Current Events in January 2020

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2020

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    GM is reportedly reviving the Hummer as a pickup truck

    But this reborn Hummer won’t be a gas-guzzler

    General Motors (GM) is said to be bringing back the Hummer, but in name only. The Wall Street Journal reports that GM’s reborn Hummer will be an all-electric pickup truck.

    Quoting “people familiar with the matter,” The Journal says GM plans to introduce its new truck with a Super Bowl ad next month starring NBA star Lebron James.

    The original Hummer was a consumer adaptation of a rugged military vehicle called the humvee, a vehicle that received wide exposure during the 1991 Gulf War. GM bought the brand in 1998 and began turning out the gas-guzzling behemoths at a time of plunging gas prices and a booming dot-com economy.

    But the vehicles weighed more than 6,000 pounds and rarely got better than 10 miles per gallon. They were largely viewed as wasteful at a time when it was believed the world was running out of oil. Sales peaked in 2006, and the surge in gas prices in 2008 delivered the death knell.

    The Journal reports that the redesigned Hummer could go on sale in early 2022 and will be a model under the GMC brand. It would be among the first of the full-size electric trucks and SUVs expected to hit the market in the next few years.

    Union contract helped

    The recent GM contract with the United Auto Workers union may have served as a midwife to the Hummer’s rebirth. The contract specified a major GM investment in U.S. auto facilities to provide union jobs. 

    GM has agreed to spend $3 billion on its Hamtramck, Mich., factory where the truck would reportedly be produced. It’s also partnering with LG Chem to build a plant in Ohio to build battery cells.

    The irony of using the name of a notorious gas-guzzler for an electric vehicle probably won’t be lost on the few consumers who can afford such a vehicle. GM reportedly expects to produce a small number of these new Hummers for off-road enthusiasts and environmentalists who may view them as a new kind of status symbol -- not of excessive consumption but of alternative energy.

    Move toward electric vehicles

    GM, along with other manufacturers, is moving heavily into electric vehicles because government fuel economy mandates keep rising. Because a manufacturer’s rating is based on the average of its entire fleet, the more electric vehicles it sells, the higher its fuel economy rating.

    The problem consumers may encounter is fewer choices if they don’t want -- or can’t afford -- an electric vehicle. While the cost of operating an electric vehicle is significantly less than one powered by gasoline, the purchase price is an average of about $20,000 more. 

    General Motors (GM) is said to be bringing back the Hummer, but in name only. The Wall Street Journal reports that GM’s reborn Hummer will be an all-electr...

    If you’re looking for a job, your prospects still look good

    The job market is still pretty strong to start 2020

    The initial reaction to December’s employment report from the Labor Department was disappointment. Analysts were expecting a bigger number.

    Total non-farm payrolls increased by 165,000 last month, but that was about 20,000 fewer than the consensus estimate. The economy added 266,000 jobs in November, well ahead of the consensus estimate of 187,000. That may have raised expectations for December.

    Frank Steemers, associate economist at The Conference Board, says there’s little reason for disappointment because the jobs market ended 2019 and enters 2020 on a solid footing.

    “In 2019, the unemployment rate reached its lowest point since the late 1960s and job growth was strong with an average of 176,000 jobs added per month – just over 20 percent slower than the average of 223,000 in 2018,” Steemers said. “The labor market performance in 2019 should therefore be considered a significant achievement after an economic expansion of over ten years.”

    Good news for job seekers

    That’s good news for people looking for jobs. Even if job growth tapers off in the new year, the labor market is likely to remain tight, with employers eager to hire and retain qualified employees. Demographics have something to do with it.

    “The working-age population is barely growing and labor force participation rates are only slowly increasing,” Steemers said. “Employers hiring blue-collar and manual services workers will have a harder time recruiting and retaining current employees.”

    Steemers says these workers can also expect to see stronger wage growth in the months ahead. In fact, he says overall wage growth is slowing only because wages are growing much more slowly for highly educated workers.

    Factories are having such a difficult time filling jobs that they are offering unheard-of incentives. The Wall Street Journal reports that manufacturers are paying relocation costs and signing bonuses to persuade workers to move to take their jobs. Even then, The Journal reports that a half-million factory jobs remain unfilled.

    Unemployment rate at 3.5 percent

    In December, the unemployment rate held at 3.5 percent, and the number of unemployed consumers was unchanged at 5.8 million. A year earlier, the jobless rate was 3.9 percent, and the number of unemployed consumers was 6.3 million.

    In December, 41,000 people got jobs in retail, the strongest month of the year. But healthcare remained one of the strongest employment sectors, adding 28,000 in December and 399,000 for the year.

    Professional and business services, which had been the biggest employer in 2018, continued to slow its pace of hiring. It added only 10,000 jobs in December and 397,000 for the year, down from 561,000 in 2018.

    The initial reaction to December’s employment report from the Labor Department was disappointment. Analysts were expecting a bigger number.Total non-fa...

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      FAA seeks to fine Southwest for improper weight and balance data

      Bad data could lead to balance and stability issues while in the air

      The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has proposed a $3.92 million fine against Southwest Airlines over what it says were incorrect calculations when it came to weight and balance sata. 

      The agency alleges that Southwest used this incorrect data while operating flights between May 1, 2018 and August 9, 2018. The time period covered a total of 21,505 flights by 44 aircraft. 

      Regulators note that weight-related data is often used by airlines to determine how many passengers and how much fuel can be safely carried. It also determines where cargo should be stored on airplanes. Having incorrect information could cause instability during flight, which increases risks for passengers.

      The FAA says that Southwest has 30 days to respond to its enforcement letter. For more information on the airline, and to read consumer reviews, visit ConsumerAffairs’ site here.

      The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has proposed a $3.92 million fine against Southwest Airlines over what it says were incorrect calculations when i...

      Volkswagen recalls model year 2013-2015 Jetta Hybrids

      The vehicle could suffer a decrease in transmission pressure

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 2,167 model year 2013-2015 Jetta Hybrids with a DQ200 7-Speed DSG Automatic Transmission.

      Hairline cracks can develop within the transmission electronic gearbox (mechatronic unit), causing an internal transmission oil leak and a decrease in oil pressure.

      A decrease in transmission oil pressure can cause the clutch to fail to engage, resulting in a sudden loss of drive power, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will update the transmission software free of charge. The software remedy is currently under development.

      The recall is expected to begin February 4, 2020.

      Owners may contact Volkswagen customer service at (800) 893-5298. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 34J6.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 2,167 model year 2013-2015 Jetta Hybrids with a DQ200 7-Speed DSG Automatic Transmission.Hairline cracks can d...

      Thesaurus Global Marketing recalls tricycles

      Paint on the canopy’s frame contains excessive levels of lead

      Thesaurus Global Marketing of Doral, Fla., is recalling about 370 Little Bambino 4-in-1 canopy children’s tricycles.

      Paint on the canopy’s frame and tricycle components contain levels of lead that exceed the federal lead content ban.

      Lead is toxic if ingested by young children and can cause adverse health issues.

      No incidents or injuries are reported.

      This recall involves Little Bambino 4-in-1 canopy children’s tricycles that can be used as a push stroller or a push, training and classic tricycle.

      They were sold in blue, pink or red and have a back handle, an elongated back rest, a basket, a canopy and a bell on the front handle. The Little Bambino logo is on the front of the tricycle.

      Model BW204 and UPC code 653981740030, 653981740092, 653981740108, 656857123326, 656857123333 or 656857123340 can be found on the product packaging.

      The tricycles, manufactured in China, were sold exclusively at Amazon.com from October 2018, through June 2019, for between $97 and $130.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled tricycles, take them away from children and contact Thesaurus Global Marketing for a full refund, including the cost of shipping. Amazon is contacting all known purchasers directly.

      Consumers may contact Little Bambino toll-free at (866) 633-8202 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, by email at info@shoplittlebambino.com or online at or online at www.shoplittlebambino.com for more information.

      Thesaurus Global Marketing of Doral, Fla., is recalling about 370 Little Bambino 4-in-1 canopy children’s tricycles.Paint on the canopy’s frame and tri...

      Wireless chargers aim to simplify life in the digital world

      They can reduce the need for a tangle of cords

      One reality of the digital world is that mobile devices run on batteries that seem to constantly need charging. If you don’t have the right cord with you at all times, you could find yourself with a powerless device.

      That may never change, but charging phones, tablets, and other devices is getting easier. A number of companies at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) have displayed the latest technology in wireless charging.

      Karina Alfaro with Paris-based Luxon Design says chargers come in all shapes and sizes and are simple to use.

      “You place your device on top of the charger,” Alfaro told ConsumerAffairs. “They work with both iOS and Android so you don’t have to go looking for a cord with the right plug.”

      Multiple platform households

      That might prove useful in a household with different types of phones that often have different types of USB ports and will require a different charging cord. Wireless charging takes about an hour to an hour and a half, though Alfaro says some devices might take longer than others.

      “Also, the temperature has something to do with that,” she said. “If the room is too cold or too hot, the device may charge at a slower rate. If the room is 70 or 71 degrees, that’s perfect for fast charging.”

      Lexon’s line of wireless chargers, sold in the U.S. through retailers like Nordstrom, are priced between $49 and $89.

      Qi-certified

      Another wireless charger provider, PopSockets, used the trade show to launch the PopPower Home Charger. It’s designed to optimize charging with a PopGrip on your phone, and is capable of charging through both a PopGrip and a thick phone case.

      The charger is Qi certified, meaning it’s compatible with all Qi-certified devices. It supports the Qi standard's new Extended Power Profile (EPP), which enables continuous delivery of up to 15 watts of wireless power. 

      Keep in mind that not all phones will work with a wireless charger, although many newer models will. Several Android phones and two Apple device series — iPhone 8 and iPhone X — support native wireless charging. 

      According to Xfinity, most new mobile devices from Apple will likely have wireless charging capabilities, and the feature can be added using a wireless charging adaptor for any iPhone, 5s to 7 Plus. 

      Android devices supporting native wireless charging include the Samsung Galaxy Range, Sony Xperia, LG Optimus G Pro, Nokia Lumia, and Motorola Moto.

      One reality of the digital world is that mobile devices run on batteries that seem to constantly need charging. If you don’t have the right cord with you a...

      France shows off some new consumer products at CES

      Several countries at the show are assisting their tech startups

      The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is an international confab drawing 179,000 people from across the globe. Dozens of countries are represented, showing off their latest technology innovations.

      The French government is assisting a number of French tech startup companies to get their wares before the public, including a product to improve cycling safety. 

      Let’s say you’re riding your bicycle through a busy city street at night, dodging traffic. Maybe you have some reflective tape on your clothing to make yourself more visible.

      Road-Light SAS, a French startup, is marketing a product that can make a bike or motorcycle rider as visible to the following traffic as another car. A wearable light package is worn on the rider’s back, not only increasing visibility but informing drivers which way the rider is going.

      “You have position lights, turn signal, and fog lights,” said Mohamed Ait El Hodj, the company’s CEO. “It’s the first device in the world with fog lights for bicycle and motorcycle.”

      Miniature drum set

      If you’re trying to learn to play drums or have a budding jazz musician in the family, Senstroke is a device that turns an ordinary pair of drumsticks into a drum. Sensors attach to both sticks and reproduce a drum’s sound when they strike a hard surface.

      “You can use this product to play the drums on any surface,” said Jerome Dron, founder and CEO of Redison, which makes the product. “It is connected by Bluetooth to a smartphone.”

      The sensors on the drumsticks reproduce the sound, which can then be amplified or recorded.

      The company makes another product -- a small round surface that reproduces the different sounds of a full drum kit, depending on where on the disk the sticks land.

      “For example, if you hit the surface in front of you you’ll have the sound of a snare drum, over to the left creates the sound of a high hat, and to the right is a cymbal,” Dron said.

      The advantage to the Sensistroke is it’s a lot less costly than a drum kit and doesn’t take up nearly as much room. Also, if you are practicing in an apartment building, you can pound away without disturbing the neighbors.

      Immersive sound

      BassMe is another French startup with a product adding to the immersive experience when listening to music or otherwise experiencing dramatic sound.

      “When you’re listening to music and just wearing headphones you don’t get the kick from the sound that you would at a concert,” said BassMe CEO Alban Duroy. “It works with everything, including gaming and cinema.”

      The “kick” is provided by a device that fits over the user’s shoulder and holds a module against the chest. Bass sounds are transmitted through the device and translated into physical impact, timed to the beat of the sounds.

      The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is an international confab drawing 179,000 people from across the globe. Dozens of countries are represented, sh...

      The picture is getting clearer with 8k television sets

      Electronics manufacturers are showing off their latest innovations at CES

      Television pictures are getting sharper and crisper. At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), 8k TVs are everywhere, and each manufacturer is trying to add its own touch to the next generation of video.

      Sony introduced its new Z8H 8K LED, A8H and MASTER Series A9S OLED, and X950H and X900H 4K LED televisions. The new lineup features Sony technologies previously only found in Sony's MASTER Series models. 

      While 8k sets are relatively new to the market, they may prove to be a game-changer, especially for consumers with a large space that cries out for a massive screen to fill it. 

      "Delivering a personalized, immersive and true-to-life viewing experience is a core focus when developing our next-generation TVs," said Mike Fasulo, CEO at Sony Electronics North America. "This lineup offers incredible new features to optimize the consumer experience and continue to deliver the creator's intent in both 4K and 8K resolution."

      The best seat in the house

      It’s been said that the viewing experience offered by 4k sets has put a dent in Hollywood box office and NFL ticket sales. If that’s true, 8k resolution may deal a severe blow since the best seat in the house may be in front of your 8k TV. 

      Bob Lawton, senior manager of HE Product Training at LG, says the main difference between 4k and 8k is there are a lot more pixels.

      “And that becomes very important for large screen sizes,” Lawton told ConsumerAffairs..”When you fill that space with more pixels you increase the density, with more pixels per square inch, and that gives you more detail. It’s really important to have 8k on a screen size that’s 70 inches or more.”

      The first thing you notice about an 8k picture is the objects on the screen appear in 3D. Lawton says that’s simply the result of recreating the picture with so many pixels. The picture is very close to viewing something in real life.

      Content lagging the technology

      Like any new TV technology, 8K sets can have a high price tag, especially since there isn’t a lot of 8k content yet. Lawton says LG is rolling out new sets that address that issue.

      “There really isn’t a lot of 8k content that’s currently available because the technology is ahead of the content,” he said. “But using our special processing equipment we can take any content to 8k and fill the screen.”

      The system leverages LG’s deep learning technology to deliver optimized picture and sound quality for all types of content through AI-based 8K upscaling. That allows it to deliver accurate 8K images by analyzing the content and enhancing it to 8k specs.

      This week, LG introduced eight TVs with new 77 and 65-inch class models joining LG's existing 88 and 75-inch screen sizes. 

      Television pictures are getting sharper and crisper. At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), 8k TVs are everywhere, and each manufacturer is trying to add...

      Boeing employees believed early on that the 737 MAX was primed for disaster

      Internal documents show that some thought the plane must have been ‘designed by clowns’

      Since two fatal crashes involving its 737 MAX jets occurred in late 2018 and early 2019, things have been going downhill for Boeing. The company has had its planes grounded, and the timeline for getting them back in the air continues to stretch out. 

      But as regulators continue to delve into the details of the planes and their shortcomings, a new set of internal documents sent to Congress by Boeing on Thursday show that many company employees had little faith in the 737 MAX’s ability to fly safely in the first place.

      Many of the messages within the documents were sent between Boeing employees, and they show that there were lingering doubts about whether the planes deserved to be certified for commercial use. 

      “Would you put your family on a MAX simulator trained aircraft? I wouldn’t,” one employee said to another in a 2018 exchange. “No,” the other employee replied.

      Designed by clowns

      Other messages contained in the documents are much more troubling. In many instances, sentiments shared between employees were much more harsh than a simple rhetorical question. 

      One employee described the 737 MAX as being “designed by clowns, who in turn are supervised by monkeys.” Perhaps even more worrying were messages sent by other company officials about making sure that simulator training for the aircraft was not required. 

      “I want to stress the importance of holding firm that there will not be any type of simulator training required to transition. Boeing will not allow that to happen. We’ll go face to face with any regulator who tries to make that a requirement,” the company official said.

      Currently, Boeing has stopped production of the 737 MAX until regulators at the FAA deem that it is safe to return to the air. Regarding the internal documents, Boeing stated that the exchanges between its employees are not reflective of the company’s stance as a whole.

      “We regret the content of these communications, and apologize to the FAA, Congress, our airline customers, and to the flying public for them. We have made significant changes as a company to enhance our safety processes, organizations, and culture,” the company said. 

      Since two fatal crashes involving its 737 MAX jets occurred in late 2018 and early 2019, things have been going downhill for Boeing. The company has had it...

      A new universal flu vaccine could protect against six strains of the flu virus

      Researchers say this version of the vaccine could provide long-lasting benefits

      In the final months of 2019, experts were urging consumers to get the flu shot, as the virus hit earlier than expected. 

      In an effort to avoid spending days under the weather, a new study conducted by researchers from Georgia State University found that a new version of the flu vaccine, dubbed the universal flu vaccine, could help protect against six different strands of the flu virus. 

      “This nanoparticle antigen combination conferred mice with strong cross protection,” said researcher Ye Wang. “It can protect mice from different strains of influenza virus. Each season, we have different flu strains that affect us. By using this approach, we hope this nanoparticle vaccine can protect humans from different strains of influenza virus.” 

      Flu season protection

      To try to make the flu vaccine as comprehensive as possible, the researchers created a new version that contained two proteins that are most commonly associated with various strains of the flu virus -- matrix protein 2 ectodomain (M2e) and neuraminidase (NA). 

      They explained that M2e is common to all variations of the flu virus. While NA is also a popular protein to focus on, it is often targeted less in variations of the flu vaccine. 

      The researchers chose these proteins because they evolve rather slowly. Because the flu virus is always changing and the vaccine is always being updated, these two proteins are constants in the fight against the flu and would work in protecting consumers for longer periods of time. 

      The researchers put their work to the test, injecting mice with the vaccine after exposing them to one of six different variations of the flu virus. 

      Their line of thinking was successful. The mice, who all had different strains of the flu virus, were protected against it and developed long-term benefits. Four months after vaccination, the mice still proved to be free of the flu. 

      “It’s important to mention that a lot of flu vaccines haven’t focused on NA before,” said researcher Gilbert Gonzalez. “NA is becoming a more important antigen for influenza vaccine research.” 

      With this trial under their belts, the researchers hope to continue developing their vaccine to start testing it on humans. 

      In the final months of 2019, experts were urging consumers to get the flu shot, as the virus hit earlier than expected. In an effort to avoid spending...

      Gas prices are slightly higher on conflict with Iran

      But U.S. fuel supplies are plentiful and demand is falling

      Oil prices have been volatile in response to the growing threat of military conflict between the U.S. and Iran, and prices at the gas pump have moved slightly higher in the last week.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular gas is $2.59 a gallon, a penny higher than last Friday. The price is 36 cents higher than at this time in 2019. The average price of premium is $3.18 a gallon, also a penny more than last week. The average price of diesel fuel is $3.01 a gallon, the same as last week.

      Crude oil prices spiked as high as $65.55 in after-hours trading on Tuesday, but price increases have since pulled back, with WTI closing at $59.61 on Wednesday after President Trump signaled that military action will remain on hold for a while.

      Wholesale gas prices have also fluctuated, with prices rising in some states but falling in others. The result has been a minimal rise in the national average.

      “While there is still clear geopolitical tension, there is no immediate threat to crude supply domestically or globally that can support a sustained increase to crude oil prices or domestic wholesale gasoline prices,” AAA said in its latest market update.

      The fact that retail gasoline demand weakened in the last seven days and fuel supplies grew is helping to keep fuel prices stable.

      The states with the most expensive regular gas

      These states currently have the highest prices for regular gas, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Survey:

      • Hawaii ($3.66)

      • California ($3.54)

      • Washington ($3.14) 

      • Nevada ($3.01)

      • Oregon ($3.01) 

      • Alaska ($3.00)

      • Arizona ($2.83)

      • Pennsylvania ($2.83)

      • New York ($2.72)

      • Utah ($2.67) 

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

      The survey found these states currently have the lowest prices for regular gas:

      • Missouri ($2.22)

      • Oklahoma ($2.28)

      • Mississippi ($2.28)

      • Kansas ($2.30)

      • Texas ($2.29)

      • Arkansas ($2.30)

      • Louisiana ($2.32)

      • Alabama ($2.36)

      • South Carolina ($2.37)

      • Virginia ($2.38)

      Oil prices have been volatile in response to the growing threat of military conflict between the U.S. and Iran, and prices at the gas pump have moved sligh...

      GM recalls model year Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra 1500s

      A possible battery issue could cause a vehicle stall

      General Motors is recalling 350,371 model year 2019-2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and GMC Sierra 1500 trucks.

      The battery positive (B+) cable rings may have been manufactured with excessive glue, potentially causing an intermittent electrical connection between the B+ cable and alternator.

      An intermittent electrical connection between the B+ battery cable and the alternator could cause the vehicle to stall, increasing the risk of a crash.

      The intermittent connection could also lead to electrical arcing, which could generate sufficient heat to damage surrounding material, increasing the risk of a fire.

      What to do

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will inspect for the presence of glue or other contamination at the B+ cable attachment to the alternator and clean the connection and reattach the B+ cable connection, as necessary.

      If arcing has damaged the cable, nut, or alternator, the dealer will replace the damaged components free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin January 27, 2020.

      Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at (800) 222-1020 or GMC customer service at (888) 988-7267. GM's number for this recall is N192273510.

      General Motors is recalling 350,371 model year 2019-2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and GMC Sierra 1500 trucks.The battery positive (B+) cable rings may...

      J&J Distributing recalls Kowalksi salads

      The products contain pine nuts, an allergen not declared on the label

      J&J Distributing of St. Paul, Minn., is recalling approximately 136 pounds of ready-to-eat Kowalksi salads.

      The products contain pine nuts, an allergen not declared on the label.

      There are no confirmed reports of adverse reactions.

      The following ready-to-eat products that also contain meat and were produced from December 21 – 27, 2019, are being recalled:

      • 14-oz. plastic sealed cartons containing “KOWALSKI’S MARKETS SICILIAN CHOPPED SALAD” with a “SELL BY” sticker placed on the carton with dates of 12/27 through 01/02 (inclusive).
      • 14-oz. plastic sealed cartons containing “KOWALSKI’S MARKETS ITALIAN STEAKHOUSE COBB SALAD” with a “SELL BY” sticker placed on the carton with dates of 12/27 through 01/02 (inclusive).

      The recalled products, bearing establishment number “EST. 38450” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to retail locations in Minnesota.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may contact Ron Carkoski at (651) 292-3822.

      J&J; Distributing of St. Paul, Minn., is recalling approximately 136 pounds of ready-to-eat Kowalksi salads.The products contain pine nuts, an allergen...