5 Ways To Evaluate “Alternative Medicines”

December 30, 2008

“What do you call alternative medicines that actually work? Medicine.” Tim Minchin, Australian humorist.

Lately, alternative medicines and therapies have become very popular. Whether it’s “healing touch” (the belief that the human “energy field” can be manipulated by gentle touches to provide greater health and well-being), or homeopathy (the practice of administering extremely diluted fluids which contain the “memory” of the original substance), or aromatherapy (the use of plant oil smells to provide a wide range of health benefits), these therapies all claim medical benefits despite the lack of acceptance in the medical community.

Alternative medicines are a $15 billion a year business. When chiropractic, a therapy considered by many to qualify as an alternative medicine, is included, billons more are added. Is all of this money well spent?

When evaluating whether some alternative medicine you’ve heard about might be right for you, you should take the following steps:

1. Do extensive research on the subject. Claims of success made by practitioners of alternative therapies should not be relied upon as proof of their efficacy. What do you expect them to say? Go online and look into the subject. If something claims to have healing qualities, where’s the actual proof? Has it been studied scientifically in controlled tests? Have the studies all been done by persons or institutions which have a stake in a favorable outcome? Look for objective and thorough studies of the issue. Using this approach, healing touch, homeopathy and aromatherapy all fail. There is simply no valid scientific evidence that such claims are anything but pure quackery.

2. Don’t rely on testimonials. The easiest thing in the world is to find a celebrity, a hockey mom, and a doctor in a white coat to tell you that it worked for them, so it’s got to work for you. If you went through life relying on testimonials, you would end up buying every product sold on late night TV (including the handy dandy electronic nose trimmer), and believing in every tarot card reader on the side of the road. You have no idea whether the testimonial is true or not, how much the celebrity was paid to tout the product, or what the conditions were under which the product was used. Ignore testimonials completely.

3. Ask yourself whether the claims even make any sense. Does diluting a substance increase its efficacy? If a substance has health benefits, is less of it better? If that’s true, why not eliminate it altogether and get the most benefit?

4. Ask your doctor. Good doctors are trained scientists. They may not be able to give you all the answers, or guarantee a cure, but they are educated in how to properly evaluate the available evidence.

5. Don’t just hope for the best by saying: “Well, what’s the harm? It might work.” Harm could come in two ways. First, by engaging in alternative practices, you might be missing out on better tested methods of addressing the health problem. When comedian Andy Kaufman traveled to the Philippines to have “psychic surgery” on his lung cancer (he died shortly thereafter), he might have better spent his time on more radiation or chemotherapy. Second, the untested therapy may itself be harmful. That “colonic cleansing” could in itself lead to death.

When it comes to your family’s health, place your bet on that which has been medically proven. Doesn’t that only make sense?

Ameriquest: Anatomy of the Mortgage Meltdown

December 24, 2008

As we take stock of exactly how the entire housing market in our country imploded, acting as the first domino in our economic meltdown, we need look no further than the granddaddy of all sub-prime mortgage companies– Ameriquest.  This investigative video is a revealing look at how greed trumped everything, at the expense of the American family.

Former Ameriquest employees share their chilling accounts of how they lured homeowners into loans they could not afford.  “Making money, making money, making money,” that’s what insiders say it was all about.  Most disturbing is the people at the top, who reaped the greatest benefits, have never been held accountable for the predatory system they created.  It was quite the contrary for Ameriquest founder Roland Arnall* who was given a rare honor by our country despite his role in the sub-prime lending fiasco.

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Privacy Leapfrog: Keeping Internet Search Data

December 23, 2008

search enginesLast week, Yahoo launched the latest salvo in a public battle over privacy when it announced it will purge its internet search logs within 90 days.

The announcement came after pressure from European regulators prompted Google in September to cut the time it takes to make internet search data anonymous from 18 months to 9 months. Because, Google said, 9 months was a good balance between “sometimes conflicting factors like privacy, security and innovation.”

The tit for tat over who could best protect consumer privacy began earlier this year. In March, Google announced it would “anonymize” the logs after 18 months. In July, Yahoo said it would put in place a 13-month purge policy.  In September, Google cut the time to 9 months.

What’s the big deal? Why keep the data at all?

Google explained it this way in a 2007 blog to posted for users:

  • Improve the search algorithm to provide better searches
  • Defend its systems from malicious access and exploitation
  • Fight fraud against advertisers;
  • Respond to valid legal orders from law enforcement as they investigate and prosecute crimes; and,
  • Comply with the legal obligations of data retention.

In order to find new search techniques and evaluate whether users find them useful, Google says it has to store and analyze internet search logs. It offered this detailed explanation to the European Union.

“What do people click on? How does their behavior change when we change aspects of our algorithm,” Google says in a blog post to users. “Using data in the logs we can compare how well we’re doing now at finding useful information for you to how we did a year ago. If we don’t keep a history, we have no good way to evaluate our progress and make improvements.”

Yahoo also cited protecting users and its business partners from fraud.

Both search engines say that it helps them send the most appropriate advertising your way.

While each of the major search engines have policies in place to partially or completely delete the IDs from the search logs between 90 days and 9 months, what’s deleted, what remains and how it’s used differs.

Currently, Microsoft deletes the entire IP address while Google and Yahoo delete only the last eight bits. Assigned the internet service provider, the truncated IP address can identify the country, region and in some cases the city of a computer and the internet service provider.

Privacy advocates say deleting the last eight bits of information is inadequate.

At present, there is no agreement over what data should be erased and how these policy affect consumers. Though they delete all or part of an IP address, some search engines maintain other information that can be used to aggregate information and potentially identify users.

Internet Privacy Lost In A Blizzard Of Data?

December 22, 2008

computer privacyWhen you surf the internet, it feels like something you’re enjoying in private, but when you realize just how many people are watching your every move, it might just give the creeps and make you mad.

Web searches are the most essential tool for finding information online. Billions of users generate tens of thousands of queries each second, producing data describing the interests, thoughts and behaviors of individuals everywhere.  Most web surfers, however, don’t know every internet question – from medicine to directions to online shopping – is captured and meticulously stored in databases maintained by internet search engines, such as Google and Yahoo.

The companies that provide internet access- like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T – also can capture the same information. Not to worry. You haven’t provided name, address or social security number. It’s all anonymous, right?  Hardly. Read more

What You Need To Know About Reverse Mortgages

December 22, 2008


It is hard to watch TV without seeing an advertisement for reverse mortgages. “Over 62 and own your home? Make your home work for you!” As with most things, however, reverse mortgages are not as rosy as the advertisements. If you are considering a reverse mortgage, you should proceed cautiously.

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Eerie Predictions of Our Economic Meltdown

December 17, 2008

Listening to politicians and TV pundits today, everyone pretends no one saw the economic meltdown coming, but don’t believe it.  There were a handful of voices in the crowd screaming, trying to warn us.  The Consumer Warning Network’s Chris Hoyer was one of them.  It’s just no one wanted to listen.  Another case in point– these video clips of Economist Peter Schiff.  Schiff made eerily accurate predictions every step of the way, all the way back to 2006– from the housing collapse to the credit crisis.  But when he tried to tell the other TV pundits, they laughed at him and called him “Dr. Doom.”  Unfortunately, he was right, and now — NO ONE’S LAUGHING!

Sallie Mae Doesn’t Deserve More Taxpayer Money

December 16, 2008

Student lending giant Sallie Mae is quick to hold out its hand for money, but just how much does this company really deserve?  In the name of education, Sallie Mae has pillaged students with loan-shark interest rates and shakedown collection tactics, but instead of reining them in, the government condones this bad behavior by showering Sallie Mae with more money at every turn.  It’s time to demand accountability.  How can we allow yet another company that exploits its customers to get our taxpayer dollars?  Join our rallying cry-“No more money for Sallie Mae!”

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Countrywide & Bank of America Drop off Trusted List

December 16, 2008

Surprise, surprise.  With a housing market in collapse and hundreds of thousands of homeowners in foreclosure, Countrywide — the poster child company for predatory lending, is knocked off the list of America’s most trusted companies.  Not only that, but Bank of America, once relatively unscathed by the mortgage meltdown, is now sucked into the black hole, thanks, in part, to its take-over of Countrywide.

Wouldn’t it be nice to see Bank of America actually try to help all those homeowners who’ve been driven into default by Countrywide’s predatory loans, instead of fast-tacking the foreclosures?  Providing loan modifications to borrowers in default so they can stay in their homes, could actually help housing market.  Come on, Bank of America, do the right thing.  Put some of that 25-billion dollars in bail-out money you got to good use.

“Produce the Note!” – Rallying Cry to Fight Foreclosure

December 12, 2008

Trial Magazine’s December issue reports on the “Produce the Note” strategy to save your home.  Associate Editor Carmel Sileo profiles this grassroots effort launched by the Consumer Warning Network to help homeowners fight foreclosure.  Here’s an excerpt:

The “produce the note” approach has become a rallying cry for a growing number of lawyers who say homeowners can fight foreclosure-and win.

Chris Hoyer, a lawyer in Tampa, runs the Consumer Warning Network, a Web site filled with free information and tools for homeowners facing foreclosure, including templates for letters they can send their lenders demanding that the lender produce the original note. In a series of videos, clips from media interviews, and articles, Hoyer exhorts homeowners to fight for their rights-and their homes. The motto of his grassroots campaign: “Produce the Note.”

“Chris’s message is, ‘Don’t take it lying down; fight back,'” said Angie Moreschi, an investigative producer on Hoyer’s media team. “We are simply telling people that the banks must produce the note to have a case in court.”

Moreschi said fighting foreclosures is the only way to make sure that consumers-especially those who were tricked into loans they couldn’t afford-are treated fairly, because the banks aren’t doing it on their own.

“The banks and loan servicers have an obligation to work with these borrowers and instead they are turning their backs,” she said. “It seems that everyone gets a bailout except homeowners. The devastation caused by rampant foreclosure, the empty houses, the empty neighborhoods-it’s bad for society, bad for the economy, and bad for our future. There is a win-win solution here, and the solution is to keep people in their homes.”   The full article is below:

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CEO Compensation: What Recession?

December 10, 2008

money hording

CEO compensation was up 7.5% in 2007.  I guess that shouldn’t really come as too much of a surprise, but it still gets the blood boiling.  The increase brings the median income for the corporate executives, who’ve brought our country’s economy to its knees, to just over $2 million.  Among the big winners was former Countrywide Executive Angelo Mozillo, whose total 2007 compensation was $124.69 million.  That’s terrific, especially since his company collapsed and was taken over by Bank of America this year, and he’s under federal investigation for his compensation package.  If it makes you feel any better, there are a handful of the execs who saw their salary fall.  Read more

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