June 18, 2014
The consolidation of American companies is having a profound effect on the economy, leaving the middle class squeezed and struggling to maintain itself. A recent opinion piece in The Washington Post laid out the effects of how corporate America is impacting pretty much everything in society. Here’s an excerpt:
Since the early 1980s, executives and financiers have consolidated control over dozens of industries across the U.S. economy. From cable companies and hospitals to airlines, grocery stores and meatpackers, where once many small and mid-size businesses competed, today we see a few giants dominate. They use their power to raise prices, drive down wages and foreclose opportunity. Wealth is transferred from consumers, workers and entrepreneurs to affluent executives and shareholders.
The ongoing debate in America over economic inequality — as seen, for instance, in the Occupy movement and the success of Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” — is a vital one. But it is incomplete. The challenge is not limited to the decline of organized labor, tax cuts for the well-off and the increased power of Wall Street. The lack of competition in many sectors of the U.S. economy is also a powerful driver of economic disparity.
Click here to read more from The Washington Post.
March 17, 2014
Here’s another reason to be wary of most things which are pre-paid. Washington Post reporter Brian Fung conducted a test recently which confirmed allegations that both AT&T and T-Mobile routinely over-charge pre-paid cell phone customers for minutes they don’t appear to be using. It’s a tricky little maneuver that the phone companies blame on complicated technology, that we mere mortal consumers could not begin to understand, or so they would like us to believe.
… prepaid customers on AT&T are routinely being billed extra for minutes they don’t appear to be using. If true, that means their available credit is being drained at unexpected rates — often without their knowledge — requiring that they buy more credit, more often. Critics allege the practice amounts to a subtle program of consumer fraud that, in the aggregate, delivers big bucks to wireless carriers.
According to the Switch’s hardware tests, as well as a formal complaint lodged with federal regulators, wireless companies are reporting longer call times than what a customer’s device will show. In the case of one AT&T subscriber, the network added as many as 33 seconds to his call after he hung up, allowing AT&T to bill him for an additional minute of usage. The Switch’s tests also turned up a similar phenomenon with T-Mobile’s prepaid phones.
Wireless operators generally charge customers a full minute’s worth of airtime for every fraction of a minute used. That’s uncontroversial. For example, a call that lasts for 1 minute and 10 seconds will be treated as 2 minutes. But it now appears that even calls that end before a minute is up are also getting treated as two-minute calls. Device testing shows the same holds true no matter how long you talk. One call that I made using an AT&T Go Phone should have been billed at two minutes. Instead, the account was charged for three.
Click here to read the rest of Fung’s report.
February 7, 2014
The end of the swipe is coming. With massive security breaches, like those at Target and Neiman Marcus, threatening the confidence of customers who shop at major retailers, American credit card companies are finally going to make the big change away from our traditional credit cards. We’ve all been used to the black strip on the back of a credit card that holds all of our personal information, but that makes it easy for hackers to nab the data and steal identities. So, the push is on to switch to a harder-to-crack, chip technology that will also require a PIN number to use your card.
The Wall Street Journal reports, that beginning later next year, you will stop signing those credit card receipts. Instead, you will insert your card into a slot and enter a PIN number, just like people do in much of the rest of the world. The U.S. is the last major market to still use the old-fashioned signature system, and it’s a big reason why almost half the world’s credit card fraud happens in America, despite the country being home to about a quarter of all credit card transactions.
The recent large-scale theft of credit card data from retailers including Target and Neiman Marcus brought the issue more mainstream attention, leading to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this week. Executives told the senators that once the country transitions to the new system — which includes credit cards embedded with a microchip containing security data — these kind of hacking attacks will be much more difficult to pull off.
Click here to read more from the Wall Street Journal.
January 2, 2014
We’ve all had our share of cookies and chocolate over the holidays. Now it’s time to kick into gear your New Year’s resolution to get into shape. Whether you’re looking for a treadmill, elliptical or spinning bike, Consumer Reports put exercise machines to the test. Click here for a report by KDKA TV in Pittsburgh, on the best rated devices to help you slim down for 2014.
January 2, 2014
The number of children taking powerful anti-psychotic drugs has nearly tripled over the last 10 to 15 years, according to recent research. Consumer Reports examined whether too many kids are taking these anti-psychotic drugs in a recent article.
The increase comes not because of an epidemic of schizophrenia or other forms of serious mental illness in children, but because doctors are increasingly prescribing the drugs to treat behavior problems, a use not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). And a disproportionate number of those prescriptions are written for poor and minority children, some as young as age 2.
November 20, 2013
We are living longer, but spending more of those extra years with chronic disease and disabilities. Is the trade off worth it? It’s an interesting question as CNN’S Dr. Sanjay Gupta reports in the story above.
For most of human history, old people were rare. A lucky few might make it to 60 or 70, but most people died before their hair turned white and their faces sagged. It wasn’t until the 20th century that the average lifespan reached 50. A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association examines the cost of living longer.
The JAMA study found life expectancy in the United States for both sexes combined increased from 75.2 years in 1990 to 78.2 years in 2010. It also found improvements in population health in the U.S. have not kept pace with advances in population health in other wealthy nations. Click here to read more.
November 6, 2013
Popular herbal supplements like echinacea, Ginko biloba, St. John’s Wart, and black cohosh are among dozens being called into question, in a new study that used DNA testing. The study found many of these supplements don’t actually contain the herbs, at all. Instead, they are little more than powdered rice and weeds.
Canadian researchers tested 44 bottles of popular herbal supplements sold by 12 companies. A third of the pills actually contained none of the purported herb and 60-percent were diluted.
The New York Times reports on the controversy:
Americans spend an estimated $5 billion a year on unproven herbal supplements that promise everything from fighting off colds to curbing hot flashes and boosting memory. But now there is a new reason for supplement buyers to beware: DNA tests show that many pills labeled as healing herbs are little more than powdered rice and weeds.
Using a test called DNA barcoding, a kind of genetic fingerprinting that has also been used to help uncover labeling fraud in the commercial seafood industry, Canadian researchers tested 44 bottles of popular supplements sold by 12 companies. They found that many were not what they claimed to be, and that pills labeled as popular herbs were often diluted — or replaced entirely — by cheap fillers like soybean, wheat and rice.
Click here to read more from the New York Times.
September 20, 2013
Eating more super foods and looking at pictures of kittens top the list of ways to become more productive, according to a British study. No seriously, I have to admit I felt more alert after looking at this cute little fur ball! Research has shown looking at cute images does indeed stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain.
Okay, so after you look at cute baby animals, here are a few more ways to make your day more productive. Health Care Communications reports:
1. Eat more super foods: Ditch the left-over lasagna and eat more like a bird! Fish, dark chocolate, nuts and seeds, avocados, raw carrots and blueberries all make the list of super foods.
2. Look at pictures of kittens: Okay, we already established this.
3. Take a break: Regulars breaks dramatically improve productivity, especially if you work at a computer.
4. Focus on one activity: Is it really a surprise that multi-tasking cuts DOWN on productivity? Oh, excuse me. I just got a text.
5. Don’t force yourself to be a morning person: Coffee can help, of course, but your “peak time” might just be late afternoon or even late at night.
Click here to read more in depth information about these tips on Ragan’s Health Care Communications News.
September 18, 2013
Why is it that Sears, the once iconic retailer now on life-support, can get a $1 billion loan, but small businesses trying to get started or expand can’t get bupkis? Al Lewis, one of our favorite business writers, took a crack at that question examining that dichotomy in his MarketWatch column. Al writes:
I got a tweet this week from a guy who sells “Made In the U.S.A.” neckties in Belleville, N.J. “What financial institution would lend Sears $1B?” he asked. “They are a dying whale. But still small biz can’t borrow a dime!”
Since the financial crisis of 2008, the Federal Reserve’s accommodative policies have led to one big corporate refinancing after the next. Companies borrow billions for stock repurchases, dividend increases, refinancings and buyouts.
Al goes on to explain that Sears just wants to borrow more money to roll over debt it already has on the books. That’s a sure way to create more jobs, now isn’t it. Click here to read more of Al’s column, “How come Sears can get a loan but you can’t?
June 25, 2013
When you look at a generic product on the shelf, is there a little voice in the back of your head that says, ‘It must be a little bit inferior to the name brand‘? That’s certainly what the name brands would like you to think, since they spend tons of money to get you to pick their product, but generally research shows most generics are almost identical to many name brands. And, of course, they cost a lot less.
So, who among us is smart enough to realize that and resist the urge to go for the well-advertised product, instead reaching for that blandly packaged generic? According to a new study of shopping data by Nielson Co. people who work as nurses and chefs are among those who most often save the bucks and chose the generic.
Education appears to be a factor in choosing generics. People who’ve gone to college are more likely to pick generic headache remedies than those who don’t. The Wall Street Journal took an intriguing look at the new research. You can read more here.