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From the Experts Blog

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Honoring History

Did you know that Black History month started out as a week?

In 1926, Carter G. Woodson, the son of former slaves and a scholar who went on to get a Ph.D. in history from Harvard, created “Negro History Week.” February’s theme honors Woodson, who, along with Jesse E. Moorland, co-founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. ASNLH’s mission was to recognize and raise awareness of the importance of African Americans in history. Woodson’s work with the ASNLH led to the creation of “Negro History Week,” which was extended to the entire month of February in its 50th year of observance, 1976.

Black History Month is a great time for our organization, the National Consumers League, to remember our own historical connections to the Civil Rights Movement. NCL supported racial equality from the beginning, as its first leader, Florence Kelley, was a founding member of the NAACP. During the New Deal, NCL called for including domestic and agricultural workers in labor laws and social security programs, and was alone among women’s groups in demanding racial justice. Lucy Mason, head of the league during the 1930s, also served on the NAACP’s board, and she cautioned against “that tendency to believe that the colored worker needs less than the white worker.”

One of the great watershed events in African American history is the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. The Court found that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” The landmark case ended federally-sanctioned racial segregation in public schools. It’s of unique interest to NCL not just for the role it played in the Civil Rights Movement, but because the winning side’s legal arguments had roots in another human rights issue that NCL was closely involved in a few decades earlier.

The brief prepared by Thurgood Marshall (who went on to become a Justice of the Supreme Court) in Brown was a “Brandeis Brief.” This is a brief that’s filled with more sociological data than legal argument. Marshall’s brief demonstrated the corrosive effects of segregated schools on African American students and that separate was not equal. The first Brandeis Brief, written by Louis Brandeis himself (who also went on to become a Supreme Court Justice), came about in the 1908 case of Muller v. Oregon. Brandeis, who successfully represented the interests of women laundry workers, was persuaded to write the brief by NCL’s Kelley and Vice President Josephine Goldmark. Muller upheld workers’ rights to work only 10 hours a day, and laid the groundwork for the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.

NCL proudly acknowledges Black History Month, and we salute the accomplishments of all of the great historical figures and leaders who have paved the way for justice and equality for us all.

Can you hear me?

Consumers who have cell phones that operate on analog signals are out of luck. As of midnight last night, cellular telephone companies are no longer required to provide analog service.

If you suddenly find yourself searching for a new wireless phone plan, it is important that you find one which best fits your needs. Here are some tips to help you stay connected to colleagues, family and friends at an affordable cost.

Find out:

  • What's included in the calling plan. How many minutes will you be allowed as part of your monthly fee? How much will you be charged if you use more? Are unused minutes lost or do they carry over to the next month?
  • What's the cancellation policy?
  • Whether you can check how many minutes and text messages you have left.

NCL’s “2008 Consumer Calendar: Do We Have Tips for You!” month of February tips on choosing a wireless service provider were sponsored by AT&T.

For more information on the switch from analog to digital for wireless phone service, visit the FCC’s Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau Web site at

Remembering Tom Lantos (1928-2008)

By National Consumers League staff

We were saddened to hear of last week’s passing of longtime friend to NCL and workers’ rights advocates, Representative Tom Lantos (D-CA), who died February 11 at the age of 80. Five years ago, the National Consumers League honored Lantos with a Trumpeter Award for his advocacy for modernizing America’s child labor laws, work which started when he chaired the House Government Reform Employment and Housing Subcommittee hearings on the state of child labor in 1990.

We partnered with Lantos and his legislative staff in 2003 to introduce the Young Worker Protection Act, a bill proposed to eliminate exploitative child labor in the United States. Lantos was a firm believer in the need for updating antiquated child labor laws governing young American workers, and his bill would have made amendments to the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act to reflect the realities of the 21st century workplace.

“The exploitation of child labor cannot be tolerated in America. It is not a thing of the past but a very real problem that continues to jeopardize the health, education, and lives of many of our nation’s youth workers. These youth work long, hard hours, often under dangerous conditions. [We seek] to eliminate the all-too-common exploitation of teen workers—working late into the night while school is in session and working under hazardous conditions,” Lantos said at a 2003 press conference on Capitol Hill.

It was a pleasure to have worked with Congressman Lantos. He will be missed.

Kids and Cars Bill en Route to President Bush!

By National Consumers League staff Great news! We just got word that the Kids and Cars bill has passed the Senate and is on its way to the Oval Office! We blogged about this bill a while back - it's a bill that would protect young children from being backed over and hurt or killed by cars driving in reverse by making the cars themselves safer. NCL's Executive Director Sally Greenberg worked on this issue when she was a senior attorney at Consumers Union, and we're thrilled that the lobbying has paid off! Today, the Senate unanimously passed the bill, which was sponsored by Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Congressman Peter King (R-NY), (the bill bears the name of his young constituent, Cameron Gulbransen, a victim of backover) and cosponsored by more than 40 other senators from both sides of the aisle. Once President Bush signs the bill into law, eventually every new light vehicle will be required to meet a standard for rear visibility, allowing drivers to detect objects behind them. Additionally, vehicles will be required to be set up so that the brake must be depressed to shift into gear, preventing young children from playing with a gear shift and setting a car in motion. Finally, the new law will call for data collection by the federal government for these types of nontraffic, noncrash incidents, which are not systematically tracked now by the government. Stay tuned for more as we continue to track this important bill's progress!

Love Stinks!

by NCL staff

A little while back, we blogged about a relatively new scam we’ve been tracking at NCL’s Fraud Center: the Sweetheart Swindle. We’ve been crunching numbers lately to look at the top scams of 2007, and we found something that’s really surprised us: despite the fact that NCL’s Fraud Center has only been tracking this type of scam since July 2007, it gained enough momentum in the second half of the year to move to the top 10 scam list. According to complaints logged at, the average victim lost more than $3,038 last year to Sweetheart Swindles. However, the full extent of the fraud is unknown, given many victims’ reluctance to admit to being scammed.


Here’s one such sad story:

In April 2007, “Donna” cautiously ventured into the world of online dating. Within a week, she was contacted by a man with whom she began to chat. They chatted multiple times a day for seven months. He said he was a wealthy business man, who lived in a nearby city and was temporarily in Africa on business. In October, he said his contract in Africa would soon be up and that he wanted to meet, but he needed $250 to hold him over until a check cleared. Donna offended her new sweetie when she expressed her hesitancy to give money to a stranger. So she sent him the money, and later another $1,500, never to hear from him again.

Stay tuned for more stories of love – and money – lost through Sweetheart Swindles.