Current Events in June 2007

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    Tests Find Pain Killer in Pet Food

    Acetaminophen Dangerous to Dogs, Fatal to Cats in Small Doses


    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.



    Tests Find Pain Killer in Pet Food...

    Injuries Grow Along With Wii Popularity


    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.



    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...

    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.



    Mayo Clinic Cautions On Anti-Wrinkle Products...

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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

      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.

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

      Doane Pet Food Recalls Batch of Ol' Roy Dog Food

      May Be Contaminated with Salmonella


      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.



      Doane Pet Food Recalls Batch of Ol' Roy Dog Food...

      CPSC Warns Meerkat 50 Youth ATVs Defective and Dangerous

      Agency Powerless to Take Action Without a Quorum


      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.



      CPSC Warns Meerkat 50 Youth ATVs Defective and Dangerous...

      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 ...

      Fake Check Scam Targets Thrifty Nickel Advertisers...

      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.

      Honda Drops Accord Hybrid...

      NHTSA Probes Jeep Wrangler After Consumer Complaints

      Engine stalls at highway speeds, consumers complain

      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.

      NHTSA Probes Jeep Wrangler After Consumer Complaints...

      For Rent: Your Credit Score

      Loophole in FICO Enrages Lenders


      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."

      For Rent: Your Credit Score...

      ON THE MOVE! Traveling With Your Pet

      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

    • ON THE MOVE! Traveling With Your Pet...

      Wireless Spectrum May Hold Key To Net Neutrality

      There's a quiet war being waged over spectrum space

      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."

      Wireless Spectrum May Hold Key To Net Neutrality...

      China Faults U.S. FDA In Toothpaste Flap

      Consumers Should Discard All Toothpaste from China, Feds Warn

      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.



      China Faults U.S. FDA In Toothpaste Flap...

      Consumers Revolt Against High-Priced Media

      Getting Movies, Music Like Turning on a Tap

      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.

      Consumers Revolt Against High-Priced Media...

      FDA Warns Chinese Toothpaste May Be Contaminated

      Consumers Should Discard All Toothpaste from China, Feds Warn

      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.



      FDA Warns Chinese Toothpaste May Be Contaminated...