Don’t Call Us…We’ll Call You

The Do-Not-Call Registry is a ringing success, in spite of skeptics who said it wouldn’t work. The Federal Trade Commission says that this month it hit the 100 million household mark of Americans registering their phones off-limits to telemarketers.

But enjoy the peace at dinnertime while you can: Telemarketing is so lucrative that some companies have set up operations offshore, where they will be free of U.S. regulation.

Parents and incoming college freshmen scoping out campuses need to add fire safety to the list of concerns.

Fire investigator Ed Comeau, director of the Center for Campus Fire Safety, notes that there have been 75 deaths of students in fires at universities and colleges since January 2000, including three tragedies each last year at Miami University of Ohio and the University of Mississippi.

Comeau says the problem is that older dorms and many cheap off-campus student apartments aren’t equipped with sprinkler systems, and resident assistants at some universities check out fire alarms to see if they’re just pranks instead of calling the fire department right away. Faulty or disabled smoke detectors are also common.

Fire safety is becoming a prominent issue. The Princeton Review includes fire-safety ratings in its popular guide to American colleges and universities.

Thanks to a loophole, scores of sex offenders are obtaining taxpayer-financed grants for college tuition, says Rep. Vito Fossella, R-N.Y. Inmates aren’t allowed to get Pell Grants, but convicted sex offenders living in civil treatment centers outside prison walls aren’t regarded as “inmates” and can obtain $4,100 each per year in funds for college tuition and expenses.

Look for an IRS crackdown on political organizations known as 527 groups. A recent IRS probe found that almost 250 such groups _ nicknamed for the part of the tax code governing them _ failed to file paperwork on time. It also found that some tried to fly under the radar screen in the last election by failing to disclose their existence until late in the election.

Spending by the independent groups is having a significant impact in elections. The Center for Public Integrity says that 527 spending increased from $268 million in 2002 to $535 million last year. Failing to file timely reports could cost the groups their tax-exempt status, as well as fines.

How ironclad is that 27th Amendment that was ratified in 1992 and prohibits sitting lawmakers from giving themselves an immediate pay raise?

Pennsylvania’s constitution has a similar prohibition, but it didn’t stop lawmakers from granting themselves immediate pay raises of up to 36 percent. The Pennsylvania pay-raise measure said that sitting lawmakers may collect the increased amounts for the next 16 months (until the next election) as “unvouchered expenses” rather than salary.

More dishing on Supreme Court nominee John Roberts: While serving as a White House counsel, Roberts turned down a request from Reagan family friend Helen Boehm to use a Ronald Reagan quote advertising a new china pattern issued by the Boehm Porcelain Co. Roberts ruled that allowing Reagan’s words to be used for commercial purposes was against White House policy, “but also, given this particular pattern, call(s) into serious question the president’s taste in dinner service.”

The United States is woefully unprepared for the bird flu or any other major influenza epidemic, says Walter Stamm, president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

The organization says there are currently only 2.3 million doses of antiviral drugs stockpiled to deal with an outbreak that could require from 52 million to 80 million doses to combat.

Stamm says health workers who don’t have protection are unlikely to continue working in an outbreak, and protecting doctors, nurses and emergency response teams would require stockpiling from 15 million to 40 million doses. He said that although stockpiling antiviral drugs would cost about $1 billion, it offers some help.

(Contact Lance Gay at GayL(at)