Current Events in August 2018

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    Venture capitalist says he invented a ‘breathalyzer’ for detecting weed

    An Oakland firm says it created a device that determines whether a user smoked in the last two hours

    A company in California is promoting what it claims is a breakthrough product: a marijuana breathalyzer.

    Company officials say that their product has the ability to protect people who are no longer impaired from being unfairly prosecuted, while also keeping people who are still high off the roadways.

    "We are trying to make the establishment of impairment around marijuana rational and to balance fairness and safety," Hound Labs CEO Mike Lynn told National Public Radio.

    The station reports that Lynn is a former venture capitalist who also works as an emergency room trauma physician and as an active SWAT team deputy reserve -- just the credentials, he says, that give him a window into the dangers of intoxicated driving, while still having sympathy for people who toke.

    His Oakland-based firm Hound Labs says the device can detect whether a person has smoked marijuana in the last two hours, in what they argue is the perfect window for considering whether someone is still impaired.  

    "When you find THC in breath, you can be pretty darn sure that somebody smoked pot in the last couple of hours," Lynn told the station. Several police departments are reportedly testing the device.

    The challenges of catching stoned drivers

    Police departments working in states where weed is legal have struggled to determine how to combat stoned driving.

    While consuming weed while driving is already against the law in states like California, prosecuting someone who smoked before they got behind the wheel remains more complicated. Researchers say that THC can be detected in a person around 30 days after use, or long after the high has worn off.  

    Because of these concerns, the California Highway Patrol in 2016 awarded a $3 million grant to researchers at the University of California in San Diego in hopes that they would devise their own marijuana intoxication threshold test.

    “The ultimate goal is to find a way to determine if a motorist is impaired by marijuana by examining various body fluids (blood, saliva, breath) and cognitive testing that could be done at the roadside,” UCSD psychiatrist Thomas Marcotte explained at the time. The university has studied cannabis  since the 1990s under state laws and grant programs.

    While marijuana enthusiasts consider recreational marijuana to be a safe, calming alternative to the volatile effects of alcohol, cannabis can slow reaction time so severely that users may not realize it is unsafe to drive when they are still stoned.

    Some research has suggested a link between marijuana consumption and an increase fatal car accidents.

    A company in California is promoting what it claims is a breakthrough product: a marijuana breathalyzer.Company officials say that their product has th...

    Nissan recalls model year 2007-2008 Nissan Versa sedans and hatchbacks

    The passenger front airbag inflator may explode

    Nissan North America is recalling 233 model year 2007-2008 Nissan Versa sedans and hatchbacks originally sold, or ever registered, in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands (Saipan), and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

    The passenger airbag inflators may explode due to propellant degradation due to exposure to humidity and temperature cycling.

    An exploding inflator may result in metal fragments striking the vehicle occupants resulting in serious injury or death.

    What to do

    Nissan will notify owners, and dealers will replace the passenger front airbag inflator, free of charge.

    The recall began July 25, 2018. Owners may contact Nissan customer service at 1-800-867-7669.

    Nissan North America is recalling 233 model year 2007-2008 Nissan Versa sedans and hatchbacks originally sold, or ever registered, in Alabama, Arizona, Ark...

    Star Natural Meats recalls raw pork sausage

    The product contains milk and soy, allergens not declared on the label

    Star Natural Meats of Astoria, N.Y., is recalling approximately 20,000 pounds of raw, non-intact pork sausage.

    The product contains milk and soy, allergens not declared on the label. The product also contains restricted ingredients -- specifically sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate -- which are not declared on the label.

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

    The following item, produced from February 23, 2017, to August 3, 2018, is being recalled:

    • Individual packages of various weights of “LOUKANIKO GREEK BRAND – MADE IN THE U.S.A.” pork sausage.

    The recalled product, bearing establishment number “EST. 48109” inside the USDA mark of inspection and not labeled with a lot code or expiration date, was shipped to retail locations in Astoria, N.Y.

    What to do

    Customers who purchased the recalled product should not consume it, but discard it or returned to the place of purchase.

    Consumers with questions may call the company at (718) 606-8008.

    Star Natural Meats of Astoria, N.Y., is recalling approximately 20,000 pounds of raw, non-intact pork sausage.The product contains milk and soy, allerg...

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      Arctic Cat recalls snowmobiles

      The handgrip can break, posing an injury hazard

      Arctic Cat of Thief River Falls, Minn, is recalling about 255 Arctic Cat snowmobiles.

      The handgrip can break, posing an injury hazard to the rider.

      No incidents or injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves all model year 2018 Pantera models including the Pantera 3000s, Pantera 6000s, and Pantera 7000s.

      Also included are 2019 Pantera 3000, 6000 and 7000 model snowmobiles within the VIN range of 100529 through 100848 located on the side of the tunnel near the right footrest area..

      The snowmobiles have “PANTERA,” “ARCTIC CAT” and the model number printed on each side of the engine cowling, and were sold in a variety of colors.

      The snowmobiles, manufactured in the U.S., were sold at Arctic Cat and Textron Off-Road dealers nationwide from July 2017, through May 2018, for between $10,500 and $15,500.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled snowmobiles and contact Arctic Cat to schedule a free repair. Arctic Cat is contacting all known purchasers directly.

      Consumers may contact Arctic Cat at (800) 279-6851 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday or online at www.arcticcat.com.

      Arctic Cat of Thief River Falls, Minn, is recalling about 255 Arctic Cat snowmobiles.The handgrip can break, posing an injury hazard to the rider.N...

      The Weekly Hack: Feds nab Ukrainian hackers allegedly behind attacks on Chipotle and Arby’s customers

      The international hacking ring stole nearly 15 million customer credit card records, authorities say

      The FBI has three Ukrainian nationals in custody who are leaders of an “international crime supergroup” called FIN7, the Department of Justice said Wednesday.

      The group allegedly hacked the servers of Chipotle, Arby’s, Chili’s, and nearly 100 other United States companies in order to access consumer data and sell it on the dark web.

      “In the United States alone, FIN7 successfully breached the computer networks of companies in 47 states and the District of Columbia,” federal authorities said. The group allegedly stole more than 15 million customer credit card records in the breaches.

      Chipotle and Arby’s both admitted last year that customer credit card data was targeted via a malware attack, while Chili’s said last May that customer credit card data may have been “compromised.”

      According to the Department of Justice, the attacks were part of a prolific hacking campaign “that targeted American companies and citizens by stealing valuable consumer data, including personal credit card information.”

      Authorities say that the hackers posed as a security firm called Combi Security to recruit members in Israel and Eastern Europe. They launched their attacks by sending emails to employees of the companies that they were targeting. The emails were apparently so legitimate-looking that the recipients subsequently downloaded attachments containing malware -- yet another reminder to never download attachments from an unfamiliar source.

      The defendants -- Dmytro Fedorov, 44; Fedir Hladyr, 33; and Andrii Kolpakov, 30 -- were arrested by foreign authorities. They now face 26 felony counts in a U.S. District Court in Seattle.

      The Ivy Leagues

      Yale University is offering one free year of identity theft monitoring, corporate America’s favorite way to apologize for a data breach, after university officials discovered that hackers stole 119,000 records affecting alumni, faculty, and staff nearly a decade ago.

      “I am writing, with regret, to inform you that, between April 2008 and January 2009, intruders gained electronic access to a Yale database and extracted names and Social Security numbers, including yours,” says a letter that the University recently sent out to affected people.

      As Yale News reports, the prestigious university has repeatedly fallen victim to hackers. Even their computer science department is not immune. A 2012 data breach in the department was blamed on a former employee with a weak password.

      Reddit

      Reddit  said Wednesday that a hacker stole some users’ email addresses, as well as a 2007 database containing encrypted passwords.

      The “security incident,” as Reddit describes it, occurred between June 14 and 18.

      “Although this was a serious attack, the attacker did not gain write access to Reddit systems; they gained read-only access to some systems that contained backup data, source code and other logs,” the company said.

      The FBI has three Ukrainian nationals in custody who are leaders of an “international crime supergroup” called FIN7, the Department of Justice said Wednesd...

      Apple becomes first $1 trillion company

      The firm's market cap reached a milestone on a strong earnings report

      Apple, as a company, moved into rarefied air Thursday as it became the first American company to be worth $1 trillion.

      A company's value, or market cap, is determined by multiplying the number of shares of the company by its stock price. Apple's market cap hit the $1 trillion mark when the stock rose to $207.04 a share. It reached an intraday high of $208.38 before closing at $207.39.

      The catalyst for the move was a better than expected earnings report, issued at mid week. Apple did not increase its share of the smartphone market during the quarter, but it had stronger iPhone profits because it sold units at a higher average price. It also recorded gains in its growing services business.

      Stock market guru Jim Cramer says Apple's value can go even higher because he says the firm shouldn't be valued like a tech company.

      'It's a consumer products company'

      "It's a consumer products company with the best devices ever, which is why it's got more customer loyalty than practically any other brand on earth," Cramer said on CNBC. "Yet the stock is much, much cheaper on an earnings basis ... than Clorox. If we simply valued Apple like the bleach maker, guess what?"

      Cramer then suggested $300 a share isn't an unrealistic price for Apple. He said the company's recent success has come from its subscription services. He notes Apple now charges consumers a monthly fee to backup their data.

      Revolutionary innovator

      Apple has been a revolutionary innovator during the technology revolution, but has been far from an overnight success. In 1976, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak started the company in Jobs' garage in Los Altos, Calif. The company struggled until it introduced the Macintosh, a self-contained personal computer, in the 1980s. The Mac was also the first personal computer to use a mouse for navigation.

      The company had its ups and downs throughout the fast-changing 1990s, but Jobs returned to become CEO of Apple in 1997, putting it in the lead of product development. After introducing the iPod music player, Jobs unveiled the iPhone in 2007, which he predicted would change the world. (See video below)

      Jobs died in 2011 and Wozniak left the company in 1985, though he remains as a co-founder and consultant.

      “Of course I’m proud of Apple, but I don’t measure the world by human simplifications like round numbers,” Wozniak told Yahoo Finance. “A company is great because it is great.”

      Apple, as a company, moved into rarefied air Thursday as it became the first American company to be worth $1 trillion.A company's value, or market cap,...

      Major companies and stock market giants are getting into the Bitcoin market

      Microsoft and Starbucks are joining others to try to make Bitcoin a global currency

      Bitcoin believers woke up to good news, Friday. The company that owns the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) trumpeted that, come November, it’s launching Bakkt, a venture focused on making it easy for consumers and institutions to purchase, sell, bank, and spend digital assets.

      The Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), NYSE’s parent company, thinks Bakkt can reshape Bitcoin into a trusted and widely used global currency. And it’s got some serious buy-in from the likes of Microsoft, Starbucks, and the Boston Consulting Group (Google, Aetna, Pfizer, IBM, Ford, et al).

      The inclusion of Starbucks is an interesting play. “As the flagship retailer, Starbucks will play a pivotal role in developing practical, trusted and regulated applications for consumers to convert their digital assets into US dollars for use at Starbucks,” said Maria Smith, Vice President, Partnerships and Payments for Starbucks. “As a leader in Mobile Pay to our more than 15 million Starbucks Rewards members, Starbucks is committed to innovation for expanding payment options for our customers.”

      Bitcoin credit cards?

      Having titans like that on its side should make Bakkt’s goal of getting the heavyweights of the banking industry to respect Bitcoin a lot easier. ICE’s aim is to remove all the hurdles so major money managers can offer Bitcoin-driven mutual funds, 401(k)s, and ETFs (exchange-traded fund), as orthodox highly regulated, recognized investments. ICE even has a lofty goal of Bitcoin replacing credit cards.

      “Bakkt is designed to serve as a scalable on-ramp for institutional, merchant, and consumer participation in digital assets by promoting greater efficiency, security, and utility,” said Kelly Loeffler, ICE’s head of digital assets and CEO of Bakkt, in a news release. “We are collaborating to build an open platform that helps unlock the transformative potential of digital assets across global markets and commerce.”

      In an interview with Fortune, Loeffler shared that ICE and its comrades in Bakkt have been secretly “building the factory” that powers the crypto venture for more than a year. Loeffler explained that the “Bakkt” moniker is wordplay on “backed,” as in “asset-backed securities.”

      How Bakkt plans to work its magic

      As it sits now, Bakkt would corral a collection of new Bitcoin funds and use them to make the digital currency a secure and simple choice for the average investor.

      If all goes according to plan, Wall Street would then convert Bitcoin’s popularity as an option to stocks and bonds which, in turn, should create a large trading volume. By taking the rogue cryptotraders out of the game and replacing them with trusted banks and financial institutions, Bakkt thinks it can even out Bitcoin’s rollercoaster ride.

      Jeffrey Sprecher, ICE’s founder and chairman, knows there’s a lot riding on this idea, but his track record proves he’s got the moxie. Sprecher bought the battered Continental Power Exchange for $1 plus the assumption of debt and spun that into a data empire which became the foundation for ICE.

      “In 25 years he’s gone from nothing to the most powerful exchange entrepreneur in the world,” Larry Tabb, chief of consultancy for the Tabb Group told Fortune. “He hasn’t failed yet.”

      Bitcoin believers woke up to good news, Friday. The company that owns the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) trumpeted that, come November, it’s launching Bakk...

      New study shows many workers can expect a pay raise this year

      Both existing employees and new hires can expect higher wages

      According to a report released today from CareerBuilder, the midyear forecast is looking increasingly positive for workers. The report showed that 58 percent of employers are planning to give out raises by the end of 2018, with the pay raise increasing by five percent or more at 24 companies.

      For new job seekers, 63 percent of employers plan to hire full-time workers in the second half of the year -- up from 60 percent at this time last year. Moreover, 45 percent of companies will be starting new hires off with higher salaries. Those hiring in the remaining months of 2018 will likely offer employees benefits like signing bonuses, free lunches, extra paid time off, and the ability to work remotely.

      “Low unemployment and increasing skills gaps continue to plague employers who are struggling to fill roles at all levels within their organizations,” said Matt Ferguson, CEO of CareerBuilder. “Fifty percent of U.S. employers reported that it is taking them longer to fill jobs today compared to any other period of time -- a trend that is ultimately giving job seekers more leverage.”

      “Employees are really owning the market and in a position to negotiate,” said Irina Novoselsky, CareerBuilder’s COO.

      A look into the survey

      The Harris Poll conducted the national surveys on behalf of CareerBuilder from June 21 through July 15, 2018. Responses were taken from 1,023 hiring managers and human resource managers and 1,014 full-time U.S. workers across industries in the private sector.

      The survey also looked into the top fields that will be hiring in the second half of the year, which are as follows:

      • Customer service: 41 percent

      • Sales: 28 percent

      • Information Technology: 22 percent

      • Product Development: 16 percent

      • Business Development: 16 percent

      According to a government report released today, the unemployment rate for July was at 3.9 percent. While this figure is positive for the economy, it means the pool of potential workers is shrinking. In order to attract and maintain employees, many companies will be offering several perks for new hires, including:

      • Casual dress code: 36 percent

      • Employee discounts: 31 percent

      • Ability to work remotely: 25 percent

      • Extra paid time off: 22 percent

      • Signing bonus: 21 percent

      • Free lunches: 14 percent

      • Gym memberships: 12 percent

      • Work from home Fridays: 10 percent

      • Daycare: 8 percent

      “It’s really now about the whole package and not just about the salary,” Novoselsky said.

      According to a report released today from CareerBuilder, the midyear forecast is looking increasingly positive for workers. The report showed that 58 perce...

      Elon Musk says Tesla will be ‘essentially self-funding’

      Analysts are optimistic following the company’s earnings call

      Tesla investors breathed a sigh of relief following Wednesday’s earnings report, in which Elon Musk not only apologized for his impolite remarks to analysts during a previous call but indicated that the company won’t need a capital raise any time soon.

      "I think we can be sort of essentially self-funding on a go-forward basis," Musk said on the company's earnings call. Musk and his chief financial officer Deepak Ahuja said the company can fund its growth primarily through internally generated cash and proceeds from Chinese debt.

      The comments came just a week after the electric car maker asked its suppliers for cash returns, sending the price of the bonds down over concerns about the firm’s cash burn. The report on Wednesday prompted a rebound. Tesla’s stock jumped 8.5 percent in after-hours trading that day.

      Stock rallies

      Although Tesla posted a $717 million loss for the quarter, its earnings report showed sales of roughly $4 billion, which topped analyst estimates. The loss per share was $3.06, less than analyst expectations for a $3.30 per share loss.

      “We will not be raising equity at any point,” Musk said. “At least that’s — I have no expectation of doing so, do not plan to do so.”

      “We’re executing on an operating plan that keeps us sufficiently self-funded, despite our [capital expenditure] needs and our debt maturing, and still keep a very healthy balance on our balance sheet,” Ahuja added.

      Banking on Model 3 plan

      Musk said Tesla will flip its operating cash flow from negative to positive by becoming more efficient and building more Model 3 sedans. In the second quarter, the company said it built 28,578 Model 3s. On Wednesday, Tesla said it will produce 50,000 to 55,000 of the electric sedans in the current quarter.

      In the wake of the earnings report, Oppenheimer analysts upgraded Tesla shares to “outperform.” The analysts told clients that the firm may finally have a solid foothold when it comes to Model 3 production.

      "With higher volumes and slower spending, we believe Tesla has reached a critical inflection point in its development," the Oppenheimer analysts wrote. "While we have been cautious on Model 3 ramp, we believe gross margin performance on Model 3 will carry the stock over the next 12 months or more."

      Analysts noted that the call had a lighter tone than previous calls, especially compared to the one in May in which Musk berated analysts for their "boring, bonehead questions.” KeyBanc Capital Markets called Musk’s apology during the most recent earnings call, "maybe the most valuable apology of all time." It added about $4.75 billion to the stock’s value.

      Tesla investors breathed a sigh of relief following Wednesday’s earnings report, in which Elon Musk not only apologized for his impolite remarks to analyst...

      Economy adds 157,000 jobs in July

      The unemployment rate in the U.S. has dropped to 3.9 percent

      The economy added 157,000 jobs last month as the nation's unemployment rate dropped to a near-record low of 3.9 percent.

      That was fewer jobs than the consensus estimate, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) revised its June numbers, adding 30,000 new jobs to that month's total. Americans found the most jobs in the sectors of professional and business services, manufacturing, and in health care and social assistance.

      William Wiatrowski, Acting BLS Commissioner, says those with jobs earned modestly more last month.

      “Average hourly earnings of all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by seven cents in July to $27.05,” Wiatrowski said in a statement. "Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by 2.7 percent."

      During the same period, inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index rose slightly more -- 2.8 percent.

      Fewer people classified as unemployed

      The unemployment rate dropped largely because of a decrease in the number of people classified as "unemployed." The number of unemployed persons declined by 284,000 to 6.3 million. After being at a record low a few months ago, black unemployment rose to 6.6 percent.

      The number of people working part time for economic reasons was basically the same in July as it was in June -- around 4.6 million. However, the number was down by 669,000 from July 2017.

      The biggest job gains came in the business and professional services sector, which added 51,000 new jobs during the month. In the last 12 months, that sector has added more than a half million jobs.

      Factories were hiring

      People looking for jobs at factories had a better chance of being hired last month. Manufacturing added 37,000 jobs in July, with most of the gain in factories producing durable goods. In the last 12 months, factories have added 327,000 jobs.

      There was also healthy job creation in the health care and social services sector, which increased its payrolls by 34,000. Retail added only 7,000 -- a number dragged down by huge losses at hobby, toy, and game stores.

      There was little change in July in mining, wholesale trade, transportation and warehousing, information, financial activities, and government.

      The economy added 157,000 jobs last month as the nation's unemployment rate dropped to a near-record low of 3.9 percent.That was fewer jobs than the co...

      Survey find housing demand is down for two straight months

      But demand is down the most where houses are the most expensive

      Home prices have dramatically risen over the last five years because there has been greater consumer demand than available homes. Now, there are signs of a shift, and the result may be good news for consumers who have been shut out of the housing market.

      In it's latest Housing Demand Index, Redfin, a national real estate broker, reports demand for housing fell 0.7 percent in June from May. The index is down 9.6 percent year-over-year.

      Redfin bases its index on requests from prospective buyers for home showings. The group reports the number of people requesting home tours fell 6.1 percent compared with a year earlier.

      Fewer offers

      More telling, perhaps, is that home shoppers made 15 percent fewer offers on homes, the largest year-over-year decline since April 2016.

      While it's possible falling demand is simply a product of fewer homes for sale, Redfin reports some of the hottest real estate markets actually saw increases in inventory in June. For example, Seattle and Washington, DC posted year-over-year increases in available homes.

      Yet demand for homes was down 3.4 percent in Seattle and down 3.7 percent in Washington. Measured over the last 12 months, demand is down nearly 15 percent in both markets.

      Are buyers balking at high prices?

      What's it mean? Redfin experts suggest it means buyers have finally begun to balk at sky-high prices.

      "As much-needed large inventory increases finally arrive in some of the hottest markets, buyers are taking the opportunity to be choosy, offering only on well-priced homes," said Pete Ziemkiewicz, head of analytics at Redfin. "Buyers in Seattle are even keeping offer contingencies like the inspection intact, something that has been increasingly rare in recent years."

      It should be noted that the biggest drops in housing demand have come in the nation's hottest markets. In midsize markets in the Midwest and Southeast, where prices haven't risen as much, demand has been less affected.

      Ziemkiewicz says it's too soon to tell if the June slowdown in demand is the start of a broader cooling in the housing market or simply a return to something more like balance in places that had become extreme seller's markets.

      Home prices have dramatically risen over the last five years because there has been greater consumer demand than available homes. Now, there are signs of a...

      Gas prices tick up amid high demand

      But prices at the pump remain remarkably stable in most states

      With families hitting the road for August vacations, fuel prices are slowly rising. The national average price of regular gained two cents a gallon in the last week, according to AAA.

      The average price of regular is $2.87 a gallon, the first real increase in more than a month. The average price of premium gas is $3.41 a gallon, also two cents higher in the last seven days. The average price of diesel fuel hasn't budged from $3.15 a gallon in the last week and is a penny cheaper than a month ago.

      The major influence on fuel prices is very strong demand from U.S. consumers. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports demand for gasoline was at a near record-high of 9.88 million barrels a day in the last week of July.

      In fact, late July demand was about 30,000 barrels a day more than the previous week and up more than 1.5 percent over this time last summer.

      High demand

      "High demand – along with tighter supplies, which fell 2.5 million barrels – have driven the pump price increases seen around the country during this week," AAA said in a market analysis. "If demand remains robust amid dwindling stocks, motorists are likely to see pump prices continue to increase throughout the summer."

      Despite the slightly higher national average price, some states enjoyed some relief at the pump this week. The statewide price of regular in Michigan is $2.95 a gallon, seven cents cheaper than last Friday.

      Meanwhile, the average price is up five cents a gallon in the last week in Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Oklahoma.

      In a tweet, GasBuddy analyst Patrick DeHaan predicts volatile gas prices the the Great Lakes region this fall, quoting sources as saying BP's Whiting refinery will see its largest unit shut down for maintenance in September, with reduced output for nearly two months.

      The states with the most expensive regular gas

      These states have the most expensive regular gas prices, according to AAA.

      • Hawaii ($3.76)
      • California ($3.62)
      • Washington ($3.40)
      • Alaska ($3.39)
      • Oregon ($3.28)
      • Nevada ($3.19)
      • Idaho ($3.12)
      • Utah ($3.09)
      • Connecticut ($3.07)
      • Pennsylvania ($3.04)

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

      These states currently have the lowest regular gas prices, the group found.

      • Alabama ($2.57)
      • Mississippi ($2.57)
      • South Carolina ($2.59)
      • Arkansas ($2.60)
      • Louisiana ($2.61)
      • Virginia ($2.62)
      • Missouri ($2.64)
      • Tennessee ($2.65)
      • Oklahoma ($2.65)
      • Texas ($2.65)

      With families hitting the road for August vacations, fuel prices are slowly rising. The national average price of regular gained two cents a gallon in the...

      Faced with rising threat of antibiotic overuse, FDA promises to ‘launch some new programs’

      The FDA is promising to do something about the rampant overuse of antibiotics in the meat industry

      The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responding to criticisms that it has failed to reign in the overuse of antibiotics on factory farms. In a new statement, the agency is calling for “stewardship” and the creation of “some new programs.” What those programs may actually entail remains unclear.

      Warnings that antibiotics will lose their potency if they are overused date back to the scientist who invented penicillin, though even he likely couldn’t have predicted that the meat industry would one day dose entire herds with the drugs on a routine basis.

      Researchers say that thousands of people already die every year from antibiotic-resistant infections, which they link to overuse in both medical and agricultural settings.

      The FDA now claims that combating the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, commonly referred to as superbugs, is “a top priority.” The agency acknowledges that “overuse or misuse of these drugs promotes the development of antimicrobial-resistant bacteria.”

      “For all of these reasons, it’s critical that we implement good antimicrobial stewardship practices in human healthcare and veterinary settings,” the FDA’s Scott Gottlieb said. “We must continue to take new steps to slow the development of resistance and extend the usefulness of these lifesaving drugs.”

      New plan coming soon

      Specifically, Gottlieb says that the FDA will publish a blueprint “shortly” that will detail more specific plans that the agency will take over the next five years.

      The language in Gottlieb's statement suggests that he will avoid pushing for more regulations, with a focus instead on existing programs and the “progress” he says his agency has made.

      “We’ll expand on the FDA’s existing actions, and launch some new programs,” Gottlieb said “Our aim is to reduce overuse of antimicrobial drugs and combat the rising threat of resistance.”

      “We are also developing and advancing new strategies for promoting antimicrobial stewardship in companion animals,” he added.

      Whether companion animals are over-prescribed antibiotics has never been a focus for environmentalist and public health groups. Instead, they have pointed to the agriculture industry, where years of research has suggested that antibiotics are routinely used to fatten-up herds. (The meat industry has countered that they use the antibiotics for “disease-prevention” purposes).

      In 2013, the Obama administration announced it was taking “the first significant step in dealing with this important public health concern in 20 years” by requiring farmers to obtain what is essentially a vet’s prescription before purchasing antibiotics from the animal feed store.

      Despite the new law mandating veterinary oversight, little has changed since then, according to the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC). A report that the group recently published found that 27 percent of all medically-important antibiotics, or antibiotics that humans use, went straight to pigs last year.

      "What constitutes veterinary oversight is a huge grey area,” NRDC researcher Dr. David Wallinga said.

      Advocacy groups call for greater action

      Another report recently published by the Environmental Working group describes an increase of antibiotic resistant-bacteria in samples of ground beef and pork chops they tested.

      In a statement, the NRDC called on Gottlieb to take more concrete action.

      “To keep these miracle drugs working when sick people and animals need them, FDA must end the widespread practice of using these drugs for so-called ‘disease prevention’ and set clear targets for antibiotics reduction in the industry,” the group said.

      The FDA’s announcement comes shortly after the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) said that it would not follow the World Health Organization's (WHO) guidelines that similarly call for stringent  cutbacks of antibiotics on factory farms.

      “The WHO guidelines are not in alignment with U.S. policy and are not supported by sound science,” the USDA’s acting chief scientist said.

      The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responding to criticisms that it has failed to reign in the overuse of antibiotics on factory farms. In a new sta...

      Trump proposes capping fuel economy standards at 2020 level

      The administration says the Obama-era standards too costly

      The Trump administration has served notice that it plans to roll back tough gas mileage standards scheduled for 2021 by the Obama administration.

      At the same time, it plans to block California from putting its own mileage standards into place.

      During the eight years of the Obama administration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) challenged automakers to meet increasingly tougher fuel economy standards. As a result, most midsize sedans now get 30 or more miles per gallon.

      But in a recent joint proposal, EPA and the Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a notice of proposed rulemaking that calls for "a much-needed time-out from further, costly increases" in Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) and Light-Duty Vehicle Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards.

      Costs for consumers

      The administration said meeting the current standards for model year 2021 through 2025 vehicles would increase costs for automakers, which will then be passed on to consumers. Those standards target a doubling of the fuel economy standards to 50 miles per gallon. As an alternative, the Trump administration proposes holding the standards at those set to take effect in 2020.

      “There are compelling reasons for a new rulemaking on fuel economy standards for 2021-2026,” said Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao. “More realistic standards will promote a healthy economy by bringing newer, safer, cleaner and more fuel-efficient vehicles to U.S. roads and we look forward to receiving input from the public.”

      The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is ready with its input -- it doesn't like the decision. CFA Executive Director Jack Gillis says lower fuel economy standards mean families have to pay more to keep their cars running.

      "These standards protect consumers from rollercoaster gas prices that are already on their way up again," Gillis said. "Households don’t have a choice in what they pay at the pump so they need fuel efficient choices at the dealership, whether it’s a car, truck or SUV."

      Gas prices a heavy burden for consumers

      Gillis says manufacturers have done a good job of meeting ambitious mileage standards and consumers have benefited. For example, he notes that families that need larger vehicles like minivans and SUVs are finding more fuel efficient models than were available a decade ago.

      “Our latest report completely refutes the administration’s flat-out wrong rationale for rolling back the standards," Gillis said. "Safety is up, fuel economy is up and sales are up. Not only does fuel savings cover the cost of fuel efficient technology, but it also covers all of the other costs that go into automakers annual price increases, including new safety features."

      Once the notice of proposed rulemaking is published in the Federal Register, the public will have 60 days to comment. Consumers can find out how to comment here.

      The Trump administration has served notice that it plans to roll back tough gas mileage standards scheduled for 2021 by the Obama administration.At the...

      Wells Fargo agrees to $2 billion mortgage asset settlement

      The government had accused the bank of misrepresenting the value of its mortgages

      In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the Justice Department accused Wells Fargo, among other institutions, of selling mortgages it knew were based on inaccurate income information.

      The bank has agreed to settle those charges, without admitting liability, and pay a $2 billion fine.

      The investigation of Wells Fargo began soon after the near-collapse of the financial system, when a wave of home foreclosures destroyed the value of mortgage-backed securities. In many cases the bad loans turned out to be subprime mortgages, granted to borrowers who couldn't really afford them.

      In the case of Wells Fargo, government investigators alleged the bank issued mortgages to consumers it knew had provided inaccurate information about their income, then sold those mortgages in the securities market.

      The collapse of the mortgage-backed securities market was partially responsible for the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, which began the financial crisis and turned a garden variety recession into the Great Recession.

      Major repercussions

      "Abuses in the mortgage-backed securities industry led to a financial crisis that devastated millions of Americans," said Alex G. Tse, acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California.

      Tse says the settlement holds Wells Fargo responsible for originating and selling tens of thousands of loans that were packaged into securities and subsequently defaulted. Wells Fargo, however, agreed to the settlement without admitting it did anything wrong.

      “We are pleased to put behind us these legacy issues regarding claims related to residential mortgage-backed securities activities that occurred more than a decade ago,” said Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan.

      'Unacceptable discrepancies'

      According to the Justice Department, Wells Fargo's own internal comparisons of loan applicant income statements and their actual tax returns filed with the IRS showed 70 percent had "unacceptable" discrepancies in stated income.

      Wells Fargo has been writing plenty of checks to the government in recent years to wrap up issues unrelated to this week's mortgage-backed securities settlement. It paid more than $185 million in 2016 to settle charges that it opened checking and credit card accounts for millions of customers without their knowledge.

      In April of this year, it paid $1 billion in connection with its sale of products connected to car loans and mortgages.

      In June, it agreed to a settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), resolving charges that its advisors unit engaged in misconduct in the sale of financial products, known as market-linked investments (MLI), to small investors.

      In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the Justice Department accused Wells Fargo, among other institutions, of selling mortgages it knew were based on...

      Brookstone files for bankruptcy

      The company will close its remaining 101 mall stores

      Brookstone filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in federal court today, marking the company’s second bankruptcy filing in four years.

      The company is in the process of looking for a buyer, and though its 101 mall stores will close their doors, the company plans on keeping its 35 airport stores and its website open for business. It has secured a $30 million loan to continue operations during the sale.

      Brookstone’s CEO reported that both airport and online sales have remained successful, but the executive pointed to an “extremely challenging retail environment at malls” as the reason behind the closures.

      Brookstone is owned by the Chinese company Sanpower Group, which decided in July to “provide limited funding” to the company. This ultimately forced Brookstone into bankruptcy, according to CFO Greg Tribou.

      “Today we have taken several important steps to restructure the business and ensure that Brookstone will be well-positioned to succeed for years to come,” said Sanpower CEO Piau Phang Foo. “The decision to close our mall stores was difficult, but ultimately provides an opportunity to maintain our well-respected brand and award-winning products while operating with a smaller physical footprint.”

      Previous issues

      Brookstone previously filed for bankruptcy in 2014, and the company was ultimately sold to Sanpower Group for $136 million. At the time of the sale, Brookstone was in control of 240 stores.

      Experts believe one of the main causes of Brookstone’s demise is the company’s inability to match up with fellow online retailers that sell the same gadgets -- headphones, high-tech blankets, and massage chairs.

      “The category is Amazon bait,” said Mark Cohen, the director of retail studies at Columbia University. “They lost the thread of newness, innovation, and excitement.”

      The company reported its 2017 sales totaled $351 million -- down 33 percent from the previous year. Additionally, e-commerce purchases totaled 40 percent of Brookstone’s business.

      According to Tribou, a recent shift in e-commerce technology caused the company to “lose a substantial amount of data” that ended up “severely damaging” digital sales. Moreover, the company stopped printing digital catalogues, and Tribou believes that to be “directly responsible” for the drop in web traffic.

      Steven Schwartz, Brookstone’s former chief merchandising officer and interim CEO, called Brookstone’s decline “heartbreaking.”

      “We were an amazing store company, but we didn’t have our eyes on the ball the right way digitally,” he said.

      Brookstone filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in federal court today, marking the company’s second bankruptcy filing in four years.The company is in the p...

      American Airlines to allow one free carry-on bag on flights

      Consumer satisfaction and competitive moves from Delta may have forced the airline’s hand

      Starting September 5, 2018, American Airlines will permit its lowest fare class passengers to bring aboard a free carry-on bag in addition to the currently allowable personal item.

      Passengers booked in American's basic economy will still have to pay a standard fee ($25 domestic and $60 trans-Atlantic) to check a bag and will board in the last group, but saving anything in today’s travel environment is a welcome change, especially when airlines threaten to raise fares to offset rising fuel costs.

      With this move, American joins Delta in allowing a carry-on bag as part of its Basic Economy fare. Yet, American has a lot of catching up to do to gain parity with Delta. In a recent J.D. Power customer satisfaction survey, Delta had four stars and 767 points to American’s three stars and 729 points.

      Why the change?

      Airlines are smart enough to realize that, in today’s dog-eat-dog economy, consumers pore over every charge, and if they feel like they’re saving money on one thing -- like a carry-on -- they may spend it on another.

      “Basic Economy is working well in the markets where we offer it, and we continue to see more than 60 percent of customers buy up to Main Cabin when offered a choice,” said President Robert Isom on the company’s recent earnings call. “Removing the bag restriction will make Basic Economy more competitive, allowing us to offer this low-fare product to more customers.”

      When Forbes asked about Delta’s Basic Economy service, the airline’s president Glen Hauenstein said, “The success of that product in our minds is not how many people buy it, but how many people don’t buy it and choose another product.”

      So, who’s left holding the bag? With American and Delta offering a free carry-on in basic economy, the only major U.S. airline left not offering the perk is United.

      Second-tier carriers like Spirit, Allegiant, and Frontier may be slow to follow the major airlines’ lead, though. Incidental costs for things like carry-ons help to flesh out the low-fare airlines’ revenue stream.

      Starting September 5, 2018, American Airlines will permit its lowest fare class passengers to bring aboard a free carry-on bag in addition to the currently...

      Apple ordered to pay $145 million in damages for patent infringement

      A jury decided that some iPhone models infringed on wireless communications technology patents

      A federal jury in California found Apple guilty of patent infringement. WiLAN, a Canadian intellectual property company, was awarded $145.1 million in damages as a result.

      Based on a statement released by WiLAN, the patents involved in the case relate to some of the iPhone’s wireless technologies. One is for a “method and apparatus for bandwidth request protocols in a wireless communication system,” and the other is for “adaptive call admission control for use in a wireless communication system.”

      Though Apple has yet to comment on the jury’s decision, the company does plan to appeal and has “earlier rejected claims of infringement in pre-trial filings,” according to Reuters.

      History in court

      This isn’t the first time Apple and WiLAN have met in court.

      In October of 2013, a court found that Apple did not infringe on WiLAN’s wireless technology patents. The Canadian firm -- which touts itself as “one of the most successful patent licensing companies in the world” -- accused a number of companies, including Apple, HP, and HTC of using proprietary wireless networking technology without a proper license.

      Of the companies involved in the suit, Apple was the only one that didn’t agree to settle, instead choosing to go to court.

      WiLAN sought $248 million damages in the suit, but Apple argued that Qualcomm was responsible for the license, as it was the manufacturer that supplied the wireless components under scrutiny. Apple’s attorneys argued that WiLAN was looking for a bigger payday, and therefore decided to go against Apple. However, the jury ultimately ruled in favor of Apple.

      A federal jury in California found Apple guilty of patent infringement. WiLAN, a Canadian intellectual property company, was awarded $145.1 million in dama...