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    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...
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    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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      Texas becomes the second state to report a locally transmitted case of Zika virus

      Health officials say a woman from Brownsville contracted the disease from a mosquito bite

      U.S. health officials have become increasingly worried about the Zika virus over the past year. The disease, which can cause serious birth defects if contracted by pregnant women, has affected tens of thousands in Puerto Rico and South America.

      Attempts to keep the virus out of the U.S. mainland have been vigorous, but experts have said for some time that mosquitoes that carry the disease will inevitably find their way here. Cases of Zika infection began popping up in Florida back in July, and now Texas has reported its first case of Zika virus that is likely transmitted by a mosquito.

      “We knew it was only a matter of time before we saw a Zika case spread by a mosquito in Texas. We still don’t believe the virus will become widespread in Texas, but there could be more cases, so people need to protect themselves from mosquito bites, especially in parts of the state that stay relatively warm in the fall and winter,” said Dr. John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS).

      Searching for the infection site

      The patient who contracted the disease is from Cameron County in the southernmost part of Texas. She was confirmed to have the disease last week via lab test, but she is not pregnant. She reports that she has not visited any area with an ongoing Zika transmission problem and has not been susceptible to other risk factors, so officials believe the most likely cause is from a mosquito bite.

      Luckily, the virus was found in her urine and not her blood, which means that it cannot be spread if she is bitten by another mosquito. However, the Texas Department of State Health Services and the Cameron County Department of Health and Human Services have stated that further tests will need to be conducted before they can pinpoint the location where the infection occurred.

      Currently, researchers are trapping and testing mosquitoes around the patient’s home in Brownsville. The city is currently taking steps to reduce the mosquito population, and DSHS and Cameron County officials are going door-to-door to educate citizens about Zika and reduce potential breeding zones for mosquitoes.

      Taking precautions

      As we’ve previously reported, Zika virus can often be mistaken for the cold or flu because of similar symptoms, which include fever, joint pain, rash, and eye redness. Though the disease is usually passed through a mosquito bite, transmission can also occur through contact with infected blood or sex. There are currently cases of Zika infection all over the U.S., but they have been connected to travel in infected areas and sexual contact. 

      Health officials have cautioned that travel to Mexico should be avoided due to reports that several communities are struggling with Zika transmission. They suggest taking several precautions to reduce your risk of contracting the virus, including:

      • Using EPA-approved insect repellent;
      • Wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts that cover exposed skin;
      • Using air conditioning or window and door screens that are in good repair to keep mosquitoes out of the home;
      • and removing standing water in and around homes, including water in trash cans, toys, tires, flower pots, and any other container that can hold water.

      DSHS is asking all medical professionals to keep Zika virus in mind when diagnosing patients with similar symptoms. Testing pregnant women who live in high-risk areas has also been suggested. For more information on the Zika virus visit the CDC’s site here, and get further information on how the disease is affecting Texas here.

      U.S. health officials have become increasingly worried about the Zika virus over the past year. The disease, which can cause serious birth defects if contr...
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      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...
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      Why you should think twice about texting business information

      It's not that businesslike and might not be all that secure

      It's not just teenagers who spend their days texting. Sending short text messages over a mobile device has become the preferred way to communicate, even at work.

      Texting is also being pushed on businesses, with the argument that it's the most effective way to communicate with customers and employees.

      Maybe sending general marketing information to customers via text is something to consider, but TeleMessage, which provides secure messaging systems for businesses, warns that transmitting sensitive business information via text is inherently risky.

      It even says using consumer chat apps like WhatsApp and iMessage for business purposes can be playing with fire. Yet, it cites surveys showing nearly all employees are using their smartphones to transmit work-related information.

      TeleMessage says the most common threat is an employee losing his or her smartphone. When that happens, it says 68% of victims never recover their phones. The person who finds it then has access to the text messages sent and received on the device.

      Phones can be hacked

      Beyond lost or stolen phones, there's concern about hacks. TeleMessage says it only takes one text to hack 950 million android phones. It says one Android flaw produced six critical vulnerabilities on 95% of Android devices.

      As employees are embracing consumer messaging apps, IT administrators are increasingly concerned about employees downloading the latest popular messaging app and using it to send and receive the company's latest sales figures and other information that shouldn't fall into the wrong hands.

      Other reasons

      The technology website ZDNet agrees that employees should avoid texting for business purposes, arguing email is always a preferred way to communicate.

      But ZDNet doesn't cite security concerns as a reason for not using texts for work-related communication. It points out that texts tend to be viewed as more casual, and there is the risk an employee won't give information transmitted in a text the attention it deserves.

      It points out email provides a more business-like platform and leaves a more robust paper trail in the event of litigation.

      It's not just teenagers who spend their days texting. Sending short text messages over a mobile device has become the preferred way to communicate, even at...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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,...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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....
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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....
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      Pipeline magnate has close ties with Texas institutions

      Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, wields an outsized influence in local and national politics

      Earlier this month, nearly 100 people gathered in Texas’ state capital to demand that a billionaire oil pipeline operator resign from his post on the Texas Parks & Wildlife Commission.

      Kelcy Warren is the chairman and CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline as well as other major oil and gas pipeline projects. Governor Greg Abbott appointed Warren to the parks and wildlife commission last year, leading some to argue that he presented a major conflict of interest.

      At the wildlife board’s November 3 meeting, for instance, the commission was scheduled to vote on—what else?—an easement for a pipeline in a state park. “I do not believe you can honestly make objective decisions on behalf of the parks you’re appointed to protect,” one protester reportedly told Warren at the meeting.

      Warren later recused himself from the vote and the issue was tabled. But his influence and the influence of his Energy Transfer Partners can be plainly seen across Texas.

      University system invests

      Much like the state government, the state’s public university system has formed a predictably close relationship with oil and gas interests. A program called University Lands manages the surface and mineral rights of over 2.1 million acres of land in Texas and then sends the money from oil and gas leases back into the University of Texas campuses.

      In 1996, the university formed a unique partnership with what it describes as "the first investment corporation formed by a public university system.” The arrangement “is the largest public one of its kind in the nation,” holding over $20 billion in assets, according to NASDAQ’s 2014 report.

      Called the University of Texas Investment Management Company, or UTIMCO, the university’s investment arm has purchased shares in numerous Texas-born corporations like Texas Instruments and Whole Foods, as well as the fossil fuel industry, according to SEC records. 

      Listed in UTIMCO’s 2014 filings are 180,099 shares in Energy Transfer Partners. The same form also shows that UTIMCO purchased shares in several of Energy Transfer Partners' subsidiary companies: there are 147,928 shares in Sunoco Logistics and 257,643 shares in Regency Energy Partners, both companies owned by Energy Transfer Partners.

      “Unfortunately we have no information to provide as UTIMCO does not comment on the underlying holdings of our investment partners,” University of Texas spokesman Melanie Thompson tells ConsumerAffairs.

      Philanthropy

      CEO Warren’s net worth is estimated at $3.8 billion, and public institutions enjoy the fruits of his philanthropy. Warren’s donations include an endowment at his alma matter, the University of Texas campus in Arlington. He also sunk a reported $10 million into a new, popular urban park in Dallas that is built on top of a freeway, part of a private-public partnership with the city.

      A self-described folk music fan, Warren is the founder of the Cherokee Crossroads music festival, which raises money for children’s charities. For his donations, the Horatio Algier Association presented him a philanthropy award late last year.

      Not mentioned in the accompanying press release for his award: Warren has also donated $700,000 to the campaign of Texas Governor Abbott, who then appointed Warren to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission after his election.

      Concerns at Standing Rock

      Warren’s philanthropic image is at odds with reports currently coming from North Dakota. The Dakota Access Pipeline, slated to carry crude oil from the Dakotas to Illinois, has mostly enjoyed federal support but has been meet with intense resistance from locals along the route.

      The pipeline was originally slated to go through Bismarck, the North Dakota state capital, but after the city rejected that plan, the pipeline was instead rerouted to pass through the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reservation, leading some environmentalists to describe the move as “environmental racism.”

      Since then, the Standing Rock Sioux and others protesting at the site have been arrested, and according to some accounts, abused and attacked by the local police department while peacefully protesting. One widely-shared video shows a journalist being shot in the back by a rubber bullet, though the police department denied that the encounter took place. 

      Early reports from the scene claimed that the company’s own private security workers even let violent dogs loose on the protesters. "We reiterate our commitment to protect cultural resources, the environment and public safety," Energy Transfer Partners' spokeswoman told reporters last month.

      In the longer-term, of particular concern to the Standing Rock Sioux is that the pipeline is being bored underneath Lake Oahe, a source of drinking water. According to a recent report in Reuters, Energy Transfer Partners’ subsidiary Sunoco Logistics has experienced over 200 oil leaks in its pipelines over the last six years, giving the company a worse record of transferring crude than any of its competitors.

      An Energy Transfer Partners spokeswoman has not yet returned an interview request, but Warren went on PBS Newshour yesterday to defend his project. “I disagree with that statistic about Sunoco Logistics,” he said on the station. “But everybody should be concerned about that. But keep in mind there’s a difference here. This is a body of water. This is a pipe that’s been designed specifically to fit into a bore underneath the riverbed. This is very thick wall pipe. It’s brand-new steel... And I just think the likelihood of a spill into Lake Oahe is just extremely remote.”

      On Monday, the tribe won a minor victory, when the Army Corps of Engineers agreed to seek further public input before letting Energy Transfer Partners continue installing the pipeline. Warren told the Wall Street Journal that he is confident that any delays will go away once President-elect Donald Trump takes office. Trump has reportedly invested at least $500,000 in Energy Transfer Partners.

      Earlier this month, nearly 100 people gathered in Texas’ state capital to demand that a billionaire oil pipeline operator resign from his post on the Texas...
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      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...
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      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....
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      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....
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      How multitasking can make you a worse shopper

      Researchers find that certain kinds of multitasking make consumers less able to complete a shopping task

      It’s not uncommon to see shoppers at a grocery store or mall on their phones, either trying to stay connected or complete some other errand. But can this kind of multitasking make you a worse shopper?

      A study from Concordia University and the BVA Group suggests that might be the case. Researchers A. Selin Atalay and Etienne Bressoud found that shoppers can have worse outcomes when given a shopping task depending on the additional tasks they try to complete at the same time.

      They say that consumers with implementational, or “how,” mindsets can successfully complete multiple tasks. However, consumers with deliberative, or “why,” mindsets can be distracted and are generally less successful when given a shopping task.  

      “[The results] suggest that shoppers in how-mindsets can multitask without any negative impact on shopping task performance. However, consumers in a why (deliberation) mindset are negatively affected by multitasking and this effect is mediated by task-induced stress,” they said.

      Implementational vs. Deliberative

      So, what exactly is the difference between an implementational mindset and a deliberative mindset? Basically, someone with an implementational (how) mindset is focused on how to accomplish a stated goal, such as the steps they’ll need to take to achieve it.

      On the other hand, a person in a deliberative (why) mindset is more concerned with weighing the pros and cons of a stated goal. The researchers posit that a deliberative mindset can be much more stressful on consumers because it requires more cognitive resources. As a result, shoppers can become distracted and find it harder to stay on task.

      The researchers tested their theory by creating shopping scenarios wherein participants were asked to complete a shopping task while multitasking. Participants were asked to buy low-calorie snacks for a small party, keeping in mind that they needed at least three different snacks that totaled less than 500 calories and weren’t that expensive. In addition to this task, some participants were asked to listen to a voicemail from a friend.

      Added stress leads to worse outcomes

      While the participants went about their shopping task, the researchers carefully recorded what kind of mindset each person was in. They found that participants who were in a “how” mindset were generally more focused on the task and were minimally affected by multitasking.

      Participants who were in a “why” mindset were more likely to make faster and less careful decisions and were more distracted by multitasking. The researchers suggest that retailers find ways to reduce the stress of multitasking for deliberative consumers to give them more successful shopping experiences.

      “Results demonstrate that interventions to reduce the stress level eliminates the negative impact of multitasking on consumers in why-mindsets. Taken together, the results suggest that interventions to channel consumers to an implementation mindset or strategies to alleviate the stress levels can help consumers avoid the negative impact of multitasking on shopping decisions,” they concluded.

      The full study has been published in the Journal of Retailing

      It’s not uncommon to see shoppers at a grocery store or mall on their phones, either trying to stay connected or complete some other errand. But can this k...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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....
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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,...
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      American Apparel bankrupt, again

      It is selling most of its assets to Gildan Activewear

      American Apparel is bankrupt again, less than a year after it emerged from an earlier bankruptcy filing. Ths Los Angeles clothing manufacturer says it is selling $66 million worth of intellectual property and other assets to Gildan Activewear.

      Gildan owns and operates vertically-integrated, large-scale manufacturing facilities which are primarily located in Central America, the Caribbean Basin, North America, and Bangladesh.

      The company has been trying to deal with shrinking sales and other issues since Dov Charney, the company’s founder and former CEO, was ousted in December 2014 over allegations of misconduct, including sexual harrassment.

      American Apparel has promoted itself as an example of a successful manufacturing operation in an era when most manufacturing has moved overseas. It has been a heavy supporter of immigration, noting that many of its California employees are immigrants.

      Strategic move

      “We are confident that this decision is the best strategic move forward, in order to preserve the legacy of the American Apparel brand,” Bradley Scher, chairman of American Apparel’s board of directors, said in a letter to employees, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.

      For over a decade, American Apparel was strictly a wholesaler, providing blank T-shirts to retailers across the country. The company went retail in 2003, and opened a jaw-dropping 260 locations worldwide, a decision that has contributed to its financial woes ever since.

      Tasteful design and eye-catching ads that played up the "Made in USA" angle, made AA an attractive alternative to big-name retailers like the Gap and Banana Republic, especially for young shoppers. 

      But restive investors and sluggish sales, combined with Charney's issues, combined to drag down the company's stock price and hamper its future prospects. 

      American Apparel is bankrupt again, less than a year after it emerged from an earlier bankruptcy...
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      Why many home buyers regret their choice of lender

      In a J.D. Power survey, 21% expressed buyer's remorse

      Getting through the home mortgage approval process is a lot trickier than it once was, and it turns out a large number of homebuyers who successfully make it end up with a case of buyer's remorse.

      They don't regret the home purchase so much as the selection of the mortgage to pay for it.

      That's the chief takeaway from the J.D. Power 2016 U.S. Primary Mortgage Origination Satisfaction Study, which found 21% of customers who bought a home regret their choice of lender, and 27% of first-time home buyers regret their choice.

      There appear to be two reasons. For many consumers, the regret stems from a poor experience with the lender. This can be caused by more problems than expected, broken promises, and poor communication.

      Felt lender pressure

      The second reason for dissatisfaction has to do with price. Even though they got multiple quotes and appeared to do their homework, this group of new homeowners regrets picking their lender. Of the largest complaints, 72% of those regretting their lender choice said they felt pressured to pick a particular mortgage product that, in hindsight, was not a good fit.

      They said in many cases they went with a particular lender because it had the lowest rates, or they had done business with it in the past.

      “This ‘happy buyer’s remorse’ is in part due to customers feeling that circumstances out of their control drove them to a particular choice and that options weren’t totally clear,” said Craig Martin, director of the mortgage practice at J.D. Power.

      Had to jump through hoops

      The problem, says Martin, is many of these consumers are happy with their interest rate, but feel like they had to jump through a long series of hoops to finally get the loan approved. In the end, these consumers might not fully understand exactly what they got. What lenders have to worry about, he says, is these consumers may be happy when they sign the loan papers, but not later on.

      Lenders, of course, are under new pressure since the financial crisis, having to implement tougher underwriting requirements. These requirements have had the effect of prolonging the process, no doubt creating negative feelings along the way.

      Quicken Loans ranked highest

      The J.D. Power survey found Quicken Loans ranked highest in customer satisfaction in the loan approval process. It's followed by CitiMortgage and Ditech Financial.

      The report's authors say consumers can improve their chances of being happy with their loan by selecting a lender and a mortgage product before they decide on a home. The researchers found consumers who did that were significantly more satisfied with the result.

      Getting through the home mortgage approval process is a lot trickier than it once was, and it turns out a large number of homebuyers who successfully make...
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      Chocolate Shoppe expands ice cream recall

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream Company of Madison, Wis, is expanding it's earlier recall of select ice cream products.

      The products were made with a chocolate chip cookie dough ingredient that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      The following products are being recalled:

      Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream Co. – 3-Gallon Cartons

      • Cookie Dough (code date 10/15/17, 10/21/17, 11/1/17 & 11/8/17),
      • Heaps of Love (code date 10/20/17, 10/28/17 & 11/8/17),
      • Peanut Butter Cookie Dough (code date 10/9/17, 10/18/17 & 11/1/17),
      • Sticks & Stones (code date 10/26/17).

      Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream Co. – Pints

      • Cookie Dough (code date 10/21/17).

      The Baked Bear brand – 3-Gallon Cartons

      • The Baked Bear brand Cookie Dough (code date 10/13/17, 10/15/17, 10/21/17).

      The recalled products were distributed to various ice cream shops, online outlets and limited grocery stores in Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at 800-466-8043 or by email at info@chocolateshoppeicecream.com.

      Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream Company of Madison, Wis, is expanding it's earlier recall of select ice cream products.The products were made with a chocola...
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      Automakers implore Trump to ease up on fuel efficiency

      California's governor warns the state will not back down

      The Trump Administration is still in its infancy, but that's not stopping automakers from proposing that it go easy on the fuel efficiency measures imposed by the outgoing Obama White House.

      The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers wants Trump to hit the pause button on the midterm evaluation of Obama's 2025 fuel economy and greenhouse rules until the carmakers have a chance to outline "a pathway forward" for the rules.

      The Alliance says the rules are a "substantial challenge" beginning in 2017, when increasingly stringent standards begin to go into effect. 

      “We live at a moment where technology and change are swamping the regulatory capacity to manage our emerging reality. Reform is imperative,” Alliance CEO Mitch Bainwol said in a letter to the Trump transition team, obtained by Automotive News. Trump has said he will review existing regulations that threaten jobs.

      Not just mpg

      It's not just the fuel efficiency standards that automakers want Trump to review. They're also concerned about the Transportation Department's guidelines for self-driving cars and want Trump to set up a "presidential advisory committee" to oversee the Environmental Protection Administration, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Federal Trade Commission, Federal Communications Commission, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the other agencies that oversee various aspects of the car business.

      Bainwol also wants Trump to consider the costs imposed by California's zero-emission vehicle sales mandates, which require that 15 percent of sales in California be zero-emission vehicles like electric- or hydrogen-powered. 

      “The Administration should engage as appropriate to help address these ZEV issues -- especially to help avoid the creation of a patchwork of requirements that will frustrate the overall intent of the ‘One National Program,’” Bainwol wrote, according to Automotive News.

      That argument's not likely to be well-received in California, where Gov. Jerry Brown issued a statement Thursday saying the nation's most populous state would not back down on environmental protection and climate change issues.

      "We will protect the precious rights of our people and continue to confront the existential threat of our time — devastating climate change," Brown said.

      Secession movement

      Trump's election has heightened interest in a secession movement that's backed by Silicon Valley tech investor Shervin Pishevar and others. The "Yes California Independence Campaign" is gathering signatures to put a question on the November 2018 ballot that would authorize a statewide independence vote for the spring of 2019.

      It would take hundreds of thousands of signatures to put the question on the ballot and millions more to actually authorize the state to pursue secession.

      Pishevar argues California could be economically self-sufficient, given the size of its economy.

      “As the sixth largest economy in the world, California is more economically powerful than France and has a population larger than Poland,” the group said in a statement. “California compares and competes with countries, not just the 49 other states.”

      There's little legal basis for such an effort. The Constitution outlines the steps taken for new states to be added but does not address any way for states to leave the Union.

      The only actual secession effort in American history was, of course, the Civil War, in which a coalition of seven southern states sought to declare their independence. President Abraham Lincoln feared the result of secession would be the crumbling of the United States.

      The result was a four-year armed conflict from 1861 to 1865 that cost 625,000 American lives, nearly as many as have died in all other military actions that the U.S. has entered. For those who may have forgotten their history, the Union forces defeated the Confederate States of America, leaving little legal precedent for other secession efforts. 

      The Trump Administration is still in its infancy, but that's not stopping automakers from proposing that it go easy on...
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      How your birth date affects your susceptibility to flu viruses

      One study’s findings could hold the key to avoiding future pandemics

      You might be one of those people who gets a flu shot every year and carefully navigates through flu season, but that isn’t always a guarantee that you’ll stay healthy. Up to this point, experts have believed that exposure to the flu didn’t really affect your chances of getting it again. However, a new study suggests that might not be true.

      Researchers from the University of Arizona and University of California, Los Angeles have found that a person’s susceptibility to animal flu viruses like swine flu and avian flu can be determined by the first strain of flu virus they encounter in their lives. The finding could prove to be monumental in helping people avoid serious illness, as well as economies from suffering the financial toll.

      "Even a comparatively weak, mild pandemic flu event like the 2009 H1N1 (swine flu) outbreak is a trillion-dollar affair. A major pandemic like the one we saw in 1918 has the potential to kill large numbers of people and shut down the world's economy," said senior author Michael Worobey.

      First encounter is key

      In order to explain how our immune systems interact with various flu viruses, Worobey uses an analogy involving lollipops. Basically, it demonstrates how different flu strains share common characteristics that our immune system can respond to effectively if it has encountered it previously.

      "Let's say you were first exposed to a human 'orange lollipop' flu as a kid," Worobey explains. "If later in life you encounter another subtype of flu virus, one from a bird and one that your immune system has never seen before but whose proteins also are of a similar 'orange' flavor, your chances of dying are quite low because of cross-protection. But if you were first infected with a virus from the 'blue lollipop' group as kid, that won't protect you against this novel, 'orange' strain."

      The researchers tested the theory by studying two devastating avian flu viruses, H5N1 and H7N9. The two strains are a top concern for health officials because they have already caused severe illness and death, and they could eventually mutate and rapidly spread among humans.

      After examining all cases pertaining to the two strains, the researchers found that immunity to them could be determined by the first flu strain that people experienced when they were kids. They call the phenomenon “immunological imprinting,” and they believe it likely determines the type of protection your body has against the flu for the rest of your life.

      A blessing and a curse

      The findings of the study could be groundbreaking because it suggests that there are more factors at play when determining immunity to the flu. In the case of the H5 and H7 strains that were studied, Worobrey notes that even if we have never been exposed to either, our bodies have a chance of being protected against one or the other.

      However, the researchers say that their findings aren’t all good news. Worobey explains how immunological imprinting can be both a blessing and a curse.

      "In a way it's a good-news, bad-news story. It's good news in the sense that we can now see the factor that really explains a big part of the story: Your first infection sets you up for either success or failure in a huge way, even against 'novel' flu strains. The bad news is the very same imprinting that provides such great protection may be difficult to alter with vaccines: A good universal vaccine should provide protection where you lack it most, but the epidemiological data suggest we may be locked into strong protection against just half of the family tree of flu strains," he said.

      The full study has been published in the journal Science

      You might be one of those people who gets a flu shot every year and carefully navigates through flu season, but that isn’t always a guarantee that you’ll s...
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      Consumers battered by financial crisis getting their credit back

      It's been seven years since many of these people lost their homes to foreclosure

      It takes seven years for a foreclosure, short sale, or bankruptcy to come off a consumer's credit report.

      Since the height of the foreclosure tsunami was 2009, a lot of former homeowners, whose credit has been practically non-existent since then, are getting back on their financial feet.

      According to an analysis by Experian, one of the three credit agencies, 2.5 million consumers will see their credit standing improve sharply between last June and next June. Of these, the credit agency says 68% are scoring at near-prime or higher credit levels.

      Back in the credit market

      It means that millions of consumers, largely shut out of the credit market since 2009, will be able to take out loans again. Those who want to buy a home again will most likely qualify for a mortgage, putting even more pressure on extremely tight inventory levels around the country.

      Experian also reports that formerly foreclosed or bankrupt borrowers who have already shed those events from the credit reports have returned to the credit markets in large numbers and, by and large, are showing good financial behavior.

      The Experian analysis shows 29% of consumers who sold short between 2007 and 2010 have opened a new mortgage, with a delinquency rate that is a full percentage point below the national average.

      Win-win

      "With millions of borrowers potentially coming back into the housing market, the trends that we're seeing are promising for both the mortgage seeker and the lender," said Michele Raneri, vice president of analytics and new business development at Experian.

      Raneri predicts that in the years ahead, these so-called “boomerang borrowers” will be a critical segment of the real-estate market, and perhaps could propel prices still higher.

      The Experian report shows that homeowners who had a foreclosure in the past but now have qualified for a mortgage have an average credit score of 680, more than 20% higher than their score at the time of foreclosure.

      The record is even better for consumers who sold short. Those who have now qualified for a new mortgage have an average credit score of 706, up 16.5% from when they were forced to sell.

      It takes seven years for a foreclosure, short sale, or bankruptcy to come off a consumer's credit report.Since the height of the foreclosure tsunami wa...
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      Smoking linked to 40% of U.S. cancer diagnoses

      Meanwhile, the number of smokers continues to fall

      Since the 1964 Surgeon General's report that linked cigarette smoking to cancer, we have known of tobacco's corrosive effects on health.

      But just how corrosive is it? A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests as many as 40% of all cancer cases diagnosed in the U.S. may have a tobacco link.

      While tobacco use is most closely associated with lung cancer, the reports cites evidence that it also causes cancers of the mouth and throat, voice box, esophagus, stomach, kidney, pancreas, liver, bladder, cervix, colon, and rectum, and a type of leukemia, known as acute myeloid leukemia.

      In short, the report's authors conclude that avoiding tobacco use is the best way to prevent the disease, which affected about 660,000 people in the U.S. from 2009 to 2013, killing more than half.

      Another way of looking at it, since 1990 about 1.3 million cancer deaths linked to tobacco have been avoided because either people quit smoking or never started in the first place. CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden says that should just be a start.

      Preventable deaths

      "There are more than 36 million smokers in the U.S.," Frieden said. "Sadly, nearly half could die prematurely from tobacco-related illnesses, including six million from cancer, unless we implement the programs that will help smokers quit."

      But progress has been coming faster in recent years. In a separate CDC report, health officials note that cigarette smoking among U.S. adults has dropped more than 20% from 2005. From 2014 to 2015, there was a 1.7% drop, resulting in the lowest number of adult smokers since the government began collecting data in 1965.

      Cigarette smoking surged in the years after World War II, some say encouraged by the fact that every GI's rations included a pack of cigarettes. As viewers of the hit series “Mad Men” saw, cigarettes were a ubiquitous part of American life in the 1960s. In 1965, the CDC estimates more than 42% of Americans were smoking.

      Currently, the CDC estimates 16.8% of U.S. adults still smoke cigarettes, leading to more than $300 billion in annual health care costs.

      Since the 1964 Surgeon General's report that linked cigarette smoking to cancer, we have known of tobacco's corrosive effects on health.But just how co...
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      Adobe settles 2013 data breach with 15 states

      Nearly three million consumers were affected

      Hackers were able to break into servers operated by Adobe Systems and get access to the personal information of nearly three million consumers in 2013.

      Now, the software company has reached a settlement with 15 states that brought actions on behalf of residents. The states claimed that Adobe did not take “reasonable security measures” to protect the data. It was similar to the charges leveled by other large companies that suffered data breaches in the past.

      The settlement requires Adobe to pay $1 million, to be divided among the 15 states. It also requires the company to adopt stronger security protocols, if it has not already done so.

      "Consumers should have a reasonable expectation that their personal and financial information is properly safeguarded from unauthorized access," said Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen.

      Jepson praised Adobe for working in good faith with the states bringing the action and for that, he says, it deserves credit.

      “Companies have a responsibility to consumers to protect their personal information, and this settlement will ensure Adobe establishes stronger safeguards in the future,” said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

      How the breach occured

      In September 2013, Adobe learned the hard drive for one of its application servers was closing in on its capacity. After getting an alert, Adobe learned that an unauthorized attempt was being made to crack encrypted customer payment card numbers residing on the server.

      Adobe was able to stop the decryption process and disconnected the server from the network. However, it found the attacker had compromised a public-facing Web server and used it to access other servers on Adobe’s network. In the end, the hacker was able to make off with encrypted payment card numbers and expiration dates, names, addresses, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, and usernames, as well as other data.

      “This case is yet another example of the importance of protecting your personal and financial information,” said Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller. “I continue to be an advocate for Indiana’s credit freeze protections and encourage all Hoosiers to place credit freezes with the major credit bureaus.”

      States participating in the settlement include Arkansas, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Vermont.

      Hackers were able to break into servers operated by Adobe Systems and get access to the personal information of nearly three million consumers in 2013....
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      Drug companies enjoy 2016 election victories

      Republicans to lower drug costs? Pharma companies aren't convinced

      Few things unite Americans like rage against price-gouging pharmaceutical companies. But that growing sentiment had little effect on the drug industry’s comfortable pockets during this week’s election. One measure in California that would have capped drug prices failed miserably, and big pharma shares are reportedly soaring following Trump’s win.

      Pharma cash floods California race

      Several of the people who were in the presidential running this year voiced support for tackling drug prices and continue to do so. In California, just days before the election, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders rallied people to support Prop. 61, an initiative developed by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. The proposition would have set the prices of all drugs purchased through California’s state health programs to the lowest price paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

      Despite Sanders’ persistent efforts, Californians defeated the measure 54-46 percent. “This was a tremendous uphill battle from the very start,” a strategist told the Sacramento Bee. The pharmaceutical industry raised over $100 million to defeat the measure and ran an aggressive advertising campaign against it.

      Republicans to tackle rising drug costs? 

      President-elect Donald Trump has also previously talked about lowering drug prices, though not as much as Hillary Clinton did. Back in January, Trump told supporters that he wanted to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, a policy that would likely keep drug prices lower and cut into big pharma’s profits.

      “We don’t do it. Why? Because of the drug companies,” he reportedly said in some not-very-Republican sounding remarks.

      Trump has also said on the campaign trail that he would allow cheaper drugs to be imported to the United States. As people like Sanders and patients' rights groups will tell you, the United States pays some of the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs.

      "Congress will need the courage to step away from the special interests and do what is right for America...Allowing consumers access to imported, safe, and dependable drugs from overseas will bring more options to consumers," his health plan said.

      But the pharmaceutical industry apparently isn’t convinced that Trump will be a champion of the sick or do what he said he would do. On Wednesday, shares in pharma and biotech companies soared. Hillary Clinton "not being in the White House removes the notion of some sort of price controls off the table," Tony Butler, an analyst at Guggenheim Securities, told Reuters. "From the perspective of pharmaceutical, biotechnology, generic (drug) stocks, (the election) went about as well as could be expected."

      Shares of Pfizer rose 8.5 percent, Mallinckrodt rose 10 percent, and Celgene rose 10.4 percent.

      Few things unite Americans like rage against price-gouging pharmaceutical companies. But that growing sentiment had little effect on the drug industry’s co...
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      Trump's 'drain-the-swamp' promise takes a back seat to reality

      Washington is full of lobbyists and influence-peddlers. Good thing too

      President-Elect Donald J. Trump made a lot of promises during his campaign, one of the most notable being his pledge to "drain the swamp" in Washington, D.C., a pledge based on the popular misconception that the nation's capital is located on the site of a former swamp.

      In fact, the District of Columbia may be marshy, but it was never technically a swamp. And it's not a swamp today either -- it's more like a beehive that has been whacked with a big stick. The place, in a word, is buzzing.

      It's been eight years since there was a change in administrations and a change in ruling party to boot. Leaving politics aside for a moment, this is a bonanza for Realtors who will soon have hundreds of upscale homes to list as dejected Democrats leave town and hundreds of jubilant incoming Republicans replace them.

      (Realtors prefer for the successful candidate to be from New York, California, or some other high cost-of-living state; they tend to be willing and able to spend more on housing. The first and, as it turns out last, Clinton Administration was not popular with the housing trade).

      But forget Realtors, the business of Washington is lobbying. There are all kinds of lobbyists. Some represent charitable causes and what used to be called "do-gooder" groups, but the high-powered ones represent business interests. Although they tend to be vilified by candidates and everyone else, lobbyists are necessary since, without them, businesses and institutions would soon be hopelessly hamstrung by regulations, at least in theory.

      In their simplest form, lobbyists provide information to lawmakers, helping them understand what effect a given piece of legislation would have on a specific industry. When necessary, gentle persuasion may be employed. (Full disclosure: I worked for several years with what we call "government affairs firms" in D.C. but have no current ties with any special interest groups or lobbying firms). 

      A lengthy list

      Given all this, it was not surprising today when I came across a list of the lobbyists who were heading up various elements of the Trump transition team. There are lobbyists representing Altria, Coca-Cola, General Elecric, Dow Chemical, and Duke Energy, among many others, in charge of finding top appointees for Homeland Security, Labor, Energy, Interior, Agriculture, Defense, and the list goes on.

      Shocking? Not really. Since top Obama appointees will soon turn in their resignations and leave, new appointees must be identified, vetted, grilled, and examined.

      It's a lengthy process and one that must be carried out largely by the President-Elect's staff. He is not yet the President, after all, and does not command the full resources of the executive branch, so it's necessary to find volunteers who know the territory, are accustomed to working long hours, and looking out for the arcane details that will bite you if you don't see them coming -- lobbyists, in other words.

      Many lobbyists are former government officials who worked on the Hill or in one of the agencies. Their bosses tend to be former officeholders -- Senators and Representatives who are living the heavenly (and lucrative) afterlife that follows a few terms in office.

      In Trump's case, he is especially dependent on Washington insiders. He, after all, is a businessman, not a politician. He has never held elective office, doesn't have many close contacts in D.C., and his swamp-draining campaign promises (and those leaked videotapes) basically made him a pariah in the political world. 

      A jarring transition

      "He couldn't even staff the campaign because no one wanted to be associated with him," said one Trump aide quoted in a Politico newsletter. "It's different now but there's going to have to be a lot of forgive and forget."

      Working in Trump's favor -- lobbying firms are scrambling to demonstrate to their clients that they wield influence with the incoming Trumpians and are desperate to volunteer to help the transition move smoothly. 

      The transition from Political Outsider to President-Elect can be jarring. One minute you're railing against special interests, greedy capitalists, and featherbedding bureaucrats. The next, you're the biggest insider of all, your desk the one where the buck stops.

      Love him or hate him, Trump faces a difficult few months. He won't have time to be draining any swamps. And while struggling to assemble his team, Trump will know that across town, plans are being made by rivals already hard at work on the 2018 election. His oversights today will be the political fodder of tomorrow's campaigns. 

      President-Elect Donald J. Trump made a lot of promises during his campaign, one of the most notable being his pledge to "drain the swamp" in Washington, D....
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      Scientists hopeful they can make paralyzed patients walk

      Brain and spine implants produce near miracle in monkeys

      The complex circuitry connecting the brain to important muscles in the body may hold the key to helping paralyzed patients get up and walk.

      Like, getting up and walking almost immediately.

      An international team of scientists, writing up their findings in the journal Nature, say implanting electrodes in a portion of the spine that hasn't been injured can reopen the pathway from the brain to leg muscles.

      They conducted experiments using two primates who had temporarily become paralyzed in one leg. After implanting the electrodes, the scientists say the monkeys could get up and start walking. They say such a remedy could be available for human use within a decade.

      According to the Mayo Clinic Staff, a spinal cord injury often causes permanent changes to the body below the injury, creating a life-changing situation. Yet the Mayo doctors acknowledge that many researchers have long been optimistic that doctors would someday find a way to repair these injuries.

      Severity can vary

      People suffer spinal cord injuries in many ways. A number of these injuries have occurred during athletic competition. Others are the result of accidents. The severity can vary, based on the area of the spin that is injured.

      “Most injuries to the spinal cord don't completely sever it,” the National Institutes of Health (NIH) explains on one of its websites. “Instead, an injury is more likely to cause fractures and compression of the vertebrae, which then crush and destroy axons -- extensions of nerve cells that carry signals up and down the spinal cord between the brain and the rest of the body. An injury to the spinal cord can damage a few, many, or almost all of these axons.”

      NIH points out that some patients recover from spinal injuries, but others don't.

      In the experiments on monkeys, the researchers say they were encouraged because the primates were able to get up and walk immediately after the implant, without having to go through any kind of physical retraining.

      Up and around in six days

      “As early as six days post-injury and without prior training of the monkeys, the brain–spine interface restored weight-bearing locomotion of the paralyzed leg on a treadmill and overground,” the authors write. “The implantable components integrated in the brain–spine interface have all been approved for investigational applications in similar human research, suggesting a practical translational pathway for proof-of-concept studies in people with spinal cord injury.”

      There are actually two implantable devices that make the system work. One is implanted in the brain, the other in the spine. The devices then communicate wirelessly.

      In addition to helping paralyzed people walk again, the scientists say they may be able to use their discovery to regrow damaged circuits. But they concede the electrodes carry some limitations that require additional research.

      The complex circuitry connecting the brain to important muscles in the body may hold the key to helping paralyzed patients get up and walk.Like, gettin...
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      Black Friday sales begin today for Walmart

      Users of the company's app can take advantage of several deals

      For an event whose name suggests a one-day connection, Black Friday seems to start earlier and last longer every year. Retailers are eager to move product and rake in consumer dollars, and now one company has officially kicked off its Black Friday sales.

      Walmart shoppers who use the company’s app can start indulging in sales today on a variety of items, including electronic devices like an Acer laptop and a 65-inch Hitachi 4K Ultra HDTV. The deals will continue all the way through the actual Black Friday event on November 25, and may even last longer into the holiday shopping season.

      Starting up its sales early could be viewed by some to be a risky move; recent reports indicate that consumers have become guarded when it comes to Black Friday, with many saying that they’ll be avoiding the hassle by doing more shopping online.

      Consumers who do choose to shop in stores say that they’re often disappointed by hyped up deals that fall short of expectations because product inventory runs out so fast. However, Walmart says that won’t be a problem this year. The company says that it is stocking up on 1.5 million TV’s, 2 million tablets and computers, and 3 million video games that will be purchasable online and at stores.

      “I don’t expect to see any kind of decline [on] Black Friday. . . traffic continues to grow in the stores while we continue to grow our online business,” said Walmart’s chief merchandising officer Steve Bratspies.

      For an event whose name suggests a one-day connection, Black Friday seems to start earlier and last longer every year. Retailers are eager to move product...
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      Here's a sneak peek at Black Friday ad slicks

      Best Buy, Walmart, Target, Sears, and Kmart have all tipped their hands

      For consumers planning to get up early and hit the stores on Black Friday, here's a way to plan your morning. A shopping website, BestBlackFriday.com has published leaked Black Friday ad slicks from five major retailers, Best Buy, Walmart, Target, Sears, and Kmart.

      Best Buy

      According to the ad for Best Buy, the electronics retailer will open at 5:00 p.m. Thanksgiving Day and offer a Samsung 55-inch 2160p 4K HD smart TV for $479.99, marked down by $320. A Toshiba 49-inch 2160p set will go for $199.99.

      The Dell Inspiron 15.6-inch touchscreen laptop will have a sale price of $349.99, $150 lower than its regular price. The seven-inch, 8GB Kindle Fire has a sale price of $33.33. You can save $125 on the 9.7-inch iPad Pro.

      Walmart

      Walmart will open at 6:00 p.m. Thursday. The Walmart ad shows the iPhone 5 on Straight Talk Wireless selling for $99. A Philips 55-inch 4K LED TV has been marked down to $298.

      For gamers, the Playstation 4 Slim 500GB bundle is $249, and includes a $30 gift card. The Samsung 4K Blue-ray disc player is $39.

      Target

      The ad for Target's Black Friday Preview Sale, starting Thanksgiving Day, promotes a Fitbit Charge HR for $89.95, marked down from $129.95.

      On Wednesday and Thursday, Target is offering the Jetson V6 hoverboard with Bluetooth speakers for $284.99. In the toy department, the Badgor Basket wooden doll house, with 15-piece furniture set, goes for $69.

      Sears

      Sears will open at 6:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Its ad touts a Kenmore washer-dryer combo for $279.99 each and a 25.6 cubic inch, two-door stainless steel refrigerator for $999.

      The Craftsman 41-inch, 12-drawer ball bearing tool chest is marked down to $349.98. A Serta Posturepedic queen sized mattress and box spring set has been marked down to $349.

      Kmart

      Kmart will open at 7:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving and its ad shows a Bell & Howell dashcam with 8 GB micro SD card for $15. It's 10-inch Frozen or Spiderman bike, regularly $49.99, has been marked down to $19.

      For consumers planning to get up early and hit the stores on Black Friday, here's a way to plan your morning. A shopping website, BestBlackFriday.com has p...
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      Blacks, Hispanics still lag in conventional mortgage approval

      But Zillow reports both groups are closing the gap

      Housing data collected by the federal government shows African American and Hispanic borrowers still have a harder time qualifying for a conventional mortgage than other races.

      The statistics gathered under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) show improvements in mortgage access for these groups, but disparities persist.

      For example, 22.4% of black applicants were denied in 2015 when they applied for a conventional mortgage. But that's an improvement from five years earlier, when the denial rate was 30.5%.

      Among Hispanic mortgage applicants, 17.3% were turned down when they applied for a conventional mortgage last year, but that was also a significant improvement over 2010's 25% decline rate.

      Typically, 10% of all applicants are turned down

      Overall, only 10.4% of all conventional mortgage borrowers were turned down last year.

      "Even though conditions have improved over the past few years, getting approved for a mortgage is still a significant barrier for some would-be buyers," said Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Svenja Gudell. "Owning a home is an important way for the middle class to build personal wealth. It's encouraging to see more black and Hispanic borrowers getting approved for mortgages, but there's still a lot of progress that needs to be made."

      It should be noted that the denial rate only applies to conventional mortgages, which can carry some advantages but usually require larger down payments and stronger credit profiles.

      FHA a popular alternative

      For consumers who don't qualify for a conventional mortgage, a government-backed FHA mortgage is a popular alternative. To qualify for an FHA mortgage, an applicant needs only a credit score of 580 and a 3.5% down payment.

      There can be slightly higher interest rates associated with these loans, however. Also, the homeowner is required to continue to pay for mortgage insurance over the life of the loan, no matter how much equity he or she eventually gains in the property.

      Zillow raises a concern that black and Hispanic borrowers are not getting access to the conventional loan market at the same rate as white and Asian applicants. The real estate website says the problem appears to be so entrenched that last week Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac announced programs to improve access to credit for these groups.

      Housing data collected by the federal government shows African American and Hispanic borrowers still have a harder time qualifying for a conventional mortg...
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      Economy: Completed foreclosures, jobless claims down

      Serious mortgage delinquencies were lower as well

      Another month of declines in both completed foreclosures and the foreclosure inventory.

      Property information provider CoreLogic reports completed foreclosures declined by 7.0% in September from the same time a year ago, while the foreclosure inventory plunged 31.1%.

      The number of completed foreclosures nationwide was down year-over-year by 3,000 -- to 36,000 in September 2016, representing a drop of 69.7% from the peak of 118,222 in September 2010.

      The foreclosure inventory represents the number of homes at some stage of the foreclosure process and completed foreclosures reflect the total number of homes lost to foreclosure.

      Since the financial meltdown began in September 2008, there have been approximately 6.4 million completed foreclosures nationally. Since homeownership rates peaked in the second quarter of 2004, there have been approximately 8.5 million homes lost to foreclosure.

      As of September, the national foreclosure inventory included approximately 340,000, or 0.9%, of all homes with a mortgage, versus 493,000 homes, or 1.3%, the year before.

      Mortgage delinquencies

      The number of mortgages in serious delinquency -- 90 days or more past due including loans in foreclosure or REO -- plummeted 24.8% from September 2015 to September 2016, with 1 million mortgages, or 2.6%, in serious delinquency. That's the lowest level since August 2007. Decreases were seen in 48 states and the District of Columbia.

      “This improvement is continued evidence of the recovery in the housing market,” said Dr. Frank Nothaft, chief economist for CoreLogic, “especially given that the decreases were fairly uniform in most cities across the country.”

      Report highlights

      • On a month-over-month basis, completed foreclosures increased by 5.2% to 36,000 in September from the 34,000 reported for August. As a basis of comparison, before the decline in the housing market in 2007, completed foreclosures averaged 21,000 per month nationwide between 2000 and 2006.
      • The September foreclosure inventory was down 3.1% compared with August 2016.
      • The five states with the highest number of completed foreclosures in the 12 months ending in September were Florida (53,000), Texas (27,000), Michigan (24,000), Ohio (23,000), and Georgia (21,000).These five states accounted for 36% of completed foreclosures nationally.
      • Four states and the District of Columbia had the lowest number of completed foreclosures in the 12 months ending in September: the District of Columbia (186), North Dakota (338), West Virginia (447), Alaska (643), and Montana (701).
      • Four states and the District of Columbia had the highest foreclosure inventory rate in September: New Jersey (3.0%), New York (2.7%), Maine (1.8%), Hawaii (1.8%), and the District of Columbia (1.6%).
      • The five states with the lowest foreclosure inventory rate in September 2016 were Colorado (0.3%), Minnesota (0.3%), Arizona , Michigan, and Utah (all at 0.3%).

      Jobless claims

      The decline last week in first-time applications for state unemployment benefits more than wiped out the increase posted the previous week.

      The Department of Labor (DOL) reports initial jobless claims were down by 11,000 in the week ending November 5 to a seasonally adjusted 254,000.

      It's now been 88 straight weeks that claims have been below 300,000 the longest streak since 1970.

      The four-week moving average inched up 1,750 from a week earlier to 259,750. This measure is seen as a better gauge of the labor market as it lacks the volatility seen in the weekly headcount.

      The complete report may be found on the DOL website.

      Another month of declines in both completed foreclosures and the foreclosure inventory.Property information provider CoreLogic repo...
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      Volvo recalls vehicles with seat belt buckle issue

      The front passenger seat belt buckle may separate from the seat belt bracket

      Volvo Car USA is recalling 74,027 model year 2016-2017 XC90, S90, XC60, V60 Cross Country, V60, S60 Cross Country, S60, and S60 Inscription vehicles manufactured February 16, 2015, to August 22, 2016.

      The front passenger seat belt buckle attaching stud may loosen, allowing the buckle to separate from the seat belt bracket. As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 210, "Seat Belt Assembly Anchorages" and number 209, "Seat Belt Assemblies."

      If the seat belt buckle separates from the bracket, the front seat passenger may not be restrained adequately in the event of a crash, increasing the risk of injury.

      What to do

      Volvo will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the front passenger seat belt buckle stud, replacing the seat belt buckle as needed, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin December 12, 2016.

      Owners may contact Volvo customer service at 1-800-458-1552. Volvo's number for this recall is R89708.

      Volvo Car USA is recalling 74,027 model year 2016-2017 XC90, S90, XC60, V60 Cross Country, V60, S60 Cross Country, S60, and S60 Inscription vehicles manufa...
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      Trump brand saved by election win

      Damage to the brand has evaporated with Trump's upset victory

      In the depths of the presidential campaign, marketing analysts said that Trump the candidate was doing a lot of damage to Trump the brand and that Donald Trump's hotels, golf clubs, neckties, and other consumer goods were feeling the heat.

      But now that it's the morning after, things are looking a little different. A post-Election Day, overnight national survey conducted by Brand Keys, the New York-based brand engagement and customer loyalty research consultancy, revealed that in each of the seven categories Brand Keys has been tracking, the Trump brand has rebounded to levels seen just prior to the April 2015 announcement of his candidacy.

      "“Mr. Trump has been one of the most powerful brands we'’ve ever tracked,”" said Robert Passikoff, Brand Keys founder and president. “"You could add his name to anything from ties to buildings and the increased perceived value of the products fell into the 20% to 37% range. Which was very high, enviable by any category or brand standards, and what a brand is supposed to do. Now, I suppose, he literally qualifies as ‘the most powerful brand in the world’.”"

      Blurred the lines

      The Trump brand took a beating as campaign rhetoric heated up. Things worsened when a videotape was released that captured Trump making lewd comments about women.

      "That didn't totally surprise or alarm us,"” Passikoff said. "“In becoming a candidate Mr. Trump changed both the brand paradigm regarding consumer expectations and values surrounding the Trump brand and also blurred the traditional lines regarding where the ‘Trump brand’ was expected to compete."

      Passikoff said that human brands -- brands built around living people -- are powerful but can be damaged by the actions of their namesakes. They "don'’t usually come back as strong as they used to be" after an incident like the videotape release, he said.

      "Think about what happened to Martha Stewart or Tiger Woods. Their brands survived but they never came back as strong as they were before the brand imploded –after they went to jail or were forced to do a PGA Adultery walk-of-shame, for example,"” noted Passikoff.

      "“Human brands don’'t generally get a second chance to breathe real life back into their brands or rekindle the desire in the hearts and souls of consumers. Not at their former brand strength, added-value levels, at least," Passikoff said. "But apparently winning a presidential election is the exception that tests the rule."

      Study details

      According to 1,203 registered voters in the nine US Census regions, 100% of the categories where Brand Keys has tracked the Trump brand that had been negatively affected a month ago with the Access Hollywood tape disclosure have rebounded to pre-candidacy added-value brand levels.

      Added-value related to the Trump brand --– that is, how much more a product or service is seen to better meet consumer expectations and be seen to be worth more monetarily with the Trump brand --– is back up significantly from a month ago in each of the seven categories where Brand Keys has historically tracked the Trump brand.

      In some categories the added-value brand numbers are the highest Brand Keys has ever tracked for the brand.

      In the depths of the presidential campaign, marketing analysts said that Trump the candidate was doing a lot of damage to Trump the brand and that Donald T...
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      Four cities approve tax on sugary soda

      Anti-obesity advocates go four-for-four on election day

      If you ask voters, putting an extra tax on sugar-sweetened soda seems like a good idea. It was on the ballot Tuesday in four cities, and voters in all four cities approved it.

      Three of the cities are in California – actually the same region of California. The tax won approval in San Francisco, Oakland, and Albany. In addition, voters in Boulder, Colo., approved the tax.

      In a statement issued on election day, before any of the ballots were counted, Dr. Michael Jacobson, Executive Director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), said just the presence of the ballot initiatives represents a new normal for “Big Soda.”

      “The lessons learned by the community groups and advocates in these campaigns will be shared across the country and brought to bear in other cities and states,” Jacobson said. “The industry will continue to outspend because they can’t afford to lose. But they have already lost: The science base is growing stronger for sugar drinks’ causation of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and tooth decay, and communities are acting.”

      Outspent

      According to USA Today, consumer groups pushing for the soda tax spent just over $9 million to support their cause. Opponents, back in part by the beverage industry, spend $20 million. It was pretty much the same story in the other three municipalities.

      The four cities are the first to approve a soda tax since Berkeley, Calif., took that step in 2014. In Tuesday's voting, Boulder added a two-cent tax to the cost of soda. The California cities each added a penny.

      Will it have an effect? The World Health Organization (WHO) believes it will and recently urged cities around the world to enact taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages. The organization said it believes adding to the cost of these products could help reduce health risks like type 2 diabetes and obesity.

      “Consumption of free sugars, including products like sugary drinks, is a major factor in the global increase of people suffering from obesity and diabetes. . . If governments tax products like sugary drinks, they can reduce suffering and save lives. They can also cut healthcare costs and increase revenues to invest in health services,” said Dr. Douglas Bettcher, director of WHO’s Department for the Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs).

      The taxes approved in Tuesday's voting are projected to raise as much as $29 million between the four cities.

      If you ask voters, putting an extra tax on sugar-sweetened soda seems like a good idea. It was on the ballot Tuesday in four cities, and voters in all four...
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      Facebook announces tests for a new job recruitment feature

      The new addition could be a direct challenge to other sites like LinkedIn

      Social media giant Facebook isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but the company has progressively been trying to find more ways to keep users engaged in its network. Last month, it launched Marketplace, an apparent answer to Craigslist, that is meant to allow users to see and buy items that people close by have for sale.

      Now, the company says it will be testing out a new feature on some Pages that’s designed to help with job recruitment. It said in an announcement on Monday that the tool will help employers find new, prospective candidates for job openings. So far, the tool is only in the testing phase, but it could provide a challenge to popular networking site LinkedIn, which is also heavily invested in job listings and recruitment.

      “Based on behavior we’ve seen on Facebook, where many small businesses post about their job openings on their Page, we’re running a test for Page admins to create job postings and receive applications from candidates,” a spokesperson told Reuters.

      Applying via Facebook

      According to TechCrunch, Pages can now formally share a job opening by accessing an option in the status update composer; details such as salary and prerequisites can be added to the opening before it is published. An “Apply Now” button on the job posting will allow prospective candidates to begin the application process, and any relevant information collected by Facebook can be used to fill in answers more quickly.

      Users will be able to find the postings in a couple of different places. Currently, they can go to a company’s Page and look under the “Jobs” tab to see if there are any openings. In the future, businesses will also be able to post a job opening to their News Feed, allowing all their followers to see it.

      Completed applications will be sent to the appropriate Page as a Facebook message, and administrators will be able to take the information from there.

      Providing incentive

      If successful, the new job listing feature is sure to drive even more internet traffic to Facebook. Since the jobs tab of each Page acts as its own landing site, companies and businesses may be able to attract more Facebook followers and increase their reach.

      Also, since each application is sent as a Facebook message, it might incentivize businesses to start committing to the social network’s chat feature. However, TechCrunch notes that if this feature doesn’t work well due to the variety of Facebook messages a Page receives, moving to an email-based system may be better.

      The whole development comes at an inopportune time for LinkedIn. Not only is it dwarfed by Facebook’s user base – a difference of nearly 1.32 billion – but its recent acquisition by Microsoft could put the service on its heels as it seeks to adjust. Whether it will be forced to recover and try to retain users over the long-term remains to be seen. 

      Social media giant Facebook isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but the company has progressively been trying to find more ways to keep users engaged in its...
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      Business interests try to read the Trump tea leaves

      Trade restrictions, immigration policy, media regulations eyed on Wall Street and beyond

      Donald Trump's victory at the polls has business interests wishing they had a crystal ball that would tell them which of Trump's campaign promises he actually intends to pursue vigorously.

      Republican candidates are usually fervent supporters of free trade and opponents of unnecessary government regulation of business. But Trump is not your ordinary Republican, and it's not entirely clear what his approach will be. 

      Restricting international free trade and renegotating treaties like NAFTA -- as he has proposed -- could have an enormous impact on everything from advertising to bananas, while tighter immigration policies would hit the food and beverage industries hard, Advertising Age notes today.

      It quotes analysts as saying that Corona and Modelo Especial beers would be at risk. If 1.5 million undocumented Mexican immigrants left the United States, the beer brands could suffer because, the analysts say, Mexican immigrants' per capita beer consumption is about twice that of the general population.

      Media policy

      Telecom and media interests are also feeling some trepidation. Trump made no secret of his disdain for the news media and threatened to change libel laws to make it easier for candidates to sue press outlets.

      Trump has also been outspoken in his opposition to further media consolidation and specifically mentioned AT&T's proposed acquisition of Time Warner. He also said he would try to break up Comcast and NBC Universal.

      "As an example of the power structure I'm fighting, AT&T is buying Time Warner and thus CNN," Mr. Trump said Oct. 22 as the deal was announced, "a deal we will not approve in my administration because it's too much concentration of power in the hands of too few."

      An AT&T executive said this morning that the company is looking forward to working with Trump and is optimistic the deal can be approved.

      Broadband providers are also wondering how a Trump presidency will affect the Federal Communications Commission, which is implementing new rules to protect consumers' privacy on the Web. 

      In a letter to Trump organized by the National Association of Manufacturers, top executives from Boeing, Ford, and United Technologies, among others, urged Trump to take a "constructive" approach to business regulation.

      “We hope President Trump is more nuanced than candidate Trump,” said Jake Parker, vice president of China operations of the U.S.-China Business Council, according to The Wall Street Journal.

      Donald Trump's victory at the polls has business interests wishing they had a crystal ball that would tell them which of Trump's campaign promises he actua...
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      Study: TV's cooking shows fail to promote food safety

      Practices are out of compliance in 70% of episodes

      Consumers' fascination with food has made The Food Network must-see TV for many an amateur chef.

      But while viewers may learn how to prepare a gourmet meal, they aren't going to learn much about avoiding E. coli and other foodborne illnesses. At least that's the conclusion of a study by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

      Though they rarely burst into the headlines, food-related illnesses occur every day. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there are 48 million cases each year, resulting in as many as 3,000 deaths.

      The U-Mass researchers say the popularity of cooking shows on TV provides a perfect opportunity to educate consumers on basic food safety, yet they say their study found little evidence of it.

      19-question survey

      The researchers developed a survey with 19 questions, modeled after the Massachusetts Food Establishment Report. It looked at hygienic food-handling, how gloves and utensils are used, protection from contamination, and time and temperature controls.

      They also listened for mentions of food safety and proper practices. Researchers viewed 10 popular cooking shows – two to six episodes each – for a total of 39 episodes.

      Lead author Nancy Cohen said the survey found the majority of practices observed on the shows were out of compliance or conformance with recommendations in at least 70% of episodes. Food safety was mentioned in only three episodes.

      “Only four practices were observed to be in compliance or conformance with recommendations in more than 50% of the episodes,” Cohen said. “For most behaviors observed, the percentage of shows in conformance with recommended practices was much lower than that seen in restaurant employees and consumers in general.”

      Food safety at home

      The high-profile foodborne illness outbreaks that make the news tend to occur at the manufacturing level or in restaurants, such as the recent E. coli outbreak at several Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurants. But the authors say many of the unreported illnesses occur when consumers prepare food at home.

      “There are many opportunities on cooking shows to educate the public regarding safe food handling practices and help reduce the incidence of foodborne illness,” Cohen said. “Similarly, nutrition and food safety educators could work with the media to produce shows that demonstrate positive food safety behaviors and educate consumers about food safety practices as they adopt recipes.”

      Until that happens, consumers should educate themselves on ways to properly handle and cook food to prevent illnesses. For example, the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) urges consumers to always refrigerate perishable food within two hours.

      You'll find other helpful FSIS food safety tips here.

      Consumers' fascination with food has made The Food Network must-see TV for many an amateur chef.But while viewers may learn how to prepare a gourmet me...
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      Vaping in teens leads to heavier smoking patterns, study finds

      Researchers link the habit with increased cigarette smoking, prompting health concerns

      The popularity of e-cigarettes continues to rise for teens across the U.S. Middle and high school students are glorifying habits like vaping, and many still believe that the products don’t pose much of an immediate threat to their health.

      While different studies have disagreed over that fact, new findings from the University of Southern California suggest that the health of young users may be at serious risk in the short- and long-term. The reason, the authors say, is that e-cigarette use and vaping can be associated with an increased frequency of smoking and heavier smoking habits overall.

      Heavier smoking patterns

      Dr. Adam M. Leventhal and his colleagues came to their conclusions after analyzing surveys given to 10th grade students in ten public high schools in Los Angeles County between 2014 and 2015. Questions focused on the frequency and heaviness of e-cigarette and cigarette use, as well as vaping habits. A follow-up survey was given six months later to gauge any changes.

      The analysis found that students that smoked or vaped at the time when they took the first survey were more likely to increase their e-cigarette smoking frequency by the time the second survey was taken. Similarly, the researchers found that adolescents who smoked cigarettes were more likely to increase their smoking frequency and heaviness if they also vaped; this was especially true for infrequent smokers.

      The researchers believe these findings speak to the need for stronger tobacco control policies, though they admit that more research will need to be conducted to verify the results. The full study has been published in JAMA

      The popularity of e-cigarettes continues to rise for teens across the U.S. Middle and high school students are glorifying habits like vaping, and many stil...
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      October retail hiring down from a year ago

      However, other industries are adding workers

      Ahhh...the best laid plans and all that.

      Even though many major retailers said they planned on expanding their workforces this Christmas shopping season, October employment gains have plunged 21% from a year ago to 154,600.

      An analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas shows that's the fewest job gains to kick off the holiday hiring season since 2012.

      This year’s decline follows two consecutive years of record job gains in October. BLS data shows that retail employment grew by 194,800 in 2015, a record number of October job gains for the sector.

      Not a harbinger

      Challenger, Gray & Christmas CEO John A. Challenger points out, however, that record October job gains in 2015 did not lead to record retail hiring throughout the holiday season. In fact, overall holiday hiring declined.

      “The shrinking number of jobs added during the holiday season does not necessarily mean that the retail industry is shrinking," said Challenger. “As of October, there were 15,994,000 Americans employed in this sector. That is up from 15,759,000 a year ago and represents the highest October employment level ever recorded by the BLS.”

      What's going on

      A few trends could be contributing to the fall off in holiday hiring. Challenger said stronger hiring throughout the year and advances in retail technology may mean that stores do not have to hire as many extra workers during the busy holiday shopping season. In addition, he said, “increased online shopping could be shifting the holiday job gains away from retailers toward warehousing, fulfillment, and transportation operations.”

      In fact, holiday hiring plans announced by the likes of Amazon.com, UPS, and FedEx have grown significantly over the last five years, according to Challenger. Meanwhile, hiring announcements from retailers have remained relatively flat or declined.

      Ahhh...the best laid plans and all that.Even though many major retailers said they planned on expanding their workforces this Christmas shopping season...
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      Country Home Products recalls leaf and lawn vacuums

      The muffler can overheat and melt the air cleaner cover

      Country Home Products of Vergennes, Vt., is recalling about 3,900 Pro leaf and lawn vacuums.

      The muffler can overheat and melt the air cleaner cover, posing fire and burn hazards to consumers.

      The firm has received 20 reports of the vacuums becoming hot to the touch, melting or catching fire. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves Premier, Pro and Pro-XL models of the tow-behind DR leaf and lawn vacuums manufactured by Country Home Products.

      Recalled units have a serial number between LLV34601 and LLV39980. The leaf and lawn vacuums are towed behind a riding lawnmower to collect leaves and are tan and black in color with a set of two wheels on each side.

      The DR logo with “Professional Power Done Right” and “leaf and lawn vacuum” are printed on the side of the vacuum. The serial number is located on the left side of the tow bar near the engine. 

      Model

      Serial Number

      Gallons

      Engine

      Premier

      LLV34601 through LLV39980

      200

      Electric start using the R225 engine

      Pro

      321

      Both manual starts and electric starts using the R300 engine

      Pro-XL

      321

      Both manual starts and electric starts versions using the R390 engine

      The vacuums, manufactured in the U.S., were sold at Country Home Products catalog, website and authorized dealers nationwide, including Tractor Supply Company, from August 2014, through September 2015, for between $1,300 and $2,200.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled leaf and lawn vacuums and contact Country Home Products to receive a free repair kit that contains a replacement muffler and instructions for completing the repair.

      Consumers unable to install the repair kit should contact the firm for information on authorized dealers who can install the free repair.

      Country Home Products is contacting all purchasers directly.

      Consumers may contact Country Home Products toll-free at 877-220-0691 from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, by email at vacrecall@chp.com or online at www.DRPower.com and click on “Product Recalls” for more information.

      Country Home Products of Vergennes, Vt., is recalling about 3,900 Pro leaf and lawn vacuums.The muffler can overheat and melt the air cleaner cover, po...
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      What consumers can do to make connected devices more secure

      For starters, change the default password on all connected devices

      As we have recently seen, everyday devices that connect to the internet – the so-called Internet of Things (IoT) -- are vulnerable to cyber-attack.

      Last month, a hacker harnessed tens of millions of these devices to launch denial of service attacks that temporarily blocked access to major web destinations like Amazon, Netflix, and Twitter.

      Apparently, it wasn't that hard to do. These devices, for the most part, are largely unprotected by security software. How many IoT devices are in your home? Probably a lot more than you think.

      The IoT includes things like your router, your DVR, and your printers. But it might also include your refrigerator, smart lighting system, and your thermostat.

      Invasion of the botnets

      A clever hacker can easily penetrate these devices and insert a botnet, ready to take over the device and follow the hacker's orders. Botnets have taken over PCs for years, using them to send out spam emails. Now that they can seize millions of other devices, they are even more of a threat.

      Security Intelligence, a cyber-security publiction, raised the IoT security issue two years ago. Back then, it pointed to several potential pitfalls.

      First, with so many devices – and some estimates predict 30 billion connected devices by 2020 – it will be next to impossible keeping security on them up to date.

      Because there will be so much data moving through the IoT, how do you tell the good data from the potentially harmful data? And with companies using proprietary implementations, it could make it harder to find hidden or unknown zero-day attacks.

      What to do

      While there are step consumers can take to make their IoT more secure, California Attorney General Kamala Harris says manufacturers of these devices have not done a good job of telling consumers how to do it. A first step, she says, is for consumers to change the default passwords for any and all devices that connect to the internet.

      To do that, find the default login information in the user manual, or in some cases, on the device itself. If it isn't obvious, do an online search for “default router, DVR, or webcam username and password,” then check for the name and model of your device.

      You then use the default log-in to access your account and change the password.

      Ultimately, Harris says manufacturers need to do a better job of making their devices more secure to start with, and regularly updating their security protection.

      As we have recently seen, everyday devices that connect to the internet – the so-called Internet of Things (IoT) -- are vulnerable to cyber-attack.Last...
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      Are consumers suffering from Black Friday burnout?

      Survey finds more consumers 'hate' it than 'love' it.

      We've heard for years that Black Friday is the biggest shopping day of the year and that consumers eagerly look forward to participating. But really? Do people really enjoy standing in line outside a Walmart at 4:00 a.m.?

      Our friends at BestBlackFriday.com have stumbled across the painful truth. A survey conducted for the site by SurveyMonkey found a sizable number of consumers actually claim to hate Black Friday.

      According to the results, fewer than 15% of those questioned actually “love” the official kick-off to the holiday shopping season. A little over 35% profess to hate it. About half of those in the survey describe Black Friday as “just okay.”

      A young person's game

      Other takeaways from the survey – younger shoppers tend to “love” Black Friday more than older people. There is a huge drop in affection after Americans turn 30. Consumers who say they hate Thanksgiving openings also hate Black Friday.

      Is it possible consumers are just burned out on Black Friday hype? Phil Dengle, a principal at BestBlackFriday, says that's a logical explanation. Also, he says consumers no longer have to get up early and fight the crowds in order to get a good buy.

      “The numerous pre-Black Friday and early November sales are absolutely turning shoppers off to the actual day of Black Friday.,” Dengler said in an email to ConsumerAffairs.

      As of November 7, Dengler notes that Amazon had already opened its "Black Friday Store," and retailers like Walmart have been showcasing Early Bird Online Specials.

      “Actual Black Friday doorbusters will start on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving this year, so everything is much more spread out,” he said. “Overall, prices are still going to be better on Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, but it is still more than possible to find great deals in the weeks leading up.”

      More online shopping

      And the week after too. Research has shown year after year that overall, the best deals aren't found on Black Friday but in early December. And more and more sales are being conducted online. The significant drop in the number of major retailers open this Thanksgiving probably has less to do with perceived public backlash than with the fact shoppers can still buy things from the comfort of their living rooms between dinner and football.

      Plus, Dengler says there are now so many deals, before and after Black Friday, consumers are not obsessed with getting the absolute lowest price.

      “Many shoppers just do not want to go through with the hassle and stress of shopping on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, so they are sacrificing a few dollars to get it on their own terms,” he said.

      Finally, the survey suggests this Black Friday might find the stores not so crowded. Forty percent said they didn't plan to shop at all the day after Thanksgiving and 28% said they would limit their shopping to online.

      We've heard for years that Black Friday is the biggest shopping day of the year and that consumers eagerly look forward to participating. But really? Do pe...
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      Hiring slows in September amid static job opening situation

      Net hiring over the past year is higher

      Even though there was little change in the number of job openings during September, there were fewer people added to payrolls than in August.

      The Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the number of people who found work dipped to 5.1 million, while the number of job openings was fairly steady at 5.5 million.

      With a hires rate of 3.5%, the number of hires was little changed for total private and for government, fell in arts, entertainment, and recreation, and showed little change in all other industries. Hiring was down in the Northeast region and steady in all other regions.

      Separations

      Total separations, or turnover, includes quits, layoffs & discharges, and other separations.

      September saw 4.9 million total separations, about the same as August, for a rate of 3.4%. The total was essentially unchanged for private and for government, but increased in transportation, warehousing, and utilities. Separations decreased in arts, entertainment, and recreation (-55,000), and the total number was little changed in all four regions.

      The number of quits was little changed in September (3.1 million), and the quits rate was 2.1%. The number of quits was little changed for total private, and increased for government. The number of quits was little changed in all four regions.

      Layoffs and discharges totaled 1.5 million in September, down 218,000 from August, with a rare dip to 1.0%. The number of layoffs and discharges decreased for total private and for government, and was down in the South.

      The other separations category was little changed for total nonfarm, total private, government, and in all four regions.

      Net change

      For the year ending in September, hires totaled 62.7 million and separations totaled 60.1 million, for a net employment gain of 2.6 million. This includes workers who may have been hired and separated more than once during the year.

      The complete report is available on the BLS website.

      Even though there was little change in the number of job openings during September, there were fewer people added to payrolls than in August.The Labor...
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      55+ housing market shows continued strength

      The market has grown for the last ten quarters

      The market for 55+ housing continued to perk along in the third quarter.

      According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), its 55+ Housing Market Index (HMI) rose two points in the July-September period for a reading of 59. That marks the 10th consecutive quarter with a reading above 50, which indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.

      "The 55+ housing market continues on a steady path toward recovery, much like the overall housing market," said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. "Older homeowners are able to take advantage of low mortgage rates and rising home prices, enabling them to sell their current homes and buy or rent a home in a 55+ community."

      Gauging the market

      There are separate 55+ HMIs for two segments of the 55+ housing market: single-family homes and multifamily condominiums. Each 55+ HMI measures builder sentiment based on a survey that asks if current sales, prospective buyer traffic, and anticipated six-month sales for that market are good, fair, or poor (high, average, or low for traffic).

      Two of the three index components of the 55+ single-family HMI posted an increase from the previous quarter: Present sales rose two points to 63 and traffic of prospective buyers rose five points to 47. Expected sales for the next six months dropped four points to 65.

      The 55+ multifamily condo HMI rose one point to 48. The index component for present sales was up two points to 51, while expected sales for the next six months fell three points to 51 and traffic of prospective buyers was unchanged at 38.

      All four indices tracking production and demand of 55+ multifamily rentals decreased in the third quarter. Present production fell three points to 48, expected future production decreased seven points to 49, current demand for existing units dropped nine points to 59, and future demand fell eight points to 59.

      "Builders and developers for the 55+ housing sector tell us that business is solid right now and they expect that trend to continue through the rest of the year," said Jim Chapman, chairman of NAHB's 55+ Housing Industry Council and president of Jim Chapman Homes LLC in Atlanta.

      The market for 55+ housing continued to perk along in the third quarter.According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), its 55+ Housing...
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      Model year 2016 Chevy Malibus recalled

      The fabric of the side-impact airbag cushion may tear during deployment

      General Motors is recalling 18 model year 2016 Chevrolet Malibus manufactured November 18, 2015, to June 7, 2016.

      The fabric of the side-impact airbag cushion may tear during deployment.

      If the airbag tears during deployment, it may not perform as designed, increasing the risk of injury in the event of a crash.

      What to do

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will inspect and, as necessary, replace the air bag module, free of charge. The recall began October 27, 2016.

      Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020. GM's number for this recall is 16079.

      General Motors is recalling 18 model year 2016 Chevrolet Malibus manufactured November 18, 2015, to June 7, 2016.The fabric of the side-impact airbag c...
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      Chrysler recalls Jeep Cherokees with airbag inflator issue

      The air bag may not inflate properly

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 88 model year 2017 Jeep Cherokees manufactured October 13, 2016, to October 17, 2016.

      Improper welds on the driver's knee airbag inflator may prevent the airbag from inflating properly, increasing the risk of injury in the event of a crash.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will replace the driver's knee air bag module, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin November 18, 2016.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is S84.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 88 model year 2017 Jeep Cherokees manufactured October 13, 2016, to October 17, 2016.Improper welds on the driver's...
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      Study finds emulsifiers in processed food may contribute to colon cancer

      The rising incidence of colorectal cancer roughly corresponds with the increased use of emulsifiers

      It's hard to find a processed food that does not contain emulsifiers, additives that are used to extend shelf life and improve texture. Now, a new study finds that emulsifiers can promote intestinal inflammation and colorectal cancer, the fourth-leading cause of cancer deaths.

      Researchers at Georgia State University say they found that regular consumption of emulsifiers by mice altered intestinal bacteria in a way that contributed to tumor development. 

      Colorectal cancer caused about 700,000 deaths per year in the United States in 2012, the last year for which complete figures are available. And researchers note that the increasing death toll roughly corresponds to the rise of processed food consumption. 

      "The incidence of colorectal cancer has been markedly increasing since the mid-20th century," said Dr. Emilie Viennois, assistant professor in the Georgia State Institute for Biomedical Sciences. "A key feature of this disease is the presence of an altered intestinal microbiota that creates a favorable niche for tumorigenesis."

      "Pivotal role"

      "The dramatic increase in these diseases has occurred amidst constant human genetics, suggesting a pivotal role for an environmental factor," said Benoit Chassaing, assistant professor in the Institute for Biomedical Sciences.

      Earlier studies by the Georgia State research team suggested that low-grade inflammation in the intestine is promoted by consumption of dietary emulsifiers, which are detergent-like molecules incorporated into most processed foods that alter the composition of gut microbiota.

      The addition of emulsifiers to food seems to fit the time frame surrounding colotrectal cancer. Viennois and Chassaing hypothesized that emulsifiers might affect the gut microbiota in a way that promotes colorectal cancer. They designed experiments in mice to test this possibility.

      In the latest study, the team fed mice with two very commonly used emulsifiers, polysorbate 80 and carboxymethylcellulose, at doses seeking to model the broad consumption of the numerous emulsifiers that are incorporated into the majority of processed foods.

      They found drastic changes in the gut microbiota in a manner that made it more pro-inflammatory, creating a niche favoring cancer induction and development.

      The findings were published in the journal Cancer Research

      It's hard to find a processed food that does not contain emulsifiers, additives that are used to extend shelf life and improve texture. Now, a new study fi...
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      FDA approves Enbrel to treat chronic plaque psoriasis in kids

      Until now, no biologic medications were available to treat pediatric cases of psoriasis

      Of the 125 million people worldwide who suffer from psoriasis, approximately one-third are children. But the lack of FDA-approved treatment options has made treating cases of psoriasis in pediatric patients an uphill battle for many parents.

      Now, the FDA has approved the expanded use of Enbrel to treat cases of chronic moderate-to-severe plaque psoriasis in children ages 4 to 17.

      Previously, treatment options consisted of antihistamines and topical treatments. In severe cases, phototherapy or the use of the powerful drugs methotrexate or cyclosporine may be recommended, but these treatment options may carry risks for children.

      “Until now, no biologics -- which are effective in treating adults with moderate-to-severe plaque psoriasis -- had been approved in the U.S. for the treatment of moderate-to-severe plaque psoriasis in children," said Randy Beranek, president and chief executive officer of the National Psoriasis Foundation.

      Beranek calls the approval “an important development for this patient community, as well as their parents and families" and says it represents a huge leap forward in advancing the treatment of children living with psoriasis.

      Study results

      In addition to dealing with physical discomfort, kids coping with psoriasis may face psychological distress. Teasing at school can result in low self-esteem and trouble maintaining friendships. For children dealing with these issues, Enbrel’s FDA approval may be good news.

      Enbrel obtained FDA approval following a successful year-long Phase 3 study. A five-year open-label extension study helped evaluate the drug’s safety and efficacy in children. The results showed that not only was the drug effective, its adverse effects were similar to those seen in previous studies with adults.

      Making sure the drug could be prescribed as a safe treatment option for children with chronic plaque psoriasis was a top priority, said Sean E. Harper, M.D., executive vice president of Research and Development at Amgen.

      Enbrel’s FDA approval, he says, “shows that innovation doesn't stop with a drug's first market approval, and further reflects Amgen's commitment to continually unlock and expand the therapeutic potential of our medicines in the hopes of filling unmet patient needs."

      Of the 125 million people worldwide who suffer from psoriasis, approximately one-third are children. But the lack of FDA-approved treatment options has mad...
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      Dish Network, citing viewership data, predicts Clinton win

      Company says it knows the shows Democrats and Republicans watch

      You may have thought FBI Director James Comey's surprise announcement over the weekend that the Hillary Clinton email probe is closed again was the big factor in affecting the race with Donald Trump.

      But according to Dish Network, a Clinton victory is baked into America's TV viewing choices. Come January 20, the company predicts, Hillary Clinton will be taking the oath of office.

      The “Viewers to Voters” predictive model analyzed anonymous viewership data. Who watches what apparently determines the outcome of the vote. The results show Democrats keeping the White House but Republicans retaining control of the House. The data couldn't get a read on the outcome of Senate races.

      Viewership reveals political leanings

      The folks at Dish maintain that what you tend to watch on TV reveals your political leanings. For example, it says consumers who watch sports, religious programming, or family-oriented television are more likely to pull the lever for the GOP.

      But consumers who watch series and specials, as well as education and music-themed programs, are more likely to support Democrats.

      Dish, of course, has access to all this information and its read, based on the numbers it's seen so far, suggests there are more Democrat-leaning viewers than Republican consumers. Of course, the company has no way of knowing who is watching what on DirecTV and other providers, so how reliable can it be?

      The company says it deployed the analysis for the first time two years ago, during the mid-term election, and the forecast was 98% accurate.

      A different election

      True, but this presidential race has been unlike any other in recent memory. One candidate has been investigated by the FBI. The other was caught on tape bragging in vulgar language about his power over women.

      In a normal year, it might have disqualified both. But this year, they are somehow running against each other.

      What isn't clear from the Dish Network viewership analysis is how many consumers were desperately trying to find something on TV to watch to divert their attention from the election.

      You may have thought FBI Director James Comey's surprise announcement over the weekend that the Hillary Clinton email probe is closed again was the big fac...
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      New fungal infection resistant to many major drugs

      Four patients have died and nine others have been infected

      Four patients have died and nine others became ill from a dangerous new fungal infection that has been emerging globally over the last few months, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.

      Candida auris (C. auris) is often resistant to antifungal drugs and tends to occur in hospitalized patients.Seven of the cases are described in CDC's most recent Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). The other six cases were identified after the period covered by the report and are still under investigation.

      “We need to act now to better understand, contain and stop the spread of this drug-resistant fungus,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “This is an emerging threat, and we need to protect vulnerable patients and others.”

      Can be misidentified

      Patients whose cases were described in the report were from New York, Illinois, Maryland, and New Jersey. Four died, although the CDC said it was unclear if C. auris was the cause of their deaths, since all were hospitalized and had underlying medical conditions.

      Two of the patients were being treated in the same facility and had nearly identical fungal strains, suggesting that C. auris can be spread in healthcare settings.

      Six of the seven cases discussed in the report were identified after the fact. This highlights the risk that C. auris can be misidentified as another type of less serious Candida infection, in which cases patients may not receive the appropriate treatment.

      The CDC said that most of the strains found in the seven patients showed some signs of drug resistance, making treatment more difficult. In other countries, C. auris strains have been found to be resistant to all three major classes of antifungal medications.

      Researchers said it appeared that all of the patients had acquired the strains locally, since they had not traveled to South Asia or South America, where the strains originated.

      “It appears that C. auris arrived in the United States only in the past few years,” said Tom Chiller, M.D., M.P.H., chief of CDC’s Mycotic Diseases Branch. “We’re working hard with partners to better understand this fungus and how it spreads so we can improve infection control recommendations and help protect people.”

      Four patients have died and nine others became ill from a dangerous new fungal infection that has been emerging globally over the last few months, the Cent...
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      Model year 2016 Toyota Highlanders recalled

      The brake fluid level sensor may not detect the brake fluid level

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 7,056 model year 2016 Highlanders manufactured May 26, 2016, to September 16, 2016.

      The brake fluid level sensor may not be connected to the wire harness, preventing the sensor from detecting the brake fluid level. As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 135, "Light Vehicle Brake Systems."

      If the brake fluid level is low and is not detected, braking performance may be decreased, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Toyota will notify owners, and dealers will inspect and, as necessary, connect the wire harness to the sensor, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin November 7, 2016.

      Owners may contact Toyota customer service at 1-800-331-4331. Toyota's number for this G03.

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 7,056 model year 2016 Highlanders manufactured May 26, 2016, to September 16, 2016.The brake flui...
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      How high hospital profits may be hurting the field of medicine

      Looking out for the bottom line has increased healthcare costs and benefits the few

      Lately, there’s been a lot of outrage aimed at the pharmaceutical industry over high drug prices. Consumers are coming around to the idea that they shouldn’t have to pay thousands of dollars for a life-saving treatment that has basically stayed the same for years.

      However, many experts have pointed out that high hospital costs are also putting people in a tough spot. One of them, Dr. Robert M. Doroghazi, has gone as far as to say that high hospital profits are causing extensive damage to the field of medicine. In his commentary, he addresses the high profitability of both for-profit and non-profit hospitals.

      "I believe the quest for profits between all hospitals, non-profit and for-profit, has been one of the main drivers causing our health care costs to be the highest in the world, far out-stripping inflation,” he said.

      "Non-profit" hospitals

      It’s something that many people might not even think twice about, but how exactly can a non-profit hospital be so profitable? Doroghazi says it’s a problem that started decades ago, and it has to do with how a non-profit institution is defined.

      Back in 1956, the IRS recognized the tax-exempt status of hospitals, with the essential condition that they provide a certain level of charity care. However, when Medicare and Medicaid were passed in 1965, write-offs for charity care were drastically reduced. This led to a revision by the IRS in 1969 that gave hospital administrators wide parameters for applying for tax-exempt status.

      Hospitals everywhere began substituting programs for charity care and used the less well-defined requirements to rake in large profits. Doroghazi notes that non-profit tax exemption accounted for $12.6 billion in 2002. In 2006, the IRS attempted to rein in abuses by making additional provisions, but they were unsuccessful in the long-run. By 2011, non-profit tax exemption had inflated to $24.6 billion.

      Doroghazi says that hospital executives have also used their hospitals’ tax-exempt status for their own personal benefit, raking in millions of dollars annually. “I do not believe the average chief executive officer. . . is more valuable to society than 100 registered nurses. . . Possible adjectives to describe these salaries at ‘nonprofit’ institutions include ‘generous,’ ‘rock-star,’ ‘outrageous,’ or even ‘obscene,’” he said.

      Changes made in recent years by the IRS have attempted to require hospitals to write a financial-assistance policy on all emergency and medically necessary care for their communities every three years, but Doroghazi says these “cosmetic changes” most likely will not have the desired effect.

      For-profit hospitals

      Like non-profit hospitals, Doroghazi charges that for-profit institutions became problematic many years ago, after the passage of Medicare and Medicaid decreased the need for charity care.

      He points out that there are only so many ways that hospitals can generate enough revenue to pay off their investors. While providing better and more efficient care is one of them, he says the route that these institutions have elected to go with is to charge more for services.

      A study conducted in 2015 showed that 49 of the 50 highest-charging hospitals in the U.S. were for-profit. These institutions are often accused more often of “cherry picking” their patients – turning those who can’t pay for services away while grabbing up those who will help them turn a profit. This is especially true, Doroghazi says, of those who need high-end procedures that have a high cost.

      Recommendations

      Doroghazi makes a few recommendations on how high hospital profits can be curbed to benefit the public. First, he says that Congress should intervene and provide more concrete definitions for what constitutes a non-profit. Specifically, he says that these institutions should actually make no profit, having enough money to maintain quality operations, prudent reserves, and fund future capital needs.

      Next, he says that the salaries of administrators at non-profits should match those of other non-profit organizations, such as the Boy Scouts of America or the Salvation Army.

      Finally, he talks about how institutions should strive to provide the best care they can for patients and not inflate their own personal holdings by driving up costs.

      “There are two kinds of competition. Henry Ford was relentless in building cars that were of higher quality and less expensive. This is America at its best: all society benefitted. I believe current hospital competition has done nothing but drive up costs: new hospitals are often described by locals as a Taj Mahal, with spacious, well-appointed rooms, art work on the walls, and lobbies larger than indoor football fields. Hospitals add high-end, expensive technology that benefits few, and then unleash their Madison Avenue-size advertising budget to tell everyone they are the fourth in the area with a helicopter," he said.

      The full commentary has been published in The American Journal of Medicine

      Lately, there’s been a lot of outrage aimed at the pharmaceutical industry over high drug prices. Consumers are coming around to the idea that they shouldn...
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      Will mobile wallets make headway this holiday season?

      Fin-Tech executive says they can increase consumer security

      What will you use to make your holiday purchases this year? Consumers concerned about compromised credit or debt card information may choose cash.

      A survey by TransUnion shows consumers are probably going to use a mix of payments to buy things this year, with 74% saying they plan to pay for at least some of their purchases with cash.

      But 80% of parents with children under 18 said they will be using credit cards, with 89% of dads and 73% of moms saying they expect to pay off all their holiday spending within three months.

      Vincent Alimi, Vice-President, Product & Innovation at Mobeewave, a Montreal-based Fin-Tech firm, says consumers shouldn't overlook using a mobile wallet when they shop. He says there are five good reasons to pay with a mobile wallet, including security. In terms of fraud reduction, he says mobile wallets use a surrogate card number.

      Real-time transaction alerts

      “Unlike when you use a credit card, details such as your PIN, name or consumer behavior are not shared when you use a mobile wallet,” Alimi said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “They also include practical features, such as fingerprint verification to unlock the payment functionality, and real-time transaction alerts.”

      But wait, don't credit cards offer generous rewards? They do, but Alimi says consumers can still reap rewards by adding retailer loyalty and reward cards to a mobile wallet. In fact, you can use your rewards credit card with a mobile wallet.

      Sometimes called “contactless” payment systems, a mobile wallet is a way to carry your card information in a secure, digital form on your smartphone. Instead of using your actual plastic card to make purchases, you can pay with your smartphone, tablet, or smartwatch, simply by holding it close to an equipped point-of-sale terminal.

      Faster check-out

      Alimi also says mobile wallets get you checked out faster, while the transition to EMV “chip” cards has slowed things down. He says paying with a mobile wallet makes it easier to shop online and also harness the various complementary features on your smartphone.

      “Not only can you keep track of your transaction history, you can also ensure you never have to deal with the embarrassment of having your maxed out credit or debit card declined at the checkout,” he said.

      Apple Pay may be the most widely used mobile payment system, allowing consumers to pay with their iPhones in about three million locations in the U.S. Samsung has a competing mobile wallet for its Android phones.

      What will you use to make your holiday purchases this year? Consumers concerned about compromised credit or debt card information may choose cash.A sur...
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      Is the future of driving going to really be that different?

      So far, the evidence is scarce

      If you believe everything you read lately, the auto industry is about to shrink. Millennials won't buy cars, but will share them through car-sharing arrangements.

      Or, they will simply summon a driverless car from a smartphone app and be driven to and picked up from their destination.

      Wall Street has bought into these scenarios as the stock prices for Ford and GM have sunk in recent months. But when all of this happens, and whether it really does happen, is still very much in doubt. After all, each era has offered up ambitious visions for the future that never materialized.

      Still robust sales

      As for the auto industry, it appears to still be doing quite nicely. Consumers have not yet shown an inclination to give up car ownership. While it's true new car sales were down about 6% last month, it's only because the comparison is to October 2015, when the industry blew the roof off sales projections.

      According to Kelley Blue Book (KBB), consumers not only bought new vehicles in huge numbers last month, they paid top dollar for them. The average transaction price was $34,663, nearly $800 more than consumers paid in October 2015.

      "The Detroit automakers posted gains between 4% and 6% percent, as their strong portfolios of trucks and SUVs align extremely well with current consumer demand,” said KBB analyst Tim Fleming.

      The auto industry was on the ropes in early 2009, in the wake of the financial crisis. But since then it has begun to set sales records month after month. Is all that going to end because Millennials want to share cars and not even own one? So far, the evidence hasn't been persuasive.

      Role of Millennials

      A new study by automotive site Edmunds.com suggests the major impact Millennials are bringing to the auto world features a more prominent role for women in the purchase process. The study found that both men and women are equally confident in their ability to negotiate a deal.

      The most likely result of Millennials emergence as the biggest group of car-buyers, says Michelle Shotts, senior director of customer insights at Edmunds, is automakers, dealers, and marketers will begin to engage with car shoppers on a highly personalized, individual level.

      But they'll still be buying cars and, for the foreseeable future, they'll be driving them themselves.

      If you believe everything you read lately, the auto industry is about to shrink. Millennials won't buy cars, but will share them through car-sharing arrang...
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      Mercedes-Benz recalls various GLE Class vehicles

      The low beam headlights may not be adjusted properly

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 2,215 model year 2016-2017 GLE 300d 4MATIC, GLE 350, GLE 350 4MATIC, and GLE 400 4MATIC vehicles manufactured October 14, 2015, to November 23, 2015.

      The vehicles' low beam headlights may not be adjusted properly. Thus, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 108, "Lamps, Reflective Devices, and Assoc. Equipment."

      If the low-beam headlights are out of adjustment, the driver's visibility may be reduced, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will inspect and correct the headlight adjustment, as necessary, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in November 2016.

      Owners may contact MBUSA customer service at 1-800-367-6372.

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 2,215 model year 2016-2017 GLE 300d 4MATIC, GLE 350, GLE 350 4MATIC, and GLE 400 4MATIC vehicles manufactured Octobe...
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      Rankings for the best and worst U.S. airports

      Phoenix ranks as the best, while La Guardia comes in last

      Experienced air travelers know which airports they like and which ones to stay away from. Unfortunately, for those of us who don’t fly as much, bad service and amenities can often catch us by surprise.

      To address this issue, the folks over at ThePointsGuy.com – a travel and lifestyle media platform -- took a look at the 30 busiest airports in the U.S. and ranked them from best to worst.

      Each was judged on a variety of factors, including flight delays, cancellations, average security wait times, distance from the city center, public transit options, bars and restaurants, lounges, Wi-Fi costs, and parking rates.

      Best and worst

      The study found that Phoenix Sky Harbor International was the best airport in the U.S. It is the closest airport to its city’s center, has the second-best public transit time, third-cheapest parking, third-most restaurants and bars per capita, and the fifth-fewest flight cancellations.

      Rounding out the top five were Portland International Airport in Oregon; San Diego International Airport, Salt Lake City International Airport, and Honolulu International Airport.

      On the other hand, frequent fliers in New York will dismayed -- thought not surprised -- that two of their most well-known airports make the bottom of the list. La Guardia Airport, located in Queens, came in dead last due to having the most flight delays, most cancellations, and most expensive parking of all the airports surveyed.

      John F. Kennedy Airport, also in Queens, occupies the second-to-last spot for having the longest security wait times and longest driving time from the city center.

      The other three contenders at the bottom of the list included Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Chicago O’Hare International Airport, and Newark Liberty International Airport.

      To see the complete list, visit the researchers' site here

      Experienced air travelers know which airports they like and which ones to stay away from. Unfortunately, for those of us who don’t fly as much, bad service...
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      Thanksgiving air travel projected to rise 2.5%

      But airlines are confident they can handle the extra passengers

      If you are traveling by air this Thanksgiving weekend, hopefully you have booked your flight by now.

      If not, you may not only have a hard time making connections, but you'll pay the premium rate.

      For those of you who have your tickets and made your plans, you might want to get to the airport a little early. Estimates suggest there will be crowded terminals.

      Airlines for America (A4A), the industry trade group, projects 27.3 million consumers will travel by air during the Thanksgiving travel period, a rise of 2.5% over last Thanksgiving. The group says that amounts to an extra 55,000 passengers a day.

      74,000 extra seats

      For their part, the airlines say they can handle the extra load. Domestic airlines have added 74,000 seats per day by adding flights and replacing smaller planes with larger ones.

      The reason more consumers are flocking to the nation's airports is no mystery. The airlines have lowered fares, passing on some of their fuel savings to consumers.

      “Airlines are adding capacity to accommodate the increased demand, and travelers should rest assured that while more people will be flying, there will be more than an adequate number of seats available,” said A4A Vice President and Chief Economist John Heimlich.

      Airlines may have increased their capacity to handle the expected increase in passengers, but what about the boarding process? Should travelers expect bottlenecks at airport security checkpoints?

      Bottlenecks?

      The airlines say these checkpoints should be manageable because of the increased number of consumers who have registered for programs like PreCheck, that moves passengers through the screening process faster.

      The Transportation Security Administration says that consumers who purchase a five-year membership for $85 will be able to get through the security checkpoint and board the aircraft without having to remove their shoes, laptops, liquids, belts, and light jackets.

      TSA says it's still a good idea to arrive at the airport two hours before your flight, especially during the Thanksgiving travel period. You'll find TSA's additional tips for reducing your waiting time in line here.

      If you are traveling by air this Thanksgiving weekend, hopefully you have booked your flight by now.If not, you may not only have a hard time making co...
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      Federal, state authorities sue New York debt collectors

      Defendants allegedly ran roughshod over consumers' rights

      There are several ways debt collectors can step over the line when they try to collect money from consumers. A lawsuit claims Buffalo, N.Y. debt collectors tried just about all of them.

      New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) have filed a federal court lawsuit against two individuals who Schneiderman alleges were operating a network of “fly-by-night collection shops that harass, threaten, and deceive” consumers so that they would pay money they might not owe.

      The lawsuit seeks to close the debt collection operations and to compensate consumers affected by the debt collection efforts.

      Threats and deception

      “These collection shops inflated debts, threatened victims, and deceived them out of millions,” Schneiderman said.

      CFPB Director Richard Cordray says the debt collectors used fear and intimidation tactics to force consumers to pay debts, without verifying or proving that they actually owed the money.

      The Fair Debt Collections Practices Act sets out consumers' rights when it comes to collecting debts and places strict limits on what collectors can say or do. When collectors violate these rules, they can often force consumers to pay money they do not legally owe.

      List of charges

      The suit makes a number of accusations. It claims the defendants violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act in its interactions with consumers. It also claims they ran afoul of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which bars unfair and deceptive acts or practices in the consumer financial marketplace.

      The suit claims “repeated fraudulent acts and deceptive acts or practices” in violation of New York law, which also has provisions covering debt collection.

      The specific charges provide a laundry list of things a debt collector is not supposed to do: inflating the amount owed by taking on fees they aren't allowed to collect; threatening legal action against the consumer when there were no grounds to do so; and telling consumers they would be arrested immediately if they didn't pay up.

      The suit is a good reminder that consumers have options when a debt collector is trying to collect a dubious debt. Among the key provisions is the right to see verification of the debt.

      The Federal Trade Commission spells out consumers' rights here.

      There are several ways debt collectors can step over the line when they try to collect money from consumers. A lawsuit claims Buffalo, N.Y. debt collectors...
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      Retailers already rolling out holiday shopping deals

      Amazon opens a Black Friday Store with daily deals

      As they did last year, retailers are getting an early start on Black Friday deals, rolling them out early to snag consumers' dollars before some other store does.

      Amazon has opened up what it calls its Black Friday Store, with sale items every day in advance of the official start to the holiday shopping season. In fact, Amazon is promising to put up new deals periodically every day until December 22.

      At the same time, the online retail giant has launched several curated Holiday Gift Guides. The company predicts OLED, HDR, and 4K TVs will be big draws in electronics, along with Alexa-enabled home security cameras, VR/360-degree cameras, instant film cameras, and drone photography.

      Other predicted hot items include Twitch streaming and in-home music studio equipment, along with VR and AR gaming products.

      Shopping with Alexa

      "This holiday season, we're offering more deals than ever before and - for the first time ever - giving Prime members an opportunity to use Alexa voice shopping for purchasing their holiday gifts hands-free,” said Doug Herrington, Senior Vice President of North American Retail at Amazon. “They can make purchases simply by asking Alexa-enabled devices, like the new Echo Dot, while relaxing at home with family and friends."

      Walmart is also getting an early start, offering up daily holiday gift deals on its website. There are featured deals each day from a number of different departments, including electronics, apparel, toys, and appliances.

      Sam's Club, meanwhile, has introduced its “Instant Savings Book,” promising instant deals across all departments. The company says all the potential savings add up to $5,000.

      Of course, Black Friday itself is coming up fast. BestBlackFriday.com has published what it says are leaked Black Friday ad slicks from Sam's Club, Dell, Walmart, and Toys R Us. Deals include a Dell laptop for $99.99.

      As they did last year, retailers are getting an early start on Black Friday deals, rolling them out early to snag consumers' dollars before some other stor...
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      How daily fantasy sports critics may have made it stronger

      It appears FanDuel and DraftKings are poised to merge

      As daily fantasy sports (DFS) became incredibly popular and profitable, two DFS enterprises, FanDuel and DraftKings, emerged as the biggest players.

      In the fall of 2015, their TV ads were everywhere. The two companies spent more money on advertising than beer companies as they both competed for players. It was also about that time that a number of states began suing DraftKings and FanDuel, claiming they were violating gambling laws. Suddenly, both companies found themselves besieged by critics.

      So these competing rivals got to be a little friendlier. No doubt their legal teams compared notes and their top executives chatted from time to time. Their lobbyists probably worked together to persuade various state legislatures to exempt DFS from gambling laws.

      Now, it appears critics of FanDuel and DraftKings may have driven them into one another's arms, with various publications reporting the two companies are poised to merge with each other. Bloomberg News quotes sources familiar with the discussions as saying DraftKings co-founder Jason Robins will lead the combined enterprises while FanDuel co-founder Nigel Eccles will serve as chairman of the board. Neither company has commented on the reports.

      Investors would like to see it

      The investment community has been cheering for a possible merger for some time, pointing out that the two companies have nearly identical games that could neatly fit under one operation. A combined company would not need to spend nearly as much on advertising.

      Like any potential merger, there would likely be anti-trust concerns. The two companies reportedly control about 90% of the DFS market. In 2015, there were more than 57 million people in the U.S. and Canada playing DFS games, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.

      However, more recent research suggests the growth of DFS is slowing and that there are fewer new players choosing to participate. That could be strong incentive for both DraftKings and FanDuel to join forces, with savings on ad spending going straight to the bottom line.

      As daily fantasy sports (DFS) became incredibly popular and profitable, two DFS enterprises, FanDuel and DraftKings, emerged as the biggest players.In...
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      Pipeline disruption in Southeast may be short-lived

      Region likely to be spared rising fuel prices

      Monday's explosion at a Colonial Pipeline facility in Alabama was a much worse mishap than the leak that occurred there in early September. The explosion killed one employee and injured seven others.

      Footage from the scene showed the scope of the disaster, sending gasoline futures prices soaring, since gasoline prices throughout the Southeast surged when the pipeline had to be shut down for eleven days in September. The initial assumption was this interruption would be worse.

      It's clear now that it might not be. Colonial said Tuesday that it believes it will be able to restart the pipeline by the end of the week, before the interruption in fuel supplies will be fully felt.

      Gasoline futures went from being up 15% immediately after the explosion to now being up just 4%. Analysts say the effect to the overall gasoline market should be minor.

      Retail price movement

      However, some states in the affected region have already seen price movement at the pump. Georgia, which suffered the biggest price increase after the September pipeline incident, saw the statewide average price of gasoline rise three cents a gallon between Tuesday and Wednesday, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge survey. Its prices were only now getting back to normal.

      In South Carolina, the statewide average, which has been consistently among the lowest in the nation, rose two cents a gallon overnight, from $2 a gallon to $2.02. Prices in other states in the region have not reacted in response to the pipeline accident.

      Apparently, actual damage from the explosion was less than expected. Colonial said part of the delay in restarting the line is controlling the fire resulting from the explosion. Repair crews cannot get safe access to the site until the fire is out.

      When a leak to the main pipeline occurred September 9, it stopped the flow of gasoline for eleven days, resulting in fuel shortages in Tennessee and rising prices in Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia.

      Monday's explosion at a Colonial Pipeline facility in Alabama was a much worse mishap than the leak that occurred there in early September. The explosion k...
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      How being fit can help you handle stress at work

      A study shows that workers who are in shape are better able to handle the health risks posed by stress in the workplace

      It just makes sense that getting your exercise and staying in shape would have positive benefits for your health. But a new study suggests that it also might help consumers who have a high-stress job.

      Researchers from the University of Basel in Switzerland, along with colleagues in Sweden, have found that being in good shape helps protect against health problems associated with work-related stress. This is important because work stress can often lead workers to become more sedentary, possibly exacerbating health issues.

      “Above all, these findings are significant because it is precisely when people are stressed that they tend to engage in physical activity less often,” said Professor Markus Gerber.

      Health and stress

      The researchers came to their conclusions after measuring the fitness levels of 200 Swedish employees using a bicycle ergometer test. Participants were nearly split between male (51%) and female (49%), with an average age of 39. Measures for blood pressure, BMI, cholesterol, triglycerides, and glycated hemoglobin were recorded.

      Additionally, the researchers asked all participants to provide information on their current stress levels. The findings showed that individuals who were more stressed tended to have higher cardiovascular risks than those who were less stressed. The researchers note that cardiovascular fitness is linked to virtually all health risk factors, and that individuals who are physically fit were less at risk overall.

      For participants who were most stressed, the findings showed very different health measures between those who had high, medium, and low fitness levels.

      Employees with a low fitness level were shown to have higher LDL cholesterol scores; LDL cholesterol is considered by experts to be “bad” cholesterol that collects in blood vessels and causes blockages and heart attacks. On the other hand, employees with a high level of fitness had better scores on health-related measures, showing that their bodies were less affected by work-related woes.

      Treating stress

      The researchers believe that their work can have direct implications on how medical professionals treat stress-related disorders. By promoting high activity and exercise, they posit that individuals with excessive levels of stress may avoid cardiovascular problems.

      The full study has been published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise

      It just makes sense that getting your exercise and staying in shape would have positive benefits for your health. But a new study suggests that it also mig...
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      More potential homebuyers consider renting instead

      Zillow survey finds savvy consumers are keeping their options open

      If you are planning to rent a home, expect some extra competition. A new survey from real estate marketplace Zillow shows more potential homebuyers, perhaps growing frustrated at the lack of available homes, are considering renting instead.

      That means consumers who have no alternative but to rent will go head to head with consumers who have the means to buy a home but have decided to keep their options open and rent a place for a while longer.

      Zillow has broken down the ins and outs of the typical home search. For those who want to rent a place, it now takes an average of 10 weeks to find a home to rent. It takes two weeks longer if you're looking in a tight rental market.

      But for those who plan to buy a home, the average search takes 17 weeks, in part because rising prices have pushed more homes out of range and the overall decline in inventory means there are fewer homes to choose from. The Zillow survey-takers found that most consumers who recently moved into a new home considered both buying and renting before settling on one or the other.

      Continuing to rent an easy option

      Just how tough is it to buy a home these days? The Zillow survey found more than half – 54% – of buyers lost the first home on which they made an offer. For many of these buyers who were renting at the time, continuing to rent became an easy option.

      "The line between renting and buying is blurry, and that's a sign of the times," said Zillow Chief Marketing Officer Jeremy Wacksman. "It's difficult and time-consuming to find a home to move to, especially in competitive housing markets.”

      Wacksman says keeping rental options open can be a savvy strategy in today's housing market. Renting while still looking to buy allows him or her to avoid settling for a less-than-desirable home.

      Still hard to buy, but for a different reason

      After the financial crisis more people rented because they simply couldn't qualify for a mortgage under the new, suddenly tighter lending standards. Now that more people can afford to buy, there are fewer homes to purchase.

      Zillow notes that renters now make up a larger group of the U.S. population than at any time in the last half century. Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau reported the homeownership rate rose very slightly to 63.5 percent in the third quarter of 2016 – recovering slightly from a 51-year low.

      If you are planning to rent a home, expect some extra competition. A new survey from real estate marketplace Zillow shows more potential homebuyers, perhap...
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      The long-term impact of overspending on kids' holiday gifts

      One survey finds that many parents draw from their retirement funds in an effort to check off their child's wish list

      From pre-ordering the year’s most wanted toy to making sure Santa has been informed of every item on their child’s wish list, parents often do everything they can to make their children’s holiday dreams come true. But a new survey finds that parents often overextend themselves financially on the quest to fulfill their child’s holiday wish lists.

      The survey, conducted by investment firm T. Rowe Price, finds that more than half of parents make it their mission to get everything on their child’s wish list no matter what the cost. In fact, 25% of parents draw funds from their 401(k)s or their emergency funds while checking off their child’s wish list.

      Additionally, the survey found that 64% of parents agree with the statement, "I spent more over the holidays than I should have." The average amount parents spent on children between ages 8 to 14 was $422, although 34% of parents spent $500 or more.

      But dipping into savings in order to make sure kids have the best holiday possible can have a long-term impact, says Marty Allenbaugh, a financial planner at T. Rowe Price.

      Potential consequences

      “Retirement accounts are meant to fund retirement. Emergency funds are meant to fund emergencies. Payday loans should be the last of last resorts. Nothing that comes wrapped in a ribbon is worth the consequence of bending these rules,” said Allenbaugh.

      If a 35-year old parent pulls from his or her retirement savings to cover $500 in holiday spending, Allenbaugh says this could translate to a loss of nearly $6,000 at retirement.

      Instead of risking your financial well-being by sparing no expense during the holidays, parents should consider teaching kids about the importance of prioritizing wants and making trade-offs. Doing so doesn’t necessarily mean your child will have a less magical holiday.

      What to do instead

      Teaching your child about money matters can be an investment in their future, says T. Rowe Price. Parents can find online games designed to teach kids about financial goal setting, spending versus saving, and other important financial concepts at MoneyConfidentKids.com.
      Parents can also find tips on helping kids work within a budget and use monetary gifts wisely. For example, if kids receive money during the holidays, parents can propose saving some of the money and using the rest to buy a gift.
      From pre-ordering the year’s most wanted toy to making sure Santa has been informed of every item on their child’s wish list, parents often do everything t...
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      Kids who use devices at bedtime twice as likely to experience sleep disruptions

      Devices can impact kids' ability to power down even if they're not being used, study finds

      In recent years, bedtime stories have gotten a new rival: media devices. As children have become more infatuated with screens, many have developed an affinity for using smartphones and tablets before bed.

      But a new study finds that kids who use digital devices at bedtime double their risk of experiencing a disrupted night’s sleep. For the 72% of children and 89% of adolescents who have at least one device in their bedrooms, device-induced sleep disruptions could lead to health problems down the line.

      To reach this finding, researchers from King’s College London reviewed 20 existing studies from four continents. Children in the studies ranged in age from 6 to 19 (the median age was 15). They found that when kids used media devices within 90 minutes of going to sleep, the likelihood of inadequate sleep quantity, poor sleep quality, and excessive daytime sleepiness increased.

      The researchers also found that the mere presence of a media device could affect sleep. Simply having a media device in the bedroom, even if it was not used, was found to increase the likelihood of poor sleep.

      Continuous engagement

      Why might media devices have this effect on children’s sleep? It could potentially be chalked up to the very nature of social media and instant messaging, the researchers say.

      Social media often begs kids to be constantly plugged in, ready to grab their device at any moment. This may cause them to be continuously psychologically stimulated by their device, even when it's sitting idly on the other side of the room. 

      How sleep affects health

      Screen-based media devices are thought to delay and interrupt sleep time by stimulating the brain and affecting physiology and alertness. Dr. Ben Carter notes that the study’s findings provide further proof that media devices can adversely affect sleep duration as well as quality.

      “Sleep is an often undervalued but important part of children’s development, with a regular lack of sleep causing a variety of health problems. With the ever-growing popularity of portable media devices and their use in schools as a replacement for textbooks, the problem of poor sleep amongst children is likely to get worse,” Carter said.

      Kids who don’t get a quality night’s sleep may be at an increased risk of obesity, sedative behavior, reduced immune function, and stunted growth. Poor sleep has also been linked to mental health issues.

      “Our findings suggest that an integrated approach involving parents, teachers, and healthcare professionals is necessary to reduce access to these devices and encourage good sleeping habits near bedtime,” Carter said.

      The new research is published in JAMA Pediatrics.
      In recent years, bedtime stories have gotten a new rival: media devices. As children have become more infatuated with screens, many have developed an affin...
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      Why you should read the fine print on 0% financing offers

      Fail to meet any of the conditions and you could owe all the interest

      You see the offers in huge bold letters in furniture store windows – “90 Days Same As Cash!”

      That means you can buy a truckload of furniture today and not pay anything for three months, including interest. Pretty sweet deal.

      There are also lots of credit and charge card offers that allow you to carry a balance interest-free for a year or more. Another big savings.

      But in addition to reading the big bold letters, you also need to read the fine print in the credit agreement, because some of them can lead to expensive surprises if you don't handle them exactly right.

      Little margin for error

      The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) warns that deferred interest financing can be tricky for this reason: if one of your payments is late during the no-interest period, you could be on the hook for interest on the entire purchase. You may also be charged for all the interest if you're supposed to pay it off in six months but it takes you seven months.

      “Usually, the interest is calculated based on the balance you owed in each month since you first made the purchase,” CFPB explains on its website. “In your case, if you don’t pay the entire balance off in 12 months, you will be charged interest for each month on the balance you owed in each of the 12 months.”

      Not all that transparent

      Personal finance website WalletHub has just completed a study of retailers offering deferred interest financing. It found that these financing plans are not that transparent, and that retailers have done little over the last two years to make them clearer and easier to understand.

      The study found Pottery Barn and West Elm were among the least transparent when it comes to these offers. It said Apple, JC Penney, and Kay Jewelers are among the most transparent.

      For consumers, it's important not to take a deferred interest offer at face value. In all likelihood, the offer is contingent on you making regular, on-time payments and having the balance down to zero before the interest-free period is up.

      If you have the money to pay for the entire purchase in an investment that is earning money, perhaps taking advantage of one of these offers is safe. After all, you know you will be able to pay off the balance in time.

      But if you have little savings and other expenses to worry about, committing to a deferred interest financing plan may be risky, unless you've read the fine print and are comfortable with the terms.

      You see the offers in huge bold letters in furniture store windows – “90 Days Same As Cash!”That means you can buy a truckload of furniture today and n...
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      Consumers rejected for credit cards take it personally

      But knowing why you were rejected can help you get accepted next time

      Lenders tend to be cold and objective when they decide whether or not to grant a consumer's credit card application. Meet the requirements and you get a card. Fall short, and you don't.

      Consumers don't look at it quite the same way. A new survey from NerdWallet shows we tend to take it personally when a bank says no. The survey found 70% of consumers would stop doing business with a bank that turned down their credit card application.

      Rejection of any kind usually is hard to take. But the survey suggests there's an additional ingredient when it comes to financial matters. If a bank declines to extend you credit, you believe it to be a reflection on your financial standing.

      It's embarrassing

      About half of consumers said a credit card rejection would be embarrassing and they would not tell family or friends about it. About a third believe people who are rejected for a loan or credit card are irresponsible with money, which is far from the case.

      If you are rejected for a credit card, the lender is required by law to tell you why. Knowing the reason may not only make you feel better, it can be useful information. In many cases, knowing the reason why you were turned down can guide you to a lender who would be happy to open an account for you.

      In many cases, consumers apply for credit cards that are designed for consumers with higher credit scores. That's important, because these cards usually have lower interest rates and more generous rewards. That's because the lender considers these high credit score consumers a better risk.

      However, the very same lender may have other credit cards that don't have those stringent requirements. Your chances of success may be much better if you apply for a card within your credit score range.

      A number of reasons for rejection

      As NerdWallet points out, consumers get rejected for a number of reasons, not just because they have bad credit. They might have too much outstanding debt, a thin credit history, or insufficient income.

      That's why before applying for a card, it's a good idea to obtain your credit score and review your credit report, to make sure the information in it is accurate. Once you know your score, look for a card targeted to other consumers in your range.

      Many of the credit card comparison websites list credit cards available for those with “excellent,” “good,” “fair,” and even “bad” credit. So, with a 640 credit score you probably are not going to qualify for the Capital One Venture Rewards Card, which is heavily advertised on TV. But you probably will qualify for the Credit One Bank Unsecured Visa.

      It doesn't have the advantages of cards designed for excellent credit, but it will give you the chance to show you can use a credit card responsibly and raise your credit score so that you'll soon have more credit options and fewer rejections.

      Lenders tend to be cold and objective when they decide whether or not to grant a consumer's credit card application. Meet the requirements and you get a ca...
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