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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,...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      VW reaches settlement for 3.0-liter TDI diesels

      Details of the settlement have not yet been released

      Volkswagen has encountered another hefty toll on the dirty diesel highway, agreeing to pay $1 billion to fix or buy back about 80,000 VW, Audi, and Porsche vehicles equipped with 3.0-liter TDI diesel engines.

      The agreement settles suits brought by federal and California regulators. So far, VW has tossed about $17.5 billion into the coin basket and it still faces billions of dollars in fines and expenses as it tries to settle state and federal damage claims and criminal investigations.

      Besides the buybacks, VW will help fund electric vehicle programs in California. Volkswagen's U.S. chief, Hinrick Woebcken, said it was "an important step forward in our efforts to make things right for our customers."

      The latest settlement was announced Tuesday at a status conference by U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer in San Francisco. Breyer last year signed off on a $15 billion settlement under which VW buys back or tries to fix about 475,000 cars with 2.0-liter diesel engines.

      “We are pleased to be moving forward on an agreement in principle to compensate consumers who purchased affected Volkswagen and Audi 3.0 liter vehicles and look forward to resolving the final details," said Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez in a prepared statement. "The FTC, with its partners, secured $10 billion in compensation for the vast majority of consumers harmed by Volkswagen’s deceptive advertising earlier this year, and today’s agreement will provide redress for a smaller but no less important group of consumers who were not part of the original settlement."

      What to do

      Details of the latest settlement have not yet been released. Owners of the affected vehicles should wait until the court approves a final settlement. Vehicle owners and lessees can also obtain information about their options at: www.VWCourtSettlement.com and www.AudiCourtSettlement.com.

      “As reported today by Judge Breyer, we have reached an agreement-in-principle with Volkswagen on substantial aspects of relief for 3.0-liter TDI Generation 1 and Generation 2 class members, and are working to resolve remaining issues. We will have no further comment, as the Court has instructed the parties that its confidentiality order still applies,” said Elizabeth Cabraser, court-appointed Lead Counsel for the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee in an emailed statement.

      Earlier this week, VW agreed to pay about C$2.1 billion to buy back polluting VWs in Canada. VW said today that German regulators had approved the company's plan to fix VW, Audi, Skoda and Seat cars sold across the European Union, Automotive News reported.

      In yet another development, Robert Bosch GmbH, the company that produced the software used in the polluting diesels, has reportedly agreed to pay more than $300 million to settle a class action lawsuit filed by U.S. diesel owners, according to a Reuters report. 

      Volkswagen has encountered another hefty toll on the dirty diesel highway, agreeing to pay $1 billion to fix or buy back about 80,000 VW, Audi, and Porsche...
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      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...
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      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...
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      The high cost of getting sick

      Researchers say cancer is especially 'financially toxic'

      Illness doesn't take just a toll on health, though that understandably is the primary focus.

      There is also a financial toll to getting sick, including a loss of income and expensive medications, which may not be fully – or even partially – covered by insurance or financial aid programs.

      Chronic diseases are probably the most expensive and, of these, cancer is in a class by itself. Researchers at an international medical conference in Malaysia have presented findings showing that cancer's financial toll is not limited to the United States, but even to countries that provide free health care.

      The study determined that more than half of cancer survivors spend at least a third of their yearly income on treatment and associated costs. They are often required to pay for cancer drugs that are not funded by the government.

      A global problem

      While the study results were based on the situation in Malaysia, health officials attending the conference said it is common throughout the world. Whatever kind of health care system a country has, citizens who get cancer face severe financial hardships, what the Malaysian researchers called “financial toxicity.”

      "The loss of work, a carer's income and early retirement can all contribute to the financial burden on the household," said lead author Anupriya Agarwal, a cancer specialist from Sydney, Australia. “Our study aims to provide insight into these costs and assist policymakers in finding ways of reducing this burden on patients."

      Very expensive drugs

      Part of the expense lies in the cost of the drugs that treat cancer. It has been well-documented that some drug companies have significantly raised the price of older cancer treatment drugs without making any improvements to them. But new and effective cancer drugs are even more expensive.

      Last year Drugwatch.com reported that a new Bristol Myers Squibb cancer drug that was shown to be highly effective against melanoma will cost $141,000 for the first 12 weeks of treatment and $256,000 for a year of treatment.

      The American Cancer Society says patients are generally hit with costs for doctor visits, lab tests, clinic visits for treatment, imaging tests, radiation treatments, drug costs, hospital stays, surgery and home care. Insurance plans might not cover all of these costs.

      To help patients plan, the American Cancer Society offers these tips.

      Illness doesn't take just a toll on health, though that understandably is the primary focus.There is also a financial toll to getting sick, including a...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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. ...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      CarMax settles charges it sold cars with unrepaired safety defects

      CarMax and other dealers promise not to do it again. Not enough, Congresswoman argues

      CarMax Inc. and two other major car dealers have admitted they sold used cars with unrepaired safety recalls despite touting the supposed rigor with which they inspect cars before selling them.

      The dealers have settled Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charges by agreeing to a consent order saying they won't do it again, but Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) says she's disappointed with the decision. 

      “Cars shouldn’t be sold with open recalls – and they definitely shouldn’t be advertised as safe,” said Schakowsky. “I am very disappointed by the FTC’s decision. Instead of stopping deceptive advertising outright, today’s consent orders still allows used car dealers to use a confusing disclaimer that the vehicle may or may not be under recall while continue to advertise it as ‘certified, pre-owned’ or passing a ‘rigorous safety inspection.’

      Schakowsky is sponsoring a bill that would ban the practice.

      “I have introduced the Vehicle Safety Improvement Act to end the sale of used cars with open recalls, and I will keep fighting to stop car sellers from putting dangerous vehicles on the road. I urge anyone buying a used car to go to www.safercar.gov and check if there’s a safety recall that the seller isn’t telling you about.”

      Dealers' defense

      Besides Virginia-based CarMax, the case involved Asbury Automotive Group of Georgia and West-Herr Automotive, the largest auto dealer in New York. The commission also approved final consent orders in similar cases against General Motors Company, Jim Koons Management, and Lithia Motors Inc. that were settled earlier this year.

      In their defense, car dealers say it can take months to get the parts needed to perform a recall and they can't afford to let cars sit on their lots that long. 

      Just last week, AutoNation backed down on its pledge to fix all outstanding recalls before selling cars to customers, apparently based on an assumption that President-elect Trump will not pursue the matter.

      AutoNation started selling used vehicles with open recalls on Monday, Nov. 28, after CEO Mike Jackson concluded that Trump's victory would mean the end of legislative efforts to require used car dealers to stop selling recalled used cars that have not been repaired.

      125+ Inspection

      The FTC’s complaint against Virginia-based CarMax cites its claims about rigorous used car inspections, including its “125+ Point Inspection” and that its cars undergo, on average, “12 hours of renewing – sandwiched between two meticulous inspections.”  

      The complaint also notes a TV commercial touting a team inspection and reconditioning, which included a message that appears for three seconds in tiny type at the bottom of the screen stating, “Some CarMax vehicles are subject to open safety recalls.”

      Despite highlighting their inspections, the FTC alleges that CarMax failed to adequately disclose that some of the cars had open recalls. These recalls included defects that could cause serious injury, including the GM key ignition switch defect and the Takata airbag defect.

      The other dealers made similar unfounded claims, the FTC said.

      Under the proposed consent orders, CarMax, Asbury, and West-Herr are prohibited from claiming that their used vehicles are safe, have been repaired for safety issues, or have been subject to an inspection for safety-related issues, unless they are free of open recalls, or the companies clearly and conspicuously disclose that their vehicles may be subject to unrepaired recalls for safety issues and explain how consumers can determine whether a vehicle is subject to a recall for a safety issue that has not been repaired, and the claims are not otherwise misleading.

      The proposed orders also would prohibit the companies from misrepresenting whether there is or is not an open recall for safety issues for any used motor vehicle.

      The commission said the consent orders “will help empower consumers to make more informed and safer purchasing decisions in a market that, absent a change in federal law, continues to include cars subject to open recalls.” 

      CarMax Inc. and two other major car dealers have admitted they sold used cars with unrepaired safety recalls despite touting the supposed rigor with which...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      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...
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      Students gain an average of 10 pounds while pursuing a four-year degree, study finds

      Researchers say that providing interventions could help improve health outcomes

      Going to college to earn a bachelor’s degree can be an arduous journey. It involves hours of study and preparation for papers, tests, and presentations, and oftentimes proper nutrition and health can be sacrificed along the way.

      Researchers from the University of Vermont say that although the idea of the “freshman 15” has been put aside, students are walking away from college with extra weight that may be cause for alarm. They say that health practitioners should focus on policing the problem throughout the school years to ensure the health of students.

      “Our study shows that there is concerning weight gain among college students that happens over all four years they are in college,” said Lizzy Pope, lead author of the study. “These findings suggest that health practitioners should not limit their programming to just to that first years, but extend it over all four years of the college experience.

      Overweight and obese rates go up

      For the purposes of the study, the researchers measured students’ weight and body mass index (BMI) at the beginning and end of their first and second semesters of school, and once again at the end of their senior year. Students’ average weight when they left for college was 147 pounds, but by the time they graduated it had increased to an average of 157 pounds.

      The weight difference might not seem drastic, but the BMI numbers that the researchers collected give a more detailed picture. At the beginning of the study period, when students were just leaving for college, 23% of participants were either overweight or obese. By the time the study ended, that number had increased to 41%, representing an increase of 78%.

      Pope points out that any extra weight gained during the college years translates to greater health risks. Diseases and conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and psycho-social distress can all be connected to weight gain, and mortality rates double by age 30 if an individual is obese.

      Exercise and eating right

      When researchers broke down the numbers, they found that roughly a third of additional weight was gained by participants during the first year. They also found that the student lifestyle may not be conducive to countering weight gain through physical exercise; only 15% of participants in the sample met a target goal of exercising five times a week for 30 minutes. Fruit and vegetable intake was also below recommended levels, suggesting the need for some intervention on these fronts.

      "This study and earlier ones suggest that college students are prone to weight gain that can impact their health in the present and even more significantly in the future. An important element of any strategy to stem the obesity epidemic would be to target this population with behavioral interventions over all four years of their college careers," said Pope.

      The full study has been published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

      Going to college to earn a bachelor’s degree can be an arduous journey. It involves hours of study and preparation for papers, tests, and presentations, an...
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      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...
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      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....
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      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...
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      Blood pressure app didn't do the job, feds charged

      FTC puts the cuffs on Instant Blood Pressure app

      A company that sold an app called Instant Blood Pressure has agreed to settle a Federal Trade Commission complaint that it deceived consumers with claims that its app was as accurate as a traditional cuff. The FTC also charged that the company posted positive reviews of the app and gave it five stars in app store reviews.

      Aura Labs, Inc., has agreed to stop making such claims and, in settling an FTC complaint, has also agreed not to post endorsements of its products without disclosing connections the endorser has with the company, the FTC said.

      That's not quite how the company is spinning the settlement on its website, however. 

      "AuraLife never claimed that the Instant Blood Pressure app’s performance characteristics were equivalent to that of a conventional blood pressure cuff," the company said in a prepared statement. "The Commission does not dispute that AuraLife’s current, smartphone-based blood pressure product does, in fact, provide estimates of blood pressure to the performance characteristics published by the company," Aura Labs says.

      Aura Labs also puts the best possible light on a judgment of $595,945.27 levied against the company. The penalty was suspended based on the defendants’ inability to pay, but the "full amount will become due, however, if they are later found to have misrepresented their financial condition," the FTC said. 

      In its statement, Aura Labs says it "would not have agreed to settle this matter had any payment been required."

      Replace traditional cuffs

      In marketing the app, Aura and Archdeacon claimed that it could be used to replace around-the-arm cuffs and would be just as accurate as the traditional device, the FTC charged. To use the app, users put their right index finger over the phone’s rear camera lens and held the base of the phone over their heart. 

      In reality, however, blood pressure readings reported by the IBP app were significantly less accurate than those taken with a traditional blood pressure cuff, the FTC said

      AuraLife now says it "never claimed that the Instant Blood Pressure app’s performance characteristics were equivalent to that of a conventional blood pressure cuff." But the FTC argues that the device could be dangerous to consumers.

      “For someone with high blood pressure who relies on accurate readings, this deception can actually be hazardous,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “While the Commission encourages the development of new technologies, health-related claims should not go beyond the scientific evidence available to support them.”

      According to the FTC’s complaint, Aura sold the Instant Blood Press (IBP) app through Google Play and Apple’s App Store for between $3.99 and $4.99. Between June 2014 and June 2015, sales of the app totaled more than $600,000, according to the agency.

      A company that sold an app called Instant Blood Pressure has agreed to settle a Federal Trade Commission complaint that it deceived consumers with claims t...
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      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...
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      At Standing Rock, a mighty fortress grew

      People of all faiths, ethnicities, tribes, and beliefs came together to work as one

      From Palestine to Standing Rock We Are United. Juntos Protejamos. Mni Wiconi. Artwork and signs of solidarity from all over the world decorated the fence and the main entrance, where volunteer security guards welcomed a line of cars that grew increasingly longer each day. At nightfall, Sioux elders invited anyone who wanted to join in prayer around a sacred fire. But the Suburbans, stadium lights, and police could still be seen in the distance, tiny figures on a hill called Turtle Island, which the Standing Rock Sioux say is a sacred site where people are buried.  

      Directly outside the camp, four Humvee vehicles and one large military troop carrier, like something you would see on the nightly news from the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, were parked at a barricade on the highway road to the north, cutting people off from the only direct route to the state capital. In the southern direction, the rural road stretched for eight miles before the nearest convenience store and hotel, frozen over after a recent blizzard.

      Even as a makeshift city rapidly grew on this swatch of federal land next to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and garnered worldwide support and donations, people were isolated. Nobody who chose to camp in this desolate, freezing tent city in North Dakota had anything but each other.

      No emergency services

      Shortly before a blizzard hit western North Dakota in early December, North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple announced that no state emergency services would be sent to the encampments on federal land where thousands of people vowed to stay through winter. Piling on threats that everyone here was trespassing, the Morton County Sheriff’s Department said they would fine anyone who attempted to bring in supplies.
      For the people at Oceti Sakowin, the most populous of the three camps that the Standing Rock Sioux had organized to fight construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline under Lake Oahe, their source of drinking water, that only meant there was more work to do at the camp. People weren’t leaving, and many "weekend warriors" were only more inspired to come.
      “There’s one thing the Governor of North Dakota forgot about...you’re dealing with indigenous people, bro,”  said Shiye Bidzil, a water protector, as the protesters call themselves, in a public video he posted to the thousands of people who follow his coverage of the pipeline standoff on Facebook. "We have survived for millennia, for centuries, and we never needed that technology that you guys rely on for so much.”

      At Oceti Sakowin, volunteers unloaded U-Haul moving trucks full of 2x4 studs for framing the structures that they'll use to get through the harsh North Dakota winter. People at the donation camps sorted through blankets and canned food, while others split massive amounts of firewood brought in by logging trucks, keeping the sound of chainsaws running throughout the day. Medics worked all night at an emergency tent lined with linoleum floors, part of an encampment that also offered midwife services, mental health, an herbalist, and cots for people who were injured or in need of massages.

      Women from Wisconsin assessed people’s temporary shelter for construction crews and housed anyone who was unprepared for the weather in communal tents or the public food kitchens, which doubled as free-for-all sleeping areas at night. Young people dug snow and used firewood to build barriers around the many Tipi tents at the camp so that the elderly people inside would not have piles of snow at their feet when they stepped outside. Helicopters swarmed low above the land as an Indigenous activist group taught new visitors how to peacefully protest.

      Several drone photographers said they captured photographs of what appeared to be snipers in the hills. Federal informants were likely embedded in the camp and recording anything being said, attorneys who camped at Oceti Sakowin's legal tent warned. A street medic taught people how to remove tear gas from someone’s eyes should they get gassed, and an army veteran shooting photographs at the barricade out on the main highway road insisted that anyone still here on Sunday would be shot with rubber bullets.

      Eviction Day

      Eviction day, or the day when the United States Army Corps of Engineers said everyone had to leave, was coming the following Monday. "Whatever happens, happens. We’ll see,” said a 26-year-old man from the Pueblo nation in Arizona, standing outside of a warm makeshift house in Oceti Sakowin complete with a solar panel and shingles on the roof.

      Late Sunday afternoon, with eviction day looming, clergy from over a dozen faiths shared a stage with Chief Arvol Looking Horse, the spiritual leader of the Sioux tribe, and took turns leading people in prayer. A Catholic priest apologized for all the pain his religion had caused. A Muslim imam recalled how oil prices were the driving force behind the CIA’s decision to overthrow the Iranian government in 1953. Thousands of military veterans wandered the camp and listened. After the prayers, Sioux leaders asked the estimated 10,000 to 16,000 people there to join hands around the entire perimeter of Oceti Sakowin, a difficult task given the camp’s size.

      As the army vets, clergy, hippies, American Indians, medics, cooks, and others slowly formed a massive hand-holding circle, the tension that had been building up that weekend broke into an unexpected celebration. Energy Transfer Partners’ application to build  underneath Lake Oahe had been denied, word quickly spread. The United States Army Corps of Engineers said the company would need to explore another route for the crude oil pipeline, one that didn’t impact the Standing Rock Sioux’s water. Many people broke down in tears and hugged.

      What happens next is unclear, and many water protectors say they will not leave. But the announcement symbolized a hopeful victory at an environmental standoff that American Indians say has grown bigger than any other they have seen in their lifetime.

      A melting pot at the local casino

      All rooms are booked at the reservation casino and hotel eight miles south of the Oceti Sakowin. Christmas songs blare on the loudspeakers in the parking lot, and the stench of cigarettes grows stronger the closer to you get to the hotel lobby. Due to excessive loitering, says a sign taped to the front door, anyone who isn’t a registered guest may be kicked out. But young people in dreadlocks huddle by the casino bar anyway, taking a break from the harsh weather.

      Curtis Muhammad, a longtime civil rights activist from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, is in the lobby, waiting to make a presentation for the Sioux. Joined by the Asian American Alliance, Muhammad says he wants American Indians to make refuge space available for minorities, the way they did years ago when blacks escaping slavery from the Underground Railroad needed a place to hide. “We expect that Trump is going to make a lot of us criminals just for being black, and we’re going to need a place to go,” he says.

      Levi Medicine Horn, a cultural preservation specialist from South Dakota whose job is to survey sites for the Sioux nation, is thrilled to see all of the outsiders who have descended on the reservation. American Indians have been fighting oil pipelines for years, he says. Foreshadowing the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota set up a “spirit camp” along the path of the Keystone XL Pipeline several years ago. The camp is still there, he says.

      Keystone XL united Native Americans and farmers against the project, leading to the creation of an environmental group called the Cowboy and Indian Alliance. But even that unifying campaign hasn’t attracted the international following that the #NODAPL fight has.

      Horn leases part of his own land to farmers, and he says he recently lost a client who was angry to learn that he had occasionally joined the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline when his work brought him to North Dakota. The farmer criticized him for depending on fuel to power his truck while fighting an oil pipeline. He argues back to such criticisms: Between fuel or clean water for your children, you choose fuel?

      The Origins of #NODAPL

      The Standing Rock Sioux leaders and tribal elders say they tried to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline from passing under Lake Oahe several years ago, but the #NODAPL movement in its current  form began last spring, when Standing Rock Sioux tribal historian LaDonna Brave Bull Allard invited people to set up a prayer and resistance camp on the land she owned, a site now called the Sacred Stone Camp. The Oceti Sakowin camp, on land below Sacred Stone, is the easier of the two to access by car and is the location that has drawn thousands more to the cause, by some estimates as many as 16,000 people on a given weekend. 

      Opposite the river of Oceti Sakowin is the Rose Bud camp, a smaller tent city where the United States Army Corps of Engineers has deemed people are allowed to protest in a “Free Speech” zone.

      “I was asked, When do you consider this pipeline issue to be over?” Allard wrote online, shortly after the Corps said it would not grant Energy Transfer Partners an easement under Lake Oahe. “I said, when every pipe is out of the ground and the earth is repaired across the United States. I am not negotiating, I am not backing down. I must stand for our grandchildren and for the water.”

      Daily life at a tent city in the snow

      Every night on the land, people fall asleep to the sound of drums and songs from the Sacred Fire, a plaza that functions as the downtown of the functional if sometimes disorganized city that Oceti Sakowin has become. Tribesmen invite everyone to the prayers and offer messages of unity. Mni Wiconi, Lakota for “Water is Life,” is the camp’s primary rallying cry. Tribal elders say they will not tolerate any racism, misogyny, or anything else that will divide the people here. One man sings a song by the fire on Sunday afternoon about the women at the camp: “Legal Girls, Media Girls, Medic Girls, Teacher girls, Dog-bitten and Maced girls, I love No DAPL Girls.”

      When there are no prayers, the sacred area becomes a spot where day-to-day needs are taken care of. Whoever drives the black Ford Fusion needs to move their vehicle; a woman needs a ride to Bismarck to catch a bus at 3 in the morning; we have found a pair of lost keys; and if you have been arrested please meet with the attorneys at the central dome today; are just some of the nonstop announcements made on the microphone in between sermons and prayers.

      The line for coffee around the prayer circle is slow, but people are in good spirits while they wait. One man in line says he was not planning to drive to North Dakota until he saw a woman crying outside of the grocery store in Montana where he works. She wanted to come to Oceti Sakowin but needed a ride. He will probably lose his job whenever he makes it back, he cheerfully says. A Unitarian minister from Wyoming, also waiting for coffee, says she is not afraid to get arrested for civil disobedience, considering such an arrest the mark of a true minister.

      Many of the so-called weekend warriors who come here briefly are not used to cold weather, or do not fully understand what they are getting into when they set up summer tents on the frigid North Dakota land. So Fawn Youngbear Tibbetts, an environmental activist and organizer from the Anishinaabe Nation in Wisconsin, works every day to assess the sleeping arrangements and will not let anyone sleep in a simple summer tent if she can help it. “We have some experience lasting the winter,” she says while taking a brief break from work. “So we came out here to establish our camp and also help everybody else get winterized.”

      Tibbetts is not exaggerating. She recounts how several years ago, a mining company expressed interest in Wisconsin’s Penokee Hills, land that environmentalists warned was home to a complex ecosystem and also culturally significant to the Lake Superior Chippewa Indians. To protest the mining operation, Tibbetts and others set up a tent city called the Penokee Hills Harvest Camp and stayed there for four years, surviving the bitter winter in wigwams and other weather-proof outdoor housing. Much like today, the protesters in 2014 were warned that they could not camp on public land. They ignored the government's demands to leave.

      Finally, iron ore company Gogebic Taconite abandoned its plans last year. “We inhabited the site,” Tibbetts says.

      While many people stay warm in Tipis, it takes up to eight weeks to fulfill an order for the appropriate liner for these traditional tents. And yurts, another tent structure that can survive brutal winters, cost as much as $3,000. To respond to the growing need for warm tent housing, a Seattle carpenter named Paul Cheyok'ten Wagner invented the Tarpee, a Tipi-like structure that only costs $650 and is kept warm via a wooden stove, designed with a steel plate at the top to radiate more heat.
      “It’s actually really quite ingenious,” Tibbetts says. She houses people in her camp's own Tarpee but also lists the many other communal tents where people can stay if necessary. The huge influx of people requires her to stay vigilant about checking on people’s temporary shelter. “It’s powerful to be in a big group like this. Yeah, there are all these little camps, but we are all working together. We’re all supporting each other.”

      A slippery hill by the main entrance is "Media Hill," where journalists register to get laminated press passes and people can actually get a cellphone signal. Young children ride their sleds down Media Hill as their parents watch them from the top.

      Next to the warm media registration tent, a musician from Seattle rides a stationary bicycle, which is attached to a generator so that people can charge their cell phones by riding the bike. He came here with a group of friends but opted to stay when they left, he says through short breaths. Like many others at the camp, who are technically trespassing by staying here, he has asked not to be named.

      Not far from the sacred fire, Winona Kasto, a woman from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, cooks two 50-gallon pots of soup every day, made from buffalo meat that she prefers to leave unseasoned.

      Her soup is popular because it is made with love, she says, and because the buffalo are pickier eaters than other mammals, eating flowers and other "medicine" from the ground. Her camp has doubled in size as people realized that Kasto needed a larger kitchen to accommodate all of the people who want to eat buffalo soup from Winona’s Kitchen, as a sign posted on her camp’s main Tipi calls the site. At a fire around Winona’s Kitchen on Saturday night, young doctors talk about the impressive medical care that they have witnessed here at Oceti Sakowin.

      "What they're trying to do here is community medicine really,” says Revery Barnes, a Cuba-trained doctor from San Francisco who now works at a hospital in South Los Angeles. She has come to drop off supplies and help people at the medic camp for a few days. Being a doctor at a hospital is like working in an assembly line, she says, but the unpaid doctors and medics at Oceti Sakowin give patients the kind of care she would like to see in the real world.

      “They’re trying to decolonize medicine. They’re trying to give patients options. This is what we think you have, and we have this herbalist to talk to, we have these herbalist services, we have a pill for you in Western medicine, but if you just want to sit here and talk, we can do that too,” she says.

      The visiting doctors ask for a picture with Kasto before they must return home in several days. “Winona is Lakota for gathers people woman,” Kasto tells the group, getting a big laugh from everyone.

      Preparing for eviction day 

      Even though many people say they are inspired about what the resistance camp has become and are happy to be here, concerns about the police and National Guard presence hang over the camp. Over Thanksgiving weekend, when thousands of people came for the holiday, a group of activists organized a "direct action" protest on the front lines to remove burned-out trucks that authorities had set up as a barricade. “Folks have a right to be on a public road,” Dallas Goldtooth, an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, told reporters at the time.

      Officers responded by shooting the protesters with high-pressure water hoses. The Morton County Sheriff’s office also shot tear gas grenades, rubber bullets, and other weapons into the crowd, causing a 21-year-old woman named Sophia Wilansky to suffer devastating injuries to her arm. Vanessa Dundon, another water protector on the bridge, was shot in the eye with a tear gas canister and will likely be blind in that eye as a result, according to a page trying to raise money for her surgery.

      Over the course of the standoff, the Morton County Sheriff's office has repeatedly used violent, heavy-handed tactics to clamp down on peaceful protestors, according to a lawsuit filed by The National Lawyers Guild this month. (Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier has denied the allegations that his officers' actions were unwarranted, telling the local news channel that “we will continue to enforce the law and urge those lawful protesters to isolate those who are unlawful.")

      Concerns about police violence are what inspired thousands of veterans to descend on Oceti Sakowin last weekend, setting up military tents that will be left for people staying at the camp to sleep in once the vets leave. During their brief stay, thousands of the veterans were housed in a local community center to stay warm.

      “Never, in my 81 years, [have I] seen police treat protesters like this,” says Byron Jolly, a former police officer and sheriff as well as a Korean war veteran. He gets through the snowy, slippery Oceti Sakowin campgrounds on an all-terrain tracked wheelchair called a TracFab. “And then they said they want protesters to leave here for their own protection so we don’t freeze. But they’ll sprinkle them with water in sub-zero temperatures, eh? So you figure it out. Do they mean that? Hell no. They just want us gone.”

      The campgrounds are crowded on Sunday afternoon with veterans of all ages and clergy who answered a call for support from Chief Arvol Looking Horse, the Sioux spiritual leader. Wearing a traditional headdress with a black leather jacket and boots equipped with snow chains, Chief Looking Horse says he has asked people from all nations and religions to stand with the Sioux in solidarity.
      “It’s the responsibility of the people to say water is life,” he says. For the following three hours, clergy from the Unitarian, Catholic, Baptist, and Methodist churches, and Jewish and Muslim temples, give speeches and prayers. Leaders of tribes that used to be at war with the Sioux now speak about solidarity and protecting water for everyone. 

      “We want to be on the love train and the justice train with them as they struggle against these corporate foes,” said Dr. Cornel West, the Baptist preacher, Princeton professor, and civil rights activist. “I call them foes, not enemies, because they’re human beings, too. They’re just too greedy. They’re just too short-sighted. They’re just too narrow in their spirits and cannot embrace the land and the people and the air, and in the end they could destroy the very planet itself.”

      After the prayers, the Sioux elders say that they had originally planned to perform a direct action, or a civil disobedience protest, along the police barricade. But, they say, they have changed their minds. To keep the mood prayerful and peaceful, they instead tell everyone to join hands and make a circle around the entire camp.

      People are trying to close gaps in the large circle and are slowly making their way around Oceti Sakowin when news spreads that the Corps has rejected Energy Transfer Partners’ application for an easement under Lake Oahe. (Because Lake Oahe is a dam that the Corps created from the Misssouri River, the Corps requires companies to seeking to build under its project to get additional permits).

      The young veteran next to me breaks down crying as she hugs a friend. The Sioux leaders return to the stage where the solemn praying took place and now play celebratory music on the drums as reporters crowd around and shoot photographs. Many people pack up their cars, so they can leave before the next snowfall, and they honk and cheer at the new line of cars waiting to enter Oceti Sakowin. Military veterans lead a march along the road outside, where the barricade still stands but the Humvee vehicles have left. But even this celebration will be short-lived. Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners released a statement Sunday night suggesting that they planned to drill under Lake Oahe anyway, describing the Corps’ decision as purely political.

      A long road ahead

      Reaction to the news has been mixed. Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II went on NPR to say that protesters achieved their goal “and it is time now for them to enjoy this winter with their families.” But other leading activists -- people like Sacred Stone Camp founder Dona Brave Bull Allard -- have vowed to stay. On Tuesday, as another blizzard hit the camp and temperatures dropped into the negatives, the local casino opened its doors to people so they could take indoor shelter, and Winona Kasto, the popular cook who fed everyone buffalo soup, posted online that she would be making food at the casino for people who could not afford the buffet.

      “People keep asking when are you going to go,” said Fawn Youngbear Tibbetts, the woman who helped fend off the mining company in Wisconsin and is now helping the people at Standing Rock learn how to camp for a long winter. “We’ve fought mining companies, we’ve fought Exxon, we’ve fought nuclear waste repositories. It’s something we always do,”  she said on Sunday, recounting the many environmental causes that Native Americans have led over the years. “But this is really historically different because of the amount of people working together. What you have are warring tribes, that haven’t talked to each other in 500 years, coming together in solidarity and in prayer.”  

      Not everyone can stay there forever, but she predicts that many people will continue to leave and return until the fight  here is over. “All water is sacred. We have fights at home, so we’re going back and forth,” she says.

      ---

      Photo credits: Amy Martyn and M. Aaron Martyn

      The makeshift city at Oceti SakowinFrom Palestine to Standing Rock We Are United. Juntos Protejamos. Mni Wiconi. Artwork and signs of solidarity from...
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      Washington state sues Monsanto over use of PCBs

      The suit alleges that the company knew the dangers of PCBs but produced and sold them anyway

      The state of Washington has taken aim at Monsanto – the agrochemical company that has caught the ire of millions over its use of biochemicals. According to a report from Consumerist, the state has sued the company because of its decades-long use of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

      PCBs were banned in 1979 after they were found to be toxic, but Washington officials say Monsanto was aware of their harmful effects well before that time and continued producing them anyway, leading to the pollution of state waterways. Washington Governor Jay Inslee says the chemical is so pervasive that it can be found nearly everywhere.

      “Monsanto is responsible for producing a chemical that is so widespread in our environment that it appears virtually everywhere we look — in our waterways, in people and in fish — at levels that can impact our health. It’s time to hold them accountable for doing their fair share as we clean up hundreds of contaminated sites and waterways around the state,” he said.

      Prior knowledge of dangers

      In its lawsuit, the state spells out the negative effects that PCBs can have on the environment and people. “In humans, PCB exposure is associated with cancer as well as serious non-cancer health effects, including injury to the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, endocrine system and other health effects. In addition, PCBs harm populations of fish, birds and other animal life,” the complaint states.

      It goes on to say that Monsanto was the sole manufacturer of PCBs for over 40 years, between 1935 and 1979. It alleges that the company knew the chemicals were toxic but “concealed these facts and continued producing PCBs until Congress enacted the Toxic Substances Control Act,” which banned PCB production in 1979.

      As evidence, the state points to a 1967 company memo where company officials stated that there was “no practice course of action that can so effectively police the uses of the products to prevent environmental contamination.” Still, it continued to manufacture and push sales of the chemicals for more than a decade.

      Profits over people

      The suit cites another report that makes it clear that Monsanto put profits before the health of citizens. In a report to the Corporate Development Committee, Monsanto says that discontinuing production of Aroclor – the brand name under which PCBs were sold – was unacceptable, saying that “there is too much customer/market need and selfishly too much Monsanto profit to go out.

      If successful in its suit, the state will look to claim hundreds of millions in damages. Damages will be assed based on the damage done to natural resources, the economic impact made on the state and its residents, and any future costs associated with the presence of PCBs.

      --------------- 

      Update: In a statement emailed to ConsumerAffairs, Scott S. Partridge -- Vice President of Global Strategy at Monsanto -- defended the company and addressed the lawsuit:

      “This case is highly experimental because it seeks to target a product manufacturer for selling a lawful and useful chemical four to eight decades ago that was applied by the U.S. government, Washington State, local cities, and industries into many products to make them safer," he said. 

      "PCBs have not been produced in the U.S. for four decades, and Washington is now pursuing a case on a contingency fee basis that departs from settled law both in Washington and across the country. Most of the prior cases filed by the same contingency fee lawyers have been dismissed, and Monsanto believes this case similarly lacks merit and will defend itself vigorously."

      The state of Washington has taken aim at Monsanto – the agrochemical company that has caught the ire of millions over its use of biochemicals. According to...
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      Net Neutrality's days may be numbered

      Likely nominee to head the FCC has been a foe of commission 'over-reach'

      Net neutrality is one of those issues that might start a bar-room brawl in Washington, D.C., but it's not something that gets the blood boiling in most precincts of the country. Nevertheless, it and related measures handled by the Federal Communications Commission are pocketbook issues that aren't far behind the price of gas and mortgage rates for American families.

      The Obama Administration's FCC has taken an activist stance on Internet matters, choosing to apply regulations to what had for most of its life been a Wild West sort of place, where just about anyone could do just about anything.

      Most notably, and most controversially, the FCC in March 2015 voted 3-2 to declare that broadband service was a utility and could therefore be regulated. It imposed rules designed to prohibit carriers from treating some traffic differently from others. 

      One of the dissenting votes came from commissioner Ajit Pai, a Republican who is generally considered to be the leading candidate to head the commission when the Trump Administration rolls into town. Pai has opposed much of what the FCC has done under current chairman Tom Wheeler, a Democrat.

      Though a Republican, Pai was nominated to the FCC by President Obama in 2011. A Harvard Law graduate, he is the son of immigrants from India and grew up in Parsons, Kansas. 

      "Days are numbered"

      He is particularly dismissive of the net neutrality regulations and in a speech last week said the rule's "days are numbered."

      "I’m hopeful that beginning next year, our general regulatory approach will be a more sober one that is guided by evidence, sound economic analysis, and a good dose of humility," Pai said in his speech to a Free State Foundation luncheon, arguing that the net neutrality rules were adopted without any evidence that they were needed.

      "There was no evidence of systemic failure in the Internet marketplace.  As I said at the time, 'One could read the entire document . . . without finding anything more than hypothesized harms.'  Or, in other words, public-utility regulation was a solution that wouldn’t work for a problem that didn’t exist."

      Besides net neutrality, Pai is thought to be unsympathetic to plans to break cable systems' monopoly on set-top boxes and to outlaw local regulations banning municipal broadband networks.

      Pai singled out the set-top box proposal, which he said was being formulated in the dark.

      "Right now, the FCC provides information selectively to favored insiders.  To give one example, if you are in the good graces of the FCC’s leadership, you can receive detailed information about the set-top box proposal.  But if you aren’t, you’re left in the dark," he said.

      Net neutrality is one of those issues that might start a bar-room brawl in Washington, D.C., but it's not something that gets the blood boiling in most pre...
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      How pets can improve the lives of people with mental illness

      Companion animals are often central members of patients' social circles, study finds

      Pets often bring immeasurable joy to those who care for them, but their role doesn’t end there. Studies have shown that pet ownership can help the elderly, teach kids compassion, and improve the well-being of the whole family in households with autistic children.  

      Now, a new study says that pets can help people manage their mental disorders. Findings published in the journal BMC Psychiatry suggest that cats, dogs, birds, and other pets provide their owners with a source of calm. In some cases, pets even serve as a distraction from symptoms of mental illness.

      "The people we spoke to through the course of this study felt their pet played a range of positive roles, such as helping them to manage stigma associated with their mental health by providing acceptance without judgment," said lead author Helen Brooks, from the University of Manchester.

      Unconditional support

      Researchers spoke with more than 50 adults with long-term mental conditions and found that pets were often integral members of participants’ social networks. Sixty percent of the patients placed pets in their central social circle, above family, friends, and hobbies.

      “Pets provided a unique form of validation through unconditional support, which [the patients] were often not receiving from other family or social relationships,” Brooks said in a statement. She added that pets were also particularly useful during times of crisis.

      For those with mental illness who hear voices or experience suicidal thoughts, pets can be a welcomed distraction. One patient gave a prime example of pets' ability to drown out symptoms in saying, “I’m not thinking of the voices, I’m just thinking of the birds singing.”  

      "You just want to sink into a pit and just sort of retreat from the entire world, they force me, the cats force me to sort of still be involved with the world,” said another participant.

      Pets' role in care plans

      But despite the positive role that companion animals often play, Brooks said pets weren’t considered in the individual care plans for any of the patients.

      "These insights provide the mental health community with possible areas to target intervention and potential ways in which to better involve people in their own mental health service provision through open discussion of what works best for them,” she said.

      Pets can be valuable in the management of mental illness and should therefore be brought up in discussions about care plans, Brooks and her colleagues concluded. Finding what works best for patients is key, and the study suggests that pets can provide a constant source of calm, support, and distraction for some individuals.

      Pets often bring immeasurable joy to those who care for them, but their role doesn’t end there. Studies have shown that pet ownership can help the elderly,...
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      Tax records: What to keep and for how long

      No need to be a paperwork pack-rat

      What must I keep? What can I toss?

      Questions about how long to keep tax returns and other documents face many taxpayers at this time of year.

      As a general rule, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recommends holding on to copies of tax returns and supporting documents at least three years. However, there are some that should be kept up to seven years in case a taxpayer needs to file an amended return or if questions arise. That includes records relating to real estate after you've disposed of the property.

      Even though you don't need to send them to IRS as proof of coverage, it's a good idea to keep health care information statements should with other tax records.

      These include records of any employer-provided coverage, premiums paid, advance payments of the premium tax credit received, and type of coverage. Three years after you file your tax return is the recommended time for keeping these records.

      How to store

      Whether your tax records are paper or electronic, the IRS says you should be sure they're kept safe and secure -- especially any documents bearing Social Security numbers. It's also a good idea to scan paper tax and financial records into a format that can be encrypted and stored securely on a flash drive, CD or DVD with photos or videos of valuables.

      Records to be saved include those that support the income, deductions and credits claimed on returns. You'll need them if the IRS asks questions about a tax return or to file an amended return.

      Cleaning house

      When records are no longer needed for tax purposes, make sure they are destroyed properly to prevent the information from falling into the hands of identity thieves.

      If disposing of an old computer, tablet, mobile phone, or back-up hard drive, keep in mind it includes files and personal data. Removing this information may require special disk utility software.

      What must I keep? What can I toss?What must I keep? What can I toss?Questions about how long to keep tax returns and other documents face many...
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      Taylor Farms Northwest recalls meatloaf products

      The product contain milk, fish, beef and pork not declared on the labels

      Taylor Farms Northwest of Kent, Wash., is recalling approximately 79 pounds of meatloaf products.

      The Turkey Meatloaf with Kale contains milk and fish (anchovies), allergens not declared on the label.

      The Homestyle Meatloaf contains beef and pork, which are not declared on the label.

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

      The following items, produced on December 4, 2016, are being recalled:

      • 20 units of 16-oz. aluminum loaf pans with plastic lids containing 1 piece of “Turkey Meatloaf with Kale” with a sell by date of 12/10/2016.
      • 59 units of 16-oz. aluminum loaf pans with plastic lids containing 1 pieces of “Homestyle Meatloaf” with a sell by date of 12/10/2016.

      The recalled products, bearing establishment number “EST. 34834” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to retail locations in Oregon and Washington.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Kerri Tate at (253)-548-5174. 

      Taylor Farms Northwest of Kent, Wash., is recalling approximately 79 pounds of meatloaf products.The Turkey Meatloaf with Kale contains milk and fish (...
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      Masterbuilt recalls LP gas smokers

      The smoker’s gas hose can disconnect posing a fire hazard

      Masterbuilt Manufacturing of Columbus, Ga., is recalling about 41,300 Masterbuilt 7-in-1 smokers sold in the U.S and Canada.

      The smoker’s gas hose can disconnect posing a fire hazard.

      The company has received five reports of the PVC gas hose becoming disconnected during use, including one report of property damage from a fire. There have been no reports of injuries.

      The recalled Masterbuilt 7-in-1 smoker comes in green or stainless steel with a Cabela’s logo, or black with Masterbuilt logo. The three-piece cylindrical body design consists of a lid, center body, and base which sits on the LP gas burner stand.

      It also has a porcelain flame disk bowl, water bowl, cooking grates, 10-quart pot and basket, thermometer, burner, a PVC hose and weighs about 32 pounds.

      The smokers, manufactured in China, were sold at Army, Air Force Exchange, Cabela’s, Gander Mountain and other stores nationwide and online at www.Amazon.com from April 2011, to October 2016, for about $150 to $200.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled smoker and contact Masterbuilt for a free replacement rubber LP gas hose.

      Consumers may contact Masterbuilt at 800-489-1581, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, or online at www.masterbuilt.com and click on Support then choose Contact on the upper right hand corner of the page for more information.

      Masterbuilt Manufacturing of Columbus, Ga., is recalling about 41,300 Masterbuilt 7-in-1 smokers sold in the U.S and Canada.The smoker’s gas hose can d...
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      Various BMW vehicles with possible airbag, seat belt issue recalled

      Passenger airbags, safety belt pre-tensioners may not activate properly

      BMW of North America is recalling 91 model year 2011 BMW 528i, 528xi, 535i, 535xi, 550i and 550xi vehicles manufactured March 1, 2010, through August 31, 2011.

      The vehicles may have received a replacement Sensor Cluster Unit (SCU) during a service visit with an acceleration sensor that may have been incorrectly programmed. As a result, the SCU may not accurately determine if activation and deployment of the airbags, safety belt pre-tensioners and head restraints is necessary in the event of a crash.

      Depending on the severity of the crash, inadequate activation of the driver and/or passenger airbags, safety belt pre-tensioners and active head restraints may increase the risk of injury.

      What to do

      BMW will notify owners, and dealers will replace the SCU, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in December 2016.

      Owners may contact BMW customer service at 1-800-525-7417.

      BMW of North America is recalling 91 model year 2011 BMW 528i, 528xi, 535i, 535xi, 550i and 550xi vehicles manufactured March 1, 2010, through August 31, 2...
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      Surgeon General warns that teens face serious health risks from e-cigs

      With 1 in 6 teens saying they have used e-cigs, it's time for action, new report argues

      Back in 1964, the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Luther Terry, released a report that documented in exhaustive detail the health risks of cigarette smoking, something that had been considered benign and even healthy just a few years before.

      Now another report from the U.S. Surgeon General is raising concerns about e-cigarette use among U.S. youth and young adults, now estimated to amount to 1 in 6 high school students.

      “All Americans need to know that e-cigarettes are dangerous to youth and young adults,” said U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, in releasing the report. “Any tobacco use, including e-cigarettes, is a health threat, particularly to young people.”

      The report finds that, while nicotine is a highly addictive drug at any age, youth and young adults are uniquely vulnerable to the long-term consequences of exposing the brain to nicotine, and concludes that using nicotine in any form is dangerous to young people.

      The report also finds that secondhand aerosol that is exhaled into the air by e-cigarette users can expose others to potentially harmful chemicals.

      "First comprehensive review"

      Today’s report, which was written and reviewed by more than 150 experts, is the first comprehensive federal review of the public health impact of e-cigarettes on U.S. youth and young adults. After years of study, the Food and Drug Administration in May set the legal age for using tobacco and e-cigarettes at 18 after finding that the rate of teen "vaping" was increasing markedly. 

      “We have more to do to help protect Americans from the dangers of tobacco and nicotine, especially our youth. As cigarette smoking among those under 18 has fallen, the use of other nicotine products, including e-cigarettes, has taken a drastic leap. All of this is creating a new generation of Americans who are at risk of addiction,” said HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell at the time the age limit was announced. 

      There have been numerous, conflicting studies about the health effects of e-cigarettes and other electronic nicotine delivery systems. Some countries, most notably Britain, have concluded that e-cigs are less harmful than regular tobacco products. In 1995, Public Health England (PHE) -- roughly equivalent to the U.S. FDA -- said it had found e-cigs about 95% less harmful than smoking.

      "My reading of the evidence is that smokers who switch to vaping remove almost all the risks smoking poses to their health," said Professor Peter Hajek of Queen Mary University. Hajek co-authored the report with Professor Ann McNeill of King's College London

      Perhaps, but in November, a University of Southern California study suggested that the health of young users may be at serious risk in the short- and long-term. The reason, the authors say, is that e-cigarette use and vaping can be associated with an increased frequency of smoking and heavier smoking habits overall.

      Recommendations

      The latest Surgeon General's report includes a series of recommendations to reduce vaping and smoking by young people, including:

      • continuing to regulate e-cigarettes at the federal level;
      • raising and strongly enforcing minimum age-of-sale laws for all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes;
      • incorporating e-cigarettes into smoke-free policies;
      • regulating e-cigarette marketing;
      • sponsoring high-impact media campaigns to educate the public on the harms of e-cigarettes among young people; and
      • expanding research efforts related to e-cigarettes.

      “Protecting our nation’s youth from the harms of tobacco and nicotine is a top priority for HHS and this Administration. And this report, outlining the harms of e-cigs and providing clear steps to reduce their impact on our kids, is an important step in our fight,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell. “We cannot let the enormous progress we’ve made toward a tobacco-free generation be undermined by e-cigarettes and other emerging tobacco products.”

      “We need parents, teachers, health care providers, and other influencers to help make it clear that e-cigarettes contain harmful chemicals and are not okay for kids to use” Dr. Murthy said. “Today’s report gives them the facts about how these products can be harmful to young people’s health.”

      A new interactive website containing key information from the report, written especially for parents and adult influencers of youth, is available at E-cigarettes.SurgeonGeneral.gov.

      Back in 1964, the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Luther Terry, released a report that documented in exhaustive detail the health risks...
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      Plant-based diets are healthy for kids and pregnant women, nutritionists say

      Vegan and vegetarian diets are healthy for people of all ages as long as they're balanced, new guidelines say

      Adhering to a vegan or vegetarian diet during pregnancy isn’t harmful to a developing baby as long as an expectant mother’s meals are well-balanced.

      That’s the key takeaway from new guidelines served up by the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which affirmed that meals don’t have to include meat in order to be nutritionally adequate -- even for children and moms-to-be.

      In a statement, the Academy described vegan and vegetarian diets as “healthful” and noted that plant-based eating habits may even “provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of some chronic diseases.”

      Plant-based diets have been shown to provide health benefits to people of all age groups, the authors say, likely because vegans and vegetarians tend to “consume more fruits and vegetables, fewer sweets and salty snacks, and smaller amounts of total and saturated fats.”

      But as with anything, balance is key. The group of nutritionists stipulated that these diets must be monitored and carefully planned out in order to ensure that proper amounts of important nutrients are obtained.

      Appropriately planned meals

      Children and developing babies aren’t at risk of becoming malnourished if flesh foods aren’t included in their diet. In fact, plant-based diets “typically meet or exceed protein intakes, when caloric intakes are adequate," the authors wrote.

      But parents and caretakers should make sure that vegan or vegetarian children are getting key nutrients such as iron, zinc, and vitamin B-12. One way to do this is through planned, well-balanced meals, says Vandana Sheth, a member of the Academy.

      “Any diet that is not well planned and balanced can have negative side effects,” Sheth told Reuters. "Just because foods are plant based doesn't automatically make them healthy. For instance, pastries, cookies, fried and salty foods may be vegan but don't really provide much in terms of nutritional value."
      Vegan diets can reduce the risk of diabetes by 62%, heart-attack by 33%, heart disease by 29%, and cancer by 18%. During pregnancy, vegan or vegetarian diets can lower a woman's risk of excessive gestational weight gain and reduce the risk of complications such as gestational diabetes.
      What's more, “people who adopt vegetarian diets have a lower body mass index, better control of blood pressure and blood glucose, less inflammation and lower cholesterol levels compared with non-vegetarians," Sheth added.

      But to see these health benefits, and to make sure children are receiving important nutrients, meals should be well-balanced and care should be taken to ensure that diets are low in processed foods.

      Adhering to a vegan or vegetarian diet during pregnancy isn’t harmful to a developing baby as long as an expectant mother’s meals are well-balanced.Tha...
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      Millions of AT&T customers getting refunds for mobile cramming violations

      The 2.7 million refunds average $31 for customers who were falsely billed

      The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is providing over $88 million in refunds to more than 2.7 million AT&T customers who had third-party charges added to their mobile bills without their consent, a tactic known as “mobile cramming.” It's the most money ever awarded to customers in a mobile cramming case.

      The refunds will be going to AT&T customers who were wrongfully billed by Tatto and Acquinity.

      Through the FTC’s refund program, nearly 2.5 million current AT&T customers will receive a credit on their bill within the next 75 days, and more than 300,000 former customers will receive a check. The average refund amount is $31.

      “AT&T received a high volume of complaints related to mobile cramming prior to the FTC and other federal and state agencies stepping in on consumers’ behalf,” said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. “I am pleased that consumers are now being refunded their money and that AT&T has changed its mobile billing practices.”

      $9.99 ringtones

      According to the FTC’s complaint, AT&T placed unauthorized third-party charges on its customers’ phone bills, usually in amounts of $9.99 per month, for ringtones and text message subscriptions containing love tips, horoscopes, and “fun facts.” The FTC alleged that AT&T kept at least 35 percent of the charges it imposed on its customers.

      As part of the settlement, AT&T agreed to pay $80 million for refunds and notify current customers who were billed for unauthorized third-party charges of the refund program. 

      Epiq Systems, the administrator for the refund program, will begin mailing refund checks and applying credits to AT&T phone bills starting today. Refunds are being issued in the wake of consumers filing their claims for redress with the FTC, and following a claim registration confirmation and audit process. The checks must be cashed within 60 days or they will become void.

      The FTC never requires consumers to pay money or provide account information to cash refund checks. The FTC consumer redress hotline for consumers that have questions about the process is: 1-877-819-9692.

      The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is providing over $88 million in refunds to more than 2.7 million AT&T; customers who had third-party charges added to t...
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      Delta begins tests to provide complimentary meals to coach passengers

      Travelers taking a transcontinental flight may be treated to a free meal on an upcoming trip

      At the beginning of the month, we reported the results of a study by New York’s Hunter College that assessed which airlines had the best food. While Virgin America took top honors, Delta Airlines came in a close second for its low-calorie and vegan options.

      While having high marks on food quality is nice, many fliers today must pay extra for an in-flight meal if they’re flying coach and going on a long flight. However, Delta has recently said that it will be testing complimentary meals for coach passengers on some transcontinental flights.

      “Delta is currently testing complimentary meals in the Main Cabin on Transcon flights between New York-JFK and Los Angeles International Airport/San Francisco International Airport as part of the airline’s focus on continually looking at ways to enhance the on-board experience for customers,” the company said in an announcement.

      Depending on what time travelers are flying, they could be treated to one of a few meal options. For those flying in the morning, the company says that participating flights will be offering a Maple Breakfast Sandwich or the Luvo Breakfast Medley. Those flying in the afternoon can choose from a Mesquite-Smoked Turkey Combo with chips and a brownie bite or the Luvo Mediterranean Whole Grain Veggie wrap, which comes with grapes and a cookie.

      While many airlines have begun restricting certain free amenities on flights in order to charge a premium, Delta’s possible inclusion of a free meal could mark a reversal. Delta Senior Vice President of In-Flight Service Allison Ausband says that the company is trying to improve the flight experience to meet consumer demand.

      “We are constantly actively listening to our customers and employees, gathering their feedback and testing new products on board to continuously improve the overall experience. Testing meals on Transcon flights is part of our commitment to be thoughtful about our offerings and make decisions based on customers’ needs,” she said.

      At the beginning of the month, we reported the results of a study by New York’s Hunter College that assessed which airlines had the best food. While Virgin...
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      How positive thinking could help you live longer

      Study finds that optimistic women have a lower risk of dying from certain diseases

      Are you a ‘glass-half-full’ kind of person? If so, a new study suggests that you could have many healthy years ahead of you.

      Researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that having an optimistic outlook lowered a woman’s risk of dying from several major diseases, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, and respiratory disease.

      Findings from the study, published online in the American Journal of Epidemiology, suggest that optimism is linked to better health. In breaking down the potential reason for the association, Eric Kim, co-lead author of the investigation, explained that optimistic people tend to live healthier lifestyles compared to those with bleaker outlooks.

      “Studies show that optimistic people exercise more, eat healthier diets and have higher quality sleep," said Kim, a researcher in the department of social and behavioral sciences at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.

      But the tendency of cheerier individuals to live healthier lifestyles may only partially explain the association between optimism and a longer life.

      Impacts biological systems

      Whether or not a person prefers to look on the bright side may also have an impact on their biological functions. Kim pointed out that previous research has shown that higher levels of optimism is linked with lower inflammation, healthier lipid levels, and higher amounts of antioxidants.

      Optimism may also have an impact on the way a person copes with life's curveballs. "Optimistic people also use healthier coping styles," Kim told HealthDay.

      "A summary of over 50 studies showed that when confronted with life challenges, optimists use healthier coping methods like acceptance of circumstances that cannot be changed, planning for further challenges, creating contingency plans, and seeking support from others when needed," he said.

      30% lower risk

      To measure optimism and examine its impact on a person's lifespan, investigators analyzed data from 70,000 women enrolled in the Nurses' Health Study. Participants were asked to either agree or disagree with statements such as, “In uncertain times, I usually expect the best.” Women could express their level of agreement on a five-point scale.

      The researchers found that the most optimistic women had nearly a 30% lower risk of dying from the diseases analyzed in the study. Those in the top 25% had: 
      • a 16% lower risk of dying from cancer
      • a 38% lower risk of dying from heart disease
      • a 39% lower risk of dying from stroke 
      • a 38% lower risk of dying from respiratory disease
      • a 52% lower risk of dying from infection

      Doesn't prove cause and effect

      "While most medical and public health efforts today focus on reducing risk factors for diseases, evidence has been mounting that enhancing psychological resilience may also make a difference," Kim said.

      "Our new findings suggest that we should make efforts to boost optimism, which has been shown to be associated with healthier behaviors and healthier ways of coping with life challenges," he added.

      But findings from the observational study, which was only done on women, may reflect “reverse causation," the researchers noted; women’s health conditions could influence how optimistic they are. The authors also wrote that the links between optimism, infection, and respiratory disease "should be interpreted cautiously because of the novelty of the findings."
      Are you a ‘glass-half-full’ kind of person? If so, a new study suggests that you could have many healthy years ahead of you.Researchers from the Harvar...
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      Job market holds steady in October

      The year-over-year gain in employment was about 2.5 million

      The number of job openings was little changed at 5.5 million on the last business day of October, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

      Openings were up in health care and social assistance, but down in professional and business services, federal government, and mining and logging. The number of job openings was little changed in all four regions of the country.

      Hires

      There wasn't much change in the number of hires in October -- 5.1 million -- about the same as the month before for a hires rate of 3.5%.

      The number of hires was little changed for total private and for government, with hires down by 26,000 in state and local government education and little change in all other industries. The number of hires also was little changed in all four regions.

      Separations

      Total separations includes quits, layoffs and discharges, and other separations and is referred to as turnover.

      There were 4.9 million total separations in October, comprised of 3.0 million quits, 1.5 million layoffs and discharges other separations that was little changed from September.

      Net employment change

      Over the 12 months ending in October, hires totaled 62.6 million and separations totaled 60.1 million, for a net employment gain of 2.5 million. These totals include workers who may have been hired and separated more than once during the year.

      The complete report is available on the DOL website.

      Jobless claims

      A big drop last week in the number of initial jobless claims.

      The Department of Labor (DOL) reports there were 258,000 first-time applications for state unemployment benefits filed in the week ending December 3, down 10,000 from the previous week's unrevised level.

      Initial claims have now been below 300,000 for 92 consecutive weeks, the longest streak since 1970.

      The four-week moving average inched up 1,000 from the previous week's unrevised average to 252,500.

      The latter measurement is considered a more accurate gauge of the labor market due to its lack of volatility.

      The full report may be found on the DOL website.

      The number of job openings was little changed at 5.5 million on the last business day of October, according to the Bureau...
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      Model year 2007-2008 Hyundai Entourage vehicles recalled

      The secondary hood latch may remain unlatched when the hood is closed.

      Hyundai Motor America is recalling 41,264 model year 2007-2008 Entourage vehicles manufactured February 16, 2006, to June 30, 2008.

      The vehicle's the secondary hood latch may corrode and bind and remain in the unlatched position when the hood is closed.

      If the primary latch is inadvertently released and the secondary latch is not engaged, the hood could unexpectedly open while driving, increasing the risk of a vehicle crash.

      What to do

      Hyundai will notify all owners.

      For vehicles originally sold, or ever registered, in Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia, dealers will replace the secondary latch.

      For vehicles in any other state, dealers will inspect and either lubricate or replace the secondary latch, as necessary, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin December 9, 2016.

      Owners may contact Hyundai customer service at 1-800-633-5151. Hyundai's number for this recall is 154.

      Hyundai Motor America is recalling 41,264 model year 2007-2008 Entourage vehicles manufactured February 16, 2006, to June 30, 2008.The vehicle's the se...
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      Mercedes-Benz recalls vehicles with clearance issue

      The vehicle's composite underbody panel may melt, increasing the risk of a fire.

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 799 model year 2017 E400 4Matic Coupes, E400 Convertibles, E550 Coupes and E550 Convertibles manufactured June 7, 2016, to September 8, 2016.

      There may be insufficient clearance between the vehicle's left catalytic converter and the composite underbody panel causing the panel to melt, increasing the risk of a fire.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will inspect and replace the underbody panel, as necessary, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in December 2016.

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

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 799 model year 2017 E400 4Matic Coupes, E400 Convertibles, E550 Coupes and E550 Convertibles manufactured June 7, 20...
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      Baby teethers labeled 'BPA-free' often contain BPA, study finds

      Researchers say even low levels of BPA can be harmful

      To soothe teething pain, parents often hand their little one a colorful teether to sink their sprouting teeth into. But despite being labeled “BPA-free” and “non-toxic,” many baby teethers may contain low levels of BPA.

      This is according to new research, published Wednesday in the Environmental Science and Technology Journal. After testing 59 plastic baby teethers, researchers from the American Chemical Society (ACS) found that all 59 released low levels of BPA and other endocrine-disruptors (EDCs).

      Studies have shown that EDCs can interfere with hormones and have harmful developmental, reproductive, and neurological effects. The U.S. and other governments have banned or restricted the use of some BPA, parabens, and antimicrobials in certain baby products, such as bottles.

      In the study, some teethers leached triclosan, an antimicrobial linked to liver cancer, while others contained parabens, a type of preservative linked to thyroid problems.

      Current regulations

      The plastics industry claims the amount of BPA used in products intended for babies and kids does not pose a health risk, but study author Kurunthachalam Kannan says recent studies have suggested that even at a nanogram or microgram level, BPA can be harmful.

      “Regulation is hazy because the levels are still being debated and standards are not clearly described,” Kannan told FoxNews.com.

      After estimating the average use time and body weight of a 12-month-old baby, ACS researchers found that a child’s exposure to BPA and other EDCs in teethers would be lower than the European standards for temporary tolerable daily intake levels.

      But these regulations do not account for the accumulation of multiple EDCs, the researchers noted. Additionally, not all of the chemicals measured in the study are regulated.

      The researchers say these findings could be used to develop appropriate policies to protect infants from exposure to potentially toxic chemicals found in teethers.
      To soothe teething pain without teething rings, experts recommend using natural remedies for easing the pain of aching gums. Parents can give their child a frozen washcloth, a frozen carrot, or a frozen bagel or waffle to chew on. Parents can also find teethers made of wood or natural, organic cotton to use in place of plastic teethers. 
      To soothe teething pain, parents often hand their little one a colorful teether to sink their sprouting teeth into. But despite being labeled “BPA-free” an...
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      How eating a handful of nuts every day can cut health risks

      Researchers say eating up to 20 grams of nuts per day can reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, and other ailments

      Whether you prefer walnuts, pecans, or hazel nuts, eating a handful of nuts every day can cut your risk of heart disease, cancer, and many other diseases. That’s the conclusion that researchers from Imperial College London and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology have come to.

      The team recently took a look at 29 separate studies from around the world, comprising over 800,000 participants and thousands of cases of coronary heart disease, stroke, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. And in all those cases, they found that consumption of at least 20 grams of nuts per day reduced health risks.

      "We found a consistent reduction in risk across many different diseases, which is a strong indication that there is a real underlying relationship between nut consumption and different health outcomes. It's quite a substantial effect for such a small amount of food,” said Dagfinn Aune, co-author of the study.

      Reducing health risks

      But why exactly do nuts seem to have such a profound effect on health? The researchers think it has to do with the nutrients found in these foods. They point out that the benefits of some nuts override their fat content and might even lead to reduced weight in the long-run.

      "Some nuts, particularly walnuts and pecan nuts are also high in antioxidants, which can fight oxidative stress and possibly reduce cancer risk. Even though nuts are quite high in fat, they are also high in fibre and protein, and there is some evidence that suggests nuts might actually reduce your risk of obesity over time," said Aune.

      When it comes to reducing other health risks, Aune says that even peanuts (which are technically a legume) have some benefits. "Nuts and peanuts are high in fibre, magnesium, and polyunsaturated fats -- nutrients that are beneficial for cutting cardiovascular disease risk and which can reduce cholesterol levels,” he said.

      With these findings under their belts, the researchers are hoping to continue their work to see if other food groups, like fruits and vegetables, can reduce the risk of other diseases.

      The full study has been published in BMC Medicine.

      Whether you prefer walnuts, pecans, or hazel nuts, eating a handful of nuts every day can cut your risk of heart disease, cancer, and many other diseases....
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      FAA proposes civil penalty against Resorts World companies

      The firm is accused of running unauthorized flights

      The next time you decide to fly to the islands for some sun and fun, you might want to take a close look at the airline you've chosen.

      The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is proposing a civil penalty of $218,700 civil against Resorts World Aviation and Resorts World Bimini.

      The companies are accused of flying passengers without an FAA air carrier certificate or with pilots who had not been trained and checked for commercial operations.

      The charges

      According to the agency, Resorts World Aviation provided Resorts World Bimini casino players and other guests with nine for-hire flights between July 10 and July 19, 2015. The flights were between the Miami area and Bimini in the Bahamas.

      The companies operated the flights when they did not hold the required FAA certificate to carry passengers for hire, according to the FAA, or the economic authorization from the Transportation Department to operate as an air carrier.

      Additionally, the FAA claims pilots flying the planes did not have the required training and proficiency checks to conduct the operations involved. The agency also says the companies advertised to perform the operations despite not having FAA authorization.

      The companies have asked to meet with the FAA to discuss the case.

      The next time you decide to fly to the islands for some sun and fun, you might want to take a close look at the airline you've chosen.The Federal Aviat...
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      How real is OPEC's agreement to cut oil production?

      If it doesn't hold, consumers could see still lower gasoline prices

      Oil prices move up and down like the stock market, and it takes some time before those movements translate to consumers at the gas pump.

      Even so, many motorists might have noticed gasoline prices have moved up in the last week. The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of self-serve regular is $2.19 a gallon, up four cents from last week and 17 cents from a year ago.

      The main reason for the slightly higher prices is last week's agreement by OPEC that its members will reduce their output in the coming year to shrink the persistent glut of oil on world markets. The move is aimed at pushing the price of oil above $50 a barrel, which would increase profits for producers while raising fuel costs for consumers.

      “Traditionally this time of year gives way to lower gas prices as a result of cheaper to produce winter-blend fuel and less demand,” AAA said in a statement. “However, due to the agreement from OPEC it is still unclear if prices will retreat considerably ahead of the upcoming holidays.”

      Can the agreement hold?

      But OPEC historically has had problems enforcing its production cuts, and industry analysts are already pointing to what they say are cracks in the brand new, yet to be implemented agreement. MarketWatch reports that analysts are pointing out that OPEC oil production reached a record level of 34.2 million barrels a day last month.

      Analysts say OPEC was producing nearly 1.7 million barrels a day more than the amount it has set as a target, beginning in January. They say when non-OPEC countries like Russia see these figures, they may be much less likely to curtail their own oil output, which must happen in order for supplies to go down. Meanwhile, Russia also stepped up production last month.

      Reuters reports Russia produced more than 11 million barrels a day in November, its highest level in nearly 30 years. Between Russia and OPEC, there was enough oil produced in November to meet half of the world's demand.

      While this may be bad news for oil producers, consumers stand to benefit, especially when they fill their tanks. The modest price hikes consumers have experienced in recent weeks, it should be pointed out, are all speculative.

      Gasoline futures prices have been bid higher simply on the expectation that oil is going to cost more in the future. But if oil production doesn't actually go down, eventually that sentiment will change, and it will bring gasoline prices down again.

      Oil prices move up and down like the stock market, and it takes some time before those movements translate to consumers at the gas pump.Even so, many m...
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      Mortgage applications post second straight weekly decline

      Contract interest rates rose to their highest levels in two years

      Mortgage applications were down for the second week in a row last week.

      The Mortgage Bankers Association reports applications dipped 0.7% in the week ending December 2. The prior week’s results included an adjustment for the Thanksgiving holiday.

      While the Refinance Index was down 1% percent from the previous week, the refinance share of mortgage activity increased to 56.2% of total applications from 55.1% a week earlier.

      The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity was 6% -- the highest level since February; the FHA share rose to 11.3% from 10.4% the week prior; the VA share went to 12.6% from 11.7%; and the USDA share of total applications rose to 0.9% from 0.8% the week before.

      Contract interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) rose four basis points -- from 4.23% to 4.27% -- its highest level since October 2014, with points decreasing to 0.37 from 0.41 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) increased to its highest level since September 2014 -- moving to 4.22% from 4.18%, with points unchanged at 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 remained unchanged at 4.99% -- its highest level since July 2015, with points decreasing to 0.38 from 0.44 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs jumped five basis points to 3.53%, its highest level since September 2014, with points increasing to 0.39 from 0.33 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs increased to its highest level since September 2013 -- 3.39% from 3.23% -- with points decreasing to 0.28 from 0.44 (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 were down for the second week in a row last week.The Mortgage Bankers Association reports applications dipped 0.7% in the week en...
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      FMIF Holdings recalls Snow Monkey Goji Berry and Cacao pods

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      FMIF Holdings is recalling Snow Monkey Goji Berry and Cacao pods that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No illnesses have been reported to date from consuming Snow Monkey products.

      The following products, packed in 8-oz plastic pods with sticker labels, are being recalled:

      • 8 oz. Snow Monkey Subzero Superfood in Cacao delivered from online order between May and June 2016. Barcode reads ‘000000000000 Sample Only - Not for Resale’
      • 8 oz. Snow Monkey Subzero Superfood in in Goji Berry delivered from online order between May and June 2016. Barcode reads ‘000000000000 Sample Only - Not for Resale’

      The barcode can be found printed horizontally on the side of the label next to the nutritional facts.

      The recalled products were distributed via online order between May and June 2016 in California, Missouri, Massachusetts, New York, Florida, Illinois, Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Hawaii, Oregon, Colorado, District of Columbia, Michigan, Connecticut, Maine, New Jersey and New Hampshire. None of these products were sold at retail stores.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at (951) 878-0887 weekdays, 9am-4pm (PST) or by email at kingdom@snow-monkey.com.

      FMIF Holdings is recalling Snow Monkey Goji Berry and Cacao pods that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.No illnesses have been reported t...
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      Mathew & Lauren collection crib recalled

      The mattress support system may dislodge

      Mother Hubbard’s Cupboards is recalling about 100 Mathew & Lauren collection cribs sold in Canada.

      The mattress support system may dislodge resulting in a change in the side height. The change in side height poses a fall hazard for the child. Thus these cribs do not meet the requirements of the Cribs, Cradles and Bassinets Regulations in Canada.

      The company says there are no reports of incidents or injuries.

      This recall involves Mathew & Lauren collection cribs, identified by model 8700-700. The recalled product is a crib that can be converted into a double bed. The model number can be found on the product's packaging and on a label on the inside of the side panel.

      The cribs, manufactured in Canada, were sold from January 2015, to November 2016.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should immediately stop using it and contact Mother Hubbard’s Cupboards to arrange for replacement fasteners for the mattress support system.

      Consumers with questions may contact Mother Hubbard’s Cupboards at 1-888-661-8201, by email at sales@mhcfurniture.com or online at http://www.mhcfurniture.com/baby-furniture/.

      Mother Hubbard’s Cupboards is recalling about 100 Mathew & Lauren collection cribs sold in Canada.The mattress support system may dislodge resulting in...
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      Congress to hold hearings on AT&T-Time Warner merger

      Company facing skeptical lawmakers and president-elect

      A lot is at stake Wednesday as AT&T executives go before the Senate Judiciary Committee to answer questions about the company's proposed acquisition of content provider Time Warner.

      President-elect Trump is already on record opposing the deal and a number of lawmakers have expressed skepticism as well.

      The $108.7 billion acquisition would join America's largest pay TV provider with a media and entertainment company that has a massive catalog of movies and TV shows.

      From the beginning, AT&T executives have maintained the merger is a “vertical” one that brings together two entities providing different products, and therefore will not decrease competition. But AT&T could face some pointed questions at Wednesday's hearing.

      “This proposed massive consolidation of distribution and content raises potentially serious questions about competition, consumer choice, and privacy across the media, cable TV, wireless and broadband industries,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement.

      'Zero-rate' could be the sticking point

      Even though the proposed merger would be “vertical,” critics charge it could give the telecom giant a huge advantage in the marketplace. At issue is something called “zero-rate.” That means the ISP, in this case AT&T, won't count a customer's viewing of AT&T-owned content against his or her data allowance.

      Currently, AT&T has such a promotion with DIRECTV. AT&T wireless customers who also subscribe to DIRECTV can watch that content on their mobile devices without it counting against their data allowance.

      If you are both an AT&T and DIRECTV customer, that's a great deal. But if you are a small ISP trying to compete against AT&T, you may think the playing field has suddenly become a lot less even.

      Small ISPs worried

      Jimmy Carr of All Points Broadband in Ashburn, Virginia, who chairs the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) Legislative Committee, says it will hurt the mostly small companies that are bringing broadband to underserved rural areas.

      “AT&T has recently begun to zero-rate its DIRECTV content, and it has stated its intention to expand zero-rating to the Time Warner content it would obtain through this proposed merger,” Carr said. “Allowing any ISP to favor certain content has a direct, harmful impact on thousands of small, competitive ISPs that do not own content and lack the ability to negotiate fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory access to content.”

      Carr says AT&T’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner raises serious concerns and should be rejected by federal regulators.

      So far, AT&T is batting one for two on proposed mega-mergers. Last year it's deal to acquire DIRECTV got a green light from regulators. Before that, its deal to acquire rival T-Mobile did not

      A lot is at stake Wednesday as AT&T; executives go before the Senate Judiciary Committee to answer questions about the company's proposed acquisition of co...
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      Medical researchers worry about 'masked' hypertension

      Blood pressure levels found to be higher than during doctors' office visits

      Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a growing health concern in the U.S., mainly because of lifestyle factors. A poor diet, lack of exercise, and obesity are all contributing factors.

      High blood pressure is easily treatable, but first you have to know if you are affected by it. Blood pressure is measured using a cuff that applies pressure to your arm or wrist. Unless you have one of these cuffs at home, the only time you take a reading is when you visit a healthcare provider.

      Researchers at Stony Brook University and Columbia University wondered if occasional measurements at a doctor's office provided an accurate determination of whether someone suffered from high blood pressure.

      They enlisted a group of patients who had normal readings on their infrequent measurements in a clinical setting and placed wearable monitors on them to measure blood pressure around the clock. They say they discovered that for some subjects, their blood pressure was outside the normal range during daily activities, even though it seemed normal at the doctor's office.

      Reverse of 'white coat hypertension'

      The researchers say it's the reverse of so-called “white coat hypertension,” when the slight stress of being in a doctor's office results in higher blood pressure readings. When blood pressure spikes during normal day-to-day activities, the researchers call it “masked hypertension.”

      The only way to uncover masked hypertension is with around the clock monitoring, using a wearable device. The researchers say that compared to blood pressure measured infrequently in a clinic, ambulatory blood pressure is a better predictor of future heart disease.

      In the study, nearly 16% of patients with normal clinic blood pressure were found to have “masked hypertension.” It was more common in men than women. Interestingly, it also affected younger, normal weight participants more than those who were older and overweight.

      Debunking a widely held belief

      “These findings debunk the widely held belief that ambulatory blood pressure is usually lower than clinic blood pressure,” said lead author Dr. Joseph Schwartz.

      Schwartz said healthcare providers need to know that there appears to be a tendency for blood pressure during normal activities to be higher than clinic blood pressure in healthy patients who are being evaluated for high blood pressure during well-patient visits.

      It's an important issue because high blood pressure, left untreated, can lead to more serious health conditions, such as heart attack and stroke.

      Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a growing health concern in the U.S., mainly because of lifestyle factors. A poor diet, lack of exercise, and obes...
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      Sen. Chuck Schumer rails against United Airlines' baggage policy under new fare

      Overhead storage should be free regardless of the ticket price, he says

      Last month, United Airlines released information on its new Basic Economy fare. It immediately garnered attention from regulators and fliers due to a provision that limits the amount of carry-on baggage that can be brought on the plane.

      Under the new fare, fliers would only be allowed to bring one small item with them into the cabin, measuring a maximum of 9 inches by 10 inches by 17 inches. The items would need to be stored under the seat, and if it didn’t fit, then the flier would have to pay to check it.

      While the purpose of the new rule was to cut down on boarding time and clutter in the aisles, many have come out in opposition. One of them is New York Senator Chuck Schumer, who says that the measure is “one of the most restrictive polices” that travelers have faced for some time, according to the New York Post.

      Nickel-and-dimed

      “The overhead bin is one of the last sacred conveniences of air travel and the fact that United Airlines—and potentially others—plan to take that convenience away unless you pay up is really troubling. . . Air travelers are sick and tired of being nickel-and-dimed for every bag they carry and every morsel they eat by airlines that are already making sky-high profits,” he said.

      Schumer says that the new policy would end up costing consumers quite a lot over the next four years, estimating that United stands to make an additional $1 billion from charges on the Basic Economy fare by 2020. In a release, he points out the unfairness of customers being locked out of lower prices unless they give up their rights to the overhead bin, calling the situation a “lose-lose.”

      “No matter the ticket price, the overhead bin should be free. Period,” he said. “It seems like each year, airlines devise a new, ill-conceived plan to hit consumers and it has simply got to stop. Already, airlines charge extra for checked luggage, pillows, peanuts, and headphones and now you’ll have nowhere to store them. United Airlines should reverse this plan and allow the free use of the overhead bin for all.”

      Last month, United Airlines released information on its new Basic Economy fare. It immediately garnered attention from regulators and fliers due to a provi...
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      Wendy's joins group in advancing sustainable beef

      Company is joining the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef

      Hamburger chain Wendy's has always tried to set itself apart with the beef it uses to make its burgers. Its advertising proclaims its patties are “fresh, never frozen.”

      Now the chain is doubling down on its beef, announcing a partnership with the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef that is says will advance sustainability efforts throughout the U.S. beef value chain.

      The company says it has always tried to support sustainable beef production and responsible animal production practices. It says its partnership with the Roundtable will give it a place at the table when environmental, social, and economic sustainability issues are discussed.

      Liliana Esposito, Chief Communications Officer for The Wendy's Company, says the partnership simply solidifies long-time commitments.

      “We have a long-term interest in promoting the continued sustainability of the U.S beef supply chain, and we are proud to join the efforts of the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef and align on common goals and metrics to drive continuous improvement in U.S. beef production," Esposito said.

      Millennial influence

      As Millennial consumers, especially, have held companies to higher ethical standards, dozens of chains operating on massive scales have made commitments in the area of animal welfare. Wendy's is one of many fast food companies to pledge to move to 100% cage free eggs at its restaurants. Early this year it announced it would make that transition by 2020.

      Wendy's says it understands that consumers are increasingly want to know more about their food and where it comes from. The company says the Roundtable is trying to make the U.S. beef value chain to be the best in breed when it comes to environmentally sound, socially responsible, and economically viable beef.

      Roundtable members include farmers and ranchers, processors and industry partners, as well as academics, retailers, and environmental groups.

      "The strength and success of the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef is dependent on a diverse membership that encompasses the entire beef value chain," said John Butler, beef producer and Roundtable chairman. "We are very proud to have Wendy's join the Roundtable as we all work to improve the sustainability of the U.S. beef industry."  

      Hamburger chain Wendy's has always tried to set itself apart with the beef it uses to make its burgers. Its advertising proclaims its patties are “fresh, n...
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      Lexibook recalls baby bath seats/chairs

      The bath seat can tip over while a baby is in it

      Lexibook S.A., of France is recalling about 7,00 baby bath seats and chairs.

      The bath seats can tip over while a baby is in it, posing a drowning hazard to babies.

      No incidents or injuries have been reported.

      This recall includes all Lexibook Baby Bath Seats and Chairs. The plastic baby bath seats/chairs are intended for children 6 months and up. They have a plastic base with suction cups on the bottom, a back/arm support and a toy tray.

      “Lexibook” is stamped on the back/arm support. “Made in China” and “2014 Lexibook Limited IT028/IT029 SN: 1407/VA09” are stamped on the bottom of the base. They were sold in a variety of colors.

      The bat seats and chairs, manufactured in China, were sold online at Amazon.com, Unbeatablesale.com, Wayfair.com and Youngexplorers.com from January 2013, through August 2016, for between $30 and $60.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled baby bath seats and contact the online retailer where it was purchased for return instructions and to receive a full refund, or a refund in the form of a store credit or gift card, depending on the online retailer. All known purchasers will be contacted directly about the recall.

      Consumers may contact the retailers as follows:

      Company

      Number of Units

      Remedy

      Online Retailers

      Young Explorers

      5,900

      Refund

      855-831-7478 anytime

      Email recalls@youngexplorers.com

      Online at www.youngexplorers.com

      Amazon.com

        780

      Gift Card

      888-280-4331 anytime

      Online at www.amazon.com

      Wayfair LLC

       200

      Store Credit

      888-549-1625 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET

      Online at www.wayfair.com

      Unbeatable Sale, Inc.

        65

      Refund

      888-657-8436 Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET

      Online at www.unbeatablesale.com

      Lexibook S.A., of France is recalling about 7,00 baby bath seats and chairs.The bath seats can tip over while a baby is in it, posing a drowning hazard...
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      Johnson & Johnson ordered to pay over $1 billion over hip products

      The company says it will appeal, but the decision could set a costly precedent

      Johnson & Johnson has been ordered by a Texas jury to pay over $1 billion in damages because claimants said that the company covered up flaws in its Pinnacle artificial hips. The suit claims that the DePuy unit of the company knew about the defects but still chose not to warn doctors and patients about the inherent risks.

      The company was ordered to pay $30 million in damages to six plaintiffs and over $1 billion in punitive damages, according to a Chicago Tribune report. Those who had the defective devices installed had to have them surgically removed. The company will likely appeal the decision, but University of Michigan law professor Erik Gordon says that company may want to start making settlement offers to the thousands of potential claimants across the country.

      “They may think they have good defenses to these claims, but they don’t seem to be working with juries. There’s no easy way out of these cases now that they have a billion-dollar verdict against them. They better start thinking of how they can settle these claims before the price goes up any more,” he said.

      Setting the tone

      Early signs indicate that the company will continue digging in and defending its actions. Company spokesperson Mindy Tinsley released a statement saying that the DePuy unit had designed and tested the hip products appropriately.

      Further, the company says it has strong grounds for an appeal, alleging that Texas Judge Ed Kinkeade did not allow a “fair presentation to the jury.” In a statement, attorney John Beisner said that an appellate court would need to review the case for errors; representatives will be asking Judge Kinkeade to postpone scheduling any more trials until that review is conducted.

      Regardless of the outcome, Johnson & Johnson will have long road of litigation ahead of it connected to the hip products. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission estimates that there are roughly 9,000 pending suits connected to Pinnacle hip failures, and a billion dollar settlement would set a grim tone going forward.

      “The jury is telling J&J that they better settle these cases soon,” said John Lanier, who represented the six Texas claimants. “All they are doing by trying more of these cases is driving up their costs and driving the company’s reputation into the mud.”

      Johnson & Johnson has been ordered by a Texas jury to pay over $1 billion in damages because claimants said that the company covered up flaws in its Pinnac...
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      TSA should drop enrollment fee for PreCheck, study finds

      Dropping the fee for frequent travelers might boost enrollment, speed up security lines

      A study finds the Transportation Security Administration could save money and speed up security lines by eliminating the $85 fee it now charges frequent travelers for the TSA PreCheck program.

      "This is an easy case where spending some money will save the federal government more money," Sheldon H. Jacobson, a computer seience professor at the University of Illinois, said. "There is a transition period - the savings are realized over the first five years, and then in perpetuity. So if the federal government is looking for a way to save money, giving TSA PreCheck at no cost to high-volume, high-value fliers makes sense."

      The study by Jacobson and graduate students Arash Khatabi and Ge Yu calculated the cost of extensive screening compared with expedited screening in terms of workforce labor hours and equipment. They found that costs saved by frequent travelers using expedited security exceeded the cost of waiving their enrollment fees for PreCheck.

      The study looked at different scenarios and found that the average travel frequency of those enrolling would have to be six round trips, or 12 screenings a year.

      Cost savings

      "We only look at the direct cost savings in labor and equipment. We don't even talk about the savings in time of the passengers who would no longer have to wait hours in line," Jacobson said. "That could add tens or hundreds of millions of dollars a year, which would be a bonus to the economy. More people could decide to fly, because of the time and cost savings."

      The benefits would extend beyond the cost, though. According to Jacobson, an expert in aviation security, submitting every passenger to heightened security actually has the adverse affect of making air travel less safe by diluting resources that should be focused on high-risk, unknown passengers. TSA PreCheck reduces the number of unknowns by pre-screening passengers.

      The problem with PreCheck is that enrollment has lagged far behind the projected numbers. Jacobson said waiving the fee might boost enrollment to more effective levels.

      "The strength of PreCheck is the background check. It's not the item that we're trying to stop, it's the person with ill intent who we're trying to stop," Jacobson said. "PreCheck vets people and says, 'These people are not likely to be a problem to the air system.' They make sure you are who you say you are, and that your background shows no evidence that you are going to cause a problem."

      The study was published in the Journal of Transportation Security.

      A study finds the Transportation Security Administration could save money and speed up security lines by eliminating the $85 fee it now charges frequent tr...
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      Researchers identify brain protein as potential target for Alzheimer's research

      They believe that the disease may occur partly due to the breakdown of an important brain system

      Recently, researchers began developing a potential therapy for concussions, using an FDA-approved drug that helps reduce the harmful effects of swelling. Specifically, they found that the expression of a certain membrane protein called aquaporin-4 increased dramatically after a head injury and caused damage.

      While work on that project continues, other experts believe that aquaporin-4 may be a prime target for Alzheimer’s research. A study conducted by researchers from Oregon Health & Science University has revealed a connection between the protein and possible prevention of the brain disease. While it may not materialize into a lasting cure, the researchers believe that their work could contribute to future therapies and prevention strategies.

      "It suggests that aquaporin-4 might be a useful target in preventing and treating Alzheimer's disease," said Dr. Jeffrey Iliff, senior author of the study. "However, we aren't under any illusion that if we could just fix this one thing, then we'd be able to cure Alzheimer's Disease."

      System breakdown

      In a broad sense, Alzheimer’s isn’t a disease that happens all at once – it takes time and is much more progressive. There is currently no cure for it, but several therapies have been developed that may be effective in slowing it down; the researchers believe that aquaporin-4 could provide another.

      Aquaporin-4’s functions as part of the brain's glymphatic system. Under certain conditions, it is the protein that allows cerebral-spinal fluid to enter the brain and wash away other proteins like amyloid and tau – the build up of which are main drivers of Alzheimer’s.

      The researchers believe that when the system regulating aquaporin-4 breaks down, amyloid and tau are allowed to build up unchecked, leading to nerve damage. They tested this theory by analyzing three groups of 79 donated brains – people younger than 60 with a history of Alzheimer’s, people younger than 60 without a history of any neurological disease, and people over 60 without Alzheimer’s.

      They found that aquaporin-4 levels were well organized and ordered in the brains of people without Alzheimer’s or a history of neurological disease, but older brains with Alzheimer’s had very disorganized aquaporin-4 levels. The researchers posit that Alzheimer’s may have developed in these brains due to decreased function to clear away harmful proteins.

      Last year, the researchers were given a $1.4 million grant from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation to continue their research and develop new imaging techniques that could capture brain processes as they happened. The team’s full study has been published in JAMA Neurology

      Recently, researchers began developing a potential therapy for concussions, using an FDA-approved drug that helps reduce the harmful effects of swelling. S...
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      A pick-up in the economy's non-manufacturing sector

      November's growth rate was a bit stronger than October's

      The non-manufacturing sector of the economy rebounded in November after a slight cooling-off the month before.

      The latest Non-Manufacturing Institute for Supply Management Report On Business put the non-manufacturing index (NMI) at 57.2% last month -- 2.4% higher than in October.

      This represents continued growth in the non-manufacturing sector for the 82nd consecutive month and at a faster rate than in October. It's also a 12-month high and the highest reading since the 58.3 registered in October of 2015.

      The Non-Manufacturing Business Activity Index increased to 61.7% -- 4% higher than October, reflecting growth for the 88th consecutive month and a faster rate in November.

      The New Orders Index dipped 0.7% to 57%, and the Prices Index decreased 0.3% from October to 56.3%. Still, prices rose in November for the eighth consecutive month, but at a slightly slower rate.

      The Employment Index increased 5.1% to 58.2%.

      Individual industry performance

      The 14 non-manufacturing industries reporting growth in November were:

      1. Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing & Hunting;
      2. Retail Trade;
      3. Arts, Entertainment & Recreation;
      4. Transportation & Warehousing;
      5. Other Services;
      6. Management of Companies & Support Services;
      7. Construction;
      8. Finance & Insurance;
      9. Professional, Scientific & Technical Services;
      10. Accommodation & Food Services;
      11. Information;
      12. Health Care & Social Assistance;
      13. Wholesale Trade; and
      14. Mining.

      The two industries reporting contraction were:

      1. Real Estate, Rental & Leasing; and
      2. Public Administration.
      The non-manufacturing sector of the economy rebounded in November after a slight cooling-off the month before.The latest Non-Manufacturing Institute fo...
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      Pirelli recalls P Zero All Season tires

      The tires may develop cracks in their lower sidewall

      Pirelli Tire is recalling 1,190 P Zero All Season tires, size 275/40R19 101W, manufactured February 29, 2016, to October 29, 2016, as an original equipment fitment exclusively for certain Maserati cars.

      Due to an incorrect carcass component, the tires may develop cracks in their lower sidewall, possibly resulting in a loss of air.

      A loss of air may result in tire failure or a loss of vehicle control, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Pirelli will notify Maserati owners and the dealers that purchased the tires as replacements. Pirelli will work with Maserati to replace the tires, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in December 2016.

      Owners may contact Pirelli customer service at 1-706-368-5800.

      Pirelli Tire is recalling 1,190 P Zero All Season tires, size 275/40R19 101W, manufactured February 29, 2016, to October 29, 2016, as an original equipment...
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      U.S. economy loses $411 billion every year due to a tired workforce, study finds

      Researchers say sleep deprivation leads to lower productivity and higher mortality risk

      Numerous studies have extolled the benefits of getting a full night’s sleep; those who do so have been found to have more energy and better overall health due to better body self-regulation. Unfortunately, many of us continue to not get enough sleep at night, and new research suggests that health deficits are not the only thing we have to worry about.

      Researchers at RAND Europe – a not-for-profit organization – have found that sleep deprivation costs the U.S. economy an average of $411 billion every year. They say this is due to higher mortality risk and lower productivity levels from employees who go to work tired.

      “Our study shows that the effects from a lack of sleep are massive. Sleep deprivation not only influences an individual’s health and wellbeing but has a significant impact on a nation’s economy, with lower productivity levels and a higher mortality risk among workers,” said Marco Hafner, lead author and researcher of the study.

      Economic losses

      The study, entitled “Why Sleep Matters – The Economic Costs of Insufficient Sleep," analyzed the economic impact of insufficient sleep in five countries. While Canada, Germany, Japan, and the U.K. are all burdened with billions in losses due to lack of sleep, the U.S. beats them all with a loss of $411 billion, 2.28% of the country’s GDP.

      The researchers note that if workers get up to one hour of extra sleep per night, it could make a huge economic difference. They say that individuals who get between seven and nine hours every night – dubbed the “healthy daily sleep range” -- can lower their mortality risk by 7%.

      “Improving individual sleep habits and duration has huge implications, with our research showing that simple changes can make a big difference. For example, if those who sleep under six hours a night increase their sleep to between six and seven hours a night, this could add $226.4 billion to the U.S. economy,” said Hafner.

      Recommendations

      The researchers make several recommendations that they believe would improve sleep outcomes. For individuals, they say that setting consistent wake-up times will help the body stay regulated. Limiting the use of electronic items before bed and getting physical exercise during the day are also key points.

      Further, they suggest that employers design and build brighter workspaces, provide facilities for daytime naps, monitor and assess psychosocial risks connected to sleep loss, and discourage the use of electronic devices after the work day has concluded. Public authorities can also help by encouraging health professionals and employers to provide sleep-related help.

      You can view the full report of the study here.

      Numerous studies have extolled the benefits of getting a full night’s sleep; those who do so have been found to have more energy and better overall health...
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      Active young boys perform better in reading and math, study finds

      Researchers have found associations between activity levels and academic aptitude

      Having an active child can run parents ragged, but a recent study suggests that it also gives them an edge when it comes to subjects like reading and math. Dr. Eero Haapala, along with fellow researchers from the University of Eastern Finland, looked at children in Grades 1-3 and found that boys had better academic aptitude if they were physically active.

      However, on the other end of the spectrum, Haapala noted that "boys who had a combination of low levels of physical activity and high levels of sedentary time had the poorest reading skills through Grades 1-3.”

      Better academic results

      The study was conducted as a part of two studies -- the Physical Activity and Nutrition in Children Study at the University of Eastern Finland and the First Steps Study at the University of Jyväskylä. Researchers from each study attempted to find connections between physical activity, sedentary behaviors, and reading and arithmetic skills.

      In all, 153 children between the ages of 6 and 8 in Grades 1-3 were tested. The researchers used heart rate and movement sensors to measure physical activity and sedentary time and standardized tests to measure reading and arithmetic skills.

      While no strong association between the factors was found for young girls, the researchers found that young boys in Grade 1 who showed moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and low sedentary time had better academic scores. Those who were less active tended to perform worse on standardized tests.

      “Our results provide some evidence that promoting a physically more active lifestyle may benefit the development of reading skills in boys during the first school years,” the researchers concluded.

      The full study has been published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport.

      Having an active child can run parents ragged, but a recent study suggests that it also gives them an edge when it comes to subjects like reading and math....
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      How to spot a puppy scammer

      Before sending money for a puppy you found online, verify that it's not being sold by a scam artist

      Consumers planning to welcome a puppy into their lives this holiday season should keep their wits about them if shopping online for their new addition. Pup..

      Get that tax refund ASAP

      We have tips to help you avoid a delay

      If you overpaid your taxes this year (too much withholding is the main culprit), you'll have a refund coming. And, of course, you'll want that money as soon as you can get it.

      The first thing you'll need to do is have all the documents you need -- things like W-2s and 1099s -- before you file your return. You also may need a copy of your 2015 tax return to make it easier to fill out a 2016 tax return.

      Beginning next year, 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. Learn more about how to verify your identity and electronically sign your tax return at Validating Your Electronically Filed Tax Return.

      The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will begin accepting and processing tax returns once the filing season begins.

      Updating your ITIN

      Under the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (PATH Act), any Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITIN) issued prior to 2013 or that haven’t been used for tax-years 2013, 2014, and 2015 will no longer be valid for use on a tax return as of Jan. 1, 2017.

      If you have an expiring ITIN and need to file a return in 2017, you'll have to renew it. It typically takes seven weeks to receive an ITIN assignment letter, but can take longer -- 9 to 11 weeks if you wait to submit Form W-7 during the peak filing season or send it from overseas.

      Taxpayers who don't renew an expired ITIN before filing a tax return next year could face a delayed refund and may be ineligible for certain tax credits. You can get more information on the the ITIN information page on IRS.gov.

      Mandated delays

      If you claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) on your tax return, the IRS must hold your refund until February 15.

      This new law requires the IRS to hold the entire refund -- even the portion not associated with EITC or ACTC. This change helps ensure that you get the refund you are owed by giving the agency more time to help detect and prevent fraud.

      By the way, you shouldn't rely on getting a refund by a certain date, especially when making major purchases or paying bills. Though the IRS issues more than nine out of 10 refunds in less than 21 days, some returns are held for further review.

      What to do

      The easiest way to avoid common errors that delay processing a tax return is to e-file. E-filing is the most accurate way to prepare a return and file. There are a number of e-file options:

      Use direct deposit

      With direct deposit, the refund goes directly into your bank account. There is no risk of having the refund check stolen or lost in the mail. This is the same electronic transfer system used to deposit nearly 98% of all Social Security and Veterans Affairs benefits into millions of accounts.

      Direct deposit also saves taxpayer dollars. It costs the nation’s taxpayers more than $1 for every paper refund check issued but only a dime for each direct deposit made.

      If you overpaid your taxes this year (too much withholding is the main culprit), you'll have a refund coming. And, of course, you'll want that money as soo...
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      2017 housing outlook sees gradual slowdown

      More first-time buyers will be priced out of the market

      The U.S. housing market has gone through some changes in 2016. Prices of homes have risen, requiring larger down payments from buyers.

      At the same time, inventories in many housing markets have continued to shrink, giving sellers even more leverage and making it harder for buyers to find the home they want.

      Housing experts see more of the same ahead in 2017, with a few wrinkles. The composition of the typical homebuyer is evolving and interest rates, which have been at historic lows for years, are expected to rise.

      The Realtor.com 2017 housing forecast projects home prices will increase 3.9% with only a 1.9% increase in existing home sales. Interest rates, which have been under 4% for most of 2016, are expected to reach 4.5% in the coming year.

      Little election impact

      “We don’t expect the outcome of the election to have a direct impact on the health of the housing market or economy as we close out 2016,” said Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for Realtor.com.

      “However, the 40 basis points increase in rates in the days following the election has caused us to increase our interest rate prediction for next year.”

      Smoke says since first-time buyers are almost all dependent on mortgage financing, and a majority are already dealing with other financial challenges, he expects some first-time buyers will be priced out of the market in 2017.

      As a result, Realtor.com has lowered expectations of Millennial marketshare to 33%. Even so, it expects Millennials and Baby Boomers to continue to dominate the market. And perhaps of interest to sellers, Boomers are less likely to need a mortgage so they may be the more reliable buyer in a case of competing offers.

      Midwest rising

      Coastal markets have set the pace over the last few years, but Realtor.com suggests Midwestern housing markets could take the lead in 2017. Markets to watch are Madison, Wis.; Columbus, Ohio; Omaha, Neb.; Des Moines, Iowa; and Minneapolis, Minn.

      One reason for rising expectations in the Midwest is the higher concentration of Millennials in that region. These markets also tend to be more affordable, making it easier for first-time buyers to purchase a home.

      While prices will continue to rise, they won't rise as much. The Realtor.com forecast calls for a 1% increase in 26 of the 100 largest markets. It says the smallest markets are likely to see the largest gains.

      The U.S. housing market has gone through some changes in 2016. Prices of homes have risen, requiring larger down payments from buyers.At the same time,...
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      Here are the 'hot jobs' for 2017

      Careerbuilder says employers want people with skills that can generate revenue

      The job market is always in a state of flux, especially in recent years. Today's hot job with a lucrative salary and benefits may go to a robot next year.

      So how do you know where to look when it's time to change jobs, or even careers? CareerBuilder and Emsi have assembled a list of what they consider the hottest jobs for 2017 based on compensation, job growth, and the recent number of existing positions.

      The study focuses on five main categories where there is on-going demand and a significant number of job postings each month. Not surprisingly, it found numbers crunching and revenue generation will be in demand.

      “Our research shows that employers are very invested in expanding headcount in areas such as analytics and data science, product development and sales as they strive to stay competitive in B2B and B2C markets,” said Matt Ferguson, CEO of CareerBuilder. “Skilled laborers will also see high employment demand in the year ahead as will workers in clinical roles.”

      Here are the hot jobs

      People thinking about making a career move in 2017 will likely be interested in the findings.

      Sales jobs lead the categories by a wide margin. The study found more than 16 million sales jobs this year, paying from $12.91 to $22.13 an hour. There were more than 13 million jobs for people with trade skills, and those jobs paid more – from $17 to $25.70 an hour.

      The highest potential pay, however, may lie with jobs in business and financial operations. There were nearly eight million of these jobs posted this year, an 8% increase over the last four years, paying between $32.95 and $57.97 an hour.

      Information technology jobs are growing the fastest – at a 12% rate over the last four years. These jobs pay between $30.91 and $49.41 an hour.

      Health care positions also remain in demand, growing at an 8% rate. These jobs pay $29.82 to $43.61 an hour.

      The job market is always in a state of flux, especially in recent years. Today's hot job with a lucrative salary and benefits may go to a robot next year. ...
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      Number of private student loans on the decline

      Student loans from banks fell 50% in a four-year period

      While rising college loan balances remain a cause of concern, there is a bit of good news. The number of students using private loans from commercial financial institutions has declined while the number of those opting for federal loans has risen.

      A study conducted for the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) found that private student loans fell by 50% from 2008 to 2012.

      The distinction is an important one. Private loans are different from federal loans because they're made by banks, credit unions, and other commercial institutions and are not federally guaranteed.

      They tend to be like other commercial loans, with terms usually based on market conditions and the borrower's credit history.

      Just another consumer loan

      Like other consumer loans, the lenders set the terms and conditions of the loan, usually basing them on the market and the borrower’s credit history. Federal loans generally have terms that are more advantageous to the borrower.

      According to the research, private loans only accounted for 5% of undergraduates in 2004 but surged to 14% by 2008. It then dropped to 6% in 2012.

      At the same time, the percentage of students taking out federal loans through the Stafford program increased from 35% to 40% over the same period.

      It's probably no surprise that private loans dropped sharply after 2008, since the credit crisis hit with full force late that year. Lending standards tightened and banks and financial institutions made fewer loans for any purpose.

      Better off with federal loans

      “Generally private loans have stricter terms and harsher penalties for non-payment than federal loans do,” said Jennie Woo, Ed.D., lead author and a senior education researcher at RTI, which conducted the study. “Students who are eligible for federal loans are better off getting them instead.”

      The study focuses on one possible reason so many consumers are struggling with college loan debt. The proportion of borrowers who took out private loans was highest at private for-profit schools, especially in 2008. These schools tend to be among the most expensive, and some – like Corinthian and ITT – have closed their doors, stranding students with the highest loan balances and the least favorable terms.

      The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) advises students to always choose a federal loan if possible. It points out that the interest rate on a federal loan is fixed, while the rate on private loans often fluctuates.

      While rising college loan balances remain a cause of concern, there is a bit of good news. The number of students using private loans from commercial finan...
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      Unemployment rate drops to 9-year low

      Job creation picked up steam in November

      The nation's unemployment rate fell to 4.6% in November, it's lowest level in nine years, according to figures released by the Department of Labor (DOL). At the same time, 178,000 jobs were created with major gains in professional and business services and in health care.

      The 0.3% decline in the unemployment rate came as the number of unemployed persons declined by 387,000 -- to 7.4 million.

      On and off the job

      Among the major worker groups, the jobless rate for adult men fell to 4.3% last month, while the rates for adult women (4.2%), teenagers (15.2%), Whites (4.2%), Blacks (8.1%), Asians (3.0%), and Hispanics (5.7%) showed little or no change.

      The civilian labor force participation rate was little-changed in November at 62.7% as the employment-population ratio held at 59.7%. Both have been fairly steady in recent months.

      Employment gains and losses

      Employment in professional and business services rose by 63,000 in November, with accounting and bookkeeping services adding 18,000 jobs. Health care employment rose by 28,000 in November and construction had 19,000 hires.

      Other major industries -- mining, manufacturing, wholesale trade, retail trade, transportation and warehousing, information, financial activities, leisure and hospitality, and government -- saw little change in their workforce size over the month.

      Dollars and cents

      Average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls fell 3 cents to $25.89 following an increase of 11 cents in October. Over the year, earnings are up 2.5%.

      Average hourly earnings of private-sector production and nonsupervisory employees edged up 2 cents to $21.73.

      The complete report is available on the DOL website.

      The nation's unemployment rate fell to 4.6% in November, it's lowest level in nine years, according to figures released by the Department of Labor (DOL). A...
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      Mercedes-Benz recalls various vehicles with seat belt issue

      The seat belt extenders may not retract as intended

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 672 model year 2016-2017 S63 AMG Coupes, S65 AMG Coupes, S550 Coupe 4Matics, S63 AMG 4Matic Convertibles, and S550 Convertibles manufactured June 29, 2015, to March 15, 2016.

      The seat belt extenders may not retract as intended and could break the event of a crash.

      If the seat belt extender does not retract and/or the extender breaks, the seat occupant may not be properly restrained, increasing the risk of injury.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will update the control unit software, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in mid-December 2016.

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

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 672 model year 2016-2017 S63 AMG Coupes, S65 AMG Coupes, S550 Coupe 4Matics, S63 AMG 4Matic Convertibles, and S550 C...
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      Model year 2011-2016 Toyota Sienna minivans recalled

      The door may open unexpectedly, possibly while the vehicle is moving

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 744,437 model year 2011-2016 Toyota Sienna minivans manufactured January 4, 2010, to August 12, 2016.

      If the power sliding door is unable to be opened when commanded, such as if the door is frozen shut, it may subsequently open unexpectedly, possibly while the vehicle is moving.

      If door opens while the vehicle is moving, there would be an increased risk of injury to the vehicle occupants.

      What to do

      The remedy for this recall is still under development. Interim notices are expected to be mailed to owners by January 21, 2017.

      Owners may contact Toyota customer service at 1-800-331-4331. Toyota's number for this recall is G04.

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 744,437 model year 2011-2016 Toyota Sienna minivans manufactured January 4, 2010, to August 12, 2016....
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      Job cuts fall to lowest level of the year in November

      Terminations in the retail sector led the way

      U.S.-based employers announced plans to cut their payrolls by 26,936 workers in November, putting the pace of downsizing at the lowest level of the year.

      Outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas says that puts job cuts 12% lower than they were in October and down 13% from the same month a year ago.

      Last month’s total was the lowest of the year, falling below the previous low of 30,157, recorded in May. It was slightly higher than last December’s 23,622 job cuts, which was the lowest monthly total since June, 2000, when employers announced just 17,241 planned layoffs.

      So far this year, employers have cut 493,288 jobs, a year-over-year decline of 5.5%.

      Retail sector loses big

      The heaviest job cutting came in the retail sector -- of which there are 4,850 announced terminations, most due to the bankruptcy of American Apparel, which could affect nearly 3,500 workers.

      Those losses are more than offset, though, by the surge in holiday hiring. Challenger tracked 317,000 retail hiring announcements in September.

      “These represent just a small fraction of the jobs being created, since most retailers, including the thousands of small, independent stores across the country, do not formally announce hiring intentions,” said Challenger, Gray & Christmas CEO John A. Challenger.

      Overall, retail job cuts are down 12% from a year ago with employers planning to cut 57,969 workers from their payrolls. Even with the decline, year-to-date retail job cuts rank third among all industries, behind computer and energy.

      “Barring an unlikely December surge in downsizing, the year-end job cut total should remain well below the 598,510 layoffs announced last year,” Challenger said. “Even if the new administration creates some uncertainty among corporate forecasters, most employers are in a strong enough position to take a wait-and-see approach when planning for next year.” 

      U.S.-based employers announced plans to cut their payrolls by 26,936 workers in November, putting the pace of downsizing at the lowest level of the year....
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      Personal income and spending post gains in October

      First-time jobless claims last week were on the rise as well

      Consumers found themselves with more money in their pockets in October, spent part of it, and saved the rest.

      The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) reports personal income increased $98.6 billion, or 0.6%, while disposable personal income -- what's left after taxes are paid -- also increased 0.6%, or $86.5 billion.

      October's increase in personal income was due in large part to gains in employee compensation and personal interest income.

      Spending and saving

      Personal consumption expenditures (PCE), the value of goods and services, increased $38.1 billion, or 0.3%. That advance reflects increases in spending for durable and nondurable goods, which were mostly offset by a decrease in spending for services.

      Personal outlays, which is the sum of PCE, personal interest payments, and personal current transfer payments, rose $40.4 billion.

      The PCE price index, a measure of inflation, increased 0.2%. When the volatile food and energy categories are excluded, what's known as the core PCE price index was up 0.1%.

      Personal savings totaled $860.2 billion in October, while the personal saving rate -- personal saving as a percentage of disposable personal income -- was 6.0%, a gain of 0.3% from September.

      The complete report is available on the BEA website

      Jobless claims

      Ninety-one weeks and counting.

      That's how long the number of initial jobless claim filings have been below the 300,000 mark -- the longest streak since 1970.

      The Department of Labor (DOL) reports that in the week ending November 26, there were a seasonally adjusted 268,000 first-time applications for state unemployment -- 17,000 more than during the previous week.

      The four-week moving average, considered by economists to be a better gauge of the labor market because of its lack of volatility, was up just 500 from the previous week to 251,500.

      The full report may be found on the DOL website.

      Photo (c) laufer – FotoliaConsumers found themselves with more money in their pockets in October, spent part of it, and saved the rest.The Bureau...
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      Pending home sales inch upward in October

      The advance took them above their 2006 level

      It wasn't much, but pending home sale were higher in October for a second straight month.

      The National Association of Realtors reports its Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI) edged up 0.1% to 110.0 from a slight downward revision of 109.9 in September.

      With last month's small increase, the forward-looking indicator based on contract signings is now 1.8% above its October 2015 level and at it's highest point since July.

      "Most of the country last month saw at least a small increase in contract signings and more notably, activity in all four major regions is up from a year ago," said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. "Despite limited listings and steadfast price growth that's now carried into the fall, buyer demand has remained strong because of the consistently reliable job creation in a majority of metro areas."

      Yun expects existing-home sales to close out the year at a pace of around 5.36 million, which surpasses 2015 and is the highest since 2006.

      "Low supply has kept prices elevated all year and has put pressure on the budgets of buyers," Yun pointed out. "With mortgage rates expected to rise into next year and put added strain on affordability, sales expansion will be contingent on more inventory coming onto the market and continued job gains."

      Regional showing

      • The PHSI in the Northeast eked out a 0.4% increase in October to 96.9, and is now 3.9% above a year ago.
      • In the Midwest the index jumped 1.6% to 106.3 for a year-over-year gain of 1.2%
      • Pending home sales in the South dipped 1.3% to an index reading of 120.1 and are still 0.8% above where they were the year before.
      • The index in the West climbed by 0.7% to 108.3 and is now 2.5% above a year ago.
      It wasn't much, but pending home sale were higher in October for a second straight month. The National Association of Realtors reports its Pending Home ...
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