you did no more than order a drink in the bar and pay the tab on your credit card, hackers coulld have you name, credit card number, expiration date, and verification codes. 

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

The affected hotels are:

Photo

 "We are treating this matter as a top priority, and took steps to address and contain this incident promptly after it was discovered," the company said in a prepared statement. 

HEI said it discovered the malware in its system as it was performing an upgrade. It has now been disabled and the upgraded system will be more secure, the company said. 

If you stayed at one of the affected hotels, you should check your credit card statements for suspicious activity. More information is available on the HEI site.

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How to properly store and handle your pet's food

Tips on keeping your pet's dry food and treats free of mold and Salmonella

In people, stomach bugs might often be traced back to a recently consumed meal. But for pets, the food itself isn't always the culprit. Pinning the bla...

PhotoIn people, stomach bugs might often be traced back to a recently consumed meal. But for pets, the food itself isn't always the culprit. 

Pinning the blame on Fluffy or Fido’s pet food may seem logical, but factory contamination is not always the reason pets get sick. In many cases, dry food can become contaminated after it reaches a consumer’s home.

How? According to the CDC, dry pet food and treats -- if not properly stored -- can become contaminated with mold and Salmonella. To keep your loyal companion from being struck by an illness, pet parents should be careful about how they store and handle their pet’s food.

Food storage tips

Once your pet has eaten food contaminated by Salmonella, the germs can be spread to other members of the household. To help ensure the wellness of both the pets and the people in your home, consumers should follow the food storage guidelines recommended by the CDC.

  • Keep pet food away from human food. Store pet food away from areas where human food is stored or prepared. Ideally, dry food should be stored either in its original bag (folded shut) or in a plastic container with a closed lid. 
  • Store in a cool place. Dry pet food should be kept in a cool, dry place under 80 degrees fahrenheit.
  • Refrigerate leftover wet food. If you have unused or leftover wet pet food from a can or pouch, be sure to refrigerate or discard the leftovers. Storing unused leftovers in refrigerators set to 40 degrees fahrenheit can help prevent the growth of bacteria.

Handling pet food

In addition to storing pet food away from people food, pet owners should feed their pets away from areas where human food is prepared.

  • Avoid feeding pets in the kitchen. Keep germs found on pet food from making their way to the family’s food by feeding pets in an area other than the kitchen.
  • Keep kids away from pet food. Because children under 5 are at a higher risk of coming down with a severe illness such as Salmonella, they should be kept away from pet food. The CDC recommends not allowing young children to feed pets.
  • Wash your hands. Once you have finished feeding your pets, be sure to wash your hands with soap and water.
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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 ...

PhotoIncreasingly, 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.

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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, ...

PhotoHomes 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.

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Builder confidence rebounds in August

Low mortgage rates are credited

The confidence of builders in the market for new single-family homes moved higher in August.After posting a downwardly revised reading of 58 in July, t...

PhotoThe confidence of builders in the market for new single-family homes moved higher in August.

After posting a downwardly revised reading of 58 in July, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) was up two points this month to 60.

“Builder confidence remains solid in the aftermath of weak GDP reports that were offset by positive job growth in July,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “Historically low mortgage rates, increased household formations and a firming labor market will help keep housing on an upward path during the rest of the year.”

Inside the survey

The HMI, derived from a monthly survey conducted by the NAHB, gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next six months as "good," "fair," or "poor." The survey also asks builders to rate traffic of prospective buyers as "high to very high," "average," or "low to very low."

Scores for each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.

Two of the three components posted gains: The component gauging current sales conditions rose two points to 65, while the index charting sales expectations in the next six months increased one point to 67. The component measuring buyer traffic fell one point to 44.

“New construction and new home sales are on the rise in most areas of the country, and this is helping to boost builder sentiment,” said NAHB Chairman Ed Brady.

Looking at the three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, the South and the Northeast registered two-point upticks to 63 and 41, respectively. The West was unchanged at 69 and the Midwest dropped two points to 55.

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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, 2...

PhotoTegol, 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.

 

 

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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 virt...

PhotoResearchers 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.

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If presidential candidates are products, which are you buying?

This year, will political consumers go for an 'off-brand' candidate?

In 1969 Joe McGinniss wrote “The Selling of the President,” a book about the role advertising played in the 1968 presidential election. For the first time,...

PhotoIn 1969 Joe McGinniss wrote “The Selling of the President,” a book about the role advertising played in the 1968 presidential election. For the first time, it advanced the idea that candidates were molded and presented to the voters as products.

In the nearly half-century since then, the trend has only intensified. Races are often handicapped by how much money a particular candidate has raised for advertising.

This year has been a little different so far. The major party candidates – Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump – are being marketed to a somewhat skeptical group of consumers. There are many in both parties who are unenthusiastic about this year's “products.” Both Clinton and Trump have extremely high disapproval ratings.

So it is somewhat surprising that the other products in the race haven't gotten much attention. Consumers unhappy with their choices, after all, like to shop around.

What makes it all the more interesting this election cycle, the Libertarian Party ticket would seem to appeal to many Republicans horrified by Trump while the Green Party ticket tracks well with the political views of many disaffected Democrats, including supporters of Bernie Sanders' presidential bid.

Libertarian ticket

Gary Johnson, the Libertarian presidential nominee, is a former Republican governor of New Mexico for two terms, from the mid to late 1990s. As governor, Johnson espoused small government values but also was somewhat liberal on social issues, something that doesn't endear him to the GOP base.

Johnson's running mate is William Weld, the former Republican governor of Massachusetts, serving from 1991 to 1997. Nominated in 1997 by President Bill Clinton to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Weld's nomination was blocked by fellow Republican, Sen. Jesse Helms, who didn't care for his liberal views on social issues.

Green ticket

Democrats who “felt the Bern” during the primary season no doubt have a lot in common with Green Party presidential nominee Dr. Jill Stein, a Harvard-trained physician. She's in favor of a single-payer health care system, forgiving student loans, and for campaign finance reform. She's refused to accept money from corporate donors.

Her running mate is Ajamu Baraka, an international human rights activist and a social justice advocate with experience stretching over three decades.

Both parties have put forth detailed platforms and positions on key issues that have yet to get much exposure to voters. While recent economic speeches by both Trump and Clinton received widespread media coverage and analysis, little is known about these other presidential “products.”

There is real concern in both the Democratic and Republican parties about how the Libertarian and Green tickets could affect this already odd presidential race.

It's conceivable that significant chunks of both parties' voters could opt for an “off-brand candidate” this year, making an unpredictable race even more so. In this age of disruption, anything is possible.

Meanwhile, consumers who want to know more about these other choices in the political marketplace can get more information about the Libertarian ticket here, and the Green ticket here.

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Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and Harbor East have lots to offer

Many people find Baltimore more interesting to visit than neighboring D.C.

Just an hour north of Washington, D.C., Baltimore has a lot to offer. Its famed Inner Harbor and the new and trendy Harbor East have hotels, restaurants, s...

PhotoJust an hour north of Washington, D.C., Baltimore has a lot to offer. Its famed Inner Harbor and the new and trendy Harbor East have hotels, restaurants, shops, and attractions right on the waterfront. There are so many things to do; you can easily spend a jam-filled weekend and only hit a few of the highlights.

Inner Harbor Neighborhood

The promenade at the Inner Harbor, the landmark of the city of Baltimore, stretches along the waterfront where you will find restaurants, hotels, and excellent museums along with historic ships such as the USS Constellation, the USS Torsk, the USCGC Taney, and the Lightship Chesapeake.

With so much to see and do, get your bearings by taking a cruise. Several tour companies offer a variety of narrated daytime and evening cruises. Or, take a paddle boat or an electric boat.

Museums

Watch the dolphins frolic at the National Aquarium or choose from an array of exhibits, including: an Amazon River Forest, an Atlantic Coral Reef, Australian Wild Extremes, Jellies Invasion, and the newest exhibit, Living Seashore.

Explore over a dozen full-size dinosaurs at the Maryland Science Center along with three levels of exhibits, an IMAX theater, a planetarium, and an observatory.

Additional museums include: The Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Geppi's Entertainment Museum, American Visionary Art Museum, and the Port Discovery Children's Museum.

Harbor East Neighborhood

Just a short walk from the Inner Harbor is a vibrant new neighborhood chock-full of excellent hotels, restaurants, shopping, and even a movie theater. The Baltimore-based company Under Armour chose this neighborhood to open its first retail store.

Sit on a bench waterside and sip your coffee or opt to dine outside along the waterfront at an array of restaurants, including two from James Beard Award finalist Chef Cindy Wolf.

Museums

The Baltimore Civil War Museum is housed in the historic President Street Station, known as the junction for the Underground Railroad. The museum exhibits explore Baltimore’s connections to the Civil War and Underground Railroad.

Baseball and Football

Did you know Babe Ruth was born in Baltimore? Get in the spirit of the sport by visiting the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum located within walking distance of the Inner Harbor. So are Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium, so it’s easy to catch a Baltimore Orioles game or see the Baltimore Ravens play.

While there is so much to do at the Inner Harbor and Harbor East, it’s easy and relatively inexpensive to explore surrounding neighborhoods. You can purchase a ticket for the water taxi that allows unlimited rides for the day or catch the free Charm City Circulator daily bus service with several downtown routes.

Just be prepared to get hooked. No matter your interests or age, Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and Harbor East have something for everyone.

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Air marshals will be on many Cuban flights

At issue is the security being provided by Cuban airports

There has been a lot of hoopla about the resumption of commercial airline flights between the U.S. and Cuba. But behind the scenes, there's also been a lot...

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Physical exercise improves overall brain function for those with schizophrenia

The study indicates a new method for treating mental illness and improving outcomes

In a new study from the University of Manchester, researchers have examined the positive benefits that physical exercise can have for people who are affect...

PhotoIn a new study from the University of Manchester, researchers have examined the positive benefits that physical exercise can have for people who are affected by mental illness, especially those with schizophrenia.

They state that becoming more active allows individuals to fight against cognitive decline, a major aspect of the disease.

“Cognitive deficits are one aspect of schizophrenia which is particularly problematic. They hinder recovery and impact negatively upon people’s ability to function in work and social situations. Furthermore, current medications for schizophrenia do not treat the cognitive deficits of the disorder,” said senior researcher Joseph Firth.

“We are searching for new ways to treat these aspects of the illness, and now research is increasingly suggesting that physical exercise can provide a solution.”

Improving cognitive function

The researchers went into the study hoping that exercise would improve conditions for the second phase of schizophrenia, which is characterized by poor memory, impaired information processing, and a general lack of concentration.

They analyzed approximately 385 patients from ten separate clinical trials. In addition to any medications that were prescribed by medical staff, participants were asked to take part in 12 weeks of aerobic exercise training, which involved sessions on a treadmill and exercise bike.

After the 12-week period, the researchers found that exercise did have a positive effect on overall brain function. Those who took part in the study showed improved memory, attention spans, and a greater capacity to understand social situations than those who relied on medication alone.

Promising therapeutic approach 

Additionally, the study showed that participants who exercised and became the most fit by the end of the trial period had the greatest improvements in overall brain function. They believe this could have large implications for future treatments of schizophrenia.

“These findings present the first large-scale evidence supporting the use of physical exercise to treat the neurocognitive deficits associated with schizophrenia,” said Firth. “Using exercise from the earliest stages of the illness could reduce the likelihood of long-term disability, and facilitate full, functional recovery for patients.”

The full study has been published in the journal Schizophrenia Bulletin

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Researchers identify factors for increasing growth of STEM fields

Opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math are plentiful in the U.S.

With summer quickly coming to an end, many young people in the U.S. will be getting ready to go to school. But what fields will these young people be pursu...

PhotoWith summer quickly coming to an end, many young people in the U.S. will be getting ready to go to school. But what fields will these young people be pursuing in hopes of a future career? If recent trends continue, it’s likely that it won’t be in math or science.

The U.S. has been ranked fairly low compared to other nations in terms of students who pursue STEM careers – those which deal with science, technology, engineering, and math. But a new study conducted at The University of Texas at San Antonio (USTA) has acknowledged several factors that could change this.

“This is a critical issue in our economy right now. We have a crippling deficit of participants in the STEM field, and if we can encourage our students to pursue this path, we’ll be on our way to eradicating it,” said Huy Le, associate professor at UTSA.

Comfort and success

Le and his colleagues conducted a study that followed participants from the time they were in eighth grade to 6-9 years after they applied to college. Each subject was psychologically evaluated to see how well they would fit into a STEM career.

The researchers found that participants tended to gravitate to fields where they thought they would be comfortable and successful, so identifying and encouraging young people who excelled in a STEM field, or enjoyed studying it, made it much more likely that they would choose it later on.

“People seek out the environment that fits their personal characteristics. If they work in an arena that suits them, they’ll be happy and successful. With these predictors, we can identify students with potential for obtaining a STEM degree nearly a decade before they pursue it,” said Le.

Early encouragement

Le also found that men and women were equally able to excel in STEM fields, despite statistics showing that women were underrepresented in these types of careers. This could be attributed, he says, to the different societal pressures placed on each gender.

Additionally, the researchers say that having a high cognitive ability that suits a person for a STEM field can sometimes be channeled into other interests. For example, someone who has superior verbal abilities may choose a profession in business over a STEM field because the former offers them more opportunities.

In order to help encourage the growth of STEM professions, the researchers say that teachers, mentors, and counselors should inform young people about the opportunities available in STEM fields. Doing so early, they say, could influence interests for years to come.

The full study has been published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior.

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Easy ways to incorporate exercise into your workday

Just changing some routines could lead to better health

For millions of Americans, the workday doesn't provide much opportunity for physical activity.You might spend an hour or two sitting in a car, bus or t...

PhotoFor millions of Americans, the workday doesn't provide much opportunity for physical activity.

You might spend an hour or two sitting in a car, bus or train getting to and from the office. Once there, you are seated at a desk staring at a computer screen for hours on end. Then, there are the meetings.

It's not only a recipe for weight gain, but health researchers have recently worried that all that sitting is taking a toll on health. Lack of activity increases the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and poor circulation.

“In turn, this increases the chances for heart attack, stroke and even death,” said Dr. Daniel Vigil, associate clinical professor at UCLA medical school. “Moving throughout the day can help reduce those risks.”

How much exercise do you need?

The American Heart Association has recommended 75 minutes a week of vigorous exercise to counteract hours of sitting, but there are alternatives. You could engage in low-level exercise for 30 minutes a day, five days a week, to achieve the same result, Vigil says.

And we're talking extremely low-level exercise – things you don't really have to plan, you just work them into your daily routine. Here are some of Vigil's suggestions:

  • Move your wastebasket so that you have to get up to toss your trash or move items within hands' reach farther away
  • Walk to a colleague’s desk instead of emailing or calling
  • Walk to the water cooler throughout the day
  • Take the stairs to a restroom on another floor
  • Do not work through lunch at your desk. Instead, take a break and you will return to work more productive.

Just part of the day

Vigil says any time that you can build steps into your work routine, it helps. Parking as far from the building entrance as possible is an easy way to get in more walking. So is taking the stairs.

If your office is on the 19th floor, you don't have to climb 19 flights of steps. Start with two flights and stop and take the elevator the rest of the way. As you build your stamina, you can increase the number of floors.

Vigil says climbing stairs is an excellent way to build in quick bursts of exercise over the course of the day, getting you to your daily work exercise total faster.

To keep you focused on daily exercise, consider purchasing a wearable fitness monitor that counts steps and distance. You can also use apps to remind you to move throughout the work day.

Vigil says taking small breaks and refreshers at regular intervals throughout the workday greatly improves efficiency and overall health.

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PetSmart hopes their unique playlists will calm the nerves of pets

Could certain types of music actually help calm anxious pets?

Soon, pets who bring their owners to PetSmart will be treated to the sounds of a pet-friendly playlist. The retail chain hired Mood Media to craft spec...

PhotoSoon, pets who bring their owners to PetSmart will be treated to the sounds of a pet-friendly playlist.

The retail chain hired Mood Media to craft special “upbeat playlists designed to appeal to pet parents shoppers and also their furry four-legged friends.”

But shoppers aren’t the only ones who will be encouraged to stay awhile and enjoy the store’s musical ambiance. Spirit-lifting tunes will also be piped through the system at the chain’s “PetsHotel,” meaning pets boarded at PetSmart will get to hear a selection of “modern, mellow” music.

Keeps pets calm

PetSmart hopes their playlists will keep pets calm and happy during their stay at the PetsHotel. So what exactly constitutes a pet-friendly playlist?

According to Danny Turner, a Mood Media global senior vice president, playlists for pets must be free of sounds that may be unpleasant to pups.

"We had to select a solution that combined both organic textures and atmospheric styles -- avoiding selections that feature bizarre instrumentation, dominant vocals and errant high-pitched passages (for obvious reasons)," said Turner.

Mood Media, Turner told CBS, will “put the same degree of attention to this as we would designing a spa experience at a luxury hotel.”

Does music calm dogs?

Current research shows that kenneled dogs may, in fact, benefit from hearing calming, classical music. In 2002, professor and animal behaviorist Deborah L. Wells and her colleagues found that dogs respond differently to different genres of music. 

Metallica tended to stress dogs out, but Vivaldi and Beethoven put shelter dogs into a calmer, more relaxed state. Since then, several artists have attempted to harness the power of music therapy for dogs and cats with specially-made pet CDs. 

PetSmart began rolling out their playlists in April and expects each of its 1,466 locations to be equipped with Mood Media’s special equipment by the end of the month.

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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 no...

PhotoMost 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.

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Retail sales flat in July

Weakness was seen pretty much across the board

After posting three straight monthly advances, retail sales were flat during July.Figures released by the Census Bureau show retail and food services s...

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Wholesale prices drop in July

Both food and energy costs were lower

Prices one step short of the consumer level fell in July for the first time in four months.The Department of Labor (DOL) reports the Producer Price Ind...

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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 affect...

PhotoAmerican 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.

 

 

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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 ...

PhotoToyota 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.

 

 

 

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Macy's closing 100 more stores, plans to juice up its online operation

The venerable chain says its "dynamic digital offerings" will make up for the lost retail space

Pretty soon, they'll have to have the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade outside a Starbucks. Macy's says it's closing another 100 stores out of its current to...

PhotoPretty soon, they'll have to have the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade outside a Starbucks. Macy's says it's closing another 100 stores out of its current total of 728. That's in addition to another 40 closures it announced earlier this year.

The locations of the 100 stores on the chopping block were not provided. The number of likely job cuts wasn't available either.

Terry J. Lundgren, Macy’s chairman and CEO, said that most of the closures will happen early next year and  would allow Macy's to boost its digital business. In some cases, stores will close when their value as real estate exceeds their value as a real store, the company said. 

“We operate in a fast-changing world, and our company is moving forward decisively to build further on Macy’s heritage as a preferred shopping destination for fashion, quality, value and convenience. This involves doing things differently and making tough decisions as we position ourselves to serve customers who have high expectations of their favorite stores, online sites and apps,” said Lundgren.

In a press release, Macy's said it "will act to remain connected to customers of the stores it will be closing by supplementing merchandise assortments in surrounding locations, as well as through the company’s online site and mobile app."

Sore point

Could be, but Macy's online services are something of a sore point with the consumers who've shared their experiences in recent ConsumerAffairs reviews.

"I ordered a tankini last Tuesday for a pool party I was going to on Saturday. I paid $20 extra for Express shipping, so I would receive it by Friday. As of Thursday, only the bottoms had shipped out," said Danielle of West Hills Calif. "I started to panic. I emailed customer service on Thursday morning, asking when the rest of the suit would ship out. Nothing. No response."

Danielle said that after much calling and frustration, she ended up going to Nordstrom and spending $130 on a swimsuit when Macy's was unable to fill the order or refund her expedited shipping charges. The rest of the "express" order finally arrived a few days later.

"It's a shame, cause the suit is so cute and it would have been nice to wear to the party. Instead, I had to run to Nordstrom on Saturday and spent $130 on a different bathing suit. Thumbs waaaaay down for Macy's!"

Black belt

Julie of Juno Beach, Fla. ordered a black belt from Macys.com. When it arrived, it was gold. She drove to the nearest Macy's and returned the gold belt and, once again, ordered a black belt.

"On July 9th I received email says order is sent, but the belt is chocolate color," she said. Back to the mall she went and talked to a manager named Linda. "I told her what was going on with my order. I told her, 'Macy's made twice mistakes. I need belt, please order another one for me with black color, expedited shipping.'"

But Linda refused and said Julie would have to wait for the chocolate belt to arrive, then bring it to the store to exchange it. 

"I said, "It's been twice Macy's made mistakes. You are the manager, you should do something to solve this problem.' She said 'Sorry,' she cannot help and then she walked away."

"Dynamic digital offering"

Macy's Aug. 11, 2016, 2:58 p.m.
Consumers rate Macy's

Macy's said that even after the closings, it will have stores in 49 of the 50 largest U.S. markets.

“Customers nearly everywhere in America will have easy access to Macy’s stores, with the additional convenience and increased functionality of our dynamic digital offering,” Macy's president Jeff Gennette said.

It's no secret that Americans are making a growing number of their purchases online, largely at Amazon. They're also spending less on goods like clothes and housewares -- traditional Macy's strengths -- and more on services, including streaming video, computer games, and home security.

As big retailers like Macy's slowly fade, the large shopping centers that they often anchor are also changing. Some simply close while others adapt by leasing space once used by retail to entertainment, dining, and healthcare services like medical clinics, dialysis centers, and adult day care. 

As for the Macy's Thanksgiving parade, maybe Amazon could deploy a fleet of drones to power the floats and balloons?

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The hidden costs of leasing a car

Don't overlook what it will cost you when the lease is up

You can still buy a new car for well below $20,000, but the fact is consumers now spend on average about $34,000 for a new set of wheels.On a purchase,...

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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 ...

PhotoLast 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.

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Online prices fall for six straight months

Adobe report suggests the best place to save money is online

You may notice the cost of living is going up here and there, but if you do all your shopping online, you no doubt have seen mostly prices that are going d...

PhotoYou may notice the cost of living is going up here and there, but if you do all your shopping online, you no doubt have seen mostly prices that are going down.

That's the bottom line of Adobe's July Digital Price Index (DPI), which showed a consistent, downward trend in online prices over the last six months. The survey also picked up on new trends in online grocery shopping and the continued impact of Brexit on London flight and hotel prices.

In July, consumers shopped for groceries online with in-store pickup at a record pace. Anything related to Pokemon also sold well. But despite the increased sales, the prices for nearly everything was going down, according to the report.

Where's the inflation?

“The Federal Reserve is looking for an uptick in inflation, yet we’re seeing further deflation, even for categories with significant increase in demand such as groceries and popular merchandise like Pokémon items,” said Mickey Mericle, vice president, marketing and customer insights at Adobe.

Inflation is usually caused when there is huge demand for something and a limited supply. But in spite of the incredible popularity of Pokemon Go and other Pokemon-branded items, prices did not go up.

Pete Klenow, an economics professor at Stanford University, says that's a fascinating development.

“Among other factors, it could be that the new buyers are more price sensitive, which hints at some of the difficulties the economy is facing in raising prices, or that they have been able to ramp up production without increasing per unit costs,” he said.

Consumers embrace online grocery shopping

As for trends, the July DPI suggests online grocery shopping has caught on. Sales were up 66% year-over-year and in-store pickup jumped from 18% in January 2015 to 45% in July 2016. The report's authors suggest the increase in online grocery shopping shows consumers believe it is more convenient and a way to save time.

Where consumers saw the biggest price declines in online shopping came in purchases of toys and electronics. Prices for Pokémon items fell 2.9% from June, even though sales volume shot up 170% year-over-year. In fact, Pokémon toys and electronics saw even more deflation than the overall categories.

Online travel bookings also were less costly in July, through the authors attribute much of that to Brexit's impact on travel to London. London airfares were down 13.3% since the Brexit vote and London hotel prices were down more than 15%.

What can consumers take away from all of this? The bottom line may be that the best deals are online.

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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?Accord...

PhotoMany 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. 

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Regulators want more information from dietary supplement makers

FDA wants prompt notification of ingredient changes to supplements

Millions of consumers take dietary supplements, but these pills are not regulated as drugs. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does exercise s...

PhotoMillions of consumers take dietary supplements, but these pills are not regulated as drugs. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does exercise some authority since these products are considered food.

The FDA says it needs dietary supplement manufacturers to provide more information to the agency so it can better protect consumers.

New draft guidance instructs manufacturers to notify the agency at least 75 days before marketing a dietary supplement containing a new dietary ingredient, unless that ingredient is already in the food supply in an unaltered state.

The FDA says it needs this heads up to help the agency identify safety concerns before products reach consumers.

By the FDA's counting, there are more than 55,000 dietary supplement products currently on the market, and the number is growing at a rate of around 10% per year. But the agency says it has received fewer than 1,000 notifications of product changes since the regulation went into effect more than 20 years ago.

Potentially dangerous ingredients

"This revised draft guidance is an important step forward in the agency's work to protect public health from potentially dangerous new dietary ingredients," said Steven Tave, acting director of the FDA's Office of Dietary Supplement Programs.

In fact, getting these notifications provide the only opportunity for the FDA to identify supplements that are unsafe before consumers start taking them.

“The revised draft guidance is intended to improve the quality of industry's new dietary ingredient reporting so the FDA can more effectively monitor the safety of dietary supplements," Tave said.

Recent actions

It may be no coincidence that the revised draft guidance comes amid recent FDA actions on dietary supplements.

In 2013 the FDA secured a court order essentially shutting down a California supplement maker after charging it with failing to follow current Good Manufacturing Practice for Drugs (Drug cGMP) and for dietary supplements (Dietary Supplement cGMP).

A 2015 FDA study found that dietary supplements account for 20,000 trips to the emergency room each year. However, the industry said that number is significantly fewer than the ER visits attributed to prescription drugs.

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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 –...

PhotoWhether 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.

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How dad's mood impacts children's development

Kids' social skill development may be hampered by a stressed dad, study finds

It may be true that a happy wife equals a happy life, but dad’s mood may be just as important when it comes to creating a happy household filled with happy...

PhotoIt may be true that a happy wife equals a happy life, but dad’s mood may be just as important when it comes to creating a happy household filled with happy kids.

Researchers from Michigan State University debunked the myth that fathers have a lesser impact on children’s development compared to moms when they found that kids are negatively affected by their father’s parenting-related stress.

An analysis of data from a survey of 730 families in Early Head Start programs revealed that dads who were stressed or suffering from a mental health issue, such as depression, had an impact on their children’s cognitive and language development.

Dads' key role

Kids as young as 2 to 3 years old were affected by their fathers’ parenting-related stress. This finding held true even under mom’s influence, proving that moms aren’t the only ones whose role is crucial to children’s development.

"There's this whole idea that grew out of past research that dads really don't have direct effects on their kids, that they just kind of create the tone for the household and that moms are the ones who affect their children's development," Claire Vallotton, associate professor and primary investigator on the research project, told MSUToday. "But here we show that fathers really do have a direct effect on kids, both in the short term and long term."

Long term effects revealed themselves in the form of social skill development. Toddlers whose fathers suffered from depression or other mental health issues had a more difficult time grasping important social skills, such as self-control and coordination, by the time they reached late elementary school.

Both parents matter

This research provides evidence to support the fact that fathers’ characteristics and their relationships with their children matter, said lead author Tamesha Harewood.

Fathers aren’t simply a fixture in the home. Rather, they are important figures in a child’s life who are capable of impacting children’s social development for better or for worse. For this reason, Harewood says fathers should be included in parenting research and family-intervention programs.

The findings are published in the journals Early Childhood Research Quarterly and Infant and Child Development.

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Sam Kane Beef Processors recalls ground beef products

The products may be contaminated with foreign materials -- specifically metal

Sam Kane Beef Processors of Corpus Christi, Texas, is recalling approximately 60,350 pounds of ground beef products. The products may be contaminat...

PhotoSam Kane Beef Processors of Corpus Christi, Texas, is recalling approximately 60,350 pounds of ground beef products.

 

The products may be contaminated with foreign materials -- specifically metal.

 

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

 

The following ground beef packages, produced on July 26, 2016, are being recalled:

  • 10-lb. (4.54 kg) chubs containing “Hill Country Fare Ground Beef” 73% Lean/27% Fat with a Packed On date of 7/26/2016, a Use-By date of 8/15/2016, and bearing case code number 00090180.
  • 5-lb. (2.27 kg) chubs containing “Hill Country Fare Ground Beef” 73% Lean/27% Fat with a Packed On date of 7/26/2016, a Use-By date of 8/15/2016, and bearing case code number 00090150.
  • 3-lb. (1.37 kg) chubs containing “Hill Country Fare Ground Beef” 73% Lean/27% Fat with a Packed On date of 7/26/2016, a Use-By date of 8/15/2016, and bearing case code number 00090170.

The recalled products bear establishment number “EST. 337” inside the USDA mark of inspection or on the product packaging seam, and were shipped to three HEB Grocery distribution centers in Texas.

 

What to do

 

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

 

Consumers with questions may contact Mysti Richardson at (361) 241-5000, ext. 241.  

 

 

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Ram 3500 and 4500/5500 trucks recalled

A misshapen main output shaft that creates voids may cause a shaft fracture

Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 889 model year 2016 Ram 3500 trucks manufactured July 24, 2015, through January 7, 2016, and 2016 Ram 4500/5500 trucks m...

PhotoChrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 889 model year 2016 Ram 3500 trucks manufactured July 24, 2015, through January 7, 2016, and 2016 Ram 4500/5500 trucks manufactured July 24, 2015, through October 8, 2015.

 

The transfer case may have been manufactured with a misshapen main output shaft, creating voids that may cause a shaft fracture.

 

If the main output shaft fractures, the vehicle may lose motive power, increasing the risk of a crash. Additionally, the driver may be unable to place the vehicle in PARK, increasing the risk of a vehicle roll-away.

 

What to do

 

Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will replace the transfer case, free of charge. The recall was expected to begin on August 10, 2016.

 

Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is S48.

 

 

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FTC warns VW diesel owners to beware of shady buyback deals

The agency is also warning dealers to be careful they don't misrepresent the buyback process

Many owners of 2.0-liter Volkswagen diesel cars are looking forward to selling their cars back to VW at a premium. But the Federal Trade Commission warns t...

PhotoMany owners of 2.0-liter Volkswagen diesel cars are looking forward to selling their cars back to VW at a premium. But the Federal Trade Commission warns that there is plenty of room for skullduggery by dealers and others and is cautioning both consumers and dealers to proceed cautiously.

The buybacks are part of a $10.03 billion settlement that is pending final court approval, following lawsuits by federal and state agencies that challenged VW's use of software "defeat devices" to make the cars appear to meet emission reqirements when in fact they were spewing out more than 40 times the permissible levels under some conditions.

In a blog posting -- VW owners, get the facts! -- the FTC explains that owners of affected VWs should visit VWCourtSettlement.com to find out how much they can get for their cars. It also explains that, even though other potential buyers may offer what seems like a good deal, these alternative offers may be less than what car owners can get from Volkswagen under the settlement.

The FTC also emphasizes that VW diesel owners are under no pressure to act quickly – in fact, the buyback program is not yet making payments – and  they can use their buyback money for anything they want. 

Not obligated

To put it plainly, if you are the owner of a VW TDI diesel car covered by the settlement, you are entitled to the amount specified on the settlement site. You will need your VIN number to confirm that you qualify for the buyback.

You can opt to have your car modified to meet emission guidelines but keep in mind that federal and state agencies have not yet approved the modification procedure and it may be a long time before they do.

You are not obligated to buy another Volkswagen and you are not obligated to do business with any particular dealer.

You do not have to pay anyone to help you with the buyback. Simply follow the directions on the settlement site.  

Cars included in the settlement are diesel versions of these models:

VW Beetle
2013 - 2015

VW Beetle Convertible
2013 - 2015

VW Golf
2010 - 2015

VW Golf SportWagen
2015

VW Jetta
2009 - 2015

VW Jetta SportWagen
2009 - 2014

VW Passat
2012 - 2015

Audi A3
2010 - 2013; 2015

Dealers warned

The FTC is also warning dealers not to make separate offers under the guise that they are part of the settlement. Dealers should also be careful not to imply that consumers must buy a new VW or Audi.

"FTC staff will be watching closely to ensure that the compensation process is unsullied by deception," the commission said.

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The ten best states to have a baby

Vermont takes the top spot, Maine & Connecticut close behind

Having a child isn’t cheap. With an incoming baby comes incoming medical bills and a host of other delivery day concerns. However, living in certain st...

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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 ...

PhotoIt’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.

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Choosing a balance transfer credit card

Don't overlook the balance transfer fee

If you have a lot of credit card debt, you might save a good bit of money if you moved it to a credit card that doesn't charge any interest for several mon...

PhotoIf you have a lot of credit card debt, you might save a good bit of money if you moved it to a credit card that doesn't charge any interest for several months. That way, all of every monthly payment would go toward paying down the balance.

Every so often CreditCards.com, a card comparison site, analyzes balance transfer cards and ranks the ones it thinks are best. This year, the Citi Simplicity Card comes out on top.

In fact, CreditCards.com says it really wasn't close. The card won high marks not only for its promotional offer, but also its forgiving stance toward an occasional late payment.

“By offering a 21-month balance transfer period, nearly twice as long as the typical interest-free promotion, Citi has set the Simplicity card far apart from its competitors,” the judges said.

21 months at 0% interest

The card's 21-month introductory period at 0% interest is impressive. That means for nearly two years cardholders can make significant progress on paying down a balance.

The only drawback is the balance transfer fee. The card charges $5 or 3% of the transferred balance, whichever is greater, to move a balance from an existing card to a new Citi Simplicity card.

Suppose you transfer a balance of $10,000. That increases your balance to $10,300 immediately. Spread over 21 months, that adds about $14.28 in interest to each payment.

Perhaps a better use of the card is to make a large purchase to be paid off over 21 months, because the 0% introductory rate also applies to purchases. However, since it is not a balance transfer, there is no 3% fee.

If you needed a new HVAC system for your home, for example, you could charge it on a new Citi Simplicity card and spread the payments out over 21 months, interest-free.

Oddly overlooked

Oddly, the Chase Slate card did not make CreditCards.com's final cut, but it might be the best choice for a consumer who wants to transfer a large balance from a high interest rate card to one with a no-interest introductory rate.

The Chase Slate's introductory period at 0% is shorter, just 15 months. However, for consumers who transfer a balance within the first 60 days of activating the account, there is no transfer fee. That saves someone transferring a $10,000 balance $300.

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How to stay one step ahead of back-to-school bugs

Preventing colds altogether may be impossible, but preparing for them isn't

As summer makes its exit, the new school year will make its entrance. With the beginning of school comes the inevitable onslaught of colds and ailments. ...

PhotoAs summer makes its exit, the new school year will make its entrance. With the beginning of school comes the inevitable onslaught of colds and ailments.

While there is often no way to prevent colds and bugs from coming home with your child, there are ways to deal with illnesses once they arrive. In doing so, parents can quickly snuff out colds and get kids back to school.

Preparing children for the back-to-school transition is an important first step in keeping sickness and ailments at bay, says Dr. Jennifer Caudle, an assistant professor of Family Medicine at the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine.

“This can be a big, stressful transition for kids and their parents. Starting to prepare for those changes now can mean fewer problems once that first school bell rings.”

Making the transition 

For parents, knowing ahead of time how to deal with ailments and illnesses is crucial. Caudle offers parents the following tips on preparing for the beginning of a new school year.

  • Get kids on a good sleep schedule. Phasing out the summer sleep schedule a few weeks prior to the first day of school can improve kids’ overall learning capacity. Preschoolers need about 12 hours of sleep per night, while teenagers can function on about eight hours of sleep. In either case, Dr. Caudle recommends sending kids to bed 15 to 20 minutes earlier each night during the two to three weeks leading up to the first day.
  • Choose the right backpack. If your child has to lean forward to carry his or her backpack, there’s a good chance it’s too heavy. To keep added weight from leading to back pain or other medical conditions, Dr. Caudle advises parents to seek out backpacks with wide, padded straps and waist belts. Additionally, parents should teach kids to use both straps while carrying their backpack.
  • Keep allergies in check. Your child might encounter dust mites and mold at school. These allergens -- which can cause sniffling, sneezing, and watery eyes -- can disrupt their days and interfere with their learning. Stay one step ahead of these allergens by asking your child’s doctor how to manage allergy symptoms at school. Parents of kids with asthma or allergies should speak with the school nurse early in the school year.
  • Watch out for headaches. Kids aren’t always crying wolf when they complain of a headache, says Caudle. According to medical experts, headaches often increase among children at the start of the school year. Causes may range from stress and lack of sleep to changes in diet, but they are usually treatable by an over-the-counter medication. However, if your child’s headache is accompanied by a fever and stiff neck or if their vision is affected, contact a medical professional.

Battling bugs 

Sending kids off to school often means that colds, fevers, and stomach aches are right around the corner. For this reason, parents should learn how to deal with bugs once they show up.

Deciding if a child should stay home or see a physician is the first step. Caudle offers these tips on making the call:

  • Colds. Rest is best when it comes to fighting off cold symptoms such as coughing, fevers, sneezing, sore throats, body aches, runny noses, and sinus pressure. Kids should stay home from school -- but if a high fever persists, a visit to the doctor may be in order.
  • Pink eye. Conjunctivitis is highly contagious, so children should be kept home. A doctor or pediatrician can prescribe antibiotic eye drops and let you know when your child has the green light to return to school.
  • Stomach bugs. Kids should be kept home if they are vomiting or have diarrhea. Ailing tummies should gradually be introduced to clear liquids and bland foods. As with other ailments and illnesses, parents should contact a physician if symptoms persist for more than 24 hours.  
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What bugs you about your fellow hotel guests?

Expedia survey finds clueless parents top the list

Frequent travelers have their pet peeves about hotels -- low water pressure in the shower, not enough towels, or overpowering air freshener in the room. Yi...

PhotoFrequent travelers have their pet peeves about hotels -- low water pressure in the shower, not enough towels, or overpowering air freshener in the room. Yikes, what are they trying to cover up?

But Expedia wanted to know which behaviors of other guests bothered travelers the most. For the second straight year in its survey, inattentive parents top the list, mentioned by 72% of respondents.

These are the parents who blithely read their email or carry on a conversation while their little hellions run amok through the lobby.

Close behind on the list of hotel guest gripes is people making loud noises in the hallways, mentioned by 69%. Fifty-nine percent get upset at people having loud parties in their rooms.

Guests who do nothing but complain, bicker, or booze it up at the bar make the list. So do guests who don't hold back their affection for one another, either by canoodling in the hot tub or being particularly loud with their in-room lovemaking.

Particularly sensitive

According to the study, some 18% of respondents have asked to move to a different room because of noisy neighbors. John