Current Events in January 2017

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    Arctic Cat recalls snowmobiles

    The fuel tank can crack and leak fuel

    Arctic Cat of Thief River Falls, Minn., is recalling about 20,700 snowmobiles.

    The fuel tank can crack and fuel can leak into the engine compartment, posing a fire hazard.

    The company has received reports of 918 incidents, including six reports of fires, with the snowmobiles. No injuries have been reported.

    The recall involves model year 2007, 2008, and 2009 Arctic Cat snowmobiles, including F models, Jaguar and Jaguar Z1 1100 models, Bearcat Z1 XT models, T500 and T570 models, TZ1 and TZ1 Turbo models, and Z1 1100 and Z1 1100 Turbo models.

    These snowmobiles were produced in a variety of color combinations. “Arctic Cat” is printed on the sides of the vehicle and on the back snow-flap area. The model name is on the side of the vehicle. The model number is printed in the owner’s manual.

    The snowmobiles, manufactured in the U.S., were sold at Arctic Cat dealerships nationwide from June 2006, through December 2016, for between $11,500 and $14,300.

    What to do

    Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled snowmobiles and contact an Arctic Cat snowmobile dealer to schedule a free repair. Registered owners have been notified by mail.

    Consumers may contact Arctic Cat at 800-279-6851 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday or online at https://www.arcticcat.com/customer-care/ then “Product Recall” and then “List of Safety Bulletins” for more information.

    Arctic Cat of Thief River Falls, Minn., is recalling about 20,700 snowmobiles.The fuel tank can crack and fuel can leak into the engine compartment, po...

    EPA says Fiat Chrysler cheated on emissions tests

    Pickups with 3.0-liter engines had deceptive software, agency charges

    Just one day after Volkswagen was hit with $4 billion in new fines and criminal charges for cheating on emissions tests, Fiat Chrysler is facing similar accusations, the Washington Post is reporting today

    The Environmental Protection Agency is alleging that Fiat Chrysler used deceptive software that enabled some of its diesel trucks to pass emissions tests even though they emitted more than the legally allowed amount of pollution on the road.

    The company says it's "disappointed" and is hoping the Trump Administration will look more kindly on the matter. 

    "FCA US intends to work with the incoming administration to present its case and resolve this matter fairly and equitably and to assure the EPA and FCA US customers that the company’s diesel-powered vehicles meet all applicable regulatory requirements," the company said in a prepared statement.

    FCA said its trucks are "equipped with state-of-the-art emission control systems hardware, including selective catalytic reduction (SCR)" and said that, "Every auto manufacturer must employ various strategies to control tailpipe emissions in order to balance EPA’s regulatory requirements for low nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions and requirements for engine durability and performance, safety and fuel efficiency. FCA US believes that its emission control systems meet the applicable requirements."

    But some consumer and environmental groups are calling for stiff penalties and a criminal investigaiton. 

    "Fiat Chrysler should be fined with maximum penalties for the excess pollution their vehicles have emitted," said Mike Litt, Consumer Advocate at U.S. PIRG in an email to ConsumerAffairs. "If this software turns out to be a defeat device, Fiat Chrysler must make it up to customers for their falsely marketed “EcoDiesel” engines. Making consumers whole would mean buying back their vehicles at full purchase price. There would also need to be criminal investigations."

    The models involved are the 2014 to 2016 model year Dodge Ram 1500 pickup trucks and Jeep Grand Cherokees with 3.0-liter diesel engines. The allegations affect roughly 104,000 vehicles, EPA officials said.

    The allegations are similar to the charges in a November 2016 class action lawsuit that alleged that Fiat Chrysler and diesel engine manufacturer Cummins Inc. deceived consumers and regulators by concealing the high levels of diesel emissions produced by 2500 and 3500 Dodge RAM diesel trucks. “We’re pleased to see the EPA hot on the trail following our class-action lawsuit that called out Fiat Chrysler and Bosch for what we believe to be outright emissions fraud, akin to VW’s Dieselgate scandal,” said Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman, who filed the class action.

    "Fraud and concealment"

    “The sheer level of fraud and concealment between Chrysler and Cummins is unconscionable, and we believe we have uncovered a deeply entrenched scheme,” said Berman. “Chrysler and Cummins spent years lying through their teeth and making empty promises to deliver the cleanest trucks on the market – lip service to deceptively dominate what they saw as a profitable market.”

    The lawsuit charges that the companies intentionally misled truck buyers about the emission levels of the trucks, knowingly profiting from the allegedly dirty diesels and fraudulently getting emissions credits from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that it then used to produce more high-polluting vehicles.

    According to the complaint, the affected Cummins diesel engines conceal true emissions output, causing the catalytic converter to wear out more quickly, resulting in the vehicle burning fuel at a higher rate, and often requiring customers to replace the converter after the warranty has expired at a cost of approximately $3,000-$5,000

    The EPA investigation so far looks similar to the early stages of the probe into Volkswagen's dirty diesel scandal, which has cost the company at least $20 billion so far and led to the indictment of seven executives.

    In its statement, FCA said it has tried to satisfy regulators that its system meets federal standards and insisted its control systems are not "defeat devices."

    "FCA US has spent months providing voluminous information in response to requests from EPA  and other governmental authorities and has sought to explain its emissions control technology to EPA representatives.  FCA US has proposed a number of actions to address EPA’s concerns, including developing extensive software changes to our emissions control strategies that could be implemented in these vehicles immediately to further improve emissions performance," the company said. 

    “Bosch and Fiat Chrysler took full advantage of consumers’ wishes to make a conscious, ecofriendly purchasing decision by vigorously marketing its EcoDiesel line as ‘clean diesel,’ as a means to charge premium prices – more than $4,700 more,” Berman said. 

    In its EcoDiesel advertising, FCA specifically targets consumers “who want to drive an efficient, environmentally-friendly truck without sacrificing capability or performance.” It also claims the RAM 1500 was “the NAFTA market’s first and only light-duty pickup powered by clean diesel technology.”

    Just one day after Volkswagen was hit with $4 billion in new fines and criminal charges for cheating on emissions tests, Fiat Chrysler is facing similar ac...

    New York may be first state to guarantee contraception rights post-Obamacare

    The state's attorney general has introduced legislation providing free birth control

    Congress has taken the first step towards repealing the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. Among other things, the repeal would leave consumers without guaranteed access to contraception. 

    Nowhere is this less popular than in President-elect Trump's hometown, New York City, leading New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman to introduce legislation that would guarantee continued contraception for both female and male New Yorkers.

    “New Yorkers have a right to comprehensive, cost-free access to birth control. With the Affordable Care Act under attack in Washington, it’s all the more critical that New York act now to protect these rights,” said Schneiderman.  “The Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act will ensure that all New Yorkers have access to the birth control method they need to stay healthy and effectively plan for their future – no matter what happens in Congress.”

    The CCCA would codify into New York law the current ACA requirement that contraception be made available to New Yorkers cost-free, while also expanding on the ACA in several important ways to protect and enhance New Yorkers’ access to contraception.

    • First, the bill would statutorily require state-governed health insurance policies to provide cost-free coverage for all FDA-approved methods of birth control, including emergency contraception.
    • Second, the legislation would prohibit insurance companies from “medical management” review restrictions that can limit or delay contraceptive coverage.
    • Third, the CCCA would cover men’s contraceptive methods and bring their insurance coverage in line with the benefits enjoyed by women.
    • Fourth, the bill would allow for the provision of a year’s worth of a contraceptive at a time.

    Major setback

    The expected repeal of Obamacare is expected to be a major setback for contraception rights nationwide. Prior to enactment of Obamacare, 26 states required private health plans to cover all or part of the cost of contraception. Whether those states will follow New York's lead and consider reinstating those protections isn't yet clear.

    Since 2012, as part of the ACA, all new private plans have been required to cover, without cost-sharing, the full range of contraceptives and services approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as prescribed for women. The ACA created, for the first time, a minimum set of benefits for most health plans regulated by the federal government and states, including contraceptive coverage for women with no cost-sharing.

    The requirement has been challenged, however, leading to the Supreme Court ruling on the religious rights of employers that object to contraception. Eliminating federal protections for contraception would resolve the legal controversy, at least for now.

    It's estimated that about half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned. In general, "accidental" pregnancies carry a higher risk of poor outcomes.

    “The Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act enshrines the protections of the Affordable Care Act -- at a time when the fate of that Act is in jeopardy,” said Andrea Miller, President of National Institute for Reproductive Health. “We applaud Attorney General Schneiderman for prioritizing New Yorkers' access to the contraception they need, and for working to ensure that New York stands out as a beacon for access to reproductive health care.”

    Congress has taken the first step towards repealing the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. Among other things, the repeal would leave consum...

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      Amazon vows to create 100,000 U.S.-based jobs by mid-2018

      After earlier criticisms, CEO Jeff Bezos says President-elect Trump's plan to create jobs could pay huge dividends

      One of the primary campaign points for President-elect Donald Trump was creating jobs and keeping businesses in the U.S. Many companies caught the new Commander in Chief’s ire while he was on the campaign trail, but a scuffle between Trump and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was notable.

      The president-elect accused Bezos in a May interview of buying the Washington Post in order to influence the political landscape. Later on, Bezos fired shots at the businessman, saying that Trump’s behavior “erodes democracy around the edges.”

      Nevertheless, it seems that Amazon will be doing just what Trump wants in the coming years by creating more U.S.-based jobs. The retailer announced on Thursday that it has a plan to create over 100,000 full-time jobs in the U.S. by mid-2018, according to the Wall Street Journal.

      Expanding and creating jobs

      Amazon says that many of the new jobs will be located in Texas, Florida, California, New Jersey, and other areas where it is creating additional warehouses. During the third quarter of 2016, Amazon built another two dozen warehouses, bringing the total global number up to 150.

      Additionally, the company brought on around 120,000 seasonal workers during the holidays in the U.S., many of which are staying on to fill expanded positions, the company said. Other than warehouse staff, Amazon says it will also be filling positions in engineer and software development.

      “Innovation is one of our guiding principles at Amazon, and it’s created hundreds of thousands of American jobs,” said Bezos.

      Change of tune

      In a bit of reversal, Bezos has also shown some support for Trump and his plan for creating jobs after meeting with him in December. During the meeting, which featured a number of Silicon Valley executives, Trump promised to work with tech companies to create fair-trade deals and help foster innovation.

      “[Trump’s plan] would create a huge number of jobs across the whole country, in all sectors, not just tech—agriculture, infrastructure, manufacturing—everywhere,” said Bezos in a statement.

      One of the primary campaign points for President-elect Donald Trump was creating jobs and keeping businesses in the U.S. Many companies caught the new Comm...

      Completed foreclosures plunge in November

      The foreclosure inventory was sharply lower as well

      The number of completed foreclosures nationwide posted a year-over-year decline of 25.9% in November to 26,000, according to property information provider CoreLogic. That represents a plunge of 78.2% from the peak of 118,339 in September 2010.

      At the same time, the foreclosure inventory -- the number of homes at some stage of the foreclosure process -- declined by 30%.

      As of November, the national foreclosure inventory included approximately 325,000, or 0.8%, of all homes with a mortgage, compared with 465,000 homes, or 1.2%, a year earlier.

      In addition, the number of mortgages in serious delinquency -- 90 days or more past due including loans in foreclosure or REO – was down 22.1% from November 2015, with 1 million mortgages, or 2.5%, in serious delinquency. That's the lowest level since August 2007.

      "The decline in serious delinquency has been substantial, but the default rate remains high in select markets," said CoreLogic Chief Economist Dr. Frank Nothaft. "Serious delinquency rates were the highest in New Jersey and New York at 5.6% and 5%, respectively. In contrast, the lowest delinquency rate occurred in Colorado at 0.9% where a strong job market and home-price growth have enabled more homeowners to stay current."

      Report highlights

      • On a month-over-month basis, completed foreclosures declined by 14.1% to 26,000 in November from the 30,000 reported for October. As a basis of comparison -- before the housing market crash in 2007 -- completed foreclosures averaged about 22,000 per month nationwide between 2000 and 2006.
      • On a month-over-month basis, the November foreclosure inventory fell 2.4% compared with October.
      • The five states with the highest number of completed foreclosures in the 12 months ending in November were Florida (48,000), Michigan (31,000), Texas (25,000), Ohio (22,000), and Georgia (20,000).These five states account for 36% of completed foreclosures nationally.
      • Four states and the District of Columbia had the lowest number of completed foreclosures in the 12 months ending in November: the District of Columbia (221), North Dakota (260), West Virginia (375), Alaska (616), and Montana (627).
      • Four states and the District of Columbia had the highest foreclosure inventory rate in November: New Jersey (2.8%), New York (2.6%), Maine (1.7%), Hawaii (1.7%), and the District of Columbia (1.6%).
      • The five states with the lowest foreclosure inventory rate in November were Colorado (0.2%), Minnesota (0.3%), Arizona (0.3%), Utah (0.3%), and California (0.3%).

      The number of completed foreclosures nationwide posted a year-over-year decline of 25.9% in November to 26,000, according to property information provider...

      How only exercising on the weekend can still impart huge health benefits

      Researchers say infrequent exercisers and 'weekend warriors' still have lower risk of death

      For many consumers, everyday life seems too busy and non-stop to even think about going to the gym or exercising. But a new study finds that those who take only a few hours every week – even just on the weekends – can enjoy huge health benefits.

      Researchers from the University of Sydney analyzed survey data for over 63,000 people and found that all-cause mortality was 30% lower for active adults when compared to inactive adults. Further, they say that consumers who only take time on the weekend to exercise, dubbed “weekend warriors,” had an equivalent reduction in risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and obesity.

      "It is very encouraging news that being physically active on just one or two occasions per week is associated with a lower risk of death, even among people who do some activity but don't quite meet recommended exercise levels," said senior author Emmanuel Stamatakis.

      “Weekend warriors”

      World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines suggest that adults participate in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise every week; however, the researchers found that participants didn’t always have to reach those goals in order to reduce health risks.

      While the results are good news for infrequent exercisers or gym members who can only go on the weekends, Stamatakis and his colleagues say more research will need to be done in order to “determine how frequency, intensity, and duration of activity might best be combined to achieve health benefits.”

      However, they say that consumers should always exceed physical activity recommendations if they can. Doing so, they say, is the best way to protect ourselves from a multitude of diseases and health conditions.

      The full study has been published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

      For many consumers, everyday life seems too busy and non-stop to even think about going to the gym or exercising. But a new study finds that those who take...

      Toyota Highlander earns top IIHS award

      The vehicle's front crash prevention system earned a superior rating

      A superior-rated front crash prevention system and acceptable-rated headlights have earned the 2017 Toyota Highlander the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) top award.

      Unlike most TOP SAFETY PICK+ winners, which only meet the front crash prevention and headlight criteria when they are equipped with optional features, the Highlander qualifies for the award with standard equipment.

      In IIHS track tests of the 2017 system, the midsize SUV avoided a collision in the 12 mph test. In the 25 mph test, it avoided a collision in 4 out of 5 runs and slowed 21 mph the fifth time.

      The new standard front crash prevention system also includes a forward collision warning component that meets criteria set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

      To qualify for 2017 TOP SAFETY PICK+, a vehicle must earn good ratings in the five IIHS crashworthiness tests -- small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraints -- as well as an advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention and an acceptable or good headlight rating.

      A superior-rated front crash prevention system and acceptable-rated headlights have earned the 2017 Toyota Highlander the Insurance Institute for Highway S...