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    MacBook has its Touchbar but no ultra-high-def display

    The Asus Zenbook UHD display outshines the MacBook Pro

    A year or so ago, the dentist was cleaning my teeth and remarked that his wife wanted a new MacBook for Christmas. "But they cost twice as much and don't they all just do the same thing?" he asked.

    It was a difficult question for two reasons -- one, my mouth was full of dental equipment, and two, while all computers "do the same thing," they don't all do it the same way.

    When able to do so, I said that in my opinion, the MacBook was overpriced and underpowered but that it had somehow obtained celebrity status and if he subscribed to the "happy wife, happy life" theory, he should probably just buy the MacBook.

    I was mostly using an early 2015 MacBook Pro at the time and had basically lukewarm feelings about it. Yes, it was a nice enough laptop with a bright, sharp display (dubbed Retina by Apple's marketers) and good battery life. But whether it was worth its roughly $2,000 price tag while a comparable Windows-based PC could be had for much less depended entirely on how it was to be used, I thought.

    Soul extender

    Many so-called creative professionals -- writers, graphic artists, filmmakers, and the like -- feel Macs are somehow more attuned to their efforts. This is, of course, like saying that your BMW is an extension of your soul. In other words, blather. I switch back and forth among machines running Linux, Windows 10, and OS X (Mac's NASA-style name for its Unix-based operating system).

    Linux, an open source Unix-like system, is by far the stablest and fastest (when running on comparable hardware), but it can take some tinkering to get printers, scanners, and other peripherals to run properly. I find the latest version of Windows 10 to be nearly as responsive and, although this is heresy in some quarters, very intuitive and easy to use. Drivers are available for just about every imaginable peripheral.

    My top-of-the-line MacBook, on the other hand, has always seemed sluggish. It is also prone to odd chronic problems that somehow defy solution. Since the day I booted it up for the first time, my MacBook has had a problem communicating with iCloud and displays a screen advertising that fact, although my iMac and iPhone 6S have no problem with it. It is impossible to make the warning box go away, although I have managed to banish it to the lower-right corner of  my workspace most of the time.

    I have spent countless hours trying to work through this little quirk and have read in online forums of the similar struggles of others, all to no avail.

    Perhaps the most annoying thing about the MacBook is that one is left to guess when Apple may deign to issue a new model. I felt for several months that my MacBook had fallen behind the latest Windows models, especially when I read that Asus and others were now making laptops with what we might call a Retina+ display, something sharper and brighter than the MacBook.

    Curious, I ordered an Asus Zenbook Pro (UX501VW) and, as though it had been waiting to vex me once again, Apple then decided to release its latest MacBook. Leaving aside the lack of a delete key and the stubborn non-standard arrangement of control and function keys, this "surprise" update schedule is, to me, the most annoying of Apple's tricks and treats.

    Business and professional users generally update their machines on a regular basis, wanting to keep up with new technology and avoid any surprises from aging components, and some are even sufficiently organized to have budgets they must adhere to. Apple makes it hard to do this since it has become addicted to treating every new model as the equivalent of a surprise asteroid hit. It would be a thoughtful gesture to establish a regular update schedule and stick to it. If GM can produce a new Chevrolet every year, why can't Apple produce a new MacBook every two years?

    No Touchbar

    So I missed out on getting a MacBook with the "Touchbar with integrated Touch ID sensor" but instead got the Asus with a brilliant display, a delete key, and everything else one might reasonably want.

    It's hard to overstate the difference the sharper display makes. Wine may get better with age but vision does not, and looking at a 15-inch screen all day can get old quickly. Even the no-longer-unusual 2880 x 1800-pixel resolution of the MacBook pales besides the 3840 x 2160 of the Asus and others equipped with what is being called ultra-high def (UHD). 

    Unlike clock speeds, RAM, and other under-the-hood features, the display is right in front of your nose every second you're using your machine. With consumers snapping up gigantic UHD TVs and salivating over iPhone displays, it's a little odd to contemplate why laptop resolution doesn't get more attention.

    Looking at a page of text on the UHD display is roughly like reading a big glossy magazine page. It's hard to see why anyone wouldn't demand it on their next machine.

    Software bundles

    Finally, let's not forget the software that comes bundled with each machine. Apple and Microsoft both provide web browsers, simple photo editors, and the like. Apple includes an office package consisting of word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation programs while Windows tries to sell you its Office package. 

    The Apple package is, not surprisingly, incompatible with most competitors, forcing people like me to keep an Apple machine around for those stubborn few writers who insist on sending us stories written in Pages, the word processor that comes with Mac machines. 

    The easiest and least costly solution is to use Google's excellent office package. Its word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation programs are easy to use and since storage is in Google's cloud, you're not cluttering up your computer's storage with all those recipes you've concocted. This also makes it easy to change computers -- just log into your stuff and you're back in business. (Yes, Google may somehow make marketing use of your material but it will be so many degrees removed you'll never know it, assuming you are not running for president or related to someone who is).

    This brings us, finally, back to the dentist's question -- which is better? Obviously, both are good or they wouldn't be as successful as they have become. For my purposes, the Asus Zenbook with UHD and Windows 10 beats the MacBook handily, both for ease of use, the brilliance of its display, and, not coincidentally, the price.

    The 15-inch Asus goes for about $1,500, the 15-inch 2016 Apple MacBook Pro for $2,799. That's not a misprint -- the MacBook with comparable under-the-hood hardware and an outmoded display is $1,300 more than the Asus (or, probably, comparable machines from other manufacturers).

    It's pretty easy for anyone, dentist or no, to decide which one to pull off the shelf. 

    A year or so ago, the dentist was cleaning my teeth and remarked that his wife wanted a new Mac...

    Consumer groups ask Facebook to clarify content removal policies

    The company has said that it will be allowing more 'newsworthy' and 'significant' content in the future

    As social media continues to flourish in the Internet Age, many consumers are beginning to first hear about news through their online accounts. First-hand accounts of incidents straight from the people who witnessed them can be very powerful, but many worry whether some of these accounts are being censored.

    That’s the case for over 70 rights groups that reportedly asked Facebook on Monday to clarify its policies for removing content. The groups allege that the social media giant has repeatedly acquiesced to governments and agencies that ask it to block user content and posts that show human rights violations.

    They cite recent examples, in which the company blocked content showcasing police violence and Vietnam imagery, as well as the suspension of two accounts belonging to Palestinian journalists. The groups say that this kind of censorship is dangerous because it deprives people of news from the source.

    “News is not just getting shared on Facebook: it’s getting broken there. .  . When the most vulnerable members of society turn to your platform to document and share experiences of injustice, Facebook is morally obligated to protect that speech,” the groups said in a letter.

    Preventing censorship

    The letter goes on to say that censoring content not only prevents the spread of news, but perpetuates the injustices that many posts seek to expose. The groups say that blocking content related to police brutality “sets a dangerous precedent that further hurts and silences marginalized communities, particularly communities of color.”

    In particular, the groups point out the case of Korryn Gaines, whose account was deactivated by Facebook after she was fatally shot by Maryland police after an armed standoff. According to multiple sources, the deactivation occurred after Baltimore police issued an emergency request through the company’s “law enforcement portal.”

    The groups asked Facebook to clarify its content removal policy, especially in regards to live broadcasts and journalistic material. It also asked the company to provide a platform in which users could protest the removal of content.

    Facebook responds

    In an announcement made later in the day, Facebook addressed the issue of content removal and said that it would be allowing more content in the future that would have been removed previously.

    Senior executive Patrick Walker addressed “The Terror of War” photo – a Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press photo of a Vietnamese girl fleeing a napalm attack during the Vietnam War – which was blocked from the accounts of a Norwegian author and newspaper last month. He affirmed that Facebook would be doing more to make sure controversial and newsworthy material was being protected and circulated.

    “We have made a number of policy changes after The Terror of War photo. We have improved our escalation process to ensure that controversial stories and images get surfaced more quickly. . . in the weeks ahead, we are going to begin allowing more items that people find newsworthy, significant or important to the public interest, even if they might otherwise violate our standards,” he said.

    Though he could not provide further details, Walker told Reuters that Facebook was beginning to address its guidelines for removing content so that changes can be implemented.

    As social media continues to flourish in the Internet Age, many consumers are beginning to first hear about news through their online accounts. First-hand...

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      Wronged consumers get more than $11 million back from student loan servicers

      CFPB says loan servicers are using 'sloppy or callous' practices that are harming borrowers

      "Sloppy or callous" practices by student loan servicers are still costing consumers money despite stepped-up enforcement efforts, according to a report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which recently returned more than $11 million to more than 225,000 harmed consumers.

      The CFPB said it also uncovered student loan servicer violations, such as failing to enroll qualified borrowers in affordable federal loan repayment plans. It is issuing updated procedures for student loan servicing exams.

      “Our examiners continue to find sloppy or callous practices among some student loan servicers and other financial institutions that violate the law and put consumers at risk,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “If their practices hurt consumers, they need to rethink and change their practices in light of the actions and observations found in this report.”

      The CFPB said its examiners have found student loan servicers unfairly denying or failing to approve qualified students’ affordable payment plans, leaving borrowers to face needless hurdles and wrongful rejections when trying to enroll in these plans. 

      CFPB said its examiners have found servicers are regularly and illegally denying applications from qualified borrowers. These practices could trap borrowers in payment plans they cannot afford, delay access to important benefits, increase costs for consumers, and contribute to avoidable defaults.

      Auto loans, debt collection

      The CFPB report also outlines violations found in auto loan origination and servicing, debt collection, and mortgage origination.  

      CFPB examiners found one or more auto loan servicers refused to return personal belongings from a borrower’s repossessed car unless the borrower paid a storage fee.

      If borrowers did not pay the fee in the allotted time, usually 30-45 days, depending on the state, the companies would dispose of the property instead of returning it to the borrower. It is illegal to refuse to return a consumer’s personal property until a fee is paid.

      CFPB also found debt collectors charging illegal payment processing fees and making misleading collection calls about consumers’ credit scores or reports. For instance, some debt collection employees misled consumers by falsely claiming immediate payments were needed to prevent damage to the consumer’s creditworthiness.

      The agency also found collectors revealed information about debts to consumers’ friends and family during debt collection attempts, and failed to investigate consumer reporting disputes. These actions violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

      "Sloppy or callous" practices by student loan servicers are still costing consumers money despite stepped-up enforcement efforts, according to a report fro...

      How to prepare your dog for the arrival of a new baby

      Set the stage for a harmonious future by teaching your pup how to interact with the baby

      Although opinions on the term pet “parent” may vary, there’s no denying the fact that pet ownership is a big responsibility. In households without children, dogs often get lavished in especially large amounts of love and attention.

      So what’s Fido to think when suddenly a tiny human enters the picture? While he may soon bond with the new addition, your dog may not immediately be thrilled by the presence of a screaming, time-stealing infant.

      Studies show that dogs, like humans, can experience feelings of jealousy and insecurity. For this reason, it can be beneficial to prepare your pup for the arrival of a new baby. The preparation process can begin as soon as you find you’re expecting, but pet owners should continue helping their dog adjust as the baby grows.

      Preparing while pregnant

      Your dog probably has a daily routine. It’s important to start changing that routine to match whatever the dog’s new routine will be once the baby arrives, says Michael Wombacher, a professional dog trainer and author of "Good Dog, Happy Baby."
      How soon should dog owners be implementing these changes? Writing for CNN, Wombacher notes that it “depends on your dog and how deeply embedded into your routine she is.”

      Expectant parents can begin shaking up the routine a month before their due date or the moment the pregnancy test turns positive. What’s important is that the dog not be given any reason to negatively associate the changes with the baby.

      At 8 months old

      Does your dog have soft, tuggable ears or a wagging tail that looks irresistible to grab? By 8 months of age, your baby will probably begin noticing -- and reaching for -- some of the more sensitive body parts on your fur-covered family member.
      During the months leading up to this tactile phase, you can prepare your dog by conditioning him to be used to awkward grabbing and pulling. Wombacher notes that it’s also vital that dogs be given a “safe zone” to retreat to if the baby’s touching becomes too stressful.

      It is during this phase that parents can also teach the family pet not to confuse dog toys with baby toys. The two types of toys may be similar in appearance and in noise-making ability, but Wombacher says dogs can easily learn how to distinguish between what’s theirs and what isn’t.

      How? Simply dab a little Listerine on the baby’s toys and teach your dog that the scent of Listerine equals an "off" command.

      At 14 months old

      When your little one has gone bipedal, you can begin creating opportunities for structured, positive interactions between your child and your dog. This can include games, rudimentary pseudo-training, and more.
      During each of these phases, it’s important to remember that dogs and babies should never be left unattended together. But teaching your pooch how to interact with the newest member of the pack from the beginning can help pave the way for a harmonious and loving future, says Wombacher.
      Although opinions on the term pet “parent” may vary, there’s no denying the fact that pet ownership is a big responsibility. In households without children...

      Gasoline prices cheaper than they were in 1966

      But today's price should probably be even lower

      During the 1960s, there was no OPEC and gasoline prices were pretty much the same, month in and month out. If prices climbed over 36 cents a gallon, consumers weren't very happy.

      Could we be entering a similar pricing environment in the 21st century? Using an inflation calculator, we determined that 36 cents in 1966 is the equivalent of $2.71 today. So gasoline in most places is a lot cheaper than it was 50 years ago.

      Today, the national average price of self-serve regular is $2.21 a gallon, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Survey. That's the same as it was a week ago. It's also the same price as a month ago.

      However, it is three cents a gallon more than at this time a year ago. For most of the year, 2016 gasoline prices have stayed well below the year-over-year price.

      Prices should be lower

      Many analysts think prices at the pump should be lower than they are, since the summer driving season has ended and stations have switched over the cheaper winter blend gasoline. The main reason the price decline has stalled has to do with the price of oil. It's remained just under $50 a barrel in recent weeks, higher than the going price 12 months ago.

      “Drivers may continue to see prices wobble up and down as traders speculate on the possibility of OPEC countries developing an output agreement over the next month,” AAA said in a release. “Additionally, planned and unplanned refinery maintenance continues across the United States and may result in regional fluctuations in gas prices.”

      Strategy backfired?

      But just how reasonable an assumption is OPEC agreeing to limit production to raise oil prices? Saudi Arabia's calculated strategy of driving down oil prices as a weapon against U.S. shale producers has painted the cartel into a corner. Many members are struggling economically and can't afford to cut oil production in the short run in hopes that it will drive up prices in the long-run.

      Iran and Iraq are not too keen on the idea either. Iran is just now getting its oil export business back on track after international sanctions were lifted. Iraq needs oil revenue to wage its fight against ISIS. Getting all parties to agree to limit production, and not cheat, may be a tall order. If it can't be done, then the oil glut remains and consumers will continue to pay the equivalent of 1960s gasoline prices -- maybe even 1950s prices.

      Drivers in Missouri and Oklahoma are paying an average of $1.99 a gallon for gasoline. Even in the most expensive state for gasoline, Hawaii, the average price is still under $3 a gallon.

      During the 1960s, there was no OPEC and gasoline prices were pretty much the same, month in and month out. If prices climbed over 36 cents a gallon, consum...

      Southwest reaffirms its stance on not charging baggage fees

      CEO Gary Kelly spares 'no thought whatsoever on charging bags'

      The airline industry can be a harsh business. In a world where money is king and companies are always looking out for the bottom line, not scraping in revenue from every available source is practically unheard of.

      However, “practically” may be the operative word. Southwest Airlines has been under pressure to generate more revenue. The company is the only one of the largest commercial airliners in the U.S. that doesn’t charge a baggage fee, so the money is there for the taking. But, according to a Los Angeles Times report, CEO Gary Kelly has stated that the company won’t be doing that, at least for now.

      “We have a unique and beloved position in the industry with this approach and we would be foolish to squander it, so no thought whatsoever on charging bags,” Kelly said in a recent quarterly earnings call.

      Southwest woes

      The decision to let bags fly for free is great for consumers, but it potentially costs Southwest millions every year. Last year, the top 13 airline companies raked in $3.8 billion in bag fees, along with another $3 billion in charges that consumers paid for changing or canceling flight reservations – another service that Southwest doesn’t charge for.

      As a result, investors have cranked up the heat on the company to start tapping these revenue streams. Recent earnings reports haven’t been very favorable; last quarter’s earnings were down by nearly $200 million year-over-year, and the recent technology outage in July cost the company dearly. Kelly also cites increased competition as a major factor in the company’s bad fortunes.

      “The fare environment is very competitive and we have seen an increase in competitor seats in our markets that is fairly significant year-over-year,” he said.

      The CEO says that he has plans to bring in more revenue soon, though he remained tight-lipped about what those plans actually involved. “Well, it’s just not ready for prime time. And I’d rather not share with our competitors where we see opportunities for a variety of reasons,” Kelly explained.

      The airline industry can be a harsh business. In a world where money is king and companies are always looking out for the bottom line, not scraping in reve...

      Hospitals show some improvement in safety

      But an estimated 200,000 Americans still die from medical errors

      When people are seriously ill or injured, they are usually admitted to a hospital. But it turns out that a hospital may not exactly be the safest place to find yourself.

      In the past, hospitals didn't always have access to the latest treatments. Today, most have excellent capabilities, but they don't always have the resources or systems to handle the patient load. This can lead to breakdowns in safety that can result in patient injures and infections.

      According to Leapfrog, which conducts annual hospital reviews, hospital mishaps kill over 200,000 Americans each year, making hospital mistakes the third leading cause of death in the United States.

      Making the grade

      Since not all hospitals are alike and some have much better safety records than others, it might be prudent to consult the data before selecting a hospital. In the latest Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade, which judged 2,633 hospitals and assigned letter grades, 844 earned an "A," 658 earned a "B," 954 earned a "C," 157 earned a "D" and 20 earned an "F."

      That means 57% of hospitals were ranked as either “excellent” or “good,” and only 6% were found to be “poor” or a “failure.” Of course, that's small comfort for patients admitted to that 6% of hospitals.

      Leapfrog found that geography sometimes plays a role, with some states able to attract the best hospital administration and best medical talent. North Carolina is a prime example. It was ranked 19th in spring 2013 for the number of “A” rated hospitals. In the current ranking, it's number five.

      Idaho has moved from number 45 – the the bottom of the list in 2013 – to number two today, one reason that the state has begun to attract more retirees. At the same time, Alaska, Delaware, North Dakota, and Washington, D.C., have no “A” rated hospitals.

      Not equally competent

      "In the fast-changing health care landscape, patients should be aware that hospitals are not all equally competent at protecting them from injuries and infections,” said Leapfrog President and CEO Leah Binder. We believe everyone has the right to know which hospitals are the safest and encourage community members to call on their local hospitals to change, and on their elected officials to spur them to action.”

      You might think with hospital errors causing so many deaths each year, health policymakers would carefully keep track of them. However, they don't. The 200,000 figure is only an estimate.

      As we reported earlier this year, researchers at Johns Hopkins have called on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to create a category for hospital errors, much as it has for other health threats. The researchers say cancer and heart disease tend to get most of the attention. They say that since "medical errors" isn't an official category, it doesn't get the funding it needs.

      You can find out how hospitals in your area ranked here.

      When people are seriously ill or injured, they are usually admitted to a hospital. But it turns out that a hospital may not exactly be the safest place to...

      IRS unveils 2017 pension plan limitations

      There's no change in the limit for 401(k) contributions

      An increase is on the way from the Internal Revenue Service pertaining to income ranges and determining eligibility for making deductible contributions to traditional IRAs, contributing to Roth IRAs, and claiming the saver’s credit.

      You can deduct contributions to a traditional IRA if you meet certain conditions. For example, if during the year either you or your spouse was covered by a retirement plan at work, the deduction may be reduced, or phased out, until it is eliminated -- depending on filing status and income. If neither is covered, the phase-outs of the deduction do not apply.

      Next year's phase-out ranges

      • For single taxpayers covered by a workplace retirement plan, the phase-out range is $62,000 to $72,000 -- up from $61,000 to $71,000.
      • For married couples filing jointly, where the spouse making the IRA contribution is covered by a workplace retirement plan, the phase-out range is $99,000 to $119,000, versus $98,000 to $118,000.
      • For an IRA contributor who is not covered by a workplace retirement plan and is married to someone who is covered, the deduction is phased out if the couple’s income is between $186,000 and $196,000 -- up from $184,000 and $194,000.
      • For a married individual filing a separate return who is covered by a workplace retirement plan, the phase-out range is not subject to an annual cost-of-living adjustment and remains $0 to $10,000.

      The new income phase-out range for taxpayers making contributions to a Roth IRA is $118,000 to $133,000 for singles and heads of household. This year it was $117,000 to $132,000.

      For married couples filing jointly, the income phase-out range is now $186,000 to $196,000, versus $184,000 to $194,000. The phase-out range for a married individual filing a separate return who makes contributions to a Roth IRA is not subject to an annual cost-of-living adjustment and remains $0 to $10,000.

      The income limit for the saver’s credit (also known as the retirement savings contributions credit) for low- and moderate-income workers is $62,000 for married couples filing jointly, up $500; $46,500 for heads of household, up $375; and $31,000 for singles and married individuals filing separately, up $250.

      No change for these limitations

      • The contribution limit for employees who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan remains at $18,000.
      • The catch-up contribution limit for employees aged 50 and over who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan remains at $6,000.
      • The limit on annual contributions to an IRA is unchanged at $5,500. The additional catch-up contribution limit for individuals aged 50 and over is not subject to an annual cost-of-living adjustment and remains $1,000.

      Details are outlined in IRS Notice 2016-62.

      An increase is on the way from the Internal Revenue Service pertaining to income ranges and determining eligibility for making deductible contributions to...

      September's consumer spending increase outpaces incomes gain

      Durable goods accounted for the bulk of spending

      Consumers enjoyed an increase of $46.7 billion, or 0.3%, in personal income in September.

      The Commerce Department reports disposable personal income (DPI), what's left after the government takes its cut, rose $37.0 billion.

      Last month's rise was due mainly to increases in compensation of employees and nonfarm proprietors’ income.

      Spending on the increase

      At the same time personal consumption expenditures (PCE), also called consumer spending, jumped 0.5% or $61.0 billion. The advance was largely the result of an increase in spending for durable goods -- things like cars, refrigerators, and computers.

      The PCE price index, a measure of inflation, was up 0.2%, with the “core Rate,” which excludes the volatile food and energy categories, inching up 0.1%.

      Personal saving totaled $797.8 billion last month – down $9.8 billion from August, although the personal saving rate -- personal saving as a percentage of DPI -- remained at 5.7%.

      The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

      Consumers enjoyed an increase of $46.7 billion, or 0.3%, in personal income in September.The Commerce Department reports disposable personal income (DP...

      Jury awards $70 million in baby powder cancer case

      Plaintiffs charge Johnson & Johnson knew of alleged cancer risk; the company denies it

      Concerns that women were unknowingly placing themselves in danger by using baby powder for feminine hygeine date back to 1971, when gynecological researchers first documented finding talc particles in ovarian tumors.

      Nine years later, in 1982, researchers made the first connection between ovarian cancer and talcum powder, finding in a control group of 215 women with ovarian cancer that ninety-two, or 42.8% of the women with cancer in the study, "regularly used talc either as a dusting powder on the perineum or on sanitary napkins compared with 61 (28.4%) controls."

      Since that landmark study, "dozens more followed confirming the association," says a new study evaluating the possible link, headed by Harvard researcher Dr. Daniel Cramer, who also published the 1982 study. His more recent research, published in May 2016, again associates genital use of talc with an increased risk of ovarian cancer.

      Did companies know of the risk?

      In recent years, lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson over its marketing of baby powder have piled up, with an estimated 1,200 claims pending.

      Plaintiffs like Deborah Giannecchini, who has Stage 4 ovarian cancer, say in court testimony that the company should have warned women not to use the product on their genitals. Instead, however, the company marketed baby powder to adult women, the lawsuits contend.

      One old print advertisement tells "grown-ups" that baby powder will make them feel "cool, smooth and dry."

      On October 27, Giannecchini's lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson ended in her favor, with the jury finding against the company and delivering a whopping $70 million verdict.

      In closing arguments, Giannecchini's attorney reportedly told the jurors that Johnson & Johnson executives had known about the link between talc use and ovarian cancer for years but falsified medical records to cover it up. Cramer, the Harvard researcher, has also testified in lawsuits that he had warned J&J; since 1982 to place a warning label on their baby powder, to no avail. Johnson & Johnson has said they will appeal the verdict.

      Three major verdicts In 2016

      The Giannecchini verdict follows a $72 million verdict a St. Louis jury slammed Johnson & Johnson with last March and a $55 million verdict against Johnson & Johnson that a South Dakota jury made in May. "It was really clear they were hiding something," the foreman of the St. Louis jury told Bloomberg News.

      J&J; denies cancer link

      Johnson & Johnson continues to insist there is no link between the use of talcum powder for feminine hygiene and ovarian cancer.

      Asked why they didn't consider the research dating back to 1971, Johnson & Johnson spokeswoman Carol Goodrich directed ConsumerAffairs to FactsAboutTalc.com, a website created by Johnson & Johnson. "The science is all there on the website," Goodrich said.

      Concerns that women were unknowingly placing themselves in danger by using baby powder for feminine hygeine date back to 1971, when gynecological researche...

      Zika risk may extend to all adults, not just pregnant women

      Researchers find that certain brain cells found in adults are affected by the disease

      At the beginning of the year, Zika emerged as a top health threat when it gained a foothold in Latin America. Panic ensued as people began to realize that the virus was extremely dangerous to pregnant women and their unborn children, since cases of microcephaly – a previously rare birth defect -- began rising dramatically.

      Since then, scientists and researchers have learned a lot more about the Zika virus and prevention efforts are ongoing. However, a new discovery by researchers from The Rockefeller University and La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology raises concerns that Zika may not only be dangerous to pregnant women – it could be extremely dangerous to everyone.

      Their study using mice models suggests that Zika targets certain adult brain cells related to learning and memory. While the long-term effects are uncertain, it’s possible that the virus could lead to cases of depression or the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

      "This is the first study looking at the effect of Zika infection on the adult brain. . . Based on our findings, getting infected with Zika as an adult may not be as innocuous as people think,” said researcher Joseph Gleeson.

      Progenitor cells

      The researchers believe the cells that are primarily affected by Zika virus are progenitor cells. This class of cells are, in effect, the original stem cells of the brain. When we are developing in the womb, the brain is made up almost entirely of progenitor cells that eventually form neurons that are common in healthy adult brains.

      While researchers believe that fully formed neurons become resistant to Zika virus, the progenitor cells are still susceptible to it; it provides somewhat of an explanation for why unborn children develop birth defects and adults seem unaffected by the disease. However, pockets of progenitor cells remain in adult brains even after they have developed. The researchers say these pockets are closely linked to learning and memory, and that Zika could still negatively impact them.

      "Zika can clearly enter the brain of adults and can wreak havoc. . . But it's a complex disease -- it's catastrophic for early brain development, yet the majority of adults who are infected with Zika rarely show detectable symptoms. Its effect on the adult brain may be more subtle, and now we know what to look for," said professor Sujan Shresta of the La Jolla Institute of Allergy and Immunology.

      Dramatic results

      To test their theory, Gleeson, Shresta, and their colleagues infected mice models with a mimic of the Zika virus and scanned their brain for activity. The scans were meant to light up in sections of the brain that were most affected, and the two areas of the brain where progenitor cells resided did just that.

      "Our results are pretty dramatic -- in the parts of the brain that lit up, it was like a Christmas tree. . . It was very clear that the virus wasn't affecting the whole brain evenly, like people are seeing in the fetus. In the adult, it's only these two populations that are very specific to the stem cells that are affected by virus. These cells are special, and somehow very susceptible to the infection," said Gleeson.

      There is currently not enough far-reaching data to know exactly what could happen to adults affected by the disease, but Gleeson cautions that memory and learning problems are a distinct possibility, as well as conditions like depression and Alzheimer’s. "In more subtle cases, the virus could theoretically impact long-term memory or risk of depression, but tools do not exist to test the long-term effects of Zika on adult stem cell populations,” he said.

      Monitoring the disease

      While the researchers believe that healthy adults should be able to effectively fight the virus, they say that elderly people or those with weakened immune systems could be more at risk than previously thought. They suggest that public health officials be mindful of the study and begin monitoring it on a larger scale.

      "The virus seems to be traveling quite a bit as people move around the world. Given this study, I think the public health enterprise should consider monitoring for Zika infections in all groups, not just pregnant women,” said Gleeson.

      For now, the study will most likely serve as an opening investigation into how Zika affects adult brains. Scientists will have to find out if progenitor cells can recover from the virus’ damage, if there are any lasting biological consequences, and to what degree the adult brain is affected.

      The full study has been published in the journal Cell Stem Cell

      At the beginning of the year, Zika emerged as a top health threat when it gained a foothold in Latin America. Panic ensued as people began to realize that...

      More package thefts predicted for this holiday season

      'Porch pirates' become a bigger problem each year

      If this holiday season is like the last one, more people will be doing their shopping online.

      And it's safe to conclude that package theft will be an even bigger problem than the year before. A 2015 study by Insurancequotes.com estimated 23 million Americans a year have at least one package swiped from their porch.

      They're called “porch pirates,” thieves who know that during the holiday period, especially, often expensive merchandise is sometimes left at someone's doorstep because no one is home to receive it.

      "Yes, many thieves don't have anything better to do than to follow delivery trucks around town to see what kind of bountiful packages they'll be leaving at the doorsteps of homes," said home security specialist Robert Siciliano. "This means even more crooks simply drive around residential areas during the holidays looking for boxes sitting outside of doors. These crooks will simply walk off with the packages."

      Surveillance doesn't always help

      With more homes now equipped with surveillance cameras, many of these thefts have been caught on tape. However, that has done little to stop them from occurring.

      Enterprising companies have begun producing products that can help consumers safely receive their packages. Some of them involve smart home technology.

      A study by August Home found that 74% of packages are stolen during the day, when the consumer is at work and no one is at home. Sixty-nine percent of consumers said they would consider some type of smart technology that would allow delivery personnel access to the home, so they could leave packages inside.

      “With the average value of packages stolen costing $200 or more to replace, 80% of homeowners mentioned that they would rather invest in smart technology, such as our Doorbell Cam, which would eliminate this worry once and for all, rather than continue to spend money replacing stolen goods, said August Home CEO Jason Johnson.

      Other options

      A low-tech solution is installing a secure package receptacle on your front porch. This one, readily available at Home Depot, costs just over $250.

      Meanwhile, to reduce the risk of swiped packages, have them delivered to a location where there will be a live human being to receive them. If it is okay with your employer, have a package delivered to the office to significantly reduce the risk.

      If an online retailer provides the option, select a specific time for delivery. Also, try to program delivery alerts on your smartphone so you know when a package arrives. If you aren't home, call a neighbor and ask him or her to watch for it and pick it up for you.

      If this holiday season is like the last one, more people will be doing their shopping online.And it's safe to conclude that package theft will be an ev...

      Productive ways to use your extra hour on November 6

      Five simple, protective measures that can boost your safety in one hour

      We may fall back an hour on November 6, but that extra hour can actually help you get ahead. The end of daylight saving time marks the perfect opportunity to make a few changes that can increase your home’s safety.

      It’s easy to forget to check certain safety features, especially if they’re not drawing any attention to themselves. But while the squeaky wheel may often get the attention, sometimes even the working wheels need a little maintenance.
      In under 60 minutes, you can make a handful of checks and changes around your home that can help ensure its safety as well as your own. Here’s what you can change, in addition to the numbers on your clock, when the clocks roll back on November 6.

      DST checklist

      Checking (and possibly changing) these five safety features can keep your home protected while helping you feel productive, according to password manager Dashlane.
      • Smoke detector batteries. You may not be hearing any chirping, but your smoke detectors may benefit from fresh batteries. Three out of 5 home fire deaths result from fires in properties without working smoke alarms, according to FEMA. To keep your home protected, test and change your home’s smoke detector batteries at least every daylight saving time.
      • Tire pressure. Check your tires to make sure they’re not under-inflated. Under-inflated tires have a higher risk of damage and failure. They may also wear out more quickly.
      • Your credit score. A poor credit score isn’t a threat to your physical safety, but it can hurt you nonetheless. Dashlane recommends checking your credit score and devising a plan to improve it, if necessary.
      • Medication. Head to your medicine cabinet and get rid of any expired or leftover medication. Before disposing of any bottles with your name on it, make sure to scratch out your personal information.
      • Passwords. Change your passwords to protect yourself against data breaches. Doing so at least once a year is a quick and simple way to protect your information and identify.
      We may fall back an hour on November 6, but that extra hour can actually help you get ahead. The end of daylight saving time marks the perfect opportunity...

      Now it's Soylent food powder that's causing gastric distress

      The company withdrew its snack bars just a few weeks ago

      A few weeks ago, we reported that Soylent was withdrawing its snack bars because they were making people sick. Now the venture-backed start-up is withdrawing its food powder because -- you guessed it -- customers say it's making them sick.

      The company says it doesn't know just what the problem is but suspects -- logically enough -- that there is a common ingredient in both products that's to blame. Soylent premade drinks have, so far, not caused any problems, the company says.

      Soylent, based in Los Angeles, is trying to change how people eat. Forget the all-natural organic stuff, it's going straight for food powder. Just add water and the resulting goop will contain all the "protein, carbohydrates, lipids, and micronutrients that a body needs," according to the company's website

      Or so company founder Rob Reinhardt believes. The twenty-something engineering graduate doesn't have a background in nutrition or biology but he became annoyed at how much trouble it was to prepare food while crashing on projects, so decided to invent his own.

      Popular with programmers

      Soylent, spelled the same as the human-based food featured in the 70s science-fiction film "Soylent Green," is said to be quite popular with Silicon Valley programmers who have trouble turning aside from their coding long enough to wolf down a sandwich. 

      Soylent is a little vague about the exact ingredients, saying merely that its products "use bioengineered algae as a source of lipids and essential omega fatty acids.

      "Produced efficiently in bioreactors, rather than on farmland, these single-celled organisms require far less resources than traditional agriculture," we're told. "Bioreactor" sounds pretty cutting-edge but is basically a fancy term for a vessel in which a chemical process is carried out -- a beaker, for example. 

      Soylent swears it is hot on the trail of whatever is causing the problem and says when it figures it out, it will so advise the Food and Drug Administration, which has so far remained silent on the Soylent issue.

      Upon completing this somewhat snarky article, by the way, the author realized that, while writing it, he had himself nibbled through a Cliff Bar rather than delay publication by taking time for lunch. So far, no ill results. 

      A few weeks ago, we reported that Soylent was withdrawing its snack bars because they were making people sick. Now the venture-backed start-up is withdrawi...

      How to make sure your child's Halloween costume is safe

      Tips to help parents avoid costume-related health and safety dangers

      For children, picking out a costume is often half the fun of Halloween. But parents have the responsibility of making sure that every element of their child’s costume is safe.

      Not every look-completing accessory or article of clothing your child chooses to don on Halloween may be safe. Before allowing kids to head out for a night of trick-or-treating, parents should know that their child’s costume won’t cause any frightening consequences.

      Face makeup and other popular Halloween accessories can cause irritation and infection, while the fit of the costume itself can also cause problems. To help ensure kids’ safety on Halloween, it can be smart to take the costume for a test run a few days before the big night.

      Using costume caution

      Here’s what parents can do ahead of Halloween to make sure their child’s costume is safe, according to Jill Creighton, MD, Medical Director of Ambulatory Primary Care Pediatrics.
      • Test makeup beforehand. Two to three days before Halloween, parents can test out non-toxic face makeup on their child’s arms to make sure there’s no skin reaction. After the kids are home from trick-or-treating, make sure to wash off all makeup to avoid eye and skin irritation.  
      • Avoid decorative contact lenses. As we reported, decorative contact lenses aren’t always safe or even legal. They can impair vision, cause an infection, and irritate the eye. Creighton recommends not allowing children to wear decorative contact lenses at all.
      • Prevent trip-ups. Costumes and shoes should be checked by parents to make sure they fit properly. Creighton notes that a baggy costume that drags on the ground may cause trips, slips, and falls. Oversized high heels can also cause falls.
      • Choose fire-resistant fabrics. Costumes and accessories should be flame-resistant, just in case your child brushes up against a candle-lit Halloween decoration during the night.
      • Keep kids visible. The U.S. National Safety Council recommends placing reflective tape on costumes and trick-or-treat bags to help other people and motorists see children after the sun has set. Choosing light-colored costumes can also keep kids from blending into the night. 
      For children, picking out a costume is often half the fun of Halloween. But parents have the responsibility of making sure that every element of their chil...

      How the presidential election is affecting consumers' holiday spending this year

      The National Retail Federation says uncertain consumers are being more cautious

      With November just around the corner, many consumers across the U.S. would normally be shopping up a storm for the upcoming holiday season. While that’s still sort of true this year, a report from the National Retail Federation shows that many are modifying their plans. Why, you might ask? Well, it has something to do with another important event happening in early November.

      According to an NRF flash poll conducted earlier in October, a quarter of consumers said that the upcoming presidential election will impact their spending for the holiday season. Forty-three percent said that they would be more cautious with their spending due to the uncertainty of who will win the race.

      NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay says the campaign season has also forced retailers to delay advertising for holiday deals, which may have affected consumers.

      “Everywhere you turn – whether you’re picking up a newspaper or watching television – political advertisements are taking up ad space that retailers typically use to get holiday shopping on the minds of consumers across the country,” he said.

      However, NRF says that while spending will be down from last year, it will still be at a relatively high level. The association estimates that consumers will spend an average of $935.58 on gifts for others, self-spending, food, flowers, decorations, and greeting cards for the holidays. That’s a decrease of $17 from last year, but it’s the second highest total since 2004.

      “Once the election has passed, we anticipate consumers will pull themselves out of the election doldrums and into the holiday spirit,” said Shay. “Retailers should prepare for a rush of consumers in the weeks following the presidential election as they get more economic and political certainty and are looking to take advantage of promotions and deals that are too good to pass up for their friends, family and even themselves.”

      Self-spending increases

      NRF also predicts that self-spending will increase this holiday season, as consumers try to take advantage of good deals. Poll results indicate that 58% of shoppers plan to buy something for themselves; NRF predicts that consumers will spend an average of $139.61 on these purchases, up 4% from last year.

      “Many shoppers are taking the approach of ‘one for you, two for me’ this holiday season. Retailers are preparing by offering a wide array of merchandise and promotions – items shoppers want to give as great gifts at prices so good they want to buy for themselves too.”

      Spending on others will still eclipse self-spending, though, as the NRF says consumers will spend an average of $588.90 on gifts for family and friends.

      When it comes to where they’ll shop, consumers indicated that they’ll split their time pretty evenly between department stores (57%), online sources (57%), and discount stores (56%). Online shoppers will be looking to take advantage of free shipping as much as possible, though some will pay a little extra by opting for expedited shipping (17%) or same-day delivery (10%). 

      With November just around the corner, many consumers across the U.S. would normally be shopping up a storm for the upcoming holiday season. While that’s st...

      Feds make arrests in major international scam

      Elaborate scheme was based out of five call centers in India

      Indictments in connection with massive scams are rare. Arrests are even rarer, since the perpetrators tend to work outside the U.S.

      Despite that, the Justice Department has unsealed an indictment that charges 61 people and entities with an international scam ring that ripped off tens of thousands of U.S. Consumers.

      In addition, 20 people were arrested and taken into custody in connection with activities that took place at five call centers located in India.

      The indictment, returned by a federal grand jury in Texas, claims the defendants took part in an elaborate scheme, organized in India, to wring money out of victims by calling and claiming to be an officer of the U.S. Government.

      Impersonating government officials

      In some cases, the caller claimed to be from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and demanded payment for alleged back taxes. In other cases, the caller pretended to be an immigration official, threatening the victim with deportation unless payment was made. Along the way, the callers also extracted sensitive personal information that could be used to steal identities.

      The indictment says that once the callers in India had a victim on the hook, they would turn them over to co-conspirators in the United States to liquidate and launder the extorted funds.

      In many cases, losses were huge. The indictment says one of the call centers extorted $12,300 from an 85-year-old victim from San Diego, using the threat of arrest if a fictitious tax bill was not paid.

      It was worse for a victim in Hayward, Calif., who was persuaded to cough up $136,000 after being hounded for 20 days over a phony tax bill.

      What to do

      The indictment and arrests lift the lid of a variety of ugly, similar scams that target the vulnerable. One widespread scam involves calling people and threatening them with arrests because they allegedly took out a payday loan and didn't repay.

      The consumers who have complained of this to ConsumerAffairs have said the calls all appear to be coming from India.

      It bears repeating that consumers should not take the bait if an IRS official calls and demands payment of back taxes. IRS officials don't operate that way. They don't call consumers on the phone.

      If you get any type of threatening phone call that seems suspicious, the best course of action is to hang up and contact local law enforcement. You should also report it to the Federal Trade Commission.

      Indictments in connection with massive scams are rare. Arrests are even rarer, since the perpetrators tend to work outside the U.S.Despite that, the Ju...

      Hyundai and Kia settle inflated fuel economy complaint

      Thirty-three states will split over $41 million

      Hyundai and Kia will pay a combined $41.2 million to 33 states and the District of Columbia to settle charges it misrepresented fuel economy ratings on certain 2011, 2012, and 2013 vehicles.

      The issue goes back to November of 2012, when the automakers revealed they were adjusting and restating the fuel economy ratings for certain models because they had overstated them. California Attorney General Kamala Harris says it was an even bigger issue then because gasoline prices were sky high, especially in her state.

      “California consumers deserve reliable and accurate information regarding the environmental impacts of the cars they buy,” Harris said in a statement. This agreement holds the automakers responsible for their unlawful conduct and ensures the companies advertise fuel economy ratings accurately going forward.”

      Violated false advertising law

      California’s complaint against Hyundai and Kia alleged that the companies’ actions constituted violations of California’s Unfair Competition Law and False Advertising Law. It noted that the misstated fuel economy numbers occurred at a time when they would have had overweighted influence on consumers' purchase decisions.

      Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster says state and federal law require clear and accurate fuel economy labels on all cars and trucks sold in the United States. Auto manufacturers are required to conduct testing under mandatory protocols set by government regulators. It must then use the results of those tests to post accurate fuel economy information on each vehicle before it is sold.

      “Consumers need to be able to rely on the information they are given when deciding whether to purchase a product,” Koster said. “When they mislead Missourians, we will hold companies accountable.”

      Deceived consumers

      “These car companies deceived consumers into thinking they were purchasing vehicles that would be more fuel efficient than they really were,” said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

      Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen said the settlement serves notice on other automakers that fuel economy ratings are important, and they'll be held accountable when they aren't as advertised.

      Under the terms of the settlement, the actual consumers who purchased the cars in question will get no money. Rather, it will be distributed among the participating states. Hyundai and Kia have agreed to make sure its fuel economy data is correct in the future and will be subject to monitoring by the attorney general of each state in the multistate group.

      Hyundai and Kia will pay a combined $41.2 million to 33 states and the District of Columbia to settle charges it misrepresented fuel economy ratings on cer...

      Economic growth gets a bump in the third quarter

      Consumer spending helped power the increase in GDP

      The economy stepped it up in the third quarter of the year, according to the government's "advance" look at how things are going.

      According to the Commerce Department, real gross domestic product (GDP) expanded at an annual rate of 2.9% in the July-September period after growing just 1.4% in the second quarter.

      It's important to note that the information used to calculate economic performance is incomplete and/or subject to further revision. An updated estimate will be released in late November.

      Growth factors

      The third quarter increase in real GDP reflects contributions from personal consumption expenditures (PCE) -- consumer spending -- exports, private inventory investment, federal government spending, and nonresidential fixed investment. Those were partly offset by declines in residential fixed investment and state and local government spending. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, increased.

      The acceleration from the second quarter came from an upturn in private inventory investment, an acceleration in exports, a smaller decrease in state and local government spending, and a turnaround in federal government spending. They were partly offset by a smaller increase in PCE, and a larger increase in imports.

      Not much to cheer about

      Stifel Fixed Income Chief Economist Lindsey Piegza isn't impressed. She points out that even with the 2.9% growth rate for the third quarter, "with such minimal growth across the first six months of the year, the average pace of activity for the year thus far remains a disappointing 1.7%."  

      The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

      The economy stepped it up in the third quarter of the year, according to the government's "advance" look at how things are going.According to the Comme...

      H-E-B recalls star chairs due to fall hazard

      Weld defects can cause the armrest to detach from the base

      H-E-B is recalling about 650 Brazos Embossed star chairs.

      Weld defects can cause the armrest to detach from base, posing a fall hazard to consumers.

      The company has received one report of the armrest detaching from the base. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves Brazos Embossed star chairs that are brown metal with welded construction and an embossed star design on the back of the chair.

      The white hangtag on this item has the following product identification: UPC number 8502430906 and item code number 194781. The chair is 24 inches wide and 33.5 inches high.

      The chairs, manufactured in China, were sold exclusively at H-E-B stores in Texas from February 2016, through September 2016, for about $60.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled chair and return it to the store where purchased for a full refund.

      Consumers may contact H-E-B at 800-432-3113 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday or online at www.heb.com and click on “Recalls” for more information.

      H-E-B is recalling about 650 Brazos Embossed star chairs.Weld defects can cause the armrest to detach from base, posing a fall hazard to consumers....

      FCC adopts new privacy rules for broadband providers

      The rules require consumer consent before sensitive information is collected or shared

      The Federal Communications Commission voted today to adopt rules that protect consumers' privacy on the internet. The rules give broadband customers tools to make informed choices about how their personal information is used and shared by internet service providers (ISPs).

      "It's the consumers' information," said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler when the proposal was unveiled earlier this year, "and the consumer should have the right to determine how it's used."

      Industry groups fought the proposal bitterly. USTelecom, a trade group, took to Twitter to denounce the rules as a "naked power grab."

      But most consumer and privacy advocates endorsed the measure. Meredith Rose, staff attorney at Public Knowledge, said the rules would be "a step forward to protecting consumers’ economic and dignitary rights in their own data."

      Rose said that without such rules, "consumers face a very real threat of having personal data exposed, sold to third parties without their knowledge, or misused in other fashions." 

      Thorn in the side?

      The 3-2 party line vote by the five FCC commissioners is seen as a potential thorn in the side of the pending Verizon/Yahoo and AT&T/Time Warner mergers. The deals are built around the notion that Verizon will have access to data Yahoo has collected about its customers, likewise for AT&T and Time Warner. 

      To provide consumers more control over the use of their personal information, the rules establish a framework of customer consent that will be required for ISPs to use and share their customers’ personal information that is calibrated to the sensitivity of the information. Sensitive information requires greater transparency and consent than more routine data. 

      The approach is consistent with other privacy frameworks, including the Federal Trade Commission’s and the Administration’s Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.

      Three categories

      The rules separate the use and sharing of information into three categories and include clear guidance for both ISPs and customers about the transparency, choice and security requirements for customers’ personal information:

      Opt-in: ISPs are required to obtain affirmative “opt-in” consent from consumers to use and share "sensitive" information, which includes precise geo-location, financial information, health information, children’s information, Social Security numbers, web browsing history, app usage history, and the content of communications.

      Opt-out:  ISPs would be allowed to use and share non-sensitive information unless a customer “opts-out.” The "non-sensitive" information basically includes everything not included under the "sensitive" definition -- for example, email address or service tier data. 

      Exceptions: Customer consent is inferred for certain purposes specified in the statute, including the provision of broadband service or billing and collection. For the use of this information, no additional customer consent is required beyond the creation of the customer-ISP relationship.

      Clear, conspicuous

      The rules require ISPs to give customers clear, conspicuous, and persistent notice about what information is being collected, how it is being shared, and how customers can change their privacy preferences.

      ISPs are also required to follow "reasonable" data security practices and to notify customers of data breaches.

      The rules apply only to broadband service providers and other ISPs and telecommunications carriers. They do not apply to websites and other "edge services," which are not under the FCC's jurisdiction.

      The Federal Communications Commission voted today to adopt rules that protect consumers' privacy on the internet. The rules give broadband customers tools...

      Twitter cuts 9% of its workforce and decides to shut down Vine

      The moves are an attempt to halt a long stretch of slowing revenue growth

      The hardships seem to keep mounting for Twitter. Due to stagnant user growth and a compendium of other factors, the company recently began looking to sell itself off. In the last few weeks, there seemed to be a good number of buyers lining up for a shot to snap up the social media platform – including Google and Disney.

      A deal has yet to pan out, though, and many companies have walked away from the negotiating table. That may very well have contributed to an announcement today that the company would be cutting 9% of its workforce, mostly in sales and marketing, and shutting down its Vine mobile app, according to the Los Angeles Times.

      Company struggles

      While Twitter started off very well, recent times have not been kind to the company. It has produced nine straight quarters of slowing revenue growth and the number of monthly active users began stalling as early as last year; the well-known social media platform boasts 700 million accounts, but only 317 million are active each month, and an even lower number are active on a daily basis.

      Shareholder expectations have also gradually lowered for Twitter, as share prices have declined by 50% since the summer of 2015. Altogether, the company lags far behind its competitor Facebook, which has done very well during the same period and attracted more advertisers.

      “Twitter monetizes its user base at about half the rate of Facebook, and we are not sure it can close the gap entirely,” said Mark Mahaney of RBC Capital Markets.

      Despite the hardships, the company has said it is committed to finding a sustainable path forward. Chief Executive Jack Dorsey has stated that adjusting the user interface will be a key element of the company’s future strategy.

      “We will make tweeting easier and more meaningful by providing more context and letting people not only broadcast to the world but also have deeper, open conversations about the topics they care about. . . We’re focused on building the largest, most comprehensive news network on the planet,” he said in a statement.

      Shutting down Vine

      In a separate announcement today, Twitter said that it will be shutting down its Vine mobile app in the coming months. Twitter bought Vine before it had even launched in January, 2013, and for a while it did pretty well. The app uses a six-second format that has been great for capturing sports highlights, singing exhibitions, or comedically timed moments.

      However, Vine never seemed to live up to Twitter’s performance standards. The founders of the app gradually left, and the launch of other services like video on Instagram stunted its potential. Over half of the top 9,725 accounts on the app had been deleted or had stopped posting by July, with content creators leaving for greener pastures on sites like Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube.

      Although Twitter hasn’t given a precise date for when the app will be shut down, it has guaranteed users that they will be able to download their videos before the plug is pulled.

      “We value you, your Vines, and are going to do this the right way. You’ll be able to access and download your Vines. We’ll be keeping the website online because we think it’s important to still be able to watch all the incredible Vines that have been made. You will be notified before we make any changes to the app or website,” the company said in a statement.

      “To all the creators out there – thank you for taking a chance on this app back in the day. To the many team members over the years who made this what it was – thank you for your contributions. And of course, thank you to all of those who came to watch and laugh every day.”

      The hardships seem to keep mounting for Twitter. Due to stagnant user growth and a compendium of other factors, the company recently began looking to sell...

      Don't let 'Ghost Push' haunt your Android device

      Security firm says this malware is impossible to remove

      A recent scourge for Android device users, maybe more so than an exploding Note 7, is a vicious malware called Ghost Push. It's a Trojan that some say can't be uninstalled and keeps downloading unwanted programs.

      Cheetah Mobile's CM Security Research Lab says it discovered the nasty malware a little over a year ago, and, since then, it is downloading on unsuspecting consumers' Android devices an average of 10,000 times a day.

      Ghost Push hides within what seem to be legitimate software and apps. Once downloaded it will in turn install annoying apps, such as Monkey Test and Time Service. When it was discovered, it quickly surged to the list of Cheetah's most widespread and infectious viruses.

      By last October, monitoring results from CM Security Research Lab found over 600,000 android users had been affected within a single day. It first appeared mostly in Europe, Russia, the Middle East region, and southern China.

      Not only does it install unwanted programs on mobile devices, it also pushes ads into status bars and often directs users to deceptive or pornographic sites, where additional malware is downloaded.

      What to do

      While Cheetah maintains the Trojan is next to impossible to uninstall, there are a number of internet posts with advice and tips for doing so. But use discretion in following any of these directions, making sure they are offered from reliable sources. Cheetah maintains the best course of action is to avoid getting infected in the first place.

      For starters, be extremely careful where you get apps for your device. Avoid downloading from third party app stores and use only known and reputable sources.

      Updating your devices to the latest operating system can also help. Cheetah says 90% of the infected devices are using out-of-date operating systems. Keeping devices updated means having the latest security patches.

      Also, consider installing a reputable antivirus app on your phone or tablet. They can sometimes stop malware before they can take over your device.

      A recent scourge for Android device users, maybe more so than an exploding Note 7, is a vicious malware called Ghost Push. It's a Trojan that some say can'...

      Purple Carrot meal kits may be heading to Whole Foods

      Could grocery store shelves be the next stop for gourmet meal kits?

      In an effort to cater to younger consumers’ love of convenience and plant-based meals, Purple Carrot is bringing its meal kits to Whole Foods stores.

      In an increasingly busy world, home-delivered meal kits are streamlining the cooking experience and making it easier than ever for consumers to whip up a meal fit to be shared on social media.

      But the ability to pick up a Purple Carrot meal kit at the grocery store may have advantages of its own. In a statement, Andy Levitt, founder and CEO of the company, noted that consumers seem ready to see healthy, portioned-out meal kits somewhere other than on their doorstep.

      “Over the last year, we’ve listened to the feedback of our busy consumers who also wanted to find our products on grocery shelves. With that in mind, we have created a new product so people can pick up their meal kits when they shop at Whole Foods Market,” Levitt said in a statement.

      No subscription

      Purple Carrot meal kits are currently only available in one Boston-area Whole Foods store, but more locations are expected to follow if the pilot program is successful.
      Offering consumers the ability to purchase meal kits individually instead of requiring them to commit to a subscription may signal a new trend in meal kits.

      As Fast Company reported, one of the biggest challenges for the meal kit industry is holding onto clients. Only half of Blue Apron customers continue after the first week of service and other meal kit programs face similar hurdles in getting clients to stick around.

      "We recognize that now, more than ever, our customers are in need of convenience without the sacrifice of quality and nutrition,” said Kimberley Rose, Vice President of Purchasing for Whole Foods Market’s North Atlantic region. “Purple Carrot has created a great product that will help us to provide our customers with one more way to continue to eat well even on the busiest of days.”

      Purple Carrot's in-store meal kit offerings are set to include Mongolian Seitan Stir Fry, Pan Seared Tofu and Black Rice Noodles, and Cashew Korma with Cauliflower Rice. Each meal kit will be available for $19.99.

      In an effort to cater to younger consumers’ love of convenience and plant-based meals, Purple Carrot is bringing its meal kits to Whole Foods stores.In...

      Three highly rated airline credit cards

      Consumers who travel a lot might benefit from one of these

      Consumers should be aware by now that there are big advantages to using a rewards credit card, and in particular, a card that rewards certain things.

      For example, most consumers are probably better off with a cash-back credit card, which pays as much as 2% on all purchases or as much as 5% on certain categories.

      But frequent air travelers might profit more from using a card that rewards in miles. We've identified three such cards that are worth a look.

      Capital One VentureOne Reward

      Consumers who carry the Capital One VentureOne Reward Card earn an unlimited 1.25 miles on every purchase, making it easy to rack up miles. As an added bonus, there is no annual fee – a rarity in this class of credit card.

      When you earn 100 miles, you've earned $1 dollar in travel rewards. But the rewards come a lot faster for new cardholders, who get 20,000 bonus miles if they make $1,000 in purchases within the first three months of card activation.

      You can redeem your miles as a statement credit. As added perks, the rewards don't expire and you can carry a balance the first year without paying any interest.

      Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard's Rewards

      Another good choice for frequent travelers is the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard's Rewards Card. You earn two times the miles on all purchases.

      Right off the bat, new cardholders get 50,000 bonus miles if they spend $3,000 in the first 90 days of card activation. That adds up to a $500 travel statement credit.

      The miles don't expire and you get 5% miles back every time you redeem, to use toward the next redemption. There's an $89 annual fee, but it's waived the first year. The card also has a 0% introductory balance transfer rate for 12 months if the transfer is made within the first 45 days.

      Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express

      For consumers who find themselves flying Delta most of the time, the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express might be a good fit. It pays two miles for every dollar spent on purchases made directly with Delta, and a mile for every dollar spent on all other eligible purchases.

      New card members earn 30,000 bonus miles if they make $1,000 in purchases within the first three months of card activation and earn an extra $50 statement credit just by making a Delta purchase during that time.

      There are also some air travel-specific perks as well. Card members can check their first bag for free on every Delta flight, saving $100 on a round-trip. They also enjoy jumping to the head of the line with priority boarding.

      There's a $95 annual fee, but it's waived the first year.

      Consumers should be aware by now that there are big advantages to using a rewards credit card, and in particular, a card that rewards certain things.Fo...

      Skin patch shows promise in treating children's peanut allergies

      The wearable 'Viaskin' patch delivers peanut protein into the skin

      There has been a dramatic increase in the number of children living with a peanut allergy in recent decades. In fact, studies show that the number of kids affected by this major food allergy tripled between 1997 and 2008.

      Currently, there is no cure for food allergies. However, the results of a recent clinical trial showed that a new wearable skin patch may soon be an effective means of treating peanut allergies in children.

      The "Viaskin" patch works by delivering a low dose of peanut protein through the skin. Researchers say training the body to tolerate small doses of the allergen in this way (a treatment method known as epicutaneous immunotherapy) was found to be safe and effective, especially in younger children.

      Protects against peanut exposure

      The one-year trial was conducted by the Consortium of Food Allergy Research (CoFAR) and sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In it, researchers asked volunteers (who ranged in age from 4 to 25) with peanut allergies to wear either a high-dose patch, a low-dose patch, or a placebo patch.

      One year later, the researchers tested the volunteers to see if their peanut tolerance had changed -- and if so, how much. Findings showed that those who had been given the low-dose and high-dose patches experienced similar benefits.

      The treatment was successful for 46% of the low-dose group and 48% of the high-dose group. The greatest improvement was seen in children between the ages of 4 to 11, the authors note.

      "The clinical benefit seen in younger children highlights the promise of this innovative approach to treating peanut allergy," said Daniel Rotrosen, M.D., director of NIAID's Division of Allergy, Immunology and Transplantation (DAIT).

      Easy to use

      In addition to being effective, the patch was found to be easy for kids to use. The wearable patch, which could be applied either to a volunteer’s arm or between their shoulder blades, was used correctly by almost all of the study’s participants.

      "The high adherence to the daily peanut patch regimen suggests that the patch is easy-to-use, convenient and safe," said Marshall Plaut, chief of DAIT's Food Allergy, Atopic Dermatitis and Allergic Mechanisms Section.

      Plaut adds that the study’s promising results “support further investigation of epicutaneous immunotherapy as a novel approach for peanut allergy treatment." Additional studies will be needed before the Viaskin patch can be made commercially available.

      The full study is published online in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

      There has been a dramatic increase in the number of children living with a peanut allergy in recent decades. In fact, studies show that the number of kids...

      Verizon executive says the company needs more information on the Yahoo data breach

      What they find out could affect how much they pay for their acquisition

      It’s been a little over a month since Yahoo confirmed details of its massive data breach, which compromised information on roughly 500 million user accounts. When the news broke, many people speculated whether it would affect Verizon’s acquisition of the company – a deal that had been struck in July for around $4.8 billion.

      Those rumors began heating up at the beginning of the month when reports suggested that Verizon was pushing for a $1 billion discount because Yahoo had not disclosed information about the breach. And now, only a couple of weeks later, talk will be swirling about what Verizon actually intends to pay.

      According to a report from Reuters, a Verizon executive stated at a tech conference that buying up Yahoo still made good business sense. However, she said that Verizon still needed more information about the breach, which will ultimately affect how much the company plans to pay.

      “I’ve got an obligation to make sure that we protect our shareholders and our investors, so we’re not going to jump off a cliff blindly,” said Marni Walden, president of Product Innovation and New Businesses at Verizon.

      Uncertain future

      As we reported previously, the Yahoo acquisition gives Verizon a lot of advantages. The company acquired AOL back in 2015, and combining it with Yahoo would give the company a strong competitive rival to the likes of Google and Facebook in the digital advertising market.

      At the conference, Walden showed her enthusiasm for the prospective combination, pointing out that the deal could allow Verizon to cater more to brands, since Google and Facebook focus more on social media and search, respectively. “We can help other brands build inside of a very open, friendly marketplace,” she said.

      However, not having all the information on Yahoo’s data breach could be a sticking point. When asked if Verizon could potentially back out of its acquisition deal, Walden was non-committal, simply asking for the next question. Leaving the door open in this way certainly won’t make the folks over at Yahoo sleep any easier.

      It’s been a little over a month since Yahoo confirmed details of its massive data breach, which compromised information on roughly 500 million user account...

      New car sales drop sharply in October

      For consumers, that can create some bargains

      Consumers continue to flock to new car showrooms, but in fewer numbers this month. With October drawing to a close, industry analysts are predicting sales will be down as much as 6% from October 2015.

      But that doesn't mean the industry is hurting. If you'll recall, last October was a huge month for car dealers, as new car sales set records month after month. Besides, Kelley Blue Book (KBB) notes there were some extenuating circumstances this month – two fewer selling days than last year.

      But KBB analyst Tim Fleming says the preliminary sales numbers show a drop in volume across the entire industry, with dealers and manufacturers having to work harder to close sales.

      "Higher incentives are helping boost sales, but with transaction prices at an all-time high and great consumer demand for SUVs and trucks, which are more profitable, automakers can afford the extra incentives,” Fleming said. Still, discipline with incentives and moderating production will go a long way in preserving residual values in the next few years."

      Edmunds.com, meanwhile, predicts a slightly better industry performance, with October sales down just 5.2%.

      "On the surface, it might look like a slow month for sales, but in fact the industry's performance was much stronger than the raw numbers suggest," said Edmunds.com Senior Analyst Jessica Caldwell.

      What's hot and what's not

      Monthly sales figures can be useful for consumers thinking about a new car purchase because it can show where the bargains are and are not. For example, a make and model that is in demand will have less wiggle room during a negotiation. A model that lags in sales might be purchased at more of a bargain price.

      Going forward, that could make Volkswagen a good buy. Preliminary sales data shows VW continues to lose marketshare in the wake of the 2015 diesel emissions cheating scandal. Its sales this month are expected to be down nearly 10% from last October, the first month after the scandal broke.

      "Upcoming SUV launches, including the redesigned Tiguan and an all-new three-row SUV, will certainly help Volkswagen's car-dominant lineup once they hit the market, and that can't come soon enough for Volkswagen dealers,” Fleming said. Importantly, the Audi and Porsche brands have not been affected by the scandal, as sales for those two brands are up year-over-year."

      Subaru still hot

      While consumers might negotiate an attractive deal on a VW, it might be harder to get a low price on a Subaru, which remains a sales leader. Preliminary numbers show Subaru increased its marketshare from 3.6% to 3.8% this month, even with slightly fewer sales than in October 2015.

      KBB notes Subaru has the fastest-selling inventory, lowest days' supply of vehicles, and the fewest incentives of any major brand.

      Consumers continue to flock to new car showrooms, but in fewer numbers this month. With October drawing to a close, industry analysts are predicting sales...

      How Chipotle Mexican Grill hopes to win you back

      The chain is tweaking its menu and systems after a disastrous year

      When Chipotle Mexican Grill reported its third quarter earnings this week, the results were predictably bleak.

      Last year's E. coli crisis occurred during the third quarter, and the year since saw restaurant traffic plummet. Third quarter profits this year were down 95% compared to the same period last year.

      So how does a restaurant chain recover from that? Chipotle has a plan, which executives outlined during a conference call Tuesday night. Some of the plan revolves around reducing its exposure in other restaurant chains and focusing solely on its core business.

      But the company also outlined changes at Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurants, which it hopes will bring back its core customer base. It's adding a dessert to the menu, it's stepping up digital ordering capabilities, and for the first time since 2012, plans an extensive national ad campaign.

      A difficult year

      Steve Ells, Chipotle’s founder and co-CEO, told analysts on the conference call that the last year has been the most difficult in the company's history. At one time last year, Chipotle was forced to temporarily close more than 30 stores in six states after health officials traced E. coli to a common ingredient in the chain's food.

      The restaurants have reopened and the company adopted new food handling procedures, and there have been no reported incidents since.

      In an effort to win back consumers, Chipotle has been testing two desserts, one of which will be offered as a permanent part of the menu.

      During the last quarter, Chipotle expanded its menu with the addition of chorizo, which it said proved popular and helped boost sales.

      “We believe that this is a good way to entice infrequent or lapsed customers to return as well as a way to increase sales,” Ellis said on the call. “Any time we consider new menu items, it's important to us that they remain consistent with our food culture, both in terms of the ingredients we use and how the new items are prepared.”

      Enhancements to digital ordering

      The company is also redesigning its digital ordering system, which is able to take food and catering orders by mobile and fax. The enhancements are designed to make the process more efficient.

      At the same time, Ellis said the company is testing a system that will allow customers to place their orders at the restaurant using a tablet, if they encounter long lines.

      Finally, Chipotle hopes to win back customers with advertising – for the first time turning to television as a marketing medium. Ellis said the company has not yet settled on an ad agency, but said it expects consumers nationwide will be seeing the chain's commercials next year.

      When Chipotle Mexican Grill reported its third quarter earnings this week, the results were predictably bleak.Last year's E. coli crisis occurred durin...

      FTC getting support in its throttling battle with AT&T

      Allies are asking a federal appeals court to reinstate an enforcement action against AT&T

      A U.S. senator and the Federal Communications Commission are joining forces with privacy and consumer advocates to support the Federal Trade Commission in its battle with AT&T over call throttling.

      The FTC charged in October 2014 that AT&T duped more than 3.5 million customers by selling them unlimited data plans but then "throttled" their connections when they exceeded monthly allotments ranging from 3 to 5 GB. But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the FTC's action on procedural grounds.

      The court held that the FTC does not have the authority to sue common carriers, even though mobile broadband wasn't considered a common carrier service at the time the FTC brought the case.

      The FTC is asking for a new hearing and is getting support from the Federal Communications Commission and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), among others.

      "A wide hole"

      In a friend-of-the-court brief, Blumenthal argues that the appeals panel's ruling creates "a wide hole in FTC jurisdiction that undermines the agency’s ability to remedy deceptive acts committed by the growing range of companies that engage in common-carrier activity as well as non-common-carrier activity," MediaPost reported.

      "If the panel opinion stands, it will greatly limit the government’s ability to police unfair and deceptive practices in fields that Congress has long considered within the FTC’s authority," Blumenthal said, cautioning that the decision could leave the FTC unable to police companies like Google, which owns the internet service provider Fiber.

      The FCC said in another brief that the panel's decision is "at odds with the realities of the marketplace, in which entities that provide communications common carrier services have expanded their lines of business to include non-common-carrier offerings (or vice versa)."

      A group of law professors also sided with the FTC, saying the earlier opinion "creates serious risks for the privacy rights of every American."

      "The panel opinion’s sweeping interpretation would immunize many of the largest information intermediaries in the modern economy -- potentially including companies such as Facebook, Google, and Yahoo -- from almost all meaningful privacy oversight," the law professors say. "This outcome would be disastrous."

      The group Public Knowledge said the case "creates real problems for consumer protection by creating significant concerns about the FTC’s authority in a world where large corporations often engage in multiple lines of business." It said in a statement on its website that the appeals court "would be wise to overturn this unfortunate case."

      AT&T revised its throttling practices last year, now only throttling people who consume more than 22 GB of data in a month and only when the network is congested.

      A U.S. senator and the Federal Communications Commission are joining forces with privacy and consumer advocates to support the Federal Trade Commission in...

      Giant cellphone scheme made fraudulent international calls

      Customer accounts were compromised and used to make high-priced calls

      A Florida man has pleaded guilty to operating a scheme that used consumers' cell phone accounts to make expensive international calls that they were then billed for, even though they did not place the calls.

      Prosecutors said Jose Santana, 53, ran a "call site" in his West Palm Beach house that was used to relay calls from the internet to numbers in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and other high-cost countries, using customer account information that had been fraudulently obtained. 

      The calls were provided at low cost to the internet users while the actual owners of the cellphone accounts got stuck with the bill, according to the plea agreement. 

      Santana admitted that from December 2010 through October 2011, co-conspirators sent him more than 1,000 emails containing telecommunications identifying numbers associated with cell phone account holders around the United States.

      Santana is the second defendant to plead guilty in the case. On Aug. 29, Edwin Fana pleaded guilty to similar charges and is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 22. Santana's sentencing has not yet been scheduled.

      The FBI investigated the case, dubbed Operation Toll Free, which is part of the bureau’s ongoing effort to combat large-scale telecommunications fraud.

      A Florida man has pleaded guilty to operating a scheme that used consumers' cell phone accounts to make expensive international calls that they were then b...

      Pending home sales head higher in September

      Sales are now at their fifth highest level over the past year

      Following a drop of 2.5% in August, pending home sales have climbed to their their fifth highest level over the past year.

      The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports that increases in the South and West helped push its Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI), a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, up 1.5% in September to 110.0.

      The index has now risen year-over-year for 22 of the last 25 months and is up 2.4% from the same time a year ago.

      “Buyer demand is holding up impressively well this fall with Realtors reporting much stronger foot traffic compared to a year ago,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. "Although depressed inventory levels are keeping home prices elevated in most of the country, steady job gains and growing evidence that wages are finally starting to tick up are encouraging more households to consider buying a home."

      Regional breakdown

      • Pending home sales in the West shot up 4.7% last month to 107.3, and is now 4.0% above a year ago.
      • The index in the South rose 1.9% to a reading of 122.1 and stands 1.7% above where it was in September, 2015.
      • The PHSI fell 1.6% to 96.5 in the Northeast, but is still 7.7% the same time last year.
      • In the Midwest the index slipped 0.2% to 104.6 and is now 1.0% below its level in September 2015.

      Jobless claims

      From the Department of Labor (DOL), there's word that first-time applications for state unemployment benefits fell in the week ending October 22 to a seasonally adjusted 258,000.

      That's down 3,000 from the previous week and marks 86 consecutive weeks of initial claims below 300,000 -- the longest streak since 1970.

      The four-week moving average, considered by many economists to be a more accurate barometer of the labor market, inched up by 1,000 to 253,000.

      The complete report is available on the DOL website.

      Following a drop of 2.5% in August, pending home sales have climbed to their their fifth highest level over th...

      Dodge Vipers with airbag issues recalled

      The wires for the driver's front airbag may be pinched.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 14 model year 2016 Dodge Vipers manufactured May 24, 2016, to August 28, 2016 on which the wires for the driver's front airbag may be pinched.

      If the wires are pinched, the airbag may not deploy properly in the event of a crash necessitating airbag deployment, increasing the risk of injury.

      What to do

      Dodge will notify owners, and dealers will replace the driver's front airbag and clockspring, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin on November 18, 2016. Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's recall number for this recall is S75.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 14 model year 2016 Dodge Vipers manufactured May 24, 2016, to August 28, 2016 on which the wires for the driver's front...

      Toyota recalls model year 2016-2017 Prius vehicles with braking issue

      The foot-operated parking brake system that has a parking brake cable that may disengage

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 91,585 model year 2016-2017 Prius vehicles manufactured August 6, 2015, to October 3, 2016.

      The recalled vehicles are equipped with a foot-operated parking brake system that has a parking brake cable that may disengage.

      If the parking brake cable disengages from the mechanism and the transmission is left in a gear other than 'Park' while the ignition is on and the driver leaves the vehicle, the vehicle may roll unexpectedly, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Toyota will notify owners, and dealers will install a clip at the parking brake cable end to prevent the cable from disengaging, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin December 11, 2016.

      Owners may contact Toyota customer service at 1-888-270-9371. Toyota's number for this recall is G01.

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 91,585 model year 2016-2017 Prius vehicles manufactured August 6, 2015, to October 3, 2016.The re...

      Gaiser's European Style Provision recalls chicken and pork bologna products

      The products may contain nonfat dry milk, an allergen not declared on the label

      Gaiser’s European Style Provision Inc., of Union, N.J., is recalling approximately 3,895 pounds of chicken and pork bologna products formulated with meat and poultry products that were not federally inspected.

      Additionally, the products may contain nonfat dry milk, an allergen not declared on the product label.

      There are no confirmed reports of illness or adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

      The following bologna items, produced from October 6, 2016 – 20, 2016, are being recalled:

      • 1-lb. chubb artificial casing containing “Gaiser’s RUSSIAN BRAND PROFESSORSKAYA BOLOGNA” pork bologna with various packaging dates from Oct. 10, 2016 to Oct. 21, 2016.
      • 10-lb. chubb artificial casing containing “Gaiser’s PROFESSORSKAYA” pork bologna with various packaging dates from Oct. 10, 2016 to Oct. 21, 2016.
      • 1-lb. chubb artificial casing containing “NetCost Market PROFESSORSKAYA BRAND BOLOGNA” with various packaging dates from Oct. 10, 2016 to Oct. 21, 2016.
      • 1-lb. chubb artificial casing containing “Gaiser’s CHICKEN BOLOGNA” with various packaging dates from Oct. 10, 2016 to Oct. 21, 2016.
      • 3-lb. chubb artificial casing containing “Gaiser’s CHICKEN BOLOGNA” with various packaging dates from Oct. 10, 2016 to Oct. 21, 2016.
      • 1-lb. chubb artificial casing containing “NetCost Market CHICKEN BOLOGNA” with various packaging dates from Oct. 10, 2016 to Oct. 21, 2016.

      The recalled products, bearing establishment number “EST. 5385 or P-5385” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to retail locations and/or for institutional use in California, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York and Washington.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Igor Denisenko at (908) 686-3421.

      Gaiser’s European Style Provision Inc., of Union, N.J., is recalling approximately 3,895 pounds of chicken and pork bologna products formulated with meat a...

      EpiPen rival resuming sales next year

      The Auvi-Q was recalled because of dosage problems that the company says have been resolved

      Mylan NV’s aggressive pricing of its EpiPen emergency injector has brought Congressional investigations, widespread denunciation from consumer and health advocates, and numerous legal challenges.

      What could be worse? Competition. And that's what drugmaker Kaleo Inc. says it will provide early next year when its Auvi-Q injector returns to the marketplace. The Auvi-Q was recalled last year because of potential malfunctions that could deliver the wrong dose of epinephrine, used to counteract the life-threatening anaphylactic shock that allergy sufferers sometimes encounter. 

      “As the inventors of Auvi-Q, my brother and I have dedicated our lives to researching and developing an innovative epinephrine auto-injector that would do for severe allergy sufferers what the AEDs did for cardiac arrest in the community; namely a product that could assist and guide even an untrained user through a life-threatening emergency,” said Evan Edwards, vice president of Kaleo.

      "Affordable access"

      Kaléo said it is working to "ensure that all patients regardless of insurance coverage, have affordable access to Auvi-Q."

      The EpiPen contains about $1 worth of epinephrine, but it costs $600 or more for a package of two in the United States, a huge increase over the $57 the EpiPen went for in 2007. Epinephrine loses potency over time and the device must be replaced annually.

      The problem, of course, is that $600 is a lot of money for most people. While some insurance plans cover some of the cost, depending on the deductible and other factors, consumers can still wind up paying hundreds of dollars for an EpiPen two-pack.

      Auvi-Q was originally marketed by French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi in 2013 but was pulled from the market in October 2015 because of suspected malfunctions that did not result in any known deaths. Sanofi later ended its partnership with Kaleo, which is now relaunching the product.

      Kaleo said that after regaining the rights to Auvi-Q, it "conducted a thorough manufacturing assessment and invested in new technology and quality systems to ensure accurate, reliable and consistent delivery from the product."

      "Industry-first features"

      The Auvi-Q is similar to the EpiPen, in that both are compact epinephrine auto-injectors. Kaleo says its device has a number of industry-first features, including a voice prompt system that guides a user with step-by-step instructions through the delivery process, and a needle that automatically retracts following administration.

      "AUVI-Q is engineered to help patients and their caregivers to confidently administer epinephrine in life-threatening allergic emergencies," the company said. 

      Kaleo's announcement was well received by allergy organizations which have previously expressed frustration over the EpiPen situation.

      “For the millions affected by life-threatening food allergies, an epinephrine auto-injector serves as a lifeline,” said James R. Baker, Jr., MD, CEO and Chief Medical Officer at Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE). “These lifesaving devices must be accessible and affordable, and Americans should have options when it comes to selecting the right auto-injector for their family.”

      “We are very excited about patients once again having a choice in epinephrine auto-injectors,” said Eleanor Garrow-Holding, President and CEO of the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Connection Team (FAACT). “Those living with life-threatening allergies deserve innovative products and choices that meet their individual needs."

      Kaleo is a closely held company based in Richmond, Va.

      Mylan NV’s aggressive pricing of its EpiPen emergency injector has brought Congressional investigations, widespread denunciation from consumer and health a...

      FanDuel, DraftKings, reach settlement with New York

      Both firms pay the state $6 million over marketing practices

      The long and bitter war between the two major daily fantasy sports (DFS) enterprises and the state of New York has reached a peaceful conclusion.

      New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has reached separate $6 million settlements with both companies, which run games where players can win money based on the performance of actual players on their “fantasy” teams.

      Last fall, as DFS games were reaching their height of popularity, Schneiderman sued both DraftKings and FanDuel, claiming both were in violation of New York's gambling laws. The two companies fought the suits, saying they offered games of skill, not chance.

      In the end, the settlement revolves around Schneiderman's charges that both companies engaged in false and deceptive advertising. The complaint alleged both companies misled novice players about their chances of winning, giving “false and misleading” statistics about the odds.

      During the protracted litigation, Schneiderman secured an injunction preventing both companies from offering games to New York residents. Between March and August, the companies were not allowed to accept money from New Yorkers.

      Terms of the settlement

      In agreeing to terms, both DraftKings and FanDuel agreed to change marketing practices, providing clear disclosure of terms and conditions and information about expected performance.

      “Today’s settlements make it clear that no company has a right to deceive New Yorkers for its own profit,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “DraftKings and FanDuel will now be required to operate with greater transparency and disclosure and to permanently end the misrepresentations they made to millions of consumers. These agreements will help ensure that both companies operate, honestly and lawfully in the future.”

      The issue of whether DFS violates New York's gambling laws went away in August, when New York enacted legislation that specifically says DFS is a legal activity. Most other states have enacted similar laws.

      Fantasy sports began as an informal hobby among sports enthusiasts. These informal “leagues” lasted an entire season, with participants getting points each week based on how their players performed in real games.

      DFS made it a professional enterprise, allowing participants to form different teams daily or weekly, winning money if their “team” won. Critics said there was little difference between that and betting on the outcome of a game.

      The long and bitter war between the two major daily fantasy sports (DFS) enterprises and the state of New York has reached a peaceful conclusion.New Yo...

      Scientists plan to release more mosquitoes in fight against Zika

      Introducing mosquitoes with a counteractive infection should lower mosquito-borne diseases

      You might think having more mosquitoes around would aggravate mosquito-borne viruses like Zika, chikungunya, and dengue fever. However, according to a BBC report, that’s just what scientists plan to do in Brazil and Colombia to fight recent, dangerous outbreaks.

      The $18 million project, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and an international team of donors, will release millions of mosquitoes that are infected with a certain bug called Wolbachia -- a natural bacterium that makes mosquitoes less able to transmit viruses to people.

      While the bug already infects around 60% of mosquitoes worldwide, scientists have modified it over the past decade so that it also affects mosquitoes in the Aedes genus, the group most responsible for spreading diseases like Zika and Dengue.

      The plan is for these infected mosquitoes to be introduced into the greater population and breed with uninfected mosquitoes. The resulting offspring will also carry the bug and will be less able to contract dangerous viruses and pass them along to humans, effectively cutting transmission rates. Wolbachia also uses many of the resources that dengue and Zika need to replicate, so the added competition makes it much harder for the diseases to survive.

      Safe for humans

      The scientists working on the project want to make it clear that they have done extensive research on Wolbachia. Consistent findings show that it does not harm humans.

      “In the communities we have already worked with there have initially been two concerns. One was that the mosquitoes might harm them in some way or that there might be some unintended consequences. It is a testament to our community engagement teams working really closely with communities to answer questions that all the communities we work with are fully supportive,” explained Professor Scott O’Neill from the Eliminate Dengue Program.

      “We explained Wolbachia bugs are present in so many insects worldwide that millions of humans come into contact with them everyday with no problems. And in the six years we have been doing these trials there have been no problems,” he added.

      Affordable, sustainable protection

      The plan has the potential to provide a great deal of protection against dangerous viruses that plague us now.

      “It’s affordable, sustainable, and appears to provide protection against Zika, dengue and a host of other viruses. We are eager to study its impact on how it can help countries,” said Dr. Trevor Mundel of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

      Researchers plan to start trials in large urban areas in Bello, Colombia, parts of Antioquia, and the greater Rio de Janeiro areas. The program will be monitored for three years to see how effective it is at reducing cases of dengue fever, Zika virus, and chikungunya virus.

      You might think having more mosquitoes around would aggravate mosquito-borne viruses like Zika, chikungunya, and dengue fever. However, according to a BBC...

      BarkHappy can help you find friends for your dog

      The app lets pet parents arrange doggy playdates and group meet-ups

      Dogs have long been considered man’s best friend, but sometimes our furry pals may benefit from having some one-on-one playtime with a member of their own species.

      Like humans, dogs are social creatures. They benefit, both mentally and physically, from positive interactions with other dogs. But what if you aren’t sure where to find other dogs for your pup to play with?

      That’s where an app called BarkHappy may be of help. The location-based app, which launched nationally over the summer, aims to help pet parents “discover the dog-friendly world around them.”

      Connects dog owners

      In just a few taps of a smartphone screen, you’ll be able to find nearby dogs and arrange meet-ups. BarkHappy even lets pet owners send out “wags” to other owners to say “Hello” or create a “pack” to organize group events.
      “We’re trying to change what it means to live life with your dog. They don’t have to always stay home anymore. There is a dog-friendly world out there that BarkHappy can help you discover,” said Ninis Samuel, CEO and founder of BarkHappy.

      In addition to helping you track down a four-legged friend for your pup, the app can open your eyes to a world of dog-friendly places and events in your area.

      Map of dog-friendly locations

      Wondering which restaurants will roll out a welcome mat for your favorite companion? Not sure if a certain park allows dogs?
      BarkHappy can let you know with its map of nearby dog-friendly parks, hotels, and restaurants. Pet owners can also see a list of local dog-friendly events and meet-ups.

      The app also includes lost (and found) dog alerts. Owners can see on a map exactly where a particular dog was last seen. BarkHappy will send the dog’s photo and owner’s contact information to all users within a radius of that location.

      The app is available as a free download on iTunes and Google Play.

      Dogs have long been considered man’s best friend, but sometimes our furry pals may benefit from having some one-on-one playtime with a member of their own...

      What parents can do to make Halloween healthier for kids

      Here's what to do with all that candy your child brings home

      Halloween and candy go hand-in-hand, but consuming too many sugary treats can be harmful to kids’ health. So how can parents keep their children from overindulging in sweets this year?

      To start, it’s important to recognize that moderation is key. Allowing kids to have one or two pieces of candy after trick-or-treating is okay, says Karla Shelnutt, a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences nutrition expert.

      But after Halloween, parents should make sure to watch kids’ candy intake. Shelnutt recommends that parents space out the rest of the candy over days or even weeks. In addition, parents may want to explain to their kids why eating too much candy at once isn’t a good thing.

      What else can parents do to limit kids’ sugar and fat intake during the spookiest time of the year? Here are a few tips from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

      Tips for a healthier Halloween

      Shelnutt notes that kids who are between the ages of 6 and 8 need around 1,200 to 1,600 calories per day; just one or two candy bars can provide about 10% of those calories.
      To keep kids healthy and reduce the risk of childhood obesity, parents can make an action plan to help reduce the temptation that may stem from having too much candy around.
      Here’s what parents can do to keep an influx of Halloween candy from impacting kids' health, according to the academy: 
      • Consider not buying candy
      • Don’t open the candy too early
      • Establish limits
      • Portion control
      • Make candy trades by finding things your kids want more and switch out for the candy
      • Don’t leave candy in plain sight
      • Be mindful
      • Donate extra candy

      Alternative treats 

      Parents can also consider buying healthier alternative treats to pass out on Halloween and have around the house during the days and weeks that follow.

      Having several fun, non-candy options around can go a long way towards helping kids stay healthy. Here are a few alternative treats to consider: 

      • Cheddar flavored crackers
      • 100% fruit snacks or leathers
      • Sugar-free gum
      • Animal-shaped crackers
      • Mini rice cereal treat bars 
      • Cereal bars made with real fruit
      • Individual fruit cups
      • Mini 100% fruit juice boxes 
      • Low-fat pudding cups 
      • Pretzels 
      Halloween and candy go hand-in-hand, but consuming too many sugary treats can be harmful to kids’ health. So how can parents keep their children from overi...

      Consumers increasingly vulnerable to the Internet of Things

      But 43% may not have changed the default password on their home router

      Sometime over the last five years or so, things in our everyday lives began connecting to the internet. Suddenly we had smart thermostats, smart refrigerators, and smart watches, among other things.

      While all this connectivity was supposed to make life easier, it has raised definite security concerns. Those concerns were realized in full last Friday when hackers were able to infect tens of millions of smart devices with malware and launch denial of service (DOS) attacks on major websites.

      In a survey conducted before that incident, but released just afterward, consumers expressed concerns about the security of this growing Internet of Things (IoT) but were mostly in the dark about what to do. It showed more than half of consumers have three or more devices, besides computers and smartphones, that connect to the internet through their home routers.

      Haven't changed password

      But consumers only now appear to be coming to grips with the security implications. A survey commissioned by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) found 43% of consumers either haven't changed the default password on their home router or aren't sure if they have or not.

      "The Internet of Things presents tremendous opportunities for managing our health, homes and businesses, but we need to have our eyes wide open about the risks as well," said Michael Kaiser, executive director of National Cyber Security Awareness Month.

      Kaiser says consumers need to think of the IoT as the “internet of me.” Consumers, he says, need to be proactive about learning what information your devices collect, where it's stored, and how it's used.

      “Additionally, it's especially important to pay attention to the security of your mobile device if you are using it to control IoT devices – as well as your router, if you're connecting devices to it," he said.

      Easy to download malware

      Last weeks attack on the internet was not that difficult since many devices that make up the IoT have little or no security protection – at least a lot less than a computer or smartphone operating system. That made it relatively simple for hackers to download malware.

      The problem, unfortunately, may get worse before it gets better. Almost a year ago, Gartner projected that there would be 6.4 billion devices connected to the internet in 2016, up 15% over 2015. Consumer devices, by far, make up the largest portion of devices.

      In the wake of last Friday's attack, NBC News reports security professionals have drawn attention to IoT. It quoted one expert as saying the security framework for many devices making up the IoT is “self-evidently terrible.”

      Unfortunately, consumers are dependent on appliance and smart device manufacturers making their products more secure. In the meantime, a consumer's best defense is using a strong password for network routers.  

      Sometime over the last five years or so, things in our everyday lives began connecting to the internet. Suddenly we had smart thermostats, smart refrigerat...

      Target unveils holiday shopping strategy

      Survey shows growing backlash against Thanksgiving Day openings

      Retailers are trying to get a leg-up on competitors in the holiday shopping sweepstakes, especially as spending continues to migrate to the internet. Many retail analysts believe Amazon is poised to capture a bigger slice of the pie, which may motivate competitors to offer even more enticing deals.

      Target has taken the wraps off its 2016 holiday strategy, saying it plans to offer new and exclusive inventory in every product category, as well as a wide range of bargains.

      “Target is at our very best during the holidays, and we’re building on last year’s winning formula to make the 2016 holiday season even better,” said Target CEO and Chairman Brian Cornell.

      Cornell said the strategy is built around helping consumers save both time and money, both in stores and online.

      “Most importantly, guests will find truly exceptional value through broad and simple offers timed to maximize savings on the most-shopped merchandise at each point in the season,” he said.

      Introducing the Wondershop

      New this year is Wondershop, sort of shop within a shop that specializes in Christmas decorations. The company has also developed Wonderlist, which it says is a tool to find gifts for family and friends.

      For children, Target says it will feature about 1,000 new items from the recently introduced Cat & Jack line, with price tags under $30. There will be more than 1,800 new or exclusive toys, an increase of about 15% over 2015.

      Preparing for a burst in virtual reality popularity, Target says it will feature newly released VR products, including PlayStation VR and VR One Plus.

      Frowning on Thanksgiving openings

      Target is among the major retailers that have not yet announced plans for Thanksgiving Day. While a large number of stores plan to remain closed the day before Black Friday, Target is among the retailers expected to try to get a jump on holiday spending.

      Shopping site BestBlackFriday.com is out with a survey of consumers that shows an overwhelming number prefer stores to close Thanksgiving Day and give employees the holiday off. Its survey shows only 8.18% of consumers “strongly favor” a store being open Thanksgiving Day, while 37.72% “strongly dislike” the idea.

      “The vast majority of the population does not view the practice of stores dragging their employees and shoppers out of their homes on Turkey Day in a positive light,” the authors write.

      Even so, the site suggests plenty of consumers will shop on Thanksgiving, most likely ordering things online rather than going to stores.

      Retailers are trying to get a leg-up on competitors in the holiday shopping sweepstakes, especially as spending continues to migrate to the internet. Many...

      Don't get tricked by zombie debt

      There are ways to deal with debt that has come back to life

      Calls from debt collectors are always unpleasant. But when the calls are trying to collect so-called “zombie debt,” they can be downright scary.

      "As the name suggests, zombie debt is debt that you thought was dead, but has come back to life," said Katie Bossler, a GreenPath financial wellness expert.

      To be more precise, zombie debt is money you really don't owe. It may be that you have already paid the debt, but it didn't get recorded. It may be the debt is so old it has passed the statute of limitations and can't be legally collected. Or it could be that the debt never belonged to you, and it's a case of mistaken identity.

      Law gives you rights

      Sadly, the debt collectors who are trying to collect the money are unlikely to be sympathetic to your protests that you don't owe the money. In fairness to them, they've heard it all before. But the law requires them to respect your rights and, if they fail to do so, they can be held accountable. To do that, you need to know your rights.

      Consumer rights in this area are spelled out under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. If you are contacted about a debt you think you do not owe, the law allows you to demand to see written verification of the debt. The debt collector must send that to you within five days after first contacting you.

      This validation notice must include the name of the creditor and instructions on how to proceed if you don't believe you owe the debt.

      If you send the debt collector a letter saying you don’t owe the debt, the collector must stop contacting you. You have to send that letter within 30 days after you receive the validation notice. The only way a collector can legally begin contacting you again is by sending you written verification of the debt, like a copy of a bill for the amount you owe.

      What to do

      If you are contacted about what you think could be zombie debt, consult your records to see if you can prove it has been paid. Pull your credit report to see if it is still being reported to the credit bureaus.

      Demand to see written proof that you owe the debt. If you need a guide for writing the letter to the debt collector, use these samples from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. If it's a real debt but you think it is past the statute of limitations, consult a lawyer or legal aid society on how to respond.

      Even during the Halloween season, there is no reason to be spooked by zombie debt.

      Calls from debt collectors are always unpleasant. But when the calls are trying to collect so-called “zombie debt,” they can be downright scary."As the...

      A September bounce-back for sales of new homes

      Prices of all homes continued climbing

      New home sales have rebounded from the sharp decline they posted in August.

      Figures released by the Commerce Department show sales jumped 3.1% in September to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 593,000. The increase also puts sales 29.8% above the rate of 457,000 chalked up a year earlier.

      Pricing and inventory

      The median sales price -- the point at which half cost more and half less -- was $313,500, up $19,700 from August and $5,900 from September 2015. The average sales price was $377,700, a gain of $21,500 from the previous month and $9,900 year-over-year.

      The seasonally adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of September was 235,000, which translates to a supply of 4.8 months at the current sales rate.

      The full report is available on the Commerce Department website.

      Home prices

      From the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), word that home prices were on the rise in August.

      According to the agency, its House Price Index (HPI) was up 0.7% following an advance of 0.5% in July. On a year-ovcr-year basis, prices were up 6.4%.

      For the nine census divisions, seasonally adjusted monthly price changes from July 2016 to August 2016 ranged from no change in the West North Central division to +1.2% in the New England division.

      The 12-month changes were all positive, ranging from +3.3% in the Middle Atlantic division to +7.9% in the Pacific division.

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

      The complete report may be found on the FHFA website.

      New home sales have rebounded from the sharp decline they posted in August.Figures released by the Commerce Department s...

      Mortgage applications on the decline following slight uptick

      Contract interest rates were mixed

      Following a move -- albeit small -- to higher ground the previous week, mortgage applications posted a decline of 4.1% in the week ending October 21.

      The Mortgage Bankers Association also reports the Refinance Index dropped 2% from the previous week, although the refinance share of mortgage activity increased to 62.7% of total applications from 61.5% a week earlier.

      The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity came in at 4.2% of total applications, the FHA share inched down to 11.1% from 11.3% the week prior, the VA share was 12.2%, and the USDA share of total applications was unchanged at 0.7%.

      Contract interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) dipped two basis points -- from 3.73% to 3.71% -- with points increasing to 0.37 from 0.36 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) slipped to 3.71% from 3.72%, with points increasing to 0.35 from 0.29 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate remained unchanged from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA rose two basis points to 3.56%, with points decreasing to 0.28 from 0.30 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs went down to 3.01% from 3.03%, with points increasing to 0.28 from 0.27 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs dropped four basis points to 2.93%, with points decreasing to 0.32 from 0.41 (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.

      Following a move -- albeit small -- to higher ground the previous week, mortgage applications posted a decline of 4.1% in the week ending October 21.Th...

      2017 tax benefits -- some increase, some don't

      Standard deductions will be going up

      We haven't even filed our income tax returns for 2016 and, already, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is telling us what we can look forward to in 2017.

      In the coming year, IRS says, there will be inflation adjustments for more than 50 tax provisions, including the tax rate schedules. These adjustments are for use on tax returns filed in 2018.

      Those of greatest interest to most taxpayers include the following:

      • The standard deduction for married filing jointly rises by $100 -- to $12,700. For single taxpayers and married individuals filing separately, the standard deduction rises to $6,350 in 2017, up $50 from 2016. For heads of households, the standard deduction will be $9,350 for tax year 2017, also up $50.
      • The personal exemption for tax year 2017 is holding steady at $4,050. However, the exemption is subject to a phase-out that begins with adjusted gross incomes of $261,500 ($313,800 for married couples filing jointly). It phases out completely at $384,000 ($436,300 for married couples filing jointly.)
      • For the 2017 tax year, the 39.6% tax rate affects single taxpayers whose income exceeds $418,400 ($470,700 for married taxpayers filing jointly), versus $415,050 and $466,950, respectively. The other marginal rates – 10, 15, 25, 28, 33 and 35% – and the related income tax thresholds for tax year 2017 are described in the revenue procedure.
      • The limitation for itemized deductions to be claimed on returns of individuals begins with incomes of $287,650 or more ($313,800 for married couples filing jointly).
      • The Alternative Minimum Tax exemption amount for tax year 2017 is $54,300 and begins to phase out at $120,700 ($84,500, for married couples filing jointly for whom the exemption begins to phase out at $160,900). The 2016 exemption amount was $53,900 ($83,800 for married couples filing jointly). For tax year 2017, the 28% tax rate applies to taxpayers with taxable incomes above $187,800 ($93,900 for married individuals filing separately).
      • The maximum Earned Income Credit amount in the 2017 tax year is is $6,318 for taxpayers filing jointly who have 3 or more qualifying children; the total was $6,269 for tax year 2016. The revenue procedure has a table providing maximum credit amounts for other categories, income thresholds, and phase-outs.
      • For tax year 2017, the monthly limitation for the qualified transportation fringe benefit is $255, as is the monthly limitation for qualified parking,
      • For calendar year 2017, the dollar amount used to determine the penalty for not maintaining minimum essential health coverage is $695.
      • For participants who have self-only coverage in a Medical Savings Account in the year ahead, the plan must have an annual deductible that is not less than $2,250 but not more than $3,350 -- the same as 2016. For self-only coverage, the maximum out of pocket expense amount is $4,500, up $50. The floor for the annual deductible for participants with family coverage is $4,500, $50 more than in 2016; however, the deductible cannot be more than $6,750, up $50 from the limit for tax year 2016. For family coverage, the out of pocket expense limit is $8,250 for tax year 2017, an increase of $100 from tax year 2016.
      • For tax year 2017, the adjusted gross income amount used by joint filers to determine the reduction in the Lifetime Learning Credit is $112,000, versus $111,000 for tax year 2016.
      • The foreign earned income exclusion is $102,100, up $800 from tax year 2016.
      • Estates of those who die during 2017 have a basic exclusion amount of $5,490,000, $40,000 more than in 2016.
      We haven't even filed our income tax returns for 2016 and, already, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is telling us what we can look forward to in 2017....

      Airline ticket costs decline

      But the add-ons keep mounting

      Consumers traveling by air this past spring saw the amount they paid for a ticket go down.

      The Transportation Department's Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) reports the average domestic air fare dropped to $353 in the second quarter down 9.6% from $390 at the same time a year ago, adjusted for inflation.

      The second-quarter 2016 fare was down 26.2% from the average fare of $478 in 1999 -- the highest inflation-adjusted second quarter average fare in 21 years since BTS began collecting air fare records in 1995.

      Nickle-and diming you

      In recent years, the amount of additional revenue obtained from fees charged to passengers as well as from other sources has increased. U.S. passenger airlines collected just 74.3% of their total revenue from passenger fares during the second quarter of 2016, compared with 87.6% in 1995.

      Fares include only the price paid at the time of the ticket purchase and do not include fees for optional services, such as baggage fees, and do not include frequent-flyer or “zero fares.”

      BTS reports average fares based on domestic itinerary fares. Itinerary fares consist of round-trip fares, unless the customer does not purchase a return trip. In that case, the one-way fare is included.

      The complete report is available on the BTS website.

      Consumers traveling by air this past spring saw the amount they paid for a ticket go down.The Transportation Department's Bureau of Transportation Stat...

      Fiddle Diddles recalls car seat strap systems

      Small internal parts can pose a choking hazard to young children

      Fiddle Diddles of Maple Grove, Minn., is recalling about 250 LullaBelay car seat strap systems.

      The carabiners attached to the strap system contain small internal parts that can become dislodged, posing a choking hazard to young children.

      No incidents or injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves Fiddle Diddles LullaBelay adjustable car seat strap system with model number LB1001. The strap system includes two fabric straps, carabiner hardware, a mesh car seat cover and a tote bag. The carabiners are used to hang a car seat from a shopping cart.

      The model number is printed on the gray straps. “Fiddle Diddles” is printed on a fabric label attached to the mesh car seat cover, tote bag and fabric straps.

      The strap system, manufactured in China, was sold online at Amazon.com from November 2015, through June 2016, Fiddlediddles.com from May 2015, through June 2015, and at Zoolikins stores in Arizona from November 2015, through June 2016, for about $40.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the LullaBelay strap system and contact Fiddle Diddles for a free repair kit with three new carabiners. The firm is contacting all known purchasers directly.

      Consumers may contact Fiddle Diddles toll-free at 888-741-2957 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday, by email at info@fiddlediddles.com or online at www.fiddlediddles.com and click on “Product Recall” at the bottom of the page for more information.

      Fiddle Diddles of Maple Grove, Minn., is recalling about 250 LullaBelay car seat strap systems.The carabiners attached to the strap system contain smal...

      Crider recalls canned organic roasted chicken breast

      The product may be contaminated with foreign materials

      Crider Inc., of Stillmore, Ga., is recalling approximately 5,610 pounds of canned organic roasted chicken breast that may be contaminated with foreign materials.

      The company has received a report of a potential injury associated with consumption of this product.

      The following Wild Planet Organic Roasted Chicken Breast, produced on January 16, 2016, is being recalled:

      • 1,496 cases of 5 ounce cans of “Wild Planet Organic Roasted Chicken Breast – 100% Chicken Breast & Sea Salt – No Liquids Added” with a Best Buy Date of 01/16/18

      The recalled item, bearing establishment number “EST. 31812” inside the USDA mark of inspection, was shipped to multiple distributors for further distribution.

      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 Judy Tridico at (912) 562-9162

      Crider Inc., of Stillmore, Ga., is recalling approximately 5,610 pounds of canned organic roasted chicken breast that may be contaminated with foreign mate...

      Court approves $15 billion VW diesel settlement

      The approval closes another chapter in the 'clean diesel' scandal that shook confidence in automakers

      A federal court judge today approved the $15 billion settlement between Volkswagen and consumers who owned or leased a Volkswagen or Audi 2.0-liter TDI "clean diesel" car. It's the largest consumer class action settlement in U.S. history.

      In most cases the owners of VW and Audi diesel cars fitted with illegal emissions defeat devices will receive between $12,500 and $44,000 each, depending on the model, year, mileage, and trim of the car, as well as where the owner lives.

      The Federal Trade Commission today issued a new consumer blog post, VW Buybacks and Lease Terminations to Begin, which provides background information on the settlement order, along with detailed instructions for affected owners regarding how and where to file a claim, and the claim-processing timetable. It also tells consumers how and where they can pick up their buyback check, specifying that the checks do not have to be used to buy a new Volkswagen.

      “The settlement in its current form is fair, adequate, and reasonable and is in the best interest of Class Members. Benefits under the Settlement shall immediately be made available to Class Members,” Judge Charles R. Breyer said.

      The settlement offers eligible VW owners and lessees the option of a buyback, to have their car fixed, or the option to wait and see what each owner believes is best for their situation.

      Starting today, Volkswagen will begin processing claims so that consumers can participate in the settlement program and receive compensation. The compensation is free of attorneys’ fees and taxes and also takes into account insurance paid for the affected vehicles.

      Buybacks and lease terminations should begin in November. It's not yet known when or if federal and state agencies will approve a modification that brings the cars into compliance with emission standards. The settlement provides that if a modification is not approved by the court and environmental agencies after 12 months, VW must buy back the vehicles. 

      Consumer options

      “This settlement is all about giving the consumer options while ensuring Volkswagen does its part to remedy its harm to the environment as well as fairly compensate those impacted,” said Joe Rice, a South Carolina attorney who was one of the lawyers negotiating the settlement. “Speed was critical in developing these options. ... The faster we are able to help consumers get the assistance they need, the better job we have done on their behalf."

      A resolution must still be reached for consumers who bought or leased a 3.0-liter diesel-powered VW, Audi, or Porsche. 

      The total settlement is $14.7 billion dollars, with $10 billion allocated for consumers and $4.7 billion for environmental restitution.

      More action needed

      While applauding the settlement, some critics said more needs to be done.

      “It is great news that VW diesel owners can now be reimbursed, and that Volkswagen must begin to repair the environmental damage their emissions deception caused," said Center for Auto Safety staff attorney Michael Brooks but he said criminal charges are needed to get industry's attention.

      "Automakers will not change their illegal behavior unless the government pursues significant criminal penalties against executives who take or condone such actions.  We look forward to news of federal criminal charges against the VW executives who participated in this fraud on the American public,” Brooks said.

      Safe Climate Campaign Director Dan Becker said the government "did a good job preventing further harm from VW’s diesel fraud."

      "Most heavily polluting diesels will be removed from the road and cannot be resold unless fixed. Other automakers must learn from this scandal that they dare not disable pollution controls, lie to the government or fleece consumers. Those lessons will be reinforced when the government brings criminal charges against VW officals who perpetrated this fraud,” Becker said.

      A federal court judge today approved the $15 billion settlement between Volkswagen and consumers who owned or leased a Volkswagen or Audi 2.0-liter TDI "cl...

      Obamacare policies increasing by an average of 25% in 2017

      But government says taxpayers will pick up much of that

      If you have healthcare coverage obtained from a healthcare exchange under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), chances are your policy won't be so affordable next year.

      A report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) shows the premiums for the average benchmark policy sold on the Healthcare.gov exchanges will go up 25% in 2017. But the report also notes that policy holders who receive government subsidies won't pay all of that – the taxpayers will.

      Consumers with ACA policies who do not qualify for a subsidy will have to shoulder the entire increase.

      Much higher in some states

      Of course, 25% is just the average. As we reported earlier this month, policyholders in Minnesota, which operates a state exchange, face much steeper increases in premiums. Minnesota Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman, in reporting the average premium would surge as much as 67%, said such increases are not sustainable.

      Nationwide, the HHS report says the average benchmark premium is rising from $242 to $302. The government says insurers have adjusted premiums after analyzing two years of data.

      As for the insurers, many have said they are losing money under the system, in part because several key assumptions haven't been met. For example, the health care law requires all consumers to purchase health insurance or pay a fine. But many young, healthy people have chosen to pay the fine. Most of those signing up for insurance have been older and in poorer health, requiring more expensive health care.

      Cost to consumers still fairly low

      Despite the premium increases, the government says the cost consumers actually pay, after receiving a government subsidy, remains fairly low.

      “Thanks to financial assistance, most Marketplace consumers this year will find plan options with premiums between $50 and $100 per month,” said HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell. “Millions of uninsured Americans qualify for financial assistance, and so could as many as 2.5 million Americans currently paying full price for off-Marketplace coverage.”

      HHS says 85% of consumers with ACA Marketplace health care policies receive tax credits that pay a portion of the monthly premium. Those tax credits, however, add to government red ink.

      At the same time, consumers with an ACA policy, may have to make changes during the current open enrollment period, as major insurers have either reduced the number of policies offered or withdrawn from the marketplace altogether.  

      If you have healthcare coverage obtained from a healthcare exchange under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), chances are your policy won't be so affordable nex...

      PBS Kids' new tablet lets parents set screen time limits

      The Playtime Pad will come preloaded with educational media and parental controls

      As part of its new guidelines for children’s media use, the AAP recently recommended that parents of young children limit screen time to one hour per day. In addition, the group recommended that programming be of a high-quality and educational nature.

      Parents looking to adhere to these guidelines may be interested learning about PBS Kids’ new Playtime Pad. The $80 tablet for kids, produced by Ematic, lets parents set time limits on use and manage what kids can play.

      The durable device -- which is slated to make its debut November 6 at Best Buy, Walmart.com, and Shop.pbskids.org -- will come preloaded with several dozen games, more than 120 video clips, music videos, and 100 hours of video via the PBS Kids Video App.

      Educational content

      The media-packed, blue and green gadget is intended for kids ages 2 through 8. PBS hopes children will be engaged with the media on the tablet, rather than taking it in mindlessly and in large doses.

      In a statement, Lesli Rotenberg, senior vice president and general manager of PBS’ children’s media operations, said the Playtime Pad pairs with PBS’ mission to help kids reach their potential.

      “We know that families lead busy, on-the-go lives, so we are excited to offer our high-quality, innovative content on an affordable tablet that helps kids learn and explore with their favorite PBS Kids characters, whenever and wherever,” she said.

      Other features

      The 16-GB device will also include a front-and-back camera, coloring app, and the PBS Kids Scratch Jr. app, which aims to help kids learn coding concepts.

      For parents, there is a parental control app through which screen time limits can be set. Parents can also control what kids are allowed to access. A separate app lets parents see how their kids are progressing.  
      If parents want to download other games or apps for their kids, they can do so on the Google Play store. 
      As part of its new guidelines for children’s media use, the AAP recently recommended that parents of young children limit screen time to one hour per day....

      Airbnb sues New York after the passing of anti-sublet legislation

      The state will not enforce its new law until after the suit has been resolved

      It seems that New York has reached a decision regarding its enforcement of short-term rental laws. This past Friday, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that makes it possible for regulators to fine consumers $7,500 if they violate a previous law that forbids rentals of less than 30 days on apartments if the owner or tenant isn’t present.

      The law is intended to crack down on apartment owners who rent out their apartments on services like Airbnb instead of using them for long-term rentals; being able to charge at a nightly rate is much more lucrative than setting up a long-term living arrangement, after all. 

      However, immediately after the bill was signed, Airbnb sued New York, claiming that the new law “would impose significant immediate burdens and irreparable harm” to the company. Further, it says the law violates Airbnb’s right of free speech and the protection it’s guaranteed under the Communications Decency Act – a provision that protects websites from being held responsible for anything published by its users.

      Law won't be enforced right away

      Josh Meltzer, head of Airbnb’s public policy in New York, has voiced his disgust at the passing of the new legislation, indicating that lobbying from New York’s hotel industry had a heavy hand in the decision.

      “In typical fashion, Albany backroom dealing rewarded a special interest – the price-gouging hotel industry – and ignored the voices of tens of thousands of New Yorkers,” he said.

      On Monday afternoon, the state agreed that it would not enforce the law until Airbnb’s suit was resolved, but the potential loss of the New York City market could be a big blow to the company. As of this past August, New York City accounted for 45,000 Airbnb listings, while the rest of the state combined accounted for only 13,000 listings.

      It seems that New York has reached a decision regarding its enforcement of short-term rental laws. This past Friday, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill th...

      Honda preparing launch of fuel cell model

      The Honda Clarity will debut in California in the next few weeks

      Lately, the automotive world has been focused on self-driving technology. But automakers are also developing ways to make vehicles more fuel efficient, regardless of whether someone is behind the wheel.

      Honda says its new Clarity fuel-powered sedan, set for release before the end of this year in California, has achieved a 366-mile rating in Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tests. Honda says that translates into a 68 miles per gallon (MPG) rating.

      Honda vice-president Steve Center says this achievement should not be minimized.

      "Not only does the Clarity Fuel Cell fit five passengers and refuel in three to five minutes, it offers customers a driving range on par with gasoline-powered cars," Center said. "The Clarity leads the pack with a 366 mile driving range rating, and with a growing network of hydrogen stations and fast fueling time, the zero-emissions family road trip is no longer science fiction."

      Zero emissions

      Environmentalists and government policymakers tasked with reducing pollution from vehicles have been increasingly enthusiastic about hydrogen fuel cell technology. According to the state of California, these engines produce zero emissions since they produce electricity to power the vehicle.

      Where a hybrid uses a gasoline-powered engine to recharge a battery and a purely electric vehicle is powered by a battery that is plugged into an electric outlet for recharging, the fuel cell uses hydrogen to power the battery.

      “A hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle is powered by a group of individual fuel cells, known as a fuel cell stack,” DriveClean.gov, a California state website, explains. “The stack is designed to contain enough cells to provide the necessary power for the automotive application. A fuel cell stack produces power as long as fuel is available, similar to a combustion engine. The electricity generated by the fuel cell stack powers the electric motor that propels the vehicle.”

      Honda says it will roll out the five-passenger, hydrogen-powered Clarity Fuel Cell sedan by the end of this year. It will start by making them available for retail lease at 12 approved fuel cell vehicle dealerships in certain California markets. The network covers six dealerships in Southern California, five in the Bay Area, and one in Sacramento. Honda said it will expand its dealer network as more hydrogen fueling stations become available.  

      Lately, the automotive world has been focused on self-driving technology. But automakers are also developing ways to make vehicles more fuel efficient, reg...

      AT&T: most cyber attacks use old weapons

      Report says businesses need to do better job of using existing cyber defenses

      The denial of service attack that last week briefly blocked access to major web sites was amazingly simple. Hackers used malware to infect millions of internet-connected devices, then ordered them all to access Amazon and other sites at the same time.

      A new report from AT&T suggests that attack may have been typical of the kinds of threats businesses are facing. Most of today's cyber-attacks, the report claims, are “known threats.” In other words, protections and protocols should be in place to mitigate them. In many cases, however, they aren't.

      Because these attacks are not that complicated, the report warns that anyone from a nation state to a student is capable of bringing down an organization's network, or as we saw last Friday, of tying up a big chunk of the internet.

      The AT&T study shows that 90% of companies reported a malware attack in the last year, where infected software infiltrated their network. Also, in the last year, 73% of companies reported at least one distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack.

      Perhaps of greatest concern was that there was a 700% increase in ransomware attacks, where a hacker encrypted a company or organization's files and would not release them until a ransom was paid.

      Even when an organization has adequate security procedures, an employee who makes a mistake – clicking on a bad link, for example -- can cause a dangerous breach.

      The enemy we know

      "The daunting depiction of newly discovered security threats often gets attention from media and business leaders alike. But in fact, most attackers are targeting businesses using forms of attacks we already know about and can help defend against," said Mo Katibeh, senior vice president of Advanced Solutions, AT&T.

      That makes it important, he says, for businesses to remain on guard and constantly improve and update core security protections.

      Instead of being focused on what new threats might be emerging, the AT&T report suggests organizations should build their security around the threats that are known, since those are the ones they are most likely to encounter.

      In addition to keeping systems updated, the authors stress the importance of the human factor. They say employees should receive extensive training in how to avoid security breaches as part of a security culture within an organization.

      The denial of service attack that last week briefly blocked access to major web sites was amazingly simple. Hackers used malware to infect millions of inte...

      Consumer confidence down for first time in three months

      The short-term outlook softened a bit

      After posting gains in each of the previous two months, consumer confidence in the economy took a negative turn in October.

      The Conference Board reports its Consumer Confidence Index slipped 4.9 points in October -- to 98.6, with the Present Situation Index dropping from 127.9 to 120.6 and the Expectations Index falling to 83.9 from 82.7 the month before

      “Consumers’ assessment of current business and employment conditions softened, said Lynn Franco, director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board. “while optimism regarding the short-term outlook retreated somewhat.

      However she notes that consumers’ expectations regarding their income prospects in the coming months were relatively unchanged. “Overall, sentiment is that the economy will continue to expand in the near-term, but at a moderate pace,” she concluded

      The view from consumers

      Appraisal of current conditions softened this month, with those who said business conditions are “good” dipping from 27.7% to 26.2% and those who think they're “bad” rising from 15.8% to 17.7%.

      Consumers’ assessment of the labor market was also less positive than last month. Those who see jobs as “plentiful” dropped to 24.3% from 27.6%; however, those who think jobs are “hard to get” slipped from 22.3% to 22.1%.

      There was less optimism regarding the short-term outlook in October. The percentage of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months declined to 16.0% from 17.0%, while those expecting business conditions to worsen increased from 10.8% to 12.2%.

      Regarding the labor market, the proportion of consumers expecting more jobs in the months ahead fell from 15.7% to 13.1%. At the same time, though, those anticipating fewer jobs declined from 18.1% to 17.0%.

      The percentage of consumers expecting their incomes to increase was unchanged at 17.5%, while the proportion expecting a decline dropped to 9.8% from 10.4%.

      The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey, based on a probability-design random sample, is conducted by Nielsen, a provider of information and analytics around what consumers buy and watch. The cut-off date for the preliminary results was October 13.

      After posting gains in each of the previous two months, consumer confidence in the economy took a negative turn in October.The Conference Board reports...

      Home prices continue to climb

      Portland, Seattle, and Denver led the way

      Home prices continued their gains in August on both an annual and month-to-month basis.

      According to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Indices, the National Home Price Index, which covers all nine U.S. census divisions, was up 5.3% from the same time a year ago.

      The 10-City Composite showed a 4.3% annual gain, while the 20-City Composite reported a year-over-year advance of 5.1%.

      Portland, Seattle, and Denver reported the highest year-over-year increases among the 20 cities over each of the last seven months. Portland posted an 11.7% year-over-year price increase, followed by Seattle at 11.4%, and Denver with an 8.8% increase.

      Ten cities reported greater price increases in the year ending August 2016 than in the year ending July 2016.

      Month-over-month

      Before seasonal adjustment, the National Index was up 0.5% on a a month-over-month basis, with both the 10- and 20-City Composites posting a 0.4% increase.

      The National Index recorded an advance of 0.6% after seasonal adjustment, while both the 10-City Composite and the 20-City Composite reported 0.2% month-over-month increases.

      After seasonal adjustment, 14 cities saw prices rise, two cities were unchanged, and four cities posted declines.

      This isn't the only encouraging housing news. David M. Blitzer, managing director and chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices notes that, “Other housing data including sales of existing single family homes, measures of housing affordability, and permits for new construction also point to a reasonably healthy housing market.”

      Home prices continued their gains in August on both an annual and month-to-month basis.According to the S&P; CoreLogic Case-Shiller Indices, the Nation...

      Most pickup trucks in the dark when it comes to headlight ratings

      Seven of eight vehicles tested got poor ratings

      When it comes to throwing sufficient light on the subject, most pickup trucks don't get the job done.

      According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), all four small late-model pickups and three out of seven large vehicles that were evaluated got poor ratings.

      In fact, only one large pickup -- the Honda Ridgeline -- is available with good-rated headlights, though all but the most expensive trim levels come with poor ones.

      Pickups are the third vehicle category to be put through the IIHS headlight evaluations. Midsize cars were the first, followed by small SUVs.

      "These latest ratings follow the same disappointing pattern as the other groups," says Matthew Brumbelow, an IIHS senior research engineer. "As vehicle safety has improved in recent years, this important equipment has been overlooked."

      How they are tested

      In the IIHS evaluations, engineers measure how far light is projected from a vehicle's low beams and high beams as the vehicle travels straight and on curves. Glare from low beams for oncoming drivers also is measured.

      There are 23 possible headlight combinations for the 11 trucks evaluated. Fourteen of them have excessive glare, contributing to their poor ratings. A vehicle cannot earn a rating better than marginal if it produces too much glare in any of the five test scenarios.

      How'd we do?

      A bright spot in the ratings is the headlight system on the Ridgeline's RTL-E and Black Edition trims. The LED projector low beams provide fair to good visibility on most approaches, with inadequate visibility only on the gradual left curve.

      High-beam assist, a feature that automatically switches on high beams if no other vehicles are present, makes up for some of the deficiencies of the low beams.

      The GMC Sierra has acceptable-rated headlights available on certain trims. Other versions earn a marginal or poor rating.

      The two kinds of headlights available on the Nissan Titan both earn a marginal rating. The Ram 1500 has marginal headlights on certain trim levels, while others have poor ones.

      The Ford F-150, the centerpiece of the best-selling F-Series line, is among the poorest performers. Both the base halogen and the optional LED low beams provide inadequate visibility in all test scenarios, including both sides of the straightaway, on sharp curves in both directions and on gradual curves in both directions.

      The headlights with the worst visibility are on the Chevrolet Colorado. The halogen reflector low beams on the pickup's base trim illuminate to only 123 feet on the right side of the straightaway. In contrast, the Ridgeline LED low beams illuminate to 358 feet.

      IIHS is incorporating headlights into the criteria for its highest award, TOP SAFETY PICK+. To qualify for the 2017 award, vehicles will need good or acceptable headlights.

      When it comes to throwing sufficient light on the subject, most pickup trucks don't get the job done. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway S...

      Media Megadeal: AT&T buying Time Warner for $85 billion

      The biggest media consolidation yet redraws the landscape

      It started when Comcast bought NBCUniversal for $30 billion. Then Verizon snapped up AOL and Yahoo. Now the consolidation of media content and distribution has perhaps climaxed with AT&T's $85.4 billion deal to buy Time Warner, the corporate parent of HBO, CNN, and other media treasures.

      The sweeping roll-ups are basically a hedge against a future in which fast-growing rogue players like Netflex, Amazon, or Facebook might be a consumer's first choice for information and entertainment.  

      The immediate effect on consumers isn't likely to be noticeable, but, assuming the deal is approved by antitrust regulators, it should make it easier for consumers to get access to the content they want without having to pay hefty cable television fees.

      Of course, the downside of consolidation is that it puts more power in fewer hands, often stifling innovation and raising prices over the long term. Those concerns are certain to be studied by the Federal Trade Commission and U.S. Justice Department as they review the anti-trust aspects of the transaction.

      Trump says no

      Among the announced opponents of the deal is none other than GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, who told a crowd in Gettysburg, Pa., that if he wins the election, his administration will block it, CNBC reported.

      While Verizon's purchase of AOL and its still-pending takeover of Yahoo got lukewarm receptions, the Time Warner acquisition is generally seen as a winner for AT&T. The boards of both companies unanimously approved the deal over the weekend and executives at both firms say it is a natural fit. 

      "It's the revolution of both of our businesses," Time Warner chief executive Jeff Bewkes told reporters after the deal was announced. "Whether its the movies, television series, or an original show, we want our audiences to access them whereever they are, whenever they want to. We think AT&T gives us tremendous access to do that."

      "Time Warner, we believe, is the clear leader in premium content," said Randall L. Stephenson, AT&T's CEO. Besides HBO and CNN, Time Warner's table includes Warner Bros., TNT, TBS, and Turner Sports. It earlier spun off many of the older Time Inc. print titles as well as AOL.

      Besides its vast cellular network, AT&T provides cable service and also operates satellite provider DirecTV. It has announced plans for a streaming version of DirecTV. Time Warner's cable operations were recently taken over by Charter Communications. 

      It started when Comcast bought NBCUniversal for $30 billion. Then Verizon snapped up AOL and Yahoo. Now the consolidation of media content and distribution...

      Proposed AT&T-Time Warner merger likely to face strong opposition

      Public interest, political sectors grow increasingly skeptical of these deals

      Consolidation continues in the media and communications industries, but the latest proposed deal is getting some strong push-back.

      Over the weekend, AT&T confirmed that it wants to buy Time Warner for more than $85 billion. It comes on the heels of Verizon's deal to buy Yahoo and AT&T's own purchase of DirecTV in 2015.

      But Yahoo Finance reports the deal may have a tough time getting a green light from government regulators. It quotes analysts as saying both the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Justice are likely to put the deal under a microscope to determine how it will affect consumers.

      Matt Wood, policy director at Free Press, says these kinds of deals are almost always better for the combined businesses than for their customers.

      Time to grab your wallet

      "Any time you hear media executives talking about synergies, throwing around the business-babble that always accompanies these rumors, you know it’s time to grab your wallet and hang on tight,” Wood said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “Big mergers like this inevitably mean higher prices for real people, to pay down the money borrowed to finance these deals and compensate top executives.”

      Wall Street, of course, was quick to celebrate the proposed deal, because reducing competition and combining resources is usually good for the bottom line. But Wood says the evidence is clear that it doesn't help consumers. He says AT&T's acquisition of DirecTV was followed by price hikes.

      "It’s a good thing there’s a renewed interest among lawmakers and antitrust enforcers in addressing this merger-mania,” Wood said. “It’s also a good thing we have solid Net Neutrality rules on the books — even though companies like AT&T continue to test those rules in the market, threaten them in Congress, and challenge them in the courts.”

      Bipartisan opposition

      Opposition to the proposed deal also surfaced on the presidential campaign trail. Speaking in Pennsylvania, GOP Presidential nominee Donald Trump denounced the deal in unusually harsh terms, saying “deals like this destroy democracy.” If elected, Trump said his Justice Department would move to quash the merger.

      On the other side of the aisle, Senator Al Franken (D-MN) took to Facebook over the weekend to express his reservations.

      “I'm skeptical of huge media mergers because they can lead to higher costs, fewer choices, and even worse service for consumers,” Franken wrote in a post. “And regulators often agree, like when Comcast unsuccessfully tried to buy Time Warner Cable, a deal that I fiercely opposed.”

      In the coming days, Franken said he will press for further details about the proposed deal and how consumers would be affected.

      Consolidation continues in the media and communications industries, but the latest proposed deal is getting some strong push-back.Over the weekend, AT&...

      Airbnb plans rule changes in anticipation of coming New York legislation

      The company hopes to stop renters from taking advantage of the system

      Last week, we reported on how a new bill making its way through the New York legislature could impose strict fines on consumers who violate the state’s rental laws. If passed, this could create a big problem for Airbnb, a company that relies on offering short-term rentals from users to make its money.

      It is already illegal in New York to rent an apartment or living space for less than 30 days if the owner or tenant of a property isn’t present, and proponents of the bill say that services like Airbnb hurt hotels and take apartments off the long-term rental market because owners are more willing to rent them out on a nightly basis for more money.

      However, the new changes that Airbnb is suggesting for New York would limit hosts to having one rental listing at a time, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal. The company has also vowed to kick users from the service if they violate the rule three times.

      Additionally, Airbnb has stated that it will be seeking authority from the state to collect and remit taxes from hosts, as well as require additional registration, so that regulators can more easily crack down on illegal activity and keep permanent housing at a safe level.

      Placative measures

      Airbnb’s proposal can be seen mostly as a placative measure to change lawmakers’ minds about the state’s proposed bill. It is currently awaiting the signature of Governor Andrew Cuomo, but if it is passed into law then consumers may face fines of up to $7,500 if they advertise illegal rentals. It would be a big deterrent for hosts who use Airbnb to make a little money when they’re out of town.

      Airbnb has come out against the bill, saying that it leaves consumers in a touch financial spot by cutting off a potential source of revenue.

      “It’s baffling to us in this time of economic inequality that folks would be looking to impose fines of as much as $7,500 on a middle-class person looking to use the home that they live in to help make ends meet,” said Airbnb head of global policy Chris Lehane.

      Whether the company’s changes will be enough should be decided by the end of the month. Gov. Cuomo has until October 29 to sign or veto the bill. Choosing not to act on it will result in it becoming law anyway. 

      Last week, we reported on how a new bill making its way through the New York legislature could impose strict fines on consumers who violate the state’s ren...

      For men, the effects of a happy childhood may span decades

      Having a caring family could translate to a more secure marriage, study finds

      Growing up in a warm, caring household could give men an advantage when it comes to managing stress. Researchers say this could, in turn, make them more likely to be in a happy marriage when they’re older.

      Findings from a recent study, published online in the journal Psychological Science, suggest that a nurturing childhood could pave the way for a secure marriage later in life.

      According to researcher Robert Waldinger of Harvard Medical School, loving families play a big role in helping children develop certain social and emotional skills that can help them in their relationships decades later.

      Better emotional management

      To conduct the study, Waldinger and his colleagues studied 81 men for over six decades, beginning when they were teens. Half of the men went to Harvard; the others were from inner-city Boston.

      The researchers gathered information on participants’ early home environment through questioning, interviews with their parents, and developmental histories recorded by a social worker.

      By the time the men reached middle age, the researchers discovered that those who had grown up in caring homes were better at managing stress. This important ability was found to come in handy in participants’ marriages.  

      “Our study shows that the influences of childhood experiences can be demonstrated even when people reach their 80s, predicting how happy and secure they are in their marriages as octogenarians,” said Waldinger.

      “We found that this link occurs in part because warmer childhoods promote better emotion management and interpersonal skills at midlife, and these skills predict more secure marriages in late life.”

      "Far-reaching effects"

      It’s no surprise that the effects of a happy childhood can be felt within a marriage, but these findings show just how long-lasting the effects can be.
      Having a happy home life as a kid can have "far-reaching effects on well-being, life achievement, and relationship functioning throughout the lifespan," Waldinger said.
      The study’s co-author, Marc Schulz, a professor at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, adds that it is “remarkable that the influence of childhood on late-life marriage can still be seen” decades after adolescence.
      Dr. Waldinger's TED talk on the study can be viewed here
      Growing up in a warm, caring household could give men an advantage when it comes to managing stress. Researchers say this could, in turn, make them more li...

      Alaska-Virgin America merger challenged in class action lawsuit

      The suit says the merger would decrease competition, raising fares and fees

      It was just last week that Alaska Airlines said it was on course to win Justice Department approval of its takeover of Virgin America, but a class action lawsuit could create some unexpected turbulence.

      The suit, filed on behalf of 41 fliers and travel agents, argues that the deal would lessen airline competition, causing fares and fees to gain altitude quickly.

      San Francisco U.S. District Judge William Alsup has taken the plaintiffs' motion for an injunction under advisement and said he plans to hold a trial on the merger as soon as the Justice Department makes its decision. Alsup ordered Alaska to give the court at least seven days' notice before it closes the transaction. 

      In a statement Friday, both Alaska and Virgin America said they will defend their deal. They said that a combined Alaska-Virgin would control only 6% of U.S. market share, while American, Delta, United, and Southwest control the remaining 84%. 

      Divestitures possible

      Analysts thought it unlikely Alsup would block the deal entirely. It's more likely he would order some divestitures to make the post-merger atmosphere more competitive.

      Such divestitures could include some routes that have become less competitive or gates at choice airports. Some code-sharing deals might also have to be unwound.

      San Francisco attorney Joseph Alioto, representing the lead plaintiff, has brought several antitrust cases against airlines. “This is an excellent result so far,” he said of the judge’s orders, according to the Wall Street Journal.

      It was just last week that Alaska Airlines said it was on course to win Justice Department approval of its takeover of Virgin America, but a class action l...

      TD Ameritrade to acquire Scottrade

      Consolidation continues among online stock brokers

      Two online brokerages, which retail investors use to make stock purchases without paying a traditional full-service broker, are merging.

      TD Ameritrade has announced plans to acquire rival Scottrade in a cash and stock transaction valued at $4 billion. Both companies give consumers the ability to purchase financial assets online for commissions of $10 or less per transaction. Of the two firms, Scottrade has the lower fee.

      The proposed merger, which must first clear regulatory hurdles, will take place in two steps. TD Ameritrade will buy Scottrade Bank from Scottrade Financial Services, Inc. for $1.3 billion in cash considerations.

      Scottrade Bank will be absorbed into TD Bank, N.A., an indirect wholly-owned subsidiary. TD will also purchase $400 million in new common stock from TD Ameritrade in connection with the proposed transaction.

      After that, TD Ameritrade will acquire Scottrade Financial Services, Inc. The companies did not say whether Scottrade would continue as a separate service and brand, but it is unlikely that it would. The statement announcing the deal said it would provide $450 million a year in synergies, and Scottrade founder and CEO Rodger Riney will be appointed to the TD Ameritrade board.

      Built on mergers

      TD Ameritrade is the product of a series of mergers going back more than 30 years. It began as a small bank in Omaha, Neb., and introduced a telephone-based stock ordering system in 1988.

      When the internet produced a number of small, discount online brokerages, Ameritrade made several acquisitions between 1995 and 2006. In 2006, it acquired one of its largest rivals, TD Waterhouse, adopting the TD prefix to its brand.

      Scottrade was founded in 1980 as a retail stock brokerage that offered no advice, but simply took orders over the phone. It became an online brokerage in 1996.

      TD Ameritrade currently charges $9.99 on transactions to buy or sell assets. Scottrade charges $7.

      TD Ameritrade said it values Scottrade for its strong customer service reputation. It notes that the company ranked “Highest in Investor Satisfaction with Self-Directed Services” in the J.D. Power 2016 U.S. Self-Directed Investor Satisfaction Study.

      Assuming regulators approve, TD Ameritrade said it expects the deal to close by the end of September 2017.

      Two online brokerages, which retail investors use to make stock purchases without paying a traditional full-service broker, are merging.TD Ameritrade h...

      Here's what happened to the internet on Friday

      And why it could happen again and again

      On Friday, millions of consumers found they couldn't reach Netflix, Amazon, Twitter, and a handful of other major web destinations.

      The reason, we are told, is that hackers unleashed a massive denial-of-service (DoS) attack against these sites that overwhelmed their common DNS provider, Dyn. We now know how they did it, and it should serve as a warning of more cyber chaos to come.

      According to a statement from Dyn, released over the weekend, the sites were simultaneously hit with requests for access by tens of millions of IP addresses. But how could hackers in some remote location do that?

      Simple: they infected tens of millions of electronic devices – things like printers, thermostats, and other ordinary devices that now connect to the internet – the so-called Internet of Things (IoT). Each of these devices has its own IP address, just like a computer.

      A simple botnet coordinated the attack

      Dyn says its preliminary investigation has shown that many of the devices had been infected with a malware called Mirai, a botnet.

      “We observed tens of millions of discrete IP addresses associated with the Mirai botnet that were part of the attack,” Dyn said in its statement.

      As for the timeline, Dyn said the first attack was launched around 7:00 a.m. ET. Dyn’s Network Operations Center (NOC) was able to overcome the attack after about two hours and restore service. The first attack impacted mostly the East Coast.

      A second attack occurred around Noon ET and affected the entire country. This time it took about an hour to restore service.

      Third attack failed

      Dyn says there was a third attack, but because its personnel were ready for it, they were able to mitigate it without a disruption of service.

      So what's the big take away from Friday's confusion? As Fortune observes, the devices that allowed the attack to happen are still out there, still connected to the internet, and as far as anyone knows, not repaired or patched. There's nothing to say hackers couldn't do it again if they wanted to.

      Fortune quotes security researcher Brian Krebs as saying the companies that make IoT devices are mostly to blame for the vulnerability, charging that printers, cameras, and routers are not protected by adequate security.

      On Friday, millions of consumers found they couldn't reach Netflix, Amazon, Twitter, and a handful of other major web destinations.The reason, we are t...

      Brookwood Farms recalls pulled pork product

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

      Brookwood Farms of Siler City, N.C., is recalling approximately 126,570 pounds of pulled pork product.

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

      There have been no confirmed reports of injury, illness, or adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

      The following fully cooked, pulled pork item, produced between June 12, 2014, and Oct. 21, 2016, is being recalled:

      • 5-lb. plastic bags containing “COOKED PULLED PORK CARNITA STYLE.”

      The recalled product, bearing establishment number “EST. 1740” inside the USDA mark of inspection and code 15006 on the label, was distributed for institutional use 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 Craig Wood at (919) 663-3612 ext.226. 

      Brookwood Farms of Siler City, N.C., is recalling approximately 126,570 pounds of pulled pork product.The product contains soy, an allergen not declare...

      Why the internet has gotten so annoying

      Advertising threatens to obscure the web's more useful functions

      Once upon a time – let's say five or 10 years ago – the average internet user could enjoy a wide range of free content on the internet in relative peace.

      Suddenly, there are ads everywhere. Not unobtrusive display ads like you find in newspapers and magazines, but pop-ups that entirely obscure the page, and video ads that start playing as soon as you land on a page.

      If you are trying to read an interesting article, sometimes it is next to impossible because you have to stop every few seconds to try to close an ad, or stop a video from playing.

      Mark Havenner, a vice-president at The Pollack PR Marketing Group in Los Angeles, traces the escalation in annoyance to just two years ago.

      “Pop-ups have been around forever and they've always been disruptive,” Havenner told ConsumerAffairs. “Online advertising has never really worked. We've seen data that suggests disruptive advertising has a negative effect.”

      The Facebook factor

      But around 2014, he says, Facebook began to score spectacular results with “native” advertising. Native advertising blends in with the content of the site you are on. If you are looking at your Facebook timeline, you get video ads mixed in with everything else. The difference is, the content of the ads matches things you are more or less interested in. It's more effective for the advertiser but less obtrusive for the reader.

      Because Facebook has been so successful with that strategy, Havenner says nearly all advertisers are now trying to replicate it, even though it might not be practical for their kind of site.

      “When you're on a news site, that's different than being on Facebook,” Havenner said. “On Facebook you're looking at content. On a news site, you're just reading articles, you're not actively looking for something like a video ad. But advertisers want to catch your attention, so they just start playing them.”

      Not all internet advertising is as infuriating as the ads that interfere with how you are trying to use the web.

      Hulu and YouTube play commercials within videos. Hula commercials come within the content, much like TV commercials would. YouTube plays commercials at the beginning of videos but most of the time you can skip out after a few seconds.

      “That kind of advertising doesn't mess with people,” Havenner said.

      Ad dollars moving online

      Another part of the problem is that a huge transition has taken place in how people consume media. Television viewership is down, with most of those eyes moving to the internet. The advertising dollars have followed and web publications are fighting for them.

      If you want to blame someone for the annoying state of the internet, Havenner suggests blaming the online publications that allow jarring and disruptive advertising. Because of it, he believes these publications are losing readers. If so, does that mean there's hope for the future?

      “I suppose there is,” Havenner said. “If they start losing readership over it. They see the analytics and see that when that ad is displayed people left their site. So I would hope they would make changes.”

      Havenner's advice to fed up consumers is to simply avoid going to sites with obtrusive ads. Eventually, he says, advertisers will get the message.

      Once upon a time – let's say five or 10 years ago – the average internet user could enjoy a wide range of free content on the internet in relative peace....

      Study suggests fast food calorie posting is probably pointless

      Consumers need to know what calories mean and be motivated to reduce them

      Fast food chains will soon be required to post calorie information on menus but researchers at New York University say that based on the experience of chains that have already taken that step, it won't help. Consumers, they predict, will still make unhealthy food choices.

      They've written up their findings in the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing.

      McDonalds, Subway, and many other fast food franchises already put calorie information on their menus. While that's laudable, the researchers say only about 8% of customers are digesting the data and using it to order a healthier meal.

      Study author Andrew Breck says health policies should focus on what is known about effective messaging and behavior change.

      Information by itself is not enough

      “The success of fast-food menu labeling depends on multiple conditions being met, not just the availability of calorie information,” he said.

      The calorie-posting initiative assumes that consumers will make healthy choices if given the right information. But the obesity epidemic should be evidence that we don't always act in our best interests, even when we know better. Most people know that eating too much food, especially too much of the wrong food, will pack on the pounds. Yet we do it anyway.

      The research team says part of the problem is the information about calories simply isn't enough. Consumers need additional information.

      First, they must be aware of the labeling. Everyone looks at the menu but not everyone recognizes those numbers beside the menu item.

      Motivation is required

      Second, the researchers say consumers have to want to eat healthy. Unless they are motivated to do it, they won't.

      Third, they have to know what the calories mean. To many, being told the triple cheeseburger and fries has 1,176 calories might not mean anything unless they know that's about half their recommended daily calories.

      Interestingly, earlier research done at Arizona State University found similar evidence that most consumers didn't benefit from the calorie information. Those who did, it found, were the most affluent and educated consumers -- consumers who knew how many calories they were supposed to consume each day and were motivated to stay within that number.

      This latest study suggests that, until all consumers have a better understanding of calories and have the motivation to eat a healthier diet, they'll probably ignore the soon-to-be-mandated calorie information.

      Fast food chains will soon be required to post calorie information on menus but researchers at New York University say that based on the experience of chai...

      Child traffic deaths vary widely among states

      Child deaths 12 times higher in Mississippi than in Massachusetts, study finds

      Children are much more likely to die in a car crash in Mississippi than in Massachusetts. That's among the findings of a new study that found wide variations in child traffic deaths from one state to another.

      The use of child restraints, like safety seats and seat belts, and the prevalance of red-light cameras appear to be among the factors influencing the wide variations, according to an abstract being presented at a pediatrics conference.

      Researchers examined 2010-2014 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data and discovered substantial differences among states, with annual mortality rates ranging from 0.25 deaths per 100,000 children in Massachusetts to 3.20 deaths per 100,000 children in Mississippi.

      In general, states with a greater percentage of children who ride unrestrained or inappropriately restrained, and states where a larger proportion of crashes occur on rural roads or during the daytime, had higher motor vehicle crash death rates. States without a red-light camera policy also had a greater percentage of children dying from crashes.

      10% improvement

      Abstract author Lindsey L. Wolf, MD, a third-year resident and research fellow at the Center for Surgery and Public Health at Brigham and Women's Hospital and her colleagues determined that a 10 percent absolute improvement in child restraint use nationally could prevent more than 1,500 children from dying over five years.

      Many previous studies have looked at an individual's risk factor for dying in a motor vehicle crash, Dr. Wolf said, but stepping back to view these risks at the regional level shows how many lives might be saved by developing and enforcing state child safety regulations.

      "We are interested in helping states understand how their laws can prevent children from dying if they are involved in a car crash," said senior author Faisal G. Qureshi, MD, FAAP, Associate Professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. "Once lawmakers understand this at a state level they can make more informed decisions on what laws to focus on." 

      The abstract, "Pediatric Deaths from Motor Vehicle Crashes: State?level Variation and Predictors of Mortality," will be presented Oct. 23 an American Academy of Pediatrics conference in San Francisco.

      Children are much more likely to die in a car crash in Mississippi than in Massachusetts. That's among the findings of a new study that found wide variatio...

      Should you open a store credit account?

      If you already have a general purpose credit card, probably not

      When checking out at a chain department store, the clerk might ask if you would like to open a charge account and get 10% off your purchase. Should you? Probably not.

      Long before Visa and Mastercard were household names, most consumers carried a number of store charge cards. It made buying things easier, since you didn't have to write a check or pay cash, just about the only other options in those days.

      So why shouldn't you have a store charge card these days? If you can qualify for a rewards or cash-back credit card, that's a much better deal.

      Nearly 30% interest

      In fact, CreditCards.com reports that store-branded credit cards are pretty expensive for consumers who carry a balance. For example, its latest study shows Big Lots charges 29.99% interest on its store card, Zales charges 29.24%, and Staples charges 28.24%.

      The study found the average store card charges 23.84% interest, more than 8% higher than the average credit card. And while retailers usually offer consumers some kind of incentive to sign up for a card, it usually carries a value of around $25, the study found.

      "With their outrageously high APRs, most consumers would be wise to steer clear of these cards unless they're 100% certain they can pay their balance off every single month," said Matt Schulz, CreditCards.com's senior industry analyst. "And even then, there are plenty of general-purpose credit cards with better sign-up bonuses."

      Might help improve a credit score

      True, but there is a useful purpose for a store charge card. For someone with weak credit, opening a store account, making a small purchase and immediately paying it off, can be a way to boost a credit score. Eventually, his or her credit score should be high enough to qualify for a credit card.

      One reason store cards charge such high interest is they are easier to get than a regular credit card – for the lender, there's a higher risk. Having a store card or two and not running up a balance helps establish credit. But with such high interest rates, carrying a balance on these cards should be avoided at all costs.

      When checking out at a chain department store, the clerk might ask if you would like to open a charge account and get 10% off your purchase. Should you? Pr...

      How to stop yourself from catching a cold

      Tips that can help keep your immune system in tip-top, cold-fighting shape

      Getting sick isn’t cheap. In fact, a recent study by GoBankingRates found that coming down with a few colds per year can end up costing adults around $1,000.

      This number may seem steeper than you'd think, but Dr. Rob Silverman explained that the lost wages, various co-pays, and the cost of prescription and over-the-counter treatments can easily amount to $1,000 in a year.

      While there’s no cure for the common cold, there are ways to protect your body — and by extension, your budget — from being affected by a minor virus.

      In addition to using practical tips, such as refraining from touching contaminated surfaces or shaking hands with a cold-ridden person, there are a few lesser-known ways to keep from catching a cold.

      Sleep well and think positive

      Giving your body and mind ample time to recharge at night can help keep you healthy and cold-free. That’s because a good night’s sleep can boost your body’s immune defense against viruses, experts say. And the more you sleep, the better equipped your body may be to ward off colds.

      In 2009, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that men and women who slept eight hours or more per night were less likely to catch colds. People who slept less than seven hours per night were three times more likely to be affected by the virus to which they were exposed.

      Would you describe yourself as being happy, lively, and calm? If so, you may also be in a better position to fight off viruses. In 2006, the same group of researchers found that cold and flu viruses were more likely to strike people who were anxious, hostile, or depressed compared to people who had a generally positive outlook.

      Take a hot bath or shower

      Been around a person who’s been coughing and sneezing all day? Try soaking in hot water when you get home. According to Clare McHugh, editor-in-chief at Health.com, doing so may knock out a potential cold before it begins.

      "Super HOT baths and showers immediately,” she told Health.com. “My doctor once told me that cold viruses hate heat, and that if you keep your body and especially your chest very warm you will discourage the virus from multiplying."

      Indeed, water can be a powerful defense against viruses. In addition to hot showers, drinking plenty of fluids and making sure to wash your hands throughout the day can help keep cold bugs at bay.

      Banish the booze

      In the interest of staying well, it might be wise to skip the nightcap. The dehydrating effect of alcohol can actually make cold symptoms worse, according to WebMD.

      Not only does alcohol hinder your body’s ability to fight off colds, it may have a negative interaction with any medications you may be taking. Additionally, alcohol can prevent you from getting quality sleep.

      Drinking alcohol before bed can leave you running to the bathroom multiple times per night, which can keep you from slipping into the restorative REM sleep your body needs to stave off viruses.

      Getting plenty of rest is just one of the good health habits that can help prevent germs from turning into a sick day. Being physically active, managing stress, and eating nutritious foods can also boost the power of your immune system.

      Getting sick isn’t cheap. In fact, a recent study by GoBankingRates found that coming down with a few colds per year can end up costing adults around $1,00...

      Conference Board forecasts continued moderate economic growth

      First-time jobless claims shot higher last week

      The latest economic forecast from The Conference Board suggests continued moderate growth into 2017.

      The Board's Leading Economic Index (LEI) inched up 0.2% in September following a decline of the same magnitude the month before.

      The increase “suggests that the economy should continue expanding at a moderate pace through early 2017.” said Ataman Ozyildirim, Director of Business Cycles and Growth Research at The Conference Board.

      Housing permits, unemployment insurance claims, and the interest rate spread were the main components lifting the index in September.

      Overall, Ozyildirim pointed out, “the strengths among the leading indicators are outweighing modest weaknesses in stock prices and the average workweek.”

      How it works

      The LEI is a composite average of several individual leading indicators. It's constructed to summarize and reveal common turning point patterns in economic data in a clearer and more convincing manner than any individual component -- primarily because it smooths out some of the volatility of individual components.

      The ten components of the LEI include:

      1. Average weekly hours for manufacturing
      2. Average weekly initial claims for unemployment insurance
      3. Manufacturers’ new orders, consumer goods, and materials
      4. Institute for Supply Management Index of New Orders
      5. Manufacturers' new orders and nondefense capital goods excluding aircraft orders
      6. Building permits for new private housing units
      7. Stock prices of 500 common stocks
      8. Leading Credit Index
      9. Interest rate spread and 10-year Treasury bonds less federal funds
      10. Average consumer expectations for business conditions

      Jobless claims

      From the Department of Labor (DOL), word that initial jobless claims surged by 13,000 in the week ending October 15 to a seasonally adjusted 260,000.

      Even with that increase, the claims level has been below 300,000 for the 85th consecutive week, the longest streak since 1970.

      The four-week moving average, which lacks the weekly headcount's volatility and is considered a more accurate gauge of the labor market, came in at 251,750 -- up 2,250 from the previous week.

      The full report is available on the DOL website.

      The latest economic forecast from The Conference Board suggests continued moderate growth into 2017.The Board's Lead...

      Summer Classics recalls swivel rocking lounge chairs

      The seat bucket of the lounge chairs can break away from the base

      Summer Classics of Pelham, Ala., is recalling about 800 swivel rocking lounge chairs.

      The seat bucket of the lounge chairs can break away from the base while a user is in the chair, posing a fall hazard.

      The firm has received six reports of the lounge chairs breaking. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves Summer Classics swivel rocking lounge chairs in the Aire, Belize, Bentley, Charleston, and Skye styles in multiple colors and finishes. The chairs are made for outdoor use and are designed to swivel 360 degrees and rock back and forth.

      All the chair styles, except the Bentley style, come with detachable cushions. An “SC” brass logo is affixed to the back of the chairs.

      The following chairs are being recalled:

      Style

      Color/Finish

      Dimensions

      Aire

      Ancient Earth/Black Walnut

      27”W 27”D 36.25”H

      Belize

      Oyster

      27.25”W 29.5”D 36”H

      Bentley

      Oyster

      29.5”W 31.83”D 35.5”H

      Bentley

      Black Walnut

      29.5”W 31.83”D 35.5”H

      Charleston

      Mahogany

      31”W 36.5”D 37.75”H

      Charleston

      Oyster

      31”W 36.5”D 37.75”H

      Skye

      Black Walnut

      27.25”W 32.5”D 36.75”H

      Skye

      Oyster

      27.25”W 32.5”D 36.75”H

      The chairs, manufactured in China, were sold at Summer Classics stores and other stores nationwide from September 2015, through October 2016, for between $1,100 and $2,400.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled lounge chairs and contact Summer Classics for a full refund. The firm is contacting all known purchasers directly.

      Consumers may contact Summer Classics toll-free at 888-868-4267 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday, or online at www.summerclassics.com for more information.

      Summer Classics of Pelham, Ala., is recalling about 800 swivel rocking lounge chairs.The seat bucket of the lounge chairs can break away from the base...

      Model year 2017 Lincoln Continentals recalled

      The headlights may have been built with incorrect lenses

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 1,827 model year 2017 Lincoln Continentals manufactured June 14, 2016, to September 23, 2016 and equipped with high intensity discharge (HID) headlights.

      The headlights may have been built with incorrect lenses, adversely affecting the turn signal visibility as well as not being properly marked. 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."

      Reduced turn signal visibility to other drivers and pedestrians can increase the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Ford will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the headlights, replacing them as necessary, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin November 7, 2016.

      Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 16C15.

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 1,827 model year 2017 Lincoln Continentals manufactured June 14, 2016, to September 23, 2016 and equipped with high intensi...

      Tyson Foods recalls frozen popcorn chicken products

      The products may be contaminated with extraneous materials

      Tyson Foods of New Holland, Pa., is recalling approximately 1,148 pounds of frozen popcorn chicken products.

      The products may be contaminated with extraneous materials, specifically hard plastic.

      There have been no confirmed reports of injury or illness due to consumption of these products

      The following frozen, ready-to-eat, whole grain popcorn chicken items, produced on August 10, 2016, are being recalled:

      • 35 cases of 32.79-lb. “TYSON FULLY COOKED, WHOLE GRAIN GOLDEN CRISPY POPCORN CHICKEN, CHICKEN PATTIE FRITTERS” with a case code of “70368/928” on the upper right hand side of the label, and a lot code of “2236NHL33,” which can be found next to the case code.

      The recalled products, bearing establishment number “P-1325” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to a wholesale distributor in Illinois and further distributed to schools and food services in Missouri and Illinois.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Christina Self at (866) 886-8456. 

      Tyson Foods of New Holland, Pa., is recalling approximately 1,148 pounds of frozen popcorn chicken products.The products may be contaminated with extra...

      Poor hedge fund performance causing pension concerns

      Issue bubbles into the open in New York

      So far, 2016 has been a tough year for hedge funds, which are huge investment funds that receive money from wealthy individuals and institutions seeking to maximize returns.

      Only lately, those returns haven't been all that impressive, causing money to start flowing out of these funds. By mid-year, some large investors were publicly airing their disgust at hedge funds' “fat fees” and paltry returns.

      While many consumers may believe this is simply a Wall Street issue and doesn't affect them, they could be dead wrong. If they are drawing a pension that is invested in an under-performing, high-fee hedge fund, they could soon be feeling the effects.

      New York agency squabble

      In New York, the issue has bubbled up into public debate with the release of a report by the state Department of Financial Services, which takes the state comptroller's office to task for the way it invests state worker pension funds.

      “Pension fund managers across the country have cut or eliminated exposure to these overpriced and under-performing investments, while the Office of the New York State Comptroller has stood still and spent pension system funds chasing performance that continues to fall far short,” said Maria Vullo, Superintendent of Financial Services. “Just last week, the Comptroller admitted that hedge funds are not delivering the returns to even come close to justifying the sky-high fees that these fund managers have been charging the pension system for years.”

      Vullo expressed frustration, charging hedge fund managers continue to rake in huge fees, regardless of their performance, which she called a “rip-off” at the expense of pensioners.

      Actively traded

      Hedge funds justify their fee structure because they employ experienced traders who actively manage the funds, seeking to get the highest return possible. But Vullo says the state report shows that many of these funds have consistently under-performed so-called “passive” investments, including index funds that have no or low fees.

      “Given the $3.8 billion hole the Comptroller’s hedge fund gamble already has dug for the State pension system, taking away the checkbook may be the only way to safeguard the pensions of state employees, and the pocketbooks of taxpayers on the hook for System deficits,” Vullo said.

      The New York Comptroller's Office, meanwhile, blasted the report from its fellow state agency, calling it “uninformed and unprofessional.” In a statement, the Comptroller's Office said it had been aggressively working to reduce hedge fund investments and limit fees.

      So far, 2016 has been a tough year for hedge funds, which are huge investment funds that receive money from wealthy individuals and institutions seeking to...

      All Tesla vehicles to have self-driving technology

      Industry analyst says it's a big step forward for the auto industry

      Tesla's so-called “Autopilot” feature remains somewhat controversial, after a couple of high-profile accidents this year, and the German government wants Tesla to drop the phrase from its advertising.

      But the high-tech car maker is doubling down on self-driving technology, announcing that it will be integrated into all Tesla models, including the Model 3.

      “Eight surround cameras provide 360 degree visibility around the car at up to 250 meters of range,” Tesla said in a statement announcing the move. “Twelve updated ultrasonic sensors complement this vision, allowing for detection of both hard and soft objects at nearly twice the distance of the prior system. A forward-facing radar with enhanced processing provides additional data about the world on a redundant wavelength, capable of seeing through heavy rain, fog, dust and even the car ahead.”

      Tesla also said it is upgrading the onboard computer in Tesla cars with one that processes data 40 times faster than the current one. While Tesla has made clear that its present Autopilot system is merely a driver-assist technology, Akshay Arand, an analyst at Kelley Blue Book, says the latest move appears to be much closer to true auto pilot.

      Big step for the industry

      “If Tesla is closing in on Level 4 or even Level 5 autonomy being released to consumers, it’s a big step for the industry,” Arand said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “The question then becomes how it translates to the consumer.”

      For example, will each Tesla owner need specific training for handling a car with true autonomous driving capability? Arand says Tesla still has a lot to prove.

      “Whether fair or not, Tesla has been under scrutiny with a few accidents concerning Autopilot this year, and the scrutiny will be magnified with this announcement and as the Model 3 edges closer,” Arand predicts. “For now, though, the bigger question is still how Tesla ‘gets there’ in terms of profitability and longer term sustainability.”

      Meanwhile, Tesla said the Model S and Model X with the new hardware are already in production. However, the new features won't “go live” until later, after what the company said will be millions of miles of real world driving.

      Earlier this year, federal safety investigators began a probe of Tesla's Autopilot system after one of the cars in Autopilot mode hit a truck that had pulled in front of it.

      Tesla's so-called “Autopilot” feature remains somewhat controversial, after a couple of high-profile accidents this year, and the German government wants T...

      Consumers wary of social media privacy protection

      Americans think the government should do more to protect personal privacy

      In an odd juxtaposition, 80% of Americans say they use social media daily while 96% say they don't trust social networks to protect their privacy. You might wonder why so many people use something they think isn't safe, but that's a question that's seldom asked.

      A recent survey conducted for the Craig Newmark Foundation provides a clue, however: we want the government to protect us. 

      The survey found that many Americans think privacy laws are too weak, with Millennials being the strongest advocates for tougher privacy protections.

      Millennials and Baby Boomers are the groups most distrustful of social media, the survey found.

      • Only 7% of Millennials have a lot of trust that social media sites will protect their privacy and personal information. Their trust of social media sites is down 9% from two years ago.
      • Adults 65+ have the least trust;
      • Of those who use social media the most – at least four social media sites – only 14% have a lot of trust in them;
      • Most of the best-known social media sites are seeing increased usage since 2014, according to responses to survey questions about which sites people use.

      A majority of Americans surveyed also expressed concern about the lack of safety online, including fears over identity theft, email hacking, and non-consensual online tracking.

      Similar findings

      A recent Pew Research survey came to similar conclusions. It found that “68% of internet users believe current laws are not good enough in protecting people’s privacy online; and 64% believe the government should do more to regulate advertisers.” Americans also favor limits on how long the records of their activity are stored.  

      Pew also found that “young adults are more focused than elders when it comes to online privacy,” and many have tried to protect their privacy, removed their names from tagged photos, and taken steps to mask their identity. According to Pew, 74% of Americans say it is “very important” to be in control of their personal information

      In an odd juxtaposition, 80% of Americans say they use social media daily while 96% say they don't trust social n...

      Google putting together a 'skinny' streaming video bundle

      'Unplugged' will offer network shows that make it easier to dump cable

      In the race to own the streaming video space, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and other services have sort of left Google's YouTube in the dust. Hoping to change that, Google is starting a new cost-conscious TV package, a "skinny" bundle of TV networks.

      Dubbed "Unplugged," the service is apparently meant to appeal to cable cutters who don't want to lose access to major networks and shows. Reports say it will be priced around $25 to $50 a month, which is several times what Netflix and Amazon cost. They don't offer live network shows yet but are rapidly becoming the prime producers of original content.

      Google isn't saying anything about Unplugged, but the Wall Street Journal today reported that CBS is one of the first content providers to sign up, with Disney and 21st Century Fox said to be close behind.

      Unplugged will use YouTube's infrastructure but will be a separate service and won't be covered by the existing YouTube Red subscription. 

      This might bring back memories of Aereo, an audacious start-up that back in 2013 started trying to sell a streaming video service that consisted of local TV channels, also designed as a cable replacement. But because it didn't bother to license the content it was distributing, it was eventually forced to shut down after a series of court challenges.

      In the race to own the streaming video space, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and other services have sort of left Google's YouTube in the dust. Hoping to change th...

      Retailers firming up holiday shopping plans

      Sam's Club and Macy's take opposite Thanksgiving paths

      With Black Friday just over a month away, more retailers are revealing their plans, not only for the official shopping season kick-off, but for advance promotions as well.

      Sam's Club has announced a series of pre-holiday sales events, along with its Scan & Go app that allows members to use their smartphones to bypass the checkout line.

      To get a jump on Black Friday, the retailer is planning special sale prices starting at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday, November 12. It says the same sale prices will be offered online five hours earlier, before the brick-and-mortar stores open.

      The company says it will offer savings on electronics and other popular gift categories. Additional promotions are scheduled for the following two Saturdays.

      Black Friday plans

      Sam's Club says it will kick-off Black Friday online at 12:01 a.m. Thanksgiving Day, but brick-and-mortar stores will be closed. Stores, however, will open Friday, November 25, at 7:00 a.m. Special sale items will be available throughout the weekend, as long as supplies last.

      Cyber Week deals start at 12:01 a.m. on Sunday, November 27 and continue through Friday, December 2, with new sale items added daily.

      Macy's bucks the trend

      Macy's, meanwhile, reportedly will open its stores at 5:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, bucking the trend of more retailers giving their employees the holiday off. Though there has been no official announcement, the shopping site BestBlackFriday.com said it has been able to confirm Macy's plans unofficially.

      “In 2015 and 2014, they opened at 6:00 p.m., so this is one hour earlier than last year,” BestBlackFriday's Phil Dengler told ConsumerAffairs. “Whether other major retailers decide to move up their opening time on Thanksgiving remains to be seen, but Macy's is the first one to make their decision.”

      Dengler says the growing public backlash may be one reason fewer stores are choosing to open on Thanksgiving, but there is also a more practical reason.

      Some rtailers fear the Thanksgiving Day sales detract from Black Friday the following day. Others know they can probably generate significant sales online, since increasingly, that's how consumers prefer to shop.

      With Black Friday just over a month away, more retailers are revealing their plans, not only for the official shopping season kick-off, but for advance pro...

      Sales of existing homes rebound in September

      First-time buyers were a major factor

      After declining a month earlier, sales of previously-owned homes bounced back in September, thanks to the entry into the market of large numbers of first-time buyers.

      According to figures released by the National Association of Realtors (NAR), total existing-home sales -- completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums, and co-ops -- rose 3.2% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.47 million.

      The advance pushed sales to their highest pace since June and 0.6% above a year ago.

      Newbies in the market

      A big reason for the September increase was the entry into the market of first-time buyers, who accounted for 34% of purchasers -- a level not seen in over four years

      "The home search over the past several months for a lot of prospective buyers, and especially for first-time buyers, took longer than usual because of the competition for the minimal amount of homes for sale," said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun.

      "Most families and move-up buyers look to close before the new school year starts. Their diminishing presence from the market towards the end of summer created more opportunities for aspiring first-time homeowners to buy last month."

      Prices and supplies

      The median prices for all types of existing homes shot up 5.6% in September to $234,200 -- the 55th consecutive month of year-over-year gains. The median is the point at which half the homes sold for more and half for less.

      Total housing inventory at the end of last month was up 1.5% to 2.04 million existing homes available for sale. Still that inventory level is down 6.8% from a year ago and has now fallen year-over-year for 16 straight months.

      Unsold inventory is at a 4.5-month supply at the current sales pace, down from 4.6 months in August.

      Distressed sales -- foreclosures and short sales -- dropped to a new low of 4% in September, with 3% foreclosures and 1% short sales. Foreclosures sold for an average discount of 15% below market value, while short sales were discounted 11%.

      Sales by region

      • Existing-home sales in the Northeast rose 5.7% in September to an annual rate of 740,000 -- the same as a year ago. The median price was $261,600, a year-over-year gain of 2.1%.
      • In the Midwest, sales grew by 3.9% to an annual rate of 1.32 million in September, and are now 2.3% above a year ago. The median price was $184,500, up 5.9% percent from September 2015.
      • Sales in the South in September inched up 0.9% to an annual rate of 2.16 million, but are still 0.9% below the same month last year. The median price in the South was $204,000 -- a gain of 6.6% from last year.
      • The West enjoyed a sales gain of 5.0% to an annual rate of 1.25 million, which is 1.6% above a year ago. The median price surged 8.1% to $345,400.
      After declining a month earlier, sales of previously-owned homes bounced back in September, thanks to the entry into the market of large numbers of first-t...

      Airline runway delays abound in August

      On-time arrival and cancellation rates were mixed

      Getting off the ground in August was something of challenge if you were traveling by commercial airline.

      According to the Department of Transportation's (DOT) Air Travel Consumer Report, there were 15 tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights and five delays of more than four hours on international flights.

      DOT is investigating the delays.

      The carriers posted an on-time arrival rate of 77.6% during the month, an improvement from the rate of 75.2% a month earlier, but worse than the year-ago rate of 80.3%.

      Airlines report that they canceled 1.4% of their scheduled domestic flights in August, compared with 1.0% the year before and 1.9% in July.

      Other areas covered by the report include chronically delayed flights and the causes of delays, and other flight problems including baggage, reservation and ticketing, refunds, customer service, disability and discrimination.

      The complete report is available on the DOT website.

      Getting off the ground in August was something of challenge if you were traveling by commercial airline.According to the Department of Transportation's...

      Foreclosures drop sharply in August

      Rates are the lowest in several years

      The nation's foreclosure inventory plunged 29.6% and completed foreclosures were down an even sharper 42.4% from a year earlier, according to the CoreLogic National Foreclosure Report.

      In another way of looking at it, the number of completed foreclosures nationwide posted a year-over-year decline of 27,000 -- to 37,000 in August 2016 -- representing a drop of 69% from the peak of 118,221 in September 2010.

      Foreclosure inventory

      The foreclosure inventory represents the number of homes at some stage of the foreclosure process and completed foreclosures reflect the total number of homes lost to foreclosure.

      Since the financial meltdown began in September 2008, there have been approximately 6.4 million completed foreclosures nationally. Since homeownership rates peaked in the second quarter of 2004, there have been approximately 8.5 million homes lost to foreclosure.

      As of last August, the national foreclosure inventory included approximately 351,000, or 0.9%, of all homes with a mortgage. A year earlier, it was 499,000 homes, or 1.3%.

      The August 2016 foreclosure inventory rate is the lowest it’s been since July 2007.

      “With the foreclosure inventory now under 1% nationally, the need to boost single-family housing stocks through new construction will become more acute in the coming months and years,” said Anand Nallathambi, president and CEO of CoreLogic.

      Mortgage delinquencies

      In addition, CoreLogic reports the number of mortgages in serious delinquency was down 20.6% from August 2015, with 1.1 million mortgages, or 2.8%, being the lowest level since September 2007.

      The decline was broad-based with decreases in serious delinquency in 48 states and the District of Columbia.

      Report highlights

      • On a month-over-month basis, completed foreclosures increased by 7.7% to 37,000 in August from the 34,000 reported for the previous month. As a basis of comparison, before the decline in the housing market in 2007, completed foreclosures averaged 21,000 per month nationwide between 2000 and 2006.
      • On a month-over-month basis, the August foreclosure inventory was down 3.2% from July.
      • The five states with the highest number of completed foreclosures in the 12 months ending in August were Florida (55,000), Texas (27,000), Ohio (23,000), California (22,000), and Georgia (21,000).These five states account for about 35% of completed foreclosures nationally.
      • Four states and the District of Columbia had the lowest number of completed foreclosures in the 12 months ending in August 2016: the District of Columbia (212), North Dakota (341), West Virginia (469), Alaska (624), and Montana (717).
      • Four states and the District of Columbia had the highest foreclosure inventory rate in August 2016: New Jersey (3.2%), New York (2.9%), Maine (1.8%), Hawaii (1.8%), and the District of Columbia (1.8%).
      • The five states with the lowest foreclosure inventory rate in August 2016 were Colorado, Minnesota, Arizona, Utah, and Michigan -- all at 0.3%.
      The nation's foreclosure inventory plunged 29.6% and completed foreclosures were down an even sharper 42.4% from a year earlier, according to the CoreLogic...

      Husqvarna recalls lawn mowers

      The engine and blades may continue to operate when they should shut down

      Husqvarna Consumer Outdoor Products of Charlotte, N.C., is recalling about 235,000 lawn mowers sold in the U.S. and Canada.

      The operator presence control bar can malfunction and cause the engine and blades to continue to operate when they should shut off, posing a laceration hazard to the operator.

      The firm has received 53 reports of the engine not shutting off after the operator presence control bar was released. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves Husqvarna, Poulan Pro, Jonsered, Craftsman, Yardworks, Murray, and Brute brand walk-behind gas powered lawn mowers with Briggs & Stratton 7.25 HP engines.

      The mowers were sold in red, orange, blue and yellow/black colors and have either four similar-sized wheels or two larger rear wheels and two smaller front wheels, a long handle with an operator presence control bar that is pushed down towards the mower handle to start the engine, a mowing deck, and may have come with or without a collecting bag in the rear.

      The brand names are printed on the mowers, and a Briggs & Stratton logo is printed on the engine shield. The mower model and serial number can be found on the rear of the mowing deck, next to the rear wheel.

      The following model and serial numbers are included in the recall:

      Brand

      Model Name

      Serial Number Range

      Brute

      961480058

      110115M00001 - 082516M50000

      Craftsman

      10176

      10178

      37275

      37489

      Husqvarna

      LB155S

      LC121P

      HU725AWDEX

      HU725AWDH

      HU725AWDHQ

      Jonsered

      LM 2153CMDA

      LM 2155MD

      LM 2153CMDA

      Murray

      21P68H30

      Poulan Pro

      961320100

      961420133

      PR675Y22RHPE

      PR725Y22RHP

      961490006

      Yardworks

      961380047

      961480057

      The mowers, manufactured in the U.S., were sold at Lowe’s, Sears and other hardware stores, home centers and equipment dealers nationwide from November 2015, through August 2016, for between $250 and $450.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled lawn mowers and contact Husqvarna or go to http://husqvarna.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/1255/ to determine if their unit needs a free repair.

      Consumers may contact Husqvarna toll-free at 877-257-6921 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, by email at recalls@husqvarna.com or online at http://husqvarna.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/1255/ for more information.

      Husqvarna Consumer Outdoor Products of Charlotte, N.C., is recalling about 235,000 lawn mowers sold in the U.S. and Canada.The operator presence contro...

      National Meat and Provisions recalls beef and veal products

      The products may may be contaminated with E. coli O26

      National Meat and Provisions of Reserve, La., is recalling approximately 2,349 pounds of beef and veal products.

      The products may may be contaminated with E. coli O26.

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

      The following raw non-intact beef and veal items, produced and packaged on Sept. 14-15, 2016, are being recalled:

      • 51.40-lb. of VACUUM-PACKED “BEEF GROUND COMPANY BURGER BLEND,” packed on 9/14/2016 with a lot number of “00028584” and case codes of 53085/CB136 in the upper left-hand corner of the label
      • 50.00-lb. of VACUUM-PACKED “BEEF GROUND COURSE STEAK TRIM,” packed on 9/14/2016 with a lot number of “00028582” and case codes of 53080/02300H in the upper left-hand corner of the label
      • 10.00-lb. of VACUUM-PACKED “BEEF GROUND FRESH,” packed on 9/14/2016 with a lot number of “00028583” and case codes of 53110/02300P in the upper left-hand corner of the label
      • 50.00-lb. VACUUM-PACKED “BEEF GROUND CHIMES FINE,” packed on 9/14/2016 with a lot number of “00028581” and case codes of 56660/02300C in the upper left-hand corner of the label
      • 51.46-lb. VACUUM-PACKED “BEEF GROUND COMPANY BURGER BLEND,” packed on 9/15/2016 with a lot number of “00028597” and case codes of 53085/CB136 in the upper left-hand corner of the label
      • 10.00-lb. VACUUM-PACKED “BEEF FAT OF RIB CAP,” packed on 9/15/2016, with a lot number of “00028595,” and case codes of 50010/1138 in the upper left-hand corner of the label
      • 10.83-lb. VACUUM-PACKED “BEEF GROUND CHUCK DAT DOG,” packed on 9/15/2016, with a lot number of “00028593,” and case codes of 56135/02150 in the upper left-hand corner of the label
      • 10.23-lb. VACUUM-PACKED “BEEF GROUND CHUCK BRISKET BURGER,” packed on 9/15/2016 with a lot number of “00028596,” and case codes of 53060/208116120 in the upper left-hand corner of the label
      • 5.00-lb. VACUUM-PACKED “BEEF STEAK CUBED 5#,” packed on 9/15/2016, with a lot number of “00028594,” and case codes of 50565/04902 in the upper left-hand corner of the label
      • 10.00-lb. VACUUM-PACKED “BEEF GROUND CHUCK 10#,” packed on 9/15/2016, with a lot number of “00028592,” and case codes of 53015/02100 in the upper left-hand corner of the label
      • 10.11-lb. VACUUM-PACKED “BEEF STEAK CUBED,” packed on 9/15/2016, with a lot number of “00028591,” and case codes of 50555/1100GJ in the upper left-hand corner of the label
      • 10.32-lb. VACUUM-PACKED “BEEF GROUND CHUCK BRISKET 8 oz.,” packed on 9/15/2016, with a lot number of “00028585,” and case codes of 53050/05M8 in the upper left-hand corner of the label
      • 9.98-lb. VACUUM-PACKED “VEAL SIRLOIN CUBED POLY BAGED,” packed on 9/15/2016, with a lot number of “00028590,” and case codes of 56070/0776 in the upper left-hand corner of the label

      The recalled products bearing establishment number “EST. M-22022” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to a distributor, as well as hotels, restaurants and institutions in Louisiana.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions regarding the recall may contact Amy Philpott at (703) 472-6615.

      National Meat and Provisions of Reserve, La., is recalling approximately 2,349 pounds of beef and veal products.The products may may be contaminated wi...

      Nissan recalls Versas with airbag performance issue

      A seam in the fabric section of the side curtain airbags may tear during deployment

      Nissan North America is recalling 1,754 model year 2017 Versas manufactured August 1, 2016, to August 16, 2016.

      A seam in the fabric section of the side curtain airbags may tear during deployment, potentially affecting the performance of the airbag. As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 226, "Ejection Mitigation", and number 214, "Side Impact Protection."

      If the side curtain airbags do not deploy as intended there would be an increased risk of injury.

      What to do

      Nissan will notify owners, and dealers will replace the left and right side curtain airbags, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Nissan customer service at 1-800-647-7261.

      Nissan North America is recalling 1,754 model year 2017 Versas manufactured August 1, 2016, to August 16, 2016.A seam in the fabric section of the side...

      Hyundai recalls Sonatas and Sonata Hybrids with sun roofs

      The sunroof panel may detach during driving

      Hyundai Motor America is recalling 62,811 model year 2015-2016 Sonata Hybrids manufactured December 8, 2014, to August 18, 2015, and Sonatas manufactured May 28, 2014, to March 18, 2016, equipped with the panoramic sunroof option.

      Due to a bonding issue with the sunroof wind deflector, the sunroof panel may detach while the vehicle is being driven, become a road hazard and increase the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Hyundai will notify owners, and dealers will repair the wind deflector anchor plate, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin December 2, 2016.

      Owners may contact Hyundai customer service at 1-800-633-5151. Hyundai's number for this recall is 152.

      Hyundai Motor America is recalling 62,811 model year 2015-2016 Sonata Hybrids manufactured December 8, 2014, to August 18, 2015, and Sonatas manufactured M...

      T-Mobile fined $48 million for 'unlimited' data claims

      Customers are throttled when they exceed 17 GB of data usage in a month

      T-Mobile's "unlimited" claims will cost the company $48 million. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says T-Mobile didn't adequately disclose the speed and data restrictions for its "unlimited" data policy.

      T-Mobile said the disclosures dated back to 2015 and have since been updated to comply with FCC rules.

      An FCC investigation found that T-Mobile policy allows it to slow down data speeds when T-Mobile or MetroPCS customers on so-called “unlimited” plans exceed a monthly data threshold while the company's advertisements may have led unlimited data plan customers to expect that they were buying better and faster service than what they actually received.

      “Consumers should not have to guess whether so-called ‘unlimited’ data plans contain key restrictions, like speed constraints, data caps, and other material limitations,” said FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis LeBlanc. “When broadband providers are accurate, honest and upfront in their ads and disclosures, consumers aren’t surprised and they get what they’ve paid for."

      The Commission’s 2010 Open Internet transparency rules require broadband internet providers to give accurate and sufficient information to consumers about their internet services so consumers can make informed choices, LeBlanc said.

      A T-Mobile spokesperson said that currently, less than 3% of unlimited customers fall into the category of heaviest users who might approach the 26GBs per month or more, and it resets at the beginning of each billing cycle.

      "We never cap a customer’s data," said Bethany Frey, a T-Mobile communications manager. "All this means is that occasionally, in areas of network congestion and during peak times, the top 3% of customers who use the most data on the network may notice slower data speeds."

      Frey said T-Mobile was giving all customers with Unlimited LTE data plans a promo code for 20% off any single accessory in stores. And if they have a mobile internet line, they’ll get an extra 4GB of mobile internet data. Customers should visit t-mobile.com/customerbenefit for more information.

      Consumer benefits

      Today’s settlement includes $48 million in total financial commitments from T-Mobile. This includes a $7.5 million fine in addition to $35.5 million in consumer benefits offered to T-Mobile and Metro PCS customers with “unlimited” plans and at least $5 million in services and equipment to American schools to bridge the homework gap facing today’s students. 

      Eligible subscribers will be offered discounts on accessories and additional data.

      The FCC opened its investigation after it received complaints from T-Mobile and MetroPCS customers who felt misled when they discovered their “unlimited” data plan included “de-prioritized” data speeds after using a fixed amount of data each month.

      Under its “Top 3 Percent Policy,” T-Mobile “de-prioritizes” its “heavy” data users during times of network contention or congestion. This potentially deprived these users of the advertised speeds of their data plan.

      Consumers complained that this rendered data services “unusable” for many hours each day and substantially limited their access to data. The bureau believes that the company failed to adequately inform its “unlimited” data plan customers that their data would be slowed at times if they used more than 17 GB in a given month.

      Under the settlement, T-Mobile will update its disclosures to clearly explain the “Top 3 Percent Policy,” who may be affected by it, what triggers its application, and the impacts on data speeds.

      T-Mobile's "unlimited" claims will cost the company $48 million. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says T-Mobile didn't adequately disclose the s...

      Note7 users file class action suit over carrier fees

      Complainants say they had to pay fees on a phone that was basically unusable

      The financial losses from Samsung’s Note7 disaster number in the billions, and the company stands to lose millions of customers to competitors like Apple. However, the company could face additional financial backlash from consumers looking to take it to court.

      That’s what three New Jersey consumers have decided to do. The three plaintiffs have filed a class action suit against Samsung in federal court over carrier fees they and other consumers had to pay for phones that weren’t safe to use.

      They claim that users should be compensated for the money they paid for devices and plan charges to cellular operators while the South Korean phone maker took its time replacing and finally discontinuing the Note7’s.

      Unfair fees

      The complaint alleges that many Note7 users were out of luck when initial reports surfaced that the phones were a fire hazard. Unable to use a device that could overheat and burst into flames, consumers who tried to exchange their phones during the initial recall period were often unable to because of limited stock.

      As a result, some users were told that they would have to wait weeks until a replacement phone was available. “It was not until September 21 that Samsung announced that it would begin the Note7 exchanges nationwide. And even on that date, only an estimated 500,000 replacement devices had arrived in the United States,” the complaint reads.

      With so many defective phones left unreplaced – around 40% in South Korea and the U.S. as of September 27 – consumers were stuck with phones that they couldn’t safely use. However, the complaint alleges that users incurred monthly device and plan fees during that same period from their phone carriers.

      At this time, the amount of compensation has not been specified, although the complaint states that consumers incurred millions of dollars in fees during the stated time period. The class-action certification of the suit is still awaiting a judge’s approval.

      The case is re: Waudby vs Samsung Electronics America, U.S. district court, district of New Jersey, Newark, No . 16-cv-07334-CCC-JBC. 

      The financial losses from Samsung’s Note7 disaster number in the billions, and the company stands to lose millions of customers to competitors like Apple....

      Consumers to get refunds for delayed airline baggage under new federal rules

      Airlines must also more accurately report on-time arrival rates and other measures

      A new set of regulations passed by the Obama administration will come as welcome news to air travelers who feel they’ve been nickeled and dimed by excessive fees.

      Announced on Wednesday, the new consumer protection rules will guarantee refunds on baggage fees if an airline delays returning luggage after a flight.

      Additionally, airliners will be charged with more accurately reporting on-time arrival rates, the number of bungled wheelchair requests, and the rate of lost or mishandled baggage. The new regulations are meant to fulfill the administration’s promise of imposing tougher consumer protections on the airline industry.

      “The travel community is grateful that the administration continue to shine a light on many of the more frustrating issues that ail the air travel experience in the U.S.” said Roger Dow, chief executive of travel industry trade group U.S. Travel Assn.

      Airline industry pushes back

      The changes are meant to provide travelers with a better sense of how well an airliner operates when it comes to factors like handling baggage and being on time, but the industry says that too many regulations may hurt performance.

      “Efforts designed to re-regulate how airlines distribute their products and services are bad for airline customers, employees, the communities we serve and our overall U.S. economy,” stated Nicholas Calio, president and chief executive of Airlines for America.

      Industry officials point out that airlines are already required by the Department of Transportation to reimburse customers if their bag is lost. Under the new regulations, they would also have to pay customers if luggage is “substantially delayed,” but what the threshold for this term is hasn’t been defined, they say.

      Airlines aren’t the only ones subject to the new rules, though. The regulations also provide provisions for online travel agents, who must disclose to fliers if they have a bias based on financial arrangements for offering flights tied to a certain airline.

      The new reporting provisions of the regulations are meant to take effect on January 1, 2018, with the rest of the rules slated to be enacted 30 days after changes are published in the Federal Register.

      A new set of regulations passed by the Obama administration will come as welcome news to air travelers who feel they’ve been nickeled and dimed by excessiv...

      Do you save money shopping online?

      It all depends on what you are buying

      Each year more consumers do more of their shopping online. A recent study by UPS found more than half of all shopping now takes place on the web, increasingly from a mobile device. The company's “Pulse of the Online Shopper" study found 51% of purchases made by its respondents were made online.

      “This year’s UPS study revealed that 45% of online shoppers love the thrill of hunting for and finding great deals, and that physical stores continue to play an important role in that experience, Teresa Finley, Chief Marketing Officer at UPS, said at the time.

      You tend to notice this trend most around the holidays. Last year, industry sources reported online retailers enjoyed a 16% jump in holiday sales over the Black Friday-Cyber Monday weekend, while in-store sales dropped as much as 10%.

      Saving money or saving time?

      But it isn't clear whether consumers are buying online to save money or as a matter of convenience. While online retailers make it much easier to comparison shop to find the lowest price, many brick and mortar retailers are quick to match an online price. And unless consumers are taking advantage of a free shipping promotion, getting the purchase sent to them can eat into any savings.

      The simple answer is that buying some things online may save you money, but others might not. If you are making the purchase through a deals site, or using a coupon, your purchase might be well below what you would pay in a brick-and-mortar store.

      But when the online purchase is more about convenience, don't expect to save as much money. Online grocery shopping is well on its way to becoming 12% of all grocery purchases, according to one study.

      Timothy Richards of Arizona State University, who has co-authored a study on the growth of online grocery shopping, says there is less wiggle room for food retailers, which are already dealing with very small margins.

      “People are really concerned about the price of groceries,” Richards said. “But if they think buying everything online is going to mean lower food prices, they have another thing coming.”

      Each year more consumers do more of their shopping online. A recent study by UPS found more than half of all shopping now takes place on the web, increasin...

      Elder law attorney, radio personality swindled seniors, NJ charges

      At least $1.2 million missing from elderly clients' accounts, the state alleges

      A New Jersey attorney who taught seminars on elder law and hosted a radio show dispensing advice has been arrested on charges that he stole more than $1.2 million from elderly clients.

      The victims in some cases did not have close relatives to guard their interests or suffered from dementia, according to New Jersey Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino.

      Detectives of the Division of Criminal Justice arrested Robert Novy, 65, of Brick, N.J., on charges of first-degree money laundering, second-degree theft by unlawful taking, and second-degree misapplication of entrusted property.

      The Attorney General’s Office obtained a court order freezing over $3.5 million in assets held in various bank accounts of Novy and his law firm and asked a judge to appoint a trustee to oversee the business operations of the law firm.

      $1.2 million

      From 2010 through 2015, Novy allegedly stole more than $1.2 million from four clients. He allegedly laundered most of the funds through his attorney trust accounts and/or attorney business accounts. Other transactions are still being studied, investigators said.

      Novy has conducted seminars on elder law and hosted a bi-monthly radio program “Inside the Law,” which focused on topics of concern to senior citizens.

      “While Novy held himself out as a leading legal advocate for the elderly, we allege that he corruptly used his reputation and his law license to prey on vulnerable seniors, taking control of their finances and stealing more than $1 million from their life savings.” said Porrino. “In his greed, Novy not only betrayed his oath as a lawyer to uphold the law, he betrayed all standards of decency.”

      “When senior citizens hire a lawyer to put their financial affairs in order, they should be able to trust that they will be treated honestly and with respect. Instead, Novy is charged with deviously draining his clients’ estates,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We urge anyone with information about such thefts by Novy to contact our office.”

      Allegations listed

      It is alleged that Novy engaged in the following thefts from clients:

      • $78,000 from an 88-year-old woman who suffered from dementia, billing the woman and her estate a total of $78,000 that was not supported by any invoice or records showing justification.
      • $176,000 from an 85-year-old woman who suffered from Alzheimer’s. Among other things, he allegedly withdrew funds directly from her personal account totaling nearly $60,000, converting them into cashier’s checks and depositing the checks directly into his personal account, prosecutors said.
      • $459,000 from an 87-year-old woman. Among other things, he deposited proceeds totaling roughly $387,000 from two annuities into his attorney trust account, and subsequently transferred those funds into his law firm’s business accounts, Porrino said.
      • $550,000 from another elderly woman. He allegedly transferred nearly $300,000 that he held for her in his attorney trust account into the firm’s business accounts without any invoices or evidence that legal services were provided.
      A New Jersey attorney who taught seminars on elder law and hosted a radio show dispensing advice has been arrested on charges that he stole more than $1.2...

      Companies starting to train own employees for hard-to-fill positions

      'Upskilling' gives currently employed people a chance to move up

      There are still plenty of people looking for work, but companies are becoming increasingly particular about who they hire. In the digital age, they are looking for employees with certain skill sets and often complain that they can't find them.

      According to the ManpowerGroup annual survey, the problem is only getting worse. The survey found 46% of employers reported trouble filling certain jobs because they couldn't find skilled candidates. That's a big jump from the 32% who reported that problem last year.

      The survey also found this growing problem has changed the dynamics of the job market, and while it might not help job seekers in the short run, it could definitely benefit people who are currently employed, but haven't been able to persuade their boss they need a raise.

      'Upskilling'

      Here's what's happening: employers frustrated at the lack of qualified candidates have begun looking around their own organizations, finding competent and proven employees performing lower skilled jobs, and have begun training them for the hard-to-fill jobs. It's called “upskilling.”

      "We see this particularly in industries like manufacturing, construction, transportation and education," said Kip Wright, senior vice president of Manpower North America. "When the talent isn't available, organizations need to turn to training and developing their own people – and in many cases this means first identifying the skills that will be required in increasingly digital industries, like manufacturing.”

      The benefit for companies is the employees are known quantities. If they have proved reliable in their current capacities, there's a reasonable expectation they would be reliable in a new capacity, assuming they received adequate training and had the aptitude.

      Path for advancement

      For employees, it's a path toward advancement in a career, which would likely lead to increased pay. Employees who believe they have a chance at upward mobility are likely to have better morale.

      The survey measured businesses in 42 countries and territories and found that it's hardest to find skilled trades workers. After that, IT positions have been the hardest to fill.

      For job seekers, obtaining these skills could improve the chances of landing a job. On the other hand, getting any kind of position at a company willing to “upskill” its employees could be a ticket to a new career without having to pay for training.

      There are still plenty of people looking for work, but companies are becoming increasingly particular about who they hire. In the digital age, they are loo...

      Facebook's political candidate endorsement feature: is this really a good idea?

      Some people think there is already too much politics on the social media site

      Every four years Facebook becomes a battleground, where “friends” get into heated arguments over politics.

      Millions of people, it seems, believe the rest of the world needs to know their political opinions, and they often express them as though they were auditioning to host a talk show.

      Facebook apparently believes there isn't enough political give-and-take on its pages, so it has introduced a new feature that encourages users to endorse a political candidate.

      It works like this: a user goes to the Facebook page of their favored candidate. There, he or she selects the “Endorsement” tab, and then selects “Endorse.” A user can also post a comment to go along with the endorsement.

      Limiting visibility

      Facebook has built into the endorsement feature a way to limit who can see your endorsement, but that assumes you know the political leanings of all your Facebook friends. Most likely it's designed to keep peace between friends and family members who are known to hold strong opposite political views.

      But one has to wonder whether such an endorsement feature is necessary, since people posting on Facebook are rarely shy about sharing their views. And in years past it has damaged friendships, and even family relationships.

      As recently as August, Politico reported that the presidential campaign between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was wrecking friendships. Democratic consultant Brent Blackaby told the site that when Trump suggested “Second Amendment people” might stop Clinton, he broke ties with his Trump-backing uncle. Before it was over, he said the arguments and name-calling spilled over to his extended family.

      You're waiting your times

      An anonymous poster on Slashdot appealed to Facebook users to do everyone a favor and keep their opinions to themselves, claiming spouting off for one candidate or against another is pointless.

      “Those long rants about how Trump is a bully and a buffoon, Hillary is a crook, and conspiring against Bernie Sanders has doomed America forever aren't changing voters' minds,” the poster wrote. “A staggering 94% of Republicans, 92% of Democrats, and 85% of independents on Facebook say they have never been swayed by a political post, according to Rantic, a firm that sells social media followers.”

      So why do we do it? Would we say the things we post on Facebook to someone's face? Probably not. The safe distance afforded by the internet likely makes us bolder, which is not always a good thing.

      So one as to wonder what Facebook was thinking by introducing its new political endorsement feature. In the meantime, people sick of looking at their politics-riddled Facebook pages might want to check out this Facebook group, a refuge for people who want to escape politics.

      Every four years Facebook becomes a battleground, where “friends” get into heated arguments over politics.Millions of people, it seems, believe the res...

      Millennials' housing market impact may be bigger than expected

      More are trying to buy homes but still face challenges

      Since the housing crash eight years ago, it has been widely assumed that Millennials, who were just coming of age at that time, would be a generation of renters.

      After all, lenders wanted sterling credit scores and ample down payments before agreeing to a mortgage. Many young people did well just to find a job.

      But today, it's Millennials who are driving the housing market. A report by real estate marketplace Zillow shows first-time home buyers, overwhelmingly Millennials, are both buying and selling homes.

      Millennial buyers want what the generations before them wanted: a home that's a good investment and a reflection of their personal tastes. But more than previous generations, Millennials' first instinct in searching for a home is to turn to the internet.

      Using the internet

      “These young adults came of age during a recession, but they are buying their first homes in a high-priced and fast-paced market,” said Zillow chief economist Dr. Svenja Gudell. “They're using every available resource, including online research and real estate professionals, and taking on the challenge with gusto."

      But Millennials' entry into the housing market has been more difficult than previous generations. The Zillow report finds this group remained renters longer than previous generations and 52% of buyers said they considered remaining renters a while longer, in part because of the difficulty in raising a down payment, and then finding a house they liked. Fewer than half said they were able to buy the first house on which they made an offer.

      When they do make an offer on a house, 83% of Millennials say they want to purchase a single-family home. Nearly half end up purchasing a home in the suburbs.

      A different slant

      The National Association of Realtors (NAR) has released research of its own, an annual profile of both buyers and sellers. While the Zillow report is the first to be conducted, the NAR research has been done every year since 1981.

      Its big takeaway is that, despite the changes in the housing market over time, what consumers are looking for has remained essentially the same.

      It differs from the Zillow conclusions in one major area; realtors say the participation of first-time buyers remains “subdued.” NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun says the evidence suggests first-time buyers are struggling against rapidly-rising prices and a dwindling supply of available homes.

      “A strong majority of current renters under the age of 34 say they want to own a home in the future, but their impending rise will be a gradual one and is not likely to increase substantially in the 2016 survey,” Yun said.

      Since the housing crash eight years ago, it has been widely assumed that Millennials, who were just coming of age at that time, would be a generation of re...

      Mortgage applications inch higher

      Contract interest rates were the highest in several months

      The Mortgage Bankers Association is reporting a slight uptick of 0.6% in new mortgage applications in the week ending October 14. The tally includes an adjustment for the Columbus Day holiday.

      The Refinance Index, on the other hand, dipped 1% from the previous week, with the refinance share of mortgage activity dropping to 61.5% of total applications from 62.4% a week earlier.

      The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity was unchanged at 4.1% of total applications, the FHA share rose to 11.3% from 10.9% the previous week, the VA share was up to 12.8% from 12.0%, and the USDA share of total applications held steady at 0.7%.

      Contract interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) rose five basis points to its highest level since last June -- 3.73% from 3.68% -- with points increasing to 0.36 from 0.35 (including the origination fee) for 80 % loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) jumped from 3.67% to 2.72%, the highest level since June, with points increasing to 0.29 from 0.24 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA was unchanged at 3.54%, with points increasing to 0.30 from 0.23 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs came in at 3.03%, a gain of six basis points to its highest level since June, with points decreasing to 0.27 from 0.34 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs rose to 2.87%, its highest level since last May, with points increasing to 0.41 from 0.28 (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.

      The Mortgage Bankers Association is reporting a slight uptick of 0.6% in new mortgage applications in the week ending October 14. The tally includes an adj...

      Kuster's recalls shredded, sliced and cubed cheese

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Kuster's, Inc. of Camden, Mich., is recalling 14,238 pounds of its shredded, sliced and cubed cheese.

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      The shredded cheese was sold in 5-lb. plastic bags and packaged under the following labels:

      • Kuster's Dairy Foods Three Blend (pack date 10/05/16)
      • Fata's Best Four Blend Feather Shred (lot date 27916)
      • Fata's Best Mozzarella Muenster Provolone Feather Shred (lot date 27916)
      • Fata's Best Monterey Jack Feather Shred (lot date 27916)
      • Fata's Best PepperJack Feather Shred (Lot date 27816)
      • Nor-Tech Dairy Mozz/Muenster/Prov Feather Shred (best used by: 12-05-2016)
      • Nor-Tech Dairy Sharp White Cheddar Feather Shred (packed on 10.04.2016)

      The shredded cheese was distributed in Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

      The cubed cheese was packaged under the following label:

      • Nor-Tech Dairy PepperJack 3/4" Cubed (packed on 10/04/2016).

      The sliced cheese was packaged under the following label:

      • Kuster's Dairy Foods Sliced Colby Jack

      What to do

      Customers who purchased any of the recalled products should not consume them, but return them to Kuster's for a full refund.

      Cosumers with questions may contact the company at 517-368-5174 from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (EST).

      Kuster's, Inc. of Camden, Mich., is recalling 14,238 pounds of its shredded, sliced and cubed cheese.The product may be contaminated with Listeria mono...

      Jeep Wranglers with wiring issue recalled

      The front airbags and seat belt pretensioners may not deploy

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 182,308 model year 2016-2017 Jeep Wranglers manufactured June 16, 2015, to August 14, 2016.

      In certain crash conditions, the front impact sensor wiring may be pulled until it detaches before a signal can be received by the Occupant Restraint Controller (ORC).

      If the ORC module does not receive a signal from the front impact sensor, both front airbags and the seat belt pretensioners will not deploy in the event of a crash, increasing the risk of injury.

      What to do

      The remedy for this recall is still under development. 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 S76.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 182,308 model year 2016-2017 Jeep Wranglers manufactured June 16, 2015, to August 14, 2016.In certain crash conditio...

      LF Products recalls barstools

      Screws on the barstools can loosen, posing a fall hazard

      LF Products of Singapore is recalling about 114,200 Sawyer barstools sold in the U.S. and Canada.

      Screws on the barstools can loosen, posing a fall hazard to the user.

      The firm has received 15 reports of loosened hardware resulting in four reports of fall injuries.

      This recall involves LF Products Sawyer swivel barstools sold in black, white, distressed blue, and dark brown. The recalled barstools have a tan cushion and were sold in two heights, 24 inches and 30 inches. “LF Products” is printed on a label affixed to the barstool.

      The barstools, manufactured in Malaysia and Thailand, were sold exclusively at Bed Bath & Beyond stores nationwide and online at bedbathandbeyond.com from May 2012, through March 2016, for between $90 and $110.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately check to ensure that the hardware on their barstools is secure. Consumers with barstools that have loosened screws should download and review the revised assembly instructions at www.bedbathandbeyond.com/sawyerstoolinstructions, and reassemble the barstools.

      Consumers may contact Bed Bath & Beyond at 800-462-3966 anytime or online at www.bedbathandbeyond.com and click on “Product Recall Information” for more information.  

      LF Products of Singapore is recalling about 114,200 Sawyer barstools sold in the U.S. and Canada.Screws on the barstools can loosen, posing a fall haza...

      Alaska-Virgin merger on course, according to Alaska

      The Justice Department must approve the merger before it can be concluded

      As airline passengers go, Virgin America regulars are a pretty cheerful bunch. They're sort of like Apple users, convinced they're flying along in the best of all possible worlds -- leather seats, free entertainment, cool snacks. 

      But, to mix metaphors, the leather coach seats are about to turn into pumpkins, as the clock ticks down to the U.S. Justice Department's expected approval of the merger between Alaska Airlines and Virgin, expected any day now.

      Alaska had previously said it did not expect the deal to close before yesterday, Oct. 17, and sure enough, it didn't. But Alaska Air Group spokeswoman Bobbie Egan says the company is making "good progress" on the deal.

      "We're good. We're making good progress with the DOJ (U.S. Justice Department) and we're looking at closing in early Q4," said Egan in a Reuters report.

      The $2.6 billion deal, announced last April, will make Alaska the top carrier on the West Coast and the fifth largest in the U.S. Virgin's route structure is mostly east-west. 

      Mood lights

      Virgin has won a loyal following with its relaxed atmosphere and distinctive decor, and Alaska executives have said it is possible they will continue to operate Virgin America as a standalone brand, rather than merging it into Alaska.

      If it doesn't do so, Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson vows he will start another Virgin America, noting he never wanted the sale to happen in the first place. 

      “If the sale goes through with Alaska and they don’t keep the brand, we’ll be starting again. Yeah,” Branson said in an interview with WFAA-TV in Dallas.

      Although he founded the airline and guided its growth, Branson was not permitted to own a controlling interest because he is a British citizen, so he was unable to stop the sale to Alaska Air.

      As airline passengers go, Virgin America regulars are a pretty cheerful bunch. They're sort of like Apple users, convinced they're flying along in the best...

      Survey suggests U.S. consumers are starting to save more

      Researchers say 65% of Americans are tightening up their monthly budget

      In the wake of the financial crisis, consumers found themselves in dire straits when it came to meeting expenses. Many were forced to cut back on certain luxuries and activities they enjoyed to make up for stagnant incomes and to pay for necessities.

      That trend of limiting spending has continued into recent years, but a new report suggests that it may be for different reasons. Instead of doing so out of necessity, a new survey from Bankrate.com suggests that the majority of consumers are tightening up their monthly budgets to save money for the future.

      “With pay raises now spreading out among the broad population, Americans are finally limiting spending for a good purpose – to save money. This is the first time in 4 years that the top reason wasn’t stagnant income,” said Bankrate.com Chief Financial Analyst Greg McBride.

      Limiting spending by generation

      Although saving money is now the top reason for limiting spending – as indicated by 30% of respondents -- the survey found that there were still other strong economic reasons. Consumers said they were also being more careful with their monthly budgets because of stagnant income (25%), worries about the economy (15%), and because they had too much debt (10%). Only 3% of respondents indicated that worries about job security limited their spending.

      Millennials led the way among those who said they needed to save more, at 48%, and Generation Xers were the next most likely group to say the same (31%). Americans over the age of 62 were most likely to say stagnant wages led to a tightened budget, most likely because many retirees in this age range live on a fixed income.

      Older Millennials ranging in age from 26-35 were more likely to cite debt as a reason for tightening their budget than any other group, while the Silent Generation – those aged 71 and up – were most likely to say they saved because of worries about the economy.

      Political affiliation effects outlook

      The survey also revealed a bit of political bias when it came to gauging personal financial security. According to the Financial Security Index -- wherein a rating over 100 indicates increased financial security over the past year and a rating below that mark indicates deterioration of financial security – Democrats’ felt more financially secure, with their score rising from 103.6 to 106.0.

      Figures for Republicans declined from 99.4 to 98.0, and Independents seemed to split the difference between these groups, rising from 97.0 to 99.2.

      The survey was taken by a nationally representative sample of 1,000 adults from the continental U.S from October 6-9, and the margin of error was calculated at3.7 percentage points. 

      In the wake of the financial crisis, consumers found themselves in dire straits when it came to meeting expenses. Many were forced to cut back on certain l...

      Pop-up Halloween stores may be more trick than treat

      Shoppers should consider what they'll do if they need to return an item

      Halloween is now the biggest shopping holiday after Christmas, and that's contributing to a rash of pop-up stores selling costumes, treats, and tricks. But consumer protection officials note that pop-up stores can vanish like ghosts when Halloween is over, leaving customers with no way to return merchandise or redeem store credits.

      “We want consumers to be aware that these 'pop-up' stores come and go in a flash, so shoppers need to be extra careful when making purchases,” said New Jersey Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino. “Know what questions to ask to avoid getting shortchanged.”

      Too often, pop-up stores pack up and clear out of their rented space long before the last piece of Halloween candy has been eaten, said Steve Lee, director of the New Jersey Divison of Consumer Affairs.

      “When it comes to pop-up stores, it’s more important than ever for consumers to inspect merchandise thoroughly and know their rights ahead of time,” Lee said. “When a consumer returns to a store to complain about a defective item and finds the merchant has packed up and left without a trace, there is not much hope of getting a refund.”

      What to do

      Lee offers these tips to avoid a frightening shopping experience:

      Ask store personnel how long they plan to occupy the building. If they can’t give you a clear answer, consider that a major red flag that the store may not be on the up and up.

      Ask how you would be able to contact the store once it leaves, perhaps by website or an alternate address.

      Ask for specific details on returns. What types of merchandise will the store take back? Are unworn costumes returnable after October 31st? Will you get a full refund or store credit? How is store credit redeemable after the shop has closed for the season?

      Fully inspect and try on costumes before leaving the store. Halloween stores are busy places and mix ups occur. Don’t assume that the merchandise inside the box matches what’s on the label.

      Save all your receipts and pay by credit card so you can dispute unsatisfactory purchases through the card’s issuer.

      Halloween is now the biggest shopping holiday after Christmas, and that's contributing to a rash of pop-up stores selling costumes, treats, and tricks. But...

      Three low-cost home security devices

      Each can help you keep an eye on your home and prevent intruders

      Your home and the people who live there are worth protecting, but it’s likely that you can’t be there every moment to protect your palace.

      Fortunately, there are several low-cost "starter" security systems that can help you keep an eye on your home when you're not there. You can find research on more robust systems in the ConsumerAffairs Best Wireless Security System research report. 

      These motion-sensing home security systems can provide the peace of mind that your home or business is safe and protected from intruders. 

      Barking dog alarm

      Don’t have a dog? Or is your pooch more of a friendly couch potato than a dutiful guard dog? With the Barking Dog Alarm ($70), you don’t have to own a large German Shepherd in order for it to sound like you do.

      The device’s radar technology enables it to detect motion through doors, walls, or windows. Potential intruders may be discouraged from breaking into your home upon hearing the sound of a loud, large breed dog inside. If the intruder persists, the realistic sound of the barking dog will become more frequent and threatening.

      Ring Video Doorbell

      Ring's Video Doorbell security system gives homeowners the ability to see and speak to whoever is at their door. Whether you’re at the office or just upstairs, you’ll be able to see whether the person on the other side of your door is a solicitor, a neighbor, or perhaps an unwanted visitor.

      The system connects to your home’s Wi-Fi and sends you a smartphone notification when someone is at your door. Using Ring’s companion app, homeowners can program the system to send a notification either when the doorbell rings or when motion is detected.

      The standard Ring Video Doorbell is $199. The Pro version, which comes with a few advanced features, will set you back $249.

      Piper

      Like Ring, Piper lets you keep tabs on your home from wherever you are. The Wi-Fi connected system will send you an alert when everyone has left your home, which may serve as your cue to arm the system.

      Mom or dad can see when the kids have arrived home safely, pet owners can check on their pets throughout the day, and business owners can see when their employees come and go.

      Key features of the system include an intruder-deterring siren, a camera with 180-degree views, motion and sound detection, and two-way audio. Piper classic is available for $99. The Piper nv Security Bundle, which comes with three door/window sensors, is $349.

      Your home and the people who live there are worth protecting, but it’s likely that you can’t be there every moment to protect your palace.Fortunately,...

      Apple will likely win big over Samsung's Note 7 disaster, analyst says

      The expert says Apple will likely gain between 5 and 7 million customers

      Samsung’s Note7 debacle has truly shaken the mobile division of the company, along with its customers’ confidence. While the South Korean company will be scrambling for some time to mitigate the damage, competitors like Apple are likely to enjoy a bit of a boom.

      But how much should the tech company expect to gain from the situation? According to KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, quite a lot. The expert says that Apple will likely gain 5-7 million customers because of Samsung’s phone disaster. Kuo says that many disenchanted Note7 owners will make the leap to the iPhone 7 Plus because of the device’s dual camera, which will be a big drawing point.

      The analyst arrived at the prediction after examining sales of the Note7. Before reports surfaced about their tendency to catch on fire, Samsung’s device was a hot commodity; around 12 million of the devices were originally sold.

      Half may defect

      Kuo says around 50% of those customers are likely to choose an Apple device as a replacement, while the other 50% of customers will consider devices sold by Android manufacturers Huawei and Google, which recently released its new Pixel smartphone.

      While Kuo’s prediction is only an educated guess, real numbers on Apple’s performance confirm that the company has been thriving as of late. The company’s stock has risen in recent weeks due to the Note7 issues, and fourth quarter projections look pretty favorable. Investors will be able to learn more when Apple releases its earnings report on October 25.

      Meanwhile, Kuo predicts that the Note7 failure will only impact Samsung for a couple more months. However, if more of its devices continue to have technical problems, then its image may take a long-term hit. Customer complaints have flooded in over many the company’s other products recently, so it will likely be something the manufacturer will need to be careful of going forward.

      Samsung’s Note7 debacle has truly shaken the mobile division of the company, along with its customers’ confidence. While the South Korean company will be s...

      Consumers doing a better job of managing debt payments

      Bank card default rate hits seven-month low in September

      The health of the economy often depends on the financial health of the consumer. The consumer's pulse can usually be measured in how he or she is managing debt.

      So far in the first nine months of this year, consumers appear to be doing a slightly better job. The S&P/Experian Consumer Credit Default Indices show a slight drop in default rates between August and September and remain lower for the year.

      Mortgage defaults were nearly a point lower in September. Not a big surprise, since lenders have significantly tightened mortgage underwriting standards. The foreclosure rate has been consistently lower.

      More auto loan defaults

      The one area of concern, however, is auto loans. In September, the default rate was up four basis points from August – but still well within historical norms.

      Perhaps most impressive was the bank card default rate, which dropped to 2.76% in September, a seven-month low.

      David Blitzer, managing director and chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices, says the trend is running in a positive direction.

      Positive trend

      "Despite the continued growth in total consumer credit extended and the currently very low interest rates, we are not seeing any deterioration in consumer credit defaults,” he said. “Rather, the default rates for major categories and for the five cities highlighted in this report continue to drift down to the lowest figures seen in 12 years.”

      In fact, four of the five major cities in the survey saw their default rates go down in the month of September. The decline was most pronounced in Miami, reporting in at 1.12%, down nine basis points from August. Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles also has lower default rates. Dallas stood out as the lone exception, but its default rate didn't rise, it just remained the same as August.

      Eight years removed from the financial crisis, the difference appears like night and day. In October 2008, millions of homeowners were in foreclosure and millions more were headed in that direction, amid widespread layoffs that sent the unemployment rate over 10%. Consumers were also maxing out credit cards and unable to keep up with the payments.

      Today, Blitzer says a steadily improving economy, though still weak, has helped. He also notes that mortgage debt has declined since 2008, with fewer people buying homes. He says consumers have also taken on less debt overall in the last eight years.

      The health of the economy often depends on the financial health of the consumer. The consumer's pulse can usually be measured in how he or she is managing...

      Social Security recipients to get tiny benefit hike in 2017

      Rising gasoline prices sent consumer prices higher in September

      It's not much, but monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments will be going up next year.

      The Social Security Administration reports more than 65 million recipients will see a 0.3% increase in their benefits in 2017.

      The more than 60 million Social Security beneficiaries will see the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) starting in January, while increased payments to more than 8 million SSI beneficiaries will begin later this year -- on December 30.

      The Social Security Act ties the annual COLA to the increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) as determined by the Department of Labor (DOL).

      Some give, some take

      Other adjustments aren't nearly as pleasant.

      Based on the increase in average wages, the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax (taxable maximum) will jump to $127,200 from $118,500. That means roughly 12 million workers will pay more because of the increase in the taxable maximum.

      Information about Medicare changes for 2017 have yet to be announced, but some beneficiaries may see their benefit increase or be partially or completely wiped out by increases in Medicare premiums.

      Consumer prices on the rise

      Meanwhile, DOL reports the CPI rose 0.3% last month on a seasonally adjusted basis, due in large part to increases in the costs of gasoline and shelter.

      Gasoline prices soared 5.8%, while housing costs were up 0.4% -- the largest increase since May.

      Food prices, meanwhile, were unchanged for the third consecutive month, with the food at home (grocery store prices) continuing to decline.

      Core inflation

      The price of items less food and energy -- the “core” rate of inflation -- was up 0.1% after rising 0.3% in August. For the 12 months ending in August, core inflation is running at a rate of 2.2%.

      The complete report is available on the DOL website.

      It's not much, but monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments will be going up next year.Th...

      How to avoid unnecessary bank fees

      NerdWallet study finds just three fees can total $1,000 over a decade

      An analysis by personal finance site NerdWallet found the average consumer with a checking account paid nearly $1,000 in fees over a 10-year period. Most of that could have been avoided, the company says, if customers had chosen the most consumer-friendly bank account.

      Three fees tended to hit consumers the hardest – monthly maintenance fees, ATM and account use fees, and overdraft and nonsufficient funds fees.

      “Checking accounts are the keystone of American personal finance,” said Sean McQuay, credit and banking expert at NerdWallet. “My checking account is the center of my financial life. That’s where all my money goes in and out, so I need to trust my bank.”

      There are ways to avoid these fees. The easiest to avoid is the monthly maintenance fee, which can be $10 to $12 at the nation's largest banks. That's $120 or more a year.

      There is no reason to pay this fee, which is usually placed on a bank's most basic checking account. By doing a little research, you should be able to find a checking account that not only does not charge a monthly fee, but pays you interest on the balance.

      Things you might have to do

      These accounts usually require things on your part – perhaps maintaining a minimum balance, a certain number of debit transactions each month, and a direct deposit. With a little planning, most checking account customers should be able to manage these requirements.

      The second set of fees, ATM fees, can be avoided by only using your bank network's ATMs. But again, having the right kind of checking account can help as well.

      Some rewards checking accounts, offered primarily at credit unions, online banks, and small community banks, offer a set of perks that includes reimbursement of ATM fees. ATM fees can also be avoided by always withdrawing extra cash when making a debit card purchase at the supermarket or some other retail location that allows cash back.

      Do not opt in

      Overdraft fees can be avoided a couple of ways. First, do not “opt in” for overdraft “protection” from your bank. You bank wants to provide this “service” to you, covering any purchase you make with insufficient funds. However, it will charge you an average of $34 for this service, in the form of an overdraft fee.

      That will protect you against overdrafts on debit purchases, but a bounced check will still carry a fee. To avoid bouncing a check, consider keeping your savings in your rewards checking account to pad your balance. Most rewards checking accounts pay a higher interest rate than a passbook savings account. If you do this, however, you'll need to keep careful track of your spending to make sure you don't eat into your savings.

      The NerdWallet analysis shows using the most consumer-friendly checking accounts cost consumers just $31 a year, and that's if they have a couple of overdrafts per year, which can be avoided. If all consumers switched to the best free checking accounts available, they could save a total of more than $7 billion a year.

      An analysis by personal finance site NerdWallet found the average consumer with a checking account paid nearly $1,000 in fees over a 10-year period. Most o...

      U.S. News rates the top Medicare plans across the U.S. for 2017

      It provides ratings based on the best coverage options in each state

      October is Open Enrollment Season, when Medicare recipients may change plans, mainly Advantage and Part D drug coverage. But should you switch?

      U.S. News has released its assessment of the best Medicare plans for 2017, basing its recommendations on best coverage options from insurance companies that have consistently offered highly rated plans.

      "Medicare beneficiaries have a lot to consider, including cost and in- or out-of-network coverage," said Ben Harder, chief of health analysis at U.S. News. "Our tools allow consumers to easily search and identify plans that suit their specific needs."

      The rating system gives up to 5 stars for plans that consistently offer highly rated Medicare Advantage plans in multiple states. But not every state has access to one of the top-rated plans. Companies made the list only if their Medicare Advantage or their Part D plans scored an average rating of 4.5 or higher for all plans in a given state.

      The rating system uses information from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to identify the Best Medicare Advantage Plans and Best Medicare Part D Plans.

      Ratings threshold of 4.5

      For seniors considering a Medicare Advantage Plan, instead of the default Medicare Parts A and B, U.S. News narrowed the choices by listing plans that achieved a 4.5 rating or higher.

      They include Kaiser Permanente, Caremore Health, and Optimum Healthcare, all of which earned a 5.0 rating.

      In rating prescription drug coverage plans, US News breaks it down by states, picking the top plan for each one. In Connecticut, for example, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield took top honors with a score of 5.0. In Idaho, the top prescription drug plan is offered by Regence Blue Shield of Idaho, with a score of 4.5. Seventeen states had at least one plan that made the list.

      Of course, you don't have to switch plans. If you are happy with your coverage or want to stick with traditional Medicare Parts A and B, you don't have to do anything.

      If you want to shop around, the Medicare website offers this tool, which shows you the available plans in your area. A personalized plan search requires your zip code and complete Medicare information.

      The open enrollment period for 2017 closes December 7.

      October is Open Enrollment Season, when Medicare recipients may change plans, mainly Advantage and Part D drug coverage. But should you switch?U.S. New...

      Builder confidence slips in October

      However, sales expectations were on the rise

      The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI), a gauge of builder confidence in the market for newly constructed single-family homes, dipped in October.

      Still, even with a decline of two points to a level of 63, builder confidence stands at its second-highest level of the year.

      NAHB Chairman Ed Brady calls that, “a sign that the housing recovery continues to make solid progress,” but notes that builders in many markets “continue to express concerns about shortages of lots and labor.”

      The builders' view

      The HMI, which is based on a monthly survey, gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next six months as "good," "fair" or "poor."

      The survey also asks builders to rate traffic of prospective buyers as "high to very high," "average" or "low to very low." Scores for each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.

      Two of the three HMI components posted losses in October. The one gauging current sales conditions dropped two points to 69 and the index charting buyer traffic fell one point to 46. On the other hand, the index measuring sales expectations in the next six months rose one point to 72.

      The three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores show the West increased two points to 75 while the Northeast, Midwest, and South each posted one-point gains to 43, 56, and 65, respectively.

      “The October reading represents a mild pullback from a jump in September, and indicates that the housing market continues to make slow and steady gains,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “Moreover, mortgage rates remain low and the HMI index measuring future sales expectations has been over 70 for the past two months. These factors will sustain continued growth in the single-family market in the months ahead.”

      The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI), a gauge of builder confidence in the market for newly constructed...

      Hyundai recalls model year 2010-2016 Genesis Coupes

      The passenger front airbag may deploy improperly

      Hyundai Motor America is recalling 84,500 model year 2010-2016 Genesis Coupes manufactured December 12, 2008, to June 11, 2016.

      The electrical harness connector for the front passenger seat Occupant Classification System (OCS) may dislodge when the seat is moved.

      In the event of a crash necessitating deployment of the passenger front airbag, the disconnected OCS would -- by default -- cause the first stage, and only the first stage, of the air bag to deploy, whether there is a child seat in the front seat and the bag should not deploy or if the crash is severe and both stages should deploy. Either scenario increases the risk of injury to the front seat occupant.

      What to do

      Hyundai will notify owners, and dealers will secure the OCS connector to prevent it from disconnecting, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin December 2, 2016.

      Owners may contact Hyundai customer service at 1-855-371-9460. Hyundai's number for this recall is 151.

      Hyundai Motor America is recalling 84,500 model year 2010-2016 Genesis Coupes manufactured December 12, 2008, to June 11, 2016.The electrical harness c...

      Chimparoo baby carriers recalled

      The carrier's side strap can loosen unexpectedly from the buckle

      L’echarpe Porte-bonheaur Inc., of Canada is recalling about 1,130 Chimparoo baby carriers sold in the U.S. and Canada.

      The carriers’ side strap can loosen unexpectedly from the buckle, posing a fall hazard to the child in the carrier.

      The firm has received one report of a strap loosening unexpectedly from the carrier’s side buckle. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves Chimparoo brand Trek baby carriers that allow the user to carry a baby tummy to tummy, on the hip or on the back. The 100% twill fabric carriers were sold in 18 solid, striped and pattern color combinations.

      The carriers attach to the wearer’s body with adjustable straps made of polypropylene webbing and plastic buckles. “Chimparoo” is printed on the upper right hand corner of the carrier. “Trek” is embroidered on the belt.

      The carriers, manufactured in Canada, were sold at children’s boutique stores, such as Granola Babies, of Costa Mesa, Calif., Eat/Sleep/Play, of Summerville, S.C., and Top to Bottom, of Omaha, Neb., and online at www.Amazon.com and www.Chimaparoo.ca from May 2016, through July 2016, for about $170.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled baby carriers and contact Chimparoo for a free replacement buckle for the baby carrier’s side buckle.

      Consumers may contact Chimparoo toll-free at 855-289-5343 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, by email at safety@Chimparoo.com or online at www.Chimparoo.ca/en/recall and click on “Product Recall” at the bottom of the page.  

      L’echarpe Porte-bonheaur Inc., of Canada is recalling about 1,130 Chimparoo baby carriers sold in the U.S. and Canada.The carriers’ side strap can loos...

      Verizon's PopData looks to give consumers short periods of unlimited data

      Critics argue that the service falls well short of the mark, though

      Consumers have been attempting to manage the data they use on their mobile devices for years, with mixed success. But as technology continues to advance and new media trends take hold, it has gotten more and more difficult to do. Certain services, such as video streaming, can take a big bite out of users’ data if they’re not careful, which can lead to hefty overage charges.

      It is for this reason that many providers have changed or abandoned unlimited data plans, which are potentially less lucrative than raking in exorbitant fees related to data limits. However, Verizon recently announced a new mobile data plan that allows users to buy unlimited data for small chunks of time.

      The plan, called PopData, allows consumers to take advantage of 30- and 60-minute periods of unlimited data, which could be very useful if you need to download a large file or find yourself in an area without Wi-Fi. The company is pricing the 30-minute periods at $2 per extension and the 60-minute periods at $3 per extension, and the total cost of all extensions will be added to each customer’s bill at the end of the month.

      Shortcomings

      While the new plan may seem great at first glance, critics have been quick to point out its shortcomings. First, customers should be aware that PopData is only available while they’re in an LTE network; consumers in an area where Verizon’s 3G network is only available WILL NOT be able to use PopData, so data limits will still apply. The plan is also only available to postpaid subscribers, which means prepaid customers won’t be able to access it.

      Perhaps more worrying is the way that the timer works on the plan. Once a user selects an extension and starts the timer, there is no stopping it. If there are network problems, like slow speeds or bad performance, the timer will continue to tick down anyway.

      For users on less congested networks, this might not be too much of an issue. But for those who might be sharing a network in a city or highly-populated area, having a set time of unlimited data isn’t all that helpful if the network speeds are slow.

      So, before signing up for a block of unlimited data, consumers should be well aware of network conditions and how it might affect their mobile activities. To learn more about PopData, visit the plan’s page here and peruse the FAQ section here.

      Consumers have been attempting to manage the data they use on their mobile devices for years, with mixed success. But as technology continues to advance an...

      Greenhouse gas pact will phase out HFCs in home appliances

      The global agreement is supposed to help save the planet, but it will raise costs for manufacturers

      A weekend meeting in Rwanda may affect how much you pay for your next refrigerator or air conditioner. At the meeting, envoys from the U.S., China, and other major countries agreed to phase out hydroflourocarbons from cooling appliances, aiming for an 80% reduction by 2045.

      The hydroflourocarbons, commonly called HFCs, are an environmental problem; a "greenhouse gas," they contribute to climate change and have long been identified as a threat to the environment as we know it. 

      Secretary of State John Kerry helped forge the deal and called it a major victory for the earth and its inhabitants.

      "It's a monumental step forward, that addresses the needs of individual nations but it will give us the opportunity to reduce the warming of the planet by an entire half a degree centigrade," he said in a BBC News report.

      Experts say the agreement, when fully implemented, will make a big difference in global warming, removing the equivalent of 70 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the air by 2050.

      "A bit more time"

      "HFCs posed an immediate threat to a safe climate due to their increasing use and high global warming potential, thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide," said Benson Ireri of Christian Aid. "By agreeing to an early HFC phase down schedule, we've bought ourselves a bit more time to shift to a global low carbon economy and protect the world's most vulnerable people."

      Manufacturers in the U.S. were relatively pleased with the Rwanda agreement, seeing it as less burdensome than the Environmental Protection Agency's plans to phase out HFCs years earlier, 2024 in the case of refrigerators. For now, they will still have to meet the more stringent EPA regulations, which also call for greater energy efficiency, but it's likely U.S. industry will use the Rwanda pact to press for more time to meet the EPA deadline.

      The problem, of course, is finding an alternative to HFCs that is safe, effective, and affordable. There are always trade-offs in environmental protection, so it becomes a balancing act to find a solution that is more or less satisfactory to everyone.

      "Cooperative effort"

      "Our members are rushing right now to make sure that the alternative refrigerants are going to work, going to be safe,” Joe McGuire, chief executive of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM), told the Wall Street Journal.

      The group had earlier said it was "disappointed by EPA's decision to deny the home appliance industry the time it needs to cost effectively transition from hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerant used in domestic refrigeration to newer alternatives," referring to the 2024 date.

      "Some of the next generation refrigerants are flammable so a transition will require a cooperative effort from manufacturers, refrigerant suppliers and the safety standards bodies in the U.S. and Canada, as well as the relevant federal safety, environmental and energy agencies in both countries," said Kevin Messner, AHAM’s Senior Vice President of Policy and Government Relations.

      Messner said the earlier date "imposes additional and needless costs on U.S. consumers for virtually no environmental benefit."

      The EPA says the date should not "pose a signifcant burden" on manufacturers, who have been anticipating the need to move to alternative coolants.

      EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy called the Rwanda agreement "truly an exciting time for all of us who have worked so hard to achieve this new level of success."

      "As head of the U.S. delegation, I could not be more delighted with the outcome of the negotiations and our collective resolve. The prospects for the future of our planet are bright," McCarthy said in a prepared statement.

      A weekend meeting in Rwanda may affect how much you pay for your next refrigerator or air conditioner. At the meeting, envoys from the U.S., China, and oth...

      Soylent withdraws its snack bars after reports of ill effects

      Customers say the recently-introduced bars made them sick

      "Soylent Green is made out of people.* They're making our food out of people. Next thing they'll be breeding us like cattle for food. You've gotta tell them." -- Thorn, a character in "Soylent Green"

      Anyone who's seen the 1973 film "Soylent Green" might wonder why a prepared food company would name itself Soylent, but that's what a Bay Area start-up did.

      Soylent makes drinks, food powder, breakfast bars, and snack bars that promise to supply not just nutritients but "macronutrients." Instead, the snack bars, introduced just a few months ago, have been causing macroproblems as customers report the bars made them sick.

      The company has responded by withdrawing the bars while it investigates and is offering refunds to its subscribers. 

      "After hearing from our customers, we immediately began investigating the cause of the issue and whether it was linked to a problem with the Bars. So far we have not yet identified one and this issue does not appear to affect our other drinks and powder," the company said in a statement on its website. 

      Macrofood

      Like several other meal replacement companies, Soylent claims its products are not just snacks but meal replacements -- enough to live on, in other words. Maybe that's why it says they supply "macronutrients." 

      We looked up macronutrients and here's what we found:

      a substance required in relatively large amounts by living organisms, in particular.
      • a type of food (e.g., fat, protein, carbohydrate) required in large amounts in the human diet.
      • a chemical element (e.g., potassium, magnesium, calcium) required in large amounts for plant growth and development.

      So, a macronutrient is something you have to eat a lot of -- like, uh, food. What we guess they're trying to say is that Soylent bars, liquids, and powder aren't just sugar and food coloring but actually the stuff of life, so to speak.

      "Knotty old rope"

      Could be, although the bars are not the only Soylent products that have come in for their share of criticism. Brian Merchant, a reporter for Motherboard, set out to live on the stuff for a month.

      "It was my second day on Soylent and my stomach felt like a coil of knotty old rope. I wasn’t hungry, but something was off. I was tired, light-headed, low-energy, but my heart was racing," Merchant wrote. "I had twenty-eight days left of my month-long all-Soylent diet—I was attempting to live on the full food replacement longer than anyone besides its inventor—and I felt woozy already."

      Soylent is -- what else? -- a venture-backed company started by a 25-year-old, Rob Rhinehart, a software engineer who tried to apply his skills to basically reverse-engineering food.

      The result is a powder that Merchant said "tasted like granular baby formula that was somehow simultaneously sugary and salty. Previous tasters had compared it to semen, which made sense, and so did the nods to cake batter and uncooked oatmeal."

      Could you live on the stuff? Opinions differ, but the consensus seems to be that you could but why would you want to? Eating is, or at least is supposed to be, at least mildly pleasurable and often provides an opportunity for social interaction. Choking down a chalky substance might not be macro enough for many consumers. 

      Anyone who's seen the 1973 film "Soylent Green" might wonder why a prepared food company would name itself Soylent, but that's what a Bay Area start-up did...

      Lack of control in a high-stress job could cause you to die younger

      Flexibility within a job is important to employees' health, study suggests

      The effects of one’s job don’t always stay neatly tucked away at the office. Numerous studies have proven that your job can impact your health, even beyond the hours of 9 to 5.

      One study found that answering work emails after hours can leave employees feeling depleted, while others have found that feeling control over one’s job can help a person stave off work-related stress.

      Now, a new study from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business has found that being in a high-stress job with little control over your workflow may send you to an early grave.

      15.4% increased risk of dying

      To conduct the study, researchers analyzed 2,363 Wisconsin residents in their 60s. At the end of seven years, the team found that participants who had jobs with little control and high demands had a 15.4% higher risk of dying compared to those in low-control jobs with low demands.

      "We explored job demands, or the amount of work, time pressure and concentration demands of a job, and job control, or the amount of discretion one has over making decisions at work, as joint predictors of death," said lead author Erik Gonzalez-Mulé, assistant professor of organizational behavior and human resources at the Kelley School.

      In contrast to those in low-control and high-demand jobs, employees who held positions in demanding jobs with high amounts of control had a 34% decrease in the likelihood of death.

      Gonzalez-Mulé says these findings “suggest that stressful jobs have clear negative consequences for employee health when paired with low freedom in decision-making, while stressful jobs can actually be beneficial to employee health if also paired with freedom in decision-making."

      Importance of flexibility

      The study underscores the importance of flexibility and discretion in the workplace. The ability to set one’s own goals and have a say in how the work gets done could have a positive impact on employees’ health, explained Gonzalez-Mulé.

      "You can avoid the negative health consequences if you allow them to set their own goals, set their own schedules, prioritize their decision-making and the like,” he said, adding that increased flexibility may also translate to thinner employees.

      The study found that people in demanding jobs with little control were heavier than those in demanding jobs with a high amount of control.

      In explaining why this may be, Gonzalez-Mulé points out that “when you don't have the necessary resources to deal with a demanding job, you do this other stuff. You might eat more, you might smoke, you might engage in some of these things to cope with it."

      Restructuring jobs

      The study’s findings highlight the benefits of job crafting, says Gonzalez-Mulé. Research has shown that job crafting -- a process which gives employees the ability to mold their job into something more meaningful to them -- can create happier and more productive workers.

      He notes that in some settings, job crafting may not be feasible. For a construction worker, for example, he explains that it would be "hard to allow them autonomy; there's usually just one right way to do things.”

      But in some blue-collar jobs, Gonzalez-Mulé says job crafting is very much a possibility. Flex-time and pay based on piece-rate are a few of the ways employers in factory settings can show employees the outcome of their work.

      The effects of one’s job don’t always stay neatly tucked away at the office. Numerous studies have proven that your job can impact your health, even beyond...

      A warning for open-heart surgery patients

      A device used during surgery may have been contaminated with long-lived bacteria

      Federal health officials have a warning for open-heart surgery patients: a device used during your surgery may have been contaminated with bacteria when it was made, and a dangerous infection can develop long after the surgery.

      The device is a 3-T heater-cooler made by Sorin, now known as LivaNova PLC. It’s used to keep a patient’s blood and organs at a specific temperature during the surgery.

      More than 250,000 heart bypass procedures using heater-cooler devices are performed in the United States every year and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that about 60 percent of them used the devices that have been associated with these infections.

      The CDC said that in hospitals where at least one patient has been infected, the risk of additional infections ranges from 1 in 100 to 1 in 1,000. Patients who had valves or prosthetic products implanted are at higher risk of these infections.

      Symptoms to watch for

      Patients who've had the life-saving surgery don't have to do anything now, other than watch for signs of an infection and seek medical care right away if those symptoms develop.

      The CDC says that patients who have had open heart surgery should seek medical care if they are experiencing symptoms associated with infections, such as night sweats, muscle aches, weight loss, fatigue, or unexplained fever.

      There is no test for the infection, which is caused by a bacteria known as Mycobacterium chimaera. It rarely makes healthy people sick, but the CDC warns that patients who have been exposed to the bacteria through open-heart surgery can develop general and nonspecific symptoms that can often take months to develop. As a result, diagnosis can be missed or delayed, sometimes for years, making these infections more difficult to treat.

      Infections can be diagnosed only through a lab culture, a lengthy process that can take up to two months.

      “It’s important for clinicians and their patients to be aware of this risk so that patients can be evaluated and treated quickly,” says the CDC’s Dr. Michael Bell. “Hospitals should check to see which type of heater-coolers are in use, ensure that they’re maintained according to the latest manufacturer instructions, and alert affected patients and the clinicians who care for them.”

      Patients who have had open-heart surgery and are concerned about symptoms they may be experiencing should contact their healthcare providers.

      Federal health officials have a warning for open-heart surgery patients: a device used during your surgery may have been contaminated with bacteria when it...

      Why you should do your holiday shopping with a credit card

      The rewards can be significant

      The holiday shopping season is fast approaching and surveys have shown that many consumers have been making purchases since Labor Day.

      So now might be a good time to point out that if you plan to do a lot of end-of-the-year spending, doing it with a rewards credit card might help you save as much money as hitting the stores early on Black Friday.

      In recent years personal finance experts have emphasized rewards credit cards as an easy way to save money. Like any credit card, a rewards card needs to be used responsibly, but if utilized to make purchases you would ordinarily make with a debit card or cash, credit card purchases can put money in your pocket.

      How much varies from card to card, but the folks at Discover have rolled out some special holiday promotions, upping the rewards consumers can earn during the holidays, using the Discover it Card or Discover it for Students. Both cards normally pay 1% on all purchases but also have special quarterly promotions.

      5% bonus

      For example, for the fourth quarter Discover will pay a 5% cashback bonus on purchases at Amazon.com, department stores, and Sam's Club – places where consumers probably do the lion's share of their shopping. The 5% bonus applies to a total purchase amount of $1,500. Above that, any additional spending earns the regular 1% cash back.

      “We try to make sure that we don't make our program complicated,” Maureen Powers, vice-president of rewards for Discover, told ConsumerAffairs. “We don't want customers to have to start planning how they are going to earn their rewards, or having to do math.”

      Added bonus for new customers

      There's an even better payoff for consumers who just recently obtained a Discover it Card, or plan to get one soon.

      “Our card members can earn Cash Back Match,” Powers said. “They are earning all of these rewards, and then at the end of the first 12 months that they have the card, we will double all of those rewards.”

      How much can that add up to? Let's assume you are a new cardholder who ends up spending $1,750 at Amazon, a number of department stores, and Sam's Club. You earn $75 on the first $1,500 and $2.50 on the difference between $1,500 and $1,750. Then, because you qualify for Cash Back Match, the amount is doubled for a total of $155 in cash rewards.

      Powers also says Discover offers price protection, in case you find the item you purchase later at a lower price.

      “What consumers will do is send in the receipt and show where they found a better price, and Discover will refund the difference up to $500, if you do it within 90 days of the purchase,” she said.

      While doing your holiday shopping with cash may keep you from overspending, it doesn't put money in your pocket. But it bears repeating, using a rewards credit card for all your holiday purchases will only put you ahead if you exercise discipline and don't over-spend.

      The holiday shopping season is fast approaching and surveys have shown that many consumers have been making purchases since Labor Day.So now might be a...

      Pepsico plans to put consumers on a diet

      Beverage and snack manufacturer plans to reduce calories, increase nutritution

      It's no secret that consumers get a lot of their daily calories from beverages and snacks. As obesity rates have climbed over the last 30 years, companies that make these products have come under increasing pressure.

      Pepsico, a conglomerate that makes soft drinks, snacks, and fast food, has announced a major initiative that it says will reduce the calorie count of most of its products by 2025.

      "To succeed in today's volatile and changing world, corporations must do three things exceedingly well: focus on delivering strong financial performance, do it in a way that is sustainable over time and be responsive to the needs of society," said PepsiCo Chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi.

      Doing well by doing good

      Nooyi says the plan will build on what she said is the company's progress so far. She points to Pepsico's rising stock price as evidence of “doing well by doing good.” She said the company has been addressing environmental, health, and social priorities in all of its global markets.

      So far, Nooyi says Pepsi has removed a lot of sugar from its products. That trend will continue, she says, as the company shoots for at least two thirds of its beverages containing 100 calories or less per 12 ounce serving over the next nine years.

      By 2025, PepsiCo also plans to have three-quarters of its food products with no more than 1.1 grams of saturated fat per 100 calories and containing no more than 1.3 milligrams of sodium per calorie. It also plans to enhance its nutritional output, increasing products with more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, dairy, protein, and hydration.

      Seizing the high ground

      The company appears to be attempting to capture the high ground from rival Coca-Cola, which last year endured a protracted public relations controversy over its involvement in obesity research.

      Pepsi, meanwhile, says it has also been producing more diet beverages, repackaging Diet Pepsi with the sweetener aspartame. Nooyi says the goal is to harness technology to produce low-calorie/no-calorie products that taste the same as those rich in calories.

      "PepsiCo's journey is far from complete, and our new goals are designed to build on our progress and broaden our efforts," Nooyi said. "We have mapped our plans against the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and we believe the steps we are taking will help lift PepsiCo to even greater heights in the years ahead. Companies like PepsiCo have a tremendous opportunity - as well as a responsibility - to not only make a profit, but to do so in a way that makes a difference in the world."

      It's no secret that consumers get a lot of their daily calories from beverages and snacks. As obesity rates have climbed over the last 30 years, companies...

      Common prostate cancer treatment may double dementia risk

      Researchers warn reducing testosterone can have negative side effects

      Since the 1940s, one of the most common ways doctors treat prostate cancer is with something called androgen deprivation therapy (ADT). It's currently used to treat an estimated 500,000 men in the United States by reducing their testosterone levels.

      While it has been shown to be effective at countering prostate cancer, researchers are increasingly worried about some of its potential side effects. A new study from the University of Pennsylvania suggests ADT can double a man's risk of developing Alzheimer's or other dementia.

      The researchers make clear they have not come up with conclusive proof that ADT increases dementia risks, but they say their analysis of medical records – comparing patients who received ADT with those who did not – “strongly supports” that conclusion.

      “This is not an academic question anymore; this is really a clinical question that needs to be answered,” said lead author Dr. Kevin T. Nead.

      Two studies, same results

      He points to two research papers – the first released late last year – that he says show very similar outcomes and magnitude of risk. At the very least, he says the possibility needs more study.

      The Penn researchers are not alone in their suspicions. Research in recent years also has linked low testosterone to cognitive decline, finding that men with Alzheimer’s tend to have lower testosterone levels, compared to men of the same age who don’t have the disease.

      Androgens are male hormones and doctors have known for a long time that they play a major role in stimulating prostate cell growth. That's why a major prostate cancer treatment reduces androgen production, in an effort to shrink prostate tumors.

      The American Cancer Society says ADT is normally used in prostate cancer patients who are not good candidates for surgery or radiation treatments. Sometimes it is used if the patient has been treated for surgery or radiation, but the cancer returns.

      But the research team warns that reducing androgen activity too much can negative consequences, including high blood pressure and diabetes. It has only been recently that researchers have included dementia in the list of side-effects.

      The researchers don't rule out other possible reasons that men undergoing ADT treatments tend to have a higher dementia risk, but say there needs to be additional study to reach a firm conclusion.

      Since the 1940s, one of the most common ways doctors treat prostate cancer is with something called androgen deprivation therapy (ADT). It's currently used...

      Virginia Tech professor develops fireproof battery in wake of Samsung Note 7 fiasco

      Replacing the flammable solvent in lithium ion batteries with a safer gel is the key

      To illustrate just how worrisome the Samsung Note 7 fire problem has been for the nation's airlines, all of them carried fire containment bags on board commercial aircraft, and may still, even though the government has officially banned the devices from flights..

      It's a precaution against a potential catastrophe if one of the smartphones somehow gets on board, explodes, and catches fire. It's bad enough if it happens in your kitchen. It could be fatal if it occurs within a small space flying at 30,000 feet.

      An incident a couple of weeks ago, when a Note 7 caught fire while a Southwest Airlines jet was boarding, was a wake-up call and led a few days later to Samsung withdrawing the Note 7 from production.

      It was a huge reversal of fortune for Samsung, since the Note 7 had been acknowledged as among the best new smartphones.

      Its fatal flaw, apparently, is its lithium ion battery that can reportedly overheat to the point that it ignites. Fix that and you may have fixed the problem.

      Samsung may be pleased to learn that a chemistry professor at Virginia Tech has proposed a fix, that he says would make all smartphones resistant to fire.

      Spent five years studying the problem

      In an interview with Blacksburg, Virginia TV station WDBJ, associate professor Louis Madsen said he has been studying the problem of overheating batteries for the last five years.

      "Lithium has to transport across this battery and it actually moves through a liquid that's a flammable solvent,” he told the station. “If it gets too hot then it can boil, so some people may have seen batteries actually inflate if you overcharge them, I've seen a few of these. And then in the worst case, they can smoke or be heated up and start on fire."

      The solution, Madsen suggests, is fairly simple, though it may increase the cost of producing the batteries. Just replace the flammable liquid solvent with a gel that won't burn. He says he has been working on just such a substance that he believes will lead to a safer lithium battery.

      Madsen says he believes Samsung engineers pushed their batteries to produce too much power to run more functions. That becomes a problem, he says, because that can produce heat, and the liquid solvent within the batteries can ignite at 120 degrees Fahrenheit. The gel he's working on can supposedly withstand temperatures up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, Madsen says.

      To illustrate just how worrisome the Samsung Note 7 fire problem has been for the nation's airlines, all of them carried fire containment bags on board com...

      Nestlé recalls Drumstick Club Variety and Vanilla Packs

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Nestlé USA is recalling its Nestlé Drumstick Club 16 count Variety Pack and 24 count Vanilla Pack (with cones marked for easy individual sale).

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      The two pack sizes contain 4.6-fl. oz. cones and were manufactured in Bakersfield, Calif., and distributed nationally.

      The following products are being recalled:


      Description

      Production Code

      UPC

      Best Before Date

      DSTK Club CP 16x4.6floz US

      6244580212

      72554-11096

      Between June 2 - June 15, 2017

      6245580212

      6246580212

      6247580212

      6248580212

      6249580212

      6250580212

      6251580212

      6252580212

      6253580212

      6254580212

      6255580212

      6256580212

      6257580212

      DSTK Vanilla 24x4.6floz US

      6258580212

      72554-00160

      Between June 16 - June 19, 2017

      6259580212

      6260580212

      6261580212

      The product identification codes can be found on the back of the packages and on the individually marked vanilla cones from the 24 count pack. The two packs being recalled carry distinct UPC codes, as well as a “best before” date and production code.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but return them to the place of purchase or contact Nestlé consumer services for replacement.

      Consumers may contact the company at 1-800-681-1676, by email at Nestleproductinquiry@casupport.com or online www.Nestleusa.com and www.Drumstick.com.

      Nestlé USA is recalling its Nestlé Drumstick Club 16 count Variety Pack and 24 count Vanilla Pack (with cones marked for easy individual sale).The prod...

      GITI recalls a quarter-million passenger car replacement tires

      The tires may develop cracks in the lower sidewall

      GITI Tire (USA) is recalling 250,620 imported Primewell Valera Touring II tires, sizes 205/50R17 93V XL, 215/50R17 95V XL, 225/50R17 94V, 225/50R18 95T; 205/65R16 95H, GT Radial Champiro Touring A/S tires, sizes 205/50R17 93V XL, 215/50R17 95V XL, 225/50R17 94V, 205/65R16 95H; and 225/50R18 95T, and Dextero Touring DTR1 tires, sizes 205/50R17 93V XL, 215/50R17 95V XL, 225/50R17 94V, manufactured by PT. Gajah Tunggal TBK in Indonesia.

      The replacement passenger car tires may develop cracks in the lower sidewall, potentially resulting in a loss of air.

      A loss of air pressure may result in sudden tire failure, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      GITI will notify owners, and dealers will replace the affected tires, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in October 2016.

      Owners may contact GITI customer service at 1-877-342-0882.

      GITI Tire (USA) is recalling 250,620 imported Primewell Valera Touring II tires, sizes 205/50R17 93V XL, 215/50R17 95V XL, 225/50R17 94V, 225/50R18 95T; 20...

      Osage Gardens Organic Micro Greens recalled

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Osage Gardens is recalling its Osage Gardens Organic 2-oz. Micro Greens that has the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      The recalled product, packed in a clear plastic clamshell with a UPC Code 709376615008 and Julian codes from 266 to 279, was distributed to Whole Foods stores in Colorado and Kansas.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may contact Osage Gardens at 970-876-0668 Monday-Friday, 8am-4:30pm.

      Osage Gardens is recalling its Osage Gardens Organic 2-oz. Micro Greens that has the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella.No illnesses have bee...

      Postcard from Mount Rushmore

      Seeing this unique monument in person is nothing like just looking at pictures

      Mount Rushmore captured my interest in elementary school. No one I knew had ever ventured to South Dakota and the memorial, located so far away, seemed out of reach. And yet, on a recent September afternoon, I fulfilled my childhood dream and there I was, at Mount Rushmore, viewing the spectacular memorial.

      As we approached the memorial from the highway, I glanced over my left shoulder and there they were -- the faces of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt, four iconic presidents carved high into the mountain. Even from a distance, it was a thrill.

      We entered the national park by walking uphill through the Avenue of Flags. I had seen this approach in photographs, but viewing the monument through the flags took my breath away. I continued to walk, and as I approached the Grand View Terrace, I had an unobstructed view. It was mesmerizing and I could not stop looking at the memorial.

      The eyes twinkle

      Mount Rushmore filled me with awe and the longer I stared, the more often it changed. The shifting sun and the clouds shaded some facial features and brought others into focus. I took over 30 photos and none are alike.

      You don’t have to just stand there spellbound, although that’s a fine way to enjoy the memorial. I’m glad I had time to visit the Lincoln Borglum Visitors Center. There’s a lot to learn about Mount Rushmore at its museum, theaters, a bookstore, and ranger desk.

      I asked a ranger why the eyes look so real and learned that the eye of each sculpture has a 20-inch shaft of granite. This makes the eye seem as if it is twinkling when the sun hits the shaft.

      Here are some other facts I learned. The memorial was originally conceived by Doane Robinson, the state historian of South Dakota, as an attraction to bring tourists from all over the USA to the Black Hills of South Dakota. His original idea was to honor the West’s greatest heroes that would include Native Americans.

      Robinson recruited Gutzon Borglum who was carving the face of Robert E. Lee at Stone Mountain in Georgia. It was Borglum who chose the site and persuaded Robinson that the four presidents would be a greater draw. He then created and sculpted the design, dying before the project was completed. His son Lincoln did the finishing touches on the memorial. A senator and congressman were instrumental in getting federal funding in the early years and it became part of our National Park Service.

      The Lakota Sioux

      Ending here would not do justice to the true settlers of the Black Hills, the Native Americans. Mount Rushmore was carved on land that is both sacred to the Lakota Sioux and promised to them in perpetuity by the United States government, according to the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. The treaty was not upheld when gold was found in 1874 and the Lakota Sioux were then relocated.

      A visit to Mount Rushmore would not be complete without a visit to the Crazy Horse Monument, just 15 miles away. Here you will find another magnificent sculpture carved into the mountain, one that honors the famous Indian warrior Crazy Horse.

      This monument, not part of the National Park Service, was commissioned by Henry Standing Bear, a Lakota elder who had originally lobbied to have a Native American represented on Mount Rushmore. Sculpted by Korczak Ziolkowski, who worked on Mount Rushmore, it has been independently funded and operated by the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation, a private non-profit organization.

      The face of Crazy Horse was completed in 1998, with his horse yet to be carved. After the death of Ziolkowski, his wife Ruth and seven of their ten children carried on the work of finishing the memorial, which is ongoing.

      These amazing sites tell the story of our nation and the continuing struggles of the American West. They are both glorious and merit a visit.

      Mount Rushmore captured my interest in elementary school. No one I knew had ever ventured to South Dakota and the memorial, located so far away, seemed out...

      U.S. Treasury enacts regulations to stop earnings stripping

      The new rules would make it harder for some corporations to dodge taxes

      One of the main political sticking points for candidates over the years has concerned taxes – more specifically, how to make sure U.S. companies pay their fair share of them.

      Many have called the tax system broken over the years because of how easy it is for a company or corporation to acquire a business overseas and move its tax address. This allows multinational businesses to engage in “earnings stripping,” which is the term that describes a company that pays deductible interest to a parent company or affiliate in another country that has lower taxes. Simply put, it allows a business to avoid paying as much as they should in U.S. taxes.

      But in an interview with CNBC on Thursday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced new regulations that will limit companies’ ability to take part in this kind of “egregious” tax avoidance. The new rules will seek to end earnings stripping and mandate that corporations file documentation on interest deductions on related-party loans.

      “This administration has long called for legislative action to fix our broken tax system. In the absence of Congressional action, it is Treasury’s responsibility to use our authority to protect the tax base from continued erosion,” said Treasury Department Secretary Jacob J. Lew in a statement.

      “We have taken a series of actions to make it harder for large foreign multinational companies to avoid paying U.S. taxes and reduce the incentives for U.S. companies to shift income and operations overseas. Such tax avoidance practices are wrong and should be stopped.”

      Exceptions and exemptions

      The proposed regulations were submitted back in April, and were subject to months of scrutiny from stakeholders before being finalized. As a result, the finalized version allows for several exceptions and exemptions for situations where there is a low risk of earnings stripping.

      Feedback from the public also led to exemptions for foreign subsidiaries of U.S. multinational corporations, transactions between pass-through businesses, cash pools, and limited exemptions for financial institutions and insurance companies that are subject to regulatory oversight for their capital structure.

      The final regulations also include more relaxed documentation requirements than those suggested in April, as well as more exceptions for ordinary course transactions like stock acquisitions associated with employee compensation plans. The regulations will go into effect on January 1, 2018.

      Mixed reviews

      Republicans and Democrats have remained divided on the new regulations. Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex) claims the regulations were pushed through too quickly and may damage U.S. workers and the economy. “By rushing the review process – despite the extensive comments received – and finalizing these regulations so quickly, it appears the Obama Administration has ignored the real concerns of people who will be most impacted by these far-reaching rules,” he said.

      On the other side of the aisle, Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich) said the new regulations were a step in the right direction towards restoring fairness to the tax system.

      “For years, companies have been inverting and engaging in earnings stripping to unfairly lower their tax bills. In the absence of Republican action on tax reform, Treasury has used its Administrative authority to help bring fairness to the tax system. Today’s regulations from Treasury—which took into account extensive comments from the public and intensive meetings with Republicans and Democrats in Congress—go straight to the core of that fairness issue by strongly limiting a company’s ability to use this tax avoidance strategy, which involves disproportionately leveraging a U.S. company with debt and ‘stripping’ the U.S. tax base through deductible interest payments,” he said.

      One tax expert found both positives and negatives to the new regulations, saying that some necessary steps were taken but that some parts were still worrisome.

      “On the plus side, the documentation rule’s applicability of 1/1/18 and the exception – for the time being at least – for foreign issuers were responsive to comments and were absolutely necessary. . . But the rules’ general response regarding cash pooling will still be highly burdensome where they apply as will the retroactive application of the re-characterization rules,” said Ronald Dabrowski, a principal of KPMG LLP, a Washington National Tax practice.

      So, based on the mixed reviews, consumers may have to wait and see if the new regulations save the tax system or lead to the collapse of the country as we know it. The smart bet may be to expect something in between. Consumers can learn more by visiting the Treasury's fact page here.

      One of the main political sticking points for candidates over the years has concerned taxes – more specifically, how to make sure U.S. companies pay their...

      Why staying home is better for family happiness than going out

      Families don't always have to play together to stay together, study finds

      Before trekking out to an amusement park or embarking on an exciting adventure with the kids, parents may want to consider the fact that family happiness is often found right at home.

      In a new study, researchers from Baylor University found that family leisure at home can be a “more effective route to happiness” due to the fact that familiar activities are easier for the brain to digest.

      When the brain is busy digesting new information, it can make it more difficult to reap the emotional benefits of quality time together, explained lead author Karen K. Melton, Ph.D., an assistant professor of child and family studies in Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences at Baylor.

      “When the brain is focused on processing new information -- such as taking part in an unfamiliar activity with unfamiliar people in a new location -- less 'brain power' is available to focus on the family relationships.”

      Inside the home

      You might think that any quality time is good quality time, but Melton disagrees. “All family leisure is not equal,” she says, adding that “the best predictor of happiness for families may be spending quality time together in familiar activities inside the home.”

      To reach this conclusion, Baylor researchers asked 1,502 families to answer an online questionnaire regarding the nature of their family’s leisure time together. Questions included, “What activities do you do?” and “How often do you do them?”

      Scores supported the researchers’ initial hypothesis, which stated that families that participated in more leisure with lower levels of recreation would have higher levels of happiness.

      The study’s authors note that these findings are good news for families with limited time, few resources, or both.

      Expressing stress

      Hanging out at home together may also offer families a way to release some steam. Instead of plastering on a happy face while doing activities outside the home, families members can “express stress and conflict as well as pleasure during leisure time” at home, says Melton.

      So what at-home activities pave the way for healthy and happiness-inducing quality time together? Melton says there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but simple, familiar activities are a good place to start.

      "For some families, quality togetherness is having dinner together or playing games; for others, it may be hobbies, videos or TV, music," Melton said. "At the end of the day, what matters is that we are social beings who crave a sense of belonging and connectivity."

      The study has been published in World Leisure Journal.

      Before trekking out to an amusement park or embarking on an exciting adventure with the kids, parents may want to consider the fact that family happiness i...

      DeVry University agrees to limit job placement claims

      Settlement with Education Department is latest action to rein in for-profit schools

      DeVry University has agreed to limit job placement claims as part of a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Education, which has been cracking down on the for-profit college industry.

      The DOE had charged that DeVry used unsubstantiated job placement claims in recruitment and advertising materials. 

      “Students deserve accurate information about where to invest their time and money, and the law is simple and clear: recruitment claims must be backed up by hard data.” said U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr.

      If a postsecondary institution advertises job placement statistics to recruit students, federal law requires that the institution be able to substantiate the truthfulness of such claims. In August 2015, DOE had asked DeVry to back up its claim that since 1975, 90 percent of its graduates were employed in their field of study within six months of graduation.

      No evidence

      After reviewing the information that DeVry provided, the department found that DeVry could not provide evidence to substantiate this claim.

      The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has sued DeVry, charging that its advertisements deceived consumers about the job placement rates in graduates’ chosen fields of study, and falsely claimed graduates would earn more than those graduating with bachelor's degrees from other colleges or universities. 

      Today’s agreement settles only the issue of a single, unsubstantiated claim and does not prohibit the Department from imposing future enforcement actions against DeVry in the event of additional findings.

      “We are grateful to our federal partners at the Federal Trade Commission for their ongoing support in our investigation,” said U.S. Department of Education Chief Enforcement Officer Robert Kaye. “Together, we’ve put an end to the use of an unsubstantiated claim by this institution, and we will continue our efforts to ferret out similar unlawful practices.”

      Effective immediately, DeVry University will be participating in the federal student aid programs only through a provisional program participation agreement. As a result of this settlement, DeVry’s provisional status may last as long as five years. Moreover, DeVry also agreed that its continued participation in Title IV federal student aid programs will be contingent on complying with additional requirements.

      DeVry University has agreed to limit job placement claims as part of a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Education, which has been cracking ...

      Yahoo Mail turns its forwarding function back on

      The company says the shutdown was part of a 'platform upgrade'

      Yahoo Mail's forwarding feature is working once again, according to Yahoo. It was disabled earlier this week with no explanation, leading many to think the action was related to the data breach that compromised more than 500 million accounts.

      But no. According to Yahoo, the shutdown was simply part of a "platform upgrade," not a heavy-handed attempt to keep users from fleeing Yahoo Mail.

      Usually, when consumers set up a new email account, they set the old one to forward incoming email from the old account to the new one. Without the forwarding function, there's no way to do this, leaving some Yahoo users feeling they were being held hostage.

      Hoping to put the best spin on the situation, Michael Albers, VP of Product Management for Yahoo Mail, took to Tumblr to deny there was any attempt to detain fleeing customers.

      "Over the past year, Yahoo Mail has been upgrading its platform. This has allowed us to bring a better search experience to Yahoo Mail, add multiple account support, and improve performance as we quickly scale this new system globally. The feature was temporarily disabled as part of this process," Abers wrote.

      Yahoo Mail's forwarding feature is working once again, according to Yahoo. It was disabled earlier this week with no explanation, leading many to think the...

      Obama removes limits on Cuban cigars travelers can take home

      But cigar stores will still be unable to import them for resale

      There's a famous story that in 1962, hours before he was to extend an economic embargo against Cuba to include all trade and all products, President Kennedy sent an aide to every cigar store in Washington, buying every available box of Cuban cigars. He reportedly stockpiled over 1,200 fine cigars using his insider information.

      It's only fitting that another president is taking action to now make Cuban cigars more plentiful in the U.S., even if you won't find them for sale in cigar stores.

      President Obama has signed a Presidential Policy Directive that further loosens restrictions on travel and trade between the United States and Cuba, and those who enjoy a quality smoke now and then might take notice of one particular provision. From now on, there is no limit on the quantity of Cuban cigars and rum American travelers may take home.

      As many as your suitcase can hold

      Previously, American travelers to Cuba could only return with $100 worth of alcohol and tobacco products. The measure is not a lifting of the embargo against Cuba – only Congress can do that – so you won't be able to find Cuban cigars for sale in the U.S. until the embargo is lifted. But the President would clearly like for that to happen.

      “This new directive consolidates and builds upon the changes we've already made, promotes transparency by being clear about our policy and intentions, and encourages further engagement between our countries and our people,” Obama said in a statement.

      The embargo was declared at the height of the Cold War, shortly after Fidel Castro seized power and alligned the island nation with the Soviet Union. In addition to cigars and rum, Cuban sugar has been excluded from U.S. store shelves.

      There is growing support, mostly in the Democratic Party, for ending the embargo. The Miami Herald reports Patrick Murphy, the Democratic candidate for one of Florida's two Senate seats, has advocated ending the embargo. The Herald notes it's the first time a Florida candidate from either party has done that.

      There's a famous story that in 1962, hours before he was to extend an economic embargo against Cuba to include all trade and all products, President Kenned...

      Amazon's 2016 holiday toy list reveals most sought-after toys of the season

      The list includes 1,070 popular items

      Halloween hasn’t yet arrived, but many consumers have already begun their holiday shopping. With consumers kicking off their holiday shopping early, the National Retail Federation (NRF) predicts retailers will see a 3.6% increase in holiday sales this year.

      Shoppers with children to buy for this holiday season may be struggling to figure out what toys kids are into this year. To keep grown-ups from having to take a blind guess, Amazon has released its fourth annual Holiday Toy List.

      This year’s list includes more than 1,000 items in the categories of tech, STEM, and DIY. It also features a few new categories, such as Mini Madness -- a category which aligns with the current trend of mini figures.

      "With our curated Holiday Toy List, customers shopping for toys and games on Amazon.ca have the convenience of knowing what the top picks of 2016 are and they have access to customer reviews, expanded search features and fast free shipping options," said Mike Strauch, Country Manager for Amazon.ca.

      "All of these benefits save our customers valuable time during the busy holiday season."

      Kid picks

      Secure your position as the "Cool Aunt" or "Best Grandma" by selecting a toy from Amazon’s collection of kid picks. Here are a few of the toys kids are clamoring for this year:

      Parent picks

      Learning toys are as popular as ever with parents this year, but kids may be just as happy to unwrap these toys:

      Top 100

      Amazon’s top picks include a three-story house with a built-in garage and swimming pool for Barbie and a rideable version of Thomas the Tank Engine.

      Halloween hasn’t yet arrived, but many consumers have already begun their holiday shopping. With consumers kicking off their holiday shopping early, the Na...

      Housing market frustrating for first-time buyers

      Prices continue to go up but the selection keeps going down

      As we head into the end of the year with an economy that remains anemic, one factor economists are closely watching is the housing market.

      After crashing in 2009, housing has recovered nicely, with prices rising nearly to pre-crash levels. But one of the biggest reasons for the price rally, especially lately, is that the supply of homes hasn't kept pace with demand.

      So where does it go from here, and what does it mean for the economy? The latest ValueInsured Housing Confidence Index is not overly encouraging. While home prices are rising, confidence among consumers in the housing market is about the same as it has been all summer.

      “Home prices rose over the summer, putting them out of reach for many renters who also saw their rents rising,” said Joe Melendez, ValueInsured's CEO. “Another factor suppressing housing confidence is the unsettling presidential contest and uncertain future it entails.”

      Put those considerations together with the hangover from the 2009 housing crash and Melendez says many prospective buyers really need a confidence boost.

      The Millennial factor

      Millennials are being a large and powerful block of consumers who are shaping the housing market, and the survey breakdown shows this generation continues to have economic anxiety and uncertainty. They're skeptical and prepared for volatility.

      Sixty percent of Millennials questioned by survey takers worry the housing market has entered a bubble and could face a correction in the next two years. Only 47% of Americans as a whole hold that view. The survey finds that prospective first-time buyers, in particular, are worried about instability in the housing market.

      Indeed, the latest data from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) suggests a slowing housing market going into the end of the year. At the end of September, NAR reported pending home sales – a statistic based on contracts signed but not yet closed – fell in August by 2.4%.

      Fewer homes for sale

      NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun attributes it mostly to fewer available homes for sale. Where there were higher inventories of homes, Yun says, sales were higher. It's just simple math.

      He also has a warning – without an increase in new home construction, the housing recovery could, in fact, stall.

      He notes that housing inventory has shrunk year-over-year for 15 straight months. That has meant homes sold faster and for more money. So it might not be all that surprising that people searching for a home to buy are feeling some angst.

      As we head into the end of the year with an economy that remains anemic, one factor economists are closely watching is the housing market.After crashin...

      Smart collar can offer you a glimpse into your dog's head

      The Inupathy collar measures your pup's pulse to determine its emotional state

      How is your dog feeling? A quick glance at his tail might offer some clues, but there’s often a lot more going on below the surface.

      Joji Yamaguchi, the biologist behind the creation of a new smart collar called ‘Inupathy,’ believes a dog’s heart rate is the biggest indicator of his current emotional state.

      In an effort to better understand his dog and help other pet owners do the same, Yamaguchi designed a collar which shows -- via different colored lights -- how a dog is feeling at an emotional level.

      “I was always worried about my dog’s nervousness and wanted a way to learn how to make him relaxed,” Yamaguchi told Newsweek. “So I invented a device capable of analyzing the rhythm of a heart beat."

      Gauging dogs’ needs

      Colored LED lights embedded on the collar function as a way of letting pet parents see how their dog is reacting to the world at any given moment.

      If your dog is in a relaxed state, a blue light will appear on the device. If he’s focusing intently on a squirrel in the distance or attempting to master a new trick, the light will glow white to indicate that the dog is concentrating.

      Knowing if a dog is happy, calm, excited, or concentrating can help pet owners understand their dogs’ needs, says Yamaguchi. This deeper understanding, he believes, can strengthen the bond between pet parents and their dogs.

      ‘Mental visualizer’

      Instead of relying on the position of a dog’s tail or other external indicators of emotion, the Inupathy collar lets pet owners see their dog’s internal emotional state.

      What might the collar reveal? In Yamaguchi’s case, the device opened his eyes to the fact that his Corgi preferred to be within close proximity of him.  

      “I’ve learnt that the distance between me and my dog, and whether I’m touching him or not is very important,” Yamaguchi said. “He is also more relaxed with the door of a room closed, rather than opened.”

      He also found that aggression wasn’t always the reason his dog barked at other dogs. He gleaned this insight by comparing his dog’s reaction to cats versus dogs. While barking at cats, the collar lit up red, Yamaguchi told The Next Web. But while barking at dogs, the collar picked up on the fact that the bark was less aggressive.

      How is your dog feeling? A quick glance at his tail might offer some clues, but there’s often a lot more going on below the surface. Joji Yamaguchi, th...

      FTC closes down skincare promoters offering 'risk-free trials'

      Companies abused the system, cheated consumers, the feds alleged

      The Federal Trade Commission has finished applying an astringent solution to a group of skincare companies that it accused of using deceptive marketing and billing tactics to skin consumers.

      The companies, which sold Auravie, Dellure, LéOR Skincare, and Miracle Face Kit products have agreed to court orders with the FTC or had default orders entered against them.

      “These defendants tricked people into paying for skin care products and abused the credit card system to extend their scheme,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “The Commission will continue to attack scams that rely on supposed ‘free trial’ offers and unauthorized credit card charges.”

      "Risk-free trials"

      The agency said the defendants sold their skin creams through false advertisements for “risk-free trials.” According to the FTC, the defendants convinced consumers to provide their credit card information, purportedly to pay nominal shipping fees.

      However, the defendants allegedly used consumers’ credit card information to impose unauthorized recurring monthly charges of up to $97.88 per month for unordered products. The FTC also charged defendants with misrepresenting themselves as accredited by the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

      The total number of defendants eventually reached 33. Most were charged with violating the FTC Act, the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act, and the Electronic Funds Transfer Act.

      Each final order bans the defendants from selling products through a “negative option,” in which the consumer’s silence is interpreted as consent to receive and pay for goods and services. The orders also bar them from future deception and credit card laundering.

      The Federal Trade Commission has finished applying an astringent solution to a group of skincare companies that it accused of using deceptive marketing and...

      MS researchers hopeful about reversing some effects of the disease

      A currently approved drug shows promise in an international study

      For medical researchers focused on multiple sclerosis (MS), the hope is to move beyond just slowing the progressive and debilitating disease towards actually restoring some lost functions.

      Researchers writing in the medical journal Neurology have reported what appear to be promising results from the use of a drug already in physicians' arsenal.

      They write that the use of the drug alemtuzumab actually reversed some of the nerve damage in MS patients. They note the drug isn't employed very often because it is known to have potentially serious effects.

      Alemtuzumab is normally prescribed to patients in later stages of MS who haven't responded well to other treatments. It is used most often with the most common form of the disease, relapsing-remitting MS, in which symptoms alternate between improving and worsening.

      The study

      In the international study, relapsing-remitting MS patients who did not respond well to at least one other MS drug were treated either with alemtuzumab or interferon. Their level of disability was monitored from the beginning to the end of the study.

      By the end of the two-year monitoring period, 28% of the patients receiving alemtuzumab had regained at least some lost function. They were two times more likely to have shown improvement than the patients receiving interferon.

      “These results are encouraging, but exactly how alemtuzumab may reverse damage, whether it’s through repairing myelin, creating new nerve synapses, greatly reducing inflammation or some other mechanism, is yet to be investigated,” said Dr. Bibiana Bielekova, a member of the research team.

      That, the researchers say, needs to be pursued in follow-up studies. But the study is just the latest to suggest that it might be possible to repair some of the damage caused by MS.

      Earlier research

      As we reported in 2014, animal studies had suggested a drug called anti-LINGO-1, also called BIIB033, may be able to repair the demyelination of the nerves. However, Phase II clinical trials, completed early in the summer, did not achieve the hoped-for results.

      Dr. Alfred Sandrock, executive vice president and chief medical officer at drug maker Biogen, said researchers aren't giving up.

      “Achieving repair of the human central nervous system through remyelination would be a substantial achievement, and while we missed the primary endpoint, the SYNERGY study results suggest evidence of a clinical effect of opicinumab,” he said. “Due to the complex nature of the data set, we continue to analyze the results to inform the design of our next study.”

      For medical researchers focused on multiple sclerosis (MS), the hope is to move beyond just slowing the progressive and debilitating disease towards actual...

      Honda recalls 2016 Civics to fix parking brake

      The car could roll away if the brake is not properly engaged

      American Honda is recalling about 350,000 Civic Coupes and Sedans from the 2016 model year to update software affecting Electric Parking Brake (EPB) functionality, free of charge.

      No crashes or injuries have been reported related to this issue, which was discovered through warranty claims associated with the illumination of the brake warning light.

      The software for the Vehicle Stability Assist Electronic Control Unit may prevent application of the EPB when it is applied immediately after turning the vehicle ignition off. (This condition will not occur if the EPB is applied before turning off the vehicle ignition.)

      If the EPB cannot be applied, the "BRAKE" warning indicator in the instrument panel will blink for 15 seconds to alert the driver. Additionally, if the EPB does not properly set and a parking gear is not selected by the driver, the vehicle may roll away, increasing the risk of a crash.

      Honda is announcing this recall to encourage each owner of an affected vehicle to take it to an authorized dealer for repair as soon as they receive notification of this recall from Honda. Mailed notification to customers will begin in early November 2016.

      Additionally, owners of these vehicles can determine if their vehicles require repair now by going to www.recalls.honda.com or by calling (888) 234-2138.

      American Honda is recalling about 350,000 Civic Coupes and Sedans from the 2016 model year to update software affecting Electric Parking Brake (EPB) functi...

      Samsung reeling in aftermath of fires in Galaxy Note 7 phones and other products

      Consumers seething over the company's business-as-usual response to fires

      Samsung is feeling the heat from its disastrous handling of the fire-prone Galaxy Note 7 smartphones. Critics are comparing the bungled response to the Note 7 crisis to Samsung's handling of a rash of washing machine fires in Australia a few years ago.

      Samsung recalled 150,000 Australian washing machines in April 2013 after a series of house fires were blamed on the machines. But first it tried to get consumers to use tape and a plastic bag to solve the problem, a solution that only increased consumer outrage and was itself blamed for several more fires.

      Consumers in the U.S. have also reported fires in their Samsung washers, as we reported a few weeks ago, but so far no recall has been issued. Federal safety officials, however, warned consumers that the machines could shake themselves to pieces and cause injuries or damage.

      Repercussions from the Note7 debacle are rippling through all corners of Samsung's business. A report today says that an expected deal with FCA (formerly Chrysler) has been delayed while Samsung, South Korea's largest company, tries to work its way through the aftermath of the smartphone recall and subsequent market withdrawal.

      FCA and Samsung had been reported to be close to a deal involving electronic components for the company's Chrysler, Jeep, Fiat, and other auto brands.

      The fallout from the Galaxy fires threatens to tarnish Samsung's other consumer products, which have experienced their own problems with unexpected fires and, more significantly, with a response that is best described as business as usual.

      We heard from Lyn of Palm Harbor, Fla., about the red-hot charger that came with her Samsung tablet.

      "Charger got so hot we had to use gloves to remove it from the wall. Went to the AT&T store ... where we purchased it, they told us we would have to contact AT&T corporate to get a replacement. Called corporate and we were told to contact the manufacturer," Lyn said. "We did and were informed that they would not replace charger. The warranty only covered the device. If you can't charge it you can"t use the device!!! Stay away from Samsung products. No Samsung, No FIRES."

      Microwaves

      Samsung microwaves have for years generated red-hot consumer complaints about fires, most recently from Bill of Palm Harbor, Fla.

      "Bought new Samsung microwave (me21h706mqs) and after one week it caught on fire at the plastic piece in rear corner. Lucky we were at microwave watching or whole house could have caught on fire. Huge plastic smoke and horrible smell," Bill said in a ConsumerAffairs review a few days ago. Bill called Samsung and after calling three different numbers got little satisfaction.

      "Samsung was not impressed their unit caught fire and really did not care. Said they would send tech in 2-3 days. ... Basically they hung up on me after I requested someone come out on Monday to remove."

      Tracy of Winston-Salem, N.C., said she was boiling pasta when her microwave caught fire.

      "I wasn't even using the inside of the microwave at the time. I was using the exhaust fan for I was boiling pasta on the stovetop. Flames all in the microwave, I had to use the fire extinguisher. I am so glad I was home when this happened! My model number ME18H704SFS."

      By-the-book

      A common theme in many of the microwave fire complaints submitted by ConsumerAffairs readers is the by-the-book response from Samsung's customer service representatives.

      "Purchased Samsung Microwave Model Number ME18H704SFG on 07-03-2016 from HHgregg. They delivered the Microwave on Saturday 07-09-2016. Used the Microwave Saturday and Sunday. Monday morning 07-11-2016 my wife screamed 'FIRE' so I ran to the Kitchen where the Microwave door was open and a flame about 4-5 inches long was jetting out ... I got the Fire Extinguisher and put it out then unplugged it," said Joey of Sicklerville, N.J.

      Joey said he called Samsung and "spoke to a lady there who gave me a transaction number and said a product specialist would call me back within 4 hours." The return call didn't happen, Joey said, but eventually a service call was scheduled for several days later. Like other owners of burned microwaves, Joey said he didn't want service, he wanted a new microwave.

       "I told her I did not want them to attempt to repair this unit and give it back to me. She said the service person would not take the unit but would take photos and send to Samsung where they would determine if it could be repaired. I told her I would not let that unit back into my home. She said if you refuse the service then you will be left with a broken microwave," Joey said.

      Ovens & ranges

      You expect a range to get hot but, ideally, the heat is confined to the oven and cooking surfaces. That's not always the case with Samsung ovens and ranges, consumers say.

      "Our two year old Samsung NE58F9500SS began sending strong fumes of burning plastic upon oven preheat," said Nancy of Midlothian, Va. "Repeated email and phone contact with customer service about this fire hazard was a test of patience. Each contact told us to wait 24 more hours and we would be contacted by someone. Days passed. No oven. No stove. Wires attached to the back of the oven, melted. Plastic on the terminal block melted. This is DANGEROUS and deserves immediate attention," Nancy said. "We paid $1,533.35 for this poor workmanship and poor service."

      Remi of Piscataway, N.J., wasn't as lucky as Nancy.

      "I opened the broiler to place a tray inside and flames shot out of it and singed face and hair. The fire department, EMT and PSEG responded to the incident. The oven was tagged 'defective' and the gas line was shut off," Remi said. "I have been in constant communication with Samsung regarding the oven. I inquired about being compensated for food due to the 'loss of use' and was told that they do not provide compensation."

      "Last week, I was advised that they would swap out the oven. I advised them that before I would commit to this resolution, I was like to know the cause of the fire. I was informed that this information could not be released to me," Remi said. "As a consumer who purchased this item, was injured by it and could have received extensive damage to my house, I believe that I should be informed of the cause and/defect of the unit."

      Dinner was interrupted at Sheila's home in Albany, Ga. "Yesterday in the middle of preparing dinner, the range shot fire with a loud explosion. Samsung does not stand behind their products and you would think that a new stove that we paid $900.00 for would last longer than 2 1/2 years," she said.

      Refrigerators

      We haven't seen many reports of Samsung refrigerators actually igniting, but many consumers have complained of conditions that they thought were fire hazards.

      "After 4 years of owning a French door Samsung refrigerator (RF267AARS/XAA), the coils started freezing up. I called out a Samsung repair service and they discovered that the evaporator coils had melted my liner and it is not repairable. It was so badly burnt inside that I am surprised it did not catch fire," said Jerri of Dripping Springs, Texas.

      "When I contacted Samsung customer service about this hazard, I was put on hold for 30 minutes and then told that they could only refund me a partial credit for the refrigerator. When I asked if there have been similar problems with other refrigerators, they could not tell me," Jerri said.

      Donald of North Kingstown, R.I., found singed components in his freezer compartment.

      "After removing the cover in the freezer that covers the coils I found a lot of burnt areas and cracks in the freezer compartment. Also the defrost sensor was also burnt," he said. "I replaced the sensor and also took pictures of the freezer compartment showing the burnt areas and areas where the compartment was bubbling up from heat. This frig is a fire hazard."

      Not everyone is so lucky. 

      "Caused damage throughout house," said a consumer in Australia who asked to remain anonymous. "Had temporary accommodation for a year. Everything lost. Fire brigade recognised incident as a fridge fire. Fortunately happened when house was empty overnight. Samsung deny all liability and claim a waste bin must have caught fire in front of the fridge!"

      Dishwashers

      Aurelia of Wentzville, Mo., didn't have a fire in her Samsung dishwasher but was afraid that she was about to. She said numerous repair visits failed to resolve a water leak. After the last repair, "we ran a load [and] after 40+ minutes we got the LC* warning light."

      "This indicated water to electric leak, it's recommended to shut off circuit to the unit to prevent further damage or fire.," Aurelia said. After all the attempts to repair her dishwasher, she said she expects to be told she is out of warranty and on her own.

      Samsung has denied the incidents are linked and has said its warranty and repair services are adequate to handle the problems. Whether that is sufficient to reassure consumers is the question the company must now face.

      Fire mars the back of a consumer's Samsung microwave.Samsung is feeling the heat from its disastrous handling of the fire-prone Galaxy Note 7 smartph...

      Amid scandal, Wells Fargo CEO decides to retire

      John Stumpf had felt lawmakers' wrath in Congressional appearences

      In a bid to quell the furor over Wells Fargo's fraudulent accounts activity, establishing accounts without customers' permission, company chairman and CEO John Stumpf has announced his retirement, effective immediately.

      Stumpf had been a widely admired corporate CEO until about a month ago, guiding Wells Fargo stock higher while other bank stocks languished. But the revelation that thousands of Wells Fargo employees had set up fraudulent accounts, apparently in a bid to hit sales goals, tarnished Stumpf's reputation and that of the bank.

      In two appearances before Congressional committees, Stumpf was raked over the coals by angry lawmakers who condemned his oversight. At one point, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), a member of the Senate Banking Committee, called Stumpf “gutless” to his face.

      So Stumpf might not mind stepping away from the ongoing scandal, with Wells Fargo President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Sloan tapped by the board of directors to succeed him as CEO.

      Stumpf had been with Wells Fargo for 34 years, joining the firm in 1982 as part of the former Norwest Bank. He became Wells Fargo’s CEO in June 2007 and its chairman in January 2010.

      Optimistic about the future

      “I am grateful for the opportunity to have led Wells Fargo,” Stumpf said in a statement. “I am also very optimistic about its future, because of our talented and caring team members and the goodwill the stagecoach continues to enjoy with tens of millions of customers.”

      But there may be less good will than before. A lot of customers and former customers are angry that employees opened accounts in their names without their permission. But present and former Wells Fargo employees have complained that they have been victims too, pushed beyond limits to meet sales goals, no matter what the cost. After the scandal broke, Wells Fargo announced that more than 5,000 employees had been fired.

      It should be pointed out that not all consumers are angry at the bank's employees. Ellie, a reader from Santa Cruz, Calif., writes that she thinks the managers of the branch she uses have over-reacted and are taking it out on employees.

      “At the branch I frequent there is one teller in particular who actually seems picked on,” Ellie wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. “I can tell she isn't happy in her position but it seems she wants to be. It just seems like with every transaction she makes someone is watching her and they always jump in. She will get a customer and before she can even speak someone is all over her case. The poor girl is beaten down and walking on eggshells all day! That's no way to treat an employee and no way to run a business.”

      Stumpf, meanwhile, leaves Wells Fargo and its employees, with a tarnished reputation. The stock has taken a beating in recent weeks with some analysts saying it may fall even more.

      In a bid to quell the furor over Wells Fargo's fraudulent accounts activity, establishing accounts without customers' permission, company chairman and CEO...

      Why not getting your flu shot could cost you

      Consumers spent roughly $9 billion last year in medical costs from not being vaccinated

      No one likes getting sick, but it seems that many Americans are loathe to go out and get a vaccination when flu season comes around. Unfortunately, it might not just be hurting their health, though.

      A new collaborative report shows that U.S. consumers spent $5.8 billion on medical costs related to the influenza virus. But monetary problems don’t stop there. In all, Americans spent roughly $9 billion in 2015 on treating diseases that can be avoided by vaccination.

      All of this begs the question, what do consumers have against vaccines?

      Economic repercussions

      The debate over vaccinations became very polarizing and high-profile in recent years after a scientific study stated that they may be linked to autism. The study was later debunked and the findings were retracted, but the notion has stuck with consumers ever since.

      While the debate over whether or not a parent should vaccinate their child continues to rage, many adults have stopped getting vaccinations as well. Reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that the majority of U.S. adults avoided getting their flu shot last year, and the study’s authors believe that this hesitance could have major economic repercussions.

      “Vaccines save thousands of lives in the United States every year, but many adults remain unvaccinated. Low rates of vaccine uptake lead to costs to individuals and society in terms of death and disabilities, which are avoidable, and they create economic losses from doctor visits, hospitalizations, and lost income,” they said.

      Addressing the issue

      The researchers admit that increasing the rate of vaccination won’t entirely erase the amount of money lost by consumers. In fact, they even go far as to say that vaccines are not always a 100% guarantee of good health. However, they say that opening the public’s eyes to this growing problem should encourage consumers and lawmakers to look at the problem critically so that it can be addressed.

      “By highlighting the tremendous financial burden that unvaccinated individuals place on the economy and the health system, we hope that our estimate will spur creative policy solutions,” they said.

      The full study has been published in Health Affairs.

      No one likes getting sick, but it seems that many Americans are loathe to go out and get a vaccination when flu sea...

      Cheapair.com expands flights to Cuba

      Site now offers 36 routes to 10 Cuban destinations

      With the thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations, it's easier now for Americans to visit the island nation, and there are even more ways to get there.

      CheapAir.com reports it has expanded the number of flights on its site between the U.S. and Cuba. It says it now offers 36 routes from 11 U.S. cities to 10 Cuban destinations, adding over 280 weekly flights that have been approved by the Department of Transportation.

      Americans can fly to Cuba on eight major airlines – JetBlue, American Airlines, United, Delta, Alaska, Spirit, Frontier, and Silver Airways. In addition, CheapAir users may also access a Miami-Havana flight on Public Charters, operated by Havana Air.

      Direct flights

      Currently, there are direct flights to Cuba from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Charlotte, Newark, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, and Atlanta, to destinations that now include Havana, Santa Clara, Camaguey, Holguin, Cienfuegos, Vardero, Cayo Largo del Sur, Manzanillo de Cuba, Santiago de Cuba, and Cayo Coco.

      In the future, CheapAir said it will have direct flights from Orlando, Tampa Bay, and Minneapolis.

      “Last year, when the rule changes for travel to Cuba opened up a historic opportunity, we jumped on it,” said Jeff Klee, CEO of CheapAir.com. “We haven’t had enough inventory to accommodate the demand, so we’re thrilled to have all these new flights. We’ll continue to offer more ways to travel to Cuba than any other site on the internet.”

      Even though the U.S. And Cuba have re-established diplomatic relations, it doesn't mean Americans can travel to that country for any reason. Tourist travel is still outlawed.

      Only 12 reasons you can visit

      However, the U.S. Embassy in Havana says there are 12 categories of travel that are permissible. They include:

      • Family visits
      • Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
      • Journalistic activity
      • Professional research and professional meetings
      • Educational activities
      • Religious activities
      • Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
      • Support for the Cuban people
      • Humanitarian projects
      • Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
      • Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials
      • Certain authorized export transactions.
      With the thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations, it's easier now for Americans to visit the island nation, and there are even more ways to get there.CheapAir.com...

      Feds charge 'tech support' pop-up ads were phony

      Scam artists hijacked consumers' computers, charged hundreds of dollars for unnecessary repairs

      Tech support scams keep popping up, just like the pop-up ads that are often used to rope in unsuspecting victims. In the latest case, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has charged a group calling itself Global Access Technical Support with deceiving consumers.

      The defendants allegedly used deceptive pop-up ads to scare thousands of consumers into paying hundreds of dollars each for unnecessary technical support services.

      The ads led consumers to think there was something wrong with their computer and, secondly, that the pop-ups originated from Microsoft, Apple, or other reputable technology companies.

      The ads often included loud alarms or recorded messages warning of the apparent dire threat to consumers’ computers and “hijacked” consumers’ browsers, leaving consumers unable to navigate around the ads or close them. The ads prompted consumers to contact a toll-free number.

      Call center

      According to the complaint, once consumers called the toll-free number, they were connected to a call center in India and pitched by telemarketers who claimed to be affiliated with or certified by a major technology company.

      Consumers were told that in order to diagnose the problem, they must provide the telemarketer remote access to their computer. The telemarketers then showed consumers otherwise innocuous screens and directories on their computers, deceiving them into believing they were evidence of problems that require technical support services to repair.

      The complaint alleges that the telemarketers pressured consumers to spend anywhere from $200 to $400 for repair services that could take hours to complete and which were at best useless, and in some cases could actually harm consumers’ computers.

      The FTC’s complaint alleges that the defendants violated the FTC Act. The defendants are Global Access Technical Support, LLC (also doing business as Global S Connect, Yubdata Tech and Technolive); Global sMind LLC (also doing business as Global S Connect); Source Pundit LLC (also doing business as OneSource Tech Support); Helios Digital Media LLC; VGlobal ITES Pvt. Ltd.; Rajiv Chhatwal; Rupinder Kaur; and Neeraj Dubey.

      Tech support scams keep popping up, just like the pop-up ads that are often used to rope in unsuspecting victims. In the latest case, the Federal Trade Com...

      Six credit cards that pay you at least $1,000 for opening an account

      But three of them carry annual fees of $450

      Rewards credit cards have grown in popularity as consumers have realized they can get a little money back every time they make a purchase.

      Some cards pay 3% on some purchases, some pay 1% or 2% on every purchase. It isn't a lot of money, but it can add up over time.

      What sometimes gets overlooked are the bonuses some credit card companies pay, just for opening an account. It's just a one-time payment, but it can be significantly more than the cash back you earn on purchases.

      CreditCards.com, a card comparison site, has looked into these sign-up bonuses and reports six credit cards will pay consumers at least $1,000 for opening an account. None of them are cash back cards and all of them charge an annual fee, so that will have to be figured into the equation.

      $1,500 sign-up bonus

      The Chase Sapphire Reserve Card hands out rewards based on points. Right off the bat, it will give you 100,000 bonus points if you spend $4,000 in the first three months the account is open. More impressive, it will pay you a bonus of $1,500.

      But hold on, the card charges an annual fee of $450. That might not be a complete disqualifier, depending on your spending patterns. But if you can't make the points pay off, that $1,500 sign-up bonus will pay for the first three years of annual fees.

      The Chase – British Airways Visa Signature Card, as the name suggests, is a travel rewards card based on points. Just for signing up, it will award you 50,000 bonus points if you spend $3,000 in the first three months. It will also pay you a signing bonus of $1,145. Compared to the Chase Sapphire Reserve, its annual fee is a bargain – $95.

      $450 annual fee

      TheRitz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card pays $1,080 as a sign-up bonus. It also provides three complimentary nights at a tier 1-4 Ritz-Carlton hotel, if you spend $5,000 in first three months. To get that, however, you also have to pay a $450 annual fee.

      Another travel rewards card, the Chase – Fairmont Visa Signature Card, pays $1,000 as a bonus for opening an account. On top of that, you get two free nights when you spend $3,000 in the first three months. You pay no annual fee the first year, but $95 a year after that.

      The Citi/AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard, affiliated with American Airlines, also pays a $1,000 sign-up bonus and awards you 50,000 points if you spend $5,000 in the first three months. It carries an annual fee of $450.

      All five cards carry attractive perks and features, but whether they will be useful or cost effective will all depend on your travel habits and spending patterns. And while the sign-up bonuses are attractive, steep annual fees should not be overlooked.

      Rewards credit cards have grown in popularity as consumers have realized they can get a little money back every time they make a purchase.Some cards pa...

      Holiday sales expected to grow by 3.6% this year

      All told, the NRF expects consumers to spend $655.8 billion this holiday season

      As we continue to march through October, consumers across the country are gearing up for the coming holiday season. In fact, many have already begun shopping for end-of-the-year events, and the National Retail Federation (NRF) believes that this will be a big year for retailers.

      The organization made a prediction earlier this month that sales -- excluding those made in the automotive, gas, and restaurant spheres -- would be 3.6% higher in November and December than they were last year, accounting for $655.8 billion in spending. That mark would beat the current 10-year average of 2.5% growth, and would even put sales above the current 7-year growth average of 3.4%, the period of time since economic recovery began in 2009.

      “All of the fundamentals are in a good place, giving strength to consumers and leading us to believe that this will be a very positive holiday season. . . This year hasn’t been perfect, starting with a long summer and unseasonably warm fall, but our forecast reflects the very realistic steady momentum of the economy and industry expectations,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay.

      If the prediction proves to be true, it would be a continuance of positive growth for the economy during the holiday season; in 2015, sales increased by 3.2% over the previous year. Over the course of this year, consumers seemed more willing to pay down purchases with credit, which is a positive sign for future sales figures.

      “Consumers have seen steady job and income gains throughout the year, resulting in continued confidence and the greater use of credit, which bodes well for spending throughout the holiday season,” said NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz. However, he notes that both global and domestic political uncertainty, along with unseasonably warm weather, could still negatively impact consumer confidence going forward.

      In addition to a positive sales forecast, the NRF is predicting that seasonal employment will also stay on track in 2016. The organization believes retailers will hire between 640,000 and 690,000 workers this holiday season, in line with the 675,300 employees hired last year. Recent reports that Amazon will hire 120,000 holiday workers may pad those numbers even more.

      As we continue to march through October, consumers across the country are gearing up for the coming holiday season. In fact, many have already begun shoppi...

      Feds back off from immediate criminalization of kratom

      The agency has given the public until December 1 to file comments

      The combined power of the U.S. Congress and social media has prompted the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to rethink its proposal to criminalize the use of kratom, a coffee-like plant that some believe could help stem the opioid epidemic.

      More than 50 members of the House and Senate wrote letters in recent weeks, criticizing DEA for its sudden and unilateral move to reclassify kratom as a “Schedule I” substance, putting it in the same category as heroin. That would subject people in possession of the plant to severe criminal penalties.

      Kratom does, in fact, have some of the same effects on the brain as opioid drugs, which is why it is used by some as a natural pain reliever. The plant, which is native to Southeast Asia, can be purchased online and inserted into capsules or brewed as a tea. Some grind the leaves into a powder and mix it into a drink.

      Some health policymakers have said the plant could prove useful as a way to prevent opioid addiction and overdose deaths. Two of the lawmakers signing the letters to DEA are doctors.

      Waiting for public comment

      According to a preliminary document posted online, the DEA has now agreed to wait to get more input from the public before taking any action, a move that surprised but delighted kratom advocates.

      The move is "shocking," according to John Hudak, a drug policy analyst at the Brookings Institution, who told The Washington Post the DEA action is out of character.

      "The DEA is not one to second-guess itself, no matter what the facts are," he told the newspaper.

      In explaining its action, the DEA said it had received “numerous comments” from the public since it published its notice of action on kratom. Before rendering a final decision, the agency said it will also receive a scientific and medical evaluation of the drug from the Food and Drug Administration.

      The public will have until December 1 to submit comments to the DEA through the Federal Docket Management System.

      The combined power of the U.S. Congress and social media has prompted the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to rethink its proposal to criminalize the...