Current Events in December 2020

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    Bob Dylan sells songwriting catalog to Universal Music Publishing for over $300 million

    The company said it’s a ‘privilege and a responsibility’ to represent the artist’s works

    Bob Dylan has sold his entire songwriting catalog to Universal Music Publishing.

    Universal hasn’t disclosed the terms of the agreement, but the New York Times reported that the deal was likely worth over $300 million. The catalog encompasses more than 600 copyrights from the past 60 years.

    Dylan’s songs have been recorded by a myriad of other artists more than 6,000 times over the past six decades, according to Universal. Particularly popular recordings have included “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” “Like A Rolling Stone,” and “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.” 

    Dylan, who is now 79, was the first songwriter to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. In 2016, the Swedish Academy credited Dylan with “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” 

    Under the deal announced on Monday, Universal will collect money any time another musician covers any of Dylan’s songs or any time it allows the songs to be used in movies or commercials. It will also earn revenue any time the songs are streamed or sold commercially. 

    In a statement, UMG chairman and CEO Lucian Grainge called it a “privilege and a responsibility” to represent the work of “one of the greatest songwriters of all time.” Grainge added that Dylan’s “cultural importance” can’t be overstated. 

    “Brilliant and moving, inspiring and beautiful, insightful and provocative, his songs are timeless—whether they were written more than half a century ago or yesterday.  It is no exaggeration to say that his vast body of work has captured the love and admiration of billions of people all around the world,” Grainge said. 

    “I have no doubt that decades, even centuries from now, the words and music of Bob Dylan will continue to be sung and played — and cherished — everywhere.”

    Dylan has sold more than 125 million records worldwide. 

    Bob Dylan has sold his entire songwriting catalog to Universal Music Publishing.Universal hasn’t disclosed the terms of the agreement, but the New York...

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      Consumers are binge drinking more during COVID-19 lockdowns, study finds

      Researchers worry about how this habit will affect consumers long-term

      Since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, experts have found that consumers have turned to alcohol to help manage their stress levels. Now, a new study conducted by researchers from the Taylor and Francis Group has explored the long-term alcohol habits consumers have adopted during 2020. 

      According to their findings, consumers are more likely to binge drink if they spend more time at home quarantining.

      “Increased time spent at home is a life stressor that impacts drinking, and the COVID-19 pandemic may have exacerbated this stress,” said researcher Sitara Weerakoon. 

      More consumers turning to alcohol

      To get an idea of how consumers across the country have used alcohol since the start of the pandemic, the researchers surveyed nearly 2,000 adults from mid-March through mid-April. Respondents reported on several life factors, including their current living situation, who they were home with every day, their job status, how long they had spent in lockdown, and their total alcohol consumption. 

      The researchers learned that 34 percent of the participants were binge drinking while at home during lockdown, and the likelihood of binge drinking increased by nearly 20 percent for each week the participants were home. 

      According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), binge drinking is defined as men who consume five or more drinks in two hours and women who consume four or more drinks in that time. The researchers learned that the heaviest drinkers before the pandemic consumed as many as seven drinks in one sitting while at home during lockdown. 

      The study also revealed that those who were binge drinkers before the pandemic were 60 percent more likely to increase their alcohol intake during stay-at-home orders, whereas those who were light drinkers before the pandemic were less than 30 percent as likely to drink more during quarantine. 

      In terms of socioeconomic factors, the researchers learned that 70 percent of the participants who were the heaviest drinkers were also making higher-than-average salaries. 

      Mental health plays a role

      The study revealed an important mental health component that was associated with heavier drinking during the pandemic. According to the researchers, participants who had reported either currently or previously struggling with depression were more likely to binge drink during lockdown orders. 

      Moving forward, the researchers hope that more work is done to better understand the relationship between alcohol and depression so that support services are better tailored and made more widely available for those in need. 

      “Future research should consider the potential for depressive symptoms acting as a moderator (a factor that changes the impact) in the relation between the time spent under a shelter-in-place mandate (lockdown) and binge drinking,” Weerakoon said. “Additional research is (also) needed to develop best treatment for people with substance use disorders who may be more susceptible to adverse health outcomes.”

      Since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, experts have found that consumers have turned to alcohol to help manage their stress levels. Now, a new stud...

      Capital One reportedly barring customers from ‘buy now, pay later’ options

      It’s the first credit card issuer to take that step

      Capital One reportedly will no longer allow its customers to use its credit cards to pay off debt accrued through “buy now, pay later” (BNPL) transactions, which have grown in popularity during the pandemic.

      A growing number of apps offer BNPL services in which a consumer purchases an item and charges it through the app. The consumer makes four payments, usually every two weeks, to clear the debt.

      Consumers don’t pay interest. The app company charges the merchant a small commission. But the transactions are considered risky because the consumer is not required to submit to a credit check.

      Reuters reports that Capital One has confirmed that it will not allow its customers using its credit cards to clear BNPL debt because of “unacceptable risk.” It’s the first credit card company to take that step.

      ‘Risky business’

      Reuters quotes a Capital One spokeswoman as saying the company is ending the practice of consumers putting “point-of-sale” loans on its credit cards. 

      “These kinds of transactions can be risky for customers and the banks that serve them,” the spokeswoman told the news agency.

      Credit card companies also view BNPL as a growing source of competition. Consumers who switch from paying with a credit card don’t pay interest, which averages about 17 percent on balances. 

      How it works

      One BNPL app company, Klarna, explains how it works in the terms and conditions on its website:

      • Use your own valid debit or credit card, or other accepted payment method, to pay (no prepaid cards).

      • The initial payment is charged when the merchant completes your order (this is usually the shipping date for online orders).

      • The next 3 payments are automatically charged every 2 weeks after your first payment.

      • There are no interest charges with Pay later in 4 installments, and no fees when you follow your automatic payment schedule.

      BNPL services are largely unregulated, even though they involve what are in effect interest-free loans. A search for “buy now pay later” on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) websites returned no results.

      Some personal finance experts have warned that BNPL could pose trouble for impulsive consumers. They say consumers could look past the high cost of an item if they only see the payment they will be required to make every two weeks.

      Capital One reportedly will no longer allow its customers to use its credit cards to pay off debt accrued through “buy now, pay later” (BNPL) transactions,...

      Hyundai recalls Velosters, Sonata Hybrids and Santa Fe vehicles

      Engine damage may cause a stall or a fire

      Hyundai Motor Americais recalling 128,948 model year 2015-2016 Velosters, 2012 Santa Fe vehicles, model year 2011-2013 and model year 2016 Sonata Hybrids.

      The connecting rod bearings inside the engine may wear prematurely, which over time can result in engine damage.

      A damaged engine can increase the risk of a fire or it can cause an engine stall, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Hyundai will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the engine. If bearing damage is found, the engine will be replaced.

      Dealers also will install a software update containing a new Knock Sensor Detection System (KSDS). Repairs will be performed free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin January 22, 2021.

      Owners may contact Hyundai customer service at (855) 371-9460. Hyundai's number for this recall is 198.

      Hyundai Motor America is recalling 128,948 model year 2015-2016 Velosters, 2012 Santa Fe vehicles, model year 2011-2013 and model year 2016 Sonata Hybrids....

      Physician shares his experience of taking the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine

      A participant in the clinical trial said he had mild side effects for about four days

      If you’re wondering what it will be like to take a coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine, a Washington, D.C. physician can offer a personal experience.

      Dr. Heny Fishman, an allergy and immunology specialist with a practice in the nation’s capital, enrolled in the Moderna vaccine clinical trial at George Washington University Hospital over the summer. He wasn’t told whether he received the vaccine or the placebo, but he is convinced that he was inoculated with the vaccine. For a few days after the first shot, Fishman said his arm was sore.

      “I talked to a colleague, an expert on vaccines at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and she said, if it hurts a lot you probably got the vaccine because the placebo is saline and it doesn’t hurt very much,” Fishman said in an interview with ConsumerAffairs.

      "Antibodies were off the scale"

      To confirm her assessment, Fishman waited a week and had a blood test for COVID-19 antibodies. None were present. When he told his friend at NIH about his test results, she advised him to wait another two weeks and check it again.

      “So I checked again three weeks after the first shot and my antibodies were off the scale and I was a happy guy,” Fishman said.

      Fishman makes clear that he has not been officially told what kind of shot he received. The trial results are currently being analyzed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and he says he will be informed at some point.

      While the results of his antibody test appeared to be compelling evidence, Fishman says it was the side effects from the second shot that convinced him he had gotten the real thing. The doctor administering the second shot told Fishman that if he received the vaccine and not the placebo, he would feel some side effects for a few days.

      “There are occasional mild side effects and I had them,” Fishman said. “The first vaccine caused some arm pain for a couple of days. After the second vaccine, it’s common to get a flu-like illness with muscle aches. You get tired and have a little bit of a headache, and I had that for three or four days. But the benefits far outweigh the downside, and I’m glad I did it.”

      Understands people’s hesitancy

      Fishman said the side effects were not so severe that he had to miss any work. But polls indicate not all Americans are eager to take the vaccine, especially since it was produced and tested in record time. Fishman says such concerns are not unreasonable.

      “However, the fact that it was made rapidly in this day and age isn’t necessarily a negative,” he said. “The science behind vaccine production today is so advanced compared to 60 years ago when they made the polio vaccine that they can take a piece of messenger RNA (mRNA) in the lab and make a vaccine in six months.” 

      The Moderna vaccine is made from mRNA, which is a small piece of genetic material from the virus but is not the virus itself. As many as 40,000 people have received the vaccine with no major problems. 

      Fishman said there’s a second reason why scientists were able to complete work so quickly. He said a scientist in England has been working on a coronavirus vaccine for the last two decades, and researchers were able to build on his work.

      “So the knowledge base isn’t six months old, it’s 20 years old,” Fishman said. “So we had a major head start on this vaccine.”

      The FDA is reviewing the Moderna vaccine, as well as a similar mRNA vaccine made by Pfizer, and could issue emergency use authorization (EUA) for one, or both, within a couple of weeks. Both companies are preparing to begin the immediate distribution of the vaccines in the U.S.

      If you’re wondering what it will be like to take a coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine, a Washington, D.C. physician can offer a personal experience.Dr. Hen...

      FTC warns of robocallers posing as Apple and Amazon

      Scammers are attempting to get consumers’ personal information by saying there’s a problem with an account or order

      The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is warning that robocallers are now calling consumers and pretending to be from Apple and Amazon. 

      In a statement on its website Thursday, the agency said consumers should be wary of a recorded message telling them about a suspicious purchase made on their Amazon account or a problem fulfilling a recent order. 

      In another version of the scheme, the caller tells recipients that there has been suspicious activity on their Apple iCloud account. The robocaller tells the consumer that their iCloud account may have been breached and that they should then press 1 to speak with customer service to get the issue sorted out.

      In both variations of the scam, the robocaller will at some point attempt to extract a consumer’s personal information, like their credit card number or account passwords. 

      “If you get an unexpected call or message about a problem with any of your accounts, hang up,” the FTC said. “Do not press 1 to speak with customer support, do not call a phone number they gave you, do not give out your personal information.”

      The agency added that consumers who believe there may legitimately be an issue with either their Amazon or Apple account should contact the company directly through their website or by phone. 

      Increase in scams

      The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in scams designed to steal personal information and/or dupe consumers out of money. Scammers are using illegal robocalls to pitch everything from work-from-home schemes to low-priced health insurance. 

      The FTC says consumers should be aware that scammers are attempting to make a profit during the pandemic. To avoid falling victim, the agency recommends: 

      • Never responding to texts, emails or calls about checks from the government; 

      • Ignoring offers for vaccinations and miracle treatments or cures;

      • Hanging up on robocalls;

      • Being wary of emails claiming to be from the CDC or the World Health Organization;

      • Never clicking on links from sources you don’t know; and

      • Being cautious when donating. The FTC recommends not donating in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money.

      The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is warning that robocallers are now calling consumers and pretending to be from Apple and Amazon. In a statement on...

      Coronavirus update: Biden asks Americans to wear masks for 100 days, virus slows November hiring

      Cases, deaths, and hospitalizations are setting daily records

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)

      Total U.S. confirmed cases: 14,174,983 (13,943,627)

      Total U.S. deaths: 276,773 (273,920)

      Total global cases: 65,435,151 (64,723,945)

      Total global deaths: 1,510,313 (1,497,093)

      Biden asks Americans to wear masks for 100 days

      President-elect Joe Biden says he will ask the American people to wear a mask in public, regardless of where they live, during the first 100 days of his administration.

      "Just 100 days to mask. Not forever — 100 days," Biden said. "I think we'll see a significant reduction if that occurs with vaccinations and masking, to drive down the numbers considerably." 

      The first 100 days of the Biden administration would carry the mask request into late April, a time when a significant number of vulnerable Americans should have received a vaccine.

      Economy adds fewer than expected jobs in November

      The U.S. economy, struggling under a building wave of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases, added 245,000 jobs in November. The number fell short of expectations.

      Still, the unemployment rate edged down to 6.7 percent last month. The rate is down by 8.0 percentage points from its recent high in April but is 3.2 percentage points higher than it was in February before the pandemic shut down the U.S. economy.

      Notable job gains occurred over the month in transportation and warehousing, professional and business services, and health care. Transportation and warehousing added 145,000 jobs during the month -- more than half the total.

      Rise in cases isn’t slowing down

      For yet another day, the U.S. reported a record number of new COVID-19 cases. Hospitalizations also continued to rise above 100,000, ending the day near 100,670.

      New cases totaled 217,664 on Thursday and nearly 2,900 deaths. The surge in cases is prompting a number of states to take more restrictive measures for individuals and businesses.

      California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued new regional stay-at-home orders as a way to keep intensive care beds from filling up. Areas of the state will see restaurants, hair salons, and even playgrounds closed in the next few days.

      Dr. Fauci to remain on new president’s COVID-19 team

      There will be a change in administrations on January 20, the leadership of the White House Coronavirus Task Force will remain the same. Dr. Anthony Fauci, who currently heads the group, said he has accepted President-elect Biden’s invitation to stay on.

      "Oh, absolutely. I said yes right on the spot," Fauci said.

      Fauci, who will also remain as director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), frequently clashed with President Trump over government policy to slow the spread of the infection.

      Smithfield offers its freezers

      The Pfizer vaccine candidate under review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must be kept at ultra-low temperatures, presenting some logistical challenges. Smithfield Foods, one of the nation’s largest food-processing companies, is offering to help by allowing vaccines to be stored in its freezers.

      Pfizer's vaccine must be stored at temperatures of minus 70 Celsius, significantly colder than the standard for vaccines. Moderna's vaccine can be stored at minus 20 Celsius.

      UC San Diego’s plan to keep students safe on campus

      All across the country, many colleges and universities told students not to come back to campus after the Thanksgiving break. Some are finishing the semester online and others have simply ended the semester.

      At the University of California San Diego, administrators say they have implemented a comprehensive suite of education, monitoring, testing, intervention, and notification tools that no other university is using. And they say it’s working.

      “While UC San Diego is one of the few colleges in the nation with low rates of infection and a large student body on campus, the university remains vigilant to reduce transmission of virus in our community to the greatest extent possible,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla. “Our multi-layered strategy provides resiliency along many dimensions of the Return to Learn plan.”

      Around the nation

      • Illinois: Cases of the coronavirus are rising at the fastest rate throughout the state since the pandemic began. The weekly average of new cases is now higher than the initial spike in May. Illinois has reported more COVID-19 deaths than any other state over the past seven days, according to the CDC.

      • Massachusetts: On Thursday, Massachusetts health officials sent out telephone and text alerts to 4.5 million state residents to warn of a surge in coronavirus cases. State health officials said the messages reminded residents of the “serious risk of COVID-19 spread as we dive deeper into the holiday season.”

      • Arkansas: State officials are reportedly considering tighter restrictions on event gatherings in the wake of a significant spike in coronavirus cases. The health department confirmed the findings and said probable virus cases increased by 2,789 to 164,310. The state's COVID-19 deaths rose by 33 to 2,555.

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)Total U.S. confirmed cases: 14,174,983 (13,943,...

      Southwest Airlines warns 6,800 employees of imminent layoffs

      One employee union argued that the airline is flush with cash and that its employees are willing to take unpaid leave

      Southwest Airlines has done its best to hold steady through the first nine months of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s finally thrown up its first caution flag. On Thursday, the airline warned 6,800 employees that they may be furloughed in the spring. 

      According to CNN, potential furloughs would affect 2,551 ground crew members, 1,176 customer service agents, 1,500 flight attendants, and 1,221 pilots. Southwest said the employees are safe for now, but if the other shoe does indeed drop, the cuts would take place on March 15 or April 1. In October, the company’s CEO Gary Kelly essentially forecasted the furloughs when he said “we will all need to sacrifice more,” adding that company leaders are taking a 10 percent pay cut in the year ahead. 

      If the threat becomes real, it will be the first time Southwest has had to resort to layoffs to stay afloat -- and no one can’t say it didn’t try to avoid that outcome. Over the last six weeks, ConsumerAffairs counted five major discounted airfare promotions that the airline offered consumers to try and recapture some of the $2.75 billion it lost during the pandemic. 

      Holding out hope

      An internal memo to Southwest employees stated that the airline is open to cutting a deal with union groups to avoid the nearly 7,000 furloughs. “We are not closing the door -- we'll continue negotiations if union representatives want to continue working toward reaching mutually agreeable solutions,” it read.

      Two of Southwest's major unions fired right back, objecting to the company's planned furloughs and saying that union leadership will continue to fight to save jobs.

      "While this development is not completely surprising, it is incredibly disappointing to our pilots and their families," said Captain Jon Weaks, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA). He also said the union "remains committed to finding solutions that will dissuade the company from taking any further steps towards furloughs."

      The Transport Workers Union (TWU), which represents Southwest flight attendants, thinks the airline is crying wolf when it’s actually flush with billions in reserves. 

      "Southwest Airlines has approximately $15 billion in cash on hand and is predicted to be the first airline to emerge in making money for its shareholders," said Dan Akins, airline economist and an advisor to the TWU. The union claims that it’s offered the airline a variety of cost savings proposals and that thousands of Southwest flight attendants even offered to take extra unpaid leave in order to save their jobs.

      Southwest Airlines has done its best to hold steady through the first nine months of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s finally thrown up its first caution fl...

      Gas prices are moving higher again

      The price hike coincided with the Thanksgiving holiday

      After weeks of stable prices at the gas pump, gasoline is getting more expensive heading into the end of the year. The increase began as Americans -- disregarding advice from health experts -- hit the road over the Thanksgiving holiday.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular gas is $2.16 a gallon, five cents higher than a week ago. The average price has increased four cents a gallon over the last month.

      The average price of premium gas is $2.77, four cents higher than seven days ago. The average price of diesel fuel is up two cents in the last week to $2.43 a gallon.

      Analysts say the unpredicted rise in fuel prices has a lot to do with optimism about the COVID-19 vaccines. They say domestic oil prices are rising for the same reason beaten-down stocks are going up each day on Wall Street -- the belief that the end of the pandemic is in sight.

      There were also more cars on the road during Thanksgiving week, which increased demand for fuel. But at the beginning of the week, AAA reported demand was lagging supplies and was calling for lower fuel prices in the days ahead.

      In the last week, the biggest increase in gasoline prices occurred in states with the lowest average prices. The average price in Missouri, the cheapest state in the nation, rose five cents a gallon in the last week.

      Prices were flat or dipped slightly in most of the states where prices are highest. Pennsylvania was an exception, as the average price jumped nine cents a gallon during the week.

      The states with the most expensive gas

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

      • Hawaii ($3.27)

      • California ($3.18)

      • Washington ($2.76)

      • Oregon ($2.59)

      • Nevada ($2.58)

      • Pennsylvania ($2.54)

      • Alaska ($2.49)

      • Maryland ($2.33)

      • Idaho ($2.29)

      • New Jersey ($2.28)

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

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

      • Missouri ($1.81)

      • Mississippi ($1.83)

      • Texas ($1.85)

      • Oklahoma ($1.86)

      • Arkansas ($1.86)

      • Louisiana ($1.87)

      • Alabama ($1.89)

      • Tennessee ($1.90)

      • Kansas ($1.91)

      • Wisconsin ($1.91)

      After weeks of stable prices at the gas pump, gasoline is getting more expensive heading into the end of the year. The increase began as Americans -- disre...

      Volkswagen recalls model year 2018 Tiguan LWBs

      The front seat belt webbing may tear in a crash

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 10,385 model year 2018 Tiguan LWBs.

      One or both of the front seat belts' webbing may tear in a crash.

      A torn seat belt may not adequately restrain the seat occupant during a crash, increasing their risk of injury.

      What to do

      Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the front seat belts and replace them -- as necessary -- free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin January 19, 2021.

      Owners may contact Volkswagen customer service at (800) 893-5298. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 69BH.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 10,385 model year 2018 Tiguan LWBs. One or both of the front seat belts' webbing may tear in a crash. A torn...

      Vegpro International recalls Fresh Attitude Baby Spinach

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Vegpro International of Sherrington, Qubec, Canada, is recalling Fresh Attitude baby spinach.

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      The following products, sold only in Eastern Canada and in New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut Maryland and Pennsylvania, are being recalled:

      • BABY SPINACH 8 X 5 OZ, Fresh Attitude, Best before 2020-12-04 & 2020-12-05; UPC: 888048000042; UPC case: 10888048000049
      • BABY SPINACH 9 X 11 OZ, Fresh Attitude, Best before 2020-12-04; UPC: 888048000288;UPC case: 10888048000285

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled should not consume them, but return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at (877) 613-5700 or on online at http://vegpro.com/contact/.

      Vegpro International of Sherrington, Qubec, Canada, is recalling Fresh Attitude baby spinach. The product may be contaminated with Salmonella. No ill...