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    Diabetes tops U.S. spending on health care, heart disease is second

    Diabetes is growing 36 times faster than heart disease, study finds

    There's a lot of talk about the high cost of health care, but do you know which conditions contribute most to health care spending?

    If you said diabetes, you're right -- a new study finds diabetes costs $101 billion annually in diagnosis and treatment and is growing 36 times faster than the cost of heart disease, the leading cause of death and the second most-expensive condition. 

    "While it is well known that the US spends more than any other nation on health care, very little is known about what diseases drive that spending." said Dr. Joseph Dieleman, lead author of a paper published in JAMA and Assistant Professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington. "IHME is trying to fill the information gap so that decision-makers in the public and private sectors can understand the spending landscape, and plan and allocate health resources more effectively."

    In fact, the study found that just 20 conditions make up more than half of all spending on health care in the United States.

    While diabetes and heart disease primarily affected consumers 65 and over, lower back and neck pain, the third-most-expensive condition, primarily strikes adults of working age.

    These three top spending categories, along with hypertension and injuries from falls, comprise 18% of all personal health spending and totaled $437 billion in 2013.

    This study distinguishes between spending on public health programs from personal health spending, including both individual out-of-pocket costs and spending by private and government insurance programs. It covers 155 conditions.

    $2.4 trillion

    In addition to the $2.1 trillion spent on the 155 conditions examined in the study, Dr. Dieleman estimates that approximately $300 billion in costs, such as those of over-the-counter medications and privately funded home health care, remain unaccounted for, indicating total personal health care costs in the US reached $2.4 trillion in 2013.

    Other expensive conditions among the top 20 include musculoskeletal disorders, such as tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and rheumatoid arthritis; well-care associated with dental visits; and pregnancy and postpartum care.

    Other key findings include:

    • Women ages 85 and older spent the most per person in 2013, at more than $31,000 per person. More than half of this spending (58%) occurred in nursing facilities, while 40% was expended on cardiovascular diseases, Alzheimer's disease, and falls.
    • Men ages 85 and older spent $24,000 per person in 2013, with only 37% on nursing facilities, largely because women live longer and men more often have a spouse at home to provide care.
    • Less than 10% of personal health care spending is on nursing care facilities, and less than 5% of spending is on emergency department care. The conditions leading to the most spending in nursing care facilities are Alzheimer's and stroke, while the condition leading to the most spending in emergency departments is falls.
    • Public health education and advocacy initiatives, such as anti-tobacco and cancer awareness campaigns, totaled an estimated $77.9 billion in 2013, less than 3% of total health spending.

    Top 10 diseases

    The top 10 most costly health expenses in 2013 were:

    1. Diabetes - $101.4 billion

    2. Ischemic heart disease - $88.1 billion

    3. Low back and neck pain - $87.6 billion

    4. Hypertension - $83.9 billion

    5. Injuries from falls - $76.3 billion

    6. Depressive disorders - $71.1 billion

    7. Oral-related problems - $66.4 billion

    8. Vision and hearing problems - $59 billion

    9. Skin-related problems, such as cellulitis and acne - $55.7 billion

    10. Pregnancy and postpartum care - $55.6 billion

    There's a lot of talk about the high cost of health care but do you know which conditions contribute most to health care spending?If you said diabetes,...

    Judge refuses to dismiss Comcast lawsuit

    Washington State has charged the company's 'protection plan' is deceptive

    Comcast has failed to deflect a Washington State lawsuit that accuses it of deceiving its customers through add-on fees that don't deliver what customers are led to expect. A King County judge denied the company's motion to dismiss the lawsuit late last week.

    “The court correctly rejected Comcast’s attempt to evade responsibility for deceiving its customers,” Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said. “Washington consumers deserve their day in court.” The trial was set to begin on July 31, 2017.

    The lawsuit charges that Comcast deceived nearly all of its 1.2 million subscribers in Washington with its "Comcast Guarantee" Its lawsuit alleges the company padded its bottom line by tens of millions of dollars in deceptive charges.

    “This case is a classic example of a big corporation deceiving its customers for financial gain,” Ferguson said as he filed the suit last August. “I won’t allow Comcast to continue to put profits above customers — and the law.”

    The lawsuit accuses the company of misrepresenting the scope of its Service Protection Plan, charging customers improper service call fees, and using improper credit screening practices.

    Could go national

    Consumers rate Comcast Cable Service

    Although the Washington lawsuit is the only challenge to the company's policy at the moment, Ferguson has noted that the protection plan is a nationwide program and could result in similar charges in other states.

    Comcast has defended the plan and said it would "vigorously" contest Ferguson's allegations.

    "The Service Protection Plan has given those Washington consumers who chose to purchase it great value by completely covering over 99% of their repair calls," said Jenni Moyer, Senior Director, Comcast Corporate Communications, in an email to ConsumerAffairs last August.

    The plan promises that, for $4.99 a month, customers can avoid paying a service charge if a Comcast technician visits their home to fix an issue covered by the plan.

    But Ferguson's suit alleges that Comcast did not appropriately disclose that the plan does not cover repairs to any “wall-fished” wiring — wiring inside a wall — which constitutes the vast majority of wiring inside homes.

    Comcast has failed to deflect a Washington State lawsuit that accuses it of deceiving its customers through add-on fees that don't deliver what customers a...

    California files new criminal charges against Backpage execs

    A judge recently threw out similar charges but prosecutors say they have new evidence

    California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris has filed new criminal charges against top executives of Backpage.com, accusing them of money laundering and pimping.

    Similar charges were thrown out just a few weeks ago by a Sacramento judge, but Harris -- who will soon leave her post to be sworn in as a U.S. Senator, replacing the retiring Barbara Boxer -- says her office has developed new evidence that justifies refiling charges against what she has called the "world's top online brothel."

    Backpage is a classified advertising site that its operators say merely provides a platform for individuals and businesses to communicate with each other. But Harris says the site is engaging in criminal behavior.

    "Online brothel"

    “By creating an online brothel -- a hotbed of illicit and exploitative activity -- Carl Ferrer, Michael Lacey, and James Larkin preyed on vulnerable victims, including children, and profited from their exploitation,” said Harris. “My office will not turn a blind eye to this criminal behavior simply because the defendants are exploiting and pimping victims on the Internet rather than on a street corner."

    Ferrer is the site's CEO. Lacey and Larkin are its controlling shareholders.

    The latest charges include 26 counts of money laundering. The complaint alleges that the defendants created multiple corporate entities to launder money and circumvent the refusal of financial institutions to process Backpage transactions because of overtly sexual material. 

    The defendants are also charged with 13 counts of pimping and conspiracy to commit pimping.  In seven of the pimping counts, the victims are children. Additionally, the complaint alleges that the defendants created other sites to increase the company’s prostitution-related revenue and developed content for those sites by using victim’s photographs or information without their knowledge.  

    The site's lawyers have previously cited the federal Communications Decency Act (CDA), which protects online publishers from liability for user postings and pre-empts state criminal laws. Harris and other state attorneys general have lobbied for an amendment to the CDA that would allow them to go after web publishers but have been unsuccessful.

    The Los Angeles Times quoted an attorney representing the three as saying the latest charges are a "rehash" of the earlier complaints and will not survive a First Amendment and CDA challenge.

    California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris has filed new criminal charges against top executives of Backpage.com, accusing them of money laundering and p...

    Big chunk of charitable donations stay in fund-raisers' pockets

    Annual report finds little difference from previous years, cautions consumers to be careful

    This is the time of year when many consumers sit down with their checkbook to dole out funds to charities. It's also a time when mail, email, and telemarketing campaigns are doing a full-court press to eke out a few more dollars before the end of the tax year.

    It's good to support worthy charities, of course, but a new report from New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman emphasizes the importance of getting good value for each dollar you donate. The report, compiled annually, found that fully one-third of charitable donations end up in the pocket of the professional fundraisers. 

    New Yorkers gave a total of $17.2 billion in reported donations in 2015—the year covered by the report—the second-highest giving level in the nation, after California. Of this total, more than $1 billion was raised through 1,143 fundraising campaigns conducted by professional fundraisers on behalf of charities.  

    Of the nearly $1.1 billion raised through campaigns conducted by professional fundraisers, charities netted just over $718 million, or 65.5% of the proceeds, while professional fundraisers kept $379 million, or 34.5%.

    “New Yorkers should know how their charitable dollars are being spent,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “Our Pennies for Charity report shines a light on the portion of charitable dollars that is pocketed by outside fundraisers, and our Charities Bureau will hold unscrupulous or fraudulent fundraisers accountable.”

    While telemarketing was found to keep the biggest chunk of charitable giving, as in previous years, the report found that professional fundraisers overall retain a high percentage of charitable dollars.

    Top findings

    Significant findings from the 1,143 fundraising campaigns studied include: 

    • In 239 campaigns, 20% of those studied, the charities retained 70% or more of the funds raised, with 30% or less going to cover the costs of the professional fundraiser.
    • In 622 campaigns, 54% of the total, charities retained less than half of the funds raised.
    • In 192 campaigns, or nearly 17% of the total, fundraising expenses exceeded revenue, for a total loss of $16.7 million.

    Tips for consumers

    The report isn't intended to discourage charitable giving. Instead, it offers these pointers:

    Research the Charity

    • Check out the charity’s website.
    • If in New York, consult the Office of the Attorney General’s Charities Bureau website to review an organization’s tax returns and its financial report. Many other states have similar sites.
    • Consult the Office of the Attorney General’s Pennies for Charities database to see its fundraising costs and results.

    Donate securely

    • Use a credit card. Never use cash or wire transfer.
    • Donate via secure web addresses: When donating online, make sure the website is secure; the web address should begin with “https.”
    • Resist pressure to give on the spot. If you receive a call from a telemarketer, do not feel pressured to give over the phone. You can ask to receive information about the cause and a solicitation by mail.
    • Ask how your donation will be used. Ask specifically how the charity plans to use your donation, including the services and organizations your donation will support. Avoid charities that make emotional appeals and are vague in answering your questions.
    This is the time of year when many consumers sit down with their checkbook to dole out funds to charities. It's also a time when mail, email and telemarket...

    Winter weather travel tips to help you stay safe

    What to do if winter weather strikes while you're on the road

    Holiday travel can be stressful under the best circumstances, but winter weather can make the drive dangerous. If you’ll be hitting the highways en route to a snowy destination this season, you’ll want to make sure you stay safe and avoid putting others at risk.

    Increased traffic volume and distracted holiday drivers can make traveling in wintry weather conditions even more treacherous. To stay safe, the Red Cross suggests planning ahead and expecting delays.

    Holiday travel tips

    Here’s what drivers can do to make their holiday journey a safe one, according to the Red Cross.

    • Check the forecast. Know what type of weather you’re likely to encounter on your trip, and plan your drive accordingly.

    • Drive carefully. Have everyone in the car buckle up. Don’t speed or drive impaired, and make sure to leave enough space between you and the vehicle in front of you.

    • Be rested and stay alert. Drowsy driving can be dangerous. Stop and rest when you need to, or consider sharing the driving.

    • Follow the rules of the road. To reduce your risk of an accident, obey speed limits, traffic laws, signs, and regulations.

    • Don't drive distracted. Your full attention should be on the road while driving, not divided between the road and a cell phone.

    • Make sure your car is in good condition. Before departing, check your lights and make sure your windows are clean. Having clear visibility is important, especially if you’ll be driving at night.

    • Pack an emergency kit. Having an emergency supply kit in the trunk can be helpful if you get stranded.

    Driving in winter weather

    If winter weather hits, road conditions are likely to become dangerous. To avoid risking your safety (and the safety of other drivers around you), the Red Cross recommends pulling off the road.

    After you have pulled off the road as far as possible, stay with your vehicle. Do not try to walk to safety. What should you do if your car is stuck in the snow? The organization recommends tying a red or bright colored cloth to your antenna so you are visible to first responders.

    Additionally, the Red Cross offers the following tips for drivers in an emergency situation:

    • Start the car and use the heater for about 10 minutes every hour. Keep the exhaust pipe clear so fumes won't back up in the car.
    • Leave the overhead light on when the engine is running to help rescuers see the vehicle.
    • Keep one window slightly open -- away from the blowing wind -- to let in air.
    Holiday travel can be stressful under the best circumstances, but winter weather can make the drive dangerous. If you’ll be hitting the highways en route t...

    Uber picks up and takes its self-driving cars to Arizona

    The move will allow the company to test its vehicles away from the stringent regulations in California

    Last week, California regulators ordered Uber to take its self-driving cars off the road, saying that the vehicles did not have a special permit that classified them as test vehicles. The company also needed to provide proof that it was financially sound, had qualified drivers, and could guarantee that it would report collisions to the state.

    Uber attempted to stand firm, saying that it didn’t need any sort of special permit to operate the vehicles. “From a technology perspective, self-driving Ubers operate in the same way as vehicles equipped with advanced driver-assist technologies, for example Tesla auto-pilot and other OEM’s traffic-jam assist. This type of technology is commonplace on thousands of cars driving in the Bay Area today, without any DMV permit at all,” said Anthony Levandowski, Uber’s chief technology officer.

    But after mounting pressure from the state, the company has decided to pick up and move its driverless car program to Arizona. Perhaps in a dig to California, it says that it is excited to expand the program with the support of Gov. Doug Ducey.

    Clashing with regulators

    The fallout in California wasn’t totally unpredictable. The state has had a long history of imposing tough regulations to protect the safety of its consumers. However, many companies have said that the state’s stringent rules hamper innovation and the emergence of new technologies. Uber officials believe that is especially true of self-driving vehicles.

    “This technology has the potential to dramatically improve society: reducing the number of traffic accidents, which today kill 1.3 million people a year; freeing up the 20 percent of space in cities currently used to park the world’s billion plus cars; and cutting congestion, which wastes trillions of hours every year,” said Levandowski.

    California state regulators previously stated that they were willing to work with Uber, which is based in San Francisco, admitting that self-driving technology “holds promise of enhanced safety and mobility.” But it is staying firm on its stance that the company’s driverless cars “must be tested responsibly.”

    California not a lost cause

    For its part, Uber hasn’t totally given up on deploying its cars in California. The move to Arizona to test the program may be more of a move of convenience, since its state laws offer less regulation. But, eventually, the company hopes that it will be able to work through its issues with California regulators to get its cars on the road.

    “We’re now looking at where we can redeploy these cars but remain 100 percent committed to California and will be redoubling our efforts to develop workable statewide rules,” the company said in a statement.

    Last week, California regulators ordered Uber to take its self-driving cars off the road, saying that the vehicles did not have a special permit that class...

    Trials of new Ebola vaccine show 100% effectiveness

    Stockpiles of the vaccine are being made as insurance against a future outbreak

    It wasn’t all that long ago that Ebola was the disease on everyone’s mind. A deadly outbreak in West Africa in the latter part of 2014 led to 11,000 gruesome deaths, and vaccination efforts went into overdrive.

    Although fears related to Ebola have slowly lessened for most U.S. consumers, the disease still affects the global community to this day. Luckily, a new vaccine has finally been developed that researchers say could be 100% in fighting it. Trials of the drug conducted in Guinea are extremely promising, and stockpiles are being made against future outbreaks.

    “While these compelling results come too late for those who lost their lives during West Africa’s Ebola epidemic, they show that when the next outbreak hits, we will not be defenseless. The world can’t afford the confusion and human disaster that came with the last epidemic,” said Marie-Paule Kieny, the study’s lead author and assistant director-general for health systems and innovation for the World Health Organization (WHO).

    Effective but flawed

    Trials of the new vaccine, named rVSV-EBOV by the researchers, were conducted in Guinea last year. Researchers used a “ring vaccination” method, wherein vaccinations were given to family, friends, neighbors, and caregivers if a victim developed the disease.

    Of the 5,837 people who were vaccinated, none developed Ebola 10 days or later after being injected; those who fell ill 9 days or sooner after the injection were assumed to already be infected.

    Researchers point out that the vaccine is aggressive when it comes to attacking the disease, opening up new and faster ways to isolate and kill the virus in patients. However, Dr. Gary J. Nabel says that it is only a “step in the right direction but not the ultimate solution.” Researchers say the vaccine only deals with one of the two most common strains of Ebola virus and may not provide any kind of long-lasting protection. Side effects have also been reported with its use, including joint pain and headache.

    Insurance against future outbreaks

    Still, having an effective method for treating Ebola, and one that was 100% effective no less, is cause for optimism. The researchers believe that their work done in Guinea may open a path to future vaccine research. While no information has been released on how big stockpiles of the new vaccine will be, having it as insurance against a future outbreak could make a huge difference.

    “It’s certainly good news with regard to any new outbreak – and one will occur somewhere. But we still need to continue working on Ebola vaccines,” said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

    The full results of the trial have been published in The Lancet

    It wasn’t all that long ago that Ebola was the disease on everyone’s mind. A deadly outbreak in West Africa in the latter part of 2014 led to 11,000 grueso...

    When a modest credit card debt can feel crushing

    A large debt with a small income always spells trouble

    Hopefully you've been careful with your credit cards this holiday shopping season, staying within your budget.

    Otherwise, you could be facing a painful January, when the bill arrives and your credit card balance has ballooned.

    CreditCards.com has conducted an analysis of consumers' existing credit card debt, breaking it down by states. It found that Florida, Texas, Georgia, and New Mexico – all Sunbelt states – have four of the five heaviest credit card burdens.

    Relative to income

    What makes a credit card debt burdensome is its relationship to your income. If you have a high monthly income, putting an extra $2,000 or so on your plastic might not be a big problem. But if you are living paycheck-to-paycheck, it's a very big deal.

    For the purposes of the analysis, the researchers measured the average credit card balance against the average monthly income in each state. In the southern states, credit card debts weren't particularly high, but neither were incomes.

    Take Florida, for example. Its average credit card debt is a respectable 18th out of the 50 states. But its median income ranks only 41st in the nation.

    "It's very hard to get out of debt if you're already stretching every dollar to pay for food, housing and other essentials," said Matt Schulz, CreditCards.com's senior industry analyst.

    Transfer balances to a 0% interest card

    Schultz says consumers with large credit card balances need to consider signing up for a credit card that offers an introductory period of 0% interest for as long as possible. While there are a number of cards now offering 21 months of no interest on balance transfers, they carry a 3% balance transfer fee.

    The Chase Slate Card stands out in that area. It offers a 0% introductory rate for 15 months, and, if you transfer a balance within the first 60 days the account is open, there is no balance transfer fee. If you are transferring a large balance, not having a fee can make a big difference.

    At 0% interest, 100% of your monthly payment will go to paying down the balance. Otherwise, a major part of the payment just covers interest, since the typical credit card interest rate is north of 15%.

    And speaking of payments, don't just pay the minimum amount due each month. A typical cardholder in Florida making just the minimum payment would take more than a dozen years to payoff a $5,603 credit card bill.

    While Florida has the heaviest credit card burden, CreditCards.com found North Dakota has the lightest.

    Hopefully you've been careful with your credit cards this holiday shopping season, staying within your budget.Otherwise, you could be facing a painful...

    2016 new car sales could set yet another record

    But 2017 may turn out to be a better year to shop for a new car

    General Motors announced last week that it would temporarily close a production facility because of rising inventories. Some took that as a sign that the auto industry is finally slowing down.

    But it might not be the case. The plant in question turned out mostly smaller, fuel-efficient sedans, cars that are out of favor in an era of low gasoline prices.

    This week there was evidence suggesting car sales aren't slowing, and if they are, not by much.

    A joint forecast by J.D. Power and LMC Automotive predicts a strong close to the year, with December car sales boosting total sales for the year to 17.5 million, slightly beating last year's record tally.

    "This year will be remembered for strong retail sales and record transaction prices,” said Deirdre Borrego, senior vice president and general manager of automotive data and analytics at J.D. Power.

    Record incentives

    But carmakers had to spend money to make money this year. In November, manufacturers spent an average of $4,000 per unit on incentives for the first time ever. Since carmakers normally have to increase their incentives in December to clear out end-of-the-year inventory, the forecasters expect this month's incentive spending to be even higher.

    All of this points to some stiff headwinds for the industry in 2017, Borrego says.

    “Going forward, automakers must maintain production and pricing discipline to achieve profitability, which is easier said than done," she said.

    Advantage, consumer

    Of course, stiff headwinds for automakers could be a benefit for new car shoppers. While dealers will resist incentives where possible, they will likely have to slow flexibility to keep inventories from backing up.

    Kelley Blue Book (KBB) also predicts December will be 2016's biggest sales month, even though it may fall slightly short of last December. KBB analyst Tim Fleming agrees carmakers face issues in 2017 that could be to consumers' advantage.

    “An increasing supply of used cars, especially off-lease units, is already putting pressure on residual values, which could impact the sustainability of today’s high levels of leasing,” Fleming said. “We are looking for manufacturers to cut production in the new year to better match slowing consumer demand and alleviate the need for elevated incentives.”

    The J.D. Power report also makes clear that carmakers had to rely more on fleet sales in 2016 to keep up their record pace. The forecast predicts fleet sales will total 271,700 units in December, which would be a 4.8% increase on a selling-day adjusted basis from December 2015.

    Fleet volume could make up 16.9% of total light-vehicle sales, up slightly from 16.4% in December 2015.

    General Motors announced last week that it would temporarily close a production facility because of rising inventories. Some took that as a sign that the a...

    New home sales rebound in November

    A surge in the Midwest was the sparkplug

    Sales of new single-family houses bounced back in November from their decline the month before.

    The Commerce Department reports sales were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 592,000 last month -- up 5.2% from October and 16.5% from the same month a year earlier.

    The latest report is a source of optimism for the construction industry.

    “New home sales showed growing strength in 2016 and builders expect more of the same next year,” said National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Chairman Ed Brady.

    The November increase was led by a surge of 43.8% in the Midwest and 7.7% in the West. Sales in the Northeast were unchanged and down 3.1% in the South.

    Pricing and inventory

    The median sales price of new houses sold in November was $305,400, up $2,700 from October, but down $11,600 from a year earlier. The median is the point at which half the houses cost more and half cost less.

    The average sales price was $359,900, a gain of $5,200 from October, but a year-over-year loss of $16,900.

    The estimate of new houses for sale at the end last month was 250,000, which translates into a supply of 5.1 months at the current sales rate.

    Looking ahead, NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz expects an increase in single-family home construction next year, fueled by a growing economy and solid job growth.

    “Moreover," he adds, "builder confidence has risen on anticipation of reductions in regulatory costs, which is good news for home buyers and renters. However, the pace of construction will continue to be restricted by shortages of lots and labor in some markets.”

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

    Sales of new single-family houses bounced back in November from their decline the month before.The Commerce Department reports sales were at a seasonal...

    House prices creep higher in October

    Increases were posted on both a monthly and annual basis

    Prices of houses in the U.S. rose again in October.

    The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) House Price Index (HPI) advanced 0.4% following September's gain of 0.6%. Year-over-year, the HPI was up 6.2%

    Regional breakdown

    For the nine census divisions, seasonally adjusted monthly price changes from September to October ranged from -0.6% in the East South Central division to +1.2% in the Mountain division.

    The 12-month changes were all positive -- ranging from +3.6% in the Middle Atlantic division to +8.3% in the Mountain division.

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

    The complete report is available on the FHFA website.

    Prices of houses in the U.S. rose again in October.The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) House Price Index (HPI) advanced 0.4% following September'...

    Altijira Murray Products recalls various ice cream products

    The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

    Altijira Murray Products is recalling 16-oz. (pint size) packages of Foxy’s Thoughtful Ice Cream that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

    No illnesses have been reported.

    The following flavors and “Best By” code dates are being recalled:

    Rather 
    Thoughtful 
    Vanilla
    March 17th 
    2017
    March 18th 
    2017
    March 19th 
    2017
    March 20th 
    2017
    Oregon 
    Cherry
    Vanilla
    March 17th 
    2017
    March 18th 
    2017
    March 19th 
    2017
    March 20th 
    2017
    California 
    Pistachio
    March 17th 
    2017
    March 18th 
    2017
    March 19th 
    2017
    March 20th 
    2017
    Rocky Road 
    Less 
    Travelled

     

    March 17th 
    2017
    March 18th 
    2017
    March 19th 
    2017
    March 20th 
    2017
    Uncle 
    Mike’s 
    Double 
    Chocolate
    March 17th 
    2017
    March 18th 
    2017
    March 19th 
    2017
    March 20th 
    2017
    Salted Caramel 
    and English 
    Toffee
    March 17th 
    2017
    March 18th 
    2017
    March 19th 
    2017
    March 20th 
    2017

    The recalled products were distributed in stores in California and Pennsylvania and the North East, and were available online.

    What to do

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

    Consumers with questions may contact the company at 805 232 4519 between 9 am and 5 pm (PST) Monday through Friday, or by email at foxysrecall@gmail.com.

     

     

    Altijira Murray Products is recalling 16-oz. (pint size) packages of Foxy’s Thoughtful Ice Cream that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.N...

    Toyota recalls Avalons and 2017 Camrys

    The front passenger knee air bag may malfunction

    Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 12 model year 2016 Avalon, and 2017 Camry vehicles manufactured August 3, 2016, to September 12, 2016.

    The front passenger knee air bag module may have been attached to the lower instrument panel with incorrect fasteners.

    If the air bag was installed with incorrect fasteners, the fasteners may become loose over time, affecting the air bag deployment and increasing the risk of injury.

    What to do

    Toyota will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the fasteners, and if necessary, replace the instrument panel brace and body bracket and reattach the air bag assembly, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in December 2016.

    Owners may contact Toyota customer service at 1-800-331-4331. Toyota's number for this recall is G05.

     

     

    Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 12 model year 2016 Avalon, and 2017 Camry vehicles manufactured August 3, 2016, to September 12, 2016...

    H-E-B recall various bakery products

    The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

    H-E-B, in cooperation with Dawn Food Products, is recalling certain bakery products that may be contaminated with Salmonella.

    There have been no reports of illness to date in connection with these items.

    The following products, sold in H-E-B and Mi Tienda in-store bakeries in Texas and Mexico, are being recalled:

    PRODUCTUPC
    FRESH STRAWBERRY BOSTON - FRZ22784100000
    FRESH STRAWBERRY BOSTON CAKE22784000000
    BOSTON WITH FRESH FRUIT22729100000
    BOSTON SUNDAE CAKE22948600000
    *BOSTON CHOC/FUDGE ICED  22729000000
    BOSTON SUNDAE CAKE CHOCOLATE22942100000
    BOSTON SUNDAE CAKE--FREEZER22937100000
    SCR MADE 8 IN BOSTON W/FR STBR22635200000
    HLDY CHOC FUDGE BOSTON SPIDER22763400000

    What to do

    Customers who purchased the recalled products should return them to the store for a full refund.

    Consumers with questions or concerns may contact H-E-B customer service at 1-855-432-4438, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (CST).

     

     

    H-E-B, in cooperation with Dawn Food Products, is recalling certain bakery products that may be contaminated with Salmonella.There have been no reports...

    Snyder of Berlin recalls Buffalo Blue Kettle Cooked Potato Chips

    The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

    Snyder of Berlin is recalling Snyder of Berlin Buffalo Blue Kettle Cooked Potato Chips.

    The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

    There have been no reported illnesses associated with this product to date.

    The following product, distributed in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia

    West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Maryland, New York and Tennessee, is being recalled:

    Brand NameCommon NameSizeUPCProduct Codes
    Snyder of
    Berlin
    Buffalo Blue Kettle
    Cooked Potato Chips
    8 oz
    (227g)
    0 23000 43922 9FEB2117M77A,
    FEB2117H44A, 
    FEB2117H44B, 
    FEB2817H77A,
    MAR0717H77A,
    MAR2117M77A

    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 a full refund.

    Consumers with questions may contact Snyder of Berlin consumer care at calling 888-257-8042.

     

     

    Snyder of Berlin is recalling Snyder of Berlin Buffalo Blue Kettle Cooked Potato Chips.The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.There have b...

    Ikea to pay $50 million settlement for tip-over deaths

    The money will be split between three families whose children died in accidents

    For years, Ikea has faced the ire of consumers and regulators over its supposed lack of concern for the safety of consumers. Consumer advocacy groups say that the company has sold millions of dressers that pose a serious tip-over hazard, leading to the deaths of at least half a dozen children and toddlers.

    Back in June, the company recalled 29 million dangerous chest and dresser models that didn’t comply with U.S. voluntary industry standards, but further action will be taken to compensate some of the affected consumers. The Washington Post reports that Ikea will pay a $50 million settlement that will be split evenly between three families.

    The settlement ends lawsuits against the company by the families of Curren Collas, Camden Ellis, and Ted McGee. Collas was crushed to death when a six-drawer MALM dresser tipped over on top of him in his bedroom; Ellis was also crushed when a three-drawer MALM dresser tipped over in his bedroom; McGee died of asphyxiation after a six-drawer MALM dresser fell on top of him. All three boys were just two years old.

    But the agreement does little to end the risk unstable furniture poses to children, said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who has introduced legislation that would require tougher safety standards.

    “IKEA has taken some responsibility for these deaths both through the settlement and the biggest furniture recall in the history of America. The danger furniture tip-overs pose goes beyond IKEA’s Malm dressers. Until we have effective standards in place, kids will continue to be at risk of injuries and death,” Klobuchar said. “We need to pass my bill to prevent any further tragedies, ensure stronger standards across the board, and protect our children.”

    Dressers not anchored

    In several of its other wrongful death lawsuits, Ikea contends that families are to blame for deaths due to not anchoring the dressers to the wall like the instructions suggest. However, consumer groups charge that the company is at fault for knowingly selling dressers that are a hazard and resisting efforts to amend the situation quickly.

    “Ikea sold millions of unstable dressers with a tip-over hazard that led to the deaths of at least six toddlers and continues to place countless children at risk. It resisted a recall for too long,” said three advocacy groups in a joint statement earlier this year.

    Last month, federal safety officials with the Consumer Product Safety Commission announced that consumers should "immediately stop using any recalled chest and dresser that is not properly anchored to the wall and place it into an area that children cannot access,” adding that Ikea could be contacted for either a refund of the product or a free wall-anchoring kit. 

    In addition to the $50 million settlement, Ikea has pledged to donate additional funds to various organizations in memory of each child. Three children’s hospitals in Philadelphia, Washington, and Minnesota will split a $150,000 donation from the company, and the nonprofit group Shane’s Foundation will receive another $100,000. Ikea has also vowed to increase consumer knowledge of tip-over hazards by funding television and internet advertisements. 

    For years, Ikea has faced the ire of consumers and regulators over its supposed lack of concern for the safety of consumers. Consumer advocacy groups say t...

    Study: short courses of antibiotics aren't better when treating ear infections in kids

    A ten-day course of treatment is twice as effective, researchers say

    Three-quarters of children will get an ear infection during their first year of life. Antibiotics are commonly prescribed to treat an ear infection, but is a short course of antibiotics the best way to treat an ear infection in a child? Maybe not, according to new research.

    In a new study involving 520 children with ear infections, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh found that the standard course of antibiotic treatment is far more effective than the shortened antibiotic regimen.

    What's more, the study found that the 10-day regimen did not translate to an increased risk of antibiotic resistance or side effects such as diarrhea or diaper rash.

    "The results of this study clearly show that for treating ear infections in children between 9 and 23 months of age, a five-day course of antibiotic offers no benefit in terms of adverse events or antibiotic resistance," said Alejandro Hoberman, chief of the general academic pediatrics division at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

    Lower risk of treatment failure 

    Children in the study received either a five-day course of antibiotics (followed by five days of placebos) or a standard 10-day course. For those in the five-day group, there was a 34% risk of treatment failure. Children in the 10-day group, however, had only a 16% risk of treatment failure.

    Amid current concerns regarding overuse of antibiotics and increased antibiotic resistance, Hoberman says these findings are significant. Not only was it determined that a 10-day course of antibiotics is more effective, it was proven that a shortened antibiotic regimen doesn’t reduce a child's risk of developing antibiotic resistance.

    Hoberman stated that although we should be concerned about the emergence of resistance overall for this condition, “the benefits of the 10-day regimen greatly outweigh the risks.”

    The study was published online in the New England Journal of Medicine.

    Three-quarters of children will get an ear infection during their first year of life. Antibiotics are commonly prescribed to treat an ear infection, but is...

    FDA releases guidelines to limit lead in lipsticks and other cosmetic products

    Consumer groups say anything short of a full ban doesn't go far enough

    Due to the highly-publicized events in Flint, Michigan and in other parts of the country, consumers are becoming more aware of just how bad lead can be for their health. However, unbeknownst to many, there are a multitude of products that contain trace amounts of lead.

    One of the biggest industries where this truth comes across is in cosmetics; many lipsticks, lip glosses, lip liners, eye shadows, and lotions contain the element. While the amounts are too low to do any kind of immediate damage, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released guidelines that will decrease its use even further, to no more than 10 parts per million (ppm).

    “[The FDA] has concluded that a recommended maximum level of 10 ppm for lead as an impurity in cosmetic lip products and externally applied cosmetics would not pose a health risk. We consider the recommended maximum lead level to be achievable with the use of good manufacturing practices and to be consistent with the 10 ppm maximum lead level for similar products recommended by other countries,” the agency said.

    Advocacy groups want more

    The FDA arrived at its 10 ppm figure after thoroughly investigating several different lipsticks and their lead content. Its findings suggest that allowing for 10 ppm of lead would not pose a “significant health risk” to consumers.  A previous study by the FDA of 400 cosmetic lip products found a wide range of lead levels – ranging from 0.026 ppm to 7.19 ppm. Eye shadows had a higher range of lead content, ranging from 6.7 ppm to 9.4 ppm.

    The FDA says that the impact of the lead in these products is likely reduced even further, since the products are only applied to small areas of skin. However, there are many advocacy groups who believe that the product is too dangerous and should be eliminated entirely.

    “Lead has no place in personal care products, especially products marketed to children, who are especially vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead. While we welcome renewed attention from the FDA, we urge the agency to prohibit the presence of lead in lip products marketed to children and to require a warning on all personal care products that contain lead,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president of the Environmental Working Group.

    Faber goes on to call for additional oversight of cosmetic products and other dangerous substances, saying that “Congress should also act swiftly to reform cosmetics law to require FDA reviews of other dangerous substances in cosmetics. Sadly, lead is not the only toxin hidden in our personal care products.” 

    Due to the highly-publicized events in Flint, Michigan and in other parts of the country, consumers are becoming more aware of just how bad lead can be for...

    Tesla, Porsche, Audi top Consumer Reports' annual study

    The study measures owners' satisfaction with their cars

    Each year Consumer Reports magazine surveys its readers to find out how satisfied they are with their vehicles, and it seems like each year, Tesla, Porsche, Audi, and Subaru come out on top. Sure enough, it happened again this year, while Lincoln and Hyundai climbed up in the ratings and Ram took a big fall. 

    It's important to note that, unlike a lot of ratings, this particular CR study encompasses satisfaction with an entire brand. Other surveys measure satisfaction with specific models. This may help explain why the results are the way they are. After all, none of the top four make pickup trucks, a frequent source of discontent, and none makes a super-economical subcompact. They also, with the possible exception of Subaru, tend to cater to car enthusiasts -- guys (mostly) who really love their cars. 

    The survey, by the way, covers cars from model years 2014-2017 to represent the current state of the brands. To be measured, a brand must have at least two models. This year's survey included more than 300,000 vehicles. Owners are asked if they would buy the same brand again and the percentage answering "definitely yes" determines the brand rankings.

    Lincoln shot up in the rankings, climbing to 12th place this year from 21st last year, and Hyundai zipped up to 13th from 24th. 

    Ram, on the other hand, toppled from 5th place last year to 17th. A breakaway brand from Dodge, Ram makes just pickup trucks and vans. 

    Also tumbling this year was BMW, which sank to 14th place from 6th and Volkswagen, which went from 16 to an abysmal 24, thanks perhaps to a certain dust-up over diesel emissions.

    Last place? Well, thanks to Fiat returning to the United States a few years ago, other brands can say that, no matter how bad their rankings, they're not as bad as Fiat. In other words, it occupies 29th place, dead last.

    That could change next year, though. After all, Alfa Romeo is now selling a couple of models in the U.S.

    Each year Consumer Reports magazine surveys its readers to find out how satisfied they are with their vehicles, and it seems like each year, Tesla, Porsche...

    Engine fires in Smart Fortwo cars probed

    Safety regulators have received eight reports of severe fires that destroyed the cars

    Federal safety regulators are looking into reports of severe fires in 2008 and 2009 Smart Fortwo cars. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has received eight complaints from consumers and is conducting a preliminary evaluation of the problem.

    Six of the incidents report experiencing symptoms of smoke, check engine light illumination, or unusual noise while driving, before pulling over and observing fire in the engine compartment. The other two incidents were not detected until the vehicles were stopped.

    All eight incidents involve severe fires that rapidly engulfed the vehicles. Five of the incidents occurred in 2015 and the most recent three have all occurred since October 2016.

    One complaint came from a consumer in Arlington, Texas, who said: "I was on my way home from work and looked in my rear view mirror and saw smoke. I pulled over to the side of the road only to find my car was beginning to be engulfed in flames."

    The consumer said there was no previous warning of problems. The car was a total loss and fire investigators said the fire had started in the engine compartment.

    The complaints report incident mileages ranging from 29,000 to 86,000 miles (average is approximately 54,000 miles). The preliminary evaluation will try to determine the cause, scope, and frequency of the problem and could lead to a formal investigation and, possibly, a recall.

    Federal safety regulators are looking into reports of severe fires in 2008 and 2009 Smart Fortwo cars. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (...

    Foreclosures rose in November but are still historically low

    But it's still a problem in parts of the South

    The housing market has come a long way from the dark days of 2010, when foreclosures dominated real estate news and dragged property values lower in neighborhoods across America.

    Today, you don't hear much about foreclosures, but they're still occurring. Fortunately, it's not happening anywhere near as often as the immediate aftermath of the real estate crash.

    Black Knight Financial Services has issued a report on November foreclosures and mortgage delinquencies, showing a slight increase from October, but both numbers remain near 10-year lows.

    Foreclosure starts were 6.9% higher than in October but were down nearly 10% from November 2015. November's mortgage delinquency rate was 4.46%, up over two and a half percent from October but down 9.43% from a year ago.

    Big improvement from last year

    In just about every category having to do with either foreclosure or mortgage delinquency, this year's numbers are sharply lower than last year's, suggesting the last of the housing crisis inventory has been settled.

    While subprime mortgages, which trapped many consumers with home loans they couldn't afford, served as the trigger for the first wave of foreclosures, the resulting financial crisis that threw millions out of work produced the second wave.

    Today, with a stronger economy and tougher loan qualification standards, foreclosures are usually the result of some specific and personal financial setback. And there are many fewer of them.

    For example, nationwide the number of properties that are 90 days or more past due total 682,000, up slightly from October but down 145,000 from November 2015.

    More common in the South

    The Black Knight report also shows that many of the foreclosures and delinquent mortgages are in the South. Mississippi leads the nation with 11.56% of non-current mortgages. Louisiana is next with 10.09%, New Jersey with 8.2%, Alabama with 8.06%, and West Virginia with 7.94%.

    Homeowners in North Dakota, Colorado, Minnesota, and Montana are doing the best job of keeping up their house payments, with delinquency rates under 3%.

    According to data compiled from RealtyTrac, the Federal Reserve, and Equifax, there were 1.2 million completed foreclosures in 2007, at the start of the foreclosure tsunami, peaking in 2011 at 3.58 million. Last year, the number had fallen to 575,378.

    The housing market has come a long way from the dark days of 2010, when foreclosures dominated real estate news and dragged property values lower in neighb...

    Senator Al Franken calls out Uber over privacy policy

    Meanwhile, the California DMV wins a stand-off with company over driverless cars

    Uber recently updated its ride-hailing app and one of the changes is a subject of concern to a member of Congress.

    Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) has published a letter to the company president, suggesting the privacy policy get a consumer-friendly update as well.

    Franken says he is concerned that the updated app has eliminated a significant feature – the ability to turn off Uber's access to a consumer's location when the app is not being used.

    Franken says now consumers have only two choices – allowing Uber to access their location “always” or “never.” If they choose “always,” Franken says Uber can track consumers, even when the app is not being used. If they choose “never,” it leaves consumers with imprecise pick-up and drop-off information.

    Well intentioned

    "While the stated justifications for this update appear well intentioned, I strongly believe that American consumers deserve a meaningful opportunity to decide for themselves the fate of their personal data," Franken wrote.

    At the very least, he says consumers should be aware of what data is being collected about them and how it's used and shared.

    “To achieve this necessary transparency, I urge you to amend Uber's privacy statement to reflect the company's public assurances and justifications related to the most recent app update," Franken concluded.

    Stand-off in California

    Uber, meanwhile, has hit a speed bump in its effort to use autonomous vehicles in California. After a week-long stand-off with California's Department of Motor Vehicles, Uber has said it will suspend its plans to offer rides in San Francisco using driverless cars.

    The California DMV officially revoked the registration of those vehicles, so the company could not have legally operated in the state.

    Last week, it appeared Uber’s head of autonomous tech, Anthony Levandowski, was ready to launch a legal challenge, citing a loophole in the regulations.

    “The regulations apply to 'autonomous vehicles,'” he said in a statement. “And autonomous vehicles are defined as cars equipped with technology that can — and I quote — 'drive a vehicle without the active physical control or monitoring by a human operator.' But the self-driving Ubers that we have in both San Francisco and Pittsburgh today are not capable of driving without … active physical control or monitoring.”

    Uber is currently using the same technology in Pittsburgh, but the California DMV isn't buying it. However, Wired reports the state agency has extended an olive branch, pledging to work with Uber to try and resolve the issue.

    Uber recently updated its ride-hailing app and one of the changes is a subject of concern to a member of Congress.Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) has publish...

    Jobless claims hit 6-month high

    Personal income and spending barely moved last month

    A flurry of layoffs in the week ending December 17 pushed initial applications for state unemployment benefits to their highest level in six months.

    The Department of Labor (DOL) reports a seasonally-adjusted total of 275,000 people filed first-time jobless claims -- up 21,000 from the week before.

    Even with that increase, claims have remained below the 300,000 level for 94 weeks in a row, the longest streak in more than 45 years.

    The four-week moving average, seen by economists as a more accurate barometer of the labor market for its lack of volatility, rose 6,000 from the previous week to 263,750.

    The complete report may be found on the DOL website.

    Personal income and spending

    When it comes to personal income and spending, November was a somewhat stodgy month.

    According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), incomes were up just $1.6 billion -- less than 0.1%, with disposable personal income (DPI), what's left after your taxes are taken out, falling less than 0.1% or $1.3 billion.

    Personal consumption expenditures (PCE), or consumer spending, inched up 0.2% or $24.0 billion.

    The November increase in personal income came from advances in personal interest income and rental income. Wages and salaries actually fell.

    Spending for services accounted for most of the gain in the increase in real PCE.

    Personal saving totaled $780.9 billion last month, and the personal saving as a percentage of disposable personal income, was down 0.2% from October, to 5.5%.

    The full report is available on the BEA website.

    A flurry of layoffs in the week ending December 17 pushed initial applications for state unemployment benefits to thei...

    U.S. economy shows continued improvement

    The growth rate in the third quarter was the fastest in two years

    It appears three is the charm when it comes to the nation's economy.

    The Commerce Department reports its third and final look at how things were going in the third quarter shows real gross domestic product (GDP) -- the value of the goods and services produced by the nation’s economy -- expanded at an annual rate of 3.5% in the third quarter. That's the best clip in two years.

    The government had previously reported a growth rate of 3.2% based on less source data than was available for this latest reading. GDP performed less robustly in the second quarter, growing at a rate of just 1.4%.

    The third quarter increase in real GDP primarily reflects contributions from consumer spending, exports, private inventory investment, nonresidential fixed investment, and federal government spending.

    The acceleration in growth came from an upturn in private inventory investment, stronger exports, a smaller decline in state and local government spending, a turnaround in federal government spending, and a smaller dip in residential investment.

    Inflation and profits

    A price index tied to GDP was up 1.5% in the July—September period, compared with a 2.1% increase in the second quarter. Stripping out the volatile food and energy categories, the “core” PCE rose 1.7%, versus an advance of 1.8% in the previous three months.

    Corporate profits reversed course in the third quarter, rising $117.8 billion after falling $12.5 billion in the second quarter.

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

    It appears three is the charm when it comes to the nation's economy.The Commerce Department reports its third and final look at how things were going i...

    Ford recalls model year 2017 Fusions

    Stowed luggage may move into the passenger compartment

    Ford Motor Company is recalling 35 model year 2017 Ford Fusions manufactured September 27, 2016, to September 28, 2016.

    The left rear seat backs pivot pins may have been improperly welded. During a crash, the improper welds may fail, allowing any stowed luggage to move into the passenger compartment, increasing the risk of injury.

    What to do

    Ford will notify owners, and dealers will replace the left hand, second row seat back frame, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin January 9, 2017.

    Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 16S43.

    Ford Motor Company is recalling 35 model year 2017 Ford Fusions manufactured September 27, 2016, to September 28, 2016.The left rear seat backs pivot p...

    Poppies International recalls pastry products

    The products may be contaminated with Salmonella``

    Poppies International of Battleboro, N.C., is recalling pastry products made with custard powder that may be contaminated with Salmonella.

    No illnesses or adverse health effects resulting from these events have been reported to date.

    The recalled products sold through retail stores, can be identified by the following lot numbers which can be found on the side of each tub by the lid:

    DescriptionUPCLot Codes 
    Delizza Choc Enrobed 30 ct  (400g)6 76670 00402 2L1F3016
    L1G3016
    L1H3016
    L1K3116
    L1L3116
    L1M3116
    L1F3316
    L1G3316
    L1H3316
    L1L3416
    L1M3416
    L1N3416
    L1K4016
    L1L4016
    L1M4016
    L1N4016
    L1O4016
    L1P4016
    L1Q4016
    L1N4916
    L1O4916
    L1P4916
    L1Q4916
    Delizza Belgian Custard C ream Mini Eclairs 30 ct (420g)6 76670 00106 9L1E2116
    L1F2116
    L1N2516
    L1O2516
    L1D2616
    L1H3016
    L1I3016
    L1J3016
    L1K3016
    L1L3016
    L1M3016
    L1N3016
    L1O3016
    L1P3016
    L1Q3016
    L1K3216
    L1L3216
    L1M3216
    L1N3216
    L1O3216
    L1P3216
    L1Q3216
    L1E3416
    L1F3416
    L1G3416
    L1H3416
    L1I3416
    L1J3416
    L1G3616
    L1H3616
    L1J3616
    L1G3716
    L1H3716
    L1J3816
    L1K3816
    L1L3816
    L1M3816
    L1N3816
    L1O3816
    L1J4116
    L1M4116
    L1N4116
    L1O4116
    L1M4216
    L1N4216
    L1J4316
    L1K4316
    L1E4516
    L1F4516
    L1K4516
    L1K4716
    L1L4716
    L1M4716
    L1G4816
    L1I4916
    L1J4916
    L1K4916
    Delizza Belgian Custard Cream Mini Eclairs 50 ct (700g)6 76670 00105 2L1A2616
    L1M3616
    L1N3616
    L1O3616
     
    Poppies Mini Eclairs 50 ct (710g)
     
    0 08563 10710 5L1H3216
    L1I3216
    L1J3216
     

    What to do

    Customers who purchased the recalled products should immediately discontinue use of the product and return it to the place of purchase for a full refund.

    Consumers with questions may contact Heather Aycock at 252-442-4016 Monday through Friday between 9am-5pm (EST) or by email at info@delizza.us.

     

     

    Poppies International of Battleboro, N.C., is recalling pastry products made with custard powder that may be contaminated with Salmonella.No illnesses...

    Seniors defaulting on student loans face rising Social Security garnishments

    GAO report shows these garnishments are pushing seniors into poverty

    The crushing toll of student loan debt is a common problem plaguing today's Millennials. But it may surprise you to learn that a large number of retired Baby Boomers are struggling with the same thing.

    A new report by the General Accountability Office (GAO), requested by two U.S. Senators, shows tens of thousands of seniors who defaulted on their student loans are now having their Social Security benefits garnished.

    The report, produced at the request of Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), shows seniors' student loan garnishments have surged in the last 10 years. In fact, the number of consumers over 50 with defaulted student loans is growing much faster than it is for younger consumers. The report shows that since 2005, those 65 and older experienced a surge in their total student loan debt by 385%.

    As those with student loan debt well know, there is almost no way to walk away from student loans, not even bankruptcy. When older borrowers default, the government goes after the money any way it can, including garnishing federal benefits.

    Garnishments up to 540%

    The GAO report found that over the last decade, these Social Security garnishments have surged 540% for more than 114,000 seniors who still owe student loans.

    “This report shows us that seniors clearly aren’t immune to the student loan crisis—they’re deeply impacted by this issue to the point that it’s leaving many of them in a dire financial situation,” McCaskill said. “We could have hundreds of thousands of American seniors living in poverty due to garnished Social Security benefits if this trend continues, and we shouldn’t allow that to happen.”

    Most garnishments don't pay down debt

    In a Facebook post, Warren says the U.S. government has collected $1.1 billion from defaulting seniors' Social Security checks, as well as consumers with disabilities, to pay for student loans. Of even more concern, she says 71% of that money isn’t going to pay down the debt but is just covering fees and interest.

    “That means the federal government is boosting its student loan profits while shoving tens of thousands of Americans who depend on Social Security to make ends meet deeper into poverty,” Warren writes. “No wonder many Americans don’t think Washington works for them.”

    Warren and McCaskill are co-sponsoring legislation to end the garnishment. While President-elect Trump has been highly critical of the government’s role in the student loan program, there is no indication he would look kindly on the proposed bill should it manage to pass Congress. Forbes reports Trump is on the record opposing student loan forgiveness.

    The crushing toll of student loan debt is a common problem plaguing today's Millennials. But it may surprise you to learn that a large number of retired Ba...

    Carmakers getting more time to meet tougher fuel economy standards

    A government agency says it is bowing to reality

    In a change of heart, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has agreed to push back the date that it will start imposing penalties on carmakers for failing to meet new fuel economy standards.

    In response to pleas from several automotive companies and their advocacy groups, the government agency has agreed to hold the 2019 models to the new standard.

    NHTSA said it is simply bowing to the reality that carmakers design their products well in advance. Jack Nerad, executive market analyst for Kelley Blue Book, says it was the right move.

    “In a month of political posturing by outgoing and incoming administrations, this action by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration adds a needed dose of reality to the conversation around fuel economy and emissions,” Nerad said in an email to ConsumerAffairs.

    By delaying the penalties until the 2019 model year, Nerad says the agency is giving the auto industry some “much-needed breathing room” in their efforts to meet standards that are made more difficult to reach by the fact that fuel is reasonably inexpensive and expected to stay that way for at least a few years to come.

    Low gas prices equal lower mileage ratings

    Automakers have discovered that it is much harder to sell smaller, more fuel-efficient cars when gasoline prices are barely over $2 a gallon. Instead, consumers have been buying less-efficient trucks and SUVs.

    An automaker's fuel economy rating is based on the cumulative mileage rating of its entire fleet. The more trucks and SUVs a company sells, the lower its rating.

    As recently as August, NHTSA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) jointly finalized fuel economy and pollution standards, sticking with the original deadline.

    In extending its deadline, NHTSA also granted a request by carmakers for a way to clear up discrepancies between the two different mandates administered by the two separate government agencies.

    In a change of heart, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has agreed to push back the date that it will start imposing penalties on...

    Keep button batteries away from children this holiday season

    Swallowed button batteries can have life-threatening effects, poison center officials warn

    Small items often go straight into the mouths of little ones. But while a swallowed crayon or penny may not necessarily be cause for concern, experts say a swallowed button battery most certainly is.

    Ahead of the holidays -- a time in which toys, greeting cards, games, and other gifts containing button batteries are commonly brought into households with children -- toxicologists at the Tennessee Poison Center (TPC) are warning adults to be aware that a swallowed button battery can have serious and life-threatening effects.

    “During the holidays, we all feel stressed and busy, but if a button battery ingestion is even suspected, quick medical evaluation should be a priority,” said Donna Seger, M.D., medical director and executive director of the Tennessee Poison Center.

    X-ray recommended

    Button battery ingestion happens all too often, experts say. Each year, more than 2,800 children are treated in emergency rooms after swallowing button batteries, which may be found in remote controls, calculators, watches, key fobs, flameless candles, musical greeting cards, flashing holiday jewelry, and decorations.

    While most small batteries can pass through the digestive system without harm, poison center officials say harmful effects can occur when a button battery gets lodged in the esophagus. That’s because the human body is a conductor, and the battery itself produces electric current than will begin to burn through tissue and major blood vessels in the neck.

    How can you tell if a child may have a button battery lodged in his or her esophagus? Signs include: complaints about chest pain or tightness, coughing, or in severe cases, bloody vomiting.

    If you suspect your child has ingested a button battery, seek medical attention immediately. If a battery can be visualized on X-ray, doctors can remove it through an endoscopy. If the battery isn’t lodged in the esophagus, it may be allowed to pass through the stomach and intestines.

    To keep kids safe, experts recommend keeping lithium battery-controlled devices out of reach of children. In case of an emergency, have the number for the toll-free Poison Help Line handy: 1-800-222-1222.

    Small items often go straight into the mouths of little ones. But while a swallowed crayon or penny may not necessarily be cause for concern, experts say a...

    Online market research firm agrees to clean up its tracking practices

    Turn Inc., continued tracking consumers who had opted out, FTC charged

    A company that tracks consumers on the internet has settled Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charges that it deceived consumers by tracking them online and through their mobile applications, even after consumers took steps to opt out of such tracking.

    Turn Inc., of Redwood City, California, a company that enables sellers to target digital advertisements to consumers, said it "agreed to the order to avoid a lengthy and costly litigation process and to continue our single-minded focus on serving our global brand and agency customers."

    According to the FTC’s complaint, Turn’s privacy policy represented that consumers could block targeted advertising by using their web browser’s settings to block or limit cookies. In fact, the complaint alleges that Turn used unique identifiers to track millions of Verizon Wireless customers, even after they blocked or deleted cookies from websites.  

    In addition, the agency charged that Turn’s opt-out mechanism only applied to mobile browsers and did not block tailored ads on mobile applications as the company claimed.

    Tracked millions

    “Turn tracked millions of consumers online and through mobile apps even if they had taken steps to block or limit tracking,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “The FTC’s order will ensure the company honors consumers’ privacy choices.”

    The proposed FTC consent order bars Turn from misrepresenting the extent of its online tracking or the ability of users to limit or control the company’s use of their data. It also requires Turn to provide an effective opt-out for consumers who do not want their information used for targeted advertising and place a prominent hyperlink on its home page that takes consumers to a disclosure explaining what information the company collects and uses for targeted advertising.

    Turn said in a statement on its website that it had ended the disputed practices in 2015 and grumped about the trouble and expense of responding to the FTC complaint.

    "After a nearly two-year process and extended negotiations, we look forward to avoiding further distraction and expense so that we can continue to serve our customers. The settlement validates the steps we took early in 2015, when Turn terminated the partnership and ceased using the Verizon Wireless identifier," the company said.

    A company that tracks consumers on the internet has settled Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charges that it deceived consumers by tracking them online and t...

    Obama permanently bans offshore drilling in Atlantic and Arctic areas

    Proponents hope the move will be hard to overturn by future administration

    Earlier this month, Governor Jerry Brown of California penned a letter to President Obama asking him to step up measures to protect the West Coast from offshore drilling. Although the POTUS had introduced a measure that would ban the practice off the coast of California, Oregon, and Washington until 2022, Brown hoped that Obama would make the ban permanent to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and preserve the coastline.

    While that particular topic has not yet been broached, Obama did take steps to reduce offshore drilling – but on the other side of the country. Acting jointly in a partnership with Canada, Obama has indefinitely blocked offshore drilling in 31 Atlantic canyons, according to NPR. The same action was taken in the U.S. Arctic waters in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, and Canada is reportedly doing the same for all Arctic Canadian waters.

    “Today, President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau are proud to launch actions ensuring a strong, sustainable and viable Arctic economy and ecosystem, with low-impact shipping, science based management of marine resources, and free from the future risks of offshore oil and gas activity,” a White House press release states.

    "Permanent" ban?

    Obama was able to push through the action by citing a 1953 law, called the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, that empowers the president to “withdraw U.S. waters from future oil and gas leasing,” according to Bloomberg. The total area affected by the mandate includes 3.8 million acres in the Atlantic and a combined 115 million acres in the Arctic.

    Environmentalists have applauded the move, saying that the measure will help protect coastal residents in both the U.S. and Canada. However, members of the oil and gas industry are less than pleased with the decision and say that the permanency of the ban is a fiction.

    “Blocking offshore exploration would weaken our national security, destroy good-paying jobs and could make energy less affordable for consumers. Fortunately, there is no such thing as a permanent ban, and we look forward to working with the new administration on fulfilling the will of American voters on energy production,” said Erik Milito of the American Petroleum Institute.

    Moving away from fossil fuels

    While a Republican-held Congress and the new administration of President-elect Trump could prove detrimental to the ban in the long-run, detractors say that the statute that Obama cited is not constructed for a reversal by the president. That means that untangling the move could potentially take years to make its way through the courts.

    “These actions, and Canada’s parallel actions, protect a sensitive and unique ecosystem that is unlike any other region on earth. They reflect the scientific assessment that, even with the high safety standards that both our countries have put in place, the risks of an oil spill in this region are significant and our ability to clean up from a spill in the region’s harsh conditions is limited,” the White House said in a statement.

    “By contrast, it would take decades to fully develop the production infrastructure necessary for any large scale oil and gas leasing production in the region – at a time when we need to continue to move decisively away from fossil fuels.” 

    Earlier this month, Governor Jerry Brown of California penned a letter to President Obama asking him to step up measures to protect the West Coast from off...

    Crib ads often depict unsafe sleep practices, study finds

    Many ads show babies surrounded by soft bedding, sleeping in positions other than on their back

    To protect babies from SIDS, it’s important that parents and caregivers place babies to sleep in a safe position and environment. In addition to putting babies to sleep on their back, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends keeping bumper pads and soft bedding out of a baby’s crib.

    Although these guidelines have been in place for quite some time, researchers say advertisements continue to depict unsafe sleep environments in ads for cribs. New research revealed that about 40% of print ads show a crib setup that does not portray a safe sleep environment for babies.

    The study found that most ads showed cribs with soft mattresses, bumper pads, loose bedding, stuffed animals, and gaps between the mattress and the side of the crib. The authors say advertisers have made some improvements to what they show but note that there’s work to be done.

    “Advertisers and manufacturers should encourage new parents to follow guidelines by being the example in their published materials,” said lead researcher Dr. Bradley Troxler, emphasizing that it’s important that health care providers and advertisers come together to educate parents about safe sleep environments for infants and children.

    Racial disparity

    The study, published recently in Pediatrics, also found that crib ads often reflected racial disparity. None of the print advertisements examined by the researchers showed a non-white child in a safe sleeping environment.

    These findings are important given the fact that SIDS occurs more often in black infants. Troxler noted that there are about 172 cases per 100,000 babies compared with 84 cases per 100,000 for white infants.

    The investigators concluded that health care providers should boost their efforts to promote safe sleep practices by educating not just parents and caregivers, but advertisers, stores, and crib manufacturers as well.

    Here’s what a safe sleeping environment should look like, according to AAP guidelines:

    • Infants should not sleep in a bed, on a couch, or in a chair with an adult or alone
    • Sleep areas next to a parent’s bed should be a separate bassinet or crib
    • Clothing should fit the baby and should not be loose or baggy
    • Refrain from using any extra bedding, blankets, bumpers, and pillows in the crib; a tight, fitted sheet is all that is needed
    • Toys and stuffed animals should not be in the baby’s sleep area
    • Use a firm safety-approved crib mattress with a fitted sheet
    • The baby’s head should never be covered
    • Always place an infant on his or her back to sleep
    • Do not smoke or let anyone else smoke around the baby
    To protect babies from SIDS, it’s important that parents and caregivers place babies to sleep in a safe position and environment. In addition to putting ba...

    Gas prices rising sharply in the Midwest

    But the price in the most expensive states is actually going down

    Gasoline prices are still relatively low but are rising nationwide, at a time when they are normally headed lower.

    This week, prices in the Midwest have moved sharply higher, outpacing the increases in the rest of the country. In fact, some of the nation's most expensive states for gasoline have actually seen prices at the pump go down.

    The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price for self-serve regular is $2.25 a gallon, up only three cents in the last week but 12 cents more than a month ago. Last year at this time, the national average price was just under $2 a gallon.

    Sharp rise in the Midwest

    In the Midwest, Michigan is seeing the largest increase in prices at the pump, with the statewide average rising nine cents a gallon, to $2.38, since yesterday. Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at Gasbuddy, Tweeted that a plunge in temperatures caused problems at the Exxon Mobil refinery near Joliet, Ill., sending spot gasoline prices higher in the region, particularly in Chicago.

    The current statewide average price of gasoline in Illinois is $2.36 a gallon, up nine cents from a week ago.

    As for the rest of the country, the rising price of oil is mostly responsible for the unseasonable rise in prices at the pump. There is still a glut of oil on the world market, but AAA reports oil prices are rising on speculators' expectation that OPEC's recent agreement curtailing production will reduce supplies in the future.

    Falling prices on the West Coast

    Motorists on the West Coast still pay some of the highest fuel prices in the nation. Hawaii, which is always the most expensive, leads at $2.95 a gallon. But elsewhere, western consumers have seen prices actually come down in recent days.

    Motorists in Idaho are paying 18 cents a gallon less this week while prices have dropped eight cents a gallon in Nevada.

    One reason for this is a surge in West Coast refinery output. The Energy Information Administration reports gasoline production in the region reached a one-month high of 1.6 million barrels a day, and inventories remain at a 15-week high.

    The nation's cheapest fuel is still found in the South and Southeast. Arkansas, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, and Tennessee all have statewide averages of $2.05 a gallon or less.

    Gasoline prices are still relatively low but are rising nationwide, at a time when they are normally headed lower.This week, prices in the Midwest have...

    Sales of existing homes rise in November

    The increase was the third in a row

    Sales of previously-owned homes rose in November for the third time in three months, due largely to a sales surge in the Northeast.

    The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports total existing-home sales -- completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums, and co-ops -- rose 0.7% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.61 million.

    That's the highest sales pace since February 2007 and up 15.4% from the year before.

    "The healthiest job market since the Great Recession and the anticipation of some buyers to close on a home before mortgage rates accurately rose from their historically low level have combined to drive sales higher in recent months," said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. "Furthermore, it's no coincidence that home shoppers in the Northeast -- where price growth has been tame all year — had the most success last month."

    The median existing-home price for all housing types in November was $234,900, an increase of 6.8% from November 2015 and the 57th consecutive month of year-over-year gains.

    The median is the point at which half of the homes sold cost more and half cost less.

    Total housing inventory at the end of last month dropped 8.0% to 1.85 million existing homes available for sale. That's down 9.3% from a year ago and represents 18 straight months of declines. Unsold inventory is at a 4.0-month supply at the current sales pace -- down 0.3% from October.

    "Existing housing supply at the beginning of the year was inadequate and is now even worse heading into 2017," Yun noted, adding, "Rental units are also seeing this shortage. As a result, both home prices and rents continue to far outstrip incomes in much of the country."

    Sales by region

    • Existing-home sales in the Northeast jumped 8.0% last month to an annual rate of 810,000 and are now 15.7% above a year ago. The median price rose 3.3% from November 2015 to $263,000.
    • Sales in the South were up 1.4% to an annual rate of 2.22 million for a year-over-year surge of 11.6%. The median price was $206,900 -- up 9.2% from a year ago.
    • In the Midwest, sales dropped 2.2% to an annual rate of 1.33 million, but the numbers are still up 18.8% from the same month last year. The median price advanced 6.5% from a year earlier to $206,900.
    • Sales of previously-owned homes dipped 1.6% in the West to an annual rate of 1.25 million in November, although they're up 19.0% from a year ago. The median price shot 8.6% higher from a year earlier -- to $345,400.
    Sales of previously-owned homes rose in November for the third time in three months, due largely to a sales surge in the Northeast.The National Associa...

    Mortgage applications post first gain since November

    Contract interest rates are the highest in more than two years

    Mortgage applications have risen for the first time in four weeks.

    After posting three straight declines, applications were up 2.5% in the week ending December 16, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. The average loan size for purchase applications was $312,000 -- its second-highest survey level.

    The Refinance Index jumped 3% from the previous week, with the refinance share of mortgage activity rising to 57.9% of total applications from 57.2% the previous week.

    The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity rose to 6.5% of total applications -- its highest level since February 2016. The average loan size for purchase applications reached its second-highest survey level at $312,000.

    The FHA share of total applications slipped to 11.5% from 11.6% the prior week, the VA share inched up to 12.0% from 11.9%, and the USDA share of total applications was 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 13 basis points -- from 4.28% to 4.41 % -- its highest level since May 2014, with points increasing to 0.38 from 0.36 (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) advanced increased to its highest level since April 2014 -- 4.36%, from 4.29% -- with points increasing to 0.26 from 0.24 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA jumped 13 basis points to 4.15%, its highest level since April 2014, with points decreasing to 0.29 from 0.33 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs went from 3.52% to 3.64%, the highest level since January 2014, with points decreasing to 0.34 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 17 basis points to 3.45%, its highest level since September 2013, with points decreasing to 0.26 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.

    Mortgage applications have risen for the first time in four weeks.After posting three straight declines, applications were up 2.5% in the week ending D...

    Aria Child recalls strollers

    A gap in the folding side hinge can pinch a caregiver’s hand

    Aria Child Inc. of Dedham, Mass., is recalling about 29,000 gb Qbit lightweight strollers.

    A gap in the stroller’s folding side hinge can pinch a caregiver’s hand during unfolding, posing a laceration hazard. In addition, the stroller can fold unexpectedly during use, posing an injury and fall hazard to the caregiver and child.

    The firm has received five reports of consumers being pinched by the stroller hinge mechanism, resulting in four consumers needing stitches for cuts.

    In addition, there were 71 reports of the stroller unexpectedly folding during use, resulting in 12 minor bumps or bruises to a child or caregiver and one fractured wrist and elbow to an adult due to a fall.

    This recall involves the gb Qbit lightweight stroller for children up to 50 pounds. The recalled strollers have 4 sets of two wheels, a five-point harnessed restraint system, a full-sized reclining seat, a storage basket, a removable cup holder and a travel storage bag. They can also be used as a travel system with infant carriers.

    The strollers are mostly black with an accent color. The “gb” red box logo is printed on the harness and on both sides of the stroller legs and “Qbit” is printed in white on the stroller legs.

    The model number and date of manufacture are printed on a sticker on the rear leg of the stroller, directly above the wheels, next to the storage basket.

     

    Model Number

     Accent Color

    Date of Manufacture

    10AW1G-AQU2U

    aqua

    March 25, 2015 through March 9, 2016

     

    The date of manufacture is formatted as YYYY|MM|DD.

    10AW1G-RAS2U

    raspberry

    10AW1G-WHT2U

    white

    10AW1G-CHA4U

    charcoal

    10AW1G-CIR5U

    citrus lemon

    The strollers, manufactured in China, were sold at Babies R US and other retail stores nationwide and Albeebaby.com, Amazon.com, Dmartstores.com, Medbroad.com and other online retailers from May 2015, through November 2016, for about $180.

    What to do

    Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled strollers and contact Aria Child for a free replacement stroller.

    Consumers may contact Aria Child toll-free at 888-591-5540 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday or online at www.ariachild.com and click on “Qbit Lightweight Stroller Voluntary Recall Information” for more information.

     

     

    Aria Child Inc. of Dedham, Mass., is recalling about 29,000 gb Qbit lightweight strollers.A gap in the stroller’s folding side hinge can pinch a caregi...

    Williams-Sonoma recalls Meyer Lemon Poppy Quick Bread

    The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

    Williams-Sonoma of San Francisco, Calif., is recalling limited quantities of Williams-Sonoma Meyer Lemon Poppy Seed Quick Bread.

    The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

    The following product, shipped to Williams-Sonoma retail stores nationwide from August 2016-present, is being recalled:

    • Williams-Sonoma Meyer Lemon Poppy Seed Quick Bread, NET WT. 1-LB. 2-OZ, Packaged in a yellow paper bag, SKU 7839186 (located on price sticker), BEST BY: JAN2018 02118:A1 OR JAN2018 02018:A1 (located on the back flap)

    What to do

    Customers who purchased the recalled product should discontinue use and return it to the place of purchase for a full refund.

    Consumers with questions may contact the company by email at customerservice@williams-sonoma.com or phone at 1-844-526-4666, 7am-midnight (ET) daily.

     

     

    Williams-Sonoma of San Francisco, Calif., is recalling limited quantities of Williams-Sonoma Meyer Lemon Poppy Seed Quick Bread.The product may be cont...

    Hyundai Tucson and Santa Fe vehicles recalled

    An accessory trailer hitch wiring harness may malfunction

    Hyundai Motor America is recalling 5,669 model year 2016-2017 Tucsons manufactured May 19, 2015, to November 14, 2016, and 2017 Santa Fe vehicles manufactured November 28, 2015, to November 14, 2016.

    The affected vehicles may be equipped with an accessory trailer hitch wiring harness that, due to a malfunction of the tow hitch module, may result, in the trailer brake lights being constantly illuminated. As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 108, " Lamps, Reflective Devices, and Associated Equipment."

    If the trailer brake lights stay illuminated while being used, other drivers may be confused, increasing the risk of a crash.

    What to do

    Hyundai will notify owners, and dealers will replace the affected accessory trailer hitch wiring harnesses, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin January 13, 2017.

    Owners may contact Hyundai customer service at 1-800-633-5151. Hyundai's number for this recall is 153.

     

     

    Hyundai Motor America is recalling 5,669 model year 2016-2017 Tucsons manufactured May 19, 2015, to November 14, 2016, and 2017 Santa Fe vehicles manufactu...

    Houdini Inc. recalls Blue Cheese Savory Twists

    The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

    Houdini Inc. of Fullerton, Calif., is recalling limited quantities of its 7-oz. Boxes of Blue Cheese Savory Twists.

    The products may be contaminated with Salmonella.

    No injuries or illnesses have been reported to date.

    The following products are being recalled:

    Gift Basket Name:Lot code number:
    Wine Country Gift Baskets: 
    Wine TrioLC448865
    Napa & Sonoma Valley ExclusiveLC449695
    Bodega de San Antonio Sangria TradicionalLC446420
    California Cabernet and Chardonnay GiftLC451463
    Cakebread Cellars Napa Valley DuetLC450020
    Placeholder Six Bottle WOM Wines CollectionLC448798
    The Ultimate Wine and Champagne CollectionLC448866
    Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet CollectionLC449703
    The ClassicLC444761, LC446625, LC446626, LC451389
    Lasting ImpressionLC447394, LC452566
    Wine Country ExtravaganzaLC445632
    Grgich Hills Napa Valley SelectionLC444483
    Vintners Path Merlot Season’s GreetingsLC444763
    Stag’s Leap Winery CollectionLC449624
    Vintners Path Cabernet Season’s GreetingsLC445181
    Houdini Napa Valley CollectionLC445631
    Vintners Path Chardonnay  Season’s Greetings LC444766
    Alfasi Cabernet Kosher SelectionLC444152
    Alfasi Kosher TrioLC446250
    Alfasi Chardonnay Kosher SelectionLC444153
    Napa and Sonoma DuetLC448370
    California Wine CrateLC450022
    The ClassicLC451792, LC454676
    TJX Companies: 
    Metal Basket with HandlesLC449614
    Metal Basket with Leather HandlesLC446548, LC446549, LC446550
    Sam’s Club: 
    The ExecutiveLC442525, LC442751, LC443675
    Costco Southeast Region: 
    Burgundy and Bronze Metal BasketLC448217, LC448218, LC448219, LC50256, LC52057, LC50258
    Costco Northeast Region: 
    Houdini Fabric basketLC448981
    Costco Midwest Region: 
    Wooden CenterpieceLC448210
    Costco.com: 
    Tis The SeasonLC445630
    Sweets For The SeasonLC446542
     

    A limited quantity of the recalled products was distributed nationwide to consumers through Houdini Inc.’s direct to consumer division Wine Country Gift Baskets (catalog / internet) and Houdini Inc,’s wholesale division from September 1, 2016, to December 12, 2016.

    What to do

    Consumers with questions concerning this recall may contact Houdini customer care at 866-712-5910 Monday – Friday between 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM (PST).

     

     

    Houdini Inc. of Fullerton, Calif., is recalling limited quantities of its 7-oz. Boxes of Blue Cheese Savory Twists.The products may be contaminated wit...

    Ram pickups, Dodge SUVs may have rollaway problem too

    1.1 million Jeeps and other models have already been recalled

    Federal safety regulators are opening an investigation into a "rollaway" problem that affects newer Ram pickups and Dodge SUVs. A similar issue with Jeep Grand Cherokees and other models resulted in the recall of 1.1 million cars worldwide.

    The rollaway problem was also tentatively blamed for the death of actor Anton Yelchin, crushed to death when his Jeep apparently rolled into him as he checked the mailbox outside his home. 

    Now the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is launching an investigation into 2013-16 Ram 1500 pickups and 2014-16 Dodge Durango SUVs. NHTSA said it has 43 complaints from owners saying their vehicles rolled away. Nine injuries were reported.

    NHTSA is urging owners to be sure to set the parking brake before they exit their vehicles, which are equipped with an electronic rotary gear selector that is different from the shifter involved in the earlier recalls.

    The problem in the vehicles recalled earlier has been tied to 309 reports of property damage, 266 crashes, and 68 injuries.

    Federal safety regulators are opening an investigation into a "rollaway" problem that affects newer Ram pickups and Dodge SUVs. A similar issue with Jeep G...

    VW reaches deal with Canadian diesel owners

    The company will pay C$2.1 billion to buy back 105,000 polluting diesel vehicles

    U.S. consumers have expressed their fair share of outrage over Volkswagen’s emissions scandal. Since last September, when news first broke on the defeat devices, the company has faced a barrage of litigation from all sides.

    In October, a court approved the company’s $15 billion settlement in the U.S. that covered consumers who bought or leased Volkswagen or Audi 2.0-liter TDI “clean diesel” cars. While the U.S. is obviously not the only country that Volkswagen must worry about when it comes to making reparations, the company made progress by recently reaching an agreement with our neighbors to the north.

    Reuters reports that Volkswagen has agreed to a C$2.1 billion agreement with Canadian diesel owners. The deal, which was struck on Monday, will buy back approximately 105,000 polluting diesel vehicles in the country.

    Additionally, Volkswagen will pay a C$15 million civil administrative monetary penalty connected to the buyback. Approval hearings for the full deal are scheduled to be held in two Canadian courts in March. Reports suggest that most owners of affected vehicles should receive anywhere from C$5,100 to C$5,950 in compensation on top of the estimated value of their vehicle if they choose to turn it in.

    “Volkswagen’s primary goal has always been to ensure our Canadian customers are treated fairly, and we believe that this proposed resolution achieves this aim,” said Maria Strenstroem, CEO and President of Volkswagen Group Canada.

    Volkswagen is expected to announce a deal in the near future that also addresses 80,000 polluting 3.0-liter vehicles in the U.S., with experts saying that the company may incur an additional $200 million in fines based on the estimated amount of diesel pollution. That’s a small drop in the bucket, though, considering that the company may face billions in fines going forward if it is found guilty in federal and state investigations. 

    U.S. consumers have expressed their fair share of outrage over Volkswagen’s emissions scandal. Since last September, when news first broke on the defeat de...

    What makes a Millennial want to quit their job?

    Feedback can boost job fulfillment, survey finds

    A recent survey by Clutch found that Millennials are more likely than GenXers or Boomers to quit their job in the next six months and revealed that it’s a lack of feedback that often contributes to a Millennial's desire to leave.

    Millennials need accurate, consistent, and immediate feedback from their managers, but only 23% of those surveyed said they get enough feedback. Receiving too little feedback can be detrimental to a Millennial’s job fulfillment.

    "The more traditional models of providing feedback are less liked by millennials. They want more emphasis on instant feedback and the immediate connection to the work that they're doing," said Joe Carella, Assistant Dean for the Eller College of Management, University of Arizona.

    Feedback correlates with fulfillment

    Although only a small percentage of Millennials said they regularly receive informal, ad-hoc, or immediate feedback, it’s clear that those who do are happier and more fulfilled in their job because of it. Of those who received accurate and consistent feedback from their managers, 72% said they found their job fulfilling.

    Still, 40% of Millennials do not consider themselves fulfilled at work. Clutch notes that this is nearly double the number of Gen-Xers and almost four times more than Baby Boomers: two groups that seem to find job fulfillment less contingent on feedback from managers.

    These findings are important, especially as nearly one-third (32%) of Millennials surveyed said they’re planning to leave their job in the next six months. By contrast, only 11-12% of Gen-Xers and Boomers said they plan to quit.

    To decrease the percentage of Millennial employees who are planning on quitting in the coming months, Clutch says companies can consider using updated feedback methods. Loyalty, feedback, and evaluation systems can help an unsatisfied Millennial employee feel more fulfilled.

    Investing in diversity and inclusion

    Companies looking to hold onto (or attract) Millennial employees may also want to focus on improving communications of diversity and inclusion (D&I) activities. New research from IPR and Weber Shandwick has revealed that 47% of Millennials consider the D&I of a workplace an important criterion in their job search.

    The survey found that fewer than half of all employees (44%) agree that their employer does a good job communicating its D&I goals, programs, and initiatives. In addition to being a key factor in choosing where to work, Millennials see the business benefit of D&I.

    Twenty-seven percent of Millennial employees said D&I “improves overall business performance," while only 18% and 20% of Gen Xers and Boomers, respectively, said the same.

    A recent survey by Clutch found that Millennials are more likely than GenXers or Boomers to quit their job in the next six months and revealed that it’s a...

    Six national retailers agree to end on-call scheduling of workers

    An attorneys general coalition contacted the employers and urged them to make the change

    Six major retailers have agreed to stop using "on-call" shift scheduling following an investigation by a multi-state coalition of attorneys general, who said the agreement will benefit about 50,000 workers nationwide.

    The retailers' employees will no longer have to call their employer – typically an hour or two before a scheduled shift – to find out if they will be assigned to work that day. The agreements are the latest in a series of national agreements secured by the New York Attorney General’s office to end on-call scheduling at a number of major retailers.

    “On-call shifts are not a business necessity and should be a thing of the past. People should not have to keep the day open, arrange for child care, and give up other opportunities without being compensated for their time,” said Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman. “I am pleased that these companies have stepped up to the plate and agreed to stop using this unfair method of scheduling.”

    The companies are Aeropostale, Carter’s, David’s Tea, Disney, PacSun, and Zumiez. In addition to ending the use of on-call shifts, four of the companies --  Carter’s, Disney, David’s Tea, and Zumiez – all committed to providing employees with their work schedules at least one week in advance of the start of the workweek, allowing employees to plan ahead to cover child care and other obligations.

    The collaboration among the attorneys general stemmed from their collective concern about the impact of on-call shifts on employees and their families, as well as the national scope of the retail companies involved, Schneiderman's office said. 

    New York State has a “call in pay” regulation that provides, “An employee who by request or permission of the employer reports for work on any day shall be paid for at least four hours, or the number of hours in the regularly scheduled shift, whichever is less, at the basic minimum hourly wage.” 

    In 2015, as a result of an inquiry by Schneiderman into on-call scheduling, brands including Abercrombie & Fitch, Gap, J.Crew, Urban Outfitters, Pier 1 Imports, and L Brands (parent company of Bath & Body Works and Victoria’s Secret) all agreed to end the practice.

    The letters to the companies involved in the current agreement were signed by representatives of the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, and Rhode Island.  

    Six major retailers have agreed to stop using "on-call" shift scheduling following an investigation by a multi-state coalition of attorneys general, who sa...

    Military Credit Services didn't properly disclose loan costs, feds charge

    It's the CFPB's second action against the company

    Military Credit Services LLC is in trouble again. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) sued the company today for making loans with improper disclosures.

    The CFPB, along with the states of North Carolina and Virginia, sued the company in May 2014 for similar violations, and the company was ordered to revise its contract disclosures in 2015. In today’s action, the CFPB ordered the company to ensure that its contracts comply with the law. It also required the company to hire an independent consultant to review its practices and to pay a $200,000 civil penalty.

    “Today’s action sends a clear message that lenders cannot ignore their responsibilities under the law,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “This is the Consumer Bureau’s second action against Military Credit Services for improper disclosures. We are imposing further penalties, and we will continue to closely monitor their compliance in the future.”

    Military Credit Services is a Virginia-based company that extends credit to consumers through retailers nationwide and, through a commonly owned company, collects debts owed under the credit contracts.

    The CFPB found the company violated federal law by failing to properly disclose the terms of preauthorized transfers and interest rates on the loans it offered. Without those legally required disclosures, consumers cannot make informed decisions about important financial decisions they face.

    Under the order released today, Military Credit Services is required to:

    • Ensure that its contracts comply with applicable laws.
    • Hire an independent consultant with specialized experience in consumer-finance compliance to conduct an independent review of the company’s issuance and servicing of credit.
    • Pay $200,000 to the CFPB’s Civil Penalty Fund.
    Military Credit Services LLC is in trouble again. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) sued the company today for making loans with improper dis...

    Delta and Alaska Airlines to terminate partnership

    Consumers will no longer be able to earn miles for one company by flying with the other

    Alaska Airlines’ merger with Virgin America has done a fair job of shaking up the airline industry. Not only is the combined company now the fifth-largest airliner in the United States, but consumers – especially those on the West Coast – have a new option when it comes to traveling anywhere in the world.

    However, as one new deal begins another seems destined to fade away. Both Alaska Airlines and Delta Airlines have announced that their longtime partnership is coming to an end this coming year. For years, fliers were able to accrue miles for one carrier while flying on the other, but that will all stop on April 30, 2017, according to announcements made by both companies (DELTA/ALASKA). Officials on both sides say that increased competition over the years and the growth of Alaska made the deal fizzle in the end.

    “This should come as no surprise as our relationship has become increasingly competitive over the last few years. Given our growth and expansion, Alaska Airlines now can take people virtually anywhere they need to go,” said Charles Breer, Alaska Airlines’ Managing Director of Alliances.

    “The decision is a positive milestone for both airlines as Alaska focuses on its merger integration with Virgin America and Delta focuses on creating more customer choice at its Seattle-Tacoma International Airport hub,” added Delta in its own announcement.

    Ending the deal

    The closing of the partnership signals the end of codesharing and frequent-flier programs that had benefitted both companies for years. Previously, the companies had installed a two-letter code that allowed both to sell seats on the other airliner’s flights. Travelers who flew with either were also able to earn and redeem frequent-flier miles on either company’s flights.

    It was a mutually beneficial deal; since Alaska was a smaller company with strong ties to the West Coast, it was able to pick up the travelers that Delta brought in internationally. Likewise, Delta was able to take advantage of Alaska Airline customers who were looking to travel abroad. However, Delta’s development of its own hub in Seattle put a strain on the deal and increased competition between the two companies.

    New focus

    In ending the deal, both companies have said they will be focusing on their own unique interests. Alaska has said that it will be working on its miles-based program. Consumers can expect the company to lower its lowest award tier so that consumers can book award travel using as few as 5,000 miles. Officials also stated that it will be easier to earn miles when flying with one of Alaska’s partners.

    Delta has stated that it will be continuing to expand its offerings in the Pacific Northwest.

    “We view Seattle and the Pacific Northwest as one of the most important markets in the country, with strong economic growth, cultural diversity and some of the world’s most innovative brands and minds,” said Mike Medeiros, Delta Vice President --Seattle. “As a result, we have invested heavily in our product, services, facilities and the community. Our focus now is earning the long-term trust of Pacific Northwest customers by demonstrating the value of partnering with a global airline and the benefits of being a Delta SkyMiles Member.” 

    Alaska Airlines’ merger with Virgin America has done a fair job of shaking up the airline industry. Not only is the combined company now the fifth-largest...

    Study suggests loosening the age limits on kidney donors

    Donors over 65 are only accepted on case-by-case basis

    If you need a kidney transplant, you have to wait for a donor who has a healthy organ and is a good match.

    Oh yeah, one other thing. The donor needs to be a certain age. Currently, organs from donors older than 65 are often turned down and are only accepted on a case-by-case basis.

    But now a new study suggests these age limits on donors prevent life-saving kidneys from getting to patients who need them. Writing in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, researchers argue that even kidneys from 80 year-old donors can function for years.

    The researchers say kidneys from older people are routinely rejected because of age. But with a current shortage of available organs, they say it's time to rethink that age limit.

    The study, conducted in Italy, examined information on more than 600 kidney transplants in which the donor was beyond the usual age cut-off. Some were 60 years-old or older, while others were between the ages of 50 and 59 but had certain risk factors.

    Comparable survival rates

    They performed a follow-up nearly five years later and found the survival rates were comparable among all age groups, even those over 80. However, some of the patients that received the oldest kidneys had undergone second transplants.

    “The results of this study support the use of extended criteria donors, even donors older than 80 years, but they have to be accurately selected and managed with dedicated protocols,” the authors write.

    A kidney transplant is an option when a patient's kidneys fail. The other option is dialysis. The National Kidney Foundation says patients often opt for the transplant because they feel it affords them greater freedom and quality of life.

    Patients receiving a transplanted kidney may receive one from a deceased donor or from a family member, since it is possible to survive with a single kidney.

    The National Kidney Foundation says the chances a transplanted kidney will function properly in the recipient's body are high – between 89% and 95%. It says success rates have improved in recent years.

    If you need a kidney transplant, you have to wait for a donor who has a healthy organ and is a good match.Oh yeah, one other thing. The donor needs to...

    Are you ready to file your tax return?

    We have a checklist of things you need to do

    While the deadline for filing your 2016 federal income return is still several months off, there are some things you should be doing now in preparation.

    The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) notes that for most of us, December 31 is the last day to take actions that will affect our tax returns.

    What to do

    • Charitable contributions are deductible in the year made. Donations charged to a credit card before the end of 2016 count for the 2016 tax year, even if the bill isn’t paid until 2017. Checks to a charity count for 2016 as long as they are mailed by the last day of the year.
    • If you're over age 70 ½ you are generally required to receive payments from your IRAs and workplace retirement plans by the end of the year. However, a special rule allows those who reached 70 ½ in 2016 to wait until April 1, 2017 to receive them.
    • Most workplace retirement account contributions should be made by the end of the year, but taxpayers can make 2016 IRA contributions until April 18, 2017. For 2016, the limit for a 401(k) is $18,000. For traditional and Roth IRAs, the limit is $6,500 if age 50 or older and up to $15,500 for a Simple IRA for age 50 or older.
    • Taxpayers who have moved should tell the U.S. Postal Service, their employers, and the IRS. To notify the IRS, mail IRS Form 8822, Change of Address, to the address listed on the form’s instructions. Taxpayers who buy health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace should also notify the Marketplace when they move out of the area covered by their current Marketplace plan.
    • If you changed your name due to marriage or divorce, notify the Social Security Administration (SSA) so the new name will match IRS and SSA records. Also notify the SSA if a dependent’s name changed. A mismatch between the name shown on your tax return and the SSA records can cause problems in the processing of your return and may even delay your refund.
    • Starting January 1, 2017, any Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) not used at least once on a tax return in the past three years will no longer be valid for use on a return. In addition, an ITIN with middle digits 78 or 79 will also expire on Jan. 1. Those with expiring ITINs who need to file a return in 2017 must renew their ITIN. Affected ITIN holders can avoid delays by starting the renewal process now.
    • Be sure to allow seven weeks from January 1, 2017, or the mailing date of the Form W-7, whichever is later, for the IRS to notify you of your ITIN application status -- nine to 11 weeks if you wait to submit Form W-7 during the peak filing season, or send it from overseas. Those who fail to renew before filing a return could face a delayed refund and may be ineligible for some important tax credits. For more information, including answers to frequently-asked questions, visit the ITIN information page on IRS.gov.
    • Keeping copies of tax returns is important as the IRS makes changes to protect taxpayers and authenticate their identity. Beginning in 2017, taxpayers using a software product for the first time may need their Adjusted Gross Income amount from a prior tax return to verify their identity. Taxpayers can learn more about how to verify their identity and electronically sign their tax return at Validating Your Electronically Filed Tax Return.
    While the deadline for filing your 2016 federal income return is still several months off, there are some things you should be doing now in preparation. ...

    Consumers see cash as defense against holiday hackers

    But survey shows plastic remains the payment of choice

    If more consumers doing last minute Christmas shopping are paying with cash, it could mean they are trying to stick to their budget in the final shopping frenzy.

    Or, it could be a defensive move, an effort to prevent getting caught up in a retailer's data breach.

    Thales, an IT and cybersecurity firm, reports most consumers would change their shopping behavior in some ways if they knew a particular retailer had suffered a system hack. While 20% of consumers in a Thales survey said they would avoid shopping at the store, the majority – 55% – said they would continue shopping at the retailer but would pay using cash.

    The return to old fashioned currency bucks the recent trend of electronic payments that has caused some to speculate on the eventual demise of cash. But the Thales survey makes clear that consumers view cash as a firewall against their data being compromised.

    Still using plastic

    That's not to say that consumers have abandoned electronic payments. Far from it. The survey found that more than 90% of holiday shoppers will use a credit card, debit card, or mobile wallet to pay for at least some of their purchases.

    And while mobile wallet use is on the rise, it has a long way to go to catch up with plastic, and even cash. Only 16% of shoppers said they planned to pay with their smartphones this holiday season.

    In a promising sign for consumers' financial health, the survey found more shoppers plan to use debit cards and cash over credit cards. Since debit card purchases come directly out of a consumer's bank account, it suggests there could be less of a shopping hangover when credit card bills arrive in January.

    Cash is still an important tool

    Cash might not be king, but Jose Diaz, director of payment strategy at Thales e-Security, says it remains an important tool for consumers, not only for budgeting but in protecting against theft.

    "These survey results offer a stark reminder that a serious data breach could stop many consumers from shopping at a merchant's store or at the very least move them back to cash payments," Diaz said.

    As for the future, Diaz predicts greater use of mobile for both browsing and buying during the holidays. In the next five years, he also sees a sharp rise in the use of mobile wallets.

    If more consumers doing last minute Christmas shopping are paying with cash, it could mean they are trying to stick to their budget in the final shopping f...

    Tropical Fruit Supreme, Pineapple Nut Delight, and Pistachio Crème recalled

    The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

    Ron’s Home Style Foods is recalling Tropical Fruit Supreme, Pineapple Nut Delight, and Pistachio Crème.

    The products may be contaminated with Salmonella.

    No illnesses have been reported to date.

    Tropical Fruit Supreme, Pineapple Nut Delight, and Pistachio Crème were distributed in Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma to foodservice distributors and retail supermarkets.

    The following products, packaged in plastic containers and shipped to foodservice distributors and retail supermarkets in Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma, are being recalled:

    ProductUPCSizeBrandUse By:
    Tropical Fruit Supreme0969388420275 lb.Ron’s Home Style Foods12/27/16, 1/18/17, and 2/6/17
    Tropical Fruit Supreme0460450222945 lb.Golden Harvest12/27/16, 1/18/17, and 2/6/17
    Tropical Fruit Supreme0969388410131 lb.Texas Kitchen Salads12/27/16, 1/18/17, and 2/6/17
    Pineapple Nut Delight0969388220295 lb.Ron’s Home Style Foods12/27/16, 1/18/17, and 2/6/17
    Pineapple Nut Delight09693890008612 oz.Brookshire’s12/27/16, 1/18/17, and 2/6/17
    Pistachio Crème0969388320285 lb.Ron’s Home Style Foods12/27/16, 1/2/17, 1/18/17, and 2/6/17
    Pistachio Crème0969388310141 lb.Texas Kitchen Salads12/27/16, 1/2/17, 1/18/17, and 2/6/17
    Pistachio Crème09693890007912 oz.Brookshire’s12/27/16, 1/2/17, 1/18/17, and 2/6/17

    What to do

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

    Consumers with questions may contact the company at (800) 856-3131, M-F 8am-4pm CST.

     

     

    Ron’s Home Style Foods is recalling Tropical Fruit Supreme, Pineapple Nut Delight, and Pistachio Crème.The products may be contaminated with Salmonella...

    Model year 2017 Chevy Malibus with air bag issue recalled

    The air bag inflator could separate and propel air bag debris into the cabin

    General Motors is recalling 113 model year 2017 Chevrolet Malibus manufactured on November 10, 2016.

    The right-hand rear side air bag inflator manifold may have insufficient welds which could cause the inflator to separate and propel air bag debris into the cabin during a crash.

    In addition, the inflator could fail to function during a crash, increasing the risk of injury.

    What to do

    GM will notify owners, and dealers will replace the rear side air bag modules, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

    Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020. GM's number for this recall is 16146.

     

     

    General Motors is recalling 113 model year 2017 Chevrolet Malibus manufactured on November 10, 2016.The right-hand rear side air bag inflator manifold...

    Toyota recalls model year 86 vehicles

    It may possible to remove the key in gear positions other than “Park.”

    Toyota Motor North America is recalling 94 model year 2017 Toyota 86 vehicles.

    Connectors for the automatic transmission key interlock may not have been connected during pre‐delivery service prior to sale. If this was not connected, it is possible to remove the key in gear positions other than “Park,” and could increase the risk of vehicle roll-away and a crash. Models with a key fob and ignition button are not affected.

    What to do

    Toyota will contact all known owners of the recalled vehicles by first class mail starting in January and instruct them to return the vehicle to a Toyota dealer to have the ignition key interlock function confirmed and -- if necessary -- the delivery mode connector will be connected at no charge.

    Owners may contact Toyota customer service at 1‐800‐331‐4331.

     

     

    Toyota Motor North America is recalling 94 model year 2017 Toyota 86 vehicles.Connectors for the automatic transmission key interlock may not have been...

    Parents are more lax about their children's safety when traveling, poll finds

    Researchers found that many common safety precautions were neglected on family trips

    It’s a general rule that safety always comes first when you’re a parent. Making sure your little one is strapped in during car trips and taking all the right medicine as part of the daily routine becomes second nature to most, but the results of a new poll show that this vigilance seems to take a break when families are on vacation.

    Researchers from the University of Michigan conducted a poll and found that parents tended to be much more lax about safety when traveling for the holidays. They stress that it is just as important for parents to be attentive to safety on trips as they would be at home.

    "Parents are typically vigilant about safety measures, making sure toddlers are always in car seats and that medications and cleaning supplies are locked up or out of reach. But they may be less fastidious while on vacation, leaving medications in open suitcases or on hotel tables or not childproofing a relative's house," said Sarah Clark, M.P.H. and the poll’s co-director.

    Neglecting safety precautions

    The researchers found that car safety was particularly lacking for small children while traveling, especially when families decided to take a taxi or call for a pick-up on a ride-sharing app. Fifteen percent of parents who answered the poll said they decided not to use a car seat for their toddler on every car ride of a trip.

    "Car crashes are a leading cause of injury and death among toddlers, which is why it's critical that parents plan ahead to make sure their child is properly restrained during every car ride on vacation. Planning for car seats can be inconvenient in certain destinations, but going without is never worth the risk," said Clark.

    Additionally, the researchers say that 25% of parents weren’t careful about how they stored certain medications while traveling, with many just leaving them in open suitcases where a child could easily get to them. Thirty-three percent also said they didn’t properly secure cleaning supplies or other dangerous items when staying in a hotel, and another 33% said they neglected to check the hot water temperature where they were staying.

    "Traveling with a toddler can be a daunting task. Many parents spend quite a bit of time planning ahead to avoid meltdowns by scheduling days around naps and packing items that will keep their kids entertained. It's just as important that parents plan for measures to keep kids safe on the road," said Clark.

    Safety tips

    In order to keep children safe while traveling, Clark and her fellow researchers have made several suggestions that parents should consider. They include:

    • Bringing a car seat or renting one while traveling;
    • Asking family, friends, or hosts to store medication, cleaning supplies, or other dangerous substances out of reach;
    • Packing portable safety devices, such as cabinet latches or baby gates to use as barriers; and
    • Conducting a thorough review of any place the family is staying for potential safety hazards;

    The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital has published the full report here.

    It’s a general rule that safety always comes first when you’re a parent. Making sure your little one is strapped in during car trips and taking all the rig...

    Researchers say good taste isn't the cause of weight gain

    Palatable tastes don't drive long-term overeating, study finds

    While we may be more likely to overindulge in tasty food such as cookies or chips, new research suggests that one's preference for good-tasting food doesn't in and of itself lead to weight gain. 

    Researchers from the Monell Chemical Senses Center recently found that good taste does play a role in determining what we choose to eat, but it doesn't determine how much we eat over the long-term.

    “Most people think that good-tasting food causes obesity, but that is not the case,” said the study’s lead author Michael Tordoff, PhD, a physiological psychologist at Monell.

    Previous studies have suggested that overeating good-tasting food is what causes laboratory rodents to become obese, but Tordoff and his colleagues wanted to find out if taste itself is what drives overeating. As it turns out, liking food that tastes good isn't what leads to excessive weight gain.

    Role of taste

    In a new study involving mice, the researchers examined the role of taste in driving overeating. They found that having a fondness for food with high sugar and fat content doesn't necessarily cause weight gain and obesity. 

    After establishing that mice strongly prefer food with nonnutritive sweet or oily tastes, the investigators fed mice one of three diets: the first group was fed plain rodent chow, the second group got chow with added sucralose, and the third group was fed rodent chow with added mineral oil.

    At the end of six weeks, the researchers found that the groups fed the sweet or oily chow were no heavier or fatter than the animals fed the plain chow. The team ultimately concluded that taste alone doesn’t drive overeating and weight gain.

    “Even though we gave mice delicious diets over a prolonged period, they did not gain excess weight. People say that ‘if a food is good-tasting it must be bad for you,’ but our findings suggest this is not the case." Tordoff said, adding that "it should be possible to create foods that are both healthy and good-tasting."

    The findings are published online in the journal Physiology & Behavior.

    While we may be more likely to overindulge in tasty food such as cookies or chips, new research suggests that one's preference for good-tasting food doesn'...

    Twitter says a pared-down Vine camera app will launch in January

    Users of the original app will still be able to access their archive of videos

    Back in October, Twitter started making some major cuts to try to minimize costs. It laid off around 9% of its workforce and announced that it would be discontinuing its Vine mobile app. Users of the popular program promptly lost their minds, and many companies started mulling over the possibility that they might pick up Vine and revive it.

    However, Twitter has managed to hold onto the mobile app and has announced that it will be releasing a pared-down version called Vine Camera in January. The new camera app will still allow users to post their six-second videos to Twitter or save them on their devices, and Twitter has said that it will be making it easier to follow your favorite content creators on its social media platform.

    “Thank you for the culture that you have helped shape, and for the content you’ll continue to make everywhere. You make the world a funnier, weirder, richer, more beautiful place,” the Twitter and Vine teams said in a post.

    Transitioning content

    In an FAQ section about the update, the teams mention that the when the new app goes live, the original Vine app will effectively be dead in the water.

    “The Vine Camera will allow you to make 6.5 second looping videos and post them to Twitter, or save them to your camera roll in a logged out state. You will not be able to do any of the other things you can currently do with the Vine app. Once the Vine Camera is live, you will no longer be able to download your Vines from the app,” officials said.

    However, all the Vine content that has been made over the years isn’t going to suddenly vanish. The Vine website will soon be transitioned into an archive of videos that can be browsed through or downloaded. Users of the mobile app can also download videos until the transition date in January. All Vine files will include an index.html file that contains information like captions, likes, comments, and revines.

    For those of you who want to keep tabs on your favorite content creators, the Vine and Twitter teams are rolling out a “Follow on Twitter” feature that will be made available soon. “We’ll notify you through the app when this feature is available. We hope this will help you grow your audience on Twitter and continue making and sharing videos there,” the teams said. 

    Back in October, Twitter started making some major cuts to try to minimize costs. It laid off around 9% of its workforce and announced that it would be dis...

    Attorneys preyed on porn consumers, indictments allege

    Defendants allegedly used bogus copyright suits to extort money from victims

    Federal indictments charge two attorneys with running a scheme that victimized consumers who had supposedly downloaded pornographic movies from file-sharing websites, using extortion tactics to get payments of $4,000 in most cases. 

    The indictment charges that Paul R. Hansmeier, 35, of St. Paul, Minnesota, and John L. Steele, 45, of Florida, collected more than $6 million in the scheme. 

    The two allegedly set up sham companies that claimed to own the copyrights to pornographic films. They then filed bogus copyright infringement lawsuits to obtain the identities of consumers associated with the IP addresses used to download the films. 

    The indictment alleges the defendants used extortionate letters and phone calls to threaten victims with enormous financial penalties and public embarrassment unless they agreed to pay the $4,000 "settlement" fee.  To distance themselves from the specious lawsuits, they created Prenda Law, among other firms, to pursue their claims.  

    As courts began to uncover the defendant’s unscrupulous litigation tactics, judges began denying the defendants’ requests to subpoena ISPs, dismissing lawsuits, accusing the defendants of deceptive and fraudulent behavior, and imposing sanctions against the defendants and their associates.

    18 counts

    “Abusing one’s position as a licensed attorney and using the courts and legal process to file false and abusive copyright claims that threaten individuals and encourage fraudulent settlements is wrong and will not be tolerated,” said Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell. “The Department of Justice’s action today demonstrates that we will act to protect the integrity of judicial proceedings against attorneys and others who would seek to use them as a mechanism for their own illegal gains.”

    The two are charged in an 18-count indictment with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud, substantive wire fraud and mail fraud, concealment money laundering, and conspiracy to commit and suborn perjury.  

    Federal indictments charge two attorneys with running a scheme that victimized consumers who had supposedly downloaded pornographic movies from file-sharin...

    Researchers renew concern over teens' use of e-cigarettes

    While conceding the risks are less than cigarettes, they worry about the increased number of users

    The U.S. Surgeon General recently warned that American teens are risking their health with their increasing use of cigarettes.

    Now, researchers at Texas A&M University are echoing that concern after drilling deeper into the Surgeon General's report.

    They point to the very rapid growth in e-cigarette use between 2010 and 2015. By last year, surveys showed that 40% of high school students had tried an e-cigarette at least once and 16% had used one in the past 30 days.

    The only saving grace, says Amy Fairchild, associate dean of academic affairs at the Texas A&M School of Public Health, is teens appear to be smoking fewer cigarettes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in November 2015 that teen use of cigarettes had hit an all-time low.

    “The consequences of combustible tobacco use are well known and serious, while e-cigarettes—while not risk free—represent a far lesser harm,” she said.

    Where are teens getting e-cigarettes?

    A concern, however, is the easy access teens appear to have to e-cigarettes. When they first hit the market a few years ago, they were completely unregulated. Now, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authority to regulate them and has set age limits on their purchase.

    The FDA has set the age limit at 18, while a few states, such as California, have set higher age limits on sales. But researchers say that doesn't seem to be stopping very young teens – those in middle school – from obtaining the devices.

    Fairchild suggests increasing the tax on e-cigarettes – making them more expensive – as a way to deter use by young people.

    “Kids are extremely price sensitive,” she said. “There is evidence to suggest that you can tax e-cigarettes and other less risky smokeless products out of their hands. At the same time, if the tax is lower than for combustible cigarettes, current smokers aren’t also stripped of a financial incentive to switch to reduced risk products.”

    While e-cigarettes have fewer toxic chemicals than tobacco, but they do contain chemicals, and Fairchild says there is concern that we don't have a complete picture of the potential harm they could do.

    But the effects of the nicotine these devices contain is pretty well known. Fairchild says nicotine can harm brains that are still developing, meaning anyone under age 25 should steer clear of it.

    The U.S. Surgeon General recently warned that American teens are risking their health with their increasing use of cigarettes.Now, researchers at Texas...

    GM revs up autonomous vehicle program

    Automaker will begin test them on Michigan highways

    No sooner had Michigan approved legislation to legalize autonomous vehicle testing and deployment on state roadways than General Motors (GM) announced it will take advantage of the new law.

    The carmaker says it will begin testing immediately with plans to start turning out the next generation of its autonomous test vehicles at its Orion Township assembly plant in the coming year.

    “Revolutionizing transportation for our customers while improving safety on roads is the goal of our autonomous vehicle technology,” said General Motors Chairman and CEO Mary Barra. “Our autonomous technology will be reliable and safe, as customers have come to expect from any of our vehicles.”

    Will begin using Michigan's public roads

    GM has already begun testing at its facility in Warren, Mich., and now that it's legal to operate self-driving cars on Michigan highways, it will begin using public roads near the facility. After that, the company says it will take to the streets of metro Detroit, where research will focus on how these cars perform in colder climates.

    The plan is for employees at GM's Orion Township assembly plant to build test fleet Bolt EVs equipped with fully autonomous technology. The plant now turns out the Chevrolet Bolt EV and Sonic.

    “As one of the world's largest manufacturers, GM needs to be at the forefront of autonomous vehicle development,” said Rebecca Lindland, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book, in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “They can leverage their global footprint to create products suited for different markets. The challenge is for consumers to believe one of the world's largest manufacturers can design and innovate such technology. Hopefully being early on road testing will convey that yes, they can and are innovating.”

    Possible Google tie-in?

    It's also possible GM might obtain technology from other sources. Just days before GM's announcement, a published report said Google is backing away from plans to produce its own self-driving car, but will work with existing carmakers. Officials at Google have made no official announcement.

    GM, however, might not need Google's technology. It has been quietly working on autonomous technology throughout 2016. In January, the company formed an autonomous vehicle engineering team and invested $500 million in Lyft's autonomous vehicle initiative.

    It acquired an automation software company in March, and in June it started testing vehicles in San Francisco and Scottsdale, Ariz.

    No sooner had Michigan approved legislation to legalize autonomous vehicle testing and deployment on state roadways than General Motors (GM) announced it w...

    Feds say pawn shops understated cost of credit

    Quoted an annual percentage rate that was misleading, complaint alleges

    Pawn shops are often presented as an alternative to expensive payday loans, but that doesn't mean you don't have to be careful. Case in point: the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) today took action against four Virginia pawnbrokers for allegedly deceiving consumers about the actual annual costs of their loans.

    In federal lawsuits, the bureau alleged the companies broke the law by misstating the charges associated with pawn loans. 

    “When consumers take out a loan, they are entitled to know the actual annual cost,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “We are taking action today against pawnbrokers that deceived consumers about these costs, and we will work to make sure they stop violating the law and provide relief for consumers who were wronged.”

    The companies are: Spotsylvania Gold & Pawn, Inc.; Fredericksburg Pawn, Inc.; Pawn U.S.A., Inc.; and A to Z Pawn, Inc.

    Extra charges

    The four pawnbrokers add a finance charge to their loans and the CFPB said the charge is made up of several fees, called, for instance, “appraisal,” “interest,” “storage,” or “setup” charges.

    The CFPB alleges that the companies misled their customers about the costs of their loans by disclosing deceptively low annual percentage rates (APRs) that did not reflect all of the fees and charges tacked onto the loans. 

    The CFPB’s complaints allege that the companies’ actions violated the Truth in Lending Act and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

    Pawn shops are often presented as an alternative to expensive payday loans, but that doesn't mean you don't have to be careful. Case in point: the Consumer...

    Survey finds more bosses will be giving bonuses this year

    That little something extra can take many forms

    Here's something to put a little ho-ho-ho in your holiday: A new survey from outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas finds an improved economy and corporate profits will work their way down to the employee level.

    In other words -- BONUSES.

    The survey of roughly 100 human resources execs in November found 66% indicating that their companies will be awarding some type of year-end bonus/gift. That's 16% more than those who said the same last year.

    And while 30% said there will be no year-end award of any type, that's down 14% from 2015.

    “The economy has been steadily improving since the Great Recession ended in 2010. This last year was no exception,” said Challenger, Gray & Christmas CEO John A. Challenger. “As it continues to improve, employers will have to rely increasingly on bonuses and other perks to hold onto valuable employees.”

    There are bonuses and bonuses

    Challenger points out that most workers don't enjoy the type of five- and six-figure bonuses lavished upon Wall Street bankers. “For the vast majority of workers, three and sometimes four figures are likely to be the standard,” he said, adding, “Some may not even get a cash award, but instead receive a gift card, gift basket or some other type of material object. Our survey shows that the structure of the bonus or gift varies widely.”

    According to the survey, 15% of employers provide a non-monetary gift to all employees, such as a gift basket or extra vacation day. Another 11% plan to give employees a small monetary award of $100 or less.

    At the same time, about 40% give larger monetary awards that vary year-to-year and worker-to-worker. These can be based on the overall performance of the company, the performance of the individual, or some combination of the two.

    Why the increase?

    A major factor fueling year-end bonuses is the fact that after-tax corporate profits steadily increased throughout the year, after falling to a 17-quarter low to close out 2015.

    The latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis show third-quarter profits of nearly $1.7 trillion -- were up 5.2% from the same period a year ago.

    With profits on the rise, about 18% of survey respondents said their companies were upping the amount of year-end bonuses. Still, most employers (73%) plan to keep bonus levels unchanged from last year.

    “Despite the lack of six-figure Wall Street-like bonuses,” Challenger said, “most employees still appreciate the year-end bonus. Mostly, they want to know that their hard work is recognized and appreciated.” 

    Here's something to put a little ho-ho-ho in your holiday: A new survey from outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas finds an improved econom...

    Airline on-time performance in October equal to the month before

    Domestic tarmac delays were kept to a minimum

    October was a pretty good month for airlines in terms of the on-time arrival rate.

    The carriers reported a rate of 85.5%, according the the Department of Transportation (DOT) -- the same as the month before, but down 1.5% from the rate achieved a year earlier.

    Cancellations were a different story, with the reporting airlines scratching 1.0% of their scheduled domestic flights in October -- up 0.7% from September and 0.5% from October 2015.

    Tarmac delays

    In addition, there were just two tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights and no tarmac delays of more than four hours on international flights.

    Both extended tarmac delays are being investigated by the DOT.

    The DOT's consumer report also includes information on chronically delayed flights and the causes of flight delays, as well as a tally of aviation service complaints regarding issues including problems with baggage, reservation and ticketing, refunds, customer service, and disability.

    The complete report may be found on the DOT website.

    October was a pretty good month for airlines in terms of the on-time arrival rate.The carriers reported a rate of 85.5%, according the the Department o...

    Old Dutch recalls various flavored potato chip products

    The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

    Old Dutch Foods of St. Paul, Minn., is recalling a limited number of flavored potato chip and tortilla chip products.

    The products may be contaminated with Salmonella.

    No illnesses have been reported.

    Product was distributed nationwide through grocery and other retail stores.

    The following products, distributed nationwide through grocery and other retail stores, are being recalled:

    BrandProduct TypeFlavorSizeUPCCode Dates Between
    Old Dutch RipplesSeasoned Potato ChipsFrench Onion8oz746902301608/11/162/28/17
    2oz746900236708/11/162/22/17
    Jalapeno Popper8oz7469023155610/20/162/22/17
    3oz7469002859010/19/162/22/17
    Cheddar & Sour Cream2oz746900240667/7/162/22/17
    8oz746902302907/7/162/28/17
    15.5oz746902056947/7/162/28/17
    Old Dutch Rip-L Family PackSeasoned Potato ChipsCheddar & Sour Cream9.5oz746902011607/6/162/28/17
    Lund's & Byerly'sSeasoned Potato ChipsChipotle Ranch8oz724310097927/14/163/1/17
    Roundy'sSeasoned Potato ChipsJalapeno Popper10.5oz1115022449910/20/162/28/17
    Cheddar & Sour Cream2oz111500414307/7/162/28/17
    10.5oz111502248267/14/162/14/17
    15.75oz111502245367/6/162/28/17
    UrgeSeasoned Potato ChipsCheddar & Sour Cream2.5oz397790143697/7/162/28/17
    6oz397790126177/7/162/28/17
    Seasoned Tortilla ChipRanch8oz3977901312610/6/163/1/17

     

    What to do

    Customers who purchased the recalled products should dispose of them immediately.

    Consumers may contact Old Dutch Foods consumer care toll free at 1-877-228-2273 between 9:00am and 5:00pm (CST).

     

     

    Old Dutch Foods of St. Paul, Minn., is recalling a limited number of flavored potato chip and tortilla chip products.The products may be contaminated w...

    H-E-B recalls raw shelled pistachios

    The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

    H-E-B is recalling both bulk and packaged raw shelled pistachios that may be contaminated with Salmonella.

    There have been no reports of illness to date and all product has been removed from stores.

    The following products, sold in H-E-B and Central Market Texas stores, are being recalled:

    PRODUCTUPCBEST BY DATE
    Shelled Pistachios1912000051/1/2017
    Central Market Shelled Pistachios1983000061/1/2017
    PRODUCTUPCPURCHASED ON OR AFTER
    SRF Women's Vitality Mix27061000005/15/2016
    Pistachio Meats Raw Shelled27028900005/15/2016
    Dark Chocolate Pistachios27053500005/15/2016
    PPK SRF Women's Vitality Mix28697800005/15/2016

    The recalled products come in prepackaged plastic containers containing raw pistachios with labels reading Shelled Pistachios or Central Market Shelled Pistachios, as well as pistachios found in the bulk section with SunRidge Farms labels reading: Women’s Vitality Mix, Pistachio Nuts and Dark Chocolate Pistachios.

    What to do

    Customers who purchased the recalled products should return them to the store for a full refund.

    Consumers with questions or concerns may contact H-E-B customer service at 1-855-432-4438, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (CST).

     

     

    H-E-B is recalling both bulk and packaged raw shelled pistachios that may be contaminated with Salmonella.There have been no reports of illness to date...

    Top Destination for 2017 - Oh Canada

    The dollar is strong and the attractions are numerous. What are you waiting for?

    With the strength of the United States dollar, Europe and Great Britain are affordable travel destinations right now. Canada, with an even better exchange rate, is a veritable bargain. With Canadian dollar rates hovering at 75 cents to the United States dollar, your travel budget will go a long way in the country.

    As an expat, I lived in Toronto for five years and traveled throughout Canada. It is a beautiful country with every experience imaginable to satisfy the most discriminating traveler. Whether you are seeking the Rockies, a big city, fabulous museums and culture, a taste of Europe with a primarily French-speaking province, a British influence, culinary delights, gorgeous lakes, or charming islands, Canada has it all.

    Fun facts about Canada

    • It is the second largest country in the world in area.
    • It has more lakes than all the world’s other lakes combined.
    • It has the largest coastline in the world, bordering the Atlantic, Arctic, and Pacific Oceans.
    • It boasts the longest border in the world, between the United States and Canada – a border with no military defense.
    • There are ten provinces: Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, and Saskatchewan.
    • The Province of Ontario has over 250,000 lakes, which is approximately 20% of the world’s fresh water.
    • Ice hockey is the national winter sport.

    My favorite destinations

    Montrèal

    Montrèal, a modern city situated on an island in the Saint Lawrence River, has a rich history and European feel, and it's the perfect place to visit in 2017 as it celebrates the 375th anniversary of its founding. Stroll the cobblestone streets of Old Montréal, admire the 18th-century buildings, and enjoy the fabulous cuisine, strongly influenced by its multicultural population.

    Montrèal is a bilingual city with approximately 56% of the population speaking both English and French; it ranks second to Paris as the largest primarily French-speaking city in the world. Montrèal, taking its name from Mount Royal (some say more of a hill than a mountain, but set in a beautiful park), has everything a fine city offers.

    Don’t miss the local markets, botanical gardens, outdoor sporting opportunities, festivals, parks, the waterfront, outstanding museums, and “the Underground City,” a network of pedestrian walkways below the city where you’ll find shops, restaurants, and access to museums, hotels, subways, trains, and buses. Don’t leave town without enjoying delicious French pastries.

    Vancouver

    Vancouver, in the province of British Columbia and located on the Pacific west coast, is a walkable city bordered by mountains. It is home to Stanley Park, a stunning 405-acre public park that is surrounded by Vancouver Harbor and English Bay. Granville Island is home to a fabulous public market, artsy shops, and wonderful restaurants.

    Other exciting spots are the Capilano Suspension Bridge, Vancouver Aquarium, Botanical Gardens, The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, and more. Its moderate climate and access to nature make it perfect for outdoor and sports activities.  

    Victoria

    Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, is situated on the rugged southern end of Vancouver Island and is accessible by ferry from Vancouver and Seattle, Washington. Its British influence is evident in the architecture and afternoon high tea. Highlights include the iconic Butchart Gardens -- with 55 acres of breathtaking gardens, Craigdarroch Castle, Canada’s oldest China Town, wonderful museums, outdoor activities, culture, and even whale watching.

    Canadian Rockies

    My first experience with the Rocky Mountains was in Canada. I traveled from Calgary along the Trans Canada Highway, stopping in Banff National Park and Lake Louise and then going north up the Icefields Parkway into Jasper National Park. There are many ways to view and spend time in the Canadian Rockies, including the Rocky Mountaineer railroad with glass domed coaches.

    Toronto

    Toronto, the capital of the province of Ontario, is a big city with a beautiful skyline dominated by the CN Tower, a must visit. Bordering Lake Ontario, Toronto has everything you would expect in a cosmopolitan city: fabulous museums, cultural venues, wonderful entertainment, a melting pot of nationalities, excellent and varied cuisine, plenty of green space, a walkable downtown (even in the cold), and underground spaces that host restaurants and shops, connect through tunnels around the metro and city.

    One of the many things that will surprise you is that it’s clean. Not to miss: the hands-on Ontario Science Centre, the 98-room Casa Loma in midtown Toronto, the Royal Ontario Museum, charming Yorkville, and Kensington Market.

    Maritime Provinces

    Canada’s eastern provinces -- Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island -- make up the Maritimes, also known as the Maritime provinces or the Canadian Maritimes. Together they are loaded with charm, rugged coastlines, rich maritime culture, whale watching, all types of boating excursions, and fabulous seafood.

    New Brunswick, bordering the province of Quebec and the state of Maine, is the gateway to the Maritime provinces. St. Andrews, in the southwest, is Canada’s oldest seaside resort town with access to Passamaquoddy Bay and a horticultural work of art, the 27-acre Kingsbrae Garden. The Bay of Fundy separates New Brunswick from Nova Scotia.

    Halifax is the capital of Nova Scotia and it is here they brought the remains from the Titanic disaster. The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic has an interesting Titanic exhibit and Fairview Cemetery is the final resting place for over one hundred Titanic victims.

    Peggy’s Cove is just one of the picturesque fishing villages, and Cape Breton and the Cabot Trail are a few of the province’s highlights. Confederation Bridge links New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island (PEI), the setting for the Anne of Green Gables novels. Visit Cavendish, the green gable house and museum, relax on a beach, or tour Charlottetown, the capital of PEI.

    Quebèc City

    You won’t find a city in North America with more European charm than French-speaking Quebèc City. It was the perfect place for our honeymoon and we took our daughters there for ski lessons – in French. Old Québec is a walled city, the only fortified city in North America north of Mexico.

    The city boasts wonderful museums, government buildings, plenty of history, outdoor activities, breathtaking views of the Saint Lawrence River, and delicious cuisine (do as the locals and eat your fries with mayonnaise). Take a horse-drawn carriage through the cobblestone streets, find a watercolor in the open-air art gallery, Rue du Trésor, and check out the majestic Chateau Frontenac, claiming to be the most photographed hotel in the world.

    This is just a sampling. For more information on Canadian tourism, check out https://us-keepexploring.canada.travel/.

    With the strength of the United States dollar, Europe and Great Britain are affordable travel destinations right now. Canada, with an even better exchange...

    Cyberhacks emerge as 2016's biggest online threat

    Insurance companies are offering more products to provide protection

    The latest Yahoo revelation that hackers compromised a billion email accounts back in 2013 just underscores the dangers of having any information stored online.

    While companies spend billions of dollars to produce systems to protect the data, very clever hackers operating around the globe quickly figure out ways to get around them.

    So it shouldn't be a big surprise that insurance policies to protect against potential data breaches have become common.

    A report from the Insurance Information Institute (III) finds more than 60 companies now offer stand-alone cyber insurance policies. The report estimates the U.S. market for these policies was worth $3.25 billion this year, with the potential to double.

    Expensive hacks

    A data breach is almost always expensive. Just this week the adult dating site Ashley Madison paid out $1.6 million to settle last year's hack of its membership files, and that ranks as one of the less expensive settlements.

    The III report puts cyber incidents as number three on the list of global business risks. The average cost of a data breach in the U.S. this year was $7 million, according to the III report.

    In addition to a data breach, both organizations and individual consumers now have to be on guard against ransomware, a type of malware that, once downloaded, will encrypt all files on connected devices. The hacker will then hold the data hostage until the business or organization pays a ransom.

    Most businesses pay the ransom

    A report by IBM has found that businesses are much more likely than consumers to pay up when their data is captured. The study found 70% of organizations that are victimized will pay while only half of consumers said they would pay.

    However, when asked about specific types of data – such as financial records or family photos – slightly more consumers said they would pay the ransom.

    IBM says ransomware is now one of the leading cybersecurity threats to both consumers and organizations. The FBI estimates cybercriminals, in the first three months of 2016, collected an estimated $209 million from victims. At that rate, cybercriminals could make nearly $1 billion in 2016 from their use of the malware.

    The ransomware hack is extremely simple. It normally starts with a spam email that contains a link. Like an ordinary phishing scam, it entices the recipient to click on it, claiming it will do anything from play a funny cat video to reveal a problem with a credit card account.

    When the victim clicks on the link, however, it downloads the software that takes over his or her system.

    The latest Yahoo revelation that hackers compromised a billion email accounts back in 2013 just underscores the dangers of having any information stored on...

    Rate of infants born with opioid withdrawal has risen dramatically in rural areas

    New study suggests more support is needed for opioid addicted moms in rural areas

    A new study suggests that the number of infants born affected by opioids is rising faster in rural communities than in cities. Findings from the study were published recently in JAMA Pediatrics.

    After tracking newborns treated for opioid-related issues for over a decade, researchers found that there has been a dramatic spike in the number of opioid-related complications among rural pregnant women and their babies.

    The rate of newborns diagnosed with “neonatal abstinence syndrome” (NAS), a condition marked by withdrawal symptoms as a result of being exposed to opioids in utero, has risen nearly 80% more in rural areas compared to urban areas, the study found.

    Focusing on rural communities

    The researchers found that rate of infants born dependent on opioids grew from 1.2 cases per 1,000 hospital births in 2004 to 7.5 cases per hospital births in 2013 in rural areas. During the same year, but in urban areas, the rate of NAS cases rose from 1.4 per 1,000 hospital births in 2004 to 4.8 per 1,000 hospital births in 2013. 

    The findings “highlight a need to focus on the unique needs of rural communities and to understand why the opioid epidemic has disproportionately affected rural communities,” said study co-author Dr. Stephen Patrick, assistant professor of Pediatrics and Health Policy at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

    Newborns with NAS are more likely to have seizures, low birth weight, and breathing, sleeping, and feeding problems. These symptoms are “manifested by central nervous system irritability, autonomic overreactivity, and gastrointestinal tract dysfunction,” according to the CDC.

    Supporting addicted moms

    In addition to geographical disparities in rates of NAS, the findings revealed a difference in the amount of support available to rural infants and mothers compared to their urban counterparts.

    While urban mothers and infants typically have wider access to treatment and addiction services, the study found that rural moms and infants with opioid-related diagnoses were more likely to be from lower-income families, have public insurance, and be transferred to another hospital following delivery.

    In order to improve outcomes for newborns affected by NAS, doctors will “need to consider what kind of support moms with opioid disorders have in rural communities,” says lead author and Mott pediatrician Nicole Villapiano, M.D.

    “If we can provide resources to the areas that need them the most, we can do more on the frontlines to address the opioid crisis for our most vulnerable patients,” she added

    Villapiano suggested two ways of boosting support for rural moms with opioid addiction: first, increasing the number of rural doctors authorized to prescribe treatment drugs like buprenorphine. Second, expanding rural mental health and substance abuse services.

    If a baby is born with symptoms of opioid withdrawal, the study's authors note that it's imperative that community hospitals be adequately staffed and equipped with the resources needed to treat both mothers and infants. 

    A new study suggests that the number of infants born affected by opioids is rising faster in rural communities than in cities. Findings from the study were...

    What parents can do to raise a smart consumer

    Kids raised by authoritative parents are more likely to be smart shoppers, study finds

    As a parent, you may wonder what the future holds for your child. While there’s no crystal ball that can tell you what kind of career your son or daughter will have, you might be able to determine whether they’ll grow up to be a smart shopper.

    A new study finds that the fate of kids’ future shopping habits may rest in the hands of his or her parents. Researchers found that a child's parents -- not other adults or organizations, such as churches -- have the biggest impact on the way kids interact with the world around them in adulthood.

    To raise a smart and informed consumer, parents may simply need to pick the right parenting style. In an analysis of data from 73 studies nationwide, researchers found that kids raised by authoritative parents are more likely to consume healthier foods, make safer choices, and enter adulthood armed with the skills and attitudes needed to be smart consumers.

    Parenting style differences

    To find out which parenting styles were most effective in teaching kids how to be wise shoppers, the study authors examined the effects of four basic parenting styles: authoritative, authoritarian, neglecting, and indulgent.

    Authoritative parenting was found to produce the best outcomes. An authoritative parent tells children what they want them to do while also explaining why, which the researchers describe as “restrictive” and “warm” communication. Kids raised by authoritative parents are usually expected to act maturely and follow family rules but are also allowed a bit of autonomy.

    Authoritarian parents are restrictive too, but they differ from authoritative parents in terms of warmth. These parents are "more likely to tell a child what to do and not explain why," explained researcher Les Carlson, a professor of marketing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

    Neglecting parents tend to be hands-off, offering little guidance for their children’s development and monitoring activities only to a limited extent. The final parenting style studied was the indulgent parenting style, in which parents are lenient and kids are given adult rights without being expected to take on responsibilities.

    Restrictions are important

    Parents are often more permissive with their children these days, but the researchers say there’s something to be said for restrictions. The meta-analysis found that kids with restrictive parents were less likely to engage in “negative consumer socialization outcomes” such as cyberbullying, theft, vandalism, drug use, and feelings of having an unattractive body shape.

    “We found a lot of evidence that demonstrated that it is okay to be restrictive with kids," Carlson said in a statement. He added that it’s also important to explain to kids why the restrictions are important.

    To put your child on track towards becoming a smart consumer, Carlson suggests doing activities such as shopping together. Parents can take their child shopping and guide them in decisions, or talk to them about why they’re skeptical of advertising they may see in a store.

    Teaching children how to filter information in this way can help them grow up to become informed consumers, he says.

    The study has been published online in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

    As a parent, you may wonder what the future holds for your child. While there’s no crystal ball that can tell you what kind of career your son or daughter...

    Here are three good low-interest credit cards

    They could be more important since the Fed is hiking rates

    Now that the Federal Reserve has hiked its short-term interest rate for only the second time in a decade, the interest rate on your credit card balance is likely to go up some.

    And if the Fed follows through on its plans for as many as three additional hikes in 2017, that rate could go up even more. So finding a card that offers the lowest possible rate is a good idea.

    We checked with three credit card comparison sites to see which low-interest credit cards they were recommending. At CreditCards.com, the editors like the Core Visa credit card from PNC Bank.

    "When it comes to low-interest cards, math wins," said CreditCards.com editor-in-chief Daniel P. Ray. "And the PNC Core Visa has an outstanding regular APR that starts at just 10.24%, making it best in its class."

    Five points below the average

    Ray points out the PNC Core Visa not only offers the lowest interest rate, it's nearly five percentage points below the national average for all credit cards.

    The card, which is a relatively new entry to the credit card market, also scores points for its 15-month 0% interest rate on purchases and balance transfers.

    Meanwhile, a top choice at NerdWallet is the Citi Diamond Preferred card. It's interest rate ranges from 12.24% to 22.24%, with consumers with the best credit getting the lowest rate.

    21 months at 0%

    In addition, the Citi Diamond Preferred offers 21 months of 0% interest on purchases, meaning it would cost nothing to finance a major purchase – for example, a new refrigerator.

    The card also offers a 21-month 0% interest period on balance transfers, but charges a fee of 3% of the transferred balance.

    At CardHub, the editors like the Capital One VentureOne Rewards card when it comes to low interest. It matches the Citi Diamond Preferred's rates of 12.24% to 22.24%.

    The VentureOne also provides 0% interest on purchases for the first 12 months. It's also a travel rewards card, paying 1.25 miles for every dollar spent on purchases. One hundred miles equals $1 in travel rewards.

    Of course, interest rates are of little importance if you can manage to pay off the credit card balance each month. That way you'll never pay any interest, no matter the rate.

    Now that the Federal Reserve has hiked its short-term interest rate for only the second time in a decade, the interest rate on your credit card balance is...

    Is Wall Street getting ahead of itself?

    Some economists suggest the pace of economic growth will remain slow

    Since the day after election day, Wall Street has been on a tear, with the major stock averages moving into record territory day after day.

    Analysts say much of the advance has been due to a change in economic outlook. A Trump administration is expected to spend more on infrastructure and lower the corporate tax rate. That, in turn, is expected to spur economic growth.

    Treasury Secretary-designate Steve Mnuchin is on record predicting sustained economic growth of 3% or more.

    But the euphoria may be a bit premature, some analysts caution. The stock market, specifically, has already priced in the economic growth that has yet to be achieved. And the economic advancement might not be as easy as it sounds.

    Contrarian view

    John Connaughton, an economist at the University of North Carolina (UNC) Charlotte takes a somewhat contrarian view. He expects the same slow pace of economic growth to continue for a while.

    “During the first half of 2016, the North Carolina economy seemed to experience slower growth than during the previous 18 months,” he said. “What has been happening in North Carolina during the first half of 2016 is not dissimilar to what has happened in the U.S. It seems that after seven years of economic expansion, the economy has begun to slow.”

    Many consumers who are struggling to keep up may be surprised to learn that the U.S. economy has been expanding for 89 months. It's just been at a very slow pace.

    But Connaughton says the current economic expansion is the fourth-longest on record, going back to 1854. And despite the post-election rise in business and consumer confidence, he doesn't expect much to change, in the way of economic growth, in the coming year. Economic headwinds, he says, include falling productivity and the retirement of the Baby Boomer generation.

    Economists largely skeptical

    An early December poll by Reuters found the Trump bump that has boosted the stock market hasn't really changed economists' outlook, who note that recessions are regular occurrences, even if the expansion has been less than robust.

    The economists in the poll correctly predicted the Federal Reserve's decision this week to hike short term interest rates. Fed Chair Janet Yellen held out the prospect of three additional hikes in 2017, suggesting a more optimistic outlook for economic growth.

    But at the same time, Yellen left herself some wiggle room, suggesting the Fed could always hold off on normalizing rates if economic growth doesn't measure up to rosy expectations.

    Since the day after election day, Wall Street has been on a tear, with the major stock averages moving into record territory day after day.Analysts say...

    American Airlines fined $1.6 million for tarmac delays

    Travelers were stranded on runways for hours and not allowed to leave

    If you’ve ever been trapped on a plane waiting for take-off, then you know just how infuriating and helpless the situation can be. Your frustration may have been compounded by missing connecting flights in other cities, and more than a few invectives against the airline company may have crossed your mind.

    While it may have felt grossly unfair at the time, the Department of Transportation (DOT) takes tarmac delays very seriously, and it recently punished American Airlines for keeping travelers on runways for too long. USA TODAY reports that the company has been fined $1.6 million by the DOT for tarmac delays that occurred between 2013 and 2015. The fine was announced on Wednesday.

    “Our tarmac rule is meant to prevent passengers form being trapped in aircraft on the ground for hours on end. We will continue to take enforcement action as necessary to ensure passengers are not kept delayed on the tarmac for lengthy periods of time,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

    Costly delays

    The delays in question occurred over a three-year period at three different airports, including 20 flights in Charlotte on February 16, 2013, six flights in Dallas/Fort Worth on February 27, 2015, and one flight in Shreveport, Louisiana on October 22, 2015. The lion’s-share of the delays that occurred in Charlotte were due to a snowstorm and affected approximately 860 passengers.

    DOT charges that American Airlines failed to anticipate the problematic situations to prevent the long delays. It says that passengers were forced to wait for hours on planes and were not allowed to leave.

    American Airlines responded to the fine by saying that it would fully cooperate with the agency and that it takes its responsibility to its customers seriously. It also explained its actions in Charlotte by saying that it was trying to get passengers to their destination on a day when many other flights were being canceled.

    “It is the opinion of American that US Airways’ decision to bring aircraft into CLT was the best result possible in this unexpected and difficult situation, as evidenced by the fact that all affected passengers were en route to their final destinations before noon the next day,” the company said in a statement.

    The DOT has divided the fine to ensure that American is more prepared at the airports where the delays occurred. Of the $1.6 million, $602,000 will be credited in compensation provided to passengers on the delayed flights and $303,000 will be credited for acquiring, operating, and maintaining equipment to monitor weather conditions in Charlotte and Dallas. The department said the airliner will have 30 days to pay the remaining $695,000.

    If you’ve ever been trapped on a plane waiting for take-off, then you know just how infuriating and helpless the situation can be. Your frustration may hav...

    SUVs, minivans, and hybrids most likely to be driven at least 10 years

    Toyota dominates the top 10 list

    Consumers are driving cars for longer periods of time than in years past, but they tend to drive certain makes and models longer than others.

    The automotive website iSeeCars.com conducted a study to identify the vehicles that stay on the road with original owners the longest. It turns out they all come from Japanese manufacturers.

    Not only that, SUVs, minivans, and hybrids are the vehicles that consumers tend to stick with. The company looked at more than 2.5 million cars from the 1981-2006 model years sold this year. Ten models stood out as being at least 1.9 times more likely than average to be owned by the original purchaser for 10 years or more.

    Toyota dominates the list

    Making the durability list are five Toyotas, three Hondas, one Lexus, and one Subaru. Among these original owners, the percentage who held onto their wheels for at least 10 years ranged between 4% and 32.1%.

    Topping the list is the Toyota Highlander Hybrid, followed closely by the Toyota Prius. The study found 32% of the consumers who purchased these cars drove them at least 10 years.

    Number three on the list is the Toyota Highlander gasoline model, followed by the Toyota Sienna. Among Highlander owners, 20% kept the cars for a decade, while 28.7% of Sienna drivers did the same.

    With Toyota owning the first four slots on the list, Honda claims the next two positions with 27.2% of Honda Pilot owners keeping their cars for 10 years and 25.2% of CR-V owners driving their cars for that period of time.

    The Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forrester, Lexus RX Hybrid, and Honda Oddyssey round out the top 10.

    Surprising make up

    “The top 10 cars that people hold onto are all from Japanese automakers, which isn't surprising since they have a reputation for reliability. But the makeup of the cars is unexpected,” said Phong Ly, CEO of iSeeCars.com.

    Of the vehicles on the top 10 list, nine are either SUVs and minivans. Ly suggests these vehicles are used mostly as family cars and might continue to serve that purpose as families grow.

    Ly said it is somewhat surprising that so many hybrids are on the list, since the early knock on these vehicles was concern about battery life.

    “For hybrids, the savings from fuel costs accrue only after several years of ownership, so one reason owners may be keeping these vehicles is to offset the higher cost of a hybrid,” Ly said.

    Equally surprising is the fact that some of the top selling cars and trucks aren't on the list. Only 20% of Toyota Camry drivers keep their cars for at least 10 years, with only 17% of Honda Accord owners doing the same.

    Consumers are driving cars for longer periods of time than in years past, but they tend to drive certain makes and models longer than others.The automo...

    A reversal of fortune for home construction

    The outlook for new construction dimmed as well

    New home construction hit a roadblock in November following October’s surge.

    The Commerce Department reports housing starts plunged last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,090,000, Not only is that down 18.7% from October’s downwardly revised rate, but it’s 6.9% below the same month a year earlier.

    Groundbreaking for single-family homes dropped 4.1% to a rate of 828,000, and the rate for multi-family units was 259,000 -- a drop of almost 44%.

    Building permits

    Building permits, a sign of developers’ construction plans for the months ahead, were also lower -- down 4.7% to an annual rate of 1,201,000.

    Permits for single-family starts inched up 0.5% to a rate of 778,000. Authorizations for multi-family unit construction totaled 384,000  -- a plunge of 15.8%.

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

    New home construction hit a roadblock in November following October’s surge.The Commerce Department reports housing starts plunged last month to a seas...

    Trek recalls bicycle lights

    The bicycle light can operate intermittently

    Trek Bicycle Corporation of Waterloo, Wis., is recalling about 600 bicycle lights.

    The bicycle light can operate intermittently when paired with a remote transmitter, reducing the visibility of and for the rider, posing an injury hazard.

    The firm has received seven reports of the lights functioning intermittently when paired with a remote transmitter. No injuries have been reported.

    This recall involves Trek Bontrager Flare RT and Ion 700 RT bicycle lights. Both models of lights come in black. “Bontrager” and “Transmtr” are printed on the front of the Bontrager Flare RT lights and the date code is printed on the back.

    “Ion 700 RT,” “700 Lumen” and “Transmtr” are printed on the side of the Ion 700 RT lights and the date code is printed on the bottom under the charging port cover.

    The recalled lights have the following date code:

     

    Product

    Date Code

    Bontrager Flare RT

     

    (Sold individually, but lights can also be paired with a remote transmitter)

     

    Af0400001  through Af0400407

     

    Bontrager Ion 700 RT

    (Sold as part of a set with a remote transmitter)

     

    1606

    The lights, manufactured in Taiwan, were sold at bicycle stores nationwide and online at www.trekbikes.com from July 2016, through October 2016, for between $60 and $240.

    What to do

    Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled lights with a remote transmitter and return the lights to the store where purchased or contact Trek to receive a free replacement bicycle light.

    Consumers may contact Trek at 800-373-4594 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday or online at www.trekbikes.com and click on “Safety & Recalls” at the bottom of the page for more information.

     

     

     
    Trek Bicycle Corporation of Waterloo, Wis., is recalling about 600 bicycle lights.The bicycle light can operate intermittently when paired with a remot...

    Bingo Deals recalls chicken toys

    The toys can break into small plastic pieces, posing a choking hazard

    Bingo Deals is recalling about 2,700 egg-laying chicken toys.

    The toys contain small eggs, and the chicken can break into small plastic pieces, both posing a choking hazard to children.

    No incidents or injuries are reported.

    This recall involves the Bump 'N Go Walking Egg Laying Chicken with light, sound and music. The battery-powered plastic toy is a yellow chicken with an orange head and orange wings. The chicken toy includes three white plastic eggs that are placed into the back of the chicken and then released from the bottom.

    The chicken measures 7 inches wide by 6 inches tall by 7 inches deep. The eggs measure one inch wide by one inch tall by one inch deep. “QQ Chicken” is printed on the wing. A small yellow chicken sits on the chicken’s back.

    The toys, manufactured in China, were sold online at Amazon.com and Bingo Deal’s website www.prextex.com from July 2015, through June 2016, for about $20.

    What to do

    Consumers should immediately take the chicken toy and eggs away from children and contact Bingo Deals for a full refund. Bingo Deals is contacting consumers who bought the toy directly.

    Consumers may contact Bingo Deals toll-free at 888-429-1679 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Thursday and from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. (ET) on Friday, by email Recall@prextex.com or at Bingo Deal’s website www.prextex.com and click on Recall Safety at the top of the page.

     

     

    Bingo Deals is recalling about 2,700 egg-laying chicken toys.The toys contain small eggs, and the chicken can break into small plastic pieces, both pos...

    Brand Castle recalls The Mix Monkey Bread Mix

    The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

    Brand Castle of Bedford Heights, Ohio, is recalling limited quantities of The Mix Monkey Bread Mix.

     

    The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

     

    There have been no reported illnesses to date.

     

    The recalled product has a UPC code of 8-44527-03278-2 and is packaged in a 16-oz. box with a sticker on the back of the package indicating the below Lot#/Date Code.

    It was sold to a single retailer in Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Io2wa, Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesotat, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Soucth carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

    What to do

    Customers who purchased the recalled product should discontinue using it and return it to the retailer for a full refund discard it or contact reach out to Brand Castle with roof of purchase for a full refund.

    Consumerswith questions may contact Brand Castle at 216-292-7700, ext.211 Monday through Friday between 8:30 am and 5:30 pm (EST) or by email at marla.fleischer@brandcastle.com.

     

     

     

    Brand Castle of Bedford Heights, Ohio, is recalling limited quantities of The Mix Monkey Bread Mix. The product may be contaminated with Salmonella...

    Facebook will start labeling disputed news postings

    The laissez-faire attitude of social media has been blamed for spreading lies and untruths far and wide

    Facebook has come up with a fact-checking scheme to reduce the flood of fake news posted on its site. It is deputizing reputable, third-party fact-checking sites to label posts as "disputed."

    A "disputed" warning will appear prominently in the Facebook feed and pop up when someone tries to share the post. The fact-checking organizations include Snopes, FactCheck.org, and Politifact, which are part of the non-profit journalism institute Poynter's International Fact Checking Network.

    Facebook, like other social media sites, takes only slight responsibility for what it publishes and prefers to think of itself as providing a platform for consumers and media outlets to self-publish their content.

    Real publishers, like newspapers, take responsibility for their content and even produce a large percentage of it themselves. This is, of course, expensive and time-consuming. It's much easier for social media to simply let anyone post whatever they feel like and shift the responsibility to those doing the posting.

    It has been noted that newspapers and other traditional outlets would be a lot better off financially if they simply shrugged and did nothing but publish letters to the editor. The Facebooks of the world generally reject this argument and even find it humorous.

    Not so cute anymore

    Facebook's cute little demurrers have been less effective, however, since the recent Presidential election. Many blamed the surprise Trump win on the streams of fake news, misinformation, rumors, and unchecked urban legends that were spread on Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, and elsewhere.

    Facebook says it plans to label and, in some cases, cut off phony sites masquerading as legitimate news outlets. It suggests that this might help restore programmatic ad revenue to legitimate publishers that have seen marketing dollars siphoned off by bogus sites.

    "We believe providing more context can help people decide for themselves what to trust and what to share," Adam Mosseri, Facebook's VP of product for News Feed, said in a blog post. "It will still be possible to share these stories, but you will see a warning that the story has been disputed as you share."

    "We believe in giving people a voice and that we cannot become arbiters of truth ourselves, so we’re approaching this problem carefully," Mosseri said. "We’ve focused our efforts on the worst of the worst, on the clear hoaxes spread by spammers for their own gain, and on engaging both our community and third party organizations."

    Facebook users will be asked to flag any posts they consider suspicious. The flagged posts will then be studied by the independent fact-checkers to determine if they appear to be bogus or genuine.

    "Legitimate's" not always "true"

    What critics often miss is that "legitimate" news is not always totally factual. All reporters know that politicians -- just to pick a handy example -- can and do lie when the situation requires it. Such misstatements of fact by public figures are not always discovered, although they may be revealed over time. 

    To pick another example, some testimony in a trial may be false. Criminals have been known to lie in an attempt to escape justice. But good journalistic practice calls for reporting the testimony accurately along with any contradictory testimony. Readers have some responsibility for sifting through competing arguments, after all. 

    News is less instant history than process, one of its veteran practitioners once said. Like scientists, reporters continually sift through the evidence available to them, trying to filter out the dreck and retain and report the little nuggets of truth that are uncovered in the process. Good journalists operate with a skeptical attitude and do not themselves take sides in public policy debates. 

    The bogus news sites currently in the spotlight are illegitimate because they simply make stuff up in hopes of advancing their political agenda or making a buck. Or both. 

    Facebook has come up with a fact-checking scheme to reduce the flood of fake news posted on its site. It is deputizing reputable, third-party fact-checking...

    FCC chairman Wheeler will step down Jan. 20

    He pushed through net neutrality rules, privacy restrictions for ISPs, and tried to banish set-top cable boxes

    Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler will step down Jan. 20, he said today, clearing the way for Republicans to take control of the agency.

    “Serving as FCC Chairman during this period of historic technological change has been the greatest honor of my professional life. I am deeply grateful to the President for giving me this opportunity," Wheeler said. He credited the commission staff helping to create "a thriving communications sector, where robust investment and world-leading innovation continue to drive our economy and meaningful improvements in the lives of the American people."

    Wheeler said he had worked with the Obama Administration "to help protect consumers, strengthen public safety and cybersecurity, and ensure fast, fair and open networks for all Americans.”

    Net neutrality

    A former cable television executive and lobbyist, Wheeler pushed through "net neutrality" regulations which basically reclassified broadband service as a utility and required service providers to treat all traffic equally.

    He also enacted tough privacy restrictions for internet service providers and tried to break open the cable television's monopoly on set-top boxes, substituting a plan that would have provided a software solution for distribution of both cable and internet-streamed video services.

    Wheeler's "Unlock the Box" plan would have saved consumers an average $231 annually in sox rental fees and would have put internet streamed video on an even footing with cable bundles. 

    "Apps will liberate consumers from set-top boxes: The new rules will require pay-TV providers to offer to consumers a free app, controlled by the pay-TV provider, to access all the programming they pay for on a variety of devices, including tablets, smartphones, gaming systems, streaming devices or smart TVs," Wheeler wrote in a newspaper op-ed describing his plan in September.

    But the cable and entertainment industries mounted a vigorous lobbying effort against the proposal and Wheeler simply ran out of time, the election of Donald Trump likely spelling the end of White House support for the idea. 

    Wheeler's resignation gives Trump the opportunity to name a nominee to the five-member commission immediately. Assuming he nominates a Republican, the GOP will have a 3-2 majority on the commission and may revisit net neutrality and some of Wheeler's other programs.

    Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler will step down Jan. 20, he said today, clearing the way for Republicans to take control of the agenc...

    Loud toys pose a silent danger to kids, experts say

    ​Here's how to tell if a toy is too loud for a child

    Before buying a toy for a child, you might check the age recommendation and make sure that no small parts present a choking hazard. Making sure the toy is safe for its intended recipient is, of course, paramount.

    But between reading the label and giving the toy a quick once-over, many adults forget to test the toy’s loudness factor. You wouldn’t hold a car horn close to a child’s ear or expose them to the sound of a motorcycle for an extended period of time, but that’s exactly the effect that some toys have.
     

    Some toys on the market today are just as loud as the sound of a motorcycle 50 feet away, says Dr. Rob Danoff, an osteopathic family physician and program director of The Family Practice Residency. He urges parents to protect kids’ ears from the future effect of today’s loud toys.

    Test the toy first

    The Sight & Hearing Association (SHA) recently tested 20 noisy toys and found that three toys were so loud that they could cause hearing damage within 15 minutes. Another five could cause damage within 30 minutes to an hour of play time. At 104.4 decibels, this year’s noisiest toy was the WWE 3-Count Crushers, Roman Reigns action figure by Mattel.
     

    While experts don’t yet have statistics on toy related hearing loss, they are concerned that loud toys could lead to future hearing problems for kids. That’s because hearing loss is often the result of cumulative exposure to loud noises over time, explains Danoff.

    To keep kids safe from noise pollution, he recommends testing the toy yourself before giving it to a child. Here are four indications that a toy is too loud and should be avoided:  
    • If a toy is too loud in a noisy store, it will sound too loud in your quiet home.
    • If the sound of the toy hurts when you place it next to your ears, it will sound even louder to your young child as their narrow ear canals will focus those sound waves into pounding thumps of noise.
    • If the toy is too loud and has a battery compartment, remove the batteries. If they can’t be removed, avoid the toy.
    • If the toy has a speaker section without a volume control, put masking tape over the speaker to dampen the noise. If it's still too loud, avoid the toy.
    Before buying a toy for a child, you might check the age recommendation and make sure that no small parts present a choking hazard. Making sure the toy is...

    DeVry agrees to pay $100 million for misleading prospective students

    The settlement will provide refunds for tens of thousands of students

    DeVry University has agreed to pay $100 million settlement to settle a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) lawsuit alleging that it misled prospective students with ads that touted high employment success rates and income levels upon graduation.

    “When people are making important decisions about their education and their future, they should not be misled by deceptive employment and earnings claims,” said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. “The FTC has secured compensation for the many students who were harmed, and I am pleased that DeVry is changing its practices.”

    The FTC settlement secures significant financial redress for tens of thousands of students harmed by DeVry’s conduct.

    Under the settlement, DeVry will pay $49.4 million in cash to be distributed to qualifying students, as well as $50.6 million in debt relief. The debt being forgiven includes the full balance owed—$30.35 million—on all private unpaid student loans that DeVry issued to undergraduates between September 2008 and September 2015, and $20.25 million in student debts for items such as tuition, books, and lab fees.

    Misled consumers

    The FTC charged that DeVry misled consumers in violation of the FTC Act by claiming that 90 percent of graduates actively seeking employment landed jobs in their field within six months of graduation. Advertisements making these claims appeared on television and radio, as well as online and in print and other media.

    The complaint further alleges that DeVry misled students by claiming that graduates with bachelor’s degrees, on average, had 15 percent higher incomes one year after graduation than the graduates with bachelor’s degrees from all other colleges or universities.

    Students who will receive debt relief will be notified by DeVry when the court gives final approval to the settlement. DeVry will notify credit bureaus and collection agencies of the debt forgiveness. All loan and debt forgiveness will occur automatically.

    DeVry will also release transcripts and diplomas previously withheld from students because of outstanding debt and will cooperate with future requests for diplomas and transcripts and related enrollment or graduation information.

    Future actions

    Consumers rate Devry University

    The settlement also includes provisions designed to prevent DeVry from misleading consumers in the future. Among other things, it prohibits DeVry from misrepresenting the likelihood that graduates will get a job as a result of their degree.

    It also prohibits DeVry from misrepresenting the compensation or compensation ranges that students or graduates have received or can be expected to receive.

    What to do

    For more information, students and former students can consult a new consumer blog the FTC has established. For more information about the refund and debt forgiveness program, visit ftc.gov/devry or call 844-578-2645.

    DeVry University has agreed to pay $100 million settlement to settle a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) lawsuit alleging that it misled prospective students...

    What parents can do keep holiday excitement from affecting kids' sleep

    Consistency can help prevent meltdowns, says Saint Joseph's University sleep expert

    Santa may know when they’re awake, but that doesn’t stop kids from being too excited to sleep this time of year. To keep seasonal excitement from leading to overtired kids, Saint Joseph’s University sleep expert Jodi A. Mindell, Ph.D., recommends making sure routine changes don’t affect kids’ sleep schedules.

    Consistency is key, says Mindell, who is a clinical psychologist specializing in pediatric sleep medicine. She says parents should try to maintain their child’s usual sleep schedule no matter what, adding that altering your child’s bedtime routine can often be more exciting than calming.
     

    “Skimping on the bedtime routine or doing your routine in another location, such as reading stories in front of the fireplace, will often backfire,” Mindell says. In order to ensure that your little one’s holiday spirit isn’t dampened by inadequate sleep, it’s crucial to set the stage for a good night’s rest.

    To do so, make sure your child’s bedtime hour and naptimes are consistent. You might need to change the schedule a little for family gatherings, but be sure not to shake up the routine for more than one or two nights in a row. Too many days of being off schedule can lead to meltdowns, says Mindell.

    In the mornings

    If sticking to your child’s normal bedtime routine worked and your child slept well, your next challenge might be dealing with an excited early riser.
     

    Mindell says parents can keep mornings running smoothly by, again, practicing consistency. She recommends keeping kids’ morning routines the same, even on days when holiday activities are planned.

    To slow down a little early bird who’s eager to open gifts, consider putting a ‘good morning’ light in your child’s bedroom. These nightlights-on-timers can be set to go off at a reasonable time (such as 6:30 or 7 a.m.) in order to let younger kids know when it’s okay to get up for the day.

    Dealing with electronic gifts

    Smartphones and tablets are often popular gifts. If your child receives his or her first screen device during the holidays, Mindells suggests setting limits right from the start.

    These devices emit a blue light that can interfere with sleep by suppressing the natural production of the sleep hormone melatonin. For this reason, electronics shouldn’t be integrated into a child’s bedtime routine.
     

    Mindell recommends having the whole family plug in their gadgets at the end of the day for changing, either in the kitchen or in another common area of the house.

    And if, despite your best efforts, your child’s sleep schedule does get shifted during the holidays, don’t fret. Just push your child’s schedule back by 15 to 30 minutes every day, starting two to three days before your family’s schedule resumes its normal state.
     
    Santa may know when they’re awake, but that doesn’t stop kids from being too excited to sleep this time of year. To keep seasonal excitement from leading t...

    California Gov. Brown asks Obama to permanently ban offshore drilling on the West Coast

    Supporters want to make it harder for a temporary ban to be overturned by President-elect Trump

    Last month, President Obama unveiled a plan that would ban offshore oil drilling off the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington until 2022. The notion was denounced by many Republican members of Congress, who said that it would effectively oust the U.S. as a leader in global energy.

    “Today’s plan will chart a path of energy dependency for decades to come. We should be building on our position as a global energy leader, but we are punting it to Russia as Obama appeases the environmentalists pulling his strings,” said Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah).

    However, there are many other leaders who would see the plan made permanent before Obama leaves office. One of them is California Governor Jerry Brown, who has asked Obama to cement the plan so that it won’t be easily overturned by President-elect Trump.

    “California is blessed with hundreds of miles of spectacular coastline; home to scenic state parks, beautiful beaches, abundant wildlife and thriving communities. Clearly, large new oil and gas reserves would be inconsistent with our overriding imperative to reduce reliance on fuels and combat the devastating impacts of climate change,” Brown said in a letter to Obama.

    Opposing views

    Brown announced his proposition and asked for support from the governors of Oregon and Washington at an event that launched a new organization dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans. The International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification is made up of advocacy groups, businesses, and several nations, such as France, Chile, and the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Quebec.

    Brown says that the group’s work will be critical going forward after Trump’s recent election; the President-elect has previously denied evidence related to global climate change and has picked officials who are also skeptics.

    "Whatever problems we have today, they will pale to the stresses that we are going to have by rising sea levels, the threat of tropical diseases, and all manner of extreme weather events,” said Brown.

    Oil companies have opposed the plan to ban offshore drilling on the West Coast, saying that doing so would lead to importing more oil and perhaps worsening environmental outcomes.

    “If offshore production is banned it will force us to import more oil from foreign sources. That oil is produced under less stringent environmental regulations, and its transportation to California will create an increase in greenhouse gases and other pollutants,” said the Western States Petroleum Association, an oil industry group, in a statement.

    According to U.S. News, the White House has declined to comment on Brown’s request thus far.

    Last month, President Obama unveiled a plan that would ban offshore oil drilling off the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington until 2022. The notio...

    More than 10% of homeowners still under water

    Zillow reports Chicago and Las Vegas have the most negative equity

    The U.S. housing market has recovered. The median home price is now about where it was at the time of the housing market crash.

    But like politics, all real estate is local. Not every housing market has recovered at the same pace and there's still plenty of pain left over from the popping of the housing bubble.

    Real estate marketplace Zillow reports about 5.3 million homeowners were under water – meaning they owed more on mortgages than the homes are worth – in the third quarter of the year. That amounts to about 11% of homeowners with mortgages.

    While that is discouraging for those homeowners who have not been able to sell or refinance for the last decade, it's a marked improvement from the height of the housing crash. In 2012, an estimated 15.7 million homeowners were under water.

    Rising home prices helped some get their heads back above the surface, but not all. Many are no longer under water because they eventually lost their homes to foreclosure.

    Chicago and Las Vegas the most under water

    Today, Zillow says the thriving West Coast housing markets have the fewest under water homeowners. But Chicago and Las Vegas have the highest levels of negative equity. Seventeen percent of Chicago home owners are trapped in a negative equity situation while 16.8% of Las Vegas homeowners are in that boat.

    "In addition to the individual homeowners who are underwater, negative equity affects the housing market as a whole, so this is good news not only for these owners, who are now able to either sell their home or at least regain some financial stability, but also for buyers who may find more options now,” said Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Svenja Gudell. “I expect homes will gain value steadily, for solid economic reasons, and that negative equity rates will continue to fall."

    While some homeowners have regained positive equity, it might not yet be enough to allow them to sell. Zillow says having less than 20% equity in a property probably isn't enough to cover Realtors' fees, other closing costs, and a downpayment if they are purchasing another home.

    The U.S. housing market has recovered. The median home price is now about where it was at the time of the housing market crash.But like politics, all r...

    As tax season approaches so do the scam artists

    We have things to look out for and things to do

    Among the most lucrative areas for con men and scam artists is the federal income tax season. And as usual, there's an array of evolving tax scams related to identity theft and refund fraud.

    “Whether it's during the holidays or the approach of tax season, scam artists look for ways to use tax agencies and the tax industry to trick and confuse people,” said Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner John Koskinen. “There are warning signs to these scams people should watch out for, and simple steps to avoid being duped into giving these criminals money, sensitive financial information or access to computers."

    The leading scams

    • Requesting fake tax payments: The IRS has seen automated calls where scammers leave urgent callback requests telling taxpayers to call back to settle their “tax bill.”
    • Targeting students and parents and demanding payment for a fake “Federal Student Tax”: If the person does not comply, the scammer becomes aggressive and threatens to report the student to the police to be arrested.
    • Sending a fraudulent IRS bill for tax year 2015 related to the Affordable Care Act: Generally, this scam involves an email or letter that includes fake CP2000 notices that include a payment request to be sent to a Post Office Box address.
    • Soliciting W-2 information from payroll and human resources professionals: In this scam, the “CEO” sends an email to a company payroll office employee and requests a list of employees and financial and personal information including Social Security numbers.

    Spotting the scam

    Keep in mind that the IRS will NEVER:

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

    What to do

    If you get a suspicious phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money:

    • Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
    • Search the web for telephone numbers that scammers leave in your voicemail asking you to call back. Some of the phone numbers may be published online and linked to criminal activity.
    • Contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) to report the call. Use their “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” web page or call 800-366-4484.
    • Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.
    • If you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS directly at 800-829-1040.
    • If you receive an unsolicited email that appears to be from either the IRS or an organization closely linked to the IRS, such as the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), report it by sending it to phishing@irs.gov.
    Among the most lucrative areas for con men and scam artists is the federal income tax season. And as usual, there's an array of evolving tax scams related...

    California orders Uber's self-driving cars off the road

    A consumer group says Uber's CEO should be arrested

    If a human being with a valid driver's license is sitting behind the steering wheel of a self-driving car, does the car need a special permit? California says it does, and the state DMV has ordered Uber to shut down its self-driving UberX service that it started just one day ago in San Francisco.

    "The California DMV encourages the responsible exploration of self-driving cars. We have a permitting process in place to ensure public safety as this technology is being tested. Twenty manufacturers have already obtained permits to test hundreds of cars on California roads. Uber shall do the same," the DMV said

    Uber has been operating the self-driving Volvo XC90s in Pittsburgh (the one in Pennsylvania, not the Pittsburg across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco) since September with no major incidents. The company said it chose San Francisco as its next test venue because it offers similar challenges to Pittsburgh -- hills, curves, and narrow streets.

    "With its challenging roads and often varied weather, Pittsburgh provided a wide array of experiences. San Francisco comes with its own nuances including more bikes on the road, high traffic density and narrow lanes," Uber said. 

    But the DMV was not impressed. It said Uber had to apply for a permit and offer proof that it is financially sound, have qualified drivers, and guarantee that it will report collisions and other information to state regulators.

    “These requirements serve to build public trust in the safety of the technology and to foster confidence in allowing autonomous vehicles on public streets,” Brian Soublet, the department’s deputy director and chief counsel, wrote in a letter.

    Uber not surprised

    Uber, which has not been hesitant to confront municipal and state officials elsewhere, anticipated the DMV's announcement in its news release announcing the program.

    "We understand that there is a debate over whether or not we need a testing permit to launch self-driving Ubers in San Francisco. We have looked at this issue carefully and we don’t believe we do," the company said, saying that it would not operate any differently in San Francisco than it has in Pittsburgh, glossing over the fact that Pittsburgh, Pa., is not in the California DMV's jurisdiction.

    Also, Uber said, "the [DMV] rules apply to cars that can drive without someone controlling or monitoring them. For us, it’s still early days and our cars are not yet ready to drive without a person monitoring them."

    Driving without a license

    Consumer Watchdog, a California advocacy group, is urging even tougher action against Uber, saying San Francisco police should impound Uber’s robot cars. It asked City Attorney Dennis Herrera to file criminal charges against Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.

    “Uber is essentially driving without a license and its CEO Kalanick should be treated like anyone else who does that,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director. “Kalanick’s willful violation of the law requires prompt response to protect the public’s safety. There have already been reports of Uber’s robot cars running red lights in San Francisco. Prosecutors must hold Uber’s executives responsible for their company’s outrageous actions.”

    The red light reference referred to a story in the San Francisco Examiner that reported an Uber self-driving car ran a red light. Uber said the human driver was at fault and suspended him. 

    Currently, 20 companies have permits to test autonomous vehicles in the state, demonstrating that following the rules is no barrier to innovation, Consumer Watchdog said.

    White House forum

    Besides being targeted for arrest yesterday, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was named to President-elect Trump's Strategic and Policy Forum, which will offer him guidance on economic issues. Others named yesterday included Tesla CEO Elon Musk and General Motors CEO Mary Barra.

    If a human being with a valid driver's license is sitting behind the steering wheel of a self-driving car, does the car need a special permit? California s...

    IBM wants to hire 25,000 new employees

    And many of these jobs don't require a four-year college degree

    The CEO of U.S. Steel announced last week that his company intends to rehire some 10,000 steelworkers laid off in the latest economic downturn.

    Now, another major U.S.-based corporation is disclosing plans to bring on more employees. In an Op-Ed in USA Today this week, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty said Big Blue may hire up to 25,000 new employees – as many as 6,000 of them in the coming year.

    But she points out that these workers have so far been hard to find. She calls them “new collar” employees, as opposed to white or blue collar positions. IBM, she says, is looking for bright men and women who don't necessarily have a four-year college degree.

    Nature of work is evolving

    “We are hiring because the nature of work is evolving – and that is also why so many of these jobs remain hard to fill,” Rometty writes. “As industries from manufacturing to agriculture are reshaped by data science and cloud computing, jobs are being created that demand new skills – which in turn requires new approaches to education, training and recruiting.”

    Obviously a lot of the highly-technical jobs at IBM require advanced college degrees, but already, Rometty says the company is expanding the number of jobs that don't. At some IBM installations, she says as many as one-third of employees do not have a four-year degree.

    She says these jobs, such as cloud computing technicians and services delivery specialists, require relevant skills – skills that can often be gained through vocational training.

    While this is very good news to young people considering a career in technology, it is not so good news to the nation's colleges and universities, and many of the students who paid dearly to attend them.

    Salaries start at $40,000 to $50,000

    The technology website Quartz quotes Sam Ladah, an IBM vice president for human resources, as saying as many as 15% of IBM's new hires don't have a four-year degree and many start off with salaries of between $40,000 and $50,000 a year.

    In a further dig at expensive higher education, it quotes Lazlo Bock, a former HR executive at Google, as saying college too often just prolongs adolescence.

    The changing nature of the technology labor force, says Rometty, requires changes in education. She points to new six-year technical high schools that prepare graduates for “new collar” jobs as highly effective. She also calls for updating the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act that governs federal support for vocational education.

    The CEO of U.S. Steel announced last week that his company intends to rehire some 10,000 steelworkers laid off in the latest economic downturn.Now, ano...

    The Federal Reserve is raising interest rates. Should you care?

    The impact on most consumers should be slight

    As was widely expected, the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee announced Wednesday that it is raising its short term interest rate a quarter percentage point.

    It's only the second interest rate hike in a year and the second in a decade. Yet when Fed Chair Janet Yellen said at a news conference the Fed could hike rates as many as three times in 2017, the stock market swooned.

    The Dow Jones Industrial Average, which was fewer than 70 points away from crossing the 20,000 level for the first time, closed 118 points lower. Investors took the comments to mean that the era of cheap money was finally ending.

    But what's it mean to the average consumer who isn't a stock market investor? Should you care that the Fed is finally “normalizing” interest rates?

    Maybe, but just a little.

    First, the Fed's action is most likely to affect consumers who carry a credit card balance. Lenders peg their credit card rates to the Fed's short term rate, and within an hour of the Fed's announcement, US Bank said it is raising its Prime Rate a quarter point, to match the Fed's increase.

    Credit card rates will rise

    If the Fed hikes rates three more times next year at a quarter-point at a time, you could expect your credit card interest rate to go up a full percentage point, when you factor in the quarter-point increase announced Wednesday.

    Mortgage rates are already going up, but not because of the Fed's action. Rather, the bond market is producing higher yields on U.S. Treasury bonds because of the belief that the incoming Trump Administration's policies will cause inflation to rise while spurring economic growth. Mortgage rates are linked to the yield on the 30 year Treasury note.

    The Fed wants to increase rates to keep inflation in check, which of course is a benefit to consumers, who do not want to see prices start to rise unless wages also go up.

    More return on savings

    Consumers who are trying to save money might also benefit from rising interest rates. Bank's have paid almost nothing for nearly a decade because of the low interest rate environment. But that could be about to change.

    Jeffrey Gundlach, chief executive of DoubleLine Capital, says the yield on the 10-year bond could hit 3% soon, and if it does he predicts investors will sell stocks and buy bonds because of the guaranteed 3% return. Bond rates, in turn, influence what banks pay on deposits.

    In the short run, consumers should not feel the effects of the Fed's December rate hike much at all. As for the anticipated additional hikes next year, the Fed left itself plenty of wiggle room to change its find. After all, last December it also suggested it could raise rates three more times in 2016. And as we saw, it's first hike of the year came yesterday.

    As was widely expected, the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee announced Wednesday that it is raising its short term interest rate a quarter percentage...

    Builder confidence hits highest point in 11 years

    The number of initial jobless claims is lower

    Builder confidence in the market for newly-built single-family homes wrapped up 2016 on a high note.

    According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI), the level of confidence shot up seven points to a level of 70 in December -- the highest reading since July 2005.

    “This notable rise in builder sentiment is largely attributable to a post-election bounce, as builders are hopeful that President-elect Trump will follow through on his pledge to cut burdensome regulations that are harming small businesses and housing affordability,” said NAHB Chairman Ed Brady. “This is particularly important, given that a recent NAHB study shows that regulatory costs for home building have increased 29% in the past five years.”

    Healthy increases

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

    Scores for each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.

    All three HMI components posted solid gains in December. The component gauging current sales conditions increased seven points to 76 while the index charting sales expectations in the next six months jumped nine points to 78. The component measuring buyer traffic rose six points to 53 -- the first time this gauge has topped 50 since October 2005.

    Looking at the three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, the Northeast rose six points to 51, the Midwest posted a three-point gain to 61, the South was up a point to 67, and the West posted a two-point gain to 79.

    “Though this significant increase in builder confidence could be considered an outlier, the fact remains that the economic fundamentals continue to look good for housing,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “The rise in the HMI is consistent with recent gains for the stock market and consumer confidence. At the same time, builders remain sensitive to rising mortgage rates and continue to deal with shortages of lots and labor.”

    Jobless claims

    First-time applications for state unemployment benefits were down again last week.

    The Department of Labor (DOL) reports initial jobless claims totaled a seasonally adjusted 254,000 in the week ending December 10, down 4,000 from the previous week and the 93rd consecutive week of initial claims below 300,000 -- the longest streak since 1970.

    The four-week moving average, which is considered a more accurate gauge of the labor market, rose 5,250 from the previous week to 257,750.

    The complete report is available on the DOL website.

    Builder confidence in the market for newly-built single-family homes wrapped up 2016 on a high note.According to the National Association of Hom...

    Rising housing and gas costs send consumer prices higher in November

    Food prices held steady

    Consumer prices edged higher in November, due largely to upticks in the cost of housing and gasoline.

    The Department of Labor (DOL) reports its Consumer Price Index (CPI) was up a seasonally adjusted 0.2% last month, putting the rate of inflation for the last 12 months at 1.7%.

    Energy and food costs

    The cost of energy was up 1.2% in November following a surge of 3.5% the month before. A big chunk of that was the result of gasoline costs which were up 2.4%. Electricity prices were unchanged, while the cost of natural gas fell 0.4%. Over the past year, energy prices are up 1.1% -- the largest 12-month increase since July 2014.

    Food prices were unchanged for the fifth month in a row during November,, with grocery prices down 0.1% and restaurant prices up 0.1%. The cost of dairy products fell 0.6%, fruits and vegetables costs were down 0.2%, the category called “other food at home” was off 0.3%, and prices for meats, poultry, fish, and eggs dipped 0.1%. Nonalcoholic beverage prices rose 0.3%, while the cost of cereals and bakery inched 0.1% higher percent. Grocery prices over the past year are down 2.2% , while restaurant prices, in contrast, were up 2.3% over the past 12 months.

    Core inflation

    The cost of goods less the volatile food and energy categories -- the “core rate” of inflation - was up 0.2% in November and 1.7% for the 12 months ending November.

    For the month, housing costs rose 0.3%, motor vehicle prices jumped 1.0%, and education prices increased 0.2%. Medical care prices were unchanged in November, with the cost of physicians' services up 0.6% and prescription drug prices down 0.6%. Clothing costs, prices for household furnishings and operations, and airline fares all fell.

    The complete report may be found on the DOL website.

    Consumer prices edged higher in November, due largely to upticks in the cost of housing and gasoline.The Department of Labor (DOL) reports its Consumer...

    Fourth Street Barbecue recalls mac & cheese dinner cups

    The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

    Fourth Street Barbecue is recalling Cheese Club Express Mac & Cheese 4-cup dinner and Double Takes Macaroni & Cheese 2-cup dinner.

    The products may be contaminated with Salmonella.

    No illnesses have been reported to date.

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

    Cheese Club Express Mac & Cheese 4 cup dinner sold to Aldi’s:

    UPCProductBest By:
    41498171674Cheese Club Express Mac & Cheese 4 cup dinner10/18/ 2017
    10/21/ 2017
    10/22/ 2017

    Double Takes Macaroni & Cheese 2 cup dinner sold to Dollar Tree:

    UPCProductBest By:
    63927701208Double Takes Macaroni & Cheese 2 cup dinner10/11/ 17
    10/12/ 17
    10/13/ 17
    10/19/ 17
    10/20/ 17
    10/24/ 17
    11/28/ 17
    11/29/ 17 
    11/30/ 17

    What to do

    Customers who purchased the recalled products not consume them.

    Consumers seeking a replacement or refund may call the customer hotline at 724-483-2056, Monday – Friday 8:00 am – 5:00 pm (EST).

     

     

    Fourth Street Barbecue is recalling Cheese Club Express Mac & Cheese 4-cup dinner and Double Takes Macaroni & Cheese 2-cup dinner.The products may be c...

    World Trading recalls Orbit self-balancing scooters/hoverboards

    The lithium-ion battery packs can overheat

    World Trading of Valencia, Calif., is recalling about 1,900 self-balancing scooters/hoverboards.

    The lithium-ion battery packs in the self-balancing scooters/hoverboards can overheat, posing a risk of smoking, catching fire and/or exploding.

    No incidents or injuries are reported.

    This recall involves Orbit brand self-balancing scooters/hoverboards. The hoverboards have two wheels at either end of a platform and are powered by lithium ion battery packs. Orbit brand hoverboards were sold in black, blue, gold, green, red and white. “Orbit” is printed on a black sticker on the underside of the hoverboard.

    The scooters/hoverboards, manufactured in China, were sold at Evine’s televised shopping programs and online at evine.com in December 2015, for about $300.

    What to do

    Consumers should immediately stop using these recalled products and contact World Trading to exchange their hoverboard for a free UL-certified replacement hoverboard.

    Consumers may contact World Trading toll-free at 877-498-8697 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (PT) Monday through Friday or by email at support@worldtrading23.com for more information.

     

     

    World Trading of Valencia, Calif., is recalling about 1,900 self-balancing scooters/hoverboards.The lithium-ion battery packs in the self-balancing sco...

    New Hope Mills recalls crepe mix

    The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

    New Hope Mills of Auburn, N.Y., is recalling limited quantities of New Hope Mills Crepe Mix.

    The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

    The following product is being recalled:

    • New Hope Mills Crepe Mix; NET WT. 1 LB., 4 OZ.; packaged in a brown paper bag; UPC 074703601529 (located on back label); BEST BY: 07/19/17:A1 (located on the back flap)

    The recalled product was shipped to distributors and retailers in the New York and Pennsylvania areas between August 23, 2016 and September 20, 2016.

    What to do

    Customers who purchased the recalled product should discontinue its use and return it to the place of purchase for a full refund.

    Consumers with questions may contact the company at (315) 252-2676, Monday – Friday, 8 am – 4:30 pm (EST) or by email at QA@newhopemills.com.

     

     

    New Hope Mills of Auburn, N.Y., is recalling limited quantities of New Hope Mills Crepe Mix.The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.The fol...

    Postcard from Amarillo, where beef is for breakfast, lunch, and dinner

    A popular tourist stop at the Western gateway to Texas promises free steak

    Anyone driving through Texas from the west, especially along Route 66, has seen the signs: "Free 72 oz. Steak," they say.  It's not quite that cut and dried, but it still encourages people to stop in Amarillo, a Texas town that is home to fewer than 200,000 people but produces 30 percent of the nation's beef, thanks to its cluster of ranches and feedlots.

    Should anyone doubt that Amarillo is a beef town: this is the city where Texas cattlemen sued Oprah Winfrey in the 1990s for airing a critical story about beef, and where the hometown newspaper openly acknowledges that "depending on the direction of the wind, there are some days when the smell of flatulent cattle hits you so hard you can almost taste it."

    A landlocked city surrounded by other towns that are home to beef ranches and feedlots, Amarillo is perhaps most famous for The Big Texan Steak Ranch, a steak and American food restaurant along Route 66 that has been open since the 1960's and advertises its “free” 72-oz steak for miles.

    In other words,  Amarillo is not a good destination for eating sushi.

    Amarillo's downtown is mostly empty on a weeknight, save for a few guests checking in at the hotel lobby. One block down the road, a small group is taking advantage of a late night happy hour at the bar of Rain Premier Sushi Bar & Lounge, Amarillo's sushi restaurant. Everyone is cold. The heater is not working, a waitress explains.

    A bar menu offers variations of salmon that is cooked but presented in a way that resembles sushi, such as inside a roll of rice or atop a pile of fake crab. There are also chicken wings that they somehow figured out how to stuff with pork and noodles, probably by scooping out some of the original chicken meat to make room, a dish that tastes as appetizing as it sounds. Remember: this is a beef town, not a sushi town.

    Open early

    Follow the touristy billboards advertising a "Free 72 oz. steak" for the better choice. The Big Texan opens bright and early every morning at 7 a.m. and serves steak to the masses until 10:30 at night. It's less of a restaurant and more of an eating-focused Chuck E. Cheese: there is a selection of hunting arcade games, gourmet fudge on sale by the entrance, and a Zoltar Fortune Teller Machine that yells at people sitting at the bar thanks to a censor.

    A stage above the central dining area is where the free 72-oz. steak challenge takes place. The rules are as follows: participants must pay $72 upfront,  then eat the entire steak plus appetizers while sitting on the stage below a giant timer. Only people who clean their plate will be refunded their money. You eat in this section to watch the stage from the comfort of a regular table, as participating is something best left to professionals like Molly Schuyler, a 120-pound competitive eater who has broken numerous records and consumed the entire steak dinner in less than five minutes.

    But this main dining area can be crowded with tourists, loud, and sometimes the site of children's birthday parties. To enjoy a relatively quiet, normal steak dinner with locals and straightforward service, the better option is to eat your meal at The Big Texan's bar. You can order your steak anyway you want, from rare to well-done.  Plenty of other American food is available on the menu, though it is best to focus on the steak and choose sides that complement it.

    Before hitting the highway again, a good, not-beef-eating activity in Amarillo is to take a walk around Cadillac Ranch, the public art installation along Route 66 of ten cadillac vehicles standing in an empty field, covered in paint and graffiti. Anyone from the public is welcomed to deface the roadside attraction.

    Just don't forget when you’re painting on the Cadillacs outside that you're in beef country. As one TripAdvisor review warns: "The area smells like cows and there is no gift shop or attraction manager."

     
    Anyone driving through Texas from the west, especially along Route 66, has seen the signs: "Free 72 oz. Steak," they say.  It's no...

    Florida appeals court rules against protection of phone password in criminal case

    Judge says turning over a password is a matter of surrender and not testimony

    At the beginning of 2016, controversy over phone privacy reached critical levels when Apple went head-to-head with the FBI over unlocking the contents of a phone used by one of the San Bernardino terrorists. The company had strongly opposed an order to create a backdoor that would allow investigators to access the device, saying that doing so was a violation of rights.

    Although the order was eventually withdrawn due to a successful hack by the feds, Apple said that it would have set a “dangerous precedent” if it had agreed to help hack the phone. However, a decision by a Florida court may have set a related precedent that makes phone security less concrete in criminal cases.

    According to Courthouse News, the appeals court ruled against a man suspected of voyeurism, saying that the accused could be compelled to reveal his passcode in order to search for incriminating photos. Judge Anthony Black reversed the decision of a trial judge who had ruled in the man’s favor, saying that compelling him to give up his password does not usurp his constitutional rights.

    Violation of rights?

    The defendant, named Aaron Stahl, was accused by a woman of pretending to drop his phone in order to crouch down and take photos up her skirt. Stahl reportedly ran when the woman called for help and was arrested by police, who were able to track his car license plate number.

    Stahl initially told police that they could search his Apple iPhone 5, but he withdrew that consent before giving up his four-digit passcode. The officers obtained a warrant for the phone, but were unable to access any alleged pictures since they didn’t have the code. They petitioned the trial judge to have Stahl give up the password, but their request was denied on the grounds that doing so would essentially be a violation of the man’s Fifth Amendment rights.

    However, Judge Black reversed that decision at an appeals hearing, saying that the passcode is not necessarily related to any criminal photos or videos that might be found.

    “Providing the passcode does not ‘betray any knowledge [Stahl] may have about the circumstances of the offenses’ for which he is charged. Thus, ‘compelling a suspect to make a nonfactual statement that facilitates the production of evidence’ for which the state has otherwise obtained a warrant based upon evidence independent of the accused’s statements linking the accused to the crime does not offend the privilege,” he said.

    Surrender, not testimony

    The decision basically comes down to whether giving up the passcode is a violation of Stahl’s right to not testify against himself. According to the trial judge, Stahl couldn’t be forced to use the “contents of his mind” to unlock the phone – a decision that mirrors a classic law example that an accused person may be “forced to surrender a key to a strongbox containing incriminating documents,” but can’t “be compelled to reveal the combination to his wall safe.”

    However, Black says that this is fallacious reasoning, arguing that the two examples are two sides of the same coin. “We question whether identifying the key which will open the strongbox – such that the key is surrendered – is, in fact, distinct from telling an officer the combination. More importantly, we question the continuing viability of any distinction as technology advances,” he said.

    In the end, Black says that compelling Stahl to give up his password is more akin to surrendering a key to a lockbox and not a matter of testifying against himself. “Unquestionably, the State established, with reasonable particularity, its knowledge of the existence of the passcode, Stahl’s control of possession of the passcode, and the self-authenticating nature of the passcode. This is a case of surrender and not testimony,” he concluded.

    At the beginning of 2016, controversy over phone privacy reached critical levels when Apple went head-to-head with the FBI over unlocking the contents of a...

    Alaska Air, Virgin America are joined together as one

    Alaska completed its takeover of Virgin just a week after the feds approved the deal

    At long last, Alaska Air has had its way with Virgin America, closing on the merger that was approved by the U.S. Justice Department last week and creating the nation's fifth-largest airline.

    Alaska celebrated the deal with a special flight carrying company brass from Seattle to San Francisco in an airplane painted in a commemorative red, purple, and blue livery, symbolizing the joining in holy mergerdom of the duo and spinning the deal as an example of how odd couples sometimes come together.

    "Like bacon on a donut, electricity and guitars, or Labradors and poodles, we’re an odd couple that works well together. We may seem like an unexpected pair – but our differences complement each other," Alaska Air's wordsmiths gushed.

    “Alaska Airlines and Virgin America are different airlines, but we believe different works – and we’re confident fliers will agree,” Brad Tilden, Alaska Air CEO, said in a statement. “The two airlines may look different, but our core customer and employee focus is very much the same.”

    Blended family

    Virgin America is consistently rated at or near the top in rankings of domestic carriers and has a rabid following despite its relatively small size and limited route structure. Virgin's routes are mostly east-west while Alaska mostly flies up and down the West Coast.

    Put the two together and you have an airline family that may seem odd but commands a lot of West Coast traffic that can be blended with Virgin's transcontinental routes to form a compelling match-up, at least in theory.

    Alaska executives are cognizant of the apprehension some Virgin customers feel, and Tilden said the Virgin America brand will remain in place with its current name and “with no immediate changes to the onboard product or experience,” the company said in a statement.

    “We appreciate that there is great interest in the future of the Virgin America brand among customers and employees alike,” said Tilden, “This is a big decision and one that deserves months of thoughtful and thorough analysis. We plan to make a decision about the Virgin America brand early next year.”

    The combined operation creates an expanded route network with nearly 1,200 daily flights to 118 destinations in the United States, Mexico, Canada, Costa Rica, and Cuba. 

    What to do

    Passengers don't need to do anything just yet. The corporate merger is complete, but the actual operational merger of the carriers is months away. Reservations on both airlines will continue to be honored, flights will operate normally, and both reservations systems will remain online until further notice. 

    At long last, Alaska Air has had its way with Virgin America, closing on the merger that was approved by the U.S. Justice Department last week and creating...

    GM appeals to Supreme Court to block further ignition suits

    The company claims that the bankruptcy laws protect it from its predecessor's errors

    All else having failed, General Motors is appealing to a higher power to shield it from further litigation over its faulty ignition switches that have been linked to at least 124 deaths and 275 injuries.

    The higher power, in this case, is the U.S. Supreme Court. GM is asking the court to overturn an appeals court finding that "Old GM's" 2009 bankruptcy filing does not shield "New GM" from additional lawsuits. The company faces a likely avalanche of suits from individuals if the high court turns aside its appeal.

    GM recalled 2.6 million vehicles, mostly small sedans, because of the defect, which could cause the engine to suddenly shut down, leaving drivers fighting to control cars minus the ignition as well as power streering and brakes. It has already paid about $2 billion in civil and criminal penalties and settlements.

    The pending lawsuits are on behalf of individuals who were injured or killed as well as those who claim their cars have lost value because of the defective ignitions.

    Right to due process

    In July 2016, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York held that consumers would be denied their constitutional right to due process if they were not allowed to sue. The plaintiffs argue that GM knew of the defect prior to the bankruptcy filing but did not disclose it publicly and therefore they should not be blocked from going forward with their suits.

    In its petition to the Supreme Court, GM says that bankruptcy is intended to permit a newly formed company to take over the assets of a failing company while remaining "free and clear" of its liabilities.

    It says the 2nd Circuit's decision was "exceptionally wrong."

    All else having failed, General Motors is appealing to a higher power to shield it from further litigation over its faulty ignition switches that have been...

    College-sponsored bank and credit card accounts may be pricey

    Report finds that many schools put their bottom line ahead of students' best interests

    Colleges and universities are often more focused on their bottom line than on their students' financial well-being, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) warns in a report released today, which raises new concerns about costly fees and risky features that can be attached to certain college-sponsored credit and banking accounts.

    “Deals between big banks and schools can drive students into accounts that contain high fees,” said Director Richard Cordray. “Many young people struggle to manage money while at school and we urge schools to put students’ financial interest first.”

    The CFPB’s analysis of roughly 500 marketing deals between schools and large banks found that many deals allow for risky features that can lead students to rack up hundreds of dollars in fees per year. The CFPB also issued a bulletin today reminding colleges and universities that they are required to publicly disclose marketing agreements with credit card companies.

    “Colleges across the country continue to make deals with banks to promote products that have high fees, despite the availability of safer and more affordable products,” said CFPB Student Loan Ombudsman Seth Frotman. “Students shouldn’t get stuck with the bill when their school inks a deal for an account that’s not in their best interest. ”

    A worse deal

    The report found that about 10 million students attend a college or university that has made a deal with a financial institution where the college directly markets or allows the promotion of checking or prepaid accounts, often endorsed with a college logo or linked to a student identification card. 

    Research has shown that financial products sponsored by colleges or universities can contain high or unusual fees, which can be a worse deal for students than what they can find shopping around on their own. Since Congress passed new consumer protections for credit cards in 2009, marketing partnerships between colleges and universities and financial institutions have largely shifted from credit cards toward sponsored debit and prepaid accounts. 

    The CFPB’s analysis of marketing agreements at 500 schools found that some of the nation’s largest colleges and universities continue to maintain deals with large banks that allow for the marketing of products that may not be in the best financial interests of their students, since many of them contain costly features. 

    Key findings

    Dozens of bank deals with colleges fail to limit costly fees. The Bureau found that dozens of deals with banks for school-sponsored accounts do not place limits on account fees, such as overdraft fees, out-of-network ATM fees, or other common charges.

    Some students may pay hundreds of dollars per year in overdraft fees. This is particularly concerning given that a growing body of evidence suggests that small financial shocks—such as a few hundred dollars— can cause significant financial hardship for students and even deter college completion. 

    Deals provide financial benefits for banks and schools but offer few, if any, financial benefits for students. The Bureau found marketing agreements between colleges and banks often contain extensive details about how the school and the bank can profit but do not require banks to offer safe and affordable accounts—and may drive students to high-cost products.

    Some schools fail to disclose key details of marketing deals with banks, even though they are required to do so.

    More information is available at: consumerfinance.gov/students

    Colleges and universities are often more focused on their bottom line than on their students' financial well-being, the Consumer Financial Protection Burea...

    Ashley Madison reaches $1.6 million data breach settlement

    FTC and states claimed company deceived members and failed to protect data

    The 2015 data breach at AshleyMadison.com, which caused widespread embarrassment and perhaps even some marital stress, is the subject of a $1.6 million settlement.

    The Toronto-based company, which at the time had the marketing slogan “life is short, have an affair,” has agreed to a settlement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and 13 states. The agreement also requires the company to establish a comprehensive data-security program.

    The federal and state governments charged Ashley Madison deceived consumers and failed to protect their account and profile information. That data was hacked and published online in July 2015.

    “This case represents one of the largest data breaches that the FTC has investigated to date, implicating 36 million individuals worldwide,” said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. “The global settlement requires AshleyMadison.com to implement a range of more robust data security practices that will better-protect its users’ personal information from criminal hackers going forward.”

    Attackers wanted site taken down

    At the time of the 2015 data breach, the hackers demanded that the Ashley Madison site be taken down. The group, identified as The Impact Team, said it was not offended that the site promotes adultery, but rather it claimed the company lied to its customers. The hackers said Ashley Madison offered to “fully delete” members' profiles for a $19 fee, but the information, they said, was not removed.

    The states and the FTC got involved after it was charged that most of the female profiles on the site were made up, and placed there only to draw male members. The purpose of the site was to match people who wanted to have affairs.

    “Creating fake profiles and selling services that are not delivered is unacceptable behavior for any dating website,” said Vermont Attorney General William H. Sorrell, “I was pleased to see the FTC and the state attorneys general working together in such a productive and cooperative manner. Vermont has a long history of such cooperation, and it’s great to see that continuing.”

    A year after the data breach, Ashley Madison announced a reset. Among the changes it announced at the time, Ashley Madison said it would no longer be just a dating site for married people looking to cheat, but will also be a site for “the open-minded dating community.” It says it is now trying to appeal to a wider group of people seeking relationships.

    The 2015 data breach at AshleyMadison.com, which caused widespread embarrassment and perhaps even some marital stress, is the subject of a $1.6 million set...

    How to stay healthy during your holiday travels

    Saint Louis University germ expert says packing a pillowcase and staying hydrated can help thwart germs

    For many, the holiday season is synonymous with travel. If you’ll be leaving home to visit family or take a holiday vacation, you might wish there were a way to keep sickness from striking during your travels.

    While you can’t plan when you get sick, there are actions you can take to increase your odds of staying well while traveling. Donna Duberg, assistant professor of biomedical laboratory science at Saint Louis University, has a few tips for keeping germs at bay.

    First, toss some hand sanitizer in your bag. “Hand sanitizer is my secret weapon,” Duberg says. “I use it every time I grab a drink or a cookie, sit down to rest and even before I go to the bathroom. You can even put it on a tissue and have a ready-made disinfectant wipe.”
     

    She also suggests washing your hands for about 20 seconds after going to the bathroom, coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose.

    Additionally, travelers should make sure to drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated, Duberg says, keeps your body cool, promotes cardiovascular health, and keeps things flowing in your gastrointestinal tract, which prevents constipation. “If you feel thirsty, you’re not drinking enough,” she says.

    On planes and at hotels

    In addition to practicing good hand hygiene and staying hydrated, Duberg says these strategies can also help you stay healthy while traveling:

    • Avoid the aisle seat. Sitting in an aisle seat exposes you to more people; more people often means more coughing, sneezing, and germ-sharing in general. If you’ll be flying or traveling by train, bring along disinfectant wipes so you can wipe down seat trays and armrests.
    • Give your hotel room a once-over. Before unpacking, Duberg recommends making sure your hotel room smells fresh and doesn’t look dirty. If there is trash in waste baskets, dust on the window blinds, or grime on the carpet, your room might be germy. If staying at a hotel, consider bringing your own pillow or pillowcase and cleaning the TV remote before touching it.
    • Keep up with personal hygiene. Try to avoid touching your “T-zone” (your eyes, nose, and mouth -- areas of the face where germs can easily enter the body). Keep germs from hitching a ride on your hands by coughing or sneezing into the crook of your elbow rather than your hands. Finally, be sure to stay on top of your daily hygiene routine. Don’t forget to take a daily shower, brush your teeth, and wear clean clothes every day.  
    For many, the holiday season is synonymous with travel. If you’ll be leaving home to visit family or take a holiday vacation, you might wish there were a w...

    It may be harder to buy a first home in 2017

    The lack of starter homes on the market is pushing prices higher

    Consumers hoping to buy their first home will likely encounter additional challenges in 2017, according to a report by real estate marketplace Trulia.

    They already face significant headwinds. Incomes haven't gone up much over the last few years while rents have risen dramatically. That's made it harder for consumers currently renting their home to save money for a down payment.

    The Trulia report finds that in the third quarter of the year, first-time buyers saw the number of “starter” homes in their affordability range plunge 12.1% when compared to the same period of 2015, the largest drop in three years.

    Prices are rising

    At the same time, competition for these entry-level homes has pushed their prices higher. First-time buyers will be required to pay an extra 1.9% of their income to purchase the average starter home.

    It's part of a national trend of declining inventories of homes for sale. People who currently own these entry-level houses do not feel confident enough to move up to a larger home, so they are not putting their houses on the market.

    Compounding the problem, home builders are producing fewer new homes. The rate of home construction is about half of what it was before the housing crash. Of the homes that are being built, fewer are in the entry-level price range.

    Housing inventory falls 9.1%

    Nationwide, Trulia reports housing inventory declined for the sixth straight quarter, down 9.1% from a year ago. Broken down among different housing price-points, would-be buyers saw the biggest decline in starter and trade-up home inventory. Even more expensive home inventory is down, though not nearly as much.

    Here's the problem in a nutshell: Trulia estimates the typical first-time buyer will have to spend more than 38% of his or her income to purchase the typical starter home.

    Homes are simply less affordable, and this decline in affordability for a starter home is more than twice that as homes at the next level. If you already own a home and want to move up, Trulia estimates you would only have to spend 25.5% of your income each month.

    Outlook for 2017

    Trulia's chief economist Ralph Mclaughlin says all of this will affect the housing market next year.

    "Tight inventory will still be a big obstacle to homeownership in many markets in 2017, but I'm cautiously optimistic that we'll see the bottom of the current housing shortage as the year progresses,” Mclaughlin said. “That said, buyers might not see price relief if President-Elect Trump's to-be-seen policies boost demand without boosting supply."

    If interest rates rise as expected, Mclaughlin said that could actually provide some relief, cooling demand and reducing the competition for entry-level homes.

    Consumers hoping to buy their first home will likely encounter additional challenges in 2017, according to a report by real estate marketplace Trulia.T...

    Rising concern about credit card debt

    NerdWallet study says average household owes more than $16,000

    Numbers crunchers who follow consumer debt are growing increasingly concerned about rising levels of credit card debt.

    As we reported last week, personal finance site WalletHub recently sounded the alarm, reporting that consumers racked up a record $21.9 billion in new credit card debt in the third quarter alone, the largest increase since 2007. It predicts 2016 will end with a net increase of about $80 billion in credit card debt, with the average household owing more than $8,000.

    A new report from the personal finance site NerdWallet looks at total consumer debt, putting the total at $12.35 trillion. Credit card debt alone, it says, averages $16,061 per household.

    It's one thing to owe money on a mortgage – there is always a cost of putting a roof over your year and right now mortgage rates are low. But the report's authors note that credit card debt is expensive, with the average household with a credit card balance paying over $1,200 in interest each year.

    Costs rising faster than wages

    "Cost of living continues to outpace wage increases, contributing to increasing debt levels," said Sean McQuay, NerdWallet's credit and banking expert.

    But McQuay warns that consumers turning to credit cards just to meet monthly expenses are falling into an expensive debt trap. He says the average credit card interest rate is nearly 19%.

    "Paying down credit card debt will mean changing spending habits or increasing earning power, both of which may be difficult adjustments, but they are the only way to build financial freedom," he said.

    Consumers resorting to plastic to get through the month is not uncommon. Despite a low official inflation rate, McQuay says cost of living increases have risen faster than incomes over the last 13 years.

    Household income is up 28% since 2003, but medical costs have increased by 57% and food and beverage prices rose by 36% during that time.

    Debt uncertainty

    Meanwhile, a new report from Affirm may shed additional light on the increase in credit card debt. It finds that consumers are more concerned about uncertainty than they are about debt in general.

    In other words, if they feel confident in their ability to pay back the debt, they are more likely to take it on.

    However, it did find that 60% of consumers have some degree of worry about getting too deeply into debt. Of those who expressed concern about debt, 57% cited a fear of “getting in over their heads” as the main reason for that concern.

    Numbers crunchers who follow consumer debt are growing increasingly concerned about rising levels of credit card debt.As we reported last week, persona...

    Fewer teens, but more grandparents, getting wasted

    Researchers see a big increase in binge drinking by Baby Boomers

    A new national study has found that teenagers' use of alcohol has declined significantly over the last 20 years. But a second study has found that their grandparents are getting wasted at a much higher rate.

    University of Michigan researchers say they are concerned that more teens are using marijuana, but young people are not drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes nearly as much as in years past. Aside from marijuana, illicit drug use is also on the decline.

    "That's still a lot of young people using these dangerous drugs without medical supervision, but the trending is in the right direction," said Lloyd Johnston, the study's principal investigator. "Fewer are risking overdosing as teenagers, and hopefully more will remain abstainers as they pass into their twenties, thereby reducing the number who become casualties in those high-risk years."

    Meanwhile, Baby Boomers are not only smoking more weed, as we reported last week, but are consuming more alcohol. Researchers examined self-reported past-month binge alcohol use and alcohol use disorder in adults over 50. They said they found “significant increases” in past-year alcohol use, past-month alcohol use, past-month binge drinking, and alcohol use disorders.

    Boomers on a bender

    In a demographic breakdown, the study found that men were more likely to binge drink and suffer from alcohol use disorders than women. However, researchers were concerned that binge drinking and alcohol use disorder was also up among women.

    “As females age, they tend to experience a larger impact of physiological changes in lean body mass compared to men,” said Dr. Benjamin, a geriatrician and health services researcher at the Center for Drug Use and HIV Research “Thus, they may experience the adverse effects associated with consuming alcohol even in lower amounts.”

    The researchers were particularly alarmed by the increase in binge drinking among older women. Not only can it lead to serious health problems, they say it “can also lead to socially embarrassing or regretful behavior.”

    While the liquor cabinet will need closer monitoring while the grandparents are home alone, the grandchildren are more likely to behave themselves. In the Michigan study, fewer teens reported using any illegal drug other than marijuana in the prior 12 months than at any time since 1991.

    While the rate shows a drop of about one percentage point in each grade in 2016, they reflect a much larger decline over the longer term.

    A new national study has found that teenagers' use of alcohol has declined significantly over the last 20 years. But a second study has found that their gr...

    Tepid retail sales in November

    Auto sales were something of a drag last month

    Retailers hoping that October's increase in retail sales was a harbinger for November have got to be disappointed.

    The Commerce Department reports last month saw sales inch up a tiny 0.1% to $465.5 billion following the revised advance of 0.6% in October.

    Still, sales in November were up 3.8% on a year-over-year basis.

    Advancers and decliners

    There were no real standouts when it came to sales gains during the month. Bar and grill establishments took the honors with a sales increase of 0.8%. Other gainers included furniture & home furnishing stores (+0.7%) and food & beverage stores (+0.4).

    Among the month's losers were sporting goods, hobby, and book & music stores with a 1.0% sales decline, miscellaneous store retailers (-0.8%), and auto & other motor vehicle dealers (-0.5%).

    Excluding the volatile auto sector, sales were up 0.2%

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

    Retailers hoping that October's increase in retail sales was a harbinger for November have got to be disappointed.The Commerce Department reports last...

    Rising services costs push November wholesale prices higher

    Food prices advanced while the cost of energy declined

    The Producer Price Index (PPI) for final demand -- what we call wholesale prices -- rose 0.4% in November, the second increase in three months.

    The increase followed no change in October and a 0.3% gain in September, and translates into a year-over-year advance of 1.3% -- the largest increase since the 12 months ended November 2014.

    Services prices on the rise

    According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), over 80% of last month's increase was due to a rise of 0.5% in prices for services, the largest since January's 0.9% increase. A quarter of that came from a surge in costs for apparel, jewelry, footwear, and accessories retailing (+4.2%).

    Increases were also posted in prices for fuels and lubricants retailing; machinery, equipment, parts, and supplies wholesaling; food and alcohol retailing; food and alcohol wholesaling; and inpatient care.

    Prices for guestroom rental, on the other hand, were down, as were the costs of cleaning supplies and paper products retailing and portfolio management.

    Cost of goods inches upward

    Goods prices rose 0.2% last month, half the increase registered in October. Food costs were up (+0.6%), thanks to rises in the prices of beef and veal, fresh fruits, and melons which offset dips in fresh and dry vegetables prices.

    Conversely, energy costs declined 0.3%, with gasoline prices plunging 2.9%.

    The cost of goods less foods and energy -- the “core rate” of wholesale inflation -- was up 0.2%.

    The full report is available on the BLS website.

    The Producer Price Index (PPI) for final demand -- what we call wholesale prices -- rose 0.4% in November, the second increase in three months.The incr...

    Mortgage applications drop for third straight week

    Contract interest rates were mostly higher

    It's three declines in three weeks for mortgage applications.

    Data from the Mortgage Bankers Association show a 4% drop in mortgage applications in the week ending December 9.

    The Refinance Index was down 4% as well, although the refinance share of mortgage activity increased to 57.2% of total applications from 56.2% the previous week.

    The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity increased to 6.2% of total applications, the FHA share rose to 11.6% from 11.3% the week before, the VA share slipped to 11.9%, and the USDA share of total applications was unchanged at 0.9%.

    Contract interest rates

    • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) inched up one basis point from 4.27% to 4.28%, its highest level since October 2014, with points decreasing to 0.36 from 0.37 (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) rose to its highest level since September 2014 -- 4.29% from 4.22% -- with points decreasing to 0.24 from 0.29 (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 edged up two basis points to 4.02%, with points decreasing to 0.33 from 0.38 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs dipped to 3.52% from 3.53%, with points decreasing to 0.38 from 0.39 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate remained unchanged from last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs fell 11 basis points to 3.28%, with points unchanged at 0.28 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.

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

    It's three declines in three weeks for mortgage applications.Data from the Mortgage Bankers Association show a 4% drop in mortgage applications in the...

    TreeHouse Foods recalls macaroni and cheese cup products

    The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

    TreeHouse Foods is recalling certain macaroni and cheese cup products containing cheddar cheese seasoning that may be contaminated with Salmonella.

    No illnesses have been reported to date.

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

    DescriptionUPCBest By Date
    Big Win Original Macaroni & Cheese Dinner00118225840310/25/2017
    Cheese Club Express Mac Macaroni & Cheese
    Dinner
    00414981716711/3/2017
    11/4/2017
    11/18/2017
    11/22/2017
    10/20/2017
    10/21/2017
    10/23/2017
    10/29/2017
    11/1/2017
    11/2/2017
    11/11/2017
    11/16/2017
    11/17/2017
    11/22/2017
    11/23/2017
    11/28/2017
    Great Value Macaroni & Cheese Original Cups00787420824910/22/2017
    10/19/2017
    10/27/2017
    10/28/2017
    11/3/2017
    11/7/2017
    11/18/2017
    11/20/2017
    11/21/2017
     

    What to do

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

    Consumers with questions may call (800) 756-5781, Monday-- Friday, 7:00 a.m.-- 6:00 p.m. (CST).

     

     

    TreeHouse Foods is recalling certain macaroni and cheese cup products containing cheddar cheese seasoning that may be contaminated with Salmonella.No i...

    Shearer's Foods recalls products made with ingredients supplied by a Valley Milk Products

    The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

    Shearer's Foods of Massillon, Ohio, is recalling all products made with milk ingredients supplied by secondary supplier Valley Milk Products.

    The products may be contaminated with Salmonella.

    No illnesses have been reported.

    The following products, distributed nationwide, are being recalled:

    BrandDescriptionSizeUPCBest By BetweenManufactured Between
    Deep RiverSour Cream & Onion Krinkle Kettle Chip Export5 oz85066800099311/5/20164/13/20175/7/201610/13/2016
    Deep RiverSour Cream & Onion Krinkle Kettle Chip2 oz85066800049811/9/20166/2/20175/11/201612/2/2016
    Deep RiverSour Cream & Onion Krinkle Kettle Chip5 oz85066800099311/9/20166/1/20175/11/201612/1/2016
    DelishJalapeno White Cheddar Kettle Chip8.5 oz490228360754/7/20176/30/20179/9/201612/2/2016
    Larry The Cable GuyBiscuits & Gravy Thin Potato Chips8 oz7672126246111/15/20163/28/20177/19/201611/29/2016
    Larry The Cable GuyBiscuits & Gravy Thin Potato Chips3 oz7672126242311/10/20164/3/20177/14/201612/5/2016
    Larry The Cable GuyJalapeno Popper Thin Potato Chips8 oz7672128060112/14/20163/29/20178/17/201611/30/2016
    Larry The Cable GuyJalapeno Popper Thin Potato Chips3 oz7672128065612/15/20163/29/20178/18/201611/30/2016
    Essential EverydayNacho Tortilla10 oz4130303763811/7/20163/31/20177/11/201612/2/2016
    Essential EverydayNacho Tortilla1 oz4130305982111/12/20163/10/20178/6/201612/2/2016
    Essential EverydaySpicy Nacho Tortilla10 oz4130306389711/19/20163/19/20177/23/201611/20/2016
    Market EssentialNacho Tortilla11.5 oz9848730011911/5/20162/22/20178/6/201611/23/2016
    Market EssentialSpicy Nacho Tortilla11.5 oz9848730014011/11/20162/19/20178/12/201611/20/2016
    Essential Everyday20 bag Classic Mix (1 oz. Nacho Cheese Tortilla only)20 bags413030597911/12/20164/1/20178/6/201612/5/2016
     

    What to do

    Customers who purchased the recalled products should dispose of them immediately.

    Consumers with questions may contact Shearer's consumer affairs department toll free at 1-800­428-6843 Monday through Friday, between 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. (ET).

     

     

    Shearer's Foods of Massillon, Ohio, is recalling all products made with milk ingredients supplied by secondary supplier Valley Milk Products.The produc...

    Google has second thoughts about its role in self-driving cars

    The tech company reportedly plans to license its software to traditional automakers

    If you just purchased a new car, chances are by the time you're ready to replace it, you will be able to buy a car that drives itself.

    But it probably won't be a Google car.

    Google parent company Alphabet reportedly has backed away from its ambitious plan to build a self-driving car with no option for human assistance. According to a report in the tech publication The Information, the company plans to continue developing its technology but partner with traditional automakers.

    It's a significant change since Google was a pioneer in the self-driving car concept. Just over a year ago, Google declared that its self-driving pod-shaped cars had enough test miles to make them ready for the road in California.

    Smart move

    Michelle Krebs, senior analyst for Autotrader, says Google backing away from becoming a full-fledged automaker is a smart move.

    “Google focusing on the software and the technology for self-driving vehicles make more sense, since that is its expertise, than trying to be a full-fledged automaker,” Krebs said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “By supplying its technology to others, Google has the opportunity to proliferate self-driving vehicles in a way many others cannot.”

    The technology company's test vehicles already have more than a billion miles of simulated driving, and over two million of real-world driving. Kelley Blue Book says that gives Google a clear advantage when it comes to self-driving technology. Michael Harley, analyst for Kelley Blue Book, says Google has basically built the road on which self-driving technology is traveling.

    Rethinking passenger transportation

    “The company’s pioneering approach to autonomous technology has been to focus its efforts on completely rethinking passenger transportation, not simply adapting a traditional automobile to autonomous capability,” Harley said. “Demonstrating its innovation, Google developed its own hardware and wrote its own software specifically for vehicles without a steering wheel or pedals, which makes other automakers chasing self-driving automation appear terribly shortsighted.”

    But maybe not. While Google has focused on taking the driver completely out of the equation, other automakers, such as Tesla, are retaining human control as an option. The question then is whether consumers are ready to completely turn over driving to a computer – at least in the first generation of these vehicles.

    If you just purchased a new car, chances are by the time you're ready to replace it, you will be able to buy a car that drives itself.But it probably w...

    San Francisco mayor nixes legislation that would limit short-term rentals

    The veto is a welcome news to companies like Airbnb

    This past October, we reported on the difficulties that Airbnb was having in New York. The company had sued the state after Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that would lead to $7,500 fines if consumers in the state rented their apartments for less than 30 days and were not present.

    The law is meant to curb the behavior of landlords, who had been using services like Airbnb to rent out their lodgings over short periods of time for more money rather than providing apartment-seekers with long-term rental agreements. While that suit is ongoing, Airbnb has won a similar battle in San Francisco.

    San Francisco mayor Ed Lee has vetoed legislation forwarded by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors that would enact a 60-day cap on short-term vacation rentals in the city, according to Courthouse News. Before his decision, he told the San Francisco Chronicle that such legislation would make rental laws “more difficult and less effective,” and would encourage people to “illegally rent units.”

    Part of the solution

    The San Francisco Board of Supervisors originally drafted the bill to try to combat high rents and keep landlords from renting out apartments over short periods of time, much like they have been in New York. Airbnb has announced its support of the veto, saying that it hopes to be a part of the city’s long-term solution.

    “We hope Airbnb, and our host community, will be included in the new working group. We remain committed to working with city leaders on solutions that protect housing and simplify the process to enable San Franciscans to share their homes,” said public policy manager David Owen.

    Previously, Airbnb had challenged a city ordinance that banned it from collecting fees for rental properties not registered in San Francisco. However, a federal judge upheld the ordinance, which imposes a $1,000 fine and opens up misdemeanor charges for each day that an unregistered booking can be found on Airbnb and other similar sites.

    This past October, we reported on the difficulties that Airbnb was having in New York. The company had sued the state after Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a...

    For better customer service, use positive language and focus on the problem

    Aggressive words can take a toll on the quality of service a person gets, study finds

    By the time you’re frustrated enough to give customer service a call, being nice may be the last thing on your mind. But choosing your words carefully could help improve the quality of service you get.

    Callers who refrain from taking out their aggression on customer service employees often experience a smoother conversation and better service, a study from the University of British Columbia Okanagan found.
     

    After analyzing over 30 hours of calls between customers and call center representives, faculty of management assistant professor David Walker and his colleagues found that callers who used positive words were more likely to receive better service.

    But when callers used second person pronouns (such as “you” and “your”) and interrupted the employee, customer service worsened in more than 35% of calls. The research suggests that having a little compassion toward stressed-out employees can go a long way.

    Focus on the problem

    Instead of saying “your company is the worst” or “I’m getting ready to sue you,” keep the conversation focused on the product or service. Doing so, Walker says, can result in better service.
     

    By mixing positive language (like great and fine) into the conversation, customers can alleviate some the stress that service employees often experience on the job. An employee who isn’t the target of aggressive words or phrases is less likely to have a negative reaction, the researchers said.

    "In general, when customers use aggressive words or phrases to personally target customer service employees, or when they interrupt the person they are talking to, we found that the employee's negative reaction is much stronger," said study co-author Danielle van Jaarsveld, associate professor at the UBC Sauder School of Business.

    Incivility breeds incivility

    The study, published recently in the Journal of Applied Psychology, was one of the first to show that using specific words can undermine the quality of service that a customer gets.

    "Employees can handle a lot, but when aggressive language and interruptions happen together -- combined with minimal positive language from the customer -- employees get to a point where customer service quality suffers,” said Walker, who is a former call center worker himself.
     

    “Customers need to remember that they're dealing with human beings,” he concluded.

    By the time you’re frustrated enough to give customer service a call, being nice may be the last thing on your mind. But choosing your words carefully coul...

    Feds propose connected-car technology standards

    The technology could save lives and help traffic move more smoothly

    Federal safety regulators today proposed new connected-car technology that would enable cars and trucks to "talk" to each other in an attempt to reduce accidents and help traffic move more smoothly.

    “We are carrying the ball as far as we can to realize the potential of transportation technology to save lives,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “This long promised V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle) rule is the next step in that progression.  Once deployed, V2V will provide 360-degree situational awareness on the road and will help us enhance vehicle safety.”

    In February 2014, Foxx directed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to begin work on the rulemaking.

    “Advanced vehicle technologies may well prove to be the silver bullet in saving lives on our roadways,” said NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind. “V2V and automated vehicle technologies each hold great potential to make our roads safer, and when combined, their potential is untold.”

    The proposed rule announced today would require automakers to include V2V technologies in all new light-duty vehicles. The rule proposes requiring V2V devices to “speak the same language” through standardized messaging developed with industry.

    Infrastructure conversations

    Also under development is technology that will let vehicles communicate with "infrastructure," including such things as traffic lights, stop signs, and work zones. The Federal Highway Administration is working on those plans, dubbed vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I).

    NHTSA estimates that safety applications enabled by V2V and V2I could eliminate or reduce the severity of up to 80 percent of non-impaired crashes, including crashes at intersections or while changing lanes.

    Data from cars and infrastructure would be updated and broadcast up to 10 times per second to nearby vehicles, and using that information, V2V-equipped vehicles can identify risks and provide warnings to drivers to avoid imminent crashes. Vehicles that contain automated driving functions—such as automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control—could also benefit from the use of V2V data to better avoid or reduce the consequences of crashes, theory has it. 

    Privacy would be protected since V2V does not involved the exchange of information linked to an individual, NHTSA said.

    Federal safety regulators today proposed new connected-car technology that would enable cars and trucks to "talk" to each other in an attempt to reduce acc...

    Cadillac dinged by bogus 'alt-right' casting call

    Phony ad sought right-wingers to appear in a car commecial

    It wasn't exactly fake news, but it was damaging anyway. A phony casting call claimed to be recruiting "Alt-Right believers/thinkers" for a Cadillac  commercial.

    "This is a beautifully artistic spot that is captureing [sic] all walks of life of America Standing together as a union," the notice read.

    Cadillac disavowed the notice after it started getting negative blowback on social media.

    "Cadillac did not authorize or approve a casting notice for an 'alt-right (neo-nazi)' role in a commercial. We unequivocally condemn the notice and are seeking immediate answers from our creative agency, production company and any casting companies involved," Cadillac stated on its Facebook page.

    Responsibility appears to lie with a casting service called The Cast Station, which issued an apology on its Facebook page.

    Cadillac has been trying to position itself as a progressive brand targeting younger consumers, recently adopting a marketing campaign called "Dare Greatly," which features just about everything except pictures of its cars. 

    It wasn't exactly fake news, but it was damaging anyway. A phony casting call claimed to be recruiting "Alt-Right believers/thinkers" for a Cadillac  comme...

    Gasoline prices poised to move sharply higher in 2017

    Oil prices rising because non-OPEC producers agree to cut production

    Consumers have enjoyed relatively low gasoline prices for more than two years, thanks to a huge oil glut that drove down prices.

    But consumers should prepare to pay more to fill up their cars and trucks next year. While all attention was focused on whether OPEC could agree to cut production, and whether members would cheat, little attention was paid to non-OPEC members, like Russia. In something of a surprise, these countries have agreed to significantly reduce output.

    As a result, the AAA Fuel Gauge Survey reports the national average price of self-serve regular has risen 14 straight days, to $2.21 a gallon today. That's up only three cents from a week ago and only four cents from a month ago.

    What does 2017 hold?

    But the question for consumers is where will it go over the next few months. Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy, has been active on Twitter in recent days, holding out the prospect that some parts of the country could see a return to $3 a gallon gas.

    “Deal to cut more oil production drives gasoline prices even higher,” DeHaan Tweeted.

    A GasBuddy analysis notes the trend at gas stations has been toward rising prices, strongly influenced by the major rise in crude oil. At $53 a barrel, oil is nearly $10 higher than it was a month ago.

    “And the pain isn’t likely to subside soon,” GasBuddy reports. “Over the weekend, some non-OPEC member countries also agreed to cut oil output, led by the Russians, lending more support to the price of oil and causing them to jump again to start the week.”

    Expensive states see lower prices

    Oddly, the Western states, where gasoline tends to be most expensive, hasn't felt the effects of higher oil prices. In fact, AAA reports this region is the only part of the country where prices have gone down in the last week.

    DeHaan says consumers accustomed to lower prices and now driving large SUVs may be the first to feel the effects, but notes there could be countervailing forces that keep prices at the pump from returning to the painful “bad old days.”

    In a Tweet, he says the U.S. rig count jumped by 5% in one week, suggesting U.S. oil producers, hurt by two years of lower oil prices, are getting back in the game. Their output could keep U.S. oil supplies from getting too tight and causing hardships for motorists.

    Consumers have enjoyed relatively low gasoline prices for more than two years, thanks to a huge oil glut that drove down prices.But consumers should pr...

    Naturel sunscreen not so natural, FTC finds

    California Naturel is eight percent dimethicone

    California Naturel promotes its sunscreen as "all natural" even though eight percent of it is dimethicone, a synethic ingredient, the Federal Trade Commmission has ruled.

    The FTC turned aside the company's argument that its ingredient list and a recent disclaimer added to its web page were enough to balance the much more prominent claims that the substance contains “only the purest, most luxurious and effective ingredients found in nature.”

    The commission said that consumers should not have to search for and dig out information that contradicts what an advertisement expressly and prominently conveys. For example, the “all natural” claims were prominent on the webpage, while the disclaimer was added to the bottom of the webpage, was not visible without scrolling down, and was well below the “Add to Cart” button.

    Similar language

    It's not just the company's website that makes the "all-natural" claim. Other e-commerce sites use similar language. Amazon, for example, says: 

    "This soft, luxurious and non-oily all natural sunscreen is formulated with Glacial Oceanic Minerals and Zinc Oxide to protect the skin from both UVA and UVB rays. It is enriched with antioxidants from botanical sources such as Shea Butter, Pomegranate Extract and Marigold Flower Extract to increase skin-hydration, and protect it from environmental damage."

    The Commission’s final order prohibits California Naturel from misrepresenting the ingredients or composition of its products; whether a product is “all natural” or “100% natural;” the extent to which a product contains any natural or synthetic ingredient or component; or the environmental or health benefits of such a product.

    It also requires the company to have competent and reliable evidence to support any of the four foregoing claims it makes about any of its products.

    The final order and accompanying opinion resulted from an administrative complaint issued against California Naturel in April 2016. FTC staff trying the case requested the summary decision.

    California Naturel promotes its sunscreen as "all natural" even though eight percent of it is dimethicone, a synethic ingredient, the Federal Trade Commmis...

    Seniors' brain activity linked to increased falls

    Researchers want to look more closely at brain and nerve diseases associated with falls

    Kids tend to fall down a lot. When they do, they usually get up, dust themselves off, and keep going, no worse for wear.

    Senior citizens also fall down a lot. But when they do, it can be a lot more serious. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 2.8 million older people are treated in U.S. emergency departments each year for fall-related injuries.

    These falls are often serious. The CDC says 800,000 people who fall are admitted to a hospital for treatment. Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injury.

    Researchers, trying to figure out who is most at risk of falling, say brain activity may yield a clue.

    Prefrontal cortex activity

    “In older people who had no signs of disease that would make them prone to falls, higher levels of activity in the front of the brain, called the prefrontal cortex, were associated with a higher risk of falls later in life,” said study author Joe Verghese, of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, NY.

    The main takeaway from this finding, he suggests, is these people were increasing their use of brain cells or using different parts of the brain to compensate for subtle changes in brain functioning.

    A study of 166 healthy seniors found that when there were higher levels of brain activity while both walking and talking, the person was more likely to take a spill. The study also found that with every small increase of brain activity, there was a significantly greater risk of a fall.

    Brain changes before physical changes

    “These findings suggest that there may be changes in brain activity before physical symptoms like unusual gait appear in people who are more prone to falls later,” said Verghese.

    Verghese says there needs to be more research done to look more closely at the link between brain and nerve diseases associated with falls.

    Previous research has identified other things that can contribute to falls. The CDC has pointed to lower body weakness, vitamin D deficiency, medications that promote dizziness, and even vision problems.

    The CDC says most falls are the result of a combination of risk factors, with the more risk factors increasing the likelihood of falling.

    Kids tend to fall down a lot. When they do, they usually get up, dust themselves off, and keep going, no worse for wear.Senior citizens also fall down...

    Completed foreclosures post sharp annual decline in October

    The national foreclosure inventory was down as well

    Both completed foreclosures and the national foreclosure inventory posted sharp year-over-year declines in October.

    Property information provider CoreLogic reports the number of completed foreclosures nationwide dropped by 10,000 from October 2015 to 30,000 in this past October -- down 24.9% from October 2015 and 74.7% from the peak of 118,287 in September 2010.

    The foreclosure inventory, which represents the number of homes at some stage of the foreclosure process and completed foreclosures, plunged 31.5 %.

    Since the financial meltdown began in September 2008, there have been approximately 6.5 million completed foreclosures nationally. Since home ownership rates peaked in the second quarter of 2004, there have been approximately 8.5 million homes lost to foreclosure.

    As of October, the national foreclosure inventory included approximately 328,000, or 0.8%, of all homes with a mortgage. A year earlier, it was 479,000 homes, or 1.2%.

    "Housing and labor markets improved over the past year, setting the stage for further declines in foreclosure rates across much of the nation," said Anand Nallathambi, president and CEO of CoreLogic. "Home values posted an annual gain of 5.8% through September in the CoreLogic Home Price Index, and payroll employment rose 2.4 million for the year through October."

    Mortgage delinquencies

    The number of mortgages in serious delinquency -- 90 days or more past due including loans in foreclosure or REO -- declined by 24.8% from October 2015 to October 2016. One million mortgages, or 2.5%, were in serious delinquency, the lowest level since August 2007. Declines occurred in 47 states and the District of Columbia.

    "Loan performance varies by the health of the local economy and housing market. Alaska, North Dakota and Wyoming, three states with energy-related job loss, experienced a rise in serious delinquency rates while all other states had a decline," said Dr. Frank Nothaft, chief economist for CoreLogic. "Although there were large declines in foreclosure rates in New York and New Jersey, both states experienced the highest serious delinquency rates in the nation, reflecting lagging home values in most neighborhoods and an unemployment rate above the national average."

    Report highlights

    • On a month-over-month basis, completed foreclosures declined by 27.5% to 30,000 in October from the 41,000 reported for September. As a basis of comparison, completed foreclosures averaged 22,000 per month nationwide between 2000 and 2006.
    • On a month-over-month basis, the October foreclosure inventory was down 3.6% compared with September 2016.
    • The five states with the highest number of completed foreclosures in the 12 months ending in October were Florida (51,000), Michigan (29,000), Texas (26,000), Ohio (23,000), and Georgia (20,000). 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 October: the District of Columbia (212), North Dakota (278), West Virginia (407), Alaska (622), and Montana (660).
    • Four states and the District of Columbia had the highest foreclosure inventory rate in October: New Jersey (2.8%), New York (2.7%), Maine (1.7%), Hawaii (1.7%), and the District of Columbia (1.6%).
    • The five states with the lowest foreclosure inventory rate in October 2016 were Colorado, Minnesota, Arizona, Utah, and Michigan -- all at 0.3%.
    Both completed foreclosures and the national foreclosure inventory posted sharp year-over-year declines in October.Property information provider CoreLo...

    A retail hiring bust in November

    Hiring in the sector was at a six-year low

    November was not -- to put it gently -- a good month for hiring by the retail sector.

    An analysis of employment data by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas says employment in the sector was down 9.3% from a year ago, growing by just 371,500 jobs last month. That's the lowest November employment increase since 2010.

    October was equally anemic with the addition of 150,300 retail positions, 23% lower than in October, 2015.

    All told, retail job gains for October and November were down 14% from the same period the previous year, totaling 521,800.

    The toll of online shopping

    “As more and more shoppers move online, there is less need for extra workers in the brick and mortar stores,” said Challenger, Gray & Christmas CEO John A. Challenger. “Even on Black Friday, once notorious for early morning mob scenes at department stores, a growing number of Americans are staying home and finding great deals on the internet.”

    In fact, Adobe Digital Insights reports online orders on Black Friday shot up nearly 22% -- to roughly $3.3 billion in sales.

    Seasonal hiring may be in retail, but it is picking up elsewhere. That's particularly true for transportation and warehousing, where 96,200 workers were added in October and November, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    Ain't over 'til it's over

    “Holiday job seekers should not stop looking for opportunities, even though it is December,” Challenger noted. “They must cast a wider net to include employers outside of the retail sector. However, even retailers continue to add throughout the holidays as high turnover in the industry requires nearly-constant recruiting activities.”

    Last December, retailers added 134,500 workers.

    November was not -- to put it gently -- a good month for hiring by the retail sector.An analysis of employment data by outplacement firm Challenger, Gr...

    Deep River Snacks recalls Sour Cream & Onion Kettle Chips

    The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

    Deep River Snacks is recalling certain Sour Cream & Onion Kettle Chips.

    The buttermilk powder used in the seasoning may contain traces of Salmonella.

    No illnesses or adverse health effects resulting from these events have been reported to date.

    The following product, distributed nationally through retail and foodservice outlets, is being recalled:

    Item DescriptionSizeUPCBest By Dates
    Deep River Snacks Sour Cream & Onion Kettle Chips2oz85066800049811/9/16 to 6/2/17
    Deep River Snacks Sour Cream & Onion Kettle Chips5oz85066800099311/9/16 to 6/1/17
    Deep River Snacks Sour Cream & Onion Kettle Chips - EXPORT5oz85066800099311/5/16 to 4/13/17
     

    The item UPC number can be found on the back of the bag underneath the bar code.

    The best by date is printed on the front of the bag, in the upper right quadrant near the Deep River Snacks logo. The best by date is printed in the format: DD MMM YYYY (e.g. 10 DEC 2016).

    What to do

    Customers who have purchased the recalled product should immediately discontinue use of it.

    Consumers with questions may contact the company at 860-434-7347, Monday through Friday between 9am – 5pm (EST). 

     

     

    Deep River Snacks is recalling certain Sour Cream & Onion Kettle Chips.The buttermilk powder used in the seasoning may contain traces of Salmonella....

    Blue Ridge Beef recalls frozen pet food products

    The products may be contaminated with Salmonella and/or Listeria monocytogenes

    Blue Ridge Beef of Eatonton, Ga., is recalling two (2) of its frozen pet food products which may be contaminated with Salmonella and/or Listeria monocytogenes.

    The FDA has received two complaints associated with these products, including one complaint of two kitten illnesses and one complaint of a puppy death.

    The following products, sold in 2-lb. chubs, are being recalled:

    Lot #mfd ga8516
    Beef for dogs
    UPC code 8542980011009
    Lot #mfd ga81216
    Kitten grind
    UPC code 854298001016

     

    The recalled products were distributed to retail stores in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Arizona and Texas.

    What to do

    Customers who purchased the recalled products should stop feeding them, return them to the place of purchase for a full refund or dispose of them.

    Consumers with questions may email the company at blueridgebeefga@yahoo.com.

     

     

    Blue Ridge Beef of Eatonton, Ga., is recalling two (2) of its frozen pet food products which may be contaminated with Salmonella and/or Listeria monocytoge...

    An oil pipeline leaks in North Dakota and experts aren't surprised

    More than 176,000 gallons of crude oil recently leaked into a North Dakota creek, keeping up a troubling pattern

    On December 6, as protesters near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation celebrated a victory against the Dakota Access Pipeline and vowed to continue fighting the project, North Dakota state health workers were about 200 miles away, cleaning up oil leaked from another pipeline.

    A landowner in Belfield, North Dakota noticed the spill the previous day, according to the Bismarck Tribune, as the pipeline operator Belle Fourche Pipeline Co, said its own equipment had failed to detect the leak. Officials estimated that spill affected 2.5 miles of the Ash Coulee Creek, a tributary that feeds into the Little Missouri River.

    So far, more than 176,000 gallons of crude oil have leaked from the pipeline, North Dakota officials announced on Monday.

    The timing might seem fateful, given that the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s primary concern about the Dakota Access Pipeline is that it would be built under a body of water, one that similarly feeds into the Missouri River. But people who study energy infrastructure say such news is unfortunately not a surprise or a rarity. It’s simply the cost of doing business with fossil fuels, and part of the reason why the anti-Dakota Access Pipeline protests have gained widespread support from environmentalists and green think tanks.  

    "Pipelines are like every other piece of physical infrastructure in the world, which means that they fail, and they fail surprisingly often, definitely more often than people think,” Eric de Place, policy director for the think tank the Sightline Institute, tells ConsumerAffairs. "It drives home the fact that over time, we know, just from observed evidence in the world, that physical pipelines corrode, leak, decay, and the monitoring equipment that companies use is not foolproof."

    Documenting the risks of oil spills and pipelines

    Researchers are still trying to determine the full cost of such leaks. One study authored by Duke University researchers this past April found that toxins linked to oil development were present in North Dakota’s soil and waterways at levels above what the federal government has deemed safe. The researchers linked the contamination to oil spills. "We found even if you take away the spill water," Avner Vengosh, the study’s lead author, told InsideClimateNews, "you still left behind the legacy of radioactivity in the soils.”

    Nationwide, the research on pipeline safety and oil spills is equally troubling. An analysis two years ago by the Center for Biological Diversity, using publicly available data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, says that there have been nearly 8,000 “significant” pipeline incidents since 1986, resulting in $7 billion in damage, 500 deaths, 2,300 in injuries and an untold long-term impact on the nation’s waterways.

    “Pipeline leaks are common and incredibly dangerous, and the Dakota Access pipeline will threaten every community it cuts through,” Randi Spivak, a program director with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a recent press release.

    Oil surplus

    De Place, the Sightline Institute policy director, who documents the risks of fossil fuel extraction in his own research, points out that the United States is already awash with crude oil. In fact, a worldwide surplus of crude has sent oil prices tumbling and recently lead members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to agree to production cuts, the first deal of its kind in eight years.

    "We don’t have a problem where we're running out of oil and we don't know what to do next. We've got the opposite,” de Place says. "My view is that there is no need for additional crude oil infrastructure. We have all of the crude oil infrastructure that we will ever need in this country. What we need to do is make sure the infrastructure is safe, well-regulated and well-protected.”

    On the other hand, de Place joins the chorus of other environmental researchers who say that the only real long-term solution to concerns about oil spills is to phase out production of fossil fuels altogether. “The whole nature of crude oil transport involves risk...there’s going to be spills, there’s going to be environmental impacts, which is why I think the protest at Standing Rock was so on point.

    "You cannot build this and guarantee it will operate safely. You just can’t."

     
    On December 6, as protesters near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation celebrated a recent victory against the Dakota Access Pipeline and vowed to continue...

    Shopping online? This extension helps you support companies that are doing good

    DoneGood shows you ethical, eco-friendly alternatives

    Holiday shopping season is in full swing, and many consumers may be heading online to complete their shopping. But while it’s certainly easy to click “add to cart,” it’s not always easy to find out if your money is going to a corporation with ethical business practices.

    DoneGood, a new browser extension for Chrome, is making it easier for eco-conscious consumers to verify that they’re buying a product from a socially responsible company.

    The way it works is simple: while you’re searching for a particular gift on Amazon or Google, the extension works in the background to see if a product similar to the one you’re looking at can be purchased from a company with ethical and sustainable manufacturing techniques.

    The extension is free, takes just a few seconds to install, and the company says it could trigger a domino effect of good.

    Empowering consumers

    Buying a DoneGood alternative can yield both moral and monetary rewards while giving smaller companies with ethical business practices a boost, says co-founder Cullen Schwarz.

    In our supply and demand economy, increasing the demand for sustainable and ethical practices is key. Casting your vote for reponsible practices is as easy as spending money at companies that share your values, says Schwarz.

    “We believe the most powerful tool for change is the money we spend. We want to help people find better products that they can feel good about, make the world better, and save money at the same time,” he told Mother Nature Network.

    There’s also a DoneGood iOS app (Android coming soon), which lets users browse products based on the issues they support. Users can see, for instance, which companies focus on which issues simply by browsing by filters such as “Green,” “Cruelty-free,” or “Minority/women-owned”.

    Holiday shopping season is in full swing, and many consumers may be heading online to complete their shopping. But while it’s certainly easy to click “add...

    How eating more beans and peas could help you lose weight

    Researchers say fiber-rich diets based on legumes can help you eat less and feel full

    With the end of the year steadily approaching, some consumers may already be thinking about their New Year’s resolutions. Unfortunately, if you – like many others – will be making the pledge to drop a few pounds, putting up a new calendar won’t make it any easier.

    There are plenty of reasons why someone may fail in their weight-loss goal. Going out and getting exercise can be like pulling teeth for some people, and starting a new, healthier diet can leave others still feeling hungry. Luckily, researchers at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports may have a remedy for the latter problem.

    Professor Anne Raben and her colleagues have conducted a study and found that meals that include beans and peas can be more satiating than those based on meats like veal, pork, or beef. They say that making this dietary change could lead to greater weight loss because consumers won’t feel the need to eat as much.

    Feeling full

    Many dietary recommendations currently favor diets rich in protein to solve the problem of feeling hungry. That usually means eating more meat, but the researchers say that certain legumes can do the trick just as well.

    They conducted a study in which 43 young, male participants were served three different meals consisting of patties; each was made up of either beans and peas or veal and pork. The researchers measured how much food was eaten to satisfy hunger and how much food was eaten at the next meal as an indication of satiety.

    The findings showed that the patties made from beans and peas could satisfy the hunger of participants just as well as patties made from meat. Further, participants consumed 12% fewer calories in their next meal when eating legumes compared to meals after eating meat. The researchers believe that fiber content may have been the key.

    "The protein-rich meal composed of legumes contained significantly more fiber than the protein-rich meal of pork and veal, which probably contributed to the increased feeling of satiety," said Raben.

    Aiding weight loss

    The researchers believe that dieting consumers would benefit from adding more legumes to their diets as opposed to meat. Raben admits that this notion against consuming larger amounts of protein goes against the norm.

    "[The research] is somewhat contrary to the widespread belief that one ought to consume a large amount of protein because it increases satiety more. Now, something suggests that one can eat a fiber-rich meal, with less protein, and achieve the same sensation of fullness."

    "While more studies are needed for a definitive proof, it appears as if vegetable-based meals -- particularly those based on beans and peas -- both can serve as a long-term basis for weight loss and as a sustainable eating habits,” she said.

    The full study has been published in Food & Nutrition Research.

    With the end of the year steadily approaching, some consumers may already be thinking about their New Year’s resolutions. Unfortunately, if you – like many...

    How to stay safe from holiday scams

    The FTC warns that there are numerous types of fraud to avoid this time of year

    As we’ve reported on numerous occasions, the holidays are a time when scammers try their hardest to take advantage of unsuspecting consumers. The increased number of transactions and deliveries provide ample opportunity for shady characters to make off with their ill-gotten gains, but there are ways to protect yourself.

    The first step to not falling for a scam is to be informed and know what to look for. To help consumers on this front, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has released a litany of materials detailing how to spot fraud and help prevent it. Here’s what the agency says to look out for.

    Fake package delivery scams

    As more holiday shopping moves online, consumers will be keeping a close eye on their email for notifications of when their packages will arrive. Unfortunately, scammers are taking advantage of that vigilance to send fake emails that seek to steal information.

    First, fraudsters send a “delivery failure notification,” that looks like it’s from the U.S. Postal Service, the FTC says. It will detail how the consumer missed a package and that they can download a form and bring it to their local post office to pick it up. However, the agency says this is all a lie.

    “Here’s the truth: the email is bogus and there is no package. And if you download the attachment or click on a link, you’re likely to end up with a virus or malware on your device,” an FTC announcement stated.

    There are a couple of ways consumers can protect themselves from this kind of scam. First, look out for a few telltale signs: if an email asks you to click a link, download an attachment, take immediate action, or “re-confirm” personal or financial information, then it’s likely a ploy by a scammer. Additionally, if the link that the email provides doesn’t go to an official website when you hover over it – or the sender of the email doesn’t have a reputable sending address – then avoid it at all costs.

    Staying safe from holiday scams

    The FTC has released information on several other holiday scams that are making the rounds this year. In order to avoid them, the agency provides a few tips that consumers should follow.

    Know how to pay

    Many scammers will ask consumers to provide payment in specific ways. Gift cards and wire transfer are the most common because they guarantee that the money will be delivered quickly and in a hard-to-trace manner. Be wary of requests using these options.

    Spotting imposters

    Scammers will often impersonate trusted sources or people you know to collect your personal information or take your money. If you get a message asking for these details, it’s never a bad idea to contact the institution or person through other means, such as a phone call or face-to-face meeting. This will eliminate any chance that you’re being fleeced.

    Charity scams

    If you plan on giving to charity this year, the FTC says that you should be sure that your money is going to the right place. Charity scammers are out in abundance during this time of year, so always double check that your contribution is going to a legitimate charity and that it is being put towards a cause you support. The FTC provides these tips for spotting a charity scammer.

    As we’ve reported on numerous occasions, the holidays are a time when scammers try their hardest to take advantage of unsuspecting consumers. The increased...

    States where drunk driving will cost you the most

    Besides huge fines, your insurance rates could skyrocket

    Got a lot of holiday parties on your calendar this month? There are plenty of good reasons not to over-indulge at the punch bowl, especially if you plan to drive yourself home afterward.

    Not only is impaired driving extremely dangerous to you and others on the road, but a Driving Under the Influence (DUI) ticket is costly. A study by the personal finance site NerdWallet shows it's more costly in some states than others.

    It should first be noted that alcohol was a contributing factor in 41% of fatal crashes on New Year's Day in 2015 and 44% on Christmas last year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says speed is always a major factor, and an impaired driver is more likely to have a heavy foot.

    Unpleasant consequences

    When a police officer pulls you over and tickets you for DUI, you could face a lot of unpleasant consequences, including an expensive fine and even jail. Should you be in an accident where alcohol was a factor, you could face more serious criminal charges and even higher fines.

    But NerdWallet says there is another financial cost of a DUI ticket – what it does to your insurance rates. Nationwide, just one DUI conviction will raise your auto insurance rates an average of 62%. If you're speeding, tack on another 14%.

    North Carolina is the toughest state

    North Carolina is the toughest state on drunk drivers. There, a DUI conviction can raise your insurance rates 362%, from $872 to $4,077 a year. A simple speeding ticket can make your rates go up 62%.

    At the other end of the scale, a DUI ticket is less costly in a handful of states. In Louisiana, rates will go up around 17%. The same infraction in Maryland will raise rates 19%, and in Utah the mark-up is around 21%.

    The authors of the study point out that you might not see the rate hikes immediately. Rather, they'll show up in your bill when your policy comes up for renewal.

    If your license is suspended after a DUI conviction, keep in mind that your insurance company might not even give you the option of renewing it.

    So during holiday merry-making, it's always prudent to limit your alcohol intake, or use a designated driver, taxi, or ride-sharing service to get home.

    Got a lot of holiday parties on your calendar this month? There are plenty of good reasons not to over-indulge at the punch bowl, especially if you plan to...

    Flu vaccination rate running behind last year

    Health officials worry that older consumers are skipping the shots this year

    As the U.S. enters flu season, consumers should have gotten their flu shots by now, to provide protection over the winter and spring, when flu outbreaks are heaviest.

    But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports Americans have been slow to roll up their sleeves. Fewer than two out of five people so far have opted for the vaccine.

    The health agency, naturally, wants more people to get vaccinated. It says the vaccine prevented an estimated five million cases of the flu last season.

    Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, says she's pleased that many people have already taken advantage of the vaccine, but she is also concerned that the coverage rate is running behind last year.

    A proven tool

    "We have a tool that is proven to prevent flu illness and hospitalization but millions of people are not taking advantage of it,” she said. “Too many people are unprotected."

    The CDC is especially concerned about the vaccination rate among older adults. While the rate for children is running close to last year's, CDC estimates have found flu shots among older adults is lagging. Flu poses the biggest threat to the very young and very old.

    "It's too soon to say whether vaccination in people 50 and older will rebound this season. We certainly hope it will," Messonnier said.

    The CDC estimates that about a third of people between ages 50 and 64 have medical conditions that put them at high risk of serious flu complications. While a flu shot might not prevent someone getting the virus in every case, it usually lessens its negative effects.

    Economic impact

    The flu is not just a health threat. As we reported back in October, the illness carries very real, and very steep, financial costs. Researchers report that American consumers spent $5.8 billion on medical costs connected to the influenza virus. In fact, consumers spent roughly $9 billion in 2015 on treating diseases that can be prevented with a vaccination.

    CDC statistics suggest a majority of American adults passed up on a flu shot last year. The agency is concerned that the preliminary numbers show that, at least so far, more are avoiding the vaccine this year.

    That, the agency warns, could have serious repercussions, both economically and healthwise.

    As the U.S. enters flu season, consumers should have gotten their flu shots by now, to provide protection over the winter and spring, when flu outbreaks ar...

    Feds rap four tobacco manufacturers for sales practices

    FDA says flavored cigarettes were labeled as little cigars or cigars

    Four tobacco manufacturers -- Swisher International, Cheyenne International, Prime Time International, and Southern Cross Tobacco Company have run afoul of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for their sales policies.

    The agency has sent warning letters to the four, accusing them of selling flavored cigarettes that are labeled as little cigars or cigars -- a violation of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.

    The letters addressed sales of products under the “Swisher Sweets,” “Cheyenne,” “Prime Time,” and “Criss-Cross” brands in a variety of what the FDA calls “youth-appealing flavors,” including grape, cherry, wild cherry, and strawberry.

    Brilliant disguise

    “Flavored cigarettes appeal to kids and disguise the bad taste of tobacco, but they are just as addictive as regular tobacco products and have the same harmful health effects,” said Mitch Zeller, J.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products. “Because about 90% of adult daily smokers smoked their first cigarette by the age of 18, continued enforcement of the ban on cigarettes with characterizing flavors is vital to protect future generations from a lifetime of addiction.”

    The 2009 Tobacco Control Act banned cigarettes containing certain characterizing flavors, such as candy or fruit flavors, to reduce the number of youth who start to smoke and who become addicted to dangerous tobacco products.

    While labeled as little cigars or cigars, FDA has determined the products meet the definition of cigarettes under the Tobacco Control Act because they are likely to be offered to, or purchased by, consumers as cigarettes based on their overall presentation, appearance, packaging, and labeling.

    In addition, since the products meet the definition of a cigarette, the agency determined that the products are adulterated because they contain a natural or artificial characterizing flavor, or they are misbranded if they only purport to do so.

    Response requested

    The FDA has ask the four firms to respond to the warning letters within 15 working days of receiving the letter. The agency says that failure to obey federal tobacco law may result in further action, including -- but not limited to -- civil money penalties, criminal prosecution, seizure, and/or injunction.

    The agency says it expects many of these products will remain available for purchase by consumers at retail establishments while it works with the manufacturers to ensure the products are in compliance with the requirements of the law.

    Four tobacco manufacturers -- Swisher International, Cheyenne International, Prime Time International, and Southern Cross Tobacco Company have run afoul of...

    Los Angeles sues retailers over discount claims

    National chains are accused of inflating the original price of things on sale

    Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer has filed lawsuits against four major retail chains, accusing them of artificially inflating the prices of some items so the discounts would appear larger when they put the items on sale.

    Feuer is suing J.C. Penney, Sears, Kohl’s, and Macy’s, charging each have used a practice known as “false reference pricing” to make customers think they're getting a better deal than they actually are.

    “Customers have the right to be told the truth about the prices they’re paying – and to know if a bargain is really a bargain,” said Feuer. “My office will fight to hold retailers responsible for their practices and to ensure consumers can make informed choices when spending their hard-earned money.”

    What was the actual original price?

    The four lawsuits hinge on what the sale items originally sold for. Retailers often show an “original,” or “regular” prices and then compare that amount to the sale price. Feuer's complaints charge that inflation of the original price has been a major part of all four companies' marketing and business strategies.

    The suits cite specific instances where all four retailers allegedly inflated the original price. The suit against JC Penney charges a February 2016 swimsuit went on sale at a discount when the original price was actually the same as the sale price.

    Feuer charges Kohl's did the same thing a month earlier when it put a pair of belted cargo shorts on sale, allegedly at a 30% discount. The suits against Macy's and Sears made similar charges – the stores allegedly showed a high original price for a sale item, but had never sold the item for that higher price.

    California law

    Feuer says California has strict laws when it comes to this sort of thing. Retailers are not allowed to advertise an “original” price unless it was the “prevailing market price” at least three months before the sale price appeared.

    In his four lawsuits, Feuer claims inflating the reference prices was standard practice, alleging thousands of “sale” items were advertised at false reference prices.

    The suits ask for injunctions to stop the alleged false reference pricing and civil penalties ranging as high as $2,500 for each violation.

    Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer has filed lawsuits against four major retail chains, accusing them of artificially inflating the prices of some items...

    Your office Christmas party could make or break your career

    Here are some tips for avoiding the pitfalls

    Among the weekend's new movie releases was “Office Christmas Party,” a seasonal comedy starring Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman.

    The movie plays the corporate tradition for laughs with raunchiness and over-the-top hi jinks. An entertaining movie, says Florida State University business professor Wayne Hochwarter, but not exactly a guide for your career. At least, not if you want to keep working.