Saturday, May 30, 2009

Avoiding Calling Card Scams

(NAPSI)-Following a few tips could help consumers steer clear of prepaid calling card scams.

Prepaid phone cards represent telephone calling time you buy in advance. You pay from $2 to $20 or so to buy local or long-distance calling time.

The cards can be convenient, but the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation's consumer protection agency, says that some prepaid phone cards can have hidden costs and may not deliver the number of calling minutes they advertise. Because you pay in advance, you may be out of cash-and out of luck-if you discover a problem trying to use the card.

Fortunately, you might avoid problems by following a few tips from the FTC:

• Ask any retailer if it will stand behind the card if it doesn't deliver the number of minutes advertised.

• Check the card's package or in-store advertising for domestic and international rates. If you can't find the rate, consider buying a different card.

• Look for disclosures about surcharges, "maintenance" fees, and fees for making calls from a pay phone, to a cell phone, or using a toll-free access number.

• Compare rates. Very low rates, particularly for international calls, may be a warning sign that the card won't deliver the number of advertised minutes.

• Look for expiration dates.

• Look for a toll-free customer service number. If the customer service number isn't toll-free or displayed, it may be difficult to contact the company if you have a problem with the card.

• Make sure you can understand the instructions on the card.

• Make sure the card comes in a sealed envelope or that the PIN is not visible. Otherwise, anyone can copy the PIN and use the phone time you're paying for.

For more information, visit

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Magnetic Tremors Pinpoint the Impact Epicenter of Earthbound Space Storms

/PRNewswire/ -- Using data from NASA's THEMIS mission, a team of University of Alberta researchers has pinpointed the impact epicenter of an earthbound space storm as it crashes into the atmosphere, and given an advance warning of its arrival.

The team's study reveals that magnetic blast waves can be used to pinpoint and predict the location where space storms dissipate their massive amounts of energy. These storms can dump the equivalent of 50 gigawatts of power, or the output of 10 of the world's largest power stations, into Earth's atmosphere.

The energy that drives space storms originates on the sun. The stream of electrically charged particles in the solar wind carries this energy toward Earth. The solar wind interacts with Earth's magnetic field. Scientists call the process that begins with Earth's magnetic field capturing energy and ends with its release into the atmosphere a geomagnetic substorm.

"Substorm onset occurs when Earth's magnetic field suddenly and dramatically releases energy previously captured by the solar wind," said David Sibeck, project scientist for the Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions During Substorms (THEMIS) mission at NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Physicists Jonathan Rae and Ian Mann lead the University of Alberta research team that recently located a substorm's epicenter of the impact. The team uses ground-based observatories spread across northern Canada and the five satellites of the THEMIS mission to detect magnetic disturbances as storms crash into the atmosphere. Using a technique the researchers call "space seismology," they look for the eye of the storm hundreds of thousands of miles above Earth.

"We see the benevolent side of space storms in the form of the Northern Lights," said Mann. "When electrically charged particles speed toward Earth and buffet the atmosphere, the result is often a dancing, shimmering light over the polar region." But there is also a hazardous side. Earth's atmosphere protects us from the damaging direct effects of the radiation from space storms, but in space there is nowhere to hide. High-energy, electrically charged particles released by space storms can damage spacecraft. On Earth, disturbances caused by the particles and the electrical currents they carry can interrupt radio communications and global positioning system (GPS) navigation, and damage electric power grids.

Rae and Mann's team has also determined that the magnetic tremors show that the space storm impact into the atmosphere has a unique epicenter, with the eye of the storm located in space beyond the low-Earth orbits of most communication satellites.

Guided by Earth's magnetic field, the magnetic tremors rocket through space toward Earth. These geomagnetic substorms trigger magnetic sensors on the ground as they impact the atmosphere. The effects of these storms, and the most spectacular displays of the Northern Lights, follow a few minutes later.

The objective of NASA's pioneering multi-spacecraft THEMIS mission is to determine what causes geomagnetic substorms. In addition to a well-instrumented fleet of five spacecraft, THEMIS operates a network of ground observatories stretching across Canada and the United States to place the spacecraft observations in their global context. All night long, every night, the observatories take 3-second time resolution snapshots of the aurora and measure corresponding variations in Earth's magnetic field strength and direction every half second.

An analysis of the auroral movies and magnetic variations by Dr. Jonathan Rae from the University of Alberta pinpointed just when and where one substorm explosively released its magnetic energy. "Undulating auroral features and ripples in Earth's magnetic field began at the same time and propagated away from Sanikulaq, Nunavut, Canada at speeds on the order of 60,000 miles per hour, much like the blast wave from a gigantic explosion," said Sibeck. Dr. Rae and his team presented the results on May 25 at the American Geophysical Union meeting in Toronto.

Probing the eye of a space storm and recognizing the advance warning signs are crucial for researchers trying to understand and predict space weather. Key questions about when and how space storms start are still challenging researchers on the THEMIS team. Like forecasters on Earth who predict severe weather, the University of Alberta researchers are using their "space seismology" technique to investigate methods to forecast space storms.

THEMIS is a NASA-funded mission and involves scientists from Canada, the United States, and Europe. Current Canadian activity is funded by the Canadian Space Agency.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Key Victory for Cell Phone Users; Nationwide Lawsuit Against Cingular/AT&T for Overcharges and Poor Cell Phone Service May Proceed, Federal Court Rule

/PRNewswire / -- A class action lawsuit charging that millions of cell phone users were misled and overcharged when Cingular merged with AT&T Wireless in 2004 may go forward, a federal court ruled on Tuesday.

In a victory for consumers nationwide, the U.S. District Court for the District of Washington in Coneff v. AT&T struck down a clause in AT&T's contract that the company argued allowed it to force its customers to bring their claims individually in arbitration proceedings, rather than in a class action in court. The District Court held that without a class action, the vast majority of AT&T's customers would never obtain justice -- and for that reason refused to enforce the contract provision.

Cingular bought AT&T's cell phone system in October 2004, after assuring federal regulators that the merger would be "seamless." But, the lawsuit contends, instead of providing the new and improved services it promised AT&T customers, Cingular immediately began dismantling and degrading the AT&T network, forcing AT&T customers to move to Cingular's network. That meant buying new phone equipment, moving to higher cost plans, and, in some cases, an $18 "transfer" or "upgrade fee." Some customers who tried to go to another company were hit with "early termination fees" of $175. Others who didn't want to pay or couldn't afford the termination fees were stuck with riding out their contract with AT&T Wireless while suffering poor to no reception -- and paying an extra monthly fee of $4.99. Cingular ultimately shut down the former AT&T network. Cingular later changed its corporate name to AT&T.

AT&T: Fine Print Bars the Lawsuit

The case was filed in Seattle, Washington in July 2006 on behalf of all original AT&T Wireless customers who were deceived or overcharged as a result of the merger. AT&T responded by asking the court to dismiss the case on the grounds that under a term buried in the fine print of its service contracts, customers are barred from bringing class actions and instead must fight the company one-on-one through arbitration. The customers argued that because their claims are individually small but complex, the class action ban would prevent them from holding the company accountable at all -- a result not permitted in Washington, where AT&T was based at the time.

U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Martinez agreed, striking down the arbitration clause as "unconscionable" under Washington law. He explained that the contract term would "effectively exculpate" the corporation from "any potential liability for unfair or deceptive acts or practices in commerce." "The Court will not condone such a broad and exculpatory practice," he added, emphasizing that the central purpose of class actions is to curb fraudulent business practices such as those alleged in this case.

The court also emphatically rejected AT&T's argument that the court should apply the laws of other states chosen by AT&T in its contract, even if those states' laws are less protective of consumers than Washington's and would permit AT&T to bar their residents from participating in the class action.

Decision a Victory for Consumers

"It stands to reason that if a company chooses to do business from the state of Washington, it can't use the fine print of its contract to give itself carte blanche when it violates Washington's strong consumer protection laws," said Leslie Bailey, a staff attorney with the national public interest law firm Public Justice. "Judge Martinez saw through AT&T's legal arguments to the injustice of what the corporation was trying to do here. This is an extremely well-reasoned decision, and is likely to be influential with other courts around the nation." Bailey and Public Justice staff attorney Paul Bland led the customers' fight to keep their case in court, and Bland argued the case before Judge Martinez.

"This is a major victory for AT&T customers all over the nation," said Harvey Rosenfield, a lawyer for the non-profit Consumer Watchdog, a California-based crusader for consumer rights. "The company broke its promise to its customers, making them pay millions of dollars more than they should have. Now we can move forward to get people their money back."

"It's been a long battle and there is still much work to be done," said Kevin Coluccio of the law firm of Stritmatter, Kessler, Whelan and Coluccio, based in Seattle. "But today's decision confirms that AT&T does not have the unlimited right to immunize itself from accountability under the law."

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Record Number of Consumers Call FCC's Help Line for Assistance in Response to DTV "Soft Test"

Atlanta Media Market Ranked 8th in the Top 10

A coordinated nationwide “soft test” designed to encourage consumers to take immediate action to prepare for the June 12 digital television (DTV) transition prompted a record number of calls to the Federal Communications Commission’s national help line Thursday, including 389 calls from consumers in the Atlanta media market and 1,571 from the State of Georgia.

More than 125 of the nation’s broadcast markets participated in the soft test, including at least one station in each of the top 30 broadcast markets. As a result, the Commission’s toll-free help line, 1-888-CALL-FCC, received 55,374 calls from consumers Thursday, a dramatic increase from the average of 15,000 per day the Commission had been receiving since May 1.

Calls from the Atlanta media market focused primarily on the following:

1. Seeking information about the government’s program providing $40 coupons for the purchase of DTV converter boxes (53% compared to 51% nationally);
2. Expressing concern about general reception issues in their area (15% compared to 15% nationally); and
3. Expressing concern about receiving a specific station (13% compared to 8% nationally).

“This soft test did exactly what it was supposed to do,” said Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps. “It was a wake-up call for consumers who are unprepared, alerting them to the fact that they need to take the necessary steps before the June 12 DTV transition.”

The FCC’s help line provides consumers with a wide range of services, including instructions on how to install converter boxes and information on local DTV education events and the availability of in-home installation services. In addition to calling the FCC’s toll-free help line, consumers can find help at the FCC’s web site,, and by visiting walk-in help centers being set up across the country or attending a DTV transition event. Information about local events also can be found on the web site.

A “soft test” simulates to a degree what unprepared viewers will experience when the DTV transition occurs. Instead of completely cutting off the analog signal, during a soft test broadcasters interrupt the regular programming of viewers receiving analog signals to warn them the interruption indicates they are not prepared for the transition. Such viewers – other than those connected to a subscription TV service such as cable or satellite (which in some cases still utilize a broadcaster’s analog signal) – must take immediate action to avoid a complete loss of service on June 12. Digital broadcasts are available now and are not interrupted by soft tests.

Nationwide, Nielsen estimates that about 3.3 million households – 2.9 percent of U.S. households with TVs – remained unready for the transition as of May 10. In the few weeks remaining before the transition, the FCC is gearing up its ongoing consumer assistance efforts to ensure consumers are prepared for the end of analog broadcast service for full-power television stations.

The switch to digital will reward most viewers with better sound, a better picture, more channels and more programs and will make room for the future by clearing airwaves for advanced mobile Internet services. The transition will also help save lives by freeing up airwaves for better first-responder radio service.
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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

CSI:Mayo Clinic

Researchers Find Two Popular Television Shows Inaccurately Portray Realities of Violent Crime

Researchers at Mayo Clinic compared two popular television shows, CSI and CSI: Miami, to actual U.S. homicide data, and discovered clear differences between media portrayals of violent deaths versus actual murders. This study complements previous research regarding media influences on public health perception. Mayo Clinic researchers present their findings today at the American Psychiatric Association annual meeting in San Francisco.

Previous studies have indicated television influences individual health behaviors and public health perceptions. Timothy Lineberry, M.D., a psychiatrist at Mayo Clinic, says "We make a lot of our decisions as a society based on information that we have, and television has been used to provide public health messages."

Researchers chose to compare the crimes on CSI and CSI: Miami to real homicides because of the shows' combined audiences of more than 43 million viewers annually. They sought to determine how representative the portrayal of violent death crimes on the two series compared with data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) National Violent Death Reporting System.

When researchers compared the shows to the CDC data, they discovered the strongest misrepresentations were related to alcohol use, relationships, and race among perpetrators and victims. Previous studies of actual statistics have shown that both perpetrator and victim were often under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs when the crime occurred, differing from what the shows portrayed.

Also, CSI and CSI: Miami were more likely to have described the victim and the attacker as Caucasian, which is misrepresentative. Finally, according to the CDC data, homicide victims typically knew their assailant; however, the television series were more likely to have portrayed the perpetrator as a stranger. All of these findings were significantly different when compared to the data.

Dr. Lineberry says, "If we believe that there is a lack of association with alcohol, that strangers are more likely to attack, and that homicide doesn't represent particular groups of people, it's difficult to create public health interventions that the general public supports."

Other authors contributing to this study included Christopher Janish and Melanie Buskirk, both from Mayo Medical School.

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Adolescents who think that they are overweight are at increased risk of suicide attempts

Multiple social factors, including discrimination and harassment, may contribute to an increased risk of suicidal feelings among adolescents who feel that they are overweight, a Georgia State University researcher says.

Monica Swahn, associate professor in the institute of public health, and her students found that adolescents who perceive that they overweight -- even though they are not, according to their body mass index -- are at increased risk for suicide attempt, according to a recently published study in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

"We were surprised to find that any combination of perception of being overweight, or actually being overweight, increased the risk of suicidality," Swahn said.

Swahn and students in her social determinants of health class analyzed data from the National Youth Risk Behavior Study from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention. Further studies are needed to look at multiple factors related to suicidal feelings, but social structures including discrimination, harassment, income, housing, food and nutrition, and media messages likely play a role in the increased risk for suicide attempts among youth who feel that they are overweight.

"There is an ideal about what a body should look like, which we're all inundated with constantly," Swahn said. "And children and youth are very vulnerable to these messages as they transition into adulthood."

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Increase in Unmarried Childbearing Also Seen in Other Countries

The proportion of births to unmarried mothers in the United States has risen steeply over the past few decades, consistent with patterns in other countries, a report from CDC's National Center for Health Statistics shows.

In March, CDC reported that about 4 in 10 births in the United States in 2007 were to unmarried mothers. While a great deal of focus has been placed on births to unmarried teens, 6 out of 10 births to women between the ages of 20 and 24 were among unmarried women in 2007.

The trend in unmarried childbearing was fairly stable from the mid-1990s to 2002, but has shown a steep increase between 2002 and 2007. Between 1980 and 2007, the proportion of births to unmarried women in the United States has more than doubled, from 18 percent to 40 percent.

The report, "Data Brief #18: Changing Patterns of Nonmarital Childbearing in the U.S.," includes a section on international comparisons. The section shows the U.S. percentage of out-of-wedlock births falls into the middle range among the countries studied (data for Iceland, France, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Spain, and Canada are for 2006).

* Iceland (66 percent), Sweden (55 percent), Norway (54 percent), France (50 percent), Denmark (46 percent) and the United Kingdom (44 percent) all have higher proportions of births to unmarried mothers than the United States

* Ireland (33 percent), Germany and Canada (30 percent), Spain (28 percent), Italy (21 percent) and Japan (2 percent) have lower percentages than the United States.

* The Netherlands (40 percent) has the same percentage of out-of-wedlock births as the United States but its percentage is 10 times higher than in 1980, when only 4 percent of Netherlands' births were to unmarried mothers.

* All countries examined showed substantial increases in the proportion of births to unmarried mothers between 1980 and 2007. The countries with the biggest increases, after the Netherlands, are Spain (4 percent to 28 percent), Ireland (5 percent to 33 percent), and Italy (4 percent to 21 percent).

The report also looks in depth at U.S. birth rates among unmarried women by age, race and ethnicity.

* Birth rates among unmarried U.S. mothers are highest for women in their early 20s (80 births per 1,000 unmarried women aged 20-24), and lowest for teens under 18 and for women over age 35.

* Birth rates among unmarried mothers are highest for Hispanic women (106 births per 1,000 unmarried Hispanic women), followed by non-Hispanic black women (72 per 1,000) and non-Hispanic white women (32 per 1,000).

* The overwhelming majority of births to teenagers are nonmarital. Among teens aged 15-17, 93 percent of births were nonmarital in 2007, while among teens aged 18-19, 84 percent of births were nonmarital.

* In 2007, 45 percent of births to women in their 20s were to unmarried women. Sixty percent of births to women aged 20-24 were nonmarital in 2007, up from 52 percent in 2002. Nearly one third of births to women aged 25-29 were nonmarital in 2007, up from one fourth in 2002.

The full report is available at
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Saturday, May 9, 2009

Military Office Director Resigns in Wake of New York Fly-by

The director of the White House Military Office has submitted his resignation in the wake of an April 27 aerial photo shoot with a presidential aircraft over New York City.

Louis Caldera, who served as secretary of the Army during the Clinton administration, resigned his office effective May 22.

"I have concluded that the controversy surrounding the Presidential Airlift Group's aerial photo shoot over New York City has made it impossible to effectively lead the White House Military Office," Caldera wrote in his letter of resignation.

President Barack Obama has accepted the resignation, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

"The president has asked his deputy chief of staff, Jim Messina, and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates or his designee to jointly review the organizational structure of the White House Military Office and the reporting relationship of its components to the White House and the Air Force, and to make recommendations to him to ensure that such an incident never occurs again," Gibbs said in a written release.

On April 27, a 747-200 aircraft that often carries the president flew over lower New York. An F-16 fighter followed and took photos of the aircraft with iconic structures such as the Statue of Liberty in the background. The aircraft flew as low as 1,000 feet, and many New Yorkers believed they were seeing a repeat of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that killed 3,000 people at the World Trade Center.

The flyover caused much consternation on the ground, with many people in Lower Manhattan and across the river in New Jersey evacuating their buildings.

A review of the incident by the White House counsel's office found "structural and organizational ambiguities" within the White House Military Office and urged a comprehensive study of the organization.

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

Related article:

Air Force One Flight Causes New York City Confusion

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Doctor Confronts Maternal Mortality in Afghanistan

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan: The young Dari interpreter standing by the desk translates the words of the American doctor to the young woman, as she sits quietly. An examining table stands against one yellow wall in the small room. Various tools and medical equipment are positioned around the room.

Thickly lined with black eyeliner, the young woman's brown eyes light up. Her soft smile widens, and she leans forward in her seat. Her husband will not take another wife. After three barren years, she is finally pregnant.

Army Col. (Dr.) Kathryn L. Hall-Boyer treated women and children on separate visits April 14 and 21 to the Afghan National Army Kandahar Regional Hospital women's clinic at Camp Hero as part of Operation Hearts and Minds. Hall-Boyer is the Joint Sustainment Command Afghanistan surgeon here.

"[The mission's purpose] is to provide ongoing medical care to women and children who have limited alternatives to receive medical care," Hall-Boyer said.

Hall-Boyer, an assistant professor in the emergency medicine department at Emory University, Georgia, has worked in the medical field since 1979. She provided care in similar clinics while deployed to Bosnia.

"This clinic people can keep coming back to every week," she said. "There is continuity for the women here."

Air Force Col. (Dr.) David Lannen of Task Force Phoenix Assistance Group contacted Hall-Boyer and told her that the clinic, established in June, needed female doctors.

The clinic provides laboratory services, X-ray and ultrasound. Hall-Boyer provided predominantly women's health services and family planning.

"Women in Afghanistan have one of the highest mortality rates in the world," she said. "It's because they don't receive medical care during their pregnancy."

Most women arrived with several children in tow. As the clinic staff and visiting physicians examined their mothers, the children received cookies and coloring books from female U.S. soldiers in the waiting room.

"For the children who came, it was predominantly checking for acute illnesses," Hall-Boyer said. "Colds, coughs and diarrhea are most common."

In spite of the work of the clinic staff and visiting physicians, not all needs can be met for the 55 to 85 women and children who arrive, on average, for treatment.

"One patient had a gynecologist problem that she really needed a specialist for," Hall-Boyer said. "Families don't really have money to spend on girls. They have limited resources to seek help elsewhere."

Another concern at the clinic is the lack of medical records.

"People have no idea what they've been treated for," Hall-Boyer said. "So I may give them the same treatment that's not working for them."

Although the physicians and staff cannot always cure every illness, the positive influence of coalition forces in Afghanistan can be seen when some women arrive for a second opinion.

"Some patients have seen Afghan doctors," Hall-Boyer said. "But they want to hear from American doctors."

Future visits as a continuation of Operation Hearts and Minds are planned.

By Army Pfc. Elisebet Freeburg
Special to American Forces Press Service
Army Pfc. Elisebet Freeburg serves with Joint Sustainment Command Afghanistan

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke Appoints Morial to Lead 2010 Census Advisory Committee

Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke has named National Urban League President Marc Morial as chair of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 Census Advisory Committee, which provides advice on the design and implementation of the 2010 Census.

“Marc has extraordinary experience in working with national organizations and advocating on behalf of diverse communities,” said Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. “His expertise will help to ensure a complete and accurate count during the 2010 Census.”

Twenty organizations are represented on the 2010 Census Advisory Committee, including data users and experts in the statutory and constitutional uses of decennial census data. The committee membership also includes ex-officio members representing the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

“The 2010 Census Advisory Committee provides important advice and guidance to the U.S. Census Bureau and we look forward to working with Marc Morial,” said Census Bureau Acting Director Tom Mesenbourg. “His leadership and experience will be vital as we approach the 2010 Census.”

Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League since 2003, leads the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. Morial served two terms as mayor of New Orleans from 1994 to 2002 and was also president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors from 2001 to 2002. He made Ebony Magazine’s list of the150 most influential people in 2009.

The Census is mandated by the Constitution. The questionnaire for the upcoming 2010 Census will be one of the shortest in history: just 10 questions that will take only about 10 minutes to complete. All responses are kept strictly confidential. The Census data are used to apportion the seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Census data are also used to distribute more than $300 billion in federal funds each year.

Links about Morial:

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