1. Home
  2. News
  3. 2008
  4. August

Current Events in August 2008

Browse Current Events by year


Browse Current Events by month

Get trending consumer news and recalls

    By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

    Thank you, you have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

    Researchers Claim Vioxx Safety Study Was Actually Marketing Plan

    Merck challenges researchers' assertions regarding painkiller

    Researchers studying Merck & Co internal documents conclude the drug giant's 1999 clinical study of possible side effects from its painkiller Vioxx was in actuality a pre-launch marketing campaign for the drug.

    Merck was forced to withdraw the prescription drug in 2004 after tests linked it to increased risk of heart attack and stroke. The researchers outline their case against Merck in the latest issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

    "Documentary evidence shows that Advantage is an example of marketing framed as science," they wrote.

    The team gathered documents collected by plaintiffs' lawyers in the personal injury and liability lawsuits filed against the pharmaceutical company. The researchers claim the real purpose of the study, called Advantage, was to promote the drug as an arthritis treatment when it became commercially available.

    Vioxx received FDA approval not long afterward and it quickly became one of Merck's most profitable products.

    In their report, Kevin Hill of McLean Hospital in Massachusetts, and colleagues, said the practice of "seeding" the drug with a marketing study, disguised as science, raises a number of ethical issues.

    Merck takes strong exception to the researcher's conclusions, and denies Advantage was a "seeding" project. It said the study in question compared Vioxx with another medication in its effect on stomach upset. It also said the article contained "numerous inaccuracies."

    Merck faced a flurry of litigation over Vioxx. After insisting it would contest each of the thousands of product liability lawsuits over Vioxx, Merck agreed in November 2007 to settle claims over the withdrawn painkiller for $4.85 billion.

    The cases were filed in connection with Vioxx's removal from the market, with plaintiffs charging the company should have acted sooner. More than 27,000 consumers or their family members filed suit against Merck as a result. In the last three years, only a handful of the cases had gone to trial.

    Researchers Claim Vioxx Safety Study Was Actually Marketing Plan...
    Read lessRead more

    New Prostate Cancer Treatment Shows Promise

    Continuous low doses of medicine is more tolerable, shows better results

    New research indicates that giving patients a continuous low dose of an immune system booster -- a method known as metronomic dosing -- as part of a therapeutic prostate cancer vaccine strategy is safe and produces similar immune responses and fewer side effects than the more common dosing method, which is not well tolerated by many patients.

    The vaccine used in this study, published in the Aug. 15, 2008, issue of Clinical Cancer Research, is designed to stimulate an immune response against prostate-specific antigen (PSA), a protein produced by the prostate that is often found at elevated levels in the blood of men who have prostate cancer and some non-cancerous prostate conditions.

    In the study, researchers at that National Cancer Institute examined the side effects and immune responses of patients treated with a three-pronged approach: the vaccine, radiation therapy, and an alternative dosing regimen of an immune system booster, interleukin-2.

    The patients all had localized prostate cancer, had not undergone surgery to remove the prostate, and were candidates for radiation therapy as their primary form of treatment.

    "Developing an alternative method of administering vaccine therapy that is well tolerated by most patients and produces similar immune responses to standard methods may help further the development of vaccine therapies for prostate cancer," said James L. Gulley, M.D., Ph.D., of NCI's Center for Cancer Research.

    Therapeutic cancer vaccines are designed to treat cancer by stimulating the immune system to attack tumor cells without harming normal cells. Several proteins, including PSA, are overexpressed, or produced in excess amounts, by cancer cells and have shown potential to serve as triggers in initiating immune responses.

    These findings have led to the development of cancer vaccines that target these proteins, also known as tumor-associated antigens. To heighten the body's natural defenses, immune system boosters, such as IL-2, are often given with the vaccines. IL-2 administration, however, is frequently associated with substantial side effects, including fatigue and high blood sugar.

    In a previous study involving the same prostate cancer vaccine, IL-2 was given to 19 patients daily for five days during each 28-day vaccine treatment cycle. However, a large majority of the patients had to have the dose of IL-2 reduced or discontinued, primarily because of fatigue.

    In this new study, the researchers sought to decrease the side effects associated with IL-2. To do this, the team treated 18 patients with the vaccine and radiation therapy, but with lower doses of IL-2 given over a longer period of time. The patients received the same total amount of IL-2 as in the previous study, but it was administered in smaller daily doses for 14 days of each 28-day treatment cycle.

    With metronomic dosing, less than a quarter of the patients had side effects that required their dose of IL-2 to be reduced.

    "Based on safety and feasibility, metronomic dosing appears to be superior to standard dosing and administration," said Gulley. "More research is needed to evaluate the efficacy of this dosing method in treating prostate cancer."

    New Prostate Cancer Treatment Shows Promise...
    Read lessRead more

    Internet Providers Admit to Monitoring Customers' Web Surfing

    Congress demands more information from companies

    Earlier this months several members of Congress signed a letter to 33 leading Internet and broadband companies including Verizon, AT&T, Time Warner, Comcast, Microsoft, Google, and others, pressing them for information about the extent to which they collect information about consumers' use of their broadband services or websites.

    Apparently, some are collecting quite a bit.

    Cable One, a large cable operator in the Phoenix, Arizona area, says it conducted a six-month trial of new technology that tracks consumers' Internet habits and custom tailors ads, to make them more relevant. Several other cable operators and Internet service providers (ISPs) responded with letters saying they have, or plan to, run similar tests.

    Meanwhile, AT&T told the lawmakers its concerns are misplaced, insisting that Google's online ad networks are much more invasive than anything the ISPs are planning. But the members of Congress say any erosion of privacy on the Internet is a cause for concern.

    "Privacy is a cornerstone of freedom. Online users have a right to explicitly know when their broadband provider is tracking their activity and collecting potentially sensitive and personal information," said Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-MA), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet.

    "New technologies, such as 'deep packet inspection' technologies, have the ability to track every single website that a consumer visits while surfing the Web. This sweeping ability to collect, analyze, and profile how individuals use their broadband connection raises clear privacy issues and I believe such activity should occur only with the express prior consent of individual citizens."

    Markey also said individual websites and search engines and their affiliates that monitor users also owe consumers constructive notice of such activities and the right to limit or thwart any personal data collection.

    Internet Providers Admit to Monitoring Customers' Web Surfing...
    Read lessRead more

    Get trending consumer news and recalls

      By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

      Thank you, you have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

      Hershey's Announces Candy Price Hike

      Rising food costs make sweet tooth satisfaction more expensive

      It's going to cost more to satisfy your sweet tooth. The Hershey Company, reacting to increases in the price of cocoa and other ingredients, says it's increasing wholesale prices across its U.S., Puerto Rico and export chocolate and sugar confectionery lines.

      A weighted average 11 percent increase on the company's instant consumable, multi-pack and packaged candy lines is effective immediately. The changes approximate a 10 percent increase over Hershey's entire domestic product line and will help offset a portion of the significant increases in the Company's input costs, including raw materials, packaging materials, fuel, utilities, and transportation.

      "Commodity costs have been volatile over the last several years and continue to remain at levels that are well above historical averages," said David J. West, President and Chief Executive Officer, The Hershey Company. "Market prices for ingredients such as cocoa, corn sweeteners, sugar and peanuts are up 20 to 45 percent since the beginning of the year. As such, in 2009 we expect our commodity cost increase to be more than double the 2008 increase.

      Hershey said it has executed a commodity hedging strategy that will firm up its 2009 commodity cost profile, but needed the price increase to maintain its profit margin.

      "Hershey remains committed to providing the world's best chocolate and confectionery products made with the highest-quality ingredients. Our consumers and customers understand this and realize that Hershey products will continue to represent outstanding quality and excellent value," West said.

      Food commodity prices have been rising in response to increasing global demand. Cocoa prices have hit a record high of $2,801 per ton, an increase of almost 30 percent since January, according to a report from the Cocoa Producers' Alliance.

      Cocoa prices have hit a record high of $2,801 per ton, an increase of almost 30 percent since January, according to a report from the Cocoa Producers' Alli...
      Read lessRead more

      FDA Again Finds BPA Safe Despite Critics' Concerns

      Widespread use of potent chemical in infant products riles parents

      Although parents, consumer groups and many retailers are shunning bisphenol A — commonly called BPA — the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has once again asserted that the chemical is safe.

      BPA is a "hardening agent," widely used in baby bottles, canned food and other consumer products. It acts as both a seal to keep contaminants out of canned goods and makes plastics shatterproof.

      Its defenders say it makes modern life safer, especially for infants. Its detractors say babies would be safer without it.

      The FDA has previously found that the substance was not cause for concern. And now, after revisiting the question, it has come to the same conclusion. An outside committee of experts will study the FDA's latest findings in September and issue recommendations. But that's not likely to settle the question.

      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 in baby bottles and other food and beverage containers; they say studies show that the chemical leaches from popular plastic baby bottles when heated.

      Canada plans to ban its use in baby bottles. California, New Jersey and other states are considering bills that would restrict its use. And many retailers are shying away from products containing BPA.

      Wal-Mart says it plans to drop baby bottles that contain it and Toys R Us is considering a similar move.

      Concern about BPA began to grow after a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that trace amounts of the chemical could be found in 93 percent of Americans. But the FDA insists that the trace amounts are thousands of times below dangerous levels.

      Dow Chemical, Bayer and other large chemical companies produce more than six million pounds of BPA in the United States each year. Critics charge the FDA has gotten too cozy with industry and relies too extensively on industry-financed studies.

      In testimony before a Senate subcommittee earlier this year, FDA Associate Commissioner for Science Norris Alderson said the agency is relying on a "large body of scientific evidence" that shows the chemical can safely be used in plastics that hold food and beverages.

      But critics say there are plenty of studies that have, at the very least, raised questions about potential health problems in laboratory animals exposed to BPA. A study by the federal National Toxicology Program found "some concern" about the chemical's use in baby products.

      The results of one study show that, when new bottles are heated, those manufactured by Avent, Evenflo, Dr. Brown's and Disney/First Years leached between 4.7 to 8.3 parts per billion of BPA.

      Moratorium demanded

      "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 researcher with the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, when the study was first issued.

      "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," he said.

      Recent research on animals shows that BPA can be harmful by disrupting development at doses below these levels. The bottles used in the study were purchased at retailers across the country in nine states: Babies"R"Us, CVS, Target, Toys"R"Us, Walgreens, and Wal-Mart.

      Earlier this year, 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 Defense 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.

      Read more about BPA.

      FDA Again Finds BPA Safe Despite Critics' Concerns...
      Read lessRead more

      Airborne Health to Pay FTC $30 Million for False Claims

      Company settles charges that it falsely advertised its cold remedies

      Thousands of consumers who bought Airborne Health's popular Airborne Effervescent Health Formula, an effervescent tablet marketed as a cold prevention and treatment remedy, have refunds coming.

      The Federal Trade Commission says the company of has agreed to pay up to $30 million to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it did not have adequate evidence to support its advertising claims.

      "There is no credible evidence that Airborne products, taken as directed, will reduce the severity or duration of colds, or provide any tangible benefit for people who are exposed to germs in crowded places," said Lydia Parnes, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection.

      In addition to the company the FTC's lawsuit also names Victoria Knight-McDowell, the former schoolteacher who invented Airborne, and her husband Thomas John McDowell. If the settlement is approved by the court, it will prohibit the defendants from making false and unsubstantiated cold prevention, germ-fighting, and efficacy claims.

      The monetary judgment will be satisfied by the defendants' adding $6.5 million to the funds they have already agreed to pay to settle a related private class-action lawsuit, bringing the total settlement fund to $30 million.

      The FTC complaint and agreed-upon final order follow settlement last November of a class-action lawsuit, Wilson v. Airborne, Inc. et al., which is pending in federal court in the Central District of California. In that case, the defendants have agreed to pay up to $23.51 million, which will be used for consumer refunds and attorneys' fees. If the class action suit funds are exhausted, up to $6.5 million in additional funds for consumer redress will become available as a result of the FTC order. One redress administrator will manage both pools of funds and consumers will receive a single refund check.

      The Wilson class action settlement provides refunds for purchases of Airborne-branded products made between May 1, 2001 and November 29, 2007. More information on the Wilson settlement, eligibility requirements, and procedures for filing a claim online or by mail can be found at www.airbornehealthsettlement.com. Consumers have until September 15, 2008 to apply for a refund for up to six product purchases.

      The defendants have marketed Airborne Original Effervescent Formula as a dietary supplement containing 17 ingredients, including vitamins A, C, E, zinc, and selenium. Airborne products have been advertised nationally in print media and on radio and television. They have been sold by grocery stores, drug stores, and mass merchandisers.

      According to the FTC's complaint, there is no competent and reliable scientific evidence to support the claims made by the defendants that Airborne tablets can prevent or reduce the risk of colds, sickness, or infection; protect against or help fight germs; reduce the severity or duration of a cold; and protect against colds, sickness, or infection in crowded places such as airplanes, offices, or schools. The FTC complaint also states that Victoria Knight-McDowell and Thomas John McDowell made false claims that Airborne products are clinically proven to treat colds.

      If consumer refund claims are not paid on time in the Wilson lawsuit, or if the defendants have not paid at least $23.5 million to settle any other similar class-action lawsuit by December 31, 2009, the defendants must pay the entire $30 million to the FTC, which will administer its own consumer redress program.

      In addition to prohibiting the defendants from making claims that are false, misleading, or unsubstantiated by competent and reliable scientific evidence, and providing additional funds for consumer redress, the order authorizes the Commission to monitor the defendants' compliance with the order.

      More Scam Alerts ...

      Airborne Health to Pay FTC $30 Million for False Claims...
      Read lessRead more

      Bush Signs Consumer Safety Bill

      Sweeping legislation provides for safer toys, more effective recalls, stronger enforcement

      By Joseph S. Enoch

      August 14, 2008
      President Bush today signed sweeping new consumer legislation intended to make toys and common consumer products safer, make recalls more effective and give more authority to federal and state enforcement agencies.

      "With the stroke of a pen, President Bush today signed my legislation allowing for sweeping reforms to begin taking place that will keep toxic toys and other dangerous products out of our homes," said Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), the bill's primary sponsor.

      "First and foremost, this new law hands back the reigns to the CPSC, our consumer watchdog agency, by giving it the necessary authority and resources to patrol todays global marketplace. We also require more responsibility from manufacturers and retailers, and stiffen the penalties if they fail to meet higher safety standards," Pryor said. "From the factory floor to the store shelves, there are dozens more new safeguards that weve built in place to prevent unnecessary injuries and fatalities. I truly believe this is a great bill for the American consumer."

      The measure gives the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) far more funding, staff and authority but does not appropriate any more money to carry out the new mandates. Congress is expected to act on that when it returns from its summer recess.

      Consumer groups rushed to applaud Bush's action.

      This new product safety law is responsive to the mounting evidence and dire consequences of our broken product safety net. This bill patches up our current system by giving the CPSC the resources, regulatory authority and enforcement tools it needs to protect consumer from hazards posed by unsafe products, stated Rachel Weintraub, Director of Product Safety and Senior Counsel with Consumer Federation of America. We applaud Congress and the President for supporting this critical reform and urge the CPSC to implement this law effectively.

      "This is a huge victory for consumers over big business," said David Arkush, Director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch division. "This law puts safety first by making new and important changes, like requiring that toys be tested for safety before they are sold and creating an Internet database where consumers can share information about dangerous products."

      The measure — officially known as the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 — passed the House on July 30, 2008 by a vote of 424-1 and the Senate on July 31, 2008 by a vote of 89-3.

      It requires that toys and infant products be tested before they are sold, and by banning lead and phthalates in toys. The bill also will create the first comprehensive publicly accessible consumer complaint database, give the CPSC new resources to protect the public, increase civil penalties that CPSC can assess against violators of CPSC laws, and protect whistleblowers who report product safety defects.

      Six types of phthalates, chemicals linked to genital defects in males, have been banned from toys along with lead. Also, toys will be required to follow a complex list of rules intended to make them safer.

      The phthalate provision makes three phthalates permanently illegal and three others temporarily illegal until the CPSC can determine whether the chemicals are safe or dangerous. More details on the complex legislation can be found here.

      The bill boosts the beleaguered CPSC, which many blamed for failing consumers during 2007, a year that had a record number of recalls. The agency's funding will double by 2014 and state attorneys general will be empowered to enforce safety laws in their states.

      This long-overdue law gives the CPSC the shot in the arm that it desperately needs, said Ami Gadhia, Policy Counsel with Consumers Union. It is now up to the CPSC to use the tools given to them by this law, and restore the confidence of consumers in the products on store shelves, added Gadhia.

      Protecting Americas littlest consumers better was always a good idea, but now its the law, said U.S. PIRG Consumer Program Director Ed Mierzwinski. We look forward to working with a stronger CPSC with more tools at its disposal. U.S. PIRG Public Health Advocate Liz Hitchcock added, We especially appreciate the visionary features of the new law, such as its ban on toxic phthalate chemicals in childrens products and its creation of a revolutionary new publicly-accessible database of potential hazards.

      New consumer legislation intended to make toys and common consumer products safer, make recalls more effective and give more authority to federal and state...
      Read lessRead more

      What Exactly is a "Charley Horse?"

      The Healthy Geezer

      Q. What exactly is a "charley horse" and why do I get them in my legs at night?

      According to the American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, the term "charley horse" was first used in the 1880s by baseball players to describe a muscle cramp. No one knows the true origin, but the dictionary says: "Among the more likely theories proposed is that it alludes to the name of either a horse or an afflicted ball player who limped like one of the elderly draft horses formerly employed to drag the infield."

      Geezers are more likely to get charley horses because of muscle loss that starts in our 40s. And your remaining muscles don't work as efficiently as they used to. Studies show that about 70 percent of adults older than 50 experience nocturnal leg cramps.

      A cramp is an involuntary contracted muscle that does not relax. The common locations for muscle cramps are the calves, thighs, feet, hands, arms, and the rib cage. Cramps can be very painful. Muscles can cramp for just seconds, but they can continue for many minutes.

      Almost all of us have had muscle cramps, but no one knows for sure why they happen. However, many healthcare professionals attribute cramping to tired muscles and poor stretching. Other suspected causes are dehydration, exerting yourself when it's hot, flat feet, standing on concrete, prolonged sitting, some leg positions while sedentary.

      Muscle cramps are usually harmless. However, they can also be symptoms of problems with circulation, nerves, metabolism, hormones. Less common causes of muscle cramps include diabetes, Parkinson's disease, hypoglycemia, anemia, thyroid and endocrine disorders.

      The use of some medications can cause muscle cramps. For example, some diuretic medications prescribed for high blood pressure can deplete potassium. Too little potassium, calcium or magnesium in your diet can contribute to cramps.

      Here are some pointers for treating a cramp yourself: stop whatever you were doing when you got the cramp, massage the muscle and stretch it slowly, apply a cold pack to relax tense muscles.

      To prevent cramps, do stretching exercises especially for those muscles that tend to cramp, and drink water regularly. If you are exerting yourself in heat or sweating for more than an hour, you should drink fruit juice or a sports beverage. For recurrent cramps that disturb your sleep, your doctor may prescribe a medication to relax your muscles.

      If you have nocturnal leg cramping, ride a stationary bicycle for a few minutes before bedtime. The following stretching exercise is good, too. You should do it in the morning, before dinner and before going to bed every night:

      Stand about 30 inches from a wall. Keep your heels on the floor, lean forward and put your hands on the wall. Then, move your hands slowly up the wall as far as you can reach comfortably. Hold the stretched position for 30 seconds. Release. Repeat twice.

      If you experience frequent and severe muscle cramps, see your doctor.

      All Rights Reserved © 2008 by Fred Cicetti

      A cramp is an involuntary contracted muscle that does not relax. The common locations for muscle cramps are the calves, thighs, feet, hands, arms, and the ...
      Read lessRead more

      Overweight Doesn't Always Mean Unhealthy

      Looks can be deceiving when it comes to your health.

      A pair of reports in the latest issue of Archives of Internal Medicine finds that obese individuals do not appear to have an increased risk for heart disease, while some normal-weight individuals experience a cluster of heart risks.

      Research indicates that in addition to overall obesity, the way body fat is distributed may influence risk for heart disease and diabetes.

      For instance, individuals with fat within the abdominal cavity -- estimated by measuring waist size -- appear to be at higher risk for insulin resistance (a pre-diabetic condition that occurs when the body fails to respond insulin) and for having an unhealthy cardiovascular risk profile.

      In one study, researchers from the University of Tubingen, Germany, studied 314 individuals age 18 to 69. They measured participants' total body fat, visceral fat -- abdominal fat around the internal organs -- and subcutaneous fat, which is the fat under the skin. Insulin resistance was measured using an oral glucose tolerance test.

      The individuals were then divided into four groups: normal weight, overweight, obese but still sensitive to insulin and obese with insulin resistance.

      Those in the overweight and obese groups had more total body and visceral fat than those at a normal weight, and there was no difference between obese groups. However, obese individuals with insulin resistance had more fat within their skeletal muscles and their livers than obese individuals without insulin resistance.

      In addition, those who were insulin-resistant had thicker walls in their carotid arteries, an early sign of atherosclerosis. Individuals in the obese--insulin sensitive group did not differ from the normal-weight group in insulin sensitivity or artery wall thickness, the authors note.

      "In conclusion, we provide evidence that a metabolically benign obesity can be identified and that it may protect from insulin resistance and atherosclerosis," they write. "Furthermore, our data suggest that ectopic fat accumulation in the liver may be more important than visceral fat in the determination of such a beneficial phenotype in obesity."

      In a second study, scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, N.Y., assessed body weight and cardiometabolic abnormalities, including high blood pressure, elevated triglycerides and low high-density lipoprotein or "good" cholesterol, in 5,440 individuals participating in the National Health and Nutritional Examination Surveys between 1999 and 2004. Participants were considered metabolically healthy if they had none or one abnormality and metabolically abnormal if they had two or more abnormalities.

      "Among U.S. adults 20 years and older, 23.5 percent of normal-weight adults were metabolically abnormal, whereas 51.3 percent of overweight adults and 31.7 percent of obese adults were metabolically healthy," the authors write.

      Normal-weight individuals with metabolic abnormalities tended to be older, less physically active and have larger waists than healthy normal-weight individuals. Obese individuals with no metabolic abnormalities were more likely to be younger, black, more physically active and have smaller waists than those with metabolic risk factors.

      "These data show that a considerable proportion of overweight and obese U.S. adults are metabolically healthy, whereas a considerable proportion of normal-weight adults express a clustering of cardiometabolic abnormalities," the authors write.

      In an accompanying editorial, Lewis Landsberg, M.D., of the Northwestern University Comprehensive Center on Obesity, Chicago, notes that both studies attempt to improve the understanding of obesity, making it a more useful tool for predicting which patients will develop cardiovascular disease.

      "Both reports emphasize the benign nature of fat accumulation outside the abdomen," he writes. "In both studies, the detrimental effect of visceral fat accumulation and its surrogate, waist circumference, were clearly demonstrated, confirming older studies showing that waist circumference is a risk factor even in normal-weight individuals."

      The message for practicing clinicians is that calculating body mass index and measuring waist circumference are valuable tools in assessing cardiovascular risk in overweight and obese patients, Landsberg said.

      Obese individuals do not appear to have an increased risk for heart disease, while some normal-weight individuals experience a cluster of heart risks....
      Read lessRead more

      Don't Let a Bad Economy Ruin Your Marriage

      How to prevent financial problems from causing marital stress

      Is the current state of the economy affecting your marriage? Do you find you and your spouse fighting more these days over money? If you do, you're not alone. At least 60% of couples argue over money at least once a month, according to a survey sponsored by PayPal.

      Despite the "for richer or for poorer" vows couples take, one of the primary reasons marriages fail has to do with conflicts over money. In these difficult economic times, it may be time to start taking some definite positive actions to keep your marriage or relationship from going bankrupt.

      Why couples fight about money

      Understand that how we feel about money has more to do with your own childhood, background, and values than it does with your spouse or your relationship.

      Money is one of life's more emotional triggers. Often it is tied to our feelings of self-worth and the role it plays in how much control we feel we have in living our lives. In this regard, it can be tied to such deep-seated issues as feeling loved, competence, acceptance, safety, and empowerment.

      Because these feelings linger beneath the surface, they're not easy to talk about. Conflicts could come out in fights with each other over too much spending, or finding out about secret bank accounts or late payments of bills that erode credit scores.

      It's important if one or all of these situations are occurring in your marriage or relationship that you and your partner talk about it.

      Try to focus on the behaviors that are getting you into even more problems, such as failing to make even a minimum credit card payment because you're in denial about how big the balance has become. Talk about what's going on. If necessary, suggest taking over bill paying if you are having less of a problem dealing with your reality than your spouse seems to be having.

      Warning signs

      These conflicts over money including how much to save or spend are issues that are often concealed when times are going well financially.

      There's no need to discuss what to spend when you have lots of money. You just spend it. There's no need to discuss how much to save when you have a job that automatically puts a portion of your salary into a retirement fund.

      These issues only come up when the money is disappearing faster than you're earning it or you've lost that full-time job with benefits and now you're working part-time or for a company that is not automatically contributing into a savings plan.

      Here are some warning signs that you or your spouse have a money problem that. without addressing it and working on it together, with or without the help of a trained counselor, could eat away at your marriage:

      • Are you discovering large expenses on your spouse's credit card bill that he or she has been hiding from you?

      • Have you or your spouse started paying only the minimum on your credit cards, piling more and more debt, while still continuing to charge new purchases to those cards?

      • Are you or your spouse opening up multiple credit card accounts to keep up your spending beyond your means rather than deal with the necessary cutbacks that you have to start making during tough times?

      • Do you or your spouse buy yourself or each other lavish gifts that you can't afford because you equate material items with love?

      • Have you or your spouse had an increase in insomnia, over-eating, losing your appetite, or are either of you stressed out over money related issues?

      • Have you or your spouse found yourself avoiding going out at all because you feel you can't afford it?

      • Have you or your spouse said "no" to romantic intimacy more than once recently because one or both of you were too upset over financial matters?

      • If you answered "yes" to one or more of these questions, you have to take a serious and hard look at how money is negatively impacting not only your marriage but on your mental health.

      Dealing with issues

      There is no one way to deal with the money crisis that couples are facing today. Of course every situation is unique and different. But there are some general principles that will help you regardless of the specifics of your situation.

      For starters, the key is communication with each other and having an open attitude that you are both going to work together to resolve this money challenge. Here are some possible steps you could take:

      • See the current economic crisis as a gift. That may be hard to believe when you think you may lose your house or have your car repossessed. But look at it as an opportunity to discuss with your partner how you're going to handle it. Ask for some suggestions since your partner might have ideas about solving your dilemma that you have not even considered.

      • Stop hiding how much you owe and how much you're spending despite your economic problems. Take all your credit card bills out and make a list of what you currently owe on each card, the interest on each card, and then come with a plan to pay each one off.

      • If you or your partner have a problem with debt, have a card cutting party. Join Debtors Anonymous and stop using credit cards altogether. Then pay off the debts in as timely a manner as possible. Keep in mind that money is often a metaphor in marital conflicts so talking about with a therapist may be helpful. That will enable both of you to talk about what money means to you and how you can try to make the present and future better.

      • As a couple, agree on what you realistically can spend each month and create a budget that you try to really stick to. Make sure you include in your budget at least some funds for going out and having fun even if it's not going to be extravagant or expensive.

      • Communicate with each other about what you're spending money on if it's a big ticket item. Don't start over-spending and hiding that from each other. Those secrets can start to eat away at your trust and intimacy as much as the excess spending in these lean times can set you back financially.

      • Decide together on any major purchases to make sure you both agree that this is the right time to make that investment. Through your discussion you might decide it's better to wait a while or maybe you will agree it's something to put off indefinitely.

      • Don't play the blame game. The economic downturn is hitting everyone so the economic down turn youre going through isn't because of something either you or your spouse has done. Use this tough situation to recommit to each other on a deeper, non-materialistic level. Since you probably can't buy each other big ticket items for a while, use your imagination and creativity to find inexpensive but memorable ways to express your love and appreciation for each other.

      • And finally, if you still can't come to an agreement over money, see a financial advisor or a credit counselor to get some help. It's a positive step that could help you avoid the emotional angst or the financial toll of having to hire a divorce lawyer.

      Treat yourself

      Maybe you can't afford to fly off for the weekend to Madrid, but you can afford to go out to a local free music event that your community is sponsoring, take a walk on the beach, or around your cul de sac.

      If you have several cars and you have to give up one, look at it as an opportunity to spend more time with your partner as you car pool to work or the train together. And if you have children, get them involved with the joys of spending less money as well.

      Remember the expression "The best things in life are free?" Say that to yourself and to your spouse and say it often.

      Unless you're an heiress or a prince, you probably started out as a couple without a lot of money. Many couples will say that those days when they were struggling financially were the best times in their relationship as they worked together to build their future together. During those lean times, you had to find ways just to enjoy being with each other.

      Even though you're older now, you can put that joy of working together for your future into your relationship again as you together recover from the economic downturn that is having such a dramatic impact on so many today.

      Is the current state of the economy affecting your marriage? Do you find you and your spouse fighting more these days over money? If you do, you're not alo...
      Read lessRead more

      United Pilots Want CEO Fired

      Union launches Web site detailing exec's bad performance

      Things are bad at United Airlines, according to the people who fly the planes, and they say it won't get better until the company fires its CEO.

      The United Chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association has issued a statement, calling for the resignation of Glenn Tilton as CEO of the airline, stressing the need for new leadership and direction at the helm of the air carrier.

      The pilots say United now ranks at the bottom of nearly every performance and customer satisfaction category, and its financial performance is steadily deteriorating. In an effort to bring public pressure, the United pilots have launched a Web site, www.GlennTilton.com, that highlights what they see as the failures of Tilton's management.

      "Under Glenn Tilton's tenure, United has gone from being the finest airline in the world, with the best route structure and safety record, to a shell of its former self," said Captain Steve Wallach, chairman of the United Master Executive Council. "He has had every opportunity to turn this company around, and tap the abilities of its first-class employees, but instead he has run it into the ground. We believe that with the intense challenges facing our industry, United Airlines will not be able to thrive as long as Glenn Tilton, with his proven record of incompetence, continues as CEO. It is time for Glenn Tilton to go."

      The pilots' union issued a list of reasons it says makes clear the airline needs a change in the executive suite:

      • In performance, United ranks 18th of 19 for on-time arrivals; 17th of 19 in customer complaints and tenth of 19 for misplaced baggage, according to the latest Department of Transportation data.

      • In customers' willingness to pay for the product, despite capacity reductions, load factors in the first 6 months of 2008 are down 2.6 percent, compared with a similar period in 2007.

      • In stock performance, UAUA is down 73 percent since United exited bankruptcy on February 1, 2006.

      • In profitability, United has lost more money in 2008 than it has made since exiting bankruptcy.

      • In overall reputation, United is rated "below the rest" and tied for last place on the latest J.D. Powers satisfaction study.

      • A recent "Employee Climate Survey" conducted by United revealed that only 38 percent of United employees take pride in United, down 15 percentage points from 2006. Average Fortune 500 companies find that 84 percent of their employees express pride in the company for which they work. Sixty-two percent of United's employees are not proud of their company, 70 percent are dissatisfied with their jobs, 73 percent are looking for new jobs and 77 percent do not think United is a great place to work.

      "This is not a personal attack on Glenn Tilton," said Wallach. "These dismal numbers speak for themselves. They are a reflection of his inability to lead, his incompetence as a manager and his failure in virtually every category that can be measured. We have tried every conceivable way to convince him to invest in, and maximize the goodwill of, his employees. He has failed miserably."

      United, as well as most other major airlines, has suffered steep losses and has been forced to cut operating expenses in the face of skyrocketing fuel costs.

      Things are bad at United Airlines, according to the people who fly the planes, and they say it won't get better until the company fires its CEO....
      Read lessRead more

      Mars Petcare Recalls Some Pedigree Dog Food

      Company also makes Nutro, blamed for problems by scores of pet owners

      A salmonella scare has forced Mars Petcare US to recall 100 of its 20-pound bags of PEDIGREE Complete Nutrition Small Crunchy Bites sold at some Albertsons in Southern California and Las Vegas, Nevada.

      The company also makes Nutro pet food, which scores of consumers nationwide blame for the recent illnesses — and even deaths — of their dog and cats.

      Nutro products, however, are not included in this recall.

      Mars said a "component" that tested positive for salmonella was inadvertently shipped to its Tracy, California, plant and used in the production of 100 bags of PEDIGREE pet food.

      The affected bags have the "best by" dates of July 7, 2009.

      "Our primary concern is the safety and welfare of our pet owners and their pets," the company said in a statement. "Although the finished product tested negative and we have received no reports of illness of pets or their owners, out of an abundance of caution we are issuing a voluntary recall of the limited number of bags of Pedigree Complete Nutrition Small Crunchy Bites containing the component in question."

      Mars said it is working with Albertsons to retrieve any of the affected bags still on store shelves or in distribution centers. Consumers who bought the food should return it to Albertsons for a full refund.

      Mars also said it is cooperating with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on this recall.

      Salmonella can cause infections in dogs and cats. It can also be transferred from pets to people who ingest or handle contaminated products. Children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems are most at risk.

      To prevent the spread of salmonella contamination, the FDA said consumers should wash their hands for 20 seconds with hot water and soap before and after handling pet foods and treats.

      Consumers should also:

      • Wash pet food bowls, dishes, and scooping utensils with soap and hot water after each use;

      • Not use their pets' feeding bowl as a scooping utensil. Pet owners should use a clean scoop or spoon;

      • Dispose of old or spoiled pet food products in securely tied plastic bags and put them in a covered trash cans.

      The FDA's Web site has additional tips on how to safely handle pet food.

      More about pets ...

      Mars said a "component" that tested positive for salmonella was inadvertently shipped to its Tracy, California, plant and used in the production of 100 bag...
      Read lessRead more

      Whole Foods Recalls Fresh Ground Beef

      Meat came from troubled Nebraska Beef plant

      Upscale grocery Whole Foods has recalled fresh ground beef from all its stores after learning the meat could be tainted by E. coli.

      The meat was purchased from Coleman Natural Foods, but was processed at Nebraska Beef, which recalled more than five million pounds of ground beef in May and June.

      Nebraska beef recalled an additional 1.2 million pounds of beef produced in June and July, and that beef is included in the meat that found its way to Whole Foods.

      Last week Massachusetts health officials reported six people had gotten sick with the particularly virulent E. coli O157:H7strain. By the end of last week, that outbreak had been traced to meat purchased from Whole Foods stores.

      Whole foods began an investigation and contacted its meat supplier, Coleman Natural Foods. It was only then, the company says, that it learned the meat had originated at Nebraska Beef. The plant was already under close scrutiny by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

      "We will continue to investigate to see what is happening at the plant to see what they have to do to get a handle on their food-safety issues," said USDA spokeswoman Laura Reiser.

      In early July USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service took the unusual step of publicly criticizing Nebraska Beef's operation. The agency said the company uses production practices that "are insufficient to effectively control E. coli O157:H7 in their beef products that are intended for grinding. The beef that was ultimately recalled may have been produced under unsanitary conditions, the agency said.

      In a statement, Whole Foods said no beef secured from Coleman Natural Foods and sold between June 2 and August 6 is currently in any of its stores. It said its supplier had previously assured it than none of the recalled Nebraska Beef products were among the products it supplied to Whole Foods.

      "While Coleman Natural Beef is a relatively small supplier for Whole Foods Market, we are extremely disappointed that we must now question Coleman's assurances," said Edmund Lamacchia, global vice president of procurement.

      Whole Foods Market says customers who may have ground beef purchased beef from June 2 to August 6 to dispose of the product and return to the store with the packaging or receipt for a full refund.

      "At Whole Foods Market, one of our top priorities is consumer safety, and we go to great lengths to ensure the safety and quality of our meats," said Lamacchia. "We are currently cooperating with the USDA, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Montgomery County Health Department in Pennsylvania as part of a routine multi-state investigation into these confirmed cases of E. coli 0157:H7 infection."

      The Massachusetts Department of Public Health issued warnings about the targeted beef. Whole Foods Market said it will continue to work with state and federal authorities as this investigation progresses.

      Whole Foods Recalls Fresh Ground Beef...
      Read lessRead more

      Graphic Card Problem May Affect Millions of Computers

      Nvidia admits problem but doesn't alert consumers

      Pajin of Madison, Wisconsin, is flaming mad at Dell because of problems with the LCD display on his laptop.

      "The lines are so bad that I cannot read the text on the screen. I will have to throw this laptop away," Pajin complained. "This is crazy. I hate Dell. I'm never going to buy one again."

      But Pajin's anger may be at least partly misdirected. The problem potentially affects millions of laptop computers — including Dell and many other brand names — equipped with an Nvidia GeForce 8M Series graphics processing unit.

      Nvidia has conceded the widely-used chip has serious problems. Last month, Nvidia said it would take a $150 to $200 million charge against revenue to cover anticipated customer warranty, repair, return, replacement and other consequential costs and expenses arising from a weak die/packaging material set" in certain versions the chips used in notebooks.

      While the accounting charge has clearly created a headache for Nvidia, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company's graphics boards are also causing headaches for consumers whose laptops are equipped with one of the units.

      Although Nvidia has admitted that these graphics boards are failing in the field at higher than normal rates, and that testing suggests a weak material set of die/package combination ... are contributing factors for these failures, the company has not yet identified the actual number of graphics cards — or laptops — that are plagued by this problem.

      Number unknown

      How many laptops are equipped with these Nvidia boards? Good question.

      Although Nvidia has been mum on this question thus far, other industry sources estimate that there may be as many as 18 million laptops equipped with the troublesome Nvidia boards — and judging by the size of the charge that Nvidia is taking, that estimate may not be far off the mark.

      While Nvidia has admitted that these graphics boards are failing at higher than normal rates, the company has not acted to rectify the problem. Instead of recalling the GeForce 8M Series GPUs at Nvidias expense, Nvidia has thus far been content to sit and wait while the products keep failing.

      While this may make business sense for Nvidia, it exposes millions of consumers to the possibility that their computer graphic display will fail without warning — possibly just as they're starting a critically important business presentation or rushing to complete a complex assignment.


      What are the symptoms that you should look for and how can you tell if you own a laptop computer equipped with one of these Nvidia graphics boards?

      As for symptoms, laptop users have indicated that the problem typically manifests itself by the video screen on the computer either being unable to display anything — or displaying a number of colored lines across the screen.

      Because Nvidia is the self-described world leader in visual computing technologies," the faulty video boards can be found in virtually every brand of laptop computer, including top-selling Dell and HP laptops.

      Determining whether you own a laptop that is equipped with one of the affected boards is relatively easy. On most Windows laptops, all you need to do is:

      (i) click on the Start button on your screen;
      (ii) click on the Settings button;
      (iii) click on the Control Panel button;
      (iv) click on the System button;
      (v) click on the Hardware button;
      (vi) click on the Device Manager button; and then
      (vii) click on the Display adapters button and read the identifying information concerning the specific video graphics card in your laptop.

      What if you find that you have the Nvidia GeForce 8M Series card in your laptop? Unfortunately, there's no easy fix and no sure way to prevent problems from occurring. For most consumers, a watch-and-wait strategy is probably the most realistic option.

      Consumers who find the card in their laptop can report it using the ConsumerAffairs.com complaint form.

      Graphic Card Problem May Affect Millions of Computers...
      Read lessRead more

      Lowe's Recalls Perfect Flame Gas Grills

      August 7, 2008
      Lowe's Home Centers is recalling about 24,000 Perfect Flame Double-Lid Four-Burner Gas Grills. The cooking chamber of the grill can melt and/or ignite, posing a risk of fires and burn injuries to consumers.

      There have been 175 reports of grill fires and 25 reports of grills melting, some of which resulted in minor property damage. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves Perfect Flame brand grills, Model GAC3615 four burner LP gas grills. The grill has two lids. "Perfect Flame" is printed on the larger lid. The model number, serial number, and date code are printed on a label on the right side cart frame panel. The following serial numbers and date codes are included in this recall.

      Model NumberDate CodeSerial Number
      (July 07)
      000001 001278
      001282 001423
      (Aug. 07)
      001424 001849
      001855 005404
      (Sept. 07)
      005405 006540
      006548 009671
      010299 010440
      (Oct. 07)
      010005 010297
      010441 014305
      014322 017164
      (Nov. 07)
      017165 020714
      020715 022856
      (Dec. 07)
      022859 023284
      024301 025862

      The grills were sold at Lowes stores nationwide from October 2007 through July 2008 for about $300. They were made in China.

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled grills, disconnect the propane tanks, and return the grills without the propane tanks to any Lowes store to receive a full refund.

      For additional information, contact Lucas Innovation toll-free at (877) 385-8226 between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. PT Monday through Friday, or visit www.gac3615grillrecall.com

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

      Lowe's Recalls Perfect Flame Gas Grills...
      Read lessRead more

      Texas Attorney General Sues Olympic Ticket Scammers

      Company accused of taking money and not providing tickets

      The 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games haven't even started, but an unscrupulous ticket broker is already going for the "gold" in consumers' wallets. That's the allegation Texas authorities today made in a lawsuit filed against an Austin-based ticket broker that reportedly deceived consumers who purchased tickets to the Olympic Games.

      Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott took legal action against a company called Ticket City Inc., which sold tickets to the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games for $1,250 each. The company also promised consumers a 200 percent refund if it failed to deliver the pre-purchased tickets.

      According to the lawsuit, the company told consumers they would receive their tickets before the start of the Olympic Games.Relying on that information, consumers made hotel reservations and purchased airline tickets to Beijing.

      But Ticket City did not have the tickets it was selling online, the attorney general alleged. In March 2008, the company told customers they would not receive their tickets -- or their promised 200 percent refunds.

      At the same time, however, authorities learned that Ticket City continued to sell tickets to the opening ceremony at dramatically higher prices. An undercover investigation revealed the company's representatives offered to sell those tickets for $7,000 to $8,668 each.

      Abbott's office said the Chinese Government has imposed strict restrictions on how tickets to the Olympic games can be transferred. Specifically, tickets to the opening and closing ceremonies can only be transferred one time after they are sold by a ticket vendor, Abbott said. That means the original buyers can sell their tickets, but the second buyers cannot.

      The Chinese government also requires the final buyers to have proper identification, including a photo, embedded into the ticket, along with Chinese the authorities' written approval.

      The final day for transferring opening ceremony tickets was July 14, according to the Chinese news agency Xinhuanet. But Ticket City continued to offer tickets for sale as late as July 16, Abbott said.

      "No comment"

      ConsumerAffairs.com contacted Ticket City today about the lawsuit. "We haven't seen the lawsuit and have no comment," Zach Anderson, the company's vice-president of marketing, told us.

      When asked if the company was still selling tickets to the Beijing games, Anderson said "no comment."

      We checked the company's Web site today and discovered we could still buy some tickets to the Olympic games. For example, we could get three tickets to the Olympic tennis match on August 12. Those tickets cost $325 each. The Web site, however, also indicated that tickets to many other Olympic events were not available -- including the opening and closing ceremonies.

      In the action filed today, Attorney General Abbott seeks a temporary and permanent injunction against the company. It also asks for court-ordered civil penalties of up to $20,000 per violation of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act and awards in actual damages to consumers who were financially harmed.

      Texans taken by this or other fraudulent businesses can contact the Attorney General's hotline at (800) 252-8011 or file a complaint online at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov.

      The action taken by Abbot follows a warning released by Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers against other bogus websites claiming to sell Olympic tickets.

      More Scam Alerts ...

      The 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games haven't even started, but an unscrupulous ticket broker is already going for the "gold" in consumers' wallets. That's...
      Read lessRead more

      Ring Charged with Hacking Major U.S. Retailers

      Scheme believed to be the largest identity theft case ever prosecuted

      Eleven people accused of hacking nine major U.S. retailers and stealing more than 40 million credit and debit card numbers have been charged with numerous crimes, including conspiracy, computer intrusion, fraud and identity theft, according to federal officials.

      The scheme is believed to constitute the largest hacking and identity theft case ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice.

      Three of those charged are U.S. citizens, one is from Estonia, three are from Ukraine, two are from the People's Republic of China and one is from Belarus. One individual is only known by an alias online, and his place of origin is unknown.

      The indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Boston charges Albert "Segvec" Gonzalez, of Miami with computer fraud, wire fraud, access device fraud, aggravated identity theft and conspiracy for his role in the scheme. Criminal information also was released on related charges against Christopher Scott and Damon Patrick Toey, both of Miami.

      The Boston indictment alleges that during the course of the sophisticated conspiracy, Gonzalez and his co-conspirators obtained the credit and debit card numbers by "wardriving" and hacking into the wireless computer networks of major retailers. They are alleged to be responsible for the TJX Companies data breach, as well as BJ's Wholesale Club, OfficeMax, Boston Market, Barnes & Noble, Sports Authority, Forever 21 and DSW.

      Once inside the networks, they installed "sniffer" programs that would capture card numbers, as well as password and account information, as they moved through the retailers' credit and debit processing networks.

      The indictment maintains that after they collected the data, the conspirators concealed the data in encrypted computer servers that they controlled in Eastern Europe and the United States. They allegedly sold some of the credit and debit card numbers, via the Internet, to other criminals in the United States and Eastern Europe. The stolen numbers were "cashed out" by encoding card numbers on the magnetic strips of blank cards.

      The defendants then used these cards to withdraw tens of thousands of dollars at a time from ATMs. Gonzalez and others were allegedly able to conceal and launder their fraud proceeds by using anonymous Internet-based currencies both within the United States and abroad, and by channeling funds through bank accounts in Eastern Europe.

      Gonzalez was previously arrested by the Secret Service in 2003 for access device fraud. During the course of this investigation, the Secret Service discovered that Gonzalez, who was working as a confidential informant for the agency, was criminally involved in the case.

      Because of the size and scope of his criminal activity, Gonzalez faces a maximum penalty of life in prison if he is convicted of all charges.

      "So far as we know, this is the single largest and most complex identity theft case ever charged in this country," said U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey. "It highlights the efforts of the Justice Department to fight this pernicious crime and shows that, with the cooperation of our law enforcement partners around the world, we can identify, charge and apprehend even the most sophisticated international computer hackers."

      Ring Charged with Hacking Major U.S. Retailers...
      Read lessRead more