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    Netflix users can now download shows and movies to watch later

    The company says the offline viewing feature is perfect for consumers without a reliable internet connection

    Earlier this month, we reported that Netflix was mulling over the possibility of an offline viewing feature. The company had stated that it was thinking of providing the service for low-speed areas across the world that rely more on downloading content.

    It certainly wasn’t the first time that such a feature had been considered by the company. Users have been asking Netflix to include offline viewing capabilities for some time now, but company officials weren’t completely sure how to handle storage or whether it would be worthwhile endeavor.

    But in an announcement today, Netflix said that an offline viewing feature is now available for users of the company’s app.

    “While many members enjoy watching Netflix at home, we’ve often heard they also want to continue their Stranger Things binge while on airplanes and other places where Internet is expensive or limited. Just click the download button on the details page for a film or TV series and you can watch it later without an internet connection,” the company said.

    How it works

    According to the company, many popular TV series are already available for download. Users simply have to make sure that they’re running iOS 8.0 or later or Android 4.4.2 or later on their devices and that their Netflix app is updated to the most recent version.

    Gizmodo reports that the amount of storage space that will be needed varies depending on the show or movie that is being downloaded. The site says that a 1 hour and 3 minute show takes up about 280 megabytes in standard definition and about 440 megabytes in high-definition. If you’re planning to binge watch many shows, you’ll likely need gigabytes of storage space.

    Keep in mind that shows and movies should be downloaded before a long trip since doing so without an internet connection will eat up about as much data as streaming the content would. Netflix hasn’t released what kind of file type videos are saved as, but early indications suggest that they are not viewable from a laptop or other device; downloaded videos can only be accessed through the Netflix app.

    Downloads do have an expiration date as well. TV shows and movies expire after seven days, and some exclusive content expires 48 hours after you start watching it. Users can see how much time they have left by checking the “My Downloads” section of their Netflix app.

    For more information on how to download content, Netflix says to visit its Help Center here.

    Earlier this month, we reported that Netflix was mulling over the possibility of an offline viewing feature. The company had stated that it was thinking of...

    New York law creates harsher penalties for users of ticket bots

    Lawmakers hope that consumers will no longer have to compete with software when buying tickets

    The holiday shopping season officially kicked off this past weekend with Black Friday, and consumers are scrambling to pick up the goods they want. One popular kind of gift this year will be a gift of experience, like tickets to a concert, play, or sporting event.

    Unfortunately, demand for tickets far outweighs supply most of the time, so it’s up to consumers to try and grab them as soon as they become available online. However, many buyers often walk away with nothing because the tickets seem to magically disappear within minutes or even seconds.

    While slow internet speeds or bad luck can play a factor, one reason for the lack of available tickets has been the existence of ticket bots -- software used by scalpers that manipulates sales systems to buy up as many tickets as possible. Then, after all the available tickets are gone, they sell them at ridiculously inflated prices to desperate consumers.

    However, the practice may become less common thanks to a new law signed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Previously, state laws had banned the use of ticket bots and imposed civil penalties on violators, but now the use or control of ticket bots, or reselling tickets knowingly obtained by ticket bots, is a class A misdemeanor.

    The classification change means harsher penalties for those who break the law. Violators can now expect exorbitant fines or even jail time if they’re caught using or knowingly benefitting from the software. The definition of a “ticket bot” has also been expanded under the new law to mean any system, whether autonomous or human-controlled, used to quickly buy up tickets before the general public has access to them.

    Predatory and wrong

    Ticket bots have long-been abhorred by performers in New York. Back in June, Lin-Manuel Miranda – creator and original lead of the Broadway hit Hamilton – railed against users of ticket bots and how the profited from his show; The New York Times reported that scalpers made around $15.5 million from reselling tickets to Miranda’s last 100 shows before stepping down from his role as the titular character.

    “My concern is that our show is about the founding of our country and if bots are buying up all the tickets and charging this insane secondary market price, most of the country can’t see it,” he said.

    Gov. Cuomo agreed with the sentiment in a recent statement, saying that “these unscrupulous speculators and their underhanded tactics have manipulated the marketplace and often leave New Yorkers and visitors alike with little choice but to buy tickets on the secondary market at an exorbitant mark-up.”

    “It’s predatory, it’s wrong and, with this legislation, we are taking an important step towards restoring fairness and equity back to this multi-billion dollar industry.”

    The holiday shopping season officially kicked off this past weekend with Black Friday, and consumers are scrambling to pick up the goods they want. One pop...

    Get trending consumer news and recalls

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      How to reduce your risk of injury from yard work

      Use these techniques while raking, mowing, or using other lawn equipment

      Been meaning to corral and remove the fallen leaves from your yard? Before you pick up your rake, consider the fact that yard work can cause upper or lower back strain, neck strain, and pain in the shoulders.

      Luckily, you can prevent these painful consequences by making sure you know the proper way to do yard maintenance tasks such as raking, mowing, or leaf blowing. The first step to preventing yard work-related pains and strains is to make sure your body is warmed up and ready to work.

      A body that isn’t prepared to twist, turn, and bend as you complete yard work may be at an increased risk for injury, says the American Chiropractic Association (ACA). To warm up, stretch gently and smoothly while breathing in and out slowly.

      Here’s what else homeowners should do before stepping out to beautify their yard, according to the ACA.

      Dress appropriately

      Donning certain accoutrements can help ensure that you won’t be left with back pain, blisters, or other ailments after doing yard work.

      Not only will wearing the right shoes make the task at hand more comfortable, it can reduce your risk of being affected by back pain later. The ACA recommends wearing shoes with good foot and arch support.

      To keep blisters at bay, try wearing gloves while raking or operating yard equipment. If you have allergies or asthma, consider wearing a mask while you’re outside. Finally, be sure to drink lots of water before heading out.

      Use the right stance

      Standing as straight as possible and keeping your head up as your rake or mow is crucial to preventing back and neck strain. In addition, ACA says homeowners with yard work on their to-do list should make sure they know how to use yard equipment properly.

      When raking, you’ll want to use a “scissors” stance. This involves putting your right foot forward and left food back for a few minutes. Then, change it up by putting your left foot forward and right foot back.

      When bagging leaves or picking up yard equipment, bend at the knees. You can also prevent back pain by using the strap on your equipment. Placing the strap over your head on the shoulder opposite the side of your body from the device can help normalize your center of gravity. 

      Make sure to balance the muscles being used, alternate your stance, and switch the side on which you’re operating the equipment from time to time. Once you've completed your yard work, do a few cool down stretches and be sure to drink plenty of water. 

      Been meaning to corral and remove the fallen leaves from your yard? Before you pick up your rake, consider the fact that yard work can cause upper or lower...

      Gooligan malware infects 1 million Google accounts

      Older Android devices are susceptible to the malware

      An attack campaign dubbed Gooligan has infected more than 1 million Google accounts, with 13,000 new devices being breached each day, according to Check Point Software Technologies Ltd., a cyber security firm.

      The malware, which affects older versions of the Android system, steals authentication tokens that can be used to access data from Google Play, Gmail, Google Photos, Google Docs, G Suite, Google Drive, and more, Check Point said.

      “We’re appreciative of both Check Point’s research and their partnership as we’ve worked together to understand these issues,” said Adrian Ludwig, Google’s director of Android security. “As part of our ongoing efforts to protect users from the Ghost Push family of malware, we’ve taken numerous steps to protect our users and improve the security of the Android ecosystem overall.”

      Gooligan can potentially infect about 74% of Android devices, including those running Android 4 -- which includes Jelly Bean and KitKat -- and Android 5 (Lollipop), the researchers said.

      What to do

      The malware is contained in tens of thousands of fake apps. Check Point has set up a test page on its site where you can see if your device is infected.

      An attack campaign dubbed Gooligan has infected more than 1 million Google accounts, with 13,000 new devices being breached each day, according to Check Po...

      What are Millennials looking for in a rental?

      Property owners take note: ‘smart’ features are in amongst Millennials

      Millennials who don’t have their hearts set on home ownership quite yet may be looking to rent for just a little while longer, and many may be settling into a multi-family dwelling. So what are these consumers looking for in an apartment?

      To find out, Schlage recently polled 1,000 U.S. renters in multi-family dwellings. Their findings revealed two key trends: a desire for tech upgrades and the integration of next-generation access control features.

      “Smart” apartments tended to go over big with Millennial respondents. Schlage found that 86% of Millennial renters in multi-family dwellings are looking for automated or remotely controlled devices. Sixty-one percent said they would be more likely to rent an apartment specifically because they like its electronic access features, including keyless entry doors.

      Willing to pay more

      These findings are significant, considering nearly half of renters in multi-family dwellings are expected to rent an apartment for the next five or more years, Schlage noted.

      Among the study’s additional findings:
      • 55% of Millennials are likely to pay more for an apartment that has high-tech door locks compared to ones that did not.
      • 20% of Millennials would pay more per month for a smart apartment. On average, they would be willing to pay about a fifth more for smart home features.
      • 44% of Millennials would give up a parking space to live in a “high tech” apartment.

      Smart home trends

      While smart home systems are currently highly sought after by Millennial renters, features such as keyless entry are likely to become commonplace in the not-too-distant future. 

      Many of those surveyed believe that keys may soon become a thing of the past. Forty-five percent said they felt that physical door keys will be obsolete in the next 10 years.

      Respondents also believe that smart apartment apps are on the horizon. Sixty-three percent agreed that in 10 years apartments will need to offer all renters smart apartment apps.

      Millennials who don’t have their hearts set on home ownership quite yet may be looking to rent for just a little while longer, and many may be settling int...

      Safety advocates sue safety agency for ignoring their petition

      The advocacy groups had asked auto safety regulators to require automatic emergency braking on new cars

      Three consumer advocates have sued the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for failing to act on a petition asking it to require automatic emergency braking (AEB) on new cars.

      Instead of responding to the petition, the lawsuit says, NHTSA negotiated behind closed doors to reach a voluntary standard that the advocates say is weak and unenforceable.

      It's been estimated that automatic emergency braking could prevent 910,000 traffic accidents each year. The technology uses radar, cameras, and lidar (reflected laser light) to alert the driver and intervene when a crash is imminent.

      The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington on behalf of the groups that submitted the petition -- Consumer Watchdog, the Center for Auto Safety, and Joan Claybrook, former NHTSA administrator and president emeritus of Public Citizen.

      Under federal law, NHTSA was supposed to grant or deny the petition within 120 days – by May 12. NHTSA has yet do to so. Instead, the agency announced on March 17 that it had worked out the voluntary standards at a closed-door meeting.

      “The pace of defendants’ decisional process is unreasonable in light of the statutory deadline for responding to the petition… and the nature and extent of the public interests at stake,” the lawsuit argues.

      Wasted resources

      “This year, NHTSA has devoted enormous agency resources to ‘driverless vehicles,’ which are years or even decades away, while a safety system that is ready to start saving lives right now has been relegated to the whims of the auto companies,” said Harvey Rosenfield, founder of Consumer Watchdog and one of the lawyers in the case.

      “NHTSA continues to allow automakers to introduce advanced safety features at their own pace, by issuing ‘voluntary’ guidelines with no force of law,” said Michael Brooks, acting director at the Center for Auto Safety. “For too long, the agency has postponed requiring the proven lifesaving technology of Automatic Emergency Braking. NHTSA should immediately issue a rulemaking that defines performance requirements for these systems and mandates their installation in all vehicles without delay.”

      “Voluntary standards don’t work,” said Claybrook. “They protect manufacturers, not consumers. AEB is one of the most important lifesaving automotive systems available today. Yet the U.S. Department of Transportation is refusing to use its statutory authority to assure that consumers can rely on a safe AEB system in every car sold in the U.S. and won’t even answer our consumer petition for action.”

      Three consumer advocates have sued the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for failing to act on a petition asking it to require automat...

      OPEC deal sends oil prices soaring

      Analysts says prices at the pump likely to rise in the short run

      The OPEC oil cartel members, meeting in Vienna, have agreed to production limits in an effort to push the price of oil higher.

      The markets reacted immediately, with the price of crude jumping more than 6.5% to $48.22 a barrel in early trading in New York.

      Two years ago, OPEC member Saudi Arabia launched a huge increase in production in an effort to drive down the price of oil. It took that self-defeating action to try to drive American shale oil producers out of business and regain market share.

      It was partly successful but caused major economic distress for many other oil producers, such as Venezuela, Russia, and Nigeria. The Saudis, who are bearing the brunt of the production curbs, were forced to act as Iranian oil, blocked for years by sanctions, has begun flowing back onto the market.

      It's been good for consumers

      While U.S. oil producers have suffered over the last two years, consumers have enjoyed reasonable gasoline prices. Adjusted for inflation, today's national average price is less than it was 50 years ago.

      The question consumers may be asking is what OPEC's agreement does to the price at the pump. Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy, says consumers should expect to see a jolt at the pump in the short term.

      “There’s been a lot of hype about OPEC’s possible cut, and they had to act on their threats,” DeHaan told ConsumerAffairs. “Expect no sub-$2 a gallon national average if the deal holds.”

      Currently, the AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of self-serve regular has ticked up two cents from Tuesday, to $2.15 a gallon. That's more than 11 cents a gallon higher than a year ago.

      Long-term outlook brighter

      But long-term, DeHaan says the outlook for gasoline prices may be brighter for motorists. If the markets begin to doubt that OPEC members will abide by the agreement – and their history in that area is pretty checkered – then oil prices could begin to drift lower again.

      “International Energy Agency (IEA) data will be paramount to see if OPEC is acting on the cut, which I suspect they will not,” DeHaan said. “Too much was on the line here, this agreement is held together by knock off scotch tape. Just one member ignoring quotas is enough to throw the integrity of it all away.”

      DeHaan says he expects few OPEC members will actually abide by their quotas. If that's the case, consumers could see only moderate increases in fuel prices in the second half of next year, if they see them at all.

      The OPEC oil cartel members, meeting in Vienna, have agreed to production limits in an effort to push the price of oil higher.The markets reacted immed...

      Drugs in your medicine chest that may damage your liver

      Too much, or the wrong combinations of these common medications can be lethal

      Consumers take drugs and supplements to promote health, but some common pills that might be in your medicine cabinet could cause serious liver damage if taken in the wrong dose and combinations.

      A new article published in the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) journal says as many as 1,000 medicines could pose a threat of drug-induced liver injury (DILI). The authors say the injuries are rare and are dose-dependent or the result of an adverse reaction to a medication, dietary supplement, or other substance.

      Doctors have a hard time diagnosing it, but without a timely response the patient could suffer acute liver failure or even death.

      The authors say about 46% of the acute liver failure in the United States caused by a drug is associated with acetaminophen, making it the most common cause of DILI. Health researchers have long warned of the dangers of overdosing on this drug.

      Previous concerns

      Over the years, ConsumerAffairs has reported extensively on the concerns about this drug, which is the active ingredient in both over-the-counter and prescription paid medications, including Tylenol. Because it is in so many drug products, it is easy to overdose if you are taking multiple medications.

      But acetaminophen is not alone in posing a danger to your liver. Some people might experience adverse reactions to NSAID pain relievers like ibuprofen and naproxen.

      Also falling into that category are statins, proton pump inhibitors, novel anticoagulants, and antibiotics and antiviral agencies, such as amoxicillin-clavulanate, sulfamethoxazole-trimethoprim and nitrofurantoin.

      Because the liver helps remove toxins, the authors say it is especially vulnerable to injury from either short-term intake above recommended levels or long-term usage that allows toxins to build up. They say it is important for healthcare providers to recognize the clinical signs and symptoms and provide prompt treatment.

      While liver disease can be hereditary, it is often caused by things we do to it. In addition to taking too much medication, excessive alcohol consumption and obesity are leading causes of liver failure.

      Consumers take drugs and supplements to promote health, but some common pills that might be in your medicine cabinet could cause serious liver damage if ta...

      Employers expect to hire fewer people in 2017

      But the reason for the lowered expectations isn't clear

      Despite a steadily improving economy and a “Trump rally” that has sent Wall Street soaring, America's employers appear to be dialing back their hiring plans.

      A survey from DHI Group, Inc., a data analysis firm, found 56% of hiring managers expect increased hiring levels in the first half of 2017. While encouraging, it's a six-point drop from six months ago and a five point drop from when they were asked the same question a year ago.

      Even 68% of employers who focus on hiring IT professionals have lowered their targets, even though technology jobs have been among the hardest to fill.

      Taking longer to fill jobs

      The survey also found that vacant staff positions are taking longer to fill. About half of hiring managers say the time it takes to fill open positions has lengthened since last year, which at the time was the longest since the survey began.

      Again, the job openings in the tech sector appear to be the ones that take longest to fill. That suggests that the reason hiring managers are lowering their outlook for 2017 might have more to do with the competitive landscape than any expectations about the economy.

      "Finding the right candidates for the right positions continues to be a challenge for America's hiring managers as demand for highly skilled professionals creates tension and competition among employers," said Michael Durney, President and CEO of DHI Group. "To combat the time a position remains unfilled, recruiters are turning to sourcing and services which speed efficiency. But, professionals remain ultimately in control and are asking for more money during the recruiting process."

      New hires cost more

      Rising wages could well be another reason that employers expect to scale back in the coming year. If they have to pay more to fill a position, they may try to consolidate resources or leave positions open for longer periods of time. The fact that 59% of hiring managers expect they'll have to pay more to hire new people in 2017 suggests the pay issue could be a key factor in a slowing labor market.

      The U.S. economy added 161,000 new jobs to the economy in October – a slowing from earlier in the year – and the unemployment rate dropped to 4.9%. Last week Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer suggested the U.S. economy is very close to full employment, if not there already.

      Despite a steadily improving economy and a “Trump rally” that has sent Wall Street soaring, America's employers appear to be dialing back their hiring plan...

      Job creation rebounds in November

      You can thank a surge in the services sector

      More jobs in the goods-producing sector disappeared in November, but thanks to a big jump in the number of new positions in the services sector, it was a strong month for job creation.

      According to the ADP National Employment Report, private sector employment increased by 216,000 jobs from October to November.

      Gainers and losers

      Goods-producing firms took a huge hit during the month, losing 11,000 jobs. Manufacturing was the biggest contributor ( -10,000 jobs), along with Natural resources and mining (-4,000). Construction, however, added 2,000 payroll positions.

      Those losses, though, were offset by creation of 228,000 jobs by service-providing companies. The gains were led by trade/transportation/utilities (+69,000), professional/business services (+68,000), and administrative/support services (+47,000). The information industry lost 10,000 workers.

      "Businesses hired aggressively in November and there is little evidence that the uncertainty surrounding the presidential election dampened hiring,” said Moody's Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi. “In addition, because of the tightening labor market, retailers may be accelerating seasonal hiring to secure an adequate workforce to meet holiday demand, although total expected seasonal hiring may be no higher than last year's."

      Large businesses were the biggest job creators, adding 90,000 new payroll positions -- most of them (76,000) by companies with more than 1,000 employees. That was closely followed by medium-sized businesses, which added 89,000 workers and small businesses with 37,000 hires.

      "This growth was seen in primarily consumer-driven industries like retail and leisure and hospitality -- across all company sizes,” said Ahu Yildirmaz, vice president and head of the ADP Research Institute. “Overall, consumers are feeling confident and are driving the strong performance we currently see in the job market."

      The report, produced in collaboration with Moody's Analytics, is derived from ADP's actual payroll data and measures the change in total nonfarm private employment each month on a seasonally-adjusted basis.

      More jobs in the goods-producing sector disappeared in November, but thanks to a big jump in the number of new positions in the services sector, it was a s...

      Overall mortgage applications drop during Thanksgiving week

      However, applications for adjustable-rate mortgages were higher

      After a strong increase a week earlier, mortgage applications were on the decline last week.

      The Mortgage Bankers Association reports applications fell 9.4% in the week ending November 25, which includes an adjustment for the Thanksgiving holiday.

      The Refinance Index plunged 16% from the previous week, taking the refinance share of mortgage activity down to 55.1% of total applications -- the lowest level since June.

      The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity, on the other hand, rose to 5.7% of total applications -- its highest level since June. The average loan size for purchase applications reached a survey high at $312,400.

      The FHA share of total applications dipped to 10.4% from 11.7% a week earlier, the VA share dropped .8% to 11.7%, and the USDA share of total applications was unchanged at 0.8%.

      Contract interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) rose seven basis points -- from 4.16% to 4.23%, its highest level since July of last year, with points increasing to 0.41 from 0.39 (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) shot up from 4.04% to 4.18%, its highest level since July 2015, with points decreasing to 0.29 from 0.37 (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 increased to its highest level since July 2015 with a ten basis point-increase to 4.00%, with points increasing to 0.44 from 0.36 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 15-year fixed-rate mortgages jumped from 3.35% to 3.48% -- its highest level in 25 months, with points increasing to 0.33 from 0.32 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs slipped to 3.23% from 3.24%, with points increasing to 0.44 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.

      After a strong increase a week earlier, mortgage applications were on the decline last week.The Mortgage Bankers Association reports applications fell...

      Key gauge of home prices zooms to new high

      Many cities hit post-recession peaks

      Home prices in September continued their rise across the country over the last 12 months.

      According to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price NSA Index, which covers all nine U.S. census divisions, the National index was up 5.5% on a year-over-year basis.

      The 10-City Composite jumped 4.3%, while the 20-City Composite was up 5.1%.

      Seattle, Portland, and Denver enjoyed the highest year-over-year gains among the 20 cities over each of the last eight months. Seattle led the way with an 11.0% year-over-year increase, followed by Portland at 10.9% and Denver with an 8.7% advance.

      In all, 12 cities reported greater price increases in the year ending September 2016 versus the year ending August 2016.

      “The new peak set by the S&P Case-Shiller CoreLogic National Index will be seen as marking a shift from the housing recovery to the hoped-for start of a new advance” said David M. Blitzer, Managing Director and Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “While seven of the 20 cities previously reached new post-recession peaks, those that experienced the biggest booms – Miami, Tampa, Phoenix, and Las Vegas -- remain well below their all-time highs.”

      Month-over-month

      Before seasonal adjustment, on a month-over-month basis, the National Index posted a September gain of 0.4%, with both the 10-City Composite and the 20-City Composite up 0.1%.

      After seasonal adjustment, the National Index rose 0.8%, the 10-City Composite was up 0.2%, and the 20-City Composite advanced 0.4%.

      Fifteen of 20 cities reported increases in September before seasonal adjustment; after seasonal adjustment, all 20 cities saw prices rise.

      Blitzer said the market is showing several positive signals, including a rise in sales of existing and new homes and new-home construction at a post-recession peak.

      Home prices in September continued their rise across the country over the last 12 months.According to the S&P; CoreLogic Case-Shiller U.S. National Hom...

      AT&T to launch new video streaming services

      It could make it easier to cut the cord

      AT&T is offering three video streaming services, making use of new and existing content tie-ins. On November 30 is will begin marketing DIRECTV NOW.

      The telecom provider sees a lucrative market of consumers who have cut the cable TV cord, or who are thinking about it.

      “We’re extending our entertainment portfolio for those who value premium content but also want more TV freedom suited for their lifestyle, whether watching at home or on their mobile devices. This is TV your way,” said John Stankey, CEO, AT&T Entertainment Group.

      Stankey says the services are built around AT&T's mobile platform. He says once you sign up for either DIRECTV NOW or Fullscreen, you can stream video content using a variety of mobile devices without set-top-boxes, satellite dishes, or annual contracts.

      Won't count against data allowance

      The services are also designed to promote the company's main product. AT&T Mobility customers will not use their allotted data when watching DIRECTV NOW or FreeVIEW in the App. Neither will Fullscreen users if they stream in the Fullscreen App on the AT&T network.

      DIRECTV NOW is a collection of four television packages of current DIRECTV content, including live sports, on demand, cable networks, and premium channels.

      The company says the DIRECTV NOW service will be compatible with most mobile devices and platforms, as well as Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick; Chromecast (Android at launch; iOS in 2017); Google Cast-enabled LeEco ecotvs and VIZIO SmartCast Displays; and Internet Explorer, Chrome, and Safari web browsers.

      More devices next year

      AT&T says it plans to add more devices next year, including Roku streaming players and Roku TV models, Amazon Fire tablets, and Smart TVs.

      The Fullscreen video service launched earlier this year at $5.99 a month. It provides more than 1,500 hours of on-demand programming, including original productions.

      FreeVIEW is a free, ad-supported video service. It offers programming from AUDIENCE Network, Otter Media properties, and other channels on DIRECTV NOW.

      AT&T's new video services will compete with Dish Network's Sling TV and Sony's Playstation Vue, but Business Insider suggests it could raise a controversial Net Neutrality topic. It will have an advantage over its competitors, in that it is also an internet service provider (ISP) that can choose whether or not to make video streaming count against data allowances.

      AT&T; is offering three video streaming services, making use of new and existing content tie-ins. On November 30 is will begin marketing DIRECTV NOW.Th...

      Autopilot ads should be reined in, consumer group argues

      Consumer Watchdog wants rules limiting hype about self-driving cars

      Carmakers should be a bit more circumspect in their claims for self-driving cars, a California consumer group thinks. Consumer Watchdog wants the California Department of Motor Vehicles to ban misleading ads that leave the dangerous – and sometimes fatal – impression that a car is more capable of driving itself than is actually the case.

      The nonprofit group referred the DMV to its new video documenting how Tesla hyped its vehicles’ “Autopilot” feature, clearly leaving the false impression the cars were self-driving.

      In a letter to DMV Director Jean Shiomoto, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director John M. Simpson wrote:

      “Tesla, with its promotion of its so-called ‘Autopilot’ feature, is a prime example of the deadly consequences of such unjustified hype. Chairman Elon Musk has repeatedly extolled the Tesla’s self-driving virtues to clearly leave the impression that the vehicle is autonomous."

      “Two drivers who were misled by Tesla’s Autopilot hype, one in China and one in Florida, are dead after fatal crashes,” the letter continued. “Tesla’s response now, in direct contradiction to Musk’s ‘Look Mom, No Hands’ hype, has been that the drivers should have been paying attention and should have had their hands on the steering wheel.”

      Too long to wait

      DMV has a pending regulation that would provide that “a vehicle cannot be advertised as autonomous in California unless it meets the definition of ‘autonomous’ specified in Vehicle Code §38750 and the autonomous vehicle regulations,” but because the rule is part of a larger regulation package, it probably will not be enacted for at least a year.

      Simpson's group says that's too long to wait. 

      “Currently there is nothing to stop the sort of hype spouted by Elon Musk with its potentially deadly consequences,” Consumer Watchdog’s letter said. “DMV should extract the advertising regulatory language from the rest of the draft autonomous vehicle regulations and start a formal rule-making to enact that section immediately.”

      Carmakers should be a bit more circumspect in their claims for self-driving cars, a California consumer group thinks. Consumer Watchdog wants the Californi...

      Most consumers say they do holiday shopping without a budget

      But a holiday budget can help avoid unexpected debt

      Now that Black Friday and Cyber Monday are behind us, it's a safe bet most consumers have at least started their holiday shopping.

      But are they following a set spending budget? Personal finance experts are unanimous in their advice to do so, but evidence suggests many consumers don't.

      Lending Tree's second annual holiday survey found that more than half the consumers it polled plan to shop without setting spending limits this holiday season. That, of course, usually means starting the new year with unexpected debt.

      The survey also found that 43% of consumers admitting to at least some buyer's remorse after the holiday about how much money they spent.

      Where the money goes

      It isn't just gifts that cause people to get carried away with their credit cards. There are decorations, food, and beverages for parties, and even travel. The personal finance website Investopedia has some tips for avoiding overspending during the holiday season.

      Among the decorating tips, organize a decorations swap with friends. You add new decorations without spending any money. If you have enough decorations to get by this year, wait until after Christmas and buy decorations on clearance.

      If you're planning a holiday dinner party, don't feel like you have to invite everyone you know. Most people get more invitations than they can handle and won't mind attending one less holiday event.

      If extended families are still exchanging gifts, suggest spending limits this year. Or even better, a secret Santa where everyone purchases just one gift.

      As for travel, if you haven't already booked your flight, you're not going to save any more. However, if you're willing to fly on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, you might still find a bargain.

      Budget worksheet

      Sitting down and actually putting a budget down on paper is the best way to help you stay on track with your spending. Here's a budget worksheet that you can download.

      Lending Tree found that nearly two-thirds of shoppers expect to spend $500 or less on gifts this year. That's up slightly from last year. More than 10% estimate they will spend more on gifts this year than last year.

      Now that Black Friday and Cyber Monday are behind us, it's a safe bet most consumers have at least started their holiday shopping.But are they followin...

      JetBlue adds Cuban flights but Trump warns he is skeptical

      Trump says he may cut ties unless Cuba offers a 'better deal'

      Aviation is tricky. Conditions can change en route. That may be what's happening with air service between the U.S. and Cuba. Fidel Castro is dead and Donald J. Trump, no fan of the Cuban regime, is President-elect of the United States. 

      It's a big sea change from a few months ago, but U.S. airlines so far see no need for a course correction. JetBlue yesterday flew its first flight from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to Havana’s José Martí International Airport (HAV). 

      JetBlue had earlier started flights to other destinations in Cuba and opens service to Havana from Orlando today and from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood tomorrow.

      Other airlines flying from the U.S. to Cuba include Alaska, American, Delta, Frontier, Southwest, Spirit, and United. Along with JetBlue, they plan to operate a combined 155 flights.

      JetBlue flight 243 became the first commercial flight to Cuba from the New York area since scheduled service resumed this year and marked the first day of U.S. commercial service to the Cuban capital in more than 50 years. The New York metropolitan area is home to the second-largest Cuban-American population in the U.S.

      “JetBlue didn’t even exist when commercial service ended, and now we are a leading airline in Cuba and the Caribbean,” said Robin Hayes, president and chief executive officer, JetBlue. “We are proud to touch down in Havana today on the very first day of commercial service between the U.S. and Cuba’s capital.”

      Trump tweets doubts

      Trump's upset win may prove to be a stiff headwind, however. In a tweet late yesterday, Trump said that unless Cuba is willing to make a "better deal" he may terminate moves to re-establish ties between the countries.

      Mauricio Claver-Carone, a fierce Castro critic, who leads a pro-embargo group, has been named to Trump's transition team for the Treasury Department, which could herald a sea change in U.S.-Cuban relations.

      However, Trump transition communications director Jason Miller told reporters yesterday not to jump to conclusions.

      “Cuba is a very complex topic and the president-elect is aware of the nuances and complexities regarding the challenges the island and the Cuban people face,” Miller said, according to Politico.

      “And to be clear, the president-elect wants freedom in Cuba for the Cubans and a good deal for Americans where we are not played for fools,” he continued. “Our priorities are the release of political prisoners, the return of fugitives from American law and political and religious freedoms for all Cubans living in oppression.”

      Crewmembers at the Santa Clara Abel Santamaría International Airport in Cuba welcome JetBlue flight 387 on Wednesday, August 31, 2016, the first commercial...

      Nissan Rogue, Chrysler Pacifica win Best Buy honors

      ConsumerGuide Automotive selects vehicles in 21 categories

      Automakers have begun their holiday sales ads, urging consumers to treat themselves to a new car. For those in the market for a new ride, ConsumerGuide Automotive has released its Best Buys for 2017.

      The comprehensive guide is broken down into 21 categories of vehicles, from subcompacts to large pick-up trucks.

      “A vehicle does not become a Best Buy based solely on objective ratings,” ConsumerGuide says on its website. “It also has to distinguish itself as being a good dollar value compared to others in the class.”

      Most popular category

      It notes that the small crossover SUV segment has enjoyed unprecedented sales growth over the past year or so, and is currently poised to dethrone traditional passenger cars as America’s most popular mainstream commuter vehicles.

      In the compact crossover SUV class, the 2017 Nissan Rogue takes Best Buy honors among stiff competition. The Rouge set itself apart with its fuel economy, refined interior materials, and passenger and cargo versatility.

      The Rogue and the Mitsubishi Outlander are the only two vehicles in the class to offer an optional third row seat. The editors cited only a few drawbacks including “so-so passing power” and a noisy engine during acceleration.

      In the mid-size sedan category, the Mazda 6 and Chevrolet Malibu were both named Best Buys. The Mazda 6 won praise for fuel economy, safety, technology features, interior room, and materials quality.

      The Malibu won points for a roomy cabin, a user-friendly infotainment system, and an impressive array of high-tech safety and convenience features.

      In the large luxury class, the Genesis G90 drove away with top honors. The editors said it gives consumers the look, feel, and driving experience of other models in the luxury class like BMW and Mercedes-Benz, but can be purchased for considerably less money.

      Best family vehicle

      In the category of 2017 Family Vehicle Best Buy, the Chrysler Pacifica wins top honors.

      “Minivans are natural champs at hauling kids and lots of gear, but the Pacifica goes above and beyond class expectations by offering a roster of comfort and convenience features that are simply unmatched by rival minivans… or, for that matter, any other family-vehicle competitor,” the editors wrote.

      The editors praised the Pacifica for its stow-and-go seating and ample storage spaces. They also called it “surprisingly stylish” for such a utilitarian vehicle.

      Automakers have begun their holiday sales ads, urging consumers to treat themselves to a new car. For those in the market for a new ride, ConsumerGuide Aut...

      Insurance broker Zenefits gets its wings clipped

      California regulators imposed a $7 million settlement for licensing violations

      High-flying human resources and insurance start-up Zenefits has been hit with $7 million worth of penalties by California insurance regulators who accused it of allowing unlicensed employees to sell insurance. Half of the amount was suspended, pending continued compliance with state regulations.

      San Francisco-based Zenefits has previously settled investigations with Tennessee, Arizona, and Minnesota, paying much smaller fines in the tens of thousands of dollars.

      "Businesses and consumers should have confidence that anyone selling insurance to them in California is doing so in compliance with our consumer protection laws," said Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones. "Our enforcement action has resulted in Zenefits paying substantial monetary penalties for their licensing violations and ensures Zenefits complies with all of California's insurance laws and regulations or they will face additional automatic penalties and sanctions."

      It's one of the largest penalties for licensing violations ever assessed in the department's history, Jones said.

      Zenefits said it was pleased with the settlement and said it now has a "clean bill of health" from California and 16 other states.

      Software as a service

      A 2013 start-up, Zenefits is a San Francisco based company whose business model was to provide online HR services to businesses and then encourage those same businesses to use Zenefits as an insurance broker. 

      Zenefits sees itself as a software-as-a-service company, providing software that automates much of the tedious work involved in human resources and employee benefits operations. The California investigation centered around a piece of software that enabled Zenefits staff to complete prelicensing coursework in less than the amount of time required by the state, which tightly regulates insurance sales.

      Regulators opened an investigation in 2015, after receiving complaints that Zenefits employees were transacting insurance sales without a license. Shortly after the investigation began, the company announced publicly that it was not complying with insurance laws and regulations, which was followed by the resignation of Zenefits CEO, Parker Conrad.

      "In California, we value innovation and new business models, including Internet based start-ups, but we also insist that consumer protections laws are followed," said Jones. "Zenefits is an example of an Internet based start-up whose former leaders created a culture where important consumer protection laws were broken -- a bad strategy that placed the company at risk and that other start-ups should not follow given our strong consumer protection laws and the Department of Insurance's rigorous enforcement of those laws."

      Half of the penalty was suspended, pending Zenefits' continued compliance with licensing rules.

      High-flying human resources and insurance start-up Zenefits has been hit with $7 million worth of penalties by California insurance regulators who accused...

      A big November bounce in consumer confidence

      The results bode well for the holiday shopping season

      After posting a modest decline a month earlier, consumer confidence is up strongly in November.

      According to The Conference Board, its Consumer Confidence Index now stands at 107.1, a gain of 6.3 points from October.

      The Present Situation Index jumped 7.2 points to 130.3, while the Expectations Index went from 86.0 last month to 91.7.

      The increase puts consumer confidence at pre-recession levels. “A more favorable assessment of current conditions coupled with a more optimistic short-term outlook helped boost confidence,” said Conference Board Director of Economic Indicators Lynn Franco.

      “And while the majority of consumers were surveyed before the presidential election,” she points out, “it appears from the small sample of post-election responses that consumers’ optimism was not impacted by the outcome. With the holiday season upon us, a more confident consumer should be welcome news for retailers.”

      How consumers see it

      The assessment by consumers of current conditions improved in November. The percentage saying business conditions are “good” went from 26.5% to 29.2%, while those saying business conditions are “bad” fell from 17.3% to 14.8%.

      Consumers’ appraisal of the labor market was moderately more positive than last month. The percentage of consumers who think jobs are “plentiful” increased from 25.3% to 26.9%, while those who believe they’re “hard to get” was unchanged at 21.7%.

      Consumers’ short-term outlook -- on balance -- was more optimistic in November. The percentage who look for business conditions to improve over the next six months fell from 16.4% to 15.3%; however, those expecting them to worsen also fell -- from 11.8% to 10.0%.

      Consumers’ outlook for the labor market was mixed as well. The proportion expecting more jobs in the months ahead was virtually unchanged at 14.5%, but those anticipating fewer jobs fell from 16.6% to 13.8%.

      When it comes to income, the percentage looking for an increase -- 17.5% -- was little changed from last month, while the proportion expecting a drop fell from 10.2% to 9.0%.

      The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey is conducted by Nielsen, a provider of information and analytics around what consumers buy and watch. The cutoff date for the preliminary results was November 15.

      After posting a modest decline a month earlier, consumer confidence is up strongly in November.According to The Conference Board, its Consumer Confiden...

      Improved economic performance for the third quarter

      An uptick in consumer spending was a big factor

      The government's second look at how the economy was doing in the third quarter is encouraging.

      According to the Commerce Department, real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 3.2% in the July-to-September period.

      That's somewhat better than the rate of 2.9% reported in the “advance” estimate -- and a lot better than the 1.4% we saw in the second quarter of the year.

      And it marks the first time the GDP growth rate has been above 3% since the third quarter of 2014.

      Even with the increase, analysts say the general picture of economic growth remains the same. The advance was due to stronger consumption expenditures -- consumer spending -- than previously estimated.

      The second estimate acceleration reflected an upturn in private inventory investment, an acceleration in exports, a pickup in federal government spending, and smaller decreases in state and local government spending and residential fixed investment.

      An inflation measure tied to GDP -- the PCE price index -- was up 1.4%, compared with the previous 2.0% increase. When the volatile food and energy categories are removed, the gain is 1.7% versus an increase of 1.8%.

      The increase in GDP gave a nice boost to corporate profits, which rose $133.8 billion in the third quarter, after falling $12.5 billion in the second.

      The complete report may be found on the Commerce Department website.

      The government's second look at how the economy was doing in the third quarter is encouraging.According to the Commerce Department, real gross domestic...

      Human Touch recalls reclining chairs

      The chair’s joystick reclining mechanism can malfunction

      Human Touch of California is recalling about 1,100 Perfect Chairs, model PC-610.

      The chair’s joystick reclining mechanism can malfunction and allow the chair to continue moving, posing a fall hazard to consumers.

      The firm has received one report of the chair’s joystick mechanism malfunctioning. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves Human Touch’s Perfect Chair, model PC-610 with serial numbers between B613315034 and B614215154. The power reclining chair was sold in a walnut, dark walnut or chestnut wood finish base with a leather pad set that came in 33 different colors.

      The chair measures about 43 inches long, 31 inches wide and 47 inches high and has a head pillow at the top and a joystick controller on the left armrest. The words “Human Touch” and “Perfect Chair” and the model and serial number can be found on the cross bar connecting the rear legs of the chair.

      The chairs, manufactured in Thailand, were sold at furniture and specialty stores nationwide including Healthy Back, Human Touch, Relax in Comfort, Relax The Back and The Better Back Store and online at ebay.com and vitalityweb.com for between $3,000 and $3,500.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled chairs, and take them to the store where purchased for a full refund or contact Human Touch to receive a free repair kit (including shipping) or to arrange for free repair.

      Consumers may contact Human Touch at 800-355-2762 from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. (PT) Monday through Friday, by email at csadmin@humantouch.com or online at www.humantouch.com.

      Human Touch of California is recalling about 1,100 Perfect Chairs, model PC-610.The chair’s joystick reclining mechanism can malfunction and allow the...

      National Steak and Poultry recalls food service ready-to-eat chicken

      The products may be undercooked, resulting in the potential survival of bacterial pathogens

      National Steak and Poultry of Owasso, Okla., is recalling approximately 17,439 pounds of ready-to-eat chicken products.

      The products may be undercooked, resulting in the potential survival of bacterial pathogens.

      There are no confirmed reports of adverse health effects or illnesses due to consumption of these products.

      The following items, produced October 4, 2016, and packaged October 4 – 5, 2016, are being recalled:

      • 5 lb. bags packed 2 bags per case; product labeled “Distributed by National Steak and Poultry, Owasso, OK Fully Cooked, Diced, Grilled Boneless Chicken Breast Meat with Rib Meat” with Lot code 100416, and Case Code: 70020.
      • 5 lb. bags packed 2 bags per case; product labeled “Hormel Natural Choice 100% Natural No Preservatives Fully Cooked Roasted Chicken Breast Strips with Rib Meat Natural Smoke Flavor Added” with Lot code 100416, and Case code 702113.

      The recalled product, bearing establishment number “P-6010T” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to food service locations nationwide and should not be in consumers’ possession.

      What to do

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Mike Wilson at (918) 274-8787.

      National Steak and Poultry of Owasso, Okla., is recalling approximately 17,439 pounds of ready-to-eat chicken products.The products may be undercooked,...

      Nick’s of Calvert recalls meatball product

      The product contains eggs and milk

      Nick’s of Calvert of Prince Frederick, Md., is recalling approximately 305 pounds of ready to eat meatball product.

      The product contains eggs and milk, allergens not declared on the label.

      There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions.

      The following product is being recalled:

      • 5-lb. clear plastic packages containing “NICK’S Fully Cooked Italian Style Meatballs.”

      The product subject to recall does not bear a USDA mark of inspection. Other typical identification markings, including best before or use by dates or processing or repackaging dates are also absent from the product labels.

      The product was sold in retail locations in Maryland.

      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 Nick Ferrante III at (410) 414-7105.

      Nick’s of Calvert of Prince Frederick, Md., is recalling approximately 305 pounds of ready to eat meatball product.The product contains eggs and milk,...

      Cancer can take huge financial toll on Medicare recipients

      Consumers without a supplemental policy at greatest risk

      The older you get, the more your risk of getting cancer goes up. But it you are counting on Medicare alone to pay for your treatment, a new study suggests you could be in for a rude financial shock.

      Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center say their study shows that cancer patients on Medicare, but without a Medicare supplemental insurance policy, paid anywhere from a quarter to 63% of their income for treatment.

      That's because Medicare only covers 80% of costs. And unlike many private insurance plans, there is no cap on out-of-pocket expenses. In addition to their Medicare premiums, the researchers found consumers without a supplemental policy were hit with out-of-pocket costs ranging from $2,116 to $8,115 a year to treat cancer.

      The researchers say cancer treatment contributes more to health care costs in the United States than treatment for any other disease, largely driven by hospitalization.

      “The spending associated with a new cancer diagnosis gets very high quickly, even if you have insurance,” said Lauren Hersch Nicholas, one of the study's authors.

      Financial consequences often not discussed

      She says cancer treatments can be extremely expensive and that a lot of treatments are given without a discussion of the costs of the financial consequences.

      “Cancer costs are high, and a significant segment of our seniors who don’t have adequate insurance coverage can be hit hard by this,” said Dr. Amol K.Narang, one of the researchers. “In addition to efforts aimed at lowering cancer costs, we need to think about how to offer our seniors better insurance coverage.”

      While Medicare is offered by the U.S. government, supplemental policies – sometimes called Medigap coverage – are offered by private insurance companies like Humana and United Healthcare. It pays many of the costs that Medicare doesn't cover.

      Because it only has to cover the 20% of costs not covered by Medicare, its monthly premiums are much less than a private healthcare policy designed to cover the entire amount. Your healthcare provider bills both Medicare and the supplemental policy provider at the same time, with the supplemental insurer picking up the costs that Medicare doesn't cover.

      If you are on Medicare but don't have a supplemental policy, you can still get one. Open enrollment is underway until December 7. You can find more information at Medicare.gov.

      The older you get, the more your risk of getting cancer goes up. But it you are counting on Medicare alone to pay for your treatment, a new study suggests...

      A Visit to the White House - follow in the footsteps of our presidents

      The occupants change but the White House endures

      The most famous address in Washington, D.C. is undoubtedly 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. The White House, the iconic symbol of the presidency and part of the National Park Service, is available for public tours, and it’s like taking a walk through our nation’s history. There’s something so special in passing through the very same portico where our president greets dignitaries and heads of state from all over the world.

      The rooms that are available for public view are all located on the main floor. No peeking into the Oval Office. Some of the rooms you’ll walk through with the center roped off; others you glimpse through an open door. You’ll pass through corridors, halls, and the East Garden Room and along the way you’ll have a chance to view portraits, sculptures, and a cabinet that displays many of the presidents’ china patterns, including the new set from President Obama.

      There are framed photos that showcase happy family moments during different presidencies, as well as noteworthy events, such as President Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. behind him and Jimmy Carter with Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat signing the Camp David Accords.

      What else will you see? Many portraits of our presidents and first ladies, including the famed Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington that Dolley Madison saved when the British burned the White House in 1814 and the pensive portrait of Abraham Lincoln that was bequeathed to the White House in 1939 by the widow of Robert Todd Lincoln, the President’s oldest son.

      Book lovers will wish they could curl up in the Library, which contains 2,700 works by American authors. The Vermeil Room, named for the large collection of vermeil (1,575 pieces of gilded silver) given to the White House by Margaret Thompson Biddle and used as a sitting room. The stunning Red Room, with its furniture upholstered in “Crimson Plush,” is a favorite spot for first ladies to entertain guests. You can also see the State Dining Room, just given a fresh update by President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, and the China Room which, no surprise, displays china and glass used by the presidents.   

      Tour facts

      White House tours are free.

      Tours are self-guided and available Tuesday through Saturday (excluding federal holidays).

      Tours can be canceled at the last minute.You will be provided with a phone number with your confirmation, and it’s wise to call close to the tour time to ensure it’s still on.

      How to book a tour:

      U.S. citizens should submit requests through the office of your member of Congress.

      Citizens of a foreign country should contact your embassy in Washington, D.C. for assistance in submitting a tour request.

      Tour requests should be submitted up to three months in advance, but no less than 21 days in advance. There are a limited number of spaces available for each tour, so submit your request early.

      Visitor Information:

      For information on White House tours and events go to: https://www.whitehouse.gov/participate/tours-and-events or call (202) 456-7041.

      To get the most out of your White House visit check out the White House Visitor Center for additional exhibits, artifacts, and ranger-led talks. It’s located a block and half from the White House at 1450 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, open daily from 7:30 am to 4 p.m.

      The most famous address in Washington, D.C. is undoubtedly 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. The White House, the iconic symbol of the presidency and part of th...

      How mouse allergens found in schools may worsen children's asthma symptoms

      Researchers say that schools should focus on reduction strategies to improve health outcomes

      If you’re someone who has struggled with asthma for most of your life, then you might remember what it was like having it as a child. Whether it was performing physical activities in gym class or participating in athletic sports, the condition was likely one that slowed you down if it wasn’t managed constantly.

      However, a recent study suggests that certain allergens found in schools may make asthma symptoms even worse. Researchers from Boston’s Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School have found that air-borne allergens in schools, such as those that come from mice, may worsen asthma symptoms. They say that inner city children who are exposed to mouse allergens at school have worse overall medical outcomes connected with their asthma.

      “In our study of inner-city school-aged children with asthma, exposure to higher levels of school mouse allergen was associated with a higher number of days with asthma symptoms and decreased lung function, independent of home environmental exposure,” the researchers said.

      Worsened symptoms

      The researchers analyzed the home and school environments of 284 students between the ages of 4 and 13 that were enrolled in inner-city schools in the northeastern United States. They found that schools with higher concentrations of mouse allergen yielded children with worse asthma symptoms and lower lung function.

      While other allergens were found both at home and at school, the researchers say that negative health trends were most noticeable in children exposed to mouse allergens at school. They recommend that schools find ways to reduce the amount of these contaminants so that asthmatic children do not suffer as much from their condition.

      “This [negative health trend] was seen in all children with asthma studied, regardless of whether they were sensitized to mouse allergen, and further underscores the public health relevance of school-associated allergen exposure as an important contributor to asthma morbidity in children,” they said.

      “These findings suggest that exposure reduction strategies in the school setting may effectively and efficiently benefit all children with asthma. Future school-based environmental intervention studies may be warranted.”

      The full study has been published in JAMA Pediatrics.

      If you’re someone who has struggled with asthma for most of your life, then you might remember what it was like having it as a child. Whether it was perfor...

      How pediatricians can help when parents divorce

      A new report addresses the pediatricians’ role in helping kids cope with the separation

      The finalization of a divorce or separation often marks the beginning of a stressful and confusing time for affected children. The emotional impact of divorce is often felt to an even higher degree during the holiday season.

      But pediatricians can help kids adjust to the changes divorce brings, says the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). In a new report, the AAP says pediatricians can help parents understand what their children might be going through.

      "The pediatrician can help parents understand their children's reactions to divorce or separation," which can vary depending on the child’s age, said report co-lead author Dr. Carol Weitzman, chairwoman of the AAP's Section on Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.

      Pediatricians remain neutral

      The report states that it’s important for doctors to maintain neutral relationships with both parents. The best interests of the child should be kept at the heart of all conversations and decisions.

      If the emotional repercussions of a divorce begin to affect a child’s school performance or friendships, the pediatrician can recommend developmentally appropriate ways for parents to talk with their children about the divorce.

      "Parents should be encouraged to answer their children's questions honestly, and allow them to express their own feelings," Weitzman said in a news release.

      If children seem to be in need of further support, pediatricians can refer families to child-oriented professionals who have experience in helping children affected by divorce.

      Adjusting to change

      The emotional trauma of divorce can often bring about behavior changes in children. These changes usually crop up during the beginning of the separation but tend to resolve within two to three years. The report goes on to state, however, that children may grapple with a sense of loss as they get older.
      Kids’ adjustment to life after the split may depend on factors such as their temperament and the relationship they had with their parents before and after the separation. In the aftermath of a divorce, parents should strive to keep children’s routines as normal as possible.

      “The children’s routines of school, extracurricular activities, contact with family and friends, discipline, and responsibilities ideally should remain as normal and unchanged as possible,” the authors said, adding that parents should also help kids understand that they did not cause the divorce.

      If one parent cannot provide adequate support and reassurance, pediatricians can serve as a source of guidance for the other parent.

      “It is hoped that they can be told that each parent will continue to love and care for them, but if they cannot be provided with this reassurance, pediatricians can help the involved parent develop strategies to help the child articulate feelings of loss and identify resources to assist the child."
      The new report will be published in the December issue of the journal Pediatrics.
      The finalization of a divorce or separation often marks the beginning of a stressful and confusing time for affected children. The emotional impact of divo...

      New skin patch analyzes sweat to reveal important health information

      Researchers say the device could one day be used for disease diagnosis

      What does your sweat say about your health? Wearing a new skin patch during exercise may help you find out. Scientists say they have developed a quarter-sized device that sticks to your skin and analyzes your sweat.

      Sweat is worth analyzing, experts say. The beads of sweat we manufacture and quickly brush away while we're engaged in physical activity can offer important insights into our overall health.

      John Rogers, lead author of a study reporting development of the new skin patch, says sweat is “a rich, chemical broth containing a number of important chemical compounds with physiological health information.”

      The new skin patch may help people find out if they should be drinking more water or if they need to replenish their electrolyte levels. When tested on cyclists, the device was found to give an accurate measurement of the acidity of sweat and concentrations of glucose, chloride, and lactate.

      Results sent to smartphone

      The thin, disposable patches are worn on the forearm or back. Those who wear the device can see how their body is responding to exercise by accessing the results of the analysis on their smartphone.

      But the wearable can do more than nudge users to hydrate. In addition to measuring a person's sweat rate and total sweat loss, the patch can detect the presence of a biomarker for cystic fibrosis. In the future, researchers say it could even be used as a tool for disease diagnosis.

      "The intimate skin interface created by this wearable, skin-like ... system enables new measurement capabilities not possible with the kinds of absorbent pads and sponges currently used in sweat collection," Rogers said in a release.

      Findings from the test of the device on two groups of cyclists were published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

      What does your sweat say about your health? Wearing a new skin patch during exercise may help you find out. Scientists say they have developed a quarter-si...

      Beware of promises of 'easy money' loans

      They're really just repackaged payday loans

      To hear all the commercials and spam telephone calls, you would think lenders couldn't wait to make loans to just about anyone, regardless of their credit. But that's hardly the case. In fact, lending standards in recent years have gotten tighter, not looser.

      So what's with all the pitches for “easy money” loans? The Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities says most of these pitches are coming from payday lenders operating in other states.

      They might be called payday loans, or car title loans, or sometimes just “quick money loans.” Whatever they're called, Pennsylvania banking officials say they carry the same issues as your garden variety payday loans – the term is for just two weeks, meaning you almost certainly have to take out another loan to pay back the first. And when the fees are added up, it can amount to an annual interest rate of between 300% to 1,000%.

      "The Internet contains a lot of 'guarantees' of easy, fast ways to get cash that too often lead to long-term financial problems," said Pennsylvania Secretary of Banking and Securities Robin L. Wiessmann. "Too many people who take out 'easy money' loans end up paying shockingly high amounts of interest on these loans, losing their cars or motorcycles, or being hounded illegally by debt collectors."

      Robocallers go to work

      And now, the purveyors of these loans are using spam robocalls to push their products. Honolulu TV station KHON reports many consumers have received their calls, which originate outside the U.S., and thus outside the control of U.S. authorities. The recorded pitch says the consumer receiving the call has already been approved for a loan, even though they haven't applied for one.

      “The robocall tells you that no credit check will be required when you go to the website to look it up it says no credit check is required then when you look at the fine print it says oh, a third-party will do a credit check on you,” Gregory Dunn, CEO of the Hawaii Better Business Bureau told the station.

      Robocalls, which are illegal in nearly all instances, are increasingly used to market dubious products and services. It gives the telemarketer a lot more power.

      Screening the first set of victims

      “A robocall, as a technology, is used to screen out the first set of victims,” Jan Volzke, a vice president at Hiya, told ConsumerAffairs back in July.

      Hiya is a free call-blocking app, available for the iPhone and Android platforms. It was recently spun off as an independent company by Whitepages.

      As has been pointed out repeatedly by consumer advocates, consumers in need of quick money should not fall for a scam or resort to a payday loan. Wiessmann suggests looking into other alternatives, which include asking if your bank offers short-term loans. Also, check into short-term loans offered by credit unions.

      If you need cash to pay an overdue bill, Wiessmann suggests asking your boss for an advance or negotiating with the creditor for more time. If all else fails, Wiessman says you'll be better off paying the late fees on the bill, which in the long run will be a lot less than the fees associated with one of those “easy money” loans.

      To hear all the commercials and spam telephone calls, you would think lenders couldn't wait to make loans to just about anyone, regardless of their credit....

      Wells Fargo seeking to use arbitration clause to block lawsuits

      The bank claims customers gave up their right to sue when they opened accounts

      Wells Fargo faces dozens of lawsuits from angry customers over its fake accounts scandal, but it is reportedly seeking to push those disputes into arbitration.

      Bloomberg News reports the bank has filed a motion in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City to keep one particular lawsuit from getting to court. In the motion, Wells Fargo says customers agreed to resolve disputes out of court when they opened their accounts.

      The lawsuits are the result of Wells Fargo's actions, opening millions of bank and credit card accounts in customers' names without their knowledge or permission. At the time, the bank was engaged in a sales strategy known as “cross-marketing,” where customers with one type of account were encouraged to open another type, increasing the amount of fees flowing to the bank.

      Went beyond convincing

      The bank offered incentives to employees who were able to convince customers with bank accounts to open credit card accounts, and vice-versa. Federal regulators charged Wells Fargo went beyond trying to convince customers to open new accounts and simply opened the accounts for them without their knowledge. The bank fired 5,300 employees and paid $185 million in fines. It's CEO, John Stumpf, after being raked over the coals by Congressional committees, took early retirement.

      Bloomberg reports the motion, filed in the lawsuit brought by 80 Wells Fargo customers, points out that the arbitration clause has already been validated in another lawsuit brought in California.

      Arbitration is a form of dispute resolution favored by large corporations with lots of customers. It keeps disputes out of court and, while saving in legal fees, often results in more favorable rulings. Besides banks, telecommunications companies usually require their customers to agree to arbitration.

      Considering a ban

      A year ago, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) said it was considering proposed rules that would ban consumer financial companies from using “free pass” arbitration clauses.

      With this free pass, CFPB said companies can sidestep the legal system, avoid big refunds, and continue to pursue profitable practices that may violate the law and harm countless consumers.

      “Consumers should not be asked to sign away their legal rights when they open a bank account or credit card,” CFPB Director Richard Cordray said at the time.

      Cordray said corporations are using the arbitration clause as a free pass to sidestep the courts and his agency would consider banning arbitration clauses that block group lawsuits.

      Wells Fargo faces dozens of lawsuits from angry customers over its fake accounts scandal, but it is reportedly seeking to push those disputes into arbitrat...

      Online sales power Black Friday

      Overall sales surged, while in-store sales declined

      Early indications suggest 2016's holiday sales will outpace initial projections by a wide margin. Sales got off to a red hot pace over the extended Black Friday shopping weekend, with more purchases moving to online channels.

      One of the first sales reports comes from Adobe, which tracked $5.2 billion in spending over Thanksgiving and Black Friday, a 17.7% increase over last year. At the same time time, brick-and-mortar sales were down from last year.

      Black Friday sales alone smashed the old record, logging $3.34 billion, beating last year's mark by 21.6%. Adobe reports Lego Creator Sets, electric scooters from Razor, Nerf Guns, DJI Phantom Drones, and Barbie Dreamhouses made up the five biggest sellers in the toy department on Black Friday. Apple iPads, Samsung 4k TVs, Apple MacBooks Air, LG TVs, and Microsoft Xboxes were the top sellers in the electronics department.

      More mobile purchases

      Adobe reported mobile platforms drove the majority of visits to retail websites on Black Friday and accounted for 35% of sales. It found large retailers experienced twice the growth in online sales as small retailers since the start of the holiday shopping season.

      Rakuten Marketing reported similar findings. It said its data shows mobile sites got 56% of the traffic on Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Black Friday's online spending beat last year by 41%.

      “Shoppers hit the buy button at unprecedented levels as conversion rates were up nearly a full percent across all devices in the evening hours on Black Friday,” said Tamara Gaffney, principal analyst and director, Adobe Digital Insights. “With the full day total coming in at $3.34 billion, Black Friday may have just dethroned Cyber Monday's position as the largest online shopping day of the year.”

      How big will Cyber Monday be?

      Of course, that remains to be seen. Holiday shopping site BestBlackFriday.com reported that many ecommerce sites started their Cyber Monday specials on Sunday evening, suggesting the sales total could surpass projections. It notes that Apple, Dell, Best Buy, and Target are offering free shipping with no minimum order size, which could spur sales.

      Among the hottest Cyber Monday promotions, it has identified Target's 15% off nearly everything in-store and online during the day, as worthy of consumers' attention. It also calls attention to Walmart's over 50% discount on Samsung HDTVs.

      Assuming Cyber Monday smashes estimates, the nation's retailers could be on pace for a record holiday sales period.

      Early indications suggest 2016's holiday sales will outpace initial projections by a wide margin. Sales got off to a red hot pace over the extended Black F...

      Dogs can remember a human's behavior even after hours have passed

      New study finds evidence that dogs use episodic memory

      Your dog likely remembers where the treats are kept and how to perform the tricks typically required to earn them, but Fido’s recall ability may be more robust than you think.

      A new study suggests that dogs have the ability to remember what people did in the recent past. Previously, this kind of recall -- known as episodic memory -- was thought to exist in humans and primates only. Now, researchers say dogs also use episodic-like memory.

      Findings published recently in Current Biology show that dogs can recall a person’s actions, even when they’re not expecting to be quizzed or rewarded for their stellar memory. The results of the study may serve to enrich our understanding of animal intelligence, said lead researcher Claudia Fugazza.

      Recall of complex events

      Episodic memory is the ability to remember a particular event that happened at a specific time and place, while semantic memory is the ability to commit something to memory by learning a rule. The latter was thought to be the only type of memory used by dogs, but the results of the new study suggest otherwise.

      Finding evidence that dogs use episodic memory wasn’t easy; Fugazza pointed out that "You can't just ask a dog what it remembers." So, researchers attempted to find evidence that dogs use episodic memory by training 17 dogs to do a trick called “Do as I Do.”

      Part one of the trick ended in a reward and required dogs to imitate human behavior. A human trainer may have tapped an umbrella, jumped, or stood on a chair. Dogs trained to do “Do as I Do” replicated the behavior when the person gave the “Do it” command.

      Then, dogs were trained to lie down after watching their trainer perform an action. When the trainer suddenly said “Do it,” the dogs repeated the action they saw earlier, without reward, thus demonstrating evidence of episodic-like memory.

      "Dogs trained with this method can imitate their owners' actions even after a delay of 24 hours," Fugazza said. After that, their memory of the event began to fade.

      "From a broad evolutionary perspective, this implies that episodic-like memory is not unique and did not evolve only in primates but is a more widespread skill in the animal kingdom,” she said. The researchers say future studies may be able to use approaches similar to the "Do as I Do" training method in order to gain a better understanding of how animals’ minds work. 

      Your dog likely remembers where the treats are kept and how to perform the tricks typically required to earn them, but Fido’s recall ability may be more ro...

      Hale and Hearty Soups recalls ready-to-eat chicken chili soup

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Hale and Hearty Soups of Brooklyn, N.Y., is recalling approximately 455 pounds of ready-to-eat chicken chili soup product that may be adulterated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      The following item, produced and packaged on November 9, 2016, is being recalled:

      • 6.9-lb. bags containing “CHICKEN CHILI SOUP” with an “Expires:12/09” date.

      The recalled product, bearing establishment number “P-34800” inside the USDA mark of inspection, as shipped to food service distributors in Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Vermont.

      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 regarding this recall may contact Paul Schwartz at (212) 255-2400 Ext. 2025.

      Hale and Hearty Soups of Brooklyn, N.Y., is recalling approximately 455 pounds of ready-to-eat chicken chili soup product that may be adulterated with List...

      General Motors recalls model year 2016 Buick Cascadas

      The vehicles may have an incorrect convertible roof control module

      General Motors is recalling four model year 2016 Buick Cascadas manufactured December 2, 2015, to February 24, 2016.

      The vehicles may have had the original convertible roof control module (CRCM) replaced with an incorrect CRCM, that allows the windows to close automatically when the roof is closed and can allow the windows to be closed remotely using the key fob. As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 118, "Power-Operated Window Systems."

      If the windows close automatically or can be closed remotely, the unexpected closure can increase the risk of injury to the passengers.

      What to do

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will replace the CRCM with correct module, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin December 9, 2016.

      Owners may contact Buick customer service at 1-800-521-7300. GM's number for this recall is 16126.

      General Motors is recalling four model year 2016 Buick Cascadas manufactured December 2, 2015, to February 24, 2016.The vehicles may have had the origi...

      Greencore, USA recalls Mediterranean Chicken Hummus” sandwiches made for 7-Eleven

      The recall is tied to the Sabra Dipping Company recall

      Greencore, USA is recalling Fresh to Go Mediterranean Chicken Hummus sandwiches (UPC 5254858888) manufactured solely for 7-Eleven.

      Sabra Dipping Company has recalled the red pepper hummus ingredient used in this sandwich because of potential contamination with Listeria monocytogenes.

      There are no reports of illnesses associated with the recalled product.

      Because of the two day shelf life of the product, Greencore is recalling only lots distributed since October 15, 2016. the recalled product was distributed to 7-Eleven stores in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin and Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and New York.

      Sandwiches with following Use By Dates, listed on the back panel of the sandwich, are being recalled:

      Use By Date
      10/17/2016
      10/18/2016
      10/19/2016
      10/20/2016
      10/21/2016
      10/22/2016
      10/23/2016
      10/24/2016
      10/25/2016
      10/26/2016
      10/27/2016
      10/28/2016
      10/29/2016
      10/30/2016
      10/31/2016
      11/1/2016
      11/2/2016
      11/3/2016
      11/4/2016
      11/5/2016
      11/6/2016
      11/7/2016
      11/8/2016
      11/9/2016
      11/10/2016
      11/11/2016
      11/12/2016
      11/13/2016
      11/14/2016
      11/15/2016
      11/16/2016
      11/17/2016
      11/18/2016
      11/19/2016
      11/20/2016
      11/21/2016

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should not consume it, but dispose of it.

      Consumers with questions may call Greencore at (978) 716-2530 between 9 am and 5 pm (EST).

      Greencore, USA is recalling Fresh to Go Mediterranean Chicken Hummus sandwiches (UPC 5254858888) manufactured solely for 7-Eleven.Sabra Dipping Company...

      Deli sandwiches recalled in Northern California and Nevada

      The recall is tied to the Sabra Dipping Company hummus recall

      LSG Sky Chefs Supply Chain Solutions is recalling for the Mediterranean Style Chicken with Hummus sandwiches produced for 7-Eleven stores.

      The hummus spread used in the sandwiches was recalled by Sabra Dipping Company due to possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination.

      There are no reports of illnesses associated with the recalled product.

      Approximately 241 sandwiches containing the Sabra Dipping Company hummus were produced and distributed from the LSG Sky Chefs facilities in San Jose, Calif. Approximately 72 sandwiches were produced from the firm's Las Vegas, Nevada, location.

      What to do

      Consumers who purchased the recalled product with a “best buy” date of November 19, 2016 through November 21, 2016, at 7-Eleven between November 18, 2016, and November 20, 2016 should dispose of it or return it to 7-Eleven for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may call 214-368-0909 between 6:00am and 3:00pm (PST).

      LSG Sky Chefs Supply Chain Solutions is recalling for the Mediterranean Style Chicken with Hummus sandwiches produced for 7-Eleven stores.The hummus sp...

      Model year 2016 Titan Diesel XDs recalled

      The fuel tank may not have the proper ventilation

      Nissan North America is recalling 12,112 model year 2016 Titan Diesel XDs manufactured August 7, 2015, to September 1, 2016.

      The vehicles may not have had the temporary fuel tank breather tube cap removed during the vehicle's assembly and the fuel tank breather tube may not have been connected to the bed rail. As a result, the fuel tank may not have the proper ventilation, possibly causing the fuel gauge and the distance to empty meter to both display inaccurately.

      If the fuel gauge reads incorrectly, the vehicle can run out of fuel without the driver being aware, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Nissan will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the fuel tank breather tube, replacing the fuel tank, fuel sending unit, and/or fuel tank breather tube, as necessary, 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 12,112 model year 2016 Titan Diesel XDs manufactured August 7, 2015, to September 1, 2016.The vehicles may not have h...

      7-Eleven deli sandwiches recalled in Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Buffalo

      The recall is prompted by the Sabra Dipping Company recall

      LSG Sky Chefs Supply Chain Solutions is recalling the 7-Eleven Chicken and Hummus sandwiches the company produces for 7-Eleven stores in the Pittsburgh, Pa., Cleveland, Ohio, and Buffalo, N Y., markets.

      The hummus spread used in the sandwiches is subject to a national recall issued by Sabra Dipping Company due to possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination.

      The company has received no reports of illnesses associated with the recalled product.

      Approximately 389 7-Eleven Chicken and Hummus sandwiches, packaged in a plastic clam shell, net wt. 8-oz., UPC 0 52548 58888 5, and a “best buy” date of November 19, 2016, through November 21, 2016, located on the back of the package, were produced and distributed to 7-Eleven stores in the Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Buffalo areas.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product between November 18, 2016, and November 20, 2016, should dispose of it or return it to a 7-Eleven store for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may call 214-368-0909 between 9:00am and 6:00pm (EST).

      LSG Sky Chefs Supply Chain Solutions is recalling the 7-Eleven Chicken and Hummus sandwiches the company produces for 7-Eleven stores in the Pittsburgh, Pa...

      Chrysler recalls model year 2017 Jeep Wranglers

      The fuel tank may have a cracked or broken control valve

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 359 model year 2017 Jeep Wranglers manufactured November 1, 2016, to November 3, 2016.

      The vehicles may have a fuel tank that has a cracked or broken control valve, possibly resulting in a fuel leak in a rollover event, debris in the fuel tank and/or the potential of over fueling the vehicle.

      A fuel leak in the presence of an ignition source can increase the risk of a fire.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and Jeep dealers will inspect the fuel tank and replace fuel tank and sending unit, as necessary, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin January 2, 2017.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is S90.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 359 model year 2017 Jeep Wranglers manufactured November 1, 2016, to November 3, 2016.The vehicles may have a fuel t...

      Mediterranean Style Chicken With Hummus sandwiches recalled

      The recall is prompted by the Sabra Dipping Company recall

      LSG Sky Chefs Supply Chain Solutions is recalling recall 103 units of Mediterranean Style Chicken with Hummus sandwiches.

      The hummus spread used in the sandwiches was recalled by Sabra Dipping Company due to possible contamination with Listeria monocytogenes.

      The recalled products, packaged in the plastic clam shell, net wt. 8-oz., UPC 0 52548 58888 5 with a a “best buy” date of November 19, 2016 through November 21, 2016, located on the back of the package, were produced and distributed to 7-Eleven stores in Washington state.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product at 7-Eleven stores between November 18, 2016, and November 20, 2016, should dispose of them or return them to a 7-Eleven store for a full refund.  

      LSG Sky Chefs Supply Chain Solutions is recalling recall 103 units of Mediterranean Style Chicken with Hummus sandwiches.The hummus spread used in the...

      Exxon's investors sue energy giant for downplaying climate concerns

      After Exxon revealed that it would have to write off some oil reserves, investors are suing

      Documents unveiled by the InsideClimateNews site last year revealed that ExxonMobil executives and scientists were aware of the risks that oil and gas drilling posed to the planet even as they publicly denied the link between fossil fuels and climate change.

      The revelation attracted unwanted scrutiny from some lawmakers, like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who compared ExxonMobil’s expensive, longtime campaign attempting to discredit climate scientists to the campaign waged by the tobacco industry. The company poured an estimated $31 million into think tanks that cast doubt on global warming.

      But it’s not just existential concerns about the warming planet that have gotten Exxon in trouble. Shareholders have a more practical reason to be angry at the company -- they say that Exxon’s failure to disclose the risks of global warming hurt their bottom line.

      Shareholder sues

      A lawsuit filed on behalf of shareholders this month against ExxonMobil in a Dallas federal court accuses the energy giant of artificially inflating the prices of its oil reserves and its stock by not publicly accounting for climate change. The suit comes as the company is experiencing a major slump. On October 28, Exxon's stocks fell more than $2 a share, "erasing billions of dollars in market capitalization," the lawsuit contends.

      To be sure, the oil refinery business as a whole is facing financial setbacks. Oil prices and natural gas prices both fell to record lows this year. One potential reason for that, financial experts say, is the worry that more people and government agencies will turn to clean energy, lowering the demand for fossil fuels. But in the midst of the slump, Exxon has been the only oil company not to write off its assets.

      That changed late last month, when Exxon announced that it would have to write down over $3.6 billion worth of crude oil it had previously listed as assets. A company document blames dropping oil prices this year for the change:  "If the average prices seen during the first nine months of 2016 persist for the remainder of the year, under the SEC definition of proved reserves, certain quantities of oil, such as those associated with the Kearl oil sands operations in Canada, will not qualify as proved reserves at year-end 2016." Last April, Standard and Poor downgraded the corporation's credit rating for the first time since the Great Depression.

      "Material misstatements"

      The new lawsuit, filed by stockholder Pedro Ramirez Jr., points to the now-public documents revealing that Exxon knew but concealed the dangers of climate change. He similarly argues that Exxon knew but failed to disclose that it "would not be able to extract the existing hydrocarbon reserves," given concerns about the climate and its effect on the company. "Exxon’s material misstatements and omissions not only artificially inflated the price of Exxon publicly traded securities, but also influenced the rating agencies to issue strong ratings on Exxon’s $20 billion of outstanding debt,” the suit says.

      Exxon, which did not return an interview request, remains one of the world's largest publicly traded companies, even as it faces some public scrutiny. The Massachusetts and New York state attorney generals and the Securities Exchange Commission have all launched investigations into Exxon’s denial of climate change and its accounting practices in the past year.

      Exxon no longer denies that man-made climate change is real, as it did for decades. In 2014, Exxon publicly acknowledged the risks of climate change for the first time in company history. But, according to news reports from the time, Exxon also assured investors that climate concerns would not affect business. "We are confident that none of our hydrocarbon reserves are now or will become 'stranded,'" a company report from the time said.

      Documents unveiled by the InsideClimateNews site last year revealed that ExxonMobil executives and scientists were aware of the risks that oil and gas dril...

      Immigration scams flourish in post-election climate

      Immigrants are fearful and anxious, making them vulnerable to fraud

      The presidential campaign has brought fear and anxiety to immigrant communities, leaving them vulnerable to scam artists claiming to offer assistance services, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman warns.

      “In the past two weeks, we’ve seen intense fear and anxiety in immigrant communities. New York has zero tolerance for anyone who would prey on that fear to defraud immigrants and their families,” Schneiderman said. “We will use all the tools at our disposal to bring to justice those who commit fraud against our immigrant communities.”

      Schneiderman said that his office and many legal aid organizations that work with immigrant communities have received an increased number of calls and reported scams in recent weeks.

      For example, since the election, the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights has received an 266% increase in number of daily calls and 250% increase in number of daily walk-ins; on November 10th alone, the organization received over 100 calls.

      One of the most common scams currently making the rounds is unsolicited calls from fake immigration officials. For example, one immigrant living in New York recently received a call from a supposed government official, telling him that he was in the country illegally and must immediately pay $1,550.

      Schneiderman said federal authorities will never demand immediate payment, request personal sensitive information, or threaten you over the phone. If you receive a call like this, hang up immediately and report the possible fraud to our office.

      Schneiderman listed several common immigration scams, besides the unsolicited calls from fake officials:

      Notario Fraud: In many Latin American countries a “notario” refers to someone who has the authority to render legal services. Unscrupulous “notaries” who are not attorneys often rely on this misunderstanding to exploit immigrants. They charge immigrants excessive application fees without ever submitting applications.

      Misrepresenting Legal Credentials: Individuals may falsely claim to be attorneys or wrongly suggest that they are able to appear before the immigration agencies or court. They take advantage of immigrants who will unknowingly pay exorbitant fees for their services.

      Fraudulent Promises to Expedite Process: This type of fraud concerns individuals who contend that they know employees at immigration offices who can expedite the processing of their clients applications. Accordingly, they request high fees for this special service, but fail to provide it.

      The presidential campaign has brought fear and anxiety to immigrant communities, leaving them vulnerable to scam artists claiming to offer assistance servi...

      Consumers appear to give Black Friday a strong start

      Stores are crowded and online sales surge

      It appears that predictions consumers would pass on Black Friday were somewhat exaggerated. Consumers are not only crowding stores looking for bargains, they took advantage of the stores that opened on Thanksgiving. Millions more shopped online.

      Macy's said there were more than 16,000 shoppers lined up outside its New York flagship store in Harold Square as the doors opened Thanksgiving night. It reports that early sales receipts suggest a lot of people will be finding sweaters and other clothing under the tree this year.

      Target also reports a strong start to the big shopping weekend. Not only were stores jammed with shoppers last night, the company says Target.com had it's biggest single sales day ever.

      “Shopping at Target has become an annual Thanksgiving tradition for millions of our guests, and we’re thrilled at the response we’ve seen this year,” said Target CEO Brian Cornell. “Based on early results, it’s clear that our deals are cutting through. We expect this momentum to continue throughout the weekend and into next week.”

      Target says TV sets were among the most popular items, with consumers buying more than 3,200 sets every minute during the first hour that stores were open. Early indications also point to strong sales of Apple products, including the Apple Watch Series 1.

      Hoverboards sold out in minutes

      Among toys, Target says LEGO, NERF, and Our Generation were popular items. The Jetson V6 Hoverboard sold out within minutes, the company said.

      Amazon, meanwhile, has already jumped ahead to Cyber Monday. The company has unveiled 75,000 deals it plans to offer next week.

      The deals include the Amazon Echo for $139.99, a 50 inch 4K Ultra HD Smart TV for $249.99, and 30% off on select clothing, shoes, jewelry, and watches for women, men, kids, and infants.

      Last Cyber Monday, Amazon says customers ordered more than 54 million items worldwide, which set a record. It says based on early sales data, it expects that record to be shattered next week.

      Did the large number of retailers who took a stand against opening on Thanksgiving miss the boat? Maybe not. CNBC reports the Mall of America, which this year remained closed on the holidays, had even bigger crowds lining up for its Black Friday opening than it did last year.

      It appears that predictions consumers would pass on Black Friday were somewhat exaggerated. Consumers are not only crowding stores looking for bargains, th...

      Retailers on the lookout for return fraud this holiday season

      Here are four schemes that they'll be paying close attention to

      Black Friday has finally arrived. Shoppers across the country are walking the aisles or scouring the net for the best deals that they can find, but tensions for retailers also run high on this pseudo-holiday. Not only do they have to handle a veritable flood of customers, but they must remain vigilant when it comes to spotting scammers.

      The Chicago Tribune reports that return fraud is very high on this pseudo-holiday; in 2015, retailers lost an estimated $15 billion to these schemes. While some consumers may try to shrug that number off, it has some real economic consequences – not only are retailers losing out on all that revenue, but prices may rise to make up for the losses. The Tribune details four scams that retailers will be looking out for this year.

      Black Friday scams

      The “hot exchange” scam is an old standby that is favored by thieves. It occurs when a fraudster steals an item from a store and tries to return it for cash. While it might be hard to get away with stealing a bigger item – like a large TV –  smaller items can often be secreted away for the purposes of the scam.

      The second scam is one that many consumers may have considered at one time or another for a big event, but employees will be keeping a close eye on it this year. The “rent and return” scam occurs when a person buys an item that they use once and then return for a full refund; it usually involves clothing or jewelry. Stores have dubbed the practice “wardrobing,” and experts estimate that 72% of retailers have been fooled by it.

      The third scam – another old standby – involves using counterfeit bills to make a purchase. Scammers pay for the item with false currency and later return the item for a full refund of “real” money, store credit, or a gift card. Around 75% of retailers say they have experienced this kind of scam.

      The fourth and final scam may be the most difficult for stores to monitor because it happens from inside. Some scammers will collude with a store employee to write up a phony return claim on an item that can be returned for cash. Most of the time, though, the item was never bought and the guilty parties split the money. Seventy-seven percent of stores have been plagued by this kind of scam.

      Always another scam

      While the scams detailed above are more “physical” and straightforward, retailers also have to be on the lookout for e-fraud. Savvy hackers will often try to get their hands on e-receipts to get refunds on items that they never bought.

      Unfortunately, cracking down on every kind of fraud is nearly impossible. Scammers are constantly plying their trade and finding new ways to get away with their ill-gotten gains. “The criminal creativity is seemingly endless and mind-boggling,” commented Rob Karr, CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association.

      Black Friday has finally arrived. Shoppers across the country are walking the aisles or scouring the net for the best deals that they can find, but tension...

      Safety officials want a driving mode on smartphones

      It's a response to a big spike in traffic deaths, blamed partly on driver distraction

      Your smartphone has an airplane mode, and if federal regulators have their way, it may soon have a driving mode. 

      "As millions of Americans take to the roads for Thanksgiving gatherings, far too many are put at risk by drivers who are distracted by their cellphones," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx as he released proposed guidelines to reduce potential driver distraction caused by electronic devices. 

      Foxx and other federal and state officials have been scrambling to address a startling increase in traffic deaths, which rose 10.4% in the first half of this year, a sharp increase on top of a last year's big increase, which was the largest since 1966 and seemed to take safety experts largely by surprise.

      More than 17,700 people died in traffic accidents in the first half of this year, far outpacing the 3.3% increase in miles traveled. Driver distraction is thought to be a major factor, thus driving Foxx's effort to find ways to get drivers' eyes back on the road.

      "These commonsense guidelines, grounded in the best research available, will help designers of mobile devices build products that cut down on distraction on the road," Foxx said. His department earlier released proposed voluntary guidelines for electronic systems built into cars by manufacturers.

      Driver mode

      The guidelines call for such things as a driver mode that would use a simplified display designed to reduce potential distraction by limiting the amount of time the driver's eyes are off the road.

      They also call for "pairing," using the car's infotainment system to make it easier to use portable devices. 

      "NHTSA has long encouraged drivers to put down their phones and other devices, and just drive," said National Highway Traffic Safety Administration director Dr. Mark Rosekind. "With driver distraction one of the factors behind the rise of traffic fatalities, we are committed to working with the industry to ensure that mobile devices are designed to keep drivers’ eyes where they belong — on the road."

      Your smartphone has an airplane mode, and if federal regulators have their way, it may soon have a driving mode. "As millions of Americans take to the...

      How to stay secure while shopping online

      Expert suggests thinking about where you shop and how you pay

      Consumers are buying more of everything online, so it shouldn't be a surprise that they are doing more holiday shopping with their mobile devices and PCs.

      The National Retail Federation predicts consumers will spend more than half their holiday shopping budget online, a fact that probably hasn't escaped notice by hackers and cyber-thieves. So before you place the first online order, consider how best to protect yourself.

      First and foremost, be mindful of where you connect to the internet. You are better off doing it at home, on a secure network. It might seem convenient to buy something while you're in a store or coffee shop, but remember, those are open networks and can be vulnerable to eavesdropping.

      Randal Vaughn, professor of information systems in Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business, has given ecommerce security considerable thought. He suggests consumers think about using alternatives to credit cards to make online purchases.

      Use a gift card

      “For example, one can use gift cards such as an Amazon gift card at some online merchants. Others may want to consider using a virtual credit card such as Bank of America's ShopSafe virtual card or a Paypal virtual card,” Vaughn said.

      Still, even that isn't hack-proof. Vaughn says cyber-thieves could still rack up charges on virtual cards and returning items could be more difficult.

      Another no-no is paying for an online purchase with a debit card. That's because fraud protections are not as strong for debit cards as they are for credit cards. Consumers who report a compromised debit card within two days can limit their losses to $50, the same as credit cards. But after that the liability can be as much as $500.

      “If you do not report a fraudulent debit transaction, you might not have any limit to the amount of money you can lose,” Vaughn said.

      Be selective where you shop

      Another piece of advice is to be selective where you shop. Well-known retailers usually have robust cyber-security on their ecommerce sites. If you haven't heard of a company, you can't be sure. Research an unfamiliar company thoroughly before placing an order. Also, if a site is offering popular products at ridiculously-low prices, that could be a red flag.

      “There is a large market for counterfeit goods, particularly in the fashion industry,” Vaughn said. “I generally search for online reviews of a web merchant before doing business with the merchant. However, reviews can be faked and one should be cautious,” Vaughn said.

      Finally, Vaughn suggests consumers not overlook traditional brick-and-mortar stores. He says sometimes the best deals really are found by driving to the mall.

      Consumers are buying more of everything online, so it shouldn't be a surprise that they are doing more holiday shopping with their mobile devices and PCs....

      Researchers develop a potential therapy for concussions

      An FDA-approved drug holds promise for reducing swelling and mitigating harmful effects

      Concussions are one of the more common, but nevertheless most serious, injuries that consumers can face. This kind of mild traumatic brain injury can occur from a car accident, while playing a contact sport, or during any number of life’s accidental missteps.

      But what really happens during a concussion that makes it so dangerous, and is there any way to avoid the negative effects of the injury? Researchers at the University of Arkansas think so. They explain that when a concussion occurs, a certain protein called aquaporin-4 is released during the swelling process.

      "Our study found that mild traumatic brain injury resulted in increased expression of a protein called aquaporin-4, which caused a massive cellular influx of fluid, leading to increased astrocyte cell volume and injury," explains Kartik Balachandran, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering.

      However, they believe that using an FDA-approved drug called Acetazolamide may help reduce swelling and the influx of aquaporin-4. “Our results showed that Acetazolamide minimized cell swelling and injury, suggesting a therapeutic role for this drug in reducing the detrimental effects of concussions," they said.

      Reducing harmful effects

      Acetazolamide is most commonly used to treat epilepsy and altitude sickness, but the researchers found that it also does a good job of reducing the expression of aquaporin-4. They came to this discovery after examining astrocyte cells in the brain.

      Using a benchtop bioreactor that they engineered, the researchers observed how a mild traumatic brain injury like a concussion caused a large cellular influx of fluid. In turn, the fluid increased astrocyte cell volume, leading to more swelling. But when the researchers applied Acetazolamide, they found that swelling was not as prominent.

      "This study demonstrates the collaborative neuro-engineering efforts that are contributing to both diagnostic and therapeutic methods for addressing traumatic brain injury," said Raj Rao, professor and chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Arkansas.

      The full study has been published in Scientific Reports

      Concussions are one of the more common, but nevertheless most serious, injuries that consumers can face. This kind of mild traumatic brain injury can occur...

      Dads who are confident and enthusiastic in their role may rear happier pre-teens

      Kids with an emotionally involved father are less likely to develop behavioral problems later, study finds

      It’s no secret that fathers play an important role in their children’s lives, but a new study finds that a father’s attitude is everything when it comes to reducing the likelihood that children will suffer from behavioral problems as pre-teens.

      Researchers from Oxford University found that children raised by fathers who were confident and “enthusiastic” in their paternal role were less likely to develop behavioral problems by age 9 or 11.

      Writing in the journal BMJ Open, the authors concluded that the findings suggest that a father’s emotional involvement has a greater impact on children’s behavior than time spent performing practical childcare duties.

      “The findings of this research study suggest that it is psychological and emotional aspects of paternal involvement in a child's infancy that are most powerful in influencing later child behaviour and not the amount of time that fathers are engaged in childcare or domestic tasks in the household.”

      Strong bond in early years

      The researchers from Oxford's National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit found that a close paternal bond can have a lasting impact if it's developed during children’s early years.

      “How new fathers see themselves as parents, how they value their role as a parent and how they adjust to this new role, rather than the amount of direct involvement in childcare in this period, appears to be associated with positive behavioural outcomes in children.”

      Findings from the observational study, which involved more than 10,000 children and their parents, showed that dads who formed a strong bond with their child and embraced their role as a father were more likely to have a better-behaved pre-teen.

      The factors most strongly associated with lower odds of behavioral problems at age 9 and 11 were a father's enthusiasm and confidence in his role. Dads who showed these markers of involvement were 28% likely to later have pre-teens with behavioral problems. 

      "A high quality of involvement with children, right from their infancy and continuing through childhood, helps establish a solid foundation for good outcomes later on in life," said lead researcher Charles Opondo. 

      "For fathers, positive involvement goes beyond child-care activities; feeling good about being a dad, making an emotional connection to children, and establishing a secure parenting relationship with mothers are perhaps even more important."

      The study was published online in the journal BMJ Open.
      It’s no secret that fathers play an important role in their children’s lives, but a new study finds that a father’s attitude is everything when it comes to...

      Study explains why aspartame may not help with weight loss

      An aspartame breakdown product interfere with a vital enzyme

      Studies have found that the sugar substitute aspartame -- sold under the brand names NutraSweet and Equal -- isn't as helpful in losing weight as one might think, and now researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have found a possible explanation.

      In their report published online in Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, the researchers show how an aspartame breakdown product called phenylalanine interferes with the action of an enzyme previously shown to prevent metabolic syndrome, the symptoms associated with type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

      They also found that mice receiving aspartame in their drinking water gained more weight and developed other symptoms of metabolic syndrome than animals fed similar diets that lacked aspartame.

      Gut enzyme

      "Sugar substitutes like aspartame are designed to promote weight loss and decrease the incidence of metabolic syndrome, but a number of clinical and epidemiologic studies have suggested that these products don't work very well and may actually make things worse," says Richard Hodin, MD, of the MGH Department of Surgery, the study's senior author.

      "We found that aspartame blocks a gut enzyme called intestinal alkaline phosphatase (IAP) that we previously showed can prevent obesity, diabetes and metabolic syndrome; so we think that aspartame might not work because, even as it is substituting for sugar, it blocks the beneficial aspects of IAP."

      Hodin and colleagues have been working on the issue for quite awhile. In 2013, they published a study that found that feeding IAP to mice kept on a high-fat diet could prevent the development of metabolic syndrome and reduce symptoms in animals that already had the condition.

      Phenylalanine is known to inhibit the action of IAP, and the fact that it is produced when aspartame is digested led the researchers to investigate whether that could explain aspartame's lack of a weight-loss effect.

      IAP is primarily produced in the small intestine, and the researchers found that injecting an aspartame solution into segments of the small intestines of mice significantly reduced the enzyme's activity. In contrast, IAP activity remained unchanged in bowel segments injected with a saline solution.

      "People do not really understand why these artificial sweeteners don't work. There has been some evidence that they actually can make you more hungry and may be associated with increased calorie consumption. Our findings regarding aspartame's inhibition of IAP may help explain why the use of aspartame is counterproductive," says Hodin, who is a professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School.

      "While we can't rule out other contributing mechanisms, our experiments clearly show that aspartame blocks IAP activity, independent of other effects," he said. 

      Studies have found that the sugar substitute aspartame -- sold under the brand names NutraSweet and Equal -- isn't as helpful in losing weight as one might...

      Tests on promising Alzheimer's drug end in disappointment

      Ely Lilly will not seek FDA approval for solanezumab

      There have been many promising breakthroughs in the field of Alzheimer's disease research, giving hope to millions at risk of the devastating disease.

      The flip side of that, of course, is when these hopeful promises just don't pan out. So it was with great disappointment that pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly announced that its promising new drug solanezumab “did not meet the primary endpoint” in it's final, phase 3 testing. The company said it would not seek Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of the drug.

      Lilly said patients in the trial who were treated with solanezumab did not experience a statistically significant slowing in cognitive decline compared to patients treated with placebo. It dashed the hope raised by previous research.

      Solanezumab is a mono-clonal antibody targeting excess amyloid in the brain. It was designed for patients considered to be at risk of Alzheimer's but who had not displayed symptoms of the disease.

      Slowing memory loss by 10 years

      Researchers were hopeful that doctors might eventually use positron emission tomography (PET scans) to locate beta amyloid as it begins to form plaques in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease 10 to 20 years before they show any symptoms of the disease.

      The drug would then be administered, removing the harmful protein from the brain before it could begin to build up. Researchers were hopeful it might slow memory loss by at least 10 years.

      "The results of the solanezumab EXPEDITION3 trial were not what we had hoped for and we are disappointed for the millions of people waiting for a potential disease-modifying treatment for Alzheimer's disease," said John C. Lechleiter, Ph.D., chairman, president and CEO of Eli Lilly, in a written statement. "We will evaluate the impact of these results on the development plans for solanezumab and our other Alzheimer's pipeline assets."

      Lechleiter also issued a statement to the Alzheimer's community in the video below, vowing his company would continue pursuing effective treatments.

      Lilly said it would present further findings from the study at the Clinical Trials on Alzheimer's Disease meeting in early December.

      There have been many promising breakthroughs in the field of Alzheimer's disease research, giving hope to millions at risk of the devastating disease.T...

      Tesla and SolarCity to run an entire island on solar power

      A 1.4 megawatt microgrid will cover nearly 100% of power needs

      Last week, we reported that shareholders had greenlighted a merger between Tesla and SolarCity, a move that Elon Musk had been pushing for. The CEO promised that the acquisition would generate over $1 billion in revenue by 2017, saying that shareholders’ faith would be rewarded.

      While little time has passed since that proclamation, it seems that the companies aren’t wasting any time when it comes to getting things done. In a SolarCity blog posting, the new entity has announced that it is supplying the island of Ta’u in American Samoa with a solar-powered microgrid that provides nearly 100% of the island’s energy needs.

      “This is part of making history. This project will help lessen the carbon footprint of the world. Living on an island, you experience global warming firsthand. Beach erosions and other noticeable changes are a part of life here. It’s a serious problem, and this project will hopefully set a good example for everyone else to follow,” said local resident Keith Ahsoon.

      Supplying power needs

      The companies boast that the 1.4-megawatt microgrid will “supply nearly 100 percent of the island’s power needs from renewable energy, providing a cost-saving alternative to diesel, removing the hazards of power intermittency and making outages a thing of the past.”

      The system is made up of 5,328 solar panels and 60 Tesla Powerpacks, which can store up to 6 megawatt-hours of energy. Though Ta’u gets a lot of sunlight to keep the grid charged, the storage space would allow the island to have power for three days without any sunlight.

      Cleaner, more reliable energy

      The new microgrid is sure to be a big change from the power management that the island’s inhabitants are used to. Up until now, residents burned through an estimated 109,500 gallons of diesel fuel per year, and getting supplies wasn’t always easy.

      “I recall a time they weren’t able to get the boat out here for two months,” said Ahsoon. “We rely on that boat for everything, including importing diesel for the generators for all of our electricity. Once diesel gets low, we try to save it by using it only for mornings and afternoons. Water systems here also use pumps, everyone in the village uses and depends on that. It’s hard to live not knowing what’s going to happen. I remember growing up using candlelight. And now, in 2016, we were still experiencing the same problems.”

      These energy problems may be the very thing that qualifies Ta’u as a perfect candidate for this project, though. The energy needs are moderately low due to a population of only 600, and the sun exposure and controlled environment will help gauge how viable the system is for future development.

      “Ta’u is not a postcard from the future, it’s a snapshot of what is possible right now. Renewable power is an economical, practical solution for a growing number of locations and energy needs, and islands that have traditionally relied on fossil fuels can easily transition to microgrids powered by solar and storage today,” the companies said.

      Solar panels on Ta'u -- Photo via YouTubeLast week, we reported that shareholders had greenlighted a merger between Tesla and SolarCity, a move that...

      Thanksgiving motorists to find falling gas prices

      But prices are still slightly higher than last year

      According to AAA, more than 43 million Americans will hit the road this Thanksgiving holiday. When they stop to fuel up, they'll find relatively cheap prices at the pump, and the prices could be even cheaper on the return trip.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price at $2.13 a gallon, nearly a dime cheaper than a month ago, but six cents more than last Thanksgiving weekend. The price of diesel fuel is actually down from last year.

      Gas prices are higher than last year because oil prices rose in September and October on the expectation that OPEC would agree to curtail production when it meets next week. That expectation has grown weaker in recent weeks, so the price of oil has slipped lower on huge supplies and declining demand.

      Oklahoma has the cheapest gasoline prices in the nation. The statewide average there is $1.88 a gallon. It's $1.89 in Missouri and $1.91 in Kansas and Texas.

      The most expensive gasoline is found in Hawaii, at $2.85 a gallon, followed by California at $2.68, and Washington and Alaska at $2.61.

      Trend moving in the right direction

      For motorists, the trend is moving in the right direction. The average price of fuel has fallen steadily since November 6 and drivers in 45 states and the District of Columbia are now paying less than they were last week.

      The price should continue to fall throughout the holidays, with AAA predicting a national average price of $2 by the end of the year. Even now, the average price is below the $2 threshold in 12 states.

      For Thanksgiving travelers, the Central Plains states will be the most economical region to drive. The Western states remain the most expensive. The Southeastern states have seen prices rise slightly in recent weeks but remain a bargain, with five states – Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, and Tennessee – among the ten lowest-priced states in the U.S.

      According to AAA, more than 43 million Americans will hit the road this Thanksgiving holiday. When they stop to fuel up, they'll find relatively cheap pric...

      Northeastern U.S. faces more frequent and more powerful hurricanes, study warns

      British scientists studied weather patterns dating back 450 years

      Is New York becoming the new Florida? A British study warns that because of shifting weather patterns, the Northeast could be struck by more frequent and more powerful hurricanes.

      In 2012, Hurricane Sandy struck the Caribbean and much of the eastern seaboard of the United States, stretching as far north as Canada. At least 233 people died as a result of the storm and damage ran into the tens of billions of dollars. 

      The study, led by the UK's Durham University, finds that hurricanes have been gradually moving northwards from the western Caribbean towards northern North America over the past few hundred years.

      At the time, Sandy was regarded as something of an outlier, but the study's lead author, Dr. Lisa Baldini, of Durham's Department of Geography, says the hurricane risk to the Northeastern coast of the U.S. is incrasing steadily as hurricanes track farther north.

      "Since the 19th Century this shift was largely driven by man-made emissions and if these emissions continue as expected this will result in more frequent and powerful storms affecting the financial and population centres of the Northeastern United States," Bladini said.

      "Given the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy it is important that plans are put in place to protect against the effects of similarly destructive storms which could potentially occur more often in the future."

      Carbon dioxide

      The researchers say carbon dioxide emissions are to blame for the changing weather patterns. They came to their conclusions after analyzing the chemical composition of a stalagmite collected from a cave in southern Belize, Central America, and reconstructing hurricane rainfall for the western Caribbean dating back 450 years.

      The findings, published in the journal Scientific Reports, revealed that the average number of hurricanes at the Belize site decreased over time. When the hurricane history of Belize was compared with documentary hurricane records from places such as Bermuda and Florida, this information showed that Atlantic hurricanes were moving to the north rather than decreasing in total numbers.

      Although natural warming over the centuries has had some impact on shifting hurricane tracks, the researchers found a marked decrease in hurricane activity in the western Caribbean coinciding with the late 19th Century industrial boom, associated with increasing carbon dioxide and sulphate aerosol emissions to the atmosphere.

      The researchers said that increased sea surface temperatures are also providing extra energy, potentially fueling larger and more powerful storms.

      Is New York becoming the new Florida? A British study warns that because of shifting weather patterns, the Northeast could be struck by more frequent and m...

      Why this Black Friday will be different from all others

      There are a lot more deals and more time to buy them

      The year was 2008. The financial markets had just crashed. The consumer zeal to find a limited Black Friday bargain was at its peak.

      At a Walmart store on Long Island, a huge, restive crowd had gathered outside in the chilly, early morning hours waiting for the doors to open. As an employee began to unlock the doors, the New York Daily News reported that the crowd wouldn't wait any longer, took the doors off their hinges, and trampled the 34-year old man to death while injuring four shoppers, including a pregnant woman.

      The incident caused a lot of people to step back and reassess the absurd craziness that characterized the official kickoff of the holiday shopping season. While there will undoubtedly be isolated, and widely reported, cases of consumer incivility toward one another in pursuit of a bargain on Friday, hopefully there will be no fatalities.

      Money and bargains were scarce

      After all, there is no need for that. In 2008, not only was money scarce, so were the bargains. Retailers promoted doorbuster deals to draw a crowd but only had a limited number of items at that price. So if you showed up at 4:00 a.m. to get the latest video game console for $99, the people who got in line at 3:00 a.m. got the five units that were available at that price.

      In recent years, retailers stocked a lot more of their Black Friday bargains and they began spreading out the times at which they were available. Stores started opening on Thanksgiving, though this year a large number have reversed that policy.

      Stores have also made more of their Black Friday deals available online. Instead of spending time driving to the mall and going from store to store, shoppers can look for deals online from the comfort of their homes.

      The deals have already started

      It's no longer necessary to wait until Black Friday to find bargains, either online or in stores. In fact, Amazon is currently offering numerous sale prices during its Black Friday Deals Week. Walmart has also gotten started with its Pre-Black Friday Deals promotion.

      Consumers also have a lot more information about deals than ever before. Retailers have leaked their Black Friday newspaper ads well in advance, which have been collected online at sites like BestBlackFriday.com, making it easier for consumers to find what they want, and at the price they are willing to pay, well ahead of time.

      After Black Friday, consumers know they will still be able to find plenty of deals. There's Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, both with non-stop deals.

      So in a way, Black Friday is becoming just another busy holiday shopping day. Consumers jamming the aisles are not quite as desperate to latch onto that doorbuster bargain because they know they can probably find it somewhere else.

      And that's probably a good thing. Safer, at least.

      The year was 2008. The financial markets had just crashed. The consumer zeal to find a limited Black Friday bargain was at its peak.At a Walmart store...

      An October dip in new home sales

      Sales prices were mixed while inventories rose

      Single-family sales slipped last month after rebounding in September from their August decline.

      The Commerce Department reports sales were down 1.9% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 563,000. Even with that decline, sales were 17.8% ahead of the October 2015 pace of 478,000.

      Robert Denk, a senior economist at the National Association of Home Builders told ConsumerAffairs that despite the volatility this is a good report, which continues a “solidly upward trend” in new home sales.

      Inventory and pricing

      More homes were available for sale at the end of the month. The seasonally adjusted estimate came in at 246,000, representing a supply of 5.2 months at the current sales rate. In September, there were 235,000 homes available, which translates to a supply of 4.8 months.

      The median sales price of new houses sold in October was $304,500 up $5,800. The median is the point at which half the house sold for more and half for less. The average sales price was down $12,000 to $354,900.

      The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

      Single-family sales slipped last month after rebounding in September from their August decline.The Commerce Department reports sales were down 1.9% to...

      House prices modest gain in third quarter

      Jobless claims were on the rise last week

      The price of houses across the U.S. continued to gain in value during the third quarter.

      The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) reports its House Price Index (HPI) was up 1.5% in the July-August quarter and 6.1% percent from the third quarter of 2015 following an advance of 1.2% in the second quarter.

      On a month-over-month basis, the HPI rose 0.6% in September from August.

      “Our data indicate that the deceleration in home price growth that we observed in late spring proved to be short-lived,” said FHFA Supervisory Economist Andrew Leventis. “While price growth in select markets has cooled somewhat for the U.S. as a whole, the third quarter showed no evidence of a widespread slowdown.”

      While the HPI rose 6.1% during last year's third quarter, prices of other goods and services were nearly unchanged. The inflation-adjusted price of homes rose approximately 6.0% over the last year.

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

      Report highlights

      • Home prices rose in 49 states between the third quarter of 2015 and the third quarter of 2016; Delaware and the District of Columbia were the only areas not to see price increases. The top five states in annual appreciation were: 1) Florida 10.7%; 2) Oregon 10.4%; 3) Washington 10.4%; 4) Colorado 10.0%; and 5) Utah 9.5%.
      • Among the 100 most populated metropolitan areas in the U.S., annual price increases were greatest in Tacoma-Lakewood, Wash. (MSAD), where prices increased by 12.9%. Prices were weakest in New Haven-Milford, Conn., where they fell 1.7%.
      • Of the nine census divisions, the South Atlantic division experienced the strongest increase in the third quarter, posting a 1.8% quarterly increase and a 7.1% increase since the third quarter of last year. House price appreciation was weakest in the New England division, where prices rose 0.8% from the previous quarter.

      The full report may be found on the FHFA website.

      Jobless claims

      First-time applications for state unemployment benefits blipped higher in the week preceding Thanksgiving.

      The Department of Labor (DOL) reports initial jobless claims rose 18,000 in the week ending November 19 to a seasonally adjusted 251,000.

      Even with that increase, initial claims have been below 300,000 for 90 consecutive weeks, the longest streak since 1970.

      The four-week moving average, which many economists believe is a more accurate gauge of the economy because of its lack of volatility, came in at 251,000 -- down 2,000 from the previous week.

      The complete report is available on the DOL website.

      The price of houses across the U.S. continued to gain in value during the third quarter.The Federal Housing Finance Age...

      Mortgage applications rebound

      Contract interest rates rose to their highest levels in nearly a year

      Mortgage applications surged last week following a sharp decline the week before.

      According to the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), applications rose 5.5% in the week ending November 18, driven largely by purchase applications, which were up 13%.

      “The increase in purchase activity was driven by borrowers seeking larger loans and that drove up the average loan amount on home purchase applications to $310 thousand, the highest in the survey, which dates back to 1990,” said Michael Fratantoni, Chief Economist and Senior Vice President of Research & Technology at the MBA.

      The Refinance Index fell 3% to its lowest level since January, with the refinance share of mortgage activity dropping to 58.2% of total applications from 61.9% the previous week.

      The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity increased to 5.2% of total applications, the FHA share dipped to 11.7% from 12.2% a week earlier, the VA share was 12.5%, and the USDA share of total applications increased to 0.8% from 0.6% the week before.

      Contract interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) shot up 21 basis points -- from 3.95% to 4.16% -- its highest level since January, with points unchanged at 0.39 (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) surged to its highest level since January -- 4.04%, from 3.89% -- with points increasing to 0.37 from 0.26 (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 rose 17 basis points to 3.90%, its highest level since January, with points increasing to 0.36 from 0.28 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs moved to its highest level since January -- 3.35%, from 3.15% -- with points increasing to 0.32 from 0.29 (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 13 basis points to 3.24%, its highest level since last December, with points decreasing to 0.28 from 0.42 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

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

      Mortgage applications surged last week following a sharp decline the week before.According to the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), applications rose...

      Omni Custom Meats recalls roasted chicken quarters

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

      Omni Custom Meats of Bowling Green, Ky., is recalling approximately 191,695 pounds of marinated roasted chicken quarters.

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

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

      The following item, produced from January 12 through November 15, 2016, is being recalled:

      • 5,477 cases of 35-lb. heat sealed bags containing 52 pieces of “Roasted Chicken Quarters – Sea Salt, Cane Juice, Chicken Broth Powder, Canola Powder, Spices.”

      The recalled product, bearing establishment number P-2199 inside the USDA mark of inspection, was shipped to distributors in Georgia and Missouri.

      What to do

      Consumers with questions may contact Curt Sullivan, plant owner at (270) 796-666.

      Omni Custom Meats of Bowling Green, Ky., is recalling approximately 191,695 pounds of marinated roasted chicken quarters.The product contains soy, an a...

      Taylor Farms recalls vegetable products containing Sabra products

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      The recall by Sabra Dipping of select hummus products has prompted Taylor Farms to recall products containing Sabra's recalled products.

      There are concerns the products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      The firm has not received any reports of illnesses associated with these recalled items.

      The recalled products are labeled “Taylor Farms Veggie and Hummus Bistro Boxes” and “Schnucks Vegetable and Hummus Snack Trays” containing Sabra Hummus Classic 2-oz. dipping cups.

      The following products are being recalled:

      Product DescriptionUPCUse By Dates
      Taylor Farms Veggie & Hummus Bistro Box0 30223 01037 111/11/16 – 12/1/16
      Schnucks Vegetable and Hummus Snack Tray0 41318 09193 911/18/16 & 11/23/16

      Individual Sabra items and lot codes/”Best Before” dates, located on the lid or bottom of the dipping cups, may be found in the original Sabra recall.

      The recalled products were distributed in Arkansas, California, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin and West Virginia.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but dispose of them immediately.

      Consumers may call (855) 455-0098 between 9 am and 5 pm (PST) Monday through Friday for further information.

      The recall by Sabra Dipping of select hummus products has prompted Taylor Farms to recall products containing Sabra's recalled products.There are conce...

      BRP recalls side-by-side off-road vehicles

      The vehicle can lose steering control, posing a crash hazard

      BRP U.S. of Sturtevant, Wis., is recalling about 2,380 side-by-side off-road vehicles.

      The steering rack and pinion assembly can have an improper amount of grease and result in a loss of steering control, posing a crash hazard.

      The firm has received 33 incident reports, including reports of intermittent or complete steering lock. No injuries are reported.

      This recall involves model year 2017 Can-Am Maverick X3 side-by-side vehicles. The vehicles came in various colors. The model name and Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is printed on a label under the glove box.

      To determine if your vehicle is included in the recall, have your VIN (Vehicle identification Number) ready and contact your authorized Can-Am side-by-side dealer or BRP.

      Recalled models include:

      2017 Can-Am Maverick X3 STD

      2017 Can-Am Maverick X3 XDS

      2017 Can-Am Maverick X3 XRS

      The vehicles, manufactured in Mexico, were sold at Can-Am dealers nationwide from August 2016, through November 2016, for between $23,000 and $27,000.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled vehicles and contact a BRP Can-Am side-by-side dealer to schedule an appointment for a free repair. BRP is notifying registered consumers directly about this recall.

      Consumers may contact BRP toll-free at 888-272-9222 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (ET) Monday through Sunday or online at www.can-am.brp.com and click on “Owner Center” and then “Recall Information” for more information.

      BRP U.S. of Sturtevant, Wis., is recalling about 2,380 side-by-side off-road vehicles.The steering rack and pinion assembly can have an improper amount...

      Tennessee school bus crash raises safety questions

      Larger size and 'compartmentalization' protect children in full-size buses

      The deadly school bus accident that killed five elementary school children and injured many more in Tennessee has reawakened concerns about school bus safety.

      Why is it, critics often ask, that toddlers riding in their parents' cars must be strapped into safety seats and protected by airbags and other safety devices while kids in school buses simply plop down on a hard seat surrounded by nothing but glass and metal surfaces? 

      The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says school buses' greater bulk makes them safer than passenger cars. 

      "Large school buses are heavier and distribute crash forces differently than do passenger cars and light trucks. Because of these differences, the crash forces experienced by occupants of buses are much less than that experienced by occupants of passenger cars, light trucks or vans," NHTSA says on its website. It says that children on large school buses are protected through “compartmentalization.” 

      "This requires that the interior of large buses provide occupant protection such that children are protected without the need to buckle-up. Through compartmentalization, occupant crash protection is provided by a protective envelope consisting of strong, closely-spaced seats that have energy-absorbing seat backs," according to NHTSA. NHTSA rules, however, require seat and lap belts on smaller buses and vans.

      But greater mass doesn't always help in rollovers and side-impact accidents. In the Chattanooga accident, a school bus being driven by a 24-year-old was carrying 35 children home from school Monday when it turned on its side and hit a tree. The driver was charged with vehicular manslaughter.

      Much safer

      The National Safety Council (NSC) insists that riding in a school bus is much safer than just about any other form of transport, noting that 25 million students ride the buses every school day. While there are occasional accidents, NSC calculates that the school buses replace what would otherwise be 17 million cars shuttling kids to and from school, with a much higher accident rate.

      A 2002 NHTSA report to Congress found that the addition of lap belts did not improve occupant protection for the severe frontal impacts that were studied for that report.

      Even so, NSC supports the use of shoulder and lap belts on school buses and notes that the belts have been made available on buses since 2002, and are required in California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, and Texas.

      "Our patchwork system of laws, regulations and standards means the safety of our most vulnerable travelers can slip through the cracks," said Deborah A.P. Hersman, NSC president and CEO, in a statement on the organization's website. "It is time for consistent policies to ensure children arrive safely, regardless of the mode of transportation or the jurisdiction they travel through."

      In August, the safety council issued a position paper calling for child restraints in school buses as well as ambulances, airplanes, and other transportation modes.

      The deadly school bus accident that killed five elementary school children and injured many more in Tennessee has reawakened concerns about school bus safe...

      How to ease your dog's stress when holiday visitors arrive

      Stressful situations can cause digestive problems -- here’s how to keep pets calm

      Pets aren’t immune to holiday-related stress. Even the most easy going pup may become stressed as a result of traveling or having new guests in the house. Sometimes these situations are unavoidable during the holiday season, but pet parents can keep their pets calm by taking the chaos out of an overwhelming situation.

      Diffusing stressful situations by creating a stable living environment can help prevent the onset of digestive issues, such as vomiting and/or diarrhea. Dr. Catherine Lenox, a veterinary nutritionist and Royal Canin Scientific Affairs Manager notes that gastrointestinal issues in dogs and cats are especially common during the holiday season.

      "When there is additional stress such as house guests or boarding, as well as more food around the house – including foods that humans can eat but that are toxic to pets – there is an increased risk of gastrointestinal disturbances in our pets."

      Decreasing your dog’s stress

      Gastrointestinal disturbances are one indication that your pet may be stressed, but other signs include a poor appetite or decreased interactions. An influx of holiday visitors and a busier-than-usual home can often bring about stress in pets.
      Here are a few tips for minimizing your dog’s stress in a guest-filled environment.
      • Play with your pet beforehand. Take a break from preparing for guests and spend some quality time with your pup. Whether you take your pet for a walk or engage in a round of backyard fetch, you’ll be helping to release some energy. A well-exercised dog is more likely to take a nap after your guests have arrived.
      • Aim for calm introductions. Consider putting your pet in a room with the door closed until all your guests have arrived. You could even try putting on a video designed to help dogs relax. Then, bring your pet out on a leash and allow Fido to greet guests one at a time. But don’t try to force introductions.
      • Reward calm behavior. Keep treats handy to give your dog when he or she displays calm behavior, such as laying down. You can even offer visitors a treat to dole out as soon as your dog does the “sit-stay” command.
      Pets aren’t immune to holiday-related stress. Even the most easy going pup may become stressed as a result of traveling or having new guests in the house....

      Debt relief scammer pleads guilty to fraud charges

      John Vartanian will pay $1.2 million in reparations and spend two years in prison

      When debt becomes overwhelming and consumers have nowhere else to turn, many look to debt relief companies to ease the burden. Unfortunately, not all companies and individuals who provide this service are looking out for your best interest.

      That seems to be the case with John Vartanian, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud on Monday. Vartanian helped operate a debt relief scam through two companies, Nelson Gamble & Associates and Jackson Hunter Morris & Knight.

      Vartanian and his associates would contact consumers by phone and offer to provide debt relief services, but, in reality, consumers were just giving away their money. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has ordered Vartanian to pay over $1.2 million to victims of the scam and will face two years of jail time.

      “These scams take advantage of consumers struggling with debt. The Department of Justice will continue to work with its law enforcement partners to protect consumers from fraud, especially when they are targeted based on their financially vulnerable conditions,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer.

      The DOJ says the scam ran for over two years, between February 2010 to September 2012. In 2011, conspirators changed company names from Nelson Gamble & Associates to Jackson Hunter Morris & Knight, claiming the former had gone bankrupt. Many consumers who were seeking refunds from Nelson Gamble dropped their inquiries, thinking that Jackson Hunter was an unrelated company that had picked up their account.

      In September 2012, the Federal Trade Commission filed a civil suit against both companies for misrepresenting debt relief services offered to consumers. Monday’s sentencing finally closes the book on the case, which was settled back in 2013.

      When debt becomes overwhelming and consumers have nowhere else to turn, many look to debt relief companies to ease the burden. Unfortunately, not all compa...

      Holiday food deals to take advantage of this season

      Prices on many items will hit rock bottom during November and December

      Black Friday isn’t the only day consumers can snag a bargain. During the months of November and December, grocery stores lower the prices on items that are frequently used in holiday recipes.

      Ingredients such as flour, chocolate chips, and condensed milk don’t have to be used in holiday cooking, of course; they can be used all year. So why not seize the opportunity to stock your pantry while holiday staples are available at a fraction of their regular price?

      Items to stockpile

      There are many items that are commonly reduced during the holiday season. Not all stores offer the same deals, but most stores tend to drop the prices on these items through December. For an even deeper discount, consider clipping coupons or using rebate apps
      If you’re not sure you’ll be able to find a use for an item before it goes bad, blogger Missy Rakes points out that many items can be frozen and stored for later use. “Things like butter, chocolate chips, turkey and even diced onions can be frozen and kept for months,” Rakes wrote. Here are some items to look out for:
      • Flour ($1.25 per 5lb bag or .25 per lb)
      • Sugar ($1.50 per 4lb bag or less)
      • Baking Powder (.99 or less)
      • Chocolate Chips ($1.50 or less per 12 oz.)
      • Evaporated Milk (.60 or less)
      • Condensed Milk ($1.00 or less)
      • Baking Mixes ($1.00 or less)
      • Marshmallows ($1.00 or less)
      • Powdered Sugar (.99 or less)
      • Brown Sugar (.99 or less)
      • Nuts ($6.00 per lb or less)
      • Cocoa Powder ($2.00 per 8 oz or less)
      • Holiday Candy (varies)
      • Canned Vegetables (.50 or less)
      • Condensed Soups (.50 or less)
      • Canned Pumpkin ($1.00 or less)
      • Butter ($2.00 per lb or less)
      • Ham ($1.00 per lb or less)
      • Turkey ($1.00 per lb or less)
      • Sweet Potatoes (.33 per lb or less)
      • Baking Potatoes (.15 per lb or less)
      • Onions (.69 per lb or less)
      • Carrots ($1.00 per lb or less)
      • Stuffing Mix (.75 or less)
      Black Friday isn’t the only day consumers can snag a bargain. During the months of November and December, grocery stores lower the prices on items that are...

      Facebook Internet drone had a rough landing

      The test flight of Aquila was hailed as a success despite 'substantial' damage

      Facebook and the Wright Brothers have a lot in common: their initial flights didn't end too well.

      "A sudden dart when out about 100 feet from the end of the tracks ended the flight. Time about 12 seconds (not known exactly as watch was not promptly stopped). The lever for throwing off the engine was broken, and the skid under the rudder cracked," Orville Wright wrote of his first flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C.

      Facebook's first flight of its gaint drone, called Aquila, that's intended to bring internet access to underdeveloped areas, was hailed as a success by the company, but it now turns out the drone was "substantially damaged" when it experienced a "structural failure" while approaching Yuma, Ariz., during its June 28 test flight, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

      "This first functional check was a low-altitude flight, and it was so successful that we ended up flying Aquila for more than 90 minutes — three times longer than originally planned," Facebook's Jay Parikh said in a blog posting a few days after the flight. "In our next tests, we will fly Aquila faster, higher and longer, eventually taking it above 60,000 feet. Each test will help us learn and move faster toward our goal."

      But those next tests won't happen until the NTSB finishes its investigation, sometime in the next few months, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

      Not the first

      It's not the first accident to afflict the ambitious effort. In September, a Facebook satellite was destroyed on its launchpad when a Falcon 9 rocket that was supposed to carry it into space blew up. 

      Facebook insists the project will eventually bring free broadband access to many of the four billion people who now do without it.

      "New technologies like Aquila have the potential to bring access, voice and opportunity to billions of people around the world, and do so faster and more cost-effectively than has ever been possible before," said Parikh, Facebook's head of engineering and infrastructure.

      "When complete, Aquila will be able to circle a region up to 60 miles in diameter, beaming connectivity down from an altitude of more than 60,000 feet using laser communications and millimeter wave systems," Parikh wrote. "Aquila is designed to be hyper efficient, so it can fly for up to three months at a time. The aircraft has the wingspan of an airliner, but at cruising speed it will consume only 5,000 watts — the same amount as three hair dryers, or a high-end microwave."

      Facebook and the Wright Brothers have a lot in common: their initial flights didn't end too well."A sudden dart when out about 100 feet from the end of...

      Lawmakers want some hearing aids sold over the counter

      High costs, they say, keep some people who need them from buying them

      Hearing loss or degradation is common in the United States, especially among the aging population.

      Hearing aids have done a lot to restore this sensory loss, but according to AARP, two-thirds of people over 50 who might benefit from hearing aids don't use them.

      “One reason may be sticker shock,” AARP says. “The average price of a single hearing aid is $2,300, according to a 2015 report from the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. And most people need two.”

      The seniors advocacy group cites a Consumer Reports study that found the average retail markup for these devices is 117%.

      That's gotten the attention of a couple of lawmakers who, until now, have mostly been focused on the high cost of prescription drugs. But Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) are co-sponsoring legislation they say could make hearing aids accessible to more consumers.

      Their bill – the Over the Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2016 – would allow certain types of hearing aids to be sold over the counter (OTC) at retail stores. Warren says the measure addresses the cost issue and would make it easier for consumers to shop for the best value. Grassley says it's a common sense move.

      Similar to buying reading glasses

      “If you can buy non-prescription reading glasses over the counter, it makes sense that you should be able to buy basic, safe hearing aids, too,” he said.

      Grassley says it's all about lowering costs, and to do that he says you need competition. But he concedes the option would not be for everyone.

      “This won't affect those who need professional expertise to be fitted for hearing aids or have hearing aids implanted,” Grassley said. The over the counter option is for those who would benefit from a simpler device."

      Both the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine back making some types of hearing aids available over the counter and removing the requirement of a medical evaluation.

      After studying the issue, PCAST pointed to “considerable evidence” that hearing aid manufacturers can still be profitable selling their products for “a fraction of today's end-user cost."

      Hearing loss or degradation is common in the United States, especially among the aging population.Hearing aids have done a lot to restore this sensory...

      Credit accounts surge just before Black Friday

      But point-of-sale incentives usually not that attractive

      Each November, just before Black Friday, there's a big spike in new credit card accounts. Equifax, one of the three credit reporting agencies, says it's happened each year since 2012.

      Between the Sundays before and after Black Friday, Equifax says it has observed an average 50% increase in new credit accounts. New accounts peak on Black Friday itself, when consumers increase new accounts on average three fold.

      The last four years have shown a consistent pattern in where these new accounts are opened. Furniture stores open the most, followed by department stores, jewelry stores, electronics retailers, and clothing stores.

      Responding to a pitch

      But the evidence suggests consumers aren't opening these accounts because they suddenly decide they need more credit. Usually, they are responding to a pitch by a retailer.

      "Furniture stores tend to have high-value incentives linked to store credit which drive purchases and likely account for their leading position in terms of credit issuance in the retail credit space," said Gunnar Blix, deputy chief economist, Equifax.

      But Blix says even when bombarded with these incentives, Equifax has noticed “a modest trend toward consumers showing more restraint in credit card usage."

      That's probably a good thing, because responding to a store's offer of a discount if you will open a store credit card on the spot is not always attractive for every consumer.

      Cash-back credit card a better deal

      For example, if you carry a cash-back credit card, it's probably a better deal to use that, especially if it is a big ticket item and you plan to carry a balance for a while.

      CreditCards.com recently reported that store-branded credit cards are pretty expensive for consumers who carry a balance. It cited research showing Big Lots charges 29.99% interest on its store card, Zales charges 29.24%, and Staples charges 28.24%.

      On average, store cards charge 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."

      An exception, of course, is if a consumer doesn't have very good credit and does not have access to a rewards credit card. In that case, a store charge account could help build credit, assuming payments were made on time. But the higher interest rates should definitely be a concern for those consumers planning to carry a balance on a higher interest store card.

      Each November, just before Black Friday, there's a big spike in new credit card accounts. Equifax, one of the three credit reporting agencies, says it's ha...

      Thanksgiving travel can increase bed bug exposure

      The tiny pests can lurk in hotel rooms and even grandma's guest room

      Thanksgiving is the busiest travel time of the year. According to AAA, more than 48 million Americans are going to travel at least 50 miles from home.

      At the risk of intruding on the warm family feelings of the holiday, or increasing your paranoia, we nonetheless are passing on this warning from the National Pest Management Association (NPMA): Thanksgiving can increase bed bug risks.

      That's because bed bugs tend to get around by attaching themselves to clothing or bedding in homes and hotels. Travelers who stay the night in one of these places run the risk of taking the tiny pests home in their suitcases.

      Look for evidence

      “The best advice I can give to those traveling over the holidays is to be on the lookout for evidence of bed bug activity at all times,” said Cindy Mannes, vice president of public affairs for NPMA.

      The bugs are so small you probably aren't going to be able to see them. Mannes says what you will see are signs of their presence, such as pepper-like stains on fabric-covered items, and molted bed bug skins.

      In some cases you may see the actual bugs at various stages in their lifecycle – things like white eggs and empty egg casings.

      Inspection

      Whether you're staying in a hotel or a relative's guest room, Mannes suggests carefully inspecting the room for bed bug evidence before settling in. It's a good idea to pull back the bed sheets to examine the mattress seams, checking behind the headboard and looking in furniture crevices. If you are staying in a relative's home, you no doubt want to do this discretely.

      A small flashlight can come in handy during your investigation. If you find evidence of bed bug infestation in a hotel, you should, by all means, notify management and request a different room. If you find bed bugs in a private home, the response is a little trickier. However, you'll need to find a way to bring it to the homeowner's attention.

      Vacuum and wash

      As a final precaution, Mannes suggests travelers vacuum their luggage and wash and dry all clothes – even those that have not been worn – on high heat when returning home.

      The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers travelers some additional bed bug tips. For example, the agency suggests emptying suitcases directly into the washing machine upon returning home. It says drying on high heat will usually kill them.

      Store suitcases in the basement or garage. Keep them out of bedrooms and never store them under a bed.

      Thanksgiving is the busiest travel time of the year. According to AAA, more than 48 million Americans are going to travel at least 50 miles from home.A...

      What you should and shouldn't buy on Black Friday

      Not everything is cheaper on the big day

      The big day is almost here. Friday is the official kickoff to the 2016 holiday shopping season.

      But it's almost anti-climactic since retailers have been rolling out Black Friday bargains since Halloween. Still, millions of consumers will crowd stores and go online over the long holiday weekend because there will, in fact, be some pretty spectacular deals.

      But be warned. Not everything you can buy on Black Friday is going to be the best price. Personal finance site WalletHub has studied retail prices and found that 78% of items will have a lower price on Black Friday. But 17.3% will actually be more expensive on that day.

      If you know what categories are likely to have the most deals you will be less likely to make a costly error. According to WalletHub, you'll do best shopping for video games, appliances, furniture, and computers on Black Friday. You are less likely to save if you buy jewelry, clothing, and consumer electronics.

      Retailers with the best deals

      When it comes to retailers, Ace Hardware, Big Lots, BJ's, Harbor Freight, and True Value have the largest percentage of low prices, when compared to the same item priced on Amazon prior to Black Friday.

      William Joyce, a marketing professor at the Stern School of Business, told WalletHub that consumers should be sure to read the fine print on Black Friday deals, to make sure they understand what they're buying.

      Among the best Black Friday deals it's seen so far, WalletHub suggests these may be worth checking out:

      • Samsung refrigerator, 24.5 cubic feet, $899, marked down from $1,347, at AAFES
      • Denon Soundbar with wireless subwoofer; $350, marked down from $557, at Best Buy
      • 15 foot arena trampoline, with basketball hoop, football game, basketball, and football; $250, marked down from $500, at BJ's
      • Kirkland Signature 42-inch mobile 16 drawer tool chest; $499, marked down from $900, at Costco.

      A survey by Deloitte shows 79% of consumers plan to shop on Black Friday, but an increasing number plan to do their shopping online. In fact, shoppers this year said they plan to spend 51% of the holiday budget online.

      Consumers estimate they will spend $400 during the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend, up from $369 last year.

      The big day is almost here. Friday is the official kickoff to the 2016 holiday shopping season.But it's almost anti-climactic since retailers have been...

      Existing-home sales rise to highest level in nearly a decade

      Prices were higher as well

      Sales of previously-owned homes rose in October for the second month in a row and are now at their highest level since February 2007.

      The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports total sales -- completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums, and co-ops -- were up 2.0% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.60 million.

      Sales were higher in all major regions saw monthly.

      A convincing autumn revival

      "October's strong sales gain was widespread throughout the country and can be attributed to the release of the unrealized pent-up demand that held back many would-be buyers over the summer because of tight supply," said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. "Buyers are having more success lately despite low inventory and prices that continue to swiftly rise above incomes."

      The median existing-home price for all housing types was $232,200, up 6.0% from a year earlier, marking the 56th consecutive month of year-over-year gains.

      Sales by region

      • Existing-home sales in the Northeast climbed 1.4% in October to an annual rate of 750,000 and are now 1.4% above a year ago. The median price was up 2.9% from a year earlier to $255,500.
      • In the Midwest, sales grew to an annual rate of 1.6 million, up 2.3 %, and are now 6.3% above a year ago. The median price of $181,500 is a gain of 5.8% from October 2015.
      • Sales in the South jumped 2.8% to an annual rate of 2.22 million, a year-over-year advance of 4.7%. The median price was $202,300, up 7.4% from a year ago.
      • Previously-owned homes in the West sold at an annual rate of 1.27 million, up 0.8% from September and 10.4% higher than the same time a year previous. The median price rose 7.8% from October 2015 to $345,800.
      Sales of previously-owned homes rose in October for the second month in a row and are now at their highest level since February 2007.The National Assoc...

      Wayne Farms recalls ready-to-eat chicken breast products

      Due to undercooking, bacterial pathogens may survive in the products

      Wayne Farms of Oakwood, Ga., is recalling approximately 4,059 pounds of ready-to-eat chicken products.

      Due to undercooking, bacterial pathogens may survives in the products.

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

      The following ready-to-eat grilled chicken breast items, produced on August 1, 2016, and August 29, 2016, are being recalled:

      • 9-lb. foodservice bulk cases of “Fully Cooked Grilled Chicken Breast Fillets” with case code 22121.
      • 22.5-lb. foodservice bulk cases of “Fully Cooked Flame Grilled Chicken Breast Fillets” with case code 22423.

      The recalled products, bearing establishment number “EST. 45411” or “P-45411” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to retail stores in Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and North Dakota.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may contact Wayne Farms at 1-800-241-3110. 

      Wayne Farms of Oakwood, Ga., is recalling approximately 4,059 pounds of ready-to-eat chicken products.Due to undercooking, bacterial pathogens may surv...

      Stop! Don't wash your turkey!

      You're going to cook it, so it's not necessary to give it a bath first

      If you take a good look at the living conditions of the average American turkey, chances are you'll want to grab your Thanksgiving bird and give it a good scrubbing before you throw it in the oven or fryer.

      Don't do it. Yes, turkeys can carry really nasty pathogens like Salmonella and Campylobacter. But washing the bird in the sink won't get rid of the germs, it will just spread them around so that you, the sink and everything else within three feet or so will be infested with deadly pathogens.

      You're going to cook the bird, after all. That will kill the germs, assuming of course that you cook it thoroughly and use a thermometer to be sure you heat it to 165 degrees in the innermost part of the thigh, the innermost part of the wing, and the thickest part of the breast. Don't just rely on the little pop-up thing -- use a meat thermometer.

      If you're frying the turkey, be sure to check out the exploding turkey warning from the American Chemical Society. Thanksgiving is not only a day for overeating but also the busiest day of the year for house fires.

      Here are some other safety tips from the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

      Defrost your frozen turkey safely. There are three safe ways to defrost a turkey: in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in the microwave oven. Thawing food in the refrigerator is the safest method because the turkey will defrost at a consistent, safe temperature. It will take 24 hours for every 5 pounds of weight for a turkey to thaw in the refrigerator.

      To thaw in cold water, submerge the bird in its original wrapper in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes.Keep it in its wrapper to avoid spreading germs around your kitchen.

      Don't store food outside, even if it's cold. Storing food outside is not food safe for two reasons. The first is obvious -- animals can gnaw on it or even carry it off. The second is temperature variation. Just like your car gets warm in the summer, a plastic food storage container in the sun can heat up and climb into the danger zone (above 40°F). If your refrigerator is hopelessly full, use a cooler with ice to store the spillover.

      Easy on the leftovers. Leftovers are good in the refrigerator for up to four days. Cut the turkey off the bone and refrigerate it as soon as you can, within two hours of the turkey coming out of the oven. Leftovers will last for four days in the refrigerator, so if you know you won't use them right away, pack them into freezer bags or airtight containers and freeze.

      If you take a good look at the living conditions of the average American turkey, chances are you'll want to grab your Thanksgiving bird and give it a good...

      Judge tosses Beneful class action, citing insufficient evidence

      Dog owners claimed the popular Purina chow made their pets sick

      For years, pet owners have been claiming that Nestle Purina's Beneful dog food killed their dogs. But a federal judge last week granted summary judgment to Purina, throwing out a class action case for lack of evidence.

      U.S. District Judge Edward Chen said there was not sufficient evidence that the pet food, rather than some other factor, was responsible for the dogs' illnesses and deaths, Courthouse News Service reported.

      Purina said the ruling "confirms what millions of pet owners already know – that Beneful is a safe, healthy, and nutritious dog food that millions of dogs enjoy every day.” 

      The suit was filed in February 2015 by pet owner Frank Lucido, whose English bulldog died and tests found his death "consistent with poisoning." (Later tests, however, determined he died of a heart tumor but Lucido remained a plaintiff in the case).

      The suit claimed that an analysis of 28 samples revealed three types of toxins: propylene glycol; mycotoxins, a fungal mold on grain; and the heavy metals arsenic and lead. 

      "Poorly designed"

      The level of toxins did not exceed limits permitted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, an expert witness called by the plaintiffs said. Animal toxicologist Dr. John Tegzes said the FDA limits are "poorly designed." He said they are based on short-term exposure and do not consider the effects of long-term usage.

      Tegzes said that chronic exposure to the mycotoxins, heavy metals, and glycols found in the food posed a “significant health risk” to dogs and could adversely affect their health over time.

      But Judge Chen rejected that conclusion, saying there was insufficient evidence to support it. 

      “Dr. Tegzes’s opinion is not reliable because the scientific literature he invokes is either too speculative or too imprecise,” Chen wrote in his 24-page ruling. “Simply put, Dr. Tegzes cites no epidemiological evidence that long-term exposure to mycotoxins at levels below the limits set by the FDA leads to serious health risks for dogs.”

      For years, pet owners have been claiming that Nestle Purina's Beneful dog food killed their dogs. But a federal judge last week granted summary judgment to...

      Rate of childhood obesity among low-income toddlers has declined in 31 states

      Researchers say the rate still exceeds the national average

      Childhood obesity can cause asthma, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and other health problems that often follow kids into adulthood. It has been known for some time that children from low-income families are more likely to be affected by obesity.

      However, a new report published last week by the CDC finds that the prevalence of obesity among toddlers from low-income families has declined in recent years. In families who participated in the federal government’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), the rate of childhood obesity dropped from 15.9% in 2010 to 14.5% in 2014.

      “Continued initiatives to work with parents and other stakeholders to promote healthy pregnancies, breastfeeding, quality nutrition, and physical activity for young children in multiple settings are needed to ensure healthy child development,” according to authors from the CDC and USDA.

      Still too high

      The data showed that obesity rates increased in only four states during 2010 to 2014: Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, and West Virginia.

      The researchers lauded the fact that childhood obesity rates in low-income families have dropped in 31 states over the past five years, but say 14% is still too high. The national average for children in a similar age group (ages 2 to 5) is 8.9%.

      In order to reduce the rate of obesity among low-income children, the continuation of federal programs designed to help fight childhood obesity will be necessary.

      The authors wrote that “new and continued implementation of evidence-based measures,”  such as the WIC program and first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move program, are needed to support and educate pregnant women, ensure parents and families have the appropriate information about healthy behaviors, and encourage stakeholders to create supportive nutrition and physical activity environments.

      The findings have been published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Data visualization showing state-by-state changes in obesity rates among children who participated in the WIC program can be viewed here
      Childhood obesity can cause asthma, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and other health problems that often follow kids into adulthood. It has been know...

      Strikes at O'Hare and other airports postponed until after the holidays

      Workers didn't want to complicate fliers' travel plans

      Last week, we reported that hundreds of low-wage workers at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago were poised to go on strike this week. Nearly 2,000 employees – ranging from baggage handlers to security guards and cleaning staff – had voted on a walk-out over low wages, unpaid overtime, and retaliation against union organizers.

      Many worried that the strike would affect consumers looking to fly for Thanksgiving, but now it seems that holiday air travelers won’t have to worry. ABC7 in Chicago reports that workers have decided to begin their protest the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, November 29.

      Workers stated that they didn’t want to complicate plans for the nearly 22 million fliers looking to travel for the holidays. However, when the strike does finally start, they say that O’Hare won’t be the only airport affected. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has now said that almost 20 other airports will be joining in the strike, including big hubs like Newark International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport.

      “Workers will send a message to the major airlines that it’s time they take responsibility for their standards of service and care for the nearly two million passengers who travel through those major airports each day and for the workers whose dedication and hard work help to generate $36 billion in profits for the aviation industry,” SEIU officials said. 

      Last week, we reported that hundreds of low-wage workers at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago were poised to go on strike this week. Nearly 2,000 emp...

      Safety tips to consider before buying holiday gifts for children

      How to tell if the toy you're considering purchasing is right for the little one on your list

      Will you be shopping for children this holiday season? If so, it’s important to make sure that the gifts you purchase are both safe and appropriate for the children to whom they’ll be given.

      In their annual report of the year’s most dangerous toys, the child safety group World Against Toys Causing Harm (WATCH) recently noted that toy labels don’t always state whether the product has small pieces, pointed parts, or other dangers that may pose a risk to children of a certain age.

      It’s critical for gift-givers with kids on their holiday shopping list to scrutinize toy labels, use common sense, and make sure that gifts are age-appropriate. Before purchasing a toy, Purnima Unni, MPH, CHES, Pediatric Trauma Injury Prevention Program manager at Children’s Hospital, recommends first doing some research. 

      Safety tips

      “When shopping for children, it’s important to do your research on the safest toy options,” Unni said. “All toys should have an age recommendation on the packaging, and it’s important to read labels carefully, especially for children under age 3.”

      In addition to making sure the child’s age falls within the product’s suggested ages, adults should look for quality construction and make sure labels on art supplies specify that the product is non-toxic.

      To help those shopping for children this holiday season, the experts at Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt released a few safety tips. Here’s what to do if you’ll be buying any of the following items for a child on your list.

      • Bike. If you’ll be buying a new bike for a child, don’t forget the helmet. A helmet should also accompany other riding toys, such as scooters or skateboards.
      • Electronics. Electronics often require button batteries, which are swallowed by more than 2,800 children every year. Keep lithium battery-controlled devices, such as remote controls, musical greeting cards, flashing holiday jewelry, and watches out of reach of children.
      • Television. Buying a new TV? Don’t forget the wall mount. TV tip-over fatalities happen more often than they should. Every three weeks, a child dies from an accident involving a tipped-over television. Keep kids safe by mounting heavy TVs.
      • Magnets. Avoid giving a child under 6 a building set with small magnets. If the child were to swallow these small magnets, serious injury or death could occur.
      • Marbles and balls. Avoid marbles and balls with a diameter of less than 1.75 inches. 
      • Projectile toys. Projectile toys such as air rockets, darts and slingshots aren’t recommended for any age. But if you do choose to purchase them, they should be given to older children only.
      • BB guns. BB guns shouldn’t be considered toys. Children require proper training and supervision while using a BB gun.
      Will you be shopping for children this holiday season? If so, it’s important to make sure that the gifts you purchase are both safe and appropriate for the...

      Apple offers fix for iPhone 6 Plus 'touch disease'

      The problem occurs after the phone has been dropped a few times

      Owners of iPhone 6 Plus devices have been complaining of "touch disease," a flickering bar the appears at the top of the screen for no apparent reason.

      Apple is now offering a fix for the problem, which it says occurs when the phone has been dropped on a hard surface too many times or has been subjected to other stresses. The repair costs $149. Customers who have already paid more than that can apply for a refund of the difference. More information can be found here.

      There's some controversy about the cause of the problem. While it may be true that dropping the phone is the most obvious cause, some techies are saying it's a design flaw.

      iFixit, a tech repair site, says the placement of touch-screen chips causes them to work loose "as the phone flexes or twists" during normal use. You may recall that when the rather lengthy 6 Plus was introduced, some users found that they could bend it with their bare hands, which was probably not something Apple designers expected.

      The flexibility issue is at the heart of several class action lawsuits that have been filed against the company. Apple's offer to fix the problem for a fairly nominal charge may short-circuit that action.

      Owners of iPhone 6 Plus devices have been complaining of "touch disease," a flickering bar the appears at the top of the screen for no apparent reason....

      Exploding turkeys a seasonal hazard

      Frozen turkeys and hot oil don't mix very well

      We associate some holidays with certain risks -- fireworks on the 4th of July, heavy traffic on Memorial Day, and so forth. And now Thanksgiving has its very own hazard -- cooking fires caused by turkey fryers.

      Year-round, cooking fires are the most common cause of house fires and Thanksgiving sees more such fires than any other day of the year, thanks to the growing popularity of turkey fryers.

      The American Chemical Society and the District of Columbia Fire Department offer some valuable safety tips in this video:

      We associate some holidays with certain risks -- fireworks on the 4th of July, heavy traffic on Memorial Day, and so forth. And now Thanksgiving has its ve...

      Deck the halls -- and all that jazz

      Companies say they plan to spend more on holiday parties this year

      Is the company you work throwing a holiday party this year? If so, chances are it'll be better than last year's.

      Challenger, Gray & Christmas says its annual survey finds that 80% of companies are planning parties this year, and that just over 21% will be spending more for them.

      Chalk it up to a stable economy and rising corporate profits.

      After dipping in the last of half of 2015, corporate profits are back above $1.6 trillion, according to government data. “Our survey suggests that employers are ready to spend some of those profits on their workers,” said John A. Challenger, the outplacement consultancy's CEO.

      The Challenger survey was conducted in October among a small sampling of approximately 100 human resources executives, representing a variety of industries across the country.

      More than 66% of those who responded said they'll be hiring caterers or event planners -- up 4% from last year. Firms are also allowing more guests at their parties: 42.9% will include spouses or family; just 31% did in 2015.

      “Company holiday parties are a great way for employers to thank workers for a successful year,” said Challenger. “For employees, it’s a great way to meet and interact with co-workers and managers who are not part of one’s daily routine. If you happen to be attending the holiday party of a spouse or friend, it could be a great opportunity to network.”

      Better behave

      “In addition to the benefits, however, holiday parties can be fraught with risks, for both employers, employees, and guests,” Challenger warned. “The biggest risk, of course, is related to alcohol consumption.”

      In fact, almost 62% of those responding to the survey said their holiday parties would include alcohol, versus 54% who said they would open the bar last year.

      “Serving alcohol can make for a more celebratory mood, but it also has pitfalls, especially for employees and their guests. Company parties are not necessarily a time to let loose,” Challenger cautioned.

      Just 20% of respondents said that their companies won't be having a party this year, 16% of which said they never do. The percentage of companies not having parties is on par with the percentage of companies not having parties a year ago.

      Tips for partiers

      OK party animals, here are some guidelines from Challenger for getting the most out of your attendance:

      • Arrive early -- This might be your best opportunity to talk with senior executives while things are still relatively quiet.
      • Work the room -- It's easy to simply socialize with the members of your department, with whom you work with day in and day out. However, you gain if you use this occasion to meet people in other departments. You never know who can help your career.
      • Do NOT over-indulge -- Free booze can quickly lead to excessive drinking. Stay in control. You do not want to do anything that will embarrass you or your employer. Even if your alcohol-induced actions don't get you fired, they could hurt your chances for advancement.
      • Be friendly, but not too friendly -- The company party is not the place to try out your latest pick-up lines. The risk of such behavior being seen as sexual harassment is high.
      • Avoid talking business -- This isn't the time to approach your boss with a new business idea. Save that for Monday morning. Instead, find out about his or her interests outside of the office. Find a connection on a personal level. That connection may help you on Monday when you bring up the new idea and it could help when it comes time for salary reviews.
      • Attend other companies’ parties -- Fifty-two percent of company parties are employees only. If a friend invites you to his or her company party, you should go. It's an opportunity to expand your professional network, which is critical in this era of downsizing and job switching.
      Is the company you work throwing a holiday party this year? If so, chances are it'll be better than last year's.Challenger, Gray & Christmas says its a...

      Feds reverse course, increase oversight of Wells Fargo

      Office of Comptroller of the Currency must approve any senior leadership changes

      A federal regulator has revoked its earlier position and will increase its oversight of Wells Fargo, adding to the fallout from the bank's fake accounts scandal.

      The Office of Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) issued a brief statement, saying the bank must now get OCC approval for any changes to its board of directors and senior leadership. Specifically, the OCC said it must approve any senior executive severance packages, known in the business as “golden parachutes.”

      In early September, Wells Fargo agreed to pay a $100 million fine for secretly opening checking and credit card accounts in customers' names without their knowledge. Federal regulators who brought the enforcement action claimed the bank did that so it could meet its sales quota for new accounts.

      The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) said the bank employees, under pressure to meet targets and earn sales incentives, opened more than two million unauthorized deposit and credit card accounts.

      Largest CFPB fine ever

      “Wells Fargo employees secretly opened unauthorized accounts to hit sales targets and receive bonuses,” CFPB Director Richard Cordray said at the time. “Because of the severity of these violations, Wells Fargo is paying the largest penalty the CFPB has ever imposed.”

      The bank responded by firing 5,300 employees it said were responsible for the fake accounts, but lawmakers and regulators began looking more closely at the executive suite.

      The heat fell squarely on Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf, who was hauled before several Congressional committees to endure tongue lashings from a number of outraged lawmakers. Stumpf eventually announced his early retirement in an effort to quell the furor. The OCC announcement suggests the furor still has room to run.

      Meanwhile, business at Wells Fargo has fallen dramatically. Fortune reported late last week that new accounting openings “fell off a cliff” in October. Checking account openings were down 44% from October 2015. New credit card accounts were down 50%. New CEO Tim Sloan said the decline in new accounts was expected.

      A federal regulator has revoked its earlier position and will increase its oversight of Wells Fargo, adding to the fallout from the bank's fake accounts sc...

      Why many women still struggle to become pregnant

      New research reveals that endometriosis is the probable cause

      For couples looking to start a family, receiving the news that you or your loved one is pregnant is happy news. Unfortunately, there are some women for whom this goal is elusive. Whether it’s genetics, age, or some aspect of health, the reasons for infertility are varied and sometimes uncertain.

      However, new research from the University of Southampton suggests that one chronic condition may be the reason that some women have trouble becoming pregnant. Endometriosis, which affects nearly 10% of all women, is a condition where tissue that usually lines the inside of the uterus grows outside the uterus. Symptoms include chronic abdominal pain, irregular periods, and lowered fertility.

      Previously, experts believed that endometriosis had no effect on the health of an egg before it was released from the ovaries, but researchers have found that this isn’t the case. They posit that endometriosis causes a very hostile uterine environment that can affect an egg’s ability to mature properly. With this new information, researchers believe that steps can be taken to increase fertility in women suffering from the condition.

      "Endometriosis is strongly associated with infertility and up to 50 per cent of women who require infertility treatment have it. Struggling to have a baby can be terribly upsetting for a couple, so this new research gives some hope to people.”

      Blocking egg maturation

      The researchers made their discovery after experimenting with immature eggs in mouse models. They found that eggs that were incubated in the follicular fluid of women who have endometriosis had higher levels of free-radical chemicals called Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS).

      These chemicals were found to block the maturation process, leaving the egg immature and unable to be fertilized. Dr. Simon Lane, leader of the study, says this could provide an explanation for the infertility associated with endometriosis.

      "We believe these results could have clinical implications for many women struggling to fall pregnant. . . More research is now needed to investigate whether the damage caused by endometriosis is treatable or preventable," he said

      Antioxidants prevent damage

      While there is no surefire way to treat endometriosis, the researchers believe that antioxidants could be beneficial. During the course of their study, they analyzed two antioxidants – Resveratrol and Melatonin – and found that adding them to follicular fluid helped reverse negative fertility effects. In some cases, ROS levels decreased and eggs were able to mature.

      “It is very encouraging to see the possibility of the damage being prevented by antioxidants but more work is needed before we can put our results into practice," said researcher Ying Cheong.

      The full study has been published in Scientific Reports.

      For couples looking to start a family, receiving the news that you or your loved one is pregnant is happy news. Unfortunately, there are some women for who...

      Countdown to Black Friday is underway

      Here are some last minute tips for finding bargains

      Coming up at the end of the week is the official kickoff to the 2016 holiday shopping season. But chances are consumers have already done some of their shopping. And even for those who plan to shop the day after Thanksgiving, there's less and less need to get up early and wait for a store to open.

      Jeff Fagel, chief marketing officer (CMO) at Eyeview, calls Black Friday “buy nothing day,” saying doorbuster deals are no longer grabbing consumers' attention. He suggests consumers should stay home Friday morning.

      Phil Dengler, principal at shopping site BestBlackFriday.com, agrees that there are plenty of deals available right now, saying consumers need to stay alert. He notes that Amazon, Kohl's, Toys R Us, and other retailers have already started their online sales, so the deals are available right now.

      But Dengler says consumers will have to wait until Wednesday night or Thanksgiving to find the biggest bargains.

      “One thing we highly recommend is for everyone to download the apps for their favorite store,” Dengler told ConsumerAffairs. “While this was important last year, its value is growing even more for 2016. In addition to early access for some stores, the apps are a great way to get alerted when deals go live. Since online doorbusters are so competitive, time is of the essence for every online Black Friday deal. We recommend the apps from Walmart, Amazon, Best Buy, and Target.”

      For shoppers going the brick-and-mortar route, Dengler says Thanksgiving will be the biggest day for deals. He says Walmart and other retailers will hand out wristbands for some of their top doorbusters, which will encourage consumers to arrive at stores before the doors open. Here's the site's pick for the top 25 Black Friday deals.

      Not everything's cheap on Black Friday

      It's long been known that, while there are some pretty good deals on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving is not the best day to shop for everything. For example, if the item isn't included in the advertised specials, it's probably selling at its regular retail price on Black Friday.

      The Washington Post reports an analysis of price data shows the Tuesday before Thanksgiving is the best time to shop for clothes and the best deals on electronics will be found on Thanksgiving, either at stores that are open or online. Shopping for toys? You might be better off waiting until Cyber Monday.

      Cyber Monday, after all, is threatening to eclipse Black Friday as a shopping day. In the days of dial-up internet service, many consumers would wait until they returned to work on Monday to make purchases, using their employers' broadband connections. As more holiday spending has moved online, retailers have used Cyber Monday as a time to roll out some of their best promotions.

      Not deterred by cyber threats

      Even people who have had a bad experience with cyber thieves will not be deterred from shopping online, according to a survey by TransUnion. The survey found 76% of shoppers who were victims of a holiday season hack might be fearful of the risks, but 94% said they still plan to shop for Cyber Monday deals.

      The National Retail Federation (NRF) projects more than 137 million consumers will shop in one way or the other during the long Thanksgiving/Black Friday/Small Business Saturday/Cyber Monday weekend. No doubt more sales will come online this year than last, driven largely by young people.

      “For many millennials, every Thanksgiving weekend they can remember has involved hopping online to find the best deals,” said Prosper Principal Analyst Pam Goodfellow. “For this group, it’s more than just a weekend of good deals, it’s a holiday tradition.”

      Coming up at the end of the week is the official kickoff to the 2016 holiday shopping season. But chances are consumers have already done some of their sho...

      Three good hotel rewards credit cards

      The Starwood Preferred Guest card from American Express tops the list

      Not all travel rewards credit cards are alike. In addition to the variety of perks they offer, they tend to also reward different kinds of travel.

      An airline card rewards frequent flying. A gasoline card provides extra cash back when you fill up. And a hotel credit card can give you a free night's stay here and there. Sometimes, it can give you a lot more.

      When it comes to hotel credit cards, the card comparison site CreditCards.com singles out the Starwood Preferred Guest card as number one in its class. It sets itself apart with its flexibility.

      It not only provides hotel perks, its points can be transferred to more than 30 airline loyalty programs, usually without any loss of points. And because Starwood points are generally worth more than other card points, cardholders usually get more bang for their buck.

      All about flexibility

      "To me, a good rewards card is all about flexibility," says CreditCards.com senior industry analyst Matt Schulz. "While the Starwood card doesn't have the flashiest sign-up bonus in the bunch, it does give cardholders plenty of options beyond just free hotel nights."

      Starwood Hotels is owned by Marriott and operates more than 1,200 hotels under 11 brands, including Westin, Sheraton, and St. Regis.

      New cardholders earn 25,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 during the first three months the account is active. There's a $95 annual fee that is waived the first year.

      Other options

      CreditCards.com also likes the Hilton HHonors Reserve credit card from Citi. New cardholders get rewarded with two free weekend nights at a Hilton hotel after spending $2,500 in the card's first four months.

      Cardholders also receive an extra weekend night certificate every year when they spend at least $10,000. Other perks include trip cancellation and interruption protection, lost baggage insurance, and other extra insurance benefits.

      “The only downside is Hilton points tend to be worth significantly less than the average card rewards point,” CreditCards.com says.

      A third alternative is the Club Carlson Rewards Visa Signature card. CreditCards.com is impressed with its initial sign-up bonus – 50,000 points with the first purchase and 35,000 more after spending $2,500 in the first 90 days.

      Cardholders can also earn 40,000 points and a free night every year if they spend $10,000 or more. But just like the Hilton HHonors Reserve card, the points provided by the Club Carlson card tend to be valued less than the industry average.

      Not all travel rewards credit cards are alike. In addition to the variety of perks they offer, they tend to also reward different kinds of travel.An ai...

      Symantec acquiring LifeLock for $2.3 billion

      Deal helps Symantec expand beyond computer software products

      A major software security firm is buying a leading identify theft prevention service. Symantec, which produces Norton anti-virus software, is acquiring LifeLock in a deal valued at $2.3 billion.

      The boards of directors of both companies have already signed off but LifeLock shareholders will have the final say. Assuming they approve and other customary closing conditions are met, the deal should close in the first quarter of next year.

      The acquisition marks the continued expansion of Symantec beyond the traditional anti-virus software products that fueled its initial growth. In an interview with Reuters, Symantec CEO Greg Clark said sales of Norton products have faced headwinds in recent years because of a decline in the number of personal computers in homes and offices.

      Symantec said its acquisition of LifeLock will combine a leader in consumer security with a leading provider of identity protection and remediation services. It says the result will be the world’s largest consumer security business, providing a wide ranges of services and earning over $2.3 billion a year in estimated revenue.

      New dimension to protection

      “People’s identity and data are prime targets of cybercrime. The security industry must step up and defend through innovation and vigilance,” said Dan Schulman, Symantec Chairman. “With the acquisition of LifeLock, Symantec adds a new dimension to its protection capabilities to address the expanding needs of the consumer marketplace.”

      There's little question that protecting against cyber crime is a growth industry. An estimated one-third of U.S. consumer have been victims of some sort of hack. As consumer concern about the threat grows, the industry has expanded its services.

      LifeLock offers identify theft services, checking clients' credit for new account openings and credit applications. It also offers services to help consumers recover from an identity theft.

      In the previous decade some of its marketing practices ran afoul of federal regulators. As recently as last year the Federal Trade Commission charged that Lifelock violated a 2010 settlement in which it agreed to stop making deceptive claims about its identity theft protection service.

      For its part, LifeLock sees a merger with one of the largest computer security firms as a win-win for both companies. LifeLock CEO Hilary Schneider says the combined companies can deploy enhanced technology and analytics to improve services to consumers.

      A major software security firm is buying a leading identify theft prevention service. Symantec, which produces Norton anti-virus software, is acquiring Lif...

      La Quercia recalls dried pork products

      The products are insufficiently dehydrated, which could lead to an outgrowth of harmful bacteria

      La Quercia of Norwalk, Iowa, is recalling approximately 932 pounds of cured, dried pork loin products.

      The products are insufficiently dehydrated, which could lead to an outgrowth of harmful bacteria.

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

      The following whole and sliced pork loin items, produced between June 3, 2016, and Nov. 2, 2016, are being recalled:

      • 2.65-lb. vacuum-sealed package containing one piece of “LOMO AMERICANO” with a best by date of 11/08/17 and lot #Z16D04V115516.
      • 2.65-lb. vacuum-sealed package containing one piece of “LOMO AMERICANO” with a best by date of 10/31/17 and lot #Z16D04V116016.
      • 1.5-lb. package containing 20 slices of “SLICED LOMO AMERICANO. 2oz” with a best by date of 02/07/17 and lot #P17B07C128416.
      • 1.5-lb. package containing 20 slices of “SLICED LOMO AMERICANO. 2oz” with a best by date of 02/21/17 and lot #P17B21C129816.
      • 1.5-lb. package containing 20 slices of “SLICED LOMO AMERICANO. 2oz” with a best by date of 02/18/17 and lot #P17B18C129516.
      • 1.5-lb. package containing 20 slices of “SLICED LOMO AMERICANO. 2oz” with a best by date of 03/02/17 and lot # P17C02C130716.
      • 1.5-lb. package containing 20 slices of “SLICED LOMO AMERICANO. 2oz” with a best by date of 02/28/17 and lot #P17B28C130516.

      The recalled products, bearing establishment number “EST. 31797” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to distributors and retail locations in California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Texas and Virginia.

      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 Stephanie Bates at (515) 981-1625. 

      La Quercia of Norwalk, Iowa, is recalling approximately 932 pounds of cured, dried pork loin products.The products are insufficiently dehydrated, which...

      Morty Pride Meats recalls pork barbeque products

      The products contain soy, an allergen not declared on the label

      Morty Pride Meats of Fayetteville, N.C., is recalling approximately 237,891 pounds of pork barbeque products.

      The products were produced with Worcestershire containing soy, an allergen not declared on the finished product label.

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

      The recalled items, produced and packaged from November 15, 2014, through November 11, 2016, are being recalled:

      • 5-lb. of vacuum sealed bags of “Morty Pride Pork Barbeque, Electronically Cooked.”
      • 12-oz of plastic cups of “Morty Pride Premium Pork Barbeque, Electronically Cooked.”

      The recalled products, bearing establishment number “EST. 6668” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to institutions and retail locations in North Carolina and South Carolina.

      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 Mickey Hudson at (910) 483-6004.

      Morty Pride Meats of Fayetteville, N.C., is recalling approximately 237,891 pounds of pork barbeque products.The products were produced with Worcesters...

      Model year 2016 Dodge Darts recalled

      The windshield wiper circuit may fail

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 53,155 model year 2016 Dodge Darts manufactured April 13, 2015, to June 7, 2016.

      Due to voltage spikes caused by a problem within the windshield washer pump, the windshield wiper circuit may fail.

      Without functioning windshield wipers, the driver's visibility may be reduced, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will replace the windshield washer pumps, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin December 19, 2016.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is S83.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 53,155 model year 2016 Dodge Darts manufactured April 13, 2015, to June 7, 2016.Due to voltage spikes caused by a pr...

      Sabra recalls various hummus products

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Sabra Dipping Co. is recalling numerous hummus products made prior to November 8, 2016.

      There are concerns over Listeria monocytogenes, which was identified at the manufacturing facility but not in tested finished product.

      The following product, distributed to retail outlets -- including food service accounts and supermarkets -- in the U.S. and Canada, are being recalled:

      UPCSKUItem

      040822

      014700

      300051

      Sabra Hummus

      Caramelized Onion

      10OZ

      040822

      000017

      300066

      Sabra Hummus Classic

      7OZ

      040822

      011143

      300067

      Sabra Hummus Classic

      10OZ

      040822

      017497

      300070

      Sabra Hummus Classic

      17OZ

      0408220

      14687

      300074

      Sabra Hummus

      Classic 30OZ

      040822

      431156

      300076

      Sabra Hummus

      Classic 5LB – 6ct

      040822

      011112

      300079

      Sabra Hummus

      Classic 2OZ

      – 48ct: 3 x (16 x 2oz)

      040822

      011952

      300080

      Sabra Hummus Classic

      with pretzels 4.56OZ

      04082

      2011235

      300094

      Sabra Hummus

      Garlic 7OZ

      040822

      011242

      300095

      Sabra Hummus

      Garlic 10OZ

      0408220

      17510

      300097

      Sabra Hummus

      Garlic 17OZ

      040822

      012256

      300099

      Sabra Hummus

      Garlic 32OZ

      04082

      2301121

      300100

      Sabra Hummus

      Garlic 30OZ

      0408220

      11990

      300104

      Sabra Hummus

      Garlic

      with pretzels

      4.56OZ

      04082201

      1921

      300106

      Sabra Hummus

      Jalapeno 10OZ

      040822

      011341

      300117

      Sabra Hummus

      Olive 10OZ

      040822

      011747

      300132

      Sabra Hummus

      Pine Nut 10OZ

      040822

      127530

      300134

      Sabra Hummus

      Pine Nut 7OZ

      0408229

      90011

      300136

      Sabra Hummus

      Pine Nut 17OZ

      040822

      012157

      300139

      Sabra Hummus

      Pine Nut 32OZ

      040822

      012430

      300142

      Sabra Hummus

      Red Pepper 7OZ

      040822

      011549

      300143

      Sabra Hummus

      Red Pepper 10OZ

      040822

      017503

      300146

      Sabra Hummus

      Red Pepper 17OZ

      040822

      328647

      300148

      Sabra Hummus

      Red Pepper 32OZ

      040822

      301114

      300150

      Sabra Hummus

      Red Pepper 30OZ

      04082

      2434553

      300151

      Sabra Hummus

      Red

      Pepper 5LB –

      6ct

      0408220

      11969

      300153

      Sabra Hummus

      Red Pepper

      with pretzels

      4.56OZ

      040822011433300158

      Sabra Hummus

      Supremely

      Spicy 7OZ

      040822

      011440

      300159

      Sabra Hummus

      Supremely

      Spicy 10OZ

      040822

      017558

      300161

      Sabra Hummus

      Supremely

      Spicy 17OZ

      040822

      027540

      300164

      Sabra Hummus

      Spinach &

      Artichoke 10OZ

      04082

      2014731

      300166

      Sabra Hummus

      Sun Dried

      Tomato 10OZ

      040822

      027700

      300266

      Sabra Hummus

      Spinach &

      Artichoke 32OZ

      040822

      027588

      300298

      Sabra Hummus

      Spinach &

      Artichoke 17OZ

      040822

      990011

      300501

      Sabra Hummus

      Pine Nut

      17OZ – 6ct

      040822

      017503

      300502

      Sabra Hummus

      Red Peppe

      r 17OZ – 6ct

      040822

      020114

      300593

      Sabra Hummus

      Basil-Pesto 10OZ

      040822

      330466

      300736

      Sabra Hummus

      Tuscan Herb

      Garden 32OZ

      04082

      2342049

      301216

      Sabra Hummus

      Classic 32OZ

      0408223

      42131

      301271

      Sabra Hummus

      Classic

      with pretzels

      4.56OZ – 8ct

      040822

      342209

      301283

      Sabra Hummus

      Garlic 23.5OZ

      04082

      2017497

      301290

      Sabra Hummus

      Classic 17OZ

      040822

      342506

      301430

      Sabra Hummus

      Bold & Spicy

      with tortilla

      chips 4.56OZ

      04082

      2017510

      301480

      Sabra Hummus

      Garlic 17OZ – 6ct

      040822

      342728

      301481

      Sabra Hummus

      Classic 2OZ

      – 6 x 2oz

      (12 x 6pks)

      0408220

      11648

      301483

      Sabra Hummus

      Lemon 10OZ

      04082234

      2735

      301484

      Sabra Hummus

      Red Pepper

      2OZ

      – 6 x 2oz

      (12 x 6pks)

      0408223

      30381

      301485

      Sabra Hummus

      Tuscan

      Herb

      Garden 17OZ

      040822

      010078

      301511

      Sabra Hummus

      Classic 2OZ

        – 16 x 2oz

      – 12 ct

      040822

      010047

      301512

      Sabra Hummus

      Classic 2OZ

      – 12 x 2oz

      – 12 ct

      0408223

      42988

      301566

      Sabra Hummus

      SF

      Rosemary/Sea

      Salt 10OZ

      040822

      343145

      301585

      Sabra Spreads

      Spicy

      Chili 8.5OZ

      – 8ct

      0408223

      43138

      301586

      Sabra Spreads

      Garlic

      Herb 8.5OZ –

      8ct

      0408223

      43121

      301587

      Sabra Spreads

      Honey

      Mustard

      8.5OZ – 8ct

      0408223

      43114

      301588

      Sabra Spreads

      Salt &

      Pepper

      8.5OZ – 8ct

      040822

      343671

      301640

      Sabra

      Hummus Taco

      10OZ

      040822

      344043

      301705

      Sabra

      Hummus

      3 Pepper

      Chili 10OZ

      Code and “Best Before” date can be found on the lid of each package.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products with a “Best Before” date through January 23, 2017, should discard it.

      Consumers with questions may contact Sabra consumer relations at 1-866-265-6761 from 9:00 am to 8:00 PM (ET) or online at www.sabrahummusrecall.com

      Sabra Dipping Co. is recalling numerous hummus products made prior to November 8, 2016.There are concerns over Listeria monocytogenes, which was identi...

      Postcard from the Amalfi Coast

      The scenery and culture can take your breath away, but you might want to hold it while traveling

      What’s it like to travel the beautiful Amalfi Coast? Exhilarating and thrilling are words that come to mind.

      Located along the southern coast of Italy, SS 163 Amalfitana connects the towns of Sorrento to Salerno with hairpin turns and narrow lanes that zigzag around the cliffs, with scant safety protection on the coastal side. The homes and churches appear to be carved into the hillside with a picture-perfect landscape dotted with neat gardens and umbrella pines. The views of the sea lapping at jagged boulders and sandy beaches make each corner irresistible for a photo stop.

      As we began our recent tour, our guide, Marcello, warns that traffic signs in Italy are “suggestions.” Marcello, a Sorrento native, makes us feel safe, unlike an earlier visit when we took the Sita (local) bus. Our young bus driver whipped around those tight turns, seemingly on two wheels. On our return trip, I was relieved to see we had an older bus driver, foolishly thinking our ride would be safer. His driving was even riskier and I prayed the entire way from Positano to Sorrento.

      Marcello believes in showing his “guests” the unspoiled Amalfi Coast, avoiding the more touristy towns of Amalfi and Positano. We began our tour in Vietri sul Mare, situated at the southern end of the coast and famous worldwide for its handcrafted ceramics. The focal point of the town is the Church of San Giovanni Battista (St. John the Baptist) with a late-Renaissance façade and an elegant dome covered in majolica.

      No souvenir shops

      We crossed through picturesque villages with nary a souvenir shop, tour bus, or gelateria in sight. Along the way we continued to spy beautiful churches, charming homes, villagers going about their daily lives, local markets bursting with colorful produce, and just gorgeous coastline.

      The highlight of our day was what Marcello calls “a memorable Italian experience.” He took us high in the mountains, along windy one-lane roads, to the scenic medieval village of Pantone to “Cucina Tipica della Nonna,” a family trattoria. We sat on a covered patio with a scenic view of terraced gardens nestled in the valley overlooking the bay. The trattoria is known to use the freshest ingredients, cultivated by self-sufficient local farmers, just like farmers have done for over 100 years.

      Our fabulous feast began with five different appetizers, including homemade pizza, grilled vegetables, fried cheeses, tomatoes with Mozarella buffalo, and bruschetta. The main course followed with three homemade pasta dishes, and then the grand finale – three delectable desserts with a serving of each.

      Our last stop of the day was Stabiae, a seaside resort town just 9.9 miles from Mount Vesuvius, destroyed by the same volcanic eruption that devastated Pompeii in 79AD. I had heard Italy was built on ruins, but to see it firsthand was amazing.

      The villas are located under a farm, so parts of the old buildings were unable to be excavated without causing damage to the existing buildings. There are parts of the villas that they are unable to excavate as it would damage the farm’s buildings.

      We walked through what remains of the villas that were once graced with elaborate frescoes. A few remain, but many have been removed and relocated to the archaeological museum in Naples. Unlike Pompeii, this site is not well known, and it felt as if we had it to ourselves.

      A day with Marcello is a day of authenticity. He has shared the history, culture, and people that make up his heritage. A day well spent.

      What’s it like to travel the beautiful Amalfi Coast? Exhilarating and thrilling are words that come to mind.Located along the southern coast of Italy,...

      DraftKings and FanDuel agree to merge

      Companies say it will save money, better serve players

      The two largest daily fantasy sports (DFS) enterprises, DraftKings and FanDuel, have agreed to merge. The transaction is expected to close next year, the companies said in a release.

      The merger was not unexpected. Both companies have spent the last 18 months in the crosshairs of various state attorneys general, most notably Eric Schneiderman of New York, who sued the companies for violating the state's gambling laws.

      The companies said the merger will enable them to better serve customers, who pay money to enter a team of actual sports players, winning points based on how those players perform in actual games. Winners can receive large cash prizes.

      But the merger undoubtedly will help both enterprises control costs, which rose when they were forced to mount legal defenses in a number of states and later on to lobby various state legislatures for legal exemptions from gambling laws.

      The companies from the beginning maintained they were exempt from gambling laws because their games were classified as games of skill, not chance. Many states took issue with that interpretation.

      “We have always been passionate about providing the best possible experience for our customers and this merger will help advance our goal of building a transformational global sports entertainment platform,” said DraftKings CEO Jason Robins. “Joining forces will allow us to truly realize the potential of our vision, and as a combined company we will be able to accelerate the pace of innovation and bring a richer experience to our customers than we ever could have done separately.”

      The two largest daily fantasy sports (DFS) enterprises, DraftKings and FanDuel, have agreed to merge. The transaction is expected to close next year, the c...

      Hundreds of workers at O'Hare International Airport ready to strike next week

      While officials don't expect a shutdown, delays may be prominent for holiday travel

      It might be a tumultuous Thanksgiving week for O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. Yesterday, labor leaders at the airport said that “hundreds” of low-wage workers voted to strike and may not show up this coming week, according to the Chicago Sun Times.

      Around 2,000 non-unionized workers – including baggage handlers, security officers, caterers, and cleaners -- voted on the course of action in protest of unsafe working conditions, unpaid overtime, and retaliation against union organizers. Workers are also looking for an increase in pay to a minimum of $15 per hour, according to reports.

      While this could be concerning to air travelers who will be going through the airport over the holidays, the Chicago Department of Aviation says it is working with the protestors and does not foresee any future delays.

      “[The department] expects every contractor to follow the law, and will aid the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection and the Illinois Department of Labor to take whatever action is necessary. . . We do not anticipate any disruption in service at Chicago’s airports during the holiday season and encourage passengers to contact individual airlines for information regarding their specific flight,” said spokesperson Owen Kilmer.

      While officials don’t think that the workers’ actions could lead to a shut down, refusal to show up and work could potentially lead to major delays of service for certain departments. Fliers may remember with horror how long security lines were this past summer.

      Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1 President Tom Balanoff stated that workers won’t be trying to shut down the airport. However, he does admit that what “they’re trying to do is get the powers that be to hear their voice.” 

      It might be a tumultuous Thanksgiving week for O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. Yesterday, labor leaders at the airport said that “hundreds” of low...

      Tesla shareholders green light merger deal with SolarCity

      CEO Musk says the deal will add $1 billion in revenue in 2017

      At the end of October, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced that the automaker would begin manufacturing solar roof tiles that it would be tying into its household and commercial battery systems. The entrepreneur stated that he hoped to do for solar power what he did for electric vehicles – essentially turning a little-wanted product into something that’s appealing for consumers.

      The plan was for those solar roof tiles to be produced by SolarCity, a company that Musk is the chairman of, and sold by a subsidiary called Tesla Energy. However, things may have gotten a little easier on Thursday when shareholders gave the thumbs up for Tesla to acquire SolarCity outright for $2.1 billion.

      According to Business Insider, the deal was “overwhelmingly” approved by 85% of unaffiliated shareholders. This comes as a little bit of a shock, since initial reactions to the acquisition were not positive; SolarCity had been struggling, and when Musk announced plans for deal in June, Tesla’s share price dropped by 13%. However, after the deal was approved, the gratified CEO said that investors wouldn’t regret their decision.

      “Your faith will be rewarded,” he said to shareholders in a Fremont, California meeting.

      Over $1 billion in revenue

      Although Musk recused himself from voting on the issue due to his connection with SolarCity, he campaigned hard for its approval during the deliberation period. He repeatedly told shareholders that the acquisition would quickly make a profit, estimating that Tesla would add $1 billion to its revenue by 2017 and generate another $500 million over the next three years after it starts selling more solar panels for cash rather than leasing them to homeowners.

      The terms of the buyout will give SolarCity shareholders 0.110 Tesla shares for each share they have in the former company. It’s a bit of a saving grace, since the company’s model relied heavily on borrowing money to finance expansion; the company had nearly $260 million in cash and cash equivalents but almost $6.7 billion in total liabilities, including debt.

      However, the company has expanded in recent years and expects a moderate year-over-year increase. Its new solar shingles, made from glass tiles, are meant to have 50-year lifespan and several other advantages over standard roof tiles.

      “The goal is to have solar roofs that look better than a normal roof, generate electricity, last longer, have better insulation and actually have an install cost that is less than a normal roof plus the cost of electricity,” said Musk of the products.

      Tough times ahead?

      Although Musk is optimistic about the deal’s future, experts say that Tesla may be in for a bit of a rough patch going forward. A federal investigation over the death of Tesla driver in connection to the Autopilot feature still looms over the company’s head, and shares at the company are down by around 20% for 2016.

      To make matters worse, Donald Trump’s presidential election victory could have serious implications. Myron Ebell, a Trump adviser on environmental matters, has said that electric vehicles may no longer get the generous tax subsidies they’ve enjoyed in recent years. For one of the premier companies producing electric vehicles, this is sure to be a hard blow.

      At the end of October, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced that the automaker would begin manufacturing solar roof tiles that it would be tying into its househol...

      Rating retailers on eliminating chemicals

      Walmart rated highest, Amazon rated lowest

      A report by Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, an advocacy group, rates major retailers on steps they have taken to eliminate toxic chemicals from the products on their shelves.

      The retailers earned grades ranging from B for good progress to F for little or no progress at all. The group says the average grade was D+, suggesting a need for improvement by retailers to satisfy consumer demand for safer products.

      Walmart, Target, and CVS Health got the highest grades. The group lauded these companies for meaningful progress toward safer products. It gave failing grades to Amazon, Costco, and Albertsons. In fact, it said Amazon received the lowest grade of any of the 11 retailers surveyed.

      How they rank

      Here's the ranking, along with the letter grade and number of points out of a possible 130:

      1. Walmart Stores (Walmart and Sam’s Club): B (78.5 points)
      2. Target: B (76.5)
      3. CVS Health: C (53)
      4. Best Buy: C- (41)
      5. The Home Depot: D+ (35.5)
      6. Lowe’s: D (29.5)
      7. Walgreens: D (29.5)
      8. Kroger: D- (15.5)
      9. Albertsons: F (12.5)
      10. Costco: F (9.5)
      11. Amazon: F (7.5)

      Using their clout

      The report's authors are hoping retailers will use their clout to send stronger signals up the supply chain that products like shampoo, lotions, cleaners, clothing, shoes, or home electronics should contain fewer – or no – toxic chemicals.

      The Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition identifies itself as an advocacy group for people with learning and developmental disabilities, reproductive health advocates, environmentalists, and businesses from across the U.S.

      A report by Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, an advocacy group, rates major retailers on steps they have taken to eliminate toxic chemicals from the produ...

      Mozilla introduces mobile browser that blocks tracking

      For now, it's only available for iOS devices

      Mozilla has rolled out a new mobile browser for iOS, Firefox Focus, that blocks third-party trackers, increasing privacy and possibly speeding up page-loading times.

      "We live in an age where too many users have lost trust and lack meaningful controls over their digital lives," wrote Mozilla's Nick Nguyen in a blog posting. "For some users, it seems as though your web activities can follow you everywhere – across devices, across accounts."

      Nguyen said that's where Firefox Focus comes in.

      "For the times when you don’t want to leave a record on your phone. You may be looking for information that in certain situations is sensitive – searches for engagement rings, flights to Las Vegas or expensive cigars, for example. And sometimes you just want a super simple, super fast Web experience – no tabs, no menus, no pop-ups."

      While the new browser, available in the App Store, is only for Apple iOS devices, Mozilla Firefox browser allows users to block third-party ads and prevent tracking by choosing the "private browsing" option.

      A few years ago, Mozilla had said it would introduce a version of Firefox for desktop and laptop users that would block tracking by default, but the non-profit organization backed down in the face of strong protests by the advertising industry.

      Mozilla has rolled out a new mobile browser for iOS, Firefox Focus, that blocks third-party trackers, increasing privacy and possibly speeding up page-load...

      NFL agrees to stop setting ticket price floors

      Settlement with New York ends a practice that had driven up ticket prices

      The National Football League has agreed to end a mandatory ticket price floor policy that had driven up ticket prices for fans. The agreement is the result of an investigation by New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, who has been investigating pricing policies in both sports and entertainment.

      “No sports fan should be forced to buy, or sell, a ticket at an artificially inflated price,” said Schneiderman. “Under the NFL’s price floor scheme, fans were forced to pay inflated prices for even the least desirable NFL games. That is a slap to both sports fans and free markets."

      The NFL had terminated its price floor policy when Schneiderman's investigation began. The agreement signed this week makes it official and prevents team from reinstating the policy.

      Schneiderman said other sports teams and entertainment venues should follow suit.

      "My office will continue to fight for the rights of sports fans and concertgoers by ensuring that secondary markets are free and competitive," Schneiderman said. "In the meantime, I encourage every NFL team—and every team in professional sports—to heed the call of all sports fans and remove price floors from every team-authorized secondary ticket market.”

      Face value

      The NFL's policy had required each of the 32 NFL member teams to impose a price floor on all secondary market ticket sales on the NFL’s Ticket Exchange and related websites officially sanctioned by the league. Under this arrangement, sellers were not permitted to list tickets for resale on the NFL’s officially sanctioned resale sites at a price lower than the face value of the ticket. 

      While the agreement applies only to the NFL and not to individual teams, it includes disclosure requirements in cases where an individual team imposes its own price floor, prohibits the NFL from directing or requiring ticketing practices among teams that are designed to preclude fans from using competing exchanges, and prohibits the NFL from interfering with an individual team’s efforts to coordinate anti-fraud measures with competing secondary ticket exchanges.

      The National Football League has agreed to end a mandatory ticket price floor policy that had driven up ticket prices for fans. The agreement is the result...

      Survey: One in 25 motorists drive while drowsy

      Highways in the cental U.S. see the most sleep-related fatalities

      “Asleep at the wheel” is an old expression to suggest that someone isn't paying attention. But all too often it literally happens on the nation's highways, with tragic results.

      A survey by SleepJunkie estimates one in 25 drivers drive when drowsy enough to nod off for at least a second or two. Sometimes, that's all it takes.

      Its analysis of six years of fatal driving accident reports shows I-37 in Texas has the highest rate of drowsy driving fatalities, at more than 18%. Wyoming is the state with the highest percent of sleep-related accidents. Nationwide, most of these accidents occur between 6:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m.

      Truck accidents

      I-37 is only 145 miles long, running between San Antonio and corpus Christi, Texas. But it is heavily populated with tractor trailer rigs, which could explain why it is number one on the drowsy driving fatality list.

      “Unfortunately, commercial drivers are among those most likely to drive drowsy, like those who drive semitrailer trucks which can weigh up to 80,000 pounds – making accidents involving these vehicles especially dangerous,” the authors write.

      In one of the best known cases, comedian Tracy Morgan was critically injured and fellow comedian James McNair was killed when a Walmart tractor-trailer truck slammed into their limousine in June 2014. The truck driver, it was later learned, had been without sleep for more than 24 hours.

      Trucking industry regulations place strict controls on the time a single driver can remain behind the wheel in one stretch.

      Perhaps not surprisingly, the SleepJunkie study found the highways with the highest rate of drowsy driving accidents are in the central part of the nation, across the wide, flat Great Plains. Most of the highways run north and south.

      Not just the Interstates

      But Interstate highways are not the only roads that tend to put people to sleep. The analysis found that while 5% of fatal sleep-related crashes occurred on the nation's Interstates, 1.23% occurred on country roads and 1.13% took place on city streets.

      You might think the warning signs of drowsy driving would be obvious, but the AAA Foundation says they might not be in all cases. Yawning and drifting out of your lane could be signs you need some sleep, but so is missing traffic signs or driving past an intended exit.

      If you think you might be sleep-deprived, AAA says you should pull off immediately. And on a long car trip, schedule a break every 100 miles or so.

      “Asleep at the wheel” is an old expression to suggest that someone isn't paying attention. But all too often it literally happens on the nation's highways,...

      Study raises new health questions about teen use of e-cigarettes

      Researchers link e-cigarettes to persistent cough

      Health officials have always been worried about teen smoking. Getting hooked on nicotine early in life makes it harder to quit later on and can lead to health problems down the road.

      When e-cigarettes were introduced to the marketplace, they drew the same kind of concern, as statistics showed teens were among the early adopters. While there is no tobacco in an e-cigarette, there is nicotine, and health activists worried that teens who used the devices would gravitate to cigarettes later on.

      The National Institute on Drug Abuse recently reported that teens are more likely to use e-cigarettes than smoke tobacco. By eighth grade, it says only 3.6% had started smoking but 9.5% were using e-cigarettes. By 12th grade, it found more than 16% were using e-cigarettes.

      But being a gateway to tobacco is not the only concern about these nicotine delivery systems. New research suggests even those who don't later start lighting up can be damaging their health by inhaling the nicotine-laden vapor.

      Persistent cough and bronchitis

      Researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) say they have found an association between e-cigarettes and development of a persistent cough, bronchitis, and congestion or phlegm in the young people who use them.

      “E-cigarettes are known to deliver chemicals toxic to the lungs, including oxidant metals, glycerol vapor, diketone flavoring compounds and nicotine,” said lead author Dr. Rob McConnell. “However, there has been little study of the chronic health effects of e-cigarettes.”

      The study compared kids who had used e-cigarettes to those who had never tried “vaping.” It found that young people who had used e-cigarettes in the past were 85% more likely to exhibit respiratory symptoms. Current users were twice as likely.

      “The Food and Drug Administration recently banned the sale of e-cigarettes to children under 18 years of age, and California just prohibited sale to young adults under 21,” McConnell said. “Our results suggest that these regulations and an environment that discourages the initiation of any tobacco product may reduce the burden of chronic respiratory symptoms in youth.

      But because e-cigarettes are relatively new, McConnell said he believes they need additional study so doctors can better understand their long-term effects.

      Health officials have always been worried about teen smoking. Getting hooked on nicotine early in life makes it harder to quit later on and can lead to hea...

      McDonald's outlines plans to modernize

      Ordering kiosks, mobile payments, and table service part of the future

      McDonald's executives have outlined sweeping changes planned for the fast food franchise, designed to reduce staffing needs while streamlining and modernizing the operation.

      At press briefings in New York and Los Angeles, McDonald's said it is adding ordering kiosks to restaurants, installing “smart” menu boards, implementing mobile payments capabilities to its app, and will begin offering custom sandwiches and table service.

      The moves are designed to update McDonald's business model, along the lines of Panera Bread and Chick-Fil-A, both of which now bring food to customers' tables after they order.

      Reuters reports that about 500 of McDonald's 14,000 restaurants in the U.S. have already made some of the changes – notably stores in New York, Florida, and California. The company stopped short of giving a time frame for the changes to be implemented, but said outlets in Chicago, Boston, Seattle, and San Francisco are next on the list.

      Mobile roll-out in 2017

      Mobile ordering will be a pilot project in the first half of next year in select markets, with a full national roll-out anticipated in the second half of 2017.

      The ordering kiosks, which are estimated to cost franchisees as much as $60,000, will likely reduce the number of employees a McDonald's restaurant will need to operate. The company has borne the brunt of labor pressure to increase the hourly wage of fast-food workers.

      As we reported earlier this year, McDonald's franchises have been experimenting with changes that the company may or may not have been considering for incorporation into its system. A Missouri franchise owner built a 6,500 square foot store and outfitted it with upholstered furniture. Interestingly, he also experimented with all-you-can-eat French fries. At the time, it suggested the 61-year old company is open to new ideas.

      Not a new idea

      As for ordering kiosks, this is hardly a new idea for the golden arches. In early 2015, McDonald's told financial analysts that ordering kiosks were on the way. Other quick serve restaurants have successfully used these kiosks, and McDonald's may be looking at them as a way to deal with the pressure to increase employee wages.

      Part of the pressure to raise wages likely stems from recent structural changes in the economy. Many fast food restaurants created jobs designed to be filled by teenagers living at home.

      But because so many jobs have recently disappeared from the economy, that's not always who's standing behind the counter these days.

      McDonald's executives have outlined sweeping changes planned for the fast food franchise, designed to reduce staffing needs while streamlining and moderniz...

      This year, Amazon introduces 'voice shopping'

      With Black Friday a week away, Amazon looks for a new wrinkle

      With Black Friday just a week away, retailers are beginning to add to the build-up. After rolling out a number of pre-Black Friday deals, Amazon is introducing bargains that are only available if you order on it's voice interactive technology, Alexa.

      Today through Monday, consumers who ask “Alexa, what are your deals?” will get access to an exclusive set of discounts on popular gift items. Consumers may order with voice commands on Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, Amazon Tap, Amazon Fire HD tablet, or Amazon Fire TV.

      “This is the first holiday that Prime members will be able to use their voice to shop and we’re excited to offer exclusive deals they won’t find anywhere else,” said Assaf Ronen, Amazon's vice-president for Voice Shopping. “Voice shopping with Alexa takes the hassle out of the holidays, giving customers the ability to order from millions of items simply by saying the word.”

      New deals each day

      Ronen says the voice-only deals will be updated each day during the promotion.

      Amazon says the Alexa-only deals will include $80 off a 32-inch Samsung 1080p LED TV; $30 off on a Sphero Star Wars BB-8 App controlled robot; $80 off on Beyerdynamic Limited Edition headphones; and $130 off on a 10-piece All-Clad stainless steel cookware set.

      Similar to Apple's Siri, Alexa is the voice service that powers Echo, providing capabilities that allow users to interact with devices in a more intuitive way using voice commands.

      While consumers no doubt will take part in Black Friday sales in great numbers this year, the numbers may continue to diminish as more sales move online and retailers spread their bargains over a wider timeframe.

      Black Friday shopping tips

      Whenever consumers do their shopping, Ash Exantus, Financial Empowerment Coach at BankMobile, suggests shoppers make a list and holiday budget to avoid overspending. He also suggests leaving your plastic at home and using cash instead. He says that will ensure you stick to your budget and avoid getting caught up in Black Friday's emotional appeal.

      “Shopping, especially on Black Friday, is psychological warfare,” Exantus said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “You are literally in a battle between you and your pockets vs. retailers and marketers.”

      It's called Black Friday for a reason, Exantus says. It's the day when retailers get into the black for the year, often at consumers' expense.

      With Black Friday just a week away, retailers are beginning to add to the build-up. After rolling out a number of pre-Black Friday deals, Amazon is introdu...

      Spoiler Alert aims to reduce food waste by recycling surplus food

      The startup finds uses for leftover food by facilitating connections between companies

      Here in the U.S., an estimated 40% of food goes uneaten. Now, a new startup called Spoiler Alert is making strides toward mitigating the problem of food waste and hunger in America. Aiding its efforts: a partnership with Sysco corporation and $2.5 million in funding.

      The Boston-based company is seeking to reduce waste by helping food and beverage companies make use of their leftovers. Making mutually beneficial connections -- for instance, by helping a food producer coordinate with a food bank -- is one way Spoiler Alert prevents food from going to waste.

      It coordinates these connections using cloud-based software, CEO Ricky Ashenfelter recently told TechCrunch. “We offer the relevant accounting and reporting systems to capture tax benefits and document important financial, environmental, and social metrics,” Spoiler Alert explained on its website.

      Selling imperfect produce  

      The platform also aims to keeps cosmetically imperfect, but otherwise good, produce from ending up in landfills. Consumers might not naturally reach for “ugly” produce, but some companies (such as juice or soup makers) don’t need perfect-looking fruits and vegetables in order to make their product.
      Spoiler Alert is essentially a “secondary marketplace for wholesale food,” Ashenfelter said, adding that the company will use its recently-raised funding to put its services on the radars of food producers and nonprofits in every major, metropolitan area in the U.S.

      The CEO said he hopes Spoiler Alert will eventually help food and beverage companies get rid of organic waste in every sustainable way possible. He also hopes to obtain the resources to allow prepared food from restaurants and catering services to be donated instead of thrown out. 

      Here in the U.S., an estimated 40% of food goes uneaten. Now, a new startup called Spoiler Alert is making strides toward mitigating the problem of food wa...

      Seasonal jobs are still available

      We have some tips to aid you in your job search

      With Black Friday just a week away, you might think it's too late to look for a seasonal job. However, Challenger, Gray & Christmas (CG&C;) says you'd be wrong.

      While it's true that most retailers have completed their hiring of temporary workers, you shouldn't throw in the towel, just yet.

      “It is never too late to find holiday jobs,” said CG&G; chief executive officer John A. Challenger. “There is a lot of churn in the sectors that typically hire seasonal workers and because employers are often hiring a lot workers in a short amount of time, there is a strong chance that many of those new workers will not pan out.”

      The hiring continues

      In its September forecast, the global outplacement firm predicted holiday hiring will remain flat from a year ago. Should that be on the money, about 740,000 seasonal workers will be added to retail payrolls in the final three months of the year.

      The bulk of this hiring typically occurs in late October and early November, and is usually reflected in the government's December employment report.

      “That being said, we continue to see hiring in late November and into early December,” said Challenger. “On average, retail employment has grown by an average of 145,000 over the last five years. It is important to remember that these figures don’t include seasonal job gains outside of the retail sector. Job seekers can also be looking for holiday jobs in hotels, restaurants, catering companies, and warehouse and shipping facilities.”

      The primary reason to not give up on the holiday job search is that the sectors that have the strongest need for seasonal workers are also those that typically see the highest turnover.

      A 2014 report from the Hay Group, a management consulting firm, indicated that the turnover rate in the retail industry averaged 66% for part-time hourly sales associates.

      Last year in the hospitality industry -- another major employer of seasonal workers -- the turnover rate averaged 72%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

      “These high turnover rates, which are likely to be even higher among seasonal workers, mean that job seekers pursuing holiday employment should not hesitate to return to employers where they previously failed to get a job offer. The situation can change overnight,” said Challenger.

      What to do

      Challenger offers the following tips for holiday job-seekers:

      • Visit employers in person. It is tempting to conduct a job search from behind the computer screen. However, many retailers will not post their seasonal jobs online -- particularly smaller mom and pop stores.
      • Return to previous attempts. Don’t hesitate to go back to employers where you might have failed to get a job. Staffing needs may have changed or they may have lost one or more seasonal workers.
      • Think outside the (big) box. Retailers undoubtedly have the strongest need for seasonal workers, but don’t overlook entertainment venues, restaurants, caterers, and other businesses that are busy during the holidays. And, since more shoppers buy online, shipping companies like UPS and FedEx have enormous demand for seasonal workers.
      • Be flexible. The most challenging jobs to fill are those with overnight or early morning positions dedicated to receiving new shipments and restocking floors. If you're willing to work any hours thrown your way you'll have a leg up on the competition.
      • Start with places you shop/visit. If you're a frequent customer at a particular store or restaurant, start your job search there. Even if you don't have a “relationship” with the manager or staff, they are likely to recognize you as a regular, which may give you an advantage.
      With Black Friday just a week away, you might think it's too late to look for a seasonal job. However, Challenger, Gray & Christmas (CG&C;) says you'd be w...

      Model year 2016 Dodge Durangos and Jeep Grand Cherokees recalled

      The vehicles may leak fuel

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 30,183 model year 2016 Dodge Durangos and Jeep Grand Cherokees manufactured February 10, 2016, to April 28, 2016 and equipped with a 3.6L engine built at the Saltillo engine plant.

      During assembly of the engine, the fuel rail crossover tube may have been damaged, which, over time, may result in a fuel leak.

      A fuel leak in the presence of an ignition source, can increase the risk of a fire.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the engine assembly for damage to the fuel rail crossover tube, replacing it as necessary, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin December 19, 2016.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is S85.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 30,183 model year 2016 Dodge Durangos and Jeep Grand Cherokees manufactured February 10, 2016, to April 28, 2016 and equ...

      Skidders Footwear recalls children’s shoes

      Rivets on the shoes have sharp edges, posing a laceration hazard

      Skidders Footwear of New York is recalling about 5,500 pairs of children’s shoes.

      The rivets on the shoes have sharp edges, posing a laceration hazard.

      The firm has received three reports of the rivets scratching the feet of the wearer. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves Skidders Footwear children’s canvas tennis shoes sold in three sizes: 12M, 18M and 24M.

      The shoes have white rubber bottoms and come in three different colors: navy blue fabric with orange rivets and laces, gray fabric with green rivets and laces, and denim colored fabric with pink rivets and laces.

      The shoes, manufactured in China, were sold exclusively at Meijer stores located in Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky and Wisconsin from August 2016, through October 2016, for about $10.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately take the recalled shoes away from children and contact Skidders Footwear to receive a full refund.

      Consumers may contact Skidders at 866-636-1221, Monday-Friday 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM (EST), by email at sales@skidders.com or online at http://skidders.com/ and click on “recall notice at the bottom of the page.

      Skidders Footwear of New York is recalling about 5,500 pairs of children’s shoes.The rivets on the shoes have sharp edges, posing a laceration hazard....

      Marine Agrifuture recalls Kahuku Ogo, Robusta Ogo and Kahuku Sea Asparagus

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Marine Agrifuture of Kahuku, Hawaii, is recalling its Kahuku Ogo, “Robusta Ogo” and "Kahuku Sea Asparagus.

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      Fourteen cases of Salmonella on Oahu have been reported to date in connection with this problem.

      The recalled products were distributed mainly in Hawaii to Seafood and Produce Distributors through direct delivery, but also to some customers in California, Washington, Nevada, and Tokyo, Japan, and were sold at local Farmers Markets in Hawaii.

      The Ogo products come in plastic bags of various weights from 0.5 lb., to 35 lb., which were sold from November 2, 2016, and prior.

      The Sea Asparagus, in 4-oz, 1-lb. clear plastic clamshell or in a 5-lb. plastic bag marked with a tracking number stamped on the lids or bags, were sold from November 8, 2016 and prior. The corresponding UPC numbers for 4-oz., 1-lb., and 5-lb., of sea asparagus are 897680001010, 897680001027 and 897680001041, respectively.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at 808-779-2885, from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm, Monday – Friday (Hawaiian time).

      Marine Agrifuture of Kahuku, Hawaii, is recalling its Kahuku Ogo, “Robusta Ogo” and "Kahuku Sea Asparagus.The products may be contaminated with Salmone...

      General Motors recalls Cadillac XT5s and GMC Acadias

      The vehicles may leak brake fluid

      General Motors is recalling 1,844 model year 2017 Cadillac XT5s manufactured April 16, 2016, to May 9, 2016, and 2017 GMC Acadias manufactured April 19, 2016, to April 22, 2016.

      The front brake calipers may have a torn or misaligned caliper piston seal which may allow brake fluid to leak.

      A brake fluid leak could reduce braking performance, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the front brake calipers, replacing the brake caliper assemblies, as necessary, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact GM customer service at 1-800-458-8006 (Cadillac), or 1-800-462-8782 (GMC). GM's number for this recall is 16096.

      General Motors is recalling 1,844 model year 2017 Cadillac XT5s manufactured April 16, 2016, to May 9, 2016, and 2017 GMC Acadias manufactured April 19, 20...

      Switzerland-based ProtonMail brings tight security to email

      Email doesn't have to be an insecure medium, as this fast-growing start-up shows

      Everyone knows by now that email is not a secure transmission medium and that everyone from the NSA to Google's ad researchers are constantly scanning emails for purposes both noble and profane.

      But like most things that everyone knows, it's no longer true. There are several email providers that promise secure, private, confidential service. Perhaps the most popular and user-friendly is ProtonMail, which uses end-to-end encryption to protect emails from snooping.

      Oh, and did we mention that the company is based in Switzerland and has no servers on United States soil? That provides another layer of protection, since even a federal court order would not force ProtonMail to give up information about its users, as U.S. technology companies do routinely.

      “One of the key things we want to do is control our servers and make sure all the servers are in Switzerland which will increase privacy because Switzerland doesn’t do things like seize servers or tape conversations,” said co-founder Andy Yen.

      Private keys

      Launched in May 2014, ProtonMail has had some growing pains. Early demand overloaded its servers but crowdfunding brought in $550,000 and the company recently raised another $2 million. It currently has about 350,000 users, including journalists, businesspeople, and activists who value privacy in their communications.

      Yen told ConsumerAffairs that the encryption method his company uses ensures that no one -- not the government, a hacker, or even ProtonMail itself -- can gain access to a user's email.

      That's because it uses a "key" system that encrypts each piece of email in the user's browser before it is sent. Only the user has the key, without which the email can't be unlocked. Even if a hacker broke into the ProtonMail system, he would not be able to read any of the emails on the company's servers without having each user's key, which is not stored anywhere on the system.

      While most of us probably aren't exchanging information with confidential sources or moles deep within government agencies, many consumers worry with good reason about their emails being read by hackers, while others simply resent seeing advertisements based on subjects discussed in their emails. For such people, ProtonMail is the answer.

      I've been using ProtonMail for the last week or so without incident. I had no trouble getting it up and running and found the layout to be attractive and intuitive. There are plans ranging from free to a few hundred dollars per year for corporate accounts that accommodate multiple domains and mailboxes. 

      Keep in mind that ProtonMail is still in its early stages. Its email is just that -- email. There are no calendars, word processors or other bells and whistles, although there are filters, labels, and other enhancements we've all come to expect. The corporate plans accommodate multiple domains and mailboxes but each user must log into the master account to send and download mail, something Yen says will be fixed in the next iteration.

      However, those are minor drawbacks for anyone who places a high value on privacy. 

      Everyone knows by now that email is not a secure transmission medium and that everyone from the NSA to Google's ad researchers are constantly scanning emai...

      SpaceX looks to provide high-speed internet to the global community

      The company submitted an application to launch over 4,000 satellites

      There are over 1,400 functioning satellites currently orbiting the Earth, but that number could grow exponentially if Elon Musk has his way. The entrepreneur, through his company SpaceX, has submitted an application to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to launch 4,425 satellites. The goal? To provide high-speed internet coverage to the whole planet.

      Business Insider reports that the satellites are intended to orbit the Earth at altitudes ranging from 715 to 790 miles, effectively providing 1,300 miles of coverage each. SpaceX says their proposal will provide the global community with high-speed service of 1 Gbps; currently, users average about 5.1 Mbps, which is 200 times slower.

      “The system is designed to provide a wide range of broadband and communications services for residential, commercial, institutional, governmental and professional users worldwide,” the company wrote in its application.

      Proposed roll-out

      In its application, the company detailed a two-phase launch plan; the first phase would launch approximately 1,600 satellites at one altitude and the second phase would introduce another 2,825 satellites placed in four shells at different altitudes.

      While the full number of satellites will provide worldwide coverage from North Pole to South Pole, SpaceX says the first 800 satellites to launch will provide service to much of the world.

      “With deployment of the first 800 satellites, SpaceX will be able to provide widespread U.S. and international coverage for broadband services. Once fully optimized through the Final Deployment, the system will be able to provide high bandwidth (up to 1 Gbps per user), low latency broadband services for consumers and businesses in the U.S. and globally,” the company said.

      Getting more people online

      SpaceX points out that its plan will go a long way towards providing all countries with usable broadband service, citing a July report by UNESCO’s Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development that “4.2 billion people (or 57% of the world’s population) is offline for a wide range of reasons, but often also because the necessary connectivity is not present or affordable.”

      The company states that being cost-effective and reliable are main focuses for the project – all the way from production to the prices that subscribers will pay for the service. Each satellite is estimated to last between five and seven years before it begins to decay. However, the company says that it will be looking to periodically improve the satellites over the deployment period.

      SpaceX has stated that it will begin launching prototype satellites as early as next year, though the launch of the actual constellation of satellites will not be realized until the end of the decade, according to a BBC report.

      There are over 1,400 functioning satellites currently orbiting the Earth, but that number could grow exponentially if Elon Musk has his way. The entreprene...

      Homeopathic claims to come under closer scrutiny, FTC warns

      Unfounded beliefs from the 1700s can't be presented as scientific fact

      Homeopathy is sort of like religion. Lots of people believe in it even though there is no scientific evidence to support it. That's not necessarily bad in the case of religion, which provides spiritual comfort and moral guidance to millions, but when it comes to treating illness, choosing the wrong treatment can be harmful.

      That's why the Federal Trade Commission has decided to start treating marketing claims about homepathic products the same way it treats other products making similar claims -- like drugs, in other words.

      This is not good news for the homeopathic business, which dates back to the 1700s and is more similar to astrology or witchcraft than to modern medicine. Or as an Australian medical organization put it in a massive study last year: " The review found no good quality, well-designed studies with enough participants to support the idea that homeopathy works better than a placebo, or causes health improvements equal to those of another treatment."

      Watered down

      Homeopathy basically believes that using a tiny bit of a substance that in larger quantities produces illness can cure or prevent that illness. This is an idea that is, at best, odd, as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) explained in a background paper on homeopathy which diplomatically said that “it is not possible to explain in scientific terms how a remedy containing little or no active ingredient can have any effect."

      Homeopaths believe that diluting substances in water actually makes those substances more potent, and that water can “remember” and maintain the qualities of substances once diluted in it.

      Of course, anyone can believe anything they wish, but when they begin advertising and hawking supposed cures that could entice consumers to ignore scientifically proven treatments, it becomes a matter for agencies like the FTC, which has spent years taking public testimony and pondering what to do about homeopathic claims.

      Same standard

      In a new policy statement issued this week, the agency explains that it will hold efficacy and safety claims for over-the-counter homeopathic drugs to the same standard as other products making similar claims.

      This means simply that companies must have competent and reliable scientific evidence for health-related claims, including claims that a product can treat specific conditions. 

      The statement leaves little doubt that traditional beliefs in the potency of homeopathic medicines won't carry much weight. In most cases, the statement says, “the case for efficacy is based solely on traditional homeopathic theories and there are no valid studies using current scientific methods showing the product’s efficacy.” As such, the marketing claims for these products are likely misleading, in violation of the FTC Act.

      Clear disclosures

      The statement provides a little slack for homeopathic marketers, saying that "additional explanatory information" may balance claims that can't be supported by science. 

      Thus, a company may get under the wire if it includes clear statements that  1) there is no scientific evidence that the product works; and 2) the product’s claims are based only on theories of homeopathy from the 1700s that are not accepted by most modern medical experts.

      The policy statement notes that any such disclosures should stand out and be in close proximity to the product’s efficacy message and might need to be incorporated into that message. It also warns marketers not to undercut a disclosure with additional positive statements or consumer endorsements reinforcing a product’s efficacy.

      The statement warns that the FTC will carefully scrutinize the net impression of OTC homeopathic marketing claims and that if an ad conveys more substantiation than a marketer has, it will violate the FTC Act.  

      Homeopathy is sort of like religion. Lots of people believe in it even though there is no scientific evidence to support it. That's not necessarily bad in...

      GOP to FCC: Take the rest of the term off

      Do nothing complex or controversial, the agency is told

      It's not Jan. 20, 2017 yet and Barack Obama is still president of the United States, but Republican senators want the Federal Communications Commission to sit on its hands until the Trump Administration takes office.

      The agency is scheduled to meet today, but in a letter yesterday, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) advised the commissioners to kick back and take life easy for the next few months. Thune is chairman of the Senate Republican Caucus. 

      In a letter, Thune advised the agency not to take on any “complex, partisan, or otherwise controversial” initiatives, and said anything the FCC did or plans to do post-election day will get a closer look.

      “Any action taken by the FCC following Nov. 8, 2016, will receive particular scrutiny,” Thune wrote. “I strongly urge the FCC to avoid directing its attention and resources in the coming months to complex, partisan, or otherwise controversial items that the new Congress and new Administration will have an interest in reviewing.”

      Set-top boxes maybe?

      While Thune didn't specify what he had in mind, the FCC has several complex and controversial items on its agenda, most notably the proposal to free consumers from having to rent set-top boxes to get cable TV service, something that the White House and Chairman Tom Wheeler have been supporting. 

      The telecommunications industry is fervently against the notion while the online world and most consumer organizations are equally adamant in supporting it. 

      It's estimated that consumers spend $20 billion a year to rent the boxes. Under Wheeler's plan, you would use a free app to watch pay-TV and streaming video on the device of your choice, such as Roku, Apple TV, Xbox One, PS4, smart TVs, or Windows, iOS, and Android devices

      "Lack of competition has meant few choices and high prices for consumers – $231 in rental fees annually for the average American household," Wheeler has said.

      There is, of course, also the proposed takeover of Time Warner by AT&T.; The FCC could weigh in on that issue but had not been expected to do so even before Thune's edict.

      One commissioner -- Republican Mike O’Reilly -- jumped on Thune's idea.

      “During the last presidential transition, the Commission Chairman wisely heeded the will of Congress in setting aside any remaining controversial agenda items for the next Congress and Administration to consider," O'Reilly said in a statement. "I thank the current leadership of both Senate and House Commerce Committees for calling this precedent to everyone’s attention today, and expect that Chairman Wheeler will honor their request.”

      It's not Jan. 20, 2017 yet and Barack Obama is still president of the United States, but Republican senators want the Federal Communications Commission to...

      JPMorgan Chase to pay $264 million to settle corruption charges

      Positions and internships were often given based on referrals of foreign officials and clients and not merit

      JPMorgan Chase has caught the ire of regulators for allegedly hiring and giving internships to candidates based on requests from foreign governments, officials, and clients. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) points out that this type of nepotism is a breach of federal law, and now the company must pay a $264 million settlement.

      “Referral Hires did not compete against other candidates based on merit and, in most instances, were less qualified,” SEC officials said. “Referral Hires whose relationships generated sufficient revenue for JPMorgan APAC were offered longer-term jobs, while others were given shorter terms of employment unless the referring client offered additional business to the firm.”

      Corruption charges

      The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act prohibits companies from making any “offer, payment promise to pay, or authorization of the payment of money, or offer, gift, promise to give, or authorization of the giving of anything of value to any foreign official.”

      Nevertheless, regulators say that JP Morgan Chase did just that between 2006 and 2013 with nearly 200 of its positions and internships. The suit alleges that the practices were conducted by investors at the Asia-Pacific (APAC) regional offices in order to obtain and retain business with foreign officials.

      Kara Brockmeyer, Chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s FCPA Unit, stated that attempts to hide these deals were obvious. In fact, those in charge of the schemes created spreadsheets to document the pros and cons of the transactions.

      “The misconduct was so blatant that JPMorgan investment bankers created ‘Referral Hires vs Revenue’ spreadsheets to track the money flow from clients whose referrals were rewarded with jobs. The firm’s internal controls were so weak that not a single referral hire request was denied,” she said.

      “Systematic bribery”

      The number of placements using these methods weren’t small in scale, either. The SEC stated that almost half of all hires came through foreign government officials at more than 20 state-owned entities (SOEs) during the seven-year period, generating $100 million in revenue for the bank.

      Further, the SEC says that JPMorgan knew that the practices were illegal but continued  them anyway. Bank staff even went so far as to provide inaccurate or incomplete information during reviews so that referral hires could pass compliance tests.

      “JPMorgan engaged in a systematic bribery scheme by hiring children of government officials and other favored referrals who were typically unqualified for the positions on their own merit. JPMorgan employees knew the firm was potentially violating the FCPA yet persisted with the improper hiring program because the business rewards and new deals were deemed too lucrative,” said Andrew J. Ceresney, Director of the SEC Enforcement Division.

      As part of the settlement, JPMorgan will pay $130 million to settle the SEC corruption charges, $72 million to the Justice Department, and $61.9 million to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. 

      JPMorgan Chase has caught the ire of regulators for allegedly hiring and giving internships to candidates based on requests from foreign governments, offic...

      What's your automotive IQ?

      Unless you're a Baby Boomer living in the south, it might not be that high

      In your father's or grandfather's generation, consumers prided themselves on being able to perform simple – and not so simple – maintenance on their cars.

      But in the last couple of decades, cars have become more complex machines, with mechanical parts replaced with printed circuit boards. As a result, consumers have become much more reliant on trained auto service technicians.

      CheapCarInsurance.net recently set out to measure just how much consumers know about their cars and what they can and can't do to keep their vehicles running. In a survey of 2,000 consumers, the researchers asked basic questions, such as “do you know how to check the oil” and “can you change a tire?”

      Geographic disparity

      The survey found a significant geographic disparity in automotive IQ. Two regions of the country – the East South Central and West South Central – basically the south – scored above 80% on the automotive quiz.

      States in the Mid Atlantic region – New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania – came in last, barely scoring over 75%.

      In terms of age breakdown, the older you are, the more you are likely to know about basic car maintenance.

      “While hopping online to find a 'how to change my oil' video that might make sense, maybe a parent or grandparent should be your first resource instead,” the authors write. “Male baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, scored the highest in our assessment of auto know-how at just more than 9%. They displayed the ability to discern between a spark plug and an alternator without much issue.”

      Not that confident

      When it comes to basic maintenance, only 42% of consumers said they were “very confident” in their ability to change a flat tire. An even smaller percentage, 26%, said they are very confident they could change the oil.

      That may be why Roadside Assistance has become a big part of auto insurance coverage, and why there seems to be a quick-service oil change store on nearly every corner. That said, it's still probably a good idea to get familiar with basic maintenance steps for your car.

      Cars.com suggests closely monitoring the air pressure in the tires, making sure they are properly inflated. Under-inflated tires can cause excessive tread wear and reduce fuel economy.

      The fluids in your car's engine may need to be changed on a regular basis, then again they might not. Since different cars have different requirements, find out when the brake fluid and coolant in your particular car should be replaced.

      You'll find more maintenance tips here.

      In your father's or grandfather's generation, consumers prided themselves on being able to perform simple – and not so simple – maintenance on their cars....

      Five things you should know about this year's college aid process

      It started earlier, so applicants need to act sooner

      It's not just the holiday season that's coming up quickly. It's also college application season, so prospective students need to be aware of the deadlines at the colleges they are considering.

      For those who wanted to get an early start on the college aid process, the FAFSA form was available in October for the first time, three months earlier than in the past.

      The FAFSA form is an indispensable tool for figuring out what an individual's real cost is going to be at a particular college or university.

      Paula Craw, director of outreach and financial literacy for ECMC, says there are five things students and parents need to know and understand about the aid process.

      It's best to start early

      The early bird not only gets the worm, it may also get a better aid deal. Financial aid is handed out on a first-come, first-served basis. Because the FAFSA process began earlier this year, the money may be depleted sooner. The sooner you can file your form, the better.

      The fine print is important: read it

      College registrars and admissions officers have gone on record saying the FAFSA changes could spur them to be more competitive with financial aid packages. There are good reasons for them to do this, but one consequence may be that colleges are more likely to “frontload” scholarships. There may be a lot more aid in the freshman year than the sophomore year. That needs to be taken into account. Also, make sure you understand the exact terms of the offer.

      Double check deadlines

      The U.S. Department of Education has asked that colleges not change their financial aid deadlines to reflect the FAFSA changes, but some schools may still feel pressured to do so. Make sure you know all the deadlines and plan accordingly.

      Make good use of your time

      The earlier start to the FAFSA process will give students more time to survey their options. One way to make use of this time is by exploring Pell Grants and other aid that you may be eligible for. Also, cost comparison tools like College Abacus and Pell Abacus can help you identify the colleges offering the best value for your unique financial situation.

      Plan your budget

      Figure out your total costs for a particular school before you apply. Remember that there are fees to submit an application to a school. If you can prioritize potential choices based on the available aid, you can eliminate application fees to schools that are not a good financial fit.

      It's not just the holiday season that's coming up quickly. It's also college application season, so prospective students need to be aware of the deadlines...

      Retailer group rebels against Visa network

      Claims new EMV terminals steer debit purchases to more expensive network

      The nation's retailers appear to be renewing their feud with credit card companies over the fees they charge for processing credit and debit purchases.

      Earlier this week, the National Retail Federation (NRF) filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the Justice Department motion that the full Second Circuit Court of Appeals hear its case against American Express. The government maintains American Express is still blocking retailers from suggesting customers use a different card, in violation of the law.

      Now, the NRF has sent a letter to Visa, asking that it stop using new EMV terminals to steer debit card transactions to its own processing network, which NRF says is more expensive for retailers to use.

      In a letter to Visa CEO Charles W. Scharf, NRF points out the Federal Reserve has said Visa's action run counter to the law.

      More expensive choice

      NRF complains that many credit/debit card readers installed since the card industry began implementing new EMV chip card technology present debit card users with a screen that asks them to choose between “Visa Debit” and “U.S. Debit.”

      Though they don't know it, when consumers choose Visa Debit, their transaction is routed over Visa's more expensive network. Instead of a PIN, the consumer is usually required to use only a signature to approve the transaction.

      On the other hand, when a consumer chooses the U.S. Debit option, NRF says the transaction goes over the retailer’s choice from about a dozen competing networks that charge merchants less but provide more protection by allowing the use of a secret, secure PIN.

      “Visa charges more and offers less security while the competition charges less and does a better job of keeping consumers’ debit cards safe,” NRF Senior Vice President and General Counsel Mallory Duncan wrote.

      Retailers say they should choose

      Duncan says retailers should be allowed to choose the processor that provides the best value and offers their customers the best protection. He says that's what the law requires.

      Why should consumers care? NRF says when costs rise for retailers, those costs get passed along to consumers in the form of higher prices.

      NRF claims Visa is steering transactions toward the Visa network, and that the higher fees charged by Visa must be built into the cost of merchandise, ultimately contributing to higher prices paid by consumers.

      The organization says the Fed ruled in early November that Visa's actions violate a 2010 debit card reform law that says retailers must be allowed to choose between at least two unaffiliated networks to process debit transactions.

      The nation's retailers appear to be renewing their feud with credit card companies over the fees they charge for processing credit and debit purchases....

      Job applicants often escape a background check

      Here's what employers look for when they do check you out

      When you apply for a job, you should probably expect to undergo a background check. It's almost standard practice these days.

      Or is it?

      A new survey from Careerbuilder.com suggests your chance of avoiding a deep probe into your background is actually pretty good. More than one in four employers – 28% – said they hire employees without performing a background check.

      Maybe that makes your chances of getting a job slightly better, but Careerbuilder says if you aren't a good match for the position, ultimately it will show up and be costly.

      “If an employee isn’t well-suited for the job or has a bad attitude, the time they spend not working could significantly impact your bottom line. That’s why it’s so important to make sure qualifications are substantiated,” said Ben Goldberg, CEO of Aurico, a CareerBuilder company.

      Costs of a bad hire

      Goldberg says it may be hard to quantify the cost, but it adds up when you consider the loss of employee morale, the additional supervision that employee needs, productivity loss for the organization, revenue that’s not being generated, and client relationships that could be turning sour as a result of bad impressions.

      If you are applying with an employer who does perform background checks, here's what you should expect: the most common investigation is for any criminal activity. If you've never been arrested, you don't have much to worry about.

      Sixty-two percent of employers check for previous employment, so it's a good idea to be truthful on your resume. Sixty percent will check to make sure you are who you say you are and 50 percent will check your education credentials.

      Forty-four percent will check for prior illegal drug use and only 29% will run a credit check.

      Honesty is the best policy

      All of this suggests that it will pay dividends to be open and honest with a prospective employer. If you aren't a good fit, it will become apparent very quickly.

      Twenty percent of employers who admit to making a bad hire say they will know within the first week of hiring a candidate whether or not they made a mistake. More than half say they will know within the first three weeks.

      That could mean your job search could start all over again.

      When you apply for a job, you should probably expect to undergo a background check. It's almost standard practice these days.Or is it?A new survey...

      A home-building explosion in October

      The future also shows promise

      It's almost as if you could hear the hammering and earth-moving without let-up last month.

      Figures released by the Commerce Department show construction of privately-owned housing shot up 25.5% in October to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,323,000. That rate is also 23.3% higher than October 2015.

      The increase was broad-based, with the Northeast, Midwest, South, and West rising 44.8%, 44.1%, 17.9%, and 23.2%, respectively.

      Groundbreaking for single-family housing jumped 10.7% to a rate of 869,000 -- the highest level since October 2007. The October rate for multifamily units was 445,000, up 68.8% from September.

      "Multifamily production bounced back after an unusually weak reading last month while single-family starts exhibited unusually strong growth as well," said National Association of Home Builders Chief Economist Robert Dietz. "Though October's single- and multifamily production rates are clearly unsustainable, we expect continued growth in the housing sector in the months ahead."

      Building permits

      Indeed, while the current rate of housing starts is unlikely to continue, the outlook for new-home construction in the months ahead is fairly encouraging.

      Issuance of building permits was up 0.3% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,229,000.

      Authorizations for single-family homes were at a rate of 762,000 -- 2.7% above the September level, while permits for multifamily units fell 3.3% to a rate of 439,000.

      The full report is available on the Commerce Department website.

      It's almost as if you could hear the hammering and earth-moving without let-up last month.Figures released by the Commerce Department show construction...

      Rising gasoline prices push October consumer prices higher

      Initial jobless claims fall to lowest level since '73

      Gasoline prices shot higher last month, bringing with them the overall Consumer Price Index (CPI).

      The  Department of Labor (DOL) reports prices were up a seasonally adjusted 0.4% in October and have jumped 1.6% over the last 12 months.

      As was the case in September, rising gasoline and housing costs were behind the increase in the CPI. The 7.0% surge in the cost of gas accounted for more than half of the increase. Housing prices rose 0.4% for a second straight month.

      Energy prices post significant gain

      The cost of energy, due largely to the aforementioned increase in gas prices, was up 3.5% last month -- the sharpest advance since February 2013. Fuel oil costs rose 5.9%, while electricity and natural gas prices rose 0.4% and 0.9%, respectively.

      Over the last 12 months, energy prices are up just 0.1%, the first 12-month increase since August 2014.

      Food prices hold steady

      The cost of food was unchanged in October for the fourth straight month. The food away from home category (restaurant costs ) inched up 0.1%, while food at home (groceries) fell 0.2%, the sixth decline in as many months

      The prices of nonalcoholic beverages fell 0.4%, meats, poultry, fish, and eggs were down 0.7% -- the 14th consecutive monthly decline, and miscellaneous grocery prices were off 0.1%. Costs for cereals and bakery products were unchanged, while fruit and vegetable prices inched up 0.2%, and dairy and related products increased 0.3 %.

      Grocery prices over the last 12 months are down 2.3%, the largest 12-month decline since December 2009. The cost of eating out, on the other hand, is up 2.4% over the last 12 months.

      Core inflation

      The cost of all items, excluding the volatile food and energy categories -- the “core rate” of inflation -- rose 0.1% for the second straight month.

      Along with housing, prices for apparel, new vehicles, and motor vehicle insurance rose in October, along with education, household furnishings and operations, alcoholic beverages, and tobacco. Personal care, communication, used cars and trucks, recreation, and airfare costs all declined. Medical care prices were unchanged.

      The core rate of inflation rose 2.1% for the 12 months ending in October and has remained in the narrow range of 2.1% to 2.3% since December 2015.

      The complete report may be found on the DOL website.

      Jobless claims

      Also from DOL, word that filings of first-time applications for state unemployment benefits plunged by 19,000 in the week ending November 12 to a seasonally adjusted total of 235,000.

      That's the lowest level in 46 years. It also marks 89 consecutive weeks of initial claims below 300,000 -- the longest streak since 1970.

      The four-week moving average, a more reliable gauge of the labor market because of its lack of volatility, came in at 253,500 -- a decline of 6,500 from the previous week.

      The complete report is available on the DOL website.

      Gasoline prices shot higher last month, bringing with them the overall Consumer Price Index (CPI).The  Department of La...

      No change in builder confidence in November

      Future sales expectations are lower, though

      Builder confidence in the market for newly-built, single-family homes remained at its second highest level of the year in November.

      The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) held steady with a reading of 63, exactly where it was last month after a decline of two points from September.

      “Ongoing job creation, rising incomes and attractive mortgage rates are supporting demand in the single-family housing sector,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “This will help keep housing on a steady, upward glide path in the months ahead.”

      Builder perceptions

      The NAHB gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next six months as "good," "fair," or "poor." The survey, which has been conducted for 30 years, 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.

      The HMI components measuring buyer traffic rose one point to 47, while the index gauging current sales conditions held steady at 69. However, the component charting sales expectations in the next six months fell two points to 69.

      “With most of our members responding before the November elections, confidence levels remained unchanged as they awaited the results,” said NAHB Chairman Ed Brady. “Still, builder sentiment has held well above 60 for the past three months, indicating that the single-family housing sector continues to show slow, gradual growth.”

      A look at at the three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores shows that the Northeast, Midwest, and West each posted two-point gains to 45, 58, and 77, respectively. The South was unchanged at 66. 

      Builder confidence in the market for newly-built, single-family homes remained at its second highest level of the year in November. The National Associa...

      IIHS: Most child booster seats do a fine job

      That doesn't mean there aren't problems, though

      Child seat manufacturers have finally gotten the hang of it.

      Out of 53 new models evaluated by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, (IIHS) 48 earn the top rating of BEST BET. That means they're likely to provide good belt fit for a 4 to 8 year-old in almost any car, minivan, or SUV.

      By comparison, when the IIHS first started rating boosters in 2008, only a quarter of those evaluated earned the BEST BET designation.

      Problems persist

      However, several seats that don’t do their job and are rated Not Recommended can still be found on store shelves. Among them are two brand new models from Dorel Juvenile.

      “Parents looking for a safe option for kids who have outgrown seats with built-in harnesses have more choices than ever,” said IIHS Senior Research Engineer Jessica Jermakian. “Unfortunately, we can’t declare total victory because manufacturers continue to sell subpar boosters.”

      Of the 53 new seats, the Cosco Easy Elite and the Cosco Highback 2-in-1 DX -- both made by Dorel -- are rated Not Recommended. Three others, the Britax Parkway SGL in backless mode, the Lil Fan Club Seat 2-in-1 in highback mode, and the Peg Perego Viaggio Flex 120 are rated Check Fit, meaning they may work for some children in some vehicles. The remaining new seats are BEST BETs.

      All told, there are 118 BEST BETs among currently available boosters, including old models. Additionally, there are nine GOOD BETs (seats that provide acceptable belt fit in most vehicles), 27 Check Fit, and five Not Recommended.

      A range of prices

      Top-rated boosters are available in all different price ranges. Of the boosters introduced this year, the most affordable is the Harmony Big Boost Deluxe, available at Walmart for less than $25.

      The most expensive is the $330 Graco 4Ever All-in-1 with Safety Surround, a rear-facing infant seat that converts first to a forward-facing child restraint and then to a booster as the child grows.

      Complete ratings may be found at www.iihs.org/.

      Child seat manufacturers have finally gotten the hang of it.Out of 53 new models evaluated by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, (IIHS) 48 ear...

      4C Foods recalls grated cheese products

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

      4C Foods Corp. is recalling 4C Grated Cheese, Homestyle Grated Cheese and Cento Grated Cheese brands due to possible Salmonella contamination.

      No illnesses have been reported.

      The following products, packed in 6-oz. vacuum-sealed glass jars of either 6 or 12 jars per case with BEST BY dates between November 12, 2016, and November 12, 2018, are being recalled:

      • 4C All Natural Parmesan Grated Cheese (UPC 41387-33126)
      • 4C All Natural Parmesan/Romano Grated Cheese (UPC 41387-37126)
      • 4C All Natural 100% Imported Italian Pecorino Romano Cheese (UPC 41387-77126)
      • 4C HomeStyle All Natural Parmesan Grated Cheese (UPC 41387-32790)
      • 4C HomeStyle All Natural Parmesan/Romano Grated Cheese (UPC 41387-11627)
      • 4C HomeStyle All Natural 100% Imported Italian Pecorino Romano Cheese (UPC 41387-12302)
      • Cento Parmesan Grated Cheese (UPC 70796-90502)
      • Cento Romano Grated Cheese (UPC 70796-90501)

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may contact 4C Foods at 866-969-1920 Monday- Friday, 9:30 AM – 4:30 PM (ET). 

      4C Foods Corp. is recalling 4C Grated Cheese, Homestyle Grated Cheese and Cento Grated Cheese brands due to possible Salmonella contamination.No illnes...

      Court upholds $40 million verdict in Jeep fire

      A 4-year-old boy died when his family's Jeep was rear-ended and burst into flames

      Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA)  says it may appeal a Georgia court decision upholding a $40 million judgment in the death of a four-year-old boy who died when his family's Jeep Grand Cherokee was rear-ended and burst into flames. 

      Remington Walden was riding in the back seat of the 1999 Jeep when it was rear-ended by a pickup truck in March 2012, puncturing the gas tank and starting a fire. The Jeep was one of about 1 million that were unofficially recalled for retrofitting with a trailer hitch to protect the gas tank, which was located behind the rear axle.

      The jury in the case had awarded Remington's family $150 million, but the judge reduced it to $40 million. The Georgia Court of Appeals upheld that verdict Tuesday.

      Fiat Chrysler said it may ask the Georgia Supreme Court to review the decision. It said the pickup truck hit the Jeep at a high rate of speed, causing the fatal injury. FCA has always maintained that the models in question have a safety record comparable to similar SUVs.

      Jurors quoted in press reports at the time said they were convinced by testimony at the trial that Remington survived the crash but died in the subsequent fire. 

      Safety advocates say that at least 270 people have died in similar accidents involving older Jeep Cherokees with the rear-mounted fuel tanks. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) studied the cases for years but never ordered a formal recall.

      Instead, at a secret 2013 meeting at Chicago's O'Hare Airport, federal officials and top FCA executives agreed to a "customer satisfaction campaign" that called for installing safety hitches as a protective measure, even though that solution was never scientifically proven to be effective.

      Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA)  says it may appeal a Georgia court decision upholding a $40 m...

      How to protect your devices from hackers

      In the age of the 'Internet of Things,' security is a top priority

      Late last month, a massive denial-of-service (DoS) attack shut down access to many popular sites like Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter. The way that hackers made the attack happen was by using millions of internet-connected devices to request access at the same time, effectively overloading the system.

      Experts have warned that similar attacks could easily be repeated, and that shoring up security on products in the vast “Internet of Things” (IOT) should be a primary objective. While doing so will continue to be an on-going and massive undertaking, there are some things that consumers can do to make their devices secure so that hackers can’t get a hold of them.

      The Washington Post has reported that knowing which devices are vulnerable and how you can protect them can keep your private information safe and prevent future large-scale attacks.

      How to spot an IoT device

      The first step to protecting yourself from hacking attempts is knowing which of your devices are susceptible to them. Unfortunately, from a security standpoint, the number of IoT devices is increasing at a dramatic pace; some experts estimate that there will be as many as 30 billion connected devices by the year 2020.

      The simple way to identify an IoT device is to see if it can connect to the internet or shares information over a wireless network. Right away, consumers may easily be able to recognize devices like computers and smartphones, but other less obvious devices like security cameras, DVR’s, and even smart home technologies like thermostats can apply.

      Protecting your devices

      Unless these devices are protected by a secure password, a saavy hacker can take control of it and use it for nefarious purposes. So, to prevent that, always make sure to change the default password on any device that connects to the internet; you can look in the user manual to do this for many devices.

      If that option isn’t available, try doing a web search for “default [product name] log-in and password.” Once you have the credentials, you can log in and change the password.

      Another path that consumers might take is choosing not to buy certain products with online connectivity. While it may be useful for certain electronic gadgets, is it really all that important to have a refrigerator that can go online? If that answer for you is no, and you can’t password protect it, then maybe consider buying a different product.

      If you are worried about the connectivity of any of your devices, you can always contact the manufacturer for more information. The Homeland Security Department also releases public alerts on security issues, vulnerabilities, and exploits through its website here.

      Late last month, a massive denial-of-service (DoS) attack shut down access to many popular sites like Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter. The way that hackers ma...

      Why you should consider giving experiences instead of stuff this holiday season

      Experiences spark gratitude in a way that possessions don't, research shows

      Gratitude is a powerful feeling that has the ability to shift your entire perspective. Research has found that gratitude can increase well-being and bring about higher life satisfaction, perhaps due to its ability to push out feelings of envy and depression.

      With the holidays right around the corner, you may be wondering how to impart this positive feeling to the ones you love. As it turns out, you may be able spread gratitude simply by choosing to gift an experience instead of a material item.

      Researchers from Cornell University recently delved into consumer behavior to find out which gifts trigger the highest levels of gratitude. What they found was that things often pale in comparison to experiences.

      Doing Vs. Having

      The emotional benefits of receiving an experience are plentiful and lasting, according to new research. Our feelings of gratitude soar when thinking about what we’ve done, but thinking about what we have doesn’t lead to the same cascade of positive emotions.

      “Think about how you feel when you come home from buying something new,” explained Thomas Gilovich, professor of psychology at Cornell University and co-author of the study.

      “You might say, ‘this new couch is cool,’ but you’re less likely to say ‘I’m so grateful for that set of shelves.’ But when you come home from a vacation, you are likely to say, ‘I feel so blessed I got to go.’ People say positive things ab­­­­out the stuff they bought, but they don’t usually express gratitude for it — or they don’t express it as often as they do for their experiences.”

      Gratitude causes generosity

      What's more, the researchers found that experiences can have a snowball effect. In a study involving an economic game, they found that participants who thought about an experiential purchase behaved more altruistically toward others. The same behavior didn’t occur when participants thought about a possession.

      The link between gratitude and altruistic behavior “suggests that the benefits of experiential consumption apply not only to the consumers of those purchases themselves, but to others in their orbit as well,” said Amit Kumar, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Chicago and co-author of the paper.

      The study has been published online in the journal Emotion.
      Gratitude is a powerful feeling that has the ability to shift your entire perspective. Research has found that gratitude can increase well-being and bring...

      Amazon says its offering '35 days of deals'

      Releases free app to help keep track of them

      Increasingly, consumers are able to find attractive deals on holiday gift items without fighting the crowds on Black Friday

      Then again, the way things are going, the stores might not be all that crowded on the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year.

      Amazon says it isn't waiting any longer. Starting Friday, and for the next 35 days, it says it will offer “Black Friday prices” as often as every five minutes, with deals heating up on Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday. Amazon is even launching a special app that can be downloaded for free to track the deals.

      And customers with an iPhone can use something called Package X-Ray to see what is inside a box without opening it.

      “Customers want to shop anywhere, any time, and any way, especially during the five super popular days for online shopping running from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday,” said Steve Shure, Vice President, Amazon.

      Some of the deals

      Among the daily deals, Amazon says it will mark down select Disney toys and apparel by 60%; Barbi, Hot Wheels, and Fisher-Price toys will be half off.

      In Electronics, it will offer a Samsung 32 inch 720p HDTV for $69.99; Sennheiser HD 598 Cs Closed Back Headphones for $99.95; and a 60-inch 4K Ultra HD Smart TV for $599.

      Among Amazon's own devices, the Amazon Echo will sell for a $40 discount; the Kindle For Kids bundle will go for $69.99; and the Amazon Fire TV will be on sale for $74.99.

      In an email to ConsumerAffairs, a spokeswoman for Amazon says the company has observed that customers are shopping on mobile devices at record-levels. She says mobile use should easily exceed last season's 70% rate.

      Meanwhile, a new report from Vivint Smart Home, which surveyed 2,000 consumers, found there is widespread concern about “porch pirates” swiping package deliveries, but most consumers have been slow to take action to improve security.

      Millennials expressed the most concern and appear to be the most vigilant generation when it comes to package theft. The report found nearly 40% of Millennials have had success in recovering stolen packages.

      Increasingly, consumers are able to find attractive deals on holiday gift items without fighting the crowds on Black FridayThen again, the way things a...

      Consumers making heavy use of new iOS unsubscribe feature

      The latest Apple upgrade makes it easier than ever to unsubscribe from pesky email lists

      Build it and they will come. Make it easy to leave and they will. That seems to be the takeaway behind the news that email "unsubscribes" have jumped 75% among those using the latest edition of Apple's iOS.

      Apple's latest release of its operating system includes an "easy unsubscribe" feature. It inserts a banner reading "this message is from a mailing list" at the top of suspect emails and includes an unsubscribe link.

      While consumers may love it, email marketers aren't so thrilled. 

      “The overall trend of increasing iOS unsubscribes is consistent across industries but the level of iOS 10 adoption and the size of the unsubscribe increase can significantly vary by industry,” said Kyle Hendrick, director of client services at Yesmail, a marketing company, in a blog posting.

      “All in all, unsubscribes increased as a result of the ‘easy unsubscribe’ functionality introduced in the release of iOS 10 but marketers shouldn’t freak out. There are long-term upsides that could benefit brands.”

      And just what might those "long-term upsides" be? Hendrick says innovations like easy unsubscribe "can significantly reduce friction and make customers feel in control" and he adds: "Since these enhancements are brand-agnostic, the marketers who succeed in delivering relevant and timely content will always come out ahead of their competition."

      Of course, they may still delete your email.

      Build it and they will come. Make it easy to leave and they will. That seems to be the takeaway behind the news that email "unsubscribes" have jumped 75% a...

      New United fare limits carry-on bags

      Passengers flying Basic Economy won't have access to the overhead bins

      Since airlines began tacking on fees for checked bags, airline passengers have tried to carry as much of their luggage as possible into the cabin of the aircraft, cramming it into the overhead bins.

      A new fare from United Airlines aims to free up some space in the overhead compartments.

      United has introduced what it calls its Basic Economy fare, which has a number of features. But the one getting the most attention is what passengers can and cannot carry on.

      According to the airline, carry-on bags will be limited to one personal item, unless the customer is a MileagePlus Premier member, primary cardmember of a qualifying MileagePlus credit card, or Star Alliance Gold member.

      And notably, that one carry-on item has to be small enough to fit under the seat. It's not going in the overhead bin. If the carry-on item doesn't fit under the seat, it will have to be checked and the passenger will be charged the applicable fee.

      Other features

      Other features of the Basic Economy fare include automatic seat assignments in which a party traveling together may not sit together and will be in the last boarding group. Basic Economy passengers will not be eligible for Economy Plus or premium cabin upgrades. There will also be no voluntary ticket changes except as stated in the United 24-hour flexible booking policy.

      United says Basic Economy fares won't be offered in all markets, and the selection of flights where they are available will be subject to change. Consumers will know when it is available as an option because it will be displayed along with the rest of the flight's seating options.

      “You'll be able to book Basic Economy tickets the same ways that you book other United flights, including through united.com, the United app, the United Customer Contact Center, a travel agency or other online booking tools,” the airline said.

      Despite all the limitations, United is quick to point out that consumers flying Basic Economy will get many of the other amenities other coach passengers enjoy, including food and beverage service, in-flight entertainment, and Wi-Fi.

      Since airlines began tacking on fees for checked bags, airline passengers have tried to carry as much of their luggage as possible into the cabin of the ai...

      New Balance tries to roll back pro-Trump comments

      White supremacists have labeled the brand 'official White people shoes'

      Setting foot in the world of politics is always tricky for businesses. Lobbying legislators quietly is one thing, but making public pronouncements about policy issues can cause big problems, as shoemaker New Balance is learning.

      The Boston-based maker of footwear said a few days ago that it looks like "things are going to move in the right direction" under Donald Trump, referring to Trump's opposition to free trade pacts that opponents say work against the interests of U.S. manufacturers.

      But the comments caught the attention of the Daily Stormer, a white supremacist website, which published a post that said New Balance was “making a gesture to support White people and to support US manufacturing.”

      White supremacists piled on, lauding New Balance as “the official shoes of white people,” setting off a firestorm of protest by consumers. Social media sites blossomed with outraged comments and photos of New Balance sneakers in trash cans and toilets.

      "Values-driven organization"

      The company is struggling to get control of the situation, issuing a statement saying it "does not tolerate bigotry or hate in any form.”

      "As a 110-year-old company with five factories in the U.S. and thousands of employees worldwide from all races, genders, culture, and sexual orientations, New Balance is a values-driven organization and culture that believes in humanity, integrity, community and mutual respect for people around the world. We have been and always will be committed to manufacturing in the United States,” New Balance said.

      New Balance insists that its only intent was to voice support for Trump's opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade pact negotiated by the Obama Administration that critics say will put U.S. jobs at risk. Other opponents include Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, the company notes.

      Setting foot in the world of politics is always tricky for businesses. Lobbying legislators quietly is one thing, but making public pronouncements about po...

      What to do before recycling or discarding your computer

      Simply deleting files isn't enough

      Even though consumers are using their smartphones instead of PCs more and more, nearly everyone has a computer or two around the house, taking up space. And because so much is being done on phones and tablets, computers might not be needed any longer.

      Maybe you've thought about selling an unwanted device on Craigslist or taking it to an electronics recycler. Before you do, there are some steps you need to take to make sure that you have left no traces of sensitive personal information behind.

      As you may have heard during the recent presidential campaign, simply deleting files isn't enough. All you're doing is deleting the way your device can quickly and easily find the information. The information is still there on your hard drive.

      Reformatting the computer's hard drive may help a lot, and unless you have sensitive banking and other financial information on the drive, that might be enough. But even with reformatting, someone who knows that they are doing can probably retrieve some data. Some experts suggest using special software that overwrites your data so that it can't be read.

      Windows wiping tool

      PC World reports that, beginning with Windows 8, Microsoft added a feature to the operating system that makes wiping deleted files easier than it used to be. You simply use the “reset your PC” command, then choose the “fully clean the drive” option.

      As you can see, it's hard to be sure you've completely wiped your hard drive. So, why not just discard your old machines? Sorry, that's not a good option either.

      For starters, you could run afoul of the law. According to Earth911, many state laws are stricter than federal statutes when it comes to how you can get ride of an old computer. These devices contain all sorts of materials that are hazardous to the environment if they aren't discarded properly.

      Your best bet may be a certified computer recycling center, which will take extensive steps to remove data before reusing the machine's components in other devices.

      Even though consumers are using their smartphones instead of PCs more and more, nearly everyone has a computer or two around the house, taking up space. An...

      Inflation on the wholesale level unchanged in October

      While goods prices were on the rise, the cost of services declined

      Wholesale prices, or what the Labor Department calls the Producer Price Index (PPI) for final demand, held steady in October for the second time in three months.

      The PPI rose 0.3% in September and, for the 12 months ended in October, was up 0.8%, the largest such increase since a 0.9% advance in December 2014.

      Within final demand in October, a 0.4% increase in the index for final demand goods offset a 0.3% decline in prices for final demand services.

      Goods prices head higher

      A surge in energy costs (+2.5%), the result of a jump of 9.7% in the cost of gasoline, led the cost of goods higher. Also contributing to the increase were higher prices for light motor trucks, beef and veal, industrial chemicals, jet fuel, and liquefied petroleum gas. 

      Prices for fresh and dry vegetables, electric power and for iron and steel scrap were lower

      The cost of services falls

      A decline of 0.3% in the cost of services following a 0.1% rise in both August and September helped keep wholesale inflation in check The drop was led by prices for securities brokerage, dealing, investment advice, and related services (-5.7%), along with declines in the costs of food and alcohol retailing; fuels and lubricants retailing; apparel, jewelry, footwear, and accessories retailing; consumer loans (partial); and hospital outpatient care.

      Prices for truck transportation of freight, machinery, equipment, parts, and supplies wholesaling and guestroom rental were higher.

      Core inflation

      The “core rate” of wholesale inflation, which excludes the volatile foods energy, and trade services categories, dipped 0.1% last month after rising 0.3% in both August and September.

      For the 12 months ended in October, the core was up 1.6%, the sharpest increase since it climbed 1.7% for the 12 months ended September 2014.

      The complete report is available on the DOL website.

      Wholesale prices, or what the Labor Department calls the Producer Price Index (PPI) for final demand, held steady in October for the second time in three m...

      Mortgage applications plunge as contact interest rates soar

      Some rates are at their highest level since early 2016

      Applications for mortgages have now fallen for a fourth consecutive week.

      Data released by the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) show applications were down 9.2% in the week ending November 11, as contract interest rates rose to levels unseen -- in some cases -- since early this year

      The Refinance Index plummeted 11% from the previous week to its lowest level since March 2016, with refinance share of mortgage activity dipping to 61.9% of total applications from 62.3% the week before.

      The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity rose to 4.7% of total applications, the FHA share increased to 12.2% from 11.6% a week earlier, the VA share was 12.6%, and the USDA share of total applications slipped to 0.6% from 0.7% the week prior.

      Contract interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) rose 18 basis points -- from 3.77% to 3.95% -- its highest level since January, with points increasing to 0.39 from 0.38 (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) increased to its highest level since January -- 3.89%, from 3.75% -- with points decreasing to 0.26 from 0.27 (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 shot up 12 basis points to 3.73%, its highest level since April, with points decreasing to 0.28 from 0.35 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs rose to its highest level since March -- 3.15% from 3.03% -- with points decreasing to 0.29 from 0.38 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs surged 19 points to 3.11%, its highest level since March, with points decreasing to 0.42 from 0.47 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

      "Following the election, mortgage rates saw their biggest week-over-week increase since the taper tantrum in June 2013, and reached their highest level since January of this year,” said MBA President and CEO David H. Stevens. “Investor expectations of faster growth and higher inflation are driving the jump up in rates, and rates have now increased for five of the past six weeks, spurring a commensurate drop in refinance activity."

      The "taper tantrum," according to Investopedia, is the term used to refer to the surge in U.S. Treasury yields, which resulted from the Federal Reserve's use of tapering to gradually reduce the amount of money it was feeding into the economy.

      It began when investors panicked in reaction to news of this tapering and drew their money rapidly out of the bond market, which increased bond yields The "taper tantrum," according to Investopedia, is the term used to refer to the surge in U.S. Treasury yields, which resulted from the Federal Reserve's use of tapering to gradually reduce the amount of money it was feeding into the economy.

      It began when investors panicked in reaction to news of this tapering and drew their money rapidly out of the bond market, which increased bond yields drastically.

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

      Applications for mortgages have now fallen for a fourth consecutive week.Data released by the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) show applications were...

      Flight cancellations hit all-time low in September

      No tarmac delays were reported during the month

      Airlines canceled a miniscule 0.3% of their scheduled domestic flights in September.

      According to the Department of Transportation (DOT), that's the lowest level for any of the 261 months with comparable records since January 1995. The previous low point had been 0.4% a year earlier.

      In more good news for the flying public, airlines reported no tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights and no tarmac delays of more than four hours on international flights.

      Discrimination complaints

      As it released its report, the government made information about discrimination complaints it's received public for the first time. The data covers the number of complaints received in each of the protected classes of race, ancestry, national origin, color, religion, and sex.

      From January to September 2016, 67 complaints were filed by consumers claiming discrimination by airlines: 52 regarding race, eight regarding national origin, one regarding color, two regarding religion, and four regarding sex.

      This is an increase from the 49 complaints alleging discrimination received during the first nine months of last year. In September 2016 alone, there were six complaints alleging discrimination -- three regarding race, two regarding national origin, and one regarding religion. This compared with the total of eight recorded in September 2015 and the 15 recorded in August 2016. All complaints alleging discrimination are investigated.

      The consumer report also includes data related to on-time performance, chronically delayed flights, and the causes of flight delays, along with a range of issues such as flight problems, baggage, reservation and ticketing, refunds, customer service, and disability.

      The complete report is available on the DOT website.

      Airlines canceled a miniscule 0.3% of their scheduled domestic flights in September.According to the Department of Transportation (DOT), that's the low...

      Ashby's Sterling Peanut Butter Landslide Ice Cream recalled

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      House of Flavors of Ludington, Mich., is recalling its Ashby’s Sterling Peanut Butter Landslide Ice Cream.

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      There are no reports of illness attributed to this product.

      The recalled product, packaged in a three-gallon container with item number 7305 and lot number #16195, was sold to distributors and ice cream shops nationally.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should dispose of it and contact their distributor for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact House of Flavors consumer affairs at 1-800-930-7740, extension 2229, Monday – Friday 7 a.m. – 5 p.m. (EST).

      House of Flavors of Ludington, Mich., is recalling its Ashby’s Sterling Peanut Butter Landslide Ice Cream.The product may be contaminated with Listeria...

      Wind developers expect more of the same under President Trump

      The renewable industry isn't expecting more tax breaks, but they are optimistic that they will keep what exists.

      The mainstream media conveniently ignores that President-elect Donald Trump cares about birds. “The [Obama] administration fast-tracked wind projects that kill more than 1 million birds a year,” Trump told a group of oil men and women in North Dakota last May. In August, he furthered his stance, telling people: “The wind kills all your birds. All your birds, killed. You know, the environmentalists never talk about that.”

      Whatever his true motivation, Trump throughout his campaign has bashed the renewable energy industry as being inefficient and unsafe to birds while making promises to bring back coal plants, drill on public lands, and otherwise “unleash America’s $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves,” concerns from environmental scientists be damned.

      Wind in trouble?

      It is no surprise, then, that shares in Vestas Wind Systems A/S, a Danish company that is the world’s biggest wind turbine producer, plunged by 14 percent shortly after Trump's victory. The company’s chairman told Bloomberg News that the American market is an important source of business, but he otherwise didn’t sound particularly worried. “I think Trump has a lot of other things to deal with right now rather than wind energy,” the chairman reportedly said.

      “While we won’t speculate so soon after the election regarding different scenarios that could play out for the renewable energy sector during Mr. Trump’s presidency, it’s worth remembering that wind and renewable energy have broad bipartisan support in the United States,” company spokesman Michael Zarin adds in an email to ConsumerAffairs.  “Polls show for example that almost 80 percent of Trump supporters want more wind farms built in the United States.”

      Good business in Republican states

      In the United States, the wind industry has a similar, vaguely positive take. “With over 80% of all wind farms in Republican-held congressional districts, we envision that the Republican leadership in Congress and the White House will want to keep our industry growing,” the industry trade group American Wind Energy Association said in a release shortly after the election, adding that they are ready to work with the president-elect. The industry has claimed throughout the election that wind development enjoys broad support from Americans both Red and Blue.

      In Texas, which supplies more wind power than any other state in the country, wind developer and attorney Steven DeWolf founded Wind Tex Energy back in 2002. The company's projects now comprise an estimated 5 percent of the state’s wind energy.

      “There is a fair amount of angst in the wind industry about what the Trump presidency will mean. I've seen some comments that it will be business as usual, I’ve seen others that it might change,” DeWolf tells ConsumerAffairs. “But my take on it is nothing will change in the next four years.” Like others, DeWolf doesn’t expect Trump to invest more in wind, but he also doesn’t anticipate losing the incentive programs that already exist.

      Due to various factors, including the recession, 2008 was what DeWolf describes as the darkest time for the wind business. Since then, President Barack Obama has been “reasonably supportive,” DeWolf says, providing production tax credits that Congress last year voted to extend until December 2019.

      Still, such incentive programs are designed to be phased out by that 2019 expiration date unless more legislation is passed. "I think most folks in the wind business would have liked to seen it [the tax credit program] stay at 100 percent a little bit longer,” says DeWolf, adding that while Texas wind developers are doing well, offshore wind development is unlikely to take off without generous incentives.

      Fossil fuel subsidies outpace renewables

      The more-of-the-same prediction is comforting enough for those who have already profited from wind energy, but environmental scientists say that much more government investment in renewables is necessary to halt climate change. Renewables receive $120 billion in incentives a year, an amount that is only a fraction of the subsidies that fossil fuels receive. According to the International Energy Agency, a Paris-based think tank, fossil fuels are enjoying $550 billion each year in subsidies. Such incentives, the IEA has said, discourage potential investments in cleaner energy.

      In an interview with Marketwatch, an analyst was even less optimistic, telling the publication that Trump’s presidency and a Republican-controlled congress both pose “significant risks” to existing tax credit programs for solar and wind.

      Trump's pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Myron Ebell, meanwhile, has dismissed concerns about climate change as mere "alarmism."

      The mainstream media conveniently ignores that President-elect Donald Trump cares about birds. “The [Obama] administration fast-tracked wind projects that...

      Post-election uproar seems to be dampening holiday shopping spirit

      About the only businesses reporting an upsurge are food delivery

      For months, we couldn't wait for the presidential campaign to be over. Now it's over and the country seems to be coming apart at the seams. Angry Democrats have taken to the streets to vent their anger while Republicans are outraged at the Democrats' reaction.

      The many millions who don't hold strong opinions are stuck in the middle, and many of them also appear to be stuck in their homes. Food delivery businesses report that more people are ordering in, staying inside rather than facing possible confrontation in the streets. Or maybe they're just so fed up they don't want to see anyone else.

      It's not just food delivery that's affected. Robert Passikoff, founder and president of research firm Brand Keys, says consumers aren't thinking of sugarplums or shopping lists, likely meaning reduced holiday spending and a lack of, shall we say, holiday cheer.

      It's Brand Keys' 22nd annual holiday shopping survey and Passikoff says it's atypical of other presidential election years. Consumers are making shopping decisions later than usual, planning to shop later than in previous years, and also planning to spend lesss, an average of $900 per household.

      "This year a good deal of consumer emotion and attention were spent on the election,"” noted Passikoff. "And it’'s clear that consumers were waiting for some resolution and calm before they spent a lot of energy thinking about the holidays."

      Passikoff says consumers "seem to be seeking comfort, balance, and gratification in a stress-free period of time" and are likely to spend about the same as last year while taking the time to find the perfect gifts.

      Where they'’ll shop

      Virtually all consumers interviewed (98%) are buying online again this year  --– the default venue for browsing for gifts, promotions, price checking, and buying. That noted, brick-and-mortar retailers still rank high on consumers’' list of places they intend to shop, with consumers, again this year, using multiple venues, Passikoff said.

      Store type2016 %Chg from 2015
      Discount store95%+5%
      Department store83%-2%
      Specialty & apparel stores45%-
      Electronics stores25%-1%
      Price clubs20%-2%
      Sports goods20%-
      Outlets10%-
      Catalogues10%-6%


      Catalogues are down again, with consumers seeming to feel that if they can pull up the same content on a computer, tablet, or smartphone, the hard-copy catalog is redundant.

      Just as in holiday seasons past, value is paramount for all platforms. Consumer expectations regarding outreach and convenience, particularly for mobile, are up again. Shopping experience for brick-and-mortar retailers are all up too,” said Passikoff. “This year, in particular, retailers that can provide a sense of consumer comfort will see better bottom lines.”

      Free shipping and returns, order online-pick up in store, or ship-to-store options will have holiday shoppers'’ attentions this year too.

      For months, we couldn't wait for the presidential campaign to be over. Now it's over and the country seems to be coming apart at the seams. Angry Democrats...

      Tips on soothing teething pain without pain relievers

      Experts say parents can ease their baby's pain without teething tablets, gels, or pain relievers

      Recently, the FDA warned against the use of homeopathic teething tablets and gels. These products, the agency said, can pose a health risk to children. Consumers were told to seek medical care if their child experienced seizures, difficulty breathing, or other adverse effects after using homeopathic teething tablets or gels.

      Since then, the FDA has announced that doctors should offer safe alternatives to homeopathic teething tablets and gels. “Teething can be managed without prescription or over-the-counter remedies,” Janet Woodcock, MD, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in a statement.

      William Wathen, DMD, an associate professor at the Texas A&M University College of Dentistry, agrees. Wathen recently shared some helpful tips that may help parents and caregivers wade through the teething stage without pain relievers, tablets, or gels.

      Teething rings  

      Echoing Woodcock’s statement, Wathen said that using pain relievers to treat teething discomfort is usually unnecessary.

      “I do not suggest giving them pain relievers,” Wathen said. “Just remember that teething is a normal event, and if baby has discomfort, it is mild and temporary.” He added that teething gels should also be avoided as they may contain benzocaine -- an ingredient which can be harmful to babies if swallowed.

      Instead of using pain relievers or teething gels, Wathen encourages parents to turn to natural remedies when their baby is teething and fussy. A plain, solid teething ring will allow babies to apply pressure to ease the pain on their own, he said. Chilling the teething ring is fine, but parents shouldn’t offer their children a completely frozen ring.

      Gum massaging

      A go-to soothing method for many parents of teething tots is to massage their child’s gums with a clean finger or washcloth. For this to be effective, Wathen says parents will need to be tuned in to their children and be prepared for some give-and-take.

      “Your baby may want more pressure or less pressure, so it’ll take a lot of experimenting to see what works and which areas of the gums are most sensitive,” he said.

      Another form of relief may already be sitting in parents’ refrigerators. If you’ve already begun introducing solid food to your baby, Wathen says cold applesauce or yogurt can often help take away some of the discomfort of teething.
      Recently, the FDA warned against the use of homeopathic teething tablets and gels. These products, the agency said, can pose a health risk to children. Con...

      How many web pages are there? Google estimates 130 trillion

      To avoid being swallowed up, sites are developing more personalized advertising

      There used to be an awful lot of fish in the sea. There aren't so many anymore but, if it's any comfort, there are about 130 trillion web pages, according to Google's latest estimate.

      That's up from about 30 trillion in March 2013 and, while the acquatic environment may not be what it used to be, the virtual environment is doing just fine, assuming you're not trying to draw attention to your website.

      Google and the other search engines do a pretty amazing job of finding pages that match consumers' search requests, but the companies, organizations, and individuals who are trying to attract eyeballs to their pages have a task that grows ever more difficult.

      It's not unusual these days for new sites -- professionally produced, packed with useful or entertaining information, and organized for maximum search engine exposure -- to get literally no viewers without resorting to increasingly expensive paid advertising.

      There are just about as many theories on how to improve websites' performance as there are stars in the sky, and finding a successful strategy is like looking for that always elusive needle in the haystack.

      Not getting easier

      But don't delay. It won't be getting easier. Cisco Systems recently estimated that global internet traffic in 2020 will be 95 times the volume of the entire global internet in 2005. It's Moore's Law on steroids. 

      What's all this mean for consumers? Hard to say, but it's likely to mean more advertising as sites struggle to get your attention. Fortunately, marketers are working to tailor their ads to individual preferences, meaning that in theory you should see only ads about goods and services that you use regularly or may soon need or want.

      Several recent studies have found that consumers don't mind ads so much when they're seen as relevant, so perhaps the internet will manage to get not just bigger but better.

      There used to be an awful lot of fish in the sea. There aren't so many anymore but, if it's any comfort, there are about 130 trillion web pages, according...

      Start of new TSA Pre-Check program hits a bump in the road

      The agency will postpone hiring private vendors that perform background checks

      Back in May, we reported how consumers were becoming increasingly frustrated with airport security delays. Lines in some of the nation’s prominent hubs seemed to be endless, but TSA stated that it was understaffed and unable to deal with the volume of travelers.

      One solution that the agency suggested for passengers was enrolling in its PreCheck program, which makes the screening process much quicker. Officials hoped to enroll 25 million U.S. travelers in the program, but those numbers haven’t materialized – and now there appears to be another bump in the road.

      According to a report from the Los Angeles Times, TSA has put the brakes on hiring private vendors that could help register fliers for TSA Pre-Check. The reason? The agency feels that using new vendors would be unwise “in light of the increased and evolving cybersecurity risks over the past year.”

      Cybersecurity concerns

      TSA officials say they are concerned that cyber criminals could target new vendors that perform background checks on passengers to steal private information.

      While the move may be welcomed by privacy and consumer advocacy groups, it certainly won’t win many points with frustrated travelers who want to sign up for the program. Sources report that only 4 million people have been signed up for the TSA Pre-Check program thus far, well below their stated goal.

      Critics say that the blame for future long lines may land squarely on TSA. For those who don’t remember how bad things got this past summer, here’s a video taken from a traveler at Chicago’s Midway airport. Please note that the footage does contain strong language.

      Some hope

      However, there is some hope that things will run more smoothly going forward. TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger has said that a plan approved by Congress – which created 13,068 new positions and converted 2,000 part-time screeners to full-time employees – could make a big difference in expediting the security check process.

      Additionally, Neffenger stated that the agency has put together a “deployment force” made up of 1,000 screeners that can be sent to any airport that is expected to see an influx of air travelers. This mobile force could help alleviate the stress of many holiday travelers that are expected to surge in the coming months.

      Back in May, we reported how consumers were becoming increasingly frustrated with airport security delays. Lines in some of the nation’s prominent hubs see...

      Why your spouse's stress could make you gain weight

      Older adults gain weight when their partner is stressed, study finds

      Having the ability to read your spouse’s mood can be a good thing. When partners can sense that something is weighing on the mind of their loved one, they can spring into action with efforts to help ease their mental burden.

      But while connectedness can help keep partners stable and emotionally afloat, having a stressed-out spouse may contribute to weight gain in older adults. University of Michigan researchers found that older adults gain weight when their spouse is experiencing long-term stress.

      "We found that your partner's stress, and not your own, predicted an increased waist circumference over time," said Kira Birditt, a research associate professor at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.

      Quality of marriage

      Couples who participated in the study had been married an average of 34 years. The results of the four-year study suggested that couples 50 and older put on weight in response to chronic stress.

      Birditt and her colleagues found that when a stressful circumstance occurred for more than a year, it could lead to a negative quality of marriage -- and, in turn, weight gain. The results also appeared to vary by gender.

      Husbands usually experience lower negative marital quality. As a result, they may be more shocked and affected by negative feelings when they do arise, Birditt explained. And stressed-out men can be bad for wives’ waistlines, the study found.

      "Wives were 1.6 times more likely to have an increase in waist circumference when their husbands reported greater stress and greater negative marriage quality," Birditt said.

      Interestingly, husbands were more than twice as likely to have a 10% increase in waist size when their wives were stressed but weren’t complaining about marriage quality. Birditt said she couldn't explain that difference.

      Coping together

      The findings show that "marriage has powerful influences on health," the authors said. Birditt pointed out that the effect of marriage quality on older couples’ weight could be explained by the use of one particular coping strategy: eating. 

      "Research shows that people who are more distressed in their marriage do eat more as a way to feel connected to each other to reduce their feeling of stress," Birditt told HealthDay.
      To minimize weight gain during stressful times, partners can set healthy goals together rather than separately. Saying 'Let's go out and walk together after dinner every night' is better than one partner saying 'I'm going to go exercise,' she said.

      The study is published in the Journals of Gerontology: Social Sciences.

      Having the ability to read your spouse’s mood can be a good thing. When partners can sense that something is weighing on the mind of their loved one, they...

      VW reaches deal to fix Audi, Porsche, VW models with 3.0-liter diesel, reports say

      The company is hoping to avoid having to buy back all of the dirty diesel cars

      Another chapter in the Volkswagen dirty diesel scandal may be drawing to a close. Reports today say that VW has reached an agreement with federal and California regulators to fix or buy back about 80,000 Audi, Porsche, and VW vehicles with 3.0-liter diesel engines.

      About 60,000 of the cars would be recalled and brought into line with U.S. and California emission standards while 19,000 older models would be repurchased because fixing them would be too complicated, Bloomberg reported. Fixing the 60,000 newer models involves a simple software update.

      Avoiding a full buyback of the cars would save VW about $4 billion, but the reported agreement is still preliminary and faces opposition from groups representing the cars' owners, who want VW to repurchase all of the cars. 

      The affected models include diesel versions of the VW Touareg, Porsche Cayenne, and Audi Q5, Q7 and A8.

      "Defeat devices"

      Volkswagen has already agreed to pay more than $16 billion to buy back or, if it can win approval from regulators, fix roughly half a million cars equipped with 2.0-liter TDI Clean Diesel engines.

      The company admitted late last year that about 11 million diesel cars worldwide are equipped with a "defeat device" that enables them to pass emission inspections even though they may be emitting up to 40 times the legal limit of pollutants on the road.

      Another chapter in the Volkswagen dirty diesel scandal may be drawing to a close. Reports today say that VW has reached an agreement with federal and Calif...

      Retailers press court challenge to American Express rules

      Want freedom to steer consumers to card with lower fees

      The Retail Litigation Center and the National Retail Federation say stores that accept American Express cards must abide by the American Express' rules.

      One of those rules, they say, is retailers are barred from doing anything to encourage consumers from using a different credit card, with a lower processing fee. Retailers, quite naturally, would prefer not to have to pay American Express' higher swipe fee.

      The two organizations have asked the U.S. Court of Appeals to hear retailers' challenge to the American Express rules, charging they are a violation of antitrust laws.

      “While intense competition is a hallmark of the retail industry, it is largely absent from the credit card market where fees continue to skyrocket,” said RLC President Deborah White.

      'Stifling competition'

      White accuses American Express of stifling competition by imposing rules that don't allow retailers to offer consumers discounts or other incentives to use a lower-cost credit card. That, she says, ends up costing consumers money. She says the policy also prevents consumers from fully understanding their cost of using a credit card.

      NRF Senior Vice President and General Counsel Mallory Duncan says the swipe fees retailers have to pay eventually get passed on to consumers.

      “All swipe fees are too high, but American Express fees are among the highest,” Duncan said. “That’s their choice, but they should not be allowed to stand in the way of retailers simply asking their customers if they have another card.”

      Government's position

      Government regulators have weighed in on this issue in the past. Visa and MasterCard no longer impose a policy banning card steering after a 2010 settlement with the Justice Department. The Justice Department sued American Express over its rules and won in Federal Court in February.

      But American Express appealed and a three judge panel of the 2nd Circuit ruled in its favor in September. The Justice Department is now asking for a full court review of the case.

      The case appears to be a continuation of the long-running conflict between retailers and card issuers over swipe fees.

      After years of retailers complaining about swipe fees charged by credit card companies, the Federal Reserve moved in 2011 to cap the fees at a lower rate. But since Congress said the fees should reflect bank's actual costs, retailers maintain the fees are still too high.

      The Retail Litigation Center and the National Retail Federation say stores that accept American Express cards must abide by the American Express' rules....

      Green coffee pitchman faces $30 million judgment

      The FTC said fake news sites were used to promote the supposed weight loss supplement

      Fake news websites have been getting a lot of attention following the no-holds-barred presidential campaign, but they have a long history of being used to promote products and services of questionable value.

      Case in point: Pure Green Coffee. At the request of the Federal Trade Commission, a U.S. district court judge in Tampa has entered a $30 million judgment against Nicholas Congleton, the pitchman for Pure Green Coffee, promoted as a sure-fire weight-loss remedy in ads and fake websites after the product gained notoriety on the "Dr. Oz" syndicated TV show.

      In addition, the court ordered another man, Dylan Loher, to turn over $549,000 in partial satisfaction of the judgment. The FTC charged Loher as a relief defendant, meaning that he did not directly participate in the scheme but indirectly profited from it.

      “As this case shows, the FTC is willing to go the distance to make sure that defendants like these are held accountable,” said FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection Director Jessica Rich. “We’re pleased that the court has put an end to Congleton’s deceptive scheme.”

      The FTC first filed a complaint against Florida-based NPB Advertising, its principals and related companies in May 2014, saying the defendants used deceptive marketing to capitalize on the green coffee bean diet fad. The scheme used mastheads of fictitious news outlets, as well as logos from actual news organizations, to trick consumers. Most of the defendants settled the FTC’s charges in November 2015.

      Fake news websites have been getting a lot of attention following the no-holds-barred presidential campaign, but they have a long history of being used to...

      Qatar Airways fined for flying in restricted areas

      FAA blocks off big swatch of NYC until after Trump's inauguration

      Qatar Airways is being fined $185,000 for operating flights in restricted regions. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said the airline was carrying the American Airlines code when it flew into the restricted region, which wasn't identified.

      “Airlines have a responsibility to ensure that they do not fly their planes through prohibited airspace,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “The FAA forbids U.S. flight operations over certain regional conflict zones around the world. The Department takes aviation safety and security matters very seriously, and will continue to take enforcement action when these important safety and security restrictions are not followed.”

      The Department had earlier approved a blanket statement of authorization permitting Qatar Airways to carry the American Airlines code (AA) in conjunction with Qatar Airways’ foreign air transportation, on the condition that it comply with all FAA flight prohibitions. 

      The Qatar flights into restricted regions occurred in late 2014 and early 2015, DOT said.

      NYC restrictions

      Meanwhile, some new flight restrictions have gone into effect closer to home. The FAA issued a notice Monday that flights over New York City will be restricted until President-Elect Trump is inaugurated.

      The incoming 45th president is still living in Trump Tower and the Secret Service asked that flights over midtown Manhattan be banned until Trump officially decamps for Washington and takes up residence in the White House.

      Qatar Airways is being fined $185,000 for operating flights in restricted regions. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said the airline was carrying...

      Some Black Friday deals may look familiar

      If you think you've seen these doorbusters before, maybe you have

      With Black Friday just days away, shoppers may get a sense of deja vu as they scan the ad slicks for bargains. They may see some of the same deals they saw last year.

      Holiday shopping site BestBlackFriday.com analyzed every advertised deal from 25 stores, checking this year's ad against last year's. It found lots of re-runs.

      “It is no big deal when stores are repeating a general 50% off all clothing deal, but it is concerning when stores are offering last year's electronics for more money,” said Best Black Friday principal Phil Dengler.

      The analysis shows nearly all – 24 out of 25 stores – are repeating at least one deal from last year. Best Black Friday found three repeated deals at 22 stores and five repeated deals at 20 stores. More than half the stores had at least one repeated sales item they were charging more for this year.

      Dengler says re-running a Black Friday deal from last year is not necessarily a bad thing, but it's something consumers should know about.

      Imports are up

      Meanwhile, retailers appear to be restocking their holiday shelves this year with more imported items. The National Retail Federation (NRF) reports imports at the nation’s major retail container ports should rise 4.4% this month, with a slightly bigger increase expected next month.

      “Most of the holiday merchandise is already here, but retailers are still restocking to be sure shoppers will have a broad and deep selection as they hit the stores over the next several weeks,” said NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold.

      Economists often watch retail imports for clues about the direction of the economy. Gold says the rise in end of the year imports suggests retailers expect to sell more this year than last year.

      Private label credit cards

      Consumers may be paying for their holiday purchases with more private label credit cards. A report from TransUnion shows the number of these accounts usually surges during December.

      Consumers are getting increased access to retail cards during the holidays, mainly because stores offer discounts and other incentives for opening account while making a purchase. As we recently reported, consumers should use caution and carefully weigh any benefits before accepting these offers.

      With Black Friday just days away, shoppers may get a sense of deja vu as they scan the ad slicks for bargains. They may see some of the same deals they saw...

      Gas prices drop, but are just getting back to normal

      Speculators' hopes that OPEC can reduce the oil glut are fading

      Consumers have seen gasoline prices drop sharply in the last week, falling more in some states than in others. But in point of fact, prices are just getting back to normal after speculation in the futures market added upward pressure in the two previous months.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of gasoline is $2.16 a gallon after falling over the last 10 days. That's down a nickel from a week ago and nearly a dime lower than a month ago. But it is exactly in line with last year's national average.

      “The abundance of crude oil in the global market is contributing to lower prices, and as a result, retail averages are the same price as compared to one year ago,” AAA said on its website.

      Stong dollar helping motorists

      Another factor is at play here as well. The U.S. dollar has strengthened significantly since Donald Trump's election a week ago and, since oil is priced in dollars, oil prices have begun to fall even more.

      They were moving in the other direction in September and October as speculators bet that OPEC members, which are scheduled to meet at the end of this month, would agree to cap production, to drive up oil prices. Wall Street optimism for such an agreement is fading, and the latest data shows OPEC has increased production in recent weeks.

      Less demand

      There also tends to be less demand for gasoline during the month of November, and with refinery maintenance mostly completed, the outlook is brightening for falling fuel prices into the end of the year.

      In some states, the price at the pump is absolutely in a free-fall. In the last week, Indiana saw its statewide average plunge 14 cents a gallon. It's down 12 cents in Ohio, 11 cents in Michigan, eight cents in Kentucky and Illinois, and seven cents in Nebraska and Oklahoma.

      The statewide average is below $2 in nine states, with the lowest prices in Missouri and Oklahoma, both of which are reporting an average price of $1.88 a gallon.

      Consumers have seen gasoline prices drop sharply in the last week, falling more in some states than in others. But in point of fact, prices are just gettin...

      Gas station traffic paces October advance in retail sales

      In fact, the increase was fairly broad-based

      Retailers enjoyed a good October following an even better September.

      The Commerce Department reports retail sales last month were up 0.8%, or $465.9 billion, and were 4.3% above the same month a year earlier.

      In addition, the government revised it's September estimate to show a gain of 1.0% instead of the 0.6% advance initially reported.

      Winners and losers

      Most businesses saw sales increases last month, including gas stations (+2.2%), sporting goods, hobby, book & music stores (+1.3%), motor vehicle & parts dealers (+1.1%), and grocery stores (+0.7%).

      Sales declines were suffered by furniture & home furnishing stores (-0.9%), department stores (-0.7%), and restaurants & bars (-0.7%).

      Analysts at Briefing.com say the strong report indicates consumers are willing to spend more freely on discretionary items and that both the October and September numbers should help bolster fourth quarter GDP forecasts.

      The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

      Retailers enjoyed a good October following an even better September. The Commerce Department reports retail sales last month were up 0.8%, or $465.9 bil...

      Cedar Crest Specialties recalls various ice cream flavors

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Cedar Crest Specialties is recalling the following Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Monster Cookie and Pirate's Bounty ice cream flavors:

      Product NameProduct Code DateContainer Size
      Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough3826, 3846, 4346, and 4326Pints, 48 oz., 3 gallon
      Monster Cookie38263 gallon
      Pirate's Bounty434648 oz.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No illnesses have been reported to date related to this recall.

      The recalled products were distributed in retail stores throughout the Midwest.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may call 1-888-628-0730, Monday-Friday between 8AM and 4PM (CT).

      Cedar Crest Specialties is recalling the following Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Monster Cookie and Pirate's Bounty ice cream flavors: Prod...

      Hammerhead Off-Road recalls fun-karts

      The fuel tank can crack and cause the fuel to leak out

      Hammerhead Off-Road of Flower Mound, Texas, is recalling about 9,900 fun-karts.

      The fuel tank can crack and cause the fuel to leak out, posing a fire hazard.

      No incidents or injuries are reported.

      This recall involves model year 2009 through 2015 Hammerhead Off-Road GL 150, GTS 150 and GTS Platinum fun-karts.

      The recalled fun-karts have two seats and a rear cargo rack and were sold in red, black, white, orange, blue and green. “GTS” is printed on the side cage and the hood of the GTS models and “Hammerhead” is printed on the hood of the GL models.

      Serial numbers are printed on the cross bar behind the seats.

      Model Year

      Model

      2009

      GTS 150

      2010

      GTS 150

      2011

      GTS 150

      2011

      GL 150

      2012

      GTS 150

      2012

      GL 150

      2013

      GTS 150

      2013

      GL 150

      2014

      GTS 150

      2014

      GL 150

      2014

      GTS Platinum

      2015

      GTS 150

      2015

      GL 150

      2015

      GTS Platinum

      The fun-karts, manufactured in China, were sold at Hammerhead Off-Road dealers nationwide from August 2009, through July 2016, for between $2,100 and $2,900.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled fun-karts and contact Hammerhead Off-Road to schedule a free replacement of the fuel tank. The firm is contacting all known purchasers directly.

      Consumers may contact Hammerhead Off-Road toll-free at 844-298-6528 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday, by email at mail@hammerheadoffroad.com or online at www.hammerheadoffroad.com and click on “Latest News” for more information.

      Hammerhead Off-Road of Flower Mound, Texas, is recalling about 9,900 fun-karts.The fuel tank can crack and cause the fuel to leak out, posing a fire ha...

      Schnuck Markets recalls ready-to-eat chicken breast products

      The products may be undercooked resulting in the potential survival of bacterial pathogens

      Schnuck Markets of O’Fallon, Mo., is recalling approximately 62 pounds of ready-to-eat grilled chicken products.

      The products may be undercooked resulting in the potential survival of bacterial pathogens.

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

      The following items, produced and packaged on November 8, 2016, are being recalled:

      • Ready-to-eat grilled chicken containing the label of “Butter Garlic Marinated Grilled Chicken Breast” with a sell date of November 13, 2016.

      The recalled products, bearing establishment number “EST. 13562” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to 26 Schnuck retail locations in Missouri, Illinois and Indiana.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Schnuck Consumer Affairs Hotline, at (314) 994-4400. 

      Schnuck Markets of O’Fallon, Mo., is recalling approximately 62 pounds of ready-to-eat grilled chicken products.The products may be undercooked resulti...

      What to do if you can't get credit because of your credit report

      Consumers have the right to see the damaging information

      It can be one of life's more unpleasant circumstances. You get ready to purchase a car, a big screen TV, or other major purchase requiring credit, and the deal falls through.

      The seller pulls your credit report and suddenly the deal is off. You might be embarrassed, or even angry, but the important thing to do is find out what was in your credit report that raised the red flag.

      The Federal Reserve points out consumers have some rights in this area. For example, if you don't get a job or are turned down for insurance or credit of any type because of information in your credit report, you are entitled to know which credit bureau provided the information. Then, if you ask for it within 60 days, you can get a free copy of the report from the credit agency. This will not count against the free credit reports you are entitled to from all three agencies once a year.

      Credit report can alter terms

      Sometimes, a lender will not deny credit, but will offer less favorable terms than you expected, based on what he or she found in your credit history. The lender may give you a notice with information about the credit bureau that provided the credit report used to make the decision. Once again, the agency is required to provide you with a free copy of the report if you request it within 60 days.

      Besides satisfying your curiosity, obtaining the document is a good idea. There is always the possibility that your credit report contains inaccurate information. There have been cases where portions of other consumers' credit histories have gotten mixed up in the wrong report.

      Disputing incorrect information

      When you find mistakes in your credit report, you are entitled to dispute the information and request that it be either deleted or corrected. To do that, you need to contact the credit bureau that issued the report or the company or person reporting the wrong information to the credit bureau.

      The credit bureaus each have their own way of going about it. The process starts online at Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

      Once you dispute an item in your credit report, it must be investigated, usually within 30 days. Once the investigation is complete, you are entitled to a written report of what was found.

      It can be one of life's more unpleasant circumstances. You get ready to purchase a car, a big screen TV, or other major purchase requiring credit, and the...

      Adult Friend Finder data breach may be largest on record

      More than 400 million adult website accounts may have been compromised

      People who have had accounts on a number of adult websites over the last 20 years could be in for a bit of an embarrassment.

      LeakedSource.com reports the Friend Finder Network, which operates AdultFriendFinder.com, a self-described “sex and swinger” match service, has suffered a massive data breach.

      It reports AdultFriendFinder.com, by itself, suffered a hack of 339 million accounts, including 15 million that had been deleted. Accounts were also compromised on Cams.com, Stripshow.com, iCams.com, and Penthouse.com.

      'Biggest we've ever seen'

      Leaked Source reports the hack occurred last month and is “by far the largest data breach we have ever seen.” It also says 99% of account passwords were not encrypted, but visible in plain text.

      The potential for social disruption is high, since this is exactly what happened when the cheating website Ashley Madison was hacked last year. Perhaps with that experience in mind, the staff at Leaked Source said it has decided not to make the leaked data from the latest batch of adult sites searchable.

      In the case of the Ashley Madison hack, the attackers purposefully singled out the site because it promoted extra-marital affairs. The hackers also said they wanted to expose what they said was a lie, claiming the site did not delete accounts, even though consumers paid extra to have their information removed.

      Deleted accounts weren't deleted

      Leaked Source said it found something similar among the hacked Friend Finder data. It said there were more than 15 million accounts with an email in the format of email@address.com@deleted1.com.

      “We've seen this situation many times before and it likely means these were users who tried to delete their account but the data is obviously still kept around because you know, we're looking at it,” Leaked Source writes.

      Leaked Source raises the possibility that the emails were modified by Friend Finder personnel, to prevent their removal. The company said the breach of over 400 million accounts makes it the largest on record, even beating the MySpace breach, which compromised 360 million accounts. It also says it's the second Friend Finder breach in two years, with the first occurring in May 2015.

      People who have had accounts on a number of adult websites over the last 20 years could be in for a bit of an embarrassment.LeakedSource.com reports th...

      High-protein diets could be fatal to older women, study finds

      Consuming too much meat and protein could lead to heart failure in women over 50, researchers say

      Protein is an important staple of any diet. It helps maintain your body by building and repairing muscle, and it is an essential element for healthy bones, cartilage, skin, and blood. However, new research suggests that a high-protein diet may not be good for some people, especially older women.

      In a study conducted by the American Heart Association, researchers found women over the age of 50 were at greater risk of heart failure if they followed a high-protein diet. Interestingly, this connection proved to be true for consumption of meats, while protein from vegetables was found to be beneficial.

      "Higher calibrated total dietary protein intake appears to be associated with substantially increased heart failure risk while vegetable protein intake appears to be protective, although additional studies are needed to further explore this potential association," said study author Dr. Mohamad Firas Barbour.

      Source of protein is key

      In order to come to their findings, the researchers asked participants to self-report their diet while also tracking protein intake through special biomarkers. Special attention was paid to the source of protein (i.e. protein from meat vs. protein from vegetables/other sources).

      After collecting the data, Barbour and his colleagues found that risk of heart failure was higher in women who had high-protein diets rich in meat consumption. This proved to be true across all participating women, regardless of age (over 50), race, ethnicity, or level of education.

      The presence of other medical conditions – such as high blood pressure, diabetes, coronary artery disease, anemia, or atrial fibrillation – was also a non-factor.

      Barbour states that while the findings should be “interpreted with caution,” they could point to a need for better understanding of heart health in older women.

      "While a better understanding of dietary risk is still needed, it appears that heart failure among postmenopausal women is not only highly prevalent but preventable by modifying diet," Barbour said. "Heart failure is highly prevalent, especially in post-menopausal women; therefore, a better understanding of nutrition-related factors associated with heart failure is needed."

      Protein is an important staple of any diet. It helps maintain your body by building and repairing muscle, and it is an essential element for healthy bones,...

      How quiet is too quiet? Six years later, the feds figure it out

      Safety regulators finally complete rule requiring electric cars to speak up

      Some