Current Events in March 2018

Browse Current Events by year

2018

Browse Current Events by month

Get trending consumer news and recalls

    By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

    Thanks for subscribing.

    You have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

    These are the states with the highest levels of income inequality

    Income inequality increased all over the map since 2010, according to recent data

    A recent analysis from career website Zippia suggests income inequality increased in all 50 states between 2010 and 2016, despite some people’s efforts to stop it.

    The report, which drew its findings from the U.S. Census’s American Community Survey, found that income inequality is worsening at a faster rate in Montana than in any other state.

    Between 2010 and 2016, the state’s Gini coefficient (a statistical measure of income inequality) jumped 2.2 points. The next-largest increase in income inequality over the same timeframe took place in California (up 1.9 points), followed by Rhode Island, and Maine (up 1.8 points each).

    States with the highest income inequality

    Although the rate of income inequality is growing fastest in Montana, income inequality isn’t currently as prevalent there as it is in other states.

    New York claimed the dubious distinction of having the highest level of income inequality, followed by Connecticut and Louisiana. Alaska had the lowest levels of inequality between high and low earners.

    Wyoming and South Dakota had the smallest changes in income inequality between 2010 and 2016, according to the report.

    Here are the top ten states where income inequality is highest:

    1. New York

    2. Connecticut

    3. Louisiana

    4. California

    5. Florida

    6. Massachusetts

    7. Georgia

    8. Texas

    9. Mississippi

    10. Illinois

    The complete ranking can be viewed here.

    A recent analysis from career website Zippia suggests income inequality increased in all 50 states between 2010 and 2016, despite some people’s efforts to...

    Tesla raises prices for use of its Supercharger stations

    Rates increased by 20 to 40 percent in most regions

    Tesla has raised the prices-per-kilowatt hour of its Supercharger stations across the country. While some states have seen 100 percent increases, the average increase varies from 20 to 40 percent.

    Rates doubled in Oregon from $0.12 per kilowatt-hour to $0.24 per kWh. In California, rates jumped from $0.20 per kWh to $0.26 per kWh.

    Price rates by state can be viewed on the company’s website.

    ‘Will never be a profit center’

    The automaker says the price increase isn’t an attempt to pull a profit. The rate adjustment simply reflects changing electricity and usage rates in various parts of North America.

    “We occasionally adjust rates to reflect current local electricity and usage. The overriding principle is that Supercharging will always remain significantly cheaper than gasoline, as we only aim to recover a portion of our costs while setting up a fair system for everyone,” Tesla told Electrek. “This will never be a profit center for Tesla.”

    Last year, the automaker announced it would expand its Supercharging network to include city centers. By rolling out fast-charging stations in cities, the company aimed to make it possible to charge vehicles in urban settings where consumers may be farther from home or work plug in locations.  

    Tesla currently has more than 1,100 supercharging stations across the country.

    Tesla has raised the prices-per-kilowatt hour of its Supercharger stations across the country. While some states have seen 100 percent increases, the avera...

    Annual remodeling survey finds small projects pay off the most

    Labor costs make big jobs less practical

    Consumers considering a major home remodeling project, with an eye toward resale, would do better to think small.

    In its annual Cost Vs. Value Report, Remodeling Magazine finds that homeowners undertaking big kitchen and bathroom upgrades in hopes of selling their homes won't recoup as much of the expense than if they target smaller, less expensive projects.

    In 2018, the magazine's editors found that replacing garage doors will provide the biggest return. The average cost is $3,470 and the average addition to the home's sale price is $3,411 -- a return of 98.3 percent.

    Of course, garage doors aren't what they once were. Today, smart garage doors can be controlled from a remote location by using a smartphone app -- something today's tech-savvy homebuyers may find appealing.

    Better curb appeal

    The second most cost effective remodeling project is adding manufactured stone veneer to a home's exterior. The idea is to improve curb appeal.

    Removing a 300-square-foot continuous band of existing vinyl siding from the bottom third of the street-facing exterior gives a home a dramatic new look from the street, and first impressions are important.

    This project costs an average of $8,221 but adds $7,986 to the sale price, a return of 97.1 percent.

    Another simple and inexpensive upgrade that pays off in resale is replacing the front door. The average cost is $1,471 but it adds an average $1,344 to the sale price, a return of more than 91 percent.

    It's easy to price your home out of reach

    Because home prices have risen so quickly in the last four years, major remodeling projects can push the price of a home out of reach for many potential buyers. That's why expensive kitchen and bathroom upgrades have fallen out of favor.

    In 2018, a major kitchen remodel costs an average $63,829 but only adds $37,637 to the sale price, a return of just 59 percent.

    A major bathroom remodel costs an average of $61,662 but returns just $34,644 -- less than 57 percent.

    Overall, the magazine's editors found a slight decline in the average payback for 20 common professional remodeling projects in 100 major markets. They attribute the modest change to the cost of doing those projects -- costs rose for all 20, while values rose for only about two-thirds of them.

    Consumers considering a major home remodeling project, with an eye toward resale, would do better to think small.In its annual Cost Vs. Value Report, R...

    Get trending consumer news and recalls

      By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

      Thanks for subscribing.

      You have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

      Cost of living slows in February

      Gasoline and rents kept inflation in check

      The cost of living rose in February, but not as much as in January. Lower gasoline prices and moderating rents helped keep inflation in check.

      The Labor Department reports the Consumer Price Index (CPI), a measure of the cost of goods and services at the retail level, rose a modest .02 percent last month, slowing from .05 percent in January.

      Over the last 12 months, the nation's inflation rate sits at 2.2 percent, just above the Federal Reserve's inflation target of 2.0 percent.

      The cost of housing, clothing, and car insurance were all up for the month, while food costs remained the same as in January. In fact, the cost of food prepared at home actually went down last month.

      'No cause for alarm'

      "Inflation growth moved back into 'no cause for alarm' territory with the February CPI report," Robert Frick, Navy Federal Credit Union’s corporate economist, told ConsumerAffairs.

      Frick said many analysts were bracing for bad news based on the big increase in the January CPI. But the February numbers were largely reassuring.

      "We saw that auto prices were down significantly, which shows that the impact of the hurricanes last year is finally wearing off, and the trend toward lower vehicle prices is finally kicking in, as predicted," Frick said.

      With millions of cars coming off lease, together with slightly lower demand after recent record years, Frick predicts smart car shoppers will find bargains for the rest of the year, and that should offset any increase in car loan rates that have been edging up lately.

      Oversized effect of gas prices

      But the February numbers may have been influenced by an unusual drop in gasoline prices. A volatile crude oil market and robust refining activity sent retail gasoline prices down nearly a full percent in February. Those prices have largely rebounded this month.

      But in some good news for consumers, Frick notes that the tame inflation numbers may persuade the Fed that it doesn't need to boost its discount rate more than three times this year.

      Since credit card companies base their interest rates on the Fed's discount rate, that means credit card rates may not rise as much as expected in 2018.

      The cost of living rose in February, but not as much as in January. Lower gasoline prices and moderating rents helped keep inflation in check.The Labor...

      Chrysler recalls model year 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvios

      The windshield wipers may operate only at the low-speed setting

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 1,505 model year 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvios. The software for the wiper motor may incorrectly interpret the wiper motor as overheating, limiting the windshield wipers to operating only at the low-speed setting.

      Limited wiper function can reduce the driver's visibility, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will replace the wiper motor, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin April 25, 2018.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is U24.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 1,505 model year 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvios. The software for the wiper motor may incorrectly interpret the wiper motor as...

      Tucker’s Pork-Bison Box recalled

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Raw Basics of Pleasant Prairie, Wis., is recalling 540-lbs. of 5lb. Tuckers Pork-Bison Boxes.

      The pet product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      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 1-800-219-3650.

      Raw Basics of Pleasant Prairie, Wis., is recalling 540-lbs. of 5lb. Tuckers Pork-Bison Boxes.The pet product may be contaminated with Salmonella.No...

      Waymo makes its driverless trucking debut in Atlanta

      The move comes less than a week after Uber rolled out its driverless truck fleet

      Waymo, Google’s autonomous transportation subsidiary, is broadening its self-driving truck beta test and using the Atlanta metro as the hub for the trial.

      “This pilot, in partnership with Google’s logistics team, will let us further develop our technology and integrate it into the operations of shippers and carriers, with their network of factories, distribution centers, ports and terminals,” Waymo said in an announcement. “As our self-driving trucks hit the highways in the region, we’ll have highly-trained drivers in the cabs to monitor systems and take control if needed.”

      It’s been a long road for Google’s driverless brainchild. The company began testing its self-driving car project in 2009 and only last month did it receive approval from the Arizona Department of Transportation to become the first commercial self-driving minivan service.

      Waymo’s self-driving trucks use the same array of sensors that power its self-driving minivan. The company claims its engineers and artificial intelligence experts have logged five million self-driven miles on public roads, plus another five billion miles driven in simulation.

      Why Atlanta?

      Being one of the few American cities served by three major Interstate highways -- I-20, I-75 and I-85 -- makes Atlanta an easy choice for trucking’s move into the digital age.

      Atlanta is also the home of more than 2,000 scheduled motor carriers, irregular intrastate route carriers, commodity carriers, and contract haulers. The metro is also one of the largest rail transportation hubs, which should help Waymo facilitate an easy interchange of freight from one mode to another.

      The race is on

      Autonomous vehicles are considered to be a critical component of the automotive industry’s future. Since 2011, when Nevada became the first state to permit autonomous cars, the list of states has grown rapidly, now totalling 21.

      Not wanting driverless technology to move forward without direction and safety for anyone on the road, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released federal guidance for Automated Driving Systems (ADS) in its A Vision for Safety 2.0.

      In writing about its vision, the agency laid out six levels of driver assistance technology advancements it wants to see achieved. Those levels include everything from no automation (a fully engaged driver is required at all times), to full autonomy (automated vehicles operated without a human driver).

      Not to be outdone by Uber

      Waymo announced the news only two days after Uber’s self-driving semi-trucks hit the road in Arizona.

      But the Google subsidiary claims its “near-decade of experience with passenger vehicles has given us a head start in trucking.”

      Waymo and Uber aren’t new at being in the ring with each other. In 2017, Waymo sued Uber and its self-driving trucking subsidiary, Otto, for purportedly stealing Waymo's trade secrets and infringing upon its patents. The companies settled their differences last month, with Uber paying Waymo a reported $245 million in Uber stock.

      Waymo, Google’s autonomous transportation subsidiary, is broadening its self-driving truck beta test and using the Atlanta metro as the hub for the trial....

      Feds attempt to bar states from regulating student loan debt collectors

      The Department of Education claims federal rules preempt state consumer protection laws

      The Department of Education has served notice that it plans to block states from regulating student loan servicers who are attempting to collect on past-due payments.

      The federal agency has published a notice of its intention to preempt states' consumer protection laws that have attempted to regulate student loan debt servicers in how they go about collecting money owed on federal student loans.

      In its declaration, the Department of Education noted that several states have adopted new regulatory requirements on companies servicing loans under the government's Direct Loan Program.

      It said states have also required disclosure requirements on companies servicing loans made under title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965.

      'Preempted by federal law'

      "The Department believes such regulation is preempted by Federal law," the declaration states. "The Department issues this notice to clarify further the Federal interests in this area."

      The federal government's overriding interest is in student loans being repaid. It is targeting state laws that it views as making it more difficult for loan servicers to recover payments that fall behind.

      Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey filed a lawsuit in August against the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA)—doing business as FedLoan Servicing— and claimed it violated state and federal laws by not discharging loans for borrowers who agreed to accept certain public sector jobs.

      The complaint also claims that that the loan servicer overcharged student borrowers and prevented them from staying on track with Income Driven Repayment plans that make their monthly payments more affordable.

      “This company’s actions have jeopardized the financial futures of teachers and public servants across the country,” Healey said at the time. “These federal programs allow Americans from all backgrounds to dedicate their careers to serving others. My office will protect PSLF and hold PHEAA accountable for forcing these students further into debt.”

      Federal-state conflict

      The Department of Education maintains the suit improperly seeks to impose requirements on student loan servicers that conflict with federal regulation.

      "Accordingly, Massachusetts' claims are preempted because the State has sought to proscribe conduct Federal law requires and to require conduct Federal law prohibits," the agency argues. "We believe that attempts by other States to impose similar requirements will create additional conflicts with Federal law."

      During the Obama Administration, the Department of Education developed ways to discharge or reduce student loan debt. Healey and some of her colleagues in other states argue that under the Trump Administration, the agency has shown less interest in helping borrowers take advantage of these programs.

      Healey sued the department in December over claims that it failed to provide federal loan discharges for students who attended the now-defunct Corinthian Colleges, a chain of for-profit schools.

      The Department of Education has served notice that it plans to block states from regulating student loan servicers who are attempting to collect on past-du...

      Twitter suspends accounts for ‘tweetdecking’

      The social network is cracking down on coordinated spamming

      As part of its mission to crack down on spam bots, Twitter has suspended accounts linked to “tweetdecking,” or the process of mass retweeting stolen content in order to help it go viral.

      Popular “tweetdeckers,” including Common White Girl, Dory, and Finah, were suspended from the site because they violated the social network’s spam policies that forbid mass duplication.

      Last month, Twitter announced new rules that would aim to prevent users from creating or controlling accounts in an organized fashion to achieve a particular goal (such as making a post appear to have more support than it actually does).

      Under the new rules, users are not allowed to “sell, purchase, or attempt to artificially inflate account interactions.” Violating this policy is grounds for permanent suspension, the company said.

      Manufactured virulity

      Tweetdeckers operate by retweeting posts across multiple accounts in Tweetdeck in an effort to spread other users’ -- as well as paying customers’ -- tweets into forced virality. Several suspended tweetdeckers had amassed hundreds of thousands or even millions of followers.

      "One of the most common spam violations we see is the use of multiple accounts and the Twitter developer platform to attempt to artificially amplify or inflate the prominence of certain Tweets," Twitter wrote of its initiative to crack down on spam.

      "To be clear: Twitter prohibits any attempt to use automation for the purposes of posting or disseminating spam, and such behavior may result in enforcement action,” the company added.

      Twitter hasn’t confirmed whether or not the suspensions are permanent or commented on individual suspensions.

      As part of its mission to crack down on spam bots, Twitter has suspended accounts linked to “tweetdecking,” or the process of mass retweeting stolen conten...

      Residents of coastal housing markets may be on the move

      An analysis shows growing interest in more affordable cities

      Coastal real estate markets, where big salaries have boosted home prices well beyond the national average, may get a little smaller this year.

      Markets like Las Vegas and Denver have begun to draw people from California's most expensive markets. It's a trend that began last year but is likely to accelerate this year because of changes in the tax law, reducing the value of some homeowner deductions.

      "Constricted affordability will continue to be a recurring pattern in the housing market in 2018, and we anticipate growth to be concentrated around areas where home prices still have room to grow," Javier Vivas, Director, Economic Research at realtor.com, told ConsumerAffairs back in January.

      Experts at real estate marketplace Redfin agree. Their analysis of search data shows a surge in interest in markets in the middle of the country, such as Atlanta and Nashville, as well as in lower-priced Western markets like Phoenix and Sacramento.

      "We expect that in 2018, this migration pattern will intensify as tax reform becomes a reality and more people choose to relocate in search of a lower cost of living," the company writes in its blog.

      Lower-cost metros gaining appeal

      The New York Times recently accompanied a group of Silicon Valley venture capitalists to rust belt markets to survey investment opportunities.

      It reported that several of the California residents were distracted by real estate and smitten with the revitalization progress made in Detroit, Youngstown, and Cleveland. They drooled over the large and stylish homes that sold for a fraction of the cost of a San Francisco condo.

      Madison, Wisc., was the number one destination in last year's U-Haul Survey of American Migration Trends. Austin and Boise were second and third on the list.

      “People leaving coastal hubs in search of affordability has been a consistent trend for the last five years,” said Redfin chief economist Nela Richardson. “Late last year there was a twist. Many of the popular migration paths that we saw Redfin.com users exploring yielded tax benefits along with increased affordability. We expect these trends to continue and will be monitoring them closely in 2018.”

      The Redfin analysis shows more than 18 percent of Redfin searches for homes in Las Vegas in the fourth quarter of last year came from Los Angeles. According to the agency, a family earning $150,000 a year could save nearly $7,800 a year in taxes by moving to Las Vegas, and homeowners would most likely pay significantly less for a similar home.

      Coastal real estate markets, where big salaries have boosted home prices well beyond the national average, may get a little smaller this year.Markets l...

      How much money does it take to achieve personal happiness?

      Researchers say it’s more than what most people in the U.S. make

      How much money does it take to achieve happiness and personal fulfillment? Researchers say they’ve pegged the perfect salary at $95,000 -- more than most U.S. consumers take in each year.

      Researchers from Purdue University and the University of Virginia  reached that figure after surveying 1.7 million individuals from 164 countries. They say that people making this amount of money each year are best able to manage their work/life balance.

      Satiation points

      While a salary of $95,000 is optimal for achieving long-term life satisfaction, the study suggested that making $60,000 to $75,000 may be sufficient for those seeking day-to-day feelings of happiness.

      “It’s been debated at what point does money no longer change your level of well-being. We found that the ideal income point is $95,000 for life evaluation and $60,000 to $75,000 for emotional well-being,” said lead author Andrew T. Jebb.

      This amount is for individuals and would likely be higher for families, the researchers noted.

      Once these thresholds are reached, the benefits of making more money tend to decrease. That’s because making more money than the optimal amount required to meet basic needs, purchase conveniences, and maybe pay off loans may result in a mindset that ultimately lowers well-being.

      Too much money can fuel social comparisons

      People making more money than what is optimal may be driven to pursue more material gains and compare themselves to their peers, the authors say.

      “At this point they are asking themselves, ‘Overall, how am I doing?’ and ‘How do I compare to other people?’” Jebb said. “The small decline puts one’s level of well-being closer to individuals who make slightly lower incomes, perhaps due to the costs that come with the highest incomes.”

      The average household income for the U.S. is $65,000, and 75 percent of American households earn less than $75,000.

      How much money does it take to achieve happiness and personal fulfillment? Researchers say they’ve pegged the perfect salary at $95,000 -- more than most U...

      Things to watch out for on a spring break beach vacation

      Contaminated water is just one concern

      If you're headed to the beach for spring break, checking out the condition of the water before your arrive is not a bad idea.

      TexasBeachWatch.com, a site operated by the State of Texas, rates the state’s beaches according to their cleanliness. Recently, it listed a handful of public beaches along the Gulf Coast as having higher-than-normal amounts of fecal matter in the water.

      Specifically, the website listed Corpus Christi Bay and North Padre Island as having significant amounts of fecal bacteria. The site also notes a rise in contamination at Freeport, Matagorda Bay, and along the Galveston coast. You can check out current pollution levels here.

      The State of Florida also maintains a close watch on its water quality. Florida Health has an online tool where vacationers can check the most recent water quality at hundreds of the state's beaches.

      Health risks

      Swimming in contaminated water carries obvious health risks. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says untreated sewage can get into the ocean in a variety of ways. It can come through runoff from heavy rains, washing animal wastes into the water, as well as inadequate sewage treatment facilities.

      When it does, it can expose swimmers to microorganisms called “pathogens” that can make swimmers sick. The most common illness is gastroenteritis. Its symptoms include nausea, vomiting, stomachache, diarrhea, headache, and fever.

      Swimmers who come down with ear, eye, nose, and throat infections may have also come in contact with polluted water.

      Other threats

      Spring break vacationers headed for the beach should also remember that illness isn't the only thing that could spoil a vacation. Waves and water currents in the ocean are very different from other bodies of water and require heightened awareness.

      In particular, the Red Cross warns beachgoers to be aware of rip currents that can carry even strong swimmers very far offshore. Rip currents are not easy to spot and can form in low spots and breaks in sandbars, or near structures such as jetties and piers.

      While swimming on a public beach, it is always a good idea to do so in water close to a lifeguard. Children and inexperienced swimmers should also always wear a flotation device while in the water.

      If you're headed to the beach for spring break, checking out the condition of the water before your arrive is not a bad idea.TexasBeachWatch.com, a sit...

      The Weekly Hack: Applebee’s data breach and continued cryptocurrency concerns

      Hackers targeted Applebee’s franchises and Japan is cracking down cryptocurrency exchanges

      People who dined at certain Applebee’s franchises sometime between November 2017 and January 2018 should pay extra attention to any suspicious activity on their credit cards.

      RMH Franchise Holdings announced today that the computer system used by its Applebee’s stores was infected with malware, allowing hackers to access the names and credit card information of customers.

      “We are providing this notice to our guests as a precaution to inform them of the incident and to call their attention to some steps they can take to help protect themselves,” RMH alerted customers in a press release.

      RMH said it initially discovered the security breach on February 13. The company owns 167 Applebee’s restaurants across the country.

      Cryptocurrency

      Hacks involving Bitcoin or one of its many imitators are becoming a regular part of the news cycle. Financial regulators in Japan are now responding by cracking down on seven platforms where people trade cryptocurrency, including the popular application Coincheck, which is based in Japan but used by cryptocurrency traders worldwide.

      Coincheck consumers lost an estimated $530 million to hackers in late January in what experts said was the largest cryptocurrency theft to date. The company’s CEO Yusuke Otsuka has promised that affected victims will be compensated.

      In the United States, the SEC also released a warning on Wednesday about the security risks that online trading platforms pose.

      Meanwhile, users of another cryptocurrency exchange called Binance recently became suspicious that they were being targeted by hackers. Affected individuals reported seeing bizarre discrepancies on their accounts via Reddit, which prompted a response from CEO Changpeng Zhao.. On Wednesday, he took to Twitter to say that “All funds are safe” and promised an investigation.

      The announcement didn’t come soon enough for Bitcoin traders. Value of Bitcoin dipped below $10,000 this week, which Mashable reports is likely due to the Binance hack rumors and the SEC warning.

      Tennessee senate candidate

      A hacker may have impersonated Tennessee Senate candidate Phil Bredesen and emailed his contacts, Bredesen’s campaign warned in a letter to the FBI. Bredesen, the former governor of Tennessee, is running as a Democrat in a race that The Hill newspaper reports is a toss-up, raising concerns among Democrats that hackers could be trying to interfere with the midterm elections.

      Academics

      A hacking group known for going after government agencies in Asia has been sending emails to Japanese professors in an attempt to steal their research. The group reportedly pretended to be from the Japanese government and sent professors downloads that contained malware. The campaign serves as another obvious reminder to never download unknown files.

      People who dined at certain Applebee’s franchises sometime between November 2017 and January 2018 should pay extra attention to any suspicious activity on...

      Accidental discovery could prompt new treatment for multiple sclerosis

      Researchers believe targeting a specific brain protein could help consumers build a resistance

      It’s not uncommon for medical discoveries to be made completely on accident.

      In 1928, Scottish physician and microbiologist Alexander Fleming came back from holiday and found that a spot of mold in one of his petri dishes had inhibited the growth of a colony of Staphylococcus that he was testing. The discovery would eventually lead to the development of penicillin.

      Now, researchers from the University of Alberta and McGill University may have accidentally discovered a new means of treating multiple sclerosis (MS). While studying human brain tissue, the team inadvertently found that samples from people who had the neurodegenerative disease had high levels of a protein called calnexin.

      The finding prompted further study using mice. The researchers found that subjects that lacked the protein were completely immune to MS. The team believes that controlling levels of calnexin could be a viable pathway for a new treatment.

      “We think this exciting finding identifies calnexin as an important target for developing therapies for MS,” said Luis Agellon, a professor and researcher at the McGill School of Human Nutrition.

      Unlocking the secret of treating MS

      Up until now, the researchers say that treating MS has been difficult because its causes are not well understood. However, they believe that high levels of calnexin could explain how the disease makes its way to the brain and causes damage.

      “It turns out that calnexin is somehow involved in controlling the function of the blood-brain barrier,” explains Marek Michalak, a biochemistry professor at the University of Alberta. “This structure usually acts like a wall and restricts the passage of cells and substances from the blood into the brain. When there is too much calnexin, this wall gives angry T cells access to the brain, where they destroy myelin.”

      The results of a 2016 study estimate that MS affects nearly 400,000 people in the U.S. and approximately 2.1 million people worldwide. Healthcare costs can range from just over $8,500 per patient to over $52,000 per patient depending on the severity and progression of the disease. The researchers believe their finding could lead to a treatment that helps stop the disease in its tracks.

      “Our challenge now is to tease out exactly how this protein works in the cells involved in making up the blood-brain barrier. If we knew exactly what calnexin does in this process, then we could find a way to manipulate its function to promote resistance for developing MS,” said Agellon.

      The full study has been published in JCI Insight.

      It’s not uncommon for medical discoveries to be made completely on accident.In 1928, Scottish physician and microbiologist Alexander Fleming came back...

      Robocalls surge 24 percent in February

      Two government agencies plan events to help stop them

      Consumers were bombarded with nearly 2.75 million robocalls in February, up 24 percent over February 2017, according to YouMail, a visual voicemail service.

      That works out to more than 98 million robocalls per day, a new record volume counted by the YouMail Robocall Index.

      "We know the robocalling problem continues to bedevil U.S. consumers and businesses by wasting our time, costing us money and causing untold levels of frustration for Americans in all walks of life," said Alex Quilici, CEO of YouMail.

      Quilici says consumers should avoid answering calls from unknown numbers and instead let them go directly to voicemail. He also recommends an app that blocks robocalls.

      Government agencies, meanwhile, may take steps to reduce the number of these computer-generated calls, which are illegal when made to cell phones.

      In recent years, robocalls have become a favorite tool for scammers, allowing them to target thousands of potential victims in a matter of seconds.

      United front against robocalls

      In the next few weeks, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) plan to hold joint events to fight illegal robocalls -- especially those that employ caller ID spoofing, a tactic which makes it appear as though the call is coming from a different number, exchange, or area code.

      “Scam robocalls and deceptive spoofing are real threats to American consumers, and they are the number one consumer complaint at the FCC,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “We’re committed to confronting this problem using every tool we have. I’m pleased to announce these efforts in our continued work with the FTC to protect consumers.”

      On March 23, the two agencies will conduct a policy forum to explore the regulatory challenges in controlling the proliferation of robocalls. Specifically, the forum will look for ways to allow telephone companies to block calls generated by machines. Registration is not required for this event.  It will be webcast at fcc.gov/live with open captions.

      Then on April 23, the two agencies will co-host a technology expo for consumers at the Pepco Edison Place Gallery in Washington, D.C. The event will feature technologies, devices, and applications to deflect unwanted robocalls.

      Additional information is available here.

      While the FCC previously proposed rules designed to curb robocalls, a coalition of consumer groups says the rules need more teeth. The FCC proposal would allow voice service providers to block some "spoofed" robocalls.

      Consumers were bombarded with nearly 2.75 million robocalls in February, up 24 percent over February 2017, according to YouMail, a visual voicemail service...

      Why false news spreads faster on social media

      A new study finds that novelty drives the spread of false news

      Findings from a new study conducted by researchers at MIT show false news gets disseminated much more quickly than real news, especially when it comes to social media platforms like Twitter.

      Researchers say that’s because users tend to like and retweet “novel” news that they haven’t encountered before on the site without stopping to accurately discern whether it is true or false.

      “We found that falsehood diffuses significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth, in all categories of information, and in many cases by an order of magnitude,” said co-author Sinan Aral, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

      Bots aren’t always the culprit

      The researchers said they were “somewhere between surprised and stunned” at the stark difference in the trajectories of false and real news. They found that false news is 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than real news stories.

      While bots have often been blamed for the spread of inaccurate news, the team found that they’re not always behind the swift spread of false news. Ordinary people are primarily behind the rapid spread of inaccurate news within the social media ecosystem.

      “When we removed all of the bots in our dataset, [the] differences between the spread of false and true news stood,” said Soroush Vosoughi, a co-author of the new paper.

      Study details

      For the study, the team spent two years studying the role Twitter plays in spreading false news across the globe. They examined around 126,000 stories that had been tweeted out by roughly 3 million people worldwide.

      To determine if a story was real or fake, the researchers used six independent fact-checking groups, including politifact.com, snopes.org, and factcheck.org. The MIT researchers termed inaccurate news "false" as opposed to "fake,” because "fake news" is a term that involves multiple broad meanings.

      Of the 126,000 stories tweeted, politics accounted for the biggest news category, and its spread was more pronounced than for news in other categories. Truthful tweets took about six times longer to reach 1,500 people than false tweets.

      Novelty fuels spread

      The results of the study suggest that novelty plays a key role in the spread of falsehoods on Twitter. “False news is more novel, and people are more likely to share novel information,” said Aral.

      Spreading previously unknown (but possibly false) information can help social media users gain attention. As Aral put it, “people who share novel information are seen as being in the know.”

      The full study has been published online in the journal Science.

      Findings from a new study conducted by researchers at MIT show false news gets disseminated much more quickly than real news, especially when it comes to s...

      Toys “R” Us to consider closing more U.S.-based stores

      The company may decide to liquidate all of its stores after a tough post-bankruptcy period

      Toys “R” Us may soon liquidate many -- or perhaps all -- of its U.S.-based stores, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

      Sources told the Journal that an announcement to that effect could come as soon as Monday when company officials and third parties are set to meet at a bankruptcy hearing in Richmond, Virginia. The number of stores the retailer decides to liquidate would depend on the liquidator bids it receives.

      A difficult road

      The news follows the retailer’s decision to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy back in September, a decision that CEO Dave Brandon called “the dawn of a new era.” Brandon said that the filing would allow the company to shrug off financial constraints that had held it back so that it could reorganize and return to profitability.

      However, a weak holiday sales season did little to help the company restructure over $5 billion in debt that it had accrued. The company ultimately decided in January to close nearly 20 percent of its U.S.-based stores, costing roughly 4,500 employees their jobs. Brandon once again said that the move would help the company prosper.

      “The actions we are taking give us the best chance to emerge from our bankruptcy proceedings as a more viable and competitive company that will provide the level of service and experience you should expect from a market leader,” he said in a letter to consumers.

      Brick-and-mortar retailers continue to decline

      The potential for more store closings shouldn’t surprise anyone who has paid attention to shopping trends over the past few years. As online retailers like Amazon have risen to prominence, many brick-and-mortar retailers have fallen by the wayside.

      A report from software company RetailNext shows that sales at brick-and-mortar retailers declined by seven percent year-over-year to begin 2018, with stores seeing a 4.4 percent drop in foot traffic. Average transaction value and shopper yield were also down, which further punctuated sales declines.

      Toys “R” Us may soon liquidate many -- or perhaps all -- of its U.S.-based stores, according to a Wall Street Journal report.Sources told the Journal t...