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Toothpaste Scare Spreads to Hospitals, Prisons

Recall List Expanded as Investigators Trace Contaminated Tubes

Toothpaste Scare Spreads to Hospitals, Prisons...

The toothpaste scare that has led many countries to restrict any toothpaste imports from China may be more prevalent in the U.S. than originally thought.

The New York Times reported this morning that about 900,000 tubes containing the potentially dangerous chemical, diethylene glycol, an ingredient found in antifreeze, were distributed to hospitals and detention centers in southern states.

Initial reports from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and ConsumerAffairs.com revealed that the tainted tubes were mostly found in discount stores.

Officials in Georgia, Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina reported that mental health hospitals, prisons, juvenile detention centers and some hospitals serving the general public had received the Chinese toothpaste.

Officials in those states said all tubes have been replaced with toothpaste made outside of China.

Diethylene glycol is used as a cheaper alternative to the thickening agent, glycerin.

A Georgia official told the Times that in 2002 the state paid about 9 cents a tube for the tainted toothpaste.

The FDA said there are no reported deaths or illnesses from the Chinese-made toothpaste.

The FDA is telling consumers to either return any tainted tubes for a refund or throw it away.

This stuff does not belong in toothpaste, period, a spokesman for the agency, Doug Arbesfeld, said. No Chinese toothpaste has come into the country since the end of May.

Recalled Brands

Manufacturer: Goldcredit International Enterprises LTD Products:

• Dr. Cool Coolmint
• Superdent Coolmint
• Cooldent Coolmint
• Cooldent Spearmint
• Cooldent Fluoride
• Everfresh Assortment
• BrightMax
• DentaPro
• Dentakleen
• Dentakleen Junior Brand - Strawberry
• Dentakleen Junior Brand - Blueberry

Manufacturer: Gold Credit International Trading Co LTD Products:

• Bright Max Peppermint Flavor
• Clean Rite Toothpaste
• Clean Rite Toothpaste Kit
• Oralmax Extreme Action Kit
• Oral Bright Fresh Spearmint Flavor
• DentaKleen
• DentaKleen Junior
• DentaPro

Manufacturer: Suzhou City Jinmao Daily Chemicals Co. Ltd.:

• ShiR Fresh Mint Fluoride Paste
• ShiRFresh Toothpaste
• ShiRFresh Mint
• ShiRFresh Ice Mint

Manufacturer: Shanghai Light Industrial Products:

• Freshh Spearmint

Manufacturer: Unknown:

• Crescent Toothpaste
• Naturabella nino Dusanzo
• Manufacturer:Suzhou Qing Xin Daily Chemical Co., Ltd.:
• Pacific Fluoride Toothpaste
• Pacific Fluoride Gel Toothpaste

Manufacturer: Guangdong Wellknown Ceramics Co., Ltd.:

• Tian Qi Toothpaste

ConsumerAffairs.com first discovered tubes of toothpaste being sold in the U.S. days before the FDA closed the nation's borders to Chinese toothpaste importers.

Our investigation uncovered 17 tubes of illegal toothpaste being sold at D.C.-area discount stores.

 



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Lasko Ceramic Heaters Recalled

Lasko Ceramic Heaters Recalled...

June 28, 2007
About 1.2 million Lasko ceramic heaters are being recalled. The heaters cord can overheat where it enters the base of the unit, which could pose a fire hazard to consumers.

Lasko has received 28 reports of failed power cords, including six reports of minor property damage. No injuries have been reported.

This recall involves Lasko ceramic heaters manufactured in 2005. Model numbers included in the recall are: 5132, 5345, 5362, 5364, 5420, 5532, 5534 and 5566. Model numbers are located on the bottom of the unit or at the rear of the base of the heaters.

The heaters were sold at Major retailers, home centers and discount department stores nationwide from September 2005 through April 2006 for between $20 and $50.

They were manufactured in China.

Consumers should immediately stop using the heaters and contact Lasko to receive a free replacement heater.

Consumer Contact: For additional information, contact Lasko at (800) 984-3311 anytime, or visit the firms Web site at www.Laskoproducts.com.

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

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FTC Nixes Net Neutrality

Consumers Should Trust the Marketplace, Regulators Purr

The FTC found little reason to protect consumers and content providers from attempts by large telecommunications providers to charge more for faster delive...

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Target Recalls Toy Barbeque Grills

Target Recalls Toy Barbeque Grills...

June 28, 2007
Target is recalling about 2,300 Play Wonder toy barbeque grills. The circular ash tray attached to the stainless steel legs of the grill could contain sharp edges, posing a laceration hazard.

No incidents or injuries have been reported.

This recall involves the Play Wonder Barbeque Grill. The grill is metal and has an orange metal base and top, along with stainless steel legs and a removable circular ash tray. The grill set also includes tongs and a spatula. The Play Wonder logo is located on the lower right corner of the packaging.

The grills were sold at Target Stores nationwide from December 2006 to February 2007 for about $20.

The grills were manufactured in China.

Consumers should immediately take the toy grills away from children and return them to Target for a full refund.

Consumer Contact: For more information, consumers can contact Target at (800) 440-0680 between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. CT Monday through Friday, or log on to the firms Web site www.target.com.

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

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Supreme Court Okays Price Fixing

High Court Says Manufacturers Can Set Retail Prices

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that manufacturers are within their rights to set prices for consumers, and to forbid discounting if they choose....


The suggested retail price is no longer a suggestion. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that manufacturers are within their rights to set prices for consumers, and to forbid discounting if they choose.

A divided court voted 5-4 to overturn a 96-year-old law against retail price fixing.

This is a court decision that consumers could quickly feel in the pocketbook. Under the old law, price competition could be fierce, resulting in loss leaders and door buster specials that stores used to draw customers. In the process, smart shoppers could sometimes find money-saving bargains.

Now, if Sony decides its newest HDTV wide screen model will sell for $2,200, there's no point in running between Best Buy, Wal-Mart and the electronics boutique in the mall. You'll pay the same price at all three places.

The old law stemmed from a 1911 anti-trust case, in which a maker of patented medicines successfully argued that price-fixing arrangements between manufacturers and retailer were illegal.

Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy concluded the rule was out of date and out of step in the global economy.

Resale price maintenance can increase inter-brand competition by encouraging retailer services, Kennedy wrote.

The justices rejected arguments that competition would suffer as a result of overturning the law. Manufacturers will still compete with one another on price, the court said.

Thursday's ruling stemmed from a case involving a California handbag maker. The owner had insisted that retailers sell his products at a set price and not offer discounts.

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FDA Should Reconsider Aspartame Cancer Risk, Say Experts

FDA Should Reconsider Aspartame Cancer Risk, Say Experts...


A new long-term animal test from an Italian cancer institute raises new safety questions about the artificial sweetener aspartame, which is marketed generically as well as under the NutraSweet and Equal brand names.

A dozen toxicology and epidemiology experts and the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest are calling on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to review the study, which found increases in lymphomas, leukemias, and breast cancers in rats.

If FDA concludes that aspartame does cause cancer in animals, the agency is required by law to revoke its approval for the controversial sweetener, which is used in Diet Pepsi, Diet Coke, tabletop packets, and countless other foods.

The new study, conducted by the Ramazzini Foundation and published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, found statistically significant increases in lymphomas and leukemias in rats that were fed as little as 20 milligrams of the sweetener per kilogram of body weight -- an amount thats in the ballpark of what some people consume.

The new study is superior to a similar one released in 2005 in that it began exposing the rats to aspartame before their birth.

Because aspartame is so widely consumed, it is urgent that the FDA evaluate whether aspartame still poses a reasonable certainty of no harm, the standard used for gauging the safety of food additives, said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. But consumers, particularly parents, shouldnt wait for the FDA to act. People shouldnt panic, but they should stop buying beverages and foods containing aspartame.

The Acceptable Daily Intake of aspartame in the United States is 50 mg per kg of body weight. The new study looked at doses less than that (20 mg per kg) and greater (100 mg per kg).

Though few people would consume aspartame at the higher dose, the lower does is equivalent to a 50-pound child drinking 2 cans of a diet soft drink per day, or a 150-pound adult drinking about 7 cans per day.

But aspartame also enters the diet through sugar-free or reduced-sugar gums, candies, yogurts, and hundreds of other products. Many aspartame-containing products are likely to be consumed by kids, including sugar-free Kool-Aid, Jell-O gelatin dessert and pudding mixes, and some Popsicles.

A 2006 National Cancer Institute study seemed to ease cancer fears related to aspartame, but that study had major limitations, including its reliance on imprecise food-frequency questionnaires, and it included only subjects between the ages of 50 and 69 who first consumed aspartame as adults.

The effects of consuming aspartame from infancy or childhood might be very different, says CSPI, as suggested by the new animal study.

Among those who called on FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach to review the new aspartame study are former Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials John Froines (now at UCLA) and Peter F. Infante (now at George Washington University); James Huff, current Associate Director for Chemical Carcinogenesis at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS); and Kamal M. Abdo, a toxicologist formerly at the National Toxicology Program of the NIEHS.

As a result of the new study, for the first time CSPI downgraded aspartame on its online Chemical Cuisine directory from a use caution rating to everyone should avoid.

CSPI also urges everyone to avoid the artificial sweeteners acesulfame potassium and saccharin. It rates sucralose, also known by the brand name Splenda, as safe.

CSPI also called on the food industry to voluntarily switch to other sugar substitutes.

Switching to safer ingredients now could be a wise precautionary action, Jacobson wrote to Cal Dooley, president of the Food Products Association/Grocery Manufactures Association.



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Inside The Mind Of A Spam Scammer

How could anyone fall for this stuff? Read on ...

Inside The Mind Of A Spam Scammer: On the surface, many email scams seem so obvious you wonder how anyone could fall for them. But in fact, millions do....

On the surface, many email scams seem so obvious you wonder how anyone could fall for them. But in fact, millions do.

A new study by McAfee, a computer security firm, says victims arent stupid or careless they simply fall for the criminals ever more sophisticated mind games.

Scam spam works best by providing recipients with a sense of familiarity and legitimacy, either by creating the illusion that the email is from a friend or colleague, or providing plausible warnings from a respected institution, said Dr. James Blascovich, Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, the studys principal author.

The study, Mind Games, focuses mostly on the use of phishing emails. These messages on the surface may look like they are from reputable and well-known companies such as eBay, Bank of America or Paypal.

Once the victim opens the email, criminals use two basic motivational processes, approach and avoidance, or a combination of the two, to persuade victims to click on dangerous links, provide personal information, or download risky files. By scamming $20 from just half of one percent of the U.S. population, cyber criminals can earn $15 million each day and nearly $5.5 billion in a year, a powerful attraction for skillful scam artists, Blasovich said.

Once scammers lure victims into opening the message and clicking on a link that takes them to a fraudulent site, they employ fear and familiarity to pry sensitive information from them.

The scammer often tells the victim the security of their account has been breached. Victims are led to believe that failure to click on the links will result in extra charges or cancellation of important accounts.

While these emails are not exactly a new threat, the study says they are more sophisticated and harder to spot. Fraudulent emails used to contain misspellings, grammatical errors and poor quality graphics. These days the bogus sites more nearly mimic pages from legitimate websites.

Spam scammers also employ the emotion of greed. In fact, thats the primary force behind those stock touting emails that have been flooding inboxes in the last year or so.

The emails often promise hot stock tips, highlighting a small company whose stock sells for a few pennies a share. What the victim doesnt know is the scammer has purchased thousands for shares. If enough people buy the stock, it goes up. An increase of just a few pennies is enough to net the scammer a tidy profit.

Whats the harm, you ask? Because as soon as the scammer dumps his stock, the price plunges again, leaving the recent investors holding the bag.

More Scam Alerts ...

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Summer Car Sales Start to Sizzle

July 4th a big car-shopping day

Summer Car Sales Start to Sizzle...

July 4th is traditionally a big car-shopping day, and automakers are hoping this year will be no exception. Incentives and rebates will be thick as gnats on car lots this summer, as automakers try to reduce their inventory.

Two of the biggest deals identifed by Consumer Reports magazine offer potential savings of up to 30 percent off the sticker price of a Jeep Liberty Sport 4WD, and up to 29 percent off a fun-to-drive Ford Focus ZX4 SES sedan.

General Motors will offer zero-percent financing for three years with an additional $1,000 cash-back on select vehicles as it tries to boost sales at the end of the month.

But the offer is only good for buyers GM considers to be qualified.

The discount program will be available on select Chevrolet, Buick, Pontiac and GMC vehicles and runs from June 26 through July 9.

The vehicles include 2006 and 2007 models of the Chevrolet HHR, Tahoe and Silverado, the Buick Lacrosse and Lucerne, the Pontiac G5 and G6, and the GMC Envoy, Yukon and Denali.

Ford Motor Co. is expected to announce a new incentive program this week as well.

Both GM and Ford have held incentive spending largely flat this year as part of an attempt to move away from the kind of sales and volatile monthly tallies that dogged results for the Detroit automakers for the last several years.

U.S. automakers typically offer big consumer incentives in the summer months just as they are working down inventory levels in anticipation of a new year of model launches beginning in the fall.

Detroit's automakers have been struggling to hold their retail market share amid near record-high gasoline prices, a weak housing market and fierce competition from Japanese rivals led by Toyota Motor Corp. -

Toyota, meanwhile, has announced a rebate of up to $3,500 on the new Tundra pickup truck.

Not all the savings are obvious to consumers. For example, Acura is offering a $3,500 incentive to dealers on the 2007 Acura RL with Navigation. Because dealer incentives are not typically communicated to consumers, this luxury sedan has more negotiation room than it may appear.

The Consumer Reports Bottom Line Price factors such hidden dealer incentives and holdbacks, in addition to rebates and invoice price, to identify a good starting point for your negotiations. Right now on the RL, the Bottom Line Price shows a total potential savings of up to $9,188.

CR experts warn, however, that a great price isn't necessarily a good deal if the vehicle doesn't measure up.

That is why each vehicle on the Consumer Reports' Best New Car Deals list has received the organization's coveted Recommended rating. To be recommended, a vehicle must have performed well in testing, received average or better reliability ratings, and performed well in government or insurance industry crash and rollover tests, if tested.

Sales Sluggish

U.S. auto sales rose just under 1 percent in May, adjusted for an extra selling day. On the same basis, GM's sales rose 6 percent, while Ford's sales fell 10 percent.

GM's average incentive spend per vehicle through May this year was $2,775, up slightly from $2,704 a year earlier, according to an estimate by industry tracking firm Edmunds.Com.

Ford's average was $3,084, down slightly from $3,131 a year earlier.

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Feds Recall Chinese Tires Blamed for Fatal Van Accident

Light Truck Radial Tires Prone to Tread Separation

Feds Recall Chinese Tires Blamed for Fatal Van Accident...


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has ordered the recall of as many as 450,000 tires purchased from a Chinese manufacturer and sold in the U.S.

An inspection of several tires made by Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber Co. Ltd. in China found that the light truck radial tires were made without a gum strip or with an insufficient gum strip between the belts. The gum strip keeps the belts of a tire bonded.

Foreign Tire Sales Inc. of Union, New Jersey asked NHTSA to recall four tire models the company found to have separations at the belt edges.

The Chinese tire manufacturer has not provided NHTSA with a remedy or recall schedule for the faulty tires.

In ordering the recall, NHTSA stated that these tires fail to comply with the requirements of the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 119 the regulates pneumatic tires.

NHTSA warned that treads on the recall tires could separate while driving at highway speeds, possibly resulting in a crash, property damage or death.

The problem with the recalled tires is similar to that which led to the nations largest tire recall in 2000, involving Bridgestone and Firestone tires when the two companies recalled 6.5 million Firestone tires.

Those tires, which were mounted mostly on Ford Explorers, were blamed for causing 148 deaths and more than 500 injuries in the United States.

Foreign Tire Sales Inc. said it imported an unknown number of the light truck radials from 2002 to June 2006. The tires were shipped directly to distributors.

FTS also warned that other importers may have sold tires made by Hangzhou Zhongce. The Chinese company has failed to provide information that would allow FTS or NHTSA to determine exactly how many tires, and which batches, have the problem.

The Hangzhou tires were sold under at least four brand names -- Westlake, Compass, Telluride and YKS. The tires were sold in sizes LT235/75R-15; LT225/75R-16; LT235/85R-16; LT245/75R-16; LT265/75R-16; and LT3X10.5-15.

FTS on May 31 sued Hangzhou in U.S. District Court in Newark, charging that its tests found that the tires may fail earlier than those originally provided by Hangzhou and that a recall would put FTS out of business.

FTS reported in its filing that Hangzhou sold tires Tireco, in Compton, California; Strategic Import Supply, in Wayzata, Minnesota; Omni United USA Inc., in Jacksonville, Florida.; Orteck International Inc., in Gaithersburg, Maryland.; K&D; Tire Wholesalers LLC, in Carlsbad, California; and Robinson Tire, in Laurel, Mississippi.

History

According to Foreign Tire Sales report to NHTSA, it contracted the Hangzhou Rubber Company in 2000 to design and manufacture light truck tires that FTS, of Union, N.J., would import and sell. Hangzhou worked with FTS engineers to ensure that the tires could meet all federal safety standards.

At a May 2002 meeting, FTS stressed the importance of tire safety, informing the Chinese manufacturer that light truck tires had been the focus of many recalls and were under government scrutiny. FTS urged Hangzhou to produce tires with nylon cap plies to increase their endurance.

Initially, the tires passed endurance tests, the report said. But once the warranty claims rose in 2005, FTS began conducting its own tests. A visual analysis revealed that some tires seemed to have an insufficient or missing gum strip -- a key safety feature to preserve the integrity of the belts.

After the May crash, FTS said it removed tires from other ambulances and found insufficient or missing gum strips on tires manufactured in 2004 and 2005. In September 2006, Hangzhou finally admitted to FTS that it had reduced or omitted the gum strip from an unspecified number of tires, FTS alleges.

But Hangzhou officials told FTS that in January 2006, it began to reintroduce some amount of the gum strip back into the tires. In March 2007, FTS did further testing and analysis on Hangzhou tires and found that they experienced tread / belt separations at 25,000 miles.

"These tires could pose an immediate danger to consumers and should be removed," said Sean E. Kane, president of Safety Research & Strategies, a safety advocacy and consulting firm that has been pushing for tougher tire safety standards.

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Vet Sounds Warning on Internet Pet Sales

Click for a Puppy?

Vet Sounds Warning on Internet Pet Sales...

By Gina Spadafori
Universal Press Syndicate

When Dr. Helen Hamilton of Fremont, Calif., noticed an upswing in very sick puppies coming into her veterinary practice, she started asking her clients where they got their pets.

What she found surprised her: They were coming from the Internet.

Consumers can buy anything from a book to a car online, so it might seem perfectly logical to buy a new family pet the same way. But when Hamilton and her staff went to the source of some Internet puppies, what she discovered horrified her.

"There were dogs with no eyes, dogs missing ears, dogs with old, untended bite wounds and cage wire injuries," she said. "We saw, over two days, two different females in labor go on the auction block."

Hamilton was part of a team of veterinarians and veterinary technicians who brought back 49 dogs from the dispersal auction of a breeding operation. The dogs were not only in poor physical condition, but most of them were also fearful and shy of people. That's because they'd spent their lives isolated from loving human contact while producing puppies for the pet trade.

One such dog was Sunshine, a golden retriever so afraid of people that she had to be lifted out of the van, shaking so hard her teeth chattered -- a hard thing to see, given the usual happy, tail-wagging, people-crazy nature of the breed. Another was Savannah, a miniature dachshund who huddled in her crate, crusted with diarrhea and weighing only 6 1/2 pounds -- around half her healthy body weight.

"She was suffering from malnutrition from being loaded with hookworm and whipworm," Hamilton said. "She was emaciated. And she must have been starved, because I can find no other medical problems to account for her condition."

All the dogs brought back on their most recent trip to a dog auction site in Oklahoma were suffering from health problems, many of them genetic. There were dogs missing an eye or an ear or part of a tail, dogs with inguinal hernias from having too many litters, dogs with evidence of do-it-yourself C-sections.

All of these dogs were cleaned up, vaccinated, spayed or neutered, wormed and treated for other medical conditions. All are now being placed in loving homes. But while everyone involved knows that they're making a difference for these particular dogs, they acknowledge they're not even making a dent in the overall problem.

"There are thousands of dogs that run through the auction. You can only buy a few," Hamilton said. "But that's not the point. Of course we want to get the dogs out and get them in loving homes. But the real point of doing this is to draw attention to the lives these dogs live.

"We want someone who feels the impulse to get a puppy on the Web to stop and think -- not about that cute puppy, but about his mother and father back at the puppy mill," she said. "Those dogs are spending their entire lives in tiny cages and cramped, filthy runs. And once they realize that, they'll think again and walk away."

Hamilton is working to place the dogs she brought back into new homes. But she stresses that the only real way to help the Sunshines and Savannahs still in the well-documented filth of puppy mills is simple: Stop buying those kinds of puppies.

"It's a money-driven industry, and the only way to stop it is when people become educated not to buy puppies from these sources," she said.

What Is a Puppy Mill?

The appeal of puppies as a retail item goes back at least as far as the old song "(How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window?" But cruelty in the high-volume breeding operations that feed the pet trade has been documented for decades.

While there are operations that practice husbandry at least as humane as that offered to livestock, other breeding businesses care little for their animals. And even the "good" commercial breeders do not offer what behaviorists argue is essential for a temperamentally sound family pet: constant in-house exposure to normal family life and gentle socialization by all manner of people.

"Commercial kennels" become "puppy mills" when animals are housed in inhumane and filthy conditions, offered little in the way of proper medical care and disposed of when they're no longer productive as breeding stock.

There's really no way to determine what misery may exist behind the puppy you're buying unless you investigate. At the very minimum, buy only from people who are happy to show you their kennels in person. Even better is when the puppies aren't kenneled at all, but raised and socialized in the house.

While investigating a puppy's background isn't as easy as ordering with a few online clicks, you'll likely get a healthier, happier pet -- and you'll know you won't be supporting a puppy mill. -- Gina Spadafori


Q&A

'Speed eating' the sport of the Labrador

Q: One of our dogs (our yellow Lab) doesn't eat his dinner -- he inhales it! It can't be very healthy, and we'd like to slow him down. He has been with us since he was a puppy, so it's not as if he doesn't know where his next meal is coming from. Suggestions? -- L.L., via e-mail

A: Dogs only have about 1,500 taste buds, vs. 10,000 for people, so in their minds, haste beats taste. Eating is often a mechanical act designed to fulfill a nutrient need as opposed to a gourmet experience. Although few household pets have to worry about starving -- in fact about half of all dogs are overweight -- dogs never stray far from their prehistoric roots. When your dog's ancestors were sharing an elk they'd pulled down, they each wanted to make sure they got their own share. They don't call it "wolfing down" food for no reason, after all.

You can slow down your dog some, though. Dogs tend to eat more quickly when other dogs are around. So since you have more than one dog, feed them at different times or out of sight of each other. Also, give them more time to eat before you pick up their bowl, or leave their empty bowls on the floor for a half-hour after they finish eating. Other experts suggest putting a large object in the bowl along with the food. The dog has to eat around the object, thus slowing him down. A plastic ball or Kong toy works well -- a big size for big dogs and a smaller size for the little guys.

Don't be too disappointed, though, if nothing slows down your Labrador. Retrievers in general seem to be about the most enthusiastic eaters around, with Labs at the top of the list for fast eating and putting on weight easily. (Roly-poly Labs are more common than not and seem, along with beagles and pugs, to lead in the ability to pack on the pounds.) Labs love eating so much that most pet food companies have banned them from the testing rooms as they won't slow down enough to discriminate one flavor from the next.

You can try to slow down your dog, but as long as he's healthy and not overweight, don't worry too much about the wolfing. -- Dr. Marty Becker

(Do you have a pet question? Send it to petconnection@gmail.com.)


ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books.

On PetConnection.com there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and "dog cars," and a weekly drawing for pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to petconnection@gmail.com or visiting PetConnection.com.


PET Rx

New vaccine is promising

"Man's best friend" took on a new meaning and a step forward recently at the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine's national convention in Seattle.

After 6 1/2 years of research and testing at Animal Medical Center and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, a vaccine aimed at treating canine skin cancer (melanoma) patients was introduced by the drug company Merial, after receiving conditional approval March 26 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Dr. Philip Bergman, director of AMC's Donaldson-Atwood Cancer Clinic and Flaherty Comparative Oncology Laboratory, who partnered the research lead with Dr. Jedd Wolchok, an oncologist on the Clinical Immunology Service at Sloan-Kettering, called the breakthrough a landmark in veterinary medicine.

Not only is this the first veterinary cancer vaccine on the market, but it also offers hope for human patients with melanoma. The conditional licensure is for surgically removed oral melanoma, but Bergman sees many oncologists using it off-label for other melanomas.

"The vaccine," Bergman said, "tricks the body into recognizing cancer as a foreign entry. Then the body acts to eliminate it. The same strategy we have used in dogs is now working in people." The aggressive diseases are very similar and metastasize in the same places (namely the mouth, toenail bed and foot pad), and are chemotherapy-resistant.

While the vaccine is still on a USDA conditional status, it nevertheless offers canine melanoma patients' owners considerable hope. Prior to testing in 2000, dogs diagnosed with the disease and treated with conventional means (surgery, radiation and chemotherapy) survived only weeks or months. Patients from that initial study enjoyed a median survival of 389 days, but some lived between three and five years, succumbing to a cause other than melanoma.

The vaccine will be available only through veterinary oncologists, since it is still considered a test product, which allows Merial stronger data control. Four vials (one is injected every two weeks into the inner thigh) begin the treatment, followed by boosters at six-month intervals for the remainder of the animal's life. The four-vial packet is priced at $1,000 to practitioners, who will then determine the markup price. Dosage is the same for a 150-pound Great Dane and 10-pound Chihuahua. -- Ranny Green


THE SCOOP

Catnip a perfectly safe 'trip' for cats

Not all cats like catnip. The ability to appreciate the herb is genetic, with slightly more cats in the fan club than not. These hardwired preferences aren't immediately apparent, though, since kittens under the age of 3 months don't react to catnip at all.

Among those cats who do like catnip, you'll find two basic kinds of reactions: Your cat may seem to become a lazy drunk or a wired-up crazy. Credit a substance called "nepetalactone," which is found in the leaves and stems and causes the mood-altering behavior.

Is catnip safe? While some cat experts recommend that you buy only organically raised products, the consensus is that you can treat your cat as often as you (and your cat) wish. Catnip is considered to be nonaddictive and harmless.

It's also relatively easy to grow. Get seeds or seedlings from any garden-supply center, and put the pots in a place where your cat can't get to them. That's because some enthusiastic cats will pull the plants out by the roots!

When you have your catnip plant well-established, snip off fresh sprigs and rub them on scratching posts and cat trees, or stuff them into toys. Your cat will love the fresh stuff even more.

Another plant that provides pleasure to cats is valerian, so grow some of that, too. And don't forget that still other plants are just good eating, especially grasses. Keep tender shoots of grasses growing in low, long planters, and your cat will love nibbling them. -- Gina Spadafori


PETS BY THE NUMBERS

Getting help with the cat

Hiring a pet sitter is by far the most common service hired by cat lovers, and it's becoming even more popular. In 2002, 50 percent reported using a cat sitter in the last six months; in 2004, 62 percent had. Popular cat services, in 2004:

Pet-sitting at home 62 percent

Other service 16 percent

Boarding 15 percent

Pet transport 7 percent

Source: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association


ON GOOD BEHAVIOR

Follow 'bad stuff' with a good treat

Do you remember when you were a child and you got to dig through that treasure chest in the dentist's office or got that lollipop after a doctor's visit or haircut? You can apply the same principle to increasing good behavior from your pet.

Just as with children, dogs will learn to anticipate a treat after predictable events such as getting brushed, bathed or given pills. If you give them a treat every time, you will help get your dog's mind on the treat instead of the somewhat unpleasant activity.

Always praise cooperative, good behavior during trying activities with a treat, and praise them as a final reward and a signal that you are done with the bad stuff.

(Animal behavior experts Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp are the authors of "On Good Behavior." For more information, visit their Web site at AnimalBehavior.net.)


Pet Connection is produced by a team of team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper, by sending e-mail to petconnection@gmail.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.

COPYRIGHT 2007 UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE

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Chinese Tires Blamed for Fatal Van Accident

1 Million Similar Tires Sold in U.S.

Chinese Tires Blamed for Fatal Van Accident...


First it was pet food, then toothpaste, then toy trains. Now it's tires.

A lawsuit blames cheap Chinese tires for a fatal traffic accident in Pennsylvania. The suit says tread separation caused a cargo van carrying four passengers to crash, killing two passengers and injuring the other two. The light truck tires were sold under the names Westlake, Telluride, Compass and YKS.

The case is reminiscent of the huge Firestone tire recall of 2000, when faulty tires were blamed for a series of accidents and rollovers, many involving the Ford Explorer.

"This is a prime example of a private lawsuit with a substantial public benefit," said Jeffrey B. Killino, an attorney with Woloshin & Killino, which represents the families of the deceased and injured. "The Hangzhou Rubber Company deliberately and secretly removed a safety feature from these tires and two young men died as a direct result. This was a tragedy that didn't have to happen, but hopefully we can prevent future fatal crashes."

The tires were manufactured by China's Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber Co. and imported by Foreign Tire Sales Inc. (FTS), of Union, N.J. FTS says a crucial safety feature was omitted from as many as 450,000 tires it imported from the Chinese company since 2002.

Possible Recall

In a filing with federal safety officials, FTS says that other U.S. distributors have also been selling the tires in question and warns that a recall may be necessary. It estimates there may be a million or more tires involved.

FTS claims it can't afford to pay for the recall itself. It has filed suit in a New Jersey court, sekking to shift liability to Hangzhou.

The safety feature in question is a six-millimeter layer of rubber that is supposed to be placed between the steel belts to strengthen the tire. But FTS says Hangzhou removed the safety feature without notifying its U.S. distributors.

FTS says it noticed the problem a few years ago, as it received a larger than usual number of complaints from consumers. The company says it knows of at least one other accident, this one involving an ambulance in May 2006.

After the ambulance crash, FTS examined the blown tire that caused the rollover. It said it found that the Chinese manufacturer had failed to include the 0.6 mm gum strip between the belts to keep them from separating. FTS stopped buying tires from Hangzhou in June 2006, the report said.

According to FTS, the tires may meet minimal U.S. safety requirements but the company said it often requires its suppliers to add extra safety and durability features.

Pennsylvania Accident

The Pennsylvania accident occurred on August 12, 2006. Rafael B. Melo, Claudeir Jose Figueiredo and Carlos Souza were passengers in a 2000 Chevrolet Express 2500 Cargo Van, bearing a Compass Telluride steel belted radial made in China in 2004.

The van was traveling south on Pennsylvania Route 476, when the tire experienced a tread/belt separation causing the van driver to lose control. The vehicle rolled over and the three passengers were ejected. Melo and Figueiredo died in the crash. Souza suffered a permanent brain injury. The driver, who remained in the vehicle, suffered less severe injuries.

The families of three of the passengers sued FTS on May 4. The van driver also filed suit. The Melo, Figueiredo, and Souza lawsuit filed by Killino prompted FTS to file an $80 million lawsuit against the Hangzhou Rubber Company and notify NHTSA of the defect.

History

According to Foreign Tire Sales report to NHTSA, it contracted the Hangzhou Rubber Company in 2000 to design and manufacture light truck tires that FTS, of Union, N.J., would import and sell. Hangzhou worked with FTS engineers to ensure that the tires could meet all federal safety standards.

At a May 2002 meeting, FTS stressed the importance of tire safety, informing the Chinese manufacturer that light truck tires had been the focus of many recalls and were under government scrutiny. FTS urged Hangzhou to produce tires with nylon cap plies to increase their endurance.

Initially, the tires passed endurance tests, the report said. But once the warranty claims rose in 2005, FTS began conducting its own tests. A visual analysis revealed that some tires seemed to have an insufficient or missing gum strip -- a key safety feature to preserve the integrity of the belts.

After the May crash, FTS said it removed tires from other ambulances and found insufficient or missing gum strips on tires manufactured in 2004 and 2005. In September 2006, Hangzhou finally admitted to FTS that it had reduced or omitted the gum strip from an unspecified number of tires, FTS alleges.

But Hangzhou officials told FTS that in January 2006, it began to reintroduce some amount of the gum strip back into the tires. In March 2007, FTS did further testing and analysis on Hangzhou tires and found that they experienced tread / belt separations at 25,000 miles.

"These tires could pose an immediate danger to consumers and should be removed," said Sean E. Kane, president of Safety Research & Strategies, a safety advocacy and consulting firm that has been pushing for tougher tire safety standards. "Unfortunately, we saw during the Ford Explorer-Firestone tire scandal how deadly a defective tire can be -- especially if it is paired with a light truck. It is important that consumers are notified immediately, retailers and wholesalers stop selling them, and they are removed from vehicles until we get some answers."

Tires Identified

This is not a definitive list, but consumers should be on the lookout for steel-belted radial light truck tires sold under the names Westlake, Telluride, Compass and YKS in the following sizes:

• LT235/75R-15
• LT225/75R-16
• LT235/85R-16
• LT245/75R-16
• LT265/75R-16 and
• LT3X10.5-15

According to FTS, tires manufactured by Hangzhou were also sold by the following distributors:

• Tireco, Compton, California
• Strategic Import Supply, Wayzata, Minnesota
• Omni United USA, Inc., Jacksonville, Florida
• Orteck International, Inc. of Gaithersburg, Maryland
• K&D; Tire Wholesalers LLC, Carlsbad, California
• Robinson Tire in Laurel, Mississippi. Safety Research & Strategies, Inc.

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Food Fads: The Raw Truth

A Reformed Nutrition Cultist Tells All

Food fads and special diets have a long history, going back to the days when Moses descended from Sinai with a whole rulebook of dietary laws handed down f...

 

 

Until I was about 16, I wouldnt eat anything that resembled a vegetable unless it was deep-fried and came with a burger. Then I took a yoga class, saw all the flexible babes and at once decided to become vegetarian. Ive always been a man of principle.

I overcame my aversion to anything that grew out of the ground by burying everything in curry sauce and schooling myself to the health advantages of becoming vegetarian, macrobiotic I even tried being fruitarian at one stage.

I didnt achieve enlightenment or even get any dates but it did give me the moral high ground over the rest of my family and friends and, when youre an insecure teenager, youll grasp at any straw.

Food fads and special diets have a long history, going back to the days when Moses descended from Sinai with a whole rulebook of dietary laws handed down from God no pork, no mixing milk with the meat and a whole system for discerning which foods were kosher on the basis of scales (or lack of them) and cloven hooves.

Christianity decided to drop these restrictions pretty early on (bacon tastes good, after all) but Islam adopted similar food practices to those found in the Old Testament and today Halal butchers do a good business throughout the world and probably offer meat with the least E. coli risk going.

But for the greater part of human history most people were hard pressed to get enough of any kind of food at all. Poverty and starvation when crops failed were the norm for most societies across the world for the last millennia or so, making it tough for the likes of the South Beach Diet to really make an impact. People ate natural, unrefined foods and relied upon folklore, prayer and luck to stay healthy.

But then with the industrial revolution humans began to refine foods, pesticides entered the food chain in the 20th century and, soon after, the age of mass production and fast food chains spawned like bacteria across the globe.

Coincidentally enough, the generations in post-war boom America were the most prone to heart disease and obesity ever seen and science was called in to deliver some answers.

Congress to the Rescue

The Senate Select Committee on Nutrition in 1977, led by none other than Sen. George McGovern, decided that red meat and dairy products were to blame and recommended that both should be cut down drastically for a better American diet.

The meat and dairy lobbies immediately applied heavy pressure on the relevant senators (including South Dakota's McGovern) and the ruling was fudged to recommend a low-fat diet allowing lean meat and milk without the cream to stay firmly on Americans shopping lists.

There was only one problem with counting on the low-fat diet to solve the obesity crisis in America it didnt work.

While food companies reluctantly removed the lard from their products, they had to find something else to make their tasteless, processed food taste good. They hit upon chemical flavorings and refined corn syrup as good substitutes. Somehow it didnt occur to anyone that if wed been fattening up cows for centuries by feeding them carbohydrates, might it not do the same for us?

Navigating the low-fat/low-carb nutritional labyrinth is beyond the reach of most of us (as Ill explain later) but it would seem theres something wrong in the whole way we relate to food. More than a source of calories and nutrients, it takes on whole political, cultural, even psychological agendas.

Caf Attitude

Having lapsed from my earlier diet regimes, a girlfriend tried to get me back on the straight and narrow by taking me to Caf Gratitude in Berkeley a while ago. It was a raw food caf and on a cold day I wanted something hot to eat carrot flax crackers and wheat grass juice just werent going to hit the spot.

To be fair, the menu didnt help each item was titled something like I am Grace, I am Compassionate, I am Insightful and so on.

The waitress would call out whos Awakening? and a customer would call out I am! It was enough to put anyone off their food. After being stung for $20 and still feeling hungry all I could say was I am Skeptical.

The mainstream food industries havent had it all their own way in America. With the influx of Eastern traditions and counter-culture diets, there are plenty of groups around who profess to hold the secrets to eating well.

Macrobiotics was one such fashion, a diet that measured the yin-yang dynamic of each food and allegedly inhibited carcinogens from taking any hold in the body. That its still around after both the founders contracted cancer is one of the modern unsolved mysteries.

Now the raw food fad is in vogue in alternative circles, with figures like Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson giving it that necessary celebrity touch so essential for commercial success.

Proponents claim that the raw regime is guaranteed to deliver perfect health, prevent the murder of innocent animals and, you know, bring world peace. The Raw Fooders make various claims for giving up cooking forever, some of them based on reasonable observations and others based on wild fantasy.

On the bright side, people who eat lots of fruit, salad, nuts and seeds are going to be healthier than people who dont. Compared to someone who relies upon McDonalds to supply their daily nutrition, the smart money is on the muesli eaters in the longevity stakes.

Raw Forever

But when it comes to searching for scientific and historical backing for their claims, the Raw Fooders are on far shakier ground. They claim that we all survived exclusively on raw food until around 10,000 years ago and that when we cook food, important digestive enzymes are destroyed.

Both claims are somewhat laughable.

Firstly, humans have been controlling fire for at least 700-800,000 years and possibly much longer. Theres no way to prove that tough roots or meats were ever thrown on the flames but its hard to imagine that it didnt ever happen by accident while our ancestors were having their raw meals by the fireside.

Secondly, the whole enzyme argument is a good example of how people take one scientific fact and blow it completely out of context and proportion.

Yes, enzymes found in food do die when submitted to high temperatures. They also get dissolved in the acid of the stomach, however and in any case, the human body provides all the enzymes we need to digest food. Wouldnt you know it, its built that way.

The appeal to science to back up lifestyle claims is at the root of the whole diet problem in the U.S. today. At the mercy of scientists who analyze our foods to the point that we dont recognize them any more, who are we to say whats good for us to eat?

The history of nutrition goes all the way back to the days when the British Empire used to work Chinese laborers into the ground in the Far East. Noting that the Chinese were dying in large numbers of a disease called beri-beri, a bright researcher with the unlikely name Casamir Funk observed that it was because they ate white rice which lacked the wholesome husk of brown rice.

He called the missing ingredient vitamine and a whole new industry was born.

Today nutritionists hold the food industry at their mercy, alternatively declaring that a particular vitamin, mineral or fiber is the key to health and ought to be in all their main products. Walk down the aisles of a supermarket and few are the products that are not fortified with iron, enriched with vitamin c, with added fiber.

In fact, the only products that dont advertise their goodness are the cheap and healthy ones when was the last time you saw a nutritional breakdown of a tomato?

The problem with nutrition is that its really tough to understand. Yes, flax seeds may hold more omega 3 than fish but its far easier and more satisfying to eat 100 grams of the latter than a bowl of flax seeds. Salmon doesn't get stuck between your teeth, for starters. And what does omega 3 do for you anyway? Is it better than omega 6? Are the two friends?

Our helplessness plays right into the hands of nutritionists, as Ben Goldacre of www.badscience.net observes:

Nutritionists and their kin sell the idea that diet is somehow more complicated than that; something that requires access to arcane and detailed knowledge to which only they have access; knowledge of the breakdown of exactly what is in each food.

Not only that but it isnt enough to just identify mysterious chemical elements in foods and then draw conclusions that are valid for everyone. As Marion Nestle of New York University notes:

The problem with nutrient-by-nutrient nutrition science is that it takes the nutrient out of the context of food, the food out of the context of diet and the diet out of the context of lifestyle.

Some people have enzymes in their gut to absorb milk, some dont. It depends on their genes. The evidence really does suggest that were all different and that theres no one way to eat for everybody. For sure, a diet of refined, processed food with no fresh fruit or vegetables will be bad for almost everyone but do we really need nutritionists to tell us that?

And when they do get all excited about some life-saving nutrient, it often tends to work out quite differently in real life than in the laboratory.

Take beta-carotene, for instance, a nutrient found in carrots that was thought to have strong anti-carcinogenic properties. Scientists were so sure of their results that you could buy beta-carotene pills for a while, right up to the point that they realized that it might actually exacerbate certain forms of cancer. Oops.

Just chuck the supplements and you can safely go on eating carrots and enjoy good health. Your great grandparents were doing just that long before anyone told them why they should do so.

Gluttons for Punishment

The Onion, widely read in sophomore dorm rooms, recently reported that a shocking number of Americans had become too fat to commit suicide.

While this is something of an exaggeration, it's sadly apparent that Americans are in a terrible state of affairs today as far as eating habits go, with 4 of the top 10 causes of death linked to diet.

Youve only to look at how quickly immigrant populations to the U.S. increase in weight to see that something is wrong with the American diet. Yet we dont need a band of nutritionists or radical food fadders to tell us what to eat. We need some common sense.

Some years ago, I was still worrying a good deal about what foods were healthy for me. I learned that my Ayurvedic constitution meant that I should avoid beans while Chinese Medicine recommended beef for the strength of my kidneys. With vast amounts of contradictory information circling around in my head, an acupuncturist finally advised me:

Listen, 70% of diseases all start in the mind. If you worry about what you eat then your chances of getting sick are vastly increased. Just relax about it!

The Secret Revealed

So, after years of deliberation, neurotic research and trying various diets, Im finally in a position to tell you how to eat a good, healthy diet.

The secret is this: if it came out of the ground or the ocean, grew on a bush or a tree and doesnt come wrapped in plastic, its probably pretty good for you. You know, stuff like vegetables, bread and fruit that dont have PR teams working for them.

Its boring, I realize and maybe it wont sell but therein lies the rub, as Michael Pollan of the New York Times observed:

If youre concerned about your health, you should probably avoid food products that make health claims. Why? Because a health claim on a food product is a good indication that its not really food, and food is what you want to eat.

Science, it has been observed is in many ways the modern religion. We cede the ground of common sense to chemical breakdowns and we end up paying through the nose for it.

Ultimately, the whole cult of nutrition serves 3 groups: the people who produce the packaged food, the nutritionists who get consulted and, ah, the people who get paid to write about it all.

---

Tom Glaister is the founder and editor of www.roadjunky.com - The Online Travel Guide for the Free and Funky Traveller.

 

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Furious Travelers Blame Feds For Passport Mess

Travel Industry Feels the Pinch as Vacationers Stay Home

Millions of passports have been waiting more than three months more than double the promised turnaround time and many summer travel plans have been postpon...

Pointing fingers is easy. Official Washington does it all the time.

Besieged by a barrage of taxpayer complaints over massive passport delays, Washington agencies are ducking responsibility, trying to pass the blame on to the next guy.

Neither the State Department, the agency assigned to renew and issue passports, nor the Department of Homeland Security, charged with keeping terrorists out, is giving an inch. Neither is Congress, rattled by raucous constituent complaints.

Then theres the U.S. Treasury Department and Citigroup, the contractor it hired to handle initial processing for passports.

Millions of passports have been waiting more than three months more than double the promised turnaround time and many summer travel plans have been postponed or cancelled, hurting both individual consumers and such businesses as hotels, restaurants, airlines, and tour operators.

Its a mess and Americans are screaming bloody murder. Heres a sampling from the msnbc.com website:

• "With the U.S. border with Mexico the way it is, what terrorist needs a U.S. passport? They can just come and go as they please into the U.S. and buy a $10 passport from Mexico."

• "I sent my passport in for name change only. This is free of charge if you submit it within a year of getting your other passport. I sent it in the beginning of March and still have not received it back. Its not right. Can you imagine taking this long to pay your taxes?"

• "Hmmm. I applied for a renewal of my passport in March. Hope it arrives before my trip to England next summer. Im getting a little concerned."

• "Wow: 150 seconds per application. Cost: almost $100. Thats over 50 cents per second ($1800 per hour)."

• "What is going to happen in 10 years when everyone has to renew their passports? Were going to have the same issue."

• "My husbands employer decided in March to send him to Germany in April. OMG. But...no worry. He works for the govt. He received his passport in about a week."

• "Just another way for political appointees and civil servants to make more money. Create a backlog and the public will send in more and more money to expedite their passport. Why not let the market decide how much getting a passport within a week is really worth? Auction them off on eBay."

• "I feel like Im a prisoner of my own country. This passport thing is a little overkill. I cant even go to Mexico or Canada on a cruise for my honeymoon."

• "This is the worst nightmare we are experiencing with the passport office. None of the procedures are working well, nor the website, nor the e.mail, nor the phone, nor the automated appointment system. Where can I talk with someone?"

• E.mail from PR stated we are led by an imbecile. I wonder who put that imbecile where he is now; I know I didnt."

• "Two to three months should be ample time for a government as large as the one George W. Bush has put in place to do its job."

• "What site do I go to to find the status of my renewal for passport? Its been four months now."

• "We were all assured several times that turnaround time for a passport was 8-10 weeks. PERIOD. The government did not start singing a different tune until June 1st."

• "$95 proper application and support documents 30 minutes at the post office and six days later a brand-new, first-time passport. Having worked in a processing department, I was amazed. The time frame did not allow for even a simple computer search for validity of birth certificate or a quick criminal data base check. This is just a wonderful example of our homeland security post 9/11. But God help you if you try to board a plane with a bottle of nail polish."

• "The public knew in advance of the passport requirement. However, we were promised turnaround times of 6-8 weeks for a routine passport application. I received my passport after I waited 14 weeks, which was two weeks past the date I needed it. In good faith, I applied with what should have been plenty of time to spare but the system let me down . . . if its going to take 13 weeks, they need to tell people this honestly."

• "I am very very very disappointed in the postal service and also the government. My son applied for a passport 12 weeks before his youth mission trip to Mexico with our church and was told the most it would take was 10 weeks. They left last Saturday (June 16) for the mission trip without him (NO PASSPORT). This is why I refuse to use the postal service anymore unless I absolutely have to, which is once a year. I hate you all . . . you are all a bunch of liars and are worthless."

• "With all the identity theft going on, one would think the government would be more concerned to handle peoples private information with more care . . . what mathematical genius decided to do each application in two-and-a-half minutes?

• "Checking these applications should be a thorough process and the (workers) should be given as much time as they need to do it properly. If that means hiring more employees, then hire more employees and do it right the first time."

• "Question of the day: what country holds a large bloc of Citigroup stock? I believe it is Saudi Arabia. Imagine that."

Confusion Reigns

Besides anger, there's confusion. Rules are changing almost daily.

The rule requiring all U.S. air arrivals to show passports has been postponed until Sept. 30, 2007. Until then, passengers arriving at an air gateway must show a government-issued photo ID (such as a drivers license) plus a receipt proving they have applied for a passport.

The new deadline for land and sea arrivals to show passports has been pushed back from January 2008 until the end of June, though that date has not been officially announced yet.

In the interim...

•; U.S. citizens will need to show photo ID issued by a government agency plus proof of citizenship (i.e. birth certificate).

•; Kids under 15 traveling with their parents need only birth certificates.

Got that? Good it may change again tomorrow.

The Department of Homeland Security insists using a single recognized document such as a U.S. passport will prevent terrorists or illegal aliens from entering the country easily. But Congress says the State Departments inability to meet promised passport turnaround deadlines has created agonizing delays, forcing many Americans to cancel paid-for summer trips.

Too Many Documents

According to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, border officials see more than 8,000 different documents under the current system, creating obvious loopholes that make it easy to enter the U.S. with false identification papers. Each of the 50 states, for example, issues different drivers licenses and some come in multiple varieties.

Although Chertoff promises to give 60-day notice for the new 2008 land and sea passport deadline, that may not be enough for many travelers. Getting passports issued or renewed to meet for planned plane trips has taken more than three months in many cases, but the passport deluge could worsen next year because Americans make 10 times more crossings by land and sea.

The State Departments Office of Passport Services has backlog of three million passport applications. Pressured to hurry, it has waived a one-time requirement for an error rate of less than 1 per cent.

Part of the problem, according to a State Department memo, is Citigroup, an outside contractor hired to do initial passport processing. But a bigger problem is too many passports and not enough handlers even though the department requested nearly 500 more two years ago. A budget-conscious executive denied that request.

Colin Walle, president of the union that represents passport workers in the State Department, says the passport office had 505 adjudicators (inspectors) in October 2005 but only 698 on June 11, 2007. He adds that inspectors process 24 applications per hour, an average of two-and-a-half minutes each that he insists is not enough to guarantee authenticity.

In the meantime, consumers can only wait.



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Manufacturer of Martha Stewart Tables Declares Bankruptcy

Affiliated Company Dissolved a Few Days Earlier

Manufacturer of Martha Stewart Tables Declares Bankruptcy...

As if owning a shattered Martha Stewart patio table isnt bad enough, it appears that the tables warranty may now be worthless because the manufacturer, JRA Furniture, has filed for bankruptcy.

The company possibly filed for bankruptcy to avoid responsibility in a pending class action lawsuit, said lead counsel on the case, Richard Doherty from Horwitz, Horwitz and Associates in Chicago.

Theres no way to know for sure, but I think the facts speak for themselves, Doherty said.

The nationwide class action seeks restitution from Martha Stewarts company, Omnimedia, Kmart, which is owned by Sears, and JRA. However, the bankruptcy filing likely means that JRA will not face any meaningful liability.

JRA Furniture was essentially a shell company for JRA Century, a company based in Taiwan that actually manufactured the tables, Doherty said. The company continuously denied any connection with JRA Century even after the Court ordered it to produce documents which included an Agency Agreement between the two JRAs.

JRA Century recently dissolved and Doherty said he doesnt believe its a coincidence the two companies collapsed within days of each other.

Although JRAs website is still active, no one is answering its two customer service numbers and an e-mail to its customer service department bounced back.

For years, ConsumerAffairs.com has received a constant stream of complaints from consumers whose Martha Stewart-branded patio tables spontaneously shatter.

I was sitting at my computer when I heard this tremendous crash, said David Potts of Marietta, Ga. I went outside to see what it was and it looked like my patio was covered in ice. It was the glass from the table top.

I got a couple of slivers of glass in my fingers while I was cleaning it and here I am a year later and I can still feel pain in the tips of my fingers, Potts said.

Since September 2003, at least 515 readers have shared stories about their Martha Stewart glass tops spontaneously shattering.

No Recall

Despite the numbers, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has not issued a recall.

A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the agency revealed their own thick stack of complaints and letters from the CPSC to Kmart/Stewarts lawyer, Eric Rubel.

In a letter to Rubel dated July 14, 2006, CPSC Deputy Director Marc Schoem states that Kmart and Martha Stewart had indicated that it has voluntarily implemented actions to address reports of the tempered glass shattering.

The explanation of those actions takes up three lines of text in the letter but was redacted because of FOIA exemptions that protect trade secrets.

Although this shows that Omnimedia has been aware of the problem for at least a year, its unclear whether anything has been done to remedy it as the number of complaints from consumers who recently purchased the tables from Kmart, continue to pour in.

The stack of documents uncovered from the CPSCs investigation does not reveal why the agency did not implement a recall and CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson said there is no longer any investigation.

Although JRA is bankrupt, the tables are still widely sold at Kmart under Stewarts name and at the Home Depot under the Hampton Bay line of furniture.

When Martha entered into this agreement with Kmart back in 1997, analysts looked at it as an effort by Kmart to upgrade its image by offering higher-quality, reputable, brand name goods unavailable anywhere else, Doherty wrote in an e-mail.

Well, come to find out that the tables are not high quality, not reputable, defective, made by a company that went bankrupt as soon as its liability into the case became apparent and the goods aren't exclusive, either, given that you can by JRA-manufactured tables at places like the Home Depot, too. This is the quality image sought by Kmart and Martha Stewart?

No Comment

Omnimedia and Sears representatives did not reply to two e-mails requesting comment on what the companies are doing to remedy the problem and whether or not either company will honor the defunct warranty.

Sears spokesman Christian Brathwhaite said Kmart would "work with" its customers whose tables have exploded.

"Given JRAs recent chapter 7 filing, JRA will likely be unable to honor its manufacturers warranty," Brathwaite noted. "As a service to our customers, Kmart intends to work with our customers to attempt to resolve issues that would have otherwise been covered by that manufacturer warranty."

Brathwaite said customers should visit Kmart Customer Care or call toll-free 866-562-7848.

Doherty said that although JRAs bankruptcy may slow the cases progress, he is still going forward and that consumers whose table tops explode should:

• Keep a sampling of the glass in a bag for proof;

• File complaints with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, your state attorney general, and Consumer Affairs.Com; and

• Contact Kmart and Omnimedia to remind them how dangerous their tables are.

 

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Egg Producers Make Bogus Omega-3 Claims

Spend more for a souped-up egg? Saved your money

Consumers who shell out more money for eggs boasting of omega-3 content and promoting heart health should know that those claims are not all theyre cracked...

Consumers who shell out more money for eggs boasting of omega-3 content and promoting heart health should know that those claims are not all theyre cracked up to be, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

CSPI urged the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to stop seven egg producers from implying that their eggs can reduce the risk of heart disease. In fact, says CSPI, egg producers should not be making heart-healthy claims, because the FDA specifically prohibits such claims on eggs and other foods high in cholesterol or saturated fat.

Egg producers have used the omega-3 buzz word to bilk health-conscious consumers and so far theyve gotten away with it, said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. The FDA should start enforcing its own rules, instead of letting companies hoodwink shoppers with a myriad of misleading and downright inaccurate claims on labels, ads, and Web sites.

Egg producers take advantage of consumers limited knowledge of the different types of omega-3s.

While the FDA permits claims for a possible reduced risk of heart disease linked to two kinds of omega-3s, DHA and EPA, the agency does not allow such claims for other omega-3s.

CSPI commissioned a lab test that found that less than half of the advertised 350 mg of omega-3s in a Land O Lakes egg came from EPA and DHA. Yet, omega-3 eggs generally cost twice as much as regular eggs.

The most beneficial omega-3 fatty acids come from fish, fish oil, and algae, said CSPI senior staff attorney Ilene Heller. Even if eggs had the right kind of omega-3s, they still contain significant levels of saturated fat and cholesterol, which increase the risk of heart disease.

Even the eggs with the most DHA and EPA contain no more of those omega-3s than the amount in one and a half teaspoons of salmon, the richest source of omega-3s, according to CSPI.

Products named in the CSPI complaint include:

• Land O Lakes claims that omega-3 All-Natural Eggs are a good source of heart-healthy nutrition despite the fact that FDA has not defined the term good source for omega-3s and that the eggs contain too much saturated fat and cholesterol to meet FDAs definition of healthy.


• Egglands Best uses unapproved nutrient content claims for omega-3s on its carton and on its Web site. In addition, the company claims that its eggs have 25 percent less saturated fat than regular eggs. But that difference is less than half a graman amount that the FDA considers trivial for purposes of nutrition labeling.


• Safeway Specialty 3 Eggs misleadingly boasts 100 mg of omega-3s even though the FDA has not set standards for such omega-3 claims. In addition, the principal source of omega-3s in the hens diets is likely not a source that may be associated with heart benefits.


• Gold Circle Farms claims that its eggs contain 450 mg of omega-3s. The claims are based on two eggs even though the official FDA serving size for eggs is one egg.


• The Country Hen illegally claims the difference is an egg that is simply healthy even though the product does not meet regulatory requirements for healthy, and also makes its claims based on two eggs.


• Full Spectrum Farms boasts that its product has 30 mg of unspecified omega-3s even though one ordinary egg, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, contains 37 mg of omega-3s, 20 mg of which are DHA and EPA.


• Giving Nature asserts that the company feeds its hens flax seed which has been known to hold high levels of DHA omega-3. But, according to the Flax Council of Canada and others, the omega-3s that FDA considers healthful (DHA and EPA) are not found in plants such as flax seed.

 



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Illinois Sues Iraqi Currency Traders

Illinois Atty General Lisa Madigan has sued several related companies that allegedly advertised Iraqi currency (Dinars) on the Internet but failed to fulfi...


Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has sued several related companies that allegedly advertised Iraqi currency (Dinars) on the Internet but failed to fulfill orders from customers.

Over the past two years, when the defendants received complaints from customers, they allegedly changed the name of their companies, the office address or website and continued their practice of selling Iraqi currency without filling prior orders, the suit charges.

The lawsuit also alleges that the defendants failed to obtain a required Illinois license to engage in the business of selling or exchanging foreign currency for compensation. The Transmitters of Money Act requires all such sellers to be licensed by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. None of the defendants is properly licensed.

These companies have illegally taken advantage of consumers who are interested in investing in foreign currency, Madigan said. We are working to protect consumers from this conduct.

Madigan filed the suit against:

1. United World Exchange, Inc., doing business as US Dinar,
2. US Foreign Exchange, Inc., an Illinois LLC doing business as USFX,
3. Mid America Trade, an Illinois LLC,
4. US Trade, LLC, a dissolved Nevada corporation,
5. US Dinar, LLC, a dissolved Illinois corporation,
6. Samir Altaeh, also known as Samir Al-Tayeh, individually and as President of U.S. Foreign Exchange, US Trade and US Dinar, and also in his capacity as a manager of Mid America Trade and as agent for United World Exchange, and
7. Joseph Beaudry, individually and as President of United World Exchange.

Since 2006, Madigans Consumer Fraud Bureau has received 42 complaints against the various defendants. The Better Business Bureau has received more than 160 complaints concerning the various defendants in the past year.

I encourage consumers to act carefully and be wary of companies that advertise a hot investment opportunity, Madigan added.

Madigans lawsuit asks the court to prohibit the defendants from engaging in the business of advertising or selling foreign currency in Illinois and seeks restitution for those consumers who have not received their orders from defendants.

More Scam Alerts ...

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Hybrids Save 5.5 Million Barrels, Feds Figure

Hybrids Save 5.5 Million Barrels, Feds Figure...

By Joe Benton
ConsumerAffairs.com

June 21, 2007
Hybrid cars and trucks have saved 230 million gallons of gasoline or about 5.5 million barrels since their introduction in the U.S. in 1999, according to the Department of Energys National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

At the same time, the U.S. was importing 8.5 million barrels of oil a day to fuel cars and light trucks.

While the savings attributed to hybrids did not greatly impact U.S. oil consumption, those savings continue to increase.

"Sales of hybrid electric vehicles have increased an average of 72 percent a year for the past five years and in 2006 the average fuel economy based on new EPA estimates was 35 miles per gallon for new hybrid models sold in the U.S.," said Kevin Bennion, an NREL vehicle systems analysis research engineer.

Government researchers combined hybrid electric vehicle sales and fuel economy data to determine fuel savings. The fuel economy data included the new EPA mpg ratings as well as old EPA mpg ratings and user-reported values were also reviewed.

Computer software developed by the Argonne National Laboratory was used to determine the total number of hybrid electric vehicles in use in a given year.

The study reported that hybrid electric vehicles would have to replace a significant portion of the total light duty vehicle fleet to have an impact on petroleum imports. For example, net imports of oil in 2003 were 11.24 million barrels per day, and 8.55 million barrels per day went to light duty vehicle use.

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FDA Approves Computerized Pill Box

Well, everything else is computerized. Why not this?

The U.S. FDA has given approval to Electronic Medication Management Assistant, a programmable device that stores and dispenses prescription medication for ...

Here's something that makes a lot of sense, assuming it works: a computerized pill box.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has given approval to something called the Electronic Medication Management Assistant (EMMA), a programmable device that stores and dispenses prescription medication for patients' use in the home.

EMMA was designed to be used under the supervision of a licensed health care provider.

The main purpose of the device is to reduce drug identification and dosing errors, and allow health care professionals to monitor patient adherence to medication regimens in an outpatient setting. It may have applications for aging patients, as well as those with complex medication regimens such as patients with HIV.

"FDA's clearance of the INRange remote medication management system puts an important safety tool directly in the hands of patients and their health care providers," said Daniel Schultz, M.D., director of FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health. "It will help take away some of the confusion patients can experience when taking prescription medications, and allow care providers to more closely monitor their patients' medications between office visits."

A 2006 Institute of Medicine report estimated that medication errors harm at least 1.5 million people in the United States annually.

EMMA consists of a medication delivery unit and two-way communication software that allows a health care professional to remotely manage prescriptions stored and released by the patient-operated delivery unit. The delivery unit is about the size of a bread box and plugs into a standard power outlet.

EMMA stores prescription medications, emits an audible alert to the patient when the prescribed medications are scheduled to be taken, and releases them onto a delivery tray when activated by the patient at the appropriate time.

It uses a Web-based application for a health care professional, such as a doctor or pharmacist, to remotely schedule or adjust a patient's prescribed medications, and provides the health care professional with a history of each time patients access their medications.

The EMMA system is manufactured by INRange Systems based in Altoona, Pa.

 



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More ChoicePoint Identity Theft Victims Identified

More ChoicePoint Identity Theft Victims Identified...


The Federal Trade Commission has mailed reimbursement claim forms to more than 2,400 consumers who may have been victims of identity theft due to data broker ChoicePoint, Inc. inadvertently selling their data to a ring of Nigerian criminals in 2005.

In December 2006, the Commission mailed claim forms to 1,400 consumers who were identified with the assistance of law enforcement, with instructions on how to file a claim. In April 2007, 1,500 consumers were identified and contacted.

The FTC also has created a Web site -- http://www.ftc.gov/choicepoint -- where consumers who do not receive a letter can download a claim form and obtain information about the claims process.

In 2005, ChoicePoint, which compiles and sells personal information, announced that it had sold information about many consumers to people who turned out to be identity thieves. The FTC investigated the ChoicePoint security breach and alleged that, in some cases, these sales resulted in identity theft.

The FTC and ChoicePoint reached a settlement requiring the company, among other things, to pay $5 million to be used to reimburse consumers for expenses due to identity theft caused by ChoicePoints security breach.

Consumers who receive a letter and have out-of-pocket expenses due to identity theft caused by the ChoicePoint security breach should submit claims promptly. Consumers who do not receive a letter, but who believe that they have identity theft-related expenses due to this incident, also may submit a claim by completing the form available on the FTCs Web site http://www.ftc.gov/choicepoint or calling (toll-free) 1-888-884-8772.

The form must be postmarked by August 18, 2007 for consideration. The amount applicants receive will depend on a number of factors, including the total number and amount of claims that the agency receives.

More information for consumers is available by calling toll-free at 1-888-884-8772., or by sending an e-mail to cpredress@ftc.gov.

Last month, ChoicePoint reached a settlement with the Attorneys General of 44 states, agreeing to implement stronger security measures, including audits and inspections of companies that want to purchase its data records.

The Alpharetta, GA-based data broker will also pay $500,000 to the states. ChoicePoint privacy officer Carol DiBattiste said she hoped the states would use the money "to address important issues like consumer education on personal privacy protection."

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Wal-Mart Plans Its Own Debit Card

Wal-Mart Plans Its Own Debit Card...

Wal-Mart may have abandoned plans to open its own bank, but the retail giant hasnt given up on financial services. The company has announced plans to offer a prepaid Visa debit card, called the MoneyCard.

Customers without credit cards or checking accounts will be able to reload money into their account and use the card like a normal debit card.

Customers will be able to reload their cards at over 1,000 Wal-Mart MoneyCenters located in about a quarter of Wal-Marts stores, by the end of 2008. The cards will be good anywhere Visa is accepted, as well as at ATMs, the company said.

Many of our customers are paying too much, traveling too far and not being well served, said Jane Thompson, president of Wal-Mart financial services. But they still need to pay their bills, cash their checks and transfer money. Were offering them a safe place and a card to help them manage their money. Weve seen firsthand what a difference that can make. It changes lives.

Wal-Mart says it currently conducts more than two million money services transactions each week. It estimates that last year, customers who used Wal-Marts services saved an average of $450 per year, or almost $40 per month.

The $40 our customers save each month can grow to become the down payment on a house or help pay for a childs college education, said Thompson. Thats our goal to help our customers prepare and save for the future by giving them access to greater financial opportunities.

The service to customers is not free. Consumers will pay an upfront fee of $8.94 to purchase and activate the card, then pay a monthly $4.94 maintenance fee. The maintenance fee can be avoided if consumers deposit at least $1,000 a month into their card account.

The fees are cheaper than many consumers would pay for a low-balance checking account.

Wal-Mart estimates that 20 percent of its current customers do not have a checking account and are prospects for its MoneyCard.

 

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More Toxins Found in Children of Smokers

One more reason to quit smoking

More Toxins Found in Children of Smokers...

Children who have at least one parent who smokes have 5.5 times higher levels of cotinine, a byproduct of nicotine, in their urine, according to a study by researchers from Warwick Medical School at the University of Warwick, and the University of Leicester, published online ahead of print in Archives of Disease in Childhood.

Having a mother that smokes was found to have the biggest independent effect on cotinine in the urine -- quadrupling it. Having a smoking father doubled the amount of cotinine, one of chemicals produced when the body breaks down nicotine from inhaled smoke to get rid of it.

Sleeping with parents and lower temperature rooms were also associated with increased amounts of cotinine.

Cotinine was measured in 100 urine samples taken from infants aged 12 weeks. Seventy one of the babies had at least one parent that smoked and the parents of the other 33 were non-smokers.

Smoking babies tend to come from poorer homes, which may have smaller rooms and inadequate heating, the authors say. Higher cotinine levels in colder times of year may be a reflection of the other key factors which influence exposure to passive smoking, such as poorer ventilation or a greater tendency for parents to smoke indoors in winter.

Sleeping with a parent is a know risk factor for cot death and the authors suggest that one reason for this could be inhalation of, or closeness to clothing or other objects contaminated with, smoke particles during sleep.

Nearly 40% of under-fives are believed to be exposed to tobacco smoke at home, and smoke may be responsible for up to 6,000 deaths per year in young children.

Babies and children are routinely exposed to cigarette smoking by their caregivers in their homes, without the legislative protection available to adults in public places, according to the researchers.

But they acknowledge that there are practical difficulties in preventing smoking in private homes because it relies on parents or caregivers being educated about the harmful effects of passive smoking on their children and then acting on that knowledge.



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Bankruptcy's Early Warning Signs

Bankruptcies Begin to Rise Once More

In 2006, personal bankruptcies decreased 70 percent from its 2005 high, but the rate is increasing this year. The ABI reports an increase of 51.3 percent i...

In 2006, personal bankruptcies decreased 70 percent from its 2005 high, but the rate is increasing this year. The American Bankruptcy Institute reports an increase of 51.3 percent in filings for May 2007 compared with May 2006.

The 2005 changes in the nation's bankruptcy laws require consumers to seek credit counseling before they can file for bankruptcy. But a recent study by the National Consumer Law Center found that the counseling did little good. And a report from the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies (AICCCA) seems to bear that out.

The association said that of the approximately 400,000 people that its members have counseled since the law went into effect, more than 95 percent went on to file for bankruptcy.

"By the time our agencies see consumers for pre-bankruptcy counseling it is usually too late for any alternative solutions and the consumers have no choice but to file for bankruptcy," said David Jones, AICCCA president. "If consumers recognized earlier the warning signs of serious financial problems, they would have more choices for a successful solution."

To help, AICCCA has developed the following warning signs:

Living paycheck to paycheck -- A recent survey by American Payroll Association revealed that 65 percent of Americans report living paycheck to paycheck. Losing a job or a decrease in pay would put them in immediate financial difficulty and unable to pay some monthly bills. Unless a change can be made very quickly, their financial situations could become dire in a matter of months.

No savings cushion -- The savings rate for Americans is negative. We spend more than we earn and that habit means that any major financial outlay due to divorce, a large unexpected expense or car or home repair could begin a financial meltdown.

More than 20% non-mortgage debt to income ratio -- The Center for American Progress reports in its May Economic Snapshot that by December 2006 household debt rose to 132.4 percent of disposable income. For those spending more than 20 percent of net income to satisfy non-mortgage debt, a drastic change in spending behaviors is needed.

Making only minimum payments on credit cards -- More than forty percent of people with credit cards carry a balance. Paying only the minimum amount due means staying in debt much longer than is prudent and could indicate future financial trouble should income decrease or be interrupted by job loss or illness.

Not adequately insured -- Some studies suggest that 50 percent of bankruptcies involve medical debt. Without adequate insurance, the high cost of medical, home or car expenses can ruin personal finances

AICCCA urges consumers who are experiencing two or more of the above warning signs to seek help now.

 

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Home Depot Sells Supply Unit As Home Construction Sags

Home Depot Sells Supply Unit As Home Construction Sags...

Home Depot is selling off its underperforming HD supply unit to a trio of private equity groups for $10 billion dollars.

The announcement follows news that home construction levels fell in May, thanks to the continuing oversupply of existing homes and the overall slump in the housing market.

The HD supply chain will be carved up by the Carlyle Group, Bain Capital, and Clayton Dubilier & Rice.

The unit was originally designed to provide supplies for retail construction to bolster Home Depot's signature home construction supply business, but failed to provide significant gains since its inception in 2000.

The HD supply business was the brainchild of former Home Depot CEO Robert Nardelli, whose tenure as CEO ended amid a lagging stock price, declines in customer service and criticism of his hefty compensation package. Nardelli resigned in January with a golden parachute of nearly $300 million.

Shareholders tried to sue to block Nardelli from receiving his compensation package, but an Atlanta judge turned aside the effort.

While Nardelli did just fine, Home Depot's stock remained relatively flat during the hottest years of the housing boom, and problems with its customer service and supply for homeowners have been a frequent source of complaints by ConsumerAffairs.com readers.

The Bottom Keeps Dropping

The faltering housing market has extended beyond sales of new and existing homes to affect homebuilders, contractors, and supply chains such as Home Depot, Lowe's, and so on. The Commerce Department reported that construction of new homes and apartments dropped by 2.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted level of 1.4 million units -- a 24 percent drop from the previous year.

And the National Association of Homebuilders' (NAHB) survey of its members found the lowest levels of optimistic sentiment for the market since February 1991, a time period when the housing market was experiencing another pronounced downturn.

Foreclosures have reached record levels during the current housing slump, putting even more homes on the market and forcing sellers to slash prices and offer incentives to get wary buyers to close the deal.

Meanwhile, overtaxed consumers are reeling in spending in the wake of high gas prices and maxed-out credit card debt, which means fewer splurges on home improvements.

Analysts are continually revising their forecasts downward for the market, with some saying that a recovery for housing will not occur until well into 2008.

The downswing in new housing production is still underway, said David Seiders, chief economist for NAHB, in a statement accompanying the survey results. We still expect starts and permits to bottom out late this year before a systematic recovery process begins in 2008.

 

 

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10 Worst Used Cars and Trucks

Our Readers Pick the Worst Buys of 2007

Behind every complaint we receive is a consumer who would have been a lot happier -- and a lot richer -- if he or she had picked a different model when out...

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Finding a Better Nail-Trimmer

Clip Jobs Aren't Fun and Easy

Build a better nail-trimmer and grateful pet lovers will beat a path to your door. The idea behind a trio of new nail-trimmers takes the age-old designs an...

By Gina Spadafori
Universal Press Syndicate

Forget the better mousetrap: Build a better nail-trimmer, and grateful pet lovers will beat a path to your door.

Or at least that's the idea behind a trio of new nail-trimmers that takes the age-old designs and improves on them, a little or a lot. Here's the rundown:

 

  • SmartTrim. Pick of the litter. One of several new pet-related products brought out by the folks behind the incredibly successful Greenies dog treats, the SmartTrim is lightweight and easy to use. It features a unique adjustable guard that limits the amount of nail that can be clipped each time. Trimmings fall into a container that can be cleaned out by opening a little door on the unit. A battery-operated grinder is in the handle for finishing off the job, and batteries are included. (Suggested retail: $30)

     

  • Bamboo Care. In both scissor and guillotine styles and two sizes, Bamboo's nail clipper benefits from the company's strength in design and efficiency. The clipper is attractive and comfortable in the hand, and its handles contain both a file and styptic powder container for stopping blood if the quick is nicked. Like most of Bamboo's pet products, it's an improvement on an age-old design. (Suggested retail: $10 to $15, with two-pack refills of styptic powder tubes sold for $5)

     

  • Careful Clipper. A basic guillotine-style clipper with a twist: A flexible light is attached to shine through the nails and show where the quick is. While not a problem with dogs with white nails, finding the quick can be hard with black nails. You can do the same thing with a penlight if you have at least three hands, but the Careful Clipper makes handling the light much easier. Batteries included. (Suggested retail: $19)

    As with any nail-trimming, you won't get anywhere trying to force your pet to cooperate. If you have a pet who hates to have his nails trimmed, you need to back up and start over.

    Spend some time reintroducing the clippers and associating their presence with treats and praise. After your pet is comfortable with this step, advance to touching the paw and eventually to the nail with the clippers, with the accompaniment of more treats and praise. Soon, you'll be able to cut a tiny bit off one nail. Treat, praise and call it a day. Don't advance to the next step until your pet is comfortable with the step you're on. Eventually, cutting nails will not be a reason for a wrestling match.

    When my oldest retriever came to me, he was young, strong and utterly uncooperative when it came to having his nails trimmed. After several weeks of retraining, he learned to tolerate nail trims and hasn't been a problem since. I no longer have to treat him at every stage of the procedure, but he does appreciate the steady supply of praise and the dog cookie at the end of the job.

     

    Grind 'Em

    Some dogs find it more tolerable to have their nails ground rather than clipped. As with clipping nails, going slowly and using lots of praise and treats along the way is key to a good experience for both you and your pet.

    Dremel and Oster both make rotary grinders intended solely for pet use, but you can just as easily use any regular rotary grinding tool. I use a corded Dremel with a medium sandpaper head. (For my parrot, though, I like Dremel's small cordless pet model No. 761-01, with a suggested retail of $30.)

    In the early stages of training, just let your dog see the grinder, and praise and treat. In a later session, turn the grinder on and praise and treat. Praise and treat for your dog progressively, allowing the grinder to get closer to a paw and to briefly touch a nail tip. The first time you grind -- which may be several sessions after the first introduction -- be happy with working a little with just one nail and don't forget to praise and treat.

    Be sure to either clip the hair of longhaired dogs or hold it back so it won't get wound in the shaft of the grinder. Support the dog's toe, but don't squeeze too hard. Hold the grinder against the nail for no more than a couple of seconds at a time to prevent heat buildup, and don't push the grinder against the nail -- just hold it there and let the grinder do the work.

    Grind across the bottom and then carefully in from the tip of the nail. If you do this weekly, the quick will recede, and you'll be able to maintain short nails on your dog with ease.


    Q&A

    Losing baby teeth normal for pups

    Q: My daughter got us a puppy for her birthday. He is supposed to be a golden and something else. He's about 3 months old. I am a little concerned because he is losing his baby teeth. Is that normal? We did call the vet, and he said it was OK. What do you think? We had a golden retriever for 14 years, and I don't ever remember her losing her teeth. -- E.C., via e-mail

    A: Your veterinarian is right. It's perfectly normal for your puppy to be losing his baby teeth. Puppies have 28 of those sharp little puppy teeth, and they're usually replaced by 42 permanent ones by the age of 4 months.

    It's not unusual to overlook the loss of puppy teeth. Sometimes they're swallowed; others may land in the grass or somewhere else they'll be hard to spot. Sometimes, though, they're stubborn about leaving, hanging on even when their replacement has erupted. If you observe a double row of teeth, call your veterinarian -- the baby teeth have worn out their welcome and may need to be surgically removed.

    Teething can be irritating or even painful for a pup. Be sure to provide lots of chew toys to help your pup through the process. Don't blame your puppy if he finds things to chew on -- pick up your stuff! If you find him with something you don't want chewed, substitute an appropriate chew toy and praise him for using it. Frozen marrow bones can feel really good on gums while a puppy is teething and are a great (if messy) teething aid.

    Wait for older pup

    Q: What is the right age to take home a puppy? We are looking at a litter the breeder says will be weaned and ready to go at 4 weeks, which seems young to us. -- S.N., via e-mail

    A: It isn't 4 weeks, that's for sure. Seven weeks is the youngest a puppy should ever leave his littermates. Weaning shouldn't be the trigger for placing the puppies, and the seller who thinks so is ill-informed.

    Puppies pick up some important lessons from their mom and their littermates in their fourth, fifth and sixth weeks of life, learning the complex social language that will not only help him get along with other dogs later, but will also help you to train your new pup.

    Some breeders, especially those with small breeds, hold onto their puppies beyond seven weeks, primarily because they're so delicate. That's fine, as long as you've got a breeder who understands the importance of socializing -- safely introducing puppies to new sights, new sounds, and to people of all ages and both genders.

    If you cannot convince the seller to keep the puppies together for an extra three weeks, my suggestion is to find another breeder, one well-versed in the developmental stages of dogs. Or go to a good shelter, where young puppies are placed with others of their age and are socialized by savvy volunteers.

    You want to get your relationship with your puppy started right, and that "right start" happens before you ever bring your new dog home. Choosing the right source for your pup is just as important as choosing the right breed or mix.

    Those extra couple of weeks of learning from littermates are extremely important when it comes to starting off a pup right. A puppy-seller who doesn't understand or doesn't care about critical puppy development is best avoided.

    (Do you have a pet question? Send it to petconnection@gmail.com.)


    PET Rx

    Know the signs of dehydration

    Dehydration can be a serious problem demanding urgent intervention by a veterinarian.

    To check for dehydration, pull up a "tent" of skin over the shoulders of your dog or cat. In a healthy pet, the skin will immediately slide back into place. In a pet with mild dehydration, the skin will be slow to return to its normal position.

    In severe dehydration, the skin will remain in the "tent" position. The animal's mouth and gums may also be dry, with thick or ropey saliva, and eyes may appear sunken into the sockets. An animal with any of these symptoms is in need of immediate veterinary care.

    A pet with mild dehydration can be helped by being moved into a cool area and offered small amounts of water every few minutes. Don't allow a dehydrated pet to drink all she wants, and don't offer dry food.

    If you're in doubt as to how serious the situation is, call your veterinarian for advice.

    (Pet Rx is provided by the Veterinary Information Network (VIN.com), an online service for veterinary professionals. More information can be found at www.veterinarypartner.com.)


    ON THE WEB

    Basset hounds fans love Daily Drool

    The folks behind the Daily Drool (www.dailydrool.com) love basset hounds and want to share their admiration of the breed with other like-minded people. The well-designed Web site offers everything you could want in the way of information about bassets, along with plenty of entertaining diversions such as e-cards, games, images and more.

    A definite labor of love, the Web site supports itself and basset rescue through donations, and with the proceeds from steering people toward Drool-endorsed books and other products. Either way, it's a good site to support and a good cause, too.


    BREED TYPE

    Friendly malamute needs exercise, grooming

    They shed, they roam, they dig, they pull on the leash, and they eat like horses. Why, you might wonder, does anyone on Earth want an Alaskan Malamute?

    It's because, like a force of nature or an Arctic wind, the Malamute is hard to resist. Handsome, smart, friendly, exuberant, joyful and possessed of an enormous curiosity, these dogs are crazy about people and great with kids.

    Of course, as with all large, powerful dogs, careful supervision with children is required. And as with all intelligent dogs, when bored they can get into a lot of mischief. These dogs can and will destroy a car interior or even the wall of a house. The cure and the prevention are the same: Mals need exercise (lots of it) every single day -- rain, shine or blizzard.

    That exercise can't take the form of running free. That's not because a Malamute will ever leave his territory; he won't. It's because his territory is the entire continent of North America, and most Mals are eyeing South America, too. So a good fence is not optional equipment.

    Malamutes need daily brushing to control their shedding, although "control" may be a bit optimistic: Think big drifts of hair everywhere, even in rooms that are off-limits to dogs. On top of that, twice a year, the Malamute will "blow coat," and you may need a professional groomer to rescue you from that avalanche of fur.

    Malamutes suffer from some genetic health problems, and a very few can have temperament problems. So obtain your dog only from a reputable rescue organization or an experienced breeder who does genetic screening tests on his or her dogs. Do not accept assurances that "My lines don't have these problems." Insist on written documentation.

    And buy a really powerful vacuum cleaner. -- Christie Keith, doghobbyist.com


    THE SCOOP

    Great pet pictures easier than ever

    Ever wonder how the pros get those adorable pictures of dogs and cats nuzzling for ads and commercials? It's easy to get your pet to kiss your kid for a picture using an old trick of the pros.

    The trick: a dab of butter or margarine in just the right spot. You can't see it, but your pet can smell it and won't be able to wait to lick it off your child's cheek.

    Another trick: To get your dog's attention for a picture, rattle keys or squish a squeaky toy. If you're looking for that super-alert look, throw the toy in the direction you want your dog to look. That's what dog-show photographers do.

    Digital photography makes it easy to get great pictures. You can take hundreds of pictures and print just the best without going broke on film or developing costs.


    Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to petconnection@gmail.com. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.spadafori.com.

    COPYRIGHT 2005 UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE

 

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Notes From The Future Of Radio

Will "Race to the Bottom" Sink Local Broadcasting?

Notes From The Future Of Radio...

Let's face it -- radio stinks. It's 40 minutes of commercials, 10 minutes of annoying DJs looking to offend, and maybe 10 minutes of music.

And in that 10 minutes, you're bound to hear the same five artists multiple times, and the music will generally be the most inoffensive pablum imaginable. DJs are corrupted by payola and stations are driven by the profit motive to turn as much time over to advertising as possible.

This sorry state of affairs comes just as listeners have a broad array of new options -- satellite broadcasting, the iPod-driven culture of user-created playlists, and Internet radio stations like Pandora and Last.FM, raising real doubts about whether broadcast radio will be able to pull out of its slump and find its creative spark.

Many expect it to go the way of Betamax videotapes, cassette players, and laser discs.

That was pretty much the consensus at a recent Washington, D.C., panel discussion chaired by Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher, who recently published a book detailing the evolution of modern radio from the 50's to today.

Fisher joked that as a newspaper columnist who had published a book about the current state of radio, he found himself "grounded in three declining industries." He set the tone of the panel by playing a snippet of legendary radio DJ Alan Freed, saying that modern broadcast radio no longer provides "the thrill of discovering something new."

Joining Fisher on the Washington Jewish Music Festival panel were FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, Harold Feld of the Media Access Project, and Lee Abrams, longtime radio programmer and current program director of Washington-based XM Radio.

Abrams castigated conglomerates like Clear Channel for creating monopolies of content and shutting out local broadcasters.

"The industry is beset by terrible conditions creatively," Abrams said. "The whole model now is 'revenue comes first', and they're making the same mistakes AM radio made [years] ago."

Feld agreed, saying that the lack of availability of new music and artists was driving away listeners and killing the industry's business model.

"No one is listening to what [they're] playing," he said.

Feld said that the possibility of private equity firms buying out portions of the Clear Channel empire might offer potential to diversify the content on the airwaves.

The FCC's Adelstein said he thinks terrestrial radio is far from dead, with a great deal of bidding for radio station bandwith as broadcast signals switch from analog to digital.

"There's a very vibrant market out there for radio stations still," he said. But Adelstein concurred that the lack of local programming and the centralized, cookie-cutter mold of "excessive consolidation" was depriving markets of "local content that meets community needs."

The panel decried the continuing problem of payola, in which record labels bribe stations and DJs to promote particular artists and play their music.

Adelstein noted that the FCC's own investigation of payola found that the majority of payoffs were actually done in favor of "established, big-name artists, who were guaranteed to deliver hits and sales," rather than promoting new and underground musicians.

Abrams and Adelstein sidestepped the proposed merger of XM Radio with Sirius Communications, a combination that would produce the world's largest satellite radio broadcaster. Members of Congress have already looked askance at the merger, and it's doubtful the FCC is willing to take the heat that would ensure if it gave the deal a green light.

The panel also ignored the proposed new royalty system for Internet radio stations. The royalty rates are scheduled to take effect July 15, although Congress is considering legislation that would block the new rates and return to the old system.

In comments after the panel, both Feld and Fisher expressed concern about the new royalty system, saying it would effectively shut down Internet radio.

Of course, there's more to radio than music, as Feld noted when he said the Internet was the "only game in town" for those wishing to pursue careers in radio journalism, thanks to technologies such as podcasting.

"There's not much room for typical radio journalism" on the airwaves anymore, he said. "The real creative work is on the Web."

The panelists were united in their distaste for what Abrams called "junk culture," the trending of radio to "race to the bottom" with foul-mouthed DJs and controversial stunts designed to get ratings and audience share.

"I'm more worried about junk culture than terrorism," Abrams said. He pointed out that while Sirius Radio has Howard Stern and his own XM radio has "shock jocks" Opie & Anthony, both stations also have many channels devoted to higher-end cultural programming.

The group also pointed to the success of National Public Radio (NPR) as an example of a new business model that supposedly caters to more discerning tastes. But, as Feld lamented, "When every station is chasing the bottom, I don't have a choice of what I can listen to."

What's needed, the panelists agreed, is a way to diversify radio markets and strengthen local community broadcasters.

"People want vibrant local discussion of the issues that affect them, in a way that only terrestrial radio can provide," Adelstein said. "The future of radio is in localism."

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FDA Disputes Pet Food Pain Killer Findings

But Texas Lab Stands by Its Test Results

FDA Disputes Pet Food Pain Killer Findings...


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is disputing the findings of a Texas laboratory that reported it discovered the pain killer acetaminophen in some brands of pet food.

The FDA said it didnt find acetaminophen in a handful of samples of dog and cat food it tested in the past week, according to The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

"We cannot validate their finding, Julie Zawisza, assistant commissioner of public affairs for the FDA told the newspaper.

But ConsumerAffairs.com learned the FDA cannot confirm it tested the same lots and brands in which the Texas laboratory -- ExperTox, Inc. -- detected the pain medication.

This case is not closed, Donna Coneley, lab manager with ExperTox, Inc. told us. Theyre (FDA) still requesting samples and data from us. Weve talked to them three times today. I dont see by any means that this is over. If it was over and done with, why would they bother spending so much time with us on the phone and arranging for samples to be released?

Asked about the FDAs comment to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Coneley responded: I dont know their reasoning. What I do know is that when they told me they tested a few samples of cat and dog food, I asked them if they were the same lots and brands that we tested. And they couldnt confirm that any of them were the same ones we tested.

Were using two completely different testing instruments to detect those chemical, and the difference comes into play with the instruments and the instrumentation (used) to detect those chemical, she added.

Coneley said her lab tested 100 to 150 samples of pet food -- and detected acetaminophen in five of those samples.

The FDA, she said, tested just a few samples of pet food for the pain killer.

Its easier to say that we cant confirm something by looking at a few samples than to really investigate and continue investigating until you know something for sure, Coneley said. I think this might have been a quick way to get everyone off their (FDA) backs.

"Imaginary Experts"

Could those everyones be the Pet Food Institute (PFI), which represents the makers of 98 percent of all dog and cat food produced in the United States and calls itself the voice of U.S. pet food manufacturers?

Maybe there was pressure from them, Coneley said.

As we reported on Wednesday, PFI cast doubts on ExperToxs finding.

Through our contacts in Texas, which is where the lab is located that conducted the analysis, we have learned there is genuine concern among key toxicological and analytical experts about the lab and the actual test results, said PFI spokesman Kurt Gallagher.

Coneley questioned what experts PFI was talking about.

They never name the experts theyre working with, she said on Wednesday. When someone says people I know say this, it sounds to me like theyre trying to say there are experts who have looked into this and dont agree with the findings. But I dont believe there are.

To me, it sounds like theyre talking about imaginary experts. The (scientists at the) FDA are the only people weve been talking to about our findings.

Coneley told us today that her lab will continue working closely with the FDA and hopes to foster its relationship with that federal agency.

We dont want to build any animosity with the FDA, she said. Its in our best interest to help them see what were seeing.

Other Contaminants

As we reported, acetaminophen isnt the only contaminant ExperTox discovered in the samples of pet food it tested in May.

The lab found the chemical cyanuric acid -- commonly used in pool chlorination -- in some samples.

And in other samples, it detected the chemical that triggered the March 2007 recall of millions of containers of dog and cat food: melamine.

The FDA discovered melamine in the wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate imported from China and used in the more than 5,600 products that pet food makers have recalled in the past three months.

The chemical -- used to make plastics and fertilizers -- is blamed for the illnesses and deaths of thousands of pets nationwide. It is not approved for use in pet or human food.

ExperTox did not identify the brands of food it tested because of a confidentiality agreement.

Menu Foods

But ConsumerAffairs.com confirmed one of the brands that tested positive for acetaminophen is Menu Foods Pet Pride.

Pet owner Don Earl of Port Townsend, Washington, told us he hired ExperTox to analyze samples of Pet Pride "Turkey and Giblets Dinner" and Pet Pride "Mixed Grill.

He says he took that action because his cat Chuckles suffered kidney disease and died in January after eating those flavors of Pet Pride food.

He also told us that ExperTox analyzed the same lots and styles of Pet Pride food that he fed Chuckles before she died.

We reviewed ExperToxs findings of the samples Earl submitted, which confirmed the lab detected acetaminophen in the food.

The tests also detected cyanuric acid in the samples of Pet Pride food. Those samples, however, did not contain any melamine, the report stated.

Menu Foods declined to comment on ExperToxs finding and referred calls to the PFI.

As usual, the FDA did not return our telephone calls or e-mails seeking comment.

Pet owner Earl, however, criticized the FDA for making what he called unsubstantiated claims about ExperTox and its findings.

At the time of the article, the FDA had not tested any of the samples tested by ExperTox, he told us today. It is also of interest that in an attempt to get a second opinion on one of the two varieties of pet food I had tested by ExperTox, I submitted a separate sample to UC Davis, only to later find that UC Davis is a major recipient of pet food company funding. Under the circumstances, it is my firmly held belief that if the FDA is going to make these kinds of unsubstantiated claims, their methods should be publicly examined along side those on the cutting edge of these findings.

He added: It has been three months since the recall was announced and pet owners still don't have any hard answers as to how and why this happened, or what is safe to feed their pets.



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64,000 Ohio Workers Caught In Data Breach

64,000 Ohio Workers Caught In Data Breach...


A portable storage device containing personal information on 64,467 workers employed by the state of Ohio was stolen from an intern's car on June 10, according to a statement from the office of Governor Ted Strickland. The storage device contained names and Social Security numbers.

 

"I have asked the Ohio Highway Patrol to lead the investigation to recover the device," Strickland said in his statement, posted on the state's government Web site. "Also, I have directed the Department of Administrative Services to secure the opportunity for state employees to access free identity theft prevention and protection services for one year."

The unidentified intern had been incorrectly authorized to take the copied data home with him as part of the state government's regular policies on backing up sensitive data.

Gov. Strickland signed an executive order ceasing that practice, ordered a review of agency procedures for backing up data, and said that he would "take appropriate disciplinary action when the facts are known."

Strickland emphasized that the device could not be accessed without special equipment.

"I don't mean to alarm people unnecessarily," Strickland said. "There's no reason to believe a breach of information has occurred." Nevertheless, Strickland authorized all affected employees to be provided with free credit monitoring for one year, at a cost to the state of $660,000. The state also set up a Web page and toll-free number for affected individuals to call and get information regarding the breach.

Thefts or losses of computer equipment that contain personal data remain one of the largest sources of data breaches. The data is often unencrypted and easily visible to anyone, sometimes even without password protection. Laptop computers, disks or CD-ROMS, and "thumb drives" all present serious vulnerabilities if they are not properly stored and maintained when filled with sensitive data.

Employees also often lack proper training in data security and protection for the files they're entrusted with, or circumvent safety measures to make their jobs easier.

Until recently, Ohio held the dubious honor of largest university-based data breach, caused when hackers broke into the networks of Ohio University and exposed the personal information of nearly 500,000 students, faculty, employees, and retirees. The breaches led to firings of multiple employees and increased scrutiny of the security vulnerabilities of college and university computer networks.

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College Students Not As Healthy As They Think

Obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and inactivity: theyre conditions normally associated with middle age and older populations....


Obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and inactivity: theyre conditions normally associated with middle age and older populations. But researchers at the University of New Hampshire say theyre not just your fathers problems any more.

New data on the widely unstudied demographic of college students indicates that this group of 18-24-year-olds is on the path toward chronic health diseases. Although limited, researchers say national data suggest the trend is not unique to UNH.

The UNH data, collected from more than 800 undergraduates enrolled in a general-education nutrition course, find that at least one-third of UNH students are overweight or obese, 8 percent of men had metabolic syndrome, 60 percent of men had high blood pressure, and more than two-thirds of women are not meeting their nutritional needs for iron, calcium or folate.

Theyre not as healthy as they think they are, said UNH lecturer Ingrid Lofgren, who is collecting and analyzing the data with her Nutrition in Health & Well Being co-teachers Joanne Burke and Ruth Reilly, both clinical assistant professors, and lecturer Jesse Morrell.

The researchers, who presented their findings at the recent Experimental Biology Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., initially asked students to engage in a variety of health-indicator screenings like blood pressure and cholesterol to bring the class alive with interactivity.

They soon realized, however, that the size of the class (525 students per semester enroll in the course; 40 percent of UNH undergraduates take the course) gave them a gold mine of health information on a group about which little is known.

This is a very understudied population. Theyre very hard to reach, said Reilly, noting that large phone surveys of this age group, such as one conducted by the Centers for Disease Control in 2003, generally do not reach students at college or cell phones.

Invincible

As part of the course curriculum, students conducted a range of health screenings on themselves, which the instructors say is an effective teaching tool.

Students feel theyre invincible; they think their cholesterol isnt going to be high, thats their dads, Burke said.

When you tell students, this is your data, they sit up and pay attention, adds Morrell.

Students completed questionnaires on their lifestyle behaviors and dietary habits, chronicling their smoking, exercise, alcohol consumption, and consumption of fruits and vegetables. Their body mass index (BMI) was calculated from their height and weight, their waist circumference was measured, and they were screened for blood pressure as well as glucose, triglycerides, total cholesterol, and high-density cholesterol.

The students also completed a three-day food diary and analyzed their calories, carbohydrates, and nutrient intakes with nutrition software.

Individual results shocked many of the students, and the aggregated data contradicted the notion that college students are at the peak of health.

Metabolic syndrome, a cluster of five risk factors (high blood pressure, excess abdominal fat, high blood glucose, high triglycerides, and low HDL or good cholesterol) that are predictive of future development of heart disease and diabetes, is particularly prevalent in males. Sixty-six percent of males (compared to 50 percent of females) had at least one risk factor for metabolic syndrome, and eight percent of males had metabolic syndrome.

These individuals, if they continue on this trajectory, are going to be much more of a health burden at age 50 than their parents are, Burke said.

Poor Nutrition

The vast majority of students 95 percent of women and 82 percent of men are not meeting nutrient recommendations for fiber.

Womens intake of the important nutrients iron (23 percent meet recommendations), calcium (33 percent meet recommendations) and folate (32 percent meet recommendations) are remarkably low. Twenty-three percent of men and 34 percent of women participated in less than 30 minutes of activity per day.

The good news?

We have very few smokers, said Reilly. Also, Morrell notes that UNH students may be slightly healthier than their peers; national rates of overweight and obesity in this group are close to 40 percent.

The other good news is that these nutritional benchmarks hit students at a time and in an environment when theyre susceptible to change.

Late adolescence is a great time to impart good health behaviors, said Reilly, noting that most college students are making independent choices about food and activity for the first time in their lives.

It was a real wake-up call, says Heather Carmichael, a UNH senior and former Nutrition in Health & Well Being student. I was a vegan and I thought my diet was superb, but no. I wasnt getting enough calcium and I had one risk factor for metabolic syndrome. I was shocked.

The research can also help inform school policy, from portion size education in dining halls to routine blood pressure screenings at health services.

In addition to publishing their results, the faculty team is looking to help other universities especially those with greater ethnic diversity than UNH replicate their study. Were collecting data thats useful to the students, to the university, and to us. The project is a win-win for everyone, Morrell said.



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Nordstrom Jeweled Children's Sandals

Nordstrom Jeweled Children's Sandals...

June 14, 2007
Nordstrom is recalling about 1,800 children's jeweled calypso sandals. The jewel decorations on the shoes can detach, posing a choking hazard to young children.

This recall involves Nordstrom brand sandals sold in toddler and little girls sizes. The Calypso-style shoes are tan and white with gold straps that have three jeweled flowers on the top. Nordstrom and a flower pattern are embossed on the upper sole of the shoes. Toddler sizes were sold with an ankle strap.

The sandals were sold at Nordstrom stores nationwide and on Nordstrom.com during February 2007 for about $27.

Consumers should immediately return the recalled sandals to any Nordstrom store or Nordstrom.com for a full refund.

Consumer Contact: For additional information, call Nordstrom at (888) 282-6060 anytime, or visit the firms Web site at www.nordstrom.com.

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

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Johns Hopkins Settles Student Loan Probe

Agrees to Pay $1 Million, Adopt New Code of Conduct

Johns Hopkins Settles Student Loan Probe...


New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo has reached agreement with Johns Hopkins University that addresses improper transactions between financial aid officials and student loan companies.

This settlement resulted from Cuomos findings that Ellen Frishberg, the director of student financial services at Johns Hopkins University, was improperly promoting a lender, Student Loan Xpress, after the company paid her more than $65,000 in consulting fees and tuition payments.

The agreement marks the latest fallout from Cuomos nationwide investigation into conflicts of interest in the $85 billion-a-year student loan industry.

Ellen Frishbergs conduct while leading the financial aid office of Johns Hopkins ranks among the worst we have seen at any school across the country. Her work was mired with conflicts of interest, deception, and unethical behavior, said Cuomo. Todays settlement brings to an end a sad chapter in Johns Hopkins history and sets in place a monitoring regimen to ensure this never happens again.

Under the terms of the agreement, Johns Hopkins will adopt Cuomos Code of Conduct, and pay $1.125 million. Of the $1.125 million, $562, 500 will be paid into the New York Attorney Generals national education fund.

The remaining $562,500 will be used to implement a similar program to be overseen by the Maryland Attorney Generals office. Johns Hopkins has also agreed to have its financial aid procedures monitored for a period of five years by both Attorney General Cuomo and the Maryland Attorney General.

The transactions involving Ellen Frishberg, the director of student financial services at Johns Hopkins University, and Student Loan Xpress (SLX), one of the largest student loan companies nationwide, were uncovered as part of Cuomos investigation.

Ellen Frishberg accepted more than $65,000 in consulting fees and tuition payments from Student LoanXpress. Frishberg also took payments from other lenders as detailed in the settlement agreement. The transactions took place between 2002 and 2006. During these years, Frishberg failed to disclose these payments and activities, and actively provided marketing promotion and other support for SLX.

Lunches, Gifts, Entertainment

Cuomos ongoing nationwide probe has exposed, among other things, that lenders pay financial school aid advisors for entertainment, meals, holiday lunches and make office and individual gifts.

Lenders have also provided goods, services, or payments to the Universities related to the lending program, including certain office supplies, brochures, information in hard copy and available to students electronically, support for job fairs, workshops for students and employees, awards and promotions, and printing and distribution of brochures.

This agreement, together with the recent announcement that Columbia University agreed to adopt Cuomos Code of Conduct, and pay $1.125 million into a national education fund is tremendous progress in achieving solutions to the student lending crisis.

Twenty-six schools and the nations top-five lenders (seven lenders in all) have now reached agreements with Cuomo.

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Colgate Warns of Counterfeit Toothpaste

Tubes May Contain Potentially Deadly Antifreeze Chemical

Colgate Warns of Counterfeit Toothpaste...

The Chinese toothpaste scare that had Food and Drug Administration inspectors scrambling two weeks ago has now spread to potentially deadly tubes of counterfeit toothpaste being sold under the Colgate brand name.

The Colgate-Palmolive company warned consumers this morning that falsely labeled Colgate tubes may contain diethylene glycol (DEG).

DEG is a deadly chemical found in antifreeze and it was the same chemical discovered in tubes of Chinese-made toothpaste. It also killed at least 51 Panamanians a year ago when it was used in cough syrup.

The counterfeit tubes were discovered in discount stores in Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.

The tubes claim to be products of South Africa.

The counterfeit toothpaste can be easily recognized because it is labeled as 'Manufactured in South Africa,' according to a Colgate press release. Colgate does not import toothpaste into the United States from South Africa. In addition, the counterfeit packages examined so far have several misspellings including: 'isclinically,' 'SOUTH AFRLCA' and 'South African Dental Assoxiation.'

Two days before the Chinese toothpaste scare, a ConsumerAffairs.com investigation uncovered the sale of illegally imported tubes of toothpaste at discount stores. This apparently widespread problem exposes a potentially flawed FDA inspection network.

We discovered 17 tubes of illegally imported toothpaste being sold in D.C.-area discount stores. The tubes were all manufactured in other countries and are not intended for sale in the U.S. One illegal tube of toothpaste was from China and six were from South Africa.

The tubes were of all different makes, but nine were branded as Colgate. None of the tubes contained the spelling errors the Colgate press release identified.

The tubes are illegal because they do not follow the FDAs over-the-counter drug labeling requirements. Two tubes didnt even list all the ingredients while many of the others are in foreign languages.

After almost three weeks of ignoring many of our questions, the FDA told ConsumerAffairs.com that companies who manufacture, market and distribute the toothpastes could all face prosecution for selling the illegal products.

Over-the-counter drug products that do not comply with FDA labeling requirements are misbranded and may also be unapproved new drugs, both of which violate the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, FDA spokeswoman Veronica Castro wrote in an e-mail. Enforcement regarding products that violate the FDCA include regulatory correspondence, seizure, injunction, and in some cases criminal prosecution.

Colgate representative Tom Paolella said regardless of the tubes origin, all Colgate products are safe.

Crest representatives have not returned two phone calls and two e-mails.

Among the worst retail offenders in our investigation was discount store chain, National Wholesale Liquidators, which has not returned two e-mails and does not answer the phone.

Consumers who suspect they may have purchased a counterfeit product should file a complaint with ConsumerAffairs.com and call Colgate's toll-free number at (800) 468-6502.

Earlier Recall

Earlier this week, a Florida importer recalled 170,000 tubes of Chinese-made toothpaste that may contain DEG. a deadly chemical.

DEG killed 51 residents of Panama a year ago after it was found in Chinese-imported cough syrup.

The recalled toothpastes come in 6.4 ounce and 9 ounce tubes and are titled:

• Shir Fresh Mint Fluoride
• Shir Fresh Mint Fluoride Paste
• Shir Fresh Ice Shir Mint Fluoride Toothpaste

Although no injuries or illnesses have been reported, consumers who have the product are urged to either return it the store they purchased it or discard it.

 



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Menu Foods Samples Test Positive for Painkiller

Texas Lab Finds Acetaminophen in Canadian Manufacturer's Products

Menu Foods Samples Test Positive for Painkiller...

Two of the pet food samples that tested positive for the painkiller acetaminophen are Menu Foods Pet Pride "Turkey and Giblets Dinner" and Pet Pride "Mixed Grill, ConsumerAffairs.com has learned.

As we reported last week, a Texas laboratory discovered acetaminophen in about a half dozen samples of pet food tested in May.

The lab did not disclose the pet food brands because of a confidentiality agreement.

After our story was published, however, we heard from a consumer who paid ExperTox Inc. of Deer Park, Texas to analyze samples of pet food.

That consumer is Don Earl, who says his cat Chuckles went into kidney failure and died in January 2007 after eating Pet Pride Turkey and Giblets and Mixed Grill cat food.

The Port Townsend, Washington, pet owner said he had the same lots and styles of Pet Pride food tested that he fed Chuckles before she died.

And those tests detected acetaminophen in the food, ConsumerAffairs.com confirmed.

The tests also discovered the chemical cyanuric acid -- commonly used in pool chlorination -- in the food.

No Melamine

Tests on the brands of Pet Pride food that Chuckles ate, however, did not detect the chemical that triggered the nationwide recall of millions of container of pet food earlier this year: melamine.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) discovered melamine in the wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate imported from China and used in the more than 5,600 products that pet food makers have recalled in the past three months.

That chemical is blamed for the illnesses and deaths of thousands of pets nationwide.

Melamine is used to make plastics and fertilizers. It is not approved for use in pet or human food.

Chuckles

Pet owner Earl isnt surprised that ExperTox scientists didnt find melamine in the brands of food that Chuckles ate. Those Pet Pride brands are not included the massive recall.

Melamine has impressed me as being a red herring since day one, Earl told us. The substance has been the subject of credible scientific tests and studies for decades. Nothing supports the theory it could be lethal even in amounts 10 times the highest reported to be present in the food. As to why no one is finding other toxins in the food, the simple explanation is no one is looking for other toxins in the food.

Since Earls beloved Chuckles died, he has researched the pet food recall and created the Pet Food Recall Facts Web site.

Test Results

His Web site includes a copy of ExperToxs results on the Pet Pride food he had tested.

It also includes results on two other dry pet food samples the lab tested. The brands of those pet foods are not identified on ExperToxs toxicology reports, but reveal the lab detected acetaminophen in one case and acetaminophen and cyanuric acid in the other.

The sample was received in an open or zip lock bag, one of the toxicology reports states. The laboratory does not warrant that this is the actual product listed. The product and lot number, if provided, was noted on the sample received by the client -- not the laboratory.

The report adds: Testing of the above product does not warrant that all products of this particular brand, lot or batch, will produce the same results or indicate that the entire product line is safe or not safe for consumption This analysis is based on a small, representative sample of the product provided and does not constitute full analysis of the entire product line, lot(s) or batches.

ConsumerAffairs.com contacted the manufacturer of the confirmed pet food that tested positive for acetaminophen -- Menu Foods of Canada. That company makes Pet Pride food.

A spokeswoman for Menu Food said the company had no comment on ExperToxs findings. But spokeswoman Sarah Tuite told us: The Pet Food Institute (PFI) has provided comment.

That organization represents the makers of 98 percent of all dog and cat food produced in the United States, and calls itself the voice of U.S. pet food manufacturers.

I can assure you that this industry takes the issue of the safety of pet food products with the utmost seriousness, PFIs spokesman Kurt Gallagher said Tuesday.

Gallagher said his industry and the FDA are investigating ExperToxs findings. But he cast doubts about the laboratory and its test results.

Through our contacts in Texas, which is where the lab is located that conducted the analysis, we have learned there is genuine concern among key toxicological and analytical experts about the lab and the actual test results, Gallagher said.

The Lab Manager for ExperTox told us today that her company stands by its finding.

What Experts?

Expertoxs Donna Coneley also said she doesnt have any idea what Texas experts Gallagher and PFI are talking about.

They never name the experts theyre working with, Coneley said. When someone says people I know say this, it sounds to me like theyre trying to say there are experts who have looked into this and dont agree with the findings. But I dont believe there are.

To me, it sounds like theyre talking about imaginary experts, Coneley said.

Coneley said the only experts her lab has worked with about the findings are those with the FDA. In fact, she told us she had the FDA on another line during our interview today.

The pet food manufacturing companies have had ten-minute discussions with us about how we did our tests, she said. But theyre not experts.

The (scientists at the) FDA are the only people weve been talking to about our findings.

Coneley said her lab tested about 100 to 150 samples of food.

When asked if she was surprised the lab didnt detect melamine in the samples of Pet Pride it tested, she said: We did find that (chemical) in other samples. I dont have my paperwork in front of me to tell you how many samples, but I can tell you we did find melamine in some. We also found melamine and cyanuric acid in some samples.

But ExperTox did not find the rat poison and cancer drug, Aminopterin, in any of the pet food it tested, Coneley said.

Scientists at the New York State Department of Agriculture discovered that toxin in some samples of pet food it tested shortly after Menu Foods announced its recall in March.

Don't Look, Don't Find

In the meantime, pet owner Earl wonders why the countrys leading laboratories arent imitating ExperToxs tests.

They're using a protocol to quickly scan for thousands of substances. Once having identified a substance using that method, they are then able to run more specific tests to confirm the results.

The question that comes to my mind is with so many people affected, and so many people needing hard answers to how this happened, why the nations top labs are limiting their tests to what they read in the morning's paper? You won't find what you don't look for.

A Lost Customer

In related news, Menu Foods announced on Monday that a significant customer will no longer buy cuts and gravy products from the company.

That unidentified customer represented 11 percent of the companys total sales in 2006, Menu Foods said.

The news caused Menus stock (TSX: MEW.UN) to plummet. Menus stock opened at $3.09 today and dropped to a low of $2.30 a unit.

According to published reports, the company lost $17.5 million in the first quarter.

Menu Foods has said the pet food recall will cost the company at least $45 million and that figure doesnt include legal settlement not covered by insurance. The company now faces 90-class action lawsuits, TheStar.com, a Canadian publication, reported.

In May, Menu Foods posted claims information on its Web Site for pet owners whose dogs or cats became sick or died after eating the tainted food.

But legal authorities have intervened. Visitors to the site are now finding this notice:

On May 24, 2007, a United States federal court issued an order that, for the time being, prevents Menu Foods from having direct contact with individual U.S. pet owners. In light of the order, we regret that we cannot communicate with you at this time. As soon as the court permits, we intend to resume efforts to resolve claims directly with pet owners. We will post additional information when we are able.


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Consumer Groups Decry Debt Collection Horror Stories

Debt collectors believe they can make more money when they intimidate, critics say

Consumer Groups Decry Debt Collection Horror Stories...

Lawyers at two consumer groups are lambasting the debt collection industry for engaging in abusive tactics and for pursuing consumers even when shown that they have the wrong person or the debt has been paid.

Debt collectors believe they can make more money when they intimidate, threaten criminal prosecution, harass, and collect fees and charges far in excess of the real debt," the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) and the National Association of Consumer Advocates (NACA) said.

"Even more startling, debt buyers have learned to work the system to win judgments and coerce payments even when they have the wrong person or lack any evidence that the consumer owes the debt, NCLC and NACA wrote in a filing with the Federal Trade Commission.

I thought I had heard it all, said John Fugate, a Texas consumer attorney whose story was described in the comments. The debt collector told the nine-year-old child of my college friend, who is the victim of identity theft, that they were going to take her mommy away forever.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act was passed in 1977 to prohibit such abusive debt collection tactics. The FTC has solicited comments on the state of debt collection for a workshop October 10-11, which will take a 30-year look back at how well the Act has worked.

Though the Act has had some success, the Senate report describing the problems that prompted Congress to pass the law in 1977 could have been written today, said Ira Rheingold, Executive Director of NACA.

The phenomenal growth of the debt buyer industry -- which did not exist 30 years ago -- has also increased the abuses tremendously, said Lauren Saunders, Managing Attorney of NCLCs Washington, DC, office.

Debts that may be a decade or more old are now sold in bundles to debt buyers for pennies on the dollar. Debt buyers then file cases by the thousands in overworked courts. The courts typically enter default judgments even if the collector has no proof that the consumer owed the debt, that the amount owed is legal and correct, or even that the debtor being sued is the right person, she added.

Debts often are sold from one collector to the next, and the collector rarely keeps critical information such as proof of the original debt, a record of payments made, or efforts the consumer made with the previous collector to resolve a dispute.

It is an Alice in Wonderland nightmare for consumers to find their old records, convince the debt collector that they have made a mistake, take time off work to go to court, and then have to begin the process all over again after the debt is sold to the next collector, said Dick Rubin, a consumer attorney in New Mexico.

The comments also point out that, in a marked change from 1977, credit is often pushed on people who are already in strained financial circumstances.

Frequently, creditors make their profits not from the regular repayment of the debt, but from the piling on of abusive fees and penalties. From the lack of underwriting to creditor practices that encourage default, debt collection becomes inevitable, the comments said. The comments describe abuses with credit cards, mortgage servicing, and payday loans.

 

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Vitamin D Reduces Cancer Risk, Study Finds

Landmark study conducted by Creighton University School of Medicine

Vitamin D Reduces Cancer Risk, Study Finds...

Most Americans and others are not getting enough vitamin D, known as the sunshine vitamin, a fact that may put them at significant risk for developing cancer, according to a landmark study conducted by Creighton University School of Medicine.

The four-year, randomized study followed 1,179 healthy, postmenopausal women from rural eastern Nebraska. Participants taking calcium, as well as a quantity of vitamin D3 nearly three times the U.S. government's Recommended Daily Amount (RDA) for middle-age adults, showed a dramatic 60 percent or greater reduction in cancer risk compared with women who did not get the vitamin.

The results of the study, conducted between 2000 and 2005, were reported in the June 8 online edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

"The findings are very exciting. They confirm what a number of vitamin D proponents have suspected for some time but that, until now, have not been substantiated through clinical trial," said principal investigator Joan Lappe, Ph.D., R.N., Creighton professor of medicine. "Vitamin D is a critical tool in fighting cancer as well as many other diseases."

Research participants were all 55 years and older and free of known cancers for at least 10 years prior to entering the Creighton study. They were randomly assigned to take daily dosages of 1,400-1,500 mg supplemental calcium, 1,400-1,500 mg supplemental calcium plus 1,100 IU of vitamin D3, or placebos.

Over the course of four years, women in the calcium/vitamin D3 group experienced a 60 percent decrease in their cancer risk compared with the group taking placebos.

On the premise that some women entered the study with undiagnosed cancers, researchers then eliminated the first-year results and looked at the last three years of the study. When they did that, the results became even more dramatic with the calcium/vitamin D3 group showing a startling 77 percent cancer-risk reduction.

In the three-year analysis, there was no statistically significant difference in cancer incidence between participants taking placebos and those taking just calcium supplements.

Through the course of the study, 50 participants developed nonskin cancers, including breast, colon, lung and other cancers.

Lappe said further studies are needed to determine whether the Creighton research results apply to other populations, including men, women of all ages, and different ethnic groups. While the study was open to all ethnic groups, all participants were Caucasian, she noted.

There is a growing body of evidence that a higher intake of vitamin D may be helpful in the prevention and treatment of cancer, high blood pressure, fibromyalgia, diabetes mellitus, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis and other diseases.

The Source: Sunlight

Humans make their own vitamin D3 when they are exposed to sunlight. In fact, only 10-15 minutes a day in a bright summer sun creates large amounts of the vitamin, Lappe said. However, people need to exercise caution since the sun's ultraviolet B rays also can cause skin cancer; sunscreen blocks most vitamin D production.

In addition, the latitude at which you live and your ancestry also influence your body's ability to convert sunlight into vitamin D. People with dark skin have more difficulty making the vitamin. Persons living at latitudes north of the 37th parallel Omaha, Neb., is near the 41st parallel -- cannot get their vitamin D naturally during the winter months because of the sun's angle.

Experts generally agree that the recommended daily allowance for vitamin D needs to be increased substantially, however there is debate about the amount. Supplements are available in two forms -- vitamin D2 and vitamin D3. Creighton researchers recommend vitamin D3, because it is more active and thus more effective in humans.

 



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Importer Recalls Toothpaste After FDA Warning

170,000 tubes may contain a deadly chemical

Importer Recalls Toothpaste After FDA Warning...

Following Food and Drug Administration warnings last week, a Florida importer recalled 170,000 tubes of Chinese-made toothpaste that may contain a deadly chemical.

According to a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) press release, the toothpastes may contain diethylene glycol (DEG). DEG is a thickening agent used in antifreeze. It is a Central Nervous System depressant and potent kidney and liver toxin.

DEG killed 51 residents of Panama a year ago after it was found in Chinese-imported cough syrup.

The recalled toothpastes come in 6.4 ounce and 9 ounce tubes and are titled:

• Shir Fresh Mint Fluoride
• Shir Fresh Mint Fluoride Paste
• Shir Fresh Ice Shir Mint Fluoride Toothpaste

Although no injuries or illnesses have been reported, consumers who have the product are urged to either return it the store they purchased it or discard it.

Consumers who believe Chinese-made toothpaste has made them sick are encouraged to file a complaint with ConsumerAffairs.com and with the FDAs MedWatch division.

 



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Harmony At Home

Careful Introductions Set the Stage for Keeping Dogs and Cats Together Happily

Harmony At Home...

By Gina Spadafori
Universal Press Syndicate

Can cats and dogs get along? While cats and dogs scheming against each other is a comedic staple, millions of real-life cats and dogs live in harmony, and millions of people feel no family would be complete without at least one of each pet.

Getting a dog and cat to accept one another can be difficult, though, as anyone who's tried to introduce them knows. There are some basic steps to getting both pets to at least call an interspecies truce.

Under no circumstances should cat-dog introductions be handled by throwing the animals together and letting them work out things on their own. That method is far too stressful even in the best of circumstances. It's also important to keep in mind that introductions can be dangerous, usually for the cat. Some dogs see cats as prey, and even those dogs who are generally easygoing may react instinctively to a cat on the run, attacking the smaller animal.

Introductions must be supervised and handled with planning, care and patience.

If you have a cat and are planning to bring in a dog, try to find an animal who is known to be accepting of cats. Shelters, rescue groups or private parties looking to place puppies and dogs often know if an animal has successfully lived with a cat, or they will test to see how the pet behaves in the presence of one.

If you have a dog and are planning to bring in a cat, start working on your pet's obedience before you add the new animal. Your dog should be comfortable on a leash and be trained well enough to mind your requests for him to stay in either a "sit" or "down" position while on that leash.

For the cat's comfort, he should be confined during the early stages of introduction to a small area (such as a second bathroom or guest bedroom) where he can feel safe while becoming acclimated to the sounds and smells of the dog. Be sure the room has everything he needs, and make sure he has frequent one-on-one visits with human family members.

After a couple of days with the cat sequestered, put the dog on leash and open the door to the cat's room. Allow the animals to see one another, and do not allow the dog to chase the cat, even in play. Use "sit-stay" or "down-stay" to keep the dog in place while the cat gets used to his calm presence. Don't force the cat to interact with the dog; if the cat wishes to view the dog from the darkest recesses underneath the bed, so be it. Reward the good behavior of both animals with treats and praise.

Keep the dog on leash for a couple of weeks in the cat's presence, and always make sure the cat has a way to escape from the dog, such as putting a baby gate across the door to the safe area. Build up the time the animals spend together, and continue to make the introductions rewarding, with more treats and praise.

When the dog isn't interested in bothering the cat and the cat feels secure enough to come out from under the bed, you can take off the leash and let them get on with their new lives together. How long it will take to get to this step will depend on the animals involved, and you must work at their pace.

It's not uncommon for dogs and cats to become friends and to enjoy each other's company. Take the time to manage your cat-dog introduction properly, and you could be setting up a friendship that will last for the rest of your pets' lives.

 

Turning Theory Into Practice

In May, Clara became a member of my family.

I had waited to get another cat until the passing of a dog who couldn't be trusted to leave a kitten alone. I always meant to get another cat after Andy died, but one thing or another always came up, and time just moved on.

Finally, the stars aligned and a kitten came home.

She started her life in one room, and I was prepared to have slow, supervised introductions to the other pets. Things progressed quickly, though, and within two weeks Clara had full range of the house. The dogs either ignored her or were happy to be with her. We're still working on her interactions with the parrot.

It's a joy to have a cat in the house again. -- Gina Spadafori


Q&A

Convert your cat after you move

Q: My cat loves to be outside. We will be moving to another apartment soon, and she'll have to stay inside. What can I do to make her want to stay inside? -- K.M., via e-mail

A: Moving is absolutely the best time to convert a free-roaming cat to an indoor-only one. That's because when you move to a new home, your cat is completely uprooted from her familiar territory. What she's given in her new home is all she'll come to know, and she'll soon accept the new living space as her own.

But you must keep her inside, with no exceptions. If you let her out, she'll want out more -- and maybe take off looking for her old digs.

Because cats are so territorial, some cat lovers find that their free-roaming pets keep showing up at their old home after a move. Converting your cat to an indoor pet is the best thing for her health and safety, but there's more to it than just keeping the door closed.

Make sure your cat has lots of things to keep her active and interested. Spend more time engaging her in interactive games by using a "cat fishing pole" and other toys that require your involvement. You'll both get more out of the fun!

Invest in a good cat tree, a tall one with cubbyholes for hiding and platforms for looking down on the world. In addition to the tree, offer other opportunities for approved scratching, which is natural, healthy behavior for your cat.

Turn her into a huntress. Use "food puzzles" to add a degree of difficulty to eating, and offer small portions of food in places that require effort to find. Provide outdoor space safely. If you can't screen in a porch or balcony, provide a cat-sized perch near a screened window. Fresh air is always appreciated.

Boredom and obesity are the enemies of indoor cats. It doesn't take much more than imagination to turn your apartment into a jungle gym for your cat. Once you've done it, she won't miss the outdoors anymore -- and she'll live a longer, healthier life for being spared the dangers that lurk beyond the door. -- Gina Spadafori

(Do you have a pet question? Send it to petconnection@gmail.com.)


ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books.

On PetConnection.com there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and "dog cars," and a weekly drawing for pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to petconnection@gmail.com or visiting PetConnection.com.


THE SCOOP

Bird diet? Mix it up

No matter what your bird thinks, seeds are not the best diet for pet parrots, a group that includes everything from the tiniest parakeet to the largest macaw.

An all-seed diet contributes both directly (through malnutrition) and indirectly (by weakening the bird, making it easier for infectious diseases to take hold) to a serious reduction in the lifespan of any pet bird -- by half or more in many situations.

What should you be feeding him instead? Variety is the name of the game when it comes to feeding your pet bird. This means in addition to offering high-quality pelleted food, you should be offering a wide array of healthy "people food" -- fresh vegetables, fruits, pasta, bread, scrambled eggs. Whatever has good nutrition for you is also good for your parrot.

If your bird is a "seed junkie," talk to an avian veterinarian about a strategy for converting your pet to a base diet of pellets complemented by a variety of healthy foods. As for seeds, they're still OK to give your bird as an occasional treat. Even better: Use them as an incentive in training. -- Gina Spadafori


GOOD BEHAVIOR

Cats often want to be 'only child'

A cat will typically adapt better to being an only pet than a dog will. One reason may be that wild dogs hunt in packs, whereas cats hunt alone. Like some people, many cats don't like to share things or have their routines interrupted. And, like some people, the older the cat, the more set he becomes in his ways.

How would you like your family to bring home a companion sight unseen? Ideally, all relationships start with a trial run (for example, dating comes before the decision to enter into a long-term relationship). Thus, if you can't bring a second cat home on a trial basis, you may be better off with just one. A little loneliness beats being unhappy and stressed-out all the time.

(Animal behavior experts Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp are the authors of "On Good Behavior." For more information, visit their Web site at AnimalBehavior.net.)


DOG CARS

Little Honda a good Fit for city dogs

Two days after the Honda Fit Sport was delivered -- just days before Memorial Day weekend -- gas prices hit an all-time high. That alone drew more than a few interested looks and a handful of questions every time I got out of this little hatchback.

You are not going to be able to fit a quartet of Labradors inside, along with all the crates and other gear that goes with a weekend of dog activities. And you probably won't be loading up your four-legged family for a cross-country trip in the Fit. But as one of the new class of fuel-efficient, fun-to-drive and easy-to-park "city cars," it's hard to top this brave little Honda.

The Fit's interior feels incredibly roomy, and the seats are extremely comfortable, with good lumbar support. Airbags all around help to even the playing field when you're on the road with lumbering beasts that could crush you like a bug. The Fit feels tight, handles nimbly and just plain makes you smile to be in it.

The cargo space is surprisingly generous and versatile. There's no problem fitting in a pair of small dog crates or one large one. For more than one big dog, though, you'll have to go to harnesses for safety -- there just isn't enough room inside for side-by-side crates for big dogs.

Still, the Fit could be all you need for most of your dog-hauling errands. After all, most trips to the veterinarian's are one dog at a time. And for the money you save driving the Fit around town, you could pop for a rental on something bigger when planning a road trip. The Fit starts at $13,500 for entry-level models; the Sport model I tested was $16,500. Fuel efficiency is 31 mpg city/27 mpg highway.

(Pet Connection's Gina Spadafori reviews new vehicles for their canine suitability on www.dogcars.com


PETS BY THE NUMBERS

Reasons for seeing the vet

According to the Veterinary Pet Insurance Co., the top 10 reasons why dogs go to the veterinarian (based on insurance claims) are:

1. Skin allergies

2. Ear infections

3. Stomach upsets

4. Urinary tract infections

5. Benign tumors

6. Hot spots

7. Sprains

8. Arthritis

9. Enteritis

10. Eye infections

Source: www.petinsurance.com


PETS ON THE WEB

Fans of ferrets get help online

In California, you don't see a lot of ferrets. That's because of the state's stubborn refusal to offer legal entry to a pet whose popularity elsewhere is without dispute.

That doesn't mean there aren't ferrets in California -- there are estimated to be tens of thousands of these pets secretly kept -- or that people in that state and across the continent don't need help caring for these animals.

The Everything Ferret Web site www.everythingferret.com lives up to its name, with lots of help for ferret fans. Nothing fancy here: The site owner wants people to think before getting a ferret and to care for the pet properly thereafter.

There's good information on how to feed and house a ferret, and also when veterinary care is needed. Ferret lovers also share pictures and stories, and help each other over the rough spots of life with these lively relatives of the weasel. -- Gina Spadafori


Pet Connection is produced by a team of team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper, by sending e-mail to petconnection@gmail.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.

COPYRIGHT 2007 UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE

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Saturn Targets Toyota, Honda for Side-by-Side Tests

Ford Also Challenging Japanese Models

Saturn Targets Toyota, Honda for Side-by-Side Tests...

Saturn has joined Ford Motor Co. in encouraging its dealers to make both the Toyota Camry and HondaAccord available for test drives for comparison shoppers.

Saturn wants consumers to compare the two Japanese models with the Saturn mid-sized Aura sedan.

"We'll do the ad side, they'll (dealers) do the vehicle side," Saturn spokesman Michael Morrissey said at a press briefing. Saturn was expected to announce its "Side-by-Side-by-Side Test Drive" program with national and regional advertising supplemented by local dealer ads. The program runs through July.

Ford is encouraging test drives of the all-wheel-drive Fusion and the front-drive Camry and Accord, in what the automaker calls the "Fusion Challenge."

Ford has launched television, print and Internet ads comparing the Fusion directly with Accord and Camry.

Both General Motors and Ford are out to change the perception that their products are inferior to Honda and Toyota.

Over the last 25 years, Ford and GM have lost an enormous chunk of their market share to the Japanese. In 1980, GM commanded 46 percent of the U.S. car market but that is down to 19.2 percent this year.

Ford has dropped from 17.3 percent in 1980 to 11.1 percent this year. At the same time, Toyota sales have tripled in the U.S. and Honda sales have doubled.

Both GM and Ford hope the side-by-side advertising campaign will help them demonstrate that they have closed the quality gap with the Japanese automakers.

Ford is bragging about its strong performance in the J.D. Power and Associates initial quality comparisons and GM is touting its five-year, 100,000-mile warranty.

Ford car sales are up following the "Fusion Challenge" so far this year with the automaker selling 66,260 Fusions. By comparison, Toyota has sold 193,900 Camrys during the first five months of the year.

 

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Tests Find Pain Killer in Pet Food

Acetaminophen Dangerous to Dogs, Fatal to Cats in Small Doses

Tests Find Pain Killer in Pet Food...


Theres more troubling news for pet owners, who have worried for the past few months if the food they give their dogs and cats is safe. Or tainted with the chemical melamine, which can cause kidney failure or death.

A Texas laboratory says its uncovered the pain killer acetaminophen in samples of pet food.

According to a report by KTRK in Houston, technicians at the medical testing laboratory, EperTox, discovered the popular pain killer is at least a half dozen pet food samples.

The Deer Park, Texas, laboratory did not disclose the brands of the foods tested because of a confidentiality agreement.

"We don't really how big and how involved this problem is right now, the labs Dr. Ernest Lykissa told KTRK. We are only uncovering the beginning of it.

The lab tested more than a thousand samples of different pet food for the past month, according to KTRK. In more than two dozen samples, the lab discovered either cyanuric acid or acetaminophen in the foods.

The highest level of acetaminophen found in the samples was 2 milligrams per gram of dog food.

Fatal to Cats

Veterinarians say that concentration could make a dog sick and would kill a cat.

Our data show that if an average-sized cat ingests as little as one extra-strength acetaminophen pain-reliever caplet and is not treated in time, it can suffer fatal consequences, said Dr. Steven Hansen, a board-certified toxicologist and senior vice president with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

He manages the organizations Animal Poison Control Center (APCC), in Urbana, Illinois and called this latest discovery extremely worrying.

His organization issued a statement this week urging pet owners to keep a close eye on their dogs and cats in the wake of this new finding.

Depending on the amount ingested, clinical effects can include a condition called methemoglobinemia, which affects the ability of blood cells to deliver oxygen to vital organs, or even liver damage, Hansen said. At this point, we have very little information as to the actual level and concentration of this reported contamination, so its extremely important to be able to recognize any potential warning signs of this kind of poisoning.

Hansen, however, said early information indicates the concentration levels of the pain killer are not high enough to have an adverse effect on most dogs.

But cats, he and other veterinarians warn, are more at-risk.

Cats are especially sensitive to acetaminophen toxicity for two reasons, said Dr. Louise Murray, director of medicine at the ASPCAs Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York City, and a board-certified internist.

First, they dont have enough of a specific enzyme that enables the body to metabolize the drug well. Second, cats are typically more susceptible to red blood cell damage than certain other species of animals. Put these together with a high dose of acetaminophen, and you have a potentially deadly combination.

Veterinarians say the most common effects of acetaminophen poisoning in cats are swelling of the face and paws, depression; weakness; and difficulty in breathing.

We also see a condition called cyanosis, which is literally when their gums and tongue start turning a muddy color due to the lack of oxygen, Dr. Hansen said.

FDA is Mum

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not commented on this discovery by EperTox.

In the meantime, ASPCA says pet owners should immediately contact their veterinarian if their dogs and cats show any signs of illness.

This new finding by Expertox increases the fears that pet owners nationwide have faced since March, when Menu Foods announced a massive recall of 60 million containers of tainted dog and cat food.

The FDA discovered the food was contaminated with melamine, a chemical used in plastics and fertilizers. It is not, however, approved for use in pet or human foods.

Menu and several other companies have since recalled more than 5,600 pet food products that contain melamine-tainted ingredients.

The FDA learned two companies in China export the tainted ingredients wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate -- to the United States.

FDA inspectors also discovered those companies intentionally added melamine to the ingredients to increase the protein content.

The presence of melamine in the pet food is blamed for the deaths and illnesses of thousands of cats and dogs in the United States.

Pet food makers in South Africa also received shipments of melamine-tainted corn gluten from China, which is linked to the deaths and illness of hundreds of dogs and cats in that country.

China Reacts

To counter the mounting global pressure its faced in the wake of the pet food recall, China announced last week that it has set up a monitoring system to ensure the safety of its exported food.

"Over the past two years, 99 percent of food exported to the United States was up to safety standards, which is a very high percentage," said Li Yuanping, senior official in charge of imported and exported food safety in the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (GAQSIQ).

His comments appeared on the Chinese Governments Official Web site,GOV.cn.

Chinese companies that export food must meet safety requirements before producing, processing, and exporting food, Li said. He also said his country will regularly inspect companies during production.

Chinese officials said the two companies that exported the melamine-tainted ingredients to the United States -- Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Company and Binzhou Futian Biology Technology, Ltd. -- eluded Chinas inspections because they declared the items as non-food products.

Li also said his country has ordered more stringent inspection on all vegetable proteins, like wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate. His country will also include vegetable proteins on exports list, which are subject for quality check-ups.

Li also reported that his country checked 399 samples -- from 173 exporters -- and did not find any melamine-tainted products.

China has also faced criticism in recent weeks after the FDA discovered a poisonous chemical in toothpastes imported from that country.

The FDA said it received reports in late May that several countries -- including Panama -- had received toothpastes imported from China that were contaminated with the chemical diethylene glycol (DEG).

The FDA has since banned all toothpastes made in China from the United States.

The Chinese-imported toothpastes that contain DEG are usually sold at bargain stores and include the following brands: Cooldent Fluoride; Cooldent Spearmint; Cooldent ICE; Dr. Cool, Everfresh Toothpaste; Superdent Toothpaste; Clean Rite Toothpaste; Oralmax Extreme; Oral Bright Fresh Spearmint Flavor; Bright Max Peppermint Flavor; ShiR Fresh Mint Fluoride Paste; DentaPro; DentaKleen; and DentaKleen Junior.

A recent investigation by ConsumerAffairs.com discovered 17 tubes of illegally imported toothpaste in discount stores in the Washington D.C.-area. The tubes were all manufactured in other countries and not intended for sale in the U.S. One tube of toothpaste came from China.

The deaths of at least 100 people in Panama last month are blamed on cough syrup tainted with DEG. According to The New York Times, China produced the DEG-tainted cough syrup and exported the product as the harmless glycerin. It was then used in Panama to make the cough syrup.

Another pet food company has recalled bags of its dry dog food, but this time it's not because the food contains melamine-tainted ingredients imported from China.

Doane Pet Care is recalling a single lot of 55 pound bags of OlRoy Complete Nutrition dry dog food because they may be contaminated with salmonella.

The Manassas, Virginia-based company sold the food at 69 Wal-Mart stores in Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. The company produced the potentially contaminated food at one facility in Virginia.

The recalled bags of food have the USC Code 6 05388 72076 4, the lot number 04 0735 1, and the Best Buy Date Apr 13 08.

This voluntary recall has been issued because FDA (the Food and Drug Administration) detected Salmonella in the product, the company said on its Web site. Doane Pet Care has not confirmed the presence of Salmonella, despite extensive independent testing of duplicate samples.

The company said it has not received any reports of illnesses linked to the food. It did, however, warn pet owners who handled the food that they may be exposed to salmonella -- especially if they do not thoroughly wash their hands after coming into contact with the product.

Salmonella is a bacteria found in the intestines that can cause food poising and gastroenteritis.

The company said pet owners should immediately stop feeding the food to their dogs.

A complete list of stores that sold the recalled food can be found on the companys Web site: www.doanepetcare.com/recall/stores.

Pet owners with questions about the recall can also call the company at 1- 800-624-7387.

Doane Pet Care emphasized this action is not connected to the massive recall of millions of bags of dog and cat food -- contaminated with the chemical melamine -- announced in March.

The presence of that chemical triggered one of the largest pet food recalls in U.S. history. Its also blamed for the deaths and illnesses of thousands of dogs and cats nationwide.

The FDA discovered melamine in the wheat gluten, corn gluten and rice protein imported from China and used to make the pet foods.



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Injuries Grow Along With Wii Popularity

The Wii video game system from Nintendo has won praise from some health advocates for getting its users up off the couch, and at least getting some exercis...


Since its introduction last year, the Wii video game system from Nintendo has won praise from some health advocates for getting its users up off the couch, and at least getting some exercise while playing.

But some especially active users may be getting a little too much exercise, resulting in what can only be described as sports injuries.

After a few rounds of Wii Boxing, Wii Tennis and Wii Bowling, I started to really feel sore in my right tricep and my right thigh muscles, said Jared Brickey, a student at Middle Tennessee State University. It wasn't so bad that night, but man, was I sore in the morning.

Player warnings, in fact, are incorporated into game manuals such as the Wii instruction booklet, which advises, "WARNING Repetitive Motion Injuries and Eyestrain. Playing videogames can make your muscles, joints, skin or eyes hurt.

Wii Sports, the game package that features the boxing, tennis and bowling games that gave Brickeys muscles such a workout, has been the culprit of most injuries seen on gaming Web sites that report injuries by users. In spite of the muscle strain that playing the system inflicted, however, Brickey said he intends to keep utilizing the Wii gaming system.

I really do consider most Wii games to be more exercise than just about anything, at least with Wii Sports, he said.

Some videogamers, though, are quick to concede that they wound up on the wrong end of a Wii controller and sustained injuries they dont care to repeat.

Further, a perusal of gamer Web sites such as www.wiihaveaproblem.com reveals pictures of injuries endured by players as a result of indulging in videogaming, including photos of injuries sustained by players who said they overexerted themselves while playing, became too involved in a particular game, and ignored their physical limits.

One Nintendo Wii gamer known simply as Fred, for example, relayed his gaming-turned-injury story via wiihaveaproblem.com, saying, "My left foot slipped mid-swing, and my body was being twisted at (that) time and my whole body weight went onto my right ankle!"

Admittedly, wrote Fred, he was playing Wiis Homerun Derby game in his socks when he tried swinging the remote "as hard as I could." Consequently, he lost his balance and his ankle paid the price, but its not as if the consoles creators dont warn players to guard against overexertion.

Aside from the "take a 10- to 15-minute break every hour, even if you don't think you need it" precautions outlined in user manuals, the Wii Sports games feature a pause menu that encourages players to take it easy, with a "Why not take a break?" message. Still, many do not.

Brickey, for instance, said he never pays attention to the break messages that appear on game screens.

I'm going to play for five straight hours in Zelda when a game is that good, said Brickey, whos been an avid gamer for 15 of 21 his years.

Meanwhile, Shandora Dorse, a physicians assistant at MTSUs McFarland Health Services, said that college-age gamers such as Brickey whove played for years may be able to handle physical videogames better than older players, but its important for individuals to know their own limits.

Let pain be your gauge, advised Dorse, who said any stretching related to the upper body, neck and shoulder muscles can help reduce the risk of soreness or possible injury during gaming.

The video game industry as a whole has progressed far beyond its initial stereotypical skate punk in the basement playing Doom and continues to rival the popularity of TV. In 2001 for the first time ever it generated more revenue than did Hollywoods box office.

Hollywoods definitely paying attention, said Dr. Bob Kalwinsky, assistant professor of electronic media communication at Middle Tennessee State University, who says gaming offers an experience users dont get from other media.

Its a social experience, and were social animals, Kalwinsky said. We want to interact with others, but gamings appeal goes beyond the interactive aspect. With gaming, you can explore an environment thats different each time you play it and you have a great degree of freedom to explore.



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Mayo Clinic Cautions On Anti-Wrinkle Products

Mayo Clinic Cautions On Anti-Wrinkle Products...


In search of the fountain of youth, baby boomer consumers are spending big bucks on a new category of anti-wrinkle creams and lotions cosmeceuticals. These over-the-counter products include active ingredients that can affect the appearance of skin.

However, buyers should beware before investing too much money or hope in cosmeceuticals, according to the June issue of Mayo Clinic Womens HealthSource.

Considered cosmetics rather than medications, cosmeceuticals arent subject to rigorous testing for safety or effectiveness, the clinic warns.

While there are no guarantees, the active ingredients in cosmeceuticals can affect biological processes such as the production or breakdown of skin cells, which can affect the surface appearance of skin. Popular active ingredients include:

• Retinal, a form of vitamin A and the first antioxidant widely used in nonprescription wrinkle creams. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals unstable oxygen molecules that break down skin cells and cause signs of aging.
• Hydroxy acids that act as exfoliants, removing the upper layer of old, dead skin and stimulating the growth of new skin.
• Coenzyme Q10, a nutrient that helps regulate energy production in cells and may help protect the skin from sun damage.
• Copper peptides, which can stimulate collagen that helps keep skin taut.

Some nonprescription creams may slightly improve the appearance of skin over time or protect it from further damage. But nothing including cosmetics that have drug-like properties works anti-aging magic, the clinic says.

Consumers should also keep in mind that over-the-counter products may not have a high enough concentration of active ingredients to have a noticeable effect. Expensive creams may produce no better results than inexpensive ones. And improvement takes time.

Even prescription products known to enhance skin appearance take time to produce results, the clinic says.



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Sales Top 1 Million but Some Owners Find Prius Doesn't Age Well

Electrical, Drivetrain Problems Plague Consumers as Cars Age

Sales Top 1 Million but Some Owners Find Prius Doesn't Age Well...

Toyota is bragging that sales of its hybrid vehicles have exceeded one million vehicles, but at least some of the early models are beginning to bedevil their early-adopter owners.

The Japanese automaker began selling gas-and-electric cars ten years ago and is now the acknowledged hybrid leader in the automotive industry. Toyota sold nearly 345,000 hybrids in Japan and 702,000 in other worldwide markets over the ten years.

The automaker has sold 757,600 of the Prius hybrid since the 1997 introduction of the vehicle in Japan. Toyota began selling the Prius in North America and Europe in 2000. Last year, the Prius accounted for more than 40 percent of hybrid sales in the U.S.

Toyota claims that its hybrid technology is the single biggest ecological advance in automotive engineering and asserts that hybrids hold far more potential than the diesel or other innovations.

Unique Car, Unique Problems

But a growing number of ConsumerAffairs.com readers are reporting that the Prius hybrid technology is not aging well. With some Prius models in the U.S. on the road now for eight years and approaching 100,000 miles, owners are beginning to encounter problems that are unique to the hybrids.

Bernadette in Fresno, California, bought her Prius in 2004. She said that the hybrid display began to malfunction within a few months and did not work with the result of being unable to get gas into car."

Now Bernadette told ConsumerAffairs.com that, the display began to do strange things two weeks ago but this time I recognized it when the radio kept turning off and the display kept saying odd things.

The display unit in the Prius has to be replaced again and fortunately for Bernadette the car is under extended warranty.

I am told that I will pay $85.00 for diagnostic fee so they could tell me the display does not work. I am still waiting for the car to be fixed due to inability to get the parts which is exactly what happened before with a different dealer, she told us.

Zhirair in Glendale, California also owns a 2004 Prius. I have been having a monitor problem. It won't work properly, he said.

Zhirair has reported the problem to Toyota and he said the automaker is unwilling to provide any assistance because the monitor in his Prius is no longer covered by the Toyota warranty.

There is a technical service bulletin out on it from Toyota which tells the dealer how to repair the problem but only if the car is under factory warranty, he said. My car has 49,000 miles on it and is out of warranty.

Zhirair thinks Toyota ought to extend the warranty on his hybrid or recall the Prius monitor.

Danny in San Antonio, Texas, owns a 2003 Toyota Prius with 91,000 miles on the odometer.

When we went to start it the dashboard lit up with multiple warning lights. The dealer picked it up and said that the transmission went out and it would cost $6,000 to fix and the Prius was out of warranty, he told ConsumerAffairs.com.

When we explained to the dealer and to Toyota customer relations that the transmission was part of the Hybrid Power train covered for 5 years and 100,000 mile they refused to cover it. Not even a partial coverage. This considering the car was working fine when it was last shut off, Danny said.

Richard in Palm Desert, California, drives a 2001 Prius with 103,000 miles on it.

The car has died on the freeway four times. The second time the dealer had the car for 53 days waiting for parts, he told ConsumerAffairs.com

The car is extremely hard on tires, just can't keep them balanced. The heat inverter has gone out twice, the service rep said these cars just don't do well in the desert. The gas tank has been replaced and the steering column replaced, he said.

And to make owning the Prius all the worse, Richard said that the mileage has not been what they advertised.

Getting stranded on the freeway at 11:00 at night when the car dies and can't be moved is quite scary especially when there is no place to pull off out of traffic. I only use this car to drive short trips around town because I just can't trust it on the freeway, he said.

Finally, in Bedford, Texas, Chuck told us that the 12-volt battery in my 2002 Toyota Prius discharges and it won't start if the car isn't run every day. Repeated trips to the dealership have not cured the problem, despite an upgrade of battery.

The growing number of complaints and problems owners of aging Prius hybrids are encountering suggest that a wary consumer ought to look long and hard before buying one of these hybrids on the used car market.

Toyota warrants the hybrid drive system for 100,000 miles, but as Danny in San Antonio discovered, there can be some uncertainty as to which of the Prius components are part of the hybrid drive and covered by the warranty and which are not.

 

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Doane Pet Food Recalls Batch of Ol' Roy Dog Food

May Be Contaminated with Salmonella

Doane Pet Food Recalls Batch of Ol' Roy Dog Food...


Another pet food company has recalled bags of its dry dog food, but this time it's not because the food contains melamine-tainted ingredients imported from China.

Doane Pet Care is recalling a single lot of 55 pound bags of OlRoy Complete Nutrition dry dog food because they may be contaminated with salmonella.

The Manassas, Virginia-based company sold the food at 69 Wal-Mart stores in Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. The company produced the potentially contaminated food at one facility in Virginia.

The recalled bags of food have the USC Code 6 05388 72076 4, the lot number 04 0735 1, and the Best Buy Date Apr 13 08.

This voluntary recall has been issued because FDA (the Food and Drug Administration) detected Salmonella in the product, the company said on its Web site. Doane Pet Care has not confirmed the presence of Salmonella, despite extensive independent testing of duplicate samples.

The company said it has not received any reports of illnesses linked to the food. It did, however, warn pet owners who handled the food that they may be exposed to salmonella -- especially if they do not thoroughly wash their hands after coming into contact with the product.

Salmonella is a bacteria found in the intestines that can cause food poising and gastroenteritis.

The company said pet owners should immediately stop feeding the food to their dogs.

A complete list of stores that sold the recalled food can be found on the companys Web site: www.doanepetcare.com/recall/stores.

Pet owners with questions about the recall can also call the company at 1- 800-624-7387.

Doane Pet Care emphasized this action is not connected to the massive recall of millions of bags of dog and cat food -- contaminated with the chemical melamine -- announced in March.

The presence of that chemical triggered one of the largest pet food recalls in U.S. history. Its also blamed for the deaths and illnesses of thousands of dogs and cats nationwide.

The FDA discovered melamine in the wheat gluten, corn gluten and rice protein imported from China and used to make the pet foods.



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CPSC Warns Meerkat 50 Youth ATVs Defective and Dangerous

Agency Powerless to Take Action Without a Quorum

CPSC Warns Meerkat 50 Youth ATVs Defective and Dangerous...


In the latest incidence of unsafe products from China, the staff of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is warning consumers who own a Kazuma Meerkat 50 Youth All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) that children are at severe risk of injury or death due to multiple safety defects with this off-road vehicle.

The unusual warning -- which carries no legal weight -- was apparently issued because the CPSC lacks a quorum and currently has no authority to require companies to provide accident or injury information. The CPSC said Kazuma has refused to cooperate with its inquiry.

The ATVs, which were imported by Kazuma Pacific Inc., of Stafford, Texas, were found to have several serious defects.

The CPSC staff determined that the Meerkat 50 lacks front brakes, has no parking brake, is missing a neutral indicator light, and can be started in gear. Additionally, the owner's manual does not contain complete information on safe operation and maintenance of the ATV.

The CPSC staff recommends that consumers stop using the product immediately because it is unsafe. It also recommends that consumers demand a refund of the purchase price from the importer or dealer due to the defective condition of the ATV.

The risk with these ATVs is severe because these vehicles are intended for children age 6 to 11. In many cases, youth riders are just learning how to operate an ATV and may not have the experience necessary to help them avoid hazards associated with this product's defects.

Kazuma Pacific has refused to provide complete incident or injury information for any of their products. Therefore, CPSC has been unable to determine how many children have been injured.

Between December 2006 and May 2007, Kazuma Pacific has impeded CPSC's efforts to protect the safety of children, by refusing to implement a corrective action plan for this ATV.

Kazuma Pacific has sold at least 2,700 Meerkat 50 ATVs and has stated that it is continuing to sell the units that CPSC staff found to be defective. Kazuma dealers and Web retailers nationwide have sold this ATV since 2003 for between $525 and $825.

Powerless to Act

The CPSC needs at least three commissioners to perform regulatory activities and to levy fines. The commission has not had three commissioners since former chairman Hal Stratton, a Bush appointee, abruptly resigned July 15, 2006 to become a lobbyist.

Bush nominated Michael Baroody, the executive vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers, to replace Stratton, setting off protests from consumer advocates who said Baroody had devoted his career to working against product safety.

Just one day before the Senate Commerce Committee was set to vote, Baroody withdrew.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Act, which created and governs the CPSC, the two remaining commissioners can continue their regulatory activities for six months after a vacancy has been created. After those six months, their powers are stripped until the President fills the vacancy and as of Jan. 15, 2007, that has been the case.

If Bush takes as long as he did last time to find a replacement, the commission will remain powerless for another six months.

Cynics said the entire Baroody episode was a ploy to keep the CPSC "toothless" for as long as possible.

"The Bush White House is protecting its friends in the ATV and snowmobile industries by keeping the CPSC's hands tied," a longtime Washington operative told ConsumerAffairs.com.

The CPSC had been working on new safety rules for ATVs when Stratton quit.



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Fake Check Scam Targets Thrifty Nickel Advertisers

Fake Check Scam Targets Thrifty Nickel Advertisers...


A Canadian scammer is obviously scanning the classified publication Thrifty Nickel in search of U.S. victims. A Kentucky couple trying to sell an organ was a target, but didnt take the bait.

On Friday we received a call from Ontario, Canada about this organ. Information as to condition, price, etc. was requested. It was interesting that someone as far away as Canada had been able to get information off the Thrifty Nickel so quickly, John, of Louisville, Kentucky told ConsumerAffairs.com.

John said the prospective buyer was eager to buy the organ, and the asking price of $750 was quickly agreed to. However, the buyer insisted on sending a cashier's check in the amount of $2050. In turn, the sellers were to deduct the price of the organ and then send the shipper the balance of $1300 in a cashier's check drawn on the seller's bank.

Smelling a rat, the couple balked, saying they would only accept a check for the price of the organ and would hold the merchandise for 10 days. The buyer then said he wasnt interested and hung up.

Law enforcement officials say the scam is just one of the ways in which criminals pass counterfeit checks. If a victim did as the scammer requested, they would be depositing a worthless check in their account, then sending their own money to the scammer. Often a forged cashiers check isnt discovered by the bank for several days. John, a regular ConsumerAffairs.com reader, recognized the scheme immediately.

A healthy skepticism is a wonderful piece of equipment for living in cyberspace, he said.

More Scam Alerts ...

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Honda Drops Accord Hybrid

Honda Drops Accord Hybrid...


Honda Motor Co. is dropping the hybrid version of the Accord sedan from the company line-up, in part because the Accord hybrid was never able to successfully compete with the popular Toyota Prius hybrid.

The Japanese automaker will continue to make a hybrid version of the Civic sedan.

The Accord hybrid is sold only in North America and was a flop in the automobile market.

Honda sold just 25,000 Accord hybrids since the vehicle went on sale in 2004. Honda sold only 6,100 Accord hybrids last year and 439 last month.

Toyota's Prius hybrid is the market leader with 729,800 units sold since December 1997. Toyota sold 24,000 Prius cars in May.

Honda has also canceled the slow-selling Honda Insight hybrid but promises new hybrids are on the company drawing boards.

Hybrid sales in the U.S. are up with rising gas prices and Prius sales accounted for more than 40 percent of all hybrid sold in the U.S. last year.

Hybrids like the Prius and Civic deliver as much as 50 miles per gallon or more, depending on driving conditions, but the hybrid Accord delivered fewer miles to the gallon.

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NHTSA Probes Jeep Wrangler After Consumer Complaints

Engine stalls at highway speeds, consumers complain

NHTSA Probes Jeep Wrangler After Consumer Complaints...

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating the DaimlerChrysler 2007 Jeep Wrangler sport-utility vehicle following at least 53 reports of the engine stalling at highway speeds.

The investigation involves 35,000 vehicles, including two- and four-door models in front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive versions, according to NHTSA.

NHTSA reports that the agency has received complaints of engine stalls at highway speeds that included 12 cases with a loss of electrical power and lighting.

Gina from Turlock, California told ConsumerAffairs.com that her 2007 Jeep shuts off at highway speeds.

It has happened 3 times and each time it malfunctioned I took it to the service department and they could not find the problem, she told us.

The first time it was while on the freeway going about 70 mph and all power shut down for about 5 seconds. Then it restarted on its own, Gina said.

The second shutdown occurred when Gina was approaching a stop light in her Jeep. I drive quite a bit on the freeway and fear it will occur and I will get hit by a fast traveling vehicle, she said.

I am not getting any resolutions from the service department and I don't believe they fully comprehend the hazard of this malfunction, she said.

Gina told ConsumerAffairs.com that she is afraid for her safety and the safety of her children while traveling in her Jeep.

I need help, she pleaded.

Paula has experienced the same frustration in Chicago with a new Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited equipped with a Hemi engine.

At 3,500 miles, the Jeep began randomly stalling out. I took it in. They said it was the Jeep's on board computer and they said the fixed the computer. Happened again a week later. They changed the ignition. Happened again a day later, she wrote us.

Paula said she "sat on a Chicago expressway with 2 small children for 4 hours waiting for a tow truck at great risk to my family. Almost got broad-sided trying to make a left turn a week ago. This is a death trap," she warned.

In Owings, Maryland, John is thinking about getting rid of his new Jeep Commander because of the stalling problem.

I have been the owner of the jeep Commander for 15 months and during this time my Jeep has stalled out during low-speed turns, entering on-ramps at low speed, exiting on-ramps at low speed, pulling a trailer up a slight incline and slowing to stop, he said.

Each time I took it to Jeep dealer and they were unable to duplicate the problem. I have been a Jeep owner for the last 22 years and if this cannot be resolved I will more than likely never buy another Jeep, he said.

From Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, Christopher understands the jeep stalling problem all too well.

I bought a 2007 Jeep Commander Sport and while driving the vehicle it stalled out and started jerking. The Commander also will stall out and then lunge forward while trying to make a tight turn into a parking spot. On two occasions I almost struck cars the were in front of me that were parked, he said.

 

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For Rent: Your Credit Score

Loophole in FICO Enrages Lenders

For Rent: Your Credit Score...


The all-important three-digit number known as your credit score has become the central pivot on which the financial industry moves.

Borrowers are repeatedly told to demonstrate good financial behavior not just for its own sake, but to ensure that their credit score stays high enough to receive approval from lenders. And a score that doesn't meet with lenders' approval can keep otherwise responsible borrowers from getting a home or car loan for years.

So it should come as no surprise that companies like InstantCreditBuilders.com (ICB) and Addatradeline.com have devised a way to game the system -- in this case, by paying people with high credit scores to let low scorers "piggyback" on their ratings and receive boosts to their own scores as a result.

The new trick takes advantage of a loophole in the credit system. People who have little or no credit histories, such as college students, can be added as an "authorized user" to credit cards that are ultimately paid for by Mom and Dad.

In this case, the "authorized user" with good credit is paid several hundred dollars to "rent" their credit score out to someone else, with the agency taking their cut from the potential piggybacker.

Lenders Object

Although the Federal Trade Commission has been taking a wait-and-see approach to the issue, the financial and mortgage industries are already on the warpath.

The National Association of Mortgage Brokers (NAMB) is planning to release a statement opposing the practice. Mortgage lenders say the practice undermines the trust lenders place in the FICO score, which is by far the most widely-used scoring system for new loan approvals.

"We have become so dependent on FICO scoring that we rely on it almost to the point that FICO is the decisionmaking process," Bremer Mortgage president Jim Miley told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "If we can't get assurances that FICO scores are accurate, then we will definitely go back to manual underwriting of loans, a time-consuming and expensive process."

Unforeseen Consequences

Fair Isaac, creators of the FICO score, has said that it will close the "authorized user" loophole in its credit scoring model to protect against "piggybacking." John Ulzheimer of Credit.com says that the move is going to "screw consumers royally."

"A lot of people are going to get penalized for something a few bad apples did," Ulzheimer said in an interview with ConsumerAffairs.com. "The value of any authorized user on a credit card is now totally lost."

Ulzheimer said that anyone who has built a credit history as an additional user on a card, ranging from college students to married couples and divorcees, will have to "rush out" and open up new credit accounts to rebuild or maintain their scores and credit histories.

"It won't be as big a rush as people filing bankruptcy before the new laws took effect," Ulzheimer said, "But you'll see it happen."

Ulzheimer, who formerly worked at both Fair Isaac and Equifax, said companies like ICB are liable for enforcement under the Credit Repair Organizations Act (CROA), which mandates the rules that so-called "credit repair organizations" work under. "The minute they take money in advance, they're liable under CROA," he said. "This is a case of merchants ripping off businesses, and some consumers ripping off lenders."

Bad Data

FICO became dominant largely because it streamlined the formerly cumbersome and detailed process of lending down to a simple number.

Whereas local credit bureaus and mortgage lenders would previously look at a person's entire financial history and make calls based on individual judgment, the modern system relies almost totally on the proprietary algorithm developed by Fair Isaac, and based on information in credit reports that is very often inaccurate.

The ease with which credit could be approved led to an explosion of availability of lending to people who would not ordinarily have qualified, but the mania to approve credit and sell reports and scores to lenders also led to constant errors and mistakes in reports that are very difficult to correct.

Now the housing market is in the doldrums, thanks to subprime loans going into default and foreclosure accross the country. Even the Federal Reserve is reconsidering the easy access to credit that consumers have come to take for granted.

And the closing of the "authorized user" loophole won't just make building credit tougher for consumers -- it's exposed a vulnerability in the FICO score that has competitors like the credit bureau-backed VantageScore ready to pounce.

John Ulzheimer had previously criticized the new score, which is sold right from the three bureaus, as "an effort to confuse consumers and unsophisticated lenders."

Now, he said, "I wouldn't be surprised if there was an all-hands meeting at VantageScore Solutions to discuss what to do" about the loophole in the FICO score. "They're licking their chops."

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Blogger, Journalist, Citizen: Which is Which

Ailing Traditional Media Resist the Encroaching Hordes

As traditional media outlets struggle with dwindling readership and slash their newsroom staffs to meet profit goals, the strength of the Internet as a sou...

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ON THE MOVE! Traveling With Your Pet

Traveling With Your Pet

ON THE MOVE! Traveling With Your Pet...

By Gina Spadafori
Universal Press Syndicate

Just as vacations with children are different from adults-only trips, vacationing with your pet works out better if you plan the journey with an eye to finding places where your animal companions are truly welcome.

Finding these places can be a challenge, but not as much as it once was. The travel industry used to grudgingly accept the fact that many people traveled with pets. Now, many hotels, motels and resorts actively court pet lovers, and a few are marketed almost exclusively to this once-neglected group of vacationers. Well-mannered pets and well-heeled pet lovers are appealing to an industry that isn't booking as many vacation travelers as it would like to. And that's good news for people looking for the perfect pet-friendly vacation.

The best way to plan your trip? Check out Web sites dedicated to traveling with pets, and look for vacation ads in pet-related magazines and newsletters. As for books, you'll find plenty that provide simple listings of places where pets are allowed as well as reviews of the amenities. The most basic guide is "Traveling With Your Pet: The AAA Petbook," the most recent edition of which is always under the seat of my minivan.

Even though more people than ever are traveling with their pets, you'll still find plenty of people who don't like sharing space with four-legged tourists. And plenty of resort properties are one pet mess away from changing to a no-pet policy. That means you and your pet must be above reproach to keep a great place open for future pet guests.

Here are a few things to do on the road:

  • Keep 'em clean. Your pet should be well-groomed and clean-smelling, and be sure to pack some extra towels and old sheets before you leave. Always dry off wet dogs and wipe off muddy feet -- using your towels, not the motel's -- before allowing your pet inside. Cover furniture, carpets and bedspreads with your old sheets and towels, and if you need to bathe your pet, be sure, again, to use your towels and clean up afterward.

  • Keep 'em under control. Your dog should be obedient, friendly but not annoying, and never aggressive -- not to people, not to pets and not to wildlife. Do not allow your dog to bark uncontrollably. Use your best judgment when to let a dog off the leash in areas where doing so is allowed, and be sure that your dog isn't annoying other people or pets.

  • Pick up after 'em. Take your dog to out-of-the-way places on resort property to do his business -- the corner of the far parking lot, not the grassy inner courtyard. No leg-lifting allowed near rooms and eating areas. Make it so the pickiest dog hater on Earth would not notice your dog has been around. For traveling cats, bag up used litter tightly and dispose of it properly.

  • And finally, don't forget to show your appreciation. Those of us who travel with our pets realize it's a privilege, not a right, to have a nice place to stay. So along with keeping your pet from being a nuisance, don't forget to say "thank you" to resort staff, and tip generously when appropriate.

    Pets mean extra work for the people who work at these places, so let's try to keep them on our side.

    Tails From the Road

    Send us your pictures, tips and stories of your travels with your pets. We'll use the best in an upcoming column, and put others up on our new Web site, DogCars.com. And it's not just about dogs: We'd love to get some stories about cats who travel. Contact us at petconnection@gmail.com.

    Don't forget to check out DogCars.com. We're loading up reviews of new vehicles, pet-travel supplies and more. We also offer a bulletin board for readers to talk about traveling by car with pets, offering their own opinions of vehicles, supplies and even pet-friendly destinations. -- G.S.


    Q&A

    Q: My daughter is expecting her first child in a few months. Well, first, if you don't count the dog, and I sure don't. But she and her husband love that animal like crazy.

    Their dog scares me. He runs the household and is snappy when crossed. I'm so worried he will hurt the baby. What can I do? -- P.H., via e-mail

    A: You need to talk to your daughter and son-in-law. Have them answer these questions and be brutally honest:

    -- Has their dog ever "stared them down"? If a dog gives a hard, fixed stare, it needs to be recognized for the challenge it is.

    -- Does the dog adopt a dominant posture with people? A dog who's trying to be boss will be up on his toes, with his legs stiff, ears forward and hackles raised. His tail will be held up or out, and may even be wagging a little. Don't confuse the latter for friendliness. There's a big difference between the wide, relaxed wag of a friendly dog and the stiff, tight one of an aggressive animal.

    -- Do they avoid doing certain things around the dog because they elicit growling or a show of teeth? Some people live their lives in fear of their dog, avoiding the animal when he's eating, sleeping, playing with a toy ... the list can be endless.

    -- Do they consider the dog safe, except in certain situations, such as around food, toys or children?

    -- Has the dog ever bitten anyone? Whatever the reason, no matter the excuse, a dog who has bitten once is more likely to bite again than the dog who has never bitten at all.

    A "yes" to any of these questions means there is a serious problem, and they need to find help. Encourage them to talk to a veterinarian about a referral to a trainer or behaviorist with experience in canine aggression.

    While some dogs with aggression problems cannot be reformed, others can, with a combination of medication and retraining, and a big dose of dog-savvy on the part of the owner.

    If their dog cannot be trusted, even after professional help, please encourage them further not to try to pass the problem along to someone else just because it's too hard to do what needs to be done. They may be sparing their child a bite, but putting someone else's in a danger.

    A dangerous dog who cannot be retrained or safely managed needs to be euthanized. It's a very hard decision, but the only right one to make. -- Gina Spadafori

    (Do you have a pet question? Send it to petconnection@gmail.com.)


    ABOUT PET CONNECTION

    Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books.

    On PetConnection.com there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and "dog cars," and a weekly drawing for pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection by sending an e-mail to petconnection@gmail.com or visiting PetConnection.com.


    PETS BY THE BOOK

    A cardinal rule in marketing is the ability to communicate to the potential buyer that "we had you in mind when we created this product." So why then is "Woof! A Gay Man's Guide to Dogs" by Andrew DePrisco a good book for everyone? For three simple reasons. One, it's original. Two, it's authoritative. And three, you'll laugh while you learn, not just about the basics but also about canine things you've never even thought of.

    DePrisco's "gaydar" locks onto irresistible and seldom visited subjects like hosting a puppy shower, picking a proper gay name for your puppy and choosing the right bling around the collar, but he also does an exhaustive job of exploring critical functions for every pet owner such as matchmaking, finding a trainer, groomer and exercise.

    If you're curious, buy this book. I guarantee you'll have something rare these days: a book wickedly funny and highly informative. -- Dr. Marty Becker


    PET BUY

    If you've been searching for beautiful, durable and handcrafted dog and cat collars, Mrs. Bones and Co. has a collection of hundreds of collars made from high-quality upholstery products and trims.

    Collars come in tartans, velvets, embroidery, tapestries, silks, satins and other lush fabrics bonded to strong nylon webbing. The Museum Collection, which features heavy watermarked satins and ornate gilt trim, is worth a special look, even if you're just window-shopping. The company also offers a special collection of holiday-themed tapestry fabrics.

    Suitable for cats and all sizes and types of dogs, the collars come in both "sighthound" and conventional buckle and snap styles, and a variety of widths. ("Sighthound" collars have a self-limiting tightening function built into the design.)

    Custom tags and leashes are also available. For more information visit www.mrsbones.com or call 877-767-1308 -- Christie Keith


    THE SCOOP

    Ever curious and quick to pounce, cats are the perfect small predators. They're even equipped with the amazing ability to right themselves in midair if they fall while hunting, rotating their bodies from the head back like a coil to align themselves for a perfect four-paw landing.

    But what works for a supple small animal falling from a tree branch doesn't cut it in the modern world, where a cat's more likely to fall from a window than a tree. And despite their abilities, cats can be injured or even killed in falls.

    Many cat lovers assume their pets would be smart enough to be careful when up high enough for injuries, but it's just not in an animal's ability to make that kind of judgment call. Cats are comfortable in high places, and they cannot understand the difference in risk between a one-story fall and a six-story fall.

    It's possible to give a cat fresh air safely, no matter what kind of housing you have. If you're in multifamily housing, you can't alter a fire escape because of safety issues, but you may be allowed to screen in a balcony to give your cat access to fresh air and a good view. If you're in a detached home, you can put in a more permanent structure, such as a screened-in multilevel cat playground.

    If none of that's possible, you don't even have to pop for built-in screens. Most home centers have low-cost adjustable screens that fit into windows and can expand to fill in the gap.

    While screens aren't completely safe and can pop out under pressure from a determined cat, they will keep most cats out of trouble most of the time. -- Gina Spadafori


    PETS BY THE NUMBERS

    Many dogs lose their homes when their owners move, because dog-friendly housing can be hard to come by. The top reasons for dog abandonment are:

    1. Moving

    2. Landlord issues

    3. Cost of pet maintenance

    4. No time for pet

    5. Inadequate facilities

    6. Too many pets in home

    7. Pet illness

    8. Personal problems

    9. Biting

    10. No homes for littermates

    Source: National Council on Pet Overpopulation Study and Policy


    ON GOOD BEHAVIOR

    Kittens don't need to learn "house rules" to play poker, but they do need to learn how to get your attention and approval. Instead of dishing out negative attention when your kitten pounces on you, teach your kitten words that earn her positive attention. The more ways you find to communicate with your kitten, the stronger your relationship can be.

    It's not difficult to teach your kitten to come when you call or to sit for a treat. Start with a hungry kitten, and use a favorite treat to lure your cat into positions you want to teach. Reward your kitten when she gets in the right position.

    Keep training sessions short and fun for both of you!

    (Animal behavior experts Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp are the authors of "On Good Behavior." For more information, visit their Web site at AnimalBehavior.net.)


    Pet Connection is produced by a team of team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper, by sending e-mail to petconnection@gmail.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.

    COPYRIGHT 2007 UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE

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    Wireless Spectrum May Hold Key To Net Neutrality

    There's a quiet war being waged over spectrum space

    Wireless Spectrum May Hold Key To Net Neutrality...

    There's a quiet war being waged in political and technology circles, and its outcome could provide consumers with a vast new resource for public communication -- or ensure major telecom companies have even more revenue lining their pockets.

    As part of the nationwide conversion from analog to digital television signals scheduled to take place in 2009, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is planning to auction off large swaths of the newly-available signal spectrum.

    The spectrum, near the 700mhz range, has been used to broadcast traditional UHF television programming to millions of families, and could conceivably be used as the backbone of a new wireless broadband Internet service. The question then becomes -- who should control it, and how should it be used?

    Roughly 24 mhz of the spectrum is already earmarked for reclamation by the federal government, which plans to use it for public safety and emergency communication. The remaining spectrum is up for grabs, and the potential revenue from the auction could run as high as $30 billion.

    The FCC is currently taking comments from the public regarding the rules by which the spectrum can be auctioned and used, with the deadline for comments closing tomorrow, June 4.

    Consumer groups and technology advocates are pushing to open up the spectrum auction and create avenues for new wireless broadband networks. The potental reach of the spectrum could far exceed current municipal Wi-Fi networks, creating a new "third way" for Internet access, particularly in rural and smaller communities.

    Columbia University professor and net neutrality advocate Timothy Wu wrote in Forbes magazine that the spectrum auction winner abide by legal precedent and permit users to attach devices to any system that utilizes the new spectrum, much as the wired phone network was mandated to support devices such as answering machines, faxes, and eventually computer connections.

    "Attachment rights can break open markets that might otherwise be controlled by dominant gatekeepers," Wu wrote. "Longshot companies like Ebay or YouTube might never have been born had they first needed the approval of a risk-averse company like AT&T."

    AT&T and its fellow gatekeeper Verizon are ramping up to bid on the available spectrum as well, and supporters of net neutrality fear that the major telecoms will use their financial muscle to outbid any competition for the wireless real estate. Free Press campaign director Timothy Karr warned that the Baby Bells would "horde this valuable public asset and stifle competitive and cheaper alternatives to their established networks."

    "[T]he United States has fallen to 16th in the world in high-speed Internet rankings, with few choices and some of the highest prices for the slowest speeds in the world. We will continue this decline as long as we let AT&T, Verizon and Comcast dictate the terms of Internet access for the majority of Americans," Karr wrote in a solicitation to members of the "Save The Internet" coalition.

    As of June 1st, the coalition had gathered over 230,000 signatures to send to the FCC in support of using the spectrum for public wireless broadband.

    Silicon Valley startup company Frontline Wireless has already put in a bid to be the company that builds the broadband network for the wireless spectrum. The company is backed by former Google investors, and the search engine heavyweight itself recently petitioned the FCC to enable an open auction of the spectrum.

    Even presidential candidates are taking notice of the issue.

    Democratic contender John Edwards recently wrote an open letter to the FCC urging it to set the auction rules equitably in order to "unleash the potential of smaller new entrants," ensuring that rural communities could make use of the potential wireless alternative to cable and DSL.

    "The upcoming 700 megahertz spectrum auction presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shape the next generation of American technology," Edwards wrote. "I urge you to seize this chance to transform the Internet and the future."

     

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    China Faults U.S. FDA In Toothpaste Flap

    Consumers Should Discard All Toothpaste from China, Feds Warn

    China Faults U.S. FDA In Toothpaste Flap...

    China is in a public dispute with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration over that agencys recent warning about toothpaste made in China. Chinas state-run consumer watchdog agency said the FDAs complaints are a little late and ring a little hollow.

    The FDA last week warned consumers to throw out all toothpaste made in China after finding a poison commonly used in anti-freeze in toothpaste it checked in three U.S. cities.

    The agency said it had found diethylene glycol (DEG) in toothpaste sold at a Dollar Plus retail store in Miami under the brand name ShiR Fresh. It said nine other brands also contained the sweet, syrupy chemical and warned the products had a low but meaningful risk of toxicity and injury, especially when used by children or individuals with kidney or liver disease.

    All the toothpastes were registered with the FDA and approved to be distributed in the United States, so they contradicted themselves by warning consumers to avoid using China-made toothpastes and detaining shipments from China, said Li Yuanping, director of General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine.

    The Chinese government says its manufacturers were not trying to deceive anyone, and complied with all U.S. laws. It says U.S. importers submitted the formula used to produce the toothpaste exports to the FDA before the shipment, and that the content level of chemical D-E-G was indicated on the packaging.

    FDA said brands of toothpaste from China that contain DEG include: Cooldent Fluoride; Cooldent Spearmint; Cooldent ICE; Dr. Cool, Everfresh Toothpaste; Superdent Toothpaste; Clean Rite Toothpaste; Oralmax Extreme; Oral Bright Fresh Spearmint Flavor; Bright Max Peppermint Flavor; ShiR Fresh Mint Fluoride Paste; DentaPro; DentaKleen; and DentaKleen Junior.

    As ConsumerAffairs.com reported on May 22, tubes of toothpaste from foreign lands are routinely sold in dollar-discount stores and neighborhood bodegas, even though the importation and sale of such products is illegal.

    The agency said its inspectors identified and detained one shipment of toothpaste at the U.S. border, containing about 3 percent DEG by weight. In addition, FDA inspectors found and tested toothpaste products from China located at a distribution center and a retail store.

    The highest level found was between 3-4 percent by weight. The product at the retail store was not labeled as containing DEG but was found to contain the substance. Contaminated toothpaste was also found in Puerto Rico and the Port of Los Angeles, the FDA said.

    DEG killed 51 residents of Panama a year ago after it was found in Chinese-imported cough syrup.

    Foreign Toothpaste Widespread

    A recent story by ConsumerAffairs.com found illegally imported toothpaste being sold in in discount stores. We found 17 tubes of illegally imported toothpaste being sold in D.C.-area discount stores. The tubes were all manufactured in other countries and are not intended for sale in the U.S. One illegal tube of toothpaste was from China.

    Imported toothpaste found in D.C.-area stores

    The tubes are illegal because they do not follow the FDAs over-the-counter drug labeling requirements. Two tubes didnt even list all the ingredients while many of the others are in foreign languages.

    After almost three weeks of ignoring many of our questions, the FDA told ConsumerAffairs.com that companies who manufacture, market and distribute the toothpastes could all face prosecution for selling the illegal products.

    Over-the-counter drug products that do not comply with FDA labeling requirements are misbranded and may also be unapproved new drugs, both of which violate the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, FDA spokeswoman Veronica Castro wrote in an e-mail.

    Enforcement regarding products that violate the FDCA include regulatory correspondence, seizure, injunction, and in some cases criminal prosecution.

    Most of the illegal tubes were common U.S. names designed for foreign use.

    Colgate representative Tom Paolella, said regardless of the tubes origin, all their products are safe.

    Crest representatives have not returned two phone calls and two e-mails.

    The worst retail offender was discount store chain, National Wholesale Liquidators, which has not returned two e-mails and does not answer the phone.

    When shopping at discount stores, consumers should ensure the product has the over-the-counter drug facts labeling that includes: a list of active ingredients, a description of the products use, warnings, directions, a list of inactive ingredients and a toll-free phone number.

     



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    Consumers Revolt Against High-Priced Media

    Getting Movies, Music Like Turning on a Tap

    Consumers Revolt Against High-Priced Media...

    A new age in the Internet was marked recently by a user-revolution at www.digg.com when a disgruntled hacker posted a 32-digit code that enabled tech-savvy consumers to copy DVDs on their home computers.

    He had hacked the code in a fit of anger after learning that the DVD hed bought wouldnt play on the monitor he owned due to compatibility issues. Digg immediately received cease-and-desist orders from the movie companies and, letters from corporate attorneys being rather terrifying, they took down the post.

    Thing was, the Digg users wouldnt stand for it.

    They at once began to inundate the website with thousands of posts containing the 32-digit code somewhere in the text. Digg closed for a couple of days and eventually reopened, admitting defeat and vowing to stand by the wishes of the Digg community.

    Rhetoric about internet democracy aside, the point of interest was that such a huge number of people had no problem with copying and sharing movies, that they regarded it almost as a right.

    The hacker in question had tapped into a widespread resentment against the prohibitive pricing of the entertainment industry that has been exploiting its consumers for decades.

    Anyone over the age of 25 will remember the days when the music charts were based on sales of 45 rpm vinyl. You actually had to stand up, take the record out of its sleeve, put it on the player and then repeat the process with another disc just 3 or 4 minutes later. It seems almost as surreal now as telephones where you had to wind the numbers around with your finger.

    Similarly, anyone over the age of 20 will remember when VCR recorders were the technology of the day, meaning that you no longer had to miss vital moments of the movie when you went to the bathroom. That pause button seemed like a big deal at the time.

    Sharing Seems Natural

    Of course with albums retailing for $15-20 and videos for $20-25, not many of us could afford to listen to or watch all the media we wanted. It seemed natural to share what we could. I remember taking entire evenings to make a tape of my favourite songs for friends as birthday presents. Videos couldnt be copied so easily but no one thought anything wrong in lending them out to friends and family.

    Then the music companies made their greatest and perhaps worst-ever strategic move, one that would soon be followed by the movie industry: they went digital.

    At first, it seemed like a marketers dream. Consumers were urged to replace all their aging collections of records and tapes with the new-fangled compact discs that would last a lifetime, give superior sound and where tracks could be selected at the push of a button.

    Such was the naivete of those days that I recall taking the first ever CD I bought a compilation of Wham, Im embarrassed to admit back to the store because a friend had stubbed a cigarette out on the disc at a party and it no longer worked.

    You told me it was indestructible, I protested and, unbelievable as it sounds now, I got my money back, along with a little lecture on the advisability of buying more ashtrays for my room.

    In any case, the music companies got to sell all their back collections again and the future of conning the public seemed rosy.

    The movie industry followed suit with the launch of DVDs and enjoyed the same kind of response, though by now people understood that discs got scratched easily and began to wonder what was wrong with the old days of video cassettes.

    Along Came Napster

    God bless the internet. It set us free in so many ways.

    Suddenly, free information wasnt limited to the shelves of your local library but was available to anyone who had a net connection. Websites learned to their cost that there was no point in trying to charge surfers to read their content theyd just go elsewhere. So alternative economic models evolved featuring advertising and sales of products and the world became a richer place.

    Slowly, we also understood that information includes all media -- such as movies and music.

    Napster came along and across the world people began to hesitantly download music they were unable to afford, wondering just what was the catch. Computers allowed people to burn their own discs and it began to dawn on the public that it was really a rather cheap and simple process. If a blank disc could be bought for 30 cents and the music downloaded for free online, how come a CD cost $20 in the store?

    There was some concern that downloading music was stealing from ones favourite artists but it was an open secret that musicians only ended up with about 10% of the retail price anyway so why make all the middle men rich?

    Napester was soon assassinated by Hollywood's hired guns but peer-to-peer technology meant that illegal downloads were here to stay, despite the plethora of lawsuits issued by music companies against random downloaders and the P2P providers.

    But even as unfortunate users were obliged to pay thousands in damages for all the music theyd downloaded and services like Kazaa and Grokster were shut down, there was no stopping the trend. Last year P2P users in the US grew by 7% with illegal downloads up by 24%.

    Of course, according to the music companies, that makes us all criminals. Lumped together with counterfeiters and commercial piraters, its suddenly become illegal and allegedly immoral to share.

    The movie industry has even tried to motivate patriotic responses by alleging that piracy of films has close links to worldwide terror organisations. This film was brought to you by Al Queda? Hardly.

    Not that the revolution in the sharing of media doesnt represent a significant economic challenge.

    While trying to write this article, I was repeatedly bumped off the computer by my girlfriends teenage brother who wanted to check on some hiphop tracks he was downloading. When I asked him if he felt guilty for taking music without paying for it he looked at me like I was crazy.

    What difference does it make to RZA if I get to listen to his music or not? Its not like I can afford to buy it anyway.

    Like Turning on the Tap

    For the rising generation, downloading music has become like turning the tap and getting water. No one really cares where it comes from, just as long as they can get it.

    In my research for this article, the most interesting point of view I came across was from an economics analyst called Peter Dicola who observed that:

    When one person hears a musical idea, that idea is still 100% intact for the next person who experiences it. None of the idea goes away when someone consumes it.

    Dicola goes on to suggest that digital music and movies now have the properties of public goods like parks and the fire department. Its problematic though because the latter are paid for by taxes and administered by government.

    Can anyone imagine a government department responsible for allocating funds to up and coming rap artists?

    In a way, the irony is beautiful. The media companies cashed in on reselling their stock in a digital format and, in doing so, inadvertently made it available to the world for free via the internet. If theyd only known.

    Not that the companies are taking this lying down. Theyve gone to war with consumers on various fronts, cranking out legal, moral and economic arguments against the sharing of media. In essence theyre desperately trying to justify their own existence.

    Shamefaced Hypocrisy

    The strongest moral card they hold is that illegal downloaders are ripping off the artists. This, however, is the most shamefaced hypocrisy imaginable.

    Media companies have historically been the biggest sharks going, pressuring artists into exploitative contract deals that cut them out of most of the money and limit their creativity. Their argument seems to be, "Buy the disc or else your favourite singers and actors will be sleeping in the gutters."

    But we live in a world of changing media and the old economic models have to change along with it. Consider if you could buy the latest Madonna album direct from her website for $2 would you really bother trying to download it for free from an underground P2P site?

    I pick on Madonna because she recently took on the P2P services by flooding spoof tracks from her latest album where after a few seconds the track stops and she starts to cuss you for cheating her out of her royalties. Amusingly, a few creative users have made remixes of her words and made them available as creations in their own right.

    In a way, digital media products are like alcohol and drugs. Restrict their sale and you create a new class of "criminals" who sell -- and buy -- the product underground.

    Talent Scouts

    The companies have also argued that they find new talent. But what they really do is find the same kind of talent again and again, washed-out acts that are easy to market to teen audiences.

    Real talent tends to shine through by itself these days on sites like Myspace and Youtube and popular content spreads itself around consider the band Ok Go whose video was watched by 1 million people within its first 6 days on Youtube.

    The High-Tech Lock-Up

    The next move by the media companies to justify their role as prohibitive middlemen is to try and control the technology itself.

    Tunes downloaded from Itunes will work on one Ipod but may not be shared to another mp3 player. Microsofts Zune will allow sharing of tracks from one player to another but the track will cease to function after a few days.

    These are all examples of the dinosaurs trying to hold the world back. Information is rapidly becoming free and just about everyone wants it that way. Thats why we download music like turning on the tap, wishing there was a way to compensate the artists but refusing to be denied cool music and media in the meantime.

    Trying to control the technology itself only breeds resentment and the kind of reaction seen on Digg as a hacker took the power into his own hands and shared it with the world.

    Since Napster, music sales in the US have fallen from $14.6 billion a year to $11.5 billion. Thats a complete nightmare for the company executives but no skin off the noses of the consumers who illegally download around 1 billion tracks a month.

    The real issue here is not that artists can no longer make money. Music can be licensed in any number of formats including movies, advertising and events, not to mention artists selling directly to a loyal fan base from their own websites. No amount of movie piracy will ever be able to match the thrill of seeing a new release at the cinema with the giant screen and surround sound. Box office sales are healthy, only DVD sales are being hurt.

    The real issue here is just how much money do these companies need to make?

    The right to make a buck is sacred in America but the right to free access to information comes first. There's a reason the First Amendment comes first in the Bill of Rights, after all.

    Expecting the consumer to feel pity for multi-millionaire movie and music stars is a joke. In any case if I see Tom Waits panhandling in the street Ill be the first to buy him a coffee.

    Critics point out that illegal downloads hit smaller, independent companies the hardest as they depend on direct sales. This may be true but it only suggests another economic model. Maybe artists should be selling for themselves directly. And if an artist has a song thats downloaded illegally by 5 million users, they now have 5 million fans. That translates into lots of concert tickets.

    Canadian artist Leslie Feist was shocked to hear American audiences singing along to her new songs the album hadnt yet been released in the US. When she asked her fans how they knew the words they yelled back:

    Illegal downloads!

    ---

    Tom Glaister is the founder and editor of www.roadjunky.com - The Online Travel Guide for the Free and Funky Traveller.

     

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    FDA Warns Chinese Toothpaste May Be Contaminated

    Consumers Should Discard All Toothpaste from China, Feds Warn

    FDA Warns Chinese Toothpaste May Be Contaminated...

    The U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning consumers to throw out all toothpaste made in China after finding a poison commonly used in anti-freeze in toothpaste it checked in three U.S. cities.

    As ConsumerAffairs.com reported on May 22, tubes of toothpaste from foreign lands are routinely sold in dollar-discount stores and neighborhood bodegas, even though the importation and sale of such products is illegal.

    Yesterday, the FDA said it had found diethylene glycol (DEG) in toothpaste sold at a Dollar Plus retail store in Miami under the brand name ShiR Fresh. It said nine other brands also contained the sweet, syrupy chemical and warned the products had a "low but meaningful risk of toxicity and injury," especially when used by children or individuals with kidney or liver disease.

    FDA said brands of toothpaste from China that contain DEG include: Cooldent Fluoride; Cooldent Spearmint; Cooldent ICE; Dr. Cool, Everfresh Toothpaste; Superdent Toothpaste; Clean Rite Toothpaste; Oralmax Extreme; Oral Bright Fresh Spearmint Flavor; Bright Max Peppermint Flavor; ShiR Fresh Mint Fluoride Paste; DentaPro; DentaKleen; and DentaKleen Junior.

    The agency said its inspectors identified and detained one shipment of toothpaste at the U.S. border, containing about 3 percent DEG by weight. In addition, FDA inspectors found and tested toothpaste products from China located at a distribution center and a retail store.

    The highest level found was between 3-4 percent by weight. The product at the retail store was not labeled as containing DEG but was found to contain the substance. Contaminated toothpaste was also found in Puerto Rico and the Port of Los Angeles, the FDA said.

    DEG killed 51 residents of Panama a year ago after it was found in Chinese-imported cough syrup.

    Foreign Toothpaste Widespread

    A recent story by ConsumerAffairs.com found illegally imported toothpaste being sold in in discount stores. We found 17 tubes of illegally imported toothpaste being sold in D.C.-area discount stores. The tubes were all manufactured in other countries and are not intended for sale in the U.S. One illegal tube of toothpaste was from China.

    Imported toothpaste found in D.C.-area stores

    The tubes are illegal because they do not follow the FDAs over-the-counter drug labeling requirements. Two tubes didnt even list all the ingredients while many of the others are in foreign languages.

    After almost three weeks of ignoring many of our questions, the FDA told ConsumerAffairs.com that companies who manufacture, market and distribute the toothpastes could all face prosecution for selling the illegal products.

    Over-the-counter drug products that do not comply with FDA labeling requirements are misbranded and may also be unapproved new drugs, both of which violate the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, FDA spokeswoman Veronica Castro wrote in an e-mail.

    Enforcement regarding products that violate the FDCA include regulatory correspondence, seizure, injunction, and in some cases criminal prosecution.

    Most of the illegal tubes were common U.S. names designed for foreign use.

    Colgate representative Tom Paolella, said regardless of the tubes origin, all their products are safe.

    Crest representatives have not returned two phone calls and two e-mails.

    The worst retail offender was discount store chain, National Wholesale Liquidators, which has not returned two e-mails and does not answer the phone.

    When shopping at discount stores, consumers should ensure the product has the over-the-counter drug facts labeling that includes: a list of active ingredients, a description of the products use, warnings, directions, a list of inactive ingredients and a toll-free phone number.

     



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