You've spent months on real estate websites and toured dozens of properties. You've finally found the right house in the right location for the right price...

You've spent months on real estate websites and toured dozens of properties. You've finally found the right house in the right location for the right price and your offer has been accepted.

Now you have to select the method to finance your purchase, and for most first-time buyers there are two main options – an FHA or a conventional mortgage.

An FHA loan is guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration, part of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). If you qualify for an FHA mortgage, the U.S. government guarantees to the lender that the loan will be repaid.

The loan has some advantages and disadvantages for the borrower. The first is that it is easier to qualify for an FHA loan than it is a conventional mortgage.

Because it is a program to encourage homeownership, and the government stands behind the loan, a borrower may qualify with less than perfect credit. While overall lending requirements are much tighter in the wake of the housing crash, FHA requirements are a bit less tight.

For example, a lender looks at a borrower's debt-to-income ratio – what you owe vs. how much money you make. FHA gives you more leeway than conventional loans, meaning if you are early in your career and are still paying on some student loans, an FHA loan may allow you to buy more house than a conventional loan would.



You can purchase a home with an FHA loan without putting 20% down, which is less of an advantage these days because there are many conventional mortgage programs with similar low down payments.

An FHA loan requires as little as 3.5% as a down payment but there are now conventional loans with as little as 3% down.

When it comes to interest rates, the advantage usually goes to FHA. FHA loans almost always have lower interest rates than conventional loans, but the rate spread will differ state to state.

If you choose to put less than 20% down you will be required to pay mortgage insurance, whether it is an FHA or conventional loan. Mortgage insurance protects the lender from loss in case the borrower defaults.

Here, the advantage you get with a lower interest rate on an FHA mortgage is wiped out by the slightly higher rate you will pay for mortgage insurance. These insurance costs are based on a percentage of the loan and for FHA mortgage insurance, the percentage is slightly higher.

But in a decided advantage for a conventional loan, you can appeal to the lender to discontinue the mortgage insurance requirement once you have achieved 25% equity in the home. With an FHA loan, the mortgage insurance requirement is permanent for the life of the loan.

Because of mortgage insurance, a conventional loan payment might turn out to be lower than an FHA payment, even though it has a lower interest rate.

If you are just beginning your home search, you should discuss the FHA vs. conventional options with a mortgage officer during the pre-approval process so you will know exactly how much you will be able to pay for a home.

Just a few days ago, a California senator introduced legislation that would require labels on children's products that contain flame retardants. Now a coal...

The nation's unemployment rate, which hit 10% in the wake of the Great Recession, has slowly come down over the last 6 years and now approaches normal leve...

The nation's unemployment rate, which hit 10% in the wake of the Great Recession, has slowly come down over the last 6 years and now approaches normal levels. At least on paper.

As many have pointed out, the official jobless rate only counts people who are still looking for a job. It doesn't count those who have been out of work so long they've given up, or are working a part-time job because they can't find a full-time one.

A closer look at the jobless numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) also shows that workers at either end of the wage spectrum appear to be most likely to be out of work. In its annual report, released in August, the BLS found the youth unemployment rate was significantly lower than in previous decades.

Older workers are also more likely to be out of the labor market. A new report by AARP claims that half of the people in the U.S., age 45 to 70, who lost their job during the last 5 years are still not working.

Fifty percent of people in that age group responding to the survey said they were either unemployed or had dropped out of the labor force and were no longer looking for a job. AARP says nearly half of those who had lost a job and found another were earning less than they did in the job they lost.

"As the economy continues to recover and the unemployment rate falls, there are still far too many people struggling," said Debra Whitman, Chief Public Policy Officer at AARP. "Many Americans want to work as long as possible but our survey confirms that, once unemployed, it can take a long time for older workers to find a quality job."

Of the older Americans in the survey who were not working, 38% described themselves as unemployed and still looking. Twelve percent said they were no longer looking for a job and had dropped out of the labor force.

AARP says its survey uncovered some interesting facts about older workers. For one, being out of work for a long time usually means you earn less when you finally land a job.

Being out of work for an extended time also increases the likelihood that the job seeker will settle for a part-time job, even though she wants to work 40 hours a week. In fact, 41% of those who experienced long-term unemployment are working in part-time jobs.

It's possible that many of these older workers were in jobs or vocations that suffered serious dislocation because of advances in technology and productivity. The survey seems to suggest that.

Of the long-term unemployed older workers in the survey who were successful in getting another job, 53% were in an occupation different from the one they had prior to becoming unemployed. Of workers out for work for a short time, just 46% were in a different occupation.

Texas veterinarian Dr. Ron Hines says he will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review his lawsuit challenging the Texas Veterinary Board’s prohibition on offe...

Texas veterinarian Dr. Ron Hines says he will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review his lawsuit challenging the Texas Veterinary Board’s prohibition on offering veterinary advice over the Internet.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week upheld Texas law requiring that a veterinarian physically examine an animal prior to offering advice on how to treat or care for it.

Since 2002, Hines kept active in his retirement by providing advice on his website to pet owners around the world, many of them in remote locations, often for free.

But in 2013, the Texas Veterinary Board suspended Hines' license, fined him and made him retake portions of the veterinary licensing exam, finding that he had violated a Texas law tht makes it illegal for a veterinarian to give advice about an animal he has not physicall examined. “This case stands at the crossroads of internet freedom, free speech, and economic liberty,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Jeff Rowes, who represents Dr. Hines. “Dr. Hines gives advice for a living, and advice is speech protected by the First Amendment. This case is ripe for review because the federal courts of appeal across the country disagree about the extent to which the First Amendment protects the speech of licensed professionals when they give individually tailored advice.” Hines is expected to file his petition for review with the U.S. Supreme Court in late June. He has 90 days from the date of the Court of Appeals’ decision. The Institute for Justice is currently litigating a similar case in Kentucky that challenges the state’s use of psychology-licensing statutes to regulate the speech of a newspaper advice columnist.

In June 2014, IJ scored a victory in the District of Columbia, where the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit struck down the city’s tour-guide licensing scheme, finding that it was an unconstitutional infringement of tour guides’ free speech rights.

Every year, Americans waste enormous quantities of perfectly good food (worth $115 billion annually, according to USDA estimates) due to the false belief t...

Every year, Americans waste enormous quantities of perfectly good food (worth $115 billion annually, according to USDA estimates) due to the false belief that as soon as a canned or dried product reaches its “expiration” or “best by” date, it's immediately gone bad and must be discarded.

Even organizations whose primary focus is on keeping bad and gone-bad food out of people's diets have started noticing the issue of food waste caused by erroneous fear of bad food; last August two safety inspectors writing on the USDA blog published an article explaining how to tell when certain “out of date” foods were still safe to eat.

So packaged foods don't necessarily go bad as soon as they hit their best-by date — but that doesn't mean they never go bad. A family in Italy discovered this the hard way, when they had to be hospitalized after drinking hot chocolate made from 25-year-old mix.

The Local.it offers an English translation of an Italian-language news article which first appeared in Corriere del Veneto (Venetian Courier): an unidentified woman from Vicenza made hot chocolate for her son and two grandchildren (aged 8 and 12), and also had a cup herself. But the cocoa packets had expired in 1990, and the entire family, along with the woman's partner, ended up in the emergency room.

Although it was an accident, and the grandmother drank some of the chocolate herself, Corriere del Veneto says that she has been charged with causing injury.

The Food and Drug Administration announced yesterday that it will be hosting a two-day public hearing late in April, on the topic of homeopathic product re...

The Food and Drug Administration announced yesterday that it will be hosting a two-day public hearing late in April, on the topic of homeopathic product regulation.

The purpose of this hearing, as explained on the FDA's website, is “to obtain information and comments from stakeholders about the current use of human drug and biological products labeled as homeopathic, as well as the Agency’s regulatory framework for such products.”

The hearing will take place April 20 and 21 at the FDA's White Oak Campus in Silver Spring, Maryland (a suburb of Washington, D.C.), though the agency will also host a live webcast of the event.

The term "homeopathy" is derived from the Greek words homeo (similar) and pathos (suffering or disease). The first basic principles of homeopathy were formulated by Samuel Hahnemann in the late 1700's. The practice of homeopathy is based on the belief that disease symptoms can be cured by small doses of substances which produce similar symptoms in healthy people.

To be fair: such an idea sounded plausible in the 1700s, before humanity discovered the germ theory of disease in the 1860s.

And given the abysmally ignorant state of medical knowledge in the 1700s – some of the official bloodletting prescriptions of the time called for draining more blood out of the patient than a typical adult human body actually contains – it's true that in those days, getting no medical treatment at all (or taking a placebo) was often a better option than seeking official medical attention.

But medical science has advanced considerably since the 1700s, while homeopathy has remained the same. Homeopaths claim that diluting substances in water actually makes those substances more potent, and that water can “remember” and maintain the qualities of substances once diluted in it. If you inspect the ingredients label of a homeopathic product, you’ll see the “active” ingredients are usually measured in C units: “This ingredient 6C,” “that ingredient 30C,” and so forth.

They’re not talking about temperature measured in Celsius; the C in homeopathy stands for “centesimal,” which is another way of saying “dilute to one part in a hundred.”

Suppose you have a shotglass full of whiskey and want to dilute/strengthen it according to homeopathic principles. If you combine one drop of whiskey with 99 drops of water, you'll get 1C whiskey, which is 99 percent water and 1 percent whiskey.

Combining one drop of 1C whiskey with 99 drops of water results in 2C whiskey, which is 99.99 percent water and 0.01 percent whiskey. One drop of 2C added to 99 drops of water makes 3C, which is water containing 0.0001 percent whiskey, and so on.

Once you reach 12C you crash against the physical barrier of Avogadro’s limit, which means that your 12C whiskey probably doesn’t contain even a single molecule of alcohol. Yet, if the homeopathic “dilution increases strength” idea were true, drinking a glass of that 12C water should give you a much stronger alcoholic buzz than a glass of undiluted whiskey, and a glass of 200C water would presumably make you pass out from booze intoxication even though you never downed a singledrop of alcohol.

While the thought of someone watering down alcoholic beverages in hope of increasing their potency might be worth a laugh or two, there's nothing remotely funny about watering down otherwise-effective doses of medication – or, more likely, ignoring effective medical treatments altogether in lieu of drinking watery homeopathic quack-juice. Either choice can lead to disastrous consequences.

Earlier this month, Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) completed an extensive review of previous studies on homeopathic remedies, yet “found no good quality, well-designed studies with enough participants to support the idea that homeopathy works better than a placebo, or causes health improvements equal to those of another treatment.” Though there are studies claiming efficacy for various homeopathic remedies, a closer look revealed “the quality of those studies was assessed as being small and/or of poor quality. These studies had either too few participants, poor design, poor conduct and or reporting to allow reliable conclusions to be drawn on the effectiveness of homeopathy.”

It is no exaggeration to say that a glass of tap water from a random American public water supply probably contains higher levels of active medical ingredients than any bottle of “homeopathic medicine” on the market, especially homeopathic medicine rated 12C or higher. Consider this: back in 2008, the Associated Press published the results of a five-month investigation showing that the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans contain traces of pharmaceutical products.

A vast array of pharmaceuticals including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans, an Associated Press investigation shows.

To be sure, the concentrations of these pharmaceuticals are tiny, measured in quantities of parts per billion or trillion, far below the levels of a medical dose. Also, utilities insist their water is safe.

Chances are those utilities are right: medicines — even outright poisons — won’t affect you when taken in such vanishingly small amounts. The AP discovered traces of contraceptives in the public water supplies of multiple municipalities where children continued to be conceived and born even though every woman (and man) in town took daily doses of homeopathic hormonal birth control pills.

Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission has gone after several marketers for making unsupported claims about homeopathic drugs. In 2010, the manufacturer of Cold MD, Germ MD and other products was fined $5.5 million on false advertising charges.

In October 2013, the FTC sued the maker of “HCG Platinum” diet products, which claimed to homeopathically make unwanted fat melt away.

That same month, a group of parents filed a class-action suit against another homeopathic producer, HomeoLab, claiming that it's “KidsRelief” brand homeopathic cold and flu remedies “are worthless, and HomeoLab unfairly, deceptively and unjustly enriches itself o[n] the backs of children to turn a corporate profit.”

Despite the claims of their supporters, consumers looking for effective healthcare should avoid all homeopathic medicines. In the best-case scenario, you’ll waste your money. In the worst-case scenario, you could die of what would have been an easily treatable illness, had you relied on 21st-century medical knowledge rather than believed the guesses of an 18th-century German who lived and died too early to even know that viruses cause the common cold.

You won't be seeing the "Kids Eat Right" seal on Kraft Singles cheese packages after all. Oh wait -- you will be seeing it but only for a few months. That'...

You won't be seeing the "Kids Eat Right" seal on Kraft Singles cheese packages after all. Oh wait -- you will be seeing it but only for a few months. That's because dietitians have successfully petitioned their own organization to withdraw the seal, saying it makes it look like dietitians are endorsing the cheesy product.

Earlier this month, it was announced that the Academy of Nutrition and Diatetics had agreed to put the "Kids Eat Right" logo on the cheese packages as part of an effort to raise awareness about kids not getting enough calcium and Vitamin D. 

But rank and file dietitians developed a bad case of indigestion and started a petition demanding the deal be ditched. 

Now Kraft and the Academy say that because of "misperceptions," the agreement has been terminated. However, the seal will be showing up on cheese packages that have already been printed.

The Academy hasn't issued a public statement but sent a letter to its members apologizing for the misstep, Consumerist reported. 

Cats and hairballs are a given and they can be scary. They can have some pretty rough consequences such as intestinal blockages, which can be a serious he...

Cats and hairballs are a given and they can be scary.  They can have some pretty rough consequences such as intestinal blockages, which can be a serious health problem for your cat. The upside of it is you probably have a cat that likes to be clean. Very clean for the most part because they keep grooming themselves.

What happens is as your cat licks himself or herself clean the tiny hook like structures on their tongue catch all the dead and loose hair and they swallow it. Usually most of the hair goes right through the digestive tract. Some of the hair will stay in the stomach and it can form what we call a hairball.

You would think this nice little ball of fur would come out in a round form, but no, that's not the way it goes down ... or up I should say. The cat will eventually vomit the hairball to get rid of it. Because hairballs pass through the narrow esophagus on the way out, they often appear thin and tubelike, rather than round.

When your cat was a kitten you most likely weren't dealing with hairball issues and that's because as a cat grows older it becomes more adept at grooming itself.

When you hear your cat in the middle of a hairball episode it can be tempting to perform the Heimlich maneuver on them. It's a discomforting sound. But like a person that chokes, once they finally get it up it's all over except for the cleaning-up part that you get to do.

If you notice the following hairball symptoms, be sure to contact your veterinarian, as they could indicate that a hairball has caused a potentially life-threatening blockage:

You can't really stop hairball episodes from happening but you can do some things in order to keep them manageable.

Do your part in grooming so your cat doesn't feel the need to do as much. Combing or brushing your cat on a daily basis is an easy and effective way to minimize hairballs.

Home prices continued their rise across the country over the 12 months ending in January, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices. At the sa...

Home prices continued their rise across the country over the 12 months ending in January, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices.

Both the 10-City and 20-City Composites saw year-over-year increases, with the 10-City Composite up 4.4% and the 20-City Composite gaining 4.6%. The S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index, which covers all 9 U.S. census divisions, recorded a 4.5% annual gain in January.

Denver and Miami reported the highest year-over-year gains, as prices increased by 8.4% and 8.3%, respectively. Fourteen cities reported higher price increases in the year ended January 2015 over the year ended December 2014.

Chicago led the way with a reported increase of 2.5% -- up 11 basis points from December. Six cities reported declines, with San Francisco leading the declining annual returns with a reported rate of 7.9%, compared with 9.4% annually.

"The combination of low interest rates and strong consumer confidence based on solid job growth, cheap oil and low inflation continue to support further increases in home prices" says David M. Blitzer, Managing Director and Chairman of the Index Committee for S&P Dow Jones Indices. "Regional patterns in recent months continue: strength in the west and southwest paced by Denver and Dallas with results ahead of the national index in the California cities, the Pacific Northwest and Las Vegas. The northeast and Midwest are mostly weaker than the national index.”

The news wasn't quite as good on a month-over-month basis. The National index declined for the fifth consecutive month in January, reporting a -0.1%. Both the 10- and 20-City Composites reported virtually flat month-over-month changes.

Of the 9 cities that reported increases, Charlotte, Miami, and San Diego led all cities in January with increases of 0.7%. San Francisco reported the largest decrease of all 20 cities -- -0.9%. Seattle and Washington, D.C., reported decreases of -0.5%. Unusually cold and wet weather may have weakened activity in some cities.

"Despite price gains, the housing market faces some difficulties”, said Blitzer. “Home prices are rising roughly twice as fast as wages, putting pressure on potential home buyers and heightening the risk that any uptick in interest rates could be a major setback.

He also pointed out that the new home sector is weak. “Residential construction is still below its pre-crisis peak,” he said. “Any time before 2008 that housing starts were as low as the current rate of one million, the economy was in a recession."

With Easter just days away, 80% of consumers are eagerly looking forward to a fun, family-filled holiday, according to the National Retail Federation’s Eas...

With Easter just days away, 80% of consumers are eagerly looking forward to a fun, family-filled holiday, according to the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) Easter Spending Survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics.

The survey found that the average person celebrating Easter will spend $140.62 -- slightly more than last year’s $137.46. Total spending for Easter, which includes purchases of apparel, decorations, gifts, candy, food, flowers and more, is expected to reach $16.4 billion.

“Easter will be the perfect segue into spring for both consumers and retailers who have longed for warmer weather for quite some time,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “As one of the busiest times of year for several retail sectors and as shelves begin filling with both traditional spring and holiday merchandise, retailers are looking forward to welcoming shoppers with attractive promotions on home goods, garden equipment and traditional Easter items.”

Consumers, the survey says, will use Easter as the perfect opportunity to spruce up their spring wardrobes, with 45% of those celebrating buying clothing -- spending more than $2.9 billion on bright colored apparel items for themselves and their families.

However, more people plan to buy food for the holiday: 85.7% will purchase food for a family meal or other festivity, spending more than $5.3 billion on Easter fare.

Children and sweet-toothed adults will also purchase candy this Easter: 87.1% of those celebrating say they will buy candy, spending more than $2.2 billion on jelly beans, chocolate bunnies and flavorful chick-shaped Peeps.

Consumers this holiday will also spend $2.4 billion on gifts, $1.1 billion on flowers, $998 million on decorations and $695 million on greeting cards.

With a laundry list of items to buy, 58.6% will head to discount stores to purchase their holiday merchandise. Another 40.7 will shop at department stores, while 23.8% plan to shop at a local or small business. Additionally, 21.8% will head to a specialty store like a florist or jewelry store and 18.8 percent will shop online.

Busy Easter shoppers will take advantage of their mobile devices to help them find meal items, gifts, candy and more. According to the survey, 21.4% of those who own smartphones and are planning to celebrate Easter will use their phone to research products and/or compare prices, and another 13.5% will purchase items with their smartphone.

Nearly one-quarter (24.9%) of tablet owners will research products and/or compare prices for their Easter needs on tablets; 16.6% will purchase something via their tablet.

For the first time, NRF asked consumers about the activities they are planning for Easter Sunday, and the survey found many of the traditional aspects of the holiday will be in play this year. Nearly 6 in 10 (57.4%) plan to visit friends and family, half (50.8%) will go to church and 12.9% plan to open gifts.

Not forgetting the little ones, 3 in 10 (30.9%) adults will plan a special Easter egg hunt for the children in their lives. Additionally, 15% of those celebrating will opt out of doing dishes and head to a restaurant to celebrate the holiday and 24.1% will surf the Web throughout the day.

“Easter remains a beloved affair for consumers young and old, and this year it looks like families are ready to dig into their budgets to make the most of the special day,” said Prosper’s Principal Analyst Pam Goodfellow. “The warm weather should help fuel some interest in celebrations, especially given the record-breaking winter much of the country experienced the last several months.”

A debt collection agency that threatened to have consumers arrested for bouncing checks will pay $50,000 in penalties if a proposed settlement with the Con...

A debt collection agency that threatened to have consumers arrested for bouncing checks will pay $50,000 in penalties if a proposed settlement with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is approved by a federal district court.

The National Corrective Group used deceptive threats of criminal prosecution and jail time in order to intimidate consumers into paying debts for bounced checks. The company also misled consumers into believing that they must enroll in a costly financial education program to avoid criminal charges.

“National Corrective Group masqueraded as prosecutors and used deceptive tactics to intimidate consumers into paying hundreds of dollars in extra fees to avoid potential criminal prosecution,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Today we are taking action to put a stop to these illegal debt collection practices.”

The CFPB’s proposed order names National Corrective Group, a privately-held, California-based corporation that operates nationwide and specializes in the collection of consumer debt for bounced checks, and several affiliated companies. Together, these companies operate one of the largest bad check diversion programs in the United States.

The CFPB alleges that National Corrective Group deceived consumers by sending them notices on prosecutors’ letterheads and creating the false impression that consumers may be prosecuted for writing bounced checks. However, the letters went to consumers before any district attorney had determined prosecution was likely.

Consumers were told by the company that to qualify for the diversion program and avoid prosecution they must pay the bounced check debts as well as enroll in the company’s financial education class for an additional fee. The cost of the financial education classes were typically around $200, which was often several times the amount of the alleged bad check debt.

With just over 2 weeks to go before the federal tax-filing deadline, a lot of folks are beginning to realize they are nowhere near ready to send in the ret...

With just over 2 weeks to go before the federal tax-filing deadline, a lot of folks are beginning to realize they are nowhere near ready to send in their returns.

Not a problem, says the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The tax agency says it's actually easy to get more time; in fact, it can even be done online.

If you haven’t yet filed, the IRS has this advice: Don’t panic. Taxpayers who need more time to complete their tax return can request an automatic 6-month extension.

The fastest and easiest way to get the extra time is through the Free File link on IRS.gov. In a matter of minutes, anyone, regardless of income, can use this free service to request an extension on Form 4868.

Filing this form gives you until Oct. 15 to file a return. To get the extension, taxpayers must estimate their tax liability on this form and should also pay any amount due.

The IRS stresses that a request for an extension will give extra time to file a tax return -- not extra time to pay any taxes owed. By filing either a regular tax return or requesting an extension by the April 15 filing deadline, taxpayers will avoid a stiff penalty -- the late-filing penalty. Taxpayers should file even if they can’t pay the full amount of taxes they owe.

The late-filing penalty, normally 5% per month based on the unpaid tax balance, applies to returns filed after the April 15 filing deadline. In addition, any payment made with an extension request will reduce or eliminate interest and late-payment penalties that apply to payments made after April 15.

The interest rate is currently 3% per year, compounded daily, and the late-payment penalty is normally 0.5% per month.

BMW of North America is recalling 2,067 model year 2015 428i Convertible, 428i xDrive Convertible, 435i Convertible, and 435i xDrive Convertible vehicles m...

BMW of North America is recalling 2,067 model year 2015 428i Convertible, 428i xDrive Convertible, 435i Convertible, and 435i xDrive Convertible vehicles manufactured October 22, 2014, to February 27, 2015.

Due to a programming error, the driver's front air bag deployment timing may be incorrect, posing an increased risk of personal injury in the event of a vehicle crash.

BMW will notify owners, and dealers will reprogram the air bag control module with corrected software version, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in April 2015.

Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 16,582 model year 2012-2015 Yaris vehicles manufactured August 31, 2011, to February 9, 2015, and sol...

Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 16,582 model year 2012-2015 Yaris vehicles manufactured August 31, 2011, to February 9, 2015, and sold in Puerto Rico.

The recalled vehicles may have been manufactured with a roof headliner that does not provide the proper occupant protection in the event of a crash. This could increase the risk of occupant injury in the event of a crash.

Toyota will notify owners, and dealers will replace the headliner, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in mid-April 2015.

Aurora Products is expanding its earlier nationwide recall of certain lots of natural walnuts and trail mixes containing walnuts. The products may contain...

Aurora Products is expanding its earlier nationwide recall of certain lots of natural walnuts and trail mixes containing walnuts.

Private label products that use store branded labeling include: America Choice, Belmont Market, Boiceville Market, Gaul’s Market, Green Hills Market, Harvest Co – Op Market, Hurley Ridge, Lees, Miles Market, Palmers Market, Union Market, Walter Stewart , Windfall Market and Wild Acorns.

Customers with questions may contact Aurora Products at (800)-898-1048 between 9:00AM – 5:00 PM EST Monday – Friday.

Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 110,085 model year 2015 Camry, Camry Hybrid, Highlander, and Highlander Hybrid, and 2014-2015 Rav4 ve...

Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 110,085 model year 2015 Camry, Camry Hybrid, Highlander, and Highlander Hybrid, and 2014-2015 Rav4 vehicles.

A component of the electric power steering (EPS) electronic control unit (ECU) may have been damaged during the manufacturing process. Over time, this damage may result in failure of the electric power steering system, increasing the risk of a crash.

Toyota will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the serial number of the EPS ECU or steering column assembly. If the number is within the affected range, the EPS ECU will be replaced, free of charge.

The recall is expected to begin in April 2015. Owners may contact Toyota customer service at 1-800-331-4331.

Conventional wisdom holds that it is selfless, civic minded non-profit groups that take on businesses that abuse consumers. And in many cases, it is....

Conventional wisdom holds that it is selfless, civic minded non-profit groups that take on businesses that abuse consumers. And in many cases, it is.

But what are we to make of the Wall Street-connected individuals who recently have taken on large, publicly traded corporations and just happen to have a financial stake in the corporations' comeuppance? Are their efforts to be encouraged?

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a D.C. watchdog group, says they are not. And in some cases, the group argues, these efforts may be illegal.

“First it was Steve Eisman working over the Department of Education while he shorted the stocks of for-profit colleges and now it’s William Ackman ginning up a federal investigation into Herbalife to make good on a billion dollar bet against the company,” said CREW Interim Executive Director Anne Weismann.

Weismann is talking about a common practice on Wall Street. “Shorting” a stock is when a trader borrows shares of a stock from a broker and sells them, depositing the proceeds in an account. At a point in the future, the trader then purchases the same number of shares and gives them back to the broker.

If the share price has declined since the time the trader “shorted” the stock to the time he “covered” the short, the trader makes money. For example, if the trader shorted 1000 shares and the stock price declined $10 a share, the trader makes $10,000.

Traders short a stock when they have good reason to believe its price will do down in the future. CREW said some large Wall Street players are pressing consumer issues before regulators and legislators to make sure the share price of the company in question – the company whose stock they are shorting – goes down.

According to CREW, Ackman and his hedge fund, Pershing Square Capital Management, have gone to “unprecedented lengths” to urge federal regulators to crack down on Herbalife, claiming it is a pyramid scheme that preys on mostly minority consumers.

While Ackman may be completely sincere in his attacks on Herbal Life – attacks the company has vehemently denied – CREW says the fact that his company stands to make money if Herbalife's stock price suffers, makes his attacks highly suspect.

CREW said it has obtained documents through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request that show Ackman’s lawyer regularly contacted Lois Greisman, the Associate Director of the Division of Marketing Practices at the FTC, with emails attaching articles and blog posts critical of Herbalife, many the group argues, which appear to be part of an orchestrated campaign.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Ackman late last week revealed one of the contractors working with him on the Herbalife campaign has been subpoenaed by federal investigators looking into possible market manipulation of Herbalife stock.

And Herbalife is just one instance, the group says. It maintains that in 2011 U.S. regulators cracked down on for-profit colleges owned by publicly traded corporations largely at the bidding of investors who were shorting those stocks.

In 2012 CREW says a prominent short seller pressed the FDA not to approve a new drug by a biotech firm after taking a significant short position in the company stock.

“Many Americans already believe Wall Street is a rigged game,” Weismann said. “Watching billionaire hedge fund managers get richer by instigating government action can only lead to further decreased confidence in the country’s financial markets and government leaders.”

GNC has agreed to implement new standards to authenticate the ingredients of herbal supplements, ensure their purity and educate consumers about their cont...

GNC has agreed to implement new standards to authenticate the ingredients of herbal supplements, ensure their purity and educate consumers about their content.

The agreement with New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman follows a study by the AG's office that found the majority of supplements being sold by GNC, Target, Walgreens and Walmart did not contain the ingredients they claimed. 

Under today’s agreement, GNC will perform DNA barcoding on the “active” plant ingredients used in its products; implement testing for contamination with allergens, both before and after production; and post prominent signage advising consumers of the processed, chemical nature of extracts.

GNC will be required to implement these new procedures in all of its more than 6,000 stores nationwide, making this agreement the first in the nation to require testing standards for herbal supplements that exceed current FDA requirements.

“When consumers take an herbal supplement, they should be able to do so with full knowledge of what is in that product and confidence that every precaution was taken to ensure its authenticity and purity,” said Schneiderman. “When it comes to consumer health, we expect companies to reach a high safety bar. ... I urge all herbal supplements manufacturers and retailers to join GNC in working with my office to increase transparency and put the safety of their customers first.”

Contamination in herbal supplements could pose a significant danger to those who have food allergies or take medication – and there have been a number of examples of supplements endangering consumer safety. A 2013 outbreak of hepatitis that struck at least 72 people in 16 states was traced to a tainted supplement. Last October, an infant at a Connecticut hospital died when doctors gave the child a popular probiotic supplement that was later found to be contaminated with yeast.

Last month's study failed to detect identifiable genetic material for the plants depicted on the labels in most of the four retailers’ herbal supplement products. The study further detected DNA associated with plants not listed on the labels, as well as the presence of potential allergens.

In launching his investigation, the Attorney General raised concerns about the measures put in place by manufacturers and retailers to ensure the authenticity and purity of herbal supplements – which are taken by more than half of all American adults – and the sufficiency of federal standards regulating this $60 billion worldwide industry.

Earlier this month, joined by the Connecticut and Indiana state attorneys general and the Puerto Rico Secretary of Consumer Affairs, Schneiderman formed a coalition to further investigate the business practices of the herbal supplement industry.

While the Attorney General’s study found that GNC’s herbal supplements were produced in compliance with FDA regulations requiring the use of current good manufacturing practices, the investigation raised questions regarding the sufficiency of those requirements in relation to state consumer protection laws.

For instance, the FDA does not mandate the use of DNA-based technologies, like barcoding, to authenticate herbal supplements. Instead, the FDA allows companies to support their claims through other methodologies.

Given the existence of chemically-similar natural or synthetic substitutes, the Attorney General’s Office remains concerned that these alternate methodologies do not provide adequate assurances of the authenticity of herbal supplements. Current FDA regulations allow for low levels of inadvertent contamination, including from allergens, and there is no federal testing required to confirm that contamination falls below relevant safety thresholds.

DNA barcoding is a technique used to authenticate organic materials using unique reference sequences of DNA, which holds great promise as a scientific technique for the verification of plant species. GNC will commit to implementing this procedure during herbal supplement production, enhancing other aspects of its operations, and leading the industry to adopt the same standards, as follows:

“This agreement provides stronger consumer protections for these GNC supplements and highlights the relative weak federal standards," said Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, whose office is part of the multistate coalition. "Hopefully this will lead others in the supplement industry to follow suit and encourage the FDA to review the existing national standards that are currently in place that has resulted in attorneys general making efforts to ensure better consumer protections for dietary and herbal supplements."

I found pills in my son’s room. Now what? Roy came into the pharmacy and was obviously upset. “Look what I found in my son’s room,” Roy said to the pharmac...

Mr. Transmission sounds like a place that would really be top-level experts when it comes to transmissions. Or maybe it sounds like just another franchise ...

Mr. Transmission sounds like a place that would really be filled with top-level experts when it comes to transmissions. Or maybe it sounds like just another franchise operation whose local outlets vary widely in the quality of the service they deliver. 

Which of those descriptions sounds accurate to you? Before you form an opinion, you may want to consider the experiences of some consumers who've taken their cars to one of the Mr. Transmission outlets.

Brenda of Newport News, Va., drove into a Mr. Transmission but is wishing she had hit reverse instead:

Besides the problem of repairs that seem to slip out of gear, there's the matter of estimates and diagnoses. 

"Went in for free estimate," a Nashville consumer wrote in a ConsumerAffairs review. "Madison Mr. Transmission called later saying it would be $3,900 to fix my car (which is worth only $2,700) or I could pay them $595 to pick up my car NOT repaired. I said I was coming to pick it up and was not paying them because of the FREE ESTIMATE and they said they would have me arrested for theft of services."

"They told me the diagnostic was free and that I would only pay anything if I choose to put my transmission back in the car. ... Now they are threatening to keep my car unless I get work done with them," Morgan said. "I advised them that I don't want to have to file suit. They told me to take them to court."

If you suspect you may need transmission service sometime soon, it would pay you to review the reviews on our site and others carefully. While the idea of a franchise is that service is standardized, that's not always the case. Reading through the reviews you will find that some locations come up with many more negative reviews than others.

It's probably a good idea to keep it in neutral until you have shopped around a bit. A good starting point is to find a service center that displays the ASE shield, indicating that its technicians and mechanics have been certified by the National Institute for Automative Service Excellence. That's a more reliable credential than any franchise logo.   

What we know about student loan debt is sobering enough. "The average student loan debt for a U.S. graduate of the Class of 2013 was $28,400, according to...

"The average student loan debt for a U.S. graduate of the Class of 2013 was $28,400, according to the Project on Student Debt," said Deborah Figart of the School of Education, at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. "Each month, young adults are burdened with 25% to 30% or more of their net pay dedicated to student loan debt."

The total outstanding student loan debt in the U.S. has now surpassed $1.2 trillion. A September 2014 report by the credit bureau Experian found student loans in the U.S. had surged 84% since the Great Recession, with more than 40 million consumers having at least 1 student loan.

It's a debt burden that many recent graduates – and especially those who left school before graduating – cannot easily bear. In its Project on Student Debt, the Institute for College Access & Success reports that more than 650,000 federal student loan borrowers who began repaying their loans in 2011 had defaulted by 2013. The institute reported that students who attended for-profit colleges had a much higher average default rate than other types of schools: 19.1%, compared to 7.2% at nonprofit colleges.

Behind those statistics are specific horror stories. Figart says she has heard from graduates with tens of thousands of dollars in interest-accruing debt but are earning minimal wages. She's heard from law school graduates who can't get a license to practice, despite passing the necessary bar exams, because of a bad credit record.

She says there are restaurant school graduates hoping to become chefs but earning a fraction of what they owe for their degree peeling potatoes.

While the Experian report shows 40 million consumers with at least 1 student loan, Figart says the reality is actually worse. She says the average student has around 8 to 10 loans and the total student debt far outweighs the nation's total credit card bills.

The answer, Figart says, is giving prospective college students full and transparent advice before they take out loans for an education that will follow them from campus to the workplace. She says the federal "Know Before You Owe Private Student Loan Act" does not go far enough in several ways and so also fails to protect students from debt.

Figart has taught financial and economic literacy to students and teachers, covering subjects related to budgeting and consumer debt. And, while some states require courses to include a component related to budgeting and finance, she contends too many students are "falling through the cracks."

The solution? Figart says students must be counseled in topics like loan repayment options, average salaries for a wide range of jobs, suggested debt-to-income ratios, and the likely consequences of defaulting on loan repayments.

"In an economy where job security and job quality are increasingly elusive, students pursue higher education as an investment, not simply a means of personal fulfillment," she said. While financial counseling may dash the dreams of some or at least postpone those dreams, it could nevertheless save thousands of students from a fate worse than debt.”

Last week, a homeowners' association in Raleigh, North Carolina agreed to pay $20,000 to settle allegations that it discriminated against a disabled reside...

​Space is a big consideration when you decide you want to plant fruits and vegetables. When deciding, you may see rows of tomatoes in your head or raised b...

Space is a big consideration when you decide you want to plant fruits and vegetables. When deciding, you may see rows of tomatoes in your head or raised boxes with green peppers. But it just doesn't seem feasible in your yard. You might be thinking there just isn't enough room. In this case you just have to think outside the box and grow up.

Planting vertically can be an option. In fact you don't have to be out of room to plant this way. It's a wonderful way to cover those cement brick walls of your house. Envision this lush, greenery winding on the side of your house with pollinator-friendly flowers.

You can kill a bird with two stones. Of course dead birds aren't what we are after, but you will cover unattractive cement and be helping the environment at the same time. Living walls transform unused space into gardens where small fruits, vegetables and herbs can thrive. In the summer it can help with the air conditioning bill and in the winter it will help prevent heat loss. It's an extra form of insulation.

Trellis or ropes is an old school method for creating beautiful climbing gardens. There is a new generation of wall systems. They come equipped with water recycling methods as well as custom containers. They are a little bit more complex than the old standby of trellises but they offer convenience because they are so much easier to maintain.

Box planting doesn't have to be sitting in your yard. Areas that are no more than 3 feet by 3 feet are perfect for smaller living wall systems like a framed small box system. You are framing nature in a box. Utilizing growing capabilities on a wall or door can be easier to tackle for a newbie grower so you won't become overwhelmed.

Unless you decide weeding is the perfect therapy, it's just not the highlight of gardening and with wall gardening there is no tilling or weeding necessary. A pocket vertical gardening system can cover the same amount of ground with half of the work. Watering is easier as well and you won't need to use as much water because the water will drip down thus covering your plants in one fell swoop.

Fences can be another area that lacks a little luster and you can brighten them up with vertical plants. Most garden designs along walls feature ground plantings or shrubs with little or no vertical eye appeal. Growing hundreds of flowers or ornamental edible vegetable plants along large stretches of outdoor fencing can be an amazingly beautiful addition to a garden.

There is a buzz about wall gardens when you plant with bees in mind for pollinating. The pollinator movements concern is for food safety. Planting mostly with flowers to make it a haven for bees and other pollinators is important. 

If you are inspired to try a different type of gardening and just not quite sure how to climb the wall, check out these books:

"The Vertical Garden" by Patrick Blanc or a new book by Shawna Coronado  "Grow a Living Wall" . 

Travelers and convention-goers beware: if you've recently stayed in a hotel (especially an upscale one) or attended an event at a convention center and con...

Frequent flyers take note: on Sunday, British Airways confirmed that hackers had managed to successfully breach tens of thousands of the airline's frequent...

Frequent flyers take note: on Sunday, British Airways confirmed that hackers had managed to successfully breach tens of thousands of the airline's frequent flyer accounts.

Although the company says that the hackers were not able to view anyone's personal information, it has frozen everyone's accounts in the meanwhile, which means that even if your account remains unaffected by hackers, you still won't be able to see or use any of your earned miles for the duration.

A company spokesperson said in a statement that: “British Airways has become aware of some unauthorised activity in relation to a small number of frequent-flyer executive club accounts. This appears to have been the result of a third party using information obtained elsewhere on the internet, via an automated process, to try to gain access to some accounts.... we are not aware of any access to any subsequent information pages within accounts, including travel histories or payment-card details.”

The Guardian, reporting on the hacking, did not offer additional specific details but did say that, while it's not known who was behind this latest hacking, it's believed that the hacker or hackers used an automatic computer program to search for vulnerabilities in British Airways' online security systems.

Pending home sales in February shot to their highest level in 8 months as solid gains in the Midwest and West offset small declines in the Northeast and So...

Pending home sales shot to their highest level in 8 months in February as solid gains in the Midwest and West offset small declines in the Northeast and South.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) says its Pending Home Sales Index -- a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings -- rose 3.1% to 106.9 last month -- and is now 12.0% above February 2014 level.

The index is also at its highest level since June 2013, has increased year-over-year for 6 consecutive months and is above 100 -- considered an average level of activity -- for the 10th straight month.

Demand appears to be strengthening heading into the spring buying season. “Pending sales showed solid gains last month, driven by a steadily-improving labor market, mortgage rates hovering around 4% and the likelihood of more renters looking to hedge against increasing rents,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. “These factors bode well for the prospect of an uptick in sales in coming months. However, the underlying obstacle -- especially for first-time buyers -- continues to be the depressed level of homes available for sale.”

According to the NAR’s monthly Realtors Confidence Index, the percent share of first-time buyers increased slightly in February for the first time since November 2014 -- up to 29% from% percent in January.

“Several markets remain highly-competitive due to supply pressures, and realtors are reporting severe shortages of move-in ready and available properties in lower price ranges,” adds Yun. “The return of first-time buyers this year will depend on how quickly inventory shows up in the market.”

Total existing-homes sales this year are forecast to be around 5.25 million, according to the NAR, an increase of 6.4% from 2014. The national median existing-home price for all of this year is expected to rise by about 5.6%.

The good news for consumers is that state lawmakers in New York are moving forward with a proposed bill which, if passed into law, would be the first “righ...

Consumers had more money in their pockets in February, which led to an increase in personal outlays. The Commerce Department reports personal income rose ...

The Commerce Department reports personal income rose $58.6 billion, or 0.4% the third increase in a row. Disposable personal income (DPI) -- personal income less personal current taxes -- increased $54.2 billion, or 0.4%.

Personal consumption expenditures (PCE), or consumer spending, inched up 0.1% or $11.8 billion -- or 0.1% -- the first increase in 3 months.

Wages and salaries were up $23.9 billion in February, less than half of January's increase of $47.3 billion. Private wages and salaries made up $21.9 billion of that , while government compensation came to $2.1 billion. Pay raises for federal civilian personnel added an additional $0.6 billion.

Personal outlays -- PCE, personal interest payments, and personal current transfer payments – rose $14.2 billion last month after falling $25.4 billion in January.

Personal saving -- DPI less personal outlays -- was up more than $40 billion from January -- to $768.6 billion. The personal saving rate -- personal saving as a percentage of DPI -- was 5.8%, compared with 5.5% the month before.

General Motors is recalling 2,295 model year 2015 Buick Encore vehicles manufactured November 27, 2014, to February 24, 2015, and 2015 Chevrolet Trax vehic...

General Motors is recalling 2,295 model year 2015 Buick Encore vehicles manufactured November 27, 2014, to February 24, 2015, and 2015 Chevrolet Trax vehicles manufactured November 18, 2014, to February 17, 2015.

The steering column assembly housing may contact the power steering printed circuit board causing the circuit board to wear. The circuit board wear may cause a sudden loss of electric power steering assist, increasing the risk of a crash.

GM will notify owners, and dealers will inspect and replace the steering column assembly, as necessary, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

Owners may contact Buick customer service at 1-800-521-7300 or Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020. GM's number for this recall is 15168.

Toyota Motor Engineering & manufacturing is recalling 2,497 model year 2012-2014 Rav4 EV vehicles manufactured July 24, 2012, to August 29, 2014. Due to...

Toyota Motor Engineering & manufacturing is recalling 2,497 model year 2012-2014 Rav4 EV vehicles manufactured July 24, 2012, to August 29, 2014.

Due to a software issue within a component of the Electric Vehicle Traction Motor Assembly, the electric propulsion motor may shift to "neutral" resulting in a possible loss of drive power. A loss of drive power may increase the risk of a crash.

Toyota will notify owners beginning in April 2015. The remedy is still under development, but will be provided free of charge.

As Americans have become increasingly overweight and obese, there has been an explosion in the cases of type 2 diabetes. Unlike type 1 diabetes, type 2 is ...

As Americans have become increasingly overweight and obese, there has been an explosion in the cases of type 2 diabetes. Unlike type 1 diabetes, type 2 is largely tied to lifestyle risk factors.

In 2014 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated 29.1 million people – 9.3% of the U.S. population – had diabetes, a chronic condition that affects the way your body metabolizes sugar, or glucose.

Type 2 was once most common in adults – typically older adults – but the Mayo Clinic reports that it has increasingly begun to affect large numbers of children. The disease is managed through insulin drugs, as well as by eating well, exercising and maintaining a healthy weight.

In addition to the growing number of diabetes cases, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) estimates another 86 million American adults probably have prediabetes, meaning their blood sugar levels are higher than normal. More disturbing, the group says about 8 million Americans may have the disease and not know it.

How do you know if you or your child is at risk of developing type 2 diabetes? Being obese and living a sedentary lifestyle are 2 significant risk factors.

The ADA has developed a Diabetes Risk Test, an online app that allows users to measure their risks of developing the disease. The quiz asks users to answer short questions about weight, age, family history and other potential risk factors for diabetes.

The results are compiled into a numerical score that indicate either a low or high risk for developing type 2 diabetes. If the results suggest a high risk, the ADA urges you to speak with a health care provider to learn more about ways to either reduce the risk or delay the onset of the disease.

“Awareness is crucial in the effort to stop Diabetes,” said David Marrero, an executive at ADA. “We’re asking the public to take It. Share it. Step out. Take one minute to take the risk test today, share it with your loved ones and get started getting active by getting involved in your local Step Out event. The Diabetes Risk Test can be the first step in knowing your risk and helping us get closer to our vision of a life free of diabetes and all of its burdens.”

Doctors say you are most at risk of developing type 2 diabetes if you are overweight, sedentary, over the age of 45 and have a family history of diabetes. African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are at an increased risk, as are women who have had gestational diabetes or had babies weighing more than nine pounds at birth.

How do you know if you have the disease? Symptoms can include blurred vision, excessive thirst and frequent urination. The problem is, these symptoms may not show up at the onset of the disease.

ADA is trying to close what it sees as a diagnosis gap, getting treatment to patients earlier in the disease and heading off dangerous complicaitons, like heart disease, blindness, kidney disease, stroke, amputation and even death.

The group cites studies showing type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed by losing just 7% of body weight, regular physical activity and healthy eating.

March Madness has turned into a marketing bonanza for urologists. In the last few years, all across the country urologists have reported increases of as mu...

March Madness has turned into a marketing bonanza for urologists. In the last few years, all across the country urologists have reported increases of as much as 50 percent in the number of vasectomies scheduled in the days leading to the NCAA tournament.

Men have figured a way to take a four-day vacation that permits them to sit on the couch and eat pizza and nobody can ask them to lift anything.

It's a marketer's dream.  You could say it's cutting edge. Many urologists offer discounts during the tourney along with extended hours. They offer gift packs like T-shirts, food, sports memorabilia and even ice bags with your favorite team’s logo. That's pretty hard to turn down.

During last year's tournament, the Urology Associates of Cape Cod lured patients with pizza coupons and an ad featuring the tag line "Want to watch college basketball guilt-free?"

This year, a urology group in Austin, Texas, is sponsoring a "It's Hip to Get Snipped" Vas Madness promotion that includes extended office hours during games ("much less crowded than a sports bar" says one ad), continuous TV coverage in the lobby, free snacks, a pledge to have patients "ready for love" by the postseason and the icing on the cake: official doctor's orders prescribing three days on the couch.

Many people credit the seemingly odd concept to the Oregon Urology Institute which ran a “Snip City” radio ad in the late ’00s, encouraging men to have a little “snip-snip,” followed by “doctor’s orders to sit back and watch nonstop basketball.”

A vasectomy involves cutting and sealing the tubes in the reproductive system that carry sperm.  According to the Mayo Clinic, the surgery takes only about 15 to 20 minutes, but men are advised to limit their activity afterwards, and rest for one to two days.  Many men schedule the procedure on a Thursday or Friday so they can have the weekend to relax.

Vasectomies are the fourth most popular form of birth control, behind condoms, hormonal methods and tubal ligation, according to the American Urological Association.

Two new studies of highway accidents and driver behavior are shedding new light on distracted driving, in particular on the part of young drivers....

Two new studies of highway accidents and driver behavior are shedding new light on distracted driving, in particular on the part of young drivers.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that distracted driving was a contributing factor in nearly 60% of moderate-to-serious crashes involving teen drivers.

This was something of a surprise since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had previously estimated that distracted driving contributed to only 14% of accidents involving teen-age drivers.

According to the study drivers were seen engaging in some type of potentially distracting behavior leading up to 58% of all crashes that were examined. Two distractions played the biggest roles: in 14.9% of the crashes the driver got distracted while attending to a passenger. In 11.9% of the accidents, he or she was using a cell phone.

Cell phone use was significantly more likely in cases where the vehicle left the road. Overall, males and females were equally likely to be engaged in potentially distracting behavior. However, females were more likely than males to have been using a cell phone, engaged in personal grooming, or singing or dancing to music prior to the crash.

A second study, sponsored by Erie Insurance, also points to a wide range of distracting behaviors behind the wheel that have the potential to lead to traffic accidents. To gather its data the study asked subjects whether they engaged in certain behaviors.

Besides the obvious phone distractions of texting and talking, other distractions people admitted to ranged from public displays of affection to personal grooming to taking selfies.

"A distraction is anything that causes a driver to take their eyes off the road, their hands off the wheel, or their mind off their primary task of driving safely," said Doug Smith, senior vice president of personal lines at Erie Insurance. "Our survey found drivers unfortunately are engaging in a wide range of distracting and potentially dangerous behaviors."

For example, 15% admitted to engaging in a romantic encounter, with public displays of affection, with someone while driving. An equal number admitted to combing or styling their hair while behind the wheel.

Believe it or not 9% said they had changed clothes while driving. Eight percent said they had put on make-up and 4% said they had flossed or brushed their teeth while driving.

Other distractions showing up in the survey include putting in contact lenses or eye drops; curling eyelashes; scratching off lottery tickets; and even playing the guitar while driving.

When it comes to texting behind the wheel, there appears to be pronounced regional differences. Drivers in the south are most likely to text while driving, with 35% admitting to having done it. However, only 24% of drivers in the northeast admit to texting behind the wheel.

Overall, the Erie survey suggests texting and driving remains a significant problem, with 30% of drivers saying they've done it and 75% saying they have seen other drivers do it.

The survey found that texting while driving also remains a serious problem, with about one-third of drivers saying they themselves have done it and three-quarters saying they've seen others do it.

"FTC Credit Solutions" sounds pretty official, like something affiliated with the government. And that, says the Federal Trade Commission, commonly known a...

"FTC Credit Solutions" sounds pretty official, like something affiliated with the government. And that, says the Federal Trade Commission, commonly known as the FTC, is exactly the problem.

At the FTC's request, a federal court has issued a temporary restraining order, closing the company down and seizing its assets.

The FTC alleges that defendants deceived Hispanic consumers in the Los Angeles area by claiming to be affiliated with or licensed by the Federal Trade Commission, falsely promising that they could remove negative information from consumers’ credit reports, and guaranteeing consumers a credit score of 700 or above within six months or less.

“Peddling lies under the name of the Federal Trade Commission to target consumers who are in difficult financial situations is appalling,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “This scam used the promise of a fresh start to hurt consumers when they most needed help, so we are pleased the court has taken a first step to ending it for good.”

The FTC’s complaint quotes a radio advertisement hosted by defendant Guillermo Leyes, in which he falsely stated that FTC Credit Solutions had a license from the FTC. 

According to the FTC’s filings, in undercover calls placed to the company by FTC investigators posing as consumers seeking debt repair services, defendant Maria Bernal, an employee of the company, said that the company “works under the Federal Trade Commission, which is a law that was signed by the President in 2010.” She also falsely promised that the company could “delete” and “get [the investigator] a pardon” for $19,000 in debt.

The FTC further alleges that the company unlawfully charged consumers fees in advance of providing the promised credit repair services.  The company also sent the major credit bureaus letters with false information on behalf of numerous consumers.

If you're a cell phone customer with a limited data plan, getting notifications when you're about to exceed your data limits should help you save money in ...

If you're a cell phone customer with a limited data plan, getting notifications when you're about to exceed your data limits should help you save money in the long run, right?

A recent study from faculty at the University of Toronto and Boston College suggests that, paradoxically, the exact opposite might apply. Customers who received alerts to avoid “bill shock” (from unexpected charges) spent, on average, $33 per month more on their phone plans than customers who received no such messages:

…. such warnings can be more costly, because cellphone companies adjust their plans and fees accordingly to maintain profits. While some consumers do benefit, others either decrease or stop usage, end up with more expensive plans or continue to underestimate their usage and choose the wrong plan.

Matthew Osborne, a professor at the University of Toronto Mississauga, and Michael Grubb, a professor at Boston College, co-wrote the study, which is published in a recent issue of American Economic Review. The two professors reached their conclusion after they analyzed billing data from a group of student cellphone customers between 2002 and 2004.

Granted, the cell phone market has changed considerably in the decade-plus since that data was first generated, and it's also possible that the behavior of student cell phone customers might not necessarily apply to cell phone customers as a whole.

Even so, the researchers say, verification tests suggest that bill shock alerts can still result in higher bills for customers – which in turn suggests that policies hoping to help customers by requiring such alert notices might paradoxically have the exact opposite effect.

“Perhaps a better avenue is policy that helps consumers do a better job of forecasting their usage,” Osborne said.

You may not have been following the Perils of Pauline decline and fall of Radio Shack as it struggles through the final stages of bankruptcy but there's on...

You may not have been following the Perils of Pauline decline and fall of Radio Shack as it struggles through the final stages of bankruptcy but there's one element worth noting: if you've been a Radio Shack customer, your data may be among the assets being sold off.

Radio Shack has about 13 million customer emails in its files as well as the names and addresses of about 65 million customers. It may also have information on those customers' shopping habits, interests and preferences -- data that has quite a bit of value to marketers who covet such information.

But not everyone thinks that data should be for sale to the highest bidder or to anyone else, among them several state attorneys general.

“When a company collects private customer data on the condition that it will not be resold, it is the company’s responsibility to uphold their end of the bargain,” said New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman. “My office will continue to monitor Radio Shack’s bankruptcy sale and whether it includes auctioning off private customer data. We are committed to taking appropriate action to protect New York consumers.”

We will not use any personal information beyond what is necessary to assist us in delivering to you the services you have requested.

We may send personally identifiable information about you to other organizations when: We have your consent to share the information (you will be provided the opportunity to opt-out if you desire).”  - RadioShack Privacy Policy, 3/25/2015

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton added a warning that selling the information could be not only wrong but downright illegal.

"RadioShack gave customers explicit assurances it would not sell their personal information, and that company’s attempts to sell this data would not only be a direct violation of the terms of its own privacy policies, but also a clear violation of Texas law. We will vigorously fight to protect consumers’ personally identifiable information," Paxton said.

At the moment, hedge fund Standard General appears to be the "winner" in the bidding for Radio Shack's assets. It has said it will try to keep about 1,740 stores open in conjunction with Sprint, which would operate some of the stores.

A toothbrush used to be a fairly simple device -- some bristles and a handle. But like everything, this rudimentary implement has become more complex and, ...

A class action lawsuit claims a doorway pull-up bar sold by Implus sporting goods can detach from the door frame, throwing the exerciser to the ground....

A class action lawsuit claims a doorway pull-up bar sold by Implus sporting goods can detach from the door frame, throwing the exerciser to the ground.

Lead plaintiff Matthew Weininger claims that "top leverage doorway bars" are defectively designed and can injure or kill users.

The bars are installed over the top of a doorframe and allegedly use the exerciser's weight to keep the bar in place as the bar pushes against the wall in both directions, Courthouse News Service reported.

Weininger says that, to maintain their grip on the door frame, the bars require the user to maintain a completely vertical position, something he says most people can't do since the body's natural inclination is for the legs to swing forward on the way up and backward on the way down.

The government's third estimate of fourth quarter real gross domestic product (GDP) -- the value of the production of goods and services in the U.S., adjus...

The government's third estimate of fourth quarter real gross domestic product (GDP) -- the value of the production of goods and services in the U.S., adjusted for price changes -- is in and it looks just like the second estimate.

According to the Commerce Department, GDP increased at an annual rate of 2.2% -- the same reading we saw a month ago in the second estimate. By way of comparison, the economy grew at a 5.0% annual rate in the third quarter.

While there was no change in the bottom line, this latest estimate is based on more complete source data than were available last month. While there were larger increases in exports and in personal consumption expenditures (PCE) than previously estimated, the change in private inventories was smaller.

The increase in real GDP in the fourth quarter reflected positive contributions from PCE, nonresidential fixed investment, exports, state and local government spending, and residential fixed investment. These were were partly offset by declines in federal government spending and private inventory investment. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, increased.

The deceleration in real GDP growth primarily reflected an upturn in imports, a downturn in federal government spending, a deceleration in nonresidential fixed investment, and a larger decrease in private inventory investment that were partly offset by accelerations in PCE and in state and local government spending.

The price index for gross domestic purchases, which measures prices paid by U.S. residents, slipped 0.1% in the fourth quarter -- the same decrease as in the second estimate following a 1.4% increase in the third quarter.

Excluding food and energy prices, the price index for gross domestic purchases -- the “core” -- rose 0.7%, compared with a third-quarter increase of 1.6%.

Profits from current production plunged $30.4 billion in the fourth quarter, after soaring $64.5 billion in the third.

Viz Cattle of Irvine, Calif., is recalling approximately 6,082 pounds of flap meat. While the product does not list ingredients on the label, it does no...

While the product does not list ingredients on the label, it does not contain any undeclared allergens or ingredients of public health concern.

The following flap meat beef product, produced between February 19 and February 26, 2015, and March 2 and March 4, 2015, is being recalled:

The recalled product bears the shipping marks “MXLS0020” or “MXLS0014” and “TIF 120” inside the Mexican Mark of Inspection. They were shipped for institutional use to locations in California.

The problem was discovered during a routine label review when an inspector noticed that the product lacked an ingredient statement.

La Terra Fina is expanding its recall of products containing organic spinach to include these products that were manufactured on the same production equipm...

La Terra Fina is expanding its recall of products containing organic spinach to include these products that were manufactured on the same production equipment on the same day as the product in the original recall.

The following recalled products were distributed to Costco stores in the Northwest, Midwest, Northeast and Southeast regions and Smart & Final stores along the West Coast only:

Consumers who purchased the recalled products should discard or return them the place of purchase for a full refund.

BMW of North America is recalling 43,426 model year 2005-2010 R1200GS and R1200RT, 2006-2010 R1200GS Adventure, 2007-2010 R1200R, 2007 R1200S and K1200R Sp...

BMW of North America is recalling 43,426 model year 2005-2010 R1200GS and R1200RT, 2006-2010 R1200GS Adventure, 2007-2010 R1200R, 2007 R1200S and K1200R Sport, 2005-2007 R1200ST, 2008-2009 HP2 Megamoto, 2006 HP2 Enduro, 2008-2010 HP2 Sport, 2005-2008 K1200S, 2006-2008 K1200R, K1200GT, 2009-2011 K1300S, 2010-2011 K1300R, and 2009-2010 K1300GT motorcycles.

The rear wheel mounting flange may crack if the rear wheel mounting bolts are overtightened. This could loosen the mounting bolts and the rear wheel may not remain secured to the motorcycle, causing a loss of stability and increasing the risk of a crash.

BMW will notify owners, and dealers will replace the existing aluminum rear wheel flange with a steel one, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin April 21, 2015.

Specialized Bicycle Components of Morgan Hill, Calif., is recalling about 8,300 Aerobars bicycle handlebars. The bolt used to affix the Aerobars to the b...

Specialized Bicycle Components of Morgan Hill, Calif., is recalling about 8,300 Aerobars bicycle handlebars.

This recall involves carbon and alloy Aerobars sold individually and with model years 2012 through 2015 Specialized Shiv bicycles and model year 2013 Specialized Transition Apex bicycles.

The carbon Aerobar was sold in black with a white Specialized logo on the top side of the handlebar, and the alloy model was sold in black with no markings.

The Aerobars, manufactured in Taiwan, were sold at authorized Specialized Bicycle dealers nationwide and online at www.specialized.com from November 2011 to February 2015 for between $200 and $575.

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled Aerobars and contact Specialized Bicycle Components to receive replacement extension mounting hardware.

Consumers may contact Specialized Bicycle Components at (800) 722-4423 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. PT Monday through Friday.

In the 1960s, when American consumers first began to worry about their waistlines, food manufacturers started using more of the artificial sweetener saccha...

In the 1960s, when American consumers first began to worry about their waistlines, food manufacturers started using more of the artificial sweetener saccharin, as a sugar substitute.

It wasn't long before scientists were issuing warnings. Saccharin, they said, was linked to bladder cancer in rats.

It turns out it wasn't, but it took about 30 years for other scientists to reach that conclusion. Today, saccharin is still a widely used artificial sweetener and now, in something of an irony, might turn out to be an effective weapon against some types of cancer.

In information presented this week at the American Chemical Society (ACS) meeting in Denver, researchers shared tantalizing findings that suggest this popular sugar substitute could potentially play a role in the development of drugs capable of combating aggressive, difficult-to-treat cancers with fewer side effects.

“It never ceases to amaze me how a simple molecule, such as saccharin — something many people put in their coffee everyday — may have untapped uses, including as a possible lead compound to target aggressive cancers,” said Robert McKenna, of the University of Florida. “This result opens up the potential to develop a novel anti-cancer drug that is derived from a common condiment that could have a lasting impact on treating several cancers.”

Without getting too technical, the scientists working with saccharin found it binds to and deactivates a protein found some some of the more aggressive forms of cancer, such as in the breast, lung, liver, kidney, pancreas and brain.

The researchers believe a saccharin-based drug could slow the growth of these cancers and maybe make them less resistant to chemo or radiation therapies.

The destructive protein attacked by saccharine is very similar to other substances that the body needs to keep cells healthy. Previous drug candidates have all damaged the healthy proteins as well as the cancer-causing one.

But in previous research, scientists at the University of Florence, Italy, discovered that saccharin inhibits the actions of the harmful protein but not the 14 other carbonic anhydrase proteins that are vital to human survival.

Building on this finding, a team of researchers at Griffith University, Australia, created a compound in which a molecule of glucose was chemically linked to saccharin.

This small change turned out to have big effects. Not only did it reduce the amount of saccharin needed to inhibit the harmful protein, the compound was 1,000 times more likely to bind to the enzyme than saccharin.

Using X-ray crystallography, McKenna and his students Jenna Driscoll and Brian Mahon are investigating how saccharin-based compounds might be tweaked to enhance their anti-cancer treatment potential.

McKenna’s team is currently testing the effects of saccharin and saccharin-based compounds on breast and liver cancer cells. If successful, these experiments could lead to animal studies.

Graco Children’s Products has been fined $10 million after it failed to provide what the Transportation Department (DOT) calls “timely notification” of a d...

Older Jeep Grand Cherokees are not defective, even though 270 deaths have been attributed to fires caused by exploding gas tanks, according to Sergio March...

Older Jeep Grand Cherokees are not defective, even though 270 deaths have been attributed to fires caused by exploding gas tanks, according to Sergio Marchionne, the CEO of FDA US LLC, the company that was once called Chrysler.

Marchionne testified earlier this week in the trial of a wrongful-death lawsuit brought by the parents of Remi Walden, 4, killed when the family's 1999 Grand Cherokee burst into flames after it was rear-ended in 2012.

This has been Marchionne's position throughout the controversy surrounding older Jeep Cherokee and Liberty models that were built with the gas tank behind the rear axle, making it prone to damage in rear-end collisions. 

Way back in 2011, consumer crusader Ralph Nader called the Jeeps "a modern day Pinto for soccer moms with a fuel tank located dangerously behind the rear axle in the crush zone of an impact." The Pinto also had its fuel tank mounted behind the axle and was prone to fires in rear-end accidents.

Nader called on Chrysler to recall the Jeeps before more lives were lost but nothing was done. Chrysler denied the Jeeps were unsafe and federal safety regulators continued to study the issue. 

In his videotaped testimony, Marchionne said he is "not an engineer" and had "no way of knowing" whether more recent Jeeps, with the gas tanks in front of the rear axle, are safer. 

Yet, although he is not an engineer, Marchionne negotiated a non-recall solution to the issue in a secret meeting with outgoing federal safety officials at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.

As a result of that secret, off-the-record meeting, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) agreed to let Chrysler install trailer hitches on the affected Jeeps, the idea being that the hitch will protect the gas tanks from impacts, even though no engineering studies were presented to support that theory.

"We call on NHTSA to do crash tests of Chrysler's proposed remedy, just as it did with Ford's proposed remedy for the Pinto in 1978, to determine that the modified Jeeps meet the present Safety Standard just as the Pinto's had to the meet the new Safety Standard in 1978," said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety. 

Instead, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood approved the deal and "retired," embarking on a lucrative career as a lobbyist and public affairs executive.

The non-recall, meanwhile, has been going about as smoothly as the years-long effort to get Chrysler to take responsibility for the problem. Consumers have been complaining that dealers say they don't have the parts they need to make the modifications, even though the parts in question consist of a simple trailer hitch and even though Chrysler has been urging consumers to bring their Jeeps in promptly to have the hitch installed.

Consumers who do that and who pay attentiion may be surprised, however. We heard recently from a Jeep owner named Jeff who had the modification performed but isn't convinced it's much of a safety solution.

"A communication from Chrysler emphatically states that this assembly NOT be used for towing, since no wiring harness and/or other heavy-duty components are not included," Jeff said.

"This poses a few questions. One, why did the recall take so long to implement since we are using already designed stock parts? Two, if the towing package cannot be used, why not bolt on some structural steel and be done? Three, if a future owner doesn't know that the hitch is not to be used, what prevents him from using it and possibly damaging the vehicle?" he asked.

Once almost exclusively a feature of for-profit colleges, online degree programs have since flourished at non-profit private and public universities. As a ...

Once almost exclusively a feature of for-profit colleges, online degree programs have since flourished at non-profit private and public universities. As a result, a college education has recently become more flexible and more affordable.

More flexible in that a college student can work full or part time while completing their degree from the comfort of their living room, doing the course work at any hour of the day or night.

Affordable, in that the competition between colleges and universities for online students has kept tuition hikes in check.

So which online college is best? There are any number of ratings services but BestCollegeReviews.com has just reviewed 400 online colleges and picked its top 25.

It used three criteria to measure the colleges and universities – criteria that consumers might also use in selecting a school.

First, the reviewers looked at affordability, measuring the average cost of attending one semester, taking 15 credit hours.

Second, they assessed flexibility, counting the number of bachelor's degree-granting programs students may enter. A secondary consideration – the flexibility with which students may obtain a degree.

Finally, the reviewers measured academic rigor and support, looking at the strength and reputation of the online program’s parent institution as well as the range of support services for online college students.

When all was said in done, Northern Arizona University topped the list. It won praise for its 45 bachelor’s level degrees that can be completed entirely online.

It was also one of the most affordable schools on the list with an estimated per-semester cost of only $2,500. Students may take an unlimited number of courses online for a six month period. There are no lab or course fees, and all materials required by the courses are available online.

Arizona State University was second on the list. It's far from the least expensive school, but won praise for its 47 bachelor’s degree programs that are fully online. There are 80-plus programs when specializations and non-bachelor’s level programs are included.

Degree offerings are comprehensive, ranging from art, business, communications, culture, education, engineering, health, language, to STEM. There are 6 start dates available per year, allowing students to start on their degree when it works best for them. The $7672 per semester tuition is considered a good value for the education and flexibility it provides.

Granite State College places third on the list, with 29 fully online bachelor’s level degrees that may be completed at full-time, part-time, or accelerated rates. Program offerings are comprehensive, ranging from digital and social media, to nursing, to education. Its tuition is the 10th most affordable, coming in at $4,675 per semester.

Tea for two and two for tea, one for my dog and one for me. That's not quite how the song goes but it's the dog version. A new beverage is on the market fo...

Tea for two and two for tea, one for my dog and one for me. That's not quite how the song goes but it's the dog version. A new beverage is on the market for your dog and it’s full of natural ingredients -- veggies, whole grains, herbs and spices. It's quite simply tea for your dog.

Heather Norris, an entrepreneur, has developed a tea specifically for dogs. Yes for dogs. It's called "Tea For Spot.” This year at the Global Pet Expo in Orlando, it was named one of the “12 Hottest New Pet Products” by Dogster Magazine.

Tea For Spot is 100% caffeine-free, a proprietary blend of organic tea, herbs, spices and all-natural ingredients touted as safe and dog-friendly by nutritionists and holistic practitioners.

The tea comes in four different flavors -- Daily Brew, No Worries Mutt, Leaps & Bounds and Kissably Canine.  

“It’s been very well received,” Norris says. “Most of the health benefits of herbal remedies will transfer from humans to dogs. It’s really a matter of getting someone to take a chance and give it a try. The blends have a medicinal quality from a calming blend to ease anxiety, to joint and bone health for active dogs, to a good old fashioned freshener for when Fido’s breath has turned sour.

They all sound good, full of chamomile, Valerian Root and Tumeric to name a few. It's when you get to the bone meal that your palate goes from scrumptious to thinking, well, maybe the dog will like this.

“Tea For Spot” was a collaboration between friends. It started with Norris who is a tea lover herself and believes in the benefits that tea has to offer.

“One day in 2007, the idea of tea for dogs popped into my head. I started mixing up blends. But then, with the demands of life and family, the idea of tea for dogs was put aside, it sat. But I couldn’t get it out of my head,” she said, according to a report in the the Hamlet Hub. 

A few years later she met a friend and fellow dog lover who was searching for a business opportunity. Norris shared her idea and a cup of passion brewed a full blown pot of tea. They put their tea cups together and created in 2014 “Tea for Spot”. Norris showcased it at the 2015 Global Pet Expo to much enthusiasm and is pleased to see the cute little tins of dog tea that are starting to make their way into boutique pet stores across the country.

A homeowners' association in Chula Vista, California, has been allegedly imposing $50 fines on families whose children are caught playing in outdoor common...

Bad news for Android phone users: security researchers at Palo Alto Networks have discovered a vulnerability they've dubbed “Android Installer Hijacking” i...

Bad news for Android phone users: security researchers at Palo Alto Networks have discovered a vulnerability they've dubbed “Android Installer Hijacking” in Google's Android operating systems, and even after the release of a security patch almost half of all Android handsets remain vulnerable to it.

The vulnerability seems to apply when you either download apps from third-party app stores, or click on ads from a mobile advertisement library. If you have an Android OS but have only ever downloaded apps from the official Google Play store, it appears you have nothing to worry about, at least where this particular threat is concerned.

According to Palo Alto researcher Zhi Xu, the vulnerability has been patched in Android versions 4.3_r0.9 and later, but devices with Android 4.3 remain vulnerable – which corresponds to roughly 49.9 percent of currently monitored handsets, according to Google estimates.

Xu wrote that Android Installer Hijacking is essentially a Time-Of-Check To Time-Of-Use vulnerability (TOCTTOU, pronounced “Tock Too”), which “allows an attacker to modify or replace a seemingly benign Android app with malware, without user knowledge.”

TOCTTOU is basically the malware version of what pre-computer con artists might've called “the old switcharoo.” Basically, before an app can be installed, it must pass the permissions process: your phone's security program inspects the file to make sure it's valid. And it is, so the app gets permission to be installed on your device – except that in the nanosecond between “granting permission to the file” and “installing it,” TOCTTOU lets the hacker pull the old switcharoo, replacing the valid permission-granted file for a invalid and malware-riddled one.

So what happens if your phone falls for this particular TOCTTOU? Your standard malware-infection problems – in this instance, “full access to a compromised device, including usernames, passwords, and sensitive data,” according to Palo Alto.

If you have a device with an Android OS, and you've downloaded third-party apps (as opposed to apps acquired through the Google Play store), Palo Alto released a vulnerability scanner app in the Google Play store, and posted a tutorial video for it here.

A large decline in initial jobless claims sent the total well below the 300,000 level last week. Figures released by the Labor Department (DOL) put the to...

Figures released by the Labor Department (DOL) put the total of first-time applications for state unemployment benefits at a seasonally adjusted 282,000 during the week ending March 21, down 9,000 from the previous week.

The consensus estimate of economists surveyed by Briefing.com was for a much smaller decline -- to 290,000.

Bankrate.com Chief Washington Correspondent Mark Hamrick points out that the level of new claims for unemployment benefits has remained at a level underscoring that layoffs are not the chief irritant for the U.S. economy. “As hiring has accelerated over the past few years, we've seen a steady decline in the unemployment rate.” he said. “Despite some concern about another soft patch in the U.S. economy this winter, the level of jobless claims indicates the job market is remaining in largely the same trajectory as seen before.”

After 3 weeks above the 300,000 level, the 4-week moving average was down 7,750 -- to 297,000. The measure strips out the volatility found in the initial claims data, and is considered by analysts to be a more accurate gauge of the labor market.

Millions of consumers wind up in a cycle of debt when they're unable to repay their payday loans, car title loans nd other high-cost loans. The Consumer Fi...

Millions of consumers wind up in a cycle of debt when they're unable to repay their payday loans, car title loans nd other high-cost loans. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a proposal that it thinks would improve the situation.

The bureau is proposing rules that would require lenders to be sure consumers have the ability to repay their loans before loaning them the money. The proposed rule would also ban lenders from trying to raid consumers' bank accounts in ways that tend to rack up excessive fees. 

The proposed rules would apply to payday loans, vehicle title loans, deposit advance products, and certain high-cost installment loans and open-end loans.

“Today we are taking an important step toward ending the debt traps that plague millions of consumers across the country,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Too many short-term and longer-term loans are made based on a lender’s ability to collect and not on a borrower’s ability to repay. The proposals we are considering would require lenders to take steps to make sure consumers can pay back their loans. These common sense protections are aimed at ensuring that consumers have access to credit that helps, not harms them.”

"Payday loans represent an important source of credit for millions of Americans who live from paycheck to paycheck," said Dennis Shaul, CEO of the Community Financial Services Association, an industry group, in a prepared statement. "The traditional banking system alone does not adequately serve 24 million underbanked households, according to the FDIC. More than 19 million households choose to use payday loans each year for their credit needs."

“The evidence shows that payday loans are easy to get into and hard to get out of,” said Tom Feltner, director of financial services at the Consumer Federation of America.  “An objective assessment of a borrower’s ability to repay a loan based on their income and expenses promises to end the financial hardship that inevitably follows abusive lending.”

The CFPB said it is publishing an outline of its proposals today in preparation for convening a Small Business Review Panel to gather feedback from small lenders, which is the next step in the rulemaking process.

The proposals under consideration cover both short-term and longer-term credit products that are often marketed heavily to financially vulnerable consumers.

The CFPB said it recognizes consumers’ need for affordable credit but is concerned that the practices often associated with these products – such as failure to underwrite for affordable payments, repeatedly rolling over or refinancing loans, holding a security interest in a vehicle as collateral, accessing the consumer’s account for repayment, and performing costly withdrawal attempts – can trap consumers in debt. These debt traps also can leave consumers vulnerable to deposit account fees and closures, vehicle repossession, and other financial difficulties.

The proposals under consideration provide two different approaches to eliminating debt traps – prevention and protection. Under the prevention requirements, lenders would have to determine at the outset of each loan that the consumer is not taking on unaffordable debt.

Under the protection requirements, lenders would have to comply with various restrictions designed to ensure that consumers can affordably repay their debt. Lenders could choose which set of requirements to follow. 

Twin City Foods of Stanwood, Wash., is recalling the following spinach products, which may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes: Cadia Organic Cut ...

Twin City Foods of Stanwood, Wash., is recalling the following spinach products, which may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes:

Consumers who purchased the affected products should not consume them and immediately return them to the store where purchased for a full refund.

Consumers with questions may contact Mark Hubbard at (804) 385-3772 Monday through Friday, between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. ET, or by email at mhubbard@mwcllc.com.

General Motors is recalling 50,236 model year 2011-2013 Volts manufactured August 25, 2010, to June 26, 2013. If the driver exits the vehicle without tur...

General Motors is recalling 50,236 model year 2011-2013 Volts manufactured August 25, 2010, to June 26, 2013.

If the driver exits the vehicle without turning off the electrical system, the battery may drain low enough that the gasoline engine will automatically start itself to recharge the electric battery. If the engine runs for an extended period of time in an enclosed space, there may be a build up of carbon monoxide, increasing the risk of personal injury.

GM will notify owners, and dealers will update the engine management software to limit the time that the stationary vehicle can be left in the ON position, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020. GM's number for this recall is 14617.

Superior Foods of Watsonville, Calif., is recalling 8,475 Cases Of Simply Balanced 10-oz packages of Frozen Organic Chopped Spinach. The product may be co...

Superior Foods of Watsonville, Calif., is recalling 8,475 Cases Of Simply Balanced 10-oz packages of Frozen Organic Chopped Spinach.

Simply Balanced Organic Chopped Spinach 10-oz steam in bag; DPCI # (Department, Class, Item.) 270-00-0663; UPC Code - 85239 00663;

Consumers who have any of the product identified are urged to dispose it, or return it to the store where it was purchased for an exchange or full refund.

Consumers with questions may call 1-866-672-0811 Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

Linon Home Decor Products of Mineola, N.Y., is recalling about 3,300 foldable outdoor patio chairs. The chair can unexpectedly tip over when a consumer s...

The chair can unexpectedly tip over when a consumer sits on the edge of the seat, posing a fall hazard.

The firm has received reports of 4 consumers who have fallen from tipped-over chairs, including 2 reports of minor injuries.

This recall involves foldable outdoor patio chairs sold individually and as a table and two chair bistro set. The teak stained wood chairs measure 22 inches wide by 36 inches tall and have spaced wood slats on the back and seat. The foldable table measures 28 inches round by 28 inches tall.

The chairs, manufactured in Vietnam, were sold at Bed Bath & Beyond, Daily Fair, Home Goods, Marshalls, Old Time Pottery and T.J. Maxx stores nationwide from February 2014, to February 2015, for about $30 for the chair and $150 for the set.

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled folding chairs and return the product to the store where purchased for a full refund.

Consumers may contact Linon Home Decor Products at (800) 262-1852 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday.

It's no secret that renting a home has gotten more expensive over the last six years. Even with millions of foreclosed properties snapped up by investors a...

It's no secret that renting a home has gotten more expensive over the last six years. Even with millions of foreclosed properties snapped up by investors and turned into rentals, demand has outpaced supply, putting upward pressure on rents.

Since consumer income has been stagnant, or grown very little during that time, rents have grown less and less affordable.

“In the past five years, a typical rent rose 15% while the income of renters grew by only 11%,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors (NAR). “The gap has worsened in many areas as rents continue to climb and the accelerated pace of hiring has yet to give workers a meaningful bump in pay.”

NAR says it reviewed all the data on income growth, housing costs and changes in the share of renter and owner-occupied households over the past five years in metro areas across the U.S. Yun says the results show renters are being squeezed in many metro areas, including New York, Seattle and San Jose, Calif. He says the situation could get worse unless there is a meaningful increase in home construction.

More people are renting because they aren't buying. Though recent statistics show home sales are slowly rising, they are nowhere near the level they were before the housing market crash.

Yun says consumers who were financially able to buy a home in recent years were insulated from rising housing costs since most take out 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with established monthly payments. Their net worths have risen, albeit slightly, because of upticks in home values and declining mortgage balances.

“Meanwhile, current renters seeking relief and looking to buy are facing the same dilemma: home prices are rising much faster than their incomes,” said Yun. “With rents taking up a larger chunk of household incomes, it’s difficult for first-time buyers – especially in high-cost areas – to save for an adequate down payment.”

In recent months the inventory of homes, both existing and new, has been on the decline. Not only are there fewer to choose from, even if you wanted to buy one, sellers have more leverage and can ask more for their property. Yun believes a building spurt could help both buyers and renters.

But home builders have been hesitant since the housing crash to add supply because of rising construction costs, limited access to credit from local lenders and concerns that there may not be that many younger buyers.

Yun estimates housing starts need to rise to 1.5 million, which is the historical average. However, housing starts have averaged about 766,000 per year over the past seven years. Still, he's hopeful builders will at least target those markets where rents have risen the fastest.

“Many of the metro areas that have experienced the highest rent increases are popular to millennials because of their employment opportunities,” said Yun. “With a stronger economy and labor market, it’s critical to increase housing starts for entry-level buyers or else many will face affordability issues if their incomes aren’t compensating for the gains in home prices.”

There are some teachers who give nearly everybody an A or a B. Car safety advocate Jack Gillis thinks the federal government is doing the same thing with c...

You've known for years now about the ever-growing presence of license plate scanners that record and store the realtime movements of essentially all vehicl...

You've known for years now about the ever-growing presence of license plate scanners that record and store the realtime movements of essentially all vehicles on public roadways where scanners are in use —either fixed-position scanners recording passersby on various roads, or roving scanners attached to police cars and other vehicles.

Perhaps you've even pondered the privacy implications of having all this information stored in a publicly accessible database, and wondered just how much personal information might be gleaned from these public records.

Cyrus Farivar from ArsTechnica wondered the same, and this week published the analysis of a public records request he'd filed with the city of Oakland, California, to see the results of the 33 automated license plate readers (LPRs) the police department operates throughout the city:

… we obtained the entire LPR dataset of the Oakland Police Department (OPD), including more than 4.6 million reads of over 1.1 million unique plates between December 23, 2010 and May 31, 2014. …

After analyzing this data with a custom-built visualization tool, Ars can definitively demonstrate the data's revelatory potential. Anyone in possession of enough data can often—but not always—make educated guesses about a target’s home or workplace, particularly when someone’s movements are consistent (as with a regular commute).

For instance, during a meeting with an Oakland city council member, Ars was able to accurately guess the block where the council member lives after less than a minute of research using his license plate data. ...

Indeed, it doesn't require Sherlock Holmes to deduce that the address where a person's car is parked overnight every night just might be where that person lives, nor to figure out that the daytime address where the car goes every Monday through Friday might correspond to that person's place of employment.

But, for all the ways this might destroy the privacy of everyday innocent people, at least it could help catch a few criminals too, right? A few criminals, yes. Very few:

LPR collection began in Oakland back in 2006, and an early OPD analysis showed that the overwhelming majority of the data collected was not a “hit.” In April 2008, the OPD reported to the city council that after using just four LPR units for 16 months, it had read 793,273 plates and had 2,012 hits—a “hit rate” of 0.2 percent. In other words, nearly all of the data collected by an LPR system concerns people not currently under suspicion.

Despite this, in that same report, then-OPD Deputy Chief Dave Kozicki (who has since retired) dubbed the LPR setup an “overwhelming success.” Today, OPD's LPR hit rate has fallen slightly, to just 0.16 percent.

The privacy-invading potential of license plate scanners has been an issue in California (among other states) for awhile now. Last May, California state senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) conducted an experiment to demonstrate the invasive potential of the scanners: he hired a private detective to track his wife's whereabouts and habits. The detective never had to actually “track” her; he merely paid to acquire her license plate records to get a record of where and when she drove and parked her car — including a particular gym 100 miles from her home.

Other public-record surveillance data is even more intrusive. A man in San Leandro filed a public-records request and learned that, in addition to more than 100 photos of his license plate in various locations, the public record also includes photographs of his daughters standing in their own driveway.

Realistically, there's no getting rid of the license plate scanners and other cheap, ubiquitous recording devices already blanketing the public sphere — they will only grow more numerous as the technology continues improving.

But it is possible to put legal limits on how much of this data police and other agencies can collect, or how long they can keep it. Earlier this month, for example, the Virginia State Senate voted unanimously to pass a bill which, if signed into law, would limit police to storing license plate scanner records for only seven days, unless there is an active criminal investigation.

In California there is no state limit, though some municipalities set limits of their own: Menlo Park holds data for 30 days, Los Angeles for two years. Oakland currently has no legal limit in place.

The vast amount of data ArsTechnica got from Oakland comes from just 33 license plate readers in a city covering 78 square miles. In other cities, license plate scanners are even more common. As early as 2011, there were over 250 scanners in Washington D.C. (68.3 square miles) and its immediate suburbs.

Since license plate scanner data is usually public information, that means anybody can access it, without a warrant. 

ArsTechnica, as part of its experiment with the Oakland records, searched for the license plate information for Howard Matis, a physicist with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Sure enough, Ars was able to determine where Matis lived and worked, as well as a couple of locations where he and his wife frequently visited.

“If anyone can get this information, that’s getting into Big Brother,” Matis said. “If I was trying to look at what my spouse is doing, [I could]. To me, that is something that is kind of scary. Why do they allow people to release this without a law enforcement reason? Searching it or accessing the information should require a warrant.”

One answer to that is that public information belongs to the people. It is, after all, gathered by public employees using publicly-owned equipment, all at taxpayer expense. Journalists have fought for centuries to keep governments from locking up information that rightfully belongs to taxpayers. Rather than reverting to more secrecy, press freedom advocates suggest the government simply stop collecting the information. Failing that, they can emulate Virginia and keep it for only a short time.

In October and December of 2014, 47 percent of online retail traffic stemmed from smartphones and tablets, according to Demandware. Consumers are turning t...

In October and December of 2014, 47 percent of online retail traffic stemmed from smartphones and tablets, according to Demandware. Consumers are turning to new technologies to express product satisfaction, concerns or questions with major brands. Companies are developing high-tech methods to strategically track every step of the customer journey to stay competitive in the retail market.

As customers turn to their smartphones to make purchase decisions, online retailers need to develop user-friendly mobile apps to stay competitive. JackThreads, a leading retail website for men, understands the value of building relationships with consumers and is making it easy for people to engage with the customer service team. It is focusing on contextualizing customer service interactions on mobile apps as mobile traffic continues to grow.

Consumers want to interact with interesting, genuine people when they call into customer service departments, as well as receive respectful and calculated answers from brand representatives. JackThreads has matched their customer base with a diverse team of highly-trained people who are passionate about service and fashion. Throughout the customer service industry phone calls generally have an 86 percent resolution rate, in comparison to 44 percent rate via email and 27 percent via social media; companies need to empower associates to be confident and personable to all callers.

JackThreads encourages associates to help customers by keeping the tone of conversations lighthearted and respectful, as if the representative were talking to a friend. It is standard to hear associates speaking with callers about a recent ball game or read an online chat that has an emoji.

Businesses are creating a seamless customer experience through an omnichannel approach that engages multiple interfaces including apps, retail websites, social media and live chats. Today’s consumer uses any and all of these channels to engage when and where they want to; and they want an integrated experience so that, just to name one example, they can use the same rewards card whether they shop online, in a store or on the phone.

Although the phone is still the most dominant channel, with 75 percent of consumers still dialing in with questions and concerns, consumers are also using social media, chat functions and mobile devices to interact with customer care departments. To manage this expectation, companies are constantly developing creative outlets at an increased rate for customers to ask questions.

Mobile apps are expected to dominate the market in the upcoming years. JackThreads customers enjoy the easy shopping experience delivered on mobile devices through iOS and Android apps. As nearly 60 percent of our traffic comes from mobile sources, we ensure we are providing the same engagement for customers as in store.

According to extensive research, JackThreads customers who engage with representatives via live chat functions spend 80 percent more each year than those who don’t. This statistic serves as a motivator for businesses to improve their online and mobile communication skills to foster brand loyalty and repeat purchases.

It is imperative that brands increase engagement on preferred channels. Customer satisfaction is highest in live chat, so JackThreads quickly added mobile chat in their apps. Starting with iOS, companies need to continue to develop user friendly platforms on Android and mobile websites. Businesses also need to extend the hours their teams are available because consumers use their mobile devices later in the evening and weekends. Having chat functions in apps will bring brands even closer to customers and continues to build strong loyalties.

Successful companies have focused on contextually adjusting how customers get help by removing the friction and encouraging more engagement. By training representatives to give respectful and timely responses to users, and meeting the needs of consumers around the clock via mobile apps businesses will retain a loyal customer base.

Matching the rapidly changing technology trends can be a challenge for many companies. As technology continues to evolve quickly, the customer service landscape follows suit, meeting the needs of customers on an individual level.

Matthew D’Uva is president and CEO of SOCAP International, a leading association for customer care professionals from Fortune 1,000 companies.

When Starbucks announced its “Race Together” campaign earlier this month, it was probably assumed that it would be great for business....

When Starbucks announced its “Race Together” campaign earlier this month, it was probably assumed that it would be great for business.

Baristas were encouraged to write “Race Together” on customers' cups and try to strike up conversations about racial issues in America. But this ended up embarrassing just about everyone involved.

A week later CEO Howard Shultz announced the end to the coffee klatch experiment but said the overall initiative was far from over.

“We have a number of planned Race Together activities in the weeks and months to come,” Shultz wrote in a memo to Starbucks employees.

But the campaign appeared to backfire on the Seattle based company. Some took to social media suggesting the company might start the race conversation in its own boardroom, pointing out the coffee company's senior executive team is mostly white and male. Others pointed out that Starbucks has almost no presence in areas with mostly minority populations.

While Starbucks may have suffered some embarrassment, it isn't the first corporation to pledge allegiance to what it perceives as its customer base's value system. Food businesses have been doing it for some time.

Restaurants now routinely brag that their food is “locally sourced,” purchased from local farmers and not from a huge agribusiness operation. It's hard for fast food restaurants to make that claim but Chipotle, from the beginning, has adopted a “food with integrity” mantra.

“Food with integrity is our commitment to finding the very best ingredients, raised with respect for animals, the environment and farmers,” the company declares on its website.

Using quality, fresh ingredients should make the food taste good but good-tasting food almost isn't enough these days. Connecting with the values of the consumer is another way to solidify customer loyalty.

McDonald's became an empire when it figured out how to deliver the same food, prepared exactly the same way, tasting exactly the same, at countless locations across the U.S. That consistency has been a hallmark of McDonald's success. But now that food has become politically correct, consistency is not exactly a virtue.

McDonald's competitor Wendy's appears to be shifting toward the Chipotle model, as the recent commercial for its salad, seen below, suggests. It's not just that the salad tastes good, but where it comes from that's important.

The concept of a business trying to attract customers by adopting their values actually goes back about 3 decades. In 1978 the Stanford Research Institute developed Values, Attitudes and Lifestyles (VALS), a proprietary research methodology used for psychographic market breakdown. It was designed to help companies develop their products and services to appeal to the consumers most likely to purchase them.

In the past, consumers might purchase a product primarily because they perceived value in the product. Today, it seems companies believe their customers will buy their products and services simply because the business espouses the consumers' values.

Everybody wants to get out of the house in spring. It's warmer and while you are perhaps planting your garden your dog might be roaming around the yard. Th...

Everybody wants to get out of the house in spring. It's warmer and while you are perhaps planting your garden your dog might be roaming around the yard. There are some dangerous pitfalls to that.

Pets can be accidental casualties in the war against weeds and pests. Two of the top ten culprits in accidental poisonings -- insecticides and snail and slug bait -- are found in the garden. If you arm yourself with the knowledge you can help steer your pet away from any of the things that could harm them. 

Disulfoton is a class of pesticides. For the most part they have been taken off the market but you can still find them in some things like Ortho Rose Pride or other rose protection products. The issue with this is that dogs really like the taste because the stuff is mixed with fertilizers that contain blood and bone meal. They will chow down on it without a problem. It will make them extremely sick though.

Another toxin dogs can get their paws on is rodent bait. It's another palate favorite. The problem with this is you won't see the effects from this for about 7 days. You have to catch them in the act to know they ate it.

One culprit that causes a lot of problems that you might never suspect is mulch. The brown mulch is taken from a tree that is a cousin of chocolate. Pets that chew the mulch can get chocolate toxicity, possibly causing vomiting, diarrhea and potentially death.

Spring bulbs unfortunately can be toxic. So when you plant don't plant where your dog normally digs. They will just dig them up and wind up with stomach distress and choking.

Then there's slug and snail bait with metaldehyde. It can cause tremors, seizures, and even death. Use something else. Baits containing ferric phosphate are a less toxic version.

Herbicides can cause vomiting if eaten. Take the dog in when you apply them on your grass and weeds. Don't forget to bring in their water bowls and any toys, anything they may be putting in their mouth. Keep them in until it is all dry. Once it's dry it is safe to let the dogs out because the chemical has gone down to the root and your lawn is considered dog safe.

With dogs running around you know how thirsty they get and any water is good, even if it is a puddle. But you have to be careful -- antifreeze from cars sits in the puddles. Make sure you have fresh water at all times.

A good rule of thumb is if you have to keep it away from your kids it’s safe to say keep it away from your pets.

If you have an iPhone you're required to use a minimum of four characters in your passcode, though you can set your passcode to require more characters tha...

Mortgage applications broke a 2-week streak of declines last week. The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) says its Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey sho...

The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) says its Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey shows applications jumped 9.5% during the week ending March 20.

The Refinance Index was up 12% from the previous week, taking the refinance share of mortgage activity up to 61% of total applications from 59% the previous week. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity increased to 5.8 percent of total applications.

The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity increased to 5.8% of total applications, while the FHA share slipped to 13.3% from 14.3% last week. The VA share fell to 10.1% from 10.3% and the USDA share of total applications decreased to 0.8% this week from 0.9% last week.

Jerk.com is one of those websites that probably has a reason for being even if it's not immediately apparent to the naked eye. Whether it's worth $30 a yea...

Jerk.com is one of those websites that probably has a reason for being even if it's not immediately apparent to the naked eye. Whether it's worth $30 a year is debatable, at least in the Federal Trade Commission's view.

Jerk calls itself "the anti-social network" and says its site is "for educational purposes." While it may be able to back up its claim of being anti-social, it's a little hard to see what's so educational about it.

Last time we looked at it, it featured what seemed to be a post complaining that the poster's acquaintance had refused to share a bite of his dinner. Other posts and videos had to do with the etymology of a racist term that starts with "N."

As the FTC sees it, it's downright deceptive for Jerk to claim that the rather odd material on its site comes from its readers. In fact, the FTC says its investigation has found that much of the content comes from Facebook profiles "mined" by the jerks at Jerk.

The Commission also found that Jerk misrepresented the benefits of a paid membership which, for $30, purportedly allowed consumers to update information in their Jerk.com profiles but in fact merely jerked them around.  

In fact, the FTC said, consumers who paid for the membership were unable to correct information about them on the site, and did not receive anything of value for their “membership.”

The FTC's order requires the company to delete all personal and customer information collected during the operation of the site within 30 days, and prohibits it from selling or disclosing any of that information. The order also prohibits Jerk from misrepresenting the source of any content on a website, including personal information, and from misrepresenting the benefits of joining any service.   

Modifications to the 2016 Audi A6 stellar performance in the small overlap front test earns the vehicle the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS)...

Modifications to the 2016 Audi A6 stellar performance in the small overlap front test earns the vehicle the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) Top Safety Pick+ award.

The large luxury car already had good ratings in the Institute's other crashworthiness tests and an advanced rating for its optional front crash prevention system. The good small overlap rating applies to A6s built after January.

In the small overlap test, the driver's space was maintained well, with maximum intrusion of 4 inches at the foot rest. The dummy's movement was well-controlled. The head hit the front airbag and stayed there until rebound, and the side curtain airbag deployed with sufficient coverage to protect the head from contact with side structure and outside objects. Measures taken from the dummy indicate a low risk of any significant injuries in a crash of this severity.

The small overlap test replicates what happens when the front corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or an object such as a tree or a utility pole.

Vehicles that earn a good or acceptable rating for small overlap protection and good ratings in the moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint evaluations qualify for TOP SAFETY PICK.

To qualify for Top Safety Pick+, vehicles must also have an available front crash prevention system that earns an advanced or superior rating.

Carmel Food Group is recalling certain Rising Moon Organics frozen Ravioli items. The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. The compa...

The recalled products were produced with organic spinach which was found in test results performed by the spinach supplier to show the presence of Listeria.

Blue Bell Ice Cream of Brenham, Texas, is recalling 3-oz. institutional/food service ice cream cups -- chocolate, strawberry and vanilla -- with tab lids. ...

Blue Bell Ice Cream of Brenham, Texas, is recalling 3-oz. institutional/food service ice cream cups -- chocolate, strawberry and vanilla -- with tab lids.

The following ice cream cups were distributed in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wyoming via food service accounts:

Wegmans Food Markets is recalling approximately 12,540 packages of Wegmans Organic Food You Feel Good About Just Picked Frozen Spinach. The product may be...

Wegmans Food Markets is recalling approximately 12,540 packages of Wegmans Organic Food You Feel Good About Just Picked Frozen Spinach.

The 12-oz. (UPC 77890-32932) packages of the recalled product were sold in the frozen food department of the company’s 85 stores in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland and Massachusetts between January 27 and March 21, 2015.

Customers who purchased the recalled product from Wegmans should return them to the service desk for a full refund.

Consumers with questions may contact Wegmans consumer affairs department toll free at 1-855-934-3663 Monday through Friday, between 8:00 am and 5:00 pm (ET).

In most areas of the country gasoline prices have started to drift lower again after rising during most of January and February. It's a pattern that tends ...

In most areas of the country gasoline prices have started to drift lower again after rising during most of January and February. It's a pattern that tends to repeat itself every year.

There are two main reasons and both, at least indirectly, are the result of U.S. government policies.

During February, U.S. oil refineries switch over to producing a summer blend of gasoline, which costs more to refine than the grade of gasoline used during the winter months. According to Popular Mechanics, winter gas is cheaper to produce but worse for the environment.

There is another complicating factor. Because of overlapping state and federal regulations, U.S. refiners must blend about 20 different grades of gasoline to meet these regulations.

The regulations were put in place to control volatile organic compounds, known as VOCs. When fuel has more VOCs during hot weather these compounds are more likely to produce smog.

The switch-over process can also produce added costs for consumers. That's because it normally reduces a refinery's gasoline output temporarily. That smaller output reduces the nation's stockpile for gasoline –again, only on a temporary basis.

But because gasoline – like oil – is a commodity sold in a market, its price will fluctuate, based on what market traders expect the cost to be in the future. Patrick DeHaan, senior analyst as Gas Buddy, a company that tracks retail gasoline prices nationwide, says news of a refinery problem anywhere during the winter can send prices higher.

“Unfortunately motorists are stuck paying the price traders are buying at,” DeHaan told ConsumerAffairs. “A refinery kink develops and traders are forced to increase their bids. It's unfortunate that motorists are on this wild rise because, essentially, there's a declining number of refineries.

That's another contributing factor to volatile gasoline prices – there are fewer refineries in the U.S. turning crude oil into gasoline. DeHaan says just two decades ago the U.S. had 100 more refineries than it does now.

“They were smaller in size and more spread out, which is part of the reason why they closed,” DeHaan said. “Not to say the Clean Air Act is bad but some smaller refiners decided it wasn't worth the cost of compliance with some of these air pollution requirements that had been placed on them by the EPA and instead of installing controls they've closed.

As a result the U.S. now relies on fewer but larger refineries. That, says DeHaan, makes consumers more vulnerable to price volatility.

“When there is an event at one of these refineries it is more disruptive of the flow of gasoline to the pump,” he said.

​Smartphone users take note: you know that your apps sometimes share information with “third parties” – it's one of those fine-print phrases you see everyw...

In case you needed another reminder why you should always back up your files: there's a new form of ransomware called TeslaCrypt that primarily targets gam...

In case you needed another reminder why you should always back up your files: there's a new form of ransomware called TeslaCrypt that primarily targets game files, encrypting all of your files and demanding $1,000 for the decryption key to let you access them again.

As with all ransomware hack attacks, if your device becomes infected with this malware (which is apparently spread from a compromised WordPress site), you should not pay the requested ransom. After all: even if you do, there's no guarantee the crook will keep his word – he might take your money without decrypting your files and even if he does decrypt them, that doesn't necessarily mean he's removed the malware from your device.

The ransomware, first discovered by the California-based security firm Bromium, targets multiple games and platforms including Minecraft, World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, Diablo, various EA sports games, and several more. Bromium's full list of at-risk titles and platforms is here.

Worse still: though the ransomware apparently starts by attacking game files, it doesn't stop there; it will also encrypt Word documents, Excel files, PowerPoint presentations and various image files, too.

There are free tools available to possibly decrypt some files lost to ransomware, but your best defense (after not getting infected in the first place) is to have backup copies of all of your files just in case a hacker (or a hard drive crash or some other calamity) destroys or encrypts the originals.

To no one's surprise, telecommunications companies are challenging the Federal Communications Commission's new Internet rules, saying they are unlawful, un...

To no one's surprise, telecommunications companies are challenging the Federal Communications Commission's new Internet rules, saying they are unlawful, unconstitutional and unnecessary. 

The challenges come just four days after the Wall Street Journal reported that HBO, Sony and Showtime asked Comcast and other carriers to set them up with "managed" access for their new streaming video services -- high-speed lanes, in other words.

Consumer organizations were fervent in their support for the Obama Administration's "net neutrality" rules, based on the somewhat nebulous fear that small start-ups would be hurt by congestion on the Internet when most telecom observers say it's larger streamers -- like Netflix -- who both contribute to and suffer from congestion and its effects.

In its lawsuit, the U.S. Telecom Association asks the FCC to review and set aside its new Open Internet rules. It doesn't contain any detailed arguments, saying instead it wanted to file the action before a ten-day review period had elapsed. The association is the trade group of AT&T, Verizon and other carriers.

The second lawsuit was filed by Alamo Broadband, a small Texas company, which says that it has been "aggrieved" by the FCC's action. Again, it doesn't specify just how that's happened, again saying it wanted to get its objection on the record before the ten-day deadline passed.

Then there are those requests by HBO, Showtime and Sony for "managed" services, which are largely outlawed by the new rules, which have not yet gone into effect. 

To a large extent, these requests have to do with the "last mile" -- the portion of the Internet that, in telecom jargon, runs from the curb to the consumer's home. Despite open access rules, there are fears that this last mile could get jammed up as consumers binge on streaming video. To use the very tired information highway metaphor, this would be a clogged off-ramp.

After decades of debate there remains no generally accepted definition of a "natural" food product. Regulatory agencies have refused to settle the issue bu...

After decades of debate there remains no generally accepted definition of a "natural" food product. Regulatory agencies have refused to settle the issue but may be under new pressure from consumer lawsuits, according to a new study in the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing.

"Consumers don't agree on a definition either, yet clearly believe that 'natural' is important," writes author Ross D. Petty of Babson College. "In 2009, 30% of newly launched foods claimed to be natural but by 2013 this dropped to 22%, possibly due to an increase in the number of consumer lawsuits. Lawyers are increasingly willing to take cases which regulatory agencies have abandoned."

In 1973, the Federal Trade Commission warned that no other area of national health was as abused by deception as nutrition, but by 1983 the FTC had given up on the issue of defining "natural" products.

The FDA required in 1977 that artificial flavors be identified as such, but refused to define "natural." When federal district courts in 2014 questioned the legality of promoting genetically modified ingredients as natural, the FDA declined to give an opinion.

The US Department of Agriculture fared better, requiring that "natural" meats be free of substances such as artificial flavoring. The industry itself sporadically addressed the "natural" problem, with the Council of Better Business Bureaus advising Nutrasweet to cease claiming it was "made from natural ingredients."

Industry progress in general, however, has been limited. With no regulations to fall back on, consumers have begun resorting to legal action, petitioning the FDA in 2001 to act against "natural" food products that hid genetically modified ingredients.

Next came the "Sugar Wars," with the Sugar Association and Equal suing Splenda for claiming it was natural. Splenda resisted, and as of April 2014, no natural community class action lawsuit has actually gone to trial.

"Though natural food lawsuits to date have disappointed, they encourage marketers to drop the claim of being natural or reformulate their products to avoid future lawsuits. Perhaps this will persuade the FDA or FTC to consider creating, finally, a definition for the meaning of natural," concludes the author.

Spring and summer bring a plethora of fresh fruits to your table. Why not let your dog enjoy a few of these as well? With obesity being high on the list of...

​Spring is a great time for kids. It finally starts getting warm, the end of the school year is in sight and it stays light longer. That's all good but it ...

Despite the rugged winter weather in February, sales of new single-family houses posted a solid gain. Figures released jointly by the Census Bureau and th...

Despite the rugged winter weather in February, sales of new single-family houses posted a solid gain.

Figures released jointly by the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development show sales jumped 7.8% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 539,000. Even more impressive, the rate is 24.8% above the February 2014 pace 432,000.

The median sales price of new houses -- the point at which half of the prices are higher and half are lower -- was $275,500, up $7,100 from a year earlier. The average sales price was $341,000, a year-over-year gain of $15,100.

The seasonally adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of February was 210,000, representing a supply of 4.7 months at the current sales rate.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) reports its monthly House Price Index (HPI) was up 0.3 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis in January. The previously reported December advance of 0.8% was revised downward to a gain of 0.7%.

From January 2014 to January 2015, house prices were up 5.1%. The HPI remains 3.5% below its March 2007 peak and is at roughly the same level as the December 2005 level.

For the nine census divisions, seasonally adjusted monthly price changes from December 2014 to January 2015 ranged from -0.4% in the Middle Atlantic and South Atlantic divisions to +2.3% in the East South Central division.

The 12-month changes were all positive ranging from +1.7% in the Middle Atlantic division to +8.2% in the Pacific division.

The HPI is calculated using home sales price information from mortgages sold to or guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Here's something we haven't seen in a while: an increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The Labor Department (DOL) reports hikes in the costs of energ...

The Labor Department (DOL) reports hikes in the costs of energy, food and shelter sent the CPI up 0.2% in February, the first increase since it rose 0.1% last October. The index is unchanged over the last 12 months.

The cost of energy rose 1.0% last month after posting seven consecutive declines. Gasoline costs jumped 2.4%, fuel oil was up 1.9% and electricity 0.3%. The only major energy component to fall was natural gas, which dropped 2.0%. Energy costs have plunged 18.8% over the last 12 months.

Food prices were up 0.2%, with “food at home” rising 0.1%. The cost of nonalcoholic beverages advanced 0.6%, the meats, poultry, fish and eggs category gained 0.3%, and veal and beef prices rose 0.7 % -- the thirteenth consecutive increase. In contrast, dairy and related products were down 1.0%, fruits and vegetables dipped 0.3% -- with fresh fruits up 0.6% but fresh vegetables down 2.0% -- and cereals and bakery products were down 0.2%. Over the last 12 months food prices are up 3.0%.

The core rate of inflation, which strips out the volatile food and energy categories, rose 0.2% in February, the same as in January. Within the core, prices for used cars and trucks, apparel, new vehicles, tobacco, and airline fares were higher, medical care costs were unchanged and personal care prices were down. The core rate has risen 1.7% over the last 12 months.

It's always good to have an investment advisor but it's also essential to do a thorough background check before entrusting your funds to any third party. P...

It's always good to have an investment advisor but it's also essential to do a thorough background check before entrusting your funds to any third party. Professional poker players should be avoided, as a recent New Jersey case shows. 

Acting New Jersey Attorney General John J. Hoffman said a Jersey City man has been indicted on charges he stole over half a million dollars from clients of his investment firm and spent the money on personal expenses, including playing poker at casinos and gambling on poker websites.

Evan Kochav, 33, of Jersey City, was indicted by a state grand jury on second-degree charges of theft by deception, money laundering and misconduct by a corporate official. He also was charged with four counts of third-degree passing bad checks for allegedly writing four bad checks totaling over $85,000 to a client who questioned what happened to his funds.

“Kochav bluffed investors like the poker player he is, claiming ties with lucrative business ventures around the globe to convince clients their hard-earned money was securely invested,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “In reality, White Cedar Group was a scam, and Kochav allegedly stole investor funds to gamble and bankroll a lifestyle he otherwise could not afford.”

Kochav was initially investigated by the New Jersey Bureau of Securities, which revoked his registration as a securities agent in October 2014 and assessed a $2 million civil penalty against him and his Red Bank-based firm, White Cedar Group, LLC. The Bureau of Securities referred the case to the Division of Criminal Justice.

It is alleged that between October 2012 and April 2014, Kochav stole approximately $561,745 that he solicited from 10 investors, often urging the investors to transfer funds from existing accounts at other brokerage firms. He promised to invest the funds in various business interests and investment vehicles.

In reality, Kochav allegedly diverted the investor funds, using them to pay personal expenses or to make nominal payments to investors to cover up the scam. He allegedly laundered at least $274,000 through several bank accounts.

Kochav, a professional poker player, allegedly spent a large amount of the investor money at casinos in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Florida, and on at least two poker websites. He also allegedly transferred investor funds to his wife and misused investor funds to pay for shopping, dining, air travel, hotels, football tickets and other entertainment.

Stock Yards Meat Packing Co. of Tucson, Ariz., is recalling approximately 2,149 pounds of roast beef. The product was mistakenly labeled as corned beef on...

Stock Yards Meat Packing Co. of Tucson, Ariz., is recalling approximately 2,149 pounds of roast beef.

The product bears the establishment number “EST. 6071” inside the USDA mark of inspection and has “Use or Freeze by: 4/22/2015” printed on the product label. It was shipped to businesses in Arizona and California.

Amy’s Kitchen is recalling approximately 73,897 cases of products that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. The company says it is not aware o...

Amy’s Kitchen is recalling approximately 73,897 cases of products that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

Consumers who have any of the recalled products should dispose them or return them to the store where they were purchased for an exchange or full refund.

La Terra Fina is recalling its Organic Spinach Dip. The product, sold at Costco stores in the San Francisco Bay area, may be contaminated with Listeria. ...

Consumers who purchased the recalled product should discard any opened or unused product and contact their local Costco store for a refund.

Boa Vida Imports of New Bedford, Mass., is recalling approximately 385 pounds of pork and beef products. The products were imported from Portugal, which i...

Boa Vida Imports of New Bedford, Mass., is recalling approximately 385 pounds of pork and beef products.

The products were imported from Portugal, which is not eligible to export meat products to the U.S., and were also not presented at the U.S. point of entry for inspection.

Without the benefit of full inspection, including determining the equivalence of a foreign food regulatory system, a possibility of adverse health consequences exists.

The following pork meat and beef tripe stew with beans items, produced on various dates between July and October 2014, are being recalled:

The products subject to recall bear the establishment number “PT RTR 79 CE” inside the Portugal mark of inspection, and were shipped to retail locations in Southeastern Massachusetts.

Over the last 5 years or so researchers have made tantalizing progress against the scourge of Alzheimer's disease, but the developments have yet to get to ...

Over the last 5 years or so researchers have made tantalizing progress against the scourge of Alzheimer's disease, but the developments have yet to get to the final phase of testing.

Then suddenly last week a drug from pharmaceutical giant Biogen Idec grabbed the attention of the scientific world. It also got the attention of a perhaps harder-to-impress group – Wall Street traders. Biogen stock surge nearly 10% in a single day.

It was all because the company announced that a Phase 1b study of one of its drugs, aducanumab, demonstrated that it was safe for people to take. The reason people would take the drug is it is believed to be a powerful weapon against Alzheimer's disease.

Previous studies have show that treatment with aducanumab reduced the amount of amyloid plaque in the brain. Amyloid plaque is believed to be largely responsible for the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer's.

The company points to a series of exploratory analyses, showing a dose-dependent, statistically significant effect of slowing clinical decline was observed on the Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE) and Clinical Dementia Rating (CDR) scales.

“This is the first time an investigational drug for Alzheimer’s disease has demonstrated a statistically significant reduction on amyloid plaque as well as a statistically significant slowing of clinical impairment in patients with prodromal or mild disease,” said Dr. Alfred Sandrock, group senior vice president and chief medical officer at Biogen. “Based on these results, we are advancing the aducanumab clinical program to Phase 3 with plans to initiate enrollment later this year.”

That last sentence is key. During a Phase 3 trial, the drug or treatment is given to large groups of people to confirm its effectiveness, monitor side effects, compare it to commonly used treatments, and collect information that will allow the drug or treatment to be used safely. It is the last step before applying to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval to be marketed in the U.S.

According to the Wall Street Journal, industry analysts were excited because brain imaging scans have shown reductions in plaque, corresponding to clinical improvements. The paper quotes Christopher Raymond, analyst for Robert Baird, as saying “these data are more impressive than anything we have seen in Alzheimer's disease.”

Biogen says its Phase 3 trial, testing the efficacy of the drug, will include more than 1,000 patients.

It's significant any time there is a promising development in treatment for a chronic disease that is ultimately fatal. Because of a population trend, this development might prove to be particularly significant.

One of the major Alzheimer's risk factors is age. With the huge Baby Boom generation now entering its senior years, the risk of a surge in Alzheimer's cases is growing.

A report (PDF) last month by the Alzheimer's Association projected the cost of treating the disease in the U.S. could swell to $1 trillion a year by 2050.

In 2010, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 25 million individuals worldwide were living with Alzheimer's. Researchers believe changes to the brain typically begin years prior to the symptoms that lead to a clinical diagnosis.  

There's something unique about Amazon (the “e-tail” giant, not the river): of all American Internet companies listed on the Fortune 500, it's the only one ...

The question of whether you are better off buying or renting doesn't have a simple answer. A lot of factors come into play because a lot depends on where y...

The question of whether you are better off buying or renting doesn't have a simple answer. A lot of factors come into play because a lot depends on where you live and what your future plans are.

Complicating matters is the fact that the real estate market is usually in a state of flux, with home prices going up one month and rental costs another.

Deciding whether you are better off buying or renting starts with your local market; how do home prices compare to rents?

Home prices have recovered significantly since they bottomed in 2011 but are still under their 2007 peak in many areas. When you factor in historically low interest rates – and we're talking 4% or less – then houses look a lot more affordable.

Rents, on the other hand, have been moving higher over the last 5 years or so, a product of supply and demand.

“The demand for rental properties has never been higher, and because of the high demand, the expense has never been higher either, said Dana Dillard Executive Vice President and Chief Customer Officer at Nationstar Mortgage.

Real estate site Zillow recently reported that rents have escalated in some markets where they had remained flat for years.

For example, rents in Kansas City were up 8.5% year-over-year in January. The average rent in St. Louis was up 4.4% after being flat, or even falling, in previous years.

If you rent your home you can expect the rent to go up every year. For the nation as a whole, Zillow reports rents rose 3.3% from 2014 to 2015.

But if the water heater goes out, you don't have to pay to repair or replace it – the landlord does. If you decide to move out of the area, you don't have to sell a home first.

Purchasing a home still presents challenges for many people. Dillard says lending requirements definitely tightened up after the housing crisis, and it has not loosened very much since then.

“The best advice I have on keeping your options open is to ensure you understand how your credit score works and know what actions can have a negative impact on it,” Dillard said. “The higher your credit score, the more options you'll have when it comes to making housing decisions."

Assuming you can qualify for a mortgage and can save up for the down payment – which can be as little as 3% for both conventional and government-backed loans – chances are your monthly payment will be less that what you would pay in rent for the same home. Sometimes, hundreds of dollars a month less. And it will likely stay the same each year, going up a few dollars now and then when insurance costs and taxes rise.

Measured strictly on a monthly cash-flow basis, owning will in many cases be much easier on your budget. However, you will be responsible for maintenance on the home and replacing that water heater when it breaks.

There are also costs associated with both buying and selling a home, so the longer you own it the less a factor those costs become because they can be spread over a number of years. Still, all of these costs of owning a home are real and should be considered.

A “Buy vs. Rent” calculator can help you compare the relative costs of both options by entering relevant personal data. For example, Realtor.com's calculator measures the relative cost of a home and rent in the area where you live.

It gives you a breakdown of the costs of owning, including the initial costs, what you pay in mortgage payments and projected maintenance costs, the cost of eventually selling the property and what it calls “lost opportunity” costs – what you might have made if you had invested the initial costs in a profitable venture.

It compiles a similar breakdown for renting and then gives you a graph showing when, if ever, buying is more advantageous than renting.

If you want a less complicated calculator, Trulia offers one that works off much less data. It takes the price of a house you are considering, the amount of rent you would otherwise pay, the number of years you plan to live in the house, your tax bracket and interest rate and creates a chart showing by what percentage owning or renting is cheaper.

Then there are intangible factors that make renting or owning a better fit. If you think you might be moving in a year or 2, buying a home is probably not the right move.

On the other hand, if you plan to remain in an area for at least five years and need more space for a growing family or a pet or 2, it might be smart to buy.

If you have a pet – let's say a large dog – your choice of rental properties will be smaller since not all rentals allow pets. And those that do usually charge a rather large pet fee for large dogs.

The decision to buy a home isn't always based entirely on dollars and cents. Some people want to personalize their living space, making modifications that simply aren't possible with a rental.

Consumers got in trouble during the housing boom when they bought more house than they could afford, or saw their adjustable interest rates surge. Dillard says consumers must make sure they can afford all the costs associated with homeownership, not just the down payment and closing costs, which by themselves are often a challenge.

“If putting together the upfront cash proves to be financially taxing, it may not be the right time for you to make a big commitment like a mortgage,” Dillard said.

Patients diagnosed with diabetes are usually treated with insulin, a natural substance in the body that regulates how sugar is broken down and processed....

Patients diagnosed with diabetes are usually treated with insulin, a natural substance in the body that regulates how sugar is broken down and processed.

For decades insulin has been a life saver and allowed diabetics to live a healthier, more active life.

But for diabetics who lack prescription drug benefits, insulin prescriptions are costly, running anywhere from $120 to $400 a month. While many expensive drugs have less-expensive generic alternatives, insulin does not – at least not in the U.S.

Normally, pharmaceutical companies obtain a patent for a drug, allowing them exclusive right to sell it under a name brand. Eventually the patent expires, and other drug companies may then produce it and sell it for less in its generic form.

Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, Johns Hopkins researchers Jeremy Greene and Kevin Riggs say insulin is an example of what's called “evergreening.” The drug company holding the patent keeps making small improvements to the drug and each time it does it renews the patent.

These regular tweaks result in more effective medication for people with diabetes but has had the effect of blocking entry of a generic insulin drug to the market.

True, generic drug makers could produce the older versions of the drugs, but the authors say they don't because they have less incentive. As a result, they say many patients who should be taking insulin don't because they can't afford it.

While there are generic drugs for just about everything else, Greene and Riggs say a generic insulin would be highly beneficial.

“We see generic drugs as a rare success story, providing better quality at a cheaper price,” said Greene, who is an associate professor of the history of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a practicing internist. “And we see the progression from patented drug to generic drug as almost automatic. But the history of insulin highlights the limits of generic competition as a framework for protecting the public health.”

There have been many notable improvements to insulin over the years. In the 1930s and 1940s, insulin treatments became longer-acting, so that most patients only had to take a single dose each day.

In the 1970s and 1980s, manufacturers improved the purity of cow and pig extracted insulin. Since then, several companies have developed synthetic forms.

The authors say the patents on the first synthetic insulin expired last year, but these newer forms are harder to copy so these unpatented versions will go through a lengthy Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval process and will cost more to make.

Riggs and Greene say there may ultimately be some generic versions of these insulin drugs but they probably won't be a lot cheaper than the name brands.

It's been eight years since the Federal Communications Commission fined a television station for indecency violations, but today it made up for the haitus ...

It's been eight years since the Federal Communications Commission fined a television station for indecency violations, but today it made up for the haitus with the highest fine ever for a single broadcast.

The commission said it intends to fine WDBJ Television, Roanoke, Va., $325,000 -- the maximum allowed -- for broadcasting graphic and sexually explicit material during the station'’s evening newscast.  

The FCC’ said it had investigated viewer’ complaints that WDBJ aired a news report that included graphic sexual images taken from an adult film website in the report. 

The commission's Enforcement Bureau said WDBJ had aired a news story about a former adult film star who had joined a local volunteer rescue squad.  The investigation found that station staff  obtained a sexually explicit video clip from an adult film website and broadcast them in the 6 p.m. news report on July 12, 2012. 

"“Our action here sends a clear signal that there are severe consequences for TV stations that air sexually explicit images when children are likely to be watching,”" said Travis LeBlanc, Chief of the FCC’'s Enforcement Bureau.

“The FCC is the guardian of broadcast decency and it must enforce the law. We praise FCC Chairman, Tom Wheeler for initiating this enforcement action and for the message it will send to broadcasters everywhere,” stated Dawn Hawkins, Executive Director of National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCSE). 

It is a violation of federal law to air indecent programming from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., when there is reasonable risk that children may be in the audience. The FCC has defined broadcast indecency as “language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities.”  

While this was the first action against a TV station in eight years, the commission has fined two radio stations for broadcasting vulgar language in recent years.

“Indecency on TV sexualizes our children and prepares them to become participants in the pornified world that awaits them," she said.

After getting off to a slow start in January, sales of previously-owned homes moved higher last month. Figures released by the National Association of Rea...

After getting off to a slow start in January, sales of previously-owned homes moved higher last month.

Figures released by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) show existing-home sales -- completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops – were up 1.2% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.88 million. That's a gain of 4.7% from a year ago and above year-over-year totals for the fifth straight month.

Thanks to constrained inventory levels, the median existing-home price for all housing types in February was $202,600 -- up 7.5% from February 2014, the 36th consecutive month of year-over-year price gains and the largest since an advance of 8.8% last February. The median is the point at which half the homes are priced higher and half are lower.

Although February sales showed modest improvement, NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun says there’s been some stagnation in the market in recent months. “Insufficient supply appears to be hampering prospective buyers in several areas of the country and is hiking prices to near unsuitable levels,” he said. “Stronger price growth is a boon for homeowners looking to build additional equity, but it continues to be an obstacle for current buyers looking to close before rates rise.”

Our pets are living longer and you can thank modern medicine for that. It can be expensive, though, to treat conditions that your dog or cat may have. Are ...

Our pets are living longer and you can thank modern medicine for that. It can be expensive, though, to treat conditions that your dog or cat may have. Are there any ways to defray the cost? Fortunately, yes.

Your vet -- as wonderful as he or she may be -- is a business owner and medicine is big business. According to Consumer Reports, vets’ markups over wholesale start at 100 percent and frequently hit 160 percent, plus a $5 to $15 dispensing fee. 

But you don't have to pay that much. You can get your meds at Target, Walmart, Costco and most drugstores. You also can buy them online. Why aren't people using these alternatives? Love and convenience would be the reasons. If your pet is sick and hurting it's pretty easy to just wait and have the vet tech fill the prescription. You don't have to take your dog home and then go back out and get the medicine.

But assuming you're willing to go to a little extra trouble to keep expenses down, here are a few things you can do.

Make sure your vet will write a script that can be filled in a place other than the vet's office. If your vet won't do that it might be a good time to look for another vet.

Your vet should be able to tell you how you can get the medicine filled and where you can go  to pick it up. They should be able to give you suggestions so that you can find the place with the greatest savings.

Ask the vet if the medicine can be replaced with a human drug that does the same thing but might come at a lower price point.

Compare prices at online pet pharmacies. Don’t overlook the discount drug card programs offered by many retailers, as well as such sites as Needymeds.org, AAA and AARP. Many of these programs cover veterinary drugs as well as human medications.

A seal of approval doesn't hurt. If you are buying online look for Vet-VIPPS. It stands for Veterinary-Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites, a program run by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. These sites comply with federal and state licensing requirements and quality assurance.

Some online options include: www.1800petmeds.com/, www.petcarerx.com/ and www.drsfostersmith.com/

Arsenic isn't something you normally want to accompany your dinner. But the naturally occurring substance turns up in all kinds of places you wouldn't expe...

Arsenic isn't something you normally want to accompany your dinner. But the naturally occurring substance turns up in all kinds of places you wouldn't expect.

The latest is cheap wine. A class action lawsuit last week named wines including Franzia White Grenache, Trader Joe's Two-Buck White Zinfandel and Ménage à Trois Moscato as containing up to 50 parts per billion of arsenic.

That might not sound like much but the federal standard for arsenic in drinking water is 10 parts per billion. So, yeah, it's 5 times that. 

Of course, it was just a few years ago that pricier French wines were found to be loaded with pesticides, so the old "name your poison" saying may not be too far wrong.

The problem with arsenic is that it's just that -- poison. Of course a few parts per billion won't kill you right away but over time, well, researchers recently found that mice develop cancer after being exposed to low doses of arsenic.

Even teetotalers aren't off the hook, though. Arsenic has also been found in apple juice, poultry and rice, among many other things. It is naturally occurring and can find its way into all sorts of plants but some researchers think that pesticides may also be a major source.

Whatever the answer, the lawsuit seeks all the usual remedies, including huge damages. It was filed based on research conducted by Kevin Hicks, who analyzed 1,300 bottles of wine and found elevated arsenic levels in nearly a quarter.

Hicks found that, generally speaking, cheaper wines had more arsenic than the more expensive stuff. 

There's no way for consumers to know how much arsenic -- or anything else, for that matter -- is in the wine they drink since there's no requirement that ingredients be listed on the label.

Spokesman for the wine industry shot back that Hicks was just trying to make a lot of money by suing large wine producers, which doesn't really answer the question of how the arsenic gets there.

And while it's true that most of us drink more water than wine, guzzling a glass or two per evening could, as Hicks sees it, be a genuine health risk.

Like it or not, genetically modified apples and potatoes may soon be on their way to your produce section. ...

Aurora Products is recalling certain lots of natural walnuts and trail mixes containing walnuts. The products may be contaminated with Salmonella. No ill...

Consumers who have the products listed below should not eat them and destroy them or return them to the place of purchase.

Nutiva, which bills itself as an “organic superfoods company,” is recalling 3 of its O’Coconut items. The products may be contaminated with Salmonella Th...

Nutiva, which bills itself as an “organic superfoods company,” is recalling 3 of its O’Coconut items.

Customers with questions or who would like product replacements or refunds may call (800) 993-4367 or email help@nutiva.com.

Texas Star Nut and Food Co., of Boerne, Texas, is recalling Nature’s Eats Natural Macadamia Nuts. The product may be contaminated with Salmonella No illn...

The recalled product, lot code #31435001 and packed in cello bags, was distributed only to HEB stores, in Texas, between 12/30/2014 and 3/20/2015. The Best Before -- 12/23/2015 -- is located on the bottom of the nutritional label on the back of the bag.

Consumers who purchased the recalled product should not eat or discontinue consuming it and return it to HEB for a full refund.

Van Lang Foods of Countryside, Ill., is recalling approximately 232 pounds of pork potstickers and chicken dim sum The products contain egg, a known aller...

Van Lang Foods of Countryside, Ill., is recalling approximately 232 pounds of pork potstickers and chicken dim sum

Although the recalled products were packaged in boxes that bear the establishment number “P-18403” or “EST 18403” inside the USDA Mark of Inspection, the consumer labels do not have the mark of inspection.

The chicken dim sum was produced on November 11, 2014, and the pork potstickers on November 12, 2014. Both were shipped to a distributor for retail sales in New Bedford, Mass.

A gym membership can be expensive, and having to travel to another location to get in a workout can also be inconvenient, especially for busy people....

A gym membership can be expensive, and having to travel to another location to get in a workout can also be inconvenient, especially for busy people.

That's why many consumers opt to purchase one or two pieces of exercise equipment for their home, so that they can get in their exercise whenever they have a few spare minutes, or while they are watching TV. Depending on the type and quality of the equipment you purchase, you should be able to get as much value from home exercise equipment as you would a gym membership.

Choosing a piece of home exercise equipment to buy is similar to selecting the equipment you want to use at a gym. Different equipment provides different benefits.

At the gym, the treadmill might be among the most popular machines. It rates high for burning calories and promoting cardiovascular health.

Elliptical machines and stationary bikes don't have quite the calorie burn rate of treadmills but they are both a lot easier on joints. For people who are overweight, starting on one of these machines might be a better option than a treadmill.

Resistance training machines promote muscle development in specific areas of the body. They are used to increase body strength and are an important complement to cardio equipment.

Just as the machines at the gym, your home exercise equipment should also provide plenty of data about your workout. Quality cardio machines, such as treadmills, ellipticals and stationary bikes, should come with controls allowing consumers to easily change the exercise information and control display.

A good treadmill, for example, should include time and distance monitoring. That display tells you how far you would have traveled if you were on an open surface and how long you have been exercising.

By entering some data about yourself – primarily your weight – a calorie monitor should estimate how many calories you have burned during your workout. By adjusting the speed and incline of the treadmill you can increase or decrease the calorie burn rate.

Choosing the brand of equipment to purchase requires a bit more research. Fortunately, ConsumerAffairs readers have posted hundreds of reviews, detailing their experience with the products and the companies that sell them. 

Yowza Fitness specializes in treadmills and elliptical equipment. The company offers a lifetime limited warranty and interest-free financing on select models.

Yowza's transformer treadmills are folding treadmills, designed to save space when they aren't in use. Its Sebring model is a popular product, selling for $1299. It can stand up to the most powerful foot-pounding and is fully loaded with features, including an iPod/MP3 port.

Holly, a reader from Jacksonville, N.C., says she did a lot of research and liked what she saw. She particularly likes the Sebring's weight management tool and the scale that goes with it.

“After looking at everything that we compared it to, it was a great brand,” she wrote in a ConsumerAffairs review. “The customer service representative was very good, knowledgeable, and explained the product thoroughly.”

Proform Fitness also makes a wide variety of treadmills and ellipticals, as well as stationary bikes and rowing machines. Its Pro 16.0 NE elliptical is its top of the line, retailing for $1499.

An elliptical is sometimes called a “cross trainer” and simulates climbing stairs, walking or running without putting excessive pressure on foot and knee joints. For that reason, these machines are popular with people recovering from injuries.

ProForm's Pro 16.0 NE is popular because it comes mostly assembled, reducing the set-up time. The electronics package includes a built-in full color touch screen display that not only shows your exercise data but also connects to the Internet.

Bowflex makes several types of home exercise equipment but is perhaps best known for its home gym products, promoting strength training. The Bowflex Xtreme 2 SE Home Gym, which lists for $1599, provides a number of different exercises in one piece of equipment.

The company says its Power Rod units provide resistance, or weight, that feels as good as or better than free weights, but without the drawbacks, such as inertia or risk of joint injury. The Extreme 2 SE comes with 210 pounds standard, but is upgradable to 310 pounds.

The no-change cable pulley system allows you to go from squats to lats to leg workouts without having to change. You not only save time but keep your heart rate up as you progress through your workout.

Lifespan Fitness produces a full line of fitness equipment for the home, workplace and health clubs. The equipment may be more expensive but it is often the same machines you find at a commercial gym.

Besides treadmills, stationary bikes and elliptical machines, Lifespan sells several models of recumbent bikes, on which the rider's legs stretch horizontally to reach the peddles, instead of straight down. The Lifespan R31 recumbent bike, recently marked down from $1799 to $1199, offers horizontally adjustable seats with full back support and holds riders up to 400 pounds.

It comes with 17 preset bike workouts that include weight management, healthy living and home training programs. The system helps you track your health progress, allowing you to upload your data via a USB to the LifeSpan Club — a free membership that comes with your purchase.

Lifespan also sells treadmill desks – stand-up workstations that allow workers to not only stay on their feet while on the job but to keep moving, burning calories throughout the day. These workstations have become more popular in response to recent research showing that sitting for prolonged periods is harmful to cardiovascular health.

SOLE Fitness markets a full range of fitness equipment for home use, including SR500 Fitness Rower, marked down from $1,499 to $999. Rowers are simple, yet effective cardio machines that work your body harder than many other electric-powered fitness machines on the market. With a rower, the user provides all the power.

It’s good for burning fat, building muscle endurance, increasing cardiovascular fitness and it requires users to give equal effort to both the upper and lower body. One of the best things about it is users of all age and fitness level can use it. It works the abs, core, legs and lower back, providing a full body workout.

SOLE says the SR500 features “smooth air and magnetic resistance” to make you actually feel like you are pulling yourself across the water. According to the company, it was designed by rowers, with a clean smooth motion and the ability to adjust all of the settings to make the machine work for you and your body type. It accommodate users up to 6'7" tall.

If at all possible, try to find a store or showroom where you can try out the model you're considering. ConsumerAffairs ordered a NordicTrack recumbent bike for this story. We found assembling it quite a challenge as many pieces simply did not fit very well. 

Worse yet, after assembly was completed we found that our two testers -- one 6 feet tall, the other 5'7" -- didn't fit very well either. They had a choice of banging their knees on the handlebars or moving the seat back so far that it was hard to reach the pedals. 

Thank you for contacting us. ... We do not have an optional seat that your seat can be replaced with, you will need to adjust the seat to the comfortability of each user.

To give you a solid workout and the means to track your progress, any electronic fitness equipment should have several pre-programmed routines that deliver different results, based on your health and fitness goals. For example, on most treadmills, stationary bikes and ellipticals, consumers can choose from exercise routines promoting a healthy heart, burning calories and other goals.

The equipment should also allow you to input your personal data. The computer needs to know your height, weight and sex so it can tailor the workout exercise to your specific needs.

If your primary goal is to lose weight, you probably require a different level of resistance than people who are exercising to maintain a healthy weight, improve heart health or gain muscle mass.

The machines should also provide heart-controlled workouts. These routines provide the minimum cardiac exercise needed to keep the heart functioning the way it should.

Fitness equipment should also give users a way to monitor their vital signs during a workout. Perhaps the most important one is a heart rate monitor.

Most types of equipment have special handles that, when gripped, automatically track the user's pulse and display the heart rate on a monitor. That way, the user can adjust the machine's speed and resistance to maintain the preferred level of exertion.

Machines that track heart rate usually provide calorie burn data, provided the user has input the required personal data. Some equipment also provides breathing rate monitors, which can measure how quickly the user is breathing.

A quality piece of exercise equipment should offer a variety of resistance levels that alter the intensity of the workout. The greater the resistance the more calories the user burns and the more stress placed on muscles, promoting their strengthening.

A primary form of resistance is incline. Stair steppers, exercise bikes and treadmills all have an incline mode, which simulates walking up a hill. Machines should have pre-programmed resistance workouts as well as the ability to manually increase and decrease resistance during the workout. These controls should be easy to operate during a workout.

Video displays not only provide an easy way to monitor your workout but can provide an entertaining diversion while you exercise. Some models connect directly to cable TV. Others connect to the Internet and some connect to both.

Some exercise equipment utilizes the video screen for video games, as a way to fight the boredom of a long workout. Sometimes stationary bikes and rowing machines include virtual displays of terrain and water to make the user feel like they are peddling up a mountain or zooming across a lake.

Ready to go shopping? Good. Sure, you can exercise with only a couple miles of sidewalk and a good pair of sneakers, but a good piece of exercise equipment can be a sound investment in your health.

But before making that investment, experts at the Harvard Medical School offer this advice: exercise equipment comes in all sizes, shapes, and price ranges. Do your research, consulting reviews from both consumers who actually use the equipment and experts.

After selecting a piece of equipment, learn to use it properly. Otherwise, you could injure yourself and set back your efforts to improve your health.

Finally, make sure the equipment is a good fit for your body and your goals. The best equipment only produces results when it is used regularly.

The Wall Street Journal has acquired and released internal Federal Trade Commission documents that raise some interesting questions about the FTC's officia...

The Wall Street Journal has acquired and released internal Federal Trade Commission documents that raise some interesting questions about the FTC's official handling of an antitrust investigation into Google's practices.

Specifically, FTC staff members investigating Google's practices a few years ago recommended at the time that the agency sue the company on anti-competitive grounds over its allegedly biased search-engine results, yet the FTC publicly voted to do the exact opposite.

In 2012, the FTC started investigating Google and concluded that the company's search engine results “boosted its own shopping, travel and local business services” while intentionally giving lower search rankings to rival products, according to the FTC staff report acquired by the Journal.

But that's not what the American public initially heard. In January 2013, the FTC publicly announced that, after 19 months of investigation into Google, the “facts just weren't there” to support charges of biased search results. At a press conference, the then-current chairman Jon Leibowitz said that the FTC's bipartisan commission voted 5-0 that Google's search results were not biased to favor its own products over its competitors'.

Not that everyone back then was convinced by the FTC's reassurances. The California-based nonprofit Consumer Watchdog group, for example, responded to the FTC's January 2013 announcement by saying that “Google clearly skews search results to favor its own products and services while portraying the results as unbiased. That undermines competition and hurts consumers.... The FTC rolled over for Google.”

The following December, Consumer Watchdog filed a complaint with the FTC alleging deception in Google Shopping results. “The way that the Internet giant is featuring results from Google Shopping without making it clear that the highlighted results are nothing more than advertisements for merchants who bid for placement is an unfair and deceptive act …. Moreover, consumers are actually being harmed because the featured results from Google Shopping more often than not return higher prices than can be found elsewhere, when consumers would reasonably expect Google’s suggestions to be the best,” CW's Privacy Project Director said at the time.

This week's revelations suggest that the FTC itself agreed with such criticisms all along, despite publicly claiming otherwise.

The FTC has not commented about the report, but Google's general counsel, Kent Walker, said in a statement that, “After an exhaustive 19-month review, covering nine million pages of documents and many hours of testimony, the FTC staff and all five FTC Commissioners agreed that there was no need to take action on how we rank and display search results. Speculation about potential consumer and competitor harm turned out to be entirely wrong.”

Furthermore, said Walker on behalf of Google, “since the investigation closed two years ago, the ways people access information online have increased dramatically, giving consumers more choice than ever before. And our competitors are in fact thriving. For example, Yelp calls itself the ‘de facto local search engine’ and has seen revenue growth of over 350% in the last four years, TripAdvisor claims to be the web’s 'largest travel brand' and has nearly doubled its revenues in the last 4 years.”

For parents, the decision to give a child a smartphone is often rationalized on grounds of safety....

“I want to be able to contact my child at all times, or I want my child to be able to contact me,” an anxious parent might say.

But increasingly, children barely past the toddler stage are carrying smartphones and pediatricians, as well as some parent organizations, are expressing concern.

There’s been a recent proliferation of smartphone apps for children. Many are entertaining games but others are educational in nature, teaching children colors and numbers.

That’s often a rationale for introducing children to digital devices at an early age. The website NQ Family Guardian says it heard from a parent whose child advanced an entire grade level because of her playing with her smartphone.

But NQ Family Guardian is skeptical that those benefits outweigh potential drawbacks and others agree. At issue, they say, is a question of balance.

"Our children are being raised as digital natives and we want them to thrive in this technological age," said Rawdon Messenger, CEO of TeenSafe, a family support organization. "We want them in-the-know when it comes to technology so they can be successful, well-rounded adults when they leave our home. At the same time, we must take responsibility in guiding them through the pre-teen to 18 years and the struggles that come with being a teen today."

So TeenSafe and other organizations say there needs to be some rules. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has incorporated recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in its guidelines for limiting screen time.

AAP has taken the position that children should get no screen time until at least age 2 because the brain develops better through unstructured playtime and human interaction. And screen time is not limited to digital devices.

"Screen time is a term used for activities done in front of a screen, such as watching TV, working on a computer, or playing video games,” the NIH guidelines explain. “Screen time is sedentary activity, meaning you are being physically inactive while sitting down. Very little energy is used during screen time.”

TeenSafe recommends children age 2 to 5 get no more than an hour of screen time a day. That little amount hardly warrants handing a child that young their own smartphone.

Whatever the age, the group advocates a 20-20-20 rule. That means when kids are using media, for every 20 seconds they are staring at a screen they should spend another 20 seconds looking at something that is at least 20 feet away.

While that might be healthier, it sounds like it would be hard to enforce. In the end, most parents just want to know what is the appropriate age to hand their child a phone. For that TeenSafe says parents need to answer some questions.

And it doesn’t stop there. When a parent decides a child is ready for a smartphone, the parent must stay in touch with the child's online behavior, making sure the rules are being followed. 

Cable TV networks broadcasting cooking shows have enjoyed ratings success with shows featuring delicious, rich natural ingredients made from scratch....

Cable TV networks broadcasting cooking shows have enjoyed ratings success with shows featuring delicious, rich natural ingredients made from scratch.

But if you not only watch these programs but also try a lot of their recipes in your kitchen, you could run the risk of putting on a few pounds. At least that's the conclusion of a study appearing in the journal Appetite.

On one hand these findings are hardly surprising. If you eat food rich in butter, cream and sauces, how could you not gain weight?

But the scientists had to prove a correlation, so they asked 501 women between the ages of 20 and 35 where they got the information about the new foods they tried, how frequently they cooked from scratch, and then some physical data, like their heights and weights. It turns out that women in the study who watched food television and cooked frequently from scratch had a higher body-mass-index, (BMI), weighing on average 10 more pounds than those who got their recipes from family and friends, magazines and newspapers, or cooking classes.

The researchers even found that people who frequently cooked from scratch using a recipe, but didn’t watch food TV, did not have a higher BMI. More significantly the researchers say, is that women in the study who enjoyed watching the programs but did not cook meals from scratch also avoided the extra pounds.

What's the takeaway from this? Study co-author Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, says the recipes on cooking shows are not the healthiest. Viewers feel like it's okay to indulge in either less nutritious food or bigger portions.

At the same time, Food TV is not all about high-calorie comfort food dishes. Food Network, for examples, also highlights quick and healthy recipes, including this one for a 20-minute broiled chicken dinner.

The study authors agree that there is plenty of blame to go around, and in fact found that people who try recipes they see on social media sites also had a higher BMI.

“It could be that seeing photos of ‘perfect,’ often rich foods your friends post on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram makes it seem like their unhealthy eating patterns are the norm,” Pope said.

Pope said Food TV producers can help their viewers eat healthier and more nutritious foods by using more recipes that demonstrate how food can look good, taste good, be exciting and be social.

Pope also leaves us with one final thought; making meals from scratch isn't always the best and healthiest option.

“It definitely can result in healthier food than eating out all the time, but only if you're cooking healthy recipes and healthy food,” she said.

With less than a month to go before this year's federal income tax filing deadline, that still leaves plenty of time for identity thieves and other forms o...

With less than a month to go before this year's federal income tax filing deadline, that still leaves plenty of time for identity thieves and other forms of scammer to try and enrich themselves at your expense.

Of course, various forms of IRS scam have existed for almost as long as the IRS itself, but this year, the particular problem of IRS-related identity theft rose to national prominence after Minnesota briefly stopped accepting state tax returns e-filed through TurboTax, because too many scammers were using it to file fraudulent tax returns in the names of legitimate state taxpayers.

Minnesota soon lifted the ban and allowed TurboTax e-filing again – but in the meantime, the revenue commissioners from multiple other U.S. states announced that they would be delaying the payment of state tax refunds in order to double-check for fraud.

Last August, the Government Accountability Office conducted an investigation which concluded that the IRS may have lost $5.8 billion paying out fraudulent tax returns for the 2013 tax filing season. (That loss is limited to the federal level; there's no knowing how many fraudulent returns were paid by income-tax-collecting states.)

The GAO report also noted that for those honest taxpayers whose identities were used to file fraudulent returns, the taxpayers had to wait an average of 300 days to see resolution on their cases.

Earlier this month, U.S. senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) proposed a bill (summary available in downloadable .pdf form here) called the Identity Theft and Tax Fraud Prevention Act of 2015, which, among other things, would:

The bill's six co-sponsors, all Democrats, are Bill Nelson of Florida, Benjamin Cardin of Maryland, Dianne Feinstein of California, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer of New York.

If you turned 70½ during 2014, the clock is ticking. No, not that way but in terms of receiving your required minimum distribution (RMD) from your Indivi...

No, not that way but in terms of receiving your required minimum distribution (RMD) from your Individual Retirement Account (IRA) and workplace retirement plan. You have until Wednesday, April 1.

According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the April 1 deadline applies to owners of traditional IRAs but not Roth IRAs. Normally, it also applies to participants in various workplace retirement plans, including 401(k), 403(b) and 457 plans.

Additionally, the April 1 deadline applies only to the required distribution for the first year. For all subsequent years, the RMD must be made by Dec. 31. So, if you turned 70½ last year and receive the first required payment on April 1, for example, you must still take the second RMD by Dec. 31, 2015.

Affected taxpayers who turned 70½ during 2014 must figure the RMD for the first year using the life expectancy as of their birthday in 2014 and their account balance on Dec. 31, 2013. The trustee reports the year-end account value to the IRA owner on Form 5498 in Box 5. Worksheets and life expectancy tables for making this computation can be found in the Appendices to  Publication 590-B.

Most taxpayers use Table III (Uniform Lifetime) to figure their RMD. For a taxpayer who reached age 70½ in 2014 and turned 71 before the end of the year, for example, the first required distribution would be based on a distribution period of 26.5 years. A separate table, Table II, applies to a taxpayer married to a spouse who is more than 10 years younger and is the taxpayer’s only beneficiary.

Though the April 1 deadline is mandatory for all owners of traditional IRAs and most participants in workplace retirement plans, some people with workplace plans can wait longer to receive their RMD.

Usually, employees who are still working can, if their plan allows, wait until April 1 of the year after they retire to start receiving these distributions. See Tax on Excess Accumulation in Publication 575.

Employees of public schools and certain tax-exempt organizations with 403(b) plan accruals before 1987 should check with their employer, plan administrator or provider to see how to treat these accruals.

The IRS encourages taxpayers to begin planning now for any distributions required during 2015. An IRA trustee must either report the amount of the RMD to the IRA owner or offer to calculate it for the owner. Often, the trustee shows the RMD amount in Box 12b on Form 5498.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk is saying his company will have driverless cars in the U.S. by this summer. Google is working on its pod-shaped driverless cars and jus...

Tesla CEO Elon Musk is saying his company will have driverless cars in the U.S. by this summer. Google is working on its pod-shaped driverless cars and just about everyone else is talking about getting into the act.

The assumption is that driverless cars will be safer than those with humans at the wheel. But is that really true? A California consumer group says it's not convinced.

Consumer Watchdog warned the California Department of Motor Vehicles that it must not allow Google and others with a vested interest in developing driverless vehicles to push the DMV into issuing rules regulating the public use of robot cars on highways that are inadequate to protect public safety. “Most importantly, a driverless vehicle must allow a licensed driver to assume control when necessary,” wrote John M. Simpson, ConsumerWatchdog Privacy Project director in a letter to DMV Director Jean Shiomoto. “Despite Google’s public relations campaign and statements that it hopes to have robot cars for public use operating on the road within five years, it is important to understand what its vehicles cannot do,” wrote Simpson. “Recognition of the Google driverless cars’ shortcomings should help inform the DMV’s ‘autonomous vehicle’ public use rulemaking process.”

Consumer Watchdog’s letter noted a long list of shortcomings of Google’s driverless car technology, including:

The decision on whether to allow a particular manufacturer’s driverless cars to be offered to the public should be informed by the results of safety testing that is being done under the DMV testing regulations now in effect, Consumer Watchdog said. DMV regulations governing the testing of driverless cars on California highways took effect on Sept. 16, 2014. A key safety provision of the testing regulations is the requirement that there must be a test driver in the driver’s seat who is capable of assuming control of the car.

“Ironically, a little more than a week after the DMV adopted the testing regulations, Google announced plans for a fleet of robot cars that have no steering wheel, brake pedal or accelerator,” wrote Simpson.  “There would be no way for an occupant to take control in an emergency; occupant lives would be in the hands of Google’s driverless technology, completely at the Internet giant’s mercy.”  

The Federal Aviation Administration has given Amazon clearance to begin test flights of its commercial delivery drones. The agency announced it has approve...

The Federal Aviation Administration has given Amazon clearance to begin test flights of its commercial delivery drones. The agency announced it has approved Amazon's initial design, authorizing the company to begin test flights.

The FAA earlier gave Hollywood studios similar approval for the drones moviemakers hope to use to shoot aerial shots that would otherwise require expensive helicopter flights. 

"Under the provisions of the certificate, all flight operations must be conducted at 400 feet or below during daylight hours in visual meteorological conditions," the FAA said, adding that the drone "must always remain within visual line-of-sight of the pilot and observer."

In addition, the ground-based pilot actually flying the aircraft must have at least a private pilot’s certificate and current medical certification.

Amazon is dreaming of the day when it can begin offering Amazon Prime Air, a service that would deliver merchandise to customers literally within hours, if not minutes. 

Amazon says it hopes to be in the air by the end of the decade although that may be pushing it a bit, considering all the legal and regulatory hurdles that must be cleared before the skies can begin buzzing hordes of busy drones.

Everybody knows that electric cars help reduce air pollution but studies show that there may be two hidden benefits that electric cars have over convention...

Everybody knows that electric cars help reduce air pollution but studies show that there may be two hidden benefits that electric cars have over conventional vehicles.

The first is that they can help reduce the “heat island effect.” This refers to built-up areas, usually in urban settings, that are hotter than nearby rural areas.

For example, the annual mean air temperature of a city with one million people or more can be 2-5 degrees warmer than outlying areas. This is due to the heat given off by gas-powered vehicles and other machinery. This difference can jump as high as 22 degrees during the evening in warmer months.

Electric cars only emit about 20% of the heat that gas-powered vehicles do. Introducing more of them into cities could create a noticeable difference in temperatures.

The second benefit is that they can save you money by lowering the amount of power you use. By reducing the heat island effect through reduced emissions, you will no longer have to spend as much money on air conditioning costs -- which is another benefit to the environment.

Decreasing temperatures in urban areas is a necessity. Increased temperatures lead to higher demands for energy, increased air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, heat-related illnesses and deaths, and poorer water quality.

Jianguo Liu, head of the Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability at MSU and director of the Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability, points out that “heat waves kill, and in terms of climate change, even one degree can make a difference.”

But if the environmental impact isn’t enough to change your mind, there are also many monetary benefits to owning an electric car.

At the federal level, you can earn a consumer tax credit of $2500 for every plug-in electric car that you own. This can be increased by $417 for each kilowatt per hour (kWh) of battery capacity your car can produce in excess of five kWhs. The total credit allowed per vehicle is capped at $7500, and all vehicles currently on the market qualify for the full credit.

There are even more incentives offered at the state level across the country, at least in some states. These include rebates and tax credits for the purchase of vehicles and charging infrastructure, as well as access to carpool lanes and free public parking in some municipalities.

Feel the need to gripe publicly about your bank or credit card company? The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is putting the finishing touches o...

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is putting the finishing touches on a policy that will let you do just that.

“Consumer narratives shed light on the full consumer perspective behind a complaint,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Narratives humanize the problems consumers face in the marketplace.”

The new policy, he added. “will serve to empower consumers by helping them make informed decisions and helping track trends in the consumer financial market.”

The CFPB’s final Consumer Complaint Narrative Policy lays out the specific procedures and safeguards being put in place to publish narratives in the database. When consumers submit a complaint to the bureau, they fill in information such as who they are, who the complaint is against, and when it occurred.

They are also given a text box to describe what happened and can attach documents to the complaint. The CFPB forwards the complaint to the company for response, gives the consumer a tracking number, and keeps the consumer updated on its status.

Under the new policy, when consumers submit a complaint to the CFPB, they will have the option to check a box and opt-in to sharing their narrative. In order for companies to learn about this new system, the any consented-to narrative will not be published for at least 90 days after the policy’s publication in the Federal Register.

The policy establishes a number of important safeguards for a clear, fair, and transparent process, including:

Gasoline prices in the U.S. are still lower than they have been in years but nonetheless are higher than they were a month ago. And in a handful of Midwest...

Gasoline prices in the U.S. are still lower than they have been in years but nonetheless are higher than they were a month ago. And in a handful of Midwestern states, sharply higher.

According to the AAA Fuel Gauge survey, the average price of self-serve regular in Indiana jumped 10 cents a gallon in 24 hours, from $2.16 a gallon to $2.26. In Michigan, the average price also jumped a dime a gallon, from $2.25 to $2.35 a gallon.

In Illinois, the increase is much less dramatic, rising from $2.35 a gallon to $2.38. But the average price of gasoline surged in Ohio, jumping from $2.19 a gallon to $2.29.

Patrick DeHaan, senior analyst at gas price monitoring site Gas Buddy, links the Great Lakes region price surge to refinery issues and the seasonal switch over to summer grade fuel and says the higher prices should be temporary.

“Conspiracy theories abound with these seasonal refinery problems that always have a tendency to develop almost on schedule,” DeHaan told ConsumerAffairs.

In the rest of the U.S., prices at the pump have been slowly coming down again after rising early in the year, as refineries reduced capacity for winter maintenance. In fact, AAA reports fuel prices rose 40 straight days before starting their descent.

The national average price of self-serve regular, according to AAA, is around $2.42 a gallon. AAA spokesman Michael Green says the seasonal hike in gasoline prices is being offset in part by the huge build in oil reserves and a falling price for crude.

“Crude oil prices declined by more than 10% last week due to abundant supplies, a stronger U.S. dollar, and the possibility of even more oil entering the market soon,” Green writes in a AAA commentary. “Every $10 per barrel decline in the cost of crude oil can send gas prices down by nearly 25 cents per gallon.”

West Coast gasoline prices have also started to come down a bit after that region suffered its own refinery issues, which sent prices at the pump sharply higher. In a highly unusual ranking, California has the highest average fuel cost in the nation – $3.37 a gallon – even higher than Hawaii, normally the highest in the U.S., because of taxes and transportation costs.

At the other end of the spectrum, motorists in the southeast are enjoying the lowest prices. South Carolina has the lowest average price – $2.13 a gallon.

In some good news for consumers, DeHaan says those lower fuel prices will likely be the norm across the U.S., once refineries complete their maintenance and the switch over to the summer blend of gasoline.

“Summer time is looking good, like it will be best summer to hit the road in the last 5 years,” DeHaan said.  

It was just a few short months ago we reported on a trend that seemed to suggest Millennials were not rushing to buy a home. It was seen as one reason the ...

It was just a few short months ago we reported on a trend that seemed to suggest Millennials were not rushing to buy a home. It was seen as one reason the housing market had flattened out.

A Fannie Mae survey found the percentage of the younger generation preparing to buy a home fell from 35% to 26% in just 2 years. A panel of property experts assembled by Zillow concluded that, because Millennials were content to be renters, the rate of home ownership would probably decline in the years ahead.

But Millennials seem to have changed their minds. When the National Association of Realtors (NAR) conducted its 2015 survey of generational trends, it found that Millennials represent the largest share of recent home buyers.

According to the report, those 34 and younger made up 32% of all buyers. Generation X, ages 35-49, wasn't far behind behind with a 27% share. Millennial buyers represented more than double the number of Baby Boomers buying a home.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says the survey shows young adults are starting to follow the path of previous generations, albeit on a different timetable.

“Over 80% of Millennial and Gen X buyers consider their home purchase a good financial investment, and the desire to own a home of their own was the top reason given by Millennials for their purchase,” he said. “Fixed monthly payments and the long-term financial stability homeownership can provide are attractive to young adults despite them witnessing the housing downturn and subsequent slow recovery in the early years of their adulthood.”

In fact, in many housing markets rents are rapidly escalating, making a property more expensive to rent – at least on a monthly cash flow basis – than it is to own, especially since the FHA mortgage rate is hovering around 3.5%.

Yun says younger home buyers stayed out of the housing market in the aftermath of the credit crisis for obvious reasons. Many couldn't qualify for mortgages at the suddenly-imposed tougher lending standards. Others were wary of getting into the market at a time when home prices were still declining.

If not for the headwinds caused by the financial crisis, Yun believes the Millennial and Gex X share of the housing market would be much larger.

“Many millennials have endured underemployment and subpar wage growth, and rising rents and repaying student debt have made it very difficult to save for a down payment, he said. “For some, even forming households of their own has been a challenge.”

The financial crisis and the crash of the housing market was a sobering reality for many home owners who had previously considered their house a financial investment. Many who purchased near the top of the market and put little or no money down found themselves underwater – owing more on their mortgage than the house was worth.

Several years of stability in the market seems to have reset that perspective. Seventy-nine percent of all buyers in the survey considered their home purchase a good financial investment, with Millennials and Gen X believing that more strongly than older buyers.

But today's young buyers have one distinctly different expectation than buyers a decade ago, when “flipping” a house was the norm and homeowners could often sell and move after only a couple of years.

Since home prices don't rise nearly as fast today, Millennials in the NAR survey say they plan to stay in their home for an average of 10 years.

A federal jury in Las Vegas has found four defendants guilty of various counts in a bizarrely complicated scheme to fraudulently take control of various ho...

A federal jury in Las Vegas has found four defendants guilty of various counts in a bizarrely complicated scheme to fraudulently take control of various homeowners' associations (HOAs) so that the HOAs' legal work and repair jobs would be given to a law firm and construction company owned by various members of the scheme.

The FBI's Las Vegas field office announced that Vegas residents Keith Gregory, Edith Gillespie and David Ball, plus Salvatore Ruvolo of nearby Henderson, Nevada, were all found guilty of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud. Gregory and Ball were also convicted of two counts of wire fraud, Ruvolo for three counts of wire fraud, and Gillespie for one count.

Another defendant, Leon Benzer, pleaded guilty to various charges last January. Benzer owned a construction company, Silver Lining Construction, which over the course of the scheme allegedly received $7 million worth of construction work from just one HOA taken over by the group.

The evidence presented at trial suggests that, from summer 2003 through early 2009, the conspirators would identify condominium complexes with “potential construction issues” that likely would require repairs. The group would then purchase condominiums in those complexes, usually hiding behind “straw purchasers” to keep their ownership secret.

After buying their way into a particular condo complex, they'd run for election to its HOA board, and ensured victory through additional deceitful tactics, including submitting fake or forged ballots, and hiring attorneys who were secretly in on the scheme in order to oversee the elections as supposedly impartial “special election masters.”

After the group took control of the HOA board for a given condominium complex, the FBI said, they would then divert HOA legal or repair business to the businesses owned by their co-conspirators. As for the condominiums they'd originally bought to join the HOAs in the first place? Evidence presented at the trial showed that 33 of the 37 condos eventually went into foreclosure.

Spring break is upon us but summer vacation is right around the corner and you might already be thinking what to do with the kids this summer. Sleep-away ...

Spring break is upon us but summer vacation is right around the corner and you might already be thinking what to do with the kids this summer.  Sleep-away camp is always a possibility.

How do you know if you and your child are really ready for an experience away from the security of home? Here are a few things to mull over. “The biggest indicator of success with kids is if they have reasonable social skills,” says Arnie Gerson, director of Camp Bournedale, a sports-focused camp for boys in Plymouth, Mass. “Do they relate well, have good friends? Are they amenable, agreeable, that type of thing? If so, they’re going to do well at camp.”

Other things to consider: How do they do with sleepovers? Can they handle the night away? Did your child take care of themselves when they spent the night out? How were they with brushing their teeth and combing their hair?

How does your child do with routines? Camp counselors will make sure everyone is up, but they have to be independent and get dressed on time and follow the schedule. Camp is full of fun but it is also structured fun, where everything is on a schedule. Some kids need a summer free of structure just to recover from the school year. So it is something to give extra thought to.

A sibling or a friend can be an asset when your child leaves home for the adventure of a lifetime. It is always a comfort to have a friend that can help with the few moments of homesickness to at least commiserate or push your child through the experience. Is there a companion that can share the experience with them?

Are you as a parent ready to pack up your most beloved possession and send them on their way and handle not being there to monitor what they eat and wear? What if those pearly whites miss a few days without the toothbrush?  Are you willing to let them discover how resilient they are and how they can make choices and be just fine with them? You both will find out how competent they can actually be.

Michael Thompson, the author of “Homesick and Happy” says that if you want an independent child, you have to master your own childsickness.

"Try remembering the sweetest moments from your own childhood. Most adults tell me that the sweetest, most memorable times of their childhood were when they were away from their parents, doing something with friends in the out-of-doors, taking a challenge or doing something a bit risky,” she said.

Yesterday, the Federal Trade Commission announced it was seeking public comment about the privacy implications of the growing marketing/advertising practic...

Yesterday, the Federal Trade Commission announced it was seeking public comment about the privacy implications of the growing marketing/advertising practice of what the FTC calls “cross-device tracking,” which is exactly what it sounds like.

Basically, cross-device tracking means that instead of tracking your online activities and identity on one electronic communications device, you can be tracked across multiple devices, so that advertisers and tech companies in addition to the NSA and whoever the heck else can easily connect the dots and know what you're doing on your laptop and your desktop and your smartphone and your tablet.

The advertisers and tech companies who engage in cross-device tracking do not actually call it “cross-device tracking,” however; they are more likely to talk about the “integration of data.” And integration is a good thing, right? Sure sounds like it. After all, it's the opposite of “segregation,” which in turn has nasty connotations for anyone familiar with modern American history.

So last September, when Facebook announced that it would start using new advertising tools to let it track Facebook users' online activities across multiple devices, Facebook shunned words like “tracking” and instead discussed how it would “integrate” people's online activity across multiple devices. No “tracking” and certainly no “spying,” only integrating.

Today, the day after the FTC announced it wanted to discuss the privacy implications of cross-device tracking, AOL announced that it would enter a partnership with tech-marketing company Kenshoo to start integrating data across Facebook and Twitter, via an upcoming new advertising platform called “One.”

MediaPost first broke the news on Thursday, in a story headlined “Two to 'One': AOL Platform Now Targets Facebook And Twitter Users.” From an advertisers' or marketers' perspective the Kenshoo product does indeed sound pretty useful, allowing brands to “advertise across its network” and “open[ing] new opportunities for brands to target content … to specific audience segments,” as MediaPost put it, because “The platform signals a move toward the destruction of silos and integration of data.”

“Integration” again. Not cross-device tracking, nor any type of tracking at all, only integration. The words “track” and “tracking” aren't mentioned at all.

Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and five co-sponsors today introduced a measure that would ban companies from selling and marketing e-cigarettes to ...

Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and five co-sponsors today introduced a measure that would ban companies from selling and marketing e-cigarettes to children. It would also direct the FDA to establish regulations for their safe packaging, doses, and labeling.

“E-cigarette makers think they can take us back to the days of Joe Camel,” said Speier. “They are selling nicotine to children in flavors like gummy bear, cotton candy, and chocolate cake. Something is gravely wrong with that picture. The SMOKE Act (Stop Selling and Marketing to Our Kids E-Cigarettes) would establish that e-cigarettes are for adults, not minors, and it would ensure they are safely regulated and packaged so that they can’t harm children.

The SMOKE Act would direct the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to prohibit e-cigarette advertising that increases usage of the products by children. It would designate such advertising as an unfair or deceptive practice and vest the FTC and state attorneys-general with authority to prosecute violators and subject them to penalties.

The act would also give the FDA authority to ban e-cigarette sales to minors. It would require the FDA to establish childproof packaging standards, dosage limits, maximum levels of nicotine concentration, and nicotine concentration labeling requirements.

The bill would mandate a study on the impact that e-cigarette flavorings have on children’s use and smoking cessation, requiring the FDA to consider banning or restricting flavorings based on those findings.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that e-cigarette use by middle and high school students more than tripled from 2011 to 2013. Lack of child proof packaging has led to an escalating number of e-cigarette-related calls to Poison Control Centers, 51.1 percent of which involved young children, Speier noted.

E-cigarettes contain poisonous and addictive chemicals including nicotine and 5 to 15 times the level of formaldehyde present in regular cigarettes, she said.

Target has offered to pay $10 million to settle class actions related to its massive pre-Christmas customer payment-card data breach from 2013, which compr...

Is it true that if you don't take your car to the dealer for service your warranty will be voided? The answer is a resounding "No" as BMW has just been rem...

​Fire is dangerous but so are the chemicals that slow the spread of flames in furniture. And a California state senator thinks parents should have a choice...

Fire is dangerous but so are the chemicals that slow the spread of flames in furniture. And a California state senator thinks parents should have a choice about which risks their children ae exposed to.

Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) is pushing a bill that would require juvenile products to be clearly labeled with whether or not they contain flame retardant chemicals.

Although they may increase safety in the event of a fire, these chemicals have been linked to health hazards like cancer, infertility, hormone disruption, and hyperactivity. The look and the feel of the products is soft and safe, but flame retardants can create carbon monoxide when burned. This is not only a threat to families, but also can also be hazardous to firefighters, Leno said.

Leno is looking to cover as many child-oriented items as possible in his new legislation, Senate Bill 763. This includes bassinets, high chair pads, nap mats, strollers, kid’s upholstered furniture, infant seats, baby carriers worn by parents, and many more. The new bill also would apply to common household items that children come into contact with on a daily basis.

This is not Leno’s first attempt at getting flame retardants in check. He has been a longtime advocate of updating California’s flammability standards, which led to prevalent use of fire retardants in the first place.

“It’s important to label them because these are products with which our youngest and most vulnerable have their most intimate daily contact. They’re possibly sucking on them, they’ve got their head buried in them, they’re embraced by them, and these chemicals are most dangerous to them,” Leno said.

If passed, Leno’s bill could have some serious consequences for those that don’t label their goods appropriately. There would be fines and penalties if a company doesn’t adhere to the guidelines. A first offense could carry a $1,000 fine, which could be increased to $10,000 for a fourth or subsequent violation.

Not everyone agrees with Leno. The American Chemistry Council says the retardants are a vital tool and already subject to review by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, among others.

We should “not lose sight of the fact that flame retardants provide an important layer of fire protection and help save lives,” said council spokesman Brian Goodman. His alternative to Leno’s proposition would have legislators work with California policymakers to “build on the progressive fire safety measures that have been responsible for the reduction in fires and fire deaths in California over the last several decades”.

Leno's bill has been co-sponsored by the California Professional Firefighters, the Center for Environmental Health, and the Consumer Federation of California.

Leno says his objective is to give consumers the option to make informed choices on what they want to expose their families to. He thinks that providing this option will also help create an industry standard which will have an effect on the world market. People will be able to make clear choices on what they prefer.

You're a good person -- you contribute to worthwhile charities, right? The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) says that in order to make sure you claim all th...

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) says that in order to make sure you claim all those donations when you file your federal tax return you need to make sure you have accurate record.

In particular, this includes insuring you have received required statements for 2 contribution categories: each gift of at least $250 and donations of vehicles.

First, to claim a charitable contribution deduction, donors must get a written acknowledgment from the charity for all contributions of $250 or more -- both cash and property. For the latter, the acknowledgment must include -- among other things -- a description of the items contributed.

In addition, the law requires that taxpayers have all acknowledgments in hand before filing their tax return. These acknowledgments are not filed with the return but must be retained along with other tax records.

Second, special reporting requirements generally apply to vehicle donations, and taxpayers wishing to claim these donations must attach any required documents to their tax return. The deduction for a car, boat or airplane donated to charity is usually limited to the gross proceeds from its sale.

This rule applies if the claimed value is more than $500. Form 1098-C or a similar statement, must be provided to the donor by the organization and attached to the donor’s tax return.

The IRS says taxpayers should be sure any charity they are giving to is a qualified organization. Only donations to eligible organizations are tax-deductible. Select Check, a searchable online tool available on IRS.gov, lists most organizations that are eligible to receive deductible contributions.

In addition, churches, synagogues, temples, mosques and government agencies are eligible even if they are not listed in the tool’s database.

Only taxpayers who itemize their deductions on Form 1040 Schedule A can claim gifts to charity. Thus, taxpayers who choose the standard deduction cannot deduct their charitable contributions. This includes anyone who files a short form (Form 1040A or 1040EZ).

A taxpayer will have a tax savings only if the total itemized deductions (mortgage interest, charitable contributions, state and local taxes, etc.) exceed the standard deduction. Use the 2014 Form 1040, Schedule A to determine whether itemizing is better than claiming the standard deduction.

Besides Schedule A, taxpayers who give property to charity usually must attach a special form for reporting these noncash contributions. If the amount of the deduction for all noncash contributions is over $500, a properly-completed Form 8283 is required.

There was a slight uptick last week in the number of people applying for the first time for state unemployment benefits last week. According to the Labor ...

There was a slight uptick last week in the number of people applying for the first time for state unemployment benefits last week.

According to the Labor Department (DOL), initial claims rose by 1,000 from the previous week's revised level of 290,000 to 291,000 in the week ending March 14.

Economists surveyed by Briefing.com were calling for an increase to 293,000. Analysts say the claims level below 300,000 suggests a small improvement in the labor market, but add that the volatility of recent weeks makes it hard to determine market conditions.

The 4-week moving average, which is less volatile, was 304,750 -- an increase of 2,250 from the previous week.

From The Conference Board, word that its Leading Economic Index (LEI) was up 0.2% in February, following advances of 0.2% and 0.4% in January and December, respectively.

"Widespread gains among the leading indicators continue to point to short-term growth," said Ataman Ozyildirim, a Conference Board economist. "However, easing in the LEI's six-month change suggests that we may be entering a period of more moderate expansion. With the February increase, the LEI remains in growth territory, but weakness in the industrial sector and business investment is holding economic growth back, despite improvements in labor markets and consumer confidence."

First Source of Buffalo, N.Y., is recalling 3,276 plastic tubs of Wegmans Organic Walnut Halves & Pieces. The product may be contaminated with Salmonella....

First Source of Buffalo, N.Y., is recalling 3,276 plastic tubs of Wegmans Organic Walnut Halves & Pieces.

The recalled product, in 6-oz tubs, was distributed to Wegmans’ 85 stores in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland and Massachusetts between January 27, 2015, and March 17, 2015.

Consumers who purchased this product should return it to the service desk at Wegmans for a full refund.

Consumers with questions may contact Wegmans consumer affairs department toll free at 1(855) 934-3663 Monday through Friday, between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. ET.

StoneRidge Wholesale Division of Wautoma, Wis., is recalling approximately 31,851 pounds of pork tenderloin product. The product contains milk, a known al...

StoneRidge Wholesale Division of Wautoma, Wis., is recalling approximately 31,851 pounds of pork tenderloin product.

The recalled product bears the establishment number “EST. M33989” inside the USDA mark of inspection and “use or freeze by” dates through Apr. 30, 2015, and was shipped to retail locations in Illinois and Wisconsin.

American Honda Motor Company is recalling 104,871 model year 2001 Accords, 2004 Civics and 2008 Pilots. Upon deployment of the driver side front air bag,...

American Honda Motor Company is recalling 104,871 model year 2001 American Honda Motor Company is recalling 104,871 model year 2001 Accords, 2004 Civics and 2008 Pilots.

Upon deployment of the driver side front air bag, excessive internal pressure may cause the inflator to rupture. In the event of a crash necessitating deployment of the driver side front air bag, the inflator could rupture with metal fragments striking and potentially seriously injuring the vehicle occupants.

Honda will notify owners, and dealers will replace the driver side front air bag inflator in all affected vehicles, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

Vitamin Cottage Natural Food Markets, Inc., a Lakewood, Colorado based natural grocery chain, is expanding its February recall of Natural Grocers brand org...

Vitamin Cottage Natural Food Markets, Inc., a Lakewood, Colorado based natural grocery chain, is expanding its February recall of Natural Grocers brand organic garlic powder to include all lots.

The recalled product is packaged in clear plastic bags with Natural Grocers label notating Julian pack on dates and pricing per pound. The product was produced in size ranges of 0.25 pound to 0.30 pound.

The product was distributed to Natural Grocers’ 95 stores in Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

Consumers can find the specific locations of Natural Grocers stores at: http://www.naturalgrocers.com/store-locations.

Consumers who purchased this product should discontinue use and return it to the store for credit or refund.

Consumers with questions may contact the company at 303-986-4600, ext. 531, Monday through Friday 8:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. MST.

If you're looking to rent a car from Hertz, bear in mind that at present, roughly 1 out of 8 cars in Hertz's rental fleet are equipped with dashboard camer...

Health-insurance company Premera Blue Cross admitted yesterday that the financial and medical records of at least 11 million people (dating as far back as ...

Health-insurance company Premera Blue Cross admitted yesterday that the financial and medical records of at least 11 million people (dating as far back as 2002) were stolen in a data breach.

On the website PremeraUpdate.com, which the company established to post information about the breach, Premera said it “has been the target of a sophisticated cyberattack” which initially started on May 5, 2014. The company first learned of this on January 29, 2015, and waited until yesterday to announce this to the public.

The brands affected by this breach include Premera Blue Cross, Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska, and the affiliated brands Vivacity and Connexion Insurance Solutions, Inc.

Premera intends to send letters notifying affected customers and employees. The website also specifically said that:

Premera won't email you or make unsolicited phone calls to you regarding this incident. Please be on the alert if you are contacted and asked to provide personal information.

Despite this warning, there will be plenty of would-be scammers posing as Premera representatives, sending emails or making phone calls to intended victims in hope of cheating them. Delete any email and hang up on any caller claiming to be from Premera with information about this breach.

If you have been affected in this breach, Premera says it will offer two years of free credit monitoring and identity protection, for those who enroll by Sept. 20.

Who is behind this hacking? Premera hasn't said, but security expert Brian Krebs suggests that the hackers might have the backing of the Chinese government.

The Chinese are also suspected of being behind other recent high-profile hackings, including the Anthem insurance hacking discovered last month, last November's announced hacking of a U.S. Postal Service database containing the personal information of 800,000 USPS employees, and the discovery last July that hackers breached the federal Office of Personnel Management, stealing the data of up to 5 million government employees and contractors who hold security clearances. (China's government, for its part, has repeatedly denied any role in any American hacking activities, and points out that hacking is illegal under Chinese law.)

Premera is working with the FBI and also with the security firm Mandiant which, as Krebs points out, specializes in identifying and blocking attacks from state-sponsored hacking groups, particularly those based in China.

The National Association of Homebuilders recently studied the consumer costs of owning a home. The biggest, far and away, was paying the monthly electric b...

The National Association of Homebuilders recently studied the consumer costs of owning a home. The biggest, far and away, was paying the monthly electric bill.

In every state electric utilities are regulated, but even so the rates consumers pay to keep the lights on and, in some cases heat and cool their homes, has been going up. Because different states have different ways of regulating utilities, the average monthly electric bill can vary widely, depending on where you live.

Outside of Alaska and Hawaii, the states with the highest average monthly bill are located in the west south central U.S. and include Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas. The average monthly electric bill in that region was $126.75 in 2013, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

In the Pacific region, made up of California, Oregon, and Washington, the average bill is the lowest in the U.S. – $90.84. The state with the highest average monthly electric bill was Hawaii at $190.36 or nearly 2.5 times the average electric bill in New Mexico, which was the lowest in 2013 at $76.56.

It may seem counter-intuitive for consumers, but at a time when they are paying sharply reduced prices for gasoline to power their cars and trucks, they are paying more to their utility for electricity. In fact, the EIA stats show residential consumers are paying more for electricity that businesses.

The average retail price paid by residential consumers in 2013 was 12.13 cents/kWh. The average retail price paid by commercial consumers was 10.31 cents/kWh while industrial consumers paid 6.88 cents/kWh.

While an overabundance of oil is mostly responsible for driving down the price of gasoline at the pump, electricity “supplies” are not increasing nearly as fast.

As we reported last week, U.S. utilities are projected to add 20 gigawatts (GW) of generating capacity to the power grid this year but are expected to remove 16 GW of capacity – mostly coal generating plants. That leaves a net gain of only 4 GW.

Much of the new capacity is being generated through alternative energy sources, most notably wind. But EIA points out not all power sources deliver the same bang for the buck.

“Because different types of generating capacity have very different utilization rates, with nuclear plants and natural gas combined-cycle generators having utilization factors three to five times those of wind and solar generators, capacity measures alone do not directly show how much generation is actually provided by new capacity of each type,” EIA said in a report.

For consumers who have endured a bitterly cold winter and look forward to higher air conditioning bills in the months ahead, conservation measures are the best way to keep electric bills in check.

If you have an electric water heater, lower the temperature. Most homes heat water at higher than necessary temperatures, requiring additional electricity to maintain that level.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates a water heater set at 140 degrees or hotter can waste more than $60 in energy costs were year.

Change your HVAC air filter on a regular basis. If possible, replace the disposable filter with a reusable one. When filters fill up with dirt and lint it increases the work load on the air handler, using more electricity.

If your appliances are old, consider an update. New appliances are much more energy efficient. If you are going to eventually have to replace them, doing it sooner rather than later will start saving on your monthly electric bill.

A programmable thermostat can quickly pay for itself. By raising the home's temperature during the hours no one is home and then restoring the comfort level just before the family is scheduled to return, a programmable thermostat can dramatically trim electricity costs.

Grilled cheese has been a food staple of children for many years. This gooey delicacy has made food trucks famous and brought relief to the beleaguered par...

Grilled cheese has been a food staple of children for many years. This gooey delicacy has made food trucks famous and brought relief to the beleaguered parents of young, picky eaters.

Despite its tastiness and easy construction, though, many have had reservations about its dietary benefits, fearing that the Kraft American Cheese slices, typically the main ingredient of the meal, were not healthy for children.

In fact, the dish was traditionally viewed as more of a “junk food”. Well, it may come as surprise, then, that some Kraft products are receiving a seal of approval from professional dietitians.

As of 2015, Kraft American Cheese slices became the first product to earn a seal of approval from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics -- an organization made up of 75,000 registered dietitians and other nutrition professionals.

With the seal of approval, Kraft is now able to adorn the packaging of its Singles products with the academy’s new “Kids Eat Right” label -- something that may attract consumers who are looking for healthy food alternatives for their children.

In an age of increased health consciousness, the seal of approval could not have come at a better time for Kraft. Parents still want foods that are easy to prepare, but there has been a shift in what types of ingredients they are willing to put in their children’s bodies. Many are trying to persuade their children to eat whole grains, fruits and vegetables to replace less wholesome snacks.

One main dietary ingredient that has assumed increased importance is calcium. According to Kari Ryan, director for nutrition science and regulatory affairs at Kraft, 80% of girls and 75% of boys between the ages of 4 and 18 do not get enough calcium, while almost half of all children lack adequate vitamin D in their diets.

Ryan, who is also a dietitian and member of the academy, said that both Kraft and her organization have a mutual goal to drive education and awareness of the dietary needs of children to the public.

The academy says that while the seal of approval is not necessarily an endorsement, it does help advance the goals of the “Kids Eat Right” program. The executive director of the academy, Mary Beth Whalen, points out that including the logo on Kraft packaging drives “broader visibility to KidsEatRight.org, a trusted educational resource for consumers.”

Kraft hasn't necessarily been the poster company for children's health advocates and have been the target of criticism is the past. Detractors balk at the amount of fat, sodium, sugar, artificial dyes, and preservatives that are included in many Kraft products.

As of 2003, the FDA ordered the company to change the language on packages of Singles and Velveeta because, in addition to milk and other dairy products, they contained “milk protein concentrate”, which isn’t quite the real thing. The ingredient did not fall under the FDA’s definition of a “pasteurized process cheese food”, which is how Kraft had labeled it.

The academy is also taking heat from those who question its motives. Over the past few years, there have been several allegations that the academy has created ties that are too close to certain industries.

Companies such as PepsiCo, Kellogg, and ConAgra have attended several annual academy meetings -- sometimes holding seminars and providing samples for members.

Andy Bellati, who is the founder of Dietitians for Professional Integrity, said that one “would think that an organization that has come under fire for so many years for its relations with food companies might pick something other than a highly processed cheese product for its first endorsement.” 

San Antonio may become one of the first cities to do away with dog and cat licenses. Actually they aren't getting rid of the licenses, just the little tag ...

San Antonio may become one of the first cities to do away with dog and cat licenses. Actually they aren't getting rid of the licenses, just the little tag that the animals have to wear.

The tags are proof that the dog or cat has been vaccinated and also lists their address. That will all be passé if the city council goes ahead with a plan to eliminate the tags and require microchips instead. 

Lisa Norwood of San Antonio Animal Care Services says the microchip makes more sense, as veterinarians' offices and ACS now have the equipment to read the information which is stored on pet microchips.

"What it does is provides a lifetime identification for your pet," she said.  "Micro-chipping is really easy. It is a onetime implantation, a onetime investment." 

The American Humane Association estimates over 10 million dogs and cats are lost or stolen in the U.S. every year. Many end up in shelters.

It's part of an effort to become a no-kill city. If lost pets can be quickly returned to their owners, they won't be filling up shelters, which often leads to euthanizing animals.

It's always been easier to spend money than to make it. And now it's even easier yet for Facebook users, who can now send money to one another through the ...

It's always been easier to spend money than to make it. And now it's even easier yet for Facebook users, who can now send money to one another through the company’s standalone messaging app, Messenger.   Just link your debit card to your Facebook account and you'll be able to send and receive payments from others using Messenger.

The Messenger app now includes a small “$” icon above the keyboard which opens a payments screen where you type the amount you want to send.   The money is then transferred through Facebook, which holds the money for “seconds” before sending it along to the other user’s bank. 

Start a message with a friend Tap the $ icon and enter the amount you want to send Tap Pay in the top right and add your debit card to send money

Open the conversation from your friend Tap Add Card in the message and add your debit card to accept money for the first time

The money you send is transferred right away. It may take one to three business days to make the money available to you depending on your bank, just as it does with other deposits.

The new product makes Facebook an instantaneous competitor to other peer-to-peer payments companies like Venmo, Square, and even Snapchat, which rolled out a similar pay-through-text service in November called Snapcash.

The Federal Trade Commission announced today that it will hosting a workshop this November to examine the privacy issues surrounding the practice of “cross...

The Federal Trade Commission announced today that it will hosting a workshop this November to examine the privacy issues surrounding the practice of “cross-device tracking," which the FTC describes as “the tracking of consumers' activities across their different devices for advertising and marketing purposes.”

Prior to this workshop, the FTC will be collecting public comments on the matter through mid-October.

Pretty much everyone with any type of Internet connection knows about tracking cookies and has seen them in use, too: they're the reason anybody who searches for or reads information about Niftywidgets will start seeing Niftywidget ads on every subsequent website they visit.

But cookies are device-specific: the cookies on your laptop won't put Niftywidget ads on your smartphone and tablet, or vice versa.

Of course, various tech companies and advertisers would like to change that. Last September, for example, Facebook announced its introduction of a new advertising program called Atlas, which marketers and advertisers liked for its ability to “integrate” your online activity across multiple devices: if you use your smartphone to look at items on Niftywidgets.com, then the next time you visit Facebook on your laptop or other non-smartphone device, you'll see Niftywidget ads in your feed.

This is the sort of cross-device tracking the FTC intends to discuss at its Nov. 16 workshop. As the FTC's statement explains:

The use of multiple devices creates a challenge for companies that want to reach these consumers with relevant advertising.  The traditional method of using cookies to track consumers’ online activities are proving to be less effective. A cookie may not provide  a complete picture of a consumer who uses different web browsers at home, at work and on their mobile device, for example.

Industry has adopted different approaches to address this issue [including] … methods that rely on various characteristics about a user to match their behavior from one device to another – often without the consumers’ awareness or control.

The FTC’s workshop seeks to address a number of questions about the potential benefits to consumers of effective cross-device tracking, as well as to examine the potential privacy and security risks.

The FTC will also be seeking comment from members of the public until Oct. 16. Comments can be submitted online here.

Journalists are puzzled, even miffed, when consumers complain about "bad" news. To us, it's like calling medicine "bad" because you only take it when you'r...

Journalists are puzzled, even miffed, when consumers complain about "bad" news. To us, it's like calling medicine "bad" because you only take it when you're sick. 

The purpose of news is to point out things that need attending to, that citizens need to know about, after all. It's bad when important things go unreported, not the other way around.

A group of economists at Washington State University recently stumbled onto this rather simple truth through a study that looked at the way people use information from news articles to enhance their well-being and avoid losses.

Their model analyzed how much happiness consumers derived from choosing either bad or good news. The results showed greater individual benefit from reading the bad news.

Collectively, this tendency creates a societal preference for negative news stories said Washington State professor Jill McCluskey.

"Newspapers act on this demand by reporting more bad news to attract readers and sell more papers," she concluded, just as one might conclude that university professors conduct studies to raise their professional standing and improve their income.   

In designing their study, the researchers built their model on an economic theory asserting that as an individual's income increases, the impact of each additional dollar diminishes.

"When you are very poor and hungry, for example, each dollar is worth a lot as it helps you buy enough food to eat," McCluskey said. "But once you have more money and can count on regular meals, it's the losses that will affect you more. In terms of happiness and well-being, a $1,000 loss will affect you more than a $1,000 windfall."

The same idea applies to information offered in newspapers, the Internet, TV or radio, she said. In their model, the researchers used a measurement called utility to assess the benefits or drawbacks people get from consuming a good or service - in this case, positive and negative news stories.

McCluskey said consumers read good news to glean information about benefits from a positive event, which might improve their own income or welfare. Reading about the success of a Fortune 500 company, for example, might help one decide to invest in their stock.

Bad news, on the other hand, provides information on how to avoid a negative event or loss to one's well-being. Reading bad news helps consumers avoid making bad choices.

"Food scares are a good illustration as they are widely covered by the media," McCluskey said. To protect their health, "people choose to avoid the suspected food - such as beef during the Mad Cow scare, or spinach with the E.coli outbreaks."

Over time, McCluskey said the model clearly showed individuals gain a greater advantage from reading bad news than good news. These consumers, either consciously or subconsciously, then continue to choose newspapers with more negative reporting.

In response, news outlets take advantage of that risk aversion to maximize their profits, she asserted. 

Despite its benefits to readers, bad news generates negative consequences of its own, the researchers found. For instance, too much bad news can be depressing to some people.

"Even after the E. coli scare was over, people still wouldn't buy spinach. There can be a lot of impact on growers and wasted food with these scares," she said. McCluskey did not say whether the researchers thought some consumers might have avoided being poisoned by reading news reports of the E. coli outbreak. 

It's better to be an explorer if you're living in a time when nobody knows where anything is. Christopher Columbus, Americus Vespucci, Ponce de Leon and ot...

It's better to be an explorer if you're living in a time when nobody knows where anything is. Christopher Columbus, Americus Vespucci, Ponce de Leon and other titans of exploration basically sailed around until they bumped into something, then claimed it for their sponsor.

Back in the day, the Internet was sort of like that. There was lots of stuff available but finding it was tough. An early explorer called Netscape came along and added a graph interface to what had previously been a landscape marked only by command line gibberish.

But close behind was an explorer perhaps less intrepid but with much more marketing prowess owing to its being part of the giant armada known as Microsoft.

Microsoft lashed together an Internet browser that most regarded as inferior to Netscape but bundled it into Windows, which was itself regarded as inferior to its rivals, most of whom are thought to have sailed over the edge of the earth, never to be seen again.

Now Explorer is about to join them. Microsoft has announced that IE's days are numbered and it will soon by replaced by a lean and hungry young successor known for now as Project Spartan.

Like today's explorers of the physical world, Spartan will be able to navigate in all planes of being -- in other words, it will run on phones, tablets and personal computers. IE sort of limped along on computers but never really found its way on phones and tablets.

Speaking of Windows, Microsoft is now saying that its newest dreadnaught, Windows 10, will sail into view "this summer." OK, that's not too specific but that's the best Microsoft can do at the moment.

Upgrades to 10 will be available free for at least awhile to Windows 8 users. Again, details are still sketchy.

This is all part of the effort by Microsoft's new CEO, Satya Nadella, to make the company an innovator instead of a conqueror that simply sails ashore and crushes those who landed first.

It may be a tough battle though. Take the little matter of upgrades. Microsoft cranks out a new version of its operating system every few years and likes to charge a small fortune for them. Apple is on a similar calendar but its upgrades are free.

Then we have the Google Chromebook (on which this is being written), which updates itself every few days, largely in the background. The various Linux operating systems, from which the Chromebook OS is derived, do likewise. 

Besides eliminating the need to think up goofy and confusing names for updates -- Leopard, Yosemite and so forth in Apple's case; 95, XP, Vista, 7, 8 and 10 in Microsoft's -- these constant little updates keep things on course instead of letting them drift for years in between navigation corrections.

Studies show that when consumers are presented with information about what health services cost, they tend to make better decisions. The hard part, however...

Studies show that when consumers are presented with information about what health services cost, they tend to make better decisions. The hard part, however, is finding out what things cost.

New research by Public Agenda, a non-profit research organization, has found that 57% of consumers with health insurance and 51% of those lacking coverage are unaware of what their health care provider charges.

Without this information, the group says, consumers can't compare prices or look for less expensive providers when they are quoted a price they can't afford.

The study found that 56% of U.S. consumers have actively looked for prices before getting care, and 21% say they have compared prices across several providers. Of that group, nearly all say the price comparison influenced their decisions and ended up saving them money.

Consumers who compare prices charged by different providers tend to get more regular medical treatment. The study shows 42% of people who have compared prices before getting care receive regular medical treatment, compared with 33% of those who have not ever sought price information before getting care.

The authors say their findings suggest consumers want price information about their health care. They urge the industry to make it easier for providers, staff and insurance company personnel to discuss prices.

“The finding that many Americans are already trying to get price information from receptionists and hospital staff, insurance companies, doctors, hospital billing departments and nurses suggests a need to strengthen these professionals’ capacity to provide and discuss price information,” the authors write.

Consumers also need assistance in knowing where to look for price information. Part of the problem is health insurance. Some providers charge different rates, depending on whether the patient has a healthcare policy, and if so, what kind. However, a federal report recently found this does not happen as much as it once did.

Here's an example of a health care provider that posts its fee schedule, for both insured and uninsured patients.

Since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) went into effect, health care consumers have been getting familiar with high deductible health insurance policies, according to the latest Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF).

A high deductible means the consumer pays the first $5000 or so of medical costs each year before certain aspects of the coverage kick in. It's designed to give consumers incentive to seek out lower health care prices.

But again, if consumers don't know what the care costs, and don't know where to look for the information, they aren't in a position to save money.

While ACA has made coverage more affordable, the high deductibles often mean many consumers can't afford to use their coverage.

“We assume that households pay premiums out of current income, but that they may need to use savings or other assets if they become seriously ill in order to meet the deductible or the out-of-pocket limit under their health insurance policies,” the SCF authors write. “We show that many households, in particular those with lower incomes or where someone lacks insurance, have low levels of resources that would make it difficult for them to meet health insurance cost sharing demands.”

All the more reason, it would seem, that health care consumers need an easy, transparent way to find out what things cost.

While we're well into the first quarter of 2015, it's not too late to contribute to an IRA for last year and -- in many cases -- qualify for a deduction or...

While we're well into the first quarter of 2015, it's not too late to contribute to an IRA for last year and -- in many cases -- qualify for a deduction or even a tax credit.

Individual retirement arrangements (IRAs), which have been available in one form or another since the mid-1970s, are designed to enable employees and self-employed people to save for retirement.

Contributions to traditional IRAs are often deductible, but distributions -- usually after age 59½ -- are generally taxable. Though contributions to Roth IRAs are not deductible, qualified distributions, usually after age 59½, are tax-free. Those with traditional IRAs must begin receiving distributions by April 1 of the year following the year they turn 70½, but there is no similar requirement for Roth IRAs.

Most taxpayers with qualifying income are either eligible to set up a traditional or Roth IRA or add money to an existing account. To count for 2014, contributions must be made by April 15, 2015. In addition, low- and moderate-income taxpayers making these contributions may also qualify for the saver’s credit when they fill out their 2014 returns.

Eligible taxpayers can contribute up to $5,500 to an IRA. For someone who was at least age 50 at the end of 2014, the limit is increased to $6,500. There’s no age limit for those contributing to a Roth IRA, but anyone who was at least age 70½ at the end of 2014 is barred from making contributions to a traditional IRA for 2014 and subsequent years.

The deduction for contributions to a traditional IRA is generally phased out for taxpayers whose incomes are above certain levels and are covered by a workplace retirement plan. For someone covered by a workplace plan during any part of 2014, the deduction is phased out if the taxpayer’s modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) for that year is between $60,000 and $70,000 for singles and heads of household and between $0 and $10,000 for married persons filing separately.

For married couples filing a joint return where the spouse who makes the IRA contribution is covered by a workplace retirement plan, the income phase-out range for the deduction is $96,000 to $116,000. Where the IRA contributor is not covered by a workplace retirement plan but is married to someone who is covered, the MAGI phase-out range is $181,000 to $191,000.

The deduction for contributions to a traditional IRA is claimed on Form 1040 Line 32 or Form 1040A Line 17. Any nondeductible contributions to a traditional IRA must be reported on Form 8606.

For detailed information on contributing to either Roth or traditional IRAs, including worksheets for determining contribution and deduction amounts, see Publication 590-A, available on IRS.gov.

Another drop in mortgage applications -- the second in as many weeks. The Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) reports applications were down 3.9% during ...

The Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) reports applications were down 3.9% during the week ending March 13.

The Refinance Index dropped 5% from the previous week, putting the refinance share of mortgage activity at 59% of total applications -- the lowest level since October 2014. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity slipped to 5.5% of total applications.

The FHA share of total applications edged up to 14.3% this week from 14.0% last week. The VA share dipped to 10.3% from 10.8%, and the USDA share of total applications rose to 0.9% from 0.8% last week.

Alewel’s Country Meats of Warrensburg, Mo., is recalling approximately 134 pounds of beef products. The product was produced using the wrong inspection l...

Alewel’s Country Meats of Warrensburg, Mo., is recalling approximately 134 pounds of beef products.

The the following Buffalo Jerky items, with a “Use By” date of “06-12-15,” “05-11-15,” or “04-02-15”, and production dates of “12-11-14,” “11-11-14,” and “10-02-14.” are being recalled:

The recalled products bear the establishment number “EST. 5766” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and were shipped to retail locations in Missouri.

Trader Joe’s is recalling its brand of raw walnuts because they have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella. The company says it has not receive...

Trader Joe’s is recalling its brand of raw walnuts because they have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella.

For the Raw California Walnut products, the “BEST BY” dates and Lot Numbers can be found printed on the back of the packages.

For the Organic Raw Walnut products, the “BEST BY” dates can be found printed on the front of the packages.

Customers who have purchased any of the recalled products should not eat it, and dispose of it or return it to any Trader Joe’s for a full refund.

Consumers with questions may contact Trader Joe’s customer relations at (626) 599-3817 Monday through Friday, 6:00AM to 6:00PM PST.

Some parents – and even grandparents – can't resist the urge to post any and all kinds of photos and information about their kids on Facebook....

Some parents – and even grandparents – can't resist the urge to post any and all kinds of photos and information about their kids on Facebook.

“By the time children are old enough to use social media themselves many already have a digital identity created for them by their parents,” said Sarah J. Clark, associate director of the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health and associate research scientist in the U-M Department of Pediatrics.

There's a term for it – “Sharenting,” and Clark says her survey shows it isn't going away anytime soon. More than half of mothers in the survey and one-third of fathers say they discuss child health and parenting on social media and nearly three quarters of parents say social media makes them feel less alone.

“Sharing the joys and challenges of parenthood and documenting children’s lives publicly has become a social norm so we wanted to better understand the benefits and cons of these experiences,” Clark said. “On one hand, social media offers today’s parents an outlet they find incredibly useful. On the other hand, some are concerned that oversharing may pose safety and privacy risks for their children.”

It turns out parents have some of these concerns too. Nearly two-thirds said they were concerned someone would pick up private information about their child or share photos. More than half also conceded that what they were posting about their children online could embarrass them when they were older.

Still, parents do it. When asked why, they most often said it was to gain advice. Some of the common questions are how to get kids to go to sleep, how to get them to eat their vegetables and how to handle discipline problems.

“These networks bring parents together in ways that weren’t possible before, allowing them to commiserate, trade tips and advice, share pride for milestones and reassure one another that they’re not alone,” Clark said.

But it's clearly a double-edged sword. Clark says there is potential for blurring the line between sharing and over-sharing.

“Parents may share information that their child finds embarrassing or too personal when they’re older but once it’s out there, it’s hard to undo,” Clark said. “The child won’t have much control over where it ends up or who sees it.”

While parents don't always see “sharenting” tendencies in themselves, the survey showed they are quick to pick up on it when they see it in others. Three-quarters of the parents in the poll had at least one story about extreme “sharenting,” when another parent posted embarrassing stories, posted photos that could be construed as inappropriate and even gave information that could be used to pinpoint the child's location.

It turns out that parents don't stop embarrassing their children online, even after they become teens and young adults. BuzzFeed collected numerous examples that should provide a sobering wake-up call for any parent tempted to go overboard on social media.

If you live in modern America, there's a good chance that anytime you live your house, your movements and whereabouts are being recorded in realtime and st...

If you live in modern America, there's a good chance that anytime you live your house, your movements and whereabouts are being recorded in realtime and stored in a database accessible to pretty much anybody willing to pay for it.

This has arguably been the case ever since digital (as opposed to film-dependent) cameras and video recorders became cheap and ubiquitous, around the start of the century. There's also the growing use of license plate scanners, often seen mounted on police cars or even at stationary points along roadways.

Those license plate scanners can record your whereabouts (well, the whereabouts of your vehicle), upload this information to a database in realtime, and maintain an extensive historical record of your outside-the-home movements, too. And in most states, there are no limits to how much of this data police can collect, nor on how long they keep it.

But some states are pushing back against such privacy encroachments. Virginia is one of them; last week, state Senate Bill 965 made it onto Governor Terry McAuliffe's desk, presumably to be signed into law. SB 965, also called the “Government Data Collection and Dissemination Practices Act,” passed the State Senate and House of Delegates unanimously.

The bill, if signed into law, will still allow the use of license plate scanners in Virginia – but police would be limited to holding those records for only seven days, unless there is an active, ongoing criminal investigation.

1. An individual's privacy is directly affected by the extensive collection, maintenance, use and dissemination of personal information;

2. The increasing use of computers and sophisticated information technology has greatly magnified the harm that can occur from these practices;

3. An individual's opportunities to secure employment, insurance, credit, and his right to due process, and other legal protections are endangered by the misuse of certain of these personal information systems; and

4. In order to preserve the rights guaranteed a citizen in a free society, legislation is necessary to establish procedures to govern information systems containing records on individuals.

Democratic state senator Chap Petersen, who authored the bill, told ArsTechnicathis week that the bill was deliberately written in broad language, to cover potential future threats:

Petersen's fears of mass surveillance are not hypothetical, not even in his own state. In 2008, for example, the Virginia State Police used automatic license plate scanners to track and record motorists who attended political events — though this information didn't come out until five years later, after the ACLU demanded to see certain law enforcement records.

If SB 965 does become state law, then such secretive monitoring will no longer be allowed in Virginia, since another section of the bill says:

Recordkeeping agencies of the Commonwealth and political subdivisions shall adhere to the following principles of information practice to ensure safeguards for personal privacy:

Privacy advocates hope that other states will follow Virginia's lead in limiting the storage time for license plate scanner data, or even go farther. New Hampshire, for example, has banned license plate tracking altogether.

Police in Boston “indefinitely suspended” their use in December 2013, after a media investigation raised serious privacy concerns.

On the other hand, while cities like Boston and states like Virginia limit their use of scanners, other cities are choosing to adopt them. The city council in Dallas voted in 2013 to start using license plate scanners.

This is the time of year when homeowners are wheeling out their lawn mowers, hoping they'll start. Sometimes they do but quite often they don't....

To be clear, most U.S. households get their video content from one of the pay-TV providers. But those cable giants have to be looking over their shoulders...

To be clear, most U.S. households get their video content from one of the pay-TV providers. But those cable giants have to be looking over their shoulders as more households are cutting the cord and relying solely on the Internet.

Nielsen, the media ratings company, has issued a report showing a dramatic increase in the number of what it calls subscription-based video on-demand services, known as SVODs. These are households that subscribe to services like Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hulu but not necessarily to pay TV services.

The number of these households is still quite small compared to homes that have cable, but the number is growing.

“Increased video viewing on digital platforms to both native digital content and TV-produced content, as well as the rise of subscription-based video on-demand (SVOD) across all platforms, are changing the way we look at the consumption of traditional media,” Nielsen said in its report. “While the risks and rewards are potentially high in this environment, the ability to stake a claim in the expanding industry pie is central to companies’ growth.”

According to Nielsen, over 40% of U.S. homes had access to an SVOD service as of November 2014, and 13% of homes had access to multiple streaming services. Their number increased by 1.75 million in 2014 while homes with pay TV services – which still make up the overwhelming majority of homes – declined by 2 million.

The numbers suggest a trend we reported a year ago is continuing. Last April Experian Marketing Services found that 48% of all U.S. adults and 67% of young adults watch streaming or downloaded video during a typical week, whether they subscribe to a cable of satellite TV service or not. And they weren't usually sitting on the couch while they were watching.

Experian found mobile was the preferred screen for watching, streaming or downloading video, with 24% of all U.S. adults and 42% of smartphone owners watching downloaded video each week.

One factor driving the trend may be costs. The typical cable TV bill is around $80 a month while the Netflix subscription costs just $8. Increasingly content is finding its way to YouTube, which can be watched for free.

Earlier this month HBO, which provides premium content to cable networks, announced it would start offering an online streaming service called HBO Now. Broadcast television networks already make much of their entertainment programming available through streaming web sites.

Underscoring this trend is news that Sony Television is taking bids from streaming services for the entire Seinfeld library, currently available only through television syndication.

Live sports coverage remains pay TV's strongest hold on its core business, as the start of the NCAA basketball tournament will undoubtedly illustrate over the next few weeks.

No one expects that to change anytime soon – even though ESPN announced last month that it will stream the ICC Cricket World Cup event, “as an experiment.”

​Job stress can fray nerves, keep you up at night, and contribute to health problems such as heart disease and depression. ...

Job stress can fray nerves, keep you up at night, and contribute to health problems such as heart disease and depression.

While some workplace stress is normal, excessive stress can interfere with your productivity and impact your physical and emotional health. Your ability to deal with it can mean the difference between success or failure.

“Chronic job strain can put both your physical and emotional health at risk,” says Paul J. Rosch, MD, the president of the American Institute of Stress.

Being able to release that stress can only lead to better productivity in work and at home. Oxytocin is a hormone that does everything from making you feel good to helping you feel connected to others. Touching or cuddling is one way to release this hormone. It has been proven that cuddling with animals helps this as well. It is one of the reasons therapy animals are so popular.

So it's not too surprising that new research from the University of Missouri-Columbia suggests the hormonal changes that occur when humans and dogs interact could help people cope with depression and certain stress-related disorders.

Preliminary results from a study show that a few minutes of stroking our pet dog prompts a release of a number of "feel good" hormones in humans, including serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin.

Companies have sought out different methods for working with employees to help them reduce stress. Company gyms have become popular. Fitness programs and yoga have been integrated into the work place.

In Florida, an animal shelter is barking up the same tree to help reduce stress with a whole new approach. The Humane Society of Broward County will deliver lovable critters to snuggle with for up to an hour and a half at a time.

You can schedule friends for a snuggle delivery for a minimum donation of $150 to the shelter. Proceeds from this service will benefit all the homeless animals at the Humane Society of Broward County. Think of the possibilities.Your office can throw a snuggle party.

If you happen to find a puppy or kitten that you think is the perfect snuggle bunny (they might have those too) you will have the option to adopt it right on the spot.

"We’ll bring all the necessary paperwork with us, and the pets will be spayed/neutered prior," the spokesman said. For more info http://humanebroward.com/snuggles/

People drink diet soda because -- well, it's diet so they think it will help them lose weight. But a new study finds that in adults 65 and older, increasin...

People drink diet soda because -- well, it's diet so they think it will help them lose weight. But a new study finds that in adults 65 and older, increasing diet soda intake is directly linked to obesity, specifically abdominal obesity. Belly fat, in other words.

The findings, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, raise concerns about the safety of chronic diet soda consumption, which could contribute to increased risk of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular diseases.

Metabolic syndrome, which can lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke, is one of the results of the obesity epidemic.

“Previous research, including human clinical trials, supports that diet beverages are an effective tool as part of an overall weight management plan. Numerous studies have repeatedly demonstrated the benefits of diet beverages – as well as low-calorie sweeteners, which are in thousands of foods and beverages – in helping to reduce calorie intake," the American Beverage Association said in a prepared statement. "It’s important to recognize that this observational study looked at an aging population – those over 65 at the beginning of the study, who are already at risk of weight gain and cardiovascular disease – and then made conclusions based on associations."

Interestingly, obesity rates have risen at the same time as diet soda's popularity has taken off. While previous studies have looked at the effects of diet soda on the young and middle-aged, this one looked at older Americans.

"Our study seeks to fill the age gap by exploring the adverse health effects of diet soda intake in individuals 65 years of age and older," explained lead author Sharon Fowler, MPH, from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. "The burden of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease, along with healthcare costs, is great in the ever-increasing senior population."

The study -- dubbed the San Antonio Longitudinal Study of Aging (SALSA) -- enrolled 749 Mexican- and European-Americans who were aged 65 and older at the start of the study (1992-96). Diet soda intake, waist circumference, height, and weight were measured at study onset, and at three follow-ups. 

"The SALSA study shows that increasing diet soda intake was associated with escalating abdominal obesity, which may increase cardiometabolic risk in older adults," Fowler concluded.

The researchers recommend that older individuals who drink diet soda daily, particularly those at high cardiometabolic risk, should try to cut back.

A few weeks ago, we reported that Hyundai was planning to enter the big-truck market. It turns out the Korean automaker also has its eye on the U.S. small ...

A few weeks ago, we reported that Hyundai was planning to enter the big-truck market. It turns out the Korean automaker also has its eye on the U.S. small truck market.

The Hyundai Santa Cruz has been making the rounds at auto shows lately. It's very much a small pickup, sort of like a Honda CR-V with a short truck bed where the cargo area would normally be.

Hyundai insists the Santa Cruz isn't intended to compete with "real" pickups like the Ford F-150 or the Chevrolet Colorado. Instead, it's for suburban dwellers who don't like putting bags of mulch in their nice clean crossovers. A "sport truck," if you will -- something you can drive to work during the week and to the Home Depot and garden center over the weekend.

The idea is still in the "being floated" stage but if the market research is favorable, you could be seeing the Santa Cruz in showrooms within the next few years, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Hyundai is also looking at an entry-level SUV, something smaller than its Tucson. The new model would compete with models like the Honda HR-V and the Mazda CX-3. 

Why so many new models? Hyundai is facing the plateau problem. After years of rapid growth, its sales have leveled off now that it has models in nearly every segment from compact to luxury cars. Ah, but it doesn't have any trucks or small SUVs, so the hope is that adding models in those segments will get things moving again.

Even if you didn't file a federal income tax return for 2011, you may have some money waiting for you. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) says it has refu...

Even if you didn't file a federal income tax return for 2011, you may have some money waiting for you.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) says it has refunds totaling $1 billion waiting for an estimated 1 million taxpayers. To collect the money, you have to file a 2011 tax return no later than Wednesday, April 15, 2015.

"Time is running out for people who didn’t file a 2011 federal income tax return to claim their refund," said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. "People could be missing out on a substantial refund, especially students or part-time workers. Some people may not have filed because they didn’t make much money, but they may still be entitled to a refund.”

In cases where a tax return was not filed, the law provides most taxpayers with a 3-year window of opportunity for claiming a refund. For 2011 tax returns, the window closes this April 15. If no return is filed to claim a refund within 3 years, the money becomes property of the U.S. Treasury.

The law requires the tax return be properly addressed, mailed and postmarked by that date. There is no penalty for filing a late return that qualifies for a refund.

A reminder: Your check may be held if you haven’t filed tax returns for 2012 and 2013. In addition, the refund will be applied to any amounts still owed to the IRS, or your state tax agency, and may be used to offset unpaid child support or past due federal debts, such as student loans.

By failing to file a tax return, people stand to lose more than just their refund of taxes withheld or paid during 2011. Many low-and-moderate income workers may not have claimed the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

For 2011, the credit is worth as much as $5,751. The EITC helps individuals and families whose incomes are below certain thresholds. The thresholds for 2011 were:

Current and prior year tax forms and instructions are available on the IRS.gov Forms and Publications page, or by calling toll-free: 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

Taxpayers who are missing Forms W-2, 1098, 1099 or 5498 for the years: 2011, 2012 or 2013 should request copies from their employer, bank or other payer.

If these efforts are unsuccessful, taxpayers can get a free transcript showing information from these year-end documents by going to IRS.gov. Taxpayers can also file Form 4506-T to request a transcript of their tax return.

How tough has this winter been? People in the home-bulding business know. According to figures released by the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing...

According to figures released by the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, privately-owned housing starts in February were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 897,000 -- down 17.0% from January and 3.3% the same month a year ago.

A major contributor to the decline was a slide of 14.9% in single-family construction to an annual rate of 593,000. The February rate for units in buildings with 5 units or more was 297,000, down 82,000 units from January.

Analysts at Briefing.com point out that record snowfall in the Northeast and extreme cold in the Midwest likely played a large part in curtailing new construction. "Housing starts in these regions declined 45.0% in February, from 262,000 in January to 144,000," they said. "Those regions," they note, "accounted for 64% of the entire February decline in housing starts."

"Housing clearly remains under pressure," said Sterne Agee Chief Economist Lindsey M. Piegza, adding, "With consumers struggling amid minimal wage growth, housing is unlikely to be a sizable contribution to headline growth in the near term."

Applications for building permits rose 3.0% last month to 1,092,000 00 7.7% (±2.0%) above the year-ago level.

Breaking that down, authorizations for single-family homes were at a rate of 620,000, down 6.2% from January, while permits for of units in buildings with 5 units came in at 445,000 a gain of 74,000 from the month before.

Airline passengers saw their chances of getting to their designation on time improve during January. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Air Tra...

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Air Travel Consumer Report shows the nation’s largest airlines had an on-time arrival rate of 76.8% in January, compared with 67.7% a year earlier and 75.3% in December.

Additionally, the reporting carriers canceled 2.5% of their scheduled domestic flights in January – 4% improvement over the 6.5% cancellation rate posted the previous January, but worse than the 1.4% rate in December.

January marked the first month in which Spirit Airlines was required to report on-time performance and mishandled baggage data as it became a ranked carrier in those sections of the report. However, AirTran Airways no longer appears as a ranked carrier in the report as result of the completion of its merger with Southwest Airlines in December 2014.

Meanwhile, American Airlines and US Airways -- following their December 2013 merger announcement -- will report separately until DOT approves single carrier reporting and a single economic certificate is issued.

The Air Travel Consumer Report report also includes data on tarmac delays, chronically delayed flights, and the causes of flight delays filed with the Bureau of Transportation Statistics by the reporting carriers.

In addition, the consumer report contains statistics on mishandled baggage, as well as consumer service, disability, and discrimination complaints received by the Aviation Consumer Protection Division.

Also included are reports of incidents involving the loss, death, or injury of animals traveling by air.

Frontier Co-op is recalling several of its products manufactured with organic garlic powder and sold under its Frontier and Simply Organic brands, and one ...

Frontier Co-op is recalling several of its products manufactured with organic garlic powder and sold under its Frontier and Simply Organic brands, and one product sold under the Whole Foods Market brand.

The recalled products were sold to distributors, retailers and consumers in all 50 states and in some parts of Canada.

On foil bulk packages, the four-digit lot code will be found on the front label directly above the UPC code. On bottled items, the four-digit lot code is found on the bottom of the bottle. On seasoning mixes, the four-digit lot code is embossed on the right side of the packet.

Consumers should not consume these products, but should either throw away any remaining products or return them to the place of purchase for a refund.

Consumers may contact Frontier Co-op at 1- 800-669-3275 Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. CT.

Bear Creek Smokehouse of Marshall, Texas, is recalling approximately 3,700 pounds of beef products. The products contain soy, a known allergen which is no...

The following barbeque beef items, produced between November 22, 2013, and January 21, 2015, are being recalled:

The recalled products bear the establishment number “EST. 7226” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and were shipped to retail locations in Texas.

After a long hard winter in much of the U.S. most people are looking forward to spring. But for allergy sufferers, the change in seasons may bring a new se...

After a long hard winter in much of the U.S. most people are looking forward to spring. But for allergy sufferers, the change in seasons may bring a new set of miseries.

AFC/Doctors Express, a company operating urgent care centers across the U.S., reports its physicians are already seeing an increase in patients seeking allergy relief. It says the spring of 2015 has the potential to become “the worst allergy season ever.”

The company says the unusually warm fall, followed by an unusually wet winter, has ratcheted up pollen production. When plants are under stress they make more flowers and fewer leaves, resulting in more pollen.

Other clinics and doctors offices are also seeing an uptick in allergy symptoms – mostly sneezing, watery eyes and fatigue.

“Our area of the country typically experiences high tree pollen levels from March through May,” said Dr. Marjorie Slankard, Director of Allergy and Immunology at The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, N.J. “This year’s colder weather may have delayed the process a bit, but now that the warmer weather has hit pollen levels are expected to shoot up.”

The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) says more than 40 million Americans suffer from seasonal allergies and agrees with AFC/Doctors Express that this could be one of the worst seasons we have seen for tree pollen.

The good news for those with allergies is there are ways to reduce your symptoms and suffering. Slankard offers these tips:

Consumer advocates hate them. Personal financial advisors and debt counselors warn consumers to avoid them like the plague. We're talking about subprime au...

On Sunday, two high-ranking Facebook employees published a lengthy post on Facebook's Newsroom page, “Explaining Our Community Standards and Approach to Go...

On Sunday, two high-ranking Facebook employees published a lengthy post on Facebook's Newsroom page, “Explaining Our Community Standards and Approach to Government Requests.” To an untrained eye it might appear that Facebook's announcement entailed some actual changes to its policies, even though Sunday's Newsroom post said that “our policies and standards themselves are not changing.”

For example, even though Facebook has always banned pornography and sexually explicit content, Facebook's “Community Standards,” under the heading “Encouraging Respectful Behavior” and subheading “Nudity,” says that “We remove photographs of people displaying genitals or focusing in on fully exposed buttocks. We also restrict some images of female breasts if they include the nipple, but we always allow photos of women actively engaged in breast-feeding or showing breasts with post-mastectomy scarring.”

Facebook's claim to “always” allow such photos might come as a surprise to the countless women who were banned for posting photos of themselves breastfeeding children; a cursory online search for recent instances of this brings back such headlines as “Mumsnet outraged as breastfeeding photo banned by Facebook” (December 2014) and “Facebook bans ANOTHER breastfeeding photo” (February 2015), not to mention the Facebook community “FB vs. Breastfeeding” (9,927 “likes” as of press time).

Nonetheless, Facebook's pro-breastfeeding stance is nothing new since Facebook says it isn't changing any policies, merely clarifying policies already in existence. Facebook did something similar late last November, when it announced that, starting in January, it was “updating our terms and policies” even though “Nothing is changing with these updates.”

Another one of Facebook's Sunday clarifications involves “revenge porn,” the posting of people's nude pictures without their permission, usually to hurt or humiliate those people. Revenge porn was already banned under Facebook's no-nudity policy, but with Sunday's clarification, Facebook specifically disallowed “images shared in revenge or without permissions from the people in the images.”

Perhaps coincidentally, Facebook's announcement about revenge porn came only a few days after Twitter updated its terms of service to disallow revenge porn, too.

In addition to clarifying its policies, Facebook also published a link to its “Global Government Requests Report,” or transparency report, which offers information about “the government requests we received for content removal and account data as well as national security requests under the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and through National Security Letters.”

Facebook says that “we continue to see an increase in government requests for data and content restrictions.” The United States topped the list, with “United States Law Enforcement” making 14,274 requests for information on 21,731 accounts; Facebook agreed to turn over the information in 79.14% percent of these cases.

Facebook even went further and divided those 14,000 law enforcement requests into seven types: search warrant; subpoena; “emergency disclosures”; Court Order (18 USC 2703(d)); Court Order (Other); Pen Register/Trap and Trace; and Title III.

However, Facebook was considerably less detailed regarding “United States National Security Requests for Data”:

The chart below reflects the ranges for National Security Letters (NSLs) received during the reporting period and the ranges for all accounts specified in the requests. We are limited to reporting this data in bands of 1000.

We are required to wait six months to disclose Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requests. If you would like to know past details of the number (within ranges) and nature of orders that seek the content of accounts and those requesting non-content information (such as subscriber name), all within ranges of 1000, the most recent information is available here.

What follows is a chart saying that the total number of NSL requests Facebook received was somewhere between 0 and 999, on a number of users or accounts somewhere between 0 and 999. Facebook is not to be blamed for offering such uselessly vague information here; the company is legally obligated to be useless and vague, under United States law.

There is no question that consumers are more concerned than every about whether the food they are buying is good for them. Health factors are influencing b...

It's a fact of life: Brands come and go. In January, Brand Keys Inc. published its annual list of brands that best meet consumers' expectations -- as well ...

It's a fact of life: Brands come and go. In January, Brand Keys Inc. published its annual list of brands that best meet consumers' expectations -- as well as those that don't.

"“But unfortunately, as with all lists, there’s a top and a bottom," said Robert Passikoff, founder and president of Brand Keys, Inc.,, the New York-based emotional brand engagement and customer loyalty research consultancy, which released a list of the 10 least-engaging brands of 2015 (listed beginning with the brand with the lowest emotional engagement strength versus their category’s ideal of 100%): 1. Blackberry (25%, down another 26% from 2014) 2. Radio Shack (34%) 3. Blockbuster On Demand (37%) 4. Kobo (40%) 5. Sears (42%, down another 22% from 2014) 6. Tylenol (46%) 7. McDonald’s (49%) 8. Abercrombie & Fitch (50%) 9. Coty Cosmetics (53%, down another 18% from 2014) 10. Budweiser (58%)

“If you find yourself looking at the list and nodding your head, noted Passikoff, “that'’s just the rational market effects making themselves felt.

The brands on the bottom of their respective categories were unable to meet the high emotional expectations consumers bring with them to the marketplace and to the brand engagement process.

You can'’t hide those results, Passikoff said. They not only show up in the marketplace and on profit-loss statements, but in how  consumers see the brands and how they feel about the brands.”  “Independent validations have proven that brands that better meet consumer expectations always see better consumer behavior toward the brand and should axiomatically, result in greater sales and profits,” said Passikoff. “But the reverse is equally true. No brand on the ‘Least Engaging List” is making money or growing share or making profits or creating any reasonable level of emotional engagement with their customers.”

We toss everything in the garage. It's the perfect place to close the door and not have to see what's in that big dark room that's attached to the house. ...

We toss everything in the garage. It's the perfect place to close the door and not have to see what's in that big dark room that's attached to the house.

The problem comes when we have to find what we tossed. It becomes a "Where is it?" moment. This is the best time of year to clear that up.

Tackling a project like the garage can be overwhelming. There are a few ways to make it a bit easier.

Time is on your side. Give yourself enough time to work on it. Don't think two hours and I'm on my way. You are setting yourself up for failure. At least make a weekend out of it. 

This is a project that could use a little extra elbow grease. Enlist family members and bribe the kids if you have to. If your garage has years of things accumulated you might want to consider leaving it up to a professional as family members can get discouraged and not share your passion for gutting the place.

Start making special areas for things such as: tools, camping gear and sports equipment. The idea is to organize and it helps if your house is organized so that once you determine the purpose of your interior storage, many garage items can be relocated.

Box things up in paper boxes or just put them in piles. It is probably not a good idea to go out and purchase storage containers just yet. Wait until everything is out and you know what you are tossing (or saving for the garage sale) and what you will be keeping. This way you will know what kind of containers you need and about how many.

Donate items that you aren't using and that you think won't serve any purpose in your life. If you don't want to hassle with a garage sale and you still have a baby crib in your garage, and your daughter is 19, odds are unless you're the Dugger family you probably won't be having another child. Call a charity and use it as a tax deduction.

Once the garage is empty decide if you want to pull your car back in there. If so create a layout where you can stack and store around the car. Either way -- car or no car -- figure out how you can add shelves and create a storage space where things are easily reachable.

Make the most of vertical space with wall-mounted pegboards and wire grids that hold everything from sports equipment to garden tools. Also take advantage of overhead space with sturdy shelves that mount to the ceiling.

Keep it this way by keeping a schedule and plan to go in and make sure that things are staying in control at least once every six weeks. Remember what your mom used to say -- put things back where they belong.

A California woman has filed a lawsuit against SeaWorld, claiming that the company defrauds customers by automatically renewing (and charging their credit ...

A California woman has filed a lawsuit against SeaWorld, claiming that the company defrauds customers by automatically renewing (and charging their credit cards for) their memberships without their consent.

Courthouse News reports that lead plaintiff Shery Gargir filed the complaint in San Diego and is seeking class-action status. Gargir claims that she bought a two-year membership to SeaWorld, which automatically renewed on a month-to-month basis after the initial two-year subscription expired.

Gargir is not the only person to make such claims against SeaWorld. Last December, a man named Jason Herman filed a similar complaint against SeaWorld in Florida (and two weeks ago, a federal judge in that state refused SeaWorld's request to dismiss Herman's case).

Gargir and Herman are both seeking class action status for their suits; Gargir, according to Courthouse News, is seeking to represent other California consumers who bought one or two-year SeaWorld passes within the last four years, whereas Herman's lawsuit proposes a class of SeaWorld customers from four states: California, Florida, Texas and Virginia.

Builder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family homes fell in March following declines the two previous months. The National Association o...

Builder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family homes fell in March following declines the two previous months.

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) dipped two points to a level of 53 after an identical decline in February and slipping 1 point in January

“The drop in builder confidence is largely attributable to supply chain issues, such as lot and labor shortages as well as tight underwriting standards,” said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “These obstacles notwithstanding, we are expecting solid gains in the housing market this year, buoyed by sustained job growth, low mortgage interest rates and pent-up demand.”

The index gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next 6 months as “good,” “fair” or “poor.” The survey also asks builders to rate traffic of prospective buyers as “high to very high,” “average” or “low to very low.”

Scores for each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.

Two of the 3 HMI components posted losses this month. The component gauging current sales conditions fell 3 points to 58, while the component measuring buyer traffic dropped 2 points to 37. The gauge charting sales expectations in the next six months was unchanged at 59.

Looking at the 3-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, the Northeast and South each posted a 2-point drop to 43 and 55, respectively. The Midwest rose 2 points to 56, while the West fell 7 points to 61.

Even with the March slip, said NAHB Chairman Tom Woods, a home builder from Blue Springs, Mo., “the HMI remains in positive territory and we expect the market to improve as we enter the spring buying season.”  

​Since Washington state voters legalized marijuana for recreational use, the pet industry has been smokin'....

Since Washington state voters legalized marijuana for recreational use, the pet industry has been smokin'.

More and more companies are using marijuana or hemp and claiming the resulting products for pets can give extraordinary medical and health benefits -- and the feds are not too happy about it.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, Canna-Pet, LLC, uses words like "anti-cancer," "anti-tumor" and much more. Canna Companion of Snohomish County claims its products inhibit cancer cell growth and reduce inflammation, according to the FDA.

Both of these companies recently got letters from the FDA telling them that pot-related products for dogs are "unapproved new animal drug(s) and your marketing of them violates [FDA rules]. The FDA gave both firms 15 days to get rid of the claims.

It's not just the feds who are hassling the companies. They're doing a good job of being downers for each other.

The companies at one time had set their sights on being just one company. Veterinarians Sarah Brandon and Greg Copas were at one time business partners with Dan Goldfarb, trying to develop pet products containing marijuana.

But things went sour and now they're two different companies with the same problem -- the feds are on their case. 

Lisa Anderson, a representative for Canna, they stand by their all-natural hemp products. She said Canna was not aware they were violating FDA rules and as a result they immediately scaled back the claims on their website. She said Canna plans on working with the FDA to undergo proper procedures that include more formalized and comprehensive clinical trials. 

Meanwhile, San Diego-based HempMeds has developed cannabis pet food, treats and oils that help animals that may suffer from anxiety, digestive issues, seizures and more.

Rob Streisfeld, a consultant for HempMeds, says the company's products will not get your dogs and cats stoned. 

Andrew Hard, a spokesman for HempMeds said, "Bizarrely enough we have products out there for people right now, but for animals its moving much more slowly. Sometimes the regulation for animals is more stringent than it is for people."

Gourmet Kitchen of Neptune, N.J., is recalling approximately 16,722 pounds of various beef and chicken products. The products contain peanuts, an allergen...

Gourmet Kitchen of Neptune, N.J., is recalling approximately 16,722 pounds of various beef and chicken products.

The The following ready-to-cook beef and chicken appetizer items, produced on various dates between October 15, 2014 and March 2, 2015, are being recalled:

The recalled products bear the establishment number “EST. 18450” or “EST. 18450 P” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and were shipped to institutional and food service locations nationwide.

Bon Appetizers of Lakewood, N.J., is recalling approximately 10,429 pounds of chicken products. The products contain peanuts, an allergen not listed on th...

The products bear the establishment number “P-32068” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and were scheduled for food service and institutional use in Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey and Texas.

Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Bon Appetizers General Manager Philip Decker at (732) 730-9310 or by email at info@cuisinellc.com.

There is more than $1 trillion in student loan debt in the U.S. By and large, the young consumers carrying this load are doing so at the most vulnerable po...

There is more than $1 trillion in student loan debt in the U.S. By and large, the young consumers carrying this load are doing so at the most vulnerable point in their financial lives.

They are just starting their careers. If they are lucky, they have a job. In most cases, however, their salaries are on the low end. Yet a big chunk of their paycheck goes to making payments on their student loans.

President Obama took this concern to Georgia Tech this week, where he told students that, as valuable as a college education is, paying for it has become a crushing burden.

“The average undergrad who borrows money to pay for college graduates with about $28,000 in student loan debt,” Obama said. “That’s just the average; some students end up with a lot more than that.”

Obama signed a “student aid bill of rights” designed to make the student loan repayment process easier to understand and manage.

“We're going to require that the businesses that service your loans provide clear information about how much you owe, what your options are for repaying it, and if you're falling behind, help you get back in good standing with reasonable fees on a reasonable timeline,” Obama told the students.

Just as with any other loan, such as a car payment or mortgage, you need to make payments to your loan servicer, the entity that loaned the money. Each servicer has its own payment process, so you should check with your servicer if you aren’t sure how or when to make a payment.

Remember, it's your responsibility to stay in touch with your servicer and make your payments, even if you do not receive a bill.

You don’t have to begin repaying most federal student loans until after you leave college or drop below the minimum requirement of half-time enrollment. The exception is PLUS loans, whose repayment begins once you have received the full amount of your loan.

Your lender is required to provide you with a loan repayment schedule that details when your first payment is due, the number and frequency of payments, and the amount of each payment. Your loan may have a grace period that gives you a little extra time before starting the repayment process.

The grace period gives you time to get your feet under you financially and to select your repayment plan. Not all federal student loans have a grace period and keep in mind, even during a grace period interest charges will accrue on most loans.

If you are called to active duty military service for more than 30 days before the end of your grace period, you will get the full 6-month grace period when you return from active duty.

Private student loans – obtained from a bank, credit union or university – have different terms that vary from lender to lender.

For example, Wells Fargo says payments begin 6 months after the borrower leaves school. However, some loans like Student Loan for Parents and the Wells Fargo Private Consolidation loan, payments begin once the loan funds have been received.

Regardless of the source of the loan, Obama said students need clearer instructions on the repayment process.

Fifth Third Bank has kind of an odd name and, besides that, it has a knack for enraging customers who run into security or fraud issues. Take Keriann of Na...

International health researchers are expressing concern about the H7N9 strain of the bird flu virus that has spread through chicken flocks in China. They w...

International health researchers are expressing concern about the H7N9 strain of the bird flu virus that has spread through chicken flocks in China. They worry that the virus is mutating, possibly enabling it to be passed from human to human.

This week the bird flu virus was confirmed on some poultry farms in the U.S. U.S. inspectors confirmed the presence of a different bird flu strain -- H5N2 -- in turkeys in Arkansas.

At present, bird flu is only passed from bird to bird or bird to human. And the only way humans can become infected is to have contact with an infected bird.

Researchers at the University of Hong Kong, in a report in the journal Nature, also warn that the virus is exchanging genes with other types of flu bugs, raising the possibility of new strains of the virus in the future.

If this all sounds familiar, it should. The same fears of a mutating bird flu virus arose exactly 2 years ago when the H7N9 strain killed at least 24 people in China. The virus didn't mutate and health officials breathed a sigh of relief.

In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in February that 2 Canadian travelers are the first cases of H7N9 in North America. The Canadians had recently visited China, the CDC said.

The CDC says people traveling to China are safe as long as they avoid contact with poultry, including poultry markets and farms, wild birds and their droppings. There are no recommendations against travel to China.

Human infections from the new avian influenza A H7N9 virus were first reported in China in March 2013. Most were believed to be the result of exposure to infected poultry or contaminated environments.

There have been some mild illnesses in human H7N9 cases but most patients have had severe respiratory illness, with about one-third resulting in death.

“No evidence of sustained person-to-person spread of H7N9 has been found, though some evidence points to limited person-to-person spread in rare circumstances,” the CDC said in an advisory.

The new H7N9 virus has not been detected in people or birds in the United States. Still, the cautionary research paper from the University of Hong Kong has placed health officials on alert.

In their study the international team of scientists analyzed the spread of the virus over a wide area of China. They determined that the H7N9 virus is, in fact, mutating on a regular basis, taking on genetic changes that could increase its threat of causing a widespread outbreak.

But mutations in general do not necessarily pose a threat. Only a mutation of the virus that allows it to be passed from human to human.

A tobacco control expert says there's plenty of evidence to justify regulating e-cigarettes immediately. Meanwhile, a new study says that e-cigarette adver...

A tobacco control expert says there's plenty of evidence to justify regulating e-cigarettes immediately. Meanwhile, a new study says that e-cigarette advertising makes consumers crave -- guess what? -- tobacco. 

Writing in the March issue of Food and Drug Law Journal, Georgetown Law Professor Eric N. Lindblom says enough is already known about e-cigarettes to regulate them effectively without any further research or delay. 

"We already know that using e-cigarettes is less harmful than smoking, but more harmful than not using any tobacco or nicotine at all, and that's enough to figure out how to regulate them both to protect and promote the public health," says Lindblom, the former director of the Office of Policy at the Center for Tobacco Products at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

He says his approach would minimize the threats e-cigarettes pose to public health while still enabling them to potentially help reduce smoking.

"This approach could help to heal the current split in the public health community over e-cigarettes by addressing the concerns of both sides," Lindblom says.

"Because e-cigarette use, by itself, is neither beneficial nor benign to users and nonusers, the only public health justification for allowing their marketing would be if doing so would help smokers quit completely or provide them with a less harmful way to obtain the nicotine they crave, without causing any offsetting public health harms," Lindblom wrote.

2) increase their use as a cessation aid and as a less harmful alternative for smokers who would not otherwise quit; and

Lindblom notes that the proposal faces challenges in the United States, primarily from First Amendment constraints on government action to regulate e-cigarette advertising. His paper suggests, however, that "some helpful text and established procedures in the Tobacco Control Act reduce those constraints in this context, providing the FDA with a tremendous opportunity to place the kinds of careful restrictions and requirements on e-cigarette advertising necessary to minimize their harmful aspects and maximize their potential to produce substantial net public health gains."

As Lindblom notes, e-cigarette advertising is not currently regulated the way tobacco advertising is, and a new study by University of Pennsylvania researchers finds that TV advertisements for e-cigarettes may be enticing current and even former tobacco smokers to reach for another cigarette.

The researchers studied more than 800 daily, intermittent, and former smokers who watched e-cigarette advertising, and who then took a survey to determine smoking urges, intentions, and behaviors.

Using a standard test to measure the urge to smoke a cigarette, people who smoke tobacco cigarettes daily and who watched e-cigarette advertisements with someone inhaling or holding an e-cigarette ("vaping") showed a greater urge to smoke than regular smokers who did not see the vaping, as reported in the journal Health Communication.

Former smokers who watched e-cigarette advertisements with vaping had less confidence that they could refrain from smoking tobacco cigarettes than former smokers seeing e-cigarette ads without vaping.

The findings are significant, considering that tobacco advertising on television went up in smoke over four decades ago by way of a federal ban. Moreover, e-cigarette advertising is stoked by big tobacco companies. Estimates peg e-cigarette ad spending at more than $1 billion this year. That number is expected to grow at a 50 percent rate over the next four years.

"We know that exposure to smoking cues such as visual depictions of cigarettes, ashtrays, matches, lighters, and smoke heightens smokers' urge to smoke a cigarette, and decreases former smokers' confidence in their ability to refrain from smoking a cigarette," said Erin K. Maloney, Ph.D., one of the lead researchers.

Maloney and Joseph N. Cappella, Ph.D., pulled together more than a dozen e-cigarette advertisements via searches of Google, YouTube, and e-cigarette web sites. 

Maloney and Cappella observed a trend that more daily smokers who viewed ads with vaping smoked a tobacco cigarette during the experiment than daily smokers who viewed ads without vaping and daily smokers who did not view ads.

Over 35 percent of the daily smokers in the condition that showed vaping reported having a tobacco cigarette during the study versus 22 percent of daily smokers who saw ads without vaping, and about 23 percent of daily smokers who did not see any advertising.

"Given the sophistication of cigarette marketing in the past and the exponential increase in advertising dollars allotted to e-cigarette promotion in the past year, it should be expected that advertisements for these products created by big tobacco companies will maximize smoking cues in their advertisements, and if not regulated, individuals will be exposed to much more e-cigarette advertising on a daily basis," Maloney and Cappella wrote.

The Federal Trade Commission announced yesterday that U.S. district court has permanently banned the ringleader of a telemarketing scam from ever engaging ...

The Federal Trade Commission announced yesterday that a U.S. district court has permanently banned the ringleader of a telemarketing scam from ever engaging in telemarketing again. The ringleader is also ordered to pay a judgment of $10.7 million.

Canadian resident Ari Tietolman allegedly oversaw a network of U.S. and Canadian-based scammers who cold-called senior citizens claiming to sell either fraud protection, legal protection or various alleged pharmaceutical-prescription drug benefits.

Tietolman's telemarketers allegedly tricked consumers into handing over their bank account information, then used that information to create fraudulent checks drawn on their accounts.

Though Tietolman is hopefully out of business for good, plenty of other scammers like him remain in operation. The best way to protect yourself from scammy telemarketers is to hang up on any telemarketer who calls.

To file a fraud complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, click here for the FTC's online Complaint Assistant (Javascript required) or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).

Last October, an online war broke out between the U.K.'s Guardian and Whisper, the anonymizing app and social media platform which billed itself as the “sa...

Last October, an online war broke out between the U.K.'s Guardian and Whisper, the anonymizing app and social media platform which billed itself as the “safest place on the Internet.”

Basically, the Guardian published a series of apparently devastating exposes alleging that Whisper actually tracks some of its supposedly “anonymous” users, and furthermore shared some of this data with the U.S. Department of Defense (which was interested in learing the general regions where U.S. soldiers Whispered thoughts about suicide or self-harm).

This week, five months later, the Guardian published a set of “Corrections and Clarifications” which seem to withdraw most of its earlier claims made against Whisper.

The single paragraph, dated March 11, is 354 words long and ends with the sentence, “The Guardian has clarified an article about Whisper’s terms of service and removed an opinion piece entitled “Think you can Whisper privately? Think again.”

The paragraph is densely written and rather difficult to read, especially considering it was written by professional mainstream journalists (as opposed to bureaucrats, say). But among other things, the statement says that, contrary to the Guardian's own earlier reports, “the public cannot ascertain the identity or location of a Whisper user unless the user publicly discloses this information, that the information Whisper shared with the US Department of Defense’s Suicide Prevention Office did not include personal data, and that Whisper did not store data outside the United States.”

Or did they? Chris Ip at the Columbia Journalism Review analyzed the Guardian's correction and pointed out that, while the “densely worded statement appears to invalidate” the earlier claims, “none of [the Guardian's correction] invalidated the core allegation of the original reporting: whether Whisper tracked users who opted out of geolocation for story ideas — as The Guardian claims — or only did so when posts involved suicide or illegal activity, which Whisper says.”

So despite the Guardian's own apparent retractions this week, the core basis of the five-month-old disagreement between it and Whisper still appears to be unresolved.

Can anyone truly be anonymous on the Internet? Despite Whisper's claims (and the Guardian's apparent endorsement of them), the safest assumption still appears to be “no.”

​On Thursday night, a post on Google's official blog announced recent changes to (and a vast expansion of) Google's “Safe Browsing” program, warning users ...

On Thursday night, a post on Google's official blog announced recent changes to (and a vast expansion of) Google's “Safe Browsing” program, warning users away from websites loaded with dangerous or unwanted software — though whether anyone will actually pay attention to these warnings still remains to be seen.

Google's post marked the 26th birthday of the World Wide Web, and said that its 8-year-old Safe Browsing system currently “shows people more than 5 million warnings per day for all sorts of malicious sites and unwanted software, and discovers more than 50,000 malware sites and more than 90,000 phishing sites every month.”

If you've seen those red-boxed “The site ahead contains harmful programs” warnings, you're familiar with “Safe Browsing.” This is not to be confused with the “This site may harm your computer” warnings which will occasionally appear below certain links listed as part of Google search results.

But however thorough Google or any other tech companies are about detecting and warning users against malicious websites, there's still the security risk inherent in human nature: namely, the more commonplace warnings are, the greater likelihood people will overlook them.

Last November, for example, psychology researchers at Brigham Young University published the results of a study showing that even tech-savvy college students who claimed to take personal computer security very seriously would often ignore malware warnings and click on potentially dangerous links anyway.

And in January, a joint poll conducted by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal showed that almost half of all Americans reported receiving formal notification of at least one personal credit card breach in the previous year.

That statistic did not include the countless Americans who learned of compromised credit cards only after noticing fraudulent charges on their own statements, or reading of database breaches or malware-infected point-of-sale systems in the media.

Problem is, stories and warnings and caveats about hackers, malware, scam artists and all the other computer-security threats out there are so commonplace they lead to what's called “breach fatigue”: repeat anything often enough, and people get inured to it.

But take care you don't let “warning fatigue” lead you to ignore those malware alerts, on Google or anywhere else: those warnings are there for a reason, so don't ignore them no matter how tempted you might be to click through anyway.

Two pieces of bad news for PlayStation owners: in the past few days, multiple PlayStation users have complained that their PlayStation Network (PSN) accoun...

The Producer Price Index (PPI) fell 0.5% in February -- the fourth consecutive decline – due largely to the largest decrease in demand for services since D...

The Producer Price Index (PPI) fell 0.5% in February -- the fourth consecutive decline – due largely to the largest decrease in demand for services since December 2009.

The drop in prices for services was led by margins for final demand trade services and transportation and warehousing services. Both were down 1.5%. Prices for final demand services less trade, transportation, and warehousing rose 0.3%.

Prices for goods fell 0.4%, the eighth consecutive decrease. Over two-thirds of the decline came in food, which was down 1.6 percent. A quarter of that can be laid to fresh and dry vegetables, which dropped 17.1%. Energy prices were unchanged, even though gasoline rose 1.5%.

Levels of Discovery of Overland Park, Kan., is recalling about 150 Fly Boy Airplane Rockers The red wooden knobs on the rocker’s steering panel console ca...

The red wooden knobs on the rocker’s steering panel console can detach, posing a small parts choking hazard to young children.

The firm has received two reports of knobs on the rocker’s steering panel detaching from the chair. No injuries have been reported.

The Levels of Discovery Fly Boy Airplane Rockers are wooden children’s rocking chairs with red wooden spindle frames and red wing-shaped arm rests. Hinged to the front of the chair is a light blue U-shaped airplane steering yoke and a console with red wooden knobs with blue painted circular controls and a red propeller.

The light blue seat of the chair has a navy blue fabric seat cushion and seat back with red buttons. “FLY BOY” is printed on the top frame of the seat back with a printed picture of a red airplane.

The chairs weigh about 17 pounds and measures 29 inches tall by 16 inches deep by 23 inches wide. Model number RAB00038 is printed on the underside of the rocker seat.

The rockers, manufactured in China, were sold at independent juvenile product retail stores nationwide and online at www.LevelsofDiscovery.com from June 2014, through November 2014, for about $160.

Consumers should immediately take the recalled rocker away from young children and contact the firm to receive a replacement console.

Consumers may contact Levels of Discovery toll-free at (866) 980-2536 ext. 9 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. CT Monday through Friday.

If you're looking for a job, you know you have to watch out for scam artists who'll try to sucker you with fake employment offers. Many of these turn out t...

The Federal Communications Commission has released its new net neutrality rules, which prohibit broadband providers from favoring one content provider over...

The Federal Communications Commission has released its new net neutrality rules, which prohibit broadband providers from favoring one content provider over another.

The rules run to 313 pages and are largely impenetrable to the lay reader, but even after all that verbiage, they largely leave it up to the commission to decide most issues on a case-by-case basis.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said the four million emails and letters the commission got from citizens shows how important the Internet is to individuals, businesses and government.

"Broadband networks are the most powerful and pervasive connectivity in history. Broadband is reshaping our economy and recasting the patterns of our lives," Wheeler said in a prepared statement. "Every day, we rely on high-speed connectivity to do our jobs, access entertainment, keep up with the news, express our views, and stay in touch with friends and family."

Wheeler said the new rules, which reclassify high-speed Internet as a telecommunications rather than information service, will protect the open nature of the Internet while ensuring that all users are treated fairly and will not be burdensome to businesses and individual users. 

"There are three simple keys to our broadband future. Broadband networks must be fast. Broadband networks must be fair. Broadband networks must be open," Wheeler said. He said the new rules will:

Ban Paid Prioritization: “Fast lanes” will not divide the Internet into “haves” and “have-nots.”

Ban Blocking: Consumers must get what they pay for – unfettered access to any lawful content on the Internet.

Ban Throttling: Degrading access to legal content and services can have the same effect as blocking and will not be permitted.

"These enforceable, bright-line rules assure the rights of Internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone’s permission," Wheeler said.

Critics say the rules are unnecessary and go too far in defining what may and may not be done by broadband providers.

"As a member of Congress and a businessman for over 30 years, I strongly oppose FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s unprecedented plan to reclassify the Internet as a public utility," said Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) in a recent Fox News commentary.

"A massive layer of government regulation — 332 pages to be exact — not only threatens the online freedoms enjoyed by Americans across the country but stifles the innovation and entrepreneurship that is the lifeblood of the digital economy," Buchanan said.

"Everyone in the net neutrality debate applauds the diversity of the Internet and low barriers to entry for Internet services. Net neutrality is about preventing the companies that connect you to the Internet from acting as gatekeepers and threatening that diversity and opportunity for innovation," Walsh said in on the EFF's website.

"The FCC's net neutrality regulations will help make sure that ISPs don't unfairly favor (or disfavor) some applications and services, just as its common carrier obligations helped ensure that phone carriers couldn't strangle the Internet in its infancy, back in the days of dial-up modems."

Walsh said telecommunications companies have been "working hard to seed fear, uncertainty, and doubt" about the new rules. 

Walsh also noted that while the full order implementing the rules runs to more than 300 pages, the actual rules themselves are only eight pages. See for yourself -- read the full text here.

After an extensive review of previous studies on homeopathic remedies, Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has concluded that ...

After an extensive review of previous studies on homeopathic remedies, Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has concluded that homeopathy is not an effective treatment for any medical condition, and previous studies claiming otherwise proved deeply flawed.

… based on the findings of a rigorous assessment of more than 1800 papers. Of these, 225 studies met the criteria to be included in NHMRC’s examination of the effectiveness of homeopathy. The review found no good quality, well-designed studies with enough participants to support the idea that homeopathy works better than a placebo, or causes health improvements equal to those of another treatment.

Although some studies did report that homeopathy was effective, the quality of those studies was assessed as being small and/or of poor quality. These studies had either too few participants, poor design, poor conduct and or reporting to allow reliable conclusions to be drawn on the effectiveness of homeopathy....

Professor Paul Glasziou, who chairs the NHMRC's Homeopathy Working Committee, told the (UK) Guardian that he hopes the study's findings will convince private health insurance companies to stop paying for ineffective homeopathic treatments.

“There will be a tail of people who won’t respond to this report, and who will say it’s all a conspiracy of the establishment,” he said. “But we hope there will be a lot of reasonable people out there who will reconsider selling, using or subsiding these substances.”

The NHMRC is hardly the only organization to realize that homeopathy does not work. In the United States, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) produced a background paper on homeopathy which diplomatically said that “it is not possible to explain in scientific terms how a remedy containing little or no active ingredient can have any effect.”

Homeopaths believe that diluting substances in water actually makes those substances more potent, and that water can “remember” and maintain the qualities of substances once diluted in it. If you look at the ingredients label of a homeopathic product, you’ll see the “active” ingredients are usually measured in C units: “This ingredient 6C,” “that ingredient 30C,” and so forth.

They’re not talking about temperature measured in Celsius; the C in homeopathy stands for “centesimal,” which is another way of saying “dilute to one part in a hundred.”

Suppose you have a glass of ordinary red wine, and want to dilute/strengthen it according to homeopathic principles. If you combine one drop of wine with 99 drops of water, you'll get 1C wine, which is 99 percent water and 1 percent wine.

Combining one drop of 1C wine with 99 drops of water results in 2C wine, which is 99.99 percent water and 0.01 percent wine. One drop of 2C added to 99 drops of water makes 3C, which is water containing 0.0001 percent wine, and so on.

Once you reach 12C you crash against the physical barrier of Avogadro’s limit, which means that your 12C wine probably doesn’t contain even a single molecule of actual red wine. Yet, if the homeopathic “dilution increases strength” idea were true, drinking a glass of that 12C water would give you a much stronger alcoholic “buzz” than a glass of undiluted red wine, and a glass of 200C water would presumably make you pass out from booze intoxication even though you never downed a single drop of alcohol.

Dr. Edzard Ernst, an academic physician and researcher who specializes in studying “alternative” forms of medicine including homeopathy, wrote about Australia's NHMRC homeopathy study (and his own personal homeopathic experiences) for the Guardian and explained:

In 1993, when I became professor of complementary medicine at Exeter, I was more than happy to give homeopathy the benefit of the doubt. I would have loved to show that it is effective beyond placebo, not least because anyone doing that would almost automatically deserve a Nobel prize. He or she would have to show that a sizeable chunk of our understanding of the laws of nature is quite simply wrong. Homeopathy is based on the belief that “like cures like” and that the dilution of a medicine – homeopaths call the process “potentiation” – renders it not weaker but stronger. As both of these assumptions fly in the face of science, critical thinkers have always insisted that few things could be more implausible than homeopathy.

Indeed, if homeopathic principles were true and could be reliably demonstrated under controlled conditions, that would pretty much change civilization as we know it.

For starters: the world's alcoholic-beverage producers would all go out of business, once their customers realized that a single bottle of product, properly diluted according to homeopathic principles, could produce enough 200C homeopathic hooch to keep an entire fraternity sauced for a century. No need to worry about high grocery bills either, not when a single bowl of nutritious soup plus a few hundred gallons of water makes enough fattening and filling homeopathic stew to feed a family of five for a year.

Alas, nobody can actually take advantage of such wonderfully thrifty-sounding tricks, because the homeopathic claim of strength through dilution simply does not work.

And, while the thought of someone watering down alcoholic beverages in hope of increasing their potency might be worth a laugh or two, there's nothing remotely funny about watering down otherwise-effective doses of medication – or, more likely, ignoring effective medical treatments altogether in lieu of watery homeopathic quackery. Either choice can lead to disastrous consequences.

As NHMRC's CEO Warwick Anderson said in a statement: “People who choose homeopathy may put their health at risk if they reject or delay treatments for which there is good evidence for safety and effectiveness. People who are considering whether to use homeopathy should first get advice from a registered health practitioner and in the meanwhile keep taking any prescribed treatments.”

Millions of Americans have received their federal income tax returns so far but the extra cash hasn't exactly boosted spending. So what are Americans doing...

Millions of Americans have received their federal income tax returns so far but the extra cash hasn't exactly boosted spending. So what are Americans doing with their tax refunds?

According to a survey by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), 68% say they have, or will use their tax return to pay down debt.

“These poll results indicate that debt is still getting in the way of personal savings for many Americans,” said Bruce McClary, spokesperson for the NFCC.

While businesses obviously would like consumers to spend their refunds to stimulate the economy, paying off debt is probably a better long-term use of the money. Just as long as they don't go deep into debt once again. Another study suggests that could happen.

After reining in their spending habits during the Great Recession, there is new evidence that consumers have begun increasing their dependence on credit. Financial website CardHub.com reports consumers increased their credit card debt by $57 billion in 2014, a record.

More troubling, the website predicts that record won't stand for long. Consumers are projected to increase credit card spending by 5% this year – $60 billion. That would add to the 6 consecutive quarters of year over year increases in Americans' credit card debt load.

The pace of increased credit card spending is rapidly rising. The $57 billion increase in 2014 use of plastic represents a 47% increase over 2013. It's a 55% increase over 2012.

Prior to 2012, consumers were decidedly more circumspect in their use of credit. The years 2009 and 2010 were marked by almost no increase in credit card debt. Since then, consumers have rung up close to $180 billion in new charges.

The good news is that credit card defaults are at a 6-year low, according to the Federal Reserve. The credit card charge-off rate is at 2.89%, the lowest it's been since 1985. But alarm bells are ringing.

The average household's credit card balance was nearly $7,200 at the end of last year. That's getting dangerously close to $8,300 – the level that CardHub warns is close to being unsustainable.

Several years ago, many consumers were unable to pay back their credit card charges because they didn't have jobs. Now, the economy is stronger and more people are working. But the report warns that the rapid build-up in debt suggests consumers have forgotten the hard lessons of the Great Recession.

The NFCC, meanwhile, is applauding the debt-paying sentiment its survey uncovered. The foundation says if the debt is costing more than what is being earned from interest on savings – which it almost always does -- debt repayment should be considered as the top priority.

If using the entire tax refund to repay a debt does not completely wipe out the balance owed, the foundation says a plan should be in place to accelerate the payoff of the remaining balance.

“The most important thing to consider is the impact that debt is having on quality of life,” McClary said. “Being in a position where savings has to be put on hold while debt takes center stage is not where consumers should be. Placing debt repayment on a faster track while reducing reliance on credit cards and loans will bring people closer to resuming progress toward reaching their personal financial goals.”

If your operating system is Windows 7, be warned: one of the updates Microsoft released this Tuesday might put your computer into an endless reboot loop....

If your operating system is Windows 7, be warned: one of the updates Microsoft released this Tuesday might put your computer into an endless reboot loop.

Security expert Brian Krebs notes that one of the operating system updates Microsoft released lthis week – KB3033929, to be specific – does not seem to patch any major security vulnerabilities, but does put Windows 7 users into a reboot loop, thus making it impossible to start their computers.

As of press time, neither Microsoft nor any tech support forums have posted a solution to this problem. For now, the safest thing for Windows users to do is avoid applying update 3033929, if they haven't already.

It's kennel cough season. Kennel cough is basically a cold that dogs get and it's spread just like human colds -- through the air and through direct contac...

Twitter updated its terms of service Wednesday evening in order to ban the distribution of “revenge porn,” the practice of publishing nude or sexually expl...

Twitter updated its terms of service Wednesday evening in order to ban the distribution of “revenge porn,” the practice of publishing nude or sexually explicit photos of people (usually women) without their permission.

Twitter's online posted “Content Boundaries” now includes this rule under the subcategory Private Information: “You may not post intimate photos or videos that were taken or distributed without the subject's consent.”

This intended crackdown on revenge-porn purveyors is presuambly part of a larger crackdown against trolls and abse in general. In February, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo admitted in an internal email (later leaked to the outside media) that, “We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we've sucked at it for years. ... We lose core user after core user by not addressing simple trolling issues that they face every day.”

Twitter isn't the only platform to announce a recent crackdown on revenge porn; last month reddit updated its own privacy policy to ban such it, too.

Last January, the Federal Trade Commission cracked down on a website that specialized in posting nude pictures of people and then extorting money from them in order to take them down. However, the FTC's complaint relied not on the fact that he published such photos, but that the website owner had used deceptive methods in order to acquire them.

SImilarly in February 2014, California's attorney general and the police department in Tulsa, Oklahoma worked together to arrest an Oklahoma resident on five counts of felony extortion for operating another revenge porn website that acquired its photos by hacking into women's computers in order to steal them.

In all such cases, the crime was not the posting of revenge porn photos, but various illegal methods of acquiring them. Posting revenge porn photos of adults is not currently a federal crime (though Congresswoman Jackie Speier has proposed a bill to change that). However, posting revenge porn is banned in 16 U.S. states, and as of last month is a crime punishable by up to two years in prison in the United Kingdom.

​For years, General Motors has been offering a five-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty on Chevrolet and GMC but now says it will cut that to five years...

For years, General Motors has been offering a five-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty on Chevrolet and GMC but now says it will cut that to five years and 60,000 miles for 2016 models.

GM insists it's not because the longer warranty was too expensive. Rather, it says, it didn't produce enough sales, Automotive News reports.

“We talked to our customers and learned that free scheduled maintenance and warranty coverage do not rank high as a reason to purchase a vehicle among buyers of non-luxury brands," GM said in a statement.

"We will reinvest the savings we will realize into other retail programs that our customers have told us they value more than these.”

GM said it also will scale back its offer of two years of free maintenance, including oil changes and tire rotations, on most new Chevy, GMC and Buick vehicles. Instead, it will provide two free service visits.

Loneliness may be the new sitting, which has in turn been labeled the new smoking. All of them can shorten your life. New research from Brigham Young Unive...

Loneliness may be the new sitting, which has in turn been labeled the new smoking. All of them can shorten your life. New research from Brigham Young University has just added loneliness and social isolation to the list of life-threatening conditions.

"The effect of this is comparable to obesity, something that public health takes very seriously," said Julianne Holt-Lunstad, the lead study author. "We need to start taking our social relationships more seriously."

Loneliness and social isolation can look very different. For example, someone may be surrounded by many people but still feel alone. Other people may isolate themselves because they prefer to be alone. The effect on longevity, however, is much the same for those two scenarios.

The association between loneliness and risk for mortality among young populations is actually greater than among older populations. Although older people are more likely to be lonely and face a higher mortality risk, loneliness and social isolation better predict premature death among populations younger than 65 years.

"Not only are we at the highest recorded rate of living alone across the entire century, but we're at the highest recorded rates ever on the planet," said Tim Smith, co-author of the study. "With loneliness on the rise, we are predicting a possible loneliness epidemic in the future."

The study analyzed data from a variety of health studies. Altogether, the sample included more than 3 million participants from studies that included data for loneliness, social isolation, and living alone.

Controlling for variables such as socioeconomic status, age, gender, and pre-existing health conditions, they found that the effect goes both ways. The lack of social connections presents an added risk, and the existence of relationships provides a positive health effect. The new study appears in Perspectives on Psychological Science.

Previous research from Holt-Lunstad and Smith puts the heightened risk of mortality from loneliness in the same category as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and being an alcoholic. This current study suggests that not only is the risk for mortality in the same category as these well-known risk factors, it also surpasses health risks associated with obesity.

"In essence, the study is saying the more positive psychology we have in our world, the better we're able to function not just emotionally but physically," Smith said.

When Apple unveiled its new watch this week, the device had a lot of nifty features that may or may not prove to be crowd pleasers. But one function just m...

When Apple unveiled its new watch this week, the device had a lot of nifty features that may or may not prove to be crowd pleasers. But one function just might help improve your health.

A sensor in the watch will send a pulse to your wrist every hour, reminding you to stand up. Sitting, after all, has been declared the new smoking, with some studies claiming too much sitting will take years off your life.

It's just one example of how technology is enabling consumers to do more to manage their own health. A pilot program in New England is taking it a step farther.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts is partnering with American Well on a venture that enables patients to engage with their health care provider through online video, instead of showing up at the doctor's office.

It's not exactly new technology, since video chat has been around for some time. But the application is something new, keeping patient and provider connected.

Under the two-year pilot plan the patients and health care providers taking part will stay in touch, consulting on a select number of health conditions, using video visits. The conditions being monitored might include recovery from a concussion, following up on the use of medications, simple wellness coaching or to check in after a procedure or hospitalization.

"Blue Cross is giving its health care providers an innovative tool that provides patients with access to care outside an office setting - including in the convenience of their own homes,"said Ido Schoenberg, MD, Chairman and CEO of American Well.

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) points to 5 recent medical technology innovations that have improved health care.

A hand-held tool approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can tell whether a mole is cancerous, making a biopsy unnecessary.

A technology developed by Autonomic Technologies is a patient-powered tool that blocks nerve signals responsible for migraine and cluster headaches. The tool is still in clinical trials.

Echo Therapeutics is developing a new patient-powered tool for diabetics, allowing them to read blood analytes without needles and without breaking the skin. It looks like an electric toothbrush that removes just enough skin cells to put the patient's blood chemistry within signal range of a patch-borne biosensor.

In a number of U.S. hospitals medical robots continually patrol hospitals on more routine rounds, checking in on patients and managing their charts and vital signs without direct human intervention.

Finally, the Sapien transcatheter aortic valve, made by Edwards Life Sciences, is an alternative to open-heart surgery. It's guided through the femoral artery by catheter from a small incision near the rib cage, proving effective for frail patients unlikely to survive open-heart surgery.

From the U.S. Census Bureau, word that retail sales posted their third decline in as many months. According to the government, sales were down 0.6% in Feb...

According to the government, sales were down 0.6% in February, or $437.0 billion, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences. Even with that decline, sales were up 1.7% from the same month last year.

Major factors in the month-over-month decline were sales at auto and parts dealers (-2.5%), building materials and garden supply stores (-2.3%) and department stores (-1.4%). These easily offset gains posted by sporting good stores (+2.3%), nonstore retailers (+2.2%) and gas stations (+1.5)

Stern Agee Chief Economist Lindsey M. Piegza calls the decline, “a reflection of sluggish wage growth and growing concerns surrounding financing today's spending with tomorrow's wages.” She notes that consumers have been socking money away for a rainy day.

The Commerce Department recently reported that in January, the personal saving rate -- personal saving as a percentage of disposable personal income -- rose 0.5%, to 5.5%. The month before, the rate jumped 0.6%.

The Labor Department (DOL) reports initial jobless claims plunged by 36,000 in the week ending March 7 to a seasonally adjusted initial claims was 289,000 – the first time in 3 weeks the total has been below 300,000. The previous week's level was revised up by 5,000 -- to 325,000.

Analysts at Briefing.com says claims have been very volatile over the last 4 weeks, making it difficult to get a handle on the labor market. DOL says there were no special factors affecting this week's initial claims.

The 4-week moving average, which is less volatile and considered a more accurate gauge of the labor market, dipped by 3,750 to 302,250.

Toyota Motor Sales is recalling of approximately 2,500 Model Year 2012-2014 RAV4 EV vehicles; and approximately 110,000 Model Year 2015 Camry, Camry Hybrid...

Toyota Motor Sales is recalling of approximately 2,500 Model Year 2012-2014 RAV4 EV vehicles; and approximately 110,000 Model Year 2015 Camry, Camry Hybrid, Highlander, Highlander Hybrid, and 2014-2015 Model Year RAV4 vehicles.

In the RAV4 EV, components in the Electric Vehicle Traction Motor Assembly, which is part of the propulsion system, may cause the vehicle to shift to “neutral” due to a software issue. This condition will also trigger a “Check EV System” warning message on the instrument panel and turn on a malfunction indicator lamp. If the vehicle shifts to “neutral”, this will result in a complete loss of drive power, which can increase the risk of a crash.

Owners of the recalled vehicles will be mailed a notification. Toyota dealers will repair the electric vehicle traction motor assembly.

In the involved Camry, Camry Hybrid, Highlander, Highlander Hybrid and RAV 4 vehicles, a circuit board for the electric power steering (EPS) may have been damaged during its manufacturing process. This can result in the loss of power steering assist; an instrument panel warning lamp will also come on. Manual steering is maintained, but the loss of power steering assist results in increased steering effort at low vehicle speeds and increases the risk of a crash.

Owners of these vehicles will be notified by mail. Toyota dealers will inspect the steering column assembly and replace the power steering electronic control unit, if it falls within the affected range.

The automaker says it is not aware of any crashes, injuries or fatalities caused by either condition.

Today, the Federal Trade Commission charged DIRECTV with deceptive advertising regarding the price of its satellite television services. The FTC says that...

The Great Recession was marked by a wave of home foreclosures. In fact, the recession was made worse by the collapse of the housing market and the financia...

The Great Recession was marked by a wave of home foreclosures. In fact, the recession was made worse by the collapse of the housing market and the financial crisis that event triggered.

The millions who lost their homes to foreclosure, or saw equity in their homes disappear, did in fact suffer a severe financial loss. But when you look at all Americans' loss of wealth since 2009, a different picture begins to emerge.

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis analyzed Americans' loss of net worth in the aftermath of the Great Recession, separating them by whether they were renters or homeowners.

“The proportion of homeowners who lost net worth was larger than the proportion of renters who did so; however, renters were more likely than owners to lose at least 25% of their net worth during this time,” said lead author Michal Grinstein-Weiss. “Homeownership appears to not only expose households to loss but also to protect against severe loss.”

Going into the Great Recession most homeowners considered their home to be a financial asset and a way to build wealth. Home values were rising at a double digit rate. On paper, their wealth was also increasing.

When the market collapsed in 2009, that wealth began to evaporate. For some, the losses were just on paper. For others – those who had borrowed against the inflated equity in their homes – the losses were very real, since they had no way to repay what they had borrowed.

Now that 6 years have passed since the housing bubble popped and the housing market has recovered in most areas, the researchers wanted to find out how housing played into consumers' relative fortunes.

“The experience among homeowners was diverse, with some experiencing net gains while other suffered losses,” Grinstein-Weiss said. “Overall, most homeowners had only small shifts in their balance sheets. In 2007, the biggest asset for homeowners however, was their home. This was particularly true for the lowest-income homeowners, who had an average of 70 percent of their wealth in their homes in 2007.”

Renters, on the other hand, had no equity tied up in a house and therefore had no housing-related loss. However, as a result of a huge drop in home sales for several years, they faced higher and higher rents, taking more of their incomes that could have precluded other wealth-building investments.

Homeowners who were not underwater have seen much of their lost equity return since the market began to recover in 2012.

The Washington University researchers are not the first to suggest that homeowners often find themselves in a stronger financial position than renters. As we reported last October, a study by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation concluded that renters are a “financially fragile” population compared to homeowners. The study found that renters tend to have more debt, less emergency savings and lack the financially literacy of their home-owning peers.

“Given their financial fragility and low levels of financial literacy, the findings suggest the renter population could have a difficult time responding to income shocks and the financial consequences associated with them,” the study concluded.

After years of policy initiatives pushing renewable sources of energy, not just for individuals but for utilities, wind and solar are becoming bigger playe...

After years of policy initiatives pushing renewable sources of energy, not just for individuals but for utilities, wind and solar are becoming bigger players in keeping the lights on.

U.S. utility companies will rely even more on these alternatives sources in 2015, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

In a report this week, the EIA said it expects electric utilities to add more than 20 gigawatts (GW) of utility-scale generating capacity to the grid this year, with the largest increase – 9.9 GW – provided by wind power. Natural gas is expected to increase by 6.3 gigawatts while solar should add another 2.2 GW.

At the same time, EIA says about 16 GW of capacity will be taken off-line in 2015, with nearly 13 GW of that made up of coal-fired plants. That leaves a net increase of only 4 GW in 2015.

The alternative energy additions are not spread evenly across the country. Wind power plants tend to be clustered in the Great Plains, where wide open prairies are conducive to windmills.

Large solar additions of systems with at least one megawatt of capacity are dominated by just 2 states — California, with 1.2 GW, and North Carolina 0.4 GW, which combine for 73% of total solar additions. Both states have policies designed to increase renewable sources of energy.

The EIA figures do not include small-scale installations such as residential rooftop solar photovoltaic systems.

Meanwhile, new natural gas plants are spread more evenly throughout the country. As you might expect, Texas, where the fuel is plentiful, is adding more than double any other state. New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland will also get expanded natural gas capacity.

While the increase in wind and solar capacity is noteworthy, it may be overshadowed by an older energy source. Later this year the Tennessee Valley Authority's (TVA) Watts Bar 2 nuclear facility in southeastern Tennessee will come on line, generating 1.1 GW of electricity. It will be the first new nuclear reactor in the U.S. in nearly 20 years.

The nation's power grid is losing energy output from a number of coal plants that will go dark in 2015.

Most of the retiring coal capacity is found in the Appalachian region -- slightly more than 8 GW combined in Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia, and Indiana. Most of the plants are small and operate at a lower capacity factor than average coal-fired units in the U.S.

They are being shut down in most cases to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS).

The small net growth in electric generating capacity is unlikely to give consumers the same kind of break on utility bills that they have enjoyed at the gas pump over the last few months.

The EIA notes that even with falling natural gas prices, consumers haven't seen a corresponding drop in their utility bills. However, the EIA says those price declines will eventually work their way through the system.

“This short-term lag is largely due to the nature of utility regulation,” the agency said. “Over longer periods, changes in natural gas spot and residential prices are much more closely correlated.”

In February, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman drop-kicked the supplement buiness with the revelation that GNC, Target, Walmart, and Walgreens...

In February, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman drop-kicked the supplement buiness with the revelation that GNC, Target, Walmart, and Walgreens were selling store brand herbal supplements that either didn't contain the labeled substance or contain ingredients that weren't listed on the labels.  

The allegations received nationwide attention and many stores across the country took the supplements off their shelves.

Now Schneiderman has put together a coalition of state attorneys general  from Connecticut, Indiana and Puerto Rico to further investigate the business practices of the herbal supplement industry.

"Clearly, the questions we raised about the herbal supplements sold in New York resonate outside of our borders," Schneiderman said. "By joining together, and building on the long track record of state attorneys general upholding the rights of consumers, we can go further in investigating this industry and, as needed, in achieving reform. I look forward to collaborating with these partners on this vital work.”

It's no small matter. More than half of American adults take some kind of herbal supplement, spending an estimated $60 billion a year in the belief that the supplements have some kind of healthful effect, even though numerous studies have found that healthy adults who eat a balanced diet don't need to take supplements and may not derive any benefit from them. 

A 2013 study from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research estimated there are about 65,000 dietary supplements on the market consumed by more than 150 million Americans, most of them supposedly medicinal herbs, although as Schneiderman's research demonstrated, many of them don't contain much of anything.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires companies to verify that their products are safe and properly labeled for their contents, but unlike drugs, supplements do not undergo the agency's rigorous evaluation process, which scrutinizes everything about a drug — from the design of clinical trials to the severity of side effects to the conditions under which the drug is manufactured.

Many consumers seem to feel that, even if supplements don't do any good, they're not likely to do harm. That's not necessarily the case, however.

More than half of FDA Class I drug recalls between 2004 and 2012 were for “dietary supplements.” Class I recalls are reserved only for products whose use poses a high risk of “serious adverse health consequences or death.”

One of the most dramatic examples of harm caused by use of supplements involved ephedra-containing herbal weight loss products, which caused hundreds of deaths before ephedra was banned from the market in 2004.

Also, mislabeled supplements may pose a significant danger to those who have food allergies or take medication. If the producers of herbal supplements fail to identify all the ingredients on a product’s label, a consumer with food allergies, or who is taking medication for an unrelated illness, is taking a potentially serious health risk every time a contaminated herbal supplement is ingested.

"Consumers are entitled to expect that the product they are purchasing actually contains the ingredients as listed on the label,” said Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen. “The findings uncovered by Attorney General Schneiderman raise serious public health and consumer protection concerns potentially impacting consumers in Connecticut and across the country."

Flea season is just around the corner and there is nothing worse than watching your dog scratch uncontrollably to try and get those fleas off of them. Ther...

The Federal Trade Commission has sent more than $2.4 million in refund checks to just over 100 consumers harmed by the Premier Precious Metals scheme, whic...

The Federal Trade Commission has sent more than $2.4 million in refund checks to just over 100 consumers harmed by the Premier Precious Metals scheme, which bilked millions of dollars from investors, including many senior citizens.

The FTC said the defendants conned consumers into buying precious metals on credit without clearly disclosing significant costs and risks, including the likelihood that consumers would subsequently have to pay more money or lose their investments.

In February 2014, the defendants were permanently banned from selling any investment opportunities under a settlement with the FTC. 

Affected consumers will recover nearly 70 percent of the amount they lost. Consumers who receive checks from the distribution should cash them within 60 days of the mailing date. The FTC never requires consumers to pay money or to provide information before refund checks can be cashed.

How would you like some help preparing your federal tax return? How about some FREE help? You may qualify to get free tax help from Internal revenue Servi...

You may qualify to get free tax help from Internal Revenue Service (IRS)-trained volunteers through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance or the Tax Counseling for the Elderly programs.

The tax agency partners with a network of community organizations to offer free tax services at thousands of sites around the country. These are generally located at community and neighborhood centers, libraries, schools, shopping malls and other convenient locations.

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA) offers free tax help and return preparation to people who generally make $53,000 or less, people with disabilities, the elderly and limited English-speaking taxpayers.

In addition to VITA, the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program offers free tax help and return preparation for all taxpayers, particularly those who are 60 years of age and older, specializing in questions about pensions and retirement-related issues unique to seniors.

The IRS-certified volunteers who provide tax counseling are often retired individuals associated with non-profit organizations that receive grants from the IRS.

To find a VITA or TCE tax preparation site, visit IRS.gov, search the word “VITA” and click on “Free Tax Return Preparation for You by Volunteers.” You can also download IRS’s mobile app – IRS2Go. Go to “Free Tax Help,” enter the sought ZIP code and select a mileage range.

Site information is also available by calling the IRS at 800-906-9887. To locate the nearest AARP Tax-Aide site, or call 888-227-7669.  

​We once heard of a would-be scam artist who tried to market powdered water. "Just add water!" his ad proclaimed. It might have been a prank. No one is qui...

We once heard of a would-be scam artist who tried to market powdered water. "Just add water!" his ad proclaimed. It might have been a prank. No one is quite sure.

But powdered alcohol? It sounds like a prank as well but it's not. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau -- a federal agency perhaps best known for approving viticultural, or wine-growing, regions -- has given its approval to a product called Palcohol.

But don't rush out to the corner liquor store just yet. For starters, the company says it has to gear up its production facility but hopes to have the powdery substance on the market by this summer.

The other hitch is that alcohol sales are regulated by the states as well as the feds and many states are less than enthused about the whole idea.

For their parts, the feds say their approval isn't based on whether powdered alcohol is a keen idea but simply on whether the label accurately describes the contents. By law, that's all it can consider.

Why would anybody think this is a good idea? Well, company founder Mark Phillips lists several reasons on the Palcohol website. 

In other words, Palcohol would make it easier and cheaper to drink. Whether this is a good thing isn't for us to say but Palcohol's opponents include the liquor industry and some state legislators, who say they fear an outbreak of abuse. 

Colorado, where marijuana is legal, last month passed a measure that temporarily outlaws powdered alcohol. Other states are considering similar easures.

"We moved to keep this potentially dangerous product out of Virginia because we knew that federal approval was pending and it would be difficult to address the problem after the fact," said Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. "I'm glad the General Assembly agreed it was the right move to protect Virginians, especially young people, because the risk of abuse and misuse is just so high with this product."

The zig-zag pattern continues for mortgage applications. After rising last week for the first time in 3 weeks, mortgage applications are down again. Data...

Data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey shpws applications slipped 1.3% on a seasonally adjusted basis in the week ending March 6.

The Refinance Index tumbled 3% pushing the refinance share of mortgage activity down 2% to 60% of total applications. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity increased to 5.6% of total applications.

The average loan size for purchase applications increased to the highest level in the history of the survey at $294,900.

The FHA share of total applications dipped to 14.0% from 14.6%, the VA share of total applications jumped from 9.8% to 10.8% and the USDA share of total applications was unchanged from last week at 0.8%.

UltraZx Labs is voluntarily recalling UltraZx weight loss supplements. The product contains Sibutramine and Phenolphthalein, which are not listed on the...

Sibutramine is a controlled substance that was removed for safety reasons, while Phenolphthalein is a chemical that is not an active ingredient in any approved drug in the United States.

UltraZx weight loss supplement is marketed as a dietary supplement used as a weight loss aid and is packaged in bottles of thirty (30) capsules of 300mg. The recalled includes all lots/bottles/packages, which were distributed from September 2014 until February 2015.

Consumers and distributors who have the recalled product should stop using it and return it to UltraZx Labs.

Consumers with questions regarding this recall may contact UltraZx Labs at (305) 904-9393, Monday through Friday from 9:00am – 5:00pm EST.  

Consumers are taking a more proactive approach to managing their health care, which is probably a good thing. But they should always make sure the informat...

Consumers are taking a more proactive approach to managing their health care, which is probably a good thing. But they should always make sure the information they use to make decisions is reliable.

That's the takeaway from a new report that analyzed 55 cancer-related gene tests marketed directly to consumers on the Internet.

Problems with health information on the Internet isn't exactly new. A 2014 University of Florida study highlighted some of the areas where Dr. Internet comes up short. Now, researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute say they found that websites marketing personalized cancer care services tend to overemphasize the tests' purported benefits and downplay their limitations.

More problematic, they say, many sites promote genetic tests whose value for guiding cancer treatment “has not been shown to be clinically useful.” Their findings appear in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

“We wanted to see if consumers are getting a balanced picture of benefits and limitations of these services,” said Dr. Stacy Gray, first author of the report. “We found a lot of variation. Some of the information is good, but all of it needs to be looked at critically by consumers and health care providers.”

Besides focusing on the positives and glossing over the drawbacks, these tests include some that didn't pass the researchers' smell test.

“Eighty-eight percent of the websites offered one or more 'nonstandard' test that lacked evidence of clear clinical utility in routine oncology practice,” Gray said. The report found a wide variety of marketing claims, such as reducing medication errors and improving patient care. Some said their “enhanced treatment options” extended life expectancy.

“Our laboratory analyzes your tumor’s response to 8-16 drugs and combinations to identify which treatments will work best to kill your cancer,” one claim boasts.

Gray points out that claims and other information posted on Internet sites are not subject to regulation by agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Recently, however, the FDA has said it intends to begin regulating genomic testing more broadly.

What does the FTC have to say about these tests? It cites other agencies – in particular the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in saying “some of these tests lack scientific validity, and others provide results that are meaningful only in the context of a full medical evaluation.”

Because of the complexities of both the tests and the interpretation of their results, both the FDA and CDC say that genetic tests should be conducted in registered laboratories that are certified to handle specimens. Also, the results may need to be interpreted by a doctor or trained counselor who understands the value of genetic testing for a particular situation.

Some companies claim that genetic tests can measure the risk of developing a particular disease, like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, or Alzheimer’s. But according to the FTC, again citing the FDA and CDC, the risks of developing these diseases come from many sources, not just genetic changes, and that valid studies are necessary to prove these tests give accurate results.

Gray says regulation of these websites may become a reality, but even if it does oncology providers will still need to guide patients as they navigate decisions about personalized cancer medicine.

Everybody's always looking for ways to save money, especially In this economy, and one common money-saving tip you'll often hear is to watch out for excess...

Everybody's always looking for ways to save money, especially In this economy, and one common money-saving tip you'll often hear is to watch out for excessive “brand loyalty.”

Sometimes people let themselves get so accustomed to paying premium prices for Brand A, they overlook Brand X which works just as well for a considerably lower price.

Various types of brand loyalty which serve only to empty your wallet include paying extra for clothing just because it has a designer's name on the label, or overlooking store-brand foods which are often made by name-brand companies, only without the fancy packaging.

That said, while most flavors of brand loyalty are potential money-wasters, there are a few areas where it makes good economic sense and one where it's downright mandatory: power sources for electronic devices with rechargeable batteries, such as phones, laptops, tablets and even e-cigarettes.

No matter which manufacturer made your devices, you should always stick with manufacturer-approved batteries, chargers and other accessories, rather than buy third-party products which might prove dangerously incompatible with your device.

At best, third-party batteries will likely void your manufacturer's warranty. At worst, they can make your devices overheat, catch fire or even explode. It happened to Ginny in Thousand Oaks, California, who wrote to share her story with us so that others might learn from her family's dangerously close call:

I'm still recovering from an adrenaline rush after yesterday when my daughter's Toshiba laptop caught on fire and exploded! …. It *could have* blown up in my face but I ran fast enough to throw it out the front door first, and then my son's who threw it again away from the house. These are the things that keep going through my mind.

The only damage was the laptop and my nerves (and a scorched wall, burned comforter and dirty smoke) but I want to share my experience because I had NO idea this could happen!

Ginny's 13-year-old daughter was reclining on her bed doing homework on her laptop when “it got too hot and she smelled smoke.” She immediately unplugged the laptop and turned it off, but it was too late:

It was BAD; there was toxic smoke, flames, shrapnel and the fire doesn't go out no matter what you try; it was like a nuclear reactor meltdown sans radiation (I hope lol) that gets bigger instead of smaller until it blows up and doesn't stop for a long time.

When lithium-ion batteries catch on fire, they genuinely are very difficult to extinguish: they can reach temperatures of up to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and they also might explode (which are two reasons why bulk shipments of lithium-ion batteries have been banned on U.S. passenger flights for over a decade now, since 2004). Ginny understandably found herself badly shaken by the incident:

I am buying a "Class D" fire extinguisher or two today after watching a YouTube warning, but I am not sure that would stopped the exploding lithium batteries …. I had NO idea this was a possibility. The laptop always ran hot - it was old and we bought it used. We got a new fan, and recently replaced the battery.

Uh-oh. Replaced the battery? We asked Ginny if the new battery was Toshiba-approved, or made by a third party.

I'm afraid the batteries were 3rd party. My husband had just replaced them because the Toshiba battery died, but I didn't realize he had done that. I never use 3rd party batteries in my cameras and would have objected to them if I had known but he likes to save money (hah! House fires aren't cheap, nor is the burn center, worst case scenario).

Ginny's wasn't the only family to suffer a close call thanks to a third-party battery. Last July, a 13-year-old in Texas accidentally set her bed on fire with her smartphone, which was not only powered by a third-party battery, but ended up under her pillow one night, so that the heat generated by the battery had no place to dissipate and made the pillow start smoldering.

The next month, an airplane about to take off from a runway in Tel Aviv instead had to be evacuated, after the battery in a passenger's iPhone caught fire.

Not that such fires are anything new. Back in 2004, a California teenager suffered second-degree burns when her cell phone caught fire without warning. A local fire investigator said the phone suddenly burst into “fist-sized flames,” and suspected an overheating lithium battery was to blame.

By 2005, the feds were warning consumers about the fire hazards and related dangers posed by rechargeable batteries. That March, for example, the Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a list of “cell phone safety tips” and the first item was this: never use incompatible cell phone batteries and chargers. Whichever brand of phone you have, you must stick with manufacturer-approved batteries rather than buy from third-party sources, as the manufacturers can't guarantee that third-party devices are compatible with their devices.

To protect yourself and keep your house safe from such fire hazards, the three most important pieces of advice are:

As Ginny ruefully noted: “I knew that third-party batteries might hurt my camera, but I didn't know they might hurt me.” 

There are some things everyone already knows. One of them is that forced arbitration agreements are great for big companies, bad for consumers. ...

There are some things everyone already knows. One of them is that forced arbitration agreements are great for big companies, bad for consumers. 

For one thing, consumers almost never prevail when they enter into an arbitration under the rules laid down by whatever gargantuan entity they've dared to challenge. For another, forced arbitration clauses block consumers from filing the class action lawsuits that can bring them relief and also dissuade big companies from riding roughshod over consumers.

But don't take our word for it. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has just released a study that confirms it.

“Tens of millions of consumers are covered by arbitration clauses, but few know about them or understand their impact,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Our study found that these arbitration clauses restrict consumer relief in disputes with financial companies by limiting class actions that provide millions of dollars in redress each year. Now that our study has been completed, we will consider what next steps are appropriate.”

The study found that more than 75% of consumers surveyed did not know whether they were subject to an arbitration clause in their agreements with their financial service providers, and fewer than 7% of those covered by arbitration clauses realized that the clauses restricted their ability to sue in court.

The CFPB studied arbitration clauses in a number of different consumer finance markets including credit cards and checking accounts, which have the largest numbers of consumers. The report results indicate that:

Tens of millions of consumers are covered by arbitration clauses. For example, in the credit card market, card issuers representing more than half of all credit card debt have arbitration clauses – impacting as many as 80 million consumers. In the checking account market, banks representing 44% of insured deposits have arbitration clauses.

Consumers filed roughly 600 arbitration cases and 1,200 individual federal lawsuits per year on average in the markets studied. More than 20% of these cases may have been filed by companies, rather than consumers.

In the 1,060 cases that were filed in 2010 and 2011, arbitrators awarded consumers a combined total of less than $175,000 in damages and less than $190,000 in debt forbearance. Arbitrators also ordered consumers to pay $2.8 million to companies, predominantly for debts that were disputed.

Between 2010 and 2012, consumers filed 3,462 individual lawsuits in federal court about consumer finance disputes in five of these markets. The Bureau found that of the relatively few cases that were decided by a judge, consumers were awarded just under $1 million.

Roughly 32 million consumers on average are eligible for relief through consumer finance class action settlements each year. Across substantially all consumer finance markets, at least 160 million class members were eligible for relief over the five-year period studied. The settlements totaled $2.7 billion in cash, in-kind relief, and attorney’s fees and expenses – with roughly 18% of that going to expenses and attorneys’ fees.

These figures do not include the potential value to consumers of class action settlements requiring companies to change their behavior. Based on available data, the Bureau estimates that the cash payments to class members alone were at least $1.1 billion and cover at least 34 million consumers.

Arbitration clauses can act as a barrier to class actions. By design, arbitration clauses can be used to block class actions in court. The CFPB found that it is rare for a company to try to force an individual lawsuit into arbitration but common for arbitration clauses to be invoked to block class actions.

For example, in cases where credit card issuers with an arbitration clause were sued in a class action, companies invoked the arbitration clause to block class actions 65% of the time.

No evidence of arbitration clauses leading to lower prices for consumers. The CFPB looked at whether companies that include arbitration clauses in their contracts offer lower prices because they are not subject to class action lawsuits. It found no statistically significant evidence that the companies that eliminated their arbitration clauses increased their prices or reduced access to credit relative to those that made no change in their use of arbitration clauses.

Coenzyme Q10 is a highly popular supplement marketed as an antioxidant to slow the aging process. The active ingredient is ubiquinone, a lipid-like substan...

Coenzyme Q10 is a highly popular supplement marketed as an antioxidant to slow the aging process. The active ingredient is ubiquinone, a lipid-like substance found naturally in the body's cells.

But Canadian scientists at McGill University are questioning its effectiveness. They say ubiquinone is not a crucial antioxidant and that consuming it is unlikely to provide the user with any benefit.

“Our findings show that one of the major anti-aging antioxidant supplements used by people can’t possibly act as previously believed,” said Siegfried Hekimi, a McGill biology professor who led the research team. “Dietary supplements cost a lot of money to patients throughout the world – money that would be better spent on healthy food. What’s more, the hope for a quick fix makes people less motivated to undertake appropriate lifestyle changes.”

Coenzyme Q10 is, in fact, pretty expensive. A bottle of 40 tablets can cost around $50. And despite the price, it remains a popular supplement.

Because ubiquinone has been categorized as an antioxidant, Coenzyme Q10 has been recommended for a number of conditions and as an anti-aging supplement. World-wide sales are estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

To reach their conclusions, the McGill researchers created a strain of mice in which they were able to gradually eliminate ubiquinone. After that, they restored it to normal levels.

Because ubiquinone has such a prominent role in producing energy for the body, the results were fairly predictable. The mice got sick and many died.

But the researchers were looking for something else – damage to cells from free radicals, the sometimes-harmful molecules created by the oxygen chemistry during metabolism. To their surprise, they didn't find it. The researchers also concluded that this lack of damage didn’t stem from deployment of some other antioxidant strategy by the mice.

As a supplement Coensyme Q10 is not regulated as a drug by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In fact, it is considered a food. But it still might have some important medical uses.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) has concluded that the supplement is likely effective for Coenzyme Q10 deficiency. But the agency notes that this is a very rare condition.

It is also considered effective for inherited or acquired disorders that limit energy production in the cells of the body, known as mitochondrial disorders. The McGill researchers don't dispute that.

“Many patients are sick because their mitochondria don’t work properly, including because they don’t contain enough ubiquinone,” Hekimi said.

He said the research team will used its findings to devise ways, and possibly new drugs, to boost ubiquinone levels in the body.

NIH, meanwhile, has long concluded that Coenzyme Q10 is probably not effective for a long list of conditions for which it has been marketed, including to counter the effects of Alzheimer's disease, asthma and high cholesterol.

Premium-cable channel Home Box Office announced that it will introduce big changes to its delivery model, changes which ultimately might prove the beginnin...

Premium-cable channel Home Box Office announced that it will introduce big changes to its delivery model, changes which ultimately might prove the beginning of the end of “cable TV” as we know it.

HBO's CEO Richard Plepler announced yesterday that, starting in April, the channel would offer an online streaming service called HBO Now, which subscribers will be able to buy on its own, without paying for an ordinary cable or satellite TV subscription first. (This is not to be mistaken with the pre-existing streaming program HBO Go, which made streaming HBO available alongside a regular premium-cable HBO subscription.)

HBO Now subscriptions will cost $14.99 per month. By contrast, the traditional method of getting HBO – paying for a basic cable subscription, and occasionally extra tiers of channels, before being allowed to subscribe to additional “premium” channels such as HBO – often cost well over $100 per month, after HBO plus all the lower tiers of channels were paid for.

Initially, HBO Now will only be available through Apple-branded iPhones, iPads and Apple TV, but this Apple-exclusive period is only supposed to last three months before HBO Now will also be available for PCs and Android devices.

​Hormone replacement therapy does not protect post-menopausal women against cardiovascular disease, and may even cause an increased risk of stroke, accordi...

Hormone replacement therapy does not protect post-menopausal women against cardiovascular disease, and may even cause an increased risk of stroke, according to new evidence published today.

Hormone therapy, or HRT, is widely used for controlling menopausal symptoms. It has also been used for the prevention of cardiovascular disease in post-menopausal women. The latest evidence, published by the Cochrane Library, looked at the effects of using hormone therapy for at least six months and involved more than 40,000 women across the world.

The length of time women were on treatment, varied across the trials from seven months to just over 10 years.

Overall, the results showed no evidence that hormone therapy provides any protective effects against death from any cause, and specifically death from cardiovascular disease, non-fatal heart attacks or angina, either in healthy women or women with pre-existing heart disease. Instead the findings showed a small increased risk of stroke for post-menopausal women.

The authors also explored how much of an effect there was of starting HRT earlier. They found some evidence that women who started treatment within the first 10 years of their menopause, when menopausal symptoms are most common, seem to have a small protection against death and heart attacks, and no increased risk of stroke. But even in this group, the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) increased.

Author, Dr Henry Boardman from the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Oxford, said the harms and benefits of hormone therapy vary according to the age of the women when they started their treatment.

"The evidence we have provides some support for the so-called 'Timing Hypothesis', but we should bear in mind the size of this effect. When we looked at the results according to the age of women, or by how long since their menopause that they started treatment, we found that if 1000 women under 60 years old started hormone therapy we would expect six fewer deaths, eight fewer cases of heart disease and five extra blood clots over about seven years, compared to a 1000 similar women who did not start hormone therapy," Boardman said.

"The findings of this Cochrane review need to be carefully considered. This is a complicated health issue, where the same treatment offers benefits in some women, but harms in others," he added.

When Google Glass debuted, it was widely derided as looking unbearably geeky. Also, some called it a privacy nightmare. When the Apple Watch debuted yester...

When Google Glass debuted, it was widely derided as looking unbearably geeky. Also, some called it a privacy nightmare. When the Apple Watch debuted yesterday, it was given the worshipful treatment reserved for motherhood, the flag and Apple.

Just why this should be so is not quite clear. Both gadgets are basically luxury items -- something no one really needs and probably won't use very often, merely status symbols for those who are into such things.

After all, for $25 you can buy a Timex watch that will tell time just as well as the Apple Watch. Whether it's better looking is a matter of taste. The Timex won't remind you of meetings and won't automatically change time zones when you get off the plane.

On the other hand, the Timex will work even if you don't have an iPhone 6, something you can't say about the Apple Watch, which will sell for $349 to $1,099 (or $10,000 if you want it in gold). Also, the Timex will run for a year or more on a single battery. The Apple Watch? Maybe 6 or 7 hours.

The Apple Watch will do things the Timex won't, of course. It will place calls, send texts and maybe let you know if you're approaching a Starbucks or other temple of modern marketing. 

In other words, matters of status aside, the Apple Watch will save you the trouble of taking your iPhone out of your pocket to send a text. You'll still have to look at your wrist to see what time it is though. 

Cats are known for their independence. This attractive trait is why many people want a cat as a pet. But it can really be hard to know if a cat will fit yo...

Cats are known for their independence. This attractive trait is why many people want a cat as a pet. But it can really be hard to know if a cat will fit your personality and bond with you. One good clue might be the cat's face.

Arden Moore, is the author of "Fit Cat: Tips & Tricks to Give Your Pet a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life” (Firefly Books, $19.95) and contends that “cat face geometry is one of the best tools for matching a cat to a person.”

This theory seems to be especially helpful if you have a mixed-breed cat because it may have combined traits that make it harder to predict its personality. Moore identifies these three basic face types:

The characteristics of these cats: Very quiet and are spooked easily by a loud noise or even a knock at the door. Some call them library cats because of their quiet demeanor. They are shy and like to cuddle.  An in your pocket type cat as they will never leave your side. They are extremely loyal.

Best human companion type: You love a good book and there is no better place to sit then on the couch with your furry friend by your side. Your commitment list is low and your feline is very high on your priority list.

This cat type is anything but square. It falls into the social butterfly category. You can count on this cat to be friends with everyone from the family dog to your kids and all of their friends. They tend to be very confident.

Best human companion type: You aren't an extreme overachiever. You have a solid dependable schedule. You are family oriented and share your home with a dog, spouse and kids. You live a stable structured life style.

These are the nimble cats, they tend to be the "jocks" of the cat world. These cats are the most vocal. If you want to impress your friends, this is the cat to pull out to do tricks. This isn't the cat to share a bowl of popcorn with and watch a movie. This cat is a mover and a shaker.

Best human companion type: Your work schedule is more erratic. You might put long hours in one day and be home early the next. There isn't a party that you don't like. In fact you may be hosting many of the parties at your house with your cat as the co-host and entertaining the guests.

A gardener is nothing without tools and one essential tool as you start to clear out the scattered brush is a pruner. Like anything that you purchase there...

A gardener is nothing without tools and one essential tool as you start to clear out the scattered brush is a pruner. Like anything that you purchase there are choices and even though a pruning tool seems small it will be something you find yourself using a lot, so you might as well invest in a good one.

The most popular would probably be the bypass. It works like a pair of scissors. It makes a nice clean cut using two curved blades that bypass each other. One blade is sharpened on the outside edge and it slips by a thicker unsharpened blade.

Anvil pruners on the other hand work very much like a knife. They have a slicing action similar to a knife against a cutting board and work well removing tough dead wood. They tend to be a bit bulkier than bypass pruners which makes it a little tougher to get in on those close cuts.

The ratchet garden pruners are pretty much the same as anvil pruners but they do the cutting in stages. If your hands aren't as strong, they can help with the leverage and control. If you find that you have a lot more pruning then expected these are a good choice as they will save all that hand and wrist action which can lead to sprained wrists and your hands becoming exhausted.

If you are new to gardening or pruning and wondering which would be a good starter pruner, a bypass pruner might be your best bet. Eventually as you continue to garden you can start experimenting but to make things easier start simple.

How much will a pruner cost? It can range from less than $10 to close to $75. As with any other tool, buying the best quality will save you effort and money in the long run. Look for blades made from high-tempered carbon steel, which can be sharpened.

Find a tool that feels comfortable in your hand. There are some that have comfort grips. The bigger the cleanup project the longer that tool will be working in tandem with your hand and you will want something you can use for an extended period of time that doesn’t hurt.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has approved a new federal mandatory standard intended to improve the safety of frame child carriers. ...

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has approved a new federal mandatory standard intended to improve the safety of frame child carriers.

A frame child carrier is made of sewn fabric construction on a tubular metal or other frame and is designed to carry a child who weighs between 16 and 50 pounds and is able to sit upright unassisted. The carriers -- worn on the back of the caregiver -- are often used for hiking, and closely resemble hiking/mountaineering backpacks.

CPSC has received nearly 50 incident reports related to frame child carriers that occurred from January 1, 2003 through September 4, 2014. Thirty-four of those incidents resulted in injuries.

The new standard becomes effective 18 months after it is published in the Federal Register, and applies to all frame child carriers manufactured or imported on or after that date.

Both the foreclosure inventory and completed foreclosures posted declines in January. According to CoreLogic's National Foreclosure Report, inventory drop...

According to CoreLogic's National Foreclosure Report, inventory dropped 33.2% and completed foreclosures were down 22.5% from January 2014. The report also shows there were 43,000 completed foreclosures nationwide in January 2015, compared with 55,000 a year earlier -- representing a decrease of 63% from the peak of completed foreclosures in September 2010. Completed foreclosures have declined every month for the past 37 consecutive months.

On a month-over-month basis, completed foreclosures were up 14.7% from the 37,000 reported in December 2014. As a basis of comparison, before the decline in the housing market in 2007, completed foreclosures averaged 21,000 per month nationwide between 2000 and 2006.

Completed foreclosures are an indication of the total number of homes actually lost to foreclosure. Since the financial meltdown began in September 2008, there have been approximately 5.5 million completed foreclosures across the country, and since home ownership rates peaked in the second quarter of 2004, there have been approximately 7 million homes lost to foreclosure.

“Job growth and home-value appreciation have worked to push the serious delinquency rate to the lowest since mid-2008 and foreclosures down by one-third from a year ago,” said Frank Nothaft, chief economist at CoreLogic. “With economic growth in 2015 expected to be better than last year, further declines in both delinquencies and foreclosures are projected for this year.”

As of January 2015,approximately 549,000 homes were in some stage of foreclosure compared with 822,000 homes in January 2014, representing 39 consecutive months of year-over-year declines. The foreclosure inventory as of January 2015 made up 1.4% of all homes with a mortgage, versus 2.0% the year before. On a month-over-month basis, the foreclosure inventory was down 2.7% from December 2014. The current foreclosure rate of 1.4% is back to March 2008 levels.

“The foreclosure inventory continues to shrink with declines in all 50 states over the past 12 months,” said Anand Nallathambi, president and CEO of CoreLogic. “Florida, one of the hardest hit states during the foreclosure crisis, experienced a decline of almost 50% year over year which is outstanding news.”

General Motors is recalling 1,733 model year 2015 Chevrolet Cruze vehicles manufactured February 4, 2015, to February 9, 2015. The left-rear or right-rea...

General Motors is recalling 1,733 model year 2015 Chevrolet Cruze vehicles manufactured February 4, 2015, to February 9, 2015.

The left-rear or right-rear parking brake cable brackets may not have been fastened properly during the assembly process. As a result, the fastening bolts may back out completely, causing the parking brake bracket to separate and the parking brake to not hold the vehicle in place. If the parking brake bracket separates, the parking brake may not hold the vehicle, increasing the risk of a vehicle roll away and a crash.

GM will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the left-rear and right-rear parking brake brackets bolts, tightening them as necessary, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in March 2015.

Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020. GM's number for this recall is 15135.

Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 1,673 model year 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT and Dodge Charger SRT vehicles manufactured September 18, 2014, to February 5...

Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 1,673 model year 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT and Dodge Charger SRT vehicles manufactured September 18, 2014, to February 5, 2015, and equipped with a 6.2L supercharged engine.

O-ring seal and fuel rail crossover hose damage may result in the fuel rail hose connection leaking fuel.

A leak in the presence of an ignition source such as hot engine or exhaust components increases the risk of a vehicle fire.

Chrysler will notify owners and dealers will replace the engine fuel rail injector crossover hose, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin April 24, 2015.

Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is R07.

American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 137 model year 2014 Accord L4 vehicles manufactured July 29, 2014, to July 31, 2014; 2015 Accord L4 vehicles manufact...

American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 137 model year 2014 Accord L4 vehicles manufactured July 29, 2014, to July 31, 2014; 2015 Accord L4 vehicles manufactured August 14, 2014, to January 30, 2015; and 2015 CR-V vehicles manufactured September 9, 2014, to February 6, 2015.

The vehicles may have been assembled with improperly torqued connecting rod bolts, which can cause the engine to lose power or leak oil. Loss of engine power may result in a vehicle stall, increasing the risk of a crash. If the engine leaks oil in the proximity of hot engine or exhaust components, there is a risk of fire.

Honda will notify owners, and dealers will replace the engine short block, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin March 27, 2015.

Owners may contact Honda customer service at 1-888-234-2138. Honda's number for this recall is JP2 (for Accord models) and JP3 (for CR-V models).

There's potential good news coming for American consumers: New York State's attorney general announced today that his office has reached an agreement with ...

There was a time when McDonald's seemed like a bright new idea. Everything was hard plastic and stainless steel. Sort of like a fancy jail cell. At night, ...

There was a time when McDonald's seemed like a bright new idea. Everything was hard plastic and stainless steel. Sort of like a fancy jail cell. At night, you could hose the whole thing down and be ready to cook up a big batch of fries the next day.

But that was a long time ago. What seems like a bright new idea now is a Thai noodle shop or a smoothies joint or maybe a Chipotle. McDonald's? Well, it has sort of become what back in the day was called a greasy spoon -- just a joint where you can get something quick to eat, even if it's kinda gross.

So it seems anyway. Despite spending a fortune on advertising, concocting new marketing slogans and coming up with cool-sounding policies on antibiotic- and cruelty-free foods, folks just aren't lovin' it anymore.

Sales were down 4% in February alone, even though -- as far as we know -- people continued to eat in February. McDonald's recognizes the problem and in its latest earnings report assures its investors that it is trying to "restore business momentum" and become a "modern, progressive burger company."

That assumes, of course, that Americans continue to wolf down burgers, which may or may not be the case. Those who do hunger for burgers have gotten pickier, gravitating towards In-N-Out and other purveyors of higher-end burgers. 

A big part of the problem -- consumer tastes aside -- seems to be a feeling that McDonald's just slaps things together in a hit or miss fashion. 

"I have actually ordered a Bacon McChicken and it came back without the McChicken. When I took it up to the counter to get it fixed, the staff had no problem fixing it. But when I got it back, I opened it up and the chicken was there this time, but the bacon was not," said Renee of Fresno, Calif., who adds that such mishaps are not uncommon.

"Went to McDonalds to order a happy meal for my son and other food for myself and my older son. We went through the drive and drove home and get the cheeseburger and fries out of the box for my son. I took a look and there was no beef patty in the cheeseburger. I had to drive all the way back to McDonalds and this must happen a lot because the manager did not even act like it was a big deal," Darrin said in a ConsumerAffairs review.

"Most of the time I purchase a double quarter pounder but they put a single quarter pounder in the double quarter pounder box. It's bad that after you get your order you have to take everything out of the boxes and wrappers just to make sure they put a hamburger patty on the sandwich."

Maybe a "modern, progressive burger company" should find a way to ensure it always puts a burger in its burger sandwiches?

Even when McDonald's does remember to put a burger on the bun, it's not always as juicy and delectable as you might expect.

"Went to McDonald's in Fox Chase section of Philadelphia, Pa. Not only did I wait 15 minutes for a Quarter-pounder, fries and McDouble cheeseburger, look at the burger I received," said Ben of Philadelphia. "This is why you're losing customers McDonald's. I'm not loving it!"

"Every time I order a large fries, I always get a medium worth or less," said Jose of Bronx, N.Y. "This is frustrating and a rip off. It doesn't matter what McDonald's location it is this always happens. It literally never fails. This must be fixed."

"Ok, so I don't ever complain but this is ridiculous! I orders a meal at McDonalds in Syracuse, NY and when I got my meal I thanked the girl and she didn't say anything. That's okay I don't care but when I got home to eat my meal, I look in the bag and found my large fry barely half full! When I took this pic I hadn't even had one fry! This is just laziness! But these people think they deserve more an hour? You can't even do a simple task! Get it together!"

During the housing bubble millions of people borrowed against the equity in their homes and lived to regret it....

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) continues to warn individuals and businesses of the dangers of criminals obtaining their personal information and filing...

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) continues to warn individuals and businesses of the dangers of criminals obtaining their personal information and filing a false tax return – one that pays a large refund to the criminal.

At the same time, the tax agency wants you to know that not everyone who steals an identity and files a fake return gets away with it. The IRS says a Charlotte, N.C., couple was recently sentenced to a combined 32 years in prison for filing over 1,000 fake returns.

They are among the IRS' top 10 identity theft prosecutions but unfortunately, are the tip of the iceberg. In 2014, the IRS conducted over 1,000 identity theft-related investigations. Nearly 750 people were sentenced to prison in connection to identity theft crimes, a 75% increase over the previous year.

While individuals remain easy targets, businesses provide an even bigger payoff for criminals and are being targeted with increasing frequency. Erik Knight, CEO of SimpleWan, a provider of cloud-based security routers, says businesses large and small are largely oblivious to the threat.

Knight says 40% of companies worldwide suffered some type of computer breach in 2014. If businesses file tax returns from office computers that have been compromised, they may open themselves to fraud. And of course, it goes far beyond tax-related identity theft.

The average time it takes for an organization to realize it’s been breached is 6 months. During that time, a hacker can steal important data and cause extensive damage before the intrusion is noticed.

First, hire an experienced, professional IT firm to regularly check your network and conduct a thorough threat assessment.

Don't hesitate to spend money on security. The adage “if it ain't broke don't fix it” doesn't apply here. Make sure your IT infrastructure is patched and kept up to date, audited and tested for security holes monthly.

Make sure you are following your industry compliance and rules to the letter. In the past businesses that took a lax attitude toward security protocol proved to be easy targets and faced numerous lawsuits as a result.

Get insured. Data breach insurance didn't exist a few years ago. Chances are, many businesses will be required to have it in the near future.

Make sure all equipment and software is current. Knight says a standalone device purchased only a year ago that hasn't been updated or monitored may already be breached and you wouldn't even know it.

If you frequently eat away from home then brace yourself for the possibility hackers have your credit or debit card number again. Security blogger Brian Kr...

If you frequently eat away from home then brace yourself for the possibility hackers have your credit or debit card number again. Security blogger Brian Krebs reports that NEXTEP Systems, a point-of-sale solutions vendor based in Michigan, has apparently been compromised in a number of locations.

NEXTEP handles credit and debit-card payments for “ restaurants, corporate cafeterias, casinos, airports and other food service venues,” according to Krebs.

One of those eateries is Zoup, a northwestern soup chain that uses NEXTEP in its stores. Krebs' sources in the financial industry recently noticed a pattern of fraudulent charges with one thingin common: all of the compromised cards had recently been used at a Zoup shop using NEXTEP to handle card payments.

NEXTEP was recently notified by law enforcement that the security of the systems at some of our customer locations may have been compromised …. We do know that this is NOT affecting all NEXTEP customers, and we have been working with our customers to ensure that any issues are addressed …. At this stage, we are not certain of the extent of the breach, and are working around the clock to ensure a complete resolution.

Gas prices have been slowly rising since late January, when most analysts think they hit bottom -- except in California and especially the Los Angeles area...

Gas prices have been slowly rising since late January, when most analysts think they hit bottom -- except in California and especially the Los Angeles area, where prices shot up $1.03 in February, according to AAA’s Fuel Gauge Report website.

By last week, Los Angeles prices at the pump for regular gas had reached $3.53 per gallon, a $1.09 --  or 45% -- higher than the national average of $2.44 per gallon. “Angelenos are feeling the brunt of a statewide crisis – California oil refiners’ stranglehold on supply that gives them free rein to manipulate the market and spike prices even as crude prices remain low,” said Consumer Advocate Liza Tucker of ConsumerWatchdog.

“Lawmakers have a simple solution at hand – mandating a minimum 24 days of supply of gasoline. It’s time to bring California up to national standards and remove a key supply metric from the oil companies’ control,” she said.  California keeps just 10 days of supply of gasoline on hand, less than half of the nation’s average of 24 days of supply, making the gas market in California tighter and more vulnerable to volatility than the rest of the nation. 

"'We've heard all the excuses. Refinery fire/strikes. We had all these before here. But never has gas marched up over a dollar in a month. At least not that can recall. ... With oil down around $50 a barrel I would hate to see the prices of gas when oil gets back to around $100 again." "There just seems to be always a reason the consumer gets screwed. We are all pretty sick of it. At least I am," Jack said. Consumer Watchdog has called on Gov. Brown and regulators to investigate refinery closures since refineries began slowing production in early February. Tesoro’s Martinez refinery was shut down on February 2nd during the steelworkers’ nationwide strike, despite its CEO’s assurances to investors that refineries can continue operating with lower staff levels indefinitely. Production was further cut after an explosion rocked Exxon’s Torrance refinery. The two refineries together represent 16.5 percent of the state’s refining capacity. Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León has announced hearings into the Torrance refinery explosion, refinery infrastructure, and on gasoline pricing and supply. Consumer Watchdog is also pressing lawmakers to pass legislation mandating on-site inspections when refineries close to determine if the closures are for legitimate reasons. “Gas prices forty-five percent above the national average is ridiculous, and does not reflect normal supply and demand,” said Tucker. “Californians want answers and lawmakers should subpoena refinery CEOs to get them.  Just because oil companies are the largest lobbyists in the state, doesn’t mean their industry should get a free pass time and again—from accidents that poison people to manipulation of supply that poisons prices at the pump.”

In Mexico a federal ban on circuses that was pushed by the country's Green Party and the conservative National Action Party (PAN) is set to go into effect ...

In Mexico a federal ban on circuses that was pushed by the country's Green Party and the conservative National Action Party (PAN) is set to go into effect in July.

Mexico's Congress passed a bill outlawing circuses with animals across the entire country this past Thursday. That was the same day that Ringling Brothers announced its plan to exclude elephants from its roster by 2018. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus won't come to Mexico this year because of the bans.

It all started on a local level. The federal legislation is the culmination of a series of legal changes in the last year that saw Mexico City and 12 of Mexico's 31 states prohibit circuses with animals. Mexico will be the tenth country to have passed nationwide bans on animal circuses nationwide.

As in the United States, animal activists have been relentless. The organization Anima Naturalis Mexico has led demonstrations, political lobbying, and educational campaigns to create greater awareness of how circus animals are treated in Mexico. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) recruited a popular Mexican actress, Kate del Castillo, who appeared on a video that showed baby circus elephants being tied up, beaten and chained to concrete floors.

But Armando Cedeno, the head of Mexico's circus owners association, fears that many of the animals will be put down because there were no provisions in the law that specified what should happen to them.

This encompasses not only elephants but also lions, tigers, zebras and every other animal that has been involved with a circus. Food and care for these animals can cost up to $100 a day. There are 200 circuses in Mexico that have permits so the number of animals effected by this could be large. Cedeno thinks that at least 10 percent of the country's circuses already have closed because of the ban.

 The new law requires circuses to submit lists of the animals they possess, and it would be made available to zoos interested in taking the animals. But with Mexico's public zoos strapped for cash, it is unclear whether they can take any of the circus animals or how much they could pay for them.

The hope is that the circus will survive without animals and a "New Age" circus is emerging with animals that are robots. They still have an elephant that puts its foot up on a ball but the elephant is a robot. People can still fly off of trapezes and walk through rings of fire. Vegas has done pretty well with Cirque du  Soleil which is a human circus of sorts.

Ironically as Mexico bans circuses there is still no law banning cock fighting or bull fighting which are extremely abusive to the animal.

It's maddening, it's March and there is still that white fluffy covering on the lawn in many places. Gardeners rejoice because with March comes occasional ...

It's maddening, it's March and there is still that white fluffy covering on the lawn in many places. Gardeners rejoice because with March comes occasional warmer weather and it does mean spring is on its way.

It can be tempting to want to get out there and start planting but beware! March usually hasn't decided if it is really spring so you most likely will see a short burst of ole man winter.

Knock yourself out and plant those tomatoes outside, but keep a protective covering nearby in case of a cold spell. You can use fabric row cover or a cloche. A cloche is a bell-shaped glass covering that you place over your plants to hold in the warmth of the sun and protect against frosts.

This is the month that you can plant leafy green vegetables, onions, garlic, most herbs and most flowers. Just be ready to cover or even replant if there is a late freeze. There is no guarantee that April will supply all the warm weather you’re dreaming of but at the least you will see many more days where it warms up on a more consistent basis.

There aren't as many bugs in the early spring. Watch though for young bugs as they are as eager as you are to get outside. Be watchful of spider mites -- they like to overwinter on spinach. Check the leaves to make sure they are not on you as well. They are sticky little things.

This is a great time to start the cleanup on the lawn. You will be amazed to see what is under there once the snow melts off. You can start cleaning up your garden beds and trim back flowers that were killed during the winter months. Your shrubs will most likely be out of whack and need a few whacks to make them look neat and manicured.

Don't prune back anything that blooms in the spring or obviously nothing will bloom and your garden will be bare. Wait until they stop blooming and then trim them.

 A great investment is a mulching lawn mower. Go over your grass in March and April. This will shred dead leaves and twigs that often cover your lawn at this time. Bag all the mulched leaves up and then put them in your flower beds. Just put sticks or rocks on top so all of it doesn't fly away. March is called kite season for a reason. One swop of the high winds and your lawn could easily be covered again if you don't put something over the mulch to keep it there.

This is a perfect time to transplant cool-season flowers. Cool season flowers are pansies, dianthus, snapdragons, alyssum, Shasta and African daisies. Wait another month before planting warm-season flowers like zinnias, vincas and sunflowers.

Get on your warm-weather veggies. By mid-month start planting squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, peppers, green beans and eggplants. The sooner you plant these, the sooner you will have a crop, hopefully before insects, diseases, heat stress and drought create problems.

It is still a little early to fertilize your lawn.If you feed too early in spring the nitrogen likely promotes rapid growth of cool-season weeds. You don’t want that.

Check the blades on your lawn mower. This is the perfect time to get it serviced before the neighborhood lawn wars heat up. Give a once-over to your yard. Do benches need fixing, are your lawn ornaments in one piece?

Have you filed your 2014 federal income tax return yet? If not, you have a valuable tool available to help you through the process: Free File. Available o...

Have you filed your 2014 federal income tax return yet? If not, you have a valuable tool available to help you through the process: Free File.

Available only at IRS.gov/FreeFile, the service makes brand-name tax software products and electronic filing available to most taxpayers for free.

Taxpayers have the option to prepare their return at any time and schedule a tax payment as late as the April 15 deadline. Those who can't meet the April tax filing deadline can use Free File to file a six-month extension.

Through a partnership between the IRS and the Free File Alliance, a consortium of 14 leading tax software companies make their branded products available for free. Since 2003, more than 43 million people have used Free File, saving $1.3 billion based on a conservative $30-fee estimate.

Anyone who earned $60,000 or less last year qualifies to choose from among 14 software products. Those who earned more than 60,000 are still eligible for Free File Fillable Forms, the electronic version of IRS paper forms. This more basic Free File option is best for people who are comfortable preparing their own tax return.

More than 70% of all taxpayers -- 100 million people -- are eligible for the software products. Each of the 14 companies has its own special offers, generally based on age, income or state residency. Taxpayers can review each company offer or they can use a “Help Me” tool that will find the software for which they are eligible.

Wondering How to Use Free File? Free File offers easy-to-use products that ask questions and the taxpayer supplies the answers. The software will find the right forms, find the right tax credits and deductions and even do the math. Some companies also offer free state tax return preparation.

Free File also can help taxpayers with the new health care requirements. Most people will simply have to check a box to report health care coverage for the entire year. Learn more at IRS.gov/aca.

Rio Tex Wholesale Meats of Mercedes, Texas, is recalling approximately 58,180 pounds of ready-to-eat beef products. The products may be contaminated with ...

Rio Tex Wholesale Meats of Mercedes, Texas, is recalling approximately 58,180 pounds of ready-to-eat beef products.

The following beef products, produced on various dates between March 25, 2014, and February 19, 2015, are being recalled:

The recalled products bear the establishment number “EST. 13545” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and were shipped for hotel, restaurant and institutional use in Texas.

Consumers with questions regarding the recall may contact Barney Trevino, plant manager, at (956) 565-1142.

Alliance Tire Americas is recalling 309 model 396 tires, size 445/65R22.5 manufactured April 22, 2013, to November 23, 2014; and size 600/50R22.5 manufactu...

Alliance Tire Americas is recalling 309 model 396 tires, size 445/65R22.5 manufactured April 22, 2013, to November 23, 2014; and size 600/50R22.5 manufactured May 27, 2013, to November 2, 2014.

The tread may separate from the tire, resulting in a rapid loss of air, increasing the risk of a crash.

Alliance will notify owners, and dealers will reimburse consumers for the defective tires. The recall is expected to begin in March 2015.

Owners may contact Alliance customer service at 1-800-343-3276. Alliance's number for this recall is ATG-396HS-001.

Suomy SPA is recalling 390 Apex-S1R-EX motorcycle helmets, sizes extra small, small and medium manufactured January 1, 2013, to July 31, 2013. The helmet...

Suomy SPA is recalling 390 Apex-S1R-EX motorcycle helmets, sizes extra small, small and medium manufactured January 1, 2013, to July 31, 2013.

The helmets may not meet the penetration requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 218, "Motorcycle Helmets." In the event of a crash, the wearer may not be protected adequately, increasing the risk of personal injury.

The remedy for this recall is still under development. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 226 model year 2015 Yaris vehicles manufactured September 8, 2014, to January 9, 2015. The recalled...

Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 226 model year 2015 Yaris vehicles manufactured September 8, 2014, to January 9, 2015.

The recalled vehicles may have improperly tightened rear axle bearing bolts. The improperly tightened bolts may loosen during vehicle operation and potentially cause the wheel to lock up or damage the rear brake components, reducing their effectiveness. Either condition increases the risk of a crash.

Toyota will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the rear axle bearing bolts, tightening them as necessary, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin during March 2015.

On Thursday, Microsoft issued a security advisory admitting that it is “aware of a security feature bypass vulnerability” which “affects all supported rele...

On Thursday, Microsoft issued a security advisory admitting that it is “aware of a security feature bypass vulnerability” which “affects all supported releases of Microsoft Windows,” in addition to any non-Microsoft software running on a part of Windows called Secure Channel.

Specifically, Windows is vulnerable to a security flaw known as FREAK (a not-quite-acronym which stands for “Factoring attack on RSA-EXPORT Keys”). FREAK makes it possible for attackers to spy on supposedly secure communications.

The security researchers who first discovered Windows' vulnerability to FREAK estimate that roughly 9.5% of the web's top 1 million websites are vulnerable to FREAK attacks. So are the websites of the FBI and NSA. A list of popular sites susceptible to FREAK can be found at FreakAttack.com.

Remember that “susceptible to FREAK” is not synonymous with “has been hacked thanks to FREAK.” As of presstime, so far as anyone knows, no hackers have exploited the Windows FREAK vulnerability.

Vulnerability to FREAK is not unique to Windows. Quite the opposite: until now, everyone thought FREAK was “only” a problem for Android, iOS and OS X users, but not Windows OS. With this latest addition of Windows, the list of phones, tablets and other devices whose security is vulnerable to FREAK now includes – well, pretty much all of them.

What makes all communications devices vulnerable to this FREAK-show? Three words: National Security Agency.

As TechNewsWorld put it, Microsoft's FREAK problem shows how the “NSA's flaws come home to roost.” After all, it would be very easy for Microsoft and all other tech companies to make securely encrypted devices which nobody can illicitly spy upon. Problem is, the NSA and other branches of the United States government don't want the tech companies to do this; the government wants companies to provide a “backdoor” through which government agents can enter at will.

Remember: even though phone encryption could end the problem of hackers and other criminals spying on people's secure communications, FBI director James Comey actually suggested last October that maybe Congress should make it illegal for such communications to be encrypted.

And last December, when Verizon introduced its “Voice Cypher” app, it described the app with words like “secure” and “encrypted.” But it's not; Voice Cypher also has a backdoor allowing for government access, which also means a backdoor allowing access to any hacker who knows how to breach it.

Bear in mind: even if these devices were genuinely secure and encrypted, it would still be possible for the police or other government agents to get data off of your devices without your help or consent, if necessary to solve a criminal investigation or something similar. The police would merely have to go to court and present evidence for a search warrant, as demanded by the Constitution.

The security-flaw “backdoors” allow the NSA or others to skip this step, so they can easily, remotely (and warrantlessly) access your encrypted device without your knowing about it.

In other words: don't think of FREAK vulnerability as “a terrible security flaw leaving you hopelessly vulnerable to thieving cybercriminals found anywhere on planet Earth”; think of it as “your tax dollars at work.”

There should be no generational finger-pointing when it comes to how well or poorly we manage our money for the future. A new survey suggests we could all ...

There should be no generational finger-pointing when it comes to how well or poorly we manage our money for the future. A new survey suggests we could all learn a thing or two.

The evidence is submitted by Financial Finesse, a company running financial wellness programs in the workplace. Each year it studies financial priorities and vulnerabilities of Millennials, Generation X, and Baby Boomers.

This year, the survey finds that different circumstances may be causing them pain, but members of all three generations have money problems.

First, let's look at what the study found out about Millennials. This under-30 generation probably bears the deepest psychological scars from the Great Recession. It has influenced the way they spend and manage money and, perhaps most significantly, has influenced their housing decisions.

They seem to have a lot in common with their great-grandparents' generation that survived the Great Depression with a distrust of financial institutions. Their focus appears to be on not losing money rather than growing it for the future. As a result, they tend to shy away from the stock market and home purchases.

This group as a whole also isn't doing much to plan for retirement. It has the lowest 401(k) participation rate of all generations.

The survey finds members of Generation X, between the ages of 30 and 51, are actually the most at-risk financially. Why? The authors think Gen Xers may be putting their children first, at the expense of their own financial security.

When questioned, just 17% of Gen Xers said they are confident they are on track to achieve their income-replacement goal by the time they retire. Instead of pumping up their retirement accounts, 23% said they are contributing to a 529 college savings plan.

Boomers, people between 51 and 69, are by far the wealthiest generation but Financial Finesse warns they face an impending health care crisis because of longer life spans and inadequate insurance planning. Only 16% of Boomers said they have long-term care insurance. Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) projects that 70% will need some level of care in retirement.

Financial Finesse’s advisers say they are most concerned for Generation X employees who they urge to re-evaluate their retirement plans with the expectation of less money from Social Security, increasing health care costs, reduced employer benefits, and longer life expectancies than Baby Boomers.

Oh yes, there's also the rising national debt. While both Gen X and Millennials will be left to deal with that mess, probably through higher taxes, but the firm points out Gen X has less time to reconcile their finances than Millennials.

“Is this solvable? Absolutely, but it will require a herculean effort,” said Liz Davidson, CEO and founder of Financial Finesse.

Quick, what's the most boring and confusing thing you can think of? If you said insurance, you're right on target. ...

Quick, what's the most boring and confusing thing you can think of? If you said insurance, you're right on target. 

But, boring and confusing though it is, insurance is something everyone needs. Car insurance, in particular, is a requirement for anyone who wants to register a car in the U.S. And with monthly premiums amounting to $100 or more, you're talking about a lot of money. Billions of dollars, in round numbers.

So it was, perhaps, only a matter of time before Google waded into the insurance marketplace with a U.S. version of its Google Compare site, which has been operating in the UK for two years. It's starting with California, with more states to follow, we're told.

"When it comes to buying car insurance, 80% of drivers think they’d find a better policy if they could compare more than two providers. That’s why today we’re introducing Google Compare for car insurance in California, with more states to follow," said Jerry Dischler, Vice President of Product Management, Google AdWords, in a blog posting. 

It works about the way you'd expect -- your enter your name, driver's license number and a few other bits of data and Google displays the rates offered by its "partners," who pay a commission on any business Google brings their way.

The only problem with this, from the consumer's standpoint, is that Google does not yet have partnerships with every insurance company, which means there may be better rates lurking out there that Google doesn't bother to tell you about because it doesn't get a commission from those companies. Google does, however, have an arrangement with a site called CompareNow, which gives it access to some of the companies it would otherwise be missing.

So far, the only major companies signed up with Google are MetLife and Mercury. It's missing such titans as Allstate, Geico and State Farm.

The insurance industry has been dreading Google's entry into the field but that's nothing compared to how independent agents feel about it. They're petrified. Those who aren't should be.

Agents, who make their living through commissions, have been the backbone of the insurance business. Like travel agents, their commission is covered by the companies they represent, so there's no visible cost to the consumer. And many agents -- travel and insurance alike -- perform valuable services by guiding consumers through the buying process, helping them make wise decisions (or at least that's how it's supposed to work).

We see, of course, how well travel agents survived after Google and others began offering ticket prices and selling tickets. Short answer: they didn't.

When you squeeze out the agents, you might assume that the cost to consumers would go down since the companies no longer have the pay a commission to the agents. That ignores, however, the commission they pay to the Googles of the world. 

While it's possible that Google might help consumers find a better policy for less money, it's also possible we'll never know if we really have the best policy for our needs, since there's more to insurance and most other things than just price.

Ah, but Google says it will have us covered on that score too. Soon it will be reviewing and rating insurance companies, not just selling their policies. 

It may not be until people hit their 60s that they start to think about where they would like to live out their "golden years."...

It may not be until people hit their 60s that they start to think about where they would like to live out their "golden years."

For Baby Boomers, the idea of a nursing home or assisted living facility probably isn't on the list. Fiercely independent, Boomers have championed the idea of “aging in place,” living out old age in their homes, amid familiar surroundings.

But author Stephen Golant, a University of Florida researcher who studies housing needs for older Americans, has concluded that “aging in place” simply isn't practical for many Americans.

When you are 40 or 50, it might sound great. By the time they reach your late 70s, Golant says seniors may find their homes are lacking in the activities, features and amenities that a people need as they age.

The National Association of Homebuilders has an “aging in place” initiative, helping homeowners design new homes so that they can live there safely and independently for the rest of their lives. Besides new homes, the concept also extends to remodeling.

“To age-in-place, you will probably need to modify your house as you mature to increase access and safety,” the industry group says. “Modifications may range from the installation of bathroom grab bars and adjusting countertop height to the creation of first floor bedrooms and the installation of private elevators.

Golant, author of “Aging in the Right Place,” said older people need to think about these things, and think about them before they actually need them. You can wake up one day and find you must rely on other people to meet your everyday needs. Often, he says, even when family and professionals help, it isn't enough.

“We need to think about two sets of feelings -- not just feeling comfortable, but also being in a place where we feel capable of achieving our everyday needs, from self-care to buying groceries to reaching doctors, and don’t feel that our lives are spinning out of control,” Golant said.

If you are an older person of means, your problems are less severe. You can afford the housing and services you need to live a comfortable and independent life.

If you are a low-income senior, you might benefit from government programs and services that can make your older years more comfortable.

Those in the middle, says Golant, usually get the worst of it. They often fall outside the safety net of social, long-term care and housing programs offered by federal, state, and local governments. Buying those services on the open market isn't practical either because they are simply too costly.

In his book, Golant offers what he considers some practical alternatives to older Americans who can't afford assisted living facilities with a high degree of both services and amenities.

One alternative is an “elder village,” a grass-roots communally organized neighborhood or apartment building where seniors can interact with people their own age, feel more engaged and help one another maintain their independence.

If you are considering an assisted living facility, Golant says you should remember that it is no different from any other consumer product. Some will be great and some not so great. Older people should be discriminating customers, he says.

Finally, don't wait until an age-related health crisis hits to make plans. The widest window of opportunity for planning will be when you are in good health and can think clearly.

If you have planned and made good decisions, Golant says even poor health and disabilities won't prevent you from having a happy, productive life.

Two Vietnamese men and a Canadian have been indicted in what prosecutors say is one of the largest email hacking schemes ever. One of the Vietnamese defend...

Two Vietnamese men and a Canadian have been indicted in what prosecutors say is one of the largest email hacking schemes ever. One of the Vietnamese defendants has already pleaded guilty.

“These men — operating from Vietnam, the Netherlands, and Canada — are accused of carrying out the largest data breach of names and email addresses in the history of the Internet,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell. “The defendants allegedly made millions of dollars by stealing over a billion email addresses from email service providers."

According to allegations in the indictments, between February 2009 and June 2012, Viet Quoc Nguyen, 28, hacked into at least eight email service providers (ESPs) throughout the United States and stole confidential information, including proprietary marketing data containing over one billion email addresses. 

Nguyen, along with Giang Hoang Vu, 25, then allegedly used the data to send “spam” to tens of millions of email recipients. 

The data breach was the largest in U.S. history and was the subject of a Congressional inquiry in June 2011.

David-Manuel Santos Da Silva, 33, of Montreal, Canada, was also indicted by a federal grand jury for conspiracy to commit money laundering for helping Nguyen and Vu to generate revenue from the “spam” and launder the proceeds.

According to allegations in the indictments, Da Silva, the co-owner, president and a director of 21 Celsius Inc., a Canadian corporation that ran Marketbay.com, entered into an affiliate marketing arrangement with Nguyen that allowed the defendants to generate revenue from the computer intrusions and data thefts. 

As an affiliate marketer, Nguyen allegedly received a commission on sales generated from Internet traffic that he directed to websites promoting specific products. 

Nguyen allegedly used the information stolen from the ESPs to send “spam” emails to tens of millions of customers and provided hyperlinks to allow the purchase of the products.  These products were marketed by Da Silva’s Marketbay.com.

Between approximately May 2009 and October 2011, Nguyen and Da Silva received approximately $2 million for the sale of products derived from Nguyen’s affiliate marketing activities.

“This case reflects the cutting-edge problems posed by today’s cybercrime cases, where the hackers didn’t target just a single company; they infiltrated most of the country’s email distribution firms,” said Acting U.S. Attorney John A. Horn of the Northern District of Georgia.  “And the scope of the intrusion is unnerving, in that the hackers didn’t stop after stealing the companies’ proprietary data — they then hijacked the companies’ own distribution platforms to send out bulk emails and reaped the profits from email traffic directed to specific websites.”

Elephants may harbor some bad memories from their 145 years as circus animals but their days in the ring will soon be over. Ringling Brothers and Barnum & ...

Elephants may harbor some bad memories from their 145 years as circus animals but their days in the ring will soon be over. Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, saying it has detected "somewhat of a mood shift," says it will phase out its elephants by 2018.

“A lot of people aren’t comfortable with us touring with our elephants,” said circus CEO Kenneth Feld.

That's putting it mildly. Animal rights activists have hurled epithets, lawsuits and anything else they could find at the circus for years. The circus was doing pretty well in court, winning a series of cases, often on appeal.

But it wasn't doing too well in the court of public opinion. Cities and counties across the country passed "anti-circus" ordinances that prohibited the use of elephants and other intelligent animals in public performances and protests became commonplace.

The 13 elephants that are now part of the Ringling Bros. shows will be sent to the circus' Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida by 2018, joining over 40 others. 

The decision came as a pleasant surprise to animal rights activists. Wayne Pacelle, CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, called it "startling and tremendously exciting."

“With consumers now so alert to animal welfare issues, no business involved in any overt form of animal exploitation can survive in the long run. Whether it is locking pigs in metal cages on factory farms or chaining elephants for long-distance travel in performing circuses, businesses must adapt to public concerns in order to succeed in today’s humane economy," Pacelle said.

Consumer fraud cases are usually handled as civil matters, resulting only in fines, but now and then they wind up in criminal court, where the penalties ca...

Consumer fraud cases are usually handled as civil matters, resulting only in fines, but now and then they wind up in criminal court, where the penalties can be considerably harsher.

That's what happened to Alan Tikal, who found himself sentenced to 24 years in prison for running what California prosecutors say was a large-scale mortgage fraud scheme.

Tikal and his partners "defrauded hundreds of hard-working Californians who were fighting to keep their homes during our state’s foreclosure crisis,” state Attorney General Kamala Harris said. “This predatory scheme robbed families of their life savings and in many cases, their homes."

From 2010 through 2013, Tikal operated a business under the name KATN, which targeted vulnerable and non-English speaking homeowners looking for mortgage assistance in the wake of the financial meltdown.

According to evidence presented at trial, Tikal and his associates promised these homeowners that their outstanding mortgage debt would be reduced by 75%. Tikal falsely claimed that he was a registered private banker with access to an enormous line of credit and was able to pay off homeowners’ debt in full. In exchange for various fees and payments, the homeowners existing mortgages would supposedly be satisfied and replaced with new loans to Tikal at 25% of the original loan obligation.

In fact, according to evidence presented at the trial in September 2014, there were no instances in which the homeowner’s mortgage was paid, forgiven, or extinguished. Instead Tikal pocketed the victim’s money and spent it on chartered airline travel, a $5,000 suit, new cars, and other extravagant living expenses.

Tikal and his associates convinced more than 1,000 homeowners in California and other states to participate. Homeowners collectively paid more than $5,800,000 in fees and monthly payments to Tikal and his associates. The results were catastrophic for many families, as the scam drained the victims’ bank accounts and ultimately led to the loss of their homes.

“Alan Tikal cynically took advantage of the desperation those people felt for his own profit, stealing payments meant to preserve family homes. Although we cannot undo the harm Tikal inflicted, today’s sentence provides a measure of justice,” said United States Attorney for the Eastern District of California Benjamin B. Wagner. 

In February, co-defendant Ray Kornfeld was sentenced to 5 years for his role in the scheme and ordered to pay over $3 million in restitution to the victims. Co-defendant Tamara Tikal previously entered a guilty plea and will be sentenced on April 23.  

Poets say you can't put a price tag on love, but you can run up plenty of expenses while searching for it. ...

Google made waves a few weeks ago when it revealed it was developing a new wireless network that would lash up Sprint, T-Mobile and thousands of wi-fi rout...

Google made waves a few weeks ago when it revealed it was developing a new wireless network that would lash up Sprint, T-Mobile and thousands of wi-fi routers.

But as the Wall Street Journal reports today, there is just one little thing: the network will, at least initially, work only on Google's Nexus 6 phones and not on other Android-powered phones.

The new network is expected to launch within the next few weeks but may be delayed if any last-minute glitches pop up, reports say.

Why only the $649 Nexus 6? The simple answer is that what Google is trying to do isn't all that easy. It plans to create a nearly-seamless wireless network using hundreds of thousands of different access points.

This, of course, is what cellular phones already do -- they pick the strongest available signal from their assigned network (AT&T, Sprint, etc.) and the network then manages the calls, handing them off to other towers as needed.

It sounds simple but it's an engineering marvel. What makes it manageable is that calls stay on their respective networks; AT&T only has to manage calls on its network of towers.

What Google is trying to do is much more complex. It plans to monitor all available spectrum on Sprint, T-Mobile and the millions of routers it has in its database, picking the one that works best every step of the way. In effect, Google will be assembling a unique network for every single call -- a mind-bending undertaking.

Ah, you say, my phone already does that. No, it doesn't. The network does all that. Your phone may use wi-fi to place calls or download data if a known wi-fi network is available when you start the call but if you get in your car and drive away, most phones will drop the call. A few may be smart enough to switch to your network carrier.

But no phone today has the capability of constantly scanning all available networks -- cellular and wi-fi -- and picking the best one, then continuing to scan as you move around and as network congestion causes changes in signal availability. 

While the brains behind this operation will be embedded in the network, the phone will need to supply a constant stream of information to the network about its location and the strength of the signal it's receiving. Google is building this capability into the Nexus 6, which is built by Motorola Mobility, a company Google once owned and still works closely with.

Google is, of course, hoping that its network is so compelling that other manufacturers will modify their phones to get in on the act.

Comcast is said to be developing a wi-fi-only network, already offered by a few smaller operators, but no one else is known to be contemplating anything that approaches the complexity of Google's project.

Tired of winter yet? Silly question. While March 17 is a couple of days shy of spring, St. Patrick's Day is close enough and a good reason to celebrate t...

While March 17 is a couple of days shy of spring, St. Patrick's Day is close enough and a good reason to celebrate the approaching change of seasons.

According to the National Retail Federation's (NRF) St. Patrick’s Day Spending Survey conducted by Prosper Insights and Analytics, nearly 127 million people are planning to celebrate the traditional Irish holiday. To do so, they'll spend an average of $36.52 on green garb, festive food and more 74 cents more than they laid out last year.

“Consumers are ready to shed their winter blues and welcome spring’s arrival with St. Patrick’s Day celebrations,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “Falling at the perfect time of year -- just as temperatures begin to rise -- retailers are hoping St. Patrick’s Day will also draw the attention of those looking for traditional spring merchandise as consumers take the opportunity to stock up for warm months ahead with home improvement, garden and apparel purchases.”

The survey found that more than 104 million people (82.4%) of those celebrating, plan to wear green to make sure the luck of the Irish is with them this year; 28.9 million, or 22.8% plan to decorate their homes with shamrocks, leprechauns and pots of "gold."

Consumers also plan to let loose with their friends and family this year. According to the survey, 29.2% -- 37 million people -- plan to celebrate at a bar or restaurant and 19% (24 million consumers) plan to attend a private party; an additional 30% plan to make a special dinner to commemorate the Irish holiday.

Adults ages 25-34 will do the most celebrating with 42.2% planning to head to a bar or restaurant to take part in the festivities. This age group also plans to spend the most at an average of $41.69; close behind are young adults age 18-24, who plan to spend $38.55 on average.

Hiring has kicked into high gear, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reporting that total nonfarm payroll employment shot up by 295,000 in February...

Hiring has kicked into high gear, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reporting that total nonfarm payroll employment shot up by 295,000 in February. At the same time, the unemployment rate dipped from 5.7% to 5.5%

Along with the jobless rate, the number of unemployed persons dropped to 8.7 million. Over the year, the unemployment rate and the number of unemployed persons were down by 1.2% and 1.7 million, respectively.

The civilian labor force participation rate -- at 62.8% -- was little-changed February and has remained within a narrow range of 62.7 to 62.9% since last April. The employment-population ratio was unchanged at 59.3% in February but is up 0.5% over the year.

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rate for teenagers decreased by 1.7% points to 17.1% in February. The jobless rates for adult men (5.2%), adult women (4.9%), whites (4.7%), blacks (10.4%, Asians (4.0%), and Hispanics (6.6%) showed little or no change.

The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was little changed at 2.7 million in February. These individuals accounted for 31.1% of the unemployed. Over the past 12 months, the number of long-term unemployed is down by 1.1 million.

Job gains last month were seen in food services and drinking places (59,000), professional and business services (51,000), management and technical consulting services (7,000), computer systems design and related services (5,000), and architectural and engineering services (5,000).

Construction added 29,000 jobs, with employment in specialty trade contractors up by 27,000 -- mostly in the residential component.

Health care employment rose by 24,000, transportation and warehousing added 19,000 jobs, and employment in retail trade continued to trend up in February (32,000).

Manufacturing employment added 8,000 positions, although within the industry, petroleum and coal products lost 6,000 jobs -- largely due to a strike. Employment in mining decreased by 9,000 in February, with most of it (-7,000) in support activities for mining.

Employment in other major industries, including wholesale trade, information, financial activities, and government, showed little change over the month.

Average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 3 cents to $24.78. Over the year, average hourly earnings have risen by 2.0%.

Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 338,216 model year 2012-2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles manufactured September 17, 2010, to August 19, 2013, and equip...

Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 338,216 model year 2012-2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles manufactured September 17, 2010, to August 19, 2013, and equipped with a 3.6, 5.7 or 6.4 liter engine, and 2012-2013 Dodge Durango vehicles manufactured January 18, 2011, to August 19, 2013, and equipped with a 3.6 or 5.7 liter engine.

The fuel pump relay inside the Totally Integrated Power Module (TIPM-7) may fail, causing the vehicle to stall without warning and increase the risk of a crash.

Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will replace the fuel pump relay with one external to the TIPM. The recall is expected to begin April 24, 2015.

Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is R09.

Nissan North America is recalling 625,000 model year 2013-2015 Nissan Altimas manufactured March 1, 2013, to December 31, 2014. The secondary hood latch ...

Nissan North America is recalling 625,000 model year 2013-2015 Nissan Altimas manufactured March 1, 2013, to December 31, 2014.

The secondary hood latch may bind and remain in the unlatched position when the hood is closed. If the primary latch is inadvertently released and the secondary latch is not engaged, the hood could open unexpectedly while while the vehicle is being driven, increasing the risk of a vehicle crash.

Owners may contact Nissan customer service at 1-800-647-7261. Note: This recall is an expansion of recall 14V-565.

Premier Distribution Center of Nogales, Ariz., is recalling approximately 50,953 pounds of pork and beef products. A federal inspector noticed that some ...

Premier Distribution Center of Nogales, Ariz., is recalling approximately 50,953 pounds of pork and beef products.

A federal inspector noticed that some of the inspection labels had been photocopied, and a pursuant investigation discovered that some of the labels had been applied after hours without the presence of a USDA inspector. The investigation is continuing.

The pork items were produced on various dates from November 15, 2014 through December 2, 2014, and the beef items were produced on various dates from November 29, 2014, through December 18, 2014.

The products bear the shipping number of either #2014110262 for the beef products or #1880 for the pork products, and were shipped to locations in California, Washington and Arizona.

Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. is recalling of approximately 16,600 Model Year 2012-2015 Yaris hatchbacks produced for sale in Puerto Rico. An incorrect hea...

Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. is recalling of approximately 16,600 Model Year 2012-2015 Yaris hatchbacks produced for sale in Puerto Rico.

An incorrect headliner was used in the involved vehicles, and, as a result, the vehicles may not meet certain requirements of a federal standard. This can increase the risk of an injury to occupants in the event of a crash.

Owners of the recalled vehicles will be notified by first class mail, and Toyota dealers will replace the headliner at no cost to the owner.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will now require the makers of approved testosterone, or “low-T” products, to alter labeling to make clear to doctor...

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will now require the makers of approved testosterone, or “low-T” products, to alter labeling to make clear to doctors how these products should be used.

Concern about the possible increased risk of heart attacks and strokes in patients using the drugs is apparently driving the agency's action.

In its safety communication, issued this week, the FDA makes clear that prescription testosterone products are only approved for men who have low testosterone levels caused by certain medical conditions. That means they aren't to be used to treat low testosterone levels from natural causes, like aging.

Up until now, many of these products have been marketed to address natural causes of low-T. Because of the FDA's latest action, you might not be seeing many more commercials like the one below:

The FDA says the benefit and safety of low-T medications have not been established for natural causes of declining testosterone levels. In fact, the agency is concerned about possible harm.

“The benefit and safety of these medications have not been established for the treatment of low testosterone levels due to aging, even if a man’s symptoms seem related to low testosterone,” the FDA warned. “Based on the available evidence from studies and expert input from an FDA Advisory Committee meeting, FDA has concluded that there is a possible increased cardiovascular risk associated with testosterone use.”

According to the FDA, the studies included male subjects who had been treated with testosterone. The agency said it found reports of increased risk of heart attack, stroke, or death associated with testosterone treatment. However, not all studies showed that result.

Then who should be taking a testosterone replacement drug? The FDA says the products are only approved for men who have medical issues, such as disorders of the testicles, pituitary gland or brain that cause hypogonadism.

“However, FDA has become aware that testosterone is being used extensively in attempts to relieve symptoms in men who have low testosterone for no apparent reason other than aging,” the agency told doctors. “The benefits and safety of this use have not been established.”

The FDA has instructed doctors to only prescribe testosterone therapy for men whose low-T is caused by certain medical conditions and just those that have been confirmed by laboratory tests. At the same time, it says health care providers should make sure their patients understand the potential side effects, including increased cardiovascular risks.

The FDA began investigating the issue last year after studies linked testosterone treatments in cardiovascular risks. In 2010 the New England Journal of Medicine reported a clinical trial of a testosterone product was halted after subjects showed an increased number of heart attacks and other heart-related problems.

The recent emergence of a “super bug” bacteria resistant to antibiotics has stoked competing concerns in the health care industry....

The recent emergence of a “super bug” bacteria resistant to antibiotics has stoked competing concerns in the health care industry.

On one hand, the overuse of antibiotics over the years is blamed for ever stronger and more resistant germs. On the other, drug companies haven't been producing many new antibiotics so doctors have fewer weapons to deploy when a nasty bug shows up.

A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found at least 2 million people in the U.S. become infected each year with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections. Many more people die from other conditions that were complicated by an antibiotic-resistant infection.

Unfortunately, producing antibiotics has become less profitable for drug companies, and with recent concerns about their over-prescription, some companies have shied away. The emergence of “super bugs” may bring them back.

At the end of 2014 the Pew Charitable Trust reported there were 37 new antibiotics in development that could address many, but not all, resistant bacteria.

“However, given the inevitability that some in development will fail to win approval, it is clear that there are too few drugs in development to meet current and anticipated patient needs,” the report concluded.

It's mostly smaller players currently developing new antibiotics. The Pew reports found that of the 32 or so companies with antibiotics in clinical trials, only 5 are among the top 50 pharmaceutical companies by sales.

In an interview with the London Telegraph last month, one drug company executive blamed his own industry for the rise in drug-resistant bacteria. Karl Rotthier, CEO of Dutch-based DSM Sinochem Pharmaceuticals, said poor controls at drug manufacturing plants have allowed waste from antibiotic drugs to get into the environment, over-exposing the population and allowing bacteria to build up an immunity.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins have another theory. Over the years doctors have written too many prescriptions for antibiotics, they write in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy. The reason for that, they say, is competition among doctors' offices, urgent care centers and retail medical clinics in wealthy areas of the U.S.

"The increase in the number of antibiotic prescriptions written in wealthy areas appears to be driven primarily by increased competition among doctors' offices, retail medical clinics and other health care providers as they seek to keep patients satisfied with medical care and customer service," said lead author Eili Klein, Ph.D., an assistant professor of emergency medicine in the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

When broken down by geography, the highest per capita rates of antibiotic prescriptions were found in the southeastern U.S. and along the West and East coasts. Metropolitan areas of those regions, such as Manhattan, South Beach and Encino, California had notably high rates of antibiotic precriptions.

"It speaks to the fact that health care is a business," said Klein. "But it also underscores that there is a lot of pressure on doctors to prescribe antibiotics – even when they aren't 100 percent certain they are necessary."

Can't stand the thought of going vegetarian? The good news is you don't have to. You can go "pro-vegetarian" and reap similar benefits, according to a new ...

Can't stand the thought of going vegetarian? The good news is you don't have to. You can go "pro-vegetarian" and reap similar benefits, according to a new study present at an American Heart Association meeting.

A pro-vegetarian diet is one that has a higher proportion of plant-based foods compared to animal-based foods and a study of more than 450,000 Europeans links it to lower risks of dying from heart disease and stroke.

In the observational study, researchers analyzed the eating and lifestyle habits of 451,256 Europeans. People who ate the most pro-vegetarian style diets (70 percent of food coming from plant sources) had a 20 percent lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, compared to those who were the least pro-vegetarian.

"A pro-vegetarian diet doesn't make absolute recommendations about specific nutrients. It focuses on increasing the proportion of plant-based foods relative to animal-based foods, which results in an improved nutritionally balance diet," said Camille Lassale, Ph.D., lead author and an epidemiologist at Imperial College London's School of Public Health.

The American Heart Association recommends following a heart-healthy diet, which could also be described as a pro-vegetarian diet. It is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, beans, and nuts, low-fat dairy, beans, skinless poultry, and fish. It encourages eating foods low in saturated and trans fats and sodium, and limiting added sugars and red meats.

In the study, researchers analyzed the relationship between eating habits and death risks from heart disease and stroke.

"Instead of drastic avoidance of animal-based foods, substituting some of the meat in your diet with plant-based sources may be a very simple, useful way to lower cardiovascular mortality," said Lassale. These findings are in line with the wealth of evidence on benefits of eating plant foods to prevent CVD.

Participants were part of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study, started in 1992. The study included nearly half a million people from 10 countries who were free of chronic diseases at the start of the study, 35 to 70 years and followed for 12 years on average.

Information was collected on their height, weight, food consumption by self-reported food frequency questionnaires, lifestyle and physical activity habits. Causes, and dates of death were obtained from record linkages with boards of health, and active follow-up of participants.

Researchers scored participants based on the types of foods they ate. Points were given for eating foods from seven plant food groups: vegetables, fruit, beans, cereals, potatoes, nuts, and olive oil. Points were subtracted for five animal food groups: meats, animal fats, eggs, fish, and other seafood or dairy products.

Based on their scores, participants were categorized from the least pro-vegetarian to the most. The results were adjusted for age at the start of the study, gender, daily calories, body mass index, smoking status, physical activity, education, alcohol intake and study center.

Allstar Marketing Group, the company responsible for unleashing Snuggies-brand sleeved blankets and other “As Seen on TV” products upon America, has agreed...

Lumber Liquidators is denying charges that some of its laminate wood products contain hazardous quantities of formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. The allegat...

Lumber Liquidators is denying charges that some of its laminate wood products contain hazardous quantities of formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. The allegations were aired on last weekend's "60 Minutes" broadcast on CBS.

The company's founder and chairman, Tom Sullivan, says the allegations are a plot to drive down the firm's stock price and insists Lumber Liquidators products are "100% safe." 

"These attacks are driven by a small group of short-selling investors who are working together for the sole purpose of making money by lowering our stock price. They are using any means to try and scare our customers with inaccurate allegations," Sullivan said in a prepared statement. "Their motives and methods are wrong and we will fight these false attacks on all fronts."

Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring substance that finds its way into many manufactured products, including paneling, cabinetry and furniture. While formaldehyde may be present in some of the glues the company uses, Sullivan insisted the company complies with all applicable regulations, including those established by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), generally considered the toughest in the nation.

"60 Minutes used an improper test method in its reporting that is not included in California’s regulations and does not measure a product according to how it is actually used by consumers," Sullivan said. "60 Minutes used a 'deconstructive test,' which would be like testing the emissions of a car by removing the catalytic converter and muffler."

The controversy is reminiscent of the "killer drywall" scandal that swirled around drywall imported from China a few years ago. The drywall contained impurities that resulted in emissions of sulfuric gases, causing corrosion in electrical wiring and other damages to homes.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eventually concluded, however, that whatever the drywall's effect on property, there was no evidence that the drywall caused any deaths or serious illness.

In 1987, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classified formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen under conditions of unusually high or prolonged exposure. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) says that high levels of formaldehyde may cause short-term effects including watery eyes, wheezing and skin irritation.  

NCI notes that formaldehyde is "used in pressed-wood products, such as particleboard, plywood, and fiberboard; glues and adhesives; permanent-press fabrics; paper product coatings; and certain insulation materials." It is also present in the tailpipe emissions of most cars. 

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends these steps to reduce formaldehyde in your home or workplace:

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a four-year reauthorization bill for Amtrak yesterday, then headed for the airports for one of Congress'...

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a four-year reauthorization bill for Amtrak yesterday before flying home for the weekend. But over in the Senate, all the traffic was about highways and there's no telling when the Amtrak measure will get back on the mainline.

You could get the impression that Congress likes dogs more than people, given the speed with which the House included a provision that lets dogs and cats go along for the ride on Amtrak.

Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) has been the engineer of the Amtrak reauthorization and, inspired by his French bulldog Lilly, has pushed for the pets-on-trains initiative.

Whether the Senate is ready to roll is another question. The Senate Commerce Committee has been more focused on freight trains of late. But Politico reports that senators may wrap freight and passenger legislation together in a larger, more comprehensive bill.

Freight train safety remains a key issue and some senators are holding out for a "positive control" measure that would require trains to be equipped with a mechanism that would apply the brakes automatically in an emergency.

There's also concern about grade crossings, highlighted by the recent accident involving the Metropolitan Transit Authority's Harlem Line in New York.

The House measure -- known officially as the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act (PRRIA) -- is one of those interesting Congressional creations that both helps and hinders rail travel.

According to Denham, the measure "improves rail infrastructure, reduces costs, leverages private sector resources, creates greater accountability and transparency, and accelerates project delivery for Amtrak and the nation’s passenger rail transportation system."

But it doesn't give the green light to every rail project and, in fact, would derail projects like the ambitious but controversial California high-speed rail proposal, which Denham calls a "disaster."

“PRRIA will help modernize our passenger rail systems and make Amtrak run more like a business,” Denham said. “This is a good, bipartisan bill that for the first time authorizes Amtrak in a fiscally responsible manner while also saving American families time and money."

"Importantly for Californians, it prevents another disaster like California high speed rail from wasting taxpayer dollars. California’s high speed rail proposal no longer looks anything like what voters approved.”

The project seeks to build a high-speed rail link between Los Angeles and San Francisco, routed through the Central Valley region. Denham, of Modesto, represents a big part of the Central Valley, where many residents view the project as a boondoggle. Somewhere around $6 billion has been spent on it so far.

Under PRRIA, if grant applicants cannot complete their proposed projects and operate at full capacity within 20 years, any funds provided on by the federal government would have to be returned on a pro-rated basis.

So, while Lilly might be able to catch a ride home from D.C. to Modesto, she'll have to fly or hitch a ride if she wants to continue on to L.A. or San Francisco. 

Pets have achieved a new role in hospital settings and taken over where Candy Stripers left off. They visit the sick and bring a little smile to their face...

Pets have achieved a new role in hospital settings and taken over where Candy Stripers left off. They visit the sick and bring a little smile to their faces. They can make an uncomfortable place bearable for a few moments.

Responding to the growing popularity of so-called therapy animals, the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) recommends that only dogs — not cats — be allowed in hospitals for pet therapy programs.

"While there may be benefits to patient care, the role of animals in the spread of bacteria is not well understood. We have developed standard infection prevention and control guidance to help protect patients and health care providers," Dr. David Weber, a lead author of the recommendations, said in a statement.

There haven't been any long-term studies on the risks that therapy animals may pose in a hospital setting but in a 2006 study of 100 dogs in Ontario, Canada, hospitals found that about 80 percent of the animals carried potentially harmful bacteria, including Clostridium difficile and Salmonella.

However, the study did not look at whether the animals could transmit the diseases to patients. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has never received a report of an infection related to pet therapy, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Weber's group interviewed 300 SHEA members. They reviewed information from studies on animals in health care settings, as well as existing hospital policies.

"Cats should be excluded," the guidelines continue, "because they cannot be trained to reliably provide safe interactions with patients in the health care setting." Cats are more likely to scratch or bite and more people are allergic to cats than to dogs.

SHEA also set up some guidelines for pet therapy animals. Dogs should be at least a year old and should undergo formal training and evaluation for their behavior in a health care setting. Handlers should also be trained. Hospitals should look for animals that have been certified by pet therapy training organizations.

Many times patients request that their own pets come and visit, but SHEA would like to curb that activity. It may be hard to prevent patients other than the owner from encountering a visiting pet.

Not all hope is lost for our feline friends. Dr. Rekha Murthy, a co-lead author of the guidelines, said cats could be used at the discretion of individual institutions.

While there weren't as many planned job cuts in February as there were the month before, the total still topped 50,000. The Challenger, Gray & Christmas m...

While there weren't as many planned job cuts in February as there were the month before, the total still topped 50,000.

The Challenger, Gray & Christmas monthly job report shows employers planned to eliminate 50,579 payroll positions -- 5% fewer than the 53,041 in January. Nonetheless, the February total was up 21% from a year ago, when 41,835 pink slips went out marking the third consecutive monthly job-cut total that exceeded the comparable year-ago figure.

During the first 2 months of this year, employers have planned 103,620 terminations -- 19% from the 86,942 job cuts recorded during the same period in 2014.

The energy sector saw the heaviest job cutting in last month 16,339 jobs disappearing -- due primarily to oil prices.

Falling oil prices have been responsible for 39,621 job cuts, to date, representing 38% of all recorded workforce reductions announced in the first two months of 2015. In February, 36% of all job cuts (18,299) were blamed on oil prices.

“Oil exploration and extraction companies, as well as the companies that supply them, are definitely feeling the impact of the lowest oil prices since 2009,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “These companies, while reluctant to completely shutter operations, are being forced to trim payrolls to contain costs.”

Challenger says that while oil-related companies will see profits slide, the net impact of falling oil prices will likely be positive for the economy, as a whole. “Some economists are estimating that GDP could see a 0.5 percentage point boost from low oil prices, due mostly to the extra spending power among consumers,” he said. On the other hand, “companies that are big users of oil, such as transportation firms, airlines and manufacturers of plastic and paint products will see higher profits thanks to cheap oil.”

Indeed, in a January survey by the National Association for Business Economics, 50% of in-house corporate economists said falling oil prices have already had a positive impact on their firms.

Cheap oil does not yet appear to be helping stem the tide of job cuts in the retail sector, which saw the second highest number of job cuts in February with 9,163. Employers in the sector have announced 15,862 job cuts so far this year -- little-changed from the first 2 months of 2014.

From the government, meanwhile word of another increase in first-time applications for unemployment benefits.

According to the Labor Department (DOL) initial claims were up 7,000 in the week ending February 28 to 320,000.

The 4-week moving average, which is considered a better gauge of the labor market because it strips out the volatility of the weekly tally, rose 10,250 -- to 304,750.

Add the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group to the list of companies who've had hackers breach their customer credit card numbers....

Add the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group to the list of companies who've had hackers breach their customer credit card numbers.

Security expert Brian Krebs reported that financial industry sources investigating a recent string of fraudulent payment-card charges noted that the compromised cards all shared a common point of purchase: they'd all recently been used to pay at Mandarin hotels. A company spokesperson confirmed in a statement that:

…. Mandarin Oriental has been alerted to a potential credit card breach and is currently conducting a thorough investigation to identify and resolve the issue …. The Group has identified and removed the malware and is coordinating with credit card agencies, law enforcement authorities and forensic specialists to ensure that all necessary steps are taken to fully protect our guests and our systems ….

Though the company would not offer specific details, Krebs' sources think the breach affected “most if not all” Mandarin hotels in the United States, and probably started sometime just before last Christmas.

Bavarian Meats of Seattle, Wash., is recalling approximately 1,400 pounds of Bavarian Brand Loaf products. The product contains soy, a known allergen not ...

Bavarian Meats of Seattle, Wash., is recalling approximately 1,400 pounds of Bavarian Brand Loaf products.

The recalled products bear the establishment number “EST. 6431” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and were shipped to wholesale and retail locations in Hawaii, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

​Sometimes it's the little things that drive consumers mad. Endless recording loops that assure you you're about to enjoy the best service ever. Answers th...

Sometimes it's the little things that drive consumers mad. Endless recording loops that assure you you're about to enjoy the best service ever. Answers that don't respond to the question. Free samples that aren't free.

In the case of Winn-Dixie supermarkets, consumers get edgy when they encounter what seems to be a devil-may-care attitude about customer service. "Manager was busy telling other employees a funny story" as the single cashier fell farther and farther behind, Daniel of Miami fumed recently.

Then there's the Customer Service desk. Sometimes it's open, sometimes it's not, as this shopper complained in a recent ConsumerAffairs video review.

Kind of harsh, you say? Maybe, but take a look at some of the other reviews in our Winn-Dixie section and let us know if it matches your experience. You can write a review or record one, whichever's easier. 

Just how safe is Apple Pay, anyway? Apple's “mobile wallet,” a standard feature on the iPhone 6, first became available last October, and not only offered ...

Just how safe is Apple Pay, anyway? Apple's “mobile wallet,” a standard feature on the iPhone 6, first became available last October, and not only offered people the ability to pay for things with their mobile device (as opposed to carrying a credit or debit card with them), it also promised to be far more secure than traditional American credit card purchases.

Hence the huge upset this week, when the Wall Street Journal reported that “Fraud comes to Apple Pay”:

Some banks are seeing a growing incidence of fraud on Apple’s mobile-payment service as criminals exploit vulnerabilities in the verification process of adding a credit card, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Journal, in turn, learned this from Cherian Abraham, a payment expert for Drop Labs, who on Feb. 22 published a blog post “Explaining the current state of Apple Pay fraud.” And that current state sounds pretty awful: according to Abraham, it is “hardly an anomaly” for fraud to appear in as much as 6% of all Apple Pay transactions, compared to a mere 0.1% of transactions with regular plastic credit cards.

Sounds like a catastrophe for Apple Pay. Yet it's a little more complicated than that: the security gap isn't with Apple Pay itself, but with the credit cards being attached to Apple Pay accounts. As the Guardian  explained: “crooks have not broken the secure encryption around Apple Pay’s fingerprint-activated wireless payment mechanism. Instead, they are setting up new iPhones with stolen personal information, and then calling banks to 'provision' the victim’s card on the phone to use it to buy goods....”

To make an analogy: imagine an old-fashioned bank vault secured with a special new kind of lock that's guaranteed impossible to open unless you have the key. Without the key to open the lock, not even the most talented lockpicker or safecracker in the world can get into that vault.

So the lock can never be broken or picked, but that does not mean the vault can never be robbed — it simply means that would-be robbers have to obtain a copy of the key first. And in this analogy, Apple Pay did a great job in creating unpickable bank-vault locks; problem is, the banks themselves have been very careless in handing out copies of the keys. And there's nothing Apple can do to fix the problem; it's the banks who need to improve their key-sharing protocols.

Fortunately, the banks have a strong motivation to do this, since they're the ones losing money from this fraud — not Apple Pay, and not the various merchants who accept it. As the Trustev anti-fraud blog pointed out, “The banks are the ones footing the bill here, and taking huge losses in the land rush to be everyone's default credit card for Apple Pay. It's on them, not Apple, to solve the issue.”

If you want to spark a lively discussion among a multi-generation group, just bring up the topic of elderly drivers. Suggesting that older drivers hang up ...

If you want to spark a lively discussion among a multi-generation group, just bring up the topic of elderly drivers. Suggesting that older drivers hang up their keys often draws a heated response.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the number of licensed drivers 70 and older increased 30% between 1997 and 2012. The proportion of the 70-and-older population with licenses went from 73% in 1997 to 79% in 2012.

The main argument for taking older drivers out of their cars is safety but the most recent statistics don't really back it up. That same IIHS study found fewer older drivers died in crashes and fewer were involved as drivers in fatal collisions during 1998-2012 than in years past.

A total of 4,079 people ages 70 and older died in motor vehicle crashes in 2012, 31% fewer than in 1997, when deaths peaked, even though the population of people 70 and older rose 19% during this period. The per capita death rate among older people has fallen 46% since 1975 and is now at its lowest level.

A University of Missouri (UM) researcher says families should not be so quick to take away an aging parent's car keys, pointing to a number of negative consequences that might outweigh safety concerns.

UM's Angela Curl suggests that if just one member of a couple stops driving, negative consequences result for both the driver and non-driver. The researcher recommends that the elderly, and their adult children, carefully discuss and plan for the transition to driving cessation.

"Individuals should recognize that making the decision to stop driving is a major life change that needs to be taken seriously," Curl said. "The safety of the driver should be discussed as just one factor among many.”

When someone stops driving, they lose much of their mobility and independence. So Curl says there should be discussions about alternative transportation options or, possibly, relocation, so that the individual or couple retains some mobility.

“If the family wants to help, it's best to come up with a concrete transportation plan ahead of time,” Curl said. “These are complicated, difficult decisions, and mediation of the discussion can often be helpful through, for example, a social worker or counselor."

In her study, Curl found that when one spouse stopped driving, both spouses were less likely to continue working or to serve as volunteers, even if they had been engaging in those activities for a long time. That likelihood decreased further over time.

"People who are in the process of making the decision to stop driving often think that their spouses will compensate for their inability to drive," said Curl. "However, in our research, we found that having a spouse who can drive does not completely remove the negative consequences of driving cessation."

That said, there are times when it is prudent for an older driver to transition to being a passenger only. In most cases physical or mental impairments are the reason. If you think an older family member may be at increased risk as a driver, take a ride with him or her.

As a passenger you should be able to judge how well the driver negotiates traffic flows and whether driving skills have seriously degraded. If you see a problem, address it directly but with sensitivity.

If a decision is reached ending someone's driving career, Curl says families need to be ready to ease that transition and mitigate the negative consequences that are sure to show up.

Alarmed by an increase in the smoking rate, health departments around the country are doubling down on their efforts to persuade consumer to quit....

Alarmed by an increase in the smoking rate, health departments around the country are doubling down on their efforts to persuade consumer to quit.

In New York City, the health department is distributing a one-minute television ad, “Last Dance,” produced in Australia by Quit Victoria. The ad depicts a man dying from smoking-related cancer having a last dance with his wife while their child looks on.

The new ad depicts the harsh truth about smoking – it not only devastates the health of smokers, but also families who must care for the smoker and are ultimately left behind to mourn the loss of their loved one. The ad ends by asking smokers to quit smoking today.

The NYC health department estimates its efforts in the past have motivated more than 700,000 requests to seek assistance in quitting over the last nine years. But the current rate of adult smokers has increased from 14% – its lowest point – in 2010 to 16.1% in 2013. There are currently over 1 million smokers in New York City.

“As smoking rates begin to increase in New York City, the use of powerful media campaigns is more important than ever,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett. “Quitting smoking is one of the most important steps one can take to improve their health. We encourage every smoker to use this campaign as a reason to quit smoking today.”

Smoking remains the leading cause of premature, preventable death in the United States. It causes cancer, heart disease, emphysema and many other illnesses. Each year, there are an estimated 12,000 smoking-related deaths in New York City alone.

Today the Federal Trade Commission announced that, along with 10 different state attorneys general, it has “taken action against” eight different telemarke...

Today the Federal Trade Commission announced that, along with 10 different state attorneys general, it has “taken action against” eight different telemarketing companies which allegedly used political robocalls to illegally sell cruise-ship vacations.

Some of the companies and individuals have agreed to settlements with the FTC and the states, while others still face litigation.

Sales-pitch robocalls are illegal under FTC regulations, although robocalls are allowed for certain non-sale types of calls, including political surveys and politicians hitting up voters for campaign contributions. The telemarketers robocalled customers to perform political surveys, then steered those customers into sales pitches for Bahama cruises, according to the FTC:

… the defendants’ robocall campaign ran from October 2011 through July 2012 and averaged approximately 12 to 15 million illegal sales calls a day. Consumers who answered these calls typically heard a pre-recorded message supposedly from “John from Political Opinions of America,” who told them they had been “carefully selected” to participate in a 30-second research survey, after which they could “press one” to receive a two-day cruise to the Bahamas. Consumers who completed the survey and pressed one for their cruise were connected to a live telemarketer working on behalf of Caribbean Cruise Line, Inc. ...

The political surveys did not prevent Caribbean Cruise Line from being charged with violation of the FTC's Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) forbidding sales-pitch robocalls. The complaint also alleges that two other companies violated the TSR by placing robocalls to generate leads for Caribbean, and charges “five interrelated companies, and their owner, Fred Accuardi, with assisting and facilitating the illegal cruise calls.”

The FTC and state AGs are still pursuing litigation against Accuardi and his five companies: Telephone Management Corporation, T M Caller ID, LLC, Pacific Telecom Communications Group, International Telephone Corporation and International Telephone, LLC.

However, Caribbean Cruise Line and several additional defendants agreed to a settlement including a $7.73 million civil penalty for Caribbean (which the FTC says will be “partially suspended after CCL pays $500,000”). CCL and the other settlers must also refrain from “engaging in abusive telemarketing practices,” which include robocalling and calling people whose numbers are on the Do Not Call registry.

The 10 states whose attorneys general joined the FTC in its complaint are: Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, and Washington.

For-profit telemarketers raised $302 million for charity from New Yorkers in 2013. They kept $156 million, more than half. That's according to a report, "P...

For-profit telemarketers raised $302 million for charity from New Yorkers in 2013. They kept $156 million, more than half. That's according to a report, "Pennies for Charity," released today by New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman.

“New Yorkers who are generous enough to donate their hard-earned money to charity deserve to know how that money is really spent, including how much is used to pay for-profit telemarketers,” Schneiderman said. “Our Pennies for Charity report is an important tool for transparency because it informs the donating public what portion of their charitable contributions made through telemarketers went to the outside fundraisers’, and how much was left to support charitable programs.”

At 48%, the share of funds raised by for-profit telemarketers that went to charity in 2013 increased significantly in comparison to 2012, when only 37% of the funds raised went to the charitable missions donors intended to support. The Pennies for Charity report has been published annually for the last 12 years, drawing attention to this issue.

Other significant findings from analyzing the 573 fundraising campaigns covered in the Attorney General’s report include:

Despite improvements in the share of funds going to charitable purposes, Schneiderman said telemarketing remains an expensive and intrusive method of raising funds for charity, and suffers from significant limitations compared to other forms of fundraising:

Resist Pressure To Give On The Spot.If you receive a call from a telemarketer, do not feel pressured to give over the phone. You can ask to receive information about the cause and a solicitation by mail.Ask The Telemarketer. Ask the caller what programs are conducted by the charity, how much of your donation will be used for charitable programs, how much the telemarketer is being paid and how much of your donation the charity is guaranteed.Ask How Your Donation Will Be Used. Ask specifically how the charity plans to use your donation, including the services and organizations your donation will support. Avoid charities that make emotional appeals and are vague in answering your questions. Be wary if an organization will not provide written information about its charitable programs and finances upon request. Any legitimate organization will be glad to send you this information.Look Up Charities. Review information about the charity before you give. The Attorney General’s interactive website allows potential donors to easily search the "Pennies for Charity" report by the name of the charity or by region in New York State.Also confirm that the charity is eligible to receive tax-deductible donations by searching the IRS website.Give To Established Charities. Donate to organizations you are familiar with or ones with a verifiable record of success in meeting their charitable missions. Closely examine charities with names similar to more established organizations.Never Give Cash. It's best to give your contribution by check made payable directly to the charity. This is safer than giving by credit or debit card and far safer than sending cash. Be careful about disclosing personal or financial information; never give out such information to an organization or individual you don't know.

JPMorgan Chase has agreed to a $50 million settlement with 25,000 bankrupt homeowners. The settlement addresses robo-signing and other improper mortgage pr...

JPMorgan Chase has agreed to a $50 million settlement with 25,000 bankrupt homeowners. The settlement addresses robo-signing and other improper mortgage practices, according to the Department of Justice’s U.S. Trustee Program (USTP).

In the proposed settlement, Chase acknowledges that it filed in bankruptcy courts around the country more than 50,000 payment change notices that were improperly signed, under penalty of perjury, by persons who had not reviewed the accuracy of the notices. 

More than 25,000 notices were signed in the names of former employees or of employees who had nothing to do with reviewing the accuracy of the filings.  The rest of the notices were signed by individuals employed by a third party vendor on matters unrelated to checking the accuracy of the filings.

Chase also acknowledges that it failed to file timely, accurate notices of mortgage payment changes and failed to provide timely, accurate escrow statements.

“It is shocking that the conduct admitted to by Chase in this settlement, including the filing of tens of thousands of documents in court that never had been reviewed by the people who attested to their accuracy, continued as long as it did,” said Acting Associate Attorney General Stuart F. Delery.  “Such unlawful and abusive banking practices can deprive American homeowners of a fair chance in the bankruptcy system, and we will not tolerate them.”

In the proposed settlement, Chase agrees to provide payments, credits and contributions totaling more than $50 million:

Chase Contact Information: Homeowners with questions about the settlement may contact Chase at 866-451-2327.

Diabetes is a growing problem in humans -- and also in our pets, including cats. The good thing about it is that it's manageable. But if left untreated, di...

Diabetes is a growing problem in humans -- and also in our pets, including cats. The good thing about it is that it's manageable. But if left untreated, diabetes can drastically lessen your cat’s quality of life and shorten its lifespan. It is very important to see your veterinarian immediately if you suspect that your cat has diabetes.

What actually is diabetes in cats? The technical name is diabetes mellitus and it simply consists of excess glucose, or sugar, in the bloodstream. It really is very similar to humans -- the cat doesn't produce enough insulin or it just doesn't process the insulin that it produces.

Insulin is a hormone that is secreted by the pancreas; it helps balance the glucose levels in the blood.

As in humans, diabetes comes in two forms -- type 1 and type 2. There is a type 3 diabetes which is more uncommon and may occur due to other conditions (for example, secondary to another disease which may damage the pancreas).

Your cat's diet is very important, especially with diabetes. The majority of cats diagnosed with feline diabetes are overweight. If your cat has had unregulated diabetes for some time, however, it may be underweight. Controlling the diabetes will help a cat achieve normal weight.

Diabetic cats shouldn’t eat dry food. Most vets recommend a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet for diabetic cats, and no dry food is low in carbohydrates. Even grain-free dry foods contain a lot of substitute carbohydrates such as potatoes, peas, or tapioca. Carbohydrates tend to make blood sugar levels fluctuate quite a bit.

You probably won't be taking your cat to a gym but exercise is of paramount importance in dealing with diabetes. Simply playing with your cat daily will help a great deal. Toys on strings and hand-held lasers are great interactive toys. Also, consider toys that stimulate play on their own.

If diet alone isn't enough to control the diabetes you will have to give your cat regular injections of insulin. There is a lot of great advice and websites on the internet that can support and guide you down this road.

Remember that pet health insurance doesn't cover pre-existing conditions, so if your cat is diabetic when you adopt her, you'll need to be ready financially if she has a health crisis.

http://www.felinediabetes.com/http://www.mycathasdiabetes.com/treatment.htmlhttp://www.catinfo.org/?link=felinediabetes

To understand how money works for a typical American these days try looking back to Victorian England, when an oddball mathematician under the pen name Lew...

To understand how money works for a typical American these days try looking back to Victorian England, when an oddball mathematician under the pen name Lewis Carroll wrote two hallucinatory storybooks: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There.

One scene in Looking-Glass describes Alice attempting to run a race with the Red Queen: Alice ran constantly, yet instead of moving she somehow always remained in the same spot.

"Well, in our country," said Alice, still panting a little, "you'd generally get to somewhere else—if you run very fast for a long time, as we've been doing."

"A slow sort of country!" said the Queen. "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!"

If you can't visit the Red Queen's country you can have a similar experience at your local gym, by climbing on a treadmill: you can't stand still on a treadmill, or else you'll only move backwards. You must move at a certain speed just to stay in place, and move even faster if you want to get ahead.

And so it goes with money, too: you'll always need some money just to stay where you are, financially speaking, and extra money to get to a better place.

I still remember the faint feeling of shock my young-teenage self felt the first time she seriously digested the thought, “One day I will move away from my parents, and handle 'the bills' and all that other grown-uppy stuff by myself” and realized adults spend their whole lives running in the Red Queen's race. There will always be “bills” to handle, because it's not possible to live an ordinary mainstream American life without spending money.

For starters, you need to pay for shelter. Even if you own a mortgage-free house, it takes money to cover the property taxes in addition to basic maintenance. It costs money to buy clothes, and money to keep them clean and presentable. Food, water, transportation and winter heat — money, money, money and money.

Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. In most ways, life in our modern technological money-based society is infinitely easier and richer than life in the wild: to offer just one example, acquiring the money to buy bread, even if you only earn money at minimum wage, is far easier and faster than growing, harvesting, milling and baking your own grain flour.

Still, for as long as you live you can never climb down off that money treadmill, and never stop it from moving, either – but with the right frugal mindset you can slow it down, so that you need less effort to stay in place and less effort to move forward, too.

Look at your bills and other expenditures – what's the bare minimum amount you need to meet your basic financial obligations every month? The higher the number, the faster the treadmill.

Of course, that question about monthly financial obligations isn't the only one you must ask. Indeed, too much focus on monthly payments can be downright harmful: one of the most common, and costly, financial mistakes people make is that when they buy something on an installment plan, they only look at the size of their weekly or monthly payment, rather than calculate the total cost.

Charles Dickens, another writer from Victorian England, invented a character named Mr. Micawber who is best remembered today thanks to his famous “recipe for happiness”:

“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen [pounds] nineteen [shillings] and six [pence], result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”

In other words, spend less money than you make and you'll do all right; spend more money than you make and you won't. That's more of a Captain Obvious observation than Einstein-genius insight — yet people forgot it in Dickens' time and still forget it in ours.

Every time you pay off a debt or reduce a regular cost, your treadmill slows down a little. When I first graduated college and entered the professional working world, I was in miserable financial shape because not only was I making low entry-level wages, I had high debts to pay off. I went from collecting student loan payments to paying them back, and had credit cards and a car payment, too. I had to run a lot faster then than I do now, just to stay in place — and getting into debt was easier (and a lot more fun) than paying it off.

I paid off the credit card first, since it had the highest interest rates. Once I'd wiped out that debt, I could take the money I'd previously sent to the credit card company each month, and use that to pay off my car loan instead. Each debt I paid off made the next one even easier to abolish.

Once again channeling Captain Obvious: all else being equal, somebody with a paid-off car will have more money each month than someone with a monthly car payment. Pay off your house, and your costs for shelter will be far lower than someone paying rent or a mortgage.

The Red Queen said you have to run fast to stay where you are, and run twice as fast to get ahead. But she was the extravagant type; if you handle your finances right, you can slow down the money-treadmill enough that a comfortable stroll will be enough for you to stay in place, and even move ahead.

Want to know when you will die? Just hop on a treadmill and keep increasing the speed and incline....

Okay, it's not quite that simple but a group of Johns Hopkins cardiologists report that they have developed a formula estimating an individual's likelihood of dying in the next 10 years, based on his or her ability to exercise on a treadmill at an increasing speed and incline.

The Johns Hopkins cardiologists, writing in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, say this formula advances doctors' ability to predict mortality. Currently there are also some tests in place to do this, but they all concern patients who already have heart conditions and focus on the short-term prognosis.

The new algorithm, which has been named the “FIT Treadmill Score,” can project the long-term death risk in anyone based solely on treadmill exercise performance. Since millions of Americans are put through a treadmill stress test each year, the researchers suggest their new formula can provide valuable tools about their long-term health.

“The notion that being in good physical shape portends lower death risk is by no means new, but we wanted to quantify that risk precisely by age, gender and fitness level, and do so with an elegantly simple equation that requires no additional fancy testing beyond the standard stress test,” said lead investigator Dr. Haitham Ahmed, a cardiology fellow at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

The formula also factors in peak heart rate reached during intense exercise and gauges how much energy the body uses during exercise. More vigorous activities require higher energy output, better exercise tolerance and a higher fitness level. Walking requires about a quarter of the fitness level as running.

“The FIT Treadmill Score is easy to calculate and costs nothing beyond the cost of the treadmill test itself,” said senior study author Dr. Michael Blaha, director of clinical research at the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease. “We hope the score will become a mainstay in cardiologists and primary clinicians’ offices as a meaningful way to illustrate risk among those who undergo cardiac stress testing and propel people with poor results to become more physically active.”

But where does the risk of death come in? The formula establishes a scale for how well individuals tolerate the stress of the exercise. They then analyzed the data from nearly 60,000 heart patients who had gone through standard stress tests between 1991 and 2009.

Scores ranged from negative 200 on the scale to positive 200, with those above 0 having lower risk of dying and those in the negative range facing highest risk of dying.

Test subjects who scored 100 or higher had only a 2% risk of dying over the next 10 years, while those with scores between 0 and 100 faced a 3% death risk over the same period.

But people with scores between negative 100 and 0 had an 11% risk of dying in the next 10 years. If your score fell between negative 100 and negative 200, your chance of not living out the next 10 years was 38%.

February didn't quite measure up to January in terms of job growth. But the difference is unremarkable. According to the February ADP National Employment ...

February didn't quite measure up to January in terms of job growth. But the difference is unremarkable.

According to the February ADP National Employment Report, private sector employment increased by 212,000 last month compared with creation of 213,000 in January.

"While February’s job gains came in slightly lower than recent months, the trend of solid growth above

200,000 jobs per month continued,” said Carlos Rodriguez, president and chief executive officer of ADP. “What is also encouraging is that job gains are broad-based across all key industries.”

The report, produced by the payroll firm in collaboration with Moody’s Analytics, is derived from ADP’s actual payroll data, and measures the change in total nonfarm private employment each month on a seasonally-adjusted basis.

Payrolls for businesses with 49 or fewer employees increased by 94,000 in February, versus 97,000 in January. Among companies with 50-499 employment increased by 63,000 a significant drop from the 106,000 jobs created the previous month.

The number of new positions at large companies -- those with 500 or more employees -- increased from January, 56,000 compared with 47,000, while companies with 500-999 employees added 18,000 -- 2,000 more than in January. Companies with over 1,000 employees added

Goods-producing employment rose by 31,000 jobs in February, with the construction industry adding 31,000 jobs, the same as last month. Manufacturing, however, added just 3,000 jobs following a surge of 15,00 in January.

Employment in firms that provide services was up by 181,000 jobs -- down 25,000 from January. Professional/business services contributed 34,000 jobs, and trade/transportation/utilities grew by 31,000. Additionally there were 20,000 new jobs in financial activities is an increase -- the largest gain in that sector since March 2006.

Moody’s Analytics Chief Economist Mark Zandi points out that job growth is strong, but slowing from the torrid pace of recent months. “Job gains remain broad-based, although the collapse in oil prices has begun to weigh on energy-related employment,” he said, adding, “at the current pace of growth, the economy will return to full employment by mid-2016.”

After falling in the previous 2 weeks, applications for mortgages rose 0.1% during the week ending February 27, according to data from the Mortgage Banker...

After falling in the previous 2 weeks, applications for mortgages rose 0.1% during the week ending February 27, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey.

The Refinance Index was up 1%, while the refinance share of mortgage activity was unchanged at 62% of total applications. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity increased to 5.4% of total applications.

The FHA share of total applications fell to 14.6% this week from 15.3% last week, the VA share rose to 9.8% from 9.6% last week and the USDA share dipped to 0.8% from 0.9%.

For decades the health effects of America's favorite morning beverage has been the subject of debate....

For decades the health effects of America's favorite morning beverage have been the subject of debate.

In the early 1970s research suggested drinking coffee was bad for your heart. A couple of decades later researchers had come to the opposite conclusion.

The latest research project to weigh in on the subject suggests coffee drinkers may have a lower risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS), a disease that often shows up in young adulthood.

“Caffeine intake has been associated with a reduced risk of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, and our study shows that coffee intake may also protect against MS, supporting the idea that the drug may have protective effects for the brain,” said study author Dr. Ellen Mowry of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Mowry's work is actually the study of a study. She and her team looked at a Swedish study of 1,629 people with MS and 2,807 healthy people. They also examined a U.S. study of 1,159 people with MS and 1,172 healthy people.

The studies measured coffee consumption among persons with MS 1 and 5 years before MS symptoms began, comparing it to coffee consumption among people who did not have MS.

The Swedish study found that people who drank at least 6 cups of coffee per day -- what you'd call heavy coffee drinkers -- had a better chance of avoiding the disease.

They reached that conclusion because people who didn't drink coffee at all appeared to have one-and-a-half times the risk of developing MS. The earlier in life you started drinking coffee, it seemed, the better. Drinking large amounts of coffee 5 or 10 years before symptoms typically start was similarly protective.

In the US study, a similar pattern appeared. People who didn’t drink coffee were also about one and a half times more likely to develop the disease than those who drank 4 or more cups of coffee per day in the year before symptoms started to develop the disease.

“Caffeine should be studied for its impact on relapses and long-term disability in MS as well,” said Mowry.

Caffeine has only recently come to be viewed as potentially beneficial. In the past health experts were skeptical of the drug because of its tendency to temporarily increase the heart rate and elevate blood pressure.

But coffee's health benefits apparently extend beyond caffeine to the properties in the bean itself. A 2014 study by the National Cancer Institute found that even decaffeinated coffee may be good for the liver.

Previous studies have linked coffee consumption with a lower the risk of developing diabetes, cardiovascular disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, cirrhosis, and liver cancer.

"Our findings link total and decaffeinated coffee intake to lower liver enzyme levels. These data suggest that ingredients in coffee, other than caffeine, may promote liver health. Further studies are needed to identify these components," lead researcher Dr. Qian Xiao said at the time.

Not all researchers agree that coffee is a heath beverage. A 2013 study at the University of South Carolina concluded that that drinking four cups a day raises your risk of dying prematurely if you're under 55.

But the researchers concede it might not have anything to do with what's in the coffee. Instead, they say coffee consumption could be related to other unhealthful activities, including heavy drinking and smoking.  

We don't ask too much of toilet seats, but we do expect them to provide a safe and secure seating area. ...

Athletes have for years relied on high-protein power bars, to give them an extra burst of energy before a match or competition....

The Keurig Green Mountain company has lost a lot of popularity lately. And now even its inventor says he's sometimes sorry he ever came up with the idea....

The Keurig Green Mountain company has lost a lot of popularity lately. And now even its inventor says he's sometimes sorry he ever came up with the idea.

Last year Keurig unveiled a second-generation version of its hot-drink-brewing machines outfitted with a form of “digital rights management” restriction more suitable for proprietary software than everyday appliances: Henceforth, instead of brewing coffee, cocoa and other hot drinks from any properly sized K-cup, as Keurig machines originally did, Keurig 2.0 would only work with properly branded proprietary K-cups.

The plan backfired spectacularly. Keurig fans who bought new machines were angry to learn their old K-cups no longer worked. And, even though the company's DRM restrictions proved ridiculously easy to circumvent (the new machines only work in the presence of an officially branded new K-cup label—but a single label can be re-used almost indefinitely), many former Keurig owners were opposed to Keurig 2.0 machines on general principles.

So bad has it become that even the inventor of the K-cup has climbed aboard the anti-Keurig bandwagon — though more from stated environmental concerns than any opposition to Keurig's DRM.

John Sylvan, who invented the K-cup as a twentysomething back in the 1990s, told The Atlantic this week that he had some regrets about his invention: “I feel bad sometimes that I ever did it.”

Since brewing coffee in K-cups is vastly more expensive than making the same amount of drip coffee at home, Sylvan figured the single-serve K-cup machines would only ever be used in offices, not in homes.

Wrong. Today, up to one in three American kitchens has a single-serve Keurig or Keurig-style coffee machine –and, although re-usable, refillable coffee pods have been on the market for a couple of years now, as well as various (non-Keurig) brands of single-use pods made from biodegradable materials, the majority of Americans still use disposable plastic K-cups which overwhelmingly are discarded rather than recycled:

…. because the K-Cup is made of that plastic integrated with a filter, grounds, and plastic foil top, there is no easy way to separate the components for recycling. A Venn diagram would likely have little overlap between people who pay for the ultra-convenience of K-Cups and people who care enough to painstakingly disassemble said cups after use.

Still the Internet is littered with stories of personal revelation that pod accumulation can’t be a good thing. ... A commenter on another [food blog] site describes the unsettling experience of regularly walking to work in a financial district past a dumpster full of coffee pods every day. Even in Halifax, Nova Scotia, one of the few places that can recycle category #7 plastic, K-Cups are accumulating in quantities that alarm people who see the waste coming out of offices using the machines. ...

The massive popularity of Keurig machines did not make the K-cup's inventor a multi-millionaire; John Sylvan sold his share of Keurig in 1997 for $50,000. Nor does he use a Keurig himself, telling The Atlantic that: “They're kind of expensive to use ... plus it’s not like drip coffee is tough to make.”

ConsumerAffairs' new video reviews have been embraced by consumers overheated about their dog food, their toilet seats and their refrigerators, among other...

ConsumerAffairs' new video reviews have been embraced by consumers overheated about their dog food, their toilet seats and their refrigerators, among others.

But, just as with our text reviews, there are commendations as well as condemnations. Take Lance of Los Angeles. He's overjoyed with the service and products he gets from Overstock. 

Of course, not everyone's so fortunate and Overstock gets its share of over-the-top reviews from miffed customers as well.

"Overstock advertises as the place with the best pricing. Buyer beware, I purchased a few items then found out that the price I paid was actually HIGHER than what the items were originally sold for.... they were Kate Spade items," Erika said. "Some things are a good deal and some are not. Just be sure to check."

Dana of Fort Myers, Fla., is still standing around trying to figure out what to do with the chairs she got from Overstock.

"I ordered 4 chairs from Overstock.com. They came with no parts or hardware and no instructions. As a 'solution,' Overstock said they would send me four more chairs and I could open them, get out everything I was missing from the first order, then repack it all and take it to the post office and send it myself," Dana said. "They refused to open a box themselves and take out the parts and send them to me. When that option didn't appeal to me, they credited me a whole $20. The chairs are still sitting in pieces in my spare bedroom, totally useless and a big waste of money."

Things can always go wrong but as Lance reminds us, they sometimes go right too. Overall, Overstock probably gets it right most of the time. Wang to decide for yourself? Read more Overstock reviews. 

The dog ate my homework, the dog chewed the furniture and the dog ate the camera. The first two are bad, the third is good -- the dog was supposed to eat t...

The dog ate my homework, the dog chewed the furniture and the dog ate the camera. The first two are bad, the third is good -- the dog was supposed to eat the camera.

That's because a tiny capsule with four cameras inside is revolutionizing veterinary technology. It is called the ALICAM -- ambulatory light-based camera. 

Once swallowed, ALICAM captures high-resolution, 360-degree diagnostic images of the entire gastrointestinal tract and allows the veterinarian to diagnose GI disease quickly and accurately. It allows dogs to be imaged at home or in the clinic. There is no sedation or anesthesia required, and no need to restrict the pet’s activity.

"The camera can handle about 18 hours of video," explained Dr. Jeff Mayo. Mayo is one of the first vets in the country to use the technology.

Sparky, one of the ALICAM patients, was stricken with vomiting and treated with pills, X-rays and bloodwork but nothing showed up on the X-rays and after a while the pills didn’t work.

Doctors used the ALICAM and found that there was minor inflammation in Sparky’s gut. Normally, the option for Sparky would have been invasive -- they would have used use anesthesia and an endoscope, which is a tube with a camera that veterinarians push through the digestive tract.

The ALICAM is about the size of a large vitamin. The dog just goes about his business after he swallows the capsule. There are certain restrictions though, such as no MRI's during this time period and your dog can't take any trips via air. No food or treats for eight hours.

There is a messy part to this and when they say recover, well, you have to recover the camera through the dog’s bowel movements and the camera is not big so you have to examine everything that comes out. 

The capsule is generally passed within 3 and 30 hours, though it may be normal for the capsule to be retained longer.

The scheme charged Spanish-speaking consumers for unordered or defective products and made it costly or practically impossible for them to get their money...

Hispanic Global Way has been banned from telemarketing and selling weight-loss products as part of a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The scheme charged Spanish-speaking consumers for unordered or defective products and made it costly or practically impossible for them to get their money back

“The FTC is on the lookout for scams that rip off consumers in every community,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “This case serves as a warning to would-be scammers that targeting Spanish speakers is not a means to fly under the FTC’s radar.”

According to the FTC, the defendants used Spanish-language TV ads and Peruvian call centers to sell its products. They then shipped incomplete orders, the wrong or defective products, products of the wrong size or color, and products that did not perform as advertised, including a phony weight-loss belt.

When consumers called to complain, telemarketers either ignored or insulted them, or told them they could not return or exchange products, or that they would have to pay a fee, ranging from $20 to $299, to do so. Those few consumers who were promised refunds or exchanges found they never materialized. A federal judge halted the operation and froze the defendants’ assets, pending litigation.

The settling defendants have admitted to the allegations and agreed to be banned from telemarketing or selling weight loss products. Under the settlement order, in any future business they must provide refunds or exchanges, free of charge, for incorrect or non-working products, for any program that differs from what was advertised, and when consumers don’t receive gifts promised as an inducement for a purchase.

The defendants are also barred from making material misrepresentations about goods and services and must disclose, before making a sale, any restriction or condition on a refund, cancellation, repurchase, or exchange. They are also prohibited from profiting from, and failing to properly dispose of, customers’ personal information obtained in this case.

The settling defendants are Rafael Martin Hernandez, Maria Gisella Carrasco, Maria Elizabeth Vera, Hispanic Global Way Corp., Hispanic Global Way LLC, Hispanic Global Way Venez Corp, Hispanic Global Way Venez 1 Corp, Gold Lead USA Corporation, Sky Advance Choices Corp., Sky Advance LLC, First Airborne Service Trading Corp, Hispanic Network Connections LLC, and Fast Solutions Plus Corp.

The settlement order imposes a $50 million judgment that will be suspended upon surrender of all of the defendants’ significant assets, including Carrasco’s North Miami house, U.S. and Peruvian bank accounts, and jewelry; a 2010 Mercedes Benz owned by Hispanic Way; and a life insurance policy and U.S. and Peruvian bank accounts owned by Hernandez.

Lead poisoning is a serious risk for children living in older homes with lead-based paint and in urban areas with high levels of air pollution. It can caus...

Lead poisoning is a serious risk for children living in older homes with lead-based paint and in urban areas with high levels of air pollution. It can cause a lifetime of learning problems.

Fortunately, toxic levels of lead can be easily detected by a simple test but, amazingly, many parents refuse to have their children tested.

In New Jersey, about 50,000 children were not tested by the age of three, according to an annual state agency report despite a state law that requires doctors to test children before their second birthday.

In New Jersey and many other states, doctors are not obligated to notify a child's school when lead poisoning is found. That creates a serious gap since affected children may need special education or other services. 

"We have to do a better job" addressing lead poisoning," said Jay S. Schneider, a pathology professor and lead poisoning expert at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. "We have to recognize that this is still a big problem. There are lots of kids who are being adversely affected by this, who are having their futures taken away from them. It's just an awful thing and it's unnecessary and people are suffering and they shouldn't be."

Every year, more than 5,000 primarily low-income, mostly minority children in New Jersey are found to have high levels of lead. And thousands of lead-poisoned children attend public schools. Lead poisoning is New Jersey's top environmental health threat for children.

A bill in the state legislature would require that information on children's elevated lead levels be given to public schools when students enroll.

The Buick Encore SUV -- along with its newly introduced, lower-priced twin, the Chevrolet Trax -- has qualified for the Insurance Institute for Highway Saf...

The Buick Encore SUV -- along with its newly introduced, lower-priced twin, the Chevrolet Trax -- has qualified for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) TOP SAFETY PICK award,

The Encore is the first vehicle from the Buick brand to qualify for the award since 2013. The award follows improvements to the SUV's structure for better small overlap front protection. The 2015 model earns a good rating in the small overlap test.

In contrast, the 2013-14 Encore rated poor in the test. The driver's space was seriously compromised with intrusion measuring as much as 13 inches at the lower door hinge pillar. The dummy's head barely contacted the front airbag before sliding off the left side, as the steering column moved to the right. The side curtain airbag deployed too late and didn't have sufficient forward coverage to protect the head.

In the latest test, the driver space was maintained reasonably well, with maximum intrusion of 6 inches at the door hinge pillar and instrument panel. The dummy's movement was well-controlled. The head hit the front airbag and remained there until rebound. The side curtain airbag deployed on time and had sufficient forward coverage. Measures taken from the dummy indicated a low risk of injuries in a crash of this severity.

The small overlap test replicates what happens when the front corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or an object such as a tree or a utility pole. To qualify for TOP SAFETY PICK, a vehicle must earn a good or acceptable rating for small overlap protection and a good rating in the Institute's moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests.

For the 35th month in a row, home prices have posted a year-over-year gain CoreLogic reports its January Home Price Index (HPI) shows that home prices nat...

CoreLogic reports its January Home Price Index (HPI) shows that home prices nationwide increased 5.7% last month from the same period a year ago. On a month-over-month basis, home prices nationwide were up 1.1% from December 2014. Both readings include distressed sales -- short sales and real estate owned (REO) transactions.

“House price appreciation has generally been stronger in the western half of the nation and weakest in the mid-Atlantic and northeast states,” said Dr. Frank Nothaft, chief economist at CoreLogic. “In part, these trends reflect the strength of regional economies.”

Colorado and Texas have had stronger job creation and have seen 8 to 9% price gains over the past 12 months in the combined indexes. In contrast, values were flat or down in Connecticut, Delaware and Maryland in the overall index -- including distressed sales.

Including distressed sales, 27 states and the District of Columbia are at or within 10% of their peak. Four states, New York (+5.6%), Wyoming (+8.3%), Texas (+8.3%) and Colorado (+9.1%), reached new highs in the home price index since January 1976 when the index started.

Excluding distressed sales, home prices increased 5.6% from January 2015 to January 2014 and increased 1.4% month over month compared to December 2014. Also excluding distressed sales, all states and the District of Columbia showed year-over-year home price appreciation in January.

“We continue to see a strong and progressive uptick in home prices as we enter 2015. We project home prices will continue to rise throughout the year and into 2016,” said Anand Nallathambi, president and CEO of CoreLogic. “A dearth of supply in many parts of the country is a big factor driving up prices. Many homeowners have taken advantage of low rates to refinance their homes, and until we see sustained increases in income levels and employment they could be hunkered down so supplies may remain tight. Demand has picked up as low mortgage rates and the cut in the FHA annual insurance premium reduce monthly payments for prospective home buyers.”

The CoreLogic HPI Forecast indicates home prices -- including distressed sales -- will increase 0.4% month-over-month from January 2015 to February 2015 and, on a year-over-year basis, by 5.3% from January 2015 to January 2016.

Excluding distressed sales, home prices are expected to increase 0.3% month-over-month from January 2015 to February 2015 and by 4.9% year-over-year from January 2015 to January 2016.  

Campos Foods of Caryville, Tenn., is recalling approximately 136,950 pounds of beef products. The products contain wheat, a known allergen, which is not d...

The the following ready-to-eat (RTE) cheese burger items were produced on various dates between Aug. 22, 2014, and Jan. 9, 2015, are being recalled:

The recalled products bear the establishment number “EST. 2260 T” inside the USDA mark of inspection and were shipped to retail locations in Texas.

With the explosive growth in autism, parents of children diagnosed with the disorder have looked for answers and ways to help their children communicate. I...

With the explosive growth in autism, parents of children diagnosed with the disorder have looked for answers and ways to help their children communicate. In the process, researchers say many have embraced therapies that have been thoroughly discredited.

Despite scientific evidence to the contrary, practitioners of these therapies continue to flourish. Scott Lilienfeld, a psychologist at Emory University, says the autism community remains vulnerable to interventions and therapies that have been studied for decades and debunked.

"Hope is a great thing, I'm a strong believer in it," Lilienfeld said. "But the false hope buoyed by discredited therapies can be cruel, and it may prevent people from trying an intervention that actually could deliver benefits."

Lilienfeld is lead author of a commentary on what he calls "fad interventions," published by the journal Evidence-Based Communication Assessment and Intervention. The authors include on their list of failed autism treatments things like gluten- and casein-free diets, antifungal interventions, chelation therapy, magnetic shoe inserts, hyperbaric oxygen sessions, weighted vests, bleach enemas and sheep stem-cell injections to name a few.

However, Lilienfeld and co-authors Julia Marshall, also from Emory and psychologists James Todd from Eastern Michigan University and Howard Shane, director of the Autism Language Program at Boston Children's Hospital, give special attention to Facilitated Communication, or FC.

With FC, someone with autism types out communication on a keyboard or letter pad. Actually, they do it with some help. A facilitator provides support to the individual's arms, allowing him or her to type words and complete sentences.

In 1994 the American Psychological Association (APA) passed a resolution labeling FC as “a controversial and unproved communicative procedure with no scientifically demonstrated support for its efficacy.” Even so, 21 years later it is still being practiced.

The authors say these facilitators supporting the arm or hand of the typist are in fact, tapping out their own conscious or unconscious thoughts. On occasion, those messages have made accusations of abuse against parents or caregivers.

Lilienfeld and his co-authors maintain FC is much like someone using a ouija board, which is supposed to reveal messages from someone who has died. They cite research they say has showed that the ouija board users themselves are unconsciously moving their hands.

"The emotional appeal of FC is very powerful and understandable," Lilienfeld said. "And no doubt the overwhelming majority of people who use FC are sincere and well-meaning. The problem is, it doesn't work."

But Lilienfeld and his co-authors cite examples of FC still being widely used in much of the autism community, in effect ignoring its scientific refutation. These fads, they suggest, persist because autism is extremely difficult to treat. There is also no known cure.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says the ideal treatment plan coordinates therapies and interventions that meet the specific needs of individual children. Most health care professionals agree that the earlier the intervention, the better.

NIH suggests the most successful treatments focus on specific symptoms. Therapists have used intensive training sessions aimed at improving skills to help children develop social and language skills, such as Applied Behavioral Analysis.

Family counseling for the parents and siblings of children with an autism often helps families cope with the challenges of living with a child with autism.

Lilienfeld and his colleagues say that, in addition to providing this help, experts in autism need to better educate the public about not only what works for the condition, but what doesn't.

Costco members will be getting a new credit card next year. The wholesale superstore chain has chosen Citigroup to succeed American Express as its exclusiv...

The good news: late last Friday, the White House released a proposed draft of something it calls a “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights,” which theoretically w...

The good news: late last Friday, the White House released a proposed draft of something it calls a “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights,” which theoretically would give Americans some protection or control regarding the data which various companies and businesses collect about them.

The bad news:That proposed “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights” is so bad that not even President Obama's fellow Democrats have anything nice to say about it. Tech companies say the bill would stifle innovation and impose too many burdens, privacy advocates say it would do little or nothing to actually protect individual consumers' privacy, and Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said the proposal would turn all online commercial interactions into “easy prey for digital bandits seeking to pilfer Americans' personal information.”

(A cynic might suggest that the White House itself doesn't have much faith in the proposal, else it wouldn't have released it late on a Friday afternoon, after most of The American Media had gone home for the weekend.)

The full draft is available here as a .pdf document; 24 pages of scintillating bureaucratic prose including this exciting sentence/paragraph, cut-and-pasted directly from page 6:

(m) “Adverse action” has the same meaning as in section 701(d) of the Fair Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 (15 U.S.C. § 1691(d)(6)) and section 603(k)(1)(B)(i)-(iii) of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (15 U.S.C. § 1681a(k)(1)(B)(i)-(iii)).

One of the more understandable parts of the proposal promises to “establish baseline protections for individual privacy in the commercial arena and to foster timely, flexible implementations of these protections through enforceable codes of conduct developed by diverse stakeholders.”

Note the word “commercial” (as opposed to such words as “public” or “governmental”): even in a best-case scenario, this proposal would only offer protection from companies seeking to make money off your personal information. It says nothing about protecting your privacy from the government or any branches thereof — nothing to stop the NSA's warrantless wiretapping, for example.

Yet according to critics, the proposal doesn't do much to protect consumers from commercial interests, either. The Consumer Federation of America said in a statement that the proposed “Bill of Rights” would actually be worse for consumer privacy than the current status quo:

Instead of putting consumers in control, it would allow businesses and organizations to decide what personal information they will collect, how they will use it, and what control, if any, they will give to consumers. ... The bill would preempt stronger state privacy laws and make it harder for state authorities and the Federal Trade Commission to stop privacy abuses. It would also bar consumers from bringing their own lawsuits to protect their privacy. The bill would do little to change current practices and would actually weaken consumer privacy in the United States rather than strengthen it.

Another consumer-rights group, Consumer Watchdog, observed that “The bill envisions a process where industry will dominate in developing codes of conduct. The bill is full of loopholes and gives consumers no meaningful control of their data.”

The Associated Press noted that the bill would effectively allow industries to set their own privacy standards, and would also shield start-ups from punishment during their first 18 months of operation.

What does the proposed bill actually have to say? It's more vague than specific. For example: the phrase “reasonable in light of context” appears multiple times throughout the document, first on page 6 under the subheading “Transparency”:

(a) In General.—Each covered entity shall provide individuals in concise and easily understandable language, accurate, clear, timely, and conspicuous notice about the covered entity’s privacy and security practices. Such notice shall be reasonable in light of context.

(a) In General.—If a covered entity processes personal data in a manner that is reasonable in light of context, this section does not apply. Personal data processing that fulfills an individual’s request shall be presumed to be reasonable in light of context.

(b) Privacy Risk Management.—If a covered entity processes personal data in a manner that is not reasonable in light of context, the covered entity shall conduct a privacy risk analysis including, but not limited to, reviews of data sources, systems, information flows, partnering entities, and data and analysis uses ….

(a) In General.—Each covered entity may only collect, retain, and use personal data in a manner that is reasonable in light of context. A covered entity shall consider ways to minimize privacy risk when determining its personal data collection, retention and use practices.

And what does “reasonable [or not reasonable] in the light of context” actually mean? Good question. Apparently, that would be up to the tech companies to decide, which could definitely be harmful to consumers, yet might eventually prove harmful to tech companies as well; the vaguer the rules are, the easier it would be to unintentionally violate them.

CEO Michael Beckerman of the Internet Association, representing Google, Facebook, Amazon, Yahoo, and other companies, warned that the bill “casts a needlessly imprecise net.... It is essential that any privacy rules are finely tailored to address specific harms, so that innovation, which benefits consumers and the economy, can continue to flourish.”

You go to a hospital because you are trying to get well or recover from an injury but sometimes a hospital stay just makes things worse....

You go to a hospital because you are trying to get well or recover from an injury but sometimes a hospital stay just makes things worse.

Hospital Safety Score grades U.S. hospitals on how safe they keep their patients from errors, injuries, accidents, and infections. Hospital errors are alleged to kill thousands of patients each year.

Lately, however, there is a new safety concern involving U.S. hospitals – the fear of getting shot. Or more specifically, the fear of medical personnel being shot. A new report says the fatal shooting death of a Boston surgeon in January was another in what appears to be an increasingly frequent series of "active shooter" incidents in U.S. health care facilities.

"We would like to think that hospitals are not an area that would be subject to harm, and maybe that's why we want them to be free and accessible and not overly secure like a fortress," said report co-author Dr. Eli Adashi, former dean of medicine and biological sciences at Brown University. "But I think times are changing."

On January 20 Stephen Pasceri walked into Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital and asked to see cardiologist Dr. Michael Davidson. Then, according to witnesses, he shot Davidson before turning the gun on himself. Relatives said the gunman blamed the doctor for his mother's recent death.

It might seem like an isolated tragedy but Adashi says it is not. In the year leading up to Davidson's murder there were 14 other active shooter incidents at hospitals around the country that left 15 people dead.

Adashi and fellow researchers cite a 2012 study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine that shows this alarming trend isn't new. By looking through archival news accounts, the researchers found that while hospitals faced about 9 active shooter incidents a year between 2000 and 2005, the rate had climbed to 16.7 a year between 2006 and 2011. Regardless of the motives or circumstances surrounding the shootings, 161 people ended up dead.

FBI statistics show a lower death toll but the same disturbing trend – active shooter incidents at U.S. hospitals are increasing.

In December, less than a month before Davidson was gunned down, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) advised health care facilities to incorporate active shooter planning into their emergency plans. Accreditation already requires planning for active shooters.

Not having an adequate plan to deal with an active shooter in the halls of a health care facility can expose a hospital to civil liability, the authors write. But the needed response to this growing threat isn't exactly clear.

Putting up a sign declaring that firearms aren't permitted in the building probably isn't going to deter a determined or mentally unbalanced gunman. Traditional security measures include more cameras, better lighting, "panic buttons," well-defined evacuation plans, limiting the number of entrances and exits, employing metal detectors, and even stationing armed police within the hospital.

Will they work? The authors say it is really the only thing hospitals can do in the absence of national policies that would improve behavioral health or limit access to firearms.  

Jenn-Air builds some really great-looking refrigerators. Flush design, concealed hinges, in-door water dispensers -- what more could you want?...

Jenn-Air builds some really great-looking refrigerators. Flush design, concealed hinges, in-door water dispensers -- what more could you want?

Well, many of the consumers we've heard from say they'd like a little more reliability. Failing that, they'd like prompter service -- or any service, for that matter -- when problems occur. 

After all, these things aren't cheap. Many models go for more than $2,000, which is pretty chilling all by itself. 

But consumers like Judie, who recently submitted a ConsumerAffairs video review, says what irks her most is that the 12-year warranty turns out not to be worth much, at least in her case, since no one seems to be able to get the parts needed to fix her refrigerator.

"Broken ice makers, doors that break. Any dealer selling these products should be investigated for deceiving the public and brought up on charges," said Jim of Edmond, Ontario.

Warren of Laguna Niguel, Calif., has also run into the no-parts problem when trying to keep his $8,500 fridge running.

"I own a built-in 42" Jenn Air refrigerator. Bought new late 2008 (6 years old). ... A few weeks ago, it started beeping. Turns out there is a bad "Gemini" control board," he said. "I called up Jenn Air - they no longer make this board! What?? A MAJOR APPLIANCE manufacturer no longer makes a part for a major appliance like this?"

"I have since read this is commonplace with Whirlpool. This board is no longer made and the company seems to not care about it. Yes, you may be able to get the board repaired (so long as the processor isn't bad), but that means the fridge is down for at least a week."

Many consumers, including Lisa of Tewksbury, Mass., trace these problems to Whirlpool's purchase of Jenn-Air a few years ago. Like Warren, Lisa spent more than $10,000 on her refrigerator, which has provided her with years of frustration.

"Whirlpool Product Review Board now handles this process and they have been nothing short of horrendous -- basically redundant robots stating, 'It’s out of warranty and we are doing you a favor with this offer.' ... All they did was delay this process so that the appliance would be out of warranty to retrieve MORE money."

Perhaps you and your dog have had a special moment. One where you both hugged and snuggled and you thought it was pretty special. For the moment it probabl...

Perhaps you and your dog have had a special moment. One where you both hugged and snuggled and you thought it was pretty special. For the moment it probably was. In fact for about two minutes. At least for your dog.

Researchers at Stockholm University and Brooklyn College found that for dogs, events are forgotten after about two minutes — and that's on the long end of the spectrum. Researchers did more than 90 memory experiments on 25 species that covered a variety of animals and even insects including birds, mammals, and bees.

On average the memory duration for all animals is probably similar to your teenager’s memory of when to be home or clean their room -- a mere 27 seconds. The chimp’s memory was even shorter -- 20 seconds. Rats even outdid them.

Humans, when compared in a similar study, had no problem remembering a sample stimulus they had seen as many as two days earlier. Which puts humans in the unique category in terms of remembering arbitrary events.

Reports from the University of Stockholm suggest that animals' memories can be broken into two categories — short-term and longer-term "specialized" memories. While animals can have excellent specialized memories such as where you keep the treats or where they hid their bone, or perhaps a bird who flies away from the nest but remembers how to return, memories of specific events tend to disappear in a span "ranging from a few seconds to several minutes.

One researcher who did not participate in the study, however, cautioned that some animals have shown the ability to capture episodic memories the way humans can — great apes have been shown to do so for days, if not years — while another cautioned that "it might be too early to argue that humans are the only ones who are able to mentally travel back and forward in time." (Dolphins, meanwhile, can recall whistles 20 years later.) The dolphins' "social memory" is the longest ever recorded in the animal kingdom.

Then there are elephants, who really don't seem to forget much. In fact, their memories are key to their survival. Matriarch elephants, in particular, hold a store of social knowledge that their families can scarcely do without, according to research conducted on elephants at Amboseli National Park in Kenya. They can remember, for example, that there was a drought a year ago, enabling them to migrate to greener pastures to feed and protect their group.

So maybe it's good to know that when your dog jumps up and is happy to see you, it is you they are happy to see, not one specific event that they are recalling. They love you for you.

Lots of people think healthful eating involves only unfamiliar foods that they don't find appealing. Think tofu and kale. But how about peanuts? Everybody ...

Lots of people think healthful eating involves only unfamiliar foods that they don't find appealing. Think tofu and kale. But how about peanuts? Everybody likes peanuts and a recent study finds that almost everyone seems to benefit from them and other nuts, at least when it comes to heart health.

Researchers at Vanderbilt University and the Shanghai Cancer Institute examined the association between nut consumption and death rates among low-income and racially diverse populations.

They found that, just as in previous studies of affluent white populations, eating peanuts was associated with fewer deaths, especially from heart disease. The study was published today in JAMA Internal Medicine. 

"Nuts are rich in nutrients, such as unsaturated fatty acids, fiber, vitamins, phenolic antioxidants, arginine and other phytochemicals. All of them are known to be beneficial to cardiovascular health, probably through their anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory and endothelial function maintenance properties," said Xiao-Ou Shu, M.D., Ph.D., associate director for Global Health at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, senior author of the study.

This study was the first to discover that all races -- blacks, whites, and Asians alike -- could potentially increase heart health by eating nuts and peanuts.

"In our study, we found that peanut consumption was associated with reduced total mortality and cardiovascular disease mortality in a predominantly low-income black and white population in the U.S., and among Chinese men and women living in Shanghai," Shu said.

This study was based on three large ongoing cohort studies. Participants included over 70,000 Americans of African and European descent who were mostly low-income, and over 130,000 Chinese.

Peanut consumption was associated with decreased total mortality, particularly cardiovascular mortality (i.e., 17%-21% reduction in total mortality, and 23%-38% reduction in cardiovascular mortality for the highest quartile intake group compared to the lowest quartile group) across all three racial/ethnic groups, among both men and women, and among individuals from low-SES groups.

Because peanuts are much less expensive than tree nuts, as well as more widely available to people of all races and all socioeconomic backgrounds, increasing peanut consumption may provide a potentially cost-efficient approach to improving cardiovascular health, Shu said.

"The data arise from observational epidemiologic studies, and not randomized clinical trials, and thus we cannot be sure that peanuts per se were responsible for the reduced mortality observed," said William Blot, Ph.D., associate director for Cancer Prevention, Control and Population-based Research at VICC and a co-author of the study.

He did note that "the findings from this new study, however, reinforce earlier research suggesting health benefits from eating nuts, and thus are quite encouraging."

Fans of “natural” foods take note: it looks like hackers have managed to plant malware on the cash registers at various Natural Grocers locations throughou...

Fans of “natural” foods take note: it looks like hackers have managed to plant malware on the cash registers at various Natural Grocers locations throughout the country.

Security blogger Brian Krebs reports that, according to his financial-industry sources, the hackers first managed to breach Natural Grocers' internal security shortly before last Christmas, eventually putting card-reading malware programs on various point-of-sale systems in the company. (In other words: the hackers did not access any databases of stored information, but did manage to lift at least some information from cash-register transactions as they occurred.)

However, spokespeople for Natural Grocers have said that the company is investigating “a potential data security incident involving an unauthorized intrusion targeting limited customer payment card data,” although the company said in a statement that it:

… has received no reports of any fraudulent use of payment cards from any customer, credit card brand or financial institution. In addition, there is no evidence that PIN numbers or card verification codes were accessed. Finally, no personally identifiable information, such as names, addresses or Social Security numbers, was involved, as the company does not collect that data as part of its payment processing system.

It's possible that various card issuers have not yet formally reported this suspected fraud to Natural Grocers, though Krebs says that “banking sources have told this author about a pattern of card fraud indicating cards stolen from the retailer are already on sale in the cybercrime underground.”

Most likely, this means that a large batch of stolen card numbers recently went on sale, and the banking investigators in charge of figuring out where and how those card numbers were stolen realized they all shared one trait in common: at some point in the past two months or so, every single stolen card had been used to pay for something at Natural Grocers.

If you've shopped at Natural Grocers since last December and paid with a credit or debit card, contact your card issuer and take the usual precautions required to protect yourself a possibly compromised card.

Anyway, there I was on the 405 heading north from LAX one dark and stormy night trying to find the windshield wiper switch in the Mercedes-Benz E350 that Hertz had plopped me into after failing to cough up a Chevrolet Malibu, Nissan Altima or other sensible full-sized sedan.

Having owned several Alfa Romeos, I'm accustomed to driving without wipers. The trick is to go fast enough to blow the water off the windshield, something that's not really possible on the 405, which is clogged at all hours of the day and night.

The only control stalk on the right side of the steering wheel was -- of all things -- the transmission lever, an oddly designed appartus if ever there was one. (You push it up for Reverse, down for Drive. Neutral is in the middle and you must then push in on the end of the stalk for Park -- a strange procedure).

On the left were two stalks, both of them slightly recessed from the wheel so as to be hard to reach with the left hand. They were also similar enough to make it hard to know which was which. One was, of course, the turn signal, the other the cursed cruise control.

The dash was full of buttons, none of them the windshield wiper. Taking a brief time-out after exiting towards Burbank, I flipped a couple of the overhead switches, hoping to find the interior light. Instead, I got a voice from an OnStar-like emergency service. Another switch opened the sunroof, not the best option when it's raining.

I guess this shouldn't be surprising. In my Porsche-owning days I grew accustomed to having the ignition switch on the left -- an innovation that supposedly makes it easier to jump into the car, start it up and go tearing off into oblivion, though I never really understood the thinking behind that.The next day, when I no longer needed it, I found the wiper switch, cleverly located on the left-hand stalk that also controls the turn signals. 

But while it was a relief to know how to turn on the wipers, daylight brought new mysteries -- like how fast I was going, how much gas I had and whether the engine was running at the proper temperature. The gauges are deeply recessed with black backgrounds and sort of greyish letters and numbers, making them nearly impossible to read.

Then there was the simple act of pulling away from the curb. The beast weighs so much -- a bit over 4,000 pounds -- that to get it rolling requires a fairly hearty stomp on the accelerator pedal, resulting in what is best described as a lunge. 

Once underway, the thing wallows along well enough but there is nothing spritely about it. A sports sedan it's not. Parking is difficult thanks to its Teutonic girth.

Otherwise, it's fine. The seats resemble something stolen from Lufthansa's first-class cabin, the radio is as complicated as possible and the parking brake is the kind you have to step on.

The entire affair reminded me of a 1974 Chevrolet Impala -- a workmanlike take on a very staid and traditional design. I felt as though I had aged 20 years every time I got into it.

Perhaps adding to my feelings of hostility was the failure of the air conditioning on Day 3, when I had to make a 200-mile round-trip to and from Santa Barbara. Fresh air is fine but, let's face it, the air's not really all that fresh on the 101 and the traffic and wind noise is roughly similar to being sucked up in a tornado.

In Hertz' defense, they were very apologetic when I turned the car in and told them about the air conditioner. The gentleman managing the check-in line, David Webb, jumped into the beast and drove me directly to LAX as an apologetic gesture, allowing me to skip the shuttle bus ordeal -- the type of unexpected courtesy that goes a long ways towards smoothing a consumer's tattered feathers. 

But as for the car, which will set you back $60,000 or so, I'll take my Chevy Volt or Mini Cooper anyday, thanks.     

Consumer spending, or personal consumption expenditures (PCE), fell for the second straight month in January, while personal incomes rose for the second ti...

Consumer spending, or personal consumption expenditures (PCE), fell for the second straight month in January, while personal incomes rose for the second time in as many months.

Figures released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis show PCE was down $18.9 billion, or 0.2% following December's decline of 0.3%,

totaled $45.3 billion, or 0.3%. Disposable personal income (DPI) -- personal income less personal current taxes -- increased $52.6 billion, or 0.4%.

Wages and salaries surged $42.4 billion in last month, compared with December's increase of $8.6 billion. Breaking that down, private wages and salaries were up $39.7 billion, versus an advance of $7.2 billion in December. Government wages and salaries rose $2.5 billion, compared with an increase of $1.5 billion the month before. Pay raises for federal civilian and military personnel added $2.2 billion to government payrolls in January.

Personal outlays -- which include PCE, personal interest payments, and personal current transfer payments – dropped $16.3 billion in January, compared with a slide of $35.3 billion in December.

Personal saving -- DPI less personal outlays -- was $728.5 billion in January, compared with $659.6 billion in December.

The personal saving rate -- personal saving as a percentage of disposable personal income – rose 0.5% last month -- to 5.5%.

Oscar’s Hickory House of Warrensburg, N.Y., is recalling approximately 32 pounds of beef jerky product. The product is susceptible to environmental patho...

Oscar’s Hickory House of Warrensburg, N.Y., is recalling approximately 32 pounds of beef jerky product.

The product, which bears the establishment number “EST. 4257” inside the USDA mark of inspection, was produced on December 26, 2014, and sold by one retailer in New York and on the Internet.

yundai Motor America is recalling 204,768 model year 2008-2010 Elantra vehicles manufactured June 1, 2008, to April 30, 2010, and 2009-2010 Elantra Touring...

Hyundai Motor America is recalling 204,768 model year 2008-2010 Elantra vehicles manufactured June 1, 2008, to April 30, 2010, and 2009-2010 Elantra Touring vehicles manufactured November 1, 2008, to April 30, 2010.

The electronic power steering (EPS) electronic control unit (ECU) may sense a discrepancy in the steering input signals and, as a result, disable the steering power assist. If power steering assist is lost, greater driver effort would be required to steer the vehicle at low speeds, increasing the risk of a crash.

Hyundai will notify owners, and dealers will verify the proper operation of the Electronic Power Steering and update the EPS control unit, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

Owners may contact Hyundai customer service at 1-855-671-3059. Hyundai's number for this recall is 127.

Talenti Gelato Sorbetto is recalling a limited number of jars of Sea Salt Caramel Gelato. The product may contain peanuts, an allergen not listed on the l...

The affected product was distributed in 1-pint (473 mL) clear plastic jars marked with a unit UPC of 8685200024 on the side of the jar, and a best by date of 05/19/2016 located on the bottom of the jar.

Consumers who purchased the recalled product should discontinue use of it immediately, retain the plastic jar and call 877-270-7393 to request a replacement coupon.

General Motors is recalling 1,177 model year 2014 Chevrolet Impala vehicles manufactured November 15, 2012, to May 27, 2014. The electronic parking brake...

General Motors is recalling 1,177 model year 2014 Chevrolet Impala vehicles manufactured November 15, 2012, to May 27, 2014.  

The electronic parking brake piston actuation arm may not fully retract, causing the brake pads to stay partially engaged. Brake pads that remain partially engaged with the rotors may cause excessive brake heat that may result in a fire.

GM will notify owners, and dealers will reprogram the electronic parking brake control module with new software, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020 (Chevrolet). GM's number for this recall is 15100.

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