Current Events in October 2018

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    E-cigarette additives found to have dangerous side effects

    The products might be popular, but they still pose a risk

    E-cigarettes have certainly been dominating the news cycle recently. Though a popular alternative -- particularly among youth -- to traditional cigarettes, the device comes with a rather long list of dangerous side effects and health risks for users.

    Because e-cigarettes aren’t regulated, how the devices will impact users’ health later in life is still unknown. However, a team of researchers was interested in studying how the chemicals in e-cigarettes’ refillable cartridges affect users’ health.  

    A new study examined the harmful effects found in the flavorings and additives that are used in e-cigarettes, as the researchers found they can alter lung function, cause inflammation throughout the body, and increase mucus production.

    Negative effects similar to cigarettes

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the aerosol found in e-cigarettes contains nicotine, cancer-causing chemicals, heavy metals, ultrafine particles, volatile organic compounds, and flavorings.

    To test the effects of these chemicals, the researchers exposed mice to several different chemical combinations four times each day, with 30-minutes in between each exposure of smoke-free air.

    Some of the mice were exposed for longer periods of time -- up to four weeks -- while others were removed after three days. The groups exposed to the chemicals were compared against another group of mice that were exposed to smoke-free air.

    The different chemical combinations included:

    • E-cigarette vapor that had propylene glycol (an additive found in pharmaceuticals, foods, and drinks) and vegetable glycerol (a liquid that comes from plants)

    • Cigarette smoke

    • Nicotine, tobacco flavoring, and propylene glycol

    • Nicotine and propylene glycol

    Because many people turn to e-cigarettes either to quit smoking or as a healthier alternative than regular cigarettes, the researchers were interested in comparing the results between the mice exposed to the cigarette smoke and those exposed to the e-cigarettes. The results proved to be surprising to them, as they found that the e-cigarette group experienced oxidative stress -- the state of oxidative damage in a cell -- at a rate either higher or equal to the cigarette group.

    The researchers also found that in the mice exposed to the e-cigarette flavorings showed more adverse side effects in the short-term that appeared to go away over time. For example, the mice exposed to the e-cigarette vapors after just three days had impaired lung function, an increase in mucus production, and signs of inflammation. However, over the long-term, the e-cigarette group showed fewer negative side effects.

    The researchers believe that further research is necessary in this area to really see how e-cigarettes are affecting people.

    Dangerous side effects

    A recent study done by George Mason University found that not only do many e-cigarettes cause severe burns, but some have lithium-ion batteries that have been known to explode or catch fire, leaving users with third-degree burns, loss of tongue, teeth or eyes, and some have led to death.

    The researchers were particularly concerned because many people aren’t reporting these injuries and incidents. E-cigarettes aren’t regulated or monitored in any way nationally, and because of this, the researchers have reason to believe more injuries are occurring because of e-cigarettes.

    Additionally, in late September, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was discussing banning the sale of e-cigarettes online. Commissioner Scott Gottlieb believes e-cigarettes have caused a “epidemic” among teens, and is looking to reduce the number of young people using e-cigarettes.

    E-cigarettes have certainly been dominating the news cycle recently. Though a popular alternative -- particularly among youth -- to traditional cigarettes,...

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      AT&T jumps in the streaming pool with both feet and big promises

      Its WarnerMedia subsidiary is set to tangle with Netflix, Amazon Prime, and others

      On Tuesday, AT&T's WarnerMedia announced its intent to launch a new streaming service by late 2019.

      The streaming field is crowded with Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney's imminent streaming service, but AT&T’s assets catapults the company to the top of the content food chain.

      The stream will be built on the backbone of the company’s successful HBO Now, an app- and smart TV-driven service which streams live and on-demand HBO programming.

      That HBO connection will certainly allow the company to connect a lot of content dots. Besides the flagship service, HBO brings niche channels like HBO Comedy and HBO Family, plus its massive movie library, sports shows like Inside the NFL, and sisterhood with Cinemax and others.

      “This is another benefit of the AT&T/Time Warner merger,” said WarnerMedia CEO John Starkey in announcing the company’s plans. “We are committed to launching a compelling and competitive product that will serve as a complement to our existing businesses and help us to expand our reach by offering a new choice for entertainment with the WarnerMedia collection of films, television series, libraries, documentaries and animation loved by consumers around the world.”

      Warner gears up for skirmish with competitors

      WarnerMedia’s assets include Turner, Boomerang, FilmStruck, and of course, the treasure trove of Warner Brothers with its library of 100,000+ hours of programming.

      According to CNN, WarnerMedia is still mulling over specifics like pricing and a moniker for the new service, as well as how far it will go in tapping its own CNN news programming.

      One thing that’s for certain is that given the number of content barons that have gobbled the others up, WarnerMedia will have to traverse a thick underbrush of existing deals it already has in place with distributors like Comcast and Netflix. Warner appears ready for that possible skirmish.

      "We expect to create such a compelling product that it will help distributors increase consumer penetration of their current packages and help us successfully reach more customers," the company said in its filing with the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC).

      The cable-cutting continues

      There’s barely a month that goes by without a streaming service trying out a new angle to move consumers from cable to a la carte channels. Netflix always has a new wrinkle it’s testing; Hulu is starting to find its own groove after four years in the game; and upstarts like Sling are doing their best to find a place in the app space of smart TVs.

      Consumers keep cutting the cable cord and putting their satellite dish in the recycling bin. First quarter losses in 2018 amounted to 375,000 satellite subscribers and 285,000 for cable.

      On Tuesday, AT&T's WarnerMedia announced its intent to launch a new streaming service by late 2019.The streaming field is crowded with Netflix, Amazon...

      Relocating calorie information on menus could lead to healthier decision-making

      A study suggests the change could help combat obesity

      Obesity continues to plague both adults and children throughout the United States. Just last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that all 50 states had more than 20 percent of adults and over 18 percent of children who qualified for the condition.

      To help combat these numbers and lower the obesity rates nationwide, one of the initiatives of the Affordable Care Act -- which went into effect this May -- requires chain restaurants to list the calorie counts of each item on their menus.

      Though previous studies saw little to no change in customers’ ordering habits after the calorie counts were on the menus, a group of researchers got the idea to test the location of the calorie counts on the menus. They believed that if the calories were displayed on the menu in a prominent location -- so it was the first thing the customers see -- they’d be more likely to choose a meal with fewer calories.

      “There is a lot of research showing that the first piece of information people see seems to be given greater weight as they process details, and we wondered if this could have implications for the calorie counts on the menus,” says researcher Steven Dallas, PhD.

      Change in behavior

      The researchers put their theory to the test at a chain restaurant that used paper menus -- some that had the calorie counts listed to the left of the menu items (making it the first thing customers see), some with the calorie counts to the right of the menu items, and some with no calorie counts.

      The researchers gave the three different menus to customers waiting to be seated and asked them to circle the items they’d be the most likely order. They found that the group that had the menus with the calories displayed most prominently -- on the left side -- circled items that had 24 percent fewer calories than the groups with the other two menus.

      Dallas said he and his team were “surprised” by outcome of this experiment and called the differences in behavior between the groups “significant.”

      The researchers did the same experiment with a group of Israelis who speak Hebrew -- and who read from right to left -- and found nearly identical results. The groups who had the menus with the calorie information on the right ordered healthier options than the other groups.

      “What this paper shows is that a trivially simple intervention could increase the power of the calorie information on menus,” Dallas says. “The calorie labeling policy should not necessarily be deemed a failure, and could in fact become a powerful tool in combating the obesity epidemic.”

      Obesity continues to plague both adults and children throughout the United States. Just last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) rep...

      USPS plans to raise rates on stamps

      The proposed changes would take effect in January

      The U.S. Postal Service announced on Wednesday that it plans to raise prices on postage stamps in an effort to pull in “needed revenue.”

      The price of a postage stamp for a 1-ounce letter, which currently costs 50 cents, will be raised to 55 cents. The price of each additional ounce will go down slightly, from 21 cents to 15 cents.

      The proposed price changes -- which would represent a “record nominal increase,” according to CNN -- would take effect at the beginning of next year. However, they must first be reviewed and approved by the Postal Regulatory Commission.

      The USPS' board of governors, which submitted the request, said in a statement that it believes the new rates “will keep the Postal Service competitive while providing the agency with needed revenue.”

      The proposed price increases follow years of financial losses stemming from a decrease in mail volume. The changes also follow criticism by President Trump, who has said that the Postal Service is “losing a fortune” by not imposing higher shipping rates for online retailers such as Amazon.

      "The Postal Service has some of the lowest letter mail postage rates in the industrialized world and also continues to offer a great value in shipping,” the agency said. “Unlike some other shippers, the Postal Service does not add surcharges for fuel, residential delivery, or regular Saturday or holiday season delivery.”

      The U.S. Postal Service announced on Wednesday that it plans to raise prices on postage stamps in an effort to pull in “needed revenue.”The price of a...

      CVS-Aetna merger cleared, with conditions

      Aetna will be required to spin off some of its business

      Government antitrust regulators have given a green light to the merger between CVS Health and Aetna. More accurately, they flashed a yellow “caution” light.

      The pharmacy retailer and health benefits provider will be able to join forces only on the condition that Aetna divests its Medicare Part D prescription drug plan business.

      The company said it plans to sell that part of the business to WellCare health Plans, and the Justice Department has accepted that as a satisfactory resolution of its concerns.

      “Today’s settlement resolves competition concerns posed by this transaction and preserves competition in the sale of Medicare Part D prescription drug plans for individuals,” said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. “The divestitures required here allow for the creation of an integrated pharmacy and health benefits company that has the potential to generate benefits by improving the quality and lowering the costs of the healthcare services that American consumers can obtain.”

      A coalition of state attorneys general had contested the merger on the grounds that the result would be higher medicine costs. The state officials joined the Justice Department in approving the transaction as long as Aetna made the divestiture.

      Moving ahead

      Aetna said the consent decree will not delay the closing of the CVS Health-Aetna transaction. It will happen before the effective date of Aetna’s previously announced divestiture of its entire standalone Medicare Part D business.

      “It’s important to note that all other Aetna plans and products, including Aetna Individual Medicare Advantage (MA), integrated Medicare Advantage with Part D (MAPD), and standalone (MA-only) Group Medicare Advantage, Medicare Supplement, Ancillary, and Commercial plans and products, are not impacted by the sale to WellCare,” Aetna said in a release.

      CVS announced the appointment of three additional Aetna directors specializing in insurance company oversight will join the CVS board of directors. They join Aetna's current chairman and CEO Mark Bertolini on the combined board of directors.

      Government antitrust regulators have given a green light to the merger between CVS Health and Aetna. More accurately, they flashed a yellow “caution” light...

      There was little sign of inflation in the economy last month

      A government report may settle nervous stock traders

      Despite the stock market's recent hand-wringing over inflation, there was little evidence of it in the U.S. economy last month.

      The government's Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose a modest 0.1 percent in September, a slowdown from August's 0.2 percent rise. For the last 12 months, the nation's inflation rate is 2.3 percent.

      Fears of rising prices have driven stock prices sharply lower this week, mainly because interest rates paid on government bonds have moved significantly higher. Stock traders have worried that rising bond yields – sometimes a sign of inflation – would prompt the Federal Reserve to double-down on its policy of raising the federal funds rate.

      Robert Frick, corporate economist at Navy Federal Credit Union, says low inflation and a strong economy should ease fears of an overly-aggressive Fed.

      “Inflation fears right now are based on historical models, not data, and the data says price and wage growth are not in danger of overheating the economy,” Frick told ConsumerAffairs. “This CPI report supports the Fed's plan of gradual rate increases, and Fed Chair Powell's wait-and-see strategy before changing that plan.”

      And even though bond yields have been rising, Frick notes they remain well below historical averages.

      What little inflation there was in the economy last month had mostly to do with housing. The CPI report shows shelter accounted for half of the seasonally adjusted increase.

      Despite the rise in gasoline prices the energy sector was lower in September. Food prices were largely unchanged.

      Despite the stock market's recent hand-wringing over inflation, there was little evidence of it in the U.S. economy last month.The government's Consume...

      VW recalls model year 2017-2018 Audi R8 Spyders and R8 Coupes

      Transmission fluid may leak from the gearbox ventilation hose

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 1,916 model year 2017-2018 Audi R8 Spyders and R8 Coupes.

      Transmission fluid may leak from the gearbox ventilation hose after certain high speed and maneuvering situations.

      Leaked transmission contacting hot engine parts can increase the risk of a fire.

      What to do

      Audi will notify owners, and dealers will replace the single gearbox ventilation hose with a double ventilation hose, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin October 31, 2018.

      Owners may contact Audi customer service at 1-800-253-2834. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 34J1.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 1,916 model year 2017-2018 Audi R8 Spyders and R8 Coupes.Transmission fluid may leak from the gearbox ventilat...

      Ladyfingers Gourmet to Go recalls Signature Shaved Country Ham Rolls

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Ladyfingers Caterers is recalling its Signature Shaved Country Ham Rolls.

      The products may contain Johnston County Hams, which were recalled in early October due to possible contamination with Listeria monocytogenes.

      There has been one reported illness in connection with this recall.

      The recalled product, bearing the UPC: 8 56149 00509 9, was distributed from April 3, 2017 – October 3, 2018 to retail stores in California, the District of Columbia, Delaware, North Carolina, New York, South Carolina and Virginia.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may call Ladyfingers Caterers at (919) 828- 2270 Monday through Friday, 9:00am – 5:00pm and Saturday 10:00am – 2:00pm (EST).

      Ladyfingers Caterers is recalling its Signature Shaved Country Ham Rolls.The products may contain Johnston County Hams, which were recalled in early Oc...

      Sensitive Pentagon information may be vulnerable to cyberattack

      A report finds unencrypted communications and poor password management are key security vulnerabilities

      The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report on Tuesday highlighting the vulnerabilities in the Department of Defense’s (DOD) major computerized weapons systems.

      The agency revealed that data from cybersecurity tests conducted on the weapons systems between 2012 and 2017 showed that by using “relatively simple tools and techniques, testers were able to take control of systems and largely operate undetected" because of security vulnerabilities.

      "DOD testers routinely found mission critical cyber vulnerabilities in nearly all weapon systems that were under development,” the GAO report said.

      The vulnerabilities were linked to multiple culprits, but the top two factors were unencrypted communications and poor password management. In some cases, testers were able to gain access because the systems were running commercial or open-source software where the operators “did not change the default password when the software was installed.”

      Widespread security issues

      The agency said it hasn’t yet been able to get a clear idea of the scale of vulnerabilities affecting its weapon systems based on the analysis.

      "For example, one assessment found that the weapon system satisfactorily prevented unauthorized access by remote users, but not insiders and near-siders," the report said. “Once they gained initial access, test teams were often able to move throughout a system, escalating their privileges until they had taken full or partial control of a system. In one case, the test team took control of the operators’ terminals."

      The GAO said the problem is rooted in the fact that the DOD has never made security a priority for its weapon systems and hasn’t taken all the measures necessary to secure their systems.

      “Testers playing the role of adversary were able to take control of systems relatively easily and operate largely undetected,” the GOA said in a statement. “DOD’s weapons are more computerized and networked than ever before, so it’s no surprise that there are more opportunities for attacks.”

      The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report on Tuesday highlighting the vulnerabilities in the Department of Defense’s (DOD) major c...

      Ford to downsize its workforce in major reorganization plan

      Tariffs have cut deeply into the automaker's profits

      The announced objective of the Trump administration's trade policy is protection of American jobs. But it isn't quite working out that way at Ford.

      The automaker has taken a huge hit in the form of tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, making production more costly at a time when it can't afford to pass those costs along to consumers. New car costs are already near a record high.

      In response, Ford plans to reorganize its workforce, meaning thousands of jobs are being targeted for elimination. In an interview with NBC News, Ford's chief financial officer Bob Shanks said the company is reorganizing its business to reduce overlap and become leaner.

      To do that, the company is eliminating an undetermined number of people in its global workforce, many of them management employees based in the U.S. An estimate by investment bank Morgan Stanley puts the layoffs at about 12 percent of Ford's global workforce.

      Ford's September sales were sharply lower, but so were results for most other automakers. September 2017 saw a surge in sales because so many vehicles had to be replaced after Hurricane Harvey. This September’s sales suffered in comparison. Ford's total vehicle sales last month were down nearly 12 percent year-over-year.

      Ford said its overall average transaction price increased $1,500 for September, expanding more than twice the rate of the overall industry average.

      Sales aren't the problem

      The number of vehicles Ford sells is not the problem. The cost of producing them is. Ford CEO Jim Hackett says the trade war with America's trading partners and resulting tariffs are hurting the company's bottom line.

      “The metals tariffs took about $1 billion in profit from us -- and the irony is we source most of that in the U.S. today anyways,” Hackett said in a September 26 interview on Bloomberg Television. “If it goes on longer, there will be more damage.”

      Trimming the workforce is not the only step Ford is taking to stave off the red ink. It recently announced that it will end production of cars, except for the iconic Mustang. In the future, it will focus on turning out trucks and SUVs.

      In recent weeks Ford suspended plans to import the Ford Focus Active, a crossover made in China, saying the tariffs placed on imports from China made the car too expensive.

      The announced objective of the Trump administration's trade policy is protection of American jobs. But it isn't quite working out that way at Ford.The...

      Uber set to re-enter the grocery delivery game

      The company leaves no stone unturned in its quest to be part of everything delivery-related

      Uber. Is it a ride-sharing service, a scooter company, or a self-driving truck company?

      Yes, yes, and yes.

      In its wildest “Uber for everything” imagination, everything that has wheels is a safe bet. And, now, the consumer can add grocery delivery to their perceptions of what Uber can offer them.

      The company has had a $6 billion windfall in restaurant meal delivery, and Uber’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi says extending that idea to the grocery world is only natural.

      “With Eats, we’re getting into the business of moving food around. I think that this product of delivering great quality food to you at home in 30 minutes or less is magical and is going to move into grocery in a way that’s fundamental, and a lot more people are going to be eating at home … you can absolutely see grocery as being an adjacency,” Khosrowshahi said, according to Yahoo Finance.

      “Eating is something you do three times a day. So these are habits that go very, very deep,” Khosrowshahi said. “And someone needs to be the orchestration layer for people moving around cities, and I think that can be us. It’s an enormous opportunity. The real challenge for us is where do we focus and where do we partner.”

      The grocery delivery crowd continues to grow

      As Uber looks to take on this niche as a solo act, it’s not going to be easy. Already in the game is Amazon Fresh, Postmates, Instacart, and Wal-Mart, who’s been desperately trying to find its place in the category.

      In March, Walmart announced it would be expanding its home delivery to an additional 800 stores by the end of this year, with grocery transportation provided by companies including Uber. However, the project was quickly shuttered without Wal-Mart giving much of a reason why.

      “It is incredibly hard to deliver people and packages together,” a source with a delivery company that works with Walmart and has direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters. “They are two completely different business models.”

      Wal-Mart has decided to re-enter the grocery delivery fray with “Spark Delivery,” a service using drivers who use their own cars to make fast deliveries, similar to Amazon Flex.

      In reality, Uber’s piece of the pie is not even a full slice.

      To many, Uber may seem like a monolith along the lines of Google or Microsoft, but the fact is that transportation “is a $6 trillion business and we’re 1% of it,” Khosrowshahi said.

      However, the company thinks it’s got a bead on the future in hopes that the public will move away from car ownership, going as far as donning a George Jetson costume and offering air commuting by the time all is said and done.

      The company’s grocery delivery component appears to have the consumer’s blessing, and the consumer’s buy-in will only add to the company’s fervor -- not to mention its value when it goes public. In a recent poll asking U.S. consumers how much they would be willing to pay for home grocery service, 29 percent of the respondents said that they were willing to pay between one to five U.S. dollars for delivery costs.

      Uber. Is it a ride-sharing service, a scooter company, or a self-driving truck company?Yes, yes, and yes.In its wildest “Uber for everything” imagi...

      NHTSA rejects Tesla’s ‘safest’ vehicle claims

      The agency wants to clarify that crash test scores don’t amount to a ‘best’ vehicle

      The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has responded to Tesla’s claims that its Model 3 is the “best” new car on the market.

      Although the vehicle performed exceptionally well in crash tests and earned the agency’s top five-star safety rating in September, the NHTSA has clarified that the car isn’t -- as the company recently boasted -- the “safest car ever built.”

      In a blog post on its site, Tesla said the overall Vehicle Safety Score for the Model 3 is the best such score of any vehicle in the agency’s public records.

      "We engineered Model 3 to be the safest car ever built. Now, not only has Model 3 achieved a perfect 5-star safety rating in every category and sub-category, but NHTSA’s tests also show that it has the lowest probability of injury of all cars the safety agency has ever tested," the company said.

      No ‘safest’ vehicle based on score

      The NHTSA issued a statement of its own on Tuesday, clarifying that there is no “safest” vehicle. The federal agency said that its crash tests combine into an overall safety rating and that it doesn’t rank vehicles that score the same ratings.

      “Results from these three crash tests and the rollover resistance assessments are weighted and combined into an overall safety rating,” the agency wrote on its official website. “A five-star rating is the highest safety rating a vehicle can achieve. NHTSA does not distinguish safety performance beyond that rating, thus there is no ‘safest’ vehicle among those vehicles achieving five-star ratings.”

      The agency didn’t specifically mention Tesla in its statement, but the timing and nature of the announcement strongly suggested that it was issued in response to the automaker’s October 7 characterization of its Model 3.

      One of the safest new cars

      In recent testing, Tesla’s Model 3 earned five-star ratings across the board. The electric sedan performed well in frontal and side crash tests, as well as rollover prevention. However, the 2018 Ford Mustang, Honda Accord, Subaru Impreza and Legacy, and Toyota Camry also scored five stars in those categories in recent testing by the agency.

      With its statement, the NHTSA appears to have taken issue with Tesla’s adoption of superlatives like “safest” and “perfect” regarding the ratings its Model 3 recently received. The agency clarified that although the vehicle performed well in safety tests, saying that a particular score makes it the “best” is misleading to consumers.

      Tesla released an analysis of publicly available NHTSA crash test data that it says demonstrates that the Model 3 has the lowest probability of injury of any car, with the Tesla Model S and Model X ranked second and third.

      The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has responded to Tesla’s claims that its Model 3 is the “best” new car on the market.Althoug...

      Waymo hits 10 million miles driven with self-driving vehicles

      The company is gearing up to launch its self-driving minivans by the end of the year

      Waymo, Google’s self-driving car division, recently hit a major milestone when it officially logged 10 million miles on public roads. The achievement comes as the company is preparing to deploy its fleet of self-driving taxis in the Phoenix area.

      In a blog post published Wednesday, Waymo CEO John Krafcik said the vehicles have come a long way, but he acknowledged that there is room for improvement.

      "While we've made great strides thanks to these 10 million miles, the next 10 million will focus on turning our advanced technology into a service that people will use and love," Krafcik said.

      Striking a balance

      Waymo is aiming to launch its “fully driverless” minivans by year’s end, but the company says it’s currently focusing on perfecting the balance between being courteous to the public and being assertive in terms of both safety and time-efficiency.

      “Today, our cars are designed to take the safest route, even if that means adding a few minutes to your trip,” Krafcik said. “They won’t block your neighbor’s driveway and will choose the safest place to pull over, even if it means having to walk a few extra steps to a destination.”

      He added, “our cars are programmed to be cautious and courteous above all, because that’s the safest thing to do. We’re working on striking the balance between this and being assertive as we master maneuvers that are tough for everyone on the road.”

      Safety concerns

      Some Phoenix residents have complained that Waymo vehicles are prone to sudden stops, jerky movements, and navigating traffic conditions in a way that is overly cautious and hazardous.

      An August report from The Information also said that Phoenix residents frequently see Waymo’s human test driver’s disengage the technology and take over the wheel to avoid a crash, which is especially concerning in light of recent incidents involving self-driving technology.

      In March, police reported that a self-autonomous Uber vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian while the backup driver was streaming a video on her phone. Following the crash, Uber suspended testing of its self-driving vehicles.

      Waymo, Google’s self-driving car division, recently hit a major milestone when it officially logged 10 million miles on public roads. The achievement comes...

      Sears reportedly preparing a bankruptcy filing

      The retailer faces a massive debt payment on Monday

      Sears Holdings faces a significant debt payment next week, and the struggling retailer is reportedly preparing a bankruptcy filing.

      The Wall Street Journal reports the firm has hired an adviser – M-III Partners – to prepare the paperwork for filing as early as this week.

      Sears Holdings, which operates Sears and Kmart stores, is scheduled to pay $134 million on its debt on Monday. In the past, CEO Eddie Lampert has written the check himself, but he may be less inclined to do so this time.

      In recent weeks, Lampert – the largest shareholder – has pushed for a major corporate restructuring to guide the company back to financial health. Last month, Lampert offered to have ESL, the hedge fund he heads, purchase some of the company's assets. He also urged the board of directors to take steps to structure the company's massive debt, warning that time is running short.

      "We continue to believe that it is in the best interests of all stakeholders to accomplish this as a going concern, rather than alternatives that would substantially reduce, if not completely eliminate, value for stakeholders," ESL said in a public filing.

      Proposal to sell assets

      The proposal from ESL suggests Sears Holdings sell $3.22 billion in assets, including $1.47 billion in real estate. Part of the deal includes ESL buying the real estate if it hasn't sold after 12 months. At the time, the board said it would consider the proposal.

      In the meantime, Sears Holdings has responded to the financial drain by closing stores. In January, the company announced it would close 150 unprofitable stores in 2018, most of which have already been shuttered. The remaining stores on the list will close their doors next month.

      The company supplemented that by closing 50 Sears Auto Center locations and 92 Kmart pharmacies earlier this year.

      The Journal's report of the impending bankruptcy cites employees at M-III Partners, who told the newspaper they have spent the last few weeks preparing the bankruptcy filing. They also say that Sears continues to talk about additional options and might stop short of bankruptcy.

      Sears Holdings faces a significant debt payment next week, and the struggling retailer is reportedly preparing a bankruptcy filing.The Wall Street Jour...

      Study shows older consumers have higher credit scores

      Cultural differences may partly explain it

      When LendingTree set out to discover who has the best credit scores in America, it found that the older you are the more likely you are to look better to the credit reporting agencies.

      When it broke down its survey of consumers by generations, it found the silent generation – people born before 1946 – have the best credit scores with an average of 734.

      The next best scores belong to baby boomers, the next-oldest generation. Boomers have an average credit score of 696, which is considered “good.”

      Next in line is GenX, with an average score of of 653, which is slipping into the “fair” category. Millennials have the lowest average credit score, 634 – also in the “fair” range.

      Cultural differences

      Kali McFadden, senior research analyst at LendingTree, says generational cultural differences may influence the credit score cap. Older consumers may be less dependent on credit and may exercise more discipline when it comes to saving and spending.

      Older consumers also tend to be more financially settled. They've already purchased a home and might even have it paid for by now. They have little or no student loan debt. They aren't shopping for furniture as much and aren't paying for child care.

      If older consumers aren't spending as much as their younger peers, they're less likely to run up large credit card balances that can put a strain on monthly cash flow.

      It's no secret that younger consumers tend to have more debt since they have more recently embraced adulthood and the financial pressures it brings. If millennials are saving less money than their parents' generation, they don't have the financial resources to tap when an unexpected expense arises.

      Time makes a difference

      There's also the matter of time. The longer a credit account has been open, the more points it can potentially add to your credit score.

      "Even someone who has handled their finances impeccably will have lower credit scores until they've demonstrated that across a mix of debt products over an extended period of time," McFadden said.

      Regardless of age, anyone can improve their credit score. It starts with paying bills on time each month and never skipping payments.

      Another major contributor to credit scores is credit utilization. If you have a credit card with a $5,000 credit limit and your balance is $4,200 you'll be penalized, since you have used nearly all of your allotted credit.

      By applying for another credit card with a $5,000 credit limit but not using any of it, you lower your credit utilization and raise your credit score.

      When LendingTree set out to discover who has the best credit scores in America, it found that the older you are the more likely you are to look better to t...