Nation roundup for October 9


Slain border agent honored in Ariz.

SIERRA VISTA, Ariz. (AP) — Family members and hundreds of uniformed law enforcement officers gathered Monday to mourn the U.S. Border Patrol agent killed last week in an apparent case of friendly fire, remembering him as a family man who wouldn’t want loved ones and colleagues shedding tears over his death.

Agent Nicholas Ivie was killed last Tuesday as he and two other agents responded to a sensor alarm aimed at detecting smugglers crossing into the U.S.

The shooting occurred at night about five miles north of the border near Bisbee.

The FBI said it appeared to be friendly fire involving only the agents. An investigation was ongoing.

“If Nick were here he’d say, ‘Guys, I’m taken care of. Just take care of my girls, my wife and my family,’” his brother Joel Ivie, also an agent, said during the funeral.

Dozens of agents on horseback lined the street outside The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints meeting house, leading with them Ivie’s riderless horse, nicknamed Mouse for his rounded ears.

“He loved that horse,” his brother said.

Alzheimer’s drug shows promise

BOSTON (AP) — Combined results from two studies of an experimental Alzheimer’s drug suggest it might modestly slow mental decline, especially in patients with mild disease.

Taken separately, the studies on the drug — Eli Lilly & Co.’s solanezumab — missed their main goals of significantly slowing the mind-robbing disease or improving activities of daily living. But pooled results found 34 percent less mental decline in mild Alzheimer’s patients compared to those on a fake treatment for 18 months.

Doctors called the results encouraging although probably not good enough to win approval of the drug now, without another study to confirm there is a benefit. Investors were more enthused, driving Lilly’s stock up about 5 percent on Monday and about 19 percent since August, when the company described the results in general terms.

Detailed results were revealed for the first time Monday at an American Neurological Association conference in Boston.

“It’s certainly not the home run we all wanted, but we’re very encouraged by these results,” said Maria Carillo, chief science officer for the Alzheimer’s Association, which had no role in the research.

GM plans to add up to 10K jobs

DETROIT (AP) — Now hiring in Detroit: Scads of software developers and programmers.

General Motors is moving past layoffs and the Motor City’s rusty, low-tech image. It’s setting out on its own to develop software and invent the most advanced gizmos for your car.

The nation’s biggest automaker plans to hire up to 10,000 computer professionals in the next three-to-five years as it tries to lead the auto industry with cutting-edge technology. It’s a bold and expensive move, counter to the industry’s history of buying software and other electronic applications from outside companies.

Vending machines to show calories

NEW YORK (AP) — As criticism of sugary sodas intensifies, Coke, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper are rolling out new vending machines that will put calorie counts right at your fingertips.

The move comes ahead of a regulation that would require restaurant chains and vending machines to post the information as early as next year, although the specifics for complying with the requirement are still being worked out.

“They’re seeing the writing on the wall and want to say that it’s corporate responsibility,” said Mike Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which advocates for food safety and nutrition.

Still, he noted that it was an important step forward. “Currently, people don’t think about calories when they go up to a vending machine,” he said. “Having the calories right on the button will help them make choices.”

The American Beverage Association, which represents Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo Inc. and Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc., said the calorie counts will be on the buttons people press to select a drink. Vending machines will also feature small decals, such as “Calories Count: Check Then Choose.”

The vending machines will launch in Chicago and San Antonio municipal buildings in 2013 before appearing nationally.

Without providing specifics, the American Beverage Association said the machines will also boost the availability of lower- and zero-calorie drinks.

“We have market research that says consumers really like this — they like choice, they like the ability to make choices,” said Susan Neely, president of the industry group.

A mock-up of a new machine provided by Coca-Cola showed 20-ounce bottles of its flagship drink and Sprite inside vending machines, with labels on the buttons stating “240 calories.”

The soda industry has been under fire for fueling rising obesity rates. Last month, New York City approved a first-in-the-nation plan to prohibit the sale of sugary drinks over 16 ounces in the city’s restaurants, movie theaters and stadiums.

Notably, the beverage industry fought aggressively to fight the ban and hasn’t ruled out taking legal action to stop it from taking effect this spring.

This November, voters in Richmond, Calif. will also decide whether to approve a penny-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks.

The decision to post calorie information follows the Supreme Court’s decision this summer to uphold President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, which includes a regulation that would require restaurant chains and with more than 20 locations and vending operators with more than 20 machines to post calorie information.

McDonald’s Corp. also announced last month that it would begin posting calorie information on its menus nationwide. Like the soda industry, the fast-food giant said it was a voluntary decision and not spurred by the pending requirement.

In addition to public health concerns, soft drink makers are dealing with shifting consumer habits. Soda consumption per person has been declining in the U.S. since 1998, according to the Beverage Digest. The decline is partly the result of the growing number of options such as flavored waters, bottled teas and sports drinks — which Coke, Pepsi and Dr Pepper also make.

As a result, Coke, Pepsi and Dr Pepper are focusing on developing more diet drinks, as well as expanding into other drinks to reduce their reliance on sodas.

There is no timetable for when all vending machines will be converted. Coke, Pepsi and Dr Pepper often work with third-party operators to provide drinks in vending machines; Neely said the companies will work with those outside operators to convert all machines over time.

Vending machines account for about 13 percent of sales volume, a figure that has remained relatively unchanged in recent years, according to Beverage Digest.

Soda consumption is often identified for playing a role in rising obesity rates, although other factors such as a lack of physical activity and overeating also contribute.

Last month, the New England Journal of Medicine published a decades-long study of more than 33,000 Americans that showed sugary beverages interact with genes that affect weight, meaning they are especially harmful to people who are hereditarily predisposed to weight gain.

Bonnie Sashin, who works as a communications director for a nonprofit in Brookline, Mass., says she stays away from sugary drinks, limiting herself to a can of Diet Dr Pepper or Diet Coke about twice a month. But she thought the move to display calorie information on vending machines was a positive development.

“Anything that helps us be more educated about calories is a good thing,” Sashin said.

Wal-Mart, American Express team on prepaid card

NEW YORK (AP) — Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and American Express are rolling out a prepaid card that they say offers unique services designed to help shoppers manage and control their everyday finances.

The two companies said Monday that Bluebird, begun during a pilot program late last year, acts like a checking account but without the fees that have increasingly frustrated shoppers. It will have no minimum balance and no monthly, annual or overdraft fees. They say the only fees that will be associated with the card will be transparent and within the user’s control, such as out of network ATM withdrawals by consumers who don’t use direct deposit.

Instead, what Bluebird will be loaded with is a number of features, including the ability to deposit a check to one’s Bluebird account by simply taking a picture with a smart phone. It will also offer the same fraud protections in an event the card is stolen or lost as other standard cards.

The move comes as American Express is looking for new ways to expand its customer base beyond its traditional wealthy clientele. For Wal-Mart, the Bluebird service is the latest financial product offering to be pushed by the world’s largest retailer, but it’s also the most comprehensive.

Bluebird’s rollout also signals how competition for pre-paid cards, once the domain of non-bank companies, is heating up.

Wal-Mart and American Express say Bluebird was improved since the pilot test, based on feedback from consumers who said they were bothered by rising fees related to checking accounts and debit services.

“We are recreating and reimagining what checking and banking services might look like in the 21st century,” said Dan Schulman, group president, Enterprise Growth at American Express in an interview with The Associated Press. He said the partnership with Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, aims to set up a “moral equivalent of a bank branch at retail.”

“Our customers tell us that they’re tired of navigating a complex maze of do’s and don’ts to avoid the ever growing list of fees found on checking products,” Daniel Eckert, vice president of financial services for Walmart U.S., said in a statement.

Deborah Weinswig, an analyst at Citi Research, said that the offering will resonate well with Wal-Mart shoppers, as only about 15 percent of the company’s sales are paid for with a credit card. Bluebird “could drive increased mindshare and incremental traffic over time,” Weinswig wrote in a report published Monday.

Prepaid cards are a fast-growing segment of the payments industry. While the cards are aimed mainly at people who don’t have bank accounts or whose credit ratings are damaged, they also are becoming popular with consumers seeking to avoid surprise bank fees and keep from accumulating credit card balances.

But prepaid cards are typically not linked to a checking account. Monday’s announcement shows how the financial service landscape is changing in light of the rising popularity of smart phones and other technological advances, and evolving needs of consumers, who want on-the-go financial services.

Wal-Mart is not new to the prepaid card segment, as it already offers prepaid cards from Green Dot Corp. During a call with reporters, Eckert said that Walmart has no plans to end its relationship with Green Dot in light of its new partnership with American Express. The discounter has a contract with the Monrovia, Calif., company that expires in 2015. He says Wal-Mart is just broadening its assortment of financial services to serve more customers.

Green Dot depends on Wal-Mart for more than 60 percent of its revenue. The news sent the shares of the Monrovia, Calif.-based company plunging in Monday trading.

Bluebird cards can be used at millions of locations where American Express cards are accepted, both in the U.S. and internationally. Users can deposit funds onto the card via direct deposit, with cash at any Walmart register, or by linking a checking, savings or debit card to the account.

Another key feature: the user can set up sub-accounts for family members or others, giving them access to certain funds, instead of the entire account. So parents could set up such accounts using Bluebird for their children in college.

Madeline Aufseeser, senior analyst at research firm Aite Group, said that what makes this unique is that there are lots of features that come with the account.

“It’s just a further indication that pre-paid (cards) have gone mainstream,” she said.

Wal-Mart and American Express said that more features will be added to Bluebird in the first quarter of 2013. These features will include more options to deposit money and check-writing capabilities.

Bluebird will be available next week at www.bluebird.com and in more than 4,000 Walmart stores.

Shares of Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart added 13 cents to close Monday trading at $75.26. Shares of American Express, which is based in New York, gained 22 cents to end at $58.78.

Green Dot shares dropped fell $2.618, or 20.3 percent, to close at $10.24.

 

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