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    Automakers were Takata's accomplices, suit charges

    Major carmakers knew Takata airbags were dangerous but used them anyway, the complaint alleges

    The ink had not yet dried on a judge's order fining airbag-maker Takata $1 billion for wire fraud when a class-action lawsuit was filed in Florida charging that Ford, Honda, Nissan, and Toyota had installed the defective airbags in cars for years while knowing they were dangerous.

    “For over a decade, Takata lied to its customers about the safety and reliability of its ammonium nitrate-based airbag inflators,” said Acting Assistant U.S. Attorney General Blanco after a Detroit federal court judge imposed the fine Monday. “Takata abused the trust of both its customers and the public by allowing airbag inflators to be put in vehicles knowing that the inflators did not meet the required specifications."

    The Florida lawsuit charges that it was not only Takata that knew of the hazards presented by the faulty airbag inflators. It alleged that automakers knew of the dangers but kept pressuring suppliers to keep costs down and continued using Takata airbags even though they knew they were prone to explode and spew deadly shrapnel into the passenger compartment.

    At least eleven people have died in the U.S. and more than 100 have been injured by the airbags, and automakers have staged a massive recall of more than 70 million airbags in 42 million vehicles.

    The Florida suit was filed by attorney Kevin Dean, who objected to the Takata plea deal and charged that documents filed with the court showed that automakers were not victims of a Takata cover-up but accomplices.

    Judge George Caram Steeh approved the settlement anyway, saying that Dean's objections could be handled in a separate civil suit.

    Honda strongly denied the allegations in the Florida suit, saying it "reasonably believed" they were safe. 

    The ink had not yet dried on a judge's order fining airbag-maker Takata $1 billion for wire fraud when a class-action lawsuit was filed in Florida charging...
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      Years after financial crisis, many Boomers still struggling

      Financial plight puts a different spin on retirement plans

      The financial crisis, which deepened an existing recession, was a major blow to the U.S. economy.

      Since then, the nation has been on a slow path toward recovery. Today, many consumers are feeling a lot better than they did a few years ago. Baby Boomers, however, are among the least likely to feel that way.

      A study commissioned by the Bankers Life Center for a Secure Retirement found only 2% of middle income Boomers think the economy has fully recovered. Sixty-five percent don't think they have benefited at all from the recovery.

      And while nearly all the Boomers in the survey said they expect to retire one day, the study found a near universal adjustment to just what form retirement will take.

      Savings and earnings have fallen

      Here are a couple of reasons why: among the group saying it has not benefited from the recovery, more than half say their money in savings is less than before the crisis. Four out of ten say they are earning less money than they did a decade ago.

      Back then, 45% of middle income Boomers said they expected to have no debt in retirement, living in a home with no mortgage. Today, only 34% have that expectation.

      Boomers contemplating retirement are also planning to be more dependent on Social Security income. Ten years ago, 40% of Boomers said they expected their retirement savings would be their primary income source. Today, it's 34%.

      It's no surprise, then, that many Boomers appear to be reconsidering plans to stop working. The study shows nearly half of Boomers -- 48% -- plan to expect to hold down a full or part-time job after they reach retirement age. Before the financial crisis, it was just 35%.

      "Ten years ago, Baby Boomers had a clear vision of what a personally satisfying retirement looked like," said Scott Goldberg, president of Bankers Life. "But today, many are realizing they will not be as financially independent in retirement as they once expected."

      What to do

      If you are in your 50s or 60s, you don't have the luxury of a lot of time to build wealth for your golden years. But there are steps you can take now to become better prepared. They involve cutting expenses and increasing savings.

      First, AARP suggests defining what you want retirement to be. And be specific. If you want to travel, for example, think about what kind of travel. And it should go without saying, you need to be practical.

      Next, add up your assets, both financial and personal. If you have developed a skill over the years related to a favorite hobby, maybe that can be a source of income after you quit your day job.

      Decide when you want to start collecting Social Security. The monthly payments will be a lot larger if you can put it off until age 70.

      Analyze your budget, looking for ways to trim spending. Just a little each month can add up to growing savings.

      The financial crisis, which deepened an existing recession, was a major blow to the U.S. economy.Since then, the nation has been on a slow path toward...
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      Lakeview Cheese and Bashas’ Family of Stores recall cheese products

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Lakeview Cheese and Bashas’ Family of Stores are recalling various types of Colby cheese that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      The following nine Colby cheese products, including fixed-weight and bulk- cut, random-weight items, are being recalled:

      Food City Colby Longhorn Cheese

      12 oz.

      Food City Colby Jack Cheese

      12 oz.

      Food City Colby Monterey Cheese

      12 oz.

      Random Weight Longhorn Colby Cheese

      Random Weight Cut Co-Jack Cheese

      Random Weight Cut Monterey Jack Cheese

      Random Weight Cut Pepper Jack Cheese

      Random Weight Colby Quarter Longhorn

      Random Weight Colby Horn

      The recalled products, manufactured by Guggisberg Cheese and by Deutsch Kase Haus, were distributed by Lakeview Cheese to Bashas’ Family of Stores, and sold in Bashas’ and Food City supermarkets’ Arizona meat departments under the grocery brands’ private label.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products between September 1, 2016, and February 21, 2017, may return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may call Bashas’ Family of Stores’ customer service department at 480-883-6131.

      Lakeview Cheese and Bashas’ Family of Stores are recalling various types of Colby cheese that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.No illnes...
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      Takata expected to set up $125 million fund for airbag victims

      The fund is part of a $1 billion settlement being presented in a Detroit federal court on Monday

      Takata has reportedly agreed to set up a fund to compensate victims of its faulty airbags, which have been blamed for 11 deaths and hundreds of injuries in the United States. The $125 million fund is part of a plea deal expected to be aired in a federal courtroom in Detroit on Monday.

      More than 70 million of the defective airbags have been recalled because their inflator can explode and send deadly shrapnel into the passenger compartment.

      The recall process has been seen as painstakingly slow by consumers, although regulators and automakers say they have been working as quickly as possible to remove and replace the defective units.

      Last December, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued an order that set deadlines for when automakers must have replacement parts available for customers. 

      “NHTSA is doing everything possible to make sure that there are no more preventable injuries or deaths because of these dangerous airbag inflators,” said then-NHTSA Administrator Dr. Mark Rosekind. “All vehicle owners should regularly check their vehicles for recalls at SaferCar.gov and go get them fixed at no cost as soon as replacement parts are available.”

      It's not that easy, of course. Consumers and dealers alike have been frustrated by a lack of parts. Some automakers have asked dealers to make loaners available but most have not, leaving consumers with little choice but to drive around with a lethal explosive device just inches from their face. 

      The fund is said to be similar to the one General Motors set up in 2014 to deal with the deaths and injuries that resulted from faulty ignition switches on some of its smaller sedans. Press reports in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere say the fund will be administered by Kenneth Feinberg, who also ran the GM fund and handled compensation for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

      $1 billion total

      The fund is part of what's expected to be $1 billion that Takata will pay as part of an agreement to plead guilty to criminal wire fraud for allegedly providing false safety reports to automakers. Much of the remaining amount will be used to reimburse automakers for the expenses they have incurred in conducting the recalls. 

      Takata had earlier turned aside a plea by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) that it establish a fund to compensate victims, saving them the expense and trauma of pursuing legal action against the company. He said Takata only agreed to the action "because they had a gun to their head."

      Blumenthal noted that General Motors had set up its fund just months after recalling millions of cars with defective ignition switches, and he called the $125 million "paltry" compared with the automakers' fund.

      Settling the court case is thought to be the last hurdle in Takata's attempt to find a buy for the troubled company, which would otherwise likely face bankruptcy.

      Takata has reportedly agreed to set up a fund to compensate victims of its faulty airbags, which have been blamed for 11 deaths and hundreds of injuries in...
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      Cooper recalls Discoverer M+S Sport tires

      The tires do not meet the traction requirements for snow tires

      Cooper Tire & Rubber is recalling 7,067 Discoverer M+S Sport tires, sizes 235/75R15, 255/65R16, 215/70R16, 225/70R16, 235/70R16, 245/70R16, 265/70R16, 255/60R17, 225/65R17, 235/65R17, 265/65R17, 255/55R18, 235/60R18 and 255/50R19.

      The tires may be marked with the Alpine Symbol, but do not meet the traction requirements for snow tires. As such, they fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 139, "New Pneumatic Radial Tires for Light Vehicles."

      The tires may not provide the expected traction or performance in snow conditions, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Cooper will notify owners, and dealers will replace all the affected tires with tires from a different brand line, free of charge. The recall began on February 20, 2017.

      Owners may contact Cooper customer service at 1-800-854-6288. Cooper's number for this recall is 166.

      Cooper Tire & Rubber is recalling 7,067 Discoverer M+S Sport tires, sizes 235/75R15, 255/65R16, 215/70R16, 225/70R16, 235/70R16, 245/70R16, 265/70R16, 255/...
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      Witnesses describe heavily-armed police presence invading Standing Rock protest

      One officer is heard asking another to pose for a photograph with a protester who says his hip is broken

      Numerous law enforcement agencies descended on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation Thursday to evict the self-styled water protectors who had camped out for months in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline.

      The target of the federal and local agencies is the Oceti Sakowin camp, which is directly next to the reservation but on land that authorities claim belongs to the Army Corps of Engineers. While many protesters have agreed to cross the frozen Cannonball River to the reservation side, others have pledged to passively resist the federal orders and remain at Oceti Sakowin until the end.

      The Army Corps of Engineers, which late last year promised to open a new environmental review of the Dakota Access Pipeline and began that review process this month, has since abandoned those plans, and on February 7 granted Energy Transfer Partners its necessary easement to drill under Lake Oahe. At the same time, the Corps also issued a February 22 deadline for people to leave the Oceti Sakowin camp, citing spring flooding. 

      Arrests began Wednesday as promised, but police left before the Oceti Sakowin camp was cleared, reports on the ground indicate. Late Thursday afternoon, heavily armed police entered Oceti Sakowin again and finished their raid. Footage posted by protesters and independent media shows law enforcement pointing guns at a tipi and at a person kneeling in prayer. Witnesses say that veterans, reporters, and water protectors are all being swept up in arrests.

      “The people are unarmed, singing and praying in front of police with guns drawn,” writes Ruth Hopkins, who has been covering the #NODAPL environmental and spiritual movement for Indian Country Today. 

      Citizen journalist says officers broke his hip

      On Wednesday afternoon, one person filming from the front lines of the police raid, from a public Facebook account called Eric Poemz, captured himself getting tackled by law enforcement officers.

      Before his arrest, Eric Poemz was filming officers as they blocked the road. Facing the line of officers, Poemz tells them he is unarmed and repeatedly tries convincing them to join his cause. He notes that they do not have identification badges on. "By law, you're supposed to have a badge on, and none of you do."

      Later, one officer in particular captures his attention. "You're an honorable man,” Eric Poemz tells the officer. “I know you have a job to do and a family to provide for. But why do it protecting oil? That’s all we're trying to do, sir, is protect the water. I know you're looking at me and you just shook your head, ‘Yes,’ because I know you have a heart you have a soul.”

      "Why don’t you be honorable and set down your badge now, in front of 6,100 people,” Poemz adds, referencing the number of people watching his live stream. 

      But whatever perceived connection he finds with the officer vanishes as people are suddenly seen running, and the phone appears to land roughly on the ground. Suddenly, the video’s narrator is screaming in pain and telling the officers on top of him that he has a broken hip. 

      The officers agree to call an ambulance for him but reprimand Poemz for being there. “You had a deadline and you violated it,” one cop says, referencing the federal eviction deadline. 

      "Nice and comfy"

      Another cop then sounds as if he is taking a photograph of Poemz, and asks a fellow officer to pose with him. A voice is heard saying: "I’m going to get a picture of you two, you want to lay down nice and comfy next to him or should we get him up? He says he has a broken hip."  

      The officers later promise to get him help but not without lecturing him, revealing yet again a deep ideological divide between the protesters and law enforcement. "Listen, if you quit playing games, we're not here to hurt you, just cut your stupid shit,” an officer says. 

      "My hip is probably broken, sir, I’m not playing,” Poemz responds. 

      "If that’s the case you’ll get medical attention, you’ll be treated with respect, so why don’t you start treating us with some respect? You've been disrespecting this whole area, you've been disrespecting your state and us for six months. Knock it off."

      On the telephone, Morton County Sheriff’s spokesman Rob Keller tells ConsumerAffairs he does not know why an officer would pose for a picture next to an injured person being arrested, but he would not comment on the specifics of the video because he says he had not yet viewed it.

      In an email, Morton County spokesman Maxine Kerr offers this explanation: “It is very difficult to tell who is being told to lie down and be comfy. It is typical for LE (law enforcement) to try to make injured arrestees comfortable until the ambulance arrives. Sometimes LE does have a picture taken with an arrestee if it is a mass arrest to help document arresting officers. However, photos like this were not done yesterday because there were not that many arrests and LE clearly knew who was doing the arrests.” 

      It's not clear whether the officers came from Morton County or a different local agency, as officers from other municipalities and neighboring states were also participating in the raid. 

      Limited coverage of casino arrests and raid

      Mainstream news presence at the raid itself appeared to be minimal, as any person who remains at the Oceti Sakowin camp risks arrest. A small, nonprofit news site called Unicorn Riot was live-streaming the raid. Mainstream news networks, however, have for the most part remained in a separate staging area that is approved by law enforcement, reporters on the ground say.

      “They had little tents set up in their microwave trucks [trucks that broadcast television news],” says Dennis Ward, a reporter with Canada’s Aboriginal News Network, describing the media staging area. “By the time people actually did anything yesterday all of those microwave trucks were gone.”

      Ward says his own network also had media credentials which would have allowed him and his coworkers to report from the protected staging area. But they instead opted to report from the camp itself, sleeping in their news truck over the course of eight days.  

      The Standing Rock Sioux’s Prairie Knights Casino, where people for months have huddled in the lobby to take a break from the cold, has become another unlikely battle ground between protesters, media, and police. On Wednesday night, after eight days of reporting from the Oceti Sakowin camp, Ward says he and his crew booked a hotel room at the casino. As they enjoyed a warm dinner, Ward says, a group of law enforcement suddenly approached a table of people eating next to them and escorted them all outside to make arrests.

      “It looked like the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs],” making the arrests, Ward says, though, with so many agencies swarming, “it’s getting hard to tell who’s who down here.” Why the diners next to him were getting arrested remained unclear, Ward says. The Bureau of Indian Affairs, which had announced earlier this month that it was sending agents to evict protesters from the encampments, has not yet returned a message from ConsumerAffairs.

      In another confrontation in the casino lobby Wednesday, captured and posted on Facebook, a group of officers surrounded two men and accused them of passing something to each other. "We got a call from security and surveillance saying we've seen you guys passing something around,” an officer says. The officers order one of the men, who claims to be a veteran, to turn around so they can arrest him. The vet raises his arms but hasn’t yet turned his back when the officers suddenly shoot him with a Taser gun.

      Federal authorities and local police promised to return to the Oceti Sakowin camp Thursday morning to finish their so-called clean-up. By the afternoon, water protectors watching the camp from across the Cannonball River, safely on the reservation side, reported that authorities had entered Oceti Sakowin and were making more arrests of the protesters who remained in passive resistance.

      “They have entered camp.. Sound cannon, weapons, helicopters, snipers, heavily armed (LIVE ROUNDS),” says one post.  “Many arrest are happening. I stayed as long as I could & hold it down for the people.” The Seattle Times reported on Thurday that a total of 39 hold-outs had been arrested. 

      Numerous law enforcement agencies descended on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation Thursday to evict the s...
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      Warm temperatures, not just drought, are shrinking the Colorado River, study says

      The lifeblood of the Southwest is losing its flow

      The American Southwest as we know it today would not exist without the Colorado River. Spanning 1,450 miles through the region, the river irrigates farms, creates hydro-power, provides drinking water to millions and is a source of fun and beauty in federally-recognized recreation areas and parks along the route.

      “We couldn’t inhabit the Southwest, with its large areas of desert, without a big river running through the middle of it,” according to to the author of a two-year-old report which found that the river is responsible for $1.4 trillion worth of economic activity.

      All of which is to say, government agencies need to act fast if they want to preserve the economy of the Southwest. New research from the University of Arizona and Colorado State University shows that warming temperatures are causing the Colorado River to shrink.

      A 21st-Century Decline

      In the 21st century, from 2000 through 2014, the river’s flow reached only 81 percent of its 20th century average, the researchers found. They attributed that change in flow to warming temperatures, saying this is the first study of its kind to trace a direct link between global warming and the decreased Colorado River flow.

      "The future of Colorado River is far less rosy than other recent assessments have portrayed,” co-author Bradly Udall told ScienceDaily. “A clear message to water managers is that they need to plan for significantly lower river flows." 

      Not that previous assessments of the Colorado River have actually been rosy. A longtime drought has diminished water in the region since 2000. Government officials and researchers have warned that the agriculture industry will need to dramatically cut back on its water usage in the years to come as a result. And the Bureau of Reclamation this month forecast that there is a 34 percent chance the river will not be able to fulfill the needs of all the states depending on it in 2018.

      But the drought has only accounted for two-thirds of the river’s decline, according to the latest research from the Colorado and Arizona researchers. The remaining third of the loss, they say, is literally caused by climate change.

      Warmer temperatures have been causing the moisture in the river basin’s waterways to evaporate, according to their research. The findings mean that even an end to the drought may not restore the river to previous levels. “We can’t say with any certainty that precipitation is going to increase and come to our rescue,” Udall explained in another interview.

      Conservationists sue to prevent drilling

      Yet even as farmers, the real estate industry, and consumers anticipate cutbacks, conservationists worry that other industries may want to build new infrastructure along the Colorado River Basin and get their share. The Bureau of Land Management’s resource management plans currently allow for oil and gas drilling in the Colorado Basin area.

      Last fall, the Center for Biological Diversity threatened to sue the BLM if the agency would not promise to block all new oil and gas development in the upper basin of the river. Part of the concern, Center for Biological Diversity attorney Wendy Park tells ConsumerAffairs, is that fracking or drilling in the basin would require companies “to use tremendous amounts of water,” water she worries would likely come from the Colorado River.

      But there have been some hopeful developments. Since being threatened with the suit, the BLM has agreed to do a new evaluation into the effects of industry in the region, called a programmatic biological opinion, which Park anticipates will be ready in the spring. 

      The American Southwest as we know it today would not exist without the Colorado River. Spanning 1,450 miles through the region, the river irrigates farms,...
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      Judge refuses to release jailed Volkswagen executive

      Oliver Schmidt awaits trial on 11 felony counts, other VW execs remain in Germany

      Volkswagen has paid billions of dollars in fines, penalties, and buyback costs related to its "dirty diesel" scandal. But that's not much help to Oliver Schmidt, a VW engineer who at one time headed the automaker's emissions compliance department.

      Schmidt, 48, has been in jail in Detroit awaiting trial on 11 felony counts, and a federal judge Thursday refused to release him on bond, saying he presented an extreme flight risk. Schmidt was arrested at Miami International Airport Jan. 7 as he attempted to fly home to Germany after a family vacation. He faces up to 169 years in prison if convicted. 

      Other VW executives have been warned to stay in Germany, where they are safe from arrest and extradition, at least for now, since Germany rarely extradites its citizens to foreign countries.

      Schmidt was allegedly the author of a damning memo written in April 2014 when researchers at West Virginia University discovered that VW diesels exceeded federal standards and used a software program to reduce emissions when a car was being tested, Automotive News reported.

       “It should first be decided whether we are honest. If we are not honest, everything stays as it is,” Schmidt allegedly wrote to a colleague.

      Schmidt is only the second VW employee to feel the brunt of the scandal. James Liang, a Volkswagen engineer based in California, entered a guilty plea last September to conspiring to defraud regulators. He has been cooperating with investigators and is scheduled to be sentenced in May.

      Volkswagen has agreed to pay $4.3 billion in fines to various U.S. agencies as well as conducting a recall and buyback program that is expected to push the total cost in the U.S. and Canada beyond $23 billion.

      Volkswagen has paid billions of dollars in fines, penalties, and buyback costs related to its "dirty diesel" scandal. But that's not much help to Oliver Sc...
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      Calphalon recalls cutlery knives

      The blade on Contemporary Cutlery knives can break during use

      Calphalon Corp., of Atlanta, Ga., is recalling about 2 million Contemporary Cutlery knives sold in the U.S. and Canada.

      The blade on knives can break during use, posing a laceration hazard.

      The company has received 27 reports of finger or hand lacerations including four injuries requiring stitches. In addition, the firm has received about 3,150 reports of broken knives.

      This recall involves Calphalon Contemporary Cutlery carving, chef, paring, santoku and utility knives sold individually and in sets made between August 2008, and March 2016.

      The following models are included in the recall:

      Product

      Item

      Item Number

      Calphalon Contemporary Cutlery

      4.5" Parer

      KNR10045C

      Calphalon Contemporary Cutlery

      7" Santoku

      KNR0007C

      Calphalon Contemporary Cutlery

      Contemporary Paring Knife Set

      1821332

      Calphalon Contemporary Cutlery

      5" Santoku

      KNR0005C

      Calphalon Contemporary Cutlery

      8" Chef Knife

      KNR4008C

      Calphalon Contemporary Cutlery

      Fruit/Vegetable Set - 3.5" parer & 6" utility

      KNSR002C

      Calphalon Contemporary Cutlery

      Carving Set - 6" fork & 8" slicer

      KNSR0102C

      Calphalon Contemporary Cutlery 21-piece set

      3½" parer, 5" boning knife, 5" santoku, 5½" tomato/bagel knife, 6" fork, 6" utility, 7" santoku, 8" bread, 8" chef’s knife, 8" slicer, 10" steel, kitchen shears, 8 steak knives, and knife block

      1808009

      Calphalon Contemporary Cutlery 17-piece set

      4½" parer, 6" utility, 7" santoku, 8" bread, 8" chef’s knife, 8" slicer, 10" steel, kitchen shears, 8 steak knives, and knife block

      1808008

      Calphalon Contemporary SharpIN Cutlery 14-piece set

      4.5" Parer, 6" Utility, 8" Bread, 8" Chef's Knife, 8 Steak Knives, Kitchen Shears, Sharpening Knife Block

      1922890

      Calphalon Contemporary SharpIN Cutlery 15-piece set

      4.5" Parer, 6" Utility, 7" Santoku, 8" Bread, 8" Chef's Knife, 8 Steak Knives, Kitchen Shears, Sharpening Knife Block

      1922971

      Calphalon Contemporary SharpIN Cutlery 18-piece set

      4.5" Parer, 5" Boning, 5.5" Tomato, 6" Utility, 7" Santoku, 8" Bread, 8" Chef's Knife, 8" Slicer, 8 Steak Knives, Kitchen Shears, Sharpening Knife Block

      1932810

      Calphalon Contemporary SharpIN Cutlery 20-piece set

      4.5" Parer, 5" Boning, 5" Santoku, 5.5" Tomato, 6" Fork, 6" Utility, 7" Santoku, 8" Bread, 8" Chef's Knife, 8" Slicer, 8 Steak Knives, Kitchen Shears, Sharpening Knife Block

      1922976

      The knives, manufactured in China, were sold at J.C. Penney, Kohl’s, Macy’s and other stores nationwide and online at www.Amazon.com from September 2008, through December 2016, for $25 for a single knife to $300 for a knife block set.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled cutlery and contact Calphalon for a replacement cutlery product.

      Consumers may contact Calphalon at 800-809-7267 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday or online at www.calphalon.com and click on “Customer Support” at the bottom of the page then “Recalls” for more information.

      Calphalon Corp., of Atlanta, Ga., is recalling about 2 million Contemporary Cutlery knives sold in the U.S. and Canada.The blade on knives can break du...
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      Before planning retirement, decide what you want retirement to be

      How you spend retirement will determine how much money you need

      With the leading edge of the huge Baby Boom population entering their retirement years, retirement planning is a big deal. But this phase of life can take many forms.

      Planning to tour the country pulling an Airstream trailer? Your needs will be different than if you plan to launch a new career in retirement.

      When talking about retirement, the discussion almost always starts with money. Not going to work every day means you won't be bringing home the same sized paycheck. So the first question is how you will make up the difference.

      Can't depend completely on Social Security

      Social Security will provide a source of monthly income, but not a very big one. You'll likely need other sources of income, such as a pension – which is pretty rare these days – or a retirement savings account.

      According to the Labor Department, fewer than half of Americans know how much they need to save for retirement, but in fairness that number is hard to pin down until you decide how you plan to spend retirement.

      If you plan to downsize, moving into a home that you can purchase with no mortgage, in a low cost-of-living area, you'll need less money each month than if you plan to spend half the year traveling.

      That said, it is easy to underestimate your needs. The government says you'll probably need 70% of your pre-retirement income to keep up.

      Is a part-time job the answer?

      That's why a growing number of early Baby Boomer retirees are still working in some form or another. After a successful career, they have a lot of knowledge and expertise. Often, their former employers are eager to tap into that on a part-time basis.

      Of course, after 40 or more years working in a profession or at a job you really didn't like, the prospect of continuing it, even on a part-time basis, might not seem that attractive. But many retirees take the opportunity to try their hand at something new. The website NewRetirement.com has some advice for finding the right fit.

      Growing optimism

      The good news is people approaching retirement are a lot more optimistic today than they were just after the Great Recession. A new study by T. Rowe Price shows 47% of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers believe their ideal retirement is “very attainable,” suggesting they have either given it serious thought and have their ducks in a row or have no idea of what's involved.

      The subjects in the study were mostly investors, suggesting they have been building wealth. When it comes to visualizing their retirement years, the majority see it as “a time to relax.” Only 38% plan on “reinventing themselves.”

      With the leading edge of the huge Baby Boom population entering their retirement years, retirement planning is a big deal. But this phase of life can take...
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      Google plans expansion of its Waze ride-sharing service

      The service differs in many ways from more conventional services like Uber and Lyft

      Back in August, we reported that Google was staking its claim in the ride-sharing business. Using its Waze navigation app, the company began testing a “Going my way?” concept that allowed drivers to connect with travelers that were going in the same direction.

      Initially, tests were confined to Israel and the San Francisco Bay area, but the Wall Street Journal reports that positive results have prompted Google to expand the program. Waze chief Noam Bardin announced that the company will be testing the service in several U.S. cities and in Latin America over the next several months.

      Ride-sharing differences

      The expansion is likely to put Google on a collision course with other popular ride-sharing services like Lyft and Uber. However, Waze’s service differs in several key ways.

      For one, users must order their Waze rides hours in advance and there is no guarantee that a driver will accept. This is because the service asks drivers who use the navigation app to pick up travelers who are going in the same direction. Uber and Lyft, on the other hand, operate more of an on-demand service that users depend on to take them wherever they want to go on short notice.

      As such, drivers will more than likely not be using Waze as their main source of income, as many Uber and Lyft drivers do now. Riders only pay drivers 54 cents per mile – the reimbursement rate for business travel according to the IRS – and Waze currently doesn’t take a cut of those earnings. However, that could change if the service finds success.

      The main drawing point for riders will be the difference in price. A trip from downtown Oakland to downtown San Francisco cost a scant $4.50 for users of the Waze service, while Uber and Lyft’s cheapest rides cost $10.57 and $12.40, respectively. However, much of the service’s success will depend on driver cooperation.

      “Can we get the average person on his way to work to pick someone up and drop them off once in a while? That’s the biggest challenge,” said Bardin.

      Self-driving integration?

      Google bought Waze for $1 billion back in 2013, but it has had its eyes on the self-driving market for some time. In the same year, it invested $258 million in Uber and placed one of its executives on the company’s board.

      Over time, the companies parted ways due to competition, but the emergence of the Waze Carpool service may kick things into overdrive. As of right now, Google does enjoy some advantage because it doesn’t have to overcome some of the regulatory obstacles that other ride-sharing services have had to deal with. Bardin also notes the possibility of integrating self-driving technologies into the service in the future.

      “If we were a startup, we couldn’t afford to take these sorts of long term bets. With Google, we can. . . And maybe at the end of the day, instead of a neighbor picking you up, a robot picks you up,” he quipped.

      Back in August, we reported that Google was staking its claim in the ride-sharing business. Using its Waze navigation app, the company began testing a “Goi...
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      Researchers getting closer to Zika virus vaccine

      Three vaccines said to hold promise but no one is predicting speedy approval

      Even though the groundhog saw his shadow earlier this month, spring is not that far away, and with it, mosquitoes and the returning threat of the Zika virus.

      Over the winter months, medical researchers have been busy working on vaccines against the virus and are reporting significant progress.

      “The pace of preclinical and early clinical development for Zika vaccines is unprecedented,” said Dr. Dan H. Barouch, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC).

      Barouch is the corresponding author of a review paper in the journal Immunity, detailing advances toward a Zika vaccine. In a very short time, he says researchers have shown that a variety of vaccine platforms can provide significant protection against Zika virus challenge in animal tests.

      "However, unique challenges will need to be addressed in the clinical development of a Zika vaccine,” Barouch said.

      Three vaccines under development

      Today, just two years after the first Zika outbreak in Brazil, researchers have focused their attention on three different vaccine candidates that they say have been effective in protecting both mice and rhesus monkeys in laboratory settings. Several human trials began last fall at various sites in the U.S.

      “The rapid advancement of Zika vaccine candidates into clinical trials reflects the uniquely focused and effective collaboration among scientists in the field to address this important global problem,” said Barouch.

      While the symptoms of Zika are not extreme and people normally recover after a few weeks, the virus has devastating effects when a pregnant woman is infected.

      Devastating impact on pregnant women

      The World Health Organization (WHO) warns that a Zika virus infection during pregnancy is a cause of congenital brain abnormalities, including microcephaly, a birth defect in which the brain is not fully developed. Zika has also been known to trigger Guillain-Barré syndrome.

      Even with the progress recorded over the last year, Barouch says a lot about the Zika virus remains unknown, which will slow development of a vaccine.

      Safety considerations, he says, are a key concern since the target population for any vaccine will include women who are pregnant or may become pregnant.

      Even though the groundhog saw his shadow earlier this month, spring is not that far away, and with it, mosquitoes and the returning threat of the Zika viru...
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      Yahoo and Verizon said to cut merger price by $350 million

      Sources say the companies are close to closing their acquisition deal

      We recently reported that Yahoo and Verizon were making progress in closing their acquisition deal. The agreement had faced many headwinds, from multiple Yahoo data breaches to circulating rumors about Verizon asking for a huge discount on the deal.

      Despite those challenges, the companies remained in negotiations, and sources close to the situation said last week that Verizon could be asking for a $350 million discount and shared responsibility with Yahoo over any legal ramifications connected to recent data breaches.

      Now, the Wall Street Journal reports that the companies will cut $350 million off the original $4.83 billion agreement and will evenly split costs connected to the breaches, according to sources. Verizon and Yahoo have not yet formally announced the revised agreement but are expected to in the near future.

      Not out of the woods yet

      Both companies are facing some pressure when it comes to cementing the deal.

      Yahoo has already made plans that it intends to follow through on if the acquisition is successful, including changing the name of its remaining business to “Altaba” and paring down its number of board positions. One source speculated that the company is also eager to sell stakes in Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Yahoo Japan Inc.

      For Verizon’s part, the deal comes with plenty of positives and negatives. Upon successfully acquiring Yahoo’s internet business, it would be able to expand its mobile media and advertising markets and take advantage of the large user base connected to the Yahoo platform. However, company shareholders are being cautious about doing business after the recent data breaches that affected over one billion Yahoo accounts.

      While these same shareholders will ultimately have to approve the revised acquisition agreement, the companies hope that the deal will close by mid-April. 

      We recently reported that Yahoo and Verizon were making progress in closing their acquisition deal. The agreement had faced many headwinds, from multiple Y...
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      California crisis shows value of flood insurance

      Homeowners insurance does not protect against flood damage

      You sometimes hear about homeowners being "underwater" -- meaning they owe more on their home than it's worth. But you can also be literally underwater, a prospect homeowners in parts of northern California are currently facing.

      If the Lake Oroville Dam's spillway fails, as disaster officials fear it may, more than 100,000 homes could potentially be flooded.

      “The potential for flooding poses a significant threat to life and property in these ... northern California counties and has forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of residents,” said Janet Ruiz, the Insurance Information Institute's California Representative. “Standard homeowners, renters and business insurance policies do not cover flood-caused damage. A separate flood insurance policy is needed.” 

      Read that again: Standard homeowners and renters insurance does not cover flooding. 

      Or as California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones puts it: "Flood insurance may be all that stands between you and devastating financial losses. ... I urge homeowners to review their coverage needs and consider a flood insurance policy. Consumers need to know their risks and prepare before disaster strikes."

      Federally-subsidized flood insurance is available from FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and a few private insurance companies. It's important to note that NFIP policies have a 30-day waiting period before the coverage is activated, so you can't wait until it starts raining to sign up. 

      Excess flood insurance policies are also available from some private insurers if additional coverage is needed above and beyond the basic FEMA NFIP policy. To learn more about flood insurance, visit FloodSmart.gov.

      What to do

      Jones suggests consumers, including those in low-risk areas, assess their need to purchase coverage well before big storms hit. Even areas that have never experienced floods may be at risk after years of severe drought and devastating wildfires in California and elsewhere.
      Jones also advises consumers to prepare for potential disaster by using their smartphone to record a home inventory to catalog their belongings and store them in their cloud account. Residents should also consider scanning deeds, insurance policies, and other important documents and store them in the cloud for easy access after the storm.
      You sometimes hear about homeowners being "underwater" -- meaning they owe more on their home than it's worth. But you can also be literally underwater, a...
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      Gas prices poised for annual early spring climb

      Prices at the pump are already much higher than they were last year

      Consumers who have gotten accustomed to relatively low gasoline prices over the last two and a half years will have an adjustment to make this spring.

      Gas prices are going to be a bit higher than they were last year.

      Actually, they already are. The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of self-serve regular is $2.28 a gallon, with almost no movement in the last week. But compared to the price a year ago, it is 57 cents a gallon more.

      The national average price of premium gasoline, required in a growing number of new vehicles, is $2.80 a gallon, about 59 cents a gallon more than last year. Diesel is selling, on average, at $2.51 a gallon, about 53 cents more than last year.

      Rising oil prices

      The reason for the higher prices, up until now, is the cost of crude oil. Oil prices are higher than they were last year, mainly because OPEC has been sending strong signals that it plans to cut production to reduce the huge glut of oil that has kept oil prices relatively soft since late 2014.

      However, most of those proposed cuts have not actually occurred yet. The oil market's growing confidence that they will has prompted traders to bid up crude oil prices to just under $55 a barrel -- still a long way from its highs.

      Over the next few weeks, motorists will likely begin to see prices at the pumps for all grades of fuel begin to move higher. That's because refineries typically reduce operations in late winter and early spring to perform maintenance and begin to switch to more expensive summer grades of gasoline.

      Those prices normally rise until the Memorial Day weekend before slowly declining over the summer. If this year is like the last one, consumers could see gasoline prices go up another 25 cents or so before they peak.

      Refinery issues could boost prices more

      They could shoot even higher if a refinery or two has to cut back production even more. Over the weekend a fire broke out at a refinery in Torrance, Calif. According to the Los Angeles Times, the fire started with an explosion Saturday morning. In a Tweet, GasBuddy analyst Patrick DeHaan says California motorists could see gas prices jump 10 to 25 cents a gallon as a result.

      Currently, the statewide average price of regular gas in California is $2.90 a gallon. The price of premium is $3.14 a gallon.

      California has some of the most expensive gasoline in the country. The cheapest gas this week is found in South Carolina, where the statewide average for regular is $2.03 a gallon and the average price of premium is $2.60.

      Consumers who have gotten accustomed to relatively low gasoline prices over the last two and a half years will have an adjustment to make this spring.G...
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      Suburbs increasingly 'hotter' housing markets than urban areas

      But proximity to an urban core helps define a suburban hotspot

      A few years ago, Millennial homebuyers were eager to live in the city. They liked the idea that they could walk to movie theaters, restaurants, and shopping centers.

      But as more of them have started families, the suburbs are looking a bit more attractive these days. Realtor.com reports a number of suburban communities have become real estate hot spots in their own right, fueling price rises outside the city core.

      The housing marketplace singles out Northeast/Montebello, Colo., a Denver suburb; Wylie/St. Paul, Texas, a suburb of Dallas; and Dublin/Dougherty, Calif., a suburb of San Francisco, as the nation's most prominent suburban hotspots.

      Meccas for young families

      “Suburbs are traditionally viewed as Meccas for young families, willing to trade in shorter commute times and urban nightlife for better schools and larger homes,” said Jonathan Smoke, realtor.com's chief economist.

      But Smoke says the relationship between the suburbs and urban areas is intertwined. As urban home prices have shot up in recent years, and inventory levels have tightened, the more affordable suburban home prices have started to look a lot more attractive.

      "Our analysis indicates 50 percent of buyers planning to purchase a home this spring indicated they preferred a home in the suburbs,” Smoke said.

      Proximity to the city

      But the analysis also shows that what often makes a suburb appealing to homebuyers is its proximity to an urban area, and ease of getting back and forth. Smoke says the suburbs that made the list are located just outside urban centers, which are themselves hot housing markets.

      The suburbs on the list have also enjoyed recent explosive growth. They've seen an average of 18.8% household growth over the last seven years. That edges out the growth in other suburban and urban neighborhoods.

      In some Sunbelt metros, the growth of suburban households has far outpaced urban growth. The realtor.com analysis found suburban areas of Austin, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Jacksonville, and Houston grew by 18% to 27% between 2010 and 2017. That compares to just 7% to 16% for those metros' urban areas. Nationwide, population growth in suburbs exceeded urban population growth in 33 of 50 metros.

      Realtor.com says the suburbs on its list are among the top 8% when it comes to the hottest real estate Zip Codes in the country. It says these homes received 1.6 times more views on realtor.com than the typical home in the study.

      A few years ago, Millennial homebuyers were eager to live in the city. They liked the idea that they could walk to movie theaters, restaurants, and shoppin...
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      Screening developed for women with dense breast tissue

      Rapid Breast MRI developer says the protocol could detect breast cancer six years earlier

      A doctor in Flint, Mich., says he has developed a special screening process to detect breast cancer in women with dense breast tissue.

      He says his "Rapid Breast MRI" protocol could detect breast cancer up to six years earlier than a mammogram and could possibly save thousands of lives.

      "Your breasts will be seen as dense if you have a lot of fibrous or glandular tissue and not much fat in the breasts," the American Cancer Society says on its website.

      As it turns out, breast density is very common and not abnormal. However, it can present some challenges to screening using a mammogram.

      Not clear what women should do

      According to the Mayo Clinic, some states have laws requiring doctors to inform women when a mammogram shows they have dense breast tissue. "But just what women should do in response isn't clear," the Mayo Clinic says.

      Dr. David A. Strahle, chairman of Regional Medical Imaging (RMI), believes Rapid Breast MRI could be the answer.

      An MRI is a highly effective way to see what is going on inside the body. The only problem is, it's very expensive. For that reason, only about 2% of women -- those considered at high risk for breast cancer -- get MRI screenings.

      Strahle says his protocol cuts the time required for a breast scan by 70%, to just seven minutes. That, he says, will drastically reduce the cost.

      Half the cost of regular MRI

      While insurance companies do not yet cover Rapid Breast MRI, Strahle says the exam costs $395 out-of-pocket, compared to $700 or more for a full diagnostic MRI. Strahle says the scan only needs to be performed every two years, as opposed to more frequent mammograms.

      "This is a major breakthrough," Strahle said. "I can see a day when we can prevent this disease from killing women."

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports breast cancer is the most common form of cancer affecting women in the U.S. Nearly 41,000 U.S. women died from breast cancer in 2013, the most recent year for which numbers are available.

      According to the CDC, women age 50 to 74 should be screened for breast cancer every two years. Women under 50 should discuss with their doctor when to begin screening.

      A doctor in Flint, Mich., says he has developed a special screening process to detect breast cancer in women with dense breast tissue.He says his "Rapi...
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      Builder confidence drops in February

      It's the second decline in as many months

      Builder confidence in the market for newly-built single-family fell for a second straight month in February, with the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) declining two points to a level of 65.

      “With much of the decline this month resulting from a decrease in buyer traffic, builders continue to struggle to minimize costs while dealing with supply side challenges such as a lack of developed lots and labor shortages,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “Despite these constraints, the overall housing market fundamentals remain strong and we expect to see continued growth this year as some of these concerns are addressed.”

      A broad-based decline

      The NAHB/Wells Fargo HMI gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next six months as "good," "fair" or "poor." Builders are asked to rate traffic of prospective buyers as "high to very high," "average," or "low to very low."

      Scores for each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.

      All three HMI components fell in February. The component gauging current sales conditions slipped one point to 71, the index charting sales expectations in the next six months registered a three-point decline to 73, and the component measuring buyer traffic dropped five points to 46.

      Looking at the three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, the Northeast was down two points, the South dipped one point, the Midwest rose a point, and the West held steady for the third month in a row.

      “While builders remain optimistic, we are seeing the numbers settling back into a normal range,” said NAHB Chairman Granger MacDonald. “Regulatory burdens remain a major challenge to our industry, and NAHB looks forward to working with the new Congress and administration to help alleviate some of the pressures that are holding small businesses back and making homes less affordable.”

      Builder confidence in the market for newly-built single-family fell for a second straight month in February, with the National Association of Home Builders...
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      California realtors say sales were robust in January

      The median price dipped on an uptick in sales of less expensive homes

      As we reported in recent days, housing affordability in California's red hot real estate markets has improved over the last few months. Industry experts say prices have leveled off a bit while incomes have risen.

      But that doesn't mean the market is slowing down. The California Association of Realtors (CAR) reports 2016 ended on a strong note and 2017 started the same way.

      If 2017 sales follow January's path, CAR estimates more than 420,000 existing homes will be sold statewide by December 31. That's up 2.1% from December and 4.4% from January 2016.

      "California's housing market continues to be defined by the higher-priced, coastal markets and the less expensive, inland areas that still offer access to major employment centers," said CAR President Geoff McIntosh.

      To find more affordable housing, McIntosh says many buyers are looking outside the core Bay Area markets of San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara. That's led to an uptick in sales in Contra Costa, Napa, and Solano.

      In Southern California, the same thing is happening, leading to stronger markets in recent months in Riverside and San Bernardino.

      Median price below $500,000

      The median sale price of an existing single-family home in California fell below the $500,000 mark for the first time in nearly a year, but that doesn't mean homeowners are cutting prices. It simply means that more less-expensive, entry-level homes are selling, which is a healthy sign for the market.

      California's median sale price was down 3.8% from a revised $508,870 in December to $489,580 in January. Still, that was 4.8% higher than January 2016.

      CAR Senior Vice President and Chief Economist Leslie Appleton-Young credits the recent rise in mortgage rates with spurring January sales. She says homebuyers were motivated to act before rates move even higher, which she predicts will eventually have a dampening effect on housing markets, since it will likely put homeownership out of reach for some consumers.

      The inventory of available homes has been extremely tight in California markets for months, but showed some improvement in January. CAR reports there were 3.7 months on inventory last month, compared to 2.6 months in December.

      As we reported in recent days, housing affordability in California's red hot real estate markets has improved over the last few months. Industry experts sa...
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      Home foreclosures down sharply in December

      Serious mortgage delinquencies were lower as well

      The number of completed foreclosures and the foreclosure rate skidded downward during the final month of 2016.

      Property information provider CoreLogic reports completed foreclosures plunged 40% in December from the same month a year earlier. That translates to a drop of 21,000 in December 2016 from 36,000 in December 2015 and a decrease of 82% from the peak of 118,336 in September 2010.

      During the same month, the foreclosure inventory was down 30%.

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

      Since the start of the financial meltdown in September 2008, there have been approximately 6.5 million completed foreclosures nationally. Approximately 8.6 million homes have been lost to foreclosure since homeownership rates peaked in the second quarter of 2004.

      As of last December, the national foreclosure inventory included approximately 329,000, or 0.8%, of all homes with a mortgage.

      Mortgage delinquencies

      The number of mortgages in serious delinquency -- 90 days or more past due including loans in foreclosure or REO -- fell 19.4% from December 2015. That means one million mortgages, or 2.6%, in serious delinquency -- the lowest level since August 2007. Decreases in serious delinquency were reported in 48 states and the District of Columbia.

      “While the decline in serious delinquency has been geographically broad, some oil-producing markets have shown the effects of low oil prices on the housing market,” said Dr. Frank Nothaft, chief economist for CoreLogic. “Serious delinquency rates rose in Louisiana, Wyoming and North Dakota, reflecting the weakness in oil production.”

      Report highlights

      • On a month-over-month basis, completed foreclosures fell 8.1% percent to 21,000 in December. As a basis of comparison, before the decline in the housing market in 2007, completed foreclosures averaged about 22,000 per month nationwide between 2000 and 2006.
      • On a month-over-month basis, the December 2016 foreclosure inventory dipped 1.9%.
      • The five states with the highest number of completed foreclosures in the 12 months ending in December 2016 were Florida (45,000), Michigan (30,000), Texas (24,000), Ohio (21,000), and California (19,000).These five states accounted for 36% of all completed foreclosures nationally.
      • Four states and the District of Columbia had the lowest number of completed foreclosures in the 12 months ending in December: North Dakota (182), the District of Columbia (254), West Virginia (312), Montana (630), and Alaska (668).
      • Four states and the District of Columbia had the highest foreclosure inventory rate in December: New Jersey (2.8%), New York (2.7%), Maine (1.8%), Hawaii (1.7%), and the District of Columbia (1.6%).
      • The five states with the lowest foreclosure inventory rate in December 2016 were Colorado (0.2%), Minnesota (0.3%), Utah (0.3%), Arizona (0.3%), and California (0.3%).
      The number of completed foreclosures and the foreclosure rate skidded downward during the final month of 2016.Property information provider CoreLogic r...
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      Model year 2009-2013 Suzuki Grand Vitaras recalled

      The gear shift rear shaft may break

      Suzuki Motor of America is recalling 791 model year 2009-2013 Grand Vitaras equipped with a manual transmission.

      The gear shift rear shaft may break, preventing the gears from being able to be changed, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Suzuki will notify owners, and dealers will replace the gear shift rear shaft, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin March 1, 2017.

      Owners may contact Suzuki customer service at 1-800-934-0934. Suzuki's number for this recall is VZ.

      About this recall

      This story is based on a recall notice issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the automobile manufacturer. Although the recall notice may specify certain models and production years, the actual recall may officially include only certain vehicles within those categories -- production runs during a certain time span, for example.

      Has your car been recalled? To check whether there are outstanding recalls on your car, jot down your VIN number (which you can find in the lower left corner of your windshield), go to www.nhtsa.gov/recalls, and enter the VIN where indicated. 

      Once notified of a recall, you should contact your local dealer, who will make the necessary repairs if parts are available. Frequently, parts are not immediately available and you may have to wait, sometimes for months in the case of a large recall. The dealer may voluntarily provide you with a loaner but is not required by law to do so. 

      Suzuki Motor of America is recalling 791 model year 2009-2013 Grand Vitaras equipped with a manual transmission.The gear shift rear shaft may break, pr...
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      Nissan recalls model 2002 Pathfinders and Infiniti QX4s

      The Takata airbag inflators may rupture

      Nissan North America (Nissan) is recalling 46 model year 2002 Pathfinders and Infiniti QX4s.

      The vehicles' Takata airbag inflators assembled as part of the passenger front airbag modules used as original equipment or replacement equipment may rupture in the event of a crash necessitating deployment of the front airbags.

      What to do

      Nissan will notify owners, and dealers will replace the front passenger airbag assembly, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Nissan customer service at 1-800-647-7261.

      This story is based on a recall notice issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the automobile manufacturer. Although the recall notice may specify certain models and production years, the actual recall may officially include only certain vehicles within those categories -- production runs during a certain time span, for example.

      Has your car been recalled? To check whether there are outstanding recalls on your car, jot down your VIN number (which you can find in the lower left corner of your windshield), go to www.nhtsa.gov/recalls, and enter the VIN where indicated. 

      Once notified of a recall, you should contact your local dealer, who will make the necessary repairs if parts are available. Frequently, parts are not immediately available and you may have to wait, sometimes for months in the case of a large recall. The dealer may voluntarily provide you with a loaner but is not required by law to do so. 

      Nissan North America (Nissan) is recalling 46 model year 2002 Pathfinders and Infiniti QX4s.The vehicles' Takata airbag inflators assembled as part of...
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      Choice Farms recalls mushrooms stuffed with cheese

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Choice Farms is recalling a limited quantity of stuffed mushrooms that be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      The recall pertains to a total of seven individual shrink-wrapped trays of one of three following stuffed mushroom types:

      Product DescriptionBest if Enjoyed ByLot NumberUPC

      Traditional Gourmet Portabella Mushrooms
      (2 count tray, 8 oz.)

      2/16/2017120410007-17524-72470

      Pizza style Portabella Mushrooms
      (2 count tray, 8 oz.)

      2/16/2017120410007-17524-72471

      Stuffed Mushrooms
      (6 count tray, 7 oz.)

      2/16/2017120410007-17524-72469

      The recalled products were sold on Friday, February 10, 2017, at the following stores:

      Store #Location
      Kroger 445

      5330 S. Cooper/ Green Oaks
      Arlington, TX 76017

      Kroger 461

      5190 Hwy. 78
      Sachse, TX 75048

      Kroger 529

      4241 Capitol Avenue
      Dallas, TX 75204

      Kroger 566

      3205 University Drive
      Nacadoches, TX 75965

      Kroger 575

      2935 Ridge Road
      Rockwall, TX 75032

      Kroger 695

      5701 W. Pleasant Ridge
      Arlington, TX 76016

      Dillon 072

      10515 W. Central Ave.
      Wichita, KS 67212

      What to do

      Customers who suspect they have purchased the recalled products should dispose them and contact Choice Farms LLC for a refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact Choice Farms at 800-605-0881.

      Choice Farms is recalling a limited quantity of stuffed mushrooms that be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.No illnesses have been reported to d...
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      Study finds 178 million exposed cyber assets in the U.S.

      Consumers can be spied on and could become part of a crime ring without adequate security

      Are your cyber assets exposed? If so, you're not alone. A new study by Trend Micro finds that no fewer than 178 million internet-connected devices in the U.S. are exposed to hacking.

      Very simply, an exposed cyber asset is a device like a router, webcam, or DVR that's connected to -- and visible on -- the public internet. Such devices can be used to spy on their owners and can often be taken over and used in cyberattacks on others.

      The study looked at the ten largest U.S. cities and found that Los Angeles has the highest number of exposed assets, followed by Houston and Chicago.

      Interestingly, the study said that the majority (79%) of exposed DVRs are in Chicago and more than three quarters (80%) of all exposed DVRs are made by TiVo.

      Internet-connected cameras that are most exposed include home cameras made by D-Link and security cameras made by GeoVision and Avtech

      What to do

      The router is like the front door to your home's internet. If it is not secure, criminals can break into your local connection and potentially monitor your activities and even, in some cases, make off with your private data.

      An unsecured router can also be turned into a "zombie," meaning that it can become part of a "botnet" (the cyber equivalent of those roving bands you see on The Walking Dead). While this may not affect you directly, it turns your home into a crime scene and makes you part of the global networks that support terrorism, child pornography, and identity theft.

      The most basic security step is to never buy a used router. Second is to always change the password on any router you buy. The password you choose should be long (preferably 16 characters or so) and complex -- a combination of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols.

      Write the password down, but don't leave it in plain view where visitors can see it. It's important to note here that we're not talking about the password you set up for wi-fi (which can be a little simpler if you wish) but rather the administrator password for the router. 

      Thie third step is to buy a router that has an embedded security solution. Trend Micro notes that it has partnered with ASUS to pre-install a security layer on ASUS routers. Similar solutions are available from other vendors.

      Trend Micro offers a free guide to securing your router. 

      Are your cyber assets exposed? If so, you're not alone. A new study by Trend Micro finds that no fewer than 178 million internet-connected devices in the U...
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      Saputo Inc. recalls Gouda cheese products

      Officials say the goods may be contaminated with listeria

      Saputo Inc. has initiated a recall of certain Gouda cheese products over concerns of a potential listeria contamination. Supplier Deutsch Kase Haus LLC notified the company of the danger after finding that its products may have been compromised

      Listeria monocytogenes is an organism that can be potentialy fatal to young children, the elderly, or consumers with frail or compromised immune systems. However, even healthy consumers can experience symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain, and diarhhea. Pregnant women who are infected stand the chance of having a miscarriage or stillbirth.

      The recall covers two products -- Great Midwest Applewood Smoked Gouda Cheese and Dutchmark Pasteurized Processed Smoked Gouda Cheese. Both were sold nationwide, primarily in retail stores and at deli counters.

      Information on the brand, product, pack size, universal product code (UPC), and "Sell By" date can be found below. No illnesses have been associated with this recall thus far.

      What to do

      Consumers who have purchased either recalled product are urged to dispose of it or return it to the place of purchase for a full refund. If you are concerned about any illness or injury as a result of consuming the product, contact your healthcare provider immediately.

      For more information, consumers can contact the company at 1-877-578-1510, Monday through Frida, between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. EST. 

      Saputo Inc. has initiated a recall of certain Gouda cheese products over concerns of a potential listeria contamination. Supplier Deutsch Kase Haus LLC not...
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      Federal appeals court agrees to rehear challenge to Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

      The court's decision is seen as promising by supporters of the embattled agency

      The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau won a stay of execution today, as a U.S. appeals court in Washington agreed to reconsider an October decision that would have made it easier for the Trump Administration to rein in the agency and fire its director, Richard Cordray.

      The full court will rehear arguments on May 24, including Chief Judge Merrick B. Garland, who had stepped away from the bench while his nomination to the Supreme Court languished in Congress.

      The court's decision to rehear the case is seen as an encouraging sign by supporters of the embattled consumer agency.

      "We are pleased that the ruling against the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s independent leadership will be reviewed by the full court," said Mike Landis, Litigation Director, at U.S. PIRG. "A review by the full court gives Director Richard Cordray the chance to finish out his term and continue being a consumer champion."

      “We welcome the news that the full Court of Appeals is rehearing this case. The CFPB's independence from Wall Street and predatory lender special interests, and its effective leadership structure, are vital to the Bureau's ability to police the industry and protect consumers,” said Lisa Donner, executive director of Americans for Financial Reform.

      Constitutional challenge

      Cordray's term runs through 2018, and under the legislation that established the CFPB, he cannot be fired. It's that provision, among others, that is being challenged as unconstitutional by PHH Corp., the New Jersey lending company that appealed a CFPB decision that slapped it with $109 million in penalties.

      President Trump has promised to scrap 75 percent of all U.S. regulations and to dismantle the Dodd-Frank Act, the 2010 legislation that created the CFPB and imposed tough new regulations on Wall Street.

      PHH's challenge has drawn support from business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Competitive Enterprise Institute, and National Association of Realtors, but it has also drawn an outpouring of support from consumer organizations and others.

      On Jan. 23, 16 state attorneys general petitioned the court for permission to intervene in the case. Consumer groups including Americans for Financial Reform, the Consumer Federation of America, and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group also spoke out in defense of the bureau.

      "In the five years since it opened its doors, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has worked tirelessly to enforce the laws that went ignored in the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis, and has done more than any other federal agency to empower consumers against predatory, deceptive, and outright fraudulent behavior by bad actors in the financial services industry,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. 

      ”It is disappointing but not surprising that payday lenders, debt collectors, for-profit colleges, and other powerful industry groups have turned to their allies in Congress and the courts in an effort to weaken the Bureau so they can keep exploiting financially vulnerable Americans," Henderson said in a statement emailed to ConsumerAffairs. "The panel ruling against the Bureau was wrong on the law and wrong for consumers, and we are relieved that the full D.C. Circuit will take this opportunity to get it right.”

      The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau won a stay of execution today, as a U.S. appeals court in Washington agreed to reconsider an October decision that...
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      Mercedes Benz recalls some 2017 models to fix shift lever problem

      The gear shift lever may not work, increasing the risk of a crash

      Mercedes-Benz is recalling some 2017 E300 and E300 4Matic vehicles that may have a damaged steering column-mounted shift lever module. If the internal circuit board is damaged, moving the shift lever will not select a transmission gear.

      If the vehicle does not move forward or backward as selected by the driver with the shift lever, there is an increased risk of a crash.

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will replace the steering column-mounted shift lever module, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in March 2017. Owners may contact MBUSA customer service at 1-800-367-6372.

      Owners may also contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Vehicle Safety Hotline at 1-888-327-4236 (TTY 1-800-424-9153), or go to www.safercar.gov.

      Mercedes-Benz is recalling some 2017 E300 and E300 4Matic vehicles that may have a damaged steering column-mounted shift lever module. If the internal circ...
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      Mercedes-Benz recalls several 4Matic models

      The windshield may pop out in a crash

      Mercedes-Benz is recalling some several models because the windshield may come out.

      Recalled models include: 2016 GLE350 4Matic and GLS 450 4Matic,  2017 GLE 400 4Matic, GLE 350 4Matic, GLE 350, GLE 550E 4Matic, GLE 63 AMG, GLE 63S AMG, GLE 43 AMG 4Matic Coupe, GLE 63S AMG 4Matic Coupe, GLS 450 4Matic, GLS 550 4Matic, and GLS 63 AMG 4Matic vehicles

      The company said the windshield bonding may be insufficient and, as a result, the windshield may separate from the vehicle in a crash.

      If the windshield detaches in the event of a crash, the passenger frontal air bag may not be supported properly after it deploys, increasing the risk of injury.

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will replace the windshield, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule. Owners may contact MBUSA customer service at 1-800-367-6372.

      Owners may also contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Vehicle Safety Hotline at 1-888-327-4236 (TTY 1-800-424-9153), or go to www.safercar.gov.

      Mercedes-Benz is recalling some several models because the windshield may come out.Recalled models include: 2016 GLE350 4Matic and GLS 450 4Matic,  201...
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      Britax recalls Click & Go receivers on baby strollers due to potential fall hazard

      A damaged receiver mount can cause the car seat to disengage and fall unexpectedly

      Britax has initiated a recall of approximately 717,000 units of its Click & Go receivers found on Britax B-Agile and BOB Motion Strollers.

      The company says a damaged receiver mount on the stroller can cause the car seat to disengage and fall unexpectedly when the products are in travel system mode, which poses a fall hazard to infants in the car seat. The recall pertains to strollers that are folding, single or double occupant models and have Click & Go receiver mounts that attach the car seat carrier to the stroller frame.

      There are 121 affected model numbers of the B-Agile products and 21 affected model numbers of the BOB products included in the recall, which can be viewed here. The model numbers can be found on the inside of the stroller's metal frame near the right rear wheel for single strollers and in the front middle underside of the frame on double strollers.

      The products were sold nationwide between May, 2011 and February, 2017 at retailers like Babies R Us, buy buy Baby, and Target, as well as online at Amazon.com, albeebaby.com, buybuybaby.com, diapers.com, ToysRUs.com, and other websites. The products cost between $250 and $470 for the strollers and the travel systems. 

      Thus far, Britax has received 33 reports of car seats unexpectedly disconnecting from the strollers and falling to the ground, which has resulted in 26 injuries. The company is aware of 1,337 reports of strollers that have damaged Click & Go receiver mounts. 

      What to do

      Britax is urging consumers who own one of the affected products to stop using the strollers in cars; however, it says that the products can continue to be safely used as a stroller.

      The company is asking that consumers not return the product to the retailer. Instead, consumers should dispose of the Click & Go receivers. The company has pledged to provide a remedy kit to fix the broken part for single stroller models. 

      For more information, consumers can contact Britax online at us.britax.com/recall and stroller.recall@britax.com. Consumers can also reach the company by phone at 844-227-0300, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. EST and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. EST. 

      Britax has initiated a recall of approximately 717,000 units of its Britax B-Agile and BOB Motion Strollers with Click & Go receivers.The company says...
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      Yahoo and Verizon reportedly move closer to a deal

      The latter may ask for a $250 million discount and will share ongoing legal responsibility for recent data breaches

      The Yahoo and Verizon acquisition deal has faced many bumps in the road since the deal was first struck last July. In September, details on Yahoo’s data breach of 500 million accounts were made public and threatened the security of the arrangement.

      Unfortunately, things only seemed to escalate from there. Rumors circulated that Verizon was seeking a $1 billion discount on the deal, and executives stated that they needed more information before things could move forward. Then, in December, a separate data breach of one billion user accounts was revealed, and many experts proclaimed that the acquisition was as good as dead.

      However, Verizon hasn’t left the negotiating table, and now sources are saying that a new deal could be imminent. Bloomberg quotes sources close to the matter as saying that Verizon is close to renegotiating a deal that would reduce the original $4.8 billion price tag by about $250 million.

      Additionally, sources say that Yahoo’s renamed entity Altaba would share ongoing legal responsibilities related to the data breaches. While a specific timetable for the announcement has not been set, and the deal could be renegotiated further, sources say the deal could be announced as soon as a few days or as late as a few weeks from now.

      Cementing a deal

      Yahoo has been under pressure to cement the deal for some time. CEO Marissa Mayer, who was brought in specifically to turn things around for the struggling company, has been at the helm as each data breach was publicized. However, earlier reports suggest that she will be stepping down as a director pending a successful acquisition deal.

      Verizon has faced a different sort of pressure connected to the deal. Yahoo’s platform of one billion users would greatly help the company expand into the mobile media and advertising markets, but some shareholders may be leery about doing business with a company that has suffered so much scandal in such a short amount of time. However, ultimately, those same shareholders would have to approve a revised deal before it could go forward.

      On news of the deal, Yahoo’s stock jumped 2% to $45.93 just before 11:00 a.m. Consequently, Verizon shares slipped 0.7% to $47.95. 

      The Yahoo and Verizon acquisition deal has faced many bumps in the road since the deal was first struck last July. In September, details on Yahoo’s data br...
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      Against the Grain Pet Food recalls products over pentobarbital concerns

      The barbiturate can cause drowsiness, dizziness, or even induce a coma

      Against the Grain Pet Food is initiating a recall for one lot of its "Against the Grain Pulled Beef with Gravy Dinner for Dogs" dog food. Company officials say that the product may be contaminated with pentobarbital.

      Pentobarbital is a barbiturate that can cause several side effects for dogs who consume it, including drowsiness, dizziness, excitement, loss of balance, nausea nystagmus (wherein the eyes move back and forth in a jerky manner), inability to stand, and coma. 

      The product was manufactured and distributed in 2015 and has an expiration date of December, 2019. The lot number on affected products is 2415E01ATB12 and the second half of the universal product code (UPC) is 80001. These figures can be found on the back of the product label. 

      What to do

      There have been no complaints reported to Against the Grain about the product at this time. However, consumers in possession of recalled cans are urged not to feed it to the food to pets. 

      The company recommends returning the product to the place of purchase. Consumers who do so will receive a full case of Against the Grain food for any inconvenience.

      For more information, consumers can contact the company at 1-800-288-6796, Monday through Friday, between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. CST.

      Against the Grain Pet Food is initiating a recall for one lot of its "Against the Grain Pulled Beef with Gravy Dinner for Dogs" dog food. Company officials...
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      Washington considers a 15 mph speed limit in some neighborhoods

      It's part of a growing 'Vision Zero' movement that aims to eliminate traffic fatalities

      As cities and suburbs become more urban, more and more people are getting around on foot and on bicycles. This is good, except when they get hit by cars. 

      In Washington, D.C., local transportation officials have festooned the city with bike lanes and have made improvements to crosswalks and traffic signals. Now they're looking at speed limits.

      Like most cities, D.C. has a default speed limit of 25 miles per hour but under its "Vision Zero" program, which aims to end traffic fatalities by 2024, the speed limit may go as low as 15 in some areas at some times, the Washington Post reported recently.

      The "neighborhood slow zones" would be around schools, parks, senior centers, and youth centers. Current thinking is that the speed limit in those areas would drop to 15 mph from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. 

      Leading factor

      The lower speed limits and increased traffic enforcement target speeding because it's the leading factor in traffic deaths, city officials say. All other things being equal, speed determines the outcome of a car-pedestrian collision. At 20 mph or so, the victim has a good chance of surviving. At 40, they are likely to die or suffer devastating injuries.

      The targeted areas, city officials note, not only have a lot of foot traffic but also have lots of children and seniors, who are the most frequent victims of pedestrian accidents.

      Washington D.C. doesn't have many traffic fatalities -- it had only 28 last year -- but it's also not very big, only 68 square miles, and is loaded with traffic, much of it impatient commuters heading to or from the Maryland and Virginia suburbs where much of the capital area population resides.

      Not just D.C.

      Washington's not the only city actively trying to achieve Vision Zero, which originated in Switzerland. New York City became the first major U.S. city to adopt it when Mayor Bill de Blasio took office and even far-flung suburb-style cities like San Antonio are getting on board with it.

      A recent article in Governing magazine reported that San Antonio adopted the program after recording 373 pedestrian deaths over a decade. Shirley Gonzalez ran successfully for the city council on a Vision Zero platform, saying that she would promote a transportation policy that put “pedestrians first, followed by cycling, public transportation and private automobiles, in that order.” 

      Cities around the country are doing the same, some more vigorously than others. 

      Promoters of autonomous cars assure us that self-driving cars will be the answer to traffic fatalities, but Vision Zero advocates say improved street design and slower speeds in neighborhoods can save a lot of lives without the expensive and complex technology autonomous cars require. 

      As cities and suburbs become more urban, more and more people are getting around on foot and on bicycles. This is good, except when they get hit by cars....
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      Meijer recalls Meijer Brand Colby Cheese and Colby Jack deli cheeses

      Affected products may be contaminated with listeria

      Meijer has announced a recall of its Meijer Brand Colby Cheese and Colby Jack Cheese. The company reports that the products, which are sold exclusively through its deli counters, may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      This organism can be potentialy fatal to young children, the elderly, or consumers with frail or compromised immune systems. However, even healthy consumers can experience symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain, and diarhhea. Pregnant women who are infected stand the chance of having a miscarriage or stillbirth.

      The two cheese products were sold at Meijer stores between November 10, 2016 and February 9, 2017. No known illnesses have been reported thus far, but Meijer initiated the recall after its manufacturer identified evidence of possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination.

      What to do

      The recalled products can be identified by the Universal Product Codes (UPCs) printed on the label found on plastic deli packaging. Recalled products have codes starting with 215927 or 215938, with the last six digits varying depending on the weight of the deli order. 

      Consumers are urged to stop using any affected product and either dispose of it or return it to a customer service desk at any Meijer store for a full refund.

      Consumers seeking additional information should contact Meijer at (800) 543-3704.

      Meijer has announced a recall of its Meijer Brand Colby Cheese and Colby Jack Cheese. The company reports that the products, which are sold exclusively thr...
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      Carl's Jr. parent company accused of wage suppression and unfair business practices

      The lawsuit could mean trouble for CEO Andy Puzder, who awaits confirmation to become Labor Secretary

      One former employee and one current employee of Carl’s Jr. have filed a lawsuit against the chain’s parent company Carl Karcher Enterprises LLC (CKE), charging the company of wage suppression and unfair business practices, according to the Los Angeles Times.

      The pair claims that CKE and its franchisees colluded with each other to bar employees in management positions from transferring between restaurants. This action, they say, effectively halts any attempt by workers who are seeking a raise from threatening to work at a different franchisee.

      “If I can’t threaten my employer with going elsewhere – and taking my unique skills . . . to another Carl’s Jr. restaurant with me – then I am unable to demand as high of a salary. There’s no pro-competitive justification that we can identify that would support having a restraint like this. The only reason we can identify is to actively reduce labor costs to save them money,” said plaintiff attorney Nina DiSalvo.

      Bad news for Puzder

      While the lawsuit itself is problematic for CKE and Carl’s Jr., its ramifications could be even worse for CEO Andy Puzder. Puzder, who has long touted the virtues of free-market capitalism, has been nominated by President Trump to be Labor Secretary. 

      Unfortunately for Puzder, this is not the first time that he has faced criticism for his business practices. Democrats have highlighted the CEO’s opposition to raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, and past allegations claim that CKE’s restaurants violate labor laws.

      Luis Bautista and Margarita Guerrero, the plaintiffs of the current suit, lend credence to these criticisms. They allege that they suffered reduced wages and had to work in “atrocious” conditions because of their franchisee’s no-hire policy. They say that CKE’s policies set up franchisees to compete with each other, but then restrict movement of workers between locations.

      “CKE and Puzder cannot have it both ways. They cannot eschew their responsibilities under labor and employment laws by embracing a free-market model constituted by independent, competing franchisees, while at the same time restraining free competition to the detriment of thousands of workers employed by CKE and its franchisees,” the lawsuit states.

      "Feeble and baseless"

      Puzder’s legal defense has stated that the new lawsuit is nothing more than an intentionally ill-timed shot that is meant to stir up ill will before the CEO’s senate confirmation hearing.

      “While we will not comment on the specifics of any pending litigation, the timing of the filing of this baseless lawsuit is obviously intended to be an attempt, albeit a feeble one, to derail the nomination of Andy Puzder,” said CKE executive vice president and general counsel Charles A. Siegel III.

      Puzder’s confirmation hearing has been delayed on four separate occasions, but it is currently scheduled to take place on February 16.

      One former employee and one current employee of Carl’s Jr. have filed a lawsuit against the chain’s parent company Carl Karcher Enterprises LLC (CKE), char...
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      An effective work-out that anyone can do

      No time? No gym? No problem.

      Sorry, there are now no excuses for being out of shape. If you've got access to a flight of stairs, you've got a workout.

      Researchers at McMaster University say short, intense bursts of stair climbing, whether at home or at the office, have major positive benefits for your heart. You don't have to go to a gym or have an expensive piece of equipment in your home.

      “Stair climbing is a form of exercise anyone can do in their own home, after work or during the lunch hour,” said Martin Gibala, a professor of kinesiology at McMaster and lead author of the study. “This research takes interval training out of the lab and makes it accessible to everyone.”

      Recent research has found that short, intense intervals of vigorous exercise during a moderate workout can be highly effective. Studies have also shown that vigorous stair climbing for long periods of time, up to 70 minutes a week, is also helpful.

      But what about short bursts of strenuous exercise, what's known as sprint internal training (SIT)? Does that do any good? Scientists at McMaster decided to find out.

      The study

      They recruited 31 sedentary but otherwise healthy women and tested the effect of two different approaches. Both required 10 minutes of their time per day over an extended period.

      Half the women spent the 10 minutes on an exercise bike, which had already been proven to improve fitness. The second group engaged in vigorous stair-climbing, but only for 20 seconds at a time.

      Then, the participants quickly climbed up and down one flight of stairs for 60 seconds, something researchers say could easily be done at home. Climbing the stairs, researchers found, was equally beneficial as riding the bike.

      Convenient exercise

      “Interval training offers a convenient way to fit exercise into your life, rather than having to structure your life around exercise,” Gibala said.

      Fitness enthusiasts have long known the benefits of stair-climbing. Athletic coaches routinely make their players run up and down stadium and arena steps as part of their physical training.

      What's new is the fact that it doesn't take that many steps to provide a benefit, if you're doing it vigorously.

      There is even a website devoted to athletic stair-climbing, StepJockey.com, which says just two minutes of extra stair-climbing a day is enough to stop middle-age weight gain.

      Before starting any vigorous exercise routine, make sure you discuss it with your doctor.

      Sorry, there are now no excuses for being out of shape. If you've got access to a flight of stairs, you've got a workout.Researchers at McMaster Univer...
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      Older adults considering the idea of 'living apart together' with new partners

      Couples who have experienced divorce may be more comfortable living separately

      Many U.S. consumers might envision a typical, mature relationship as two married adults who own a house and live in harmony. But a new study shows that a new global trend may be taking form among older adults who have previously been divorced.

      Researchers from the University of Missouri say that some older couples are choosing to forego typical living patterns for a more relaxed arrangement. Instead of living in the same place, they say that older couples that have experienced divorce are opting to keep separate homes, dubbed “Living Apart Together” (LAT).

      “What has long been understood about late-in-life relationships is largely based on long-term marriage. There are now more divorced and widowed adults who are interested in forging new intimate relationships outside the confines of marriage,” said researcher Jaquelyn Benson.

      Positives and negatives

      While LAT relationships are more commonly accepted in Europe than in the U.S., the researchers point out that there are some advantages to the system. In their study, the researchers found that LAT couples tended to be more self-reliant – tending more towards financial and social independence than couples in a traditional relationship.

      However, there were also some drawbacks observed about LAT relationships. LAT couples had more trouble than traditional couples when it came to expressing the nature of their relationship to others, with many stating that the terms “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” were not sufficient. Additionally, LAT couples had trouble determining how caregiving for a child or “family” decision-making should be handled.

      “While we are learning more about LAT relationships, further research is needed to determine how LAT relationships are related to issues such as health care and caregiving. Discussions about end-of-life planning and caregiving can be sensitive to talk about; however, LAT couples should make it a priority to have these conversations both as a couple and with their families," Benson said. 

      "Many of us wait until a crisis to address those issues, but in situations like LAT where there are no socially prescribed norms dictating behavior these conversations may be more important than ever.

      Avoiding heartache

      While some may suggest that the negatives outweigh the positives, Benson says that an LAT relationship may be perfect for older couples who have experienced the sting of divorce before.

      “Recent research demonstrates that there are other ways of establishing long-lasting, high-quality relationships without committing to marriage or living together. . . If more people—young and old, married or not—saw LAT as an option, it might save them from a lot of future heartache,” she said.

      The full study has been published in Family Relations.

      Many U.S. consumers might envision a typical, mature relationship as two married adults who own a house and live in harmony. But a new study shows that a n...
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      Feds and state stop debt relief operation in Florida

      It's the second such settlement in recent weeks

      The state of Florida has teamed up with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) once again to take down several Florida-based companies that officials say were running a debt relief scam.

      Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi says a federal court has approved consent judgments which resolve charges that the debt relief companies exploited debt-burdened consumers with promises of lower credit card payments and substantial savings.

      In the process, Bondi says the company pocketed upfront fees but never delivered on those services or provided refunds. In other words, she says it was an out and out scam. As a result, she says the affected consumers fell even deeper into debt.

      'Targeting people trying to pay their bills'

      “Debt relief scams target people trying to pay their bills and get out of debt and these types of scams impede their efforts, leaving victims, trying to do the right thing, owing more than when they asked for help,” Bondi said.

      Bondi says the companies worked with payment processors, setting up more than two dozen shell merchants to process credit card payments for the operation. She said the defendants allegedly created these fake businesses as fronts. Their purpose was to launder the nearly $12 million taken from consumers.

      Bondi says the defendants subject to the consent order are Steven D. Short and his wife, Karissa L. Dyar, E.M. Systems & Services LLC, Administrative Management & Design LLC, Empirical Data Group Technologies, LLC, Epiphany Management Systems, LLC and KLS Industries, LLC, doing business as Satisfied Service Solutions, LLC.

      A telemarketing company allegedly involved in the operation has also been permanently barred from all future telemarketing activity under the terms of the settlement.

      Second recent settlement

      It's the second time in recent weeks that the Florida Attorney General and the FTC have reached settlements with companies allegedly running illegal debt relief operations.

      In late January, Florida and the FTC settled with the operator of several debt settlement companies, resolving a 2016 lawsuit.

      The state and federal governments teamed up to bring charges against Chastity Valdes and the companies she controlled, Consumer Assistance LLC, Consumer Assistance Project Corp. and Palermo Global LLC.

      The charges specifically accused the companies of targeting consumers with student loan debt with illegal debt relief offers.

      The state of Florida has teamed up with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) once again to take down several Florida-based companies that officials say were...
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      California housing affordability improves

      Incomes are up, but housing prices aren't

      Housing affordability has become a problem in recent years, especially in California. That state is home to some of the nation's most expensive housing markets.

      So it comes as good news that the California Association of Realtors (CAR) has found that housing affordability in the state has actually improved.

      The group credits increases in salaries and seasonal price dips for the improvements. It says the percentage of potential home buyers who could now afford to buy a median-priced existing single-family home in California during the fourth quarter was 31%, the same as the third quarter.

      Rising incomes

      Income is a key component of housing affordability. In California, a buyer needs an annual income of at least $100,800 to afford a home costing $511,360, which, believe it or not, is the median priced home in California these days.

      The monthly payment, which includes taxes and insurance on a 30-year, fixed-rate loan, would be $2,520, assuming the buyer was able to make a 20% down payment and secure a mortgage with an interest rate of no more than 3.91%.

      Home affordability improved slightly in the most recent quarter, as compared to the fourth quarter of 2015. Condominium and townhome affordability was also flat compared to the previous quarter.

      Affordability rose in eight counties

      Of course, affordability was better for some market in California than others. The CAR report shows eight counties -- Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, Los Angeles, Ventura, Monterey, Santa Barbara, and Madera -- saw affordability improve.

      Ten counties -- San Francisco, Sonoma, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Santa Cruz, Kern, Kings, Merced, and San Joaquin -- saw home purchases get further out of reach.

      Eleven counties -- Alameda, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Fresno, Placer, Sacramento, Stanislaus, and Tulare -- saw affordability neither improve or worsen. 

      Kings, Kern, San Bernardino, and Fresno counties were the most affordable counties in the fourth quarter of last year. San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Cruz were the least affordable.

      Housing affordability has become a problem in recent years, especially in California. That state is home to some of the nation's most expensive housing mar...
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      Builder confidence grows in the market for 55+ single-family housing

      However, the outlook for senior condo housing dimmed

      Builders see no letup of demand in the 55+ single-family housing market.

      The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reports its 55+ Housing Market Index (HMI) jumped eight points in the final three months of 2016 to 67. That's the highest reading since the inception of the index in 2008.

      An index number above 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.

      “The significant increase in the index reading is attributed partly to a post-election boost,” said Dennis Cunningham, chairman of NAHB's 55+ Housing Industry Council, “as many builders and developers are encouraged by President Trump’s commitment to cut burdensome regulations that negatively impact small businesses.”

      Cunningham says builders and developers in this market segment are also encouraged by the fact that for the next 15 years, 10,000 Baby Boomers will be turning 65 every day. “The consistent pressure of this age group wanting to downsize from a large home, shifting to other regions of the country or just simply looking for a newer home or community also play a key role in the index movement,” he added

      Gauging opinion

      There are separate 55+ HMIs for two segments of the 55+ housing market: single-family homes and multifamily condominiums.

      Each 55+ HMI measures builder sentiment based on a survey that asks if current sales, prospective buyer traffic, and anticipated six-month sales for that market are good, fair, or poor (high, average, or low for traffic).

      All three index components of the 55+ single-family HMI were higher. Present sales and expected sales for the next six months posted index-highs, increasing 11 points to 74 and 10 points to 75, respectively, while traffic of prospective buyers added two points to 49.

      However, the 55+ multifamily condo HMI fell two points to 46. The index component for present sales fell one point to 50, expected sales for the next six months inched up a point to 52, and traffic of prospective buyers dropped three points to 35.

      All four indices tracking production and demand of 55+ multifamily rentals increased in the fourth quarter. Present production rose six points, expected future production increased 11 points, and current demand for existing units and future demand posted index-highs -- jumping 12 points to 71 and 17 points to 76, respectively.

      “The strong performance of the 55+ HMI at the end of 2016 is consistent with recent increases in broader measures of the housing market, including new home sales and the NAHB/Wells Fargo HMI,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “We expect continued growth in the 55+ market in 2017, although builders in many places will still face challenges in finding adequate supplies of inputs like labor and lots.”

      Builders see no letup of demand in the 55+ single-family housing market.The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reports its 55+ Housing Market...
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      Model year 2016-2017 BMW X1 xDrive28i and X1 sDrive28i vehicles recalled

      The front passenger airbag may not deploy properly in the event of a crash

      BMW of North America (BMW) is recalling four model year 2016-2017 X1 xDrive28i and X1 sDrive28i vehicles.

      The vehicle's instrument panel may not allow the front passenger airbag to deploy properly in the event of a crash, increasing the risk of injury.

      What to do

      BMW will notify owners, and dealers will replace the instrument panel, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

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

      BMW of North America (BMW) is recalling four model year 2016-2017 X1 xDrive28i and X1 sDrive28i vehicles.The vehicle's instrument panel may not allow t...
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      Time to call off the attack dogs and let the fiduciary rule take effect, consumers argue

      Americans need the protections the rule offers so they can invest safely for retirement

      It's time for financial services companies to call off their paid attack dogs who continue fighting the Department of Labor's "fiduciary" rule, which will require financial advisors who sell IRAs, annuities, and other investment products to act in their client's best interests, consumer groups argue.

      Opponents of the rule have decisively lost three court challenges, most recently earlier this week, but continue fighting it through lobbying, legal challenges, and any other means they can dream up.

      Consumer groups say the anti-investor campaign has gone far enough, and in a letter today, they ask board members of financial industry trade groups to assert themselves and rein in their lobbyists' efforts. They note that most financial services firms are already deep into the process of implementing the rule, which is intended to safeguard consumers who trust their retirement savings to so-called "financial advisors," who are often little more than glorified insurance salesmen.

      Cleaning up abuse by financial advisors is especially important as defined pension benefits, group health plans, and other "safety nets" are shredded and responsibility for retirement, health care, and other essentials is shifted to individual consumers, who are too often talked into high-fee mutual funds, inappropriate annuities, and questionable products like long-term care policies. 

      Consumers on their own

      The need for higher ethical standards by financial advisors has been recognized for quite some time. Indeed, as the consumer groups state, most major financial services firms -- including stock broker-dealers, certified financial advisors, and insurance companies -- are already far along with implementing the rule and have spent millions of dollars revising their operations.

      The trade newsletter InvestmentNews recently quoted Andy Sieg, head of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, as saying that Merrill will continue to implement a "higher standard of care," especially when it comes to retirement accounts, regardless of what happens with the Department of Labor rule.

      “This is consistent with our overall strategic direction and what our clients are asking for,” a Sieg memo stated, as quoted by the newsletter. “Depending on what is announced, we may need to adjust the timelines for certain operational changes we have announced to ensure an orderly transition and a good client experience.”

      A memo circulated by Wells-Fargo Advisors said much the same thing, saying that a fiduciary rule is likely to be implemented eventually, even if the current one is derailed, according to InvestmentNews.

      “We will continue to move forward with many of the initiatives we have underway, reflecting our ongoing commitment to raising the standard of care we provide our retirement and non-retirement clients,” Morgan Stanley spokeswoman Christine Jockle said in an email.

      Time to stand up

      The rule simply requires that financial advisors put the client's interest first, ahead of their own profits, something responsible brokers and advisors already do. Now it's time for responsible firms to stand up and declare their willingness to adopt the rule's requirements, according to the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), Americans for Financial Reform (AFR), and the AFL-CIO.

      “We believe the public needs to know where individual firms stand. Those opposing the rule are hiding behind their trade associations who are filing lawsuits, pushing legislation, and subverting the regulatory process to delay and kill the rule," the letter asserts. "Firms that support a fiduciary standard for retirement investment advice should not be passive bystanders to their trade associations’ anti-investor activity.”

      The letter was sent to board members for the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA), the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI), and the Financial Services Institute (FSI). All three groups were party to the lawsuit that was roundly defeated in Texas earlier this week.

      Retirees at risk

      Besides the legal challenges and Congressional lobbying activities, Wall Street interests have taken their case to President Trump, who has ordered the Labor Department to take a second look at the rule, possibly leading to its eventual weakening or abolition.

      In their letter, CFA, AFR, and AFL-CIO warn: “If successful, this anti-investor campaign would deny retirement savers the reduced costs and improved advice quality they both desperately need and reasonably expect. In short, it would preserve a system that allows firms to put their own profits ahead of their customers’ best interests, with costly and detrimental consequences for the income security of America’s retirees.”

      The DOL rule, with a compliance date of early April, closes loopholes that have enabled brokers and insurance agents to offer retirement investment advice without being held to the “best interest” standard required of a fiduciary. It requires firms to eliminate compensation practices that encourage and reward investment advice that is not in customers’ best interests.

      What to do

      Consumers trying to invest for retirement and financial security should, regardless of what happens with the fiduciary rule, deal only with advisors who are Certified Financial Planners, a title that indicates they have complete professional training and adhere to strict ethical guidelines. 

      The CFP Board has an advisor look-up feature on its website, as well as a directory of certified planners and other information for investors. It's a good idea to meet with more than one advisor and compare their recommendations. 

      Many investors today are turning to automated investment advice, which may not be a good idea for novices. There are, however, large and respected non-profit organizations like TIAA that offer financial advice online as well as other financial services, including inexpensive and, in some cases, free checking accounts. 

      Consumers should also remember that there is risk in every investment, that returns are never certain, that diversification is essential, and that it is important to start investing early so that returns have time to multiply over time.  

      It's time for financial services companies to call off their paid attack dogs who continue fighting the Department of Labor's "fiduciary" rule, which will...
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      Judge upholds fiduciary rule under attack by financial industry

      The Trump White House could still withdraw or weaken the rule, however

      Big financial interests want to kill it and the Trump Administration wants to put it on hold, but a federal judge in Dallas has upheld the Labor Department's fiduciary rule, which would require that investment advisors act in the best interests of their clients rather than simply selling them whatever was most profitable or expedient.

      In an 81-page ruling, Chief Judge Barbara M.G. Lynn of the Northern District of Texas, granted summary judgment to the Labor Department, rejecting all of the major arguments put forth by financial interests, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, the Financial Services Institute, the Financial Services Roundtable, and the Insured Retirement Institute.

      President Trump, who has been steadily rolling back consumer protection measures, has ordered the Labor Department to take a second look at the rule, which could eventually lead to its being modified or rolled back, but that was unrelated to the proceedings in Dallas.

      Financial interests said they were disappointed by the court ruling but are holding out hope that Trump will come through for them.

      "This ruling is disappointing but should have no bearing on President Trump's decision to review the fiduciary rule. Both Democrats and Republicans have rightly expressed concern about the devastating effects the fiduciary rule could have on access to investment options and advice for poor and middle-class savers," said John Berlau, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Libertarian think tank in Washington.

      The Justice Department had asked for a stay in the Dallas proceedings but Judge Lynn denied the motion only hours after it was filed.

      In her ruling, Judge Lynn said the Labor Department did not exceed its authority in promulgating the regulation and said it was "not arbitrary or capricious," as the financial services industry had alleged.

      The ruling was the third loss in court for industry challenges to the rule.

      Big financial interests want to kill it and the Trump Administration wants to put it on hold, but a federal judge in Dallas has upheld the Labor Department...
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      Is recycling really the best way to keep plastic out of the oceans?

      Op-ed suggests that landfills keep plastic where it belongs -- in the earth

      Confession time. I throw plastic into the garbage.

      What? Don’t you recycle plastic?

      No. I most certainly do not. You see, I care about the environment.

      Coming soon to an alternative theatre near you, the eco-documentary "Midway" invites you to take a journey “across an ocean of grief, and beyond.” Sea birds die agonizing deaths after ingesting bits of plastic that collect in gigantic oceanic whirlpools called gyres. For years this has prompted environmentalists to ask, “Do we have the courage to face the realities of our time?”

      Before we get to that reality, can I first ask, is there a shortage of sea birds I’m not aware of? There must be billions of them along the coastlines of the United States alone. But all right… I don’t want animals to suffer. And besides, the plastic debris is also fatal to fish. So, here’s the reality.

      The notion that recycling plastic will prevent sea birds from dying is false. It turns out recycling is the source of the problem here, not the solution.

      Trash discarded into landfills is perfectly safe, buried under layer upon layer of tons of soil. Very little plastic trash escapes a landfill, thus protecting sea birds everywhere. And besides, plastic originates in the soil from fossilized plants, so it’s best to put it right back in the soil when we’re done with it.

      By contrast, there are many points in the recycling process where recyclables escape into the environment, beginning right at your curbside, followed by the sorely imperfect processes of transportation, handling, and storage, all of which occurs outdoors since it would be extremely cost-ineffective to handle and store plastic trash indoors. It’s just trash, after all.

      Wind blows plastic trash for miles, literally… into waterways and hence right into the world’s oceans. Then there’s the biggest breakdown in the whole recycling system. Fraud.

      Since it does not pay to recycle most materials, especially plastics, subsidies keep the nation’s “green” recycling systems running every step of the way. And once such “green” subsidies are paid, is it such a leap to imagine the odd recycling tycoon choosing to avoid the expense of actually recycling all the plastic he receives? Government inspectors aren’t going to check. What would they check for? A few hundred tons of plastic missing out of thousands of tons? It’s not as if recyclable material is traceable; it’s not labelled.

      Of course, if a recycler dumps a few tons of plastic into the ocean every now and then, he’ll have less recycled plastic to sell. But subsidies are paid to move plastic INTO recycling facilities, while the amount leaving is left to the whims of the open market. Meanwhile, the raw material from which new plastic is made, fossilized plants, also known as oil, costs ten times LESS than the actual expense of recycling used plastic! So, who in his right mind is bothering to pay anything close to the production cost for recycled plastic anyway?

      The more plastic a recycler recycles, the more money he’s losing.

      As long as the public sees government officials supporting the recycling industry, most of us remain blissfully ignorant in the belief that millions upon millions of tons of plastic are being chipped-up, melted down, and made into new plastic products somewhere by someone. It MUST be true, because recycling is good! The result, we assume, is a bit less plastic in our landfills, but the reality is more plastic in the ocean.

      And for those who refuse to believe there’s fraud in the sacrosanct recycling industry, the fact remains that nothing escapes a landfill. Nothing, except maybe a few plastic bags here and there, but certainly not any of the heavy plastic bits found in the carcasses of dead sea birds.

      And besides… what are all those millions of birds that live off our nation’s landfills? Oh yeah… sea birds.

      Landfills are the solution here, not the problem.

      ---

      Mischa Popoff is a Policy Advisor at The Heartland Institute, and is the author of "Is it Organic? The inside story of the organic industry."

      Confession time. I throw plastic into the garbage.What? Don’t you recycle plastic?No. I most certainly do not. You see, I care about the environmen...
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      Lifting heavy loads and working at night negatively affects fertility, study finds

      Researchers say occupational conditions can affect the number of eggs women produce

      Working late at night can be a daunting task, and there aren’t many out there who relish heavy lifting and manual labor. Now a new study shows that women who want to have children should avoid both.

      Researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health have found that women who lift heavy loads or work non-daytime work schedules are at risk of decreased fertility.

      “Our study suggests that women who are planning pregnancy should be cognizant of the potential negative impacts that non-day shift and heavy lifting could have on their reproductive health,” said lead author Lidia Minguez-Alarcón.

      Work and fertility

      To come to their conclusions, the researchers studied approximately 500 women who sought out infertility treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital between 2004 and 2015. Due to similar natures, each subject was able to be analyzed by biomarkers related to fertility that are normally unmeasurable in women who can conceive naturally.

      After collecting the data, Minguez-Alarcón and her colleagues evaluated the associations between the biomarkers and the physical demands and schedules of each woman’s job. They found that, on average, women who moved or lifted heavy loads at work had 8.8% fewer eggs and 14.1% fewer mature eggs compared to women who did not lift heavy objects, indicating that the activity negatively affected fertility.

      Additionally, the researchers found that women had fewer eggs if they worked at night or had a rotating schedule.

      Solving the problem

      While the researchers aren’t sure what the exact cause is behind the relationship, they found that women who were obese or over the age of 37 were much more likely to have fewer eggs if they lifted heavy loads. However, they have speculated that working non-day shifts could negatively affect egg production because of disruptions to circadian rhythm.

      While the study does corroborate some findings from past studies, it is the first to concretely tie egg production and quality to working conditions rather than ovarian age. The researchers hope that their findings will lead to future solutions to the problem.

      “Future work. . . is needed to determine whether egg production and quality can be improved, and if so, how quickly, if these exposures are avoided,” said research associate Audrey Gaskins.

      The full study has been published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

      Working late at night can be a daunting task, and there aren’t many out there who relish heavy lifting and manual labor. Now a new study shows that women w...
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      Housing costs weighing on Baby Boomers

      A survey shows that consumers worry more about putting a roof over their head as they age

      A number of recent surveys have found anxiety among Baby Boomers about retirement, primarily concerns about not having enough money.

      The NHP Foundation, a not-for-profit provider of affordable housing, has drilled a little deeper into those concerns. It says a poll of Americans aged 55 and older found the cost of putting a roof over their heads is a major issue.

      The survey found 30% of Boomers worry at least once a month that they won't be able to afford their home. About 42% of retired people in the survey say they worry about it at least once a day.

      While Millennials are known to have housing anxiety, caught between high rent and rising home prices, Boomers were thought to be more housing secure. But it turns out many Boomers who don't worry about their own housing costs do worry about those of their adult children.

      Multi-generational anxiety

      "The anxiety is now multi-generational," said NHPF CEO Richard Burns. "So we are working today to increase our stock of affordable housing to ensure that this and future generations are able to afford desirable places to live."

      Previous NHP surveys have uncovered other concerns about housing affordability. One discovered that up to 75% of the U.S. population is worried at any given moment about losing their home. One that focused exclusively on Millennials found 76% of the younger generation had made compromises to secure affordable housing.

      "These findings underscore the urgency to make housing affordability solutions a priority in America, especially for those most vulnerable," said Ali Solis, President and CEO of MakeRoom, a national renter's advocacy group.

      As you might expect, there are geographical differences in the level of housing worries. There is less concern in the Midwest, where real estate prices are lower. There's more concern in the South, where incomes are lower, and in the Northeast, where real estate is more expensive.

      A number of recent surveys have found anxiety among Baby Boomers about retirement, primarily concerns about not having enough money.The NHP Foundation,...
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      Mortgage applications rebound

      Contract interest rates were mostly lower

      After posting their first decline in four weeks last week, mortgage applications are headed higher.

      The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) reports applications were up 2.3% for the week ending February 3, with the Refinance Index rising 2.0%. As a share of overall applications, refinancings fell to 47.9% -- the lowest level since June 2009.

      The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity increased to 6.9% of total applications; the FHA share dipped to 11.9% from 12.1% the week before; the VA share rose to 12.7% from 12.4%; and the USDA share was unchanged at 0.9%.

      Contract interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($424,000 or less) was down four basis points -- to 4.35% from 4.39% -- with points unchanged at 0.34 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $424,000) dropped from 4.32% to 4.27%, with points decreasing to 0.31 from 0.34 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA slipped one basis point to 4.16%, with points increasing to 0.37 from 0.35 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate remained unchanged from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs fell to 3.55% from 3.61%, with points increasing to 0.34 from 0.33 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs rose six basis points to 3.39%, with points decreasing to 0.18 from 0.22 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

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

      After posting their first decline in four weeks last week, mortgage applications are headed higher.The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) reports appli...
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      Ford recalls model year 2016 Focus and C-Max vehicles

      The floor pan may have improperly welded left-hand apron joints

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 17 model year 2016 Focus and C-Max vehicles.

      The floor pan may have improperly welded left-hand apron joints which may reduce the front-end structural integrity of the vehicle, increasing the risk of injury in the event of a crash.

      What to do

      Ford will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the apron joints, repairing the vehicle, as necessary, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin March 6, 2017.

      Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 17S03.

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 17 model year 2016 Focus and C-Max vehicles.The floor pan may have improperly welded left-hand apron joints which may r...
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      Sony expands recall of VAIO laptop computer battery packs

      The lithium-ion battery packs can overheat

      Sony Electronics of San Diego, Calif., is expanding its June 2016 recall of Panasonic battery packs used in Sony Electronics laptop computers.

      Another 700 battery packs are being recalled. About 1,700 were previously recalled.

      The lithium-ion battery packs can overheat, posing burn and fire hazards.

      No incidents or injuries have been reported.

      This expanded recall involves Panasonic lithium-ion battery packs installed in 18 models of Sony’s VAIO Series laptop computers.

      The Panasonic battery packs were manufactured with the laptop and battery packs were sold separately or installed by Sony as part of a repair.

      Panasonic battery packs included in this recall have model number VGP-BPS26 and part numbers 1-853-237-11 and 1-853-237-21 printed on the back of the battery pack.

      Recalled model numbers for the Sony VAIO laptop computer are:

             Sony VAIO Series laptop computer model numbers

      SVE14A1

      SVE14A2

      SVE14A3

      SVE1413

      SVE1511

      SVE1512

      SVE1513

      SVE1513APXS

      SVE1513BCXS

      SVE1513JCXW

      SVE1513KCXS

      SVE1513MCXB

      SVE1513MCXW

      SVE1513MPXS

      SVE1513RCXB

      SVE1513RCXS

      SVE1513RCXW

      SVE1513TCXW

      SVE15132CXW

      SVE15134CXP

      SVE15134CXS

      SVE15134CXW

      SVE15135CXW

      SVE151390X

      SVE1712

      SVE1713

      SVE171390X

      VPCCA1

      VPCCA2

      VPCCA3

      VPCCB1

      VPCCB2

      VPCCB3

      VPCCB4

      VPCEH1

      VPCEH2

      VPCEH3

      VPCEJ1

      VPCEJ2

      Battery packs previously identified as not affected by the June 2016 recall are included in this expanded announcement.

      The battery packs, manufactured in China, were sold at Best Buy, Sony retail stores, other consumer electronic stores nationwide and online at www.store.sony.com and other websites from February 2013, through October 2013, for between $550 and $1,000 as part of Sony VAIO laptops and for about $170 for battery packs sold separately.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled battery packs, power off the laptop, remove the battery and follow instructions to obtain a free replacement. Until a replacement battery pack is received, consumers should use the laptop by plugging in AC power only.

      Consumers may contact Sony Electronics toll-free at 888-476-6988 from 8 a.m. to 12 a.m. (ET) Monday through Friday or 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. (ET) Saturday and Sunday, or online at www.sony.com, click on “Support” and then “Support Alerts” for more information.

      Sony Electronics of San Diego, Calif., is expanding its June 2016 recall of Panasonic battery packs used in Sony Electronics laptop computers.Another 7...
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      GOP lawmakers seek to block prepaid debit card rule

      Critics charge it's just another attack on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

      In the wake of the financial crisis, millions of consumers became "unbanked," meaning they had no bank account.

      Some became "unbanked" by choice, but many were either dropped by their banks or could no longer afford the fees associated with bank accounts.

      These consumers often turned to prepaid debit cards as an alternative. These cards provided easy access to cash and an ability to pay bills online. But just like banks, these cards were often loaded with fees, including hefty overdraft fees.

      In October, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) finalized rules to increase consumer protections for prepaid card users. The rules require prepaid card issuers to provide many of the same protections to consumers that credit card companies provide. They also require issuers to give consumers clear information about fees before an account is opened.

      Lawmaker claims rules hurt consumers

      Now, seven Republican members of the U.S. Senate are seeking to block implementation of those rules. Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) is the primary sponsor of the legislation, claiming the rules are actually hurting consumers who use prepaid cards.

      “If the CFPB wants to continue to impose rules and regulations that impact every American’s financial well-being, it must answer to the American people,” said Perdue, a member of the Senate Banking Committee. “As a business guy, I have experienced first-hand the impact overregulation has on growth and innovation. This rule is entirely too broad and would cripple the electronic payment marketplace which Georgians and millions of consumers across the country depend on.”

      But the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) contends that isn't the case at all. It claims the primary beneficiary of the CFPB rules rollback would be a prepaid card company called NetSpend (an Authorized Partner), whose parent company, TSYS, is based in Perdue's state.

      More overdraft fees

      NCLC contends a successful repeal of the rules would result in Netspend (an Authorized Partner) collecting $80 million a year in overdraft fees while blocking the expanded fraud protections.


      “It is outrageous that Congress may block basic fraud protections on prepaid cards so that NetSpend (an Authorized Partner) can keep gouging struggling families with overdraft fees that have no place on prepaid cards,” said Lauren Saunders, associate director of the NCLC.

      Sauders says the move is a continuation of the GOP's campaign against the CFPB, which was established under Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation. GOP lawmakers say the CFPB is not accountable as other government agencies are and has repeatedly overstepped its bounds.

      But Saunders say CFPB has been an effective consumer watchdog that has returned nearly $12 billion to consumers since it was established.

      In the wake of the financial crisis, millions of consumers became "unbanked," meaning they had no bank account. Some became "unbanked" by choice, b...
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      Survey: consumers' diets aren't as healthy as they think

      Only 6% are actually hitting USDA goals

      Popular culture's recent emphasis on healthy eating has had an effect -- mostly good. People know they should eat more healthy foods and avoid loading up on the unhealthy type.

      They even have a pretty good idea of what's good for you and what isn't. But when it comes to actually eating the good and avoiding the bad, a new survey suggests that's where it gets tricky.

      When polling firm ORC International conducted a survey for a supplements maker, it found 60% of Americans said they believed they were eating a healthy diet.

      But when the survey takers delved into just what Americans were eating, they discovered that 62% were eating just one to two servings of fruits and vegetables daily, despite USDA recommendations of eating five or more servings daily.

      Only 6% hitting the goal

      In fact, only 6% of consumers in the survey said they met the USDA recommendation of five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

      "My experience consistently shows me that a large number of Americans live high-carb, high-sugar, caffeine-overloaded, stressed-out, no-exercise lives," said Dr. Tieraona Low Dog, M.D, an advocate of vitamin supplements in diets. "We may have good intentions when it comes to eating well, but the truth is that many of us fall short of an ideal diet."

      In recent years, there have been conflicting studies when it comes to vitamin supplements. Government health experts writing at Nutrition.gov say it's best to meet nutritional needs by eating a variety of the right foods.

      Supplements may be useful in some cases

      "In some cases, vitamin/mineral supplements or fortified foods may be useful for providing nutrients that may otherwise be eaten in less than recommended amounts," they write. "If you are already eating the recommended amount of a nutrient, you may not get any further health benefit from taking a supplement. In some cases, supplements and fortified foods may actually cause you to exceed safe levels of intake of nutrients."

      According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, a federal agency, a healthy eating plan is one that provides necessary nutrients while staying within a daily calorie goal. It reduces the risk of heart disease and other unhealthy conditions.

      What specifically should be on a healthy plate? Nutritionists suggest vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat dairy.

      They also recommend plenty of protein from lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts. Consumers should also go easy on added salt and sugar and keep portion sizes reasonable.

      Popular culture's recent emphasis on healthy eating has had an effect -- mostly good. People know they should eat more healthy foods and avoid loading up o...
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      Toyota recalls model year 2016-2017 Tundras

      A portion of the bumper may break away

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 72,847 model year 2016-2017 Tundras equipped with a resin rear step bumper and resin reinforcement brackets. Vehicles with chrome step bumpers are not affected.

      In the event of an impact to the corner of the bumper, the resin bracket may be damaged but not be noticed.

      If a person steps on the corner of the bumper that is damaged, a portion of the bumper may break away, increasing the risk of injury.

      What to do

      Toyota will notify owners, and dealers will replace the resin rear bumper reinforcement brackets with steel ones, and replace the rear bumper tread, free of charge. Remedy parts are not currently available.

      Toyota will begin notifying owners of the recall on February 15, 2017. A second notice will be mailed when remedy parts are available.

      Owners may contact Toyota customer service at 1-800-331-4331. Toyota's number for this recall is H0C.

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 72,847 model year 2016-2017 Tundras equipped with a resin rear step bumper and resin reinforcement br...
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      Model year 2016-2017 Chevrolet Cruze vehicles recalled

      The seat-backs for the front seats may break in a crash

      General Motors is recalling 17,197 model year 2016-2017 Chevrolet Cruze vehicles.

      A bracket used in the driver or front passenger seat-back recliner mechanism may have been incorrectly welded to the seat-back frame. As a result, in the event of a crash, the head-restraints may not function properly.

      As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 202a, "Head Restraints."

      The seat-backs for the front seats may break in a crash, increasing the risk of injury to the occupants.

      What to do

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the front passenger seats, replacing any with seat-back frames that are incorrectly welded, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020. GM's number for this recall is 17035.

      General Motors is recalling 17,197 model year 2016-2017 Chevrolet Cruze vehicles.A bracket used in the driver or front passenger seat-back recliner mec...
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      FCC suspends probe of free data programs

      Critics charge that the reversal undermines net neutrality

      Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai, with the support of Republican commissioner Michael O'Rielly, has moved to suspend the agency's probe of what are known as “zero rating” programs offered by wireless providers.

      Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T had been under investigation due to charges that their individual streaming packages violated the Net Neutrality Rule. All three carriers have programs under which subscribers may stream data from certain sources without it counting against their data allowances.

      “The Wireless Telecommunications Bureau is closing its investigation into wireless carriers' free-data offerings,” Pai said in a statement. “These free-data plans have proven to be popular among consumers, particularly low-income Americans, and have enhanced competition in the wireless marketplace. Going forward, the Federal Communications Commission will not focus on denying Americans free data.”

      GOP commissioner Michael O'Rielly backed the move, saying the FCC should be supporting wireless providers in what he called “permissionless innovation.”

      Just the first step

      “While this is just a first step, these companies, and others, can now safely invest in and introduce highly popular products and services without fear of Commission intervention based on newly invented legal theories,” O'Rielly said.

      But Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, currently the lone Democrat on the Commission, objected – not just to the speedy reversal of a pillar of Obama administration communication policy, but the manner in which it was done.

      “It is a basic principle of administrative procedure that actions must be accompanied by reasons for that action, else that action is unlawful,” Clyburn said. “Yet that is exactly what multiple Bureaus have done today.”

      Net Neutrality

      Net Neutrality holds that internet service providers may not favor one type of content over another. The FCC was investigating all three companies to determine if their zero rating plans violated that principal.

      The agency Friday sent letters to all three companies, informing them that the inquiry has been closed.

      Amid a flurry of action Friday, the FCC also reversed another Obama administration move to allow nine internet providers to participate in a federal program to provide subsidized service to low-income households.

      The consumer group Free Press joined Clyburn in criticizing both the action and the way it was carried out. Policy Director Matt Wood characterized Pai's initiatives as “strong-armed tactics.”

      Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai, with the support of Republican commissioner Michael O'Rielly, has moved to suspend the agency's...
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      VIZIO settles with regulators over deceptive data collection charges

      Officials alleged that the company collected data from consumers and sold it to third parties

      The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the New Jersey Attorney General’s office have reached a $2.2 million settlement with smart TV manufacturer VIZIO, resolving a complaint that the company collected viewing data on 11 million consumers without their consent.

      The complaint states that, as early as February 2014, VIZIO and one of its affiliates manufactured smart TVs that captured screen information and demographic data about consumers, including information on age, sex, income, and a variety of other metrics. Officials allege that VIZIO then took that information and sold it to third parties who used it to create targeted ads that reached consumers across their devices.

      “[VIZIO] provided this viewing data to third parties, which used it to track and target advertising to individual consumers across devices. [It] engaged in these practices through a medium that consumers would not expect to be used for tracking, without consumers’ consent,” the complaint stated.

      "Egregious invasion of privacy"

      The complaint goes on to explain that the data tracking practices were unfair, deceptive, and in violation of the FTC Act and New Jersey protection laws, something that New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino expounded on.

      “New Jersey residents enjoying television in the privacy of their own homes had no idea that every show they watched, every movie they rented, every commercial they muted was being secretly tracked by the defendants who then exploited that personal information for corporate profit,” he said. “This kind of allegedly deceptive behavior is not only against the law; it is an egregious invasion of privacy that won’t be tolerated.”

      The settlement requires VIZIO to pay $1.5 million to the FTC and $1 million to the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, $300,000 of which has been suspended. The stipulated federal court order requires VIZIO to prominently disclose and obtain consent for its data collection and sharing practices, and stipulates that the company must delete all data collected before March 1, 2016.

      The order expressly forbids the company from making future misrepresentations about the privacy, security, or confidentiality of any consumer information it collects. VIZIO has also agreed to implement a data privacy program, which will be evaluated biennially.

      “This settlement not only holds the defendants accountable for their alleged deceptive practices, it requires them to destroy the data they gathered without consumers’ consent, and to revise their business practices to protect consumers from future privacy breaches,” said Porrino.

      For more information, consumers can visit the FTC’s site here.

      The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the New Jersey Attorney General’s office have reached a $2.2 million settlement with smart TV manufacturer VIZIO, re...
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      Having trouble sleeping? Try going camping for a weekend

      Researchers find that a weekend under the stars can reset a person's internal clock

      There have been countless “cures” proposed for those who have trouble sleeping. A cursory internet search will suggest anything from sipping warm milk to taking melatonin supplements. However, researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder have a much more recreational answer: go camping for a weekend.

      Doctor Kenneth Wright, an integrative physiology professor and lead author of a paper covering two studies, explains how going camping in an environment with natural light and dark cycles can reverse the damage of living everyday life in an artificially lit environment.

      "These studies suggest that our internal clock responds strongly and quite rapidly to the natural light-dark cycle. . . Living in our modern environments can significantly delay our circadian timing and late circadian timing is associated with many health consequences. But as little as a weekend camping trip can reset it," he said.

      Managing our internal clocks

      This is not the first paper that Wright has published on the beneficial effects of camping. In 2013, he conducted a study where participants were sent to camp for a week in the summer without the use of headlamps or flashlights at night. When they returned, Wright found that their levels of melatonin – a hormone that prepares the body for nighttime and promotes sleep – had synced with sunrise and sunset, a change of almost two hours.

      To build on that previous study, Wright set out to find how quickly our internal clocks could change based on the lighting of our environment and the time of the year. The first study consisted of 14 participants – nine of which were asked to camp for a weekend during the summer while the other five stayed home. After the weekend, participants who went camping had melatonin rise 1.4 hours earlier than those who hadn’t gone, suggesting that their internal clocks had altered.

      In the second study, five participants camped for an entire week around the time of the winter solstice. Statistics showed that they were exposed to 13 times more natural light than usual and that their melatonin levels began to rise 2.6 hours earlier.

      "Weekend exposure to natural light was sufficient to achieve 69 percent of the shift in circadian timing we previously reported after a week's exposure to natural light," Wright stated.

      Getting back in sync

      So, what does all of this mean for sleep? Essentially, the two studies showed that not being exposed to artificial light allowed participants’ bodies to alter according to the time of the year and their bodies’ natural needs.

      When living life normally with artificial light, the body’s internal clock and natural rhythms are often thrown off, which can impact when hormones are released, when we sleep and wake up, and even our appetite and metabolism. However, the studies show that just one weekend of camping away from that environment is enough to put our bodies back in sync. Wright hopes the results will help guide building and city design to help encourage natural light to promote health.

      "Our findings highlight an opportunity for architectural design to bring more natural sunlight into the modern built environment and to work with lighting companies to incorporate tunable lighting that could change across the day and night to enhance performance, health and well-being," he said.

      The full study has been published in Current Biology.

      There have been countless “cures” proposed for those who have trouble sleeping. A cursory internet search will suggest anything from sipping warm milk to t...
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      Renters seeing a little relief at the start of 2017

      The average rent is up slightly after four straight months of declines

      For years, young consumers starting households have been caught in a Catch 22.

      They might like to buy a home, but homeownership requires very good credit and plenty of cash for a down payment and closing costs. At the same time, renting continued to get more expensive.

      In 2014 and 2015, many in the housing industry fretted over a growing rent affordability crisis, especially in the nation's hottest housing markets. Now, there appears to be a little relief.

      The National Apartment List Rent Report shows February is starting with only a slight increase in rent, following four consecutive months in which the average rent actually went down.

      Compared to the beginning of February 2016, today's average rent is up 1.8%, but its roughly at the same level it was last May. In 2016, rents grew at a much slower rate than the previous two months.

      New apartment construction

      One reason has been a flurry of apartment construction over the last few years. With rising rents, building new rental homes became much more profitable and less risky.

      At the same time, home sales finally began to rise on the strength of first time home buyers -- consumers who had been renting but now owned their homes. That helped loosen up the rental inventory.

      It may be the rental market is only now returning to normal after the contortions caused by the financial crisis. In the years immediately following 2008, it became a lot harder to buy a home, so more people were competing for rental property. In the depths of the Great Recession, apartment construction virtually came to a standstill.

      Expensive markets see the biggest drop

      The report shows rents have tended to slow the most in the areas where they had gone up the most -- places like Silicon Valley, Miami, and Houston. Eight of the top 10 most expensive rental markets saw rents rise 1% or less last year.

      What's changed? Developers have been encouraged by recent increases in rents in these markets to step up building. As inventory has increased, landlords have had less leverage when it comes to rent.

      There are still many areas of the country where rents are still rising and take a huge bite out of monthly cash flow. Rents are still rising in Washington, DC, for example. Suburban areas surrounding the nation's most expensive cities are also seeing rising rent.

      For years, young consumers starting households have been caught in a Catch 22.They might like to buy a home, but homeownership requires very good credi...
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      Gains in retail fuel January job creation

      The unemployment rate ticked higher again

      Job creation in January ramped up to its highest level since last September.

      Figures released by the Department of Labor (DOL) show employers added 227,000 nonfarm payroll positions even as the unemployment rate inched up to 4.8%.

      Where the jobs are

      The increase in employment came in retail trade (+46,000), construction (+36,000), financial activities (+32,000), and restaurants and bars (+30,000).

      Other major industries, including mining and logging, manufacturing, wholesale trade, transportation and warehousing, information, and government, showed little or no change over the month.

      In and out of work

      Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rate for Asians (3.7%) increased in January, while the jobless rates for adult men (4.4%), adult women (4.4%), teenagers (15.0%), Whites (4.3%), Blacks (7.7%), and Hispanics (5.9%) showed little or no change.

      The number of long-term unemployed -- those out of work for 27 weeks or more -- was essentially unchanged at 1.9 million and accounted for 24.4% of the unemployed. Over the year, the number of long-term unemployed is down by 244,000.

      Average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 3 cents last month to $26.00 -- half the increase seen in December. Over the year, average hourly earnings are up 2.5%.

      The complete report may be found on the DOL website.

      Job creation in January ramped up to its highest level since last September.Figures released by the Department of Labor (DOL) show employers added 227,...
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      Ruth’s Salads recalls Ruth’s Original Pimento Spread

      The product may be contaminated wit Listeria monocytogenes

      Ruth’s Salads of Charlotte, N.C., is recalling 7-oz. containers of Ruth’s Original Pimento Spread.

      The product may contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No illnesses have been reported to date in connection with this problem.

      The recalled product with the Lot #16, Sell By Date 4/30/2017 was distributed in grocery stores in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and parts of Virginia and Tennessee.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at 800-532-0409 between 7AM and 3PM Monday-Friday. Consumers calling after hours may may leave a message.

      Ruth’s Salads of Charlotte, N.C., is recalling 7-oz. containers of Ruth’s Original Pimento Spread.The product may contaminated with Listeria monocytoge...
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      North Dakota lawmakers prematurely celebrate approval of Dakota Access Pipeline

      Authorities say pipeline completion is inevitable, but the Corps of Engineers has not yet granted a key easement

      To say that North Dakota's authorities do not appreciate the Standing Rock Sioux-led opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline would be a gross understatement.

      The pipeline was originally slated to cross under the Missouri River near Bismarck until federal regulators expressed concern that the location was a “high consequence area” and too close to Bismarck’s municipal water supplies. The pipeline is now all but ready to cross under Lake Oahe, a dam that still connects to the Missouri River but is located next to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation forty miles south of Bismarck.

      Workers and equipment have been on the contested drill pad above Lake Oahe for months. The only thing standing in the way from Energy Transfer Partners finishing the job is an easement from the Corps of Engineers, which had announced in December that it was considering "alternative routes" and is now subjecting the project to further environmental review, or an Environmental Impact Statement, as it is officially called.

      Local bills target protesters, federal reservation system

      Literally standing in the way of the pipeline are protesters, though a bill proposed at the state level could fatally change that. North Dakota Representative Keith Kempenich has received much attention for the bill he introduced that would grant legal protection to people who “accidentally” run over protesters with their cars, should those protesters be blocking roadways.

      But that’s only one of the numerous bills he has helped sponsor this legislative session pertaining to pipeline protesters. Other bills listed under Kempenich's name would do the following; order North Dakota to ask Congress "to return lands and mineral rights underlying Lake Oahe in North Dakota to the state of North Dakota," file a lawsuit against the Corps of Engineers "for an amount not less than seventeen million dollars to recover damages as a result of anti-Dakota access pipeline protests," increase penalties for criminal trespassing offenses, and ask the federal government to hand control of all American Indian polices to the states in order “to improve the failed Indian reservation system.”

      On the lighter side, Kempenich has also co-sponsored a bill asking state lawmakers to make January 27, 2017 an official holiday celebrating cowboys, to be called "Day of the American Cowboy.”

      Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies continue to try to end the Sioux’s resistance movement head-on. Late Wednesday, heavily-armed officers from local and federal agencies raided a new encampment that protesters organized near the Lake Oahe drill site, leading to the arrests of a reported 76 protesters. Dozens of protesters have already been arrested in previous confrontations between the camps and police, with some protesters now facing felony charges.

      Pro-pipeline lawmakers say easement is imminent 

      President Trump’s recent memo asking for an expedited review of the pipeline didn’t change the fact that the Corps had already agreed to conduct a new Environmental Impact Statement considering alternative routes for the project back in December. Neither did the recent claims from two lawmakers that the pipeline’s necessary easement had been granted.

      Senator John Hoeven, a Republican representing North Dakota, has invested in sixty-eight different oil wells in his state and has also invested in Energy Transfer Partners, as the DeSmogBlog reported last year.

      A staunch supporter of the Dakota Access Pipeline project, Hoeven was also recently elected chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. On January 31, Hoeven released a statement claiming that the Dakota Access Pipeline operators received all the approval they needed to finish their project.

      “Today, the Acting Secretary of the Army Rober Speer informed us that he has directed the Army Corps of Engineers to proceed with the easement needed to complete the Dakota Access Pipeline,” Hoeven’s office wrote on his website. “This will enable the company to complete the project, which can and will be built with the necessary safety features to protect the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and others downstream.”

      Congressman Kevin Cramer, who represents North Dakota in the House, released a similar statement assuring his constituents that the “Department of Defense is granting the easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline and Congressional notification is imminent.”

      Still legally bound

      But the reality is that the Corps is still legally bound to follow the environmental review process it initiated in December, as the Standing Rock tribe and its attorneys have argued. In fact, the Corps just this week opened up its public comment period for the pipeline, the next step in its Environmental Impact Statement process. Members of the public have until February 20 to send their thoughts on the project to the Corps. 

      "The Army has initiated the steps outlined in the January 24th Presidential Directive” that asks for an expedited review of the pipeline, Corps spokesman Maj. Gen. Malcolm Frost writes in an email to ConsumerAffairs, but he adds that “these initial steps do not mean the easement has been approved. The Assistant Secretary for the Army Civil Works will make a decision on the pipeline once a full review and analysis is completed in accordance with the directive."

      The reason or motivation behind the lawmakers’ premature celebrations claiming an easement had already been granted are unclear, as neither office returned messages left by ConsumerAffairs. 

      Meanwhile, the NODAPL protesters, or water protectors, as they call themselves, aren’t the only environmental group to see their efforts potentially thwarted by a GOP-controlled House and Senate. 

      Cramer is among the 228 congressmen in the House who recently voted to overturn a so-called stream protection rule that was implemented by the Obama administration. The rule, opponents argued, kills jobs in the coal industry. “North Dakota does not need the Stream Protection Rule and neither does the nation,“ Cramer said on the House Floor Wednesday. 

      To say that North Dakota's authorities do not appreciate the Standing Rock Sioux-led opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline would be a gross understateme...
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      Wearable device delivers continuous blood pressure readings

      Could it be a tool to detect 'masked hypertension?'

      As we have recently reported, cardiologists are increasingly concerned about a condition known as "masked hypertension."

      That's when a patient shows a normal blood pressure reading the one or two times a year it is taken at the doctor's office but has above normal readings during much of his or her daily routine. Doctors have said regular blood pressure checks are one way to identify patients who unknowingly suffer from high blood pressure.

      Back in May, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued 510(k) clearance for a new medical device that might prove to be a useful tool in this effort. CareTaker Medical says its Wireless Continuous Non-Invasive “Beat-by-Beat” Blood Pressure (“cNIBP”) and Heart Rate Monitor can provide constant blood pressure monitoring.

      The device uses a low-pressure finger cuff that is attached to a small device worn on the wrist. It measures the heart rate on a remote display. It was designed for use in hospitals and during patient transit, but the company says it can also be used after a patient is discharged.

      A game changer

      “CareTaker is a real game changer, allowing physicians to remotely monitor medical-grade Continuous Blood Pressure and Heart Rate from anywhere, using only a patient friendly-finger cuff” said Dr. Jay Sanders, an adjunct professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins and President Emeritus of the American Telemedicine Association.

      In the past, he says most doctors had to settle for intermittent blood pressure readings using arm cuffs, which he says which can produce misleading results.

      "In remote monitoring settings, the ability to gather continuous blood pressure and vital sign data from such an integrated easy-to-use device will provide better information and improve patient compliance while reducing cost and workload,” Sanders said.

      The company says its device provides "ICU quality" continuous readings without catheters or cumbersome wires that were typically part of previous continuous blood pressure reading devices. In an email to ConsumerAffairs, the company said the device is not a pulse transit time method, "but instead a completely new way of tracking blood pressure."

      Researchers at Stony Brook and Columbia universities used 24-hour ambulatory blood pressure monitors to conclude that as many as 17.1 million people might suffer from masked hypertension.

      As we have recently reported, cardiologists are increasingly concerned about a condition known as "masked hypertension."That's when a patient shows a n...
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      Barberi International recalls frozen Ajiaco

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Barberi International of Miami, Fla., is recalling its Sunmba Frozen Ajiaco (vegetable mix) product.

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No illnesses have been reported in connection with this product to date.

      The recalled product was sold in 2-lb. plastic bags with the UPC number 85641400172 and a “use by” date of November 5, 2017, or earlier.

      It was distributed in Florida from December 24, 2016, thru January 22, 2017, to the following stores:

      • Bravo Supermarket
      • Kissimmee Meat Produce
      • Fancy Fruit and Produce
      • Riverview Fresh Market
      • La Sabrosita
      • La Placita
      • Unidos Supermarket
      • El Mariachi Latino
      • Las Mercedes
      • Antonys Fruit produce and Meat Market
      • La 41 Meat Market
      • The Latin Brothers
      • La Grande Supermarket
      • Tienda La Paisa
      • Quick Stop Latino
      • Latin American Supermarket
      • Las Americas Grocery and Deli
      • Blooming Latin Market
      • Mexico Lindo
      • Colenvia
      • Tienda Los Amigos
      • El Aguila Supermarket
      • Thrifty Specialty Produce
      • Meat Emporium
      • El Ricon,
      • Compare
      • La Teresita Meat Market
      • Mi Pueblo
      • El Loco Supermarket
      • Pepes Hacienda
      • La Hacienda
      • Busy Bee
      • Tico Market
      • East Coast Market
      • Pepes Mexican Store

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should discard it or return it to their local store for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact Barberi International at (786) 845 0037 Monday thru Friday from 8:00am to 5:00pm (EST).

      Barberi International of Miami, Fla., is recalling its Sunmba Frozen Ajiaco (vegetable mix) product.The product may be contaminated with Listeria monoc...
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      Amazon announces plans for a $1.5 billion cargo airline hub

      The move may help cut costs and guarantee greater delivery speeds

      There were a few raised eyebrows earlier this month when Amazon announced that it would be creating 100,000 U.S.-based jobs by mid-2018. The widely popular online retailer had plans to open additional warehouses in Texas, Florida, California, and New Jersey – but another initiative may bring thousands of jobs to Kentucky.

      The company announced today that it will be building a cargo airline hub in the northern part of the state at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. Estimates show that as many as 2,700 people may be employed at the location eventually, but officials say only 600 full-time positions will be initially available. The created jobs are expected to include positions in personnel, piloting, ground support, management, and maintenance.

      “As we considered places for the long-term home for our air hub operations, Hebron quickly rose to the top of the list with a large, skilled workforce, centralized location with great connectivity to our nearby fulfillment locations and an excellent quality of living for employees. We feel strongly that with these qualities as a place to do business, our investments will support Amazon and customers well into the future,” said Dave Clark, Amazon’s senior vice president of worldwide operations.

      Greater delivery speeds

      It’s no secret that Amazon has been trying to create its own air transportation network. After revealing its first branded cargo plane last August, Clark commented that doing so would “[expand] our capacity to ensure great delivery speeds for our Prime members for years to come.”

      The Hebron hub received approval to lease 900 acres of land, and it would eventually house 40 Amazon Prime planes that would transport packages between warehouses. The Cincinnati Business Courier estimated that the project would cost approximately $1.49 billion, with Amazon standing to receive as many as $40 million in tax incentives from local government.

      The move may prove to be beneficial to consumers across the U.S., who may experience faster delivery times after the hub is up and running. Amazon should also be able to cut some of its costs associated with working with third parties, although the company says its cargo planes are only meant to supplement cargo carriers.

      Analyst Colin Sebastian estimated that the company will see a $400 billion-plus market opportunity for delivery, freight forwarding, and contract logistics. However, it has not yet announced a start date for the hub.

      There were a few raised eyebrows earlier this month when Amazon announced that it would be creating 100,000 U.S.-based jobs by mid-2018. The widely popular...
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      Mortgage applications post first decline in four weeks

      Contract interest rates were mixed

      A down week for mortgage applications -- the first in four weeks.

      Figures released by the Mortgage Bankers Association  (MBA) show applications for mortgages dipped 3.2% in the week ending January 27, which includes an adjustment for the Martin Luther King Day holiday.

      The Refinance Index was down 1% from the previous week, pushing the refinance share of mortgage activity to 49.4% of total applications from 50.0% the previous week.

      The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity rose to 6.4%, the FHA share of total applications fell to 12.1% from 13.6% a week earlier, the VA share inched up to 12.4% from 12.2%, and the USDA share of total applications was unchanged at 0.9%.

      Contract interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($424,000 or less) rose to 4.39% -- its highest level since December 2016 -- from 4.35%, with points increasing to 0.34 from 0.30 (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 $424,000) was up four basis points -- to 4.32% from 4.28% -- with points increasing to 0.34 from 0.31 (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 slipped to 4.17% from 4.19%, with points remaining unchanged at 0.35 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs advanced three basis points to 3.61%, with points increasing to 0.33 from 0.28 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs dropped to 3.33% from 3.41%, with points decreasing to 0.22 from 0.30 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.

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

      A down week for mortgage applications -- the first in four weeks.Figures released by the Mortgage Bankers Association  (MBA) show applications for mort...
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