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Q&A: How to stay safe in lightning

Staying safe in lightning

I smoke outside in my carport. Am I safe from lightning injury there?

No place is 100 percent safe from lightning, but some places are better than others. You're safer in a large building than in a small building. You're safer in your house than in your garage or car. You're safer in your car than in an open area. You're safer in an open area if you crouch down than if you're standing up.

If your carport is metal, you should not smoke under it during a lightning storm. Metal conducts lightning and you could be burned, or worse.

Other worthwhile tips: Always stay away from water, which includes the ocean, gulf, lakes, pools, hot tubs and showers. Do not use electrical devices in your home during a storm, such as your phone or computer. If you're stuck in a vehicle, do not touch any metal in it.

The National Weather Service says there are more than 25 million lightning flashes each year in the United States, and an average of 58 people die every year. There are many good sites on the Internet with tips on how to stay safe in lightning. Here's one from the NWS: www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/overview.htm.

Card issuers say no minimums

Can stores dictate how much money can be charged on your credit cards? For example, that you must buy $5 worth of things in order to use your card?

No. Retailers stipulate in their agreements with credit card companies that there be no minimum purchase necessary to use their cards.

That said, some businesses do set minimums, and get away with it because enforcement of the rule is haphazard. If you run into such a merchant, notify the financial institution that issued the card and/or the credit card company.

You may not get the response you want — there is sympathy for retailers, especially small ones. Credit cards generally charge a fee for the card use, usually 2 percent, and a transaction fee, perhaps 10 cents per charge.

So the smaller the purchase, the higher the percentage a retailer is paying in fees. Buy something with a credit card for a dollar and a retailer could end up with a 12 percent charge for the transaction. Buy something for $10 with a card and a retailer would pay just 3 percent in fees.

Congressmen now pay taxes

Does a retired U.S. senator have to pay taxes?

Senators who are retired from national or state positions or are currently in office are required to pay taxes. Members of Congress did not pay taxes to Social Security before 1984, when they were not eligible for Social Security benefits but covered by the Civil Service Retirement System, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service. Amendments to the Social Security Act required all U.S. senators and representatives to participate in Social Security, effective Jan. 1, 1984.

Q&A: How to stay safe in lightning 08/16/09 [Last modified: Sunday, August 16, 2009 5:30am]

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