1. News
  2. 2010
  3. June

Current Events in June 2010

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.

    Thanks for subscribing.

    You have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

    Feds Arrest Former Taylor, Bean & Whitaker Chairman

    Lee Farkas accused of 'stunning' scheme to defraud investors, taxpayers

    The government has charged a former mortgage executive of attempting to defraud investors and the Troubled Asset Relief Fund (TARP), created by Congress during the banking crisis to buy toxic assets from troubled financial institutions.

    Federal prosecutors charged that Lee Farkas, former chairman of failed Taylor, Bean & Whitaker Mortgage Corp., engineered a multibillion-dollar fraud and also attempted to obtain more than $550 million from the TARP program.

    Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breur called the alleged fraud "truly stunning in its scale and complexity."

    Farkas was arrested last night in Ocala, Fla., and charged in a 16-count indictment for his alleged role in a more than $1.9 billion fraud scheme that contributed to the failures of Colonial Bank, one of the 50 largest banks in the United States in 2009, and TBW, one of the largest privately held mortgage lending companies in the United States in 2009, according to a U.S. Justice Department statement.

    An indictment unsealed today in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia charges Farkas, of Ocala, Fla., with one count of conspiracy to commit bank, wire and securities fraud; six counts of bank fraud; six counts of wire fraud; and three counts of securities fraud. The indictment also seeks approximately $22 million in forfeiture from Farkas.

    Farkas' lawyer said his client would plead "absolutely not guilty."

    Farkas and his co-conspirators allegedly engaged in a scheme to misappropriate more than $400 million from Colonial Banks Mortgage Warehouse Lending Division in Orlando, Fla., and approximately $1.5 billion from Ocala Funding, a mortgage lending facility controlled by TBW. Farkas and his co-conspirators allegedly misappropriated this money to cover TBWs operating losses.

    According to the government, the fraud scheme contributed to the failures of Colonial Bank and TBW. The indictment further alleges that Farkas and his co-conspirators committed wire and securities fraud in connection with their attempt to convince the United States government to provide Colonial Bank with approximately $553 million in TARP funds.

    "Taxpayers have paid a hefty price for the crimes related to the current financial crisis, and investors in Colonial and Ocala Funding were among those directly affected by this conspiracy," said Neil MacBride, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

    Court documents allege that the scheme began in 2002, when Farkas and his co-conspirators ran overdrafts in TBW bank accounts at Colonial Bank in order to cover TBWs cash shortfalls. Farkas and his co-conspirators at TBW and Colonial Bank allegedly transferred money between accounts at Colonial Bank to hide the overdrafts.

    After the overdrafts grew to tens of millions of dollars, Farkas and his co-conspirators allegedly covered up the overdrafts and operating losses by causing Colonial Bank to purchase from TBW more than $400 million in what amounted to fake mortgage loan assets, including loans that TBW had already sold to other investors and fake interests in pools of loans. Farkas and his co-conspirators allegedly caused Colonial Bank to hold these purported assets on its books at their face value when in fact the mortgage loan assets were worthless.

    Court documents also allege that Farkas and co-conspirators caused TBW to hide impaired-value mortgage loans that it was unable to sell. Through a series of sham transactions, the conspirators allegedly hid impaired-value loans on Colonial Banks books for a period of years in some cases.

    According to court documents, Farkas and his co-conspirators at TBW also misappropriated hundreds of millions of dollars from Ocala Funding. Ocala Funding sold asset-backed commercial paper to financial institution investors, including Deutsche Bank and BNP Paribas Bank. Ocala Funding, in turn, was required to maintain collateral in the form of cash and/or mortgage loans at least equal to the value of outstanding commercial paper.

    Feds Arrest Former Taylor, Bean & Whitaker Chairman...

    JD Power: U.S. Cars Tops in Initial Quality

    Domestic brands outshine imports in survey for the first time

    June 17, 2010

    For decades German carmakers, then the Japanese, held the crown for the best in automotive quality. But now, for the first time, the best-made cars come from the U.S., according to J.D. Power and Associates' Initial Quality Study, conducted annually for the past 24 years.

    Overall, the industry average for initial quality is 109 problems per 100 vehicles (PP100) in 2010, increasing slightly from 108 PP100 in 2009. However, initial quality for U.S. brands as a whole has improved by 4 PP100 in 2010 to an average of 108 PP100. That's slightly better than the initial quality of import brands, which averages 109 PP100 in 2010.

    Ford is responsible for much of the U.S. improvement. The Ford Focus made big improvements in the 2010 survey, but so did the Dodge Ram 1500 LD and Buick Enclave.

    In particular, initial quality of Ford models has improved steadily for the past nine years, the survey shows. In addition, as a corporation, Ford Motor Company (including Volvo) has 12 models that rank within the top three in their respective segments in 2010-more than any other corporation.

    General Motors Company has 10 models that rank within the top three in their segments.

    Initial quality performance demonstrated by U.S. brands in 2010 contrasts sharply with consumer sentiment from one year ago. According to data collected by the J.D. Power Web Intelligence Division between May and July 2009, much of the online consumer discussion about automotive quality centered around the difficulties U.S. automakers were facing, and perceptions that these problems were largely caused by poor product quality.

    Impressive strides

    "Domestic automakers have made impressive strides in steadily improving vehicle quality, particularly since 2007," said David Sargent, vice president of global vehicle research at J.D. Power and Associates. "This year may mark a key turning point for U.S. brands as they continue to fight the battle against lingering negative perceptions of their quality.

    "However, there is still a long road ahead, and domestic manufacturers need to consistently prove to consumers that they can produce models with quality that equals or beats that of the import brands. Achieving quality comparability is the first half of the battle; convincing consumers-particularly import buyers-that they have done this is the second half."

    According to J.D. Power's Web Intelligence Division, online consumer conversations about vehicle quality have recently shifted to a more concrete tone. In 2010, consumers are more often discussing quality as it applies to their own personal vehicle purchase decisions, rather than how domestic brands overall are affected by perceptions of low quality.

    Initial quality of new models and major redesigns continues to improve in 2010, led by new launches from Ford, Honda, Lexus,Mercedes-Benz and Porsche.

    The all-new Honda Accord Crosstour and the redesigned Ford Mustang, Ford Taurus and Lexus GX 460 each rank highest in initial quality in their respective segments. The Ford Fusion, Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe and Sedan and Porsche Panamera also launch with notably high initial quality levels.

    Historically, newly launched models have incurred substantially more quality problems than carryover models, on average. However, more than one-half of all models launched during the 2010 model year perform better than their respective segment averages. In addition, 12 all-new and redesigned models rank within the top three in their respective segments. Meanwhile, initial quality of carryover and freshened models has declined for the 2010 model year.

    "With automakers committing huge budgets for the design, engineering, production and marketing of all-new models and major redesigns, hitting the quality mark out of the gate is critical," said Sargent. "Getting initial quality right on model launches can serve dual purposes for automakers-boosting profitability and also inspiring consumer confidence in the overall quality of their models. Having a strong quality image is essential for automakers to be able to compete in today's market-both in the U.S. and around the globe."

    The Initial Quality Study serves as the industry benchmark for new-vehicle quality measured at 90 days of ownership. The study is used extensively by manufacturers worldwide to help them design and build better vehicles and by consumers to help them in their vehicle purchase decisions.

    Initial quality has been shown over the years to be an accurate predictor of long-term vehicle durability, which directly impacts consumer purchase decisions. The study captures problems experienced by owners in two distinct categories-design-related problems and defects and malfunctions.

    2010 highlights

    Porsche leads the overall nameplate rankings, averaging 83 PP100. Following in the rankings are, respectively, Acura (which moves from 14th rank position in 2009 to second in 2010), Mercedes-Benz (which improves from sixth rank position in 2009 to third in 2010), Lexus and Ford (which moves into the top five for the first time since the inception of the study). MINI posts the largest improvement in 2010, reducing problems by 32 PP100 from 2009.

    Toyota's problem count increases by 16 PP100, moving it from sixth rank position in 2009 to 21st in 2010.

    "Clearly, Toyota has endured a difficult year," said Sargent. "Recent consumer concerns regarding Toyota's quality are reflected in the nameplate's performance in the 2010 study. That said, Toyota's success was built on a well-deserved reputation for quality, and there is little doubt that they will do everything possible to regain that reputation."

    Ford and Lexus each garner three segment awards. Ford captures awards for the Focus, Mustang and Taurus, while Lexus receives awards for the GS, GX and LS models. The Lexus LS has the fewest quality problems in the industry, with just 55 PP100.

    Chevrolet, Honda and Toyota receive two awards each. Chevrolet models earning awards are the Avalanche (in a tie) and the Tahoe. Honda receives awards for the Accord and the Accord Crosstour, while Toyota receives awards for the FJ Cruiser and Sienna.

    Also receiving segment awards are: Acura RDX, Cadillac Escalade, GMC Sierra LD (in a tie), Hyundai Accent, Mazda MX-5 Miata, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Nissan Frontier, Scion xB and Volvo C70.

    JD Power: U.S. Cars Tops in Initial Quality...

    Feds Arrest 485 In Mortgage Fraud Sweep

    Largest ever crackdown on mortgage-related crimes

    June 17, 2010

    Federal prosecutors say a crackdown on mortgage fraud over the last three months has resulted in 485 arrests, the largest collective enforcement effort ever brought to bear in confronting mortgage fraud.

    Since March 1, the crackdown -- called Operation Stolen Dreams -- has involved 1,215 criminal defendants nationwide, including 485 arrests, who are allegedly responsible for more than $2.3 billion in losses. Additionally, to date the operation has resulted in 191 civil enforcement actions that have resulted in the recovery of more than $147 million.

    "Mortgage fraud ruins lives, destroys families and devastates whole communities, so attacking the problem from every possible direction is vital," Attorney General Eric Holder said. "We will use every tool available to investigate, prosecute and prevent mortgage fraud, and we will not rest until anyone preying on vulnerable American homeowners is brought to justice."

    In a speech today, Holder also revealed that the Justice Department yesterday unsealed an indictment and arrested two defendants who allegedly targeted the Haitian-American community in Miami, often claiming they would assist them with immigration and housing issues, but then instead using victims' personal information to produce false documents to obtain mortgage loans.

    In Chico, California, Holder said, a prominent home builder, caught with a significant amount of unsold new homes as the housing market cooled, allegedly used straw buyers to sell his houses at inflated prices with undisclosed sales rebates. Holder said the scheme inflated prices on other homes in the area, creating artificially high comparable sales and affecting the overall new-home market. To date, he says, thirty-eight of the homes have fallen into foreclosure and ten more have been the subject of short sales - all in one city.

    Ghost loans

    "In Detroit, just yesterday we charged several individuals who are part of a more than $100 million, 70-plus person 'ghost loans' scheme," Holder said.

    In the scheme, the conspirators posed as mortgage brokers, appraisers, real estate agents and title agents and used straw buyers to obtain around 500 mortgages on only 180 properties.

    "From home buyers to lenders, mortgage fraud has had a resounding impact on the nation's economy," said Mueller. "Those who prey on the housing market should know that hundreds of FBI agents on task forces and their law enforcement partners are tracking down your schemes and you will be brought to justice."

    Federal officials says unlike previous mortgage fraud sweeps, Operation Stolen Dreams focused not only on federal criminal cases, but also on civil enforcement, recovering money for victims and increasing cooperation with state and local partners.

    The operation was conducted in conjunction with the Department of Justice - including the FBI, U.S. Attorneys Offices, the U.S. Trustee Program and other components - as well as the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of the Treasury, the Federal Trade Commission, the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the U.S. Secret Service, the National Association of Attorneys General and the National District Attorneys Association.

    Feds Arrest 485 In Mortgage Fraud Sweep: Federal prosecutors say a crackdown on mortgage fraud over the last three months has resulted in 485 arrests....

    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.

      Thanks for subscribing.

      You have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

      How To Turn Down The Volume On Those World Cup Vuvuzelas

      Consumer Reportstackles the task of eliminating the buzz heard 'round the world

      June 17, 2010
      Is there a more annoying sound on Earth than those horns you hear people blowing non-stop during the matches of the World Cup 2010 in South Africa?

      The horns are called vuvuzelas, and they seem to be getting as much international coverage as the matches themselves.

      Despite calls to ban the long plastic trumpets, the racket they make probably isn't going to diminish on TV broadcasts anytime soon.

      Complaints about the horns' incessant buzzing are coming from nearly quarter: high-profile players (who can't communicate over the drone), concerns from health experts (who say the loud blaring may affect hearing loss), and claims by World Cup broadcasters that they've stepped up audio filtering to screen out the vuvuzela racket.

      Fortunately, TV viewers who can't stand the noise have a few options.

      Consumer Reports Blogger Nick K. Mandle recommends skipping the purported vuvuzela "filter." One apparent quick fix getting media attention promises to kill the noise of the vuvuzela using "phase cancellation." The makers of the Anti-Vuvuzela Filter (which costs about $3.50) instruct users to play the downloadable MP3 alongside their TVs speakers.

      "Depending on the circumstances" says the sale site, "the resulting sound wave may be so faint as to be inaudible to human ears." CR says in its test, the noise just became twice as irritating.

      Mandle says instead, go into your TVs sound settings and turn the treble all the way down. It won't eliminate the vuvuzelas, but it tones down their highest-pitch, buzzsaw-in-the-brain frequencies.

      Some TVs with more advanced sound controls have equalizers that let you adjust various sound wave frequencies. Playing with them might bring the vuvuzela decibels down, though perhaps at the expense of hearing the commentators a bit less well.

      One of the CR testers found that if the TV is hooked up to a surround sound system, the vuvuzelas could be almost eliminated by lowering the volume of the left and right speakers (which carry crowd noises) and pumping up the volume of the center speaker (which carries the commentators' voices) via the sound system's settings menu.

      As a last resort, of course, there's the mute button.

      Despite the horrendous sound, many fans have found that concentrating on the game itself makes the vuvuzelas far less of a nuisance.

      How To Turn Down The Volume On Those World Cup Vuvuzelas...

      Tough Economic Conditions Putting Pressure On Working Dads

      CareerBuilder's annual Father's Day survey offers tips for navigating through difficult economic times

      June 17, 2010

      Even as they look ahead to Father's Day, many working dads are experiencing heavier workloads, added stress and less time spent with their families because of the struggling economy.

      CareerBuilder's Annual Father's Day Survey finds one-in-10 working dads said their spouse or significant other has become unemployed in the last 12 months, with half indicating that it is causing stress at home. Forty-two percent of those polled are the sole provider for their household and nearly one-in-ten (nine percent) have taken on a second job in the last 12 months to provide for their family.

      Leaner staffs are creating more demands at the office, making it harder for working fathers to achieve a healthy work/life balance. Sixty-three percent said they work more than 40 hours per week. Three in ten (31 percent) working dads who take work home reported they typically bring work home five days a week or more. Thirty percent bring work home on the weekends.

      Heavier workloads and longer hours are resulting in less quality time with family. Close to four- in-ten (37 percent) working dads said they spend two hours or less with their children each workday. More than three-in-ten (35 percent) reported they missed two or more significant events in their child's life due to work in the last year.

      "Especially in tough times, working dads have to be more creative and strategic to successfully juggle both work and family commitments," said Jason Ferrara, VP Corporate Marketing at CareerBuilder and father of two. "Employers understand the importance of working dads' time away from the office and continue to place an emphasis on work/life balance through benefits that encourage employees to better manage their schedules. However, year over year, we find that nearly half of working dads do not take advantage of the flexible work arrangements offered to them."

      Keeping your balance

      Ferrara recommends the following tips for working dads navigating through difficult economic times:

      • Keep everyone in the mix. Remember -- communication is a two-way street. Besides just listening to what is going on in your family's lives, talk about what is going on in your office, so everyone understands why you are away or have to do some work when you are home.

      • Learn to say "no." In addition to actual work, sometimes activities associated with your job can take a toll on your free time. Determine what additional activities you can turn down and which are necessary so that you can free up more of your time outside of the office.

      • Develop a master family calendar. Add every family member's schedule to one master calendar so there are no surprises. Also, save vacation days for important events and talk to your supervisor about flexible work arrangements.

      • Play now, work later. Put down your Blackberry and avoid checking e-mails until after your children have gone to sleep.

      • Plan a family event in your office. Take advantage of the summer months when school is out and the office may be less hectic by scheduling a kid-friendly potluck or other event with co-workers and their families.

      Tough Economic Conditions Putting Pressure On Working Dads ...

      Suit: Prius Seatbelt Failed

      Pennsylvania plaintiff rendered quadriplegic in head-on accident

      By Jon Hood

      June 16, 2010
      A Pennsylvania woman claims in a lawsuit that the seatbelt on her Toyota Prius failed during a head-on accident, causing her "catastrophic spine and spinal cord injuries" that rendered her a quadriplegic.

      Jacqueline McCosh, was making a right-hand turn off of Blevins Road in Hopewell Township, Pennsylvania, when another driver crossed the double yellow line and ran head-on into her 2006 Prius. Although McCosh was wearing her seatbelt at the time of the accident, the suit alleges that the belt failed to tighten to the extent necessary to keep her in her seat.

      The complaint, filed last week in Philadelphia County Court, contends that "the driver's occupant restraint system and seatbelt system had an unreasonable propensity to 'spool out'...and was incapable of properly restraining occupants wearing their seatbelt and failed to adequately restrain and contain occupants of the vehicle."

      The suit charges that Toyota "knew or should have known that the subject Prius was defective, unsafe and not crashworthy," and that it sold the vehicle "willfully, recklessly, wantonly and with a reckless disregard for the safety of the American motoring public."

      McCosh says Toyota failed to test its seatbelts adequately to ensure they functioned properly, failed to warn customers of the danger inherent in the Prius's seatbelts and "misrepresent[ed] the safety of the Toyota Prius including the driver's side seatbelt system."

      The suit says that, in addition to medical expenses, McCosh and her husband "have suffered lost wages, disability and the impairment of Jacqueline McCosh's earning power and capacity," along with "a permanent diminution in the ability to enjoy life and life's pleasures." The McCoshes have also experienced "past pain and suffering, mental anguish and...emotional distress," the suit says.

      It's been a rough year for Toyota, which in January recalled millions of cars due to the danger of unintended acceleration, an issue that began drawing attention last fall. The automaker stopped selling cars for nearly a week after announcing the recall, and is now facing hundreds of class action suits relating to the defect, many of which have been consolidated into a single action in a California federal court.

      Along with Toyota, the suit names as defendants Tokai Rika, which designs and manufactures seatbelts for Toyota; and Adam Kaisler, the driver of the car that hit McCosh. The suit charges Toyota and Tokai Rika with negligence, strict liability, breach of warranty, and loss of consortium.

      Although McCosh was wearing her seatbelt at the time of the accident, the suit alleges that the belt failed to tighten to the extent necessary to keep her ...

      Dissatisfaction With Banks Increases Interest In Prepaid Cards

      Mintel finds consumers likely to pursue options to traditional accounts

      By James Limbach

      July 16, 2010
      Consumers' discontent with banks has been obvious for quite some time now and may have reached a tipping point.

      A new report published by market and consumer information concern Mintel finds that consumers might be willing to act on that dissatisfaction and look for alternatives to their traditional checking accounts.

      Unhappiness with banks is legion, and ConsumerAffairs.com has received an earful over the years.

      Aaron of Augusta, GA, says Bank of America continues to come up with new ways to keep you from your money. "No matter what type of check is deposited (this time a Federal Contracting Check under $2000), they held it for 10 days with no exceptions," he writes. "To me this amounts to stealing my money, because I know they receive payment in about two days. This is not the first time they have done this. Nevertheless, I am doing my best to get away from these criminals."

      "CitiBank won't cash it's own checks!" writes Thomas of Oakland, CA."I attempted to cash a CitiBank check a friend wrote to me at the CitiBank branch. After asking me to sign the check and then entering my California driver's license details into the computer, and asking me how I wanted me cash, the teller decided she also needed my fingerprint. When I refused she, then her supervisor, and then the branch manager refused to cash the check."

      An alternative

      In a new Mintel survey, 19 percent of those asked said they would be interested in using prepaid cards to pay bills, rather than a banking account. More importantly, 25 percent of households earning more than $100K per year -- the more profitable and desirable customers for banks -- agreed that they would be interested in using prepaid cards. Their main motivation is to avoid overdraft and/or other types of banking fees.

      "This is significant, because if banks were to lose mass affluent customers, it could have a considerable impact on their bottom lines," says Susan Menke, Ph.D., vice president and behavioral economist at Mintel Comperemedia. "This means that the traditional category of the 'underbanked,' previously characterized by lower-income households and recent immigrants, now has the potential to include individuals with higher incomes who are leaving their banks for less traditional ways of handling their financial transactions."

      Opportunity for prepaid providers

      What are the most popular ways for prepaid providers to offer incentives to attract this new class of customer? According to Mintel, approximately six in 10 people say they would be interested if a rebate or cash-back were offered for using the prepaid card and seven in 10 find purchase discounts at merchants to be an attractive offer.

      "There are a number of trends that appear to be springing out of dissatisfaction with the banking system, and the use of prepaid cards could be indicative of a larger trend -- that customers are becoming more open to using new or unfamiliar methods for conducting their transactions," adds Menke.

      There is some good news for banks, however. Only three percent of survey respondents say they would prefer to have their salary loaded on a prepaid card rather than direct deposit to a bank, cash or a check.

      Dissatisfaction With Banks Increases Interest In Prepaid Cards...

      BMW Recalls 2008-2011 1-Series Models

      BMW is recalling certain 2008-2011 BMW 1-series vehicles. The company said that the seat belt pre-tensioner insulation could ignite.

      The company has not yet provided a remedy or an owner notification schedule.

      Owners may contact BMW at 1-800-525-7417.

      Consumers may contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) at 1-888-327-4236 (TTY: 1-800-424-9153) or at www.safercar.gov.

      BMW Recalls 2008-2011 1-Series Models...

      Harvard Study Sees 'Significant Challenges' For Housing

      Unemployment still a drag on the market, researchers say

      By Mark Huffman

      June 15, 2010
      In the middle of the last decade, Americans' net worth was surging, thanks to escalating home prices. But those days are over, and a new study suggests they won't be back anytime soon.

      In its "State of the Nation's Housing" study, researchers at Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies point to housing affordability as one of the biggest obstacles to a real estate rebound. That might come as a shock to homeowners who have seen the value of their homes plunge 20 percent or more in some markets.

      But even with falling prices, many consumers are finding a home purchase is still beyond their reach, either because they can't qualify for a loan or lack the income to buy a house, even at a depressed price.

      Even as the worst housing market correction in more than 60 years appeared to turn a corner in 2009, the fallout from sharply lower home prices and high unemployment continued.

      "By year's end, about one in seven homeowners owed more on their mortgages than their homes were worth, seriously delinquent loans were at record highs, and foreclosures exceeded two million," the authors write. "Meanwhile, the share of households spending more than half their incomes on housing was poised to reach new heights as incomes slid. The strength of job growth is now key to how quickly loan distress subsides and how fully housing markets recover."

      But unemployment remains stubbornly high. Even the latest job creation numbers show the lion's share of new employment is temporary slots filled by census workers.

      Tax credit

      Improved affordability for first-time homebuyers and a federal first-time buyer tax credit were vital to an early housing rebound, the report found. Indeed, even though tighter lending standards sapped some strength from the market, the increase in sales to first-time buyers drove all the gains in existing home sales in 2009.

      As a result of lower home prices and interest rates, mortgage payments on a median-priced home (assuming a 90 percent loan-to-value ratio) dropped below 20 percent of median household income -- the lowest level on records dating back to 1971.

      The study found conflicting evidence about the direction of real estate values. After sliding sharply for several months, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) purchase price index turned higher in February and March, while the S&P/Case-Shiller index showed steady declines from September 2008 through the end of March 2010.

      "Clear evidence of a home price recovery therefore had yet to emerge," the authors said.

      Until more Americans are working again and incomes are rising, home prices will stay stagnant or go lower still, the study concludes.

      Harvard Study Sees 'Significant Challenges' For Housing...

      Boomers Come Face to Face With Alzheimer's

      The latest 'sandwich generation' encounters dementia in loved ones

      Although there are the Betty Whites of the world – hosting Saturday Night Live at the age of 88 with her wit and split-second timing and even starring in a new sitcom – the harsh reality is that, after the age of 65, and most definitely after the age of 85, dementia becomes more and more likely.

      What used to be called senility, dementia comes in many forms. The most common, representing 60-80% of all dementias, is Alzheimer’s. It is a progressive and degenerative disease that causes mental deterioration such as memory loss and disorientation. Although there are drugs that can slow its progression, especially if taken in the earliest stages, it is not reversible or curable.

      The diabolical truth about Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia is that they turn the later years of our aging, which should be a time to remember, reflect, and enjoy life to its fullest, into a time of confusion, memory loss, and the decline of other cognitive functions.

      Today we'll look at the most common dementias including vascular dementia, which, unlike Alzheimer’s, may be reversible by proper management of cardiovascular risk factors, described below, as well as lifestyle and diet changes. We’ll explore how to get an accurate diagnosis if you suspect your loved one (or you) has dementia so treatment can begin as soon as possible, and if you are caring for a loved one with dementia, how you can be most helpful to your loved one and to yourself.

      Common Types of Dementia

      Alzheimer’s, the most common type of dementia according to the Alzheimer’s Association, is a neurological degenerative disease; it is estimated to be present in one in ten persons over the age of 65 and as many as 50% of those over the age of 85. It is a progressive degenerative disease that leads to the loss of neurons in the brain. Its symptoms include impairment in judgment, memory, reasoning, and decision-making.

      As the disease progresses, it can lead to the inability to perform basic everyday and self-care functions such as feeding, dressing or bathing oneself; becoming more socially isolated, and depression, may also occur. It is the 7th cause of death. (Early-onset dementia, before the age of 60, is relatively rare, but it does occur. See “Boomer Love.”

      Vascular dementia, the second most common type of dementia, occurs when the blood vessels to the brain are not supplying enough blood flow, causing a decline in memory and cognitive ability. According to neurologist Dr. Ralph Sacco, president-elect of the American Heart Association, there are multiple risk factors in vascular dementia; some, fortunately, are caused by lifestyle choices and, if those choices change, the risk factors can be reduced or eliminated.

      Those risk factors include: high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and heart disease. Other lifestyle factors Boomers should be aware of as causes of vascular dementia include smoking, inactivity, and drinking too much alcohol, and a poor diet.

      As Dr. Sacco says, “Many of the things that cause trouble to the heart also cause trouble to the arteries to the brain. To improve brain function and heart function, focus on healthy eating and living, and prevent high blood pressure.”

      Mixed Dementia is dementia that is caused by two medical conditions, most frequently Alzheimer’s and Vascular Dementia.

      Lewy Body Dementia (LBD) is the overall term for two types of dementia: dementia with Lewy Bodies and Parkinson’s Disease Dementia. In the United States, the Lewy Body Dementia Association estimates that there are 1.3 million individuals with this form of dementia, but it is often misdiagnosed and grouped together with other types of dementia.

      What distinguishes Lewy Body Dementia is that there are gait (walking) and sleeping issues as well as dementia and cognitive changes. According to the Lewy Body Dementia Association, the illness is caused by abnormal protein deposits that disrupt the brain’s normal functioning, depleting the brain chemical acetylcholine, causing a disruption in perception, memory, thought processes, and behavior. Again, there are drugs that can slow the progression but not stop it.

      Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) is defined as the cognitive and memory impairment that occurs in older individuals, estimated by the Alzheimer’s Association to occur in 10-20 percent of those aged 65 and up. It is usually associated with aging, such as misplacing the car keys or forgetting someone’s name. It can also be a precursor to Alzheimer’s, or it can stay at the same level, or someone’s behavior can even return to normal. A study by the Center for Gerontology at Virginia Tech, based on interviews with 99 families where one member had MCI, provides a useful guide of “Strategies to Compensate for Memory Loss” such as making daily to-do lists and keeping important papers and bills in a place where it is visible rather than filed away.

      Additional dementias, although rarer than those listed and described above, include Frontotemporal Dementia, including Pick’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jacob Dementia (CJD), Huntington’s Disease, Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH), and Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome.

      Diagnosing Dementia

      Jacqueline Marcell is the author of “Elder Rage, or Take My Father… Please! How to Survive Caring for Aging Parents ,” and a radio host. She says, “Dementia starts very subtly and very intermittently, gradually comes and goes for many years, so most of the time the loved one appears normal. The subtle signs are often missed unless you are aware of what to look for and you are with the person all the time.” (Marcell gave up her 15-year career as a television executive to devote herself to helping other caregivers based on her personal experiences caring for her elderly parents, who both had Alzheimer’s and who were not properly diagnosed with the disease for over a year.)

      Dr. Todd Semla, PharmD, pharmacist and past president of the American Geriatrics Society (AGS), recommends getting your elderly parents evaluated, “particularly if you’re concerned about driving and safety and leaving the stove on.”

      If you think your loved one is showing signs of dementia, go with him or her to your family physician who may also make a referral a geriatrician, a neurologist, or a center for aging for further testing.

      In “How to Keep Your Brain in Shape,” there are ten warning signs of Alzheimer’s, according to the University of South Florida’s Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute. They include difficulties with language, remembering where things are, personality, mood, or behavior changes; time and place disorientation; and difficult performing everyday tasks. Other dementias, like Lewy Body Dementia, also have symptoms that resemble Parkinson’s disease including changes in gait such as shuffling, walking stiffly, a proneness to falling, or tremors. http://www.lbda.org The Lewy Body Dementia Association points out that another sign of the disease is REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD) which includes moving, gesturing, or speaking during sleep.

      Dementia is sometimes diagnosed through a Mini Mental or a Mini Mental State Evaluation (MMSE). This is a test that asks a series of questions to evaluate someone’s cognitive ability and tries to quantify any brain function losses. The test is scored with a maximum of 30 points; anything below 20 signals cognitive deficiencies. Questions include: “What is today’s date?” “What city are we in?” When three words are said, the person being tested is asked to repeat all three words. Other parts of the test include asking the person to write a sentence as well as to read the words on a card.

      Another test is the Mini-Cog, a three-minute test that asks someone to recall three items as well as to draw a clock.

      CT (or CAT) scans, MRIs, and PET Scans are imaging procedures that make it possible to see changes occurring in the brain, making it possible to arrive at an earlier diagnosis of Alzheimer’s rather than waiting until behavioral changes occur. The would allow for earlier intervention, medications, treatment and lifestyle decisions such as where to live. (See “Diagnosing Alzheimer’s Early: Neurologists, Imaging Scientists Use Medical Physics to Spot Disease in Blood Vessels").


      The medicines used to treat Alzheimer’s disease include the cholinesterase inhibitors (donepezil, rivastigmine, and galantamine) and the NMDA antagonist, memantine. (Some of the names of popular commercial versions of these medications are Aricept®, Excelon®, Razadyne®, and Namenda®)Although none of these drugs can cure Alzheimer’s, studies have found that in some patients, they may improve some of the memory issues.

      But do the drugs really help? As geriatric pharmacist Dr. Todd Semla says: “I tell people that you’ll find that one third will have a response that will be noticeable, another third will not tolerate the medication, and another third, and the drugs won’t appear to have done anything, adversely or beneficially.”

      You and your loved one with dementia will have to work closely with a physician or neurologist to figure out which drugs, the proper dosage and in what combination will work best with whatever type of dementia your loved one has. Monitor the person taking the drugs for any possible side effects such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea that might necessitate either adjusting the dosage or switching to another medication.

      Other treatments include physical therapy for those with dementia related to Parkinson’s or Lewy Body Disease as well as seeing a social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist for the depression that often accompanies dementia.

      Dealing with a loved one with dementia

      Usually the memory changes do not happen overnight so enjoy your parent or loved one with dementia the way he or she is at whatever stage he or she is at now. Sadly, in most cases, it is only going to get worse. Try to avoid obsessing about your parent not remembering what day of the week it is if he or she still remembers who you are. That could change as their ability to recall who people are could be altered dramatically in a month, a year, or three years.

      One key question everyone dealing with a loved one with dementia wants to know is whether or not they should tell them something they think is untrue. I found a variety of opinions on this.

      Jacqueline Marcell, whose parents had dementia, found it worked best for all of them if she went along with their view of things such as allowing her parent to believe that a certain relative was still alive because to tell them that she was not would be upsetting.

      But as Dr. Joe Verghese, a geriatrician specializing in neurology, cognition and motor aging, emphasizes, it depends on the patient. Dr. Verghese, says that “in general, it’s okay to try and correct the patient’s mistaken perception if they can take it. I would do it gently and to give clues about why that can’t be the case and try to get them to realize it.”

      You can also help your loved one with their memory challenges by creating memory “triggers.” I recently read to my mother several letters that my late father had written to her back in 1943 and 1944. They were separated because he was serving as a captain in the Army in World War II. My mother had not heard those letters in 67 years and she was genuinely moved by what my father wrote. It helped make my late father, who died 14 years ago of a brain tumor and with whom my mother was happily married for 54 years, a stronger memory for her. She found it comforting to hear those letters because it reminded her in a concrete way of how much he loved her.

      One of the most difficult types of dementia-related situations to cope with is if the dementia is accompanied with behavioral problems.

      Much to the shock and dismay of those caring for a parent who used to be sweet and passive, if they have dementia with behavior issues, they can suddenly become aggressive and even verbally or physically abusive. As hard as it is, the only way to deal with these sudden outbursts is to avoid taking them personally.

      Comfort yourself, if possible, with the realization that “it’s the disease” talking. You should also get expert advice about the safest environment for your loved one with dementia with behavior problems to be in. You want to make sure he or she is not a danger to himself or herself or to others, including you.

      In addition to dealing with the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of your loved one’s dementia, remember that you also have to attend to custodial and legal issues. Who will take care of such everyday tasks as paying bills, as well as other caregiver and legal concerns? Registered nurse and lawyer Carolyn L. Rosenblatt discusses these issues in her book “The Boomer’s Guide to Aging Parents: The Complete Guide.” (See also: “Role Reversal for Boomers: Caring for Your Aging Parents.”)

      Whether your loved one with dementia lives with you, independently, in an assisted living situation, a nursing home, or a dementia group home, you may find that you need support for yourself. It may help to join a support group with other caregivers with loved ones who have dementia. This way you will be able to meet other caregivers who have parents at different stages in the disease. Of course, if your parent is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, or Lewy Body Dementia, and you are still able to share and do things together, you might find it more disconcerting than comforting to hear about those who can no longer recognize their loved ones. A support group should be educational as well as emotionally beneficial; you may want to try out several groups till you find one that is a comfortable fit.

      Taking care of the caregiver

      Caring for someone with dementia can be very stressful and demanding so remember to take care of you. Reach out to your friends and family. Keep up with your own healthcare appointments even though you may be sick of going to doctors because you may be going on so many appointments with your aging parent. But that has nothing to do with taking care of your own physical and dental health. As the Family Caregiver Alliance points out in, “Taking Care of You: Self-Care for Family Caregivers,” “If you are a baby boomer who has assumed a caregiver role for your parents while simultaneously juggling work and raising adolescent children, you face an increased risk for depression, chronic illness and a possible decline in quality of life.”

      If your parent or loved one has any kind of irreversible dementia, be prepared that the day may come when you are not recognized. It will be a traumatic moment for you. This is the part of dementia that is so frustrating and challenging to everyone touched by it. It is also unpredictable. There can be moments of great clarity and times when the dementia seems to have disappeared or it can progress so that the past is completely erased. So enjoy each moment that you do have together now for you truly do not know how long that clarity, that ability to share and even to remember together, will last.

      What boomers can do to reduce their chances of dementia

      Neurologist Sacco points out that researchers are finding out that even some of the dementias that we used to think were totally related to aging and not preventable, are actually impacted by our lifestyle. There are changes we can make to promote a healthy brain that may slow down and possibly even reduce or eliminate the development of dementia including Alzheimer’s. As Dr. Sacco notes, “We don’t just want a long life, we all want a healthy one.”

      As noted in “How to Keep Your Brain in Shape” we have learned that the same behaviors that lead to heart health (See “Heart Health for Boomers,”) impact on brain health and reduce the risk of getting vascular dementia.

      If you find yourself falling into the Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) category of dementia disorders, there are coping strategies you can implement to offset your memory loss. Rehearse the names of people you will be seeing again at a social or business function. That will help cut down on the likelihood of going blank under pressure. Make sure you put all key appointments in one central appointment book. And consult with a physician to see if there are any reversible causes to your MCI and if any of the medications used to treat Alzheimer’s should be prescribed.

      Keep up on the research and literature about Alzheimer’s and dementia. New studies and drug trials hold out much more hope for the Boomer generation in slowing down, or reversing, these diseases. And remember, there are steps you can take now to slow mental deterioration, perhaps long enough for science to one day find a cure.



      Articles and Reports


      • Michael C. Campbell, “When Mom and Dad Need Help.” Painesville, OH: Iffenwen Publishing Company, 2010. (See the section on Alzheimer’s/Dementia Care Communities in Chapter Three, “What Types of Housing and Care Options are Available?”)
      • Hugh Delehanty and Elinor Ginzler. Caring For Your Parents: The Complete AARP Guide. New York: Sterling Publishing, 2006. (See Chapter 5, “The Brain.”)

      Boomers Come Face to Face With Alzheimer's...

      Scientists See Food Chain Dangers in Oil, Dispersants

      BP spill damage not limited to Gulf creatures; humans at risk too

      Jeff Phillips, Environmental Contaminants Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, rescues a Brown Pelican from the Barataria Bay in Grand Isle, La., June 4, 2010. State and federal wildlife services pulled approximately 60 oil-covered Brown Pelicans in two days from the Barataria Bay area. (FWS Photo)Wildlife biologist Doug Inkley is haunted by memories of the thousands of dead jellyfish he saw floating in thick black oil-tainted water during his recent trip to the Gulf of Mexico.

      But the senior scientist with the National Wildlife Federation(NWF) is just as frightened about the images no one has yet seen from BPs catastrophic oil spill, which is spewing thousands of gallons of oil into the Gulf each day.

      Hes worried about the damage the oil -- and the dispersants used to break it down -- are doing to the fragile marine life below the surface.

      That is a rich marine community filled with deep water coral reefs, squid, fish, mussels, crabs, and shrimp, said Inkley, who spent a week in Venice, Louisiana, surveying the region. The vast majority of the impact is on those marine species that are out of sight. But they should not be out of mind.

      Oil is toxic and it affects marine life, he added. It gets in the gills of fish and causes breathing difficulties. And it no doubt is having an impact on plankton. One needs to be concerned about the marine ecosystem and the food chain effects from this.

      Compounding this environmental nightmare, he said, are the more than one million gallons of dispersants BP has released into the fertile fishing water.

      BP, with the permission of our government, is adding dispersants to the oil at a subsea depth of 5,000 feet, Inkley said. That is causing the oil to break up and be more widely dispersed. There are not as many oil slicks forming on the surface, which means potentially less damage to the birds. But youre trading one type of damage for another type of damage.

      Those dispersants contain chemicals. And chemicals can kill fish and wildlife. If they dont kill them, they can impair their ability to reproduce.

      A coalition of more than 250 environmental and public health officials echoed many of Inkleys concerns. The Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition has urged Congress to add provisions that ensure the safety of these dispersants in a bill pending on Capitol Hill to overhaul the countrys antiquated law that governs toxic chemicals.

      Under the 34-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the government doesnt require companies that make dispersants to disclose the chemicals in their products. The law also doesnt mandate companies to sufficiently test products to ensure their safety, the coalition said.

      'Rolling the dice'

      We are rolling the dice with the health of workers and marine life in the Gulf by using dispersants that we know very little about, said Andy Igrejas, the coalitions director.

      The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires two short-term tests of acute toxicity on fish and shrimp for dispersants to be used in any quantities, he and coalition members said. There is also limited short-term data on the individual ingredients used in the dispersants and virtually no data on toxicity to surface- or bottom-dwelling organisms, land animals and plants, or birds.

      The limited testing that was conducted (on the dispersants) indicates they are neither the least toxic nor the most effective among available alternatives, the coalition wrote in a statement released a few days ago. In addition, under current law the dispersant ingredients are allowed to remain secret despite their use in unprecedented quantities, and in ways never anticipated by regulators.

      As a result of these failures, the health of the workers in the Gulf and the ocean itself may face added threats on top of those posed by the leaking oil.

      A doctor who recently visited the Gulf confirmed the fishermen hired by BP to help with the clean-up effort are scared about the health risk they may face from exposure to the dispersants and the oil.

      Theyre talking about their health symptoms and their concerns about the oil spill and the dispersants, said Dr. Gina Solomon, senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. Theyre smelling odors. Theyre feeling sick and they have particular concerns about the dispersants because there are so many unknowns about them.

      I wish I could reassure them that its okay, but without more data on the environmental and health effects of these chemicals, its tough to make science-based determinations of safety.

      The company initially declined to release the chemicals in the 1.1 million gallons of Corexit dispersants used in the Gulf because of proprietary reasons, coalition members said.

      Some information was provided about them (last week), but theres not enough information on effects of those chemical because the law didnt require them to be fully tested, Solomon said.

      Treatment delayed

      The fishermen also delayed seeking medical treatment because they were afraid BP would fire them if they voiced any concerns, said a chemist and community activist who has helped workers in the Gulf.

      We were having fishermen going out dealing with the oil and the dispersants and they were having severe health impacts, said Wilma Subra of New Iberia, Louisiana. But most of the chemicals (in the dispersants) were proprietary and we didnt have a good idea on the components and the potential health impact. Many of the fishers were also scared to speak out when they had health impacts because they were led to believe that BP would fire them.

      Their wives spoke up for them.

      And they received the message that if you dont be quiet, BP will fire you, Subra said. In late May, when the workers were brought in to the hospital. Thats when the proprietary issue came up.

      The medical staff didnt know what they were exposed to because they didnt have a list of the chemicals in the dispersants, she added. EPA released what chemicals are in the dispersants (last week), but before that, the people who went for medical assistance were not able to get treatment because the doctors didnt know the chemicals they were exposed to.

      This problem illustrates why its critical for companies to disclose the toxins in their products, Subra and other members of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families Coalition said.

      This (spill) has impacted a large number of fishing communities, Subra said. And this information is desperately needed immediately. Not a month after an event occurs.

      But the toll the apocalyptic spill -- the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history -- is having on humans is only part of this tragic story, scientists say. Marine and wildlife in the region will be impacted by the oil and toxic dispersants for years maybe even decades.

      Biologist Richard Murphy with the Jean-Michel Cousteaus Ocean Futures Society, who has recently gone on dives in the oil-laden Gulf waters, said marine life is especially at risk.

      When I see the birds and the horrible images that are now coming out from the Gulf on whats happening at the surface, I think wait a minute, whats happening below the surface? said Murphy, Ph.D., the societys director of Science and Education. We ought to pay attention to those chemicals and the impact theyre having on our marine environment.

      Polluted womb

      Whats happening below the surface may be far more important than the images were seeing at the surface. To illustrate his point, Murphy compared Mother Earth and her waters to a woman and her unborn child. If you think of about a human embryo in an aquatic medium, the place has to be absolutely clean and pristine environment, he said. Now think about the ocean. That is the womb of the planet for these green organisms that are now spawning and reproducing.

      And now that womb is polluted with oil and toxic chemicals.

      The ripple effects from all this contamination will likely spread to our entire food chain, Murphy said, And those implications are staggering.

      Its beyond scary, he said. All organisms make up our food chain and the food we harvest is being exposed to an incredible number of different chemicals.

      NWFs biologist Inkley shares those fears.

      During his recent trip to Louisiana, he spent time on the water and in the air to get a firsthand look at the damage from the oil that has poured into the Gulf since the Deepwater Horizon explosion on April 20. One image struck a chilling chord with him.

      Im sitting on the Gulf, 50 miles from the spill site, and there is half-inch thick layer of sticky black and brown oil, like it just came out of the ground, with thousands of dead jelly fish, he recalled. The smell was overwhelming and I just dont know how any living creature could survive swimming in it. But what I saw is just the tip of the iceberg. The impact from all this will last for years, if not decades.

      There are other pictures the scientist can't forget too.

      Theyre photographic evidence of the pain and suffering this crisis has already inflicted on wildlife in the area,

      Theyre the pictures of helpless pelicans mired in oil.

      Thats horrifying, Inkley said. It shows how helpless all life is in that area and how vulnerable it is to this spill. Right now is nesting season for brown pelicans, roseate spoonbills, and a host of other birds. Knowing that it only takes a drop or two of oil to kill a developing chick in an egg, I could not help but feel a great sense of loss as I watched birds return to their nests after diving for food in the oily waters of the Gulf.

      Asked to assess BPs response to this environmental crisis, Inkley called it inappropriate.

      The effort I saw was severely lacking given that I saw one skimmer operating in four days, he told us. There are not enough skimmers or boom to protect the wetlands. And we (the NWF) dont believe that BP should be left in charge of accessing the damage. They have a vested interest in minimizing the damage.

      The media and the public should also be allowed to see the extent of the damage from this disastrous spill, which has oozed oil into the Gulf for more than 55 days. Reporters have not been allowed to take pictures in certain areas and people have been pushed off beaches, Inkley said. Something is wrong.

      I believe BP has been totally inappropriate in its actions responding to this spill. Theyve withheld information. They claim theyre transparent, but their transparency has an opaque screen.

      Heroic volunteers

      In the midst of this environmental tragedy, however, Inkley said there are many heroic deeds underway by the volunteers helping the sick and injured wildlife in the region.

      When you have an animal come in that is covered with oil, there is much more involved than simply cleaning it, he said. The people working in the area have specialized training in handling and treating wildlife. They wash them off and attend to their other needs, like fixing any broken bones. Its a complicated process with dedicated people.

      This is important work, especially with the endangered populations, he added. Thats the case with all five types of sea turtles in that area. All are threatened or endangered. And some of these sea turtles dont mature until they are a couple of decades old. If we lose the adults and take them out of the population it will have an effect for yearsif not decades.

      But where do you release the animals once theyre clean and healthy?

      Their nests and breeding grounds are now tainted with oil and toxic chemicals.

      If this (spill) keeps spreading, I dont know where youre going to re-release them, Inkley said. Birds have a strong tendency to return to that (nesting) area. Sea turtles have a tendency to go back to their same nesting beach. So even if we get an animal rehabilitated, it may get into trouble again. That is why its so important to get this oil spill stopped and stopped now.

      Inkley also said its important to start work now on long-term restoration plans for the Gulf.

      And we need to look at a clean energy future and end our dependency on carbon-based fuels, he said. Youve never heard of a wind turbine exploding. There are huge costs associated with our dependency on oil and gas, and environmental disasters are no longer a hidden cost.

      The Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition said revamping the TSCA reform bill -- with provisions that address the safety of dispersants --- will also help protect the environment, wildlife, and marine life.

      The coalition said those provisions should include:

      Limiting Trade Secrets: Under the current law, dispersant manufacturers routinely claim the chemicals and product ingredients are confidential business information. The coalition wants the new law to give the EPA authority to force companies to disclose the chemicals in the dispersants and their concentrations -- when the publics interest exceeds private interests. Inkley supports this provision. If theyre dumping these dispersants into our nations waters we have the right to know whats in them.

      Testing Long-term Effects: Only a few short-term aquatic toxicity tests of dispersants are now required and individual ingredients are rarely subject to any mandated testing, the coalition said. The new law must require testing sufficient to identify long- as well as short-term effects on the marine environment, wildlife, workers, and local residents, the coalition said;

      Proof of Safety: The EPA is currently not required to assess the safety of dispersants or their ingredients. The coalition said the new law must place the burden of proof on the dispersant makers to demonstrate the safety of their products;

      Sufficient Regulatory Authority: The EPA must now prove unreasonable risk in order to restrict or control the use of dispersant ingredients. The coalition wants the new laws to give the EPA authority to disallow use of any dispersant that fails to meet safety requirements, and to immediately halt or alter dispersant use where on-the-ground conditions warrant. Meanwhile, Inkley said he will continue to monitor the damage in the Gulf and plans to head back to the region soon.

      How to help

      What about those who cant travel to the region now, but still want to help the animals and people impacted by this spill?

      They can assist with the recovery and clean-up effort, Inkley said, by:

      Making a donation to the National Wildlife Federation. Consumers can donate online or by texting the word Wildlife to 20222 to contribute $10. Some school classes are holding bake sales and rising money for us that we will put to good use, Inkley said. We have established a special fund for Gulf Coast Restoration.

      Volunteer with the organizations Gulf Coast Surveillance team. But dont go down on your own, Inkley said.Go down when its necessary.

      Contact your elected officials. Call up Congress and tell them we need a clean energy future, Inkley said. "It will save future animals from horrific consequences.

      Inkley said hes not sure when BP will stop the leak.

      And every day the oil continues to gush into the Gulf and the toxic dispersants continue to be used solidify his fears that the wildlife, marine life and people in the region will be impacted for years to come.

      I hope you can call me in five years and say: Dr. Inkley, you were wrong. The Gulf is fine. I would love to be wrong. But I dont think I am. I think we will be seeing an impaired ecosystem with wildlife populations below their levels for years, maybe even decades. And it will be a long time before the people recover their livelihoods.

      Scientists See Food Chain Dangers in Oil, Dispersants...

      Canadian Chocolate Suit Inches Toward Settlement

      Action alleged price-fixing among top candy manufacturers

      By Jon Hood

      June 14, 2010
      Canada gets an occasional jealous stare from its neighbors to the south for its comprehensive health care system and clean city streets, but soon Canadians might really have something to brag about: free chocolate.

      A class action suit brought against several chocolate companies is potentially nearing its completion, as the Supreme Court of British Columbia ruled on Friday that a proposed settlement could proceed. The suit, filed in 2008, claims the Canadian arms of several chocolate manufacturers -- including Nestle, Hershey, Mars, and Cadbury Adams -- colluded to artificially inflate the price of such candy staples as M&Ms, Oh Henry!, Smarties, and Caramilk bars.

      The suit portrays the defendants as dark underlords of the candy world, alleging that representatives from each company secretly met to discuss the conspiracy, and that the companies withheld their products from stores that sold candy at lower-than-recommended prices.

      The settlement offer was made solely by Cadbury Adams, which said it would be willing to pay $5.7 million to extricate itself from the proceedings. Cadbury also agreed to provide potentially valuable information about the other three defendant companies. None of those companies is on board with the offer, and Hershey has announced that it is appealing the judge's decision to let the settlement go forward.

      Still, attorneys for the plaintiffs are optimistic.

      "We were able to negotiate a very favorable settlement," said Luciana Brasil, an attorney involved in the proceedings. "If we're able to ultimately resolve all the claims against the other parties, then all [plaintiffs] are going to potentially benefit. Whether that will mean a direct financial benefit or some other kind of benefit, we don't know."

      But Charles Wright, another lawyer involved in the suit, said the average consumer has lost so little money in the alleged scheme that he wouldn't even be entitled to a single candy bar.

      "It's going to take a lot of chocolate bars to make the claim big enough to make it worth anybody's while to evaluate it individually," Wright said.

      The suit, which grew out of an investigation by Canada's Competition Bureau, was brought on behalf of any person who bought one of the subject products in Canada between 2001 and 2008.

      Canadian Chocolate Suit Inches Toward Settlement...

      When It Comes to Obesity, It's Location, Location, Location

      Five socioeconomic factors account for much of the variability in childhood obesity rates

      Where children live may have a lot to do with their risk of becoming obese, according to a new study by the Seattle Children's Research Institute.

      Researchers studied kids living in King County, Washington and found obesity most common in those living in neighborhoods with the least-educated females, most single-parent households, lowest median household income, highest proportion of non-white residents, and fewest homes owned.

      Together, these five socioeconomic factors accounted for 24 percent of the variability in childhood obesity rates across neighborhoods.

      "Children are raised not only at home but also in their community," said lead author H. Mollie Greves Grow, MD MPH, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the UW, Seattle Children's, and Harborview Medical Center.

      Everybody's problem

      Disadvantaged neighborhoods may present many obstacles for children's weight, such as less access to healthy foods and more unhealthy fast-food outlets, the authors said. They also often lack safe places for children to play outdoors.

      "Childhood obesity is not just a family problem, but a larger community and societal problem," Grow said. "A disadvantaged environment can set families up for ill health, and it's unfair to blame them for not taking enough 'personal responsibility' to manage their weight. We don't yet know all of the factors that may create disadvantage, but we know it is present and associated with higher obesity."

      The research team collected anonymous, "de-identified" electronic medical record information on 8,616 children age 6-18 receiving care at Group Health Cooperative-and then correlated these data to the social and economic characteristics of Seattle-area census tracts.

      Cumulative effect

      "We were a little surprised that each of the census tract factors we included appeared to contribute, in a slightly different way, to the likelihood of childhood obesity," Grow said.

      The likelihood of childhood obesity rose by 17 percent to 24 percent for each of three measures of neighborhood social disadvantage: each 10 percent decrease in female education and two-parent households, and each $10,000 decline in household income. Effects related to race and homeownership were smaller but still statistically significant. Overall, King County's demographics resemble those of other urban U.S. areas.

      "But King County has one of the strongest public health efforts, a relatively walkable environment, and efforts to expand affordable access to healthy, fresh foods," said Grow.

      So she and her colleagues expect the links between childhood obesity and neighborhood disadvantage may be even more pronounced elsewhere.

      When It Comes to Obesity, It's Location, Location, Location...

      Rent-Buy Back Scams On the Rise

      Variation of foreclosure rescue gains momentum

      By Mark Huffman

      June 14, 2010
      The number of foreclosures remains near record levels causing an increasing number of desperate homeowners to grasp at straws. All too often, these straws are nothing more than cruel scams.

      A growing trend in hard hit areas like Florida, California and Nevada is the "rent-buy back" scheme. To someone about to lose his home to foreclosure, it sounds heaven-sent.

      A private investor appears and offers to take title to the property, then rent it back to the "owner" for about half of what the mortgage payment is. Under the premise of the deal, the investor will take over the payments to the lender to prevent the foreclosure and, at some point in the future, will sell the property back to the original owner.

      In fact, the above scenario is just one of the so-called foreclosure rescue tactics. Since the foreclosure rescue business has deservedly gotten such a bad reputation lately, the scammer presents it under the guise of a legitimate business investment.

      But how could it possibly be that? The "investor" is going to make the full mortgage payment but collect only half that amount in rent? What kind of business deal is that?

      You can be assured that the "investor" has no intention of paying your lender a dime, but most assuredly will deposit your rent check each and every month.

      You lose

      You may also be told that surrendering the title will permit a borrower with a better credit rating to secure new financing -- and prevent the loss of the home. But the terms of these deals usually are so burdensome that buying back your home becomes impossible.

      You lose the home, and the scammer walks off with all or most of your home's equity. Worse yet, when the new borrower defaults on the loan, you're evicted. In a variation, the scam artist raises the rent over time to the point that the former homeowner can't afford it. After missing several rent payments, the renter -- the former homeowner -- is evicted, leaving the "investor" free to sell the house.


      In a similar equity-skimming situation, the scammer offers to find a buyer for your home, but only if you sign over the deed and move out. The scam artist promises to pay you a portion of the profit when the home sells.

      Once you transfer the deed, the scam artist simply rents out the home and pockets the proceeds while your lender proceeds with the foreclosure. In the end, you lose your home -- and you're still responsible for the unpaid mortgage. That's because transferring the deed does nothing to transfer your mortgage obligation.

      Whether they call it foreclosure rescue or a business investment, scammers use half-truths and outright lies to sell services that promise relief and then fail to deliver.

      Rent-Buy Back Scams On the Rise...

      After Injury, Uninsured More Likely to Die

      Researchers say they are surprised by results of study

      June 14, 2010
      In a typical hospital emergency room, patients are treated for a variety of trauma, with some surviving and some dying.

      A new study suggests having health insurance increases the odds a trauma patient will remain among the living.

      The University of Buffalo study analyzed 193,804 patients from 649 facilities who suffered gunshot wounds or auto accident injuries. Patients covered by any of the insurance plans studied -- Medicaid, Medicare, private and managed care organizations such as HMOs -- had better mortality rates for all injuries than persons without insurance, the analysis showed.

      Dietrich Jehle, MD, UB professor of emergency medicine and first author on the study, says these findings suggest the causes of this difference are many and probably are not based just on quality of care.

      "Generally we don't know a trauma patient's insurance status when we treat them initially in the emergency department, which makes us ask if there are differences in these populations other than the delivery of care," Jehle said. "This finding was a little surprising."

      Both race and insurance status are independent predictors of mortality rates for trauma outcomes, the researchers found, and of the two, insurance status, specifically lack of coverage, is the most significant.

      "This is not unexpected, since uninsured adult patients in general have a 25 percent greater morality rate than insured adults for all medical conditions," he said.

      Several possible factors

      Lack of insurance could influence mortality in a number of ways, said Jehle. With no way to pay for care, people may delay getting treatment. Those without insurance frequently are from ethnic groups who face language or literacy problems, and may be afraid to go to a hospital.

      Other factors could include differences in risk-taking behaviors. Studies have shown a relationship between not wearing seat belts and lack of health insurance, and that the uninsured are likely to drive older, less safe vehicles.

      In addition, says Jehle, people without insurance have poorer health status in general, which would lessen their ability to survive a traumatic injury, and they often are treated differently.

      "Research shows that, for other than trauma injuries, the uninsured may actually receive less aggressive treatment and fewer diagnostic procedures," he said. He adds that universal health coverage could change these statistics.

      "For instance, there would be no need for patients to delay treatment with universal health coverage, and such coverage could improve the overall health status of injury victims and increase their survival rates," he said.

      The study data were extracted from the National Trauma Data Bank for 2001-05. The researchers concentrated on patients between the ages of 18 and 30 to eliminate those more likely to have chronic health conditions, leaving 191,666 patients in the analysis with complete data, including 150,332 blunt trauma patients and 41,334 penetrating trauma patients.

      After Injury, Uninsured More Likely to Die...

      Texan Agrees To Halt Unauthorized Sales of Prescription Drugs, Devices

      Owner offered prescription products, including Botox-like drugs, for sale online

      June 14, 2010
      The state of Texas has wrapped up its case against a woman who unlawfully marketed and sold prescription drugs, including instructions for botulinum toxin injections, over the Internet.

      State investigators say Laurie D'Alleva and her Mansfield-based businesses, Discount Medspa and Ontario Medspa, improperly marketed cosmetic enhancement prescription devices and prescription drugs over the Internet. She also provided links to video instructions for "do-it-yourself" injections of botulinum toxin.

      To resolve the state's enforcement action, D'Alleva agreed to pay the state $125,000 in civil penalties, attorneys' fees and the Texas Department of State Health Services' investigative costs.

      The drugs and devices marketed by D'Alleva are available only to purchasers who have prescriptions from licensed medical professionals. Thus, she improperly made those products available to people without requiring prescriptions. Further, she did so without licenses to dispense, distribute or sell prescription products, as required by state law.

      Variety of products

      Products that D'Alleva offered for sale included: Dysport and "Freeze," which both contain botulinum toxin; several prescription saline solutions and creams; an anti-depressant to lift libido; the human chorionic gonadotropin hormone for weight loss; and the prescription device Restylane for face augmentation.

      Court documents filed by the state indicate that an undercover investigator purchased a "Newbie Starter Kit," which contained the prescription Restylane in a filled syringe, a 50-unit Freeze product containing purified neurotoxins, one package of Bacitracin, empty syringes and needles, and other pharmaceuticals.

      Multiple charges

      D'Alleva and her businesses are charged with multiple violations of the Texas Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act and the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. According to investigators, the defendant falsely -- and unlawfully -- claimed that prescription-only products were available to all purchasers without restrictions.

      Further, although D'Alleva promoted her membership with an organization called the Texas Medical Council -- which she said granted her the authority to sell prescription-only products -- no such organization actually exists.

      Texan Agrees To Halt Unauthorized Sales of Prescription Drugs, Devices...

      City Governments Buying Less Bottled Water

      Move both saves money and promotes quality of tap water

      With many municipal governments strapped for cash and forced to make deep budget cuts, many are targeting purchases of bottled water.

      The U.S. Conference of Mayors has released the preliminary findings from a national survey demonstrating that more and more cities are phasing out bottled water from city budgets. But there appears to be more to this trend that just saving money.

      "These actions are not just about fiscal responsibility, they are about civic pride and protecting common resources," said Leslie Samuelrich, Corporate Accountability International Chief of Staff. "Spending taxpayer dollars on bottled water sends the wrong message about our nation's high quality tap water. It is also entirely wasteful to spend scarce public dollars on such a non-essential use of our most essential public resource."

      These initial findings come on the heels of an executive order by Colorado Governor Bill Ritter cutting state spending on the bottle. Four states, including New York, Illinois, and Virginia, have now taken such action.

      The survey was prompted by an earlier resolution encouraging cities to phase out bottled water spending. Up to 40 percent of bottled water, in fact, comes from the same source as the tap. Bottled water is also far less regulated. Yet bottled water marketing has been so effective that many U.S. cities responsible for delivering tap water to the public have been spending millions each year on the bottle -- even as public water systems face a $22 billion annual shortfall.

      The survey found that out of 101 cities responding:

      &#149 72 percent have considered eliminating or reducing bottled water purchases within city facilities;

      &#149 45 percent sited "promoting public water" as the reason for taking action; and

      &#149 44 percent have taken action to phase out city purchases and use of bottled water.


      There's also a public health issue. Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical found in plastic water bottles, leaches from the bottle and ends up in the urine of people who drink from them, say researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health.

      In a report last year, the researchers found that study participants who drank for a week from polycarbonate bottles, the popular, hard-plastic drinking bottles and baby bottles, showed a two-thirds increase of BPA in their urine of the chemical.

      Exposure to BPA, used in the manufacture of polycarbonate and other plastics, has been shown to interfere with reproductive development in animals and has been linked with cardiovascular disease and diabetes in humans, the researchers said.

      U.S. Conference of Mayors staff has said it will continue to gather responses from its membership in the coming weeks to capture a fuller picture of city action on this issue.

      For the last four years Corporate Accountability International's national education and action campaign, Think Outside the Bottle, has worked with public officials, communities of faith, campus administrators, small businesses, and individuals to support public water systems and call on the bottled water industry to honor local control of water and be more transparent about its labeling and water quality.

      City Governments Buying Less Bottled Water...

      Professor Promoted People to People Junket Without University Approval

      Latest gaffe by for-profit promoters hawking 'educational' travel

      A University of Colorado professor is under fire for lending her name and the universitys letterhead -- without authorization -- to recruit participants for an upcoming People to People trip to South Africa.

      The solicitation has also irked a Texas couple, who say they received one of the letters addressed to a name that closely resembled a deceased family member.

      This is the latest marketing gaffe involving the company that handles People to People trips and that has a history of sending similar solicitations for overseas journeys to the parents of deceased children.

      At the heart of this newest controversy is a solicitation written by University of Colorado at Boulder (CU) professor Margaret Eisenhart, Ph.D., with the School of Education.

      ConsumerAffairs.com learned that Eisenhart wrote the letter on CU stationery, but did not have permission to use the universitys letterhead or logo for the solicitation designed to lure more people for the South African trip.

      Weve also learned that CU does not have any commercial ties to People to People and did not give the travel company authorization to use the universitys stationery in its marketing campaign.

      In the solicitation, Eisenhart encourages recipients to participate in an upcoming Women in Higher Education trip to South Africa through People to People Citizen Ambassador Programs.

      I invite you to join me to participate in this important international exchange, Eisenhart writes. Our goals will be to learn about South African womens representation in higher education, current research on women in higher education in South Africaand the issues facing South African women in higher education today.

      Eisenhart readily discloses her academic ties to CU and even touts that relationship in the letters first sentence.

      As University Distinguished Professor of educational anthropology and research methodology at the University of Colorado, I am honored to have been selected as leader of the Women in Higher Education Delegation to South Africa, states Eisenhart, who has served as a delegation leader on at least three other People to People trips.

      The professor applauds the trips affiliation with People to People Ambassador Programs, which is part of the publicly-traded Ambassadors Group, Inc. (EPAX). The Spokane, Washington, company arranges and markets worldwide educational trips -- under the People to People name -- for students, athletes, and professionals.

      In conjunction with People to People Citizen Ambassador Programs, this delegation has been developed to foster dialogue with our overseas counterparts and to continue the tradition of professional diplomacy first set forth by President Eisenhower in 1956, Eisenhart writes.

      Prof. Margaret Eisenhart (University photo)

      Those who receive Eisenhart's letter are urged to act quickly or risk losing their spots on this $6,000 trip, which she describes as a unique experience.

      In the event that you are unable to accept this invitation, an alternate delegate candidate may be invited, she warned, adding recipients can also recommend someone else for the trip.

      Eisenharts letter appears to be targeted to higher education professionals that she personally handpicked. I believe you would contribute valued expertise to the team while gaining both personally and professionally from the experience, she states.

      No relationship

      But a Texas couple who received the solicitation says they dont have a personal or professional relationship with Eisenhart. And they want to find out how she -- or People to People -- obtained their private home address.

      They also want to know why the solicitation was addressed to a name that is almost identical to the wifes deceased mother. The only difference is the middle initial its a G in the letter instead of the correct C.

      My mom never lived at this address, said the womans daughter, Mary. Id like to know how they got the name or what they thought was a name.

      Mary also wonders why her moms name is still on any companys mailing list. She died five years ago, Mary said. She was 85.

      My mom was involved in the field of higher education all her life, Mary said. She had a Ph.D in education and this is the kind of letter that my mom would receive. But its clear somebody has a database that is really messed up.

      Not the first time

      As ConsumerAffairs.com has reported, this isnt the first time People to People has sent a solicitation for one of its oversea trips to the family of a deceased person.

      A Florida couple has received two different letters in two different years -- from People to People inviting their deceased daughter to take an educational trip abroad. The letters came in 2006 and 2008. But the couples daughter died in 1992. She was 18 days old.

      People to People has also invited a deceased cat on one of its trips. The "Parents of Earl Gray" received a letter in 2006 stating their "son" was eligible for a trip to Europe and "named for this honor by a teacher, former Student Ambassador or national academic listing."

      But the Arkansas parents told us Earl was their all white, one-eyed, cat. He died in 1996 and is buried in the couple's back yard. He was 14 years old.

      People to People also came under fire in 2005 after an Iowa woman received one of the companys letters stating her son was named for a Student Ambassador trip overseas. The woman's son, however, died in 1993. He was seven weeks old. People to People has blamed the company that handled its mailing list for these errors.

      Tyler Hill, Minnesota teen who died on a 2007 People to People trip to Japan (Family photo)

      Weve also learned that People to People used the name of a teenage boy who died one of its trips in a letter designed to recruit more students to participate in the Student Ambassador Programs. The teens parents said the company did not have permission to use their sons name and told us they were outraged People to Peoples marketing tactics.

      Back in Texas, Mary and her husband -- a former teacher -- raised other concerns about the solicitation they received from Eisenhart. They questioned the professors decision to lend her name, academic title, and the schools stationery for a solicitation not authorized by the university.

      My mom never lent her name out, Mary said. This sounds somewhat strange to meI think there are definitely some issues here that need to be addressed.

      Im not as angry about this as I am baffled, she added. But if this is a scam, Im not happy that my mom is associated in any way.

      The couple also said the universitys name and logo on the solicitation gave it credibility at least at first blush. And they wondered why -- or if -- the state-funded university would allow its name and stationery to be used in a solicitation for an outside company.

      I immediately zeroed in on the letter because it was from a university, Mary said, adding CUs name was listed on the envelope. From a marketing standpoint, its a smart move, but if its inappropriate it needs to stop.

      Solicitations about the trip, however, didnt stop.

      A second letter

      A few days after Mary and her husband received the first letter about the South Africa trip, another one arrived at their home. The second letter was also addressed to the same name that closely resembled Marys deceased mother.

      It came from People to Peoples director of Professional Programs and solidified the relationship between Eisenhart and the travel company.

      We are honored to have Dr. Eisenhart as the delegation leader, the companys Yvonne Trudeau wrote. Her guidance in the development of this project has been invaluable.

      Trudeaus letter, however, isnt written on CU stationery. Its penned on People to People International (PPI) letterhead. PPI is a non-profit organization based in Kansas City, Missouri, that boasts about its ties to a former United States President.

      Founded in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, as a vehicle to expand international relations beyond the structure of government agencies, People to People International is a nonpolitical, private-sector organization dedicated to promoting international peace and understanding, Trudeaus wrote in her letter.

      But Eisenhowers name is not listed on the incorporation records for PPI filed with the Missouri Secretary of State. Those records reveal Alfred Frankfurter, Franklin Murphy, and Joyce C. Hall incorporated the non-profit organization in October 1961.

      ConsumerAffairs.com learned that PPI has a contractual agreement with the Ambassadors Group that allows the company to use People to Peoples name and logo when marketing the educational trips. Tax records show revenue from those trips is funneled back into the coffers of the PPI, which is run by President Eisenhowers granddaughter, Mary Eisenhower.

      In her letter, Trudeau makes a strong sales pitch for academics to take the South Africa trip and warns they could lose their places if they dont respond quickly in writing and with their checkbooks.

      To accept this invitation, please complete and return the enclosed application with a $500 per-person deposit as soon as possible, Trudeau states.

      No comment

      ConsumerAffairs.com contacted People to People Ambassador Programs about the solicitations and the use of CUs stationery in the marketing campaign. The company did not respond to our repeated inquiries. We also contacted Professor Eisenhart, but she didnt respond to our inquiries, either.

      A CU spokesman told us the university wasnt aware of the solicitations -- and the use of its stationery in this recruiting effort -- until contacted by ConsumerAffairs.com.

      Now that were aware of this, were certainly going to desist, spokesman Bronson R. Hilliard said. Our faculty are advised not to lend official stationery with department logo to anyone without clearing it first with the university. She (Professor Eisenhart) had not done that.

      Weve spoken to her and her dean about this and they understand what went wrong and are fixing it, he added.

      Hilliard confirmed that Eisenhart wrote the solicitation, but said she had no knowledge about how the mailing list was compiled or used.

      She was asked to write a letter to recruit other people like herself to go on this trip with her, he said. She doesnt know any of the particulars about the mailing list. She was open about this and said she didnt know any of the details. She agreed to write the letter and assumed that it would go to other faculty.

      Hilliard also told us that CU had no role in marketing the solicitation or generating the mailing list used. The university, he added, has no commercial ties to People to People or the Ambassadors Group and did not authorize them to use of its stationery or logo in the solicitation that is not sanctioned by CU.

      Asked if CU is covering the cost for Eisenharts trip, Hilliard said: Her trip is paid for by People to People, but she is not paid by People to People. She receives no stipend or fee. He also confirmed that Eisenhart has taken previous trips with People to People and found them to be productive and enriching.

      "Regrettable situation"

      Hilliard called it a regrettable situation when he learned that Mary received a solicitation -- on CU stationery -- addressed to a name that closely resembled her deceased mother.

      There was no harm intended (by CU or Eisenhart) to the good family of this deceased individual, he said.

      ConsumerAffairs.com also contacted the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) about the solicitation.

      Spokesman Greg Scholtz said professors are advised not to blur the lines between their private lives and their academic roles at a college or university. And he cited two AAUP policies that he said address this issue:

      *The 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, which states, in part, that when speaking or writing as citizens, college professors should make every effort to indicate they are not speaking for the institution;

      *The organizations Statement on Professional Ethics, which states that professors have the rights and obligations of other citizens. But when they speak or act as private persons, professors should avoid creating the impression of speaking or acting for their college or university.

      Back in Boulder, Hilliard acknowledged that CU has not done a good job of communicating to its faculty where the boundaries are when lending their names -- or the universitys stationery for promotional activities.

      Professor Eisenhart did not check with anyone about this and she didnt realize that she needed to check with anyone, he said. This is a wake-up call to our institution. We will be conducting training with our department chairs and the deans of our colleges and schools and make sure that information about those boundaries is passed on to our faculty.

      We will go the extra mile to make sure the faculty knows that using our letterhead and symbols is not something you do without checking with us first.

      Hilliard also said he will remind faculty members to thoroughly check the background of any organization or association before lending them their names and support.

      I will urge them to do a little more research, ask those tough questions, and find out how theyre (the groups) are marketing themselves, he said, adding he shared the stories ConsumerAffairs.com has written about People to People with Eisenhart and her dean.

      Im going to use this (experience) as a media training for our faculty, Hilliard told us. This is a teaching moment. And rest assured weve learned a lesson at CU Boulder.

      Professor Promoted People to People Junket Without University Approval...

      D.C. Knew of Breathalyzer Problem, Suit Says

      Faulty machines formed basis of at least 400 DUI convictions

      By Jon Hood

      June 13, 2010
      A lawsuit filed against Washington, D.C., says that the city has long known that its breath test machines, designed to measure the level of alcohol in a driver's blood, were improperly calibrated, but failed to do anything about it.

      The revelation that the machines were improperly programmed was first reported in The Washington Post this past week week. The article said all ten of the city's breath test machines, the results of which formed the basis of nearly 400 DUI convictions since fall 2008, were improperly calibrated by city police.

      The officer charged with maintaining the machines set the wrong "baseline" alcohol concentration levels, leading to results that showed a driver's blood alcohol 20 percent higher than it actually was, according to the article.

      Thomas Key, the attorney who filed the suit, called the Post's account of the incident "pretty vanilla.

      "We alleged that the attorney general's office knew back in early 2008 that the machine had problems," Key told the Daily Caller.

      D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles didn't begin investigating the problem until this past February, when a city consultant raised concerns that the machine results were incorrect. The city has already replaced the ten flawed machines with equipment made by a different manufacturer.

      Breath test machines, known colloquially as Breathalyzers, are used to test the blood alcohol content of a person suspected of drunken driving. While many states still have so-called "common-law DUI" statutes -- which allow prosecution for drunken driving based on a driver's appearance or behavior, such as glassy eyes or weaving in and out of lanes -- the machines provide a much tighter case for prosecutors.

      "I'd take a case without a score any day and beat that," Key told the Post. "But once they have that test number in there, it's a whole new ballgame for a client."

      Nickles said the error would not affect prosecutions in which there was an accident or injury, since drivers in those situations are required to submit to additional blood or urine testing.

      Most of the defendants in the 400 subjects cases spent at least five days in jail, in addition to the other serious consequences that accompany a DUI conviction. Under D.C. law, a person convicted of his first DUI must pay a $300 fine and can be sentenced to up to 90 days in jail. If his blood alcohol content is between 0.2 and 0.25, he is mandated to spend at least five days behind bars. If the reading exceeds 0.25, the mandatory sentence increases to ten days.

      The consequences are even more serious for repeat offenders. Those convicted of a second or third DUI can pay anywhere between $1,000 and $10,000 in fines, and can end up serving up to a year in jail. Additionally, the mandatory sentences for repeat offenders are doubled.

      All ten of the city's breath test machines, the results of which formed the basis of nearly 400 DUI convictions since fall 2008, were improperly calibrated...

      Adobe Acrobat, Flash Vulnerable To Cybercriminals

      Universal nature of programs makes them attractive targets

      By Mark Huffman

      June 11, 2010
      Avoiding computer viruses and malware isn't nearly as easy as it used to be. Cybercriminals are staying two or three steps ahead, often exploiting vulnerabilities in popular software programs.

      Two of the most popular programs -- Abobe Acrobat Reader and Adobe Flash -- are so common they are used across multiple platforms, by computers running Windows, Linux and Apple systems. So it's not surprising that hackers have worked hard to find ways to exploit vulnerabilities in those softwares to load malware onto consumers' computers.

      "It is becoming more and more common for cybercriminals to exploit vulnerabilities in Adobe's software -- so it would be a very good idea for everyone to update vulnerable computers as soon as possible," said Graham Cluley, a security specialist at Sophos Security, a software company.

      Flash vulnerabilities

      Adobe this week acknowledged that some versions of Flash, the plug-in that allows video and other animated graphics to be embedded in Web pages, has problems.

      "Critical vulnerabilities have been identified in Adobe Flash Player version and earlier," the company posted in a security alert. "These vulnerabilities could cause the application to crash and could potentially allow an attacker to take control of the affected system."

      Adobe recommends users of Adobe Flash Player and earlier versions update to Adobe Flash Player Adobe said users of Adobe AIR and earlier versions update to Adobe AIR

      Interestingly, the Apple iPad does not support Flash, with CEO Steve Jobs taking a critical public posture against the software. Though Jobs did not specifically site security concerns with Flash, he criticized its stability and complained that it was prone to crashing.

      Problems with Acrobat

      Meanwhile, there are also problems in Adobe's Acrobat Reader, the software that allows documents to be viewed on any computer. Security experts say two exploits in particular, Pdfka and Pidief, now make up nearly half of all detected malware exploits on the Web. These vulnerabilities most recently threatened computer users in the form of a bogus coupon for Doritos that runs a malware program, infecting the computers that download it.

      Making it even more dangerous, most browsers will open an Acrobat, or PDF file, without seeking permission. When the file is opened, the malware program runs in the background, without the computer user being aware of it.

      Danger lurks

      What's the motive behind these attacks? First and foremost it's an attempt by spammers to increase the ranks of so-called "zombie" computers.

      The malware allows the hacker to take control of the unsuspecting consumer's computer. They can use it to send out millions of spam messages. You may have gotten a spam email from what appeared to be a legitimate email address, with a real person's name on it. Chances are it came from a zombie computer, with the computer's owner unaware his name was being used to promote a sexual enhancement product.

      But there is also a more sinister threat if your computer becomes a zombie. Because the hacker is in control, he or she may monitor your keystrokes and steal user ids and passwords, cleaning out a bank account or stealing an identity.

      To protect yourself, make sure you have the latest updates of Acrobat Reader and Flash. With Reader, the updates don't install automatically. You have to change the settings to make the program automatically install updates.

      Security experts also suggest disabling the feature that allows PDF files to open automatically in a browser. Simply open the Acrobat Reader software, select "edit," then "preferences." From the menu, click on "Internet" and unselect the option "display PDF in browser."

      Finally, make sure your anti-virus software is up to date. Cybercriminals continue to innovate and it's very hard to stay ahead of them.

      Avoiding computer viruses & malware isn't nearly as easy as it used to be. Cybercriminals are staying 2 or 3 steps ahead, often exploiting vulnerabilities ...