Current Events in October 2016

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    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...

    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...

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      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...

      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...

      Continental recalls Crosscontact LX20 tires

      The tires could suffer partial or full tread/belt loss

      Continental Tire the Americas is recalling 14,567 Crosscontact LX20 tires, size P275/55R20 111S, manufactured May 3, 2015, to May 9, 2015.

      The tires, sold as replacement tires as well as original equipment on certain General Motors full size trucks and SUVs, may have insufficient adhesion within the belt package, resulting in tread wear, vibration, noise, or bulging areas on the tire.

      The insufficient adhesion can cause partial or full tread/belt loss, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Continental will notify owners, and dealers will replace the tires, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Continental customer service at 1-888-799-2168.

      Continental Tire the Americas is recalling 14,567 Crosscontact LX20 tires, size P275/55R20 111S, manufactured May 3, 2015, to May 9, 2015.The tires, so...

      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...

      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...