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Vitamin Supplements May Increase Cancer Risk, Report Warns
Latest warning about the documented risks of supplements02/29/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Vitamin Supplements May Increase Cancer Risk, Report Warns...
If you take vitamin supplements in hopes of warding off cancer and other illnesses, you may not be doing yourself any favors. In fact, a new study suggests you might even be increasing your cancer risk.
"Our study of supplemental multivitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E and folate did not show any evidence for a decreased risk of lung cancer," wrote the study's author, Christopher G. Slatore, M.D., of the University of Washington, in Seattle. "Indeed, increasing intake of supplemental vitamin E was associated with a slightly increased risk of lung cancer."
Findings of the study of 77,000 vitamin users were published in the first issue for March of the American Thoracic Society's American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
Similar warnings have been issued before but have received little attention.
In 2004, a British study found that not only do vitamin supplements not protect against gastrointestinal cancer, they may slightly increase the risk of cancer. If the findings are correct, 9,000 in every million users of such vitamin supplements will die prematurely as a result of taking something they think is good for them.
Last year, the Center for Science in the Public Interest called on the Food and Drug Administration to require manufacturers of dietary supplements that contain large doses of synthetic beta-carotene to warn smokers and people exposed to asbestos of an increased risk of lung cancer if they take the supplements.
"Though there is a lot of wishful thinking about antioxidants preventing cancer, the evidence connecting high-dosage beta-carotene supplements to increased rates of lung cancer in smokers is compelling," said CSPI senior nutritionist David Schardt.
CSPI says supplements with more than 5,000 IU, or 3 mg, should bear warning notices and that FDA should take enforcement action against companies that market the pills without the warnings.
CSPI noted a that a major report on diet and cancer by the World Cancer Research Foundation and the American Institute for Cancer Research found that the evidence linking beta-carotene to cancer in smokers is convincing.
In the latest study, Slatore and colleagues selected a prospective group of men and women between 50 and 76 years of age in the Washington state VITAL study, and determined their rate of developing lung cancer over four years with respect to their current and past vitamin usage, smoking, and other demographic and medical characteristics.
Of the original group, 521 developed lung cancer, the expected rate for a low-risk cohort such as VITAL. But among those who developed lung cancer, in addition to the unsurprising associations with smoking history, family history, and age, there was a slight but significant association between use of supplemental vitamin E and lung cancer.
"In contrast to the often assumed benefits or at least lack of harm, supplemental vitamin E was associated with a small increased risk of lung cancer," said Slatore.
When modeled continuously, the increased risk was equivalent to a seven percent rise for every 100 mg/day. "This risk translates into a 28 percent increased risk of lung cancer at a dose of 400 mg/day for ten years," wrote Slatore. The increased risk was most prominent in current smokers.
The idea that vitamin supplements are healthy, or at the very least, do no harm, comes from the desire of many people to mimic the benefits of a healthy diet with a convenient pill, says Tim Byers, M.D., M.P.H., of the University of Colorado School of Medicine in an editorial in the same issue of the journal. However, he points out, "fruits contain not only vitamins but also many hundreds of other phytochemical compounds whose functions are not well understood."
The World Cancer Research Fund and the American Cancer Society recommend two servings of fruit each day, based on a study that previously found a 20 percent increase in cancer risk among people who ate the least amount of fruit.
This recommendation "would likely lead to a reduced risk for lung cancer, as well as reduced risk of several other cancers and cardiovascular disease," writes Byers. "However, any benefit to the population of smokers from increasing fruit intake to reduce cancer risk by 20 percent would be more than offset if even a small proportion of smokers decided to continue tobacco use in favor of such a diet change."
Doctors Took Kickbacks from Orthopedic-Device Makers
Bribery scheme may be difficult to eliminate02/28/2008ConsumerAffairs
Doctors Took Kickbacks from Orthopedic-Device Makers...
A U.S. investigator told Congress Wednesday that four companies that manufacture artificial hips and knees sought to bribe doctors with more than $800 million in royalties and fees in an effort to get them to use their implants.
The bribery scheme apparently lasted four years.
Gregory E. Demske, an assistant inspector general at the Health and Human Services Department, testified before Congress that four unidentified companies that control about three-quarters of the $9.4 billion market for hips and knees, made illegitimate payments so aggressively that it would now be nearly impossible to eradicate this practice.
The fees have enriched doctors and distorted the market by bolstering sales of lower-quality devices, said Demske.
The hearing was conducted following a probe of the orthopedic-device industry by U.S. prosecutors which was settled last September by the industry for an estimated $311 million. The government had alleged that the companies handed out excessive consulting agreements, lavish trips and other trips to reward surgeons who used their products.
This is not the first time that a section of the medical community has been accused of being greedy. Many doctors on a day-to-day basis have to fend off numerous eager sales representatives from pharmaceutical companies that try to influence them to sell their products or recommend their medications as prescriptions to patients.
The orthopedic-device companies that were party to the settlement were two Warsaw, Indiana-based companies: Zimmer Holdings and Biomet, as well as New Brunswick, N.J.-based Johnson & Johnson and London-based Smith & Nephew companies.
A legal counsel for one of the companies, Zimmer Holdings, even acknowledged in media reports that his company may have gone too far in its efforts to bolster its sales and may have used consultants too aggressively to push doctors to recommend their products.
Some other companies, however, are arguing that it's difficult to sort out which payments are unethical and are open to online disclosure forms that the public can access to get a better understanding of the business. But they are also saying that Congress should not target the big companies alone. Larger device makers are worried that physicians may now shift their loyalties to competitors who may not be coming under such scrutiny and could perhaps continue the questionable practices in various direct and indirect forms.
A spokesman for the Association for Ethics in Spine Surgery testified that efforts to curb questionable consulting fees have failed so far because the industry has colluded in such schemes and groups such as his are considered outcasts in such debates.
"Something from the outside needs to happen," said Charles Rosen who started the ethics association.
Infant Deaths in the Nursery Increasing
Toll from cribs, bassinets has risen in recent years02/28/2008ConsumerAffairs
Infant Deaths in the Nursery Increasing...
More children have been killed and injured in cribs and other nursery products during the last few years than in previous years, according to a report released today by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The CPSC estimates that 66,400 children were seriously injured in the nursery in 2006, the highest total since 2002 when the agency estimated 67,000. It is a major increase from 2005, when the figure was 59,800.
The average number of deaths from 2002-2004 jumped only one to 81, compared to 80 during the years 2001-2003. However, those are not final figures and the totals are likely to rise because of a lag in reporting infant deaths from coroners and hospitals.
In other words, the 2001-2003 report is mostly complete while the 2002-2004 figures are still preliminary.
Alan Korn, director of public policy at the nonprofit Safe Kids USA, said he is concerned with the numbers.
Safe Kids is and has always been particularly concerned about the safety of cribs, playpens, bassinets and play yards because these are the only products that we can think of that either by design, by intent, by custom or practice, you leave your children unattended in them for long unsupervised periods of time, Korn said. So, if there is any environment on earth, or certainly in the home, that needs to be safe for child, it's those products.
The report did not include any statistics for 2007, which saw the record recall of 1,040,000 Simplicity cribs and bassinets, blamed for killing at least four infants.
An investigation by The Chicago Tribune found Simplicity and the CPSC knew for more than two years the faulty hardware and improper installation could leave babies vulnerable to suffocating in the cribs.
One of the things that concerned us with the Simplicity Crib recall was that there was a crib recall and within a handful of days, there was a bassinet recall, Korn said.
That tells me that you could've very well had people trying to do the right thing -- taking their kids out of cribs, putting them back in bassinets -- only to have the bassinet recalled within a handful of days. So parents are struggling finding a safe sleeping environment.
Korn does not blame the CPSC but said the agency could do more.
We believe that there should be extra special focus policing the marketplace for cribs, playpens, bassinets and play yards, he said.
Parents to blame?
The Juvenile Product Manufacturers Association (JPMA), the nursery manufacturers' lobbying arm, places blame with parents in a statement released today.
It is important to note that while nursery products were involved in these incidents, the incidents were not necessarily caused by the failure of the product, according to the statement. In many cases, injury or death were caused when the child was left unattended or caregivers misused the product or did not follow the manufacturer instructions or safety guidelines.
JPMA believes that instead of alarming parents, we should work together to educate them about the importance of the proper use and installation of juvenile products, the statement continued.
But Korn disagrees and says manufacturers could do much more to save infant lives.
What's wrong with companies implementing what's called passive prevention? That means designing your products in a fashion in which they are durable and can stay safe over time and also don't have unintended design hazards in them, Korn said.
In today's day and age, we're supposed to have safer products on the marketplace, parents are supposed to be as educated as they've ever been and companies are certainly more aware now than they've ever been about CPSC regulations, voluntary regulations and design products, Korn said. I'm disappointed that the numbers aren't going down.
What to do
According to a CPSC press release, the agency recommends:
To reduce the risk of SIDS and suffocation, place baby to sleep on his or her back in a crib that meets current safety standards
To prevent suffocation never use a pillow as a mattress for baby to sleep on or to prop babys head or neck
Infants can strangle if their bodies pass through gaps generated between loose components, broken slats and other parts of the crib and their head and neck become entrapped in the space. Do not use old, broken or modified cribs and be sure to regularly tighten hardware to keep sides firm.
Infants can suffocate in spaces generated between the sides of the crib and an ill fitted mattress; never allow a gap larger than two fingers at any point between the sides of the crib and the mattress
Never place a crib near a window with blind or curtain cords; infants can strangle on curtain or blind cords.
Properly set up play yards according to manufacturers directions. Only use the mattress provided with the play yard. Do not add extra mattresses, pillows or cushions to the play yard, which can cause a suffocation hazard for infants.
Routinely check nursery products against CPSC recall lists and remove recalled products from your home
Sign-up for automatic e-mail recall notifications at www.cpsc.gov
Korn also suggested parents bring their own playpens for their children to sleep in at hotels.
We've found that 25 percent of (hotel cribs) are recalled and the vast majority of them had some safety concern with them, he said.
Majestic Curved Top and Flat Top, Essex, Brighton/Sussex, Captiva Cribs Recalled
Majestic, Essex, Brighton/Sussex, Captiva Cribs02/28/2008ConsumerAffairs
Majestic Curved Top and Flat Top, Essex, Brighton/Sussex, Captiva Cribs...
February 28, 2008
About 24,000 cribs imported and distributed by Munire Furniture Inc. are being recalled because of a fall hazard. The cribs were sold under several brand names, including Majestic Curved Top and Flat Top Cribs, Essex Cribs, Brighton/Sussex Cribs and Captiva Cribs.
The cribs fail to meet the federal safety standards for cribs. The four support brackets on the mattress support spring are too long. The brackets prevent the spring from lowering to the full 26 inch minimum height in its lowest position, allowing children inside to crawl over the railing, posing a fall hazard.
The cribs are wooden. The recalled cribs include: Majestic Curved Top cribs with model number 9500; Majestic Flat Top cribs with model number 9000; Essex cribs with model number 7100; Brighton/Sussex cribs with model number 9100 and Captiva cribs with model number 5100. Only cribs with manufacture dates between November 1, 2005 and November 1, 2007 are included in the recall.
The crib model number is printed on the white label on the bottom inside of the right side rail. The crib manufacture date is printed on either the white label near the model number or on the white label located on the bottom of the headboard. Cribs with a green sticker on the mattress frame are not included in the recall.
The cribs were sold at specialty juvenile product stores nationwide from November 2005 through November 2007 for between $400 and $600. They were made in Indonesia.
Consumers should stop using the recalled cribs and contact Munire Furniture to receive replacement spring brackets.Consumer Contact: For additional information, contact Munire Furniture Inc. at (866) 586-9639 between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. ET or visit the firm's Web site at www.munirefurniture.com.
The recall is being conducted in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
Ford Fires Strike in Minnesota, California
After years of disastrous fires, NHTSA urges Ford owners to act quickly02/28/2008ConsumerAffairs
Ford Fires Strike in Minnesota, California...
After years of disastrous fires involving Ford vehicles, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is strongly warning Ford, Lincoln and Mercury owners of fire hazards involving the faulty cruise control switches in recalled Ford Motor Company vehicles that have not been repaired.
ConsumerAffairs.com has been reporting on the problem for years, chronicling fires in vehicles parked outside homes, in garages and even at fire stations.
In a highly usual statement, NHTSA urged owners of the recalled vehicles to go to a Ford or Lincoln Mercury dealer as soon as possible and have the cruise control system disconnected.
The unrepaired Ford, Lincoln and Mercury SUVs, pickup trucks, vans and certain passenger cars contain a safety defect that could cause the vehicle to erupt into flames, according to the NHTSA statement.
"Failure to have the switch disconnected could lead to a vehicle fire at any time, whether or not the key is in the ignition, and whether or not owners use the cruise control system," NHTSA warned in the consumer advisory.
The safety agency said the fire danger is present regardless of the age of the vehicle, and could even occur while the vehicle is parked and unattended. Several dwelling fires have been attributed to the problem.
Many dealers will perform a short-term fix as a drive-through service so owners do not have to leave their vehicles at the dealership or schedule an appointment in advance, according to NHTSA.
NHTSA said it is issuing the unusual consumer advisory because of concerns that many owners have yet to respond to multiple safety defect recall notifications involving almost 10 million registered vehicles.
NHTSA reported that approximately five million vehicles have been repaired so far, leaving some five million passenger cars and light trucks with the faulty switches intact, and in danger of catching fire at any time without warning.
The drive-through repair is an interim safety measure but will eliminate the risk of fire while affected Ford and Mercury owners are waiting for final repairs from the company, NHTSA said.
Ford is in the process of re-notifying owners of the SUVs and other light trucks concerning the importance of having the switch disconnected.
The involved vehicles are:
1. 1993 2004 F150
2. 1993 1999 F250 (gasoline engine)
3. 1993 1996 Bronco
4. 1994 1996 Econoline
5. 1997 2002 Ford Expedition
6. 1998 2002 Lincoln Navigator
7. 1998 2002 Ford Ranger
8. 1992 1998 Ford Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car
9. 1993 1998 Lincoln Mark VIII
10. 1993 1995 Ford Taurus SHO with automatic transmission
11. 1994 Mercury Capri
12. 1998 2001 Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer
13. 2001 2002 Ford Explorer Sport and Explorer Sport Trac
14. 1992 1993 and 1997 2003 Ford E-150-350 gasoline or natural gas vehicles
15. 2002 E-550 gasoline engine vehicles
16. 1996 2003 E-450 gasoline or natural gas vehicles
17. 1994 2002 F-250 through F-550 super Duty trucks (gasoline engine)
18. 2000 2002 Ford Excursion (gasoline engine)
19. 2003 F250 F550 Super Duty, Ford Excursion
20. 1995 2002 Ford F53 Motor home chassis
21. 2002 2003 Lincoln Blackwood
The firestorm of Ford trucks erupting into flames most recently struck in two more states, devastating Ford truck owners in Minnesota and California.
The Ford inferno hit a homeowner in Chisago City, Minnesota last month when her 2000 Ford Expedition started on fire parked in our attached garage. We have now lost everything we owned, wrote the Ford Expedition owner. The home we built not even 2 years ago burned to the ground, she said.
Aftermath of the Chisago City, Minn., fire
Neighbors of the burned-out Chisago City homeowners are helping their friends. "Rob and Gina's house burned," wrote a friend. "Fortunately, they got out of the house with their 2 daughters."
"The fire is being investigated, but it started in Gina's truck. Rob opened up the mudroom door and the entire car was engulfed in flames," he said. "Everything, including both their cars were torched."
"This will be a hard time for the children and for Rob and Gina. I am hoping we can get together and help their kids," the neighbor wrote to friends.
While the Minnesota fire is still under investigation, a second Ford truck went up in flames in Westminster, California on January 22. This home owner is fortunate. He lost only his Ford truck and not his house as well.
The California Ford owner had parked his truck in the driveway following a brief 20-minute drive.
Approximately one hour later, about 3:30 in the afternoon, the engine compartment was on fire and became engulfed within minutes, he said.
A neighbor's daughter saw the fire and her dad and a friend came to our house and helped put out the fire with a garden hose before it could catch fire to the front of our house, according to the ConsumerAffairs.com reader.
The fire department told the Ford truck owner that the origin of the fire was on the driver's side of the vehicle near and around the master cylinder.
That would place the origin of the truck fire in the area of the cruise control system which the Ford Motor Co. is struggling to recall.
Ford admits a parts shortage is preventing the automaker from repairing all of the recalled Ford cars and trucks recalled for a faulty cruise control system until sometime later in 2008. The automaker has no specific time table for completion of the recall.
As a short-term solution, Ford offers to disconnect the cruise control system in recalled vehicles until parts are available to complete the repair.
1.8 million at risk
More than 1.8 million Ford cars and trucks remain at risk 5 months after the automaker recalled an additional 3.6 million vehicles because of the fire hazard in the cruise control system.
A Ford spokesman insists the automaker is doing all it can to complete the fire hazard recall.
This was a large recall, and we're working with the supplier to meet the volume challenge as soon aspossible, said Ford's Dan Jarvis.
A Mississippi consumer has had it with Ford because of the confusion surrounding the recall.
My mother's 1988 Grand Marquis caught fire and was damaged and repaired with recall notice coming month later, he said. She now drives my 1997 Lincoln Town Car and there was a safety recall in July with parts due in November. Now we are told February, he said.
Ford would not offer an explanation for the recall delay to their Sumrall, Mississippi customer so he got rid of the Lincoln and bought his mother a Lexus.
The recall delay adds to an already troubling situation for many Ford consumers faced with the cruise control recall. The consequences are sometimes devastating.
Faced with continuing delays, some Ford customers are reluctant to go along with the automaker's interim solution to deactivate the cruise control system.
Some Ford dealers now require customers who decline to disconnect the cruise control system to sign a waiver of liability.
With just more than half of the fire-prone Fords repaired, the automaker insists the company is responding adequately in an effort to notify Ford customers to return their vehicles to a Ford dealership for repair of the fire hazard.
We have sent multiple mailings to customers, based on current vehicle registrations, asking them to bring in vehicles. I don't have an exact figure, but about half of the total have done so to date. We have one of the highest return rates in the industry, based on update registration info, and sending multiple mailings, Ford spokesman Jarvis said in an email response to ConsumerAffairs.com.
Ford, however, continues to deny any responsibility for fires caused by its trucks. It tells burned-out customers to talk to their insurance agents.
Photos furnished by ConsumerAffairs.com readers
Ford Recalls 400,000 Mustangs
Passenger airbags pose risk to small women, large children02/27/2008ConsumerAffairs
Doing a test with a fifth percentile female in full forward seating position would often represent worst case in terms of the potential for injury to the o...
Ford Motor Company is recalling more than 400,000 model year 2005 to 2008 Mustangs because the passenger-side airbags may pose the risk of neck injury to small women or large children riding in the seat with the safety belt unattached.
During an air bag deployment, if a small female in the front passenger seat is not wearing the safety belt and has the seat in the full forward position, there may be an increased potential for a neck injury, according to a summary of the recall order posted on the Nation Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) web site.
The test dummy in the front passenger seat during a NHTSA test of the Mustang was representing a fifth percentile female or a large child. A fifth percentile female is approximately five feet tall and about 108 pounds but also could represent others, including a larger child.
We use both the fifth percentile and fiftieth percentile male dummies in tests to make sure the results are representative of a range of occupants, a NHTSA spokesman said.
Doing a test with a fifth percentile female in full forward seating position would often represent worst case in terms of the potential for injury to the occupant. The combination is commonly used with airbag crash tests, among other things, he said.
Ford is recalling the Mustangs for failing to comply with one of the neck injury requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 208,'Occupant Crash Protection,' according to NHTSA.
Described by Ford as a voluntary recall, Ford dealers will reprogram the Mustang airbag restraint control module free of charge.
The NHTSA Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance notified Ford of the air bag noncompliance on July 24, 2007. The automaker said that, After an extensive investigation, it was determined that the subject vehicles do not comply with the requirements.
Ford notified dealers of the recall February 22 and a recall was issued with a warning going out from Ford to Mustang owners February 27 and 28, 2008.
Ford also told dealers to stop demonstrating or delivering the Mustang until they are updated with new software for the constraint control module.
With the recall, the automaker plans to notify affected Mustang owners to take their vehicle to a Ford or Lincoln Mercury dealer for the software update. Ford will also instruct them to have all occupants wear their safety belts and move the passenger seat rearward away from the passenger air bag, according to a letter from Ford on file with NHTSA.
An owner can take these steps to eliminate any real world safety risk associated with this noncompliance, Ford told NHTSA.
Mustang owners may contact Ford at 1-866-436-7332 or NHTSA at 1-888-327-4236 (TTY 1-800-424-9153).
Mortgage Applications Drop 20 Percent In A Week
Looming rate increases cause concern02/27/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Mortgage Applications Drop 20 Percent In A Week...
With many adjustable rate mortgage holders facing higher rates in the coming year, economists and lawmakers concerned about soaring foreclosures are hoping many of these consumers can refinance to lower, fixed rate loans.
The latest news from the Mortgage Bankers Association is not exactly encouraging.
The group's Refinance Index, a measure of the number of new mortgages taken out to replace old ones, fell 30.4 percent in the week ending February 22. Overall, mortgage applications were down 19.2 percent.
A bright spot in the survey showed an 8.4 percent increase in the Government Purchase Index, a measure of government-backed mortgages. Economists have encouraged ARM holders to refinance with FHA and other government backed loans since rates are often more attractive than conventional loans.
But at the same time, consumers continue to take out ARMs. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity increased to 15.0 from 12.8 percent of total applications from the previous week.
Meanwhile, mortgage interest rates are going up. The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages increased to 6.27 percent from 6.09 percent, with points increasing to 1.15 from 1.10 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value (LTV) ratio loans.
The average contract interest rate for 15-year fixed-rate mortgages increased to 5.77 percent from 5.55 percent, with points decreasing to 1.01 from 1.08 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent LTV loans.
The average contract interest rate for one-year ARMs increased to 5.84 percent from 5.72 percent, with points decreasing to 0.86 from 0.91 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent LTV loans.
Comcast Blocks Public From FCC Hearing
Cable company pays thugs to keep public out of public hearing02/26/2008ConsumerAffairs
Comcast Blocks Public From FCC Hearing...
An already contentious skirmish between the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Comcast over the cable company's blocking Internet access for some of its subscribers got hotter when Comcast blocked access to an FCC hearing.
The cable company admitted to paying employees and members of the general public to fill up seats in an FCC hearing in Cambridge, Massachusetts Monday.
Playing off a common Washington, D.C. tradition of lobbyists paying "placeholders" -- often poor people and supposedly starving students -- to hold spots in line for crowded Capitol Hill events, Comcast's spokespersons admitted it paid people to do the same for a hearing on the company's actions regarding its interference with peer-to-peer file-sharing services such as BitTorrent.
The placeholders not only held spots in line, but also crowded into the hearing itself, preventing more than 100 attendees -- many of whom had come to speak against Comcast -- from getting inside.
Tim Karr, campaign director of net neutrality advocacy group SaveTheInternet.com, said that "First, Comcast was caught blocking the Internet. Now it has been caught blocking the public from the debate. The only people cheering Comcast are those paid to do so."
"Clearly, Comcast will resort to just about any underhanded tactic to stack the decks in its favor," Karr said, "and yet Comcast still expects us to trust them with the future of the Internet?"
SaveTheInternet.com published an audio file on their blog of what they claimed was an interview with a man who had been paid to show up for the hearing, even though he had no idea what it was for.
The FCC convened the hearing after promising to investigate Comcast for violating the principles of net neutrality, the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally. FCC chairman Kevin Martin said that while Comcast has the right to engage in "reasonable steps to manage traffic, but they cannot arbitrarily block access."
"I keep saying that the time has come for a specific enforceable principle of nondiscrimination," said fellow commissioner Michael Copps. "This principle should allow for reasonable network management, but make crystal clear that broadband network operators cannot shackle the promise of the Internet."
"Don't let the rhetoric of some of our critics scare you," said David Cohen, executive vice president of Verizon, speaking on behalf of network providers, "Every broadband network is managed. Our customers want to fight spam or viruses, and they want us to manage network congestion so they can do what they want, when they want at acceptable speeds."
Massachusetts Democratic Congressman Ed Markey spoke in favor of net neutrality as a right of free speech.
"Let me underscore that the Internet is as much mine and yours as it is Verizon's, AT&T's or Comcast's," he said.
Markey, who tried unsuccessfully to pass several pieces of legislation in the previous Congress that would have enshrined the principles of a neutral Internet into law, introduced new legislation earlier this month that would task the FCC to investigate Internet service providers in order to ensure they were not blocking or discriminating against certain types of content.
Food, energy prices rising rapidly as economy softens02/26/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Prices Surging, Consumer Confidence Plunging...
FDIC Staffs Up to Handle Bank Failures
Agency trying to rehire retired staff02/26/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
FDIC Staffs Up to Handle Bank Failures...
Consumers aren't the only ones losing confidence in the economy.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) is staffing up to handle what it fears may be a wave of bank failures as the subprime mortgage mess brings down lenders.
The Wall Street Journal reports that FDIC is trying to rehire at least 25 retired employees who are specialists in dealing with bank failures. Many of the retirees dealt with bank closings in the 1980s and 1990s, following the savings and loan crisis, the newspaper said.
The FDIC identified 76 banks as potential problems during the last quarter of 2007, 11 more than in the third quarter.
Problem institutions are put under closer scrutiny but the agency never discloses their identity, hoping to avoid mass withdrawals by depositors. A problem bank is generally one whose capital reserves may not be adequate to meet the bank's obligations while dealing with loan defaults and other liabilities.
Besides trying to lure back retirees, the FDIC is advertising on its Web site for employees with "skill in performing duties associated with a financial-institution closing, such as receivership management, resolutions and/or asset disposition."
Blue Hippo Pays $5 Million To Settle FTC Charges
Consumers complain computer layaway purchases went awry02/26/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Blue Hippo Pays $5 Million To Settle FTC Charges...
Two interconnected companies -- BlueHippo Funding, LLC and BlueHippo Capital, LLC -- have agreed to pay up to $5 million to consumers who have filed complaints about the companies' computer layaway scheme, exposed in a January 2007 investigative seriesby ConsumerAffairs.com's Joe Enoch.
The payments are part of a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, which charged that the companies violated federal consumer protection laws.
Several states have also taken action against Blue Hippo. In May 2007 Maryland's Attorney General extracted a $1 million settlement from the firm.
Blue Hippo offered to extend credit to consumers to finance purchases of personal computers and other consumer electronics with down payments of $99 to $124 and a year of weekly or bi-weekly payments ranging from $36 to $88. In nationwide television and radio commercials, and on their Web site, the defendants touted the ability of consumers with "less than perfect credit, bad credit, no credit" to finance the purchase of a computer. But in fact, many consumers who ordered products paid hundreds of dollars and received nothing in return, according to consumers who complainedto ConsumerAffairs.com.
According to the FTC complaint, Blue Hippo required consumers to agree to a series of automatic, periodic debits from their bank accounts to purchase their products, promising that they would deliver the product once the consumer made 13 weekly, or seven bi-weekly, payments.
In many instances, the defendants debited consumers' accounts without first disclosing that consumers could not get a refund even if they cancelled before delivery of the product, regardless of the reason for cancellation.
Consumers who ordered products by calling a toll-free number were told that they would receive a "shipping verification form" with sale terms and shipping information, and that they had to sign and return the form to ensure product delivery, the complaint says. The form contained terms that were not disclosed previously, including disclosures regarding finance terms.
The defendants often failed to provide the forms and revolving account agreements before they debited accounts, so the finance terms and refund policy were not disclosed before consumers started making non-refundable payments.
The FTC says many consumers did not receive the merchandise they ordered or refunds. The agency took action, accusing Blue Hippo of failing to clearly and conspicuously disclose their policy of not providing refunds before debiting accounts, in violation of the FTC Act, and giving consumers no opportunity to make a timely and informed decision about whether or not to risk the potential loss of advance payments.
The defendants also allegedly failed to deliver the products after consumers made 13 weeks of payments, as promised during the sales call, also in violation of the FTC Act.
Right to cancel
For good measure, Blue Hippo was charged with violating the FTC's Mail Order Rule by failing to ship merchandise in a timely manner or give consumers the right to cancel and receive a refund. They allegedly violated the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) and Regulation Z by failing to make certain written disclosures before a transaction is made under an open-end consumer credit plan, and they allegedly violated the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA) and Regulation E by conditioning the extension of credit to consumers on repayment by preauthorized electronic debits.
Under the proposed stipulated final order, the defendants are barred from misrepresentations in the marketing of consumer electronics or any product requiring four or more periodic payments before shipment.
They also are barred from misrepresenting refunds, cancellations, exchanges, or repurchases of products without disclosing clearly and conspicuously, before receiving payment, the terms and conditions, and any policy of not refunding all payments when a consumer cancels the contract before product delivery.
In addition, they are permanently prohibited from violating the Mail Order Rule, the TILA and Regulation Z, and from conditioning the extension of credit on mandatory preauthorized transfers in violation of the EFTA and Regulation E.
The settlement includes a monetary judgment of at least $3.5 million and up to $5 million. This money will be used to provide redress to consumers who entered into contracts with the defendants before March 2006, made payments, and did not receive the ordered products, refunds, or other restitution.
If valid consumer claims exceed $3.5 million, the defendants will be required to pay up to an additional $1.5 million to pay those claims. The settlement also requires the defendants to stop collecting money from purchasers who are entitled to redress, to stop furnishing derogatory information about such purchasers to credit reporting agencies, and to notify any agency to which they have provided such information that the person's account is in good standing.
-- Federal Courts have dealt a blow to BlueHippo Funding by dismissing the company's attempt to force all of its customers to take their complaints to arbitration, opening the door to class-action lawsuits.
The company, based in Baltimore, sells computers and other electronic goods on a layaway program.
It was the center of a January 2007 investigation by ConsumerAffairs.com and targets low-income individuals with bad or no credit and sells cheap computers for as much as five times the value and often never delivers any product, even after hundreds of dollars have already been paid, according to customer complaints.
"I heard about BlueHippo on the radio," Littia of Oakland, Calif. wrote to ConsumerAffairs.com. "They said they have helped thousands of consumers, regardless of their credit, to get a computer of your own. All I had to do was send a $100 check to them and they would take $53.32 out of my account each month."
"It's been seven months and I have been calling them on why I have not gotten any more information from them." Littia continued. "They can take money from my account, but I can not get my money back, only store credit. I want my $500."
Littia is one of 291 consumers who, as of this writing, have filed similar complaints with ConsumerAffairs.com.
Tuesday's decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va. does little to aid consumers in the short term, but in the long run, it could "put BlueHippo out of business," said David Marshall, the attorney who filed class-action lawsuits against BlueHippo in Maryland and California.
BlueHippo secures its orders when customers call to inquire. After a few weeks of payments, the company delivers a contract to customers which states that they cannot enter a class-action lawsuit, but rather, must use a third-party arbitrator to settle any claims. Marshall said the arbitrator BlueHippo uses rarely settles in favor of consumers.
Many consumers never sign or return that contract, Marshall said. Despite that, BlueHippo has tried to force all dissatisfied customers into arbitration. Tuesday's decision held up that only customers who signed the contract could be forced into arbitration rather than enter a class-action.
Although the Maryland class-action lawsuit was unsuccessful, Marshall said with the federal court's decision, it bolsters his case in California where class-action waivers are not recognized.
California comprises about 15 percent of BlueHippo's customer base, Marshall said potentially enough to put the company out of business if the class-action is successful.
The company could appeal the court's decision but did not respond to a request for comment from ConsumerAffairs.com.
The company is also under investigation by the attorneys general in West Virgina, Florida and Illinois and settled with the Maryland attorney general in May.
As a result of that settlement, Maryland consumers who received nothing or overpaid for their BlueHippo products, will receive reimbursements starting in early 2008, attorney general spokeswoman Raquel Guillory, said.
Toxins found in most Americans; highest levels in children02/26/2008ConsumerAffairs
High percentage of California furniture contains toxic chemicals that have been linked to cancer, birth defects, hormone disruption, and reproductive and n...
Feds Probe Fire Hazard in Chrysler Pacifica
More than 50,000 SUVs may be affected02/26/2008ConsumerAffairs
Safety regulators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported the fires may be related to a faulty power steering seal....
Federal safety regulators are upgrading their investigation of consumer complaints of engine fires in the 2007 Chrysler Pacifica SUV. Ssafety regulators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported the fires may be related to a faulty power steering seal.
There are 51,590 of the Pacific SUVs with the 4.0 liter engine that might be at risk of erupting into flames under the hood.
The reports of smoke and fire are contained in 3 complaints to NHTSA and 25 complaints to the automaker, according to documents posted on the NHTSA web site.
Chrysler has also received 166 warranty claims related to the fire problem.
Complaints alleged that a fire erupted under the hood, near the front of the vehicle, according to the Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) at NHTSA.
Chrsyler, according to NHTSA, asserts that the alleged defect occurs only in the in the 4.0 liter engine and the consumer will experience a loss of power steering fluid or a noisy power steering pump before seeing any evidence of smoke or fire.
Chrysler also states, according to NHTSA, that a tube nut on the high pressure power steering line was discovered to be cross threaded during the assembly process and did not allow proper sealing of the o-ring.
Chrysler assembles the 4.0 liter engine used in the 2007 Pacifica. The 3.8 liter engine also used in the vehicle arrives at the Chrysler plant already assembled and apparently does not present a fire hazard.
Chrysler, according to NHTSA found it was possible to cross thread the tube nut on the high pressure line during attachment to the steering gear, thus creating an improper seal.
NHTSA reported on its web site that Chryslers has implemented assembly process changes to eliminate the possibility of cross threading and applied additional quality control measures to detect power steering fluid leaks.
Chrysler told federal safety regulators that the changes have minimized the cross threading problem but ODI reports that a review of the warranty claims indicates that the alleged defect has not declined.
ODI is began a engineering analysis February 21 of the fire hazard. The investigation could eventually lead to a recall of the 2007 Chrysler Pacifica.
No starvation diet for "the Kimmer"02/25/2008ConsumerAffairs
Kimkins Diet Rolls On Despite Founder's Excess Poundage...
Lexis-Nexis Parent To Buy ChoicePoint
$4.1 billion deal would create massive new information brokerage02/23/2008ConsumerAffairs
Lexis-Nexis Parent To Buy ChoicePoint...
Reed Elsevier, the London-based corporate parent of the Lexis-Nexis search service, announced plans yesterday to purchase infamous data broker ChoicePoint for $4.1 billion, creating a super-sized information brokerage with access to millions of records on individual citizens.
While the deal promises to reap huge corporate windfalls for both companies, the implications for the privacy and safety of Americans' personal information is much less clear.
Reed Elsevier made the announcement in tandem with its plan to sell its Reed Business Information print division, including magazines such as Variety and Publishers Weekly, and focus more on online services and information gathering.
"The combination of ChoicePoint's highly regarded data and analytics assets with LexisNexis's market leading technology can be leveraged to create greater opportunities in addressing the growing risk information and analytics needs in insurance, financial, legal, screening, law enforcement, public safety, healthcare and other sectors," the company said in a statement.
"Since 1997, ChoicePoint has been a leader in our industry," said ChoicePoint Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Derek V. Smith. "We developed innovative products that helped our customers be successful. We created wealth for our shareholders. We built a workplace culture and a respect for personal privacy that is recognized as among the best in our industry and all US-based businesses."
In addition to creating wealth for shareholders, the Reed Elsevier buyout promises to create great wealth for Smith and chief operating officer Derek Curling. Smith would earn $149 million for his shares in ChoicePoint, while Curling would earn $51 million. Details were scarce as to what the combined corporate entity would call itself or if any layoffs would come as a result of the merger.
Privacy advocates expressed concern over the implications of the merger. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) said that "Consumer privacy will be seriously affected if the merger is approved without any privacy safeguards." Ed Mierzwinski, head of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), said that the merger represented the latest of "threats to privacy posed by the new relationships between private data vendors collecting commercial data and selling it to government agencies."
"Unless subject to rigorous privacy scrutiny, this union will exacerbate that threat," Mierzwinski said.
The Information Trail
Both companies control a dizzying number of smaller products and divisions designed to investigate personal records for the benefit of insurers, law enforcement, employers, and government agencies.
Lexis-Nexis is the well-known database archive of newspaper, journal, and periodical articles, while ChoicePoint sells services such as its CLUE database of insurance information records to evaluate insurance claims, and the Bridger Insight tool, which helps banks verify identities of new account applicants in compliance with the PATRIOT Act.
And both companies have come under scrutiny in recent years for how easily their treasure troves of data could be compromised.
ChoicePoint became notorious after a ring of Nigerian criminals posed as businessmen and bought the personal records of 163,000 Americans in late 2004. ChoicePoint did not disclose the breach until February 2005, triggering a national outcry over data breaches and information selling, as well as a $15 million settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over the breach.
ChoicePoint also paid $500,000 ChoicePoint Settles With Attorneys General Over Data Breach brought by the Attorneys General of 44 states over the data breach, and another $10 million to settle a class action lawsuit brought by victims of the breach. Smith and Curling were targets of a Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) investigation of their sale of stock after the 2004 breach, but were exonerated.
ChoicePoint later underwent a very public makeover, hiring a new privacy officer and "consumer advocate," as well as drastically reforming its practices and agreeing to submit to regular audits of its affairs by federal authorities.
Lexis-Nexis, meanwhile, was hit with a data breach of 32,000 records in March 2005, not long after the ChoicePoint breach was disclosed.
Parents File Federal Complaint over Son's Death on People to People Tour
Organization's advertising and safety claims questioned02/23/2008ConsumerAffairs
Parents File Federal Complaint over Son's Death on People to People Tour...
The Minnesota family that recently sued a student travel organization for the wrongful death of their son has now taken their case to a federal consumer protection agency.
ConsumerAffairs.com has learned that Sheryl and Allan Hill recently filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) against the Ambassadors Group and its People to People programs.
The complaint alleges the companies use unfair and deceptive trade practices to recruit students for their oversea trips and promote their safety record.
The complaint also names a company called docleaf, Ltd., which provided counseling services to the Hills after their son died.
The Hills' 16-year-old son, Tyler, died last summer on a People to People student ambassador trip to Japan.
In their lawsuit -- filed last month in Minnesota's Hennepin County District Court -- the Hills alleged that People to People's chaperones refused to take their son to the hospital when he requested medical attention.
Tyler had Type 1 diabetes and complex migraine headaches. His family disclosed his medical conditions before he left on the trip.
'Solid' safety record
The travel organization that touts its ties to President Dwight D. Eisenhower assured the Hills it had a solid safety record and a 24-hour response team that could handle any medical emergency.
That promise is the reason the Hills let Tyler join his friends on the trip overseas. It's also at the heart of their wrongful death lawsuit.
Now that promise is the centerpiece of the Hills' FTC complaint.
In that action, the Hill's allege the travel organization and its program engage in unfair and deceptive trade practices, including:
• People to People claims it will immediately notify parents if a child becomes sick during a trip. That did not happen in Tyler's case. The Hills allege the leaders on their son's trip did not call them until after Tyler was taken to a Tokyo hospital;
• People to People claims to have a "solid safety record." "One dead child is not a solid safety record," Sheryl Hill alleges. She also alleges other children have been injured and become sick on People to People trips and that one child died trying to jump a train on a trip in Europe;
• Students are led to believe they are "nominated" for these oversea trips. But People to People uses a commercial list rental service to obtain students' names and then "mass mails" invitation letters, the Hills allege. The company, they added, solicits more than 300,000 children each year;
• The company's invitation letters appear to come from the non-profit People to People International. But the Ambassadors Group, a for-profit company headquartered in Spokane, Washington, markets the People to People Student Ambassador trips and handles the travel arrangements;
• People to People has sent "invitations" to the parents of deceased children. It also sent "invitations" to the "parents" of a deceased cat;
• Consumers are led to believe President Eisenhower founded and chaired People to People. "President Eisenhower was never the founder or the chairman," the Hills allege;
• Anyone can nominate a child for a student ambassador trip on People to People's Web site. The Web site doesn't ask about a student's qualifications for the trip or even the name of the person making the nomination;
• Consumers are led to believe that People to People student ambassador programs are sanctioned by the government and part of the U.S. Department of State. This is false, the Hills allege.
Warning to parents
Sheryl Hill said her family filed the FTC complaint to warn parents about the organization's tactics.
"My job is to make sure families know this organization is lying and deceiving their kids," she told us from her home in Mound, Minnesota.
She reiterates that message in her FTC complaint.
"We wish to protect our future generations," she writes. "People to People Organizations, Ambassadors Group, Inc., and docleaf's unfair and deceptive acts of practice cost Tyler his life, and us our beloved son. These organizations send 28,000-50,000 kids on trips every yearplease don't let it happen again."
The Hills allege many of the same wrongdoings in their lawsuit.
Named in that action are the Ambassadors Group, People to People Student Ambassador Programs, People to People International, A United Kingdom organization called docleaf Limited, two of its employees -- Larry McGonnell and Dr. David Perl -- and the four delegation leaders on Tyler's trip: Susan Stahr, Pat Veum-Smith, Josh Aberle, and Angela Hanson.
In their lawsuit, the Hill's allege the travel organization and its delegation leaders refused to get Tyler the medical attention he requested - and that his June 29, 2007, death in Tokyo is the result of their negligence.
Tyler Hill (Family photo)
The Hills discovered that Tyler had become sick at least three times before he was taken to the Japanese Red Cross Medical Center in Tokyo.
One time, he became ill after eating bad food. He later vomited blood, fainted in the shower after an unsupervised trip to a hot springs, and his blood sugar became low.
People to People, however, never contacted Tyler's parents about these medical problems and allegedly failed to monitor his condition.
Mount Fuji climb
Tyler's health took a turn for the worse on June 26, 2007 -- the day he and his group hiked Mount Fuji. After that climb, Tyler asked his delegation leaders to take him to the hospital. He said he had altitude sickness.
"Ty was the catalyst and poster child for the FIT USA Foundation, a non-profit diabetes rehabilitation advocacy group," Sheryl told us. "He dominated his disease and he knew if he was sick."
But according to the family's lawsuit, People to People's delegation leaders refused his request for medical treatment. Instead, they told him to "work through it" and sent him to his hotel room with water.
The lawsuit also states that People to People again failed to contact the Hills about Tyler's illness.
Sometime around 4 a.m. on June 27, 2007, Tyler's condition deteriorated and he started vomiting blood.
Around 7 that morning, People to People's four delegation leaders learned about Tyler's failing health. But they again refused to seek any medical treatment -- even though he requested that attention "because he had been vomiting blood since four o'clock in the morning."
The delegation leaders also failed again to contact Tyler's parents, the lawsuit alleges.
For the next ten hours -- from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. -- People to People's delegation leaders allegedly left Tyler alone in his room -- without any medical attention.
The lawsuit further alleges that Tyler was placed under the "custody and care" of the one person the Hills specifically requested he never be left alone with -- delegation leader Pat Veum-Smith.
The Hills met Veum-Smith before Tyler's trip and expressed concerns about her abilities to care for their son.
"Pat Veum-Smith did nothing to assist him or obtain assistance for him, nor did she engage the 24-hour service center to contact Tyler's parents or medical doctors," the lawsuit states.
In fact, People to People's delegation leaders allegedly did not seek any medical attention for Tyler until he was found unconscious in his hotel room -- sometime around 6 p.m. on June 27, 2007. That's when the leaders finally called an ambulance, the lawsuit states.
A few hours later, Pat Veum-Smith notified the Hills that Tyler was in the Japanese Red Cross Medical Center. She also told them that Tyler's heart had stopped beating for more than an hour, that he had been resuscitated and was on dialysis.
Tyler died two days later.
"My son was killed," Sheryl told us last month, fighting back tears. "They (People to People) killed him. This was involuntary manslaughter, neglect, and abandonment."
The lawsuit echoes her sentiments.
"Tyler's death was caused because he was refused healthcare and left unassisted by the agents, employee, and representatives of Defendants Ambassadors Group, People to People, Susan Stahr, Pat Veum-Smith, Josh Aberle, and Angela Hanson, all of whom failed to notify Tyler's parents or medical doctors of his severe illness."
Doctors in Tokyo said Tyler would be alive today if he'd gotten medical attention sooner, Sheryl said.
That would have happened, she added, if someone had called her when Tyler first became sick.
The delegation leaders didn't hesitate to call Sheryl several days earlier when they caught Tyler holding hands with his girlfriend.
"Angela Hanson, one of the People to People leaders, phoned me from Japan the day after arrival with a reprimand call because Ty and Abbey were showing public displays of affection on the airplane to Tokyo," Sheryl said. "They were holding hands."
Hanson then put Tyler on the phone. The marked the last time Sheryl talked to her son.
"Ty said not to worry, that it wouldn't happen again and that I could be proud of him," Sheryl recalled. "I told him I already was. He told me it was great to hear my voice and that he loved me."
Sheryl will never forget Tyler's final message to her: "I love you so much too, Mom. Don't worry."
The unconscionable actions don't end with the organization's failure to contact the Hills when their son became sick or get him the medical attention he requested, the lawsuit states.
It also alleges that docleaf Limited and its employees -- which the Ambassadors Group hired to help the Hills with their grieving process -- invaded the family's privacy.
By "providing confidential mental health records and reports" to the Ambassadors Group and People to People, the lawsuit states.
"Larry McGonnell (an employee of docleaf Limited who claimed to be a licensed psychotherapist) flew home with us from Japan," Sheryl told us. "He was good. He helped us focus and grieve. And we told him everything...he counseled us for two days."
Sheryl, however, said her family never gave McGonnell or docleaf permission to release their private medical and psychological records to anyone - including the Ambassadors Group or People to People.
Before initiating any legal action, Sheryl says her family tried to work with top officials at the non-profit organization People to People International -- headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, -- and the Ambassadors Group.
The Hills' requests weren't motivated by greed or money. "No amount of money will bring our son back," Sheryl said.
They simply asked Jeffery D. Thomas, president and CEO of the Ambassadors Group, to change his company's Web site and stop touting that is has a stellar safety record.
"I told Jeff he can't continue to solicit students and brag about the company's safety records," Sheryl says. "I asked him to take this down (off the Web site). I also told him that he needs to change his company's safety standards. He told me that's my opinion."
Taking legal action against an organization that boasts about its ties to one of Tyler's heroes -- President Dwight D. Eisenhower -- also proved daunting for Sheryl and her family.
"Eisenhower was a supreme strategist who never fought on the battlefront," Sheryl said when asked why Tyler admired the former president. "Eisenhower also honored God and was responsible for putting 'In God We Trust' on our money, and the pledge of allegiance in the classroom."
She added: "Ty was born on the anniversary of D-day. He was diagnosed with diabetes at age five. He knew he could never serve in the armed forces, but believed he could make a positive difference by modeling after 'these great men.'"
Not founded by Eisenhower
During her investigation, though, Sheryl made a stunning discovery: People to People was not founded by President Eisenhower.
A New York Times story dated June 10, 1958, stated the People to People Foundation was formed to "implement a 1956 proposal by President Eisenhower to promote international understanding."
That non-profit foundation, the paper wrote, was organized in 1957 and President Eisenhower served as its honorary chairman. The 1958 Times article also stated the People to People Foundation had recently dissolved because "it had served its purpose."
ConsumerAffairs.com found records in the Missouri Secretary of State's office that reveal a non-profit organization called People to People International -- founded to "encourage and promote in every way possible contacts between citizens of the United States and people of other lands" - was incorporated on October 31, 1961.
President Eisenhower's name, however, is not listed on those records. They identify Alfred Frankfurter, Franklin Murphy, and Joyce C. Hall as the incorporators.
Sheryl said this is just another example of the ways in which People to People deceived her son - and her family.
"There is so much that we have discovered about this organization since Ty's death. I think Ty would be gravely offended by these discoveries."
In a written statement, the family added: "People to People and its associated organizations target children for their own financial benefit under the false pretense of being a non-profit established by President Eisenhower.
"Students are not nominated for this 'honor' (of going on a trip), but instead are solicited through mass mailing lists."
ConsumerAffairs.com has -- over the past two years -- repeatedly exposed examples of the misleading marketing tactics People to People uses to recruit students for its expensive, overseas trips.
Our stories revealed:
• The organization came under fire in 2005 by the Iowa Attorney General's office for sending a letter to a mother, which stated her son was named for a Student Ambassador trip overseas. Her son, however, had died in 1993. He was seven weeks old. Iowa officials did not take legal action against People to People. The organization later donated $5,000 to Iowa's SIDS Foundation and $20,000 to Blank Children's Hospital in Des Moines;
• The organization has twice -- in recent years -- sent recruitment letters for its overseas trips to the parents of a deceased baby girl in Florida. The couple's daughter died from multiple birth defects in 1992. She was 18 days old. People to People said it was "absolutely devastated" this happened and blamed the company that compiled its mailing lists for the errors;
• In 2006, the organization sent a recruitment letter to the parents of an Earl Gray in Arkansas. Earl Gray, however, was the couple's white, one-eyed, cat. He died ten years earlier and is buried in the family's back yard. He was 14-years- old;
• Parents across the country have filed complaints with ConsumerAffairs.com about the misleading marketing tactics People to People uses to recruit students for its trips abroad. Parents say the letters led their children to believe they were "specially chosen" or nominated for these trips. Parents later discovered the travel company obtained their child's name from a mailing list.
ConsumerAffairs.com contacted Jeff Thomas and other officials with the Ambassadors Group and People to People International about the Hills' FTC complaint. No one returned our messages.
We previously left messages for Thomas and Mary Eisenhower, CEO of People to People International, about the Hill's lawsuit. Neither returned those calls, either.
The Ambassadors Group, however, issued this statement shortly after the Hills filed their lawsuit: "We are deeply saddened by the death of Tyler Hill last summer and the entire People to People Ambassador Program organization continues to grieve for his family."
KXLY-TV in Spokane, Washington, recently interviewed Thomas and his wife, Peg. She is president of People to People Ambassador Programs.
During that interview, Peg Thomas said her organization accepted no responsibility for Tyler's death.
"Absolutely not. Again, our hearts go out to this family. And being parents our hearts go out to that family and that entire community and our entire organization is continuing to grieve for that family. But our review of the incident does not match the allegations and the lawsuit brought forth by the Hill family," she told KXLY.
During that same interview, the Thomases admitted that another student died on a People to People trip. That child, they said, died trying to board a moving train.
Back in Minnesota, Sheryl Hill hopes her family's legal action will force the Ambassadors Group and People to People to be accountable for their actions -- and false claims that Tyler died because he stopped taking his insulin.
The family's lawsuit also seeks $6,750 in restitution for Tyler's trip, $30,000 for his funeral expenses, attorneys' fees, and damages in excess of $50,000.
Sheryl also hopes her efforts will protect the thousands of children who participate in People to People and other student travel programs each year.
Her family has worked on a bill that would require safety protocols for students on these of trips. The measure is called the "T-Hill Safety Standards Bill."
The Hills will meet next week with Minnesota Congressional leaders in Washington D.C. about this bill.
The family has also set up the Tyler Hill Web site , which has more information about their safety initiative.
Meanwhile, Sheryl said she and her husband continue to grieve the loss of their oldest son -- an honor student at Mound Westonka High School who was known as a humble teen who made friends easily and reached out to the new kids on his team or classmates.
Their youngest son, Alec, is also struggling with the death of his brother.
"Ty was very easy to talk to," Sheryl said. "He and his brother built a special 'fort'... he and Alec could spend hours down there talking about whatever brothers talk about."
She added: "When a child dies, all these connections to 'his community' die too. You miss his friends, his school, his teachers, and you especially miss him."
When asked what she wants people to remember about her son, Sheryl said: "Ty was recognized at Mound Westonka High School last year for singularly reporting a bomb threat that others were to afraid to bring forward. Ty always made the right choices even though they weren't the popular choices. He will be remembered as the kid who knew how to love.
"You should be proud that he wanted to represent America in Japan. We are."
More about People to People
23 Million TV Sets May Go Dark In DTV Switchover
Midwest and West may be hardest hit02/22/2008ConsumerAffairs
23 Million TV Sets May Go Dark In DTV Switchover...
If the government and electronics industry don't work harder to educate consumers about the impending switchover from analog television signals to digital on February 17, 2009, 11 percent of American households, or 23 million people, may not have any television service at all after the transition.
That's the conclusion of a new report by Consumers' Union, which studied the different regions that will be affected by the DTV transition, as well as the results of efforts to educate consumers about the switch.
According to the consumer group, Western and Midwest states such as Texas and California will be hit especially hard by the switchover, as they have large population groups that are reliant on over-the-air television signals via "rabbit ear" antennae.
"Over 20 percent of homes with televisions in both Dallas and Houston rely solely on free over-the-air broadcasts," said Joel Kelsey of Consumers Union."The programming that people rely on everyday to stay informed or for entertainment may not be there for nearly 1.5 million Texas households after February 2009."
The greater Los Angeles area had 958,030 households with access to over-the-air service only, the largest single concentration in the country. Salt Lake City, Utah, had the largest percentage of consumers with over-the-air access in major cities, with 23 percent of all of its TV households, or 203,290 homes, using broadcast signals only.
The report also detailed the lack of comprehensive knowledge about the transition. "33 percent of Americans in households that will have no functioning television after February 17th 2009 were completely unaware the transition is coming," the report said.
Although the government has scrambled to build awareness of the DTV transition and has publicized its offering of vouchers to buy converter boxes for digital signals, 73 percent of Americans are unaware of the program at present.
Consumers' Union charged electronics retailers with taking advantage of the lack of information surrounding the DTV transition in order to market expensive equipment that consumers may not need.
"A combination of low consumer awareness, technological complexity, and financial incentives to sell more television and related services create a fertile environment for confusion," the report authors said. "For vulnerable populationssuch as the elderly or lowincome householdsthe potential for being misled,intentionally or unintentionally, is significant."
What to do
The following sites have more information about the analog-to-digital transition: * Our Dawn Carlson provides a thorough overview of what you need to know. * Visit the FCC's official DTV site to get more information. * Apply for a converter box coupon at the NTIA's converter program Web site.
Avoid Tax Rebate Direct Deposit Scam
Callers claim to be with the 'tax refund department'02/22/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Avoid Tax Rebate Direct Deposit Scam...
Before the ink was dry on legislation to provide economic stimulus rebate checks to taxpayers, scammers were playing on consumers' eagerness to receive their money.
The Tax Rebate Direct Deposit Scam, one of the first out of the gate, is showing up across the country, according to law enforcement officials.
In Oklahoma, Attorney General Drew Edmondson says many elderly residents of the state have become targets. They report receiving a phone call from someone who says they are with the Social Security Administration. They ask for the victim's bank account information so the funds can be direct deposited to their account.
"The spouse of one of our employees has received repeated calls from someone claiming to be with the SSA's Tax Refund Department," Edmondson said. "The caller is asking for checking account information that could be used to steal her money."
"The Social Security Administration does not contact people in this fashion," said Larry Jones, a spokesman for the Social Security Administration. "Citizens who want to have their benefits directly deposited into their bank accounts generally elect to do so upon filing their original claim for benefits, so that information is already on file. Even if it wasn't, the SSA does not have anything to do with mailing consumers' tax rebates."
Edmondson joined other law enforcement agents warning consumers against providing any personal or financial information, including bank account, credit card and Social Security numbers, to unknown callers.
It's also worth noting that to get your tax rebate, you have to file a tax return, even if you're not normally required to do so. Read more ...
Less Salt, Fewer Soft Drinks?
Reducing kids' salt intake could help them cut back on sugary sodas02/22/2008ConsumerAffairs
Less Salt, Fewer Soft Drinks?...
Children who eat less salt drink fewer sugar-sweetened soft drinks and may significantly lower their risks for obesity, elevated blood pressure and later-in-life heart attack and stroke, researchers reported in Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association.
Previous studies have shown that dietary salt intake increases fluid consumption in adults. But researchers at St. Georges University of London, England, are the first to examine whether the same is true in children.
Sugar-sweetened soft drinks are a significant source of calorie intake in children, said Feng J. He, M.D., lead author of the study. It has been shown that sugar-sweetened soft drink consumption is related to obesity in young people. However, it is unclear whether there is a link between salt intake and sugar-sweetened soft drink consumption.
Dr. He and colleagues analyzed data from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) in Great Britain, conducted in 1997 in a nationally representative sample of more than 2,000 people between 4 and 18 years old.
Among the participants, more than 1,600 boys and girls had salt and fluid intake recorded using a seven-day dietary record, with all food and drink consumed weighed on digital scales.
We found that children eating a lower-salt diet drank less fluid, said Dr. He, a cardiovascular research fellow at St. Georges. From our research, we estimated that 1 gram of salt cut from their daily diet would reduce fluid intake by 100 grams per day.
The researchers also found that kids eating a lower-salt diet drank fewer sugar-sweetened soft drinks. From their research, they predicted that reducing salt intake by 1 gram each day would reduce sugar-sweetened soft drink consumption by 27 grams per day, after considering other factors such as age, gender, body weight and level of physical activity.
If children aged 4 to 18 years cut their salt intake by half (i.e., an average reduction of 3 grams a day), there would be a decrease of approximately two sugar-sweetened soft drinks per week per child, so each child would decrease calorie intake by almost 250 kcal per week, Dr. He said. Not only would reducing salt intake lower blood pressure in children, but it could also play a role in helping to reduce obesity.
In previous studies, researchers found that a modest reduction in dietary salt intake lowers blood pressure in children, and a low-salt diet during childhood may prevent the development of high blood pressure later in life.
The new research suggests that reduced salt intake also could help decrease childhood obesity, through its effect on sugar-sweetened soft drink consumption.
Both high blood pressure and obesity increase the risk of having strokes and heart attacks, Dr. He said. It is, therefore, important for children to eat a low-salt diet to reduce their risk of having a stroke or a heart attack later in life. All physicians should give their patients appropriate advice on how to reduce salt in their diet.
Dr. He recommends that parents check labels, choose low-salt food products and not add salt during cooking and at the table. She also urges consumers to challenge the food industry to make a gradual and sustained reduction in the amount of salt added to childrens food products that have added salt.
In most developed countries, about 80 percent of salt intake is from salt already added to food by the food industry. Reducing salt would not necessarily affect food taste, she said.
Small reductions in the salt content of 10 percent to 20 percent cannot be detected by the human salt taste receptors and do not cause any technological or safety problems, Dr. He said.
Next Season's Toys Feature Technology & Hannah Montana
Toymakers bank on avatars, fuel cells, interactive reptiles02/21/2008ConsumerAffairs
Next Season's Toys Feature Technology & Hannah Montana...
ConsumerAffairs.com visited the Toy Industry Association's American International Toy Fair in New York this week to examine and play with many of the latest toys, most of which were prototypes that will hit store shelves this summer or fall in anticipation of the Christmas surge.
Whether it was the remote control car that runs on hydrogen or the interactive animatronic triceratops, it was clear that almost all manufacturers are banking on children begging their parents to buy them the latest gadget in 2008.
Technological toys are always on the upswing, said Zach Oat, editor of the toy magazine ToyFare. As kids get more and more used to technology, they're looking for toys that can actually do something and that they can interact with. Traditional toys will never go away but everyone's looking for the next big thing.
Nowhere was this more apparent than in the showroom of the world's second largest toy manufacturer, Hasbro.
Certainly technology is something that's happening, Wayne Charness, senior vice president of corporate communications at Hasbro said. We're always reinventing, reimagining our toys.
Kota & Smores
Following in the trend of competing with the Nintendo Wii's get-kids-off-the-couch interactive controls, Hasbro developed two dance games.
The first, for three-year-olds and up, is the $40 Dance Cam which plays music and displays silly backdrops through a TV. It comes equipped with a camera so children can stand in front of the TV and see themselves dance and follow simple dance moves or create their own.
Hasbro's second dance game, U-DANCE, which is sponsored by pop star Chris Brown and is intended for teenagers, is similar to the internationally popular video game, Dance Dance Revolution. The $75 U-DANCE requires the dancers to wear tracking devices on their feet and follow the dance instructions that appear on the TV screen.One of the most innovative products which Hasbro released last year was Tooth Tunes. The $10 children's toothbrush plays a two-minute song through the bristles. Although it's initially silent, once the child starts brushing his or her teeth, they will hear the music after it vibrates through their gums and eventually to their ear drum.
The idea is to get children to brush their teeth for the two minutes recommended by the American Dental Association. Tooth Tunes is the best-selling toothbrush in the U.S.
Mr. Electronic Potato Head
Hasbro now offers electronic versions of many of its traditional toys, such as Mr. Potato Head and, most notably, its board games.
Now you can play Monopoly on the board game like you did when you were a kid, Charness said. You can play it on your cell phone. You can play it online. So our job is really to offer toys wherever and whenever you want.
Hasbro's latest take on the classic Trivial Pursuit board game is particularly fascinating as its new video interface and DVD database of question cards adds considerable longevity and specialization to the game. The DVD version comes with 1800 cards while the original has 60. It also has the option to draw cards based on the players' particular knowledge. So if the game is between history buffs or pop culture junkies, the game can cater to those skills.
Automakers should take notes from the U.K.'s Corgi toy company which has created a remote control car that runs 100 percent on hydrogen fuel cells.
The H2Go comes with a converter that turns tap water into hydrogen and inflates a small balloon in the car with the Hydrogen that feeds the fuel cells. The car zips along at six miles per hour for five minutes before the balloon needs to be re-inflated. The $130 package, expected to be released July or August, comes with a solar panel to operate the converter and recharge the remote control.
The H2Go complete set
Despite Spin Master's 2007 recall of 4.2 million Aqua Dots that contained date rape drug ingredients, the company has rebounded with a host of award-winning high-tech toys.
Leading the way is the Air Hogs Havoc Heli Laser Battle remote control mini helicopters. The helicopters won 2007 Toy of the Year at the fair and are mounted with lasers so that two children can temporarily shoot down the other's helicopter with invisible beams. The two-helicopter Havoc Heli package retails for $100.
Along the same line is the Air Hog Zero Gravity remote control car. Using vacuum suction, the car can be raced on walls and ceilings. It is expected to be released in the fall and will retail for $30.
While most of the high tech toys at the fair were targeted at eight-year-old boys and included at least one circuit board, some of the most fascinating toys took advantage of the tactile sensations that pre-schoolers enjoy.
Most notable was Spin Master's Moon Sand which won the Infant/Preschool Toy of the Year. While Moon Sand looks and feels like brightly colored sand, it can be molded into any shape like clay when pressed together. Best of all for parents, the $20 Moon Sand can be swept up and doesn't stain.
Irwin Toy company also hopes to take a cut of the activity toy craze created by the Wii when it releases its Me2 in the spring. Me2 is an online world filled with games, puzzles and stratagems that children's avatars can only operate in once they have collected so many points generated by walking, riding a bike or just about any other physical activity in the real world.
Irwin Toy's Jessica Gavin demonstrates the Me2
Children average 4,000-5,000 steps a day according to Irwin Toy marketing manager Jessica Gavin. Me2 uses an advanced pedometer that senses other motions associated with exercise and children must walk about 10,000 steps a day in order to advance to different islands and play games in Me2's online world.
After a day of physical activity, a child can connect his or her pedometer via USB cable to a computer and transfer any points collected to Me2's world. It's expected to retail for $35-$40, quite a bit less than comparable games.
While technological toys grabbed most of the headlines at the fair, it was impossible to avoid the powerful presence of Disney's pop sensation, Hannah Montana.
It seems like every single booth I walked by had a big cardboard cutout of Hannah Montana, Oat said. Everybody wants to have something that is tied into a brand that kids love whether it's note pads or school supplies or book bags or bean bags.
Both large manufacturers, such as Mattel, and small, such as Brand New, based in Chicago, have profited from the teen idol who has created frenzies and sold out performances across the nation.
Brand New specializes in and is known for large collectible Pez dispensers, but their most profitable item by far is Hannah Montana's Bubble Blast, a three-foot roll of bubble gum that comes in a collector's tin, said the company's co-owner, Kelly Faso.
It's on fire, Faso said. We sell Star Wars (Pez dispensers) and that's always great selling. But right now people are really seeking out Hannah Montana.
She's a phenomenon, Faso continued. There hasn't been anything like Hannah Montana in a long time. They're comparing her phenomenon to the Beatles. This is a crazy time that we're living in and there's not a lot of role models, but she's definitely hitting that plus it's just the wholesomeness of her character.---
Photos by Joe Enoch
Kevin Trudeau's Natural Cures Agrees to Missouri Refunds
Consumers complained they were billed for newsletters they didn't order02/21/2008ConsumerAffairs
Kevin Trudeau's Natural Cures Agrees to Missouri Refunds...
The Missouri Attorney General's Office has reached an agreement with two companies that sell health-related products through TV infomercials featuring Kevin Trudeau.
Under the agreement, Missouri consumer will receive almost $1,100 in refunds. The companies also agreed to change their business practices.
Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon reached the agreement on Wednesday with Natural Cures, which also uses the name ITV Global Inc. The settlement resolves complaints that the companies repeatedly charged consumers for products they did not order.
Natural Cures uses infomercials to sell books that claim to promote healthy lifestyles.
But many consumers who purchased the books said they also received a subscription for a newsletter they did not order. Consumers then received repeated bills for that newsletter.
ConsumerAffairs.com has received scores of similar complaints.
"I ordered a book from Kevin Trudeau (Weight Loss Cures)," wrote John C. of Indianapolis, Indiana. "They tried to sell me several other items while we were on the phone, but I told them I just wanted the book. This was in March of 2007."
John said ITV Global then charged his credit card $5.95 a month for the next several months.
"When I called them, they said this was for a newsletter," John told us. "I told them I did not order this and wanted the charges removed. Without even researching to see if I ordered this, they refused to credit all my money back.
"I did not order this product, nor did I receive a newsletter. The billing practices used by this company should be criminal," John said.
Some consumers are being charged even more for the newsletter.
"In July 2007 I ordered 3 books from a TV commerical," said Chuck of Franklin, NC. "When I placed my order I was persuaded to receive a monthly newsletter at $9.95 per month with the provision that I could cancel at any time.
"Before the 30 days was up, I called numerous times trying to reach someone to cancel the newsletter. Finally, I reached someone who stated that it would be canceled. I also sent an email on August 15, 2007, which I have a copy of, to cancel the newsletter," he said. "I did receive one newsletter but I have not received any more since I canceled it in August 2007, however the Company keeps billing my bank each and every month."
ConsumerAffairs.com also received complaints that Natural Cures refused to refund consumers' money even after they returned the weight loss book.
"I sent the books back after speaking with a customer service representative, who assured me that I would receive a full refund," wrote Jean R. of Lemon Grove, California. "I have never been given a refund."
Instead, the company continues racking up charges on her credit card.
"I cannot stop this monster from trying to get more and more money from me," Jean said. "I have been charged over limit fees. This and all the other fees charged to my credit card have wrecked my credit. It is absolutely ridiculous that this man can continue to destroy so many lives with no penalties."
Legal action may be the only way to stop these outrageous business practices, Jean said.
"I think there is more than substantial evidence that this is a consumer scam and the public should be protected and compensated for these actions by Trudeau."
Consumers in the Show-Me State -- at least -- should be protected from such unscrupulous tactics.
Under the settlement Missouri officials reached this week, Natural Cures agreed to stop:
• Charging consumers for items they did not request;
• Billing consumers' bank or credit cards for unauthorized products;
• Charging consumers more than the amounts advertised;
• Delaying delivery of consumers' products.
Sears Stove Tip-Over Case Illustrates Safety Agency's Shortcomings
CPSC has known of tip-over hazard for 20 years02/21/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
Sears Stove Tip-Over Case Illustrates Safety Agency's Shortcomings...
Consumer groups are pointing to the settlement of a class-action suit against Sears to support their argument that the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) moves too slowly to effectively protect consumers from injury.
Sears agreed to fix as many as 3.9 million ranges by bolting them to a floor or wall, to prevent them from tipping over. The settlement covers every range Sears has sold since 2000 and could cost the retailer as much as $526 million.
It's estimated that 15 to 20 million kitchens in the United States are equipped with a range that can tip over and crush, scald or burn whoever is standing in front of it. The problem is caused by the use of lightweight material in modern stoves, which makes them top-heavy and thus prone to tip over when the oven door is open.
None of this is new. Public Citizen, U.S. PIRG and the Consumer Federation of America have been warning for years that the tip-over hazard exists in most brands of electric and gas ranges used in households throughout the country.
According to documents obtained last year from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), manufacturers and the government have known about this danger for more than 20 years.
Since the early 1980s, manufacturers of ranges began using lighter-gauge steel to reduce costs, even though they quickly learned that this resulted in a tendency for the lighter-weight appliances to tip over when weight was applied to the oven door.
After receiving numerous reports of severe accidents caused by tipping stoves, industry-standard organizations Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) both developed national, voluntary safety standards that require electric and gas ranges manufactured after 1991 to remain stable when 250 pounds of pressure is applied on the oven door for five minutes.
The standards also require sellers to install the anti-tip brackets that manufacturers agreed to supply, but the retailers rarely install the brackets.
While the retailers are all aware of the safety hazard, the delivery people they contract with often are not equipped or trained to perform the installation service, and the sales people rarely mention the issue to the buyer. As a result, most homeowners who purchase the ranges do not know that the units are not secure and are unaware that the brackets are necessary for stability.
The Sears suit settlement, recently approved by an Illinois judge, requires Sears to install safety brackets in the ranges it sells over the next three years, and to fix existing ranges by bolting them to the kitchen wall.
While it's true that CPSC has not ordered a recall to fix the hazard, the agency's spokesman said that CPSC has mentioned the problem several times in consumer advisories. Scott Wolfson said the agency was also concerned about furniture and other objects tipping over.
There have been several recalls of entertainment consoles in recent years.
Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook said the CPSC's inaction illustrates the weakness of the legislation under which the agency operates. The House and Senate are considering bills that would strengthen the agency but acting head Nancy Nord opposes the Senate version, which provides for harsher penalties and more openness than the House version.
Children, Elderly at Risk
"There have been more than 100 reported cases of death and injury from scalding and burns due to hot foods and liquids spilling from the stove top, and from the weight crushing anyone in the path of the tipping ranges," Claybrook said. "Considering the lack of consistent reporting and the millions of homes with these ovens, we believe the numbers of those maimed or killed by ranges tipping over are much greater."
This design flaw has particularly affected children and the elderly.
CPSC accident reports include cases of a 24-pound toddler who stood on an open oven door, tipping the range so that boiling chicken soup spilled over him, causing severe burns; a 3-year old who climbed onto the range door and was killed when the stove fell over on him; and an 88-year old woman who slipped as she was cleaning her range and grabbed the oven door for support -- which caused the oven to flip over and crush her in her own kitchen with her upper body wedged into the hot oven in which she had just finished baking cookies.
When Did CPSC Know?
Sears, one of the largest retailers of gas and electric ranges, admitted in an internal memo in 1996 that the brackets were installed for only an estimated 5 percent of ranges sold -- and possibly as low as 2-3 percent.
In a 1999 letter to Sears, Underwriters Laboratories informed the retailer that it expected the ranges with the UL Listing Mark to be installed with the anti-tip safety brackets supplied by the manufacturers. Sears gave a misleading response to UL in 2000 that implied the company was in full compliance with the UL standard.
"When companies fail to take simple steps to save lives, and the CPSC fails to act on a well-known and preventable problem that leads to horrible burns and deaths, something's very wrong," said U.S. PIRG Consumer Program Director Ed Mierzwinski. "It's time to fix the stove tip-over problem that's been ignored for too long."
The CPSC was aware of the oven-tipping problem since at least 1984, and received reports detailing numerous deaths and serious injuries, mostly involving children --some as young as 12 months old -- and the elderly. It never took any steps to require notification to owners, the installation of the brackets or the redesign of the ranges in the future.
Consumer representatives objected to the CPSC consistently failing in its mission to protect American consumers.
"Retailers should notify consumers of this safety hazard immediately and take steps to comply with the voluntary standards, including retrofitting all freestanding stoves with the necessary safety bracket and installing new stoves properly," said Rachel Weintraub, director of product safety and senior counsel for Consumer Federation of America.
To avoid any more preventable injuries, the consumer groups have called on the sellers of ranges to notify all owners of the danger of tipping stoves and the need for safety brackets, and to install the brackets for any existing owners of the stoves.
"American consumers are being killed and terribly injured by companies who are cynically refusing to make their ranges safe and by the agency established to protect them," said Claybrook. "Action to fix this preventable hazard will come far too late for the many people who have been maimed and killed, but we hope it comes in time to save countless others."
Glucosamine Doesn't Work, Study Finds
Popular arthritis treatment has no apparent effect02/20/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
If you're taking glucosamine sulfate to treat arthritis in your hip, save your money. It doesn't work, according to researchers writing in an issue of the ...
If you're taking glucosamine sulfate to treat arthritis in your hip, save your money. It doesn't work, according to researchers writing in the February 19 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.
People in middle to old age have long taken the dietary supplement in the belief it would ease pain and inflammation in joints. Dr. Rianne M. Rozendaal at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, headed the research team that concluded the supplement was mostly ineffective as a means to treat hip pain.
The study followed more than 200 patients for two years. All were suffering osteoarthritis of the hip. Half the people in the study took 1,500 milligrames of Glucosamine once a day, the others took placebo.
The researchers said glucosamine sulfate had no apparent effect on hip arthritis. Those with very mild arthritis noted some slight improvement when taking the glucosamine, but the improvement was very small.
"The differences between the glucosamine and placebo group were all very small. For these patients with hip osteoarthritis, glucosaminei sulfate does not seem to be an effective treatment on the basis of our results," the authors wrote.
Glucosamine is a natural compound that is found in healthy cartilage. Glucosamine sulfate is a normal constituent of glycoaminoglycans in cartilage matrix and synovial fluid, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Writing before the current research was public, cllinic scientists said available evidence from randomized controlled trials supports the use of the supplement in the treatment of osteoarthritis, particularly of the knee. Doctors widely prescribe it for patients hoping to slow or prevent cartilage loss.
The new research did not address glucosamine sulfate's effectiveness in any joint other than the hip.
Twenty percent of the U.S. population has been diagnosed with arthritis, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and that number is expected to rise as the Baby Boomers enter old age.
Company challenged Consumer Reports and lost02/20/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
"Company intends to continue to conduct business as usual while it devotes renewed efforts to resolve its operational and liquidity problems and develops a...
Cataract Surgery Options Can Eliminate Bifocals
New implantable lenses let patients see near, far and in between02/20/2008ConsumerAffairs
Cataract Surgery Options Can Eliminate Bifocals...
There's good news for the millions of bifocal-wearing baby boomers and seniors who will eventually need cataract surgery. New types of implantable lenses are now available that allow cataract patients to see near, far, and in between without wearing glasses or contact lenses.
Heres what you should know.
Cataract surgery is one of the safest and most successful surgical procedures that has recently gotten better. In a typical cataract surgery, a patients aging and cloudy natural lens is removed and replaced with an intraocular lens (IOL) to restore the eyes focusing power.
Until recently, the only option was a fixed-focus lens, typically designed for faraway distances, which left the patient needing bifocals or reading glasses to see up close. But now, there are new multifocal and accommodating lenses that can restore sight at all distances so patients can go glasses-free.
The new lenses all FDA approved have been available in the U.S. for around three years and so far doctors and patients are pleased with how well they work. While these new lenses dont guarantee 20/20 vision, they can reduce the need for glasses for most people by as much as 90 percent.
Its estimated that around 20 percent of cataract patients nationally are now choosing these new multifocal lenses. However, some doctors have been hesitant to adopt the new technology, owing to scattered reports of halos, glare, and problems with night vision and blurring. Because these lenses have been available for only a short time, most of these doctors are waiting for more data on patients long-term experience.
Also keep in mind that as with any surgery, lens implantation comes with some risk of complication. Infection, bleeding, retinal detachment, and an increase in eye pressure, while rare, do occur but can almost always be successfully treated.
Finding a doctor
Since the multifocal lenses are relatively new, not all cataract surgeons are trained to implant them. So if you would like to find out whether youre a candidate for one of these lenses, you may need to call several surgeons in your area to find out who uses them. After you locate a few, ask lots of questions and choose one who has significant experience with these lenses and is prepared to deal with any problems that could arise.
You also need to know about the additional cost. While Medicare, Medicaid and most health insurance plans cover cataract surgery and the traditional lens implants, they dont yet pay for new multifocal and accommodating implants.
That means if you opt for the newer lenses youll have to pay the difference of what Medicare or insurance doesnt cover, which will be around $2,000 to $2,500 per eye.
Savvy Tips: To learn more about these new cataract lens implants visit www.allaboutvision.com click on Cataracts. And for more information about cataract in general, the National Eye Institute offers a free publication called Cataract: What you should know. To get a copy, call 301-496-5248 or visit www.nei.nih.gov.
Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of The Savvy Senior books.
Web Surfers Seek Justice Online
Dispute resolution Web sites offer quick settlements02/20/2008ConsumerAffairs
The judge started what he calls VirtualCourthouse.com, a Web site that allows parties to work out their differences online with an arbitrator or mediator....
Shakespeare wasn't thinking of the Internet when he suggested killing all the lawyers. But the bard's idea has staying power and some Web surfers are coming up with novel ways to seek justice -- without ever having to drag themselves to the steps of a courthouse with a pricey lawyer in tow.
Ironically, it was a retired judge in suburban Maryland who dreamed up a way for warring factions to resolve their petty issues online. The judge started what he calls VirtualCourthouse.com, a Web site that allows parties to work out their differences online with an arbitrator or mediator. You might call it "Judge Judy.com."
The judge estimates that about 70 percent of civil cases can be resolved this way, in less time and at lower cost than traditional litigation.
"That's a process that takes probably three to four years from the time that dispute first started until it's concluded, involving many, many man hours, a lot of expense, a lot of time and a lot of repetition, mainly paper repetition," said Retired Judge Arthur M. Ahalt, who lives in Annapolis. "In a vast majority of those disputes, the results are fairly predictable, but the parties don't realize that."
Virtual Courthouse is part of a movement toward online dispute resolution, or ODR, of basic alternative dispute resolution cases. The trend includes sites like Cybersettle.com, where a computer, not a person, determines the value of the case, and eBay's in-house ODR system.
Many lawyers and ADR professionals are enthusiastic about ODR, but some say its utility is limited. Others question whether disputes may be settled fairly without the arbitrator or mediator -- the "neutral," in Virtual Courthouse parlance -- seeing the parties.
Ahalt, 65, began developing Virtual Courthouse in 2001, two years after taking early retirement from the circuit court. He had some experience in Internet business, having helped develop an electronic filing system called JusticeLink that eventually merged with another company and was bought by Lexis-Nexis.
That experience, combined with his time on the bench, including a stint as manager of the civil docket, led him to create Virtual Courthouse. In 2004, after a few years of development, Virtual Courthouse went live.
In the past four years, the site has handled about 1,000 cases -- 80 percent of them from Maryland and another 10 percent from the District of Columbia, Ahalt said. Virginia, Delaware and other mid-Atlantic states account for most of the rest.
At first, Ahalt did most of the dispute resolutions himself. Now he is a neutral in less than 20 percent, with his goal to handle only 5 percent of cases.
The ideal case for Virtual Courthouse has only two parties, involves a dispute over money (as opposed to other forms of relief) and is not emotionally charged, he said. Fender-bender lawsuits fit the bill; custody cases and nasty disputes between neighbors do not.
A plaintiff starts the process by registering with Virtual Courthouse, which e-mails the defendant to see if he or she will agree to ODR. If so, the parties pick a neutral from Virtual Courthouse's list of more than 100 in Maryland and 12 other jurisdictions.
Ahalt lets neutrals list themselves in Virtual Courthouse's directory for free and doesn't qualify them in any way; when the parties sign on to use the site, they take responsibility for checking out their neutral, he said.
After choosing a neutral, each party types in a statement of the case and uploads scanned images of any necessary documents, such as doctor's bills. The neutral then decides what the case is worth.
The process usually takes less than 45 days and Virtual Courthouse's record for the fastest case resolution is a blistering 15 minutes from start to finish. But that doesn't mean the neutrals are making slipshod decisions, Ahalt said.
"How long does it take to read that an individual suffered a soft tissue injury in a rear-end automobile accident and went to a chiropractor 15 times and incurred bills of $2,600?" Ahalt asked. "How long does it take a neutral to read that? I mean, there's no dispute as to who's responsible. It's just an issue of how much is reasonable compensation for this individual."
Plaintiff's lawyer Rick Jaklitsch of the Jaklitsch Law Group in Upper Marlboro, Md., said he has used Virtual Courthouse to settle 20 cases. Although his clients tend to get slightly lower awards through Virtual Courthouse than they would if they went to Prince George's County District Court, they get their money a lot sooner, he said.
Defense lawyer Karen Sussman of Sussman & Simcox Chartered in Gaithersburg, who has participated in Virtual Courthouse as both a neutral and an attorney, said her clients are happy with her when she is able to resolve their cases quickly online.
Virtual Courthouse "probably wouldn't be recommended for cases with huge stumbling blocks and issues that are time consuming, but it's a great place for parties to present their arguments when they feel like they want to get something in front of somebody but they don't want (the) delay and the expense of getting it resolved," Sussman said.
For online arbitration and mediation decisions and for simple online case evaluations, Virtual Courthouse charges each party a filing fee of $50 and the arbitrator or mediator charges the parties $300 total. Out of that $300, the neutral keeps $250 and pays Virtual Courthouse a $50 administrative fee.
Lawyers can also elect to start online but have an actual hearing in person. About one-quarter of the cases that go through Virtual Courthouse end in a flesh-and-blood mediation or arbitration, Ahalt said.
For more complicated online case evaluations and all face-to-face ADR, the neutral sets the rate. Even in those cases, however, Virtual Courthouse handles the neutral's billing. Neutrals tend to like that idea, as well as the idea of having all the case documents online, Ahalt said.
As for the attorneys, some attorneys say they charge their clients the same 40 percent of the award to settle their case via online arbitration as they do if the case is resolved by in-person arbitration.
Ahalt said face-to-face contact isn't all it's cracked up to be. He said that minor injuries are generally not visible to a judge, jury or arbitrator, so it doesn't matter if the decision-maker sees the victim or not.
And there are ways to overcome the impersonal nature of ODR, Jaklitsch said. For example, when he has particularly sympathetic victims in a Virtual Courthouse case, he has the clients swear to affidavits explaining how their injuries have affected their lives. Although it is not common, Virtual Courthouse also can handle video and audio so lawyers can upload footage of clients or witnesses.
Verizon Rolls Out Unlimited Calling
Can wireless providers hear their customers now?02/19/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Verizon Rolls Out Unlimited Calling...
Is it time for the cell phone industry to get over itself?
When it rolled out the technology in the 1980s, you have to admit it was pretty exotic. Suddenly, you could make phone calls without being tethered by wires. Why, you could even make a call from your car!
As with any bold new technology, early users paid through the nose. The phones were big, clunky and expensive, as were the calls. Subscribers paid a fee for monthly service, and then were charged a hefty per-minute rate when they made or received calls.
Most early users were businesses who were able to absorb the cost but the wireless providers wanted the cell phone to become ubiquitous, so they adopted various rate plans that included a set number of calling minutes.
If you didn't use your phone very much, you could opt for a plan with fewer minutes. If you had a teenage daughter, you went for the high-minute package.
But in exchange for the privilege of carrying a cell phone, consumers not only had to keep track of their minutes, they had to buy whatever type of phone their provider happened to be selling. They had to sign a one-year contract that carried a hefty early termination fee and was automatically extended another year if they replaced their phones or otherwise altered their service.
They had to pay additional charges for receiving or sending text messages charges that in some families with teenagers can mount up to hundreds of dollars each month. And until recently, they had to get a new phone number if they changed cell phone providers.
Since cell phones were introduced we have the Internet, iPods, DVDs, and GPS systems, not to mention Internet telephone service, including wireless WiFi, that's free or close to it.
So more and more consumers are asking, "what's so hot about cell phones and why is wireless being sold like long-distance service was in the 1950s?"
Lately, cracks have begun to appear in the mobile phone industry's unified front. Both Verizon and AT&T; have liberalized their contracts, making it easier to cancel. Last fall Verizon announced that it would open its wireless network for use by all devices beginning in 2008.
Now, Verizon Wireless has taken the first step toward placing wireless communications on a comparable footing with landline services, at least when it comes to pricing. The second-largest U.S. mobile-phone carrier has rolled out a flat-rate subscription for unlimited calls.
The plans give customers all their calls anytime to anyone in the U.S., including landline phones at a flat rate of $99.99 monthly access. The company said its BroadbandAccess Plans are also being enhanced so customers now have two choices for Internet browsing, e-mail access and downloading files. The new BroadbandAccess plans, available on March 2, will offer customers monthly data plan options of 50 Megabytes (MB) or 5 Gigabytes (GB) (5,120 MB).
"Verizon Wireless is changing the way customers think about wireless," said Mike Lanman, Verizon Wireless chief marketing officer.
Perhaps a more accurate statement would be that customers are changing the way wireless providers think about wireless.
Spanish Language TV Linked To Latino Child Obesity
Children bombarded by fast-food commercials02/19/2008ConsumerAffairs
Spanish Language TV Linked To Latino Child Obesity...
February 19, 2008
TV can be a negative influence on children's health, whether the message is in English or Spanish, according to research led by pediatricians from the Johns Hopkins Children's Center.
Their study concludes that Spanish-language television is bombarding children with so many fast-food commercials that it may be fueling the rising obesity epidemic among Latino youth.
Latino children, who make up one-fifth of the U.S. child population, also have the highest obesity and overweight rates of all ethnic groups. A report on the study, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, was released online ahead of print in the Journal of Pediatrics.
"While we cannot blame overweight and obesity solely on TV commercials, there is solid evidence that children exposed to such messages tend to have unhealthy diets and to be overweight," said study lead investigator Darcy Thompson, M.D., M.P.H., a pediatrician at Hopkins Children's.
Past research among English-speaking children has shown that TV ads influence food preferences, particularly among the more impressionable young viewers.
Researchers reviewed 60 hours of programming airing between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m., heavy viewing hours for school-age children, on Univision and Telemundo, the two largest Spanish-language channels in the United States, reaching 99 percent and 93 percent of U.S. Latino households, respectively.
Univision content was recorded from its national network cable in Seattle, and Telemundo content was recorded on a local carrier in Tucson, Ariz. Tallying two or three food commercials each hour, the investigators said one-third specifically targeted children. Nearly half of all food commercials featured fast food, and more than half of all drink commercials promoted soda and drinks with high sugar content.
To counter the effects of food commercials, the researchers suggest, young children should be restricted to two hours a day or less of TV viewing and parents should talk to them about healthy diet and food choices. Children younger than 2 should not be allowed to watch any TV, pediatricians advise.
• Pediatricians caring for Latino children should be aware of their patients' heavy exposure to food ads and the possible effects.
• Public health officials should urge policy makers to limit food advertising to children, something many European countries are already doing.
Study Suggests Cell Phone-Salivary Gland Cancer Link
First study to look at long-term cell phone users02/19/2008ConsumerAffairs
Study Suggests Cell Phone-Salivary Gland Cancer Link...
It's the question that won't go away. Does heavy cell phone use increase the risk of cancer? A new study, appearing in the American Journal of Epidemiology, suggests that it does.
The latest study found focused on cancer of the salivary gland, looking at 500 Israeli citizens who had developed the disease and 1,300 healthy subjects.
Researchers concluded that those who had held a mobile handset against one side of their head for several hours a day were 50 percent more likely to have a tumor in the salivary gland.
Since cell phones were introduced in the 1980s, there has been speculation of a heightened risk of cancer, caused by holding an electronic device against the head. There have been a number of studies, but no conclusive evidence one way or the other.
This latest study is different because it has focused on long-term users. Also, researchers say, previous studies have looked for tumor formation exclusively in the brain, not other parts of the body.
Cancer of the salivary gland, they point out, is very rare, and its location so close to where a handset is held makes the tumor-cell phone connection all the more intriguing.
The mobile communications industry has repeatedly questioned studies suggesting a cancer link. It argues cell phones have been shown to be safe, and should be considered so until they are conclusively shown to be unsafe.
Skeptics worry that radio-frequency radiation emitted from the devices might be harmful to human tissue, and might contribute to the formation of tumors. Dr. Siegal Sadetzki, who headed up the research team, notes that cancer risks appeared to be higher among rural cell phone users, because their mobile phones put off increased radiation to compensate for weaker signals.
But Sadetzki concedes her study is inconclusive and should be followed up with ongoing research. Even so, she says "precautions should be taken" in order to reduce risk, especially for children and young adults who use mobile phones.
Add to that worries about wireless computer networks. Last year, the British scientist who raised one of the early warnings about potential health hazards from cell phones has a new worry -- wireless Internet, or WiFi.
Sir William Stewart, chairman of Britain's Health Protection Agency, is lobbying British authorities for an investigation into WiFi's possible health risks, according to Britain's The Independent.
Stewart is concerned because wireless Internet may become more prevalent than mobile telephones.
A few individuals are known to suffer from a heightened sensitivity to electromagnetic radiation, but in recent years more and more physicians have expressed concern that repeated and prolonged exposure might be harmful to the wider population.
A study conducted in Finland found that people who have used cell phones for ten years or more are 40 per cent more likely to get a brain tumor on the same side of the head as they hold their handset. Research done in Sweden puts the risk at almost four times greater.
Stewart is reportedly concerned because of the similarity of the radiation emitted by cell phones and WiFi systems. But whereas cell phone radiation exposes only the person using the handset, WiFi radiation could affect everyone in the general vicinity.
Much of the concern is directed at children, who are seen as more vulnerable than adults to the effects of radiation, and because they will likely be exposed to increasing levels of radiation throughout their lives.
The Austrian Medical Association is pressing the government to ban the deployment of WiFi in schools.
Concerns about WiFi health effects have also been raised in the U.S.
In 2003, parents sued an Illinois school that installed a WiFi system, claiming the radiation was causing headaches and memory problems. Last year, Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario refused to install a campus WiFi system, citing possible health concerns.
OnStar Owners Bristle at Loss of Service
Analog version of the popular service now officially defunct02/19/2008ConsumerAffairs
OnStar Owners Bristle at Loss of Service...
General Motors cut off OnStar service to customers with analog equipment on January 1 and after midnight February 18, the analog cellular network was shut down, rendering the equipment in consumers' cars useless.
GM's analog customers who are now without the safety and convenience service are angry.
Julie in Austin, Texas said she discovered her OnStar service disappeared while on a recent trip.
I've since found out that it can't be upgraded, repaired, modified, adapted or anything else. Now I have a rear view mirror with buttons that continually remind me I have a broken part in my car that GM refuses to repair.
Cellular telephone companies are no longer required to provide the analog service the older OnStar systems employ. This is the latest step in the transition from analog to digital communications sanctioned by the Federal Communications Commission.
If your car or truck is a 2002 model or older with an analog-only OnStar system you have probably already figured out the system is kaput. Now the analog-only systems are officially useless unless the consumer was able to purchase a system that GM could upgrade to a digital connection and the consumer paid for the upgrade.
Cege in Dallas is one of those OnStar customers who are out of luck with a useless system: My OnStar doesn't work but my car still does, she wrote.
General Motors made digital upgrade kits available to consumers who had active OnStar subscriptions. Roughly 90 percent of the GM analog OnStar systems were capable of being upgraded to a digital connection.
Cege said she was not offered the upgrade.
A Manassas, Virginia OnStar user bought an OnStar-equipped 2002 Chevy Silverado in 2003.
I have found out from GM themselves that GM knew in November 2002 of the OnStar problem but did not change the OnStar analog model to analog/digital until 2003 models, he said.
They did not choose to inform 2003 customers of the problem with 2002 models even after they knew the problem existed.
The Silverado owner thinks G M should be forced to design an upgrade for the analog model for the 2002 truck or each owner of this truck should be compensated for the entire cost of the OnStar model and damages should be awarded to each truck owner for false advertisement."
Toy Industry Needs Import Safety Checklist
Safety recalls frighten, repulse consumers, JPMorgan analyst warns02/19/2008ConsumerAffairs
Recent waves of import product bans, alerts, recalls, and news headlines have generated extreme consumer shock around the world. The global media frenzy im...
Recent waves of import product bans, alerts, recalls, and news headlines have generated extreme consumer shock around the world. The global media frenzy impacts all companies that source products abroad for domestic consumption by challenging their import safety practices.
Consumers are horrified by the alarming headlines including As More Toys Are Recalled, The Trail Ends In China, China Toy Boss Kills Self After Recall, China Executes Former Head Of Drugs Safety Agency For Bribery, Why The West Must Regulate Chinas Exports, Wider Sale Is Seen For Toothpaste Tainted In China, F.D.A. Issues Alert On Chinese Seafood, China Shuts Plants That Produced Tainted Medicine, Pet Food, US Calls On China To Improve Export Safety, and The Little Engine That Could Poison.
The torrential problems facing todays exports from China should serve as a wake-up call for all importers that the time to act is now be proactive and not reactive. Do not wait to be the media subject of the next consumer product recall, scandal or catastrophe.
While todays focus may be on China-made or sourced products it is not the only goods and materials source for large-scale importers. Make no mistake unsafe and hazardous imports can originate from anywhere around the world and companies need to focus on their entire global supply chain, layer-by-layer, to know all that is necessary to ensure that the safety and quality of those products is not inferior or somehow compromised.
Import Safety Working Group
On July 18, 2007, President Bush issued Executive Order 13439 establishing an interagency working group on import safety. Chaired by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the group includes members from key agencies such as Secretary of State, Treasury, Agriculture, Commerce, Transportation, Homeland Security, Attorney General, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, U.S. Trade Representative, Environmental Protection Agency, and Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
The group is tasked to identify actions and appropriate steps that can be pursued, within existing resources, to promote the safety of imported products. The groups focus will include: foreign governments, foreign manufacturers, private sector exporters, U.S. importers, and federal, state, and local government agencies. The working group has to report to the President within 60 days (by mid-September) unless extended.
Well be working with companies that import goods from around the world, to make sure that their practices meet the high standards that we set for the United States, stated President Bush. Under the groups radar is the identification of best practices utilized by U.S. importers in:
Selection of foreign manufacturers
Inspecting manufacturing facilities
Inspecting goods produced before export or distribution in U.S.
Identifying origin of products
Safeguarding the supply chain
Import Czar Position in the Making
Major U.S. business leaders recently gathered to discuss the import quality crisis and recognized the need to do more as the explosion in the volume and diversity of goods has overwhelmed even the biggest companies tasked with evaluating dozens of supply chains, many of which run two or three suppliers deep reported a July 5 article in Fortune Magazine.
One of the ideas being circulated is to create an import czar position - a chief imports officer who can oversee global sourcing. Most companies lack a central figure to reign over global operations its all about accountability, coordination, and the need to focus internally to ensure that someone is keeping watch over the shop.
What Are You Doing?
As the U.S. government looks for ways to step up enforcement of import safety, the question of all companies should be: WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO MAKE SURE YOUR IMPORTS ARE SAFE?
Companies must put consumer protection first and above any other motivations. In the end, we are all consumers and should expect nothing less! Before the U.S. government comes knocking on your door, here are some areas to consider as you evaluate your current business:
IMPORT SAFETY CHECKLIST
I Inspections Do you inspect your foreign factories (announced/unannounced)?
M Management Do you have commitment and corporate objectives
P Policies Do you have procedures to ensure corporate objectives are followed
O Origin Do you identify and verify product origin
R Recalls Do you have a program to inform consumers and agencies of defects
T Testing Do you test products (internally/externally) and document/track results
S Suppliers Do you have quality/safety requirements in writing/acknowledged
A AuditDo you have a product safety audit plan
F Follow Do you follow or benchmark what your competitors are doing or recommending
E Examine Do you examine whats going on with your product outside the U.S.
T Training Do you train internal units and suppliers on product safety
Y You Know your product and must exercise reasonable care to protect consumers
Planning and Action
While import safety is finally receiving the U.S. Presidential treatment it deserves and consumers expect, companies should take note of the good practices suggested by one U.S. federal agency committed to protecting consumers - CPSC:
BUILD SAFETY INTO PRODUCT DESIGN
DO PRODUCT SAFETY TESTING FOR ALL FORSEEABLE HAZARDS
KEEP INFORMED ABOUT AND IMPLEMENT LATEST DEVELOPMENTS IN PRODUCT SAFETY
EDUCATE CONSUMERS ABOUT PRODUCT SAFETY
TRACK AND ADDRESS YOUR PRODUCTS SAFETY PERFORMANCE
FULLY INVESTIGATE PRODUCT SAFETY INCIDENTS
REPORT PRODUCT SAFETY DEFECTS PROMPTLY
IF A DEFECT OCCURS, PROMPTLY OFFER A COMPREHENSIVE RECALL PLAN
WORK WITH THE AGENCY TO MAKE SURE YOUR RECALL PLAN IS EFFECTIVE
LEARN FROM MISTAKES - YOURS AND OTHERS
A July 2006 CPSC document titled Handbook For Manufacturing Safer Consumer Products discusses the basic concepts in a comprehensive systems approach for the design, production and distribution of consumer products. It is worth reviewing for further guidance as product safety ultimately depends on purposeful planning and action.
A famous American, Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), once stated: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Manufacturers, importers, exporters, distributors and retailers take the proper precautions now and exercise reasonable care relating to products intended for U.S. consumption. Ultimately, those that put quality and safety first will succeed in the global arena and achieve consumer confidence.---
About the author: Despina Keegan is a Senior Trade Advisor for JPMorgan Global Trade Services in New York. As a licensed attorney admitted to federal and state courts, Despina has extensive experience in customs and international trade law matters including, developing customized compliance and auditing programs, formulating training seminars and advising on product safety, recalls and the requirements of federal and state agencies.
Nissan and Infiniti Recall 16,000 SUVs02/19/2008ConsumerAffairs
Nissan and Infiniti Recall 16,000 SUVs...
February 19, 2008
Nissan is recalling 16,365 Murano and Infiniti EX 35 SUVs to fix a software program that may cause passenger air bags to fail.
The recall affects 11,511 Muranos from model year 2009 and 4,854 Infiniti EX35s from 2008, according to a February 12 letter from Nissan to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
NHTSA reported on its web site that the software problem could result in the passenger air bag not inflating in a crash increasing the risk of injury if the vehicle battery is significantly discharged.
Nissan dealers will reprogram the air bag control unit when the recall begins.
Owners can contact Infiniti 1-800-662-6200 or Nissan at 1-800-647-7261. Owners can contact NHTSA at 1-888-327-4236 (TTY 1-800-424-9153).
Ice formation in engine can cause problems02/19/2008ConsumerAffairs
The ODI which is part of the NHTSA has upgraded its evaluation of complaints about stuck throttles in the Aveo because of ice formation within the engine a...
War on Plastic Toys Escalates
Toys 'R' Us joins effort to eliminate PVC, phthalates and lead02/18/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
War on Plastic Toys Escalates...
February 18, 2008 Spanish
Following moves by some of its rivals like Wal-Mart and Target, Toys "R" Us has announced its own policy to reduce polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic, phthalates, and lead in children's and infant toys.
The company said it is reducing PVC use and is moving towards a goal of offering PVC-free products.
The toy retailer also announced that by the end of 2008, juvenile products must be produced without the addition of phthalates.
"Toys"R"Us' new PVC-free goal is good news for our children's health, safety, and well being," said Michael Schade, PVC Campaign Coordinator with the Center for Health, Environment and Justice. "PVC toxic toys often contain dangerous chemicals such as phthalates and lead.
"These toxic chemicals have no place in our children's toys and should be eliminated from store shelves everywhere they are currently sold so that no potential harm comes to any child who might otherwise come into contact with them. We call on Toys "R"Us to take the next step by setting clear benchmarks and timeframes for phasing out toxic PVC toys in order to prevent harm to our children's health," he said.
CHEJ and other consumer groups have been applying growing pressure on Toys R Us to phase out PVC and other harmful chemicals in their toys. The groups say their efforts have been aimed at educating retailers about the dangers of PVC. Sears, Kmart, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, Nike, and Apple have recently announced initiatives to eliminate or reduce PVC in both products and packaging.
Banned in Europe
Some of the chemicals, including PVC, have been banned from toys in the European Union and California is also said to be considering a law making them illegal effective next year.
The development comes on the heels of toymakers recalling millions of toys to protect consumers from lead paint exposure.
What is interesting in this development is that the tradegroup that represents toymakers, The Toy Industry Association, has continued to maintain that PVC causes no harm to children, even as many of the group's members are quietly preparing to take such products off the shelves in the coming months.
In fact the first indications of what toys without PVC would look like will be unveiled this coming weekend when manufacturers attending the world's largest toy trade show, the American International Toy Fair, start showing up New York.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Green Toys Inc., a San Francisco-based start-up, will unveil several lines of toys made from organic and recycled plastics. The company has backing from several eco-friendly venture capital firms who see a huge marketing bonanza from the latest controversy and its offerings.
"Depending on how it is made, PVC frequently contains lead or other toxic metals. Vinyl chloride, used to make PVC, has been identified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a carcinogen. Certain chemicals in the phthalate family, which often are used to soften PVC in toys and other products, have been linked by researchers to developmental and other health problems in children," says the Journal in a report this week.
In January, under pressure from Illinois authorities, Ty Inc., the maker of Beanie Babies, replaced its Jammin' Jenna dolls with a redesigned version using denim shoes instead of PVC ones. Testing had found the vinyl contained quantities of lead that exceeded the state's limit for children's products under a new law.
Last month, tests by the Center for Environmental Health found high levels of lead in several products, including certain vinyl coolers used for storing breast-milk bottles. Michigan also has a new law restricting lead levels in children's products, according to the Wall Street Journal.
However, pro-Vinyl groups are not giving up their campaign to prove their products are safe. The Vinyl Institute, a trade group, is launching a campaign to inform retailers that PVC is safe.
Tax Rebate Goes Only to Those Who File
Even taxpayers who don't normally file a return must do so02/17/2008ConsumerAffairs
Tax Rebate Goes Only to Those Who File...
Want your tax rebate check? You gotta file first!
The economic stimulus package that President Bush signed into law on Feb. 13 means that around 130 million Americans will be eligible to receive a tax rebate check beginning in May. But theres a catch that lower-income seniors need to know about!
Those eligible to receive Uncle Sams tax rebate must have a valid Social Security number and have earned at least $3,000 in 2007 which includes earned income, Social Security, Railroad Retirement and veterans benefits (SSI does not count). But heres the catch. In order to receive it, you have to file a 2007 federal tax return.
Even if you arent normally required to file a income tax return and around 20 million seniors and low-income workers arent you must file one this year if you want to receive your rebate. The reason for the mandatory filing is because the IRS will be using the information on your 2007 tax return to determine your eligibility and to calculate the amount of your payment. So no tax return means no rebate!
Note: Wealthier taxpayers whose income tops $75,000 for single filers and $150,000 for married couples filing jointly will face phase-out rebates. This means that their rebates will be reduced by $50 for every $1,000 above the $75,000 and $150,000 income limits.
Rebate checks will range from $300 to $600 for individuals and $600 to $1200 for joint filers. Some taxpayers with children will receive an additional $300 per child. Heres how it breaks down:
• Individuals will receive a minimum of $300 if they paid $0 to $300 in federal income taxes in 2007.
• Individuals who paid between $300 and $600 dollars will receive a rebate equal to the amount of taxes they paid.
• Individuals who paid over $600 in taxes, they will receive a maximum rebate of $600. Note: All of these numbers double for married couples.
Taxpayers who already filed a return do not need to do anything else. However, if you filed a return but reported less than $3,000 in income, you may need to file an amended return to be sure your qualifying Social Security or veterans benefits are counted. Adding these benefits on an amended tax return will not increase an individuals tax liability but will establish eligibility for the stimulus payment.
Savvy Tips: If you have other questions about the tax rebate payments visit the IRS Web site -- www.irs.gov -- where youll find the most accurate and up-to-date information. Or if you dont have access to the Internet, call the IRS helpline at 800-829-1040.
And for help preparing your taxes, dont forget about AARPs Tax-Aide program. A free tax preparation and counseling service available to older taxpayers, and you dont have to be an AARP member to get help. To locate a Tax-Aide site near you (there are more than 7,000 nationwide), call 888-227-7669 or visit www.aarp.org/taxaide.
Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of The Savvy Senior books.
Anonymous E-mails Could Reduce STDs
Be sure to read morning-after emails02/17/2008ConsumerAffairs
"About last night" may have a new meaning when you receive an e-mail with that subject line from a paramour or someone you befriended for a night....
"About last night" may have a new meaning when you receive an e-mail with that subject line from a paramour or someone you befriended for a night.
A web site based in New York says it has released an e-mail service, similar to an e-greeting, which enables people who may have sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) to send anonymous email warnings to their partners so they can get themselves checked.
The company says the service could help stem the rising ride of new infections, especially in cosmopolitan cities where e-mail is the preferred form of communication.
The website, InSpot.org, uses the e-card model to send messages like "I'm So Sorry" to notify people that they may have been exposed to a disease. It also offers information about getting tested and treatment.
The site was developed by Internet Sexuality Information Services, Inc. I.S.I.S. is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to developing and using Internet technologies to prevent disease transmission and enhance the sexual well-being of individuals and communities.
"Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are more common than you know," says a spokesman for the web site. "In the U.S. alone, there are 15 million new cases each year. Talking to your sex partners, even virtually, helps take away the stigma associated with STDs and it's scientifically proven to reduce transmission."
The site offers some tips to consumers who are sexually active:
• Notify everyone you've had sex with in the past six months. Oral sex counts, too.
• Try looking through your old emails and your online address book to complete the list.
• If you decide to compose a personal message, put yourself in the other person's shoes. Think about how you were told what you liked and what you didn't and put the best of it into words.
• You don't have to provide detailed medical infothis e-mail card will automatically provide links to what they need to know.
• You can send postcards anonymously or from your email address. Historically, when you tell a sex partner(s) yourself, it's more likely s.he will "hear" the message and get tested.
• No information will be collected or shared with any public or private agency.
If you receive an ecard anonymously or from someone you know, it doesn't mean you have an STD. It simply means you may have been exposed to an STD, so go to your doctor or a neighborhood clinic and get checked out, says the web site.
"If you don't have a regular doctor, are uncomfortable talking to your regular doctor or don't have insurance, our neighborhood clinic map can help you find a place nearby where you can get tested, and if needed treatment, for little to no cost." the site adds.
"And if you do test positive for an STD, please come back to inSPOT.org and send ecards to your partners and/or hookups. The best way to keep yourself and our community healthy is to communicate with each other and get regular STD checkups. Many STDs are curable, although do know that if you are treated once, you can still get the STD from an infected person a second, third or fourth time. If you're sexually active with more than one partner, many doctors recommend STD checkups every three months. inSPOT.org is not a substitute for a doctor's visit or professional medical advice," the web site says.
"Making use of some of the emerging technologies makes sense," said Sue Blank, of New York's department of health and mental hygiene.
"We're getting the word out to the community."
Blank hopes the site will help to reduce new syphilis infections in New York which rose by 56 per cent during the first half of the current fiscal year.
Users of the site, which went online in San Francisco in 2004, can choose from a selection of messages.
"It provides an easy, convenient, anonymous way for people to be responsible about notifying their partners about a possible exposure to an STD," said Deb Levine, of the San Francisco Internet Sexuality Information Services, which created InSpot with the city's department of public health.
The rise in syphilis in New York mirrors a national trend that shows syphilis has risen sharply among gay and bisexual men in the United States this decade.
Levine said that in San Francisco, syphilis rates have fallen since the site was introduced. In addition to New York and San Francisco, the web site is now active in six other US cities. It has also been launched in eight US states, as well as two Canadian cities and Romania.
San Diego county's health agency is launching a radio and television ad campaign in an effort to reverse a spike in syphilis infections and other sexually transmitted diseases. The county's annual number of new syphilis cases rose from 23 in 1997 to 312 last year.
Check out the site at inspot.org/gateway.aspx.
-30- Reply Forward
Massive Beef Recall Follows Mad Cow Scare
USDA orders recall of 143 million pounds of frozen beef02/17/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Massive Beef Recall Follows Mad Cow Scare...
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is recalling 143 million pounds of frozen beef in the wake of a video showing so-called downer cattle being prepared for slaughter at a California plant. The recall includes beef products produced after February 1, 2006 at the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino.
A consumer group said the recall was the result of a "terrible failure" by the USDA and said consumers are losing confidence in the safety of the American food supply.
The release of the video earlier this month by the Humane Society of the U.S. triggered a USDA investigation of the plant and an immediate suspension of production.
Of particular concern is the fact the plant has been a major supplier of meat to the federal school lunch program. Congress has Lawmakers Call For Slaughterhouse Probe it is investigating the plant.
The recall was announced over the weekend after USDA investigators concluded the downer cattle were slaughtered, along with healthy cattle. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer says investigators uncovered evidence the plant violate numerous health regulations.
"USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service has evidence that Hallmark/Westland did not consistently contact the FSIS public health veterinarian in situations in which cattle became non-ambulatory after passing ante-mortem inspection, which is not compliant with FSIS regulations," Schafer said. "Because the cattle did not receive complete and proper inspection FSIS has determined them to be unfit for human food and the company is conducting a recall."
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) noted that there have been more than 20 beef recalls in the last 20 months.
"This recall is the result of a terrible failure of the U.S. Department of Agricultures mandate since 1906 to ensure that sick animals are not slaughtered for human food. Once again, USDA is in reactive modetaking steps to protect the public long after a highly publicized animal welfare scandal," said CSPI Food Safety Director Caroline Smith DeWaal.
"Where were the inspectors, who should have been preventing downer cattle from entering the food supply? Where were the safeguards to make sure that meat from sick animals didnt end up on school lunch trays from coast to coast?" DeWaal asked. "Congress should demand answers and enact solutions.
"If we had a modern food safety system, slaughterhouse employees wouldnt dream of treating and transporting cattle in the horrible ways documented by the Humane Society - because they would know that federal inspectors on site wouldnt tolerate it," DeWaal said.
Mad cow disease
The slaughter of downer cattle set off alarm bells among investigators because not being able to walk is one of the symptoms of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, otherwise known as Mad Cow Disease.
There are strict rules that are supposed to keep meat from infected cows out of cattle feed much less the human food supply. In addition, Schafer says the fact the cows weren't inspected raises all sorts of other alarming possibilities, including foodborne pathogens such as E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella.
"To date, Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company remains suspended by the Food Safety and Inspection Service," Schafer said. "The products destined for the Federal food assistance programs, including the National School Lunch Program, will now be removed from schools and other holding facilities and destroyed."
Schafer said it is extremely unlikely that the animals were at risk for BSE because of what he called multiple safeguards in the system. However, he said the action is necessary because plant procedures violated USDA regulations.
The request for a Congressional probe came in the form of a letter sent to the U.S. Government Accountability Office by U.S. Reps. George Miller (D-CA), Rosa Delauro (D-CT), and Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL).
"Along with all Americans who watched the Humane Society's disturbing videos, we are concerned with the mistreatment of animals at Westland Meat Co. We are writing today because of urgent concerns this incident raises about food safety in the National School Lunch Program and the implications for our children's health and well-being," the lawmakers wrote in their letter.
The Humane Society's footage showed employees using inhumane practices to force non-ambulatory cows to stand so that they would pass federal inspection in the slaughterhouse. Meat from non-ambulatory or "downer" cows presents a higher risk of E. coli, salmonella, and other dangers, and it is banned under federal law from entering the food supply.
The Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Agriculture is now investigating the company's abuses, and the company's production is currently suspended. The USDA, which oversees the National School Lunch Program, has also asked all schools to put beef products on hold until its investigation can determine whether unsafe meat entered the food supply.
Despite these steps by the USDA, the lawmakers cited serious concerns about the overall effectiveness of the federal government's effort to ensure the safety of meat on the school food supply. To date, no independent investigation has been launched into the safety of the schools' meat supply.
Miller is the chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, which has jurisdiction over school nutrition programs, and McCarthy is the chair of the panel's Subcommittee on Healthy Families and Communities. Delauro is the chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. Durbin is a member of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee and is the author of several pieces of food safety legislation.--
Colorado Sues For-Profit 'Legal Aid' Firm
Consumers thought they were getting competent legal help02/15/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Colorado Sues For-Profit 'Legal Aid' Firm...
When you think of "legal aid," most often you conjure up images of idealistic young lawyers fresh out of law school, working for pennies in cramped, dingy offices to help society's downtrodden. But Colorado Attorney General John Suthers says a name can be deceiving.
Suthers has filed suit in federal court against Legal Aid National Services, Inc., commonly known as The LANS Corp. Also named in the lawsuit are LANS founder and president Kendrick E. White, White's wife Jasmine Ewing, and White's half-brother Derrich E. Brown, both of whom assisted with the company.
"With the ever-increasing cost of legal services, several companies have stepped in to offer low-cost alternatives," Suthers said. "In the case of LANS, we believe that the defendants preyed upon lower-income consumers with confusing business names and false promises of legal aid."
According to the Attorney General's complaint, the defendants misrepresented the "legal services" they provided to consumers in Colorado and across the country.
Although the defendants claimed that trained professionals would provide legal services, the complaint alleges that consumers were charged for legal advice by staff with little or no legal training.
The suit further claims that consumers often received poorly drafted documents that were routinely rejected in court. Other consumers received no documents at all, despite paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
The defendants are supposed to have relied upon a no-refund policy that was not disclosed to consumers until after they had already paid.
Suthers claims that the defendants purposely used business names that incorporated terms such as "legal aid" in order to confuse consumers looking for free or low-cost legal services. According to the complaint, consumers who called directory assistance and requested "legal aid" were frequently provided the phone number for LANS.
Throughout the country, the defendants purchased local phone numbers so that consumers believed they were dealing with a local entity when, in fact, their call was routed to the defendants' Colorado offices. The complaint alleges that LANS' sales representatives were trained to answer the phones with the words "legal aid" to further confuse consumers.
A Temporary Restraining Order has been issued by Denver District Court Judge Robert McGahey, freezing the defendants' bank accounts and preventing them from advertising or accepting money for "legal services" of any kind.
States Asked to Probe AT&T U-Verse Explosions
Equipment cabinets a threat to life and property, real estate brokers claim02/15/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
A group of African-American real estate brokers wants the attorneys general of five states to investigate "a rash of explosions" involving AT&T's U-Verse s...
A group of African-American real estate brokers wants the attorneys general of five states to investigate "a rash of explosions" involving AT&T's U-Verse service.
U-Verse is AT&T's fiber-optic Internet, television and telephone service, now being rolled out on a limited basis to compete with cable television. It is similar to Verizon's FiOS service.
The complaint comes from the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB), which says the equipment boxes are hazardous and could affect housing values as well as causing property damage and injury if they explode.
"These large U-Verse cabinets have been proven to be hazardous from their early rollout stages," said Maria Kong, President of NAREB. "We cannot afford to take chances when it comes to the livelihood of residents who live near these boxes, or their property."
The incidents were blamed on batteries manufactured by Avestor, which has since gone out of business. AT&T has said it is replacing all of the batteries.
According to published reports, there are 17,000 utility cabinets equipped with similar batteries. Sales of homes near such boxes, the association argued, will show a dramatic drop-off until their security is ensured, imperiling the livelihood of African-American real estate professionals.
Problems were first reported with the cabinets back in October 2006. An AT&T U-Verse cabinet exploded near the home of a Houston-area elderly couple. A few months later, a second cabinet in the Houston area caught fire.
After the second fire was reported, an AT&T spokesperson confirmed that a "similar battery produced a small fire in another cabinet," NAREB said. Then, a third AT&T U-Verse cabinet exploded and caught fire in the Wisconsin community of Wauwatosa. The explosion was so powerful that the cabinet door, estimated to weigh 50 to 60 pounds, was blown off.
Identity Theft Tops FTC Complaint List Again
Consumers report more than $1 billion in fraud losses02/14/2008ConsumerAffairs
Identity Theft Tops FTC Complaint List Again...
February 14, 2008
For the seventh year in a row, identity theft was the number one source of consumer fraud complaints submitted to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). According to the agency's yearly report on fraud complaints for 2007, of 813,899 total complaints received in 2007, 258,427, or 32 percent, were related to identity theft.
According to the FTC, total consumer fraud losses totaled $1.2 billion, with the average monetary loss for an individual at $349. Credit card fraud was the most common form of reported identity theft at 23 percent, followed by utilities fraud at 18 percent, employment fraud at 14 percent, and bank fraud at 13 percent.
The top form of credit card fraud was opening a fraudulent new account at 14.2 percent, followed by fraud on an existing account at 9.4 percent.
The FTC compiled fraud data from consumer complaints in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and identified the 50 metropolitan areas with the highest incidence of fraud and identity theft. The metropolitan areas with the highest per capita rates of reported consumer fraud complaints were Albany-Lebanon, Oregon; Greeley, Colorado; and Napa, California.
The FTC received 140,000 more consumer fraud complaints in 2007 than in 2006, when the agency received 674,354 complaints. The agency received 686,000 complaints in 2005, 255,000 of which were related to identity theft.
The agency compiles the complaints and data from its Consumer Sentinel database, which has collected over 4.3 million consumer complaints since 1997. The agency offered a caveat in its report that the data was not from a survey, but from unverified self-reported complaints.
According to an official FTC survey released in November, 8.3 million Americans were victims of some form of identity theft in 2005.
The FTC's surveys and complaint reports have acted as a counterpoint to claims from the financial industry that identity theft and related fraud are on the decline. A new survey released by Javelin Research & Strategy, and funded in part by Visa, claimed that identity theft dropped by 12 percent from previous years, even as costs of individual cases rose to $691 per affected victim.
ATV Deaths, Injuries Climbing
After 20 years, feds no closer to a solution02/14/2008ConsumerAffairs
ATV Deaths, Injuries Climbing...
At least 555 people including 111 children, died riding all-terrain vehicles in 2006, according to a government report released today and the agency charged with protecting consumers appears nowhere close to making the dangerous vehicles any safer.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) expects the casualty figures to rise as more hospitals and coroners submit data to the agency.
In the last year alone, the CPSC added 199 deaths to the 2005 total, raising it to 666. The agency also estimates every year that the figures are much higher than reported. While the 2006 death estimates were not included in the report, the agency estimates 870 people actually died since many deaths are not properly reported.
Of the 555 deaths in 2006, 20 percent -- or 111 -- were children younger than 16. Fifty were younger than 12.
Aside from deaths, the CPSC estimates that the total number of ATV-related injuries in 2006 is 146,600, the highest total yet and up 10,000 from 2005.
While many of the totals are less than recent years, the figures are certain to surpass those numbers as death tolls trickle in, said Rachel Weintraub, Consumer Federation of America's director of product safety.
This further documents that we have a major problem and shows how pervasive the problem is, Weintraub said.
ATVs are one of the deadliest products under the CPSC's jurisdiction, agency spokesman Scott Wolfson said.
Although the methodologies for gathering data on bikes and ATVs are different, those are two products that are among the deadliest, Wolfson said.
The deadliest product of all? Stairs.
The agency has been working on proposed rules to make ATVs safer for more than 20 years and although it reached a consent decree in the '80s to ban the sale of the exponentially deadlier three-wheel models, little progress has been made. In an interview last month, agency spokeswoman Julie Vallese said the agency hopes to make some progress on the proposed rules this summer. Currently the agency cannot act on any new regulations because it does not have a quorum of three commissioners.
The proposed rules mostly solidify many of the current voluntary standards and Weintraub said those rules are not now keeping riders safe and will not do so in the future.
In August 2006, the CPSC denied a petition filed over six years ago by consumer and health groups demanding action on ATVs.
A statement from the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America (SVIA), the ATV industry's lobbying arm, places blame for the accidents on rider error.
The vast majority of ATV-related accidents and fatalities involve behaviors that the ATV industry warns against in its rider education programs, in all its literature, and on vehicle labels, according to an SVIA statement. In fact, an analysis of ATV fatalities during 1997-2002 showed that 92 percent of the fatalities were associated with one or more of these warned against behaviors.
But Weintraub said the industry response is inadequate.
Unfortunately, instead of working to keep children off adult-size ATVs and creating meaningful standards to decrease ATV hazards, the ATV industry has been prioritizing the protection of their economic interest and seeking to shift the blame from their vehicles to the riders.
Wolfson said many ATV-related deaths and injuries could be avoided if riders follow these rules:
keep the vehicle off paved roads;
avoid tandem rides;
wear a helmet;
do not drive under the influence of dugs or alcohol; and
children must not operate adult-sized ATVs.
Parents control the key: from purchase, to training, to operation, according to the SVIA statement. Youth under the age of 16 must not operate adult-sized ATVs and parents need to fulfill their responsibility as guardians of their children by purchasing the right ATV for them, by not allowing their children to operate adult-sized ATVs, by taking advantage of the free rider training courses made available by the member companies of the SVIA, and by supervising their children at all times.
The American Association of Pediatrics suggests that no children under 16 ride ATVs regardless of the model.
Heart Attacks Drop After Smoking Ban in Italy
Ban on smoking in public places pays off02/13/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
Heart Attacks Drop After Smoking Ban in Italy...
A ban on smoking in public places in Italy has sent the number of heart attacks and other acute coronary events spiraling lower according to a report in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.
Researchers in Rome compared acute coronary events in the city for five years preceding a public smoking ban with those occurring one year after the ban. They found an 11.2 percent reduction in people 35 to 64 years old and a 7.9 percent reduction in those ages 65 to 74.
Smoking bans in all public and workplaces result in an important reduction of acute coronary events, said Francesco Forastiere, M.D., Ph.D., co-author of the study and head of the Environmental and Occupational Epidemiology Unit, Department of Epidemiology, Rome E. Health Authority, Italy. The smoking ban in Italy is working and having a real protective effect on population health.
The study was the first in Europe to show long-term health benefits of smoking bans in public places. It also was the first to consider in detail other factors such as temperature, air pollution, flu epidemics and time trends that affect acute coronary events such as heart attack.
The January 2005 comprehensive smoking ban in Italy included strong sanctions for smokers, businesses and workplace owners and managers. The prohibition included all indoor public places such as offices, retail shops, restaurants, pubs and discos.
Researchers compared the rate of acute coronary events from 2000 to 2004 with those occurring in 2005 after the ban was enforced.
They identified acute coronary events from hospital discharge reports with a diagnosis of myocardial infarction or unstable angina and from the regional register of causes of deaths with diagnosis of out-of-hospital coronary deaths.
The analysis was divided into three age groups: 3564, 6574 and 7584 years. Researchers collected daily data on particulate matter in 40 public places and from four fixed monitors in residential areas together with temperature readings.
They found that the indoor concentration of fine particles decreased one year after the ban.
During the period of the study there were changes in smoking habits such as:
• Frequency of smoking decreased from 34.9 percent to 30.5 percent in men and from 20.6 percent to 20.4 percent in women.
• Cigarette sales decreased 5.5 percent.
While the ban resulted in a significant reduction in acute coronary events in the two younger age groups, the older group (aged 75-84 years) showed no reduction.
When the researchers adjusted for time trends and all-cause hospitalization, the results remained statistically significant in the youngest group and in the 6574 age group. This effect was only slightly reduced when the researchers compared the post-smoking ban data of 2005 with that from 2004.
The older age group spends more time at home than in the workplace or public businesses, said Giulia Cesaroni, M.Sc., senior researcher at the Department of Epidemiology, Rome, Italy. The smoking ban has a greater effect on those of working age and those who spend a lot of their time in public places.
Young people living in low socioeconomic areas seemed to have the greatest reduction in acute coronary events after the smoking ban, researchers reported. Those living in lower socioeconomic areas have worse health conditions with more risk factors for heart attack such as obesity, hypertension, diabetes and a higher rate of active smoking.
This implies that a disadvantaged person has a higher probability of being surrounded by smokers at work and in public places unless a smoking ban is in place, Cesaroni said.
The researchers said the health benefits seen in this study probably result from a significant reduction in exposure to passive smoking. In addition, a smoking-free environment makes it easier for smokers to stop smoking.
Since coronary heart disease is a leading cause of death in Italy, the reduction observed had enormous public health implications, Forastiere said. It will be interesting to see if the effect of the ban is stable over time and if similar positive health effects can be detected in other places.
Congress Gets Net Neutrality Legislation
Bill would bar ISPs from blocking or delaying content02/13/2008ConsumerAffairs
Congress Gets Net Neutrality Legislation...
Legislation in Congress yesterday would preserve "net neutrality," the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally. The bill would prohibit Internet service providers blocking or favoring content or charging content providers additional fees to expedite their offerings.
The "Internet Freedom Preservation Act," introduced by Reps. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Chip Pickering (R-MS), would amend the Communications Act of 1934 "to preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of broadband networks that enable consumers to reach, and service providers to offer, lawful content, applications, and services of their choosing, using their selection of devices, as long as such devices do not harm the network."
The Act would mandate that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) conduct investigations to ensure that broadband Internet providers are not blocking or "unreasonably" thwarting traffic within 90 days of the act's passage.
The FCC would also be tasked to conduct at least eight "broadband summits" in different parts of the country, bringing together diverse groups of citizens to discuss "competition, consumer protection, and consumer choice issues related to broadband Internet access services."
Supporters of net neutrality, led by the "Save The Internet" interest group coalition, cheered the introduction of the bill and urged supporters to contact Congress asking them to pass the law.
"The introduction of this legislation gives hope to the millions of Americans who want the public not phone and cable companies in control of the Internet," said Timothy Karr, campaign director of Free Press.
"This bill takes the issue outside the Beltway and away from the corrupting influence of telecom lobbyists to the communities across the country that want to share in the enormous economic and social benefits of an open Internet."
Second chance at bat
Markey introduced similar legislation as amendments to a massive update of the Communications Act in the previous Republican-controlled Congress. Although attempts to update the Act were scuttled over net neutrality concerns, Markey's bills were not passed into law.
Since that time, cable provider Comcast was caught surreptitiously interfering with users' ability to share media with the BitTorrent file-sharing system, provoking an FCC investigation.
Comcast, meanwhile, is defending its actions. It said yesterday that it purposely slows down some traffic on its network, including some music and movie downloads, saying such actions are necessary to ensure better flow of traffic over its network.
Comcast was also found to cancel the subscriptions of users who allegedly exceeded the company's undisclosed caps on bandwith usage, provoking ire from customers who wanted clear terms on how much bandwith they can use for how long.
The FCC itself, which had formerly taken a generally laissez-faire attitude toward net neutrality and Internet regulation in general, also found itself under increased pressure from the new Democratic-majority Congress over many of its recent rulings and procedures.
The FCC recently announced it would hold a hearing to discuss broadband network management practices on February 26 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Kevin Trudeau Now Offering 'Debt Cures'
Consumers find it hard to avoid buying more than just the book02/13/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Kevin Trudeau Now Offering 'Debt Cures'...
Master marketer and infomercial maven Kevin Trudeau has a new book out, but he hasn't strayed far from his successful diet and health book formula, which critics say panders to consumer paranoia.
His new book, coincidentally introduced at the height of the current credit crises, is "Debt Cures They Don't Want You To Know About."
Consumers who call an 800 number to order a copy are reporting very similar experiences as when they called to order "Natural Cures They Don't Want You To Know About." They're finding it very hard to buy just the book.
"I only wanted to order the book, but the young lady kept telling me about a trial for thirty days, and I kept telling her the book only, please," Cynthia, of Mexia, Texas told ConsumerAffairs.com.
Cynthia said in frustration, she told the operator to just cancel the order. But she says the operator told her the book is coming anyway, and will be in her mailbox in three to five weeks. Cynthia is concerned about what else might show up on her charge card.
The book is currently only available from Trudeau, either by calling a toll-free number or going to a Web site. The book, if purchased from Trudeau, costs $29.95 plus nearly $12 shipping and handling.
"Debt Cures They Don't Want You To Know About" will be available from Amazon.com for only $17 but not until May 2008. And if you're even considering purchasing it, it might be wise to read a few reviews first and to consider Trudeau's previous record.
In September 2004, Trudeau agreed to pay $2 million to settle charges that he falsely claimed that a coral calcium product can cure cancer and other serious diseases and that a purported analgesic called Biotape can permanently cure or relieve severe pain. In September 2007, the FTC sued Trudeau again, charging him with violating the 2004 court order.
In October 2007, the FTC sued marketers of Kevin Trudeaus book, The Weight Loss Cure They Dont Want You to Know About, charging they made claims that were false and unsubstantiated.
Don't just rely on the so-called reviews you'll find online. Many are shills for the book. They offer up some criticism of Trudeau and his business practices, but in the end conclude, grudgingly, that the book is actually pretty good, and therefore worth the price.
To be fair to Trudeau, many of the "mainstream" reviews of his book say the information he provides is just fine, if a little outdated in some areas. However, as Chuck Jaffe, of the respected financial Website Marketwatch.com concludes in his review, almost all of it is available for free, online and from other sources.
The real problem with the book, Jaffe concludes, is the gauntlet consumers like Cynthia must pass through when they place their orders.
"If you call for the book, you will be offered a whole lot of other goods and services, and you'll be expected to subscribe to the monthly Debt Cures newsletter for $9.95 per month," Jaffee writes. "By the time you get off the phone, if you fall for the wide range of sales pitches, you'll be about $250 deeper in debt and will add to that debt every succeeding month."
Irate consumers lose sleep over problems with mattress discount chains02/12/2008ConsumerAffairs
Those who heed the call often find themselves subjected to confusing, high-pressure, fast-close sales techniques seldom seen outside the used car lot....
'Secrets' of Extreme Longevity Revealed
Good habits in early old age lead to extra decades02/11/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
Despite the claims of cable-channel infomercials and assorted scam artists, there aren't a lot of "secrets" to living a long and healthy life....
Despite the claims of cable-channel infomercials and assorted scam artists, there aren't a lot of "secrets" to living a long and healthy life. Recent research confirms widely-accepted principles.
Living a healthy lifestyle during the early elderly years -- watching your weight, getting regular exercise and not smoking -- may be associated with a greater probability of living to age 90 in men, not to mention enjoying good health and physical function along the way.
An article in the February 11 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine finds that although some individuals survive to 100 years or beyond by avoiding chronic diseases, other centenarians live with such conditions for many years without becoming disabled.
Studies of twins have found that about one-fourth of the variation in human life span can be attributed to genetics. That leaves about 75 percent that could be attributed to modifiable risk factors.
Laurel B. Yates, M.D., M.P.H., of Brigham & Womens Hospital, Boston, led researchers who studied a group of 2,357 men who were participants in the Physicians Health Study.
At the beginning of the study, in 1981 to 1984, the men (average age 72) provided information about demographic and health variables, including height, weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels and how often they exercised.
Twice during the first year and then once each following year through 2006, they completed a questionnaire asking about changes in habits, health status or ability to do daily tasks.
Forty-one percent of them lived to be 90 or older.
Several modifiable biological and behavioral factors were associated with survival to this exceptional age. Smoking, diabetes, obesity and hypertension significantly reduced the likelihood of a 90-year life span, while regular vigorous exercise substantially improved it, the authors write.
Furthermore, men with a life span of 90 or more years also had better physical function, mental well-being, and self-perceived health in late life compared with men who died at a younger age. Adverse factors associated with reduced longevity -- smoking, obesity and sedentary lifestyle -- also were significantly associated with poorer functional status in elderly years.
The researchers estimate that a 70-year-old man who did not smoke and had normal blood pressure and weight, no diabetes and exercised two to four times per week had a 54 percent probability of living to age 90.
However, if he had adverse factors, his probability of living to age 90 was reduced to the following amount:
• Sedentary lifestyle, 44 percent
• Hypertension (high blood pressure), 36 percent
• Obesity, 26 percent
• Smoking, 22 percent
• Three factors, such as sedentary lifestyle, obesity and diabetes, 14 percent
• Five factors, 4 percent
Although the impact of certain midlife mortality [death] risks in elderly years is controversial, our study suggests that many remain important, at least among men, the authors conclude. Thus, our results suggest that healthy lifestyle and risk management should be continued in elderly years to reduce mortality and disability.
In another study, researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine and Boston Medical Center, and colleagues studied 523 women and 216 men age 97 or older.
These centenarians completed questionnaires about their health history and functional ability by mail or telephone. They were split into groups based on sex and the age at which they developed diseases typically associated with aging: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, dementia, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, osteoporosis, Parkinsons disease and stroke.
Those who developed these conditions at age 85 or older were classified as delayers, whereas those who developed them at a younger age were termed survivors.
Of the participants, 32 percent were survivors and 68 percent were delayers -- thus, morbidity [illness] was not compressed toward the end of these exceptionally long life spans, the authors write.
Yet, centenarians who had developed heart disease and/or hypertension before age 85 years and still survived to 100 years demonstrated similar levels of function (independent in the case of men and requires minimal assistance in the case of women) as those who delayed morbidity until after age 85 years.
Though fewer men than women survive to extremely old age, the male centenarians in this study appeared to have better mental and physical function than their female counterparts.
One explanation for this may be that men must be in excellent health and/or functionally independent to achieve such extreme old age, the authors write. Women on the other hand may be better physically and socially adept at living with chronic and often disabling health conditions.
The results regarding the timing of illness in centenarians may shed additional light on the various ways in which people can survive to extreme old age, the authors conclude. Determining the mechanisms that facilitate the delay or escape of disability in the face of clinically evident age- and mortality-associated morbidities merits further investigation.
Artificial Sweeteners Linked to Weight Gain
Cutting the connection between sweets and calories may confuse the body02/11/2008ConsumerAffairs
A study of Behavioral Neuroscience cites laboratory evidence that widespread use of no-calorie sweeteners may make it harder for people to control their in...
Want to lose weight? It might help to pour that diet soft drink down the drain.
A study appearing in the February issue of Behavioral Neuroscience cites laboratory evidence that the widespread use of no-calorie sweeteners may actually make it harder for people to control their intake and body weight.
Psychologists at Purdue Universitys Ingestive Behavior Research Center reported that compared with rats that ate yogurt sweetened with sugar, those given yogurt sweetened with zero-calorie saccharin later consumed more calories, gained more weight, put on more body fat, and didnt make up for it by cutting back later.
Authors Susan Swithers, PhD, and Terry Davidson, PhD, theorize that by breaking the connection between a sweet sensation and high-calorie food, the use of saccharin changes the bodys ability to regulate intake. That change depends on experience.
Problems with self-regulation might explain in part why obesity has risen in parallel with the use of artificial sweeteners. It also might explain why, says Swithers, scientific consensus on human use of artificial sweeteners is inconclusive, with various studies finding evidence of weight loss, weight gain or little effect.
Because people may have different experiences with artificial and natural sweeteners, human studies that dont take into account prior consumption may produce a variety of outcomes.
Three different experiments explored whether saccharin changed lab animals ability to regulate their intake, using different assessments -- the most obvious being caloric intake, weight gain, and compensating by cutting back.
The experimenters also measured changes in core body temperature, a physiological assessment.
Normally when we prepare to eat, the metabolic engine revs up. However, rats that had been trained to respond using saccharin (which broke the link between sweetness and calories), relative to rats trained on glucose, showed a smaller rise in core body temperate after eating a novel, sweet-tasting, high-calorie meal. The authors think this blunted response both led to overeating and made it harder to burn off sweet-tasting calories.
The data clearly indicate that consuming a food sweetened with no-calorie saccharin can lead to greater body-weight gain and adiposity (fat) than would consuming the same food sweetened with a higher-calorie sugar, the authors wrote.
The authors acknowledge that this outcome may seem counterintuitive and might not come as welcome news to human clinical researchers and health-care practitioners, who have long recommended low- or no-calorie sweeteners. Whats more, the data come from rats, not humans.
However, they noted that their findings match emerging evidence that people who drink more diet drinks are at higher risk for obesity and metabolic syndrome, a collection of medical problems such as abdominal fat, high blood pressure and insulin resistance that put people at risk for heart disease and diabetes.
Why would a sugar substitute backfire?
Swithers and Davidson wrote that sweet foods provide a salient orosensory stimulus that strongly predicts someone is about to take in a lot of calories. Ingestive and digestive reflexes gear up for that intake but when false sweetness isnt followed by lots of calories, the system gets confused. Thus, people may eat more or expend less energy than they otherwise would.
The good news, Swithers says, is that people can still count calories to regulate intake and body weight. However, she sympathizes with the dieters lament that counting calories requires more conscious effort than consuming low-calorie foods.
Swithers adds that based on the labs hypothesis, other artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose and acesulfame K, which also taste sweet but do not predict the delivery of calories, could have similar effects.
Finally, although the results are consistent with the idea that humans would show similar effects, human study is required for further demonstration.
Hazards of Rent-A-Car Child Safety Seats
Consumer makes noise about illegal, unsafe seats; gets results02/11/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Hazards of Rent-A-Car Child Safety Seats...
Parents traveling with young children face more challenges than they used to. When they rent a car, for example, they also have to rent a child safety seat. They depend on the car rental agency to offer a safe and reliable seat, but shouldn't just assume they'll get one, as consumer Debbie Dubrow discovered.
Dubrow, her husband and two small children flew from Seattle to San Diego in December, renting a car and two child safety seats from Advantage Rent A Car. The seats, she says, had obvious problems.
"Some seats were obviously missing parts. Some were obviously very old," she told ConsumerAffairs.com. "We installed two of the better looking seats thinking that they were okay only to find that they were not working.
"One was missing the top part of the harness that would secure the child in a crash, the other had a seatbelt that wouldn't tighten enough to secure our child. It took us quite some time to find working seats to install," she said. "The seats were also filthy, with huge black marks on some and dirt or crumbs on others."
Dubrow says that when she complained to the rental car manager, he offered to refund the money for the seats, but otherwise offered no help. It wasn't just a matter of poor customer service, she says, it was a violation of the law.
"In California, there are clear laws regarding child safety seat rental. These old, non-working seats were not only unsafe, they were also against the law," Dubrow said.
Dubrow didn't take the experience sitting down. She blogged about it, gaining the attention of a TV station in San Diego, which reported on her experience.
As a result, she says, Advantage performed a company-wide inspection of their car seats, destroying any that did not meet the legal guidelines. The company has also instituted a company-wide Child Safety Seat policy to ensure that they rent only safe, clean car seats in the future.
"The problems were really obvious," Dubrow said. "I don't have any knowledge about car seats beyond what a well-informed parent would have after purchasing their own seats and using them daily. In my opinion, it is something that Advantage employees should have recognized."
The take-away lesson for parents, she says, is to never assume that a car seat is safe, simply because a company is renting it.
"If you see a company putting people at risk, take action to make it better," Dubrow said.
What to do
Dubrow says parents need to know how to check a rental for safety. Here's what to look for:
Inspect each seat thoroughly for any evidence of cracking, twisting, worn harness webbing or broken buckles.
Verify that seatbelts are threaded through the proper channels.
Once you have latched the buckles, pull hard to make sure that they do not detach.
Find the "birth date" label on the side or back of the seat, and don't use a seat more than 5 years old.
Get a copy of the car seat manual
"I was shocked at how many parents responded saying 'I've seen that before.' I'm hopeful that my story will inspire others to take action," Dubrow said.
Latest recall unrelated to other fire-related Ford recalls02/11/2008ConsumerAffairs
Ford Recalls 57,000 More Trucks, SUVS for Fire Hazard...
Congressman Gambles on the Internet
Regulating online gambling could generate billions in taxes, fees02/10/2008ConsumerAffairs
Congressman Gambles on the Internet...
With a recession looming and millions of baby boomers about to retire, the feds are worried about cobbling together enough tax revenue to keep the wheels turning. One congressman thinks the answer lies in a tax on Internet gambling.
A new tax revenue analysis announced by Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA) estimates that regulating Internet gambling would generate between $8.7 billion to $42.8 billion in federal revenues over its first ten years.
The analysis, prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers, were released by McDermott earlier this week.
"Before us is a tremendous opportunity to protect consumers and recoup billions of dollars that should be collected by the Internal Revenue Service," said Representative McDermott. "These are revenues that are desperately needed, given that we are at war and face difficulty financing the nation's priorities."
Rep. McDermott introduced the Internet Gambling Regulation and Tax Enforcement Act (H.R. 2607), which would tax regulated Internet gambling.
"To be clear, these are not mostly new taxes -- the bulk of the revenues generated would come from taxes required under existing law," said McDermott. "This is simply a framework to collect taxes on existing activity that is currently unregulated, unsupervised, and underground."
The current approach, prohibiting Internet gambling through the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), has proved to be a failure. Notwithstanding the UIGEA prohibition, millions of Americans are still able to gamble online.
In addition, proposed rules by the Treasury Department to implement the current prohibitions have been severely criticized by many parties, including the American Bankers Association, Credit Union National Association, Financial Services Roundtable, and other leading financial services companies and groups.
"Instead of this ineffective attempt to prevent adults from gambling over the Internet, we need a more sensible approach to protect consumers and ensure that revenues that now flow offshore stay here in the U.S. and are therefore subject to taxation," added McDermott. "A new, safer, more sensible approach is needed to regulate Internet gambling and protect consumers."
McDermott's legislation functions as a companion bill to the Internet Gambling Regulation and Enforcement Act (H.R. 2046), legislation introduced by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) which would establish a licensing and enforcement framework for regulated Internet gambling in the U.S.
The legislation would allow states to retain full control over the regulation of Internet gambling within their borders, applying additional taxes, protections and limitations as determined necessary and appropriate.
"By prohibiting a popular, recreational activity that many millions enjoy in the comfort of their own homes, the U.S. is forfeiting billions of dollars in revenue needed for critical government programs," said Jeffrey Sandman, spokesman for the Safe and Secure Internet Gambling Initiative.
"It is time for Congress to regulate and tax Internet gambling to ensure security controls are in place to protect consumers and capture billions in revenue."
The full PricewaterhouseCoopers analysis is available online.
Complications and deaths noted, especially in children02/09/2008ConsumerAffairs
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Pet Owners Cheer Indictments in Toxic Pet Food Case
But additional indictments and safeguards are needed, they argue02/08/2008ConsumerAffairs
Pet Owners Cheer Indictments in Toxic Pet Food Case...
Pet owners across the country applauded the indictmen of two Chinese companies -- and an American importer and its owners -- for their alleged roles in intentionally manufacturing and distributing melamine-tainted wheat gluten that was used to make dog and cat food.
Pet food makers last year recalled more than 150 brands of dog and cat food contaminated with melamine, a chemical that is not approved for use in human or animal food.
Thousands of dogs and cats nationwide suffered kidney disease or died after eating the adulterated food.
"When I first read about these (indictments), I was crying because I was so happy," said pet owner Carol V. of Rhode Island, whose two cats became gravely ill last February after eating melamine-tainted pet food.
"It was one year ago yesterday that my nightmare started. It made me feel really good that something was being done. I was shocked because I had not idea that these criminal investigations were going on. I thought they had fizzled," she said.
But Carol and other pet owners are adamant that the investigation into last year's pet food recall -- the largest in U.S. history -- must continue.
They say more companies should be held accountable for their roles in the deaths and illnesses of pets nationwide.
"I don't think the American company that imported the wheat gluten should be alone in this investigation," Carol said.
On Wednesday, United States Attorney John Wood announced federal grand jury indictments against:
Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co., LTD. (XAC), a Chinese processor of plant proteins that exports products to the United States;
Mao Linzhun, a Chinese national who was the owner and manager of XAC;
Suzhou Textiles, Silk, Light Industrial Products, Arts and Crafts I/E Co., LTD. (SSC), a Chinese broker used by XAC to export products to the United States;
Chen Zhen Hao, 58, a Chinese national who was president of SSC.
The 26-count indictments specifically charged the companies and individuals with intent to defraud and mislead U.S. manufacturers -- and introducing misbranded food into interstate commerce.
In a separate but related case, Wood also announced federal indictments against:
ChemNutra, Inc., of Las Vegas, Nevada, which buys food and food components in China and imports them into the U.S. to sell to companies in the food industry;
Sally Qing Miller, 41, a Chinese national, who is president and controlling officer of ChemNutra, Inc,;
Stephen S. Miller, 55, ChemNutra's owner and chief executive officer. He is married to Sally Miller.
The indictments alleged that the Millers and ChemNutra delivered melamine-tainted and misbranded food into interstate commerce.
Wire fraud conspiracy
The indictments further charged the Millers and ChemNutra with participating in a wire fraud conspiracy.
"In today's global economy, crimes that occur halfway around the world can seriously impact our lives," Wood said, adding the cases were filed in Kansas City, Missouri, because it was the port of entry for the melamine-tainted wheat gluten.
"Millions of pet owners remember the anxiety of last year's pet food recall. These indictments are the product of an investigation that began in the wake of that recall. We take seriously our responsibility to uphold the health and safety standards that protect America's food supply. Vigorous enforcement is an essential part of that effort," Wood said.
The indictments unraveled a web of fraud and deception that stretched from Nevada and China and ultimately across the country and into the homes of thousands of unsuspecting pet owners and their dogs and cats.
According to court records, more than 800 metric tons of wheat gluten was exported to the United States -- in at least 13 separate shipments -- between November 6, 2006 and February 21, 2007. Invoices reveal those shipments totaled nearly $850,000.
The indictments stated those shipments of wheat gluten were tainted with melamine and falsely labeled to avoid inspection in China.
Court records revealed that ChemNutra and the Millers received the melamine-tainted wheat gluten at a port of entry in Kansas City, Missouri, and then sold the products to their customers.
Those customers used the contaminated wheat gluten to make several brands of pet food, the indictments stated. Pet food makers use wheat gluten -- a natural protein derived from wheat or wheat flour -- as a binding agent to thicken the "gravy."
Wednesday's indictments stated that ChemNutra contracted with SSC to purchase the wheat gluten.
Under the terms of that contract, SSC agreed to provide ChemNutra with food grade wheat gluten that had a minimum protein content of 75 percent.
According to the indictments, SSC then entered into a separate contract with XAC to supply the wheat gluten needed to fulfill its contract with ChemNutra.
The indictments alleged that XAC added melamine to the wheat gluten to falsely inflate the protein content -- and meet the amounts specified in ChemNutra's contract.
It was cheaper for XAC to add melamine to the wheat gluten than to increase its actual protein content, the indictments stated.
But why didn't Chinese officials inspect the tainted wheat gluten before it left the country?
According to the indictments, SSC mislabeled the wheat gluten with a code used for products that are not subject to mandatory inspection by the country's General Administration of Quality supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ).
The Chinese government stated that XAC did not declare the tainted wheat gluten as a raw material for feed or as food. Instead, it falsely identified the wheat gluten as another product one that was not subject to inspection.
Wednesday's indictments further alleged that SCC provided ChemNutra and the Millers with documents that used the inaccurate product code. This is where the wire fraud conspiracy charge comes into play.
Citing e-mail messages, the indictments alleged that Sally Miller -- because of her background and training -- knew the wheat gluten would not be subject to inspections in China because the shipments were mislabeled with that product code.
Federal authorities said Sally Miller holds an engineering degree in food chemistry from Hangzhou University in China and has more than 10 years of work experience in China primarily as a purchasing manager for United States companies.
The indictments call for fines and jail time for executives at the Chinese companies -- and for Millers.
The Millers on Wednesday denied any wrongdoing.
"(They) deny the allegations by the Justice Department in the strongest of terms and look forward to the opportunity to prove their innocence at trial," a spokesman for ChemNutra told reporters. "Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Miller had any intent to defraud or knowledge of any wrongdoing."
In a written statement, the company also said that federal authorities did not accuse the Millers of knowing the wheat gluten was tainted with melamine.
"Although Mr. and Mrs. Miller strongly deny any intent to defraud or knowledge of wrongdoing, the government does not allege that Mr. and Mrs. Miller knew of the presence of melamine or any other substance that would cause death or injury to animals," the statement read. "The Millers unequivocally support the government pursuing those with knowledge of the dangerous contaminants."
The company, however, said the Millers were "deeply bothered by the government's failure to make these important distinctions in its press release related to their indictments."
A manager at Suzhou Textiles told The New York Times the company's owner was on vacation. He also said the company no longer ships food to the United States.
During a press conference on Wednesday, Wood acknowledged that it might be difficult to bring the Chinese defendants to the United States for trail.
The U.S. does not have an extradition treaty with China.
Wood, however, said his office will send arrest warrants for the Chinese defendants to international authorities action that makes it possible for the men to be detained if they travel to a country with a U.S. extradition treaty.
Wood also told reporters that Wednesday's indictments are accusations and not evidence of guilt.
The charges, he added, come on the heels of a long investigation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigation and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Pet owners respond
Meanwhile, pet owners hope additional charges will be filed in connection with the pet food nightmare.
"I think this is the tip of the iceberg and more indictments will come against other companies," said pet owner Doris B. of Georgia. "I think Menu Foods should face federal charges, too."
Menu Foods is the Canadian-based company at the heart of last year's pet food recall.
On March 16, 2007, Menu pulled more than 60 million containers of melamine-tainted dog and cat food off store shelves nationwide.
But weeks earlier, the company conducted routine feeding trials on pet food made with the tainted wheat gluten ChemNutra imported from China.
Menu Foods acknowledged that nine animals died during those trials.
The company, however, didn't report those deaths -- or five others that it learned about -- to the FDA until March 15, 2007.
"Think how many animals would have been saved if Menu Foods would have come out sooner -- and said they had a problem -- that animals were becoming sick and dying after eating their food," said pet owner Carol V. of Rhode Island. "Those feeding trials were between February 20-26 and these animals were dying, yet Menu Foods said nothing until March 15."
Canadian author Ann Martin, who has researched the pet food industry for years, agreed that U.S. authorities should investigate and perhaps charge -- Menu Foods and other pet food companies in connection with last year's recall.
"Menu Foods should have been part of this indictment as they, along with every other pet food company, neglect to test the raw ingredients that are being used in the foods they produce," Martin told ConsumerAffairs.com. "Menu knew weeks before the recall that there was a problem, yet chose to blame pet owner's for the illnesses and carried on with their shipping of the toxic pet food."
Do Wednesday's indictments represent justice for the pets that died after eating the tainted food?
Not at all, Martin said.
"These indictments are no justice for the thousands of dogs and cats that suffered and died because of this contamination," said the author of "Foods Pet Die For," and "Protect Your Pets."
"The only justice would be to put an end to the unethical practices that are perpetrated within this industry."
Groups Warn Baby Bottles Leach Toxic Substance
BPA leaches from plastic bottles when heated, report argues02/08/2008ConsumerAffairs
Groups Warn Baby Bottles Leach Toxic Substance...
Dozens of state and national environmental health organizations in the U.S. and Canada are calling for an immediate moratorium on the use of bisphenol A (BPA) in baby bottles and other food and beverage containers, based on the results of a new study that they say demonstrates the toxic chemical BPA leaches from popular plastic baby bottles when heated.
BPA, a synthetic sex hormone that mimics estrogen, is used to make hard polycarbonate plastic. Ninety-five percent of all baby bottles on the market are made with BP, according to the study.
The results of the U.S. study show that, when new bottles are heated, those manufactured by Avent, Evenflo, Dr. Brown's and Disney/First Years leached between 4.7 - 8.3 parts per billion of BPA.
Recent research on animals shows that BPA can be harmful by disrupting development at doses below these levels. The bottles were purchased at retailers across the country in nine states: Babies"R"Us, CVS, Target, Toys"R"Us, Walgreens, and Wal-Mart.
Results of the study, "Baby's Toxic Bottle: Bisphenol A Leaching from Popular Baby Bottles," are expected to raise the profile of the issue even more. Last month, Michigan Reps. John Dingell and Bart Stupak launched a Congressional investigation to ascertain the safety of BPA used to line the cans of infant formula products. The study was commissioned by Environmental Defence of Canada in cooperation with The Work Group for Safe Markets in the U.S., and researched by the laboratory of Frederick vom Saal, PhD., at the University of Missouri.
"The only appropriate response to evidence that a known toxic chemical leaches from baby products is to phase it out and replace it with safer products in order to prevent harm wherever possible," said Mike Schade, a report co-author with the Center for Health, Environment and Justice.
"Environmental health organizations from across the U.S. are calling for an immediate moratorium on the use of BPA in baby bottles and other food and beverage containers."
Studies conducted on laboratory animals and cell cultures have linked low doses of BPA to obesity, diabetes, thyroid disease, breast cancer, prostate cancer and other illnesses, the report says.
It also contends that BPA exposure is widespread and has been found in 95 percent of Americans tested. Some scientists, physicians, and public health professionals suspect that existing scientific evidence on BPA indicates a real risk to human health.
In addition to baby bottles, BPA is used to make hard plastic used in some toddler sippy cups, polycarbonate water bottles such as some Nalgene bottles, dental sealants, and the linings of many food and beverage cans, including all infant formulas.
There are no existing safety standards regulating BPA under U.S. laws, even for products used by infants and young children. Nine states have introduced legislation that would restrict the use of BPA in children's products, including baby bottles.
Great Lakes Region A Potential Graveyard
Report: Government blocking study that could save millions02/07/2008ConsumerAffairs
Great Lakes Region A Potential Graveyard...
If you live in any of the eight Great Lakes states, you may be facing serious health risks.
The Center for Public Integrity, a non-profit Washington, D.C. investigative organization, says it has access to explosive government research, hitherto unknown, that more than nine million people who live in the more than two dozen Great Lakes states including such major metropolitan areas as Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, and Milwaukee may face elevated health risks from being exposed to dioxin, PCBs, pesticides, lead, mercury, or six other hazardous pollutants.
The group cites a 400-plus-page study, Public Health Implications of Hazardous Substances in the Twenty-Six U.S. Great Lakes Areas of Concern, which was undertaken by a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the request of the International Joint Commission, an independent bilateral organization that advises the U.S. and Canadian governments on the use and quality of boundary waters between the two countries.
The center claims that for more than seven months, the nation's top public health agency blocked the publication of the exhaustive federal study, reportedly because it contains such potentially "alarming information" as evidence of elevated infant mortality and cancer rates.
The study was originally scheduled for release in July 2007 by the IJC and the CDC's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).
In many of the geographic areas studied, researchers are said to have found low birth weights, elevated rates of infant mortality and premature births, and elevated death rates from breast cancer, colon cancer, and lung cancer.
Since 2004, dozens of experts have reviewed various drafts of the study, including senior scientists at the CDC, Environmental Protection Agency, and other federal agencies, as well as scientists from universities and state governments, according to sources familiar with the history of the project.
"It raises very important questions," Dr. Peter Orris, a professor at the University of Illinois School of Public Health in Chicago and one of three experts who reviewed the study for ATSDR, told the Center.
While Orris acknowledged that the study does not determine cause and effect -- a point the study itself emphasizes -- its release, he said, is crucial to pointing the way for further research.
"Communities could demand that those questions be answered in a more systematic way," he said. "Not to release it is putting your head under the sand."
In a December 2007 letter to ATSDR in which he called for the release of the study, Orris wrote: "This report, which has taken years in production, was subjected to independent expert review by the IJC's Health Professionals Task Force and other boards, over 20 EPA scientists, state agency scientists from New York and Minnesota, three academics (including myself), and multiple reviews within ATSDR. As such, this is perhaps the most extensively critiqued report, internally and externally, that I have heard of."
Last July, several days before the study was to be released, ATSDR suddenly withdrew it, saying that it needed further review.
In a letter to Christopher De Rosa, then the director of the agency's division of toxicology and environmental medicine, Dr. Howard Frumkin, ATSDR's chief, wrote that the quality of the study was "well below expectations." When the Center contacted Frumkin's office, a spokesman said that he was not available for comment and that the study was "still under review."
'Appearance of censorship'
De Rosa, who oversaw the study and has pressed for its release, referred the Center's requests for an interview to ATSDR's public affairs office, which, over a period of two weeks, has declined to make him available for comment.
In an e-mail obtained by the Center, De Rosa wrote to Frumkin that the delay in publishing the study has had "the appearance of censorship of science and distribution of factual information regarding the health status of vulnerable communities."
Some members of Congress seem to agree.
In a February 6, 2008, letter to CDC director Dr. Julie Gerberding, who's also administrator of ATSDR, a trio of powerful congressional Democrats -- including Rep. Bart Gordon of Tennessee, chairman of the Committee on Science and Technology -- complained about the delay in releasing the report.
The Center for Public Integrity obtained a copy of the letter to Gerberding, which notes that the full committee is reviewing "disturbing allegations about interference with the work of government scientists" at ATSDR.
"You and Dr. Frumkin were made aware of the Committee's concerns on this matter last December," the letter adds, "but we have still not heard any explanation for the decision to cancel the release of the report."
Canadian biologist Michael Gilbertson, a former IJC staffer and another of the three peer reviewers, told the Center that the study has been suppressed because it suggests that vulnerable populations have been harmed by industrial pollutants.
"It's not good because it's inconvenient," Gilbertson said. "The whole problem with all this kind of work is wrapped up in that word 'injury.' If you have injury, that implies liability. Liability, of course, implies damages, legal processes, and costs of remedial action. The governments, frankly, in both countries are so heavily aligned with, particularly, the chemical industry, that the word amongst the bureaucracies is that they really do not want any evidence of effect or injury to be allowed out there."
Social Networking Sites Not the Biggest Danger for Teens?
Study finds instant messaging, chat rooms more threatening02/06/2008ConsumerAffairs
Social Networking Sites Not the Biggest Danger for Teens?...
Kids may be more likely to be victimized while using instant messenger and visiting chat rooms than while using social networking sites, according to new research.
The study, conducted by child health researchers Michele Ybarra of Internet Solutions for Kids and Kimberly Mitchell of the University of New Hampshire, set out to look at the places online where youth are most likely to experience sexual solicitation and harassment.
The study, published in Pediatrics, found that among the almost 1600 children and adolescents 10-15 years-old surveyed nationally, 4% reported experiencing an unwanted sexual solicitation and 9% reported being harassed while on a social networking site.
Solicitations were reported 59% more often in instant messaging however, and 19% more often in chat rooms than social networking sites.
More surprising, harassments were reported 96% more often in instant messaging than in social networking sites.
"Are victimizations happening in social networking sites? Yes," Ybarra explains, "but they're happening with greater frequency in instant messaging and chat rooms."
Warning to parents
The authors say the results serve as a warning for parents not to focus exclusively on social networking sites.
"Internet safety is not just about whether your child is on MySpace or not. You should know what your children are doing on MySpace and Facebook. But you also need to know what your children are doing in school, after school, at parties, at the mall, online -- basically all environments in which they engage. You can't just focus on one place and assume that your job is done," they said.
An estimated 15% of children and adolescents are targeted by unwanted sexual solicitation each year, including being asked to talk about sex, provide personal sexual information, or engage in sexual behavior online when they do not want to.
Depending on the type of harassment and the age of the children surveyed, 9 to 30% of youth are harassed yearly. Current events have raised public awareness and concern about the risks young people face when they are in social networking sites.
Most recent was the case of Megan Meier, a teenager who committed suicide after her online 'boyfriend', an adult pretending to be her age, broke up with her. In an effort to protect the safety of children and adolescents, various laws have been proposed such as requiring social networking sites to introduce software capable of age verification.
The latest study is good news for parents, said Ybarra. The majority of young people using the Internet are never harassed and never experience unwanted sexual solicitation. This includes social networking sites.
Adults also need to understand that for many youth, their online world is an extension of their offline world.
"Young people experiencing problems online are often experiencing problems offline as well, Ybarra said. We need to make sure that we are giving them the support and tools to healthfully navigate across all environments, both online and offline."
FDA Warns Of Contaminated Gulf Coast Seafood
Discovery follows outbreaks of illness in D.C. and St. Louis02/06/2008ConsumerAffairs
FDA Warns Of Contaminated Gulf Coast Seafood...
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning seafood processors that some consumers have recently become ill after consuming fish carrying the ciguatera toxin. The illness is known as ciguatera fish poisoning.
The toxic fish were harvested in the Northern Gulf of Mexico, near the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, which is located in federal waters south of the Texas-Louisiana coastline.
FDA had considered CFP from fish in this geographical area extremely rare until recently, when several outbreaks were confirmed in Washington, D.C., and St. Louis, Mo. The agency said the illnesses were linked to fish caught near the marine sanctuary.
FDA said it now considers CFP to be a food safety hazard that is reasonably likely to occur in grouper, snapper, and hogfish captured within 10 miles of the marine sanctuary and amberjack, barracuda and other wide-ranging species captured within 50 miles of the sanctuary.
FDA's warning urges seafood processors who purchase reef fish and other potentially ciguatoxic fish directly from fishermen to reassess their current hazard analyses and update their Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) plans as necessary.
Ciguatera poisoning is caused by the consumption of tropical reef fish that have assimilated ciguatoxins through the marine food chain from toxic microscopic algae. The toxins that cause ciguatera cannot be destroyed by cooking or freezing, and toxic fish do not look or taste differently from nontoxic fish. The only way to detect CFP is through laboratory testing.
Symptoms of ciguatera poisoning include nausea, vomiting; diarrhea; numbness and tingling of the mouth, hands or feet; joint pain; muscle pain; headache; reversal of hot and cold sensation (such that cold objects feel hot and vice versa); sensitivity to temperature changes; vertigo, and muscular weakness.
There also can be cardiovascular problems, including irregular heartbeat and reduced blood pressure.
Symptoms usually appear within hours after eating a toxic fish and go away within a few weeks. However, in some cases, neurological symptoms can last for months to years. There is no antidote for CFP; symptoms can be treated most effectively if diagnosed by a doctor within 72 hours. CFP is rarely fatal.
USDA Closes Plant Suspected Of Slaughtering Downer Cows
Humane Society video sparks mad cow fears02/06/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
USDA Closes Plant Suspected Of Slaughtering Downer Cows...
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has ordered the closing of the Hallmark Meat Packing Co. plant in Chino, California, where animal rights activists said they videotaped "downer" cows being prepared for slaughter.
Cows that cannot stand up are banned from the food supply because it is a primary characteristic of an animal with Mad Cow disease. The Humane Society of the U.S. says it obtained video evidence that workers at the plant repeatedly attempted to force "downed" animals onto their feet and into the human food chain.
Undersecretary of Agriculture for Food Safety, Dr. Richard Raymond, says the Food Safety and Inspection Service has suspended inspections at the plant "based on the establishment's clear violation of Federal regulations and the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act."
The plant had been closed voluntarily since the video first surfaced and USDA launched an investigation. Raymond said suspension is a regulatory course of action available when FSIS finds egregious violations of humane handling regulations.
He said the suspension will remain in effect and the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company will not be allowed to operate until written corrective actions are submitted and verified by FSIS to ensure that animals are humanely handled.
"An important point needs the public's attention," Raymond said. "On Jan. 30, USDA placed an administrative hold on all Westland Meat Packing Company products because of potential violations of regulatory requirements and contractual terms as a supplier of products to the Federal food and nutrition programs."
School lunch program
According to a Humane Society release, Hallmark's Chino slaughter plant supplies the Westland Meat Co., which processes the carcasses.
The facility is the second-largest supplier of beef to USDA's Commodity Procurement Branch, which distributes the beef to needy families, the elderly and also to schools through the National School Lunch Program.
In the video, workers are seen kicking cows, ramming them with the blades of a forklift, jabbing them in the eyes, and applying painful electrical shocks in attempts to force sick or injured animals to walk to slaughter.
School districts coast to coast and some franchise restaurants went on alert after the revelations.
"We're in contact with our suppliers, and they're in contact with their suppliers. It's a huge chain of activity," Joanne Tucker, a food services marketing coordinator for the San Diego Unified School District, told the Los Angeles Times.
Westland was named a USDA "supplier of the year" for 2004-2005 and has delivered beef to schools in 36 states. More than 100,000 schools and child-care facilities nationwide receive meat through the lunch program, according to HSUS.
How Much Sodium Is Too Much? It Depends
Salt in the diet can cause blood pressure problems02/05/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
How Much Sodium Is Too Much? It Depends...
While on a business visit to the office of ConsumerAffairs.com's health adviser, Dr. Henry Fishman last summer, I spied a blood pressure cuff on a nearby table.
I had battled high blood pressure for years, but nothing I did resulted in acceptable readings. I had lost weight, started exercising, but wasn't yet on any medication.
"Hey, would you take my blood pressure?" I asked.
He applied the cuff to my left arm and squeezed the bulb, forcing air into it. As the air slowly escaped, he looked me in the eye and spoke, both as a doctor and a longtime friend.
"Do you have a will?" he asked.
I must have looked startled because he added, "look, you can do something about this or you can die of a heart attack in five years, it's up to you."
My blood pressure, he told me, was 160/101 a level he called "lethal." I took his advice and saw my doctor, who agreed I needed to do something and prescribed 40 minutes of exercise four days a week and put me on an ACE inhibitor.
He explained that my blood pressure should be no more than 130/80. Preferably, he said, it should be a lot less.
The higher number in a blood pressure reading is called the "systolic" pressure, and measures the pressure of the blood flowing through the veins when the heart beats. The lower number is called the "diastolic" number, and measures the pressure when the heart is at rest.
When the pressure is too great, it can cause the heart muscle to grow and enlarge, causing all kinds of problems, including heart failure. It also places strain on blood vessels, increasing the risk one of them could rupture, leading to a stroke.
I began taking the ACE inhibitor a drug that increases flexibility in blood vessels - and worked out four days a week. I also attempted to lose a few more pounds and began monitoring my blood pressure on a daily basis.
My blood pressure came down, but not enough. A typical reading, taken early in the morning, was around 146/89. During the day, especially after a meal, it would spike even higher into the red zone.
Then in early January, while researching a story for ConsumerAffairs.com, I came across some medical research that suggested some people have a hyper-sensitivity to sodium. Even normal levels of sodium consumption cause high blood pressure readings. It's unclear whether it's a genetic thing, or is triggered in other ways.
In these people, the body doesn't metabolize sodium very well, resulting in excess water in the blood stream, making the heart work harder. Removing the sodium seems to solve the problem, the research said.
Sodium. Salt. Sure, I'd heard that too much sodium could raise your blood pressure, but how much is too much and how much do you really need?
Unfortunately, there's conflicting information on the subject. The USDA minimum recommended daily amount is 2400 mg, but other sources suggest that could be excessive.
"Since the minimum physiological requirement for sodium is only 500 mg daily, Americans well exceed their sodium intake," say health experts at Northwestern University. The average adult can easily consume 3,000 milligrams or more a day if they aren't paying attention. There can be over 1,700 milligrams in one large dill pickle.
Maybe for most people, 2400 mg of sodium a day is just fine. But for me and perhaps many others it's way too much. I was about to reach that conclusion, and end the long, frustrating search for the cause of my high blood pressure.
A new year
On January 4, 2008 I cut as much sodium out of my diet as possible, trying to keep levels down to 500 mg or less. On the morning I started my regimen my blood pressure was 142/87. The next morning I was stunned to see it had fallen to 127/80, and 120/77 the following day.
The following week I was getting readings of 115/72. The only thing I was doing differently was drastically reducing sodium.
To do that I tried to avoid eating anything out of a box, a bag or a can. Breakfast now consists of oatmeal with raisins, walnuts and a banana. For lunch I have a salad or a baked potato. Dinner is grilled chicken or fish and steamed vegetables. I read labels, looking for products with the lowest amount of sodium.
If I go off my sodium-restricted diet for a day, usually by accident, my blood pressure spikes up again. As long as I keep sodium consumption to below 500 mg a day, I have the blood pressure of an 18-year-old.
Not for everyone
It bears repeating that my limited sodium intake may be too little for most people. But if you have a sodium sensitivity, very little sodium performs the tasks in your body that more sodium is required to perform in others. However, you shouldn't drastically alter your diet without first talking to your doctor.
Still, a sharply lower sodium intake may provide hope for many people who, like me, couldn't figure out why their blood pressure was off the chart. And more and more research emphasizes the sodium-blood pressure link.
In 2000, a study by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute established a direct connection between lowering sodium intake and lowering blood pressure. In the study, the lowest sodium level tested, which produced the lowest blood pressure, was well below the currently recommended intake of 2,400 milligrams a day.
Why not eliminate sodium altogether from your diet? Because your body needs it.
Without sodium, nerves and muscles would cease to function, the absorption of major nutrients would be impaired, and the body would not be able to maintain adequate water and mineral balance.
High blood pressure can be a difficult disease to tame because there are so many factors that can influence it. But for millions of people who haven't been able to figure out what's causing it, curtailing sodium intake may provide results.
Study: Pregnant Women More Forgetful
New moms find it hard to do new or difficult tasks02/05/2008ConsumerAffairs
Research has found that a woman's memory can be impaired for at least a year after giving birth, although the effects are minor and mainly concern unfamili...
Blame it on the baby.
If you're pregnant and you've been a little forgetful lately, here's why:
A study conducted by Australian scientists has confirmed what many mothers have suspected: Carrying a baby can make you more forgetful.
Research has found that a woman's memory can be impaired for at least a year after giving birth, although the effects are minor and mainly concern unfamiliar or demanding tasks.
"The memory deficits many women experience during and after pregnancy are pretty much like the modest deficits you'd find when comparing healthy 20-year-olds with healthy 60-year-olds," researcher Julie Henry said.
The Australian study analysed the results of 14 different studies from around the world which tested the memory performances of more than 1,000 pregnant women, mothers and non-pregnant women.
It found that pregnant women performed significantly worse on some, but not all aspects of the test.
The hardest tests for the pregnant women were those which involved new or difficult tasks.
"Regular, well-practiced memory tasks - such as remembering phone numbers of friends and family members - are unlikely to be affected," said the Australian Catholic University's Associate Professor Peter Rendell, who conducted the study with Henry.
"It's a different story, though, when you have to remember new phone numbers, people's names or hold in mind several different pieces of information, such as when multi-tasking."
This study was published in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology.
The full text is available online.
Schools Drop Burgers From Menu After Downer Cow Scare
Humane Society video sparks mad cow fears02/04/2008ConsumerAffairs
Schools Drop Burgers From Menu After Downer Cow Scare...
February 4, 2008
School districts coast to coast and some franchise restaurants are on full alert this week for suspect beef from a California slaughter house, where the Humane Society of the U.S. videotaped what appeared to be the slaughter of so-called "downer" cows.
"We're in contact with our suppliers, and they're in contact with their suppliers. It's a huge chain of activity," Joanne Tucker, a food services marketing coordinator for the San Diego Unified School District, told the Los Angeles Times.
Cows that cannot stand up are banned from the food supply because it is a primary characteristic of an animal with Mad Cow disease.
The Humane Society says it obtained video evidence that workers at the Hallmark Meat Packing Co. of Chino, California, repeatedly attempted to force "downed" animals onto their feet and into the human food chain.
In the video, workers are seen kicking cows, ramming them with the blades of a forklift, jabbing them in the eyes, and applying painful electrical shocks in attempts to force sick or injured animals to walk to slaughter.
"To see the extreme cruelties shown in The HSUS video challenges comprehension," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS. "Our government simply must act quickly both to guarantee the most basic level of humane treatment for farm animals and to protect America's most vulnerable people, our children, needy families and the elderly from potentially dangerous food."
According to a HSUS release, Hallmark's Chino slaughter plant supplies the Westland Meat Co., which processes the carcasses. The facility is the second-largest supplier of beef to USDA's Commodity Procurement Branch, which distributes the beef to needy families, the elderly and also to schools through the National School Lunch Program.
Westland was named a USDA "supplier of the year" for 2004-2005 and has delivered beef to schools in 36 states. More than 100,000 schools and child-care facilities nationwide receive meat through the lunch program, according to HSUS.
"I have called on the Office of the Inspector General to work with FSIS and the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) to conduct an investigation into this matter," said Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer. "As a result of the investigation, any violations of food safety or humane handling laws will be immediately acted upon."
USDA has indefinitely suspended Westland Meat Company as a supplier to federal food and nutrition programs, pending the outcome of the investigation. Schafer said Westland Meat Company will not be permitted to produce or deliver any products currently under contract.
Under the suspension, no further contracts will be awarded to Westland Meat Company. The suspension will remain in effect until all investigations are complete and appropriate action is taken by the department. An administrative hold has been placed on all Westland Meat Products that are in, or destined for federal food and nutrition programs.--
Homeowners Associations Face More Regulation
Virginia the latest to put HOAs under scrutiny02/04/2008ConsumerAffairs
Many people tired of being reminded to mow their lawn and paint their shutters choose to live in communities where no such associations exist....
Everyone has their horror story when it comes to their homeowners association. In fact, many people -- tired of being reminded to mow their lawn and paint their shutters -- choose to live in communities where no such associations exist.
Now Virginia is about to write the next chapter in the HOA saga.
Virginia's General Assembly is said to be considering legislation that would make it harder for just about anybody to get into the business of running an HOA. The Washington Post reports that the Assembly may create a regulatory board to license professional management companies, just like Realtors and other occupations.
Employees who work for such companies would also be required to be certified by the state and be prepared to open their books to independent auditors each year.
This latest move comes in the wake allegations that a Fairfax, Va.-based firm, Koger Management Group, allegedly siphoned at least $2 million from some HOAs it managed last year.
No criminal charges have been filed, though the State's Real Estate Board and the Department of Professioal Regulations (DPOR) are said to be investigating the alleged disappearance of the funds. Koger has since filed for bankruptcy, the Post reported, and now operates under a new name, Tri-State Management, and the same officers run the new company.
The legislation would require mangement companies to buy fidelity bonds or insurance that will cover in the event of any theft or dishonesty by HOA officers or employees. Bond requirements for board members would be increased too.
State Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple (D-Arlington), who introduced the measure on behalf of the Virginia Housing Commission, said the lawmakers were very concerned with what happened in the Koger incident. She told the Post that the legislation would try to establish an ombudsman system for handling complaints and would also require HOAs to implement a system for handling issues and complaints.
While neighboring Maryland is also considering moving forward with similar legislation in the wake of the Koger scandal, the District of Columbia has always required community managers be Realtors or real estate brokers.
Beyond legal strictures, many homeowners feel that HOAs should also be held accountable on other matters, such as offering friendly customer service, returning calls from irate residents, and offering full and accurate information to residents, which may allow for a larger number of issues to be sorted out before they are escalated and end up being litigated in small claims court.
"HOAs think they are God," said David Koresh, a member of the River Falls Homeowners Association in Woodbridge, Va. "They are just so combative and all they do is find faults with residents on the smallest lapses, such as forgetting to store away your trash can one time. It's riduclous."
Area brokers, however, expressed concern about how this would help when such a measure is enacted.
"Many HOAs can't even agree on what kind of decks are acceptable in a community, how can they try to do their day-to-day jobs if they have to be held to such standards," said a local Re/Max Broker in suburban D.C. who did not wish to be quoted by name.
Many local real estate agents feel that the state wants to regulate HOAs because that would add a segment of their profession that is actually still in business and is able to retain their licenses and pay their association dues.
"Most realtors can't make their ends meet in this market and are looking for other sources of employment but HOAs are pretty much in business and now the state can go after them [as a source of revenue]," said Muhammad Khurran, a realtor with Fairfax, Va.-based Ikon Realty.
Others feel that residents who live in smaller clusters and have tiny HOAs may no longer be able to afford the services of a management company because of added financial burdens imposed by the state.
"Who wants to serve on a HOA these days," concluded Khurram. "Every lane has a foreclosure sign where the grass has not been cut and the newspapers have not been picked up from driverways of vacant homes. It's a major headache business and a home is no longer the prized investment as it was two years ago."
Whether the state ever passes such measures, one thing rings close to home: If you've ever had a beef with your HOA, and we all do, than this may be the time to start paying closer attention to how your HOA does business. Get in line.
Most porcine state mulls drastic measures02/04/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Will hefty Mississippi consumers have to step onto scales before being allowed to order Big Mac & fries? Perhaps, if the legislation in the Mississippi Hou...
Italian scientist claims stilettos spice up sex life02/04/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
An Italian scientist says her studies demonstrate that the high life starts with high heels. In other words, stilettos improve a woman's sex life....
Oral Sex Can Cause Cancer in Men
HPV virus also causes cervical cancer in women02/03/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
"We need to start having a discussion about those cancers other than cervical cancer that may be affected in a positive way by the vaccine," said study co-...
One of the leading causes of oral cancer in men could be the sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer in women, according to a new study published by the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
The virus that causes cervical cancer in women, termed the HPV virus, now causes as many cancers of the upper throat as tobacco and alcohol, probably due both to an increase in oral sex and the decline in smoking, researchers say.
"We need to start having a discussion about those cancers other than cervical cancer that may be affected in a positive way by the vaccine," said study co-author Dr Maura Gillison of Johns Hopkins University.
The only available vaccine against HPV, made by Merck & Co Inc, is currently given only to girls and young women. But Merck plans this year to ask government permission to offer the shot to boys.
Experts say a primary reason for male vaccinations would be to prevent men from spreading the virus and help reduce the nearly 12,000 cases of cervical cancer diagnosed in US women each year. But the new study should add to the argument that there may be a direct benefit for men, too.
HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer in women. It also can cause genital warts, penile and anal cancer - risks for males that generally don't get the same attention as cervical cancer.
Previous research by Gillison and others established HPV as a primary cause of the estimated 5,600 cancers that occur each year in the tonsils, lower tongue and upper throat.
The new study looked at more than 30 years of National Cancer Institute data on oral cancers. Researchers categorized about 46,000 cases, using a formula to divide them into those caused by HPV and those not connected to the virus.
They concluded the incidence rates for HPV-related oral cancers rose steadily in men from 1973 to 2004, becoming about as common as those from tobacco and alcohol.
To learn more about this study, contact Journal of Clinical Oncology at jco.ascopubs.org/..
Ford Issues Second Fire Hazard Recall
Previous recall ineffective in 225,000 vehicles02/02/2008ConsumerAffairs
Ford Issues Second Fire Hazard Recall ...
The Ford Motor Co. has concluded that the recall to prevent a faulty cruise control system from erupting in flames is ineffective in almost 225,000 of the almost 11 million Ford vehicles recalled because of a fire hazard since 1999.
As a result, Ford is issuing a second recall for the almost 225,000 vehicles that were previously recalled for a faulty cruise control system that might fail and cause the vehicle to burn even when parked and turned off.
Ford vehicles covered by the new recall include the gasoline-powered 1992 to 2003 Econoline, 1992 to 1998 Crown Victoria/Grand Marquis, 1993 Bronco, 1995 to 1997 F series pick up, 1993 F series pick up, the 1993 to 1995 Taurus SHO and the 1992 to 1995 Town Car.
The vehicles now recalled for a second time were part of the massive and often confusing Ford recalls since 1999 because of the faulty cruise system which failed and Ford vehicles and consumer homes ablaze.
Ford initially repaired the vehicles by installing a wiring harness around the cruise control switch. The automaker has now concluded the harness does not function properly in roughly 225,000 vehicles. The wiring harness installed on the eight models built between 1992 and 2003 is not compatible with the vehicle electrical system.
The harnesses Ford thought would alleviate the fire danger apparently contain an improperly placed fuse which does not offer sufficient protection if there is an electrical short circuit.
Ford plans to delay notification for vehicle owners until formally reporting the recall failure to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as well as providing Ford dealers with accurate service repair information.
In the meantime, Ford has continued to advise owners to have a dealer disconnect the cruise control system.
Still on the road
Following Ford recalls of almost 11 million cars and trucks for a fire hazard, more than 1.8 million Ford cars and trucks with the faulty cruise control system are still on the road and parked in garages.
The automaker is unable to buy or manufacture enough parts to repair all of the vehicles involved in the enormous and lengthy recall process. Ford initially promised parts would be available for the massive recall to repair the vehicles by October 2007.
The automaker then said the parts will not be available until later in 2007. Many Ford car and truck owners are still waiting for their dealer to find the parts needed to repair the fire hazard.
The latest recall, along with the parts shortage has generated confusion as well as discouraged some Ford owners from responding to the recall.
A Ford spokesman insists the automaker is doing all it can to complete the fire hazard recall.
This was a large recall, and we're working with the supplier to meet the volume challenge as soon as possible, said a Ford spokesman.
ConsumerAffairs.com reported last month that more than 1.8 million Ford Motor Co. cars and trucks remain at risk of erupting into flames 5 months after the automaker recalled an additional 3.6 million vehicles because of a fire hazard in the cruise control system.
Ford initially promised parts would be available for the massive recall to repair the vehicles by October 2007. The automaker then said the parts will not be available until later in 2007.
The continuing parts delay adds to mounting confusion in an already troubling situation for many Ford consumers faced with the cruise control recall. The consequences are sometimes devastating.
An Oregon family lost their truck and almost lost their home to a fire that originated in their Ford truck.
Friday January 11, 2008 my husband came home from work at 5:30 and parked his 2001 F-150 Supercrew in the driveway, they wrote. Just 45 minutes later the truck was fully engulfed in flames.
Our garage door and siding on the front of our house was damaged but not destroyed. The truck on the other hand is a total loss, the wife said.
The Oregon truck was part of the Ford recall, according to the owner.
When we got the letter regarding the recall we called Ford and they said that they didn't have the part that was required to fix it but that since our cruise control wasn't working (It had stopped working about 2 months before the fire) it must already be disconnected and we should be fine, said the truck owner, who asked not to be publicly identified.
The truck owner reports that Ford told them fires are rare so I wouldn't worry. From the sounds of all these stories they are not as rare as they would like the consumer to believe.
The struggling automaker continues to insist the company is responding adequately in an effort to notify Ford customers to return their vehicles to a Ford dealership for repair of the fire hazard.
We have sent multiple mailings to customers, based on current vehicle registrations, asking them to bring in vehicles. I dont have an exact figure, but about half of the total have done so to date. We have one of the highest return rates in the industry, based on update registration info, and sending multiple mailings, Ford spokesman Jarvis said in an email response to ConsumerAffairs.com.
Some Ford dealers now require customers who decline to disconnect the cruise control system to sign a waiver of liability.
A Florida woman with a Ford Econoline Van equipped with hand controls for a wheel chair faced the demand that she sign the waiver. I need my cruise control if I have to travel any amount of distance, she wrote.
It has been since September 7 I have been waiting to get my van fixed, said this Ford owner. I tried to get Ford to fix the problem but they just want to plug it back in and if I sign the waiver and something happens they will no longer be responsible for any damages, she said.
A Ford Explorer owner in Bainbridge Island, Washington is not satisfied with the automakers explanation.
They say the part is back ordered. I also understand that this part was originally found unsafe back in 2005 although I was only notified in August 2007, he said.
In San Jose, California another Ford owner encountered similar treatment.
My local Ford dealer disconnected my cruise control in November 2007, saying that it was required if I was to get the defective part replaced but he could not replace the part because of a backlog on the part and that it would take one month, the owner wrote.
Now it's been over 2 months and my dealer has no estimate on a replacement part. The dealer said that I could reconnect the cruise control but if the car caught on fire it would be my problem, he said.
Back in Bainbridge Island, Washington that explanation has a hollow ring. I would like someone to put a fire under them, because they are not motivated to replace the item once they've disconnected it, the Explorer owner concluded.
Millions aren't aware of link to heart attack and stroke02/01/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Blood Pressure: What You Don't Know Can Kill You...
1 Million Evenflo Infant Car Seats Recalled
Seats pose 'serious risk' of death or injury02/01/2008ConsumerAffairs
1 Million Evenflo Infant Car Seats Recalled...
Evenflo is recalling 1 million car safety seats because of a serious risk of injury or death in a collision, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety administration (NHTSA).
The models covered by the recall are the 390, 391, 534, and 552 Discovery car seat and travel system manufactured from April 2005 through January 2008.
Recent tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Evenflo indicate the car seat could break apart and separate from the base during high impact side collisions.
Evenflo plans to notify registered owners of the seats and provide a free supplemental dual-hook fastener to ensure that the car seat remains attached to its base in a high impact collision.
The recall is scheduled to begin in February. Owners should call Evenflo at 1-800-356-2229.
Consumers can also contact NHTSA at 1-888-327-4236 (TTY 1-800-424-9153) or go to www.safecar.gov.
Judge Extends Microsoft Anti-Trust Oversight
Judge rules as CEO Ballmer pursues Yahoo! takeover02/01/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
Judge Extends Microsoft Anti-Trust Oversight...
Microsoft is expressing confidence its proposed acquisition of Yahoo! Inc. won't run into anti-trust problems. But a federal judge has granted New York States request to continue overseeing Microsofts conduct to ensure fair competition.
U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ordered the oversight extension until November 12, 2009 despite the opposition of Microsoft Corp. and the United States Department of Justices Antitrust Division, both of whom opposed further oversight.
Microsoft, the world's biggest software maker, made an surprise, unsolicited $44.6 billion offer for Yahoo!, raising the stakes in its drive to challenge Google Inc.'s dominance in Internet search services and advertising.
Microsoft has so far failed to compete with Google in a market that may almost double to $80 billion by 2010. Google has grown faster than Microsoft in every quarter since Google's 2004 initial public offering as its search engine won more users and its contextual advertisements have grown at an unprecedented pace..
Perhaps even more frightening to Microsoft, Google has been rapidly deploying its Google Apps packages, which include slimmed-down online versions of Microsoft's popular word processing, spreadsheet and presentation programs.
Google Apps are offered free to consumers and at a nominal $50-per-user charge to businesses, far less than Microsoft's Office desktop programs, which cost several hundred dollars.
Reaction from Wall Street was guarded. Thomas Radinger, a fund manager at Pioneer Investments in Munich, told Bloomberg News it was "a huge gamble" and said it would take years for Microsoft to recoup its investment.
"We have been losing money. Our plan here would be to not lose money in the future," Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer said on a conference call with analysts.
It would be the biggest acquisition ever in the technology sector and, Ballmer's assurances notwithstanding, would be certain to draw the attention of anti-trust regulators in the U.S. and abroad.
Indeed, Judge Kollar-Kotelly was extending her oversight of Microsoft even as Ballmer's team was preparing to announce its surprise bid for Yahoo.
In granting the request by New York, California and nine other states for continued oversight, Kollar-Kotelly emphasized that Microsofts inability to meet its obligations and provide industry players with technology that Microsoft promised in 2001 prevented the courts decree from accomplishing its intended result -- stimulating competition in the market for personal computer operating systems.
The antitrust consent decree went into effect in November 2001, and significant terms of the five-year decree were set to expire in November 2007. New York and California led the request to extend court oversight, which arises from the 2001 findings that Microsoft committed antitrust violations.
We are very pleased that the Court recognized how important it is to keep the antitrust decree against Microsoft in place to protect consumers and promote fair competition, said New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo. The oversight extension will help ensure that Microsoft fully complies with the requirements of the consent decree and helps stimulate competition in the personal computers marketplace.
Microsoft recently opposed Google's acquisition of DoubleClick, an online ad firm, claiming it will give Google too much control over the online ad market. The deal is still under review by European regulators.
Report ranks labs that inflict pain on research animals02/01/2008ConsumerAffairs
"Experiments which subject animals to extreme confinement, electric shocks or severe hunger and thirst are often not counted as causing pain or distress."...