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    Coronary Bypass 82.5 Percent More Expensive in U.S. than in Canada

    No Significant Difference in Outcomes; Only the Cost is Higher

    Although there are no differences in clinical outcome, the in-hospital cost of coronary bypass surgery in the U.S. is 82.5 percent higher in the U.S. than in Canada, according to a study in the July 11 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

    Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of illness and death in the U.S. and Canada, with an estimated direct cost in the U.S. of $209.3 billion in 2003, including $94.1 billion in in-hospital costs alone. In 2000, more than 500,000 bypass procedures were performed in the U.S.

    Mark J. Eisenberg, M.D., M.P.H., of Jewish General Hospital, Montreal, and colleagues compared the outcomes and costs of treatment of 12,017 consecutive patients (4,698 U.S. and 7,319 Canadian patients) undergoing CABG at five U.S. and four Canadian hospitals.

    "In-hospital costs of treatment were substantially higher in the United States than in Canada [an average cost of $20,673 vs. $10,373]," the authors report.

    "After controlling for demographic and clinical differences, length of stay in Canada was 16.8 percent longer than in the United States; there was no difference in in-hospital mortality; and the cost in the United States was 82.5 percent higher than in Canada."

    "Coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery requires substantial resources in Canada and the United States," the authors conclude. "However, patients undergoing CABG at U.S. hospitals incur approximately twice as much cost compared with those at Canadian hospitals, with little difference in clinical outcome and despite shorter average LOS [length of stay].

    The difference in total in-hospital costs is almost equally attributable to differences in direct and overhead costs between the Canadian and U.S. hospitals. This cost differential primarily reflects higher resource prices for products and labor and higher overhead costs in the United States resulting from a nonsocialized medical system. However, U.S. hospitals also appear to streamline services better to reduce LOS, a strategy Canadian hospitals might emulate to further reduce treatment costs."

    Coronary Bypass 82.5 Percent More Expensive in U.S. than in Canada...

    Up the Broadband Creek Without a Signal

    Options are Slim for Those without DSL or Cable

    Al Gore took a lot of heat for his slightly inflated version of his role in the Internet's beginnings but, whatever else you may say about it, the previous Administration at least appeared to be trying to jump-start the Internet. The current masters of the universe seem to think the "invisible hand of the marketplace" will cause broadband to sprout like kudzu throughout the land, without (or in spite of) needless interference from government.

    The Federal Communications Commission, accordingly, stood aside as the Bell companies devoured everything in sight, pausing between gulps to say that new broadband networks would be coming soon. But while high-speed Internet use by U.S. businesses and households rose 34 percent in 2004 to 37.9 million lines, according to FCC figures released last week, the U.S. ranks 16th in broadband use among major nations.

    Digital subscriber line, or DSL, service increased 45 percent last year to 13.8 million lines. Cable modem use climbed 30 percent to 21.4 million lines. Other Internet connections using wireless and satellite increased by 50 percent to 500,000 last year, the FCC said, while use of optical fiber and powerlines rose 16 percent to 700,000.

    In a column published in Thursday's Wall Street Journal, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin vows that broadband deployment is his "highest priority."

    Perhaps, but that's not of much comfort to the millions of Americans still without broadband service -- not all of them in Short Pump, Virginia, or Happy, Texas. Some are in "undesirable" big-city neighborhoods, others in affluent suburbs that for one reason or another aren't wired for DSL or cable and some are just in-between, traveling, vacationing or working outside the office.

    The United States is a pretty big place, after all, and the natural inclination of any businessperson is to concentrate his service where it will reach the biggest number of potential customers with the lowest possible delivery costs. These days, that generally means that downtown areas and middle-class neighborhoods are the most likely to have broadband service from either a cable company or the local telephone company, or, as is often the case, both.

    And everyone else? Well, they are mostly out of luck. There's no doubt things are changing and new services are coming. Verizon and SBC are digging up streets throughout the land to install fiber to the home so that they can compete with cable system by delivering high-definition video. Of course, almost all of this activity is in areas where cable and the telcos already provide broadband. It does nothing for those in unserved areas.

    While there is no shortage of complaints about DSL and cable Internet services, the situation is much worse for those who can't get broadband at all.

    "The Internet is increasingly designed to be used with a high speed connection," said Mark Huffman, a ConsumerAffairs.com contributing editor who moved to a rural area on Chesapeake Bay a few years ago. "Every site is loaded with rich media. If you are on dial-up, its very hard to use the Internet. It becomes very frustrating."

    Working with Huffman, we explored various methods of getting broadband service where none now exists. Contrary to what broadband providers might think, Huffman found a great deal of interest among residents of his somewhat sleepy village.

    "In my county there is no broadband available, other than satellite. I can tell you that every business owner I talked to about trying to bring in wireless was enthusiastic about the idea, and willing to pay a premium price to get it, if they could," Huffman said.

    Here are a few of the services we explored:

    Verizon Wireless Broadband

    We found this expensive ($80 per month) service to be virtually useless, whether in the sticks or under the Capitol dome. We could not get it to work in the Washington, D.C., New York or Los Angeles metro areas. It didn't work in the St. Louis airport or at the beach in Delaware, to pick a few other examples. Where does this thing work, we wondered? Answer: we don't know. See A Test of Verizon Wireless Broadband for all the gory details. Warning: Sprint has announced it is deploying the same technology. Buyer beware.

    Fixed Wireless

    Unlike the Verizon wireless card, some wireless broadband providers offer what's called "fixed wireless" -- meaning it's not mobile. This involves line-of-sight microwave transmission. Translation: towers. If you are lucky enough to have such a service in your area, it may be the answer if you are in its primary coverage area and don't have trees, mountains or other obstructions blocking the signal path. It can work well, we're told. We were not able to find any services we could test but we heard from one consumer who's quite happy with her experience.

    "We had satellite-based Starband, but found it slow and stupid about multiple users," said Catherine of Sparks, Nevada. "So we got wireless broadband from Amigo and we are very happy with it."

    "The thing is that we essentially have a personal ISP -- the guy who runs our area for Amigo.net knows us, our tech needs and is very responsive (unlike our prior DSL experience elsewhere with Verizon). Reminds me of when we used to have our power from a rural electric coop -- a much friendlier experience!"


    A T-1 is old technology but very stable. It is provided over a double pair of plain old copper telephone lines and is available literally anywhere in the U.S., if you're willing to pay for it. Line-haul charges are steep outside major urban areas. The speed is about the same as an average cable connection. Installation takes months and a long-term contract is required.

    A few years ago, driven nearly mad by Cox Communications' extremely sporadic service and unable to get DSL in our neighborhood, we had a T-1 installed at our home by a D.C. telecommunications provider who asks not to be named (hey, we have enemies). The cost: $600 per month. This may sound like an extravagance but we work at home quite a bit of the time and reliability is essential.

    Obviously, a T-1 is impractical for consumers and, in many cases, even for technology-dependent businesses, as we learned when we tried to price out a T-1 for Huffman.

    We shopped around for a T-1 and found nothing under about $800 per month. We were dubious of that quote since every other provider wanted about $1,200. This obviously isn't a practical solution for most individuals or small businesses.


    Still trying to get Huffman up and running, we surfed over to DirecTV and found them offering a variety of consumer- and business-grade packages under their DirecWay brand. This is not the old satellite Internet that used a satellite for the downleg and a telephone connection for the upleg -- some pretty cool spread-spectrum technology handles the upleg. The business-grade package we bought delivers speeds comparable to DSL. There was a $1,000 installation charge and the monthly charge is about $99. For a business, this is cheap. Consumer-grade packages start at around $50.

    Don't say we told you this but you can buy the consumer package and get a geekish friend to put up a Wi-Fi connection that your neighbors can use. Maybe you can get them to chip in on the installation and monthly tariff.

    At the moment, DirecTV has the market pretty well to itself although there is a new player that hopes to make some noise later this year, we're told.

    In the past, we have received some really bitter complaints from consumers who found various satellite Internet services annoying. There's no question that wireless communications will almost always be somewhat less stable than wired; it's the nature of the beast. Satellite transmissions are in the Ku band -- very high frequency and thus more prone to interference from rain and snow. Until the laws of physics are changed, you can expect service degradation during bad weather.

    Then there's the little matter of the speed of light. The communications satellites are 26,000 miles out in space. A signal has to go up from your dish to the bird and the downleg signal has to come back down. That's 52,000 miles round trip. Look up the speed of light and you can do the math; it works out to a noticeable split-second delay between the time you click your mouse and the time the signal hits the router on the bird. Is this a problem? We'd say that once you understand what's happening, you can make a mental adjustment to allow for it.

    We have been around satellite communications a long time and respect it greatly. It is amazingly effective and has the lowest environmental overhead you can imagine -- no wires, no digging, no towers, very slight power consumption. OK, some might find the dishes ugly but that's an aesthetics argument. Personally, we find utility poles about as ugly as anything. Dangerous, too. We spent an afternoon using the DirecWay feed and found it as good if not better than the T-1's we use at our office and at home.

    Of course, not every DirecWay customer agrees, including Gary of Lincoln, Missouri. "Service is very crappy. Slow, sometimes as bad as dialup if not worse. I buy and sell on ebay so if the internet doesn't work I lose big," Gary said.

    Gary's complaint is similar to those often leveled at DSL and cable providers as well. In many of these cases, the fault lies elsewhere -- slow servers, bogged-down DNS and, not infrequently, balkiness in the user's PC. Inadequate memory, spyware, viruses, file fragmentation, all can slow the display of Web pages.

    Power Lines

    It's a little puzzling why broadband Internet via electrical lines hasn't taken off. The copper wires that deliver electricity to homes and offices are capable of moving a lot of data at very low cost but the technology just hasn't gotten the attention it would seem to deserve.

    That may be changing, though. A Maryland company that provides high-speed Internet access over electrical power lines last week received a major investment from Google Inc., the Hearst Corp. and Goldman Sachs. Current Communications Group declined to disclose financial terms of the investment though the Wall Street Journal reported that it approached $100 million.

    If the FCC stays out of the picture, maybe this will go somewhere.


    There's no question: dial-up just doesn't get it anymore. Even if you never download audio or video files, most Web sites now have such fat pages that it's a very frustrating proposition to be stuck on a dial-up connection. The experience just isn't the same.

    That being said, we would have to admit we sometimes get more done on the rare occasions when we must rely on dial-up connections. We find ourselves spending more time writing and editing, even thinking, less time reading the latest inflammatory e-mails.

    Then there's the matter of cost: dial-up is cheap, assuming you don't fall for the high-priced brands like AOL, MSN and Earthlink. We seldom issue outright recommendations but here are two dial-up ISP providers we have used with great success when stuck in nowheresville: localnet.com and highstream.net. Both have plans under $10 per month that will provide dial-up access from most parts of the country. As always, you must be sure to select a dial-up number that is within your local calling area.


    So, what to do if you're living in an area without cable or DSL broadband? We'd say satellite is the best option, at least for now. For road warriors and those on temporary assignments, we don't have a good answer, other than an inexpensive dial-up plan, a list of hotel chains that offer free high-speed access and a willingness to hang around Internet cafes. It shouldn't be that way, but it is. At least for now.

    Up the Broadband Creek Without a Signal...

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      Canada May Allow Resumption Of Vioxx Sales

      The prescription pain killer was removed from the market over heart attack fears

      In a surprising move, Canadian health authorities are moving towards approving the resumption of Vioxx sales. The prescription pain killer was removed from the market in September 2004 over concerns of heightened risks of heart attacks and strokes among those who have taken it for extended periods.

      But an advisory panel to Health Canada, the Canadian counterpart to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said the risk of heart disease from Vioxx appears to be the same as that posed by other similar painkillers, and that gastrointestinal risks appear to be less.

      The advisory group also recommended that Celebrex, a COX-2 drug made by Pfizer, Inc., be allowed to remain on the market, but that Pfizer's Bextra, another arthritis drug, be kept off the market.

      "We welcome the panel's report and I'd like to thank the public for its contribution," Canadian Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh said. "This is the first time that the Canadian public has been invited to participate in a Health Canada expert advisory panel. Health Canada supports the direction of the Panel's recommendations."

      Health Canada said it will immediately implement many of the panel's recommendations and will work with its partners to see what further action should be taken.

      The agency said it acknowledges the panel's view that, as a group, selective COX-2 inhibitors are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular events, a risk that is similar to those associated with most non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), a category that includes other COX-2 drugs as well as ibuprofen and other popular pain relievers. The panel noted that this risk is present for all patients taking anti-inflammatory agents and that it increases with longer-term use and when other risk factors, such as cardiovascular disease, are present.

      In the case of Vioxx, which is not currently authorized for sale in Canada, the panel reported that available data justifies the marketing of Vioxx in Canada because the risk of cardiovascular incidents from Vioxx appears to be similar to that of most NSAIDs. In order for VIOXX to be marketed in Canada, the manufacturer is required to submit a new drug submission to Health Canada. The submission would be reviewed to ensure it meets safety data requirements, with particular attention to the safe labeling issues raised by the panel.

      The panel, which met June 9-10, 2005 in Ottawa, was created by Health Canada to provide input and advice on the safety of COX-2 NSAIDs and was one part of an extensive review and study of research related to the safety of these drugs.

      Merck Pharmaceuticals, the maker of Vioxx, had no immediate comment on its Website about the Health Canada recommendation. In the U.S., the FDA continues to study the risks associated with COX-2 drugs.

      Canada May Allow Resumption Of Vioxx Sales...

      Pokmon Plush Toys Recall

      July 8, 2005
      Pokmon Plush Toys are being recalled. The stuffing of the toy may contain tips of sewing needles which could pose a puncture hazard.

      The recall involves 10 Pokdoll plush toy characters including Pikachu, Minun, Plusle, Skitty, Evee, Munchlax, Mew, Ho-Oh, and Lugia. Pikachu comes in a 12-inch and a 6-inch tall version. All of the other characters are approximately 6-inches tall. They have a sewn-in label that reads: Pokmon Center 2005 Pokmon /Nintendo /Creatures/ GAME FREAK on one side and 2005 MADE IN CHINA on the other.

      The toys were sold at Nintendo World, 10 Rockefeller Plaza, New York City, and on the firms Web site from April 2005 through June 2005 for between $8 and $20. The PokDoll plush toys were also given away as promotions by Nintendo of America Inc. at the E3 Conference in Los Angeles in May 2005.

      Parents should take these toys away from children immediately and contact Pokmon USA to receive a free replacement toy.

      Consumer Contact: For additional information, contact the firm toll-free at (800) 930-6613 anytime or visit Pokmons Web site at www.pokemoncenter.com/recall.asp.

      The recall is being conducted in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

      Pokmon Plush Toys Recall...

      Avatar Child Safety Seats Recall

      July 8, 2005
      Combi USA, Inc. is recalling its "Avatar Model 8100" child safety seats. The recall involves the entire production of this model from November 2003 through May 2004, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said.

      As part of a new system for child seat installation, newly manufactured child safety seats must include attachments that fasten to permanent anchors in a vehicles back seat, located where the cushions meet. This system is known as "LATCH" (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children). In the case of the Avatar seats being recalled, the lower attachment straps fail to meet the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 213 for child restraint systems.

      If the child seat is attached using the LATCH system and a crash occurs, the attachment straps could detach from the vehicles lower anchors - possibly resulting in a serious or even fatal injury to the child.

      Registered owners of these child safety seats will automatically receive a repair kit along with repair instructions in the mail. Those not registered need to request the kit from the manufacturer. Until the latch belt assembly is replaced, Combi USA advises owners to use the seat only with the vehicles safety belts and not with the LATCH system.

      Owners who do not receive the free kit within a reasonable time should contact Combi USA toll free at 800-992-6624 or visit Combis website at www.combi-intl.com.

      Consumers with questions about this or any other safety recall campaign should call NHTSAs toll free Vehicle Safety Hotline at 888-327-4236 or check NHTSAs website at www.safercar.gov.

      Avatar Child Safety Seats Recall...

      FDA Issues Blindness Warning for Viagra Users

      Agency Reacts More than 13 Months After Learning of Blindness Incidents

      The Food and Drug Administration has ordered updated labeling for Viagra, Cialis and Levitra, in response to reports of sudden blindness in men taking the erectile dysfunction medications. The agency came under fire after it was alleged that it had known of the incidents for 13 months without warning doctors or the public.

      The Viagra blindness risk was reported in June in the Journal of Neuro-Ophthalmology. The journal study examined seven cases where men suffered an unusual form of sudden blindness within 36 hours of taking Viagra. Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) later charged that an FDA safety officer had noted the risk from monitoring adverse event reports and told her supervisors that physicians and the public should be warned.

      Pfizer said in May that it had received reports of 23 cases in which men taking Viagra had either gone blind or lost a portion of their vision. The FDA said it had information about 38 cases in which men taking Viagra had suffered vision impairment. The FDA said those cases were tied to reduced blood flow to the eye in patients who were also suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure.

      "I am troubled by the FDA's action, or lack thereof, relating to the updating of Viagra's product label," Sen. Grassley wrote in a letter to the acting FDA chief. He said it was the latest example of inaction involving the FDA's Office of New Drugs (OND).

      The rare form of sudden blindness -- non-arteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy, or NAION -- is caused by the blockage of blood flow to the optic nerve and is most common in older people, who are the predominant users of Viagra and the other erectile dysfunction drugs. An estimated 1,000 to 6,000 Americans suffer an optic blockage each year.

      FDA today advised patients to stop taking the medicines and to call a doctor right away if they experience sudden or decreased vision loss in one or both eyes. Further, patients taking or considering taking these products should inform their health care professionals if they have ever had severe loss of vision, which might reflect a prior episode of NAION. Such patients are at an increased risk of developing NAION again.

      "At this time, it is not possible to determine whether these oral medicines for erectile dysfunction were the cause of the loss of eyesight or whether the problem is related to other factors such as high blood pressure or diabetes, or to a combination of these problems," the FDA said in a statement.

      FDA has ordered updated labeling for Viagra, Cialis and Levitra, in response to reports of sudden blindness in men taking the erectile dysfunction medicati...

      A Test of Verizon Wireless Broadband

      We found it to work so poorly it would be overpriced at any price

      Those of us who are addicted to broadband connections at work and at home can go into serious withdrawal when traveling, leading us to grasp at whatever straw holds any hope of providing wireless high-speed when we're on the go.

      Since last year, Verizon Wireless has offered its version of EV-DO technology, which promises DSL speeds with a wireless connection. Sprint has just announced it is rolling out a similar service using the same technology.

      When Verizon introduced the service in the Washingotn, D.C., area last year, we were among the first to sign up. It soon had us spitting nails. Next to a certain teenager we once hired to mow our lawn, this is the most shiftless, unreliable service we have ever paid good money for. At about $90 a month, it's far from cheap but we found it to work so poorly it would be overpriced at any price.

      The theory behind this service is that in some areas, it will pick up a special Verizon EV-DO broadband channel that will deliver speeds of up to 1.5 mbps, which is very fast. If that channel isn't available, it will deliver an ISDN-speed service over the regular cellular network.

      We ordered the service one day and the very next the FedEx truck wheeled into our driveway in Northern Virginia, delivering the laptop card with collapsing antenna. We plugged it into our laptop, installed the software and everything was great except that we had no bars ... no bars at all. Translation: no signal.

      We went onto the back deck of our home, which is within a mile of numerous cell towers and held the laptop precariously over the edge of the deck. No signal.

      The next day, in our Fairfax, Va., office we tried again. We're on the eighth floor of a building that is on one of the highest points in the D.C. area., next to a freeway that has more cell towers than dandelions. We can see the Capitol, the Washington Monument, Dulles Airport, Tysons Corner and we can watch the black helicopters crissing and crossing the area. (Ooops, forget that last part).

      In this building, we got a strong signal and the Verizon system quickly assigned us an IP address. But we could not surf the Web, do an FTP transmission or send e-mail. We called Verizon tech support and spent quite a bit of time with a very earnest young man who went through every step of the process with us several times, finally admitting he was stumped.

      "Maybe you could try it outside?" he asked plaintively. We did. Same result. We have repeated the process several times from the same location, with the same results.

      Other locations? Here are a few:

      Garden City, N.Y. Smack in the middle of Long Island, Garden City is hardly a remote area but a weak signal delivered agonizingly slow speeds for a few minutes at a time before cutting out. Fortunately, our Wi-Fi-equipped laptop easily locked onto neighboring homes' unprotected Wi-Fi networks, no thanks to Verizon.

      Bethany Beach, Delaware Our Cingular cell phone gets five bars on the deck of the oceanfront townhouse we rented for a week. The Verizon "Wireless Broadband" card? Same experience as Garden City -- slow, sporadic, useless. Fortunately, by sitting outside, to the delight of every mosquito in town, we picked up one weak Wi-Fi signal which seemed to be coming from the public library down the street.

      Long Beach Airport, California Weak, sporadic signal. Fortunately, jetBlue provides free Wi-Fi in its terminal.

      Various Other Airports We've lost track. Let's see ... Baltimore-Washington International, St. Louis, Richmond, Dulles. No service. We try hard not to spend much time in airports or the list would be longer.

      Falls Church, Virginia To our astonishment, while cooling our heels in a medical building waiting room, we got a strong broadband signal that lasted for all of 20 minutes or so before abruptly disconnecting and refusing all attempts to reconnect. Thereafter, we poached on careless doctors' Wi-Fi feeds. This was the one and only time we have ever gotten any use out of Verizon's "service."

      Let's see, six months at $90 per month, that's $540. So that 20 minutes of miraculous broadband cost us about $27 per minute, or about $1,620 an hour. Wow, that's even more than Bill Clinton's lawyers charged.

      Wanting to be fair to Verizon, we tried this not once but twice. We signed up for the service as soon as it became available last year. When it did not work even once during the first 30 days, we sent the card back for a refund. We tried again a few months later -- getting a new card and the latest version of the software, pretty much eliminating the likelihood of an isolated defect.

      We tried the first card in two different Dell Inspiron laptops. We've been trying to use the second one in a Dell XPS laptop. The XPS stands for "Extreme Performance System" and it is indeed a blazing fast machine with every possible upgrade and up-to-the-minute software patches, upgrades and updates. Anything that does not work on this machine will not work anywhere.

      Our conclusion? It may be that there are "hot spots" where this service will work but we haven't found them. On the other hand, we've come to realize how ubiquitous unprotected Wi-Fi feeds are. Every hotel and airport we've visited over the last year or so has had Wi-Fi service, nearly always free. Every wide spot in the road now has an "Internet Cafe" where Wi-Fi is available. Even if the Verizon Wireless card worked, I'm no longer sure it would be worth the expense and bother.

      While you may not want to sit around a coffee shop all day, it beats spending the day fighting with the Verizon Wireless card. And just think how many Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Frappuccinos that $90 would buy each month.

      A Test of Verizon Wireless Broadband: We found it to work so poorly it would be overpriced at any price. Since last year, Verizon Wireless has offered its...

      Florida Sues "Debt Termination" Company

      Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist has filed a lawsuit against New Leaf Associates

      Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist has filed a lawsuit against New Leaf Associates, LLC, and several associated businesses and individuals for their participation in an allegedly phony "debt termination" scheme.

      The lawsuit alleges that New Leaf and the other civil defendants took in more than $8 million from late 2003 until early this year by claiming they had a legal "administrative process" by which they could completely eliminate credit card and student loan debts for their clients as an alternative to bankruptcy.

      An investigation conducted by the Attorney General's Economic Crimes Division revealed that New Leaf collected fees starting at almost $4,000 from approximately 2,200 clients who were lured by the promise that not only would their debts disappear but their credit scores would not be damaged.

      No debts were actually terminated by the program, and numerous consumers suffered financial losses as a result, the state's lawsuit asserts. The Attorney General's Office has received some 185 consumer complaints regarding the New Leaf scam, the highest total for any single complaint subject this year.

      "Too many consumers are mired in debt and are desperate to find a way out of their financial dilemma," said Crist. "These defendants took advantage of their victims, who were seeking assistance to solve their financial problems. Floridians should always remember that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

      The defendants are charged with violating Florida's Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act. They could be ordered to pay restitution to their victims and also ordered to pay civil penalties of $10,000 per violation or $15,000 for victims who were disabled or senior citizens, as well as attorney fees and costs.

      Florida Sues Debt Termination Company...

      Sprint Introducing Wireless Broadband Service

      EV-DO Technology Also Used by Verizon Wireless

      Sprint says it will start offering high-speed wireless broadband access in dozens of cities this month, expanding to nearly half of the U.S. population by the end of the year.

      The service -- priced from about $40 to $90 per month -- is similar to that offered by Verizon Wireless. Both are using a technology called EV-DO. Verizon Wireless began offering the service last year and also expects it to reach half of the population by year's end.

      Both companies claim that EV-DO offers connections at speeds comparable to, or better than, wired Digital Subscriber Line connections nearly anywhere they can get a cell phone signal.

      EV-DO works through cards that consumers slide into their laptops. Cell phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs) equipped to receive the high-speed service will be offered during the fourth quarter of the year.

      Sprint said the service will be available this month in parts of Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Las Vegas and Miami. By the first quarter of next year, the carrier says it will be available in 60 metropolitan areas.

      Cingular Wireless says it will offer a similar service in 15 to 20 cities by the end of the year.

      Sprint Introducing Wireless Broadband Service...

      Florida "Business Opportunity" Promoters Sentenced to Prison

      AmeriP.O.S. Inc. promoted point-of-sale ("P.O.S.") terminal business opportunities

      Three Florida men have drawn prison sentences for their part in the sale of fraudulent business opportunities.

      Steven Mishkin and Martin Geller were the operators of AmeriP.O.S. Inc., which promoted point-of-sale ("P.O.S.") terminal business opportunities. For a minimum purchase price of approximately $12,000, potential purchasers were told they would receive several P.O.S. terminals, and assistance in establishing, maintaining, and operating a P.O.S. terminal business.

      The defendants falsely claimed that a business opportunity purchaser, known as a "distributor," would earn substantial profits when members of the public purchased products, such as pre-paid debit cards, pre-paid phone cards, and pre-paid Internet services, from the distributor's P.O.S. terminals, prosecutors argued.

      Mishkin, Geller and others were accused of defrauding over 1,500 consumers, who invested a total of approximately $20 million in AmeriP.O.S.

      William Judd was charged with engaging in a very similar type of scheme in connection with a firm called Global Resources, Inc. According to the charging document, Global Resources, like AmeriP.O.S., engaged in the sale of business opportunities involving terminals that featured various sorts of pre-paid products.

      For a minimum purchase price of approximately $14,000, potential purchasers were told they would receive a pre-paid product terminal, along with assistance in establishing, maintaining, and operating a terminal business. According to Global Resources, a business opportunity purchaser, known as a "distributor," would earn substantial profits from commissions generated whenever members of the public purchased products from the distributors' terminals.

      "These cases are part of a large group of fraudulent business opportunity prosecutions in this District and should serve as a caution to the public," R. Alexander Acosta, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, said. "Just because a business opportunity firm advertises on radio, television, and through the Internet, does not mean that the claims should be trusted by the public."

      Acosta said his office has filed charges against individuals involved in seven different business opportunity scams. "But prevention of these scams is necessary as well. Consumers need to be vigilant and vet these firms before investing their hard-earned money," he said.

      Mishkin and Geller were sentenced by United States District Court Judge James I. Cohn in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Mishkin, a resident of Hallandale, Florida, was sentenced to 81 months' imprisonment, to be followed by 3 years of supervised release.

      Geller, a resident of Miami Beach, Florida, was sentenced to 78 months' imprisonment, to be followed by two 2 years of supervised release. Hearings to determine the amounts of restitution Mishkin and Geller owe have been set for August 12, 2005.

      Judd was sentenced In a separate hearing before United States District Court Judge Patricia A. Seitz in Miami, Florida. Judd, a resident of Hallandale, Florida, was sentenced to seventy 70 months' imprisonment, to be followed by three 3 years of supervised release.

      He was also ordered to pay $2,316,068.43 in restitution to ninety-five (95) victims. A final restitution determination will be made on September 1, 2005, to allow time for any additional victims to come forth.

      Florida 'Business Opportunity' Promoters Sentenced to Prison...

      Studies: Kids & TV Dont Mix

      A series of studies reported in the July issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine suggests that the less TV kids watch, the better off they are. In a study of third graders, researchers found that children with a television in their bedrooms had lower scores on standardized tests while kids with access to a home computer had higher scores.

      U.S. households with children have an average of 2.8 television sets and 97 percent of those households have at least one video cassette recorder (VCR) or DVD player.

      More than two thirds of households with children have at least one computer and more than half (53 percent) have home Internet access. While substantial evidence exists to show that people who use media more heavily are at greater risk for obesity and aggressive behavior, the relationship between media and academic achievement is less clear, the researchers suggest.

      "Looking at the media environment in spring 2000, students with a bedroom television scored significantly lower on all the tests compared with their peers without bedroom television sets." the authors write.

      "Those with home computer access scored higher on all the tests than those without access. When we simultaneously considered bedroom television and/or home computer access, we observed significant differences for each standardized test. Consistently, those with a bedroom television but no home computer access had, on average, the lowest scores and those with home computer access but no bedroom television had the highest scores."

      In a separate study, researchers from the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand, found that children who watch the most television during childhood and adolescence may be less likely to finish school or go on to earn a university degree.

      In the study, information about the viewing habits of about 1,000 children was collected at ages five, seven, nine, 11, 13 and 15.

      Information on the highest level of educational attainment was collected for 980 of the study members (96 percent) at 26 years of age. Childhood television viewing was calculated based on viewing hours per weekday reported at ages five to 11. Adolescent viewing was calculated based on weekday reported viewing at 13 and 15 years of age.

      "The results of this study indicate that increased time spent watching television during childhood and adolescence was associated with a lower level of educational attainment by early adulthood," the authors write. "These effects were independent of intelligence, family socioeconomic status, and childhood behavioral problems."

      Researchers from the University of Washington, Seattle, conducting a third study concluded that TV viewing before the age of three may have adverse effects on subsequent cognitive development.

      Their analysis used data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 Children and Young Adults (NLSY-Child). It involved comparing scores in mathematics, reading recognition and reading comprehension from a commonly used and well-standardized test, with the level of television watching before age three and from ages three to five.

      "This analysis has shown a consistent pattern of negative associations between television viewing before age three years and adverse cognitive outcomes at ages six and seven years," the authors report. "The inclusion of extensive controls for parental preferences, ability, and investment in their children's cognitive development suggests that these associations may in some direct or indirect way be causal."

      "By contrast, this analysis suggests that television viewing at ages three to five years has a more beneficial effect, at least for the outcomes of reading recognition and short-term memory," the authors write.

      The researchers found no beneficial effect on mathematics outcomes or reading comprehension, and they state, "Because reading recognition and short-term memory are arguably the most basic of the cognitive outcomes studied, the implication would seem to be that the net effect of television viewing from a population perspective is limited in its beneficial impact."

      In conclusion, the authors write, "Television viewing in early childhood varies depending on age; for very young children the effects are negative, while for preschool children they can be constructive, at least in some domains.

      Studies: Kids & TV Dont Mix...

      Death of a Colossus: Gargantua Swallows MBNA

      MBNA's Political Pump-Priming Doesn't Wash

      It was the stock jump heard 'round the world. Before the bell had even rung Friday morning, June 30th, credit card titan MBNA's stock was rising on word that they were about to be "acquired" by the vast Bank of America financial conglomerate.

      Sure enough, the newswires were abuzz with the deal, at a price of $35 billion in cash and stock, and an estimation of 6,000 jobs to be cut in the merger (Not counting contractors and temporary employees, of course).

      The buyout culminates a rough half year of business for Wilmington, Delaware-based MBNA. The financial services company was once lauded as a pioneer in the credit card industry, for its "affinity" cards for universities, businesses, and organizations and, later, for its tactic of "universal default" (Increasing credit card fees if the owner is late on any kind of bill payment).

      After spending millions of dollars in the 2004 Presidential election cycle to ensure the reelection of President George W. Bush and Delaware Senators Joe Biden and Tom Carper, MBNA was rewarded with the passage of the misleadingly-named Bankruptcy Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

      The measure makes it much harder for debtors to declare bankruptcy, which often happens due to inability to pay off massive credit card balances.

      MBNA's tireless flogging of the bankruptcy bill and its massive political contributions and prolific hiring of high-level Bush Administration cronies -- turning Wilmington into Washington North -- were supposed to ensure that profits continued to climb.

      But a funny thing happened.

      MBNA cardholders, furious over incessant jumps in interest rates, constant tacked-on fees, and questionable customer service, started paying their debts down as fast as they could, and closing out their cards even faster.

      This development came on the heels of MBNA employees cashing out their early retirement plans in record numbers. The retirement payouts, coupled with the loss of profit from paid-off and closed cards, led MBNA's first-quarter profits to drop by a staggering 94%, down to $31.7 million from their initial projection of $519 million. The profit projections crashed faster than MBNA executives' helicopter did when it plunged into the East River in New York last month.

      The profit gap, coupled with news that MBNA CEO Bruce Hammonds and other insiders sold off their MBNA stock to the tune of one million shares and profits of $9 million, led angry shareholders to file a class-action lawsuit.

      The suit, filed by law firm Milberg Weiss, alleges that MBNA overstated profit reports and "[failed] to recognize impairment of [their] assets by adverse interest-rate increasesAs a result of MBNA's improper accounting of its portfolio, MBNA presented materially false financial results."

      After that, the writing on the wall was plain to see. Bank of America, already the world's third-largest bank after its purchase of the FleetBank corporation, was hungry to acquire MBNA's massive credit operation.

      The conglomerate will command mind-boggling assets of $143 billion in outstanding credit card balances, and double its customer accounts to 40 million, according to TheStreet.com writer Matthew Goldstein.

      The Charlotte-based bank claims the deal will make it the biggest credit card issuer in the U.S., surpassing Citigroup and J.P. Morgan Chase.

      For pundits and proles alike, the buyout was greeted with apprehension for customers' future with the new bank, and for financing in general.

      In the appropriately modest state of Delaware -- its motto: Small Wonder -- the news was as welcome as a hurricane during summer beach season.

      "With MBNA being [Delaware's] third largest private employer (10,000-odd jobs, remember, our whole state has under a million people), even if half of the projected 6,000 job cuts take place here, it's going to hurt pretty bad", said one poster on the popular DailyKOS blog.

      Consumer advocates felt the same way. Consumer Federation of America president Stephen Brobeck said the continued consolidation in the financial services sector could only contribute to climbing interest rates.

      "This can't but help raise the concern that there will be less competition providing consumers with attractive rates and other (borrowing) conditions," Brobeck said.

      Writing for the Guardian Unlimited, David Teather stated that "[i]ndependent card companies have struggled of late in the face of competition from bigger banking groups."

      Bank of America's aggressive merger moves are designed to shore up the company's image after its embarrassing loss of 1.2 million customer data tapes in March 2005. The customers included many military personnel who used Bank of America "Government Cards" for their travel and living expenses, as well as public figures including Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

      Leahy recently introduced a bill in the Senate that would enact stronger measures for protection against identity theft, cosponsored by Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA).

      Even as financial analysts and investors circle the bloody waters for the next major corporate consolidation -- Wells Fargo? Capital One? -- many consumers are gleefully enjoying MBNA's fall.

      One blogger succinctly summed the buyout up by saying "MBNA's profits fell 94% in April. Not that they don't deserve it, but wow! They finally got the predatory [bankruptcy] bill they wrote passed, and now it's backfiring badly."

      Death of a Colossus: Gargantua Swallows MBNA...